Book #32: Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories


Title: Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery/Short Stories
Length: 359 pages
Read: 9/6- 9/25/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Truthfully? We just started visiting our very small local library, which has been a 5-minute drive from my house for the last 2 years. Shameful, I know. But it was hard to justify borrowing books when I had so many unread on my shelf. I wanted to renew the card for e-book access, since that is still the easiest for me to read, but I felt like it would be wrong to leave the library without a book. And since this was my first attempt to read a tangible book since having the baby, I figured short stories would be the easiest to work in.

Also, Agatha Christie. And I’d never read a Miss Marple story.
Rating: 4/5
Would I read it again? Perhaps. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but mysteries are often hard to re-read without several years’ distance. After all, then you know whodunit.
Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who has lived all her life in a small English village, and has gotten quite good at reading human nature through her observations of her fellow villagers. This book is a series of short stories that are unsolved mysteries told to her by her friends at first, and later on incidents that she finds herself involved in. And she figures out the culprit every time.
Other notes:
My main reasoning for giving this a “4” rating was that I think I would have enjoyed several of the stories more if I’d understood the references. Turn-of-the-century English village life isn’t exactly my specialty, and that often made the solutions quite obscure to me. That being said, I’d still read more of these stories. (I have to, because I have at least one Miss Marple novel on my Classics Club list!)

Book #31: Dear Mr. Knightley

Title: Dear Mr. Knightley
Author: Katherine Reay
Genre: I guess I’ll say romance? But there’s a lot more to it than that.
Length:  336 pages
Read: 9/13- 9/15/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? I’d seen some really good reviews of it on a few blogs that I read, and I am always a sucker for a Jane Austen reference.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes!
Summary: 23-year-old Samantha Moore has spent the majority of her life in the foster system, and she’s learned to survive by relying on her favorite characters from classic literature as inspiration for how to react to situations. As a result, she has difficulty connecting with real people, and lost her job as a result. She’s running out of options to get on her feet, when an anonymous benefactor offers to pay her way through a prestigious journalism graduate program. There’s one condition: She must write letters regularly to her sponsor, under the pseudonym “Mr. Knightley”, with updates of her progress–and he will not write back. The story unfolds as she begins to confide in Mr. Knightley about her difficult childhood, her unlikely friendship with a foster teen at the group home she lived in, her first boyfriend, the couple of friends that she makes in the journalism program, and her budding friendships with a favorite contemporary author and the retired professor (and his wife) who are a second family to him. And through it all, she learns how to stop hiding behind her fictional characters and be herself.
Other notes: Although Austen retellings are a definite guilty pleasure of mine, I appreciated that this one had a more unique plot. Other classic characters have a large influence as well– Jane Eyre and the Count of Monte Cristo, among others. And although there was a definite Christian component to this, as someone who grew up reading Christian fiction, I was quite happy that this wasn’t another one of those novels where the character finds God and then everything is hunky-dory. As a Christian, I do believe that God does help His people through the difficult times, but becoming a Christian doesn’t necessarily make those things disappear instantly, if at all. There were still issues among the main characters that weren’t fully resolved at the end, so this seemed much more realistic to me. (That being said, I would love a short story set a few years later to check in on how they’re doing!)

I found that this one really made me think about my own life, too. I could definitely identify with Sam’s channeling of favorite characters, as I’ve been guilty of the same thing during various times of my life. But, having grown up in a middle-class family where my parents stayed married and I had the security of being able to do things like go to college without wondering where I’d be sleeping that night, it’s surprisingly easy to take those things for granted. Reading Sam’s story made me much more aware of how much of a blessing those things are, and made me wonder if there’s anything I can do to help girls who don’t have that security.

All this to say, I really loved this book, and will have to check out more by this author.

Book #30: Rebekah

I’m about 4 books behind now, so I’m going to do my best to bang these reviews out quickly.

Title: Rebekah (book 2 of Women of Genesis)
Author: Orson Scott Card
Genre: historic fiction
Length:  416 pages
Read: 9/6- 9/13/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? I enjoyed how he fleshed out Sarah, and I have always felt a little affinity for Rebekah, since we share a name. Even if mine is spelled differently.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes, I believe I would.
Summary: Like Sarah, this one more or less follows the story as laid out in the Bible, so I don’t really have to worry about plot spoilers this time! It starts with Rebekah’s childhood in her father’s nomad camp, dealing with her relationships with her father Bethuel, her brother Laban, and her nurse Deborah. This Rebekah is strong-willed and a fairly educated woman, as she and her brother had to learn a makeshift system of reading and writing in order to communicate with her father, who is deaf in this story. As Rebekah grows up, she must deal with the repercussions of rejecting an eligible suitor who doesn’t share her faith in God, including her father’s remarriage. In time, a servant from Abraham’s camp approaches her about marrying Abraham’s son Isaac, which she accepts. The next part of the book is a look inside the relationships between an elderly Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, and how faith vs. father’s expectations come into play in their relationships with their twin sons, Esau and Jacob, until the famous passing on of the birthright.
Other notes:  Perhaps it’s the timing of my reading this, since I’m now raising a boy myself, but I found it very easy to sympathize with Rebekah’s thoughts and feelings about how the boys were being raised. I also liked Card’s take on the birthright. I always assumed it was inheriting the herds and such, and that does come into play. But in this story, it’s also the task of handling, copying, adding to and passing on the holy writings about God. Rebekah believes Jacob is better suited for this responsibility, despite being the younger brother, since he’s more studious and willing to obey God than Esau, while her husband adamantly overlooks Esau’s shortcomings in this area, and that forms the central conflict of the book.

On an unrelated note, I did start one other book before this one. But since I’ve given myself permission to not finish Amazon freebies that aren’t capturing my interest, I dropped it about 30% of the way through. The book was The Shakespeare Manuscript, by Stewart Buettner, and when I got it, I expected it to be more about an actual Shakespeare play. But it was really more about all this drama surrounding a theater company and the daughter of a used bookseller. And I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable, which makes it hard for me to get into a story. So, since I’m reading on borrowed time and won’t have nearly as much once I’m not spending so much time feeding a baby, I’d rather cut my losses and move on.

we may be crazy

It’s October (whaaaat?), so that means that a significant number of the blogs that I follow are doing 31 days series of this and that. I’m not writing one of those, because the idea of daily posts on any one topic is intimidating when I’m already behind on multiple things that I write about. But my husband and I have decided to take part in the no-spend month challenge at Living Well Spending Less. We have credit card debt we want to knock out, and some things to save up for, and this seemed like a good way to get us working together towards those goals. So I’m going to check in a couple of times this month as we work through this.

Yesterday was day 1, and we talked through what our ground rules would be. We decided we’re allowed to spend on the following:
-gasoline, as we need it to get to and from work and public transportation isn’t an option here.
-select perishable grocery items: milk, eggs, cheese, limited produce, butter
-dog food, if we run out
-shampoo and hair conditioner, if we otherwise run out
-tithing at church
-a previously agreed upon donation to help a friend with serious health issues, which we hadn’t actually written the check for yet. Any income I make from teaching is considered extra in our budget, since it fluctuates greatly, so this particular expense will be covered out of that money.
-a previously planned day trip to a somewhat local aquarium. Admission is covered via an already purchased Groupon, but we will need money specifically for parking and probably lunch. I’m going to double check rules on outside food and drink first, though.

This means we’ll aim to avoid spending on any of these:
-Any other eating out
-coke (the Mister’s suggestion, which impressed me since he is extremely fond of cola)
-clothes/fabric (particularly challenging for me, since I’m still struggling to find things in my wardrobe that fit post-baby. And the temperature change and lack of nursing-friendly options makes me want to buy some new-to-me things!)
-books, magazines, music or movies
-junk food snacks
-other groceries, with the aim of using up things in our freezer/pantry
-anything for the baby. Good thing the cloth diapers have worked out so far, and his food is still free for a few more months, minus my time!

Wish us luck!

Book #29 : Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It’s another Classics Club read!


Title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Author: Lewis Carroll
Genre: classic, children’s lit
Length: 100 pages
Read: sometime in mid-August-9/5/15
New or re-read?  Re-read
Why did I pick it up? Because of my Classics Club list
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Certainly.
Would my kid like it? We shall see. I’m not sure how he’ll feel about stories with a female protagonist when he’s young, but he might find the tea party and such amusing. For my future reference, Amazon lists it as suitable for kids age 9-18.
Summary: Alice follows a talking white rabbit down a rabbit hole, and has many fantastic adventures when she emerges in Wonderland. She grows up (and down), meets a multitude of talking creatures, attends one of the most iconic tea parties in literature, and must try to avoid having her head cut off by the Queen of Hearts before she finds her way home again.
Other notes:  There were a lot of things in here I had forgotten about. Scenes like falling down the rabbit hole, the tea party, and meeting the Cheshire Cat get referenced so often in pop culture that it’s easy to forget about the Mock Turtle, the caucus race, and Alice’s more philosophic moments. I do find myself wondering this time around if Carroll was referencing some common children’s poetry of his day, since Alice kept saying that her memorized verses were coming out all wrong, and what those original verses may have been.

Also, the reason this one took so long for me to read is because I decided to use it as practice for future reading aloud of chapter books, and read it to my son while feeding him just before his longer afternoon naps. I doubt he’s going to remember the story, so he’ll definitely need to hear it again at some point. But it certainly made sitting in the darkened nursery more interesting for me, and it can’t hurt for him to get exposed to the vocabulary. So I think I’ll be reading more classics to him in this way.

The lit-up Kindles are such a lifesaver when feeding babies. I don’t even miss my original paper-looking one right now.

Blogging through a bundle, part 2.5

To continue my thoughts from the last time, on Safe and Simple

What I like best about this one is that it’s all about small, doable changes. It’s divided into the following sections:
1. Food- whole/organic vs processed
2. Cleaning- mostly involving Norwex cleaning cloths, which I already have a few of–that’s what made this one sound easiest!
3. Personal care products- avoiding products that have unnecessary harmful chemicals. I like that this one gave resources for finding the best options in stores rather than endorsing making all my own toothpaste and such. I’d rather spend my crafty time on my pre-existing hobbies!
4. Belongings- I like that she admits to having trouble letting go of sentimental items! Otherwise, it was basic tips for stocking your house and wardrobe with second-hand finds, and reuse ideas for old sheets and towels.
5. The Great Outdoors- preventing mosquitos, and dealing with weeds and poison ivy

The questions in the email to work through:
1. Which areas of your home and life are the easiest for you to make healthy living changes? Which are the hardest?

The easiest so far seem to be food and cleaning. I have to admit that I’ve been enjoying the experiments in trying various natural cleaning methods, and I’m the type who needs cleaning to be fun in some way or I will procrastinate until it’s so messy that I can’t take it anymore. And the foundations for avoiding certain processed ingredients was laid years ago, when I stopped eating canned Parmesan and fake maple syrup as a teenager who was starting to explore cooking.

The hardest is personal care and simplifying belongings. I think the resources in this book will help with the former. Paring down my stuff is much harder for me, since I’m the sentimental, crafty type in this house.

2. Skim the table of contents of your chosen book and select 4-5 topics that you’d like to read more about and implement this month. Don’t give into the temptation to try to do everything at once!

I’ll be honest- 4-5 still sounds like a lot, given that there were 5 topics in the book, period! So I think I’ll stick to these:
-researching replacement products for when I use up my shampoo/moisturizer/etc. I feel like just throwing them out would be a waste of money.
-continuing my efforts towards a more whole foods diet. To be perfectly honest, I really don’t think I’ll ever get on the anti-sugar, gluten-free type bandwagon (unless I end up with a kid that needs that sort of diet), because I just like bread and chocolate and stuff like that. But I can get on board with trying to cut down on processed ingredients and making things from scratch when I can. Since I’m focusing largely on crockpot/quick meals right now, and a lot of those recipes take convenience type foods, I’m working towards finding ways to clean those up without making the ingredients too expensive, or the process too time-consuming.
-Cleaning, period. This did give me some good ideas for utilizing the Norwex cloths to their full potential.

3. CHALLENGE: Schedule a spending fast or “no spend month” with your family. Keep track of the areas where it’s easy for you to cut spending and those where it’s harder and evaluate how your spending aligns with your values. Use the savings for a special trip, to pay down debt, or just to save for a rainy day!

We were already planning on attempting the 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero challenge that popped up on one of the blogs I read recently. It starts in October, and I’m very curious to see how things like food and gasoline are handled, because I know we can’t make it through the whole month on one tank of gas apiece!

blogging through a bundle, part 2

The week 2 assignment for natural home remedies was to skim through 2 different books: Sustainability Begins At Home, by  Dawn Gifford, and Safe and Simple, by Hilary Bernstein. Then, pick one to work through in more detail over the next month. I ended up picking the latter, but wanted to give a few thoughts on the other, too.

What I liked: I did appreciate the emphasis on financial savings through greener living, as that’s an area that we’re constantly trying to work on around here. There were a lot of good ideas in there, though a lot of them are the sort of things that would be more useful if, say, we were doing a massive home renovation (I.e. energy star appliances, which we probably have anyway since our home was newly built less than a decade ago), or had space to try any composting or gardening. Which would require a bin with a tight lid for us, because our dogs would definitely get into it and eat everything!

What I didn’t like as much: It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of cycling to save on gas. It’s more that where we live vs work makes it highly impractical for us. Plus the reality of trying to balance a baby seat and diaper bag, while leaving a community sandwiched between two major highways, makes me nervous. Frankly, I just don’t trust my sense of balance to protect us! (Neither of us owns a bike anyway.) Also, there was, again, the element of two steps too far on occasion. I’m using cloth diapers already, for instance, but I draw the line at reusable cloth toilet paper for us adults!

Since this post is already getting longish, I’ll continue with the book I’m actually working through later. I’m done with this late night feeding now anyway.

Books #27-28 : a couple of princess stories

I’m doing two reviews for this post, since they’re part of the same series. (I’m also skipping a number from the last review, since I’m counting that non-fiction bundle book.)

Title: The Stepsister Scheme
Author: Jim C. Hines
Genre: Fantasy
Length:  352 pages
Read: 8/20-8/29/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? It looked like an interesting fairy tale twist.
Rating: 3/5
Would I read it again? Unlikely
Summary: Danielle De Glas, otherwise known as Cinderella, is newly married to her Prince and trying to settle into her new role as a princess rather than a slave. Then one of her stepsisters tries to assassinate her, her husband disappears into the fairy kingdom, and she must ride off to his rescue, with the help of Snow (White, who prefers to go by Snow rather than her real name), and Talia (aka Sleeping Beauty).
Other notes: I wanted to like this one more than I did. The premise sounded fantastic, and there were things about it that I truly enjoyed. Danielle in particular was a nicely fleshed-out character who continued to grow throughout the story, and I did appreciate that the story took more from Grimm than Disney. But Snow and Talia both fell flat for the most part. Though her magic abilities were fun, Snow mostly came off as a caricature of a shameless flirt. Talia mostly just seemed to hate everyone except for Snow and Queen Beatrice, and her revealed backstory was a particularly disturbing one. I also wasn’t fond of the direction her romantic storyline went in, to be honest. All in all, I wasn’t as motivated reading through this one, which is why it took me longer than it would have otherwise.

Title: The Mermaid’s Madness
Author: Jim C. Hines
Genre: Fantasy
Length:  352 pages
Read: 8/30- 9/4/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Honestly? I bought it at the same time as the other, and I mainly read it because I’d already paid for it. That’s what I get for buying multiple books from an untried author, I suppose.
Rating: 3/5
Would I read it again? Unlikely
Summary: Danielle, Snow and Talia must find a way to save Queen Bea when a vengeful undine stabs her with an enchanted dagger that captures her soul inside, while trying to avoid starting a war with the rest of the mermaids and the kingdom to the south.
Other notes:  I’ll admit that both Snow and Talia were better developed this time, Snow in particular. But once again, I found the story less than satisfactory. Lirea (the mermaid) started off strong as an antagonist, but by the end, she was basically reduced to a sniveling victim of others’ scheming. It also felt like things just dragged, especially under the added burden of some cringe-worthy tension between Snow and Talia. It looks like I’m mostly alone in my apathetic feelings towards the book, based on what I’m seeing on Amazon, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with this series. No one can like every book.

On a more random note, I studied a flute sonata in grad school that would have been a fitting soundtrack for Lirea. It’s called the “Undine” sonata, and the story behind it does involve a mermaid who was betrayed by her human lover and went mad and vengeful at the end. Maybe that’s why I was disappointed–because I’d already played through it before.

Pin-testing: Sweet and Spicy Bacon- wrapped Chicken


Let me preface this by saying that I’m not one of those people who thinks bacon automatically makes everything on the planet more awesome, though I certainly like it. But in this case, it really does help!

I’ve been making my first real effort to start meal planning after baby (mostly for survival, so I can prep in advance as much as possible), while also doing a low key “go through my cookbooks and see what’s with keeping by actually cooking from them” project. Which will probably take me the next decade, but who’s counting? The cookbook in question right now is Cheap Fast Good, and I had planned to cook up the Copycat Creamed Corn (which I did) and Herb Roasted Turkey Breast, based on what was on sale that week. The only problem was that, while I found every dark meat part of the turkey that there was, I couldn’t even find a spot in the meat aisle for turkey breasts. So since the circular lied to me, I had to quickly grab some chicken instead with the thought that I’d figure out what to do with it later. I had all of the rest of the ingredients for this one on hand, so spontaneous pin test it was!

The result: it was an easy recipe to follow. I liked it, and thought it was very flavorful. My husband wasn’t quite as impressed, though (he said it was “ok except for the bacon”), so I don’t think this one will end up getting made on a regular basis. In spite of that, I’d qualify it as a Pinterest success instead of a fail.

blogging through a bundle

I still plan to catch up on the fiction books and recipe tests soon, but I’ve got a new little side project for today.

I recently bought an Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle, after doing the math to see if the cost of the books I was most interested in made it a good deal.

It’s not the first time I’ve bought one of the bundles this particular company puts together, and I have read one of the books here and there, like this one and a book on cloth diapers that I read as research when figuring out my options for sewing them. But between these bundles and the freebies I sometimes pick up on Amazon, I have a LOT of non-fiction books on my Kindle that usually get neglected in favor of a good story.

So I’m going to be making more of an effort to work these in and see what’s actually useful for me and my family. And this seemed like a good place to start.

This time, the company has little email challenges to help you find a starting point in going through the resources. I picked the natural home track to start, because frankly, I need to catch up on some cleaning anyway.

The first book suggested to go through is Living Green in an Artificial World by Sarah Pope. So I skimmed through it while stuck in a chair with a napping baby yesterday, and here’s my takeaway. I don’t feel bad discussing the articles that make up this book, because she linked to blog posts she wrote in every chapter.

What I liked: there were some good suggestions for more natural ways of dealing with common household issues, like ants and spiders and lawn care. I also have a good resource now for if our dogs ever get fleas.

The two things that I think I could immediately implement is to try to stop being lazy about bringing my reusable shopping bags out to the grocery store in particular, and to get non- antibacterial soap next time I need to buy a refill. Also, I think my husband would be a fan of her suggestion to not worry about a perfect yard, since he hates yard work. (Ours is basically just a dog toilet anyway.)

What I have more trouble with: There were multiple suggestions that seemed pointless for a lot of people, like finding out whether our town puts fluoride in the water or what kind of power meter we have in our townhouse. Yeah, maybe there’s healthier options, but it’s not like I can do anything to change either thing.

The two skin care items in particular also sounded about two steps too far for me- I’d be fine with looking for a more natural deodorant, for instance, but going without antiperspirant makes me feel self-conscious and gross. (I’m already getting drooled on, spit up on, peed and/or pooped on every day right now, so I don’t need to add BO to the list!) I also don’t feel comfortable with ditching sunscreen–my background is predominantly English/Irish/Scottish/German, so I burn like the chicken stew that I accidentally turned up too high while getting distracted by the baby the other night. (I’m still scrubbing that pot two days later to try to get it off.) And given that I have two relatives that have had to have melanoma removed in recent years, I’ll take the sunscreen, thankyouverymuch.

The tone of the book was sometimes a little preachy for my taste, as I’m not a fan of the premise that if you don’t do all these things, you’re slowly killing everyone you love. If those things work for her, great. But I’m in a place right now where I need to stick with simple, manageable changes towards a healthier lifestyle for my family.

I especially need to really think through things that my husband would be more skeptical about. He’s getting a lot more open to some ideas, like reducing the chemicals used for cleaning and using the cloth diapers. Admittedly, the financial savings were the factor that convinced him to try those things. But he’s less interested in things like switching to all organic food (too expensive, and he still talks about a free range organic turkey that we had at a friend’s house once as the worst turkey he ever tasted), GMOs, herbal remedies and the like. So it’ll be interesting as I go through these books to see what changes or adjustments we’ll actually end up making. Or even trying.

Anyway, on to the next book, once I get the next email. In the meantime, I’m going back to my fiction!

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