Friday, December 27, 2013

The Men Who United The States - Simon Winchester

I read this book because I enjoyed another of Winchester's books - The Professor and the Madman.  I am so happy that I did because this book is such a fantastic read! I liked it even more than The Professor and the Madman (and I liked that one a lot).

It is arranged in such a unique way.  He used the Chinese symbols of wood, earth, water, fire, and metal.  When I first read the theme, I wasn't sold on it but it really works.

One of my favorite stories is about Calbraith Rodgers - first man to fly across the United States.  But there are so many great characters and stories to learn about including Samuel Morse, Clarence King, Thomas MacDonald and Theodore Judah.  No, I won't give you more than their names.  You need to read this book to learn their very interesting stories.

It is pretty much settled that I will now have to read anything this man writes because he is a great storyteller of nonfiction.  And from my experience, that is a hard combo to find!

Amazon book description:

Simon Winchester, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Atlantic and The Professor and the Madman, delivers his first book about America: a fascinating popular history that illuminates the men who toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizenry and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings.

How did America become “one nation, indivisible”? What unified a growing number of disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? To answer these questions, Winchester follows in the footsteps of America’s most essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, such as Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys; the builders of the first transcontinental telegraph and the powerful civil engineer behind the Interstate Highway System. He treks vast swaths of territory, from Pittsburgh to Portland, Rochester to San Francisco, Seattle to Anchorage, introducing the fascinating people who played a pivotal role in creating today’s United States.

Throughout, he ponders whether the historic work of uniting the States has succeeded, and to what degree. Featuring 32 illustrations throughout the text, The Men Who United the States is a fresh look at the way in which the most powerful nation on earth came together.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Walking with Mary - Edward Sri

As my Advent reading, I chose Walking with Mary.  This book is an excellent little read.  It's only 118 pages long but it is filled with helpful, prayerful information.

The book is broken down into nine steps
Step 1 - An open heart: Mary in dialogue with God
Step 2 - A servant of the Lord: Let it be done to me
Step 3 Magnify the Lord: The humility of Mary
Step 4 - Keep and ponder: The Mother at the Manger
Step 5: Sharing in the sword: Mary's participation in her Son's suffering
Step 6: Walking in darkness: She who did not understand
Step 7: She still says yes: Mary's choice at Cana
Step 8 Total surrender, total trust: Standing at he cross of Jesus
Step 9: Persevering in faith: Mary, crowned with glory

I love that the author first presents the steps in relation to the Bible and then brings it home with application to our lives.  It really helps me 'get it'.  Another thing I love is how the book intertwines Old Testament and New Testament verses to tell the story.

This is not a book that I will read and put away but one I think I will refer to often over the course of my life.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent readings and wreath

This Advent, we (my family) are reading two books together.

1. Welcome Baby Jesus: Advent and Christmas Reflections for Families (Sarah Rinehard).  It is exactly what I was looking for - a way to more fully incorporate Jesus into the season and leave out the guy in the red suit.

This book is just lovely!  Each day, there is a verse from the Bible, and three small sections to read - Think, Pray, Act.  My daughter gets really excited about doing the action of the day (one day it was pray for someone who had annoyed or upset you).  After we say the prayer for that day, we light the candles on our Advent wreath. This book will definitely become part of our annual Advent traditions.  Highly recommend it!

2. Destination Bethlehem by Sharon Altman.  This is our second year reading this book and my daughter LOVES it! It is about a young boy that finds himself traveling along with the Nativity story. We read a little every night of Advent and finish it up on Christmas Eve with the birth of Jesus.  Oops, hopefully I didn't ruin it by giving away the ending ;)

Do you have any Advent books that your family reads together?  I'd love more ideas and suggestions.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Twelve Years a Slave - Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup wrote this book in 1853.  This is a nonfiction account of his life as a free man in New York  that was captured and sold into slavery. I saw the movie was coming out soon and decided to read the book instead.  I am so glad that I did!

This book is such a great read.  It is so easy to read (as in the pages fly by) and so hard to read (the content).  I think this books describes slavery in a more personal way than I've ever encountered before.  You can identify with the folks involved and truly feel their pain, frustrations, and sense of hopelessness. I think this book should be required reading in every high school in America.

Do yourself a favor and read this book.  NOW!

Amazon book description:

First published in 1853, Twelve Years a Slave is the narrative of Solomon Northup’s experience as a free man sold into slavery. Northup’s memoir reveals unimaginable details about the slave markets, the horrors of life on a plantation, and the dreadful day-to-day treatment of the slaves from the perspective of a man who lived more than thirty years as a free man before being forcibly enslaved.

Written in the year after Northup was freed and published in the wake of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Northup’s story was quickly taken up by abolitionist groups and news organizations as part of the fight against slavery. The book fell into obscurity in later decades, only to be rediscovered in the early 1960’s. In 2013 it was adapted into a feature film entitled 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen and produced by Brad Pitt.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Good Earth - Pearl Buck

First we have to start with Pearl Buck.  What an interesting life she led!  She was born to christian missionaries and moved to China when she was three months old.  She spent quite a bit of her youth and later, her adult life there.  She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (for this book).

The Good Earth - book description from

The Good Earth is Buck’s classic story of Wang Lung, a Chinese peasant farmer, and his wife, O-lan, a former slave. With luck and hard work, the couple’s fortunes improve over the years: They are blessed with sons, and save steadily until one day they can afford to buy property in the House of Wang—the very house in which O-lan used to work. But success brings with it a new set of problems. Wang soon finds himself the target of jealousy, and as good harvests come and go, so does the social order. Will Wang’s family cherish the estate after he’s gone? And can his material success, the bedrock of his life, guarantee anything about his soul?

This book is so wonderful!  It starts when Wang Lung was a young man, getting ready to be married.  It follows Wang and his family through their lives - their hardships, successes, and good and bad decisions.  It takes you into a time and place where you live and die by the elements - rains, floods, famine.  The characters are unforgettable, their lives unimaginable, their story probably not so unique for that time period.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Master's Quilt (Giants in the Earth) - Michael Webb

I 'picked up' this book because it was free on kindle and it looked interested. I'd never heard of the author, Michael Webb, before, but will certainly be reading more of his books.   This is a great book!

Book Description on Amazon:

The life of Deucalion Quinctus, Commander of the Garrison under Pontius Pilate, is changed forever by the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, by his sudden love for the beautiful outcast, Esther, and by a bundle of parchments given to him by a mysterious stranger.

Events surrounding the Christos trigger an avalanche which threatens empires”"the relentless guilt of Pilate, the frightening ambition of Herod, the uncertain future of Caiaphas, the violent madness of Saul of Tarsus, and the guiding hand of the Watcher, Uriel. Yet, over it all the tenacious love of God weaves a remarkable tale of spiritual power and inspiration.

This compelling historical novel brilliantly pictures dramatic spiritual conflicts in first-century Israel; webs of religious and political intrigue that have world powers wavering on cliff’s edge.

First book in the Giants in the Earth trilogy, exciting spiritual thrillers spanning two thousand years.
So, if you like historical fiction, christian fiction, or just a good story, pick up this book! It's still free on right now, so hurry!

I really enjoyed this book!  It tell the story of what happened just after the crucifixion.  It follows the characters around and really makes you think about what living back then, during such a momental time in history was like.  But don't get scared, it's not like ready a boring account of history.  It is a great story, which is well told.  The characters come alive on the pages.  I read this book over three days (along with working and taking care of my family).  I can't wait to pick up the second book!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Plate to Pixel - Helene Dujardin

Facts about the author:
Hélène Dujardin
a pastry chef for five years
professional food photographer
blogger - Tartelette

Book description:
Food photography is on the rise, with the millions of food bloggers around the word as well as foodies who document their meals or small business owners who are interested in cutting costs by styling and photographing their own menu items, and this book should serve as your first course in food photography. Discover how the food stylist exercises unique techniques to make the food look attractive in the finished product. You’ll get a taste of the visual know-how that is required to translate the perceptions of taste, aroma, and appeal into a stunning, lavish finished photograph.

This is a really informative book for food bloggers, photographers, and people who love food and/or photography. I picked it up to read for The Kitchen Reader reading group.  It also fit nicely into my Foodie Readers Book Challenge 2013.  Double score!

It's not too technical to read (which I feared a little).  And she has a way with words that make you excited to learn more.  This line for example - "A picture is worth a thousand words, yes; let the first one be Wow!" The pictures are gorgorgeous.  The tips and instructions are so helpful.

She spends a good deal of time talking about light.  There is an entire chapter devoted to natural light and one on artificial light.  My favorite chapters were the ones on composition and food styling.  I learned a lot of great tips from these sections that I've already been able to put to use.

For me, this isn't a book you read once and then leave forgotten on a shelf.  It is one that you refer back to when shopping for cameras, photography equipment, troubleshooting photography issues, tips on composing a good shot, creative ideas for shots.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Foodie Read Reading Challenge 2013

Since I'm starting so late in the year and I have a lot on my 'to read' shelf,  I'm going to do Short Order Cook 1-4 books.  I know, I know, I'm aiming low and will probably regret it.

I'll post the review here as soon as I finish a food read.  So excited!

Plate to Pixel review
Cooked review

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Becoming Odyssa- Jennifer Davis

This is such a great book!  It's the story of "Odyssa" (her trail name) and her hike along the Apalachian Trail.  She tells the story aof her immense accomplishment and of all the trials and tribulations, joys and sucesses.  Along the journey, she meets several interesting characters and finds herself in some exciting/unusual situations.  She starts the journey just after completing her four year degree and before she has to enter the 'real world.  She learns so much about herself and what she wants out of life.  I think every college grad should do this!  What an excellent way to transition from school to the workforce.

She is an excellent storyteller too.  It feels like you are hearing about these great adventures from a good friend, fresh off the trail.  It is a quick read and such a joy to read.

Some of my favorite lines from the book

Thoughts on why so many college grads on trail - "We've spend our entire lives under the influence of family, school, and religion, and we need to test out our doctrines. The trail provides a place to sort through the fact and fiction of our childhoods.

Thoughtts on God - "...the mountains were singing the praises of God beautifully and without shame.  I wish I could be more like a mountain."

I could probably list one from each page of the book but  I don't have that kind of time.  Just pick it up and read it for yourself.  You won't be disappointed.

This book is fantastic!  I definitely want to hike the Appalachian Trail once my husband retires!  It was always something he wanted to do but I was always like 'yeah, ok sure' and change the subject.  Now, I am completely on board with the idea.  Jennifer doesn't glamorize the hike it but just tells you about it - the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Page by page I became more set on the idea of doing it.  Now, I just have to wait it out.  

This is one of the best books I've read this year.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Want to read - Praying in Rome

So, here's a book I'd like to get hold of to read - Praying in Rome by Cardinal Dolan.   It's about his time in the Conclave in Rome in 2013 (electing Pope Francis).  Here are a couple clips from him on the Colbert show talking about the book -

Sounds pretty interesting, right?  Anyone read it?

The Professor and The Madman- Simon Winchester

A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

Very interesting story about two key figures involved in the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.  The book reads like a work of fiction.  It is not exactly what I thought it would be like when I selected it but I really enjoyed it.  It was filled with moments of surprise, sadness, and just good story-telling.  It is amazing to think what a formidable task writing the first comprehensive dictionary really was and how interesting it was to read about the time, effort, and energy expended to make it happen.  There are some great characters in the book and their lives will keep you just as interested as a good work of fiction.

I don't know why it took me so long to start reading this book but it certainly didn't take very long to finish!

Short review but really good read!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

French Twist by Catherine Crawford

This was a fun book to read!  The author is definitely in love with all things French.  She decides to try to change her parenting style from American helicopter mom to the  French method.

 It's very humorous to read.  Take this line, for instance:
"My children aren't particularly clingy when measured against their American peers, but compared to the French they are like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, minus the butcher knife." That's just awesome.

The book is full of charming stories about her family and her darling little girls.  I am pretty sure that I enjoyed every single page of this book.

The author tells a great story and shares some good advice.  I wouldn't say I got a lot of parenting advice out of this book because most of the things she did as a parent (before Frenchifying everything) weren't things I necessarily did or do with my daughter. I'd say I'm more closely tied to the French parents (especially on food, discipline, and good manners).  There are some good tips for new parents though and I'd say quite a few American parents could learn a lot by reading this book.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Cooked by Michael Pollan

I read this book for The Kitchen Reader reading group that I'm part of and I am so glad that I did! I'm also counting it in my Foodie Readers Book Challenge for 2013. I don't know if I would have gotten around to reading it otherwise and it's a great book!  Be warned though - he goes into very detailed information in parts.  I found that I read most of it but some of it, I have to admit, I just skimmed.

Cooked is divided into four main sections fire, water, air, earth.

In Fire, he spends time with to two different barbeque pit masters in North Carolina where they do whole hog barbecue, to learn and get some hands on training. Great line about the pit room at the Starlight Inn  "The pit room was in fact an infernal chamber, and not a place likely to stimulate an appetite for cooked pig in many people."

His first taste of the barbecue - "So this was barbecue. Right away I realized I had never before tasted the real thing, and I was converted. This was easily one of the tastiest, most succulent meat dishes I had ever eaten, and certainly the most rewarding $ 2.75 I’d ever invested in a sandwich."

The time he spent with Ed Mitchell is when he finally got some hands-on experience and it was fantastic reading.  I'm going to try to find and watch the Throw Down with Bobby Flay episode where he went head to head with Ed Mitchell.

This section of the book includes a little history, a little mythology and a little bit about the Bible.  He's a good writer and keeps the book moving by adding in these interesting little tidbits along the way.

Needless to say, both the Starlight Inn  and The Pit are on my 'to visit' list the next time I'm road tripping along the east coast!

Next up in Water which covers braising, stews, and  soups.  I love the story about how Samin, his former student who gives him cooking lessons, got a job a Chez Panisse.

I was intrigued by the dish pork in milk maiale al latte and will try cooking it soon.

He really is a talented writer.  This line for instance - "Braise: the sound of that lovely word itself suggests a certain slow unfolding, the final “z” sound trailing off with no hard consonant to stop it." Awesome!

I enjoyed the stories about Sunday cooking and spending time his son and dinners around the family table.  Just lovely.  I also plan on eventually trying his recipe on braising at the end of the book.

Air. The section on baking was probably my favorite.  Just before reading this book, I began the process of making a sourdough starter.  So, the section of the book was not only interesting but very useful for me. I plan on baking bread with my starter soon and will post the recipe/blog here on my cooking/travel blog.

Earth was a fun section.  It was all about fermenting - vegetables, beer, cheese etc. I especially loved to part on cheese making with Sister Noella. The beer making was also super interesting (partly because my husband has also just started making beer at home).

This is a really good book that I would recommend to friends.  The author is good at weaving practical advice, stories, history, religion, and technical information all into one very readable book.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On Heaven and Earth

Reading this book is a pure joy!  Because of the form that it's written in, it's like being in the same room with then Cardinal Bergoglio and  Rabbi Skorka and listening to some amazing conversations.  Like a fly on the wall, only better!  It's really interesting to get so much information on both the Catholic and Jewish perspective of things.  I feel like I've learned so much by reading this book BUT it's not one of those books that you almost feel required to read to obtain knowledge it just happens naturally as you listen in to two very intelligent people having a conversation.

I learned some really interesting things - like some theories on why God didn't like the tower of Babel.

I love this line by Pope Francis on the devil "Maybe his greatest achievement in these times is has been to make us believe that he doesn't exist and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.

Here is another one on death, "In my case, for example, I think that every day I'm going to die.  This does not distress me, because the Lord and life itself have given me the proper preparation."

Here is the list of topics they discuss:
The Devil
Religious Leaders
the Disciples
Same Sex Marriage
Politics and power
Communism and Capitalism
The Conquest, Socialism, and Peronism
Arab Israeli Conflict
Interreligious Dialogue
Future of Religion

This book is less than 200 pages.  It is an easy read and it's filled with interesting topics.  I recommend this book for anyone that like religious studies, Judaism, Catholicism, or Argentina.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What I'm reading this week

Let's see I have a few different books going on right now...

With my daughter, I'm reading Prince Caspian/Chronicles of Narnia

For my spiritual reading, I'm working my way through  Full of Grace book and study guide Johnette Benkovic (it's a weekly study guide so it will take me a while to get through it).

I also just finished a couple great reads

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
 Excellent short story! I will probably start Revelation next.

The Lost Daughters of China by Karin Evans Good book but I kind of lost interest near the end of it. I feel like it could have easily ended about 50 pages before it did.

Anyone else want to share?  What are you reading right now?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Limitless - Nick Vujicic

This book is so inspirational! I love that it is a devotional that isn't set up as a one-a-day type of devotional. You can read them as quickly or slowly as you need.
This man is such a wonderful motivation. His love and trust in God is unbelievable! I am going to recommend this book to everyone that I know. In fact, I'm planning on going and buying a copy for a good friend of mine that can use just this type of book RIGHT now.
I feel like this is the kind of book that I will open up when I am feeling down and find just the right thing that I need to make my day better.
God bles this man!

Ollie Chandler Collection - Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn is a great Christian writer and this series is no exception! The three stories are all page turners, full of mystery and suspense, but with a few wonderful christians in each story. The stories are full of wonderful messages about hope and God and heaven. The characters are well developed and very human. I love that the people are very real. Not all of them are perfect christians that have it all figured out. Some of these people need real help and guidance. I enjoy the stories, especially the glimpses from both heaven and hell. I also love that the some of the same characters show up in each of these books (besides Ollie Chandler, of course).
I can't wait to pick up my next Alcorn book! He has a real talent.
I wanted to add a little in this review on Dominion. I just finished reading this one as the Trayvon Martin case came to a close. I have to say that Dominion gave me a really fresh way of looking at race relations and really helped me (as a white woman) understand a little more how much subtle discrimination that black people face every day. I really appreciated all the time spend in Clarence's head and all the talks he had with various characters in the book on it.

The Church by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina

I read this book because I really felt my knowledge of the church is severely lacking. As a convert, I hear people talk about places in the church (nave, sacristy, etc) and I have no idea what or where they are referring to. This book is such an excellent resource for me because it describes each of the areas and gives wonderful background information on them. It also includes beautiful pictures and references for future study. 
Some of the topics covered include:
The Church
Mysteries of the Church
The Crucifix
The Ambo 
   and so much more.

I highly recommend this book for converts or anyone whose knowledge of the church is lacking.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.