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I am a 24 year old Christian, bookworm, lover of all things chocolate, and soon to be knitter from Upstate New York, currently residing in sunny New Mexico (thank you U.S. Air Force). I spend my days as a Children's Librarian Assistant in a public city library and my nights working towards my MLS degree.
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1. Twitterature

This week I'm linking up (a day late) with one of my favorite bloggers, The Modern Mrs. Darcy, for her Twitterature feature. You can find the rules here, but they're pretty simple: just share what you're reading in 140 characters or less. I've been reading a lot, but my blogging time has been minimal, so I thought this would be the perfect chance to jump into this feature!

High & Dry by Sarah Skilton
Fast-paced thriller with great characterization. The author has created a complex story rich with realistic, thought-provoking characters. 

Noggin' by John Corey Whaley
Absolute hilarity paired with amazing writing. Reads like an awesome contemporary, even with the cryogenically frozen head. ;)

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Fun, cute romance. A little too long for my liking, but it was an enjoyable read and one that kept me chuckling.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
LOVED this book. Excellent fiction for all book nerds, but booksellers will especially appreciate. Sweet story with lovely characters!

And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass
Had a hard time getting into this one after loving her last. Deep, complex characters, but plot had me a little lost much of the time.

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
A bit slow-moving, but the writing is worth it. Descriptions of setting, sounds, people, etc. are beautiful. Would be a great class read.

 Thanks to Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Amulet for the review copies. And the library for the others!

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2. The Last Forever by Deb Caletti

Deb Caletti is one of those authors who I just love. I anticipate early spring every year, because that means a new book will be on the shelves for me to fall in love with. Her writing is just beautiful and her characters relatable and complex. Her books are some of my very favorites to gift my teen nieces, because I know they'll be a hit, no matter the subject. 

The Last Forever is the latest of Caletti's lovelies to hit the shelves. We meet Tessa, a sweet girl still mourning the death of her mother. She's desperate to keep her mother's rare plant alive, believing it's the last link they really share. Throw in a road trip, a beach town, a new job, and a kind (and cute) guy and the combination creates a beautiful story. 

I always find a bit of myself in Caletti's stories and this one was no exception. When my own mother passed away a little over five years ago, I became the owner of her huge, beautiful jade plant. Unfortunately, having to move it from Florida to New Mexico and then eventually to Virginia was just too much for that plant and little by little it died, until I was only left with about a 4 inch stem I was determined to transplant and keep alive (spoiler alert... I failed). I saw myself in Tessa - desperate to keep that last connection to something beautiful, something my mother loved, even though it was simply a material thing. 

The writing is gorgeously detailed and the characters each were perfectly plotted into the story. I loved every minute with this book and I know I'll be eagerly waiting for next spring to get another book by this fabulous author. Thanks for the experience, Ms. Caletti... it's always a pleasure!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the review copy. 

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3. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Kestrel is the daughter of a general. She's incredibly wealthy and leads a comfortable life, despite the war going on outside her city walls. Her father has told her she must either join the military and serve her people, as he does, or she must get married. Kestrel, of course, would prefer not to do either.

When on a shopping expedition to the market, Kestrel passes by the auction block where slaves are being sold. Something draws her to Arin and before she realizes what she's done, she has paid an exorbitant amount of money for a slave she did not need or want. He follows her home, is put to work as a blacksmith, and Kestrel believes that will be the end of it. 

As I'm sure you can imagine, the pair end up falling in love and are forced to fight to be together. This wasn't the typical teen love story though -- it goes deeper. Their relationship is one of both love and war, just like the lives they live. Kestrel is supposed to become a warrior and Arin be her slave, though fate seems to have other things in store. 

The detailed descriptions are what pulled me into this book and the dramatic explanation of the setting. I was hooked from the beginning and am definitely looking forward to the 2nd book of the series. Kestrel was a great main character -- and though I won't spoil anything for you -- I LOVED the ending!

Thanks to FSG for the review copy!

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4. Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi

This adorable book completely charmed both Elliott and I. Though we haven't hit the bug stage in our house yet, though this one could most definitely be the gateway book to all things "bugs."

The illustrations are a great mix of quirky and cute and the text is surprisingly simple, yet helps to inform young readers on some pretty cool bug traits. The back pages have a great spread of all the bugs referenced throughout the book, with their names making for a great reference source.

We loved it and can't wait to see more from this author/illustrator duo!

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy!

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5. The Secret Side of Empty review

M.T. seems like the typical American teenager. She has a guy she's interested, friends, a social life, and gets excellent grades. M.T. also has a big secret -- she's an undocumented immigrant. 

Though this huge part of M.T.'s life has been fairly easy to hide through high school, her life as a senior has thrust everything into a tailspin. Her friends don't understand why she won't get her driver's license or why she constantly avoids any talk of applying to colleges, and when her roll in the Honor Society necessitates the planning of a trip abroad, M.T. knows she's in trouble. 

I totally saw myself in this girl. She was me in high school. The grades, the friends, Honor Society, etc. Her story completely opened my eyes to a whole new perspective of what some teens are handed and forced to deal with throughout their high school years, due to circumstances beyond their own control. I can't imagine being in M.T.'s position, though I definitely appreciated the author forcing me to feel that way. She's a typical teen...except, she's not. 

I was uncomfortable while reading this book and I think that was a necessary feeling to truly grasp the emotional nature of M.T.'s story. I could't put it down once I started reading and needed to know what happened to this girl who reminded me so much of my younger self. 

The subject is timely and the character realistic and easy to connect to. Maria Andreu is a debut author and I look forward to whatever she writes next. Highly recommended. 

Thanks to Running Press for the review copy. 

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6. The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

I don't typically talk about sophomore books in a series here, choosing to mainly focus on the first in a series or an entire series as a whole, but this book deserves a post of its own. It's that good! 

Victoria Schwab happens to be a local author and when The Archived came out last year, I went to her signing at my favorite local indie, One More Page Books. It ended up being one of my favorite books of the year and I eagerly anticipated the arrival of The Unbound this winter. When it showed up at my door, I held off reading it for a few weeks, knowing I'd want to savor it... and I was right. Once again, it's that good. 

Mackenzie Bishop is once again our main character and she is still a Keeper for the Archive. Dealing with the emotional ramifications of almost dying has taken over her life and she's struggling to stay afloat. Yet, when people start disappearing -- all of them knowing Mackenzie -- she knows that her past may very well have come back to haunt her, as impossible as that may seem. 

As she attempts to track the person responsible for the disappearances, Mackenzie quickly becomes the prime suspect. She knows she has to prove her theory to the Archive before they take away her role as Keeper... and her memories. 

The writing in these books is just amazing. Not only does Schwab make it incredibly easy to connect to the characters and almost instantly care about them, but she also provides such great plot that I wanted to just fly through the pages. Her prose is beautiful, yet suspenseful -- the perfect combo for this series. 

Taking on issues of grief and PTSD is probably difficult enough on its own, but adding those topics to a fantasy novel have to be even more difficult, but Schwab created a realistic world in the Archive, while also allowing her readers to see the journey a person goes on while recovery from tragedy and trauma. I love these books and can't wait to see what Victoria Schwab does next. 

Thanks to Hyperion for the review copy!

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7. Coffee and a chat

If we were having coffee... I'd tell you I miss blogging. The once-a-week posting is getting old (and I'm sure it is for you too), but I'm just SO busy. If you look at my calendar for March, I have something going on almost every single day and that just doesn't leave a whole lot of room for sitting down and typing out book reviews. Or reading books for that matter. I'm just behind on everything. It's slightly overwhelming, but getting out at night is nice!

If we were having coffee... I'd tell you that Elliott has started calling me "mommy" which is super adorable. I realize this is a normal thing for kids, but I've always been "mama" and just one day he started calling me mommy. Totally caught me off-guard and still gets a smile out of me several times a day.

I don't even have a recent picture of him for this post. That's how behind I am. 

If we were having coffee... I'd tell you all about my hatred of winter. I used to LOVE winter. Fall and winter were always my favorite seasons growing up in snowy Upstate NY, but as I've grown older, I realize that my moods are definitely associated with the seasons and I need sunshine. I may hate the humidity of summer, but the days staying lighter longer and more sunshine than clouds definitely helps keep me in my usual cheerful form. It's supposed to be 70 today and high 20's tomorrow, so really, March can just go away.

If we were having coffee... I'd gush over the brilliance that was True Detective. I think that's the best television I've ever seen. It was like watching a fantastic 8-hour movie. The acting was great, the plot was CRAZY, and the unique format kept me hooked. Whole new cast next season. So cool.

If we were having coffee... I'd probably talk about my fear of this Dave Ramsey Financial Peace class we're starting next week. It's going to be intense. Anyone else take it?

Here's to more reviews later in the week, I hope!

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8. Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Luc, a young orphan in Gabon, drying glasses in a bar for a few coins each day, finds himself working with a researcher from the National Geographic Society studying endangered chimps. Luc finds a sort of family with the chimps - each with their own personality - and with the man known as "the Prof." 

The descriptions were incredibly realistic and transported me into the jungle with Luc (and the bugs and spiders and other scary things). I loved feeling that close to a character and his experiences and grew to understand more about the chimpanzee animal through Luc's own learning. He was an inspiring protagonist and one that still has me thinking of his story, days after finishing the book. I was definitely taken out of my comfort zone and into a survival story unlike any other I've read. 

I'm totally in love with Schrefer's writing and cannot wait for his next book. I absolutely loved last year's Endangered and was thrilled to see Schrefer continued to write about great apes. I just learned that Threatened is the second in a quartet of books about great apes and orangutans are up next, followed by gorillas. And if you haven't read Endangered, which features a bonobo sanctuary, you most definitely should. It was a well-deserved National Book Award finalist!

I can see teachers using these books as excellent conversation starters in their classrooms. Such a great read!

Thanks to Scholastic for the review copy!

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9. Reading with Elliott: More Picture Books!

Apparently, I've fallen off the face of the earth. Sorry about that, friends. Life gets busy sometimes and the blog has to take a backseat to play dates, dinners, and meetings -- I know most of you have the same challenge when trying to fit in blog posts to your daily routine. There's just not enough time in the day. I love being busy, but I also love sharing books with you, so hopefully I'll find more time to fit that in this week. 

I thought a great post to get back in the swing of things would be sharing with Elliott and I have been enjoying lately. He's still wanting to read dozens of books a day (hooray for that!) and we've received some new ones that we both have loved. 

Two books that are helping us to think about this never-ending winter being over:

Nest by Jorey Hurley is a beautiful introduction to a bird's life. The text was sparse, letting the gorgeous illustrations tell the story from popping out of their eggs to learning to fly and eventually seeing the next generation build a nest. 

I've used this one to talk about birds and their homes, pointing out the multiple nests we have in our trees outside, to let the book turn into a mini nature lesson. 

We're Going to the Farmers' Market by Stefan Page is a colorful board book perfect for market season! Our farm market hasn't quite started up yet, so reading this one every day and seeing all the wonderfully delicious fresh food we will buy each week is definitely getting us in the mood for some market shopping! Winter... please go away. 

The illustrations are modern and bold in color, perfect for a quick read. We've tossed this in our bag for our daily outings and it's been a hit every time. 

Big Rig by Jamie Swenson is perfect for my little truck lover. Frankie the Big Rig brings us along on one of his trips and teaches readers all about the trucker lingo and the rules of the road. Did you know, when a truck has a blowout, the leftover tire treads are called alligators? Cool fact of the day. 

If you're reading this aloud, you should definitely put on your best trucker voice. Southern was the way to go for me ;) 

Great sound effects and a fun way to learn new words. Elliott's favorite part was definitely when Frankie honked his horn!

Zoom, Zoom: Sounds of Things That Go in the City by Robert Burleigh is another excellent one for vehicle lovers. Each page spread has a short, rhyming text on different sounds a city makes throughout the day. There's the loud "WAKE UP CITY" moment and the "Rattle-Rattle-Roll" of the school bus after the school day lets out. Then the "Ring! Ring!" of the rice cream truck and the "Boogie! Boogie! Woogie-woogie-woogie!" of party time. 

The rhymes are great and the illustrations, done by Tad Carpenter are absolutely fantastic. Perfectly bright and vibrant - as a city definitely is! 

Finally, we have totally fallen for this new Bible.  It's The Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers by L.J. Sattgast.  I've been looking for something a little simpler than the toddler Bibles we already have and this one has been absolutely perfect. We read it every day at lunch and sometimes make it through the entire book! That should tell you how simple it is ;)

Ten stories from the Bible are covered using short, rhyming verses with bright illustrations. Super simple. No real details, which is what I need for a 2-year-old's attention span and level of understanding. I'm happy with the way the stories are presented and Elliott enjoys reading it, often reaching for it without any convincing from me. Win!

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, Chronicle, and Zondervan for the review copies!

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10. Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Bohemian poet living at Steepletop in the 1920's with her husband. Constantly searching for her latest muse for her work through lavish parties and scandalous behavior. 

Laura Kelley: Seamstress simply trying to survive and make a life for her daughter. Still living in the shadow of her own scandal. Ostracized by the town, despite her talent for fashion and design.

When these women meet, an awkward relationship is formed out of necessity for both of them. Laura needs money and Edna needs inspiration. Despite their social status, the reader slowly learns that the woman aren't really all that different. 

I had heard of Edna St. Vincent Millay - probably through a high school English class - but knew absolutely nothing about her before opening the pages. Her free spirit and scandalous lifestyle were somewhat humorous to read about (in fiction), simply because she didn't give one care about what the people in town thought about her and always gave them something to gossip about. She loved her crazy life and made no apologies.  Her depression and often manic moods gave a balance to her story, however disheartening.

Edna's desire for Laura just poured off the pages through her dramatic words and outburst. Though her downward spiral was not at all funny, her intensity and flair for drama often came across as humorous... which I loved. Her psychological state was often in question, but her passion for everything she loved was obvious.  Robuck achieved that fine balance of allowing the reader to truly get in the head of her character -- even if that character was also real person.

Laura's emotions were honest and beautiful. She spends her days reliving her sin, as no one would possibly let her forget what pain her poor decisions have brought. Her relationship with her sister is broken, the town hates her and refuses to bring her business, and all she truly wants is a happy life for her little girl. Her bitterness is apparent, but the tiny threads of hope she is given from Millay and through Gabriel's character are her saving grace. I loved Laura and was truly rooting for her from the first few pages.

Fallen Beauty was such an interesting look at two characters who, at first glance appear to be polar opposites, end up being very similar in their goals. It was a quick read - one I couldn't put down - and I instantly had to Google Millay to find out more.

When Erika Robuck published Hemingway's Girl back in 2012, I could just tell she was going to be an author that I couldn't get enough of and I was totally right. Her combination of fact and fiction is beautifully done and with each book, has made me want to read more on real life characters she weaves into her fictional stories. Fallen Beauty is her best yet.

Definitely add this one to your TBR pile... and if you haven't read Hemingway's Girl or Call Me Zelda, check those out too.  Release date is 3/4/14, so mark your calendars!

Find Erika Robuck on her website or on Twitter at @ErikaRobuck. 

Thanks to Penguin for the review copy!

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11. New books by favorite middle grade authors

Both Laurel Snyder and Cynthia Lord just have it. They know how to write about kids in a realistic way that not only appeals to their target age group, but to all readers. I've yet to read a book by either that I don't love and both happen to have new ones out right about now.

Laurel Snyder's latest, Seven Stories Up, mixes a little bit of magic and time travel, with a sweet family story many kids can relate to.  I love that she can add a little spice to an otherwise "normal" story and it just comes alive. This one would make an excellent family read aloud!

Half a Chance, Cynthia Lord's latest story, is another family drama, but with some art mixed in. A young girl really wants to get her dad's attention and knows that his love of photography is one way to do it. She spends her summer taking photos and falling in love with the art form her father lives for. It's a quiet story, but filled with so much awesome.

I definitely recommend checking both of these out. Thanks to Random House and Scholastic for the review copies!

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12. Coffee and a chat

I love being able to share tidbits of life with you all, outside of the typical book reviews. I know a lot of you participate in features like this one, so if you do, be sure to link up in the comments. I'd love to check it out!

If we were having coffee... I'd have to tell you about my relaxing trip to Florida. I went for 4 days, all by myself, and had a really nice time just doing a whole lot of nothing. I stayed with family, but I'm one of those weird people who actually like doing things alone, so I spent a couple of days just exploring a state park and hanging at the beach without anyone else. I saw these amazing manatees:

If we were having coffee... I'd gush about this amazing book I read while tucked in a little coffee shop on Flager Beach. Tsh Oxenreider is a blogger I follow over at The Simple Mom and she's written pure truth when it comes to intentional living. Through sections on travel, food, money, time, etc., she expresses her own family's journey to live more intentionally, while giving realistic tips on how we can do that within our own family. It was an amazing read for me and it has once again jump-started our goal to be completely out of debt. Right now that seems like crazy talk, but I know it's possible! 

 Reading the pages was like having a conversation with a friend and I loved how honest she was with herself when it came to making parenting mistakes or what truly saving ALL extra money meant. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I could be doing better as a parent, a wife, and a homemaker. I absolutely loved it.

If you're local, Tsh will be at Ebenezers (my favorite D.C. coffee shop!!) on 2/19 at 6:30 just to hang out and sign books. Kids are welcome!

If we were having coffee... I'd have to brag on my husband for a bit. While I was gone, he took care of Elliott alone, without complaint, cleaned our house from top-to-bottom, and baked. I had an event to attend the night I got back and rather than complaining about me being gone for 4 days and then taking off again, HE BAKED A CAKE for me to take. 

Triple layer chocolate fudge cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. I'm not even being biased when I say it was the best cake I've ever tasted. He's good. 

If we were having coffee... I'd have to show you this amazing picture a friend of ours took. Aaron had it framed for me when I came home and let's just say, the tears were flowing. My boys praying together? So beautiful. 

If we were having coffee... I'd have you tell me I've signed up for too many things. My husband is a rockstar and knows that in order to be a better mom during the long days I'm home with Elliott, I need time to myself in the evening. That used to mean taking long runs, but in the winter months that has meant signing up for activities. Holy cow, I'm busy. Not only have I decided I'm actually an elderly woman in disguise by joining a monthly Bunco league, I've also joined a cookbook club that meets monthly. The hostess chooses a cookbook and we each make a dish of our choosing from the book. Lots of fun... and there's wine. 

Oh and then there's the TWO book clubs I've managed to find myself in. I've had my regular book club that meets at One More Page Books (moderated by Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves) and now I've joined a second one with a few local friends. On the book reading tap this month, I have these two: 

I read Gone Girl way back when it first came out and our discussion is tonight, so I better start reviewing my thoughts. Margot is one I've been looking forward to. 

If you also participate in a feature like this, be sure to leave a link. I'd love to see what you're chatting about over coffee! 

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13. The Free by Willy Vlautin

Severely wounded in the Iraq war, Leroy Kervin has lived in a group home for eight years. Frustrated by the simplest daily routines, he finds his existence has become unbearable. An act of desperation helps him disappear deep into his mind, into a world of romance and science fiction, danger and adventure where he is whole once again.

Freddie McCall, the night man at Leroy's group home, works two jobs yet still can't make ends meet. He's lost his wife and kids, and the house is next. Medical bills have buried him in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative - and dangerous - proposition. 

Pauline Hawkins, a nurse, cares for the sick and wounded, including Leroy. She also looks after her mentally ill elderly father. Yet she remains emotionally removed, until she meets a young runaway who touches something deep and unexpected inside her. (synopsis via the publisher)

Part of me loved the honest feeling this book gives off, while the other part of me was just depressed. The story is incredibly gritty and raw and sad, but as I was processing it, I realized it's a pretty decent portrayal of what a lot of us go through every single day. Life is hard and some people are thrust into situations where they have no other option than to plow through and I think Vlautin did an awesome job of exhibiting that in a very realistic way. 

I have trouble though, with books that are seemingly hopeless. There were threads of hope here and there, but they were so tiny I had a hard time with it. Not the book for me plot-wise, but the writing was great. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the review copy. If you'd like to see the rest of our tour reviews you can find them here:

Monday, February 10th: Between the Covers
Tuesday, February 11th: Books Speak Volumes
Wednesday, February 12th: My Book Retreat
Thursday, February 13th: Anita Loves Books
Tuesday, February 18th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, February 19th: Mel’s Shelves
Thursday, February 20th: Olduvai Reads
Monday, February 24th: River City Reading
Tuesday, February 25th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Wednesday, February 26th: Bluestalking
Thursday, February 27th: Reading on a Rainy Day
Monday, March 3rd: Booksie’s Blog

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14. Pieces of Me by Amber Kizer (and a giveaway)

When high school student, Jessica, is killed in a car accident, her parents do what they can to help their daughter create a legacy -- they donate her organs. Though this was an important decision for them and one they thought their daughter would have wanted, they don't know that Jessica is watching every move they make. She's angry about dying and even angrier that pieces of her are being farmed out to other people. 

As each organ is placed in someone new, Jessica is connected to those individuals through memory. She is able to see how their lives move on and how they eventually all connect with one another, as well as find her own purpose in her short life. Though it sounds like an angry, angst-filled plot, it was really quite beautiful. 

The story was definitely unique and the writing excellent. I haven't read anything by Kizer previously, so that was a pleasant surprise. I found Jessica to be a refreshing character and one that had appropriate emotions towards the situation. Let's be honest, I would probably be pretty angry about dying so young too.  

She felt authentic, despite the fantastical nature of the plot and I believed the story. It was emotional, touching, and just a really good read. I have been really into plain, old contemporary reads lately, so this was a great surprise! 

The lovely folks at Random House have offered up a copy for one of you! Just leave a comment telling me the best book you've read lately and I'll choose a winner on Sunday night. Make sure you leave a valid email address if I can't reach you through a blog. U.S. only. 

If you're interested in following the tour, here are the rest of the stops:

2/10: Bookish

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15. Reading with Elliott

I am so thankful that Elliott truly loves to sit down and read with me. We spend at least an hour a day just sitting in our big green chair, reading story after story, me sending him off to fetch his next choice after we've completed one. He snuggles up to me and actually sits still, which is amazing for this kid. I love it. Proud mama. 

Two recent favorites:

Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

The companion book to Not a Box, it's all about imagination and what the pig decides his stick wants to be today. Sometimes it's a baton and he's the leader of a band, sometimes it's a paintbrush and he creates a beautiful picture. 

Elliott loves seeing what the stick turns into on each page, giggling in anticipation as we turn the page. 

We've had it from the library for a few weeks and have probably read it 100 times. It's one of the very few that I don't cringe at seeing multiple times a day. That's saying a lot! 

Paul Meets Bernadette by Rosy Lamb

This one is another fun one for both adults and kids! Paul is a fish swimming around his lonely bowl, when Bernadette suddenly drops in. She opens Paul's eyes to the wonderful world around their bowl, introducing him to all sort of new attractions. What appear to be boring objects to the reader -- a banana, a spoon, a vase of flowers -- is quite exciting to Paul who never knew these things existed before Bernadette showed him. The misunderstanding of what each object is definitely got giggles from my little guy!

The illustrations were lovely and the plot simple, but fun. Just enough text on the page where Elliott didn't lose interest. Would make a great toddler story time read aloud!

Thanks to Candlewick for the review copy!

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16. Noonday!

So, I've tweeted a lot about Noonday after hearing about it from one of my favorite bloggers, Jenna. I love the concept of this company and the fact that they help real men and women all over the world make a living wage using their talents. It's kind of amazing the things they do. 

"Your fashion sense can now restore dignity to abandoned women in Ethiopia, empower communities in Ecudor, and create business opportunities for Ugandans." I LOVE THAT. 

A good friend of mine recently became a Noonday ambassador and I offered to host a party for her. Yes, there are a few rewards for hosting a party, but I've turned down offers of hosting all sorts of parties before, no matter the rewards. I don't like to sell things and I don't like my friends to feel obligated to buy things from me. Noonday is different. We buy jewelry, men and women support their families. 

If you're interested in browsing the catalog and possibly purchasing from my party, follow this link to the Noonday website. If you decide to buy something, make sure you enter my name in the Trunk Show portion of checkout. "Amanda Snow"

I own several pieces including this cuff, this necklace, and these earrings , and I can vouch for the quality.

My wish list includes this scarf (seriously, I'm kind of obsessed with this) and these earrings. Aren't they beautiful?!

Even if you don't plan to buy anything, read their "About" section, to learn more about the great things they're doing. Noonday is pretty awesome and I'm excited to be a part of it, even if it's just for one evening.

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17. And We Stay review

After an intense trauma and the death of her boyfriend, Emily is sent to live at a boarding school in Amherst. Processing her grief through poetry, Emily begins to channel the famous Emily Dickinson, who not only inspires words, but also helps present-day Emily cope with her new life and eventually connect with two fellow students. 

I loved every minute of this book. Jenny Hubbard made the emotions of a tragedy come through perfectly, while allowing the reader to experience Emily's healing process. I liked that the plot was a bit slow moving and the author focused on Emily as a character, rather than having a lot happen. 

The friendship between Emily and K.T. was quirky and awkward at first, as a real friendship would form, and those were some of my very favorite scenes. I do wish we had more of Amber from the very beginning, but the friendship aspects of the story, overall, were incredible. 

I did not read Hubbard's debut, Paper Covers Rock, but you can bet I'm placing a hold on it from the library as soon as this review is written. I need more of her writing, ASAP!

Thanks to Random House for the review copy. 

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18. Coffee and a chat...

I've seen this feature on several blogs over the past few months (most recently A Healthy Slice of Life and The Perpetual Page Turner) and thought I'd join in! It's always fun to catch up with each other and talk about something other than just books for a day. If you choose to join in, leave a link in the comments, I'd love to see what you're chatting about over coffee!

If we were having coffee... I'd tell you that I was able to go on an awesome hike this morning. It's so hard to hike in the cold with a toddler, so we haven't been out for a few months and it was just fantastic this morning. We took a new-to-us trail and stumbled upon old cemeteries and railroad tracks. I love being in the woods, especially in the chilly mornings, so this was the perfect way to spend a holiday morning. 

If we were having coffee... I'd fill you in on my Florida trip coming up next week. I'm the type of mom that realizes, in order to be a BETTER mom, I need time to myself. So, I'm hopping in the car next week and making the drive to Florida to hang out with my Aunt for a few days. I plan to eat a lot, spend time by the water, and just relax. Hopefully it will be just the refresher I need. 

If we were having coffee... I'd tell you that we're supposed be getting a lot of snow tomorrow. Not that it's the most interesting topic in the world, but seriously, I live in Northern Virginia. These people can't handle their snow and I'm sure they've already started closing schools for the predicted 5", which means a day stuck in the house. No Bible study, no play groups, just stuck inside. I have a really hard time being in the house for hours on end with a 2-year-old. Not sure about you other moms out there, but I need outside time for my sanity!

If we were having coffee... I'd let you laugh at me when I said I signed up for my first half marathon. Remember last year when I set that as one of my goals and then slowly realized I didn't have the desire to be a distance runner? Well, I've been convinced by a friend that we need to do one, just to do it. It may be the only one I ever run, but I have enough time to prepare for it that I'm not super nervous. Yet. 

If we were having coffee... I'd show you this bag that I'm dying to own. Saw a customer with it while I was working this weekend and she told me the Etsy shop she bought it from. Love. Getting a little selfish here, because I'm so NOT a bag person and would never spend that kind of money. But, I love it. I also love this one. And since we're chatting about Etsy shops, I'll take one of everything from here

If we were having coffee... I'd tell you about this amazing 4 week book club a few of my friends and I are doing together. Based on Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, we've been getting together each Monday night for the past few weeks and each bringing a dish from the menu in the book. It's 8 of us that didn't know each other very well before starting this and after only a couple weeks, we've all become great friends. You should definitely try it! On this week's menu:

Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Watermelon Feta Salad
Magical White Bean Soup
Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee with Vanilla Ice Cream

Even if you don't jump into a book club/dinner party, I highly recommend the book. It was one of my favorites last year. 

Hoping to make this a weekly feature! Join me!

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19. Playing St. Barbara review

"The secrets, struggles, and self-redemption of a Depression-era coal miner's wife and three daughters plays out against a turbulent historical backdrop of Ku Klux Klan intimidation and the 1933 Pennsylvania Mine War. Their intertwined lives eerily mirror the 7th century legend of St. Barbara, patroness of miners, reenacted annually in the town pageant. 

Tested by scandal, heartbreak, and tragedy, each woman will write her own courageous ending to St. Barbara's story." (Description via Goodreads). 

When I picked up this book to read it, I didn't really know much about it, having only briefly read the description a few weeks prior. Sometimes those are the most interesting books! I learned so much about mining life and this Mine War, while being thrown into these four women's lives through the excellent character development. We all know how I am attracted to character-driven novels and this one definitely shone in that area. Drama with a punch. 

I also loved the idea of St. Barbara having such a large role in this story, not ever having heard of her before. I don't know a whole lot about saints, but having a town pageant dedicated to this particular patroness of miners was fascinating. Though I didn't grow up anywhere near a mining town, the people of The Hive and the way life was led there truly reminded me of my own small town, with its quiet caste system and drama-filled lives. 

I was part of the TLC Book Tour for Playing St. Barbara. You can find author Marian Szczepanski on her website or on Facebook. You can find the rest of the tour stops here

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20. These Broken Stars review

Lilac and Tarver could not be more different. The daughter of an incredibly rich and powerful man -- literally the richest in the universe -- Lilac is privileged beyond any measure. She longs for real relationships and friendships, yet with her father constantly watching, most people are afraid to approach her. 

Tarver is a war hero. He's famous, but considered low on the totem pole socially and he knows it. Though he finds Lilac beautiful, it's quickly made apparent that he would never have a chance with her. 

Then the ship crashes. 

Well, technically the ship doesn't crash YET, but as the impending crash becomes more obvious, Lilac and Tarver are launched into space, landing on unfamiliar territory and forced to attempt survival with only each other as company. What happens is actually quite beautiful. 

Books with spaceships aren't typically my first choice of reading material, but after hearing all the buzz about this book and chatting with some of my most trusted blogger friends, I decided to give it a try anyway. So glad I did. 

The plot was nicely paced and the characters, despite their "typical" love story were not at all typical. It felt like a fresh take on a YA love story and I really appreciated that. Lilac was annoying, but understandably so, and Tarver was just swoon-worthy. 

I'm definitely looking forward to the next one by this writing duo! Oooh and the cover -- so pretty!

Thanks to Disney-Hyperion for the review copy. 

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21. Young Adult Fiction Cybils finalists

This is my 6th year participating as a judge for the Cybils and I'm really excited to be on the Round 2 Young Adult Fiction panel this time around. Round 1 is great, but SO much work! This time, I can sit back and enjoy the finalists and help to pick the ultimate winner. My brain thanks me for this change. 

The Round 1 judges have managed to choose 6 great titles for us to choose from and I know it's going to be tough choosing a winner. This is what happens when so many great books are published each year.

Here's what my team is working with:

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Winners will be announced on February 14th! 

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22. Thoughts on 2013 and looking ahead

Every good book blogger must write-up a year-in-review post right? So what if I'm a week late. With the holiday madness of travel and life stuff getting in the way, blogging had to take a backseat these past few weeks. I'm going to try to be better this year... but more on that later.

2013 started off great with books for me. I was flying through them and so many were fantastic that I really thought, despite having a small child, this might be my best reading year yet. Unfortunately, during the summer, my motivation fizzled or the books stopped being quite as great... not really sure what happened, but my reading became sporadic and I really lost my drive to finish any book. Like I referred to it before: life stuff. Sometimes life happens and reading takes a nosedive and that's what happened with me. I'm sad and regretful about it though, so definitely hoping to get it all back. I miss my books!

I originally started out with a goal of 105, which seemed doable, matching my 2012 number of books read. I figured, with a busy toddler, I'd be reading less. I hit 105 sometime over the summer and upped my goal to 150, thinking at the rate I was going, I'd probably fly past that too. Nope. Everything fizzled out and I slowed down. Total number of books read in 2013: 142. 


Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
The Time Between by Karen White
Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Hold Fast by Blue Balliet
7 by Jen Hatmaker
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Ok, so that's 11, but I couldn't leave out the 2nd Moyes book. So good.

For 2014, I just want to read. Simple as that. Last year I really wanted to read a lot of non-fiction and expand my reading from mainly YA to other things. This year? Just read. Read what I want. Read less books for review and more on my TBR. I might set a numbers goal, I might not. I just want the love of reading that I've always had back. 

A lot of people choose a word to focus on for the year. My word for 2014 is Peace. This past year kicked my butt. Having my baby turn into a toddler was difficult in so many ways. He's the only little one I'll have in our home and so each milestone is incredibly bittersweet, but I also learned that patience can be difficult to come by and my stress level went through the roof some weeks. 

I didn't read as much as I wanted, but also took on the amazing blessing of leading my local chapter of MOPS and becoming an encouragement to 50 women every other week. Some excellent stuff goes on in those meetings and I'm so thankful to just be part of the group. It's a lot to do, but so much fun and more rewarding than I could have ever hoped for. 

In the midst of all the happiness and craziness, there was definitely struggle, but in 2014, peace is what I'm aiming for. Peace and lots of reading. Happy 2014 all. 

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23. Books to give

This Christmas is the year of the books. I always give books as gifts, but usually accompanying something else. This year, I'm just giving piles of books to people and calling it a day. I'm totally good with that and hopefully they are too!

Here are just a few of the books I'm giving to kids this year:

And for the grown-ups:

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24. Holidays, handmade gifts, and not blogging

Oh, friends… I'm such a blogging failure lately. I've been caught up in all the holiday goodness that happens this time of year and I've just let the blog slip. Really though, I'm enjoying the craziness of the season and haven't been reading many books anyway. I have, however, been reading your blogs, and I must admit that my favorite posts this time of year aren't book reviews -- they're gift guides.

I LOVE a good gift guide. I'm not sure what it is about seeing the things other bloggers buy for their families, but I'm kinda obsessed. I didn't really want to create my own gift guide, but I did want to share a few of the Etsy shops I've purchased gifts from this year. I love giving indie businesses a shout-out, so this is my way of doing that!

Beautiful ornaments from ThisOnesMineDesigns to accompany my handmade granola.

More gorgeous ornaments from one of my all time favorite shops: Two Elephants.

A printable quote from JaydotCreative and beautiful prints from Pen & Paint. Love to frame these… inexpensive, yet fabulous gifts.

The perfect cross charm from moderninspireddesign.

Aren't those great? With Elliott, we really don't buy him many gifts. Last year, if you remember, we stuck firmly to the something he "Wants, Needs, Wears, Reads, Creates with" categories and 1 Santa gift. This year, we haven't even done quite that much, because I know many of the things our relatives are getting for him and he really just does not need much more from us. 

Santa is bringing him a trampoline, similar to this one:

The kid LOVES to jump, so we knew this would be a great way to get his energy out. Plus, I found it brand new, on Craigslist, for a steal.

He's also getting some art supplies, including a fun stamp set and this toddler collage set:

We also were given a hand-me-down set of Matchbox cars and the tractor trailer carrier they come in. He'll pretty much be in heaven with that. I could have just given it to him, I suppose, but why not stick a bow on it for Christmas morning?

Finally, books. He'll be getting a few books, of course. On the list this year are Little Blue Truck, Can You Make a Scary Face, and My Big Train Book

We went small and simple, because my in-laws decided on a big gift this year that he'll love… I'm just still not quite sure where it's going to go. This train table will be making an appearance on Christmas morning:

They had it shipped to our house, so we can set it up on Christmas morning. If you've been to our house, you know that floor space is at a premium, but really, I couldn't resist when they suggested this. He's obsessed with all things trains and would spend hours playing with the table at B&N if I'd let him. Playdate at our house!

We've also been hard at work on gifts for other people. I made a huge batch of homemade granola (from Fix, Freeze, Feast) and divided it up amongst mason jars for teacher gifts. Between Bible study, MOPS, and Sunday school, he has a fairly large group of people who play with him each week. Inexpensive gifts were key. This is the time of year I wish I could knit. 

Tomorrow, I'll have a post about the bookish-gifts I'm giving to family and friends, so look for that!

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25. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage review

Ann Patchett has a magical way of writing that draws me in immediately, whether it be a fiction or non-fiction book of her's I'm reading. This collection of essays, some that I had read before, is a glimpse into not only marriage, but also friendships, opening a bookstore, and the writing process. 

Spreading from her childhood all the way through present day, Patchett takes snapshots of her life - both small and large moments of her history - and allows the reader a candid reading of her experiences. The writing is beautiful and the look at relationships is absolutely fascinating. 

I loved, as a reader, being able to relate to an author so precisely. You'll want to sit down and talk with Patchett over coffee or tea, sharing cookies or lunch and comparing life stories. Hand this book to any woman you know and she'll find herself somewhere, in one of the stories. 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review copy! You can check out the rest of the tour stops here

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