REVIEW: Life of the Party by Bob Kealing

Every so often you stumble across a book about something obscure, and it's so interesting that you spend the next month telling all your friends what you know about said obscure topic. If you're willing to talk to your friends about Tupperware you should read Life of the Party by Bob Kealing right away.

Life of the Party starts from the beginning of the company when plastics genius Earl Tupper came up with the secret formula using materials previously cast off by other processes. At his side was glamorous but smart and hard working Brownie Wise, the woman who really made the home sales party the phenomenon it was in the 1950's. 

The writing in this book was repetitive in some areas, and lacking depth in others. At one point much was made of a law suit, but it was never resolved in the book. However the fascinating hidden story behind the Tupperware empire was more than enough to make up for any problems in the text.

If you like fascinating but obscure stories like the ones you might hear on This American Life be sure to pick this book up.

Note: this book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for a honest review.

The Best Summer Brain Candy

I try to read with a purpose, but in the summer I need some brain candy. Here are three I loved this year.

In the audiobook version of The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza the narrator reads out the emojis at the end of emails in an awesomely crazy voice. An can't miss audiobook if you need a laugh.

If you generally like Sittenfeld's books you'll smile at her take on the classic Pride and Prejudice. If you don't you will think it's horrible racist dribble. I fall in the first camp.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a delightfully gosippy book with a satisfying ending. Get ready to google search everyone in this novel based on the life of Truman Capote.

What was the best brain candy you read this summer?

Note: Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Summer Reading BINGO

I didn't think I was going to do it, but I squeaked out a BINGO at the last minute!

Here's my row, right across the middle.

A Newbury of Caldecott winner: Sarah Plain and Tall

Horror: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Free: Mr. Mercedes

Travel Writing: Walking With Plato

Published in 2016: The Madwoman Upstairs

Interesting that this row contained so many of my five star reads!

Note: Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

My Five Star Summer Reads

I read a bunch this summer, and I'm happy to say I had six five star reads - pictured above. Click on any of the images to see a description on amazon.

I'm trying to think if there's any common theme among them, and can't come up with anything. They're just awesome books.

What was the best book you read this summer?

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Non-fiction books about walking: summer reading round up

Leaves are falling on my lawn, so I have to admit summer is over. (Even if it still is 90 degrees outside.) To that end I've been going through my summer reading. A big take away is that I like books about long distance walks. I read 4 of them this summer alone!

Walking with Plato by Gary Hayden will be one of my favorite books of the year. First of all it features two walking companions who actually like each other. The book doesn't end with them divorced, owing each other money, or barely speaking. Instead they cheered each other on, and grew as a couple. Second of all the author didn't bog it down with scientific descriptions of the trees or geology. He simply tells the story of a walk. He reads and he thinks as he goes, and this book is a simple yet satisfying unpacking of his thoughts. He wasn't trying to write a book as he set off, and the reader gets a much better story for it.

I read Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery a few weeks before my ill-fated trip to Maine. I was really inspired by Grandma Gatewood. Read my full review here.

It took me two tries to get through Step by Step by Lawrence Block. When I started again this summer I really got into the story of this mystery writer who also happens to be a competitive walker. I've never read any of his mystery books; I heard of him when listening to The Moment. (Look for it on iTunes.)

As I wrote in Quick Lit Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford isn't the best written book. It was a pretty good adventure story about a long walk though (like 3 years.) This was a great book to read in the car while my husband drove us around the Great Lakes.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

September Quick Lit

Summer reading season always ends too quickly...

Summer reading season always ends too quickly...

It's mid-September, and I think we can all agree summer reading time is over. Here's what I read in the last few carefree weeks of summer.

I'm not sure what to think about The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. The subject, WWII, was brutal, but the cadence of the book was soothing. This is the first book I added to my TBR when I started my LibraryThing account. Now that I finally read it I'm sure it will stay with me for a long, long time.

I read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume in order to fill in a few blanks for some reading challenges. I'm glad I took the time, because this book is still a masterpiece. I was the same age as my son is now when I first read this book, and re-reading it this summer brought back a lot of my 3rd grade feelings. It was a timely reminder.

Walking With Plato by Gary Hayden tells the story of a walk. He reads and he thinks as he goes, and this book is a simple yet satisfying unpacking of his thoughts. He wasn't trying to write a book as he set off, and the reader gets a much better story for it. This was a five star read for me, and may end up as my favorite of the year.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin made me want to drop everything and read Truman Capote books all day and night. I had no idea that this was a fictional retelling of his relationships with the Fifth Avenue elite until I started, and it was such a lovely surprise. Sometimes when you pick a book by its cover it works out for you.

Brush Back by Sara Paretsky is the latest V.I. Warshawski novel. It's not the greatest in the series, but it was still worth reading. True story - when I was finally allowed to take books out of the adult section of my local public library growing up I randomly grabbed one of the first V.I. mysteries, and I haven't stopped reading them since.

Walking The Amazon by Ed Stafford was another book about walking -kind of a theme for me lately. This was a solid adventure story. It wasn't the best written of the bunch, but it was enough to make you want to run away from home and do something crazy.

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. thanks for your support!

September's Audiobooks

I listened to five audiobooks this month. Some awesome, some not so awesome.

The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey was full of quotable lines: "Parenting is more than a duty to make your kids happy." Wow. Something I always knew, but I appreciated the reminder via this audiobook. This was a great option for the weeks before my kids went back to school.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud was not such a great option. I don't recommend the mentally unstable 3rd grade teacher genre as an option for any parent's back to school reading. I probably would have stopped, but had a lot of laundry to do and nothing else to listen to.

I wasn't a huge fan of The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan, but my son who "hates reading" couldn't get enough of this audiobook. As soon as we finished he started begging for the next one. I guess I'm in for a whole lot of Percy Jackson this year.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan was not a favorite for my kids, but I bawled through most of it. In a good way. Glenn Close was the narrator and I thought she did a great job.

I listened to the free version of O Pioneers by Willa Cather, and the story lost something from that. Still, this was a pleasant story that I would have never appreciated had I been forced to read it in high school.

Life According to Steph

 

Note: Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

I am an instragram addict

I joined instagram a month or so ago, and I am an addict. It's all of the pictures I love from pinterest without all of the annoying instructions making me feel like I should be doing things.

I love the hashtags - my favorite is #readingoutside. I also love the pretty pictures of books next to tea cups. When I'm having a bad day at work (every day lately) I can look and be calmed instantly. Plus there are lots of clouds and sunsets.

I know I'm years behind on this, so if you're already on instagram please leave your name in the comments. I'd love to follow as many of my bookish friends as possible.

Pa is getting on my nerves

We took an epic road trip last week through Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. We got pretty close to Little House territory, and I even saw a sign for a slough at one point. I had plenty of time for car reading on this trip, and given the setting I decided to catch up on my favorite pioneer family.

I forgot just how much Pa annoys me in this book. I know it was a different time, but man. He really just does what he wants doesn't he? His only concession to his wife and girls is that he is only moving them to a shack in DeSmet instead of Oregon.

I think I need to keep reading to the next book (The Long Winter), because I like when Ma finally loses her patience and lets Pa have it. Rosin your fiddle with that Ingalls.

The Baby-Sitters Club Club

Like most everyone else my age I wanted to be Claudia Kishi when I grew up. She's the reason I have multiple holes in my ears, and I used to make earrings from miniature doll furniture I bought at the craft store. She was just the best.

I tried to start reading these book out loud to my 5 year old daughter, but she said they were boring. I was so sad.

Enter the Baby-Sitters Club Club podcast, and I now have an outlet for my baby-sitters love. They cover everything I ever wondered about our favorite baby-sitters and more. If you're not listening already, you need to give it a try, you silly billy boo goo.

REVIEW: KNEADLESSLY SIMPLE BY NANCY BAGGETT

This time of year things start to get crazy, but we still like our freshly made bread. Enter one of my favorite cookbooks, Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett. In between swim camp and trying to get everything ready for back to school I was able to knock out 4 loaves of bread with about 20 minutes active work.

This is a great book for reading too. The varieties and instructions are interesting. Baggett really goes into the science behind her bread.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

August Quick Lit

New bikes for the kids have given me a good excuse to sit on the curb while reading a book. (Pictured here: wolf by wolf by Ryan Graudin)

New bikes for the kids have given me a good excuse to sit on the curb while reading a book.

(Pictured here: wolf by wolf by Ryan Graudin)

I have been reading a wide variety of stuff lately - just whatever suits me at the time, really. It's too hot to stick to a list!

The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper was an interesting book, made all the more interesting because it's based on a the true story of the Nanny who took care of King Edward VIII and King George VI. It's a little longer than needed, and is sure to force interaction between the Nanny and all the major political figured of the day (the Tsar, Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, etc.) Recommend for fans of royal baby pictures and The Royal We. (I got this book from Library Thing in exchange for a review.)

I wanted to read Jaws by Peter Benchley this summer, but forced myself to wait until after our annual trip to Cape Cod. I needn't have waited, as the movie is way more scary than the book. I kind of thought the book was just meh, actually. Plus a lot of the 1970's language is offensive. I know they didn't live in such an enlightened time as us, but it's not really worth it for a sub-par book.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin was about a motorcycle race in a world that would have existed if Hitler had won the war. If you try not to think about the details too much this is a really good book. I'm looking forward to the sequel due out in November.

I've had Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu on my to be read list forever, but it took the Rio Olympics to finally get me to read it. This book has its ups and downs, but was really interesting to a once every four years gymnastics freak like me. I did some background research on Wikipedia, and it seems like a lot of people in the gymnastics industry deny a lot of Moceanu's claims. However given recent news stories about USA Gymnastics and Marta Karoli's handling of the team I see Dominique in a much better light than I may have a month ago.

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. thanks for your support!

Best books about World War II

Like a lot of people I read a lot of books about World War II. It's an interesting subject, and there's a lot of material. Here are some of my favorites.

Novels

Margot by Jillian Cantor

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Diaries

Mr. Brown's War Ed. by Helen D. Millgate

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Non-Fiction

No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin

D-Day by Stephen Ambrose

Kids and YA

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wain

World War II Spies (Choose Your Own Adventure)

Cookbooks

Cooking on the Home Front by Hugh and Judy Gowan

Lost Recipes by Marion Cunningham

What am I missing? What are your favorite books about this fascinating time period?

This month's audiobooks

I have been listening to audiobooks like no one's business lately. My rabid consumption has been driven by a combination of a huge pile of laundry from my kids' swim camp, and all of the time in the car spent driving them to said camp. Being a parent is giving me perspective into how much work my mom had to do so that I could be bored all summer. Oh well, turning lemons into reading time and all that. Anyone want me to throw in a load of towels for them?

The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower was fascinating. I really liked getting a behind the scenes look at life in the White House. (But note: both of my kids complained endlessly about the narrator on this one. They said the voice gave them a headache.)

I had seen the movie version of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but I've never read an Agatha Christie book. The movie was pretty good, but the book was just so much more messed up. (In a good way.) Look for more Agatha Christie in my future reads.

The Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot was my solution when I was craving something light and funny. It was super predictable and stupid, and that made me love it all the more. Sometimes that's all you need.

Eruption by Steve Olson was a fascinating look into the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. I didn't know much about the eruption going into this book. I remember a teacher bringing a jar of ash to school, and all of us being like Mount St. Who? I was also vaguely aware that the state highpoints of Oregon and Washington were volcanoes. I was too young at the time, and too distracted since with my east coast problems to realize that there are volcanoes that have, can, and will explode in the Pacific Northwest. I can't decide if I should should rush out west to see them before they do, or stay far far away forever in case they pick my vacation week to come alive. There were some boring bits that I tuned out about the history of the lumber industry, but most of this audiobook took my breath away, much like Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

Life According to Steph

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. thanks for your support!

Books about the Olympics

Last night I started reading Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu. It's not the greatest book ever written, but since it involves the 1996 Olympics I'm all about it. I caught serious Olympic fever the summer Kim Zmeskal went to Barcelona. It intensified the summer the Magnificent Seven won gold (YOU CAN DO IT!!!), and has never gone away since then. Because of this it's really surprising that the only other two books I've read about the Olympics have been Unbroken and The Boys In The Boat.

Can anyone recommend some awesome Olympics books to me?

Two books I'm thinking of checking out:

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

The 20 oldest books on my TBR

I started using Library Thing in 2014 to track the books I've read, and to track the books I want to read. This makes me sound like Angela from The Office, but I find Goodreads to be a bit too flashy for my tastes.

Today I was shuffling through my TBR and realized I had books on there that dated from the inception of my account in 2014. That inspired a new reading challenge. If I don't read these 20 books by the end of 2016 I'm taking them off my list.

I'm going to post the covers here. If you want the amazon.com description click on the cover.

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

A walk in the woods with Stephen King

My trip to Maine earlier this month featured good decisions and bad decisions.

Good decisions:

  • Turning around .2 miles from the summit of Mt. Katahdin because the weather was deteriorating and my group was on its way back down.
  • Packing way more food and water for my hike than I should have needed.
  • Keeping gloves in my pack even though it was July.

Bad decisions:

  • Taking a walk in sandals that I know give me blisters the day before our summit.
  • Being okay with a combined 16 hours of driving in the day before and day after our hike.
  • Deciding to read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King while camping in Maine.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a psychological thriller featuring 9 year old (but tall for her age) Tricia, the Boston Red Sox when they were still cursed, and a pretty good reason to stay on the trail when you're hiking in the woods. Especially the Maine woods. Because the Maine woods are pretty isolated. Anything can happen out there. This is a fact that I didn't really appreciate until I had driven 8 hours to get there from Providence, RI. Not a great time to be reading a Stephen King book about the very place you happen to be camping.

Let's just say that Tricia discovered the world has teeth while hiking in Maine, and so did I. Her discovery involved bears, the sub audible, and being lost in the woods. My discovery involved freezing rain in July, hypothermia, nightmares in a tent, and way too much time to think while driving a rental car.

Other scary books that take place in the north east:

(Note: I had the good sense to put off reading Jaws until after my beach vacation to Cape Cod last week. I read Doctor Sleep in Vermont last August.)

 

Note: links to amazon.com are affiliate links. thanks for your support.

REVIEW: End of Watch by Stephen King

I finished End of Watch by Stephen King while I was on the train, and it was all I could do to keep myself from sobbing.

And I should stop you right here and let you know that this review might be considered spoilery by some people. I'm not going to tell you what happens at the end, but I'm going to talk a lot about my feelings at the end. You've been warned.


The first book of this trilogy, Mr. Mercedes was billed as a detective story, and it worked. I liked it a lot, and even compared it to Robert Galbraith's Strike series. The second book wasn't as great, but it was still good. It was a good story, but Bill Hodges didn't show up until about 2/3 of the way through, and I like Bill Hodges. Plus the ending was weird. Brady is still alive, and maybe can move things with his mind? What does that have to do with criminals that are obsessed enough with books to murder for them?

On to the third book. I had to wait a few weeks for my turn on the library wait list, and when I got it I was almost afraid to read it. Stephen King has sucked me into a series before only to crush my bookworm heart.

But start it I did. This book is in high demand, and the library only gave me two weeks to get through it. In fact I started it on the 11 hour ride back from Cape Cod last week. Were my kids screaming the whole way? I don't know. I was reading.

End of Watch was not the greatest story ever told. But the characters were some of King's best, and when taken together this trilogy is greater than the sum of its parts because of it. By the end you really care about them.

And the end. The end is about facing what life throws at you instead of escaping from it. It was about living every day to the fullest on your own terms. And it crushed me. In a good way. There were no loose threads or unrealistic conclusions. It was kind of perfect. And, I hope I'm wrong about this, but it almost seemed as if Stephen King himself was telling us a few things he learned over his life. It felt like he was saying he's getting to end of his watch. And that's what crushed me the most.

I read about it in a book, and now I must go...

I finished The Wright Brothers last week, and now I am itching to travel to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. I've been there before, but David McCullough's book is so rich with detail that I need to figure out a way to see it again. I barely remember it, and I'm sure I didn't appreciate it enough. Luckily it's only about a four hour drive from here (when traffic is good.)

Have you ever done that? Read about a place, and gone there? As much as I read it usually works the opposite for me. I read about a place because I've just been there, or because I have plans to go there.

A new adventure! How exciting!