Thursday, July 21, 2011

Library Dreams: Inspirational Writing

I dream that one day I will live in my forever house, and that house will have a beautiful library.  Until that day, that library lives in my dreams... 

Library Dreams is my own series, where I will show photos that have inspired me.

One goal for my future library will be that it provides a place of inspiration.  This photo shows a beautiful desk, which is surrounded by shelves of books.  I can picture myself in the gray chair either journaling or with my laptop writing away.  This photo would be a lovely model for my 'one day' library!

Photo courtesy of Shelterness

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

Paperback, 304 pages
Plume (April 26, 2011)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for my participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club

Summary from Goodreads:
A heartbroken woman stumbled upon a diary and steps into the life of its anonymous author.

In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.

Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily's good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.

My Thoughts:
The Violets of March was a quick and entertaining read.  Anyone who understands my reading preferences, would know that I would enjoy the embedded diary entries within the novel.  Reading books which include letters or diary excerpts are included among my favorite things.  I especially enjoyed the anonymity of the diary's author - I thought that it was interesting that had to wait to discover who was telling the story.

Emily's interaction with her Aunt Bee was very sweet.  Bee provided Emily with a very different relationship than the one that Emily had with her own mother.  Yet, despite their closeness, Bee has a secret that placed a strain on their relationship, and on Emily's ability to move on.

I enjoyed the book very much.  While the ending was not completely predictable, I did have a sense of where the characters would end up.  I wasn't deterred by this and took time to enjoy how the story unfolded.  I would recommend this book to lovers of women's fiction.  I am looking forward to discussing it with the Manic Mommies Book Club tonight!

Thanks to the publisher for allowing me to review this book as part of the Manic Mommies Book Club.

4 Stars!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: 22 Brittania Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
Hardcover, 336 pages
Penguin Group (USA), April 26, 2011                   

Personal Copy

Summary from Goodreads:
"Housekeeper or housewife?" the soldier asks Silvana as she and eight- year-old Aurek board the ship that will take them from Poland to England at the end of World War II. There her husband, Janusz, is already waiting for them at the little house at 22 Britannia Road. But the war has changed them all so utterly that they'll barely recognize one another when they are reunited. "Survivor," she answers.

Silvana and Aurek spent the war hiding in the forests of Poland. Wild, almost feral Aurek doesn't know how to tie his own shoes or sleep in a bed. Janusz is an Englishman now-determined to forget Poland, forget his own ghosts from the way, and begin a new life as a proper English family. But for Silvana, who cannot escape the painful memory of a shattering wartime act, forgetting is not a possibility.

My Thoughts:
22 Britannia Road was an accurate and intriguing work of historical fiction.  The novel alternated between sharing the story of reunited couple Silvana and Janusz, after the end of World War II and telling their separate experiences during the war.  Their stories during the war were extremely rough - they are situations that I cannot even imagine having to endure. 

The book itself fell a little flat for me.  The approach of switching between wartime and post-war narration was very distracting.  Even though I understood how this method allowed the stories and secrets to unfold, it did not flow as seamlessly as I would have liked.  The horrible experiences that Silvana and Janusz encountered were often extreme, yet I did not feel the emotional tugs of sympathy, outrage and horror that would be appropriate.

I appreciate the story that was told and I think that the author's research into the time period was extremely good.  Personally, I think that it was an amazing idea for a story.  Unfortunately, I just wasn't as invested in the characters as I would have liked to have been.

Have you read 22 Brittania Road?  Is there something that I missed that I should reconsider?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - July 17, 2011

Last weekend, we were up to our ears with family visits and birthday parties - I'm still trying to catch up!  Here's what's been happening lately...

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity22 Britannia Road: A NovelThe Violets of March: A Novel
Since my last Week in Review, I have finished three books:  Getting Things Done, 22 Britannia Road and The Violets of MarchGetting Things Done (review here) was an ode to my recent struggles with feeling organized.  I really appreciated the practical approach that the author illustrated - I'll be spending a little more time with this book in the near future.

The Paris Wife: A Novel
Right now, I am listening to The Paris Wife, which almost makes me want to do laundry and clean the kitchen a little longer so that I have more time to listen.  Only two hours into the audiobook, I am loving it - such beautiful writing.

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, Book 2)
I picked up the next book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series:  Dragonfly in AmberOutlander was a fantastic read and I am enjoying learning more about the characters in this next installment.  At over 700 pages, it's a bit of a chunkster, so it will probably be on my 'currently reading' list for several more days.

Move along...Nothing to see here.

No really, cooking hasn't been very exciting here over the past few weeks.  Lots of old standbys and meals on the run.

Home (and Health)
The house is getting back to normal after having my parents in town last weekend.  Plus, there was an influx of new toys from our daughter's 6th birthday.  I really need to have a weekend set aside to sort through and set aside many MANY toys for donation.

I am now nearly halfway through Week 4 of the Couch to 5K running plan - 5 more weeks to go!  I am really very proud of myself.  This week has included two three minute runs and two five minute runs, which is longer than I have ever been able to run.  I've been encouraged by a Twitter friend who started at the same time - it's good to have someone to encourage me, and frankly to be accountable to.  I still have a long way to go, but that 5K doesn't seem too far out of my reach now.

Our daughter's birthday party last Sunday was a great success and we were very happy that my parents were in town to share the big day.  I still can't believe that I have a six year old!  J is already talking about when she turns 7 - I do hope that she won't force this year to fly by as fast as last year!

On Saturday, we will be packing up the car and heading to Tennessee for vacation with my husband's family.  While the vacation couldn't come at a worse time for me work-wise, I am hoping for many hours by the pool, soaking up the sun with a frosty beverage and a good book.  I can't tell you how much I need this time off.

How about you - how was your week?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Paperback, 267 pages
Penguin (Non-Classics), December 31, 2002

Personal Copy

Summary from Goodreads:
In today's world, yesterday's methods just don't work. In Getting Things Done, veteran coach and management consultant David Allen shares the breakthrough methods for stress-free performance that he has introduced to tens of thousands of people across the country. Allen's premise is simple: our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve effective productivity and unleash our creative potential. In Getting Things Done Allen shows how to:
  • Apply the "do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it" rule to get your in-box to empty
  • Reassess goals and stay focused in changing situations
  • Plan projects as well as get them unstuck
  • Overcome feelings of confusion, anxiety, and being overwhelmed
  • Feel fine about what you're not doing

From core principles to proven tricks, Getting Things Done can transform the way you work, showing you how to pick up the pace without wearing yourself down.

My Thoughts:
I happened upon Getting Things Done when I was trying to spend available credits on  It had wonderful reviews and the thought of "stress-free productivity" frankly appealed to me.  Allen's book is a step-by-step guide to organizing all of the actions that you have, both professionally and personally.  I was expecting some standard, fluffy fare about personal mission statements and time management, but Getting Things Done is much more practical than that.

Allen begins with instructions for gathering everything in your life - yes EVERYTHING - into an in basket.  Every task that needs to be completed, every nagging chore that you have been putting off, even those lists of potential vacations that you think might be nice someday.  The goal is to spend dedicated time processing all of these actions, in order to develop a complete list of items that need to be completed, each placed into their proper category.  Allen admits that the idea is full of common sense, however most individuals fail to implement the approach without proper guidance.  And for those who have successfully prepared their immaculate to-do lists, they do not continue to maintain their system.

Since listening to the audio book, I have purchased the paperback version.  The steps and checklists will serve me much better in print.  While I haven't yet taken a weekend, or a few quiet days to kick start the plan from the beginning, I have already implemented a few of the recommendations:
  • I bought a label maker and hundreds of file folders.  The top drawer of my filing cabinet is now beautifully organized.  It was a great start for all of the papers that needed to have a permanent home
  • I purchased a three ring binder with tabbed dividers.  While this wasn't a specific recommendation of the book, I thought that it would be the ideal way for me to organize my list of projects, next actions, agendas, and someday/maybe lists.  This approach has already helped me stay organized for the ten (yes TEN) recurring meetings that I personally facilitate each week.
  • I am working to keep my email boxes near empty, by filing or deleting anything where I do not have an immediate action.  This has proven the most difficult task so far, because of the sheer volume of mail that I get each day.  But I'm trying.

Getting Things Done is a very practical, helpful tool to assist individuals with organization.  I plan on a reread this summer and am hoping to take the time for a start-to-finish implementation.

If you're interested in hearing more about this book, I would recommend a visit to Simon at Self-Helpless.  He has started his year-long journey through twelve popular self-help books with Getting Things Done.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Library Dreams: Colors

I dream that one day I will live in my forever house, and that house will have a beautiful library.  Until that day, that library lives in my dreams... 

Library Dreams is my own series, where I will show photos that have inspired me.

Isn't this beautiful?  The conservative side of me might hesitate to organize my library by color, but I think that this picture is very inspirational as well as artistic.  I also think that this approach might tempt me to pick my next book based upon my mood.  Feeling blue?  Blue shelf.  Feeling sassy?  Red. 

Do you like this approach, or have you seen it implemented in living color?  How do you organize your shelves?

Photo courtesy of Shelterness

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Library Dreams: A Room to Myself

I dream that one day I will live in my forever house, and that house will have a beautiful library.  Until that day, that library lives in my dreams... 
Library Dreams is my own series, where I will show photos of libraries that have inspired me.

When I was growing up, I babysat for a family with a library sealed off in a room of its own.  In addition to hundreds of wonderful books, their room also had a white baby grand piano, but that is another dream entirely...

This photo brought back memories of that home, and my dreams of one day having a room filled with books.  Wouldn't it be nice to replicate the smell of a bookstore within your own home, and to have a quiet place to read while surrounded by books?
Photo found on Shelterness

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Book Review: The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

The Soldier's WifeThe Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Paperback, 416 pages
Hyperion (June 28th 2011)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Shelf Awareness

Summary from Goodreads:
As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne. Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship and her family safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger.

My Thoughts:
Simply put, I adored this book.  The characters, the setting, the time period, and the themes of this book drew me in from the first page.  The book's main character Vivienne de la Mare was richly drawn, and the novel captured so many different aspects of her life.  I think that it was a perfect illustration of how the roles of wife, mother, mother-in-law, friend, citizen, and woman can stand in stark contrast to one another. 

Like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I also loved, the book was set in Guernsey during the World War II German occupation.  As an American, my first inclination is to be judgemental of the German soldiers:  Germans Bad, Allies Good!  However, the author invoked not only the political and nationalistic arguments for the occupation - she also strongly captured the human element.  The citizens of Guernsey had different approaches to coexisting with the Germans, and the Germans, some of which who were accidental soldiers, did not all feel the same way about their circumstances.  I was impressed with how this book moved me to think about some items with a different perspective.

Even then, however, the book included horrific aspects of the war including the Organsation Todt, where prisoners were sent to Guernsey and lived in wretched conditions.  These things were not glossed over and were given the respect and attention that they deserved within the story. 

I have so many feelings for this book, and how it wove so many stories, conflicting duties and feelings together so well.  It was exciting and heart-wrenching, entertaining and educational.  And, like a cherry on top, it had a perfect, perfect ending. 

I would highly recommend The Soldiers Wife to lovers of historical fiction and women's fiction.  Please read it.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - July 2, 2011

It has been a great week.  I am hoping to soak up lots of free time during this long weekend.  Free time, away from work, isn't something that I get very often anymore. 

Here's what happened this week...


The Soldier's WifeSometimes I think that I was meant to be born in World War II-era Europe, because the books that I read from that time period make me all warm and fuzzy inside.  This week I finished The Soldier's Wife, which was phenomenal, and I started 22 Britannia Road

22 Britannia Road: A NovelI also partcipated in the Manic Mommies Book Club on Wednesday night, where we discussed The Love Goddess' Cooking School (review here).  Hearing the author's story of how the book came to be was fascinating.  We also had a lively discussion after the 'real' book club was over, which was so much fun.  It is wonderful to be able to talk to other moms for book suggestions.  After the book club, I picked up a few recommendations for chapter books for J, which I'm looking forward to researching. 

I started a new feature on my site called Library Dreams.  I'll be showing pictures of beautiful libraries that are inspiring to me.  Here is a link to the first Library Dreams, which I hope to make a recurring series.

You can also check out my review of The Bee-Loud Glade (3 stars) here.

On a last-minute whim, I signed up for a Knife Skills class at a local cooking school.  So on Thursday night, I packed up three of my knives and headed out.  It was a really great time and I think that I learned a lot.  For instance, I have been holding my chef's knife completely wrong.  I am going to have to concentrate for a while, until the correct way becomes a habit for me! 

We spent three hours practicing our techniques for slicing, brunoise and julienne cuts.  After we had chopped through carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, spring onions, ginger, garlic and onion, we learned how to break down a whole chicken.  Then the instructor threw everything into a wok and made a delicious stir fry.  It was so much fun!

Home (and Health)
I've been keeping up with my Couch to 5K running program and started Week 2 on Friday.  I am working to get out of the house as soon as my husband and J head out the door, so that I beat the heat and humidity.  So far, it hasn't been too bad, but imagine that July and August will be brutal.  Running outside has been much better for me than running on the treadmill.  We have beautiful trails near my home and the trees and lakes are pretty to look at, and keep my mind off the time.  I am still getting used to running on hills - that's something that I didn't encounter on the treadmill!  I'm determined to see this through and as an extra motivation to myself, I signed up for my very first 5K race on October 8th! 

My little girl, who I swear was just born yesterday, will be turning 6 on July 11th.  We'll be getting ready for her big day and for her party.  Before that happens though, we'll be prepping the house for my parent's arrival on Thursday.  It will be nice having them here for a long weekend visit and to share in the birthday festivities.

Like I said, it was a great week, and the upcoming long weekend and week look very promising. 

How was your week?