Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The HistorianThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love books that manage to combine all my favorite things...mystery, the supernatural, suspense, history, and romance. Although this book is really long, it moves quickly and keeps you guessing.

The premise is a hunt for the real Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. The mystery takes the characters (and readers) across the globe- America, Turkey, Bulgaria- all over Eastern Europe, really. As the historian follows clues taken from actual historical fact, danger follows him and those who assist him on his mission.

Kostova uses private correspondence liberally throughout to provide emotion and as a way to reveal secrets. A similar strategy was used in The Swan Thieves, another novel by the same author. This is very effective in breaking up the narrative and letting the reader see different sides to the characters.

Overall, a suspenseful story steeped in history. Highly recommended.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Menu Plan Monday: 1/30/12

Monday- Breakfast bowls; biscuits

Tuesday- Slow Cooker Pork Chops; corn

Wednesday- Beef nachos

Thursday- Chicken pot pie; dumplings

Friday- Pizza night

Saturday- Monte Critso sandwiches; asparagus

Sunday- Spaghetti ham bake; salad

Find more ideas or link up at www.orgjunkie.com

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Project 365: Week 4

Hope you all had a good week!
Pretty much our usual routine around here.
Errands, work, school...

Sunday- Reading time before bed

Monday- Justin cooking pancakes and bacon for dinner

Tuesday- chores!

Wednesday- watched my niece for a couple of hours

Thursday- stuck at a railroad crossing- I think some of the grafitti is kinda cool

Friday- picked up some books I had reserved at the library- this statue sits out front

Saturday- went to a birthday party for Vivian's school friend

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Compelling, sad, poignant... Hannah Baker committed suicide and left a note of sorts, in the form of cassette tapes. With insight and understanding beyond her teenage years, Hannah recounts the people, experiences and interactions that led to her death. Each person she holds responsible will receive the tapes and hear their impact on Hannah's life. A map accompanies the tape, allowing the listeners (and readers) a tour of Hannah's last few months and the places that were significant to her.

I'm not quite so old that I don't remember my teenage years and the strong emotions that characterized them. Love, jealousy, fear... REAL feelings. Asher honors the strength and effect of such emotions in this book.

Besides serving as a warning about teenage suicide, this book reminds us to treat each other well. It's biggest lesson is that you never know what breif encounter might mean to another person, or the lasting imprint you will leave in another's life.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thankful Thursday: 1/26/12

Mainly, I'm just thankful that it is Thursday.
One more day until Friday.
The weekend is almost here.

Ever feel like that?

Nothing terrible going on.
Work has been ok.
The kids have been sweet and getting along all week.
Hubs has done more than his fair share around the house.
I just have a cold and have been tired and run down since Sunday.
Ready for it to be over.
Ready for the weekend, and the additional rest it will bring.

Thankful it's Thursday.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger, #1)Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have no idea what made my pick this book off the library shelf...I read it when I was in high school. I guess I wanted to see if I still thought it was as racy as I did then. I don't.

The story itself is still gripping- circumstances force four children to become locked in a bedroom, at the mercy of their unloving grandmother. The moments of happiness they eke out are sweet, and the tragedies become even sadder as their mother withdraws farther into her new life.

I remember this book being thoroughly shocking when I was teenager, filled with sex and ongoing incest. From an adult and parental perspective, the abuse and neglect seem more shocking to me now. The "constant" sex is, in reality, one brief scene that is not described in detail.

The entire story is presented as being written by one the children as an adult- a memoir of sorts. So before the horrors even begin, the reader knows at least someone survived to tell the tale. I'll be picking up the next book in the series- Petals on the Wind- to see how they fare after an unbelievable childhood.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 23, 2012

Menu Plan Monday: 1/23/12

Monday- Pancakes and bacon

Tuesday- Crockpot Cheesy Chicken and Vegetables; dinner rolls

Wednesday- Meatloaf and mashed potatoes

Thursday- leftovers

Friday- Pizza night

Saturday- Dinner at my grandma's

Sunday- Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta; salad (Found this on Pinterest- can't wait to try this with some of the modifications suggested by blog readers on this site)

Link up and/or check out more yummy ideas at

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Project 365: Week 3

Here's another peek inside my daily life!

Sunday- My kids and nieces watching a movie after brunch.

Monday- The girls and I were all home for MLK Day. We painted finger and toes!

Tuesday- Back to work. Viv gave me this little guy years ago, and he always guards my phone.

Wednesday- Taking a Wii break after homework. Right now they love Super Mario Brothers.

Thursday- You can't tell from this pic (taken w/ my phone), but the sunrise was just stunning. So much so that my husband called me on the way to work just to make sure I was paying attention to it!

Friday- Scrapbooking night- I was working on Christmas photos.

Saturday- After dinner we all played a game of marbles.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thankful Thursday: 1/19/12

It's been a tiring week. So for starters, I'm glad I managed to stay up late enough to write this post!

I'm thankful that I put some pictures from Christmas 2009 on my blog. My old laptop crashed before I printed them! There's only a few, but better than nothing!

I'm thankful my husband decided to go on a cleaning marathon this past weekend. We did major cleaning (moving furniture to vaccuum), purging (three bags of trash and one to donate from the girls' bedroom) and organizing (closets and dresser drawers).

I'm thankful that I didn't get in trouble for getting a virus on my work computer!

I'm thankful my friend K is back to work. She had surgery on her shoulder and was off for a week. I missed eating lunch with her!

Hope you all had a great week too!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This may be one of my favorite books. Ever. Magic everywhere, forbidden romance, a little suspense, all against the backdrop of a mysterious circus. (sans creepy clowns!)

The novel is presented in three formats- the telling of the story in third-person narrative, from the perspective of "you", a circus attendee, and through brief quotes from a minor character and classic authors like Wilde and Shakespeare. This technique cleverly provides perspective and forward momentum throughout the book.

The story occurs between 1873 and 1903, although the author does not offer it linearly. The jumping-around is not distracting, however. Instead, it serves to reinforce the theme that "time is a funny thing". Other themes throughout the book include the nature of competition, the perception of reality, and understanding the role of both free will and predetermination in the shaping of one's future.

The writing is beautifully done, there are characters both to love and despise, and the circus world that is presented to us gives enough detail to clearly envision it, but the reader is encouraged, through the nature of the circus itself, to overlay her own dreams and fantasies over the experience.

This is definitely one I will be purchasing for my home library. And I am hopeful that Morgenstern will bring us more novels soon!

View all my reviews

Monday, January 16, 2012

Menu Plan Monday: 1/16/12

Link up at orgjunkie.com!

I have been feeling like I'm in a meal rut lately, so I went to my Pinterest boards and selected a few new recipes to try this week!

Monday- Hamburger Helper; oven fried potatoes

Tuesday- Slow Cooker Fajitas

Wednesday- Bruchetta Pork Chops; mixed veggies

Thursday- Chicken Tenders with Apricot Sauce; corn; loaded mashed potatoes

Friday- pizza night

Saturday- Spaghetti Ham Bake; salad
Sunday- Easy BBQ Chicken Salad; crescent rolls

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Project 365: Week 2

Are you stuck for photo ops, or just want to get a few new ideas for taking a photo a day? Check out She Suggests for 7 tips.

Here is my week...

My daughter (far right) attended a dance workshop with the Wright State dance team. She loved performing with them at halftime!

My favorite new toy- a back scratcher! My coworker got it for me, as one of the more recent and annoying health issues I am having is a terrible rash!

PIzza Hut for dinner after cheer practice. The kids get coupons for free personal pizzas when they read a certain amount each month.

So dark and cold waiting for the bus in the morning!

Viv made a heart in our front yard. She was so excited to see a little snow.

My niece's soccer game. She's on the left, #13. She scored a goal and her team won!

Here we go with the cheerleading pics again! Remember those from last year? I do love their color combo this season- they are my high school colors!
Hope you all have a great week!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: Just After Sunset by Stephen King

Just After SunsetJust After Sunset by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Friday the 13th...an apt date for a review of a Stephen King book, no? However, if you're looking for spooky and supernatural, this is not the best place to find it. Just After Sunset is a collection of (mostly) previously published short stories that cover a wide range of themes, including 9/11, the abduction of a single woman, revenge--but only occassionally the creepy sort of SK stuff I love.

That being said, there were a few stories I really liked, creepy or not. The longest story in the collection is called "Stationary Bike", about a man on a health kick who winds up somewhere unexpected on his exercise bike. Spook factor of about 2/5. "The Things They Left Behind" has a higher Spook factor but just didn't strike my fancy, even with (or maybe because of) the emotional ties to 9/11. My favorite title in the book is "N", which offers both a good dose of the supernatural and a good story.

Being a huge King fan, I was fairly disappointed in this collection. It's not one I would add to my bookshelf. But the man sure can turn a phrase...so it certainly isn't all bad, just not one of his better offerings.

“She ran out of her marriage the way a woman can run out of a pair of sandals when she decides to let go and really dash.” (from The Gingerbread Girl)

“She didn't see him at first. She was watching the dancers. Her color was high, and there were deep dimples at the corners of her mouth. She looked nine miles out of place, but he had never loved her more. This was Willa on the edge of a smile.” (from Willa)

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thankful Thursday 1/12/12

Here is a quick rundown of my gratitudes for the week:

Image credit: flikie.com
I am thankful that we have had warm weather recently- 40’s and 50’s. It is much appreciated in January!

I am thankful my oldest was able to return to school and other activities after being home with a virus last week.

I am thankful that my husband cleaned the kitchen and dusted without being asked this past Monday!

I am thankful for sleepy, warm cuddles with my youngest when she gets out of bed every morning.

I am thankful for two days in a row of waking up without a headache!

Your turn! Finish this sentence- This week, I am thankful for…

Monday, January 9, 2012

Menu Plan Monday: 1/9/12

Monday- pancakes and bacon

Tuesday- ham and cheese wraps; french fries

Wednesday- Marebelle's casserole; crescent rolls; fruit salad

Thursday- leftovers

Friday- pizza night

Saturday- Russian chicken (see below); salad

Sunday- pork chops with creamy mustard sauce (see below); asparagus; biscuits

Russian Chicken

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into even-sized chunks

1 8 oz. Russian salad dressing

1 16 oz. apricot preserves

1 pkg. onion soup mix

Place chicken in shallow baking pan. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Bake uncovered at 325 for 1 -1 1/2 hours. Serve over rice.

Pork Chops with Creamy Mustard Sauce

1 lb. boneless pork chops
salt and pepper
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2-3 green onions, sliced

Flatten pork chops to 1/4 inch thickness. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in non-stick skillet and cook pork on both sides until brown and cooked through. Remove from skillet and keep warm.

Reduce heat to low. Add evaporated milk, stir to loosen brown bits from the pan. Stir in mustard and green onions. Cook for 1-2 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened. Add pork back in and turn to coat them with sauce.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Project 365: Week 1

I really enjoyed looking over my collection of P365 photos from last year- noticing the changes in my work and neighborhood, what the girls did at school and in their free time, meals I cooked... 2012 will be my third year doing the Project, and I envision doing something with the yearly photos. Sometime.

I personally snap shots of random stuff and daily life, but if themes are your thing, here are some interesting takes on P365.

Sunday- Scalloped ham and potates with lots of leafy greens for dinner

Monday- Starting to learn her dance routine for the spring recital

Tuesday- trip to the library

Wednesday- home for three days with Hand, Foot and Mouth virus

Thursday- lazy moms go to McDonald's for dinner!

Friday- playing with her wizard science kit

Saturday- the sun and warmth were welcome this weekend!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Review: Letters from an Unknown Woman by Gerard Woodward

Letters from an Unknown WomanLetters from an Unknown Woman by Gerard Woodward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With the author boasting acclaims from The Whitebread First Novel Award, Man Booker Prize, and T.S. Eliot Prize, I expected a page-turner, and I got one. Letters from an Unknown Woman is written in three parts:

One, where we meet our protagonist Tory Pace. The setting is the London area during World War II. Tory's life has become unknown to her- her children are evacuated and being fostered far away, her dry and humorless mother comes to live with her, she performs her war duty in a gelatin factory, and she learns her mild-mannered husband has become a prisoner of war. The major plot of this section revolves around a stern request (more of a demand) from her imprisoned husband that she write him racy letters as "an antidote to those horrors" of the war. She resists most forcefully until a chance meeting with a former boxing champion ignites her passion and gives her real-life dirty deeds to pen. However, if you are looking forward to the smutty bits, you will be disappointed! The content of Tory's letters is left to the imagination...but the results of her affair are not.

Part two chronicles the years when Tory's husband Donald returns from the prison camp. He is scarcely the man she married, having become depressed and secretive. This section moves somewhat slowly, focusing heavily on Tory's sons, Tom and Branson, and the trials of living with a hateful and mentally unstable man. Tory finds refuge in her new job as a restroom attendant and her new friendship with a woman named Grace.

Part three, the shortest of the sections, begins with Tory's discovery that her husband has taken her letters of "bedroom thoughts" and published them for an underground audience. Horrified, she regains her spunk and resolve. She reclaims some control of her household and relationships. The novel ends with the death of Tory's mother and the discovery of the woman's own titillating correspondence. We are left wondering if these letters give Tory persmission (in her own mind) to write the requested follow-up to her original book of naughty letters.

This book was well-written and a quick read, with most of the characters clearly filled in. However, the ending was just too ambiguous for my taste. There is only a paragraph between the resolution of Branson's situation and the last sentence of the book, which seemed an abrupt conclusion to an otherwise well-paced and flowing read.

Overall, worth a look. Woodward captured my interest enough to check out some of his other works, including August, I'll Go to Bed at Noon, and A Curious Earth.Gerard Woodward

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thankful Thursday 1/5/12

Photo credit: http://www.worldofstock.com/stock_photos/NWI1260.php
Tis the season of illness and snow...

Today I am thankful that my oldest seems to be feeling better- for now. She's had a temperature of 101-103 since Tuesday!

I am also thankful for a boss who has young children of her own and understands when I need to call off to care for mine!

I am thankful for 33% off coupons for photo printing. You can bet that saved a lot on holiday pics!

I am thankful for slipper socks with infused lotion. So warm, soft and comfy!

I am thankful for Chai Latte coffee creamer. Yum.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Menu Plan Monday: 1/2/12

Welcome 2012!
I hope to get a little more creative in the kitchen this year by
finding easy and healthier recipes that my whole family
will enjoy. I always find new dishes to try through
the Organzing Junkie's weekly link-up!

WednesdayChicken Poppyseed Casserole , Beer bread (Pampered Chef mix), vegetable

Thursday- soup and grilled cheese

Friday- pizza night

Saturday- Roasted Sausage and Vegetables, Cheddar biscuits (again! Yes, they are soooo good!)

Sunday- leftovers
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