All posts by Vasilly

About Vasilly

Mother, daughter, sister, college student, bookworm, lover of chocolate and coffee.

Review: The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart

17841897The Visionist

Rachel Urquhart

352 pages

Published in January 2013 by Little, Brown and Co.

Source: Publishers

It had been but a few hours since her father had threatened them. Had he come at Mama with a shovel? Crept in and dropped a fieldstone so close to Ben as he sat on the floor that his fingers had near been crushed? Was this the night he’d swiped at them all with a broken bottle and left a gash the length of a hare’s ear on Mama’s arm? Polly often found it difficult to separate his rages one from the next.

It’s Massachusetts, 1842 and fifteen-year old Polly Kimball accidently sets fire to her family’s farm, killing her father. To escape from whatever fate awaits her, Polly and her younger brother Ben are sent by their mother to live in the Shaker community, City of Hope. It’s not long after Polly’s arrival that she finds a kindred soul in Sister Charity, a young Shaker outsider with mysterious marks covering her body. For the first time ever, Polly thinks that she might find the peace that she has always been looking for. But what the girl doesn’t know is that Simon Pryor, a fire inspector, is searching for her and other survivors of the Kimball farm fire. The Visionist is Rachel Urquhart’s superb debut about love, faith, and hope even after so much has been lost.

Guys, The Visionist came out of nowhere and just made my end-of-the-year reading so much better.

I’m not someone who normally reads historical fiction. And the novel’s beginning was kind of slow, but there was something so authentic about this story that I had to continue reading.

The novel’s title comes from the time period the book is set in. This was a time of change for Shaker communities as many Shaker girls across the Northeast were receiving mystical visions. It’s not long after Polly’s arrival to the City of Hope, that she too has visions. When Polly becomes a Visionist, Sister Charity is willing to sacrifice everything in her belief of Polly’s goodness. But not all believe in Polly’s visions or her goodness. As holy as some Shakers think they are, there are a few who have their own selfish motives.

While reading the novel, I felt as though I was transported back into the 1840s. I heard of Quakers and even of Shaker furniture, but Shakers themselves? Nope. The details that went into this novel were numerous. Readers learned of the Shakers ways which include rules about when girls should start covering their hair, to the separation of males and females, to exactly how one should eat their food. There is a rule for everything.

Though the Shaker ways seem strange to Polly, they’re a welcome change from her previous life. Growing up, fear played a bigger role in her life than love.  Even her mother won’t protect her from her alcoholic father’s rages. Now that he’s gone, memories of Polly’s father still haunts her. It’s almost as though he’s still alive.

I found The Visionist to be an engrossing read. The characters were honest and flawed, the Shaker community was interesting to read about, and the writing had passages that were just beautiful. I hope Urquhart writes a sequel to the book. I would love to learn of Polly’s fate. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Bout of Books Read-a-thon 9.0 New Update

bout of booksIt’s here! The ninth Bout of Books read-a-thon! This will be my first time joining the event and I’m pretty excited. Here’s some info about the event:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 6th and runs through Sunday, January 12th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 9.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

We’re almost a week into 2014 and I haven’t finished a book yet. This needs to change. Bout of Books would be the perfect way to help me jumpstart my reading.

My goals:

  • to finish the four books I’m currently reading.
  • to read every day. I need to get back into the habit of daily reading.

My Books:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – I’m about halfway through.

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

Finding Your Element by Ken Robinson (non-fiction)

The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky

You would think I would have finished one of these books by now. Instead, I’ve been doing things like watching Fringe and X-Files season six on Netflix and playing Just Dance 2014. Have some priorities, Vasilly. I would have taken a picture of my books but it’s 5:30 in the morning and no coffee in sight just yet. The pictures will come later, I promise.

Are you joining the Bout of Books event?

Tuesday morning update

hadfieldGuys, I’m starting to think I’m hopeless. I started another book instead of finishing one that I’ve already started reading. Actually, I started two books yesterday: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield and The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier. Both are pretty good so far. But today, I’m going to buckle down and read The Golden Day, one of the books on my stack. I have a few things to do outside the home today so I’m bringing it with me. Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

Saturday morning update

You guys! I finished a book! Finally! Trying to do Bout-of-Books the same week that school has started back, hasn’t been a great idea but I’m making progress. I finished The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarksy. It was a quiet but good read. It’s been labeled as YA but it’s really an adult book. I’m write more about it next week. Now I’m on to continuing another book I’ve started: To The End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam. After multiple renewals, it’s due back at the library Tuesday.

If you’re doing Bout of Books, how’s your progress going?

My first read of 2014

first book of the year eventSheila over at A Book Journey asked readers which book will be their first read of the year. Read below to find out what I chose as my first read of 2014.

It’s almost a superstition to believe that the first book of the year can make or break your reading for the year. Almost. Last year, the first book I read was a children’s book. So were the next three or four books. The start of 2013 was a hectic time and I didn’t have the energy or interest to find anything long and/or engaging.

It’s a new year and things are pretty settled for now. So what should I pick? Do I chose something that’s been sitting on my shelves for ages? Maybe I should go with a library book? After a week or two of indecision, I picked up Ursula Dubosarsky’s slim book, The Golden Day, and read the first page,


The year began with the hanging of one man and ended with the drowning of another. But every year people die and their ghosts roam in the public gardens, hiding behind the gray, dark statues like wild cats, their tiny footprints and secret breathing muffled by the sound of falling water in the fountains and the quiet ponds.

The Golden Day is about a classroom of girls who go on a field trip with their teacher but return without her. The teacher never returns and the girls are left wondering what happened. I’m in the middle of several books but I can’t wait to start reading this.

What is your first read of 2014 going to be?


Favorite books of 2013

It’s that time where I get to share with everyone my favorite books of the year! So looking back at all the books I’ve read for 2013, it was a “meh” sort of year. There were some good books, some great ones, and a lot of “meh” reads, which is why overall my year wasn’t that great. As I write this (Sunday morning), I’ve read 249 books in all. By the time January hits, I’ll probably add two more books to that number.

Before I get to my favorite books of the year, here’s a few things about the list that surprised me.

1. Most of the books that made the list were published in 2013. That’s never happened before.

2. None of the books that made the list were books I owned. This is one more reason why I’m tackling my tbr mountain in 2014.

3. The oldest book on my list is Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It was originally published in 1973.

4. The newest book on my list is The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart. It’s publication date is January 14, 2014. I found it such a good read that I had to add it to my list of favorites.

5. Every book that made my list is a book that I’m willing to buy. Pure and simple. If I’m not willing to buy it, I won’t give it five stars or add it to my list.

So enough of that, here’s my favorite books of 2013:








bestof2013hbestof2013i.jpgThe last book is Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson.

Have you read any of these books? Which books made your “favorites” list of 2013?

The Goldfinch Read-along

tarttThings would have turned out better if she had lived. As it was, she died when I was a kid; and though everything that’s happened to me since then is thoroughly my own fault, still when I lost her I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life.

Theo’s right; his life probably would have been much better if his mother had lived. So much wouldn’t have happened but yet much of it wasn’t his fault.

I usually don’t read books in which a child has lost their parent and life is drastically changed. As a single mother, it’s one of my worst fears and the story is usually heartbreaking. I forgot that detail (as big as it is), when I agreed to read The Goldfinch.

This post is a few days late and I’m still only halfway through Theo’s absorbing story. For those of you who are reading the book or have finished, what is your opinion of the book? What stands out? What do you love (or hate) about it? 

Sunday Salon: 2014 as The Year of Tackling My TBR Mountain

sunday salonWhen I look back at all the books I’ve read this year, I realize that only a handful were books of my own. Now that’s disappointing since I have so many unread books. Every year I say this but I mean it this year; it’s time for me to focus on my tbr pile.

Like many readers, my tbr pile is not a pile but more of a mountain, spanning across genres and years, collecting dust as I read books from the library and publishers. Granted, my stack has gotten smaller as I’ve given away hundreds of books (200+) this year, but there are still so many books unread.

I’ve started to realize that this quest to tackle my tbr mountain is a never-ending one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. How many readers among us have read every single book on their shelves?  When I’m constantly ignoring the books I’ve spent money on, it’s a problem.

I’m declaring 2014 as The Year of the Tbr Mountain. I have over 600 books and probably 60-75% of these books are unread. Some are of these books are classics like The Iliad, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Others are modern favorites like Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine and The Namesake by Jhumpi Lahiri. When am I ever going to get to these rich and seemingly deserving titles if I don’t make an effort to?

Some of you might be wondering what’s the big deal. Why not read whatever I want? I do and I still will but I’ve been feeling some guilt over the years about these books collecting dust. What usually happens is that time passes: months and years go by and I’ve forgotten why I was so excited to read these books. I end up giving them away to my local library or thrift store.

No more. With a few exceptions, I’m no longer accepting review copies. I still have a few arcs left that I plan on reading and reviewing at the beginning of the year along with a stack of library books that are too interesting to give back unread.

I’m excited about this goal and I’ve already started. If I can read at least one book from my shelf every week, I’m happy. Wish me luck.

What are your reading goals for 2014? 

Thoughts: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

patchettThis Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Ann Patchett

320 pages

Published in November 2013 by Harper

Source: Public Library

…You will take bits from books you’ve read and movies you’ve seen and conversations you’ve had and stories friends have told you, and half the time you won’t even realize you’re doing it. I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I’ve had, gets shoveled onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots. It’s from that rich, dark humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know and what you’ve forgotten, that ideas start to grow. (I could make a case for the benefits of wide-ranging experience, both personal and literary, as enriching the compost, but the life of Emily Dickinson neatly dismantles that theory.)

from the essay, “The Getaway Car

I didn’t know what to think when I first decided to read Patchett’s collection of personal essays. I tried reading Bel Canto, one of her most popular books, but failed to get through more than a few pages. Oftentimes, I find when I can’t get through a writer’s fiction, I’m successful at their nonfiction and vice versa. I was right again with this collection.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of personal essays from Ann Patchett, many of which have been previously published in various publications. With topics ranging from the author’s relationship with her grandmother to the failure of her first marriage and the blossoming of her second one, readers find themselves being pulled along by the Patchett’s relaxed voice.

The title essay about Patchett’s first marriage and how she came to remarry is so personal, so well-written, that I had to read it in its entirety out loud. That’s how wonderful it is. I had no idea that Patchett originally wrote and read the essay for Audible. It’s an essay that’s meant to be listened to.

While I don’t know if I would ever give the author’s fictional works a try again, I do know that I won’t hesitate to pick up her essays. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday Salon

sunday salonTime: // 6:33 a.m.

The place: // my living room. The heater is going and for the most part, it’s quiet.

Eating: // nothing yet.

Drinking: // I plan on starting on my first cup of coffee in a minute 

Reading: // I’m in the middle of four books right now: a collection of poetry called Chasing Utopia by Nikki Giovanni, Why Teach? by Mark Edmundson (essays), This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (essays), and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt for the read-along. The nice thing about dipping in and out of the nonfiction books is that I can’t lose my place. I can read an essay by Patchett on writing, read another essay by Edmundson on teacher evaluations, and go back and forth without having to remember a plot or character’s name. We’ll see what happens once I get deep into The Goldfinch.

Blogging: // I’m pretty proud of myself for blogging a few times this week. I shared:

I’m thinking about: // my resolutions for 2014, reading and otherwise. I’m still working on my list, but I think I’m going to start working on my resolutions now instead of waiting for the new year to arrive. The kids are out on Christmas break so I can focus on the things that I want to change or get done. I plan on sharing my list sometime this week.

Now I’m off to: // read and enjoy my cup of coffee. What have you been reading/writing/listening to this week?

Podcasts for Bicycles by Nikki Giovanni

Podcasts for Bicycles


I loved before

I understood;

Love is a skill


I loved my Mother’s cool hands

On my forehead


I loved the safety

Of her arms

I trusted

Before I understood

The word


Mommy would say

When I had fallen:

“Come here, Nikki,

and I’ll pick you up”


and I would wipe my eyes

push myself off my fat bottom

and tottle over to her

for my reward:

a kiss and a “That’s my Big Girl!”


I am still a sucker

For that one


But I grew up

And learned

Trust and love

Are crafts we practice

Are wheels

We balance

Our lives on



We ride

Through challenges and changes


To escape and ecstasy

-from Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni

giovanni utopia

The Goldfinch Read-along


The Goldfinch Read-along

December 13, 2013 – December 27, 2013

Athira and I have decided to host a read-along of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. It’s one of the many books we’re hoping to finish before the end of the year, so why not read it together? The Goldfinch seems to be one of those books that everyone has read this year. Most of the reviews have been pretty positive.

The read-along is pretty informal. There won’t be any progress posts to write. There will be some kind of discussion post at the end.

In case you’re a little scared nervous about reading such a big book (784 pages to be exact), read one of my favorite posts from Meredith (Dolce Bellezza) about The Goldfinch.

Want to join us?

2014 Chunkster Challenge

chunkster challenge 2014aChunkster Challenge

Hosted by me but on this blog

January 1 – December 31, 2014

A few days ago I mentioned that the Chunkster Challenge will be back in 2014. Even though I’m the host, this challenge is well, a challenge. Chunksters can be intimidating because of their size and the time needed to read them. So that made me think long and hard about the rules and there’s been some changes.

  • Audio books and e-books are now allowed. You want to listen to a chunkster on audio? Be my guest.
  • There won’t be any levels in 2014. It’s up to participants to decide how many chunksters they want to read.

If you want to know the other rules, go to next year’s sign-up page.

For the Chunkster Challenge, I’m trying to stick to my tbr pile. I need to tackle that sucker in 2014. I’m hoping to read a chunkster a month. I’m calling my reading pool the “pool of shame” since most of these books have been on my shelves for years people.

Learning to Lose by David Trueba

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Every year I say I’m going to read this book and never do.

Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. If I can read a short story or two a week, I can finish this book in 2014.

oneillAmerican Food Writing: An Anthology with Classic Recipes edited by Molly O’Neill. Guys, it took me years to find this book at a reasonable price. I found it for a dollar years ago and never read it.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnman (nonfiction)

Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America by Enrique Krauze

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. Last year I went on and on about this book and never finished it.

Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance by Carla Kaplan

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

Don’t Know Much about History by Kenneth C. Davis

The Street Sweeper by Eliot Perlman

What to Look For in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness by Canadia McWilliam

The Iliad by Homerlamb

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

The Jinni and the Golem by Helene Wrecker. I started this book a few weeks ago and didn’t finish.

Unless I have a spectacular reading year in 2014, there will be a few of these that I won’t get to. The ones I don’t read, I’m giving away.

Will you join the Chunkster Challenge?

Sunday Salon

sunday salonTime: // 7:04 p.m. – Saturday

Place: // my living room, looking at my Christmas tree. I wish I could take a decent picture of it to show you all. It’s white with bulbs that are dark purple, dark blue, and periwinkle.

Listening to: // Christmas music

Eating:// just finished oxtails and rice. Yum!

Drinking: // what else? A cup of coffee.

Currently reading: // My reading is going slowly. I just started Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and continuing The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.

Up Next: // Flora and Ulysses by Kate Dicamillo.

chunkster challenge 2014a

Promoting: // sign-ups for The Chunkster Challenge. I’m the new host and have made some changes to the rules of the challenge. E-books and audio books are now acceptable. I hope you all think about signing up.

Avoiding but really need to: // write some reviews.

Watching: // Iron Man 3. After that, it’s on to Sweet November with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron and then the latest Sherlock Holmes movie. Robert Downing Jr. can do no wrong in my book.

Now I’m off to: // read and enjoy the rest of my night.

What are you up to?

December goals and what I’m currently reading

It’s scary how December is here already! It seems like 2013 may be the fastest year ever. One minute it was January and I was rolling out my resolutions and now it’s December and I’m not halfway done with my list. What is that about?

I figured that I should share my December goals in hopes of being bullied motivated in keeping them. I need all the help I can get.

1. Finish reading the last stack of solicited review copies. There are only 10 books left so that should be do-able. Next year, I plan on reading only my own books and those from the library.

2. Post 2014 sign-ups for the Chunkster Challenge blog. I will be taking over the challenge from Wendy next year.

3. Post more regularly. This year has been so busy that I haven’t been able to blog that much. If I can post at least three times a week, I’m happy.

That’s my list, short but simple.

Currently reading

patchettThanksgiving break has come to an end and I didn’t read as much as I wanted to. I was too busy fighting a cold. Currently I’m reading Ann Patchett’s essay collection, This is The Story of a Happy Marriage. The title story is so beautiful, so honest that I read the whole thing aloud. This is my first time reading something by the author. I tried and fail to get through more than a few pages of Bel Canto. Sometimes reading an author’s non-fiction work is a better experience than reading their fiction.

I’m still dipping in and out of Why Teach? by Mark Edmundson. Essay and short story collections are the only works where readers can weave in and out of as time allows. It’s perfect for me during this hectic season.

What are you reading/watching/listening to this week?

Sunday Salon

sunday salonTime: // 4:40 p.m. Saturday

The scene: // my living room

Eating: // saltine crackers while waiting for my chili to warm up.

Listening to: // Marsha Ambrosius

Celebrating: // the fact that Thanksgiving break is here! It actually started last Wednesday. I am so happy. Now I can dive into all the books I’ve been ignoring.

gaiman milkSo far I’ve read: //

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Chew Vol. 6 Space Cakes by John Layman

You and Your Anxious Child by Anne Marie Albano

beamCurrently reading: //

Why Teach? In Defense of a Real Education by Mark Edmundson (essays)

To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam (Publishers Weekly deemed it one of the best books published this year.)

Did not finish: // The Whatnot by Stefan Bachman

Up next: // who knows? I am eyeing The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, which I never did get a chance to start reading the last time I had it. I need a good fiction read to start on. Other choices include:

            Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

            Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

            The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky

            Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

 All five books are also on Publishers Weekly Best of 2013 list.

Now I’m off to: // relax and dive into a book. What are you up to?

DNF: The Color Master by Aimee Bender

benderThe Color Master

Aimee Bender

222 pages

Published in August  2013 by Doubleday

Source: Public Library


Andi, Andi, Andi. Remember when I saw The Color Master on NetGalley and had to tell you about it? Then you read it before me but didn’t love it? Yeah, me too.

Here’s the thing, Aimee Bender’s stories are often fantastical and strange and yet beautiful. Her previous novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, about a young girl trying to come to terms with her strange gift in a dysfunctional family, was beautiful and strange but also felt true. So the decision to read The Color Master was a no-brainer.

The Color Master ended up being an uneven collection of stories that I didn’t bother to finish. There were tales that were amazing and only Bender could have wrote. There were others that were regular and didn’t belong at all.

The book’s highlights:

“The Color Master” – This story is so simple and beautiful and just lovely. Bender takes inspiration from the fairy tale “Donkeyskin” to write a story about the color master who was able to make a dress the color of the moon. This story alone is worth the time it takes to put this book on hold at your local library, pick it up, take it home, and read. It’s that amazing. I photocopied this tale just so I can read it again and again and figure out how the author wrote it.

“The Red Ribbon” is the tale of a woman in a loveless marriage. Or rather, she doesn’t love her husband enough. The story doesn’t really fit the collection but it‘s humorous.

“Tiger Mending” – The story of two sisters, one a misfit and the other who does everything perfectly, as they travel to Malaysia to help mend tigers after they have been ripped to shreds.

“The Devouring” – You can also find this in Kate Bernheimer’s awesome short story anthology, XO Orpheus. A human woman marries an ogre who accidentally eats their children. What happens next is a reflective journey that includes a cake that refills itself and an invisibility cloak.

Since I didn’t finish this collection, I’m not going to rate it. Overall, I thought this collection was uneven and disappointing. As magical as the highlighted stories are, they can’t make up for the duds. I still plan on reading anything else Bender publishes.

My favorite line from the story, “The Devouring”:

…Loss did not pass from one person to another like a baton; it just formed a bigger and bigger pool of carriers. And, she thought, scratching the coarseness of the horse’s mane, it did not leave once lodged, did it, simply changed form and asked repeatedly for attention and care, as each year revealed a new knot to cry out and consider-smaller, sure, but never gone.

Nonfiction November: Graphic Memoir/Biography

nonfiction novo

Lu of Regular Rumination and Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness are hosting Nonfiction November, celebrating the power of nonfiction. Each week, the duo ask a particular question and participants are encouraged to answer the question and even post reviews of nonfiction.

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about reading nonfiction is watching the emergence of graphic non-fiction. To be clear, graphic non-fiction is nonfiction narrated in a graphic format. The really nice thing about nonfiction in this format, is that there’s pretty much something for everyone. New topics and experiences are being shared in really unique ways that aren’t dictated by any rules. Below you can find a few of my favorite graphic nonfiction reads with a focus on memoirs autobiographies.

Graphic Memoir

telSmile by Raina Telgemeier (2010) I read Smile years ago after reading Telgemeier’s adaptation of the middle school classic series, The Baby-Sitters Club. When Raina was in the sixth grade she fell, severely injuring her two front teeth. As if sixth grade isn’t awkward enough for most people, she had to go to a lot dentist and orthodontic appointments because of the fall, while also trying to figure out who she is and where she fits in. Smile was one of the first middle school graphic memoirs I had ever seen or read. After you finish reading it, you can hand the book over to your middle schooler. My daughter enjoyed the book as much as I did.


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. (2004) Persepolis is one of those rare books that if you haven’t read, you need to go out and buy it. Now. Satrapi retraces her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. We see a young fierce girl who’s trying to stay sane in a country that was changing sometimes overnight.

smallStitches by David Small (2009) Small has been one of my favorite illustrators for years as he often teams up with his wife, Sarah Stewart to create wonderful children’s books. Stitches is nothing like the light children’s books he’s co-authored. As a teen, the author was told that he needed to have surgery to remove a growth from his throat. What he wasn’t told was that his parents and doctors thought he was going to die. Secrets played a huge role in the Small family as his parents hide things from their children and each other. After the surgery, David is a mute. With the help of a therapist and new found freedom, he’s able to slowly recover and make sense of the silence of his childhood. Stitches is a powerful memoir about resilience even after being surrounded by dysfunction for so long.


March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (2013). It always amazes me how simple an illustration can be drawn, yet still remains powerful. In March, the first book in a trilogy, Congressman John Lewis recounts his childhood as a boy living in Alabama to becoming a young man who participated in sit-ins during the Civil Rights era.


We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin (2006). I kept going back and forth with whether or not I should add this book to my list. I finally decided I should after remembering the strong feelings I had for it. We Are On Our Own recounts Katin’s childhood as she and her mother escaped Budapest during the Nazi invasion. Drawn in pencil and told decades after the events took place, readers don’t get a full picture of everything that went on. Much of it is because Katin was just a child during this chaotic and terrible time. I found this book to be raw and powerful.

Graphic biography

rednissRadioactive Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss (2010). Has there ever been a song or book you wished you created? Radioactive Marie and Pierre Curie may be one of those creations. This isn’t your typical biography. Redniss writes about the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie but also includes anecdotes from people who have survived Hiroshima, the aftermath of Chernobyl, and other issues about the effect of radiation on people. Add that to the book’s cyanotype illustrations, photographs, and ephemera and readers get an enjoyable biography.

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani (2011) I like this book so ottaviani feynmanmuch that I usually reread it every year. Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist, adventurer, and breaker of safes. Ottaviani takes a lot of information from Feynman’s books and give readers who haven’t heard or read about the physicist, a nice introduction.

There are many books I could have added to this list but didn’t because this post is long enough as it is. Notables include: Maus by Art Spiegelman which won a Pultizer, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, and Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney.

Have you read any of these? Are there any graphic memoirs/biographies you would add to this list?

Monday. . .

My nightstand
My nightstand

Time: // 8:10 a.m. Monday

The scene: // my living room in front of my huge bay window. It’s nice and cool out. I wish it was colder. Plus, I feel a migraine coming on.

Eating and drinking: // oatmeal with brown sugar plus I have a cup of coffee

Giving away: // the kids’ Halloween candy. I took my kids along with some older kids from the neighbor trick-or-treating. These kids gave me a workout! I didn’t know it was possible to hit up so many houses in such a short time.  I’ve been slowly but surely giving away the kids’ candy when they’re not looking.

Reading: // Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. It’s a good read though I probably won’t finish it. It’s due back at the library tomorrow. I’m also reading Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America by Jason Fagone. I started this a few weeks ago and never finished it. Hopefully, I will this time around.

Realizing: // how hard it is to get back to blogging. I’ve been reading blog posts but writing them is another matter. It doesn’t matter that my reading has drastically slowed down.

nonfiction novo

Looking forward to: // reading everyone’s posts for Non-fiction November! I learned about it this morning over at Kim’s blog. I’m hoping to participate and add some more non-fiction to my tbr list.

Wondering: // is anyone participating in NaNoWriMo? It seems like the blogisphere has been pretty quiet about this event. I know there are a few bloggers who join every year. Are you one of them?

So:// what have you been up to? What great books have you read? What good things have happened to you lately?

2014 World Book Night Picks!!

In case you missed it, last night the organizers of the U.S. World Book Night announced the titles picked for next year’s event on April 23, 2014. If you don’t know, World Book Night has been going on for the past two years in the United States. On a given day in April, book givers from around the country give away free books to the public. Books are given away at libraries, parks, schools, anywhere they can think of.  My Twitter feed last night was lit up with excitement as each title was tweeted. The hashtag is #wbnbooks.

The 2014 titles are:

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (also available in large print)

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brwon

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillian

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (also available in large print)

When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago (also available in Spanish as Cuando Era   Puertorriqueña)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye

The Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 1 by John Flanagan

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee

Wait till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Miss Darcy Falls in Love by Sharon Lathan

Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Pontoon by Garrison Keillor

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

100 Best Loved Poems edited by Philip Smith

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

After the Funeral by Agatha Christie

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim

If you want to be a book giver for next year’s event, sign-ups started this morning and end on January 5, 2014. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your application in.

Which book are you excited to see on the list? 

Sunday Salon

sunday salonGood morning! Once you stop blogging, it’s hard to start back. Hopefully, I can get myself together and start blogging more regularly.

Time: // 8:08 a.m.

The scene: // my living room

Drinking: // coffee. It’s been a hard night.

Eating: // nothing. I couldn’t find any pumpkin muffins at the store.

Just finished: // the graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time illustrated by Hope Larson. What a fantastic adaptation. Now I want to reread the original again.

Reading: // Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America by Jason Fagone. Ingenious is about the race to win the Automotive X Prize. I picked it up since it sounds interesting. So far, it is.


Today, I also plan on starting The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. I checked it out weeks ago from the library. Now, it’s due in a few days. What piqued my interest is that the book has been nominated for the Man Booker and National Book Award.

Today I plan on: // having a mini-read-a-thon. I missed last week’s read-a-thon after I became sick. I’m reading the books I mentioned above.

Promoting: // Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe blog tour. The purpose of the tour is to celebrate the diversity in speculative fiction by highlighting writers of color. There’s still time to sign up.

What are you reading today?

The readathon’s here and I overslept!

girlreadingThis is probably the second year in a row that I’ve overslept during the read-a-thon. Usually I’m up before it starts, which is 5:30 am over here in SoCal.

Here’s the first hour meme:

1. I’m reading from Southern California, also known as SoCal.

bernheimer orpheus

2. This time around I don’t have a stack of books. I’m just going to read whatever I want. My first two books will be XO Orpheus, a collection of short stories that retell world mythology, and The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann.

3. The snack I’m looking forward to is homemade peanut butter cookies. I just have a craving for them.

4. You want to know something about myself? I’m the mother of three kids, lives close to the beach but only prefer to go during the winter. Strange I know.

5. I’ve been participating in Dewey’s Read-a-thon since the very first one. The only thing different I’m doing today is . . . nothing. I’m doing the same things as always: tons of cheerleading, very little reading, and eating plenty of snacks. Plus, my kids are joining in too.

I hope everyone who’s participating in the read-a-thon today have fun! Also, cheer your fellow readers on if you have time.

Are you participating in today’s read-a-thon?


Unfortunately, a few hours after the read-a-thon started, I wasn’t feeling that great. I ended spending the rest of the event in bed, sleeping with chills and a slight fever. Whatever it was, it’s gone so I’m happy. Books read: 0. Blogs cheered: around 30.

Short review: Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman

hoffman survivalSurvival Lessons

Alice Hoffman

83 pages

Published October 1, 2013 by Algonquin Books

Source: Publisher

. . .Then I knew. Good fortune and bad luck are always tied together with invisible, unbreakable thread. It happens to everyone, in one way or another, sooner or later. The loss of a loved one, a divorce, heartbreak, a child set on the wrong path, a bad diagnosis. When it comes to sorrow, no one is immune.

When Alice Hoffman was diagnosed with breast cancer, she searched for a way to remember the joys of life as she went through treatment. She found it in good friends and family, along with the small things that are often unnoticed or taking for granted. Fifteen years later, Hoffman has decided to share what she’s learned with readers.

I picked this up because I’ve really enjoyed Hoffman’s work in the past. At only 83 pages, you could read this book in an hour or two. But don’t let that fool you. The author’s writing is still as beautiful as ever.

In the chapter “Choose Something New,” Hoffman writes,

Every woman is only one bad boyfriend or one bad choice away from the street. And she’s only one good choice back to the path that will lead her home. 

Survival Lessons is a short, sweet book that both new readers and long-time Hoffman fans will enjoy. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life by Karen Karbo

karbo juliaJulia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life

Karen Karbo

240 pages

October 2013 by Skirt!

Source: Publisher

In the summer of 1946, Julia McWilliams and Paul Child drove across America. A bottle of vodka and a thermos of mixed martinis rolled around the backseat of Julia’s Buick. It was a time before air-conditioned vehicles and open-container laws. . .

Though she’s known around the world for her cookbooks and TV shows, Julia Child wasn’t just a world-class chef. Coming from a well-to-do family in Pasadena, CA, she could have settled for her only suitor and lived a life of obscurity. Instead she worked for the United States government during WWII, traveled to India on a whim, and met the love of her life, Paul Child. Did I mention that Julia didn’t find her passion of cooking until she was 37? 37! There’s hope for me yet.

With Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life, author Karen Karbo doesn’t just focus on Child and her cooking. She brilliantly illustrates to readers what has made Child such a fascinating person even years after her death. This is where the rules come in. Each chapter starts with a rule; some important lesson gleamed from Child’s life. One of my favorite rules of the book is the very first one: live with abandon. According to Karbo,

Part of living with abandon is giving oneself over to one’s circumstances without any expectation that things are going to be to our liking anytime soon. We can hope that things will improve, but it shouldn’t prevent us from doing what we’ve set out to do. Julia had an astonishing capacity to be content with what was in front of her, whether it be a cooking school run on spit and a string or a less than perfect hunk of meat. She made do and moved on and rarely regretted it.

From reading that passage, you can tell that this isn’t your average biography. Karbo gives us the essential Child instead of every single detail about Child’s life. Along with details of Karbo’s own life, readers get a biography with a personal touch. It’s one that feels more like a great conversation with an old friend about a wonderful woman.

Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life is a wonderful addition to Karen Karbo’s Kick Ass Women series. It follows biographies about Katharine Hepburn, Coco Chanel, and Georgia O’Keefe. It’s also the rare biography that foodies and non-foodies alike will love. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday Salon: Favorite Books of Summer

sunday salonIt’s official. Fall is finally here. I love the need for scarves and cute boots, umbrellas and sweaters. The weather in SoCal has been pretty odd lately. Last night, dark clouds moved in and the air was pretty chilly. Only a few hours before, it was in the 80s. I may have to wait a little longer before I can wear a scarf.

I’ve been pretty much absent from my blog this summer but I did read a lot. Instead of trying to write a bunch of reviews, I decided to share some of my favorite books of summer. Overall, I read a total of 62 books in a variety of genres and formats. Clicking on the titles below will take you either to Goodreads or my review.


lamott help

Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott. In Help Thanks Wow, Lamott writes about the words help, thanks, and wow are the only words she truly needs for prayer. Lamott’s humorous tone can be found throughout this short read.

lamott stitches

Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, Repair by Anne Lamott. The follow-up to Help Thanks Wow, Stitches is quieter in tone than all of Lamott’s other non-fictional reads. Long-time fans of the author’s writing will find this short meditative book a nice addition to their library.


The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings. This hilarious read about a mother’s first year homeschooling her daughter isn’t for everyone.


Genius: A Photobiography of Albert Einstein by Marfe Ferguson Delano. This is a short biography of the physicist that both kids and their parents can enjoy.

cohen ignorance

I Don’t Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance by Leah Hager Cohen

ottaviani feynman

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani


Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Hicks

karbo julia

Julia Child Rules by Karen Karbo. Karbo is back with the latest addition to her Kick Ass Women series. Karbos’ fans will love this book while new fans will rush out to pick up her backlist.

say tea

Tea with Milk by Allen Say. If you haven’t read anything by Say before, pick up all of his books. You can’t go wrong.


The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdös by Deborah Heiligman. This is a short look at the life of Paul Erdos, a mathematician who loved numbers even as a young child.



Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman. This middle-grade debut novel set in a post-apocalyptic world surprised me with its brave heroine and unique setting.

danticat claire

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat. The author’s writing is so poetic. I enjoyed this short read about a young girl who was leaving her father for a better life.


Saga Vol. 2 by Brain K. Vaighan and Fiona Staples. The second volume of this fantastical series will leave fans longing for volume 3.

brown cinnamon and gunpowder

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown. Blood-thirsty pirates, good food, and a captain who is more than what she appears to be.

You can find a list of all the books I read this summer here.

What were your favorite books of summer?

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

Fall hasn’t reached SoCal but the cold and flu season has arrived. Despite the whole family coming down with colds last week I still managed to get some reading done.

duprauLast week I read:

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrai (read-along with daughter)

The City of Ember: graphic novel adaptation by Dallas Middaugh

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman and Chip Kidd

Stitches: A Handbook for Meaning, Hope, and Repair by Anne Lamott


Reviews to come. Seriously.

erdrich round house

I’m still recovering from last week’s cold and virus but I’m hoping to read a few good books. This week’s reading pile includes:

Sula by Toni Morrison

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (for next week’s Banned Books Week)

We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (re-read)


What are you reading this week?

Sunday Salon

sunday salonTime: // 8:35 am

The place: // my living room

Listening to:// the sound of kids tickling each other

Eating:// Carrot cake. It goes great with coffee

Missing:// all of you guys!!

lamott stitchesReading:// Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair by Anne Lamott. It’s the follow-up to Help, Thanks, Wow. So far, it’s different in tone as it’s a “quieter” book but it’s still interesting.

Excited for: // The #LiveLikeJulia Project. A few weeks ago, I finished reading Karen Karbo’s Julia Child Rules. The project is inspired by the book and also Child’s life. Bloggers all over the web are living like Julia and following one of the rules in Karbo’s book for one week. There are so many fantastic rules but I’m leaning toward rule #1: Live with Abandon.  It means being all in with your life.

Grateful for:// this summer weather is starting to cool off. Southern California is known for its perfect weather but for the last week or two, we’ve almost hit the 100 degrees mark.

What are you up to today? 

Review: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

cummingsThe Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling

Quinn Cummings

230 pages

Published in 2012 by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin

Source: Public Library

I was hiding in the laundry room fighting off a full-blown panic attack. If long division with remainders hadn’t been invented, this would not have been happening.

So begins Quinn Cummings’ memoir, The Year of Learning Dangerously, documenting her first year homeschooling her daughter, Alice. Alice is like any other kid: she loves cats, playing outside, and reading. When it comes to math, there’s this huge struggle every year. At the end of the school year, Alice usually doesn’t advance much in the subject. Cummings sees herself in Alice and knows that if she doesn’t intervene, the situation won’t change. What comes next is a hilarious and honest account of Quinn’s quest to homeschool her daughter, explore various homeschooling approaches, and just figure out what she’s doing.

Homeschooling has been going on for decades in the United States and one of the biggest reasons parents take their children out of school is for religious or moral instruction. That’s not always the reason why we decide to take our kids out of school. With Cummings, we know that she just wants Alice to love learning and to become willing to tackle things even when they’re not easy for her.

What makes the author’s story different from other memoirs about the same subject is the humor. Cummings is hilarious and honest about her shortcomings and her search to make Alice’s first year memorable. Or at least not traumatic. While tackling homeschooling, Cummings also finds the time to examine several approaches to homeschooling such as the classical method and unschooling, attend a Christian homeschooling prom, and learn as much as she can about the history of homeschooling. None of this is new to any veteran homeschooling parent. But if you’re curious about the subject or new to homeschooling, this book is really helpful.

While reading The Year of Learning Dangerously, readers see how privileged Cummings is. In her search to learn more about other homeschooling groups like Fundamentalists and Gohardites, she’s flying all over the country. Unless these same groups are living in my community, there’s no way I’m going to find out about them. These sections of the book are interesting because I had no idea what some of the groups think or believe, but it takes the focus away from Alice and her adjustment (which went well) to homeschooling. Some people may be offended by these sections since Cummings pretty much lied her way through most of these conventions. I wasn’t offended at all.

I found The Year of Learning Dangerously to be one woman’s hilarious take on her year of homeschooling and all that she’s learned. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Faced with a very foggy road ahead of us, we are probably best served by understanding there is just so much we can predict, and so much we can’t. We need to acknowledge that we’re all trying our best−homeschoolers and brick-and-mortar schoolers alike. After that, we need to embrace the uncertainty and just hope everything turns out better than bad. 

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VIII

RIP8main300It’s here! Carl posted the sign-up post for R.I.P a few days ago. It’s one of the few events to get the blogisphere in a blogging frenzy. The R.I.P. Challenge is one of my favorite challenges. Even though the sun is shining out here in SoCal and the weather is still in the 90s, I had to sign up now.

From now until Halloween, participants will be reading books and watching movies in a variety of genres:




Dark Fantasy





The only two rules:

Have fun reading (and watching).

Share that fun with others.

rip8peril1stFor Peril the First, participants read four books that fit in with the challenge. I’ve ignored my own books most of this year in favor of library books and advanced reading copies, so for R.I.P., I’m reading strictly from my shelves. My reading pool:

RIP Collage1

RIP Collage2

Half World by Hiromi Goto

anything by Angela Carter

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Stepmother by Robert Coover

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Jinni and the Golem by Helene Wecker

rip8perilshortI love short stories but I don’t often read them. I’ll probably change that with a collection of short stories by Angela Carter.

rip8perilonscreenWhat would the challenge be without movies?! I have no idea what I’m going to watch just yet.

What are you reading (and watching) for R.I.P. VIII?



Sit Down and Write 4

sit down 4It’s here! The fourth annual write-a-thon, Sit Down and Write. The event is being hosted by Michelle at Stories Inside. Michelle describes Sit Down and Write this way:

“The Sit Down and Write write-a-thons are for any writing you need to get done. If you’re working on a novel, a novella, or even short stories. If you have a ton of reviews to write coming off of any read-a-thons you might have just finished with, then this is for you too! Any writing you need to get done…this is the time to really buckle down. . .”

I didn’t know this event existed until Michelle wrote about it on a blogger discussion board. The event started earlier this morning and continues until Sunday, September 8th at 11:59 pm. Participants can post their progress on their blogs, the event’s check-in posts, or during the chats being held on Twitter. Hashtag: #sitdownwrite 

My goals:

  • Write for at least thirty minutes a day.
  • Have four blog posts written and ready by the end of the week.
  • Read! Reading is just as important as writing.

Will you join this week’s write-a-thon?

Sunday Salon

sunday salonThe time: 4:09 am

In the past two weeks that I’ve been away from my blog, I’ve been doing a lot of non-bookish things. The kids and I have spent as much time as I can handle outside playing and riding everything from skateboards to scooters. There have been a couple of scrapped knees but it’s been fun. We’ve also baked everything from glazed orange pound cake to bread to last night’s brownies.

In between riding on things I have no business being on, baking, and meeting other homeschooling parents, I have read a few books.

SundaySalon collage

Leah Hager Cohen’s I Don’t Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance and Doubt (Except When You Shouldn’t) found its way to my doorstep earlier this month. A slim volume of only 128 pages, it took a few days to read the author’s exploration of our fear of being ignorant and what happens when we go through such lengths to hide it. What resonated with me is the section about preventing ourselves from knowing something. Cohen uses the example of people who refuse to see cultural differences between themselves and others even when it would help them understand someone’s background more. She calls it “treating ignorance with ignorance”. I don’t think I’m going to write a full review on this book because I want to read it a few more times. I do recommend it though.

Before I read I Don’t Know, I was in immersed in a totally different genre with the middle grade book, Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddlemean. Sky Jumpers is the author’s debut novel. It’s set forty years after World War III in a world much different from our own. The main character is a headstrong young girl who pushes through her problems even when it seems like her flaws might hold her back. I can’t wait to get a hardback copy of this for my girls.

Speaking of my girls, I picked up a copy of The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker at the library a few days ago. I checked it out for myself since so many bloggers have raved about this tale of an unlikely friendship between a golem and a jinni in 1899 New York. My eleven-year-old has taken the book for herself so I can’t tell you anything about it just yet. My daughter is a reluctant reader of anything that’s not animé, so The Golem and the Jinni must be great if she’s reading this chunkster (486 pages) of a book and is not complaining about it. We’re having a mother-daughter book club featuring the book for the next few weeks.

I’m currently reading an e-galley of Karen Karbo’s latest book in The Kick Ass Women series, Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life. What I really like about Karbo’s biographies is that they’re more than biographies: they’re also social commentary filled with humor and passages you want to highlight. The book won’t be in stores until October 1st but I recommend putting it on your wish lists now.

My coffee is getting cold so it’s time to wrap this post up. What have you been up to lately? What books have you read or non-bookish things you’ve done?