Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Pretty in Plaid

'Pretty in Plaid: A Life, A Witch, and a Wardrobe, or, the Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smart-Ass Phase'
Author: Jen Lancaster

Format: Audio CD
Published: Penguin Audio; May 2009
Narrator: Jamie Heinlein
Genre: Memoir; Humor
Rating: A
Source: Library

Synopsis: In this memoir of a fashion-conscious life, Lancaster revisits her misadventures—and outfits over the years (from Girl Scout sash to Gucci purse)—with characteristic snarky humor. You have to hand it to Lancaster: you could find her younger self utterly insufferable, if it weren't for the fact that her present-day self is so clear-eyed about and obviously amused by her past behavior. Jamie Heinlein reads with just the right amount of confident, bubbly obliviousness inflected with a dash of wry knowingness. As is typical in the best professionally read audio memoirs, Heinlein recreates Lancaster so perspicaciously, it's easy to become convinced that Heinlein is Lancaster. 

My Take: Recently I've become enamoured with audio books, especially non-fiction on audio. I don't know why, but I find that they are really easy to listen to. Lancaster is probably one of my favorite authors when I just need a laugh and to feel like I'm not as snarky as I think I am (or am told I am!) and so when I saw that I could listen to another one from my library no one had to ask me twice!

Pretty in Plaid, I was happy to find, was for me, funnier than any Lancaster I'd read in the past, and I've read almost all of them at this point! I don't know what it is about memoirs, or any books really, that chronicle childhood and those tough coming of age years, but if you can throw in humor, you will usually find a fan in me. Holy crap, Lancaster's book was hysterical. If you were a child of the 1980s then you can pretty much relate to Lancaster. If your parents ever grounded you instead of allowing you to go out to party 'because all of your friends were doing it' then you can pretty much relate to Lancaster. If you had to work through college, got a crappy job right out of college, or can never find anything to fit your body type than you can relate to Lancaster! See what I am saying? In this book, unlike some of her others, she really becomes the every-girl.

Lancaster, in her early years, is uprooted from her happy-go-lucky childhood in New Jersey and moved to what she thinks is the middle of nowhere! Also known as Indiana. She is not happy about it. As a ten-year-old she quickly has to learn how to adapt and grow and adjust to this new life. Her sharp wit and snark isn't fully developed yet so she doesn't make friends as easily as she does in the future so times are hard for little Jen. 

We later see Jen as a college student and we learn just how much she had to go through to even graduate. Not everyone has it easy and Jen is certainly one of them. I could totally laugh out loud even when I was feeling bad for her. It's a rare book that has those elements in it. 

The she graduates and gets her first job and learns just how tough the real world is. Who hasn't gone through many of these very same things? I think pretty much anyone, if they could use a book that could qualify as a little stress release would love this book. This will definitely be going down as my favorite Lancaster book to date!

Cover Lust: I'd love it if it just didn't refer to plaid and then have argyle on the cover. Major fashion snafu, yo!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mailbox Monday: May 30th, 2011

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and May is being hosted by Mari Reads! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

I'm still in New York enjoying myself thoroughly. The Book Blogger Convention was a blast and I am planning to do a full report soon. Probably next week though as it will take me some time to process my thoughts fully!

Here's what came in the mail last week. I hope you all got some fab items too!

From Amy Einhorn Books:
1. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty 

From Riverhead Books:
2. South of Superior by Ellen Airgood

From Seal Press for a TLC Tour:
3. Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves

From PBS: 
4. True Confections by Katherine Weber

What did you get?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Review: The Distant Land of My Father

'The Distant Land of My Father'
Author: Bo Caldwell

Format: Paperback
Published: Harvest Books; Sept. 2002
Pages: 378
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: A
Source: Personal Copy

Synopsis: The Distant Land of My Father begins like a fairy tale: "My father was a millionaire in Shanghai in the 1930s.... On the day he was born, in the province of Shantung, neighbors presented my missionary grandparents, the only Americans for miles, with noodles in great abundance and one hundred chicken eggs, in honor of their son's birth." To the young Anna Schoene, life in Shanghai is indeed magical. There are servants, a luxurious villa, a beautiful mother who smells like Chanel No. 5, and a young, handsome, polo-playing father. Unfortunately, her father is also a smuggler and speculator who loves his freewheeling life more than anything (or anyone) else. Despite warnings, Schoene refuses to leave Shanghai even after the Japanese invade, and his wife and child retreat to Los Angeles; later, he survives imprisonment and torture only to once again choose Shanghai over his family--this time with the Communists moving in.

My Take: I remember seeing this book on some lists a few years ago and just knowing that I needed to read it. It had all of the makings of a book I would love: history, family drama, war, shady dealings. What do you know? I was right. I fell in love with this book! Also, I am particularly happy about this because the author, Bo Caldwell, is from the Bay Area and, well that always makes me smile!

We have quite the saga all rolled up into this story. You might look at the page count and not think it's too much but you will want to spend some serious time with this novel because you will get wrapped up with Anna Schoene as she grows up. She is a wonderful narrator. We first meet her when she is six growing up in Shanghai with her beautiful mother and her enigmatic father. Her parents are American but her dad has learned how to make serious money in Shanghai, although it may be through shady means! This is in the 1930s and it is the height of the glory of Shanghai. China is all little Anna has ever known (and yes, finally a book with a China setting that I love again!).

Then the rumblings of World War II begin and life begins to change. Here's where things get interesting. You usually think of fathers as someone you'd look up to and people who have foresight. You need to depend on them and Anna loved her father dearly but Joseph started to take some bad turns. When the War broke out in China, Anna's mother sensed that things would not be well and wanted to move the family 'home' to Pasadena, CA. Joseph chose to stay.

Through the years, WWII, and the the beginnings of Communist China, no matter how much his family wanted to love him, Joseph loved Shanghai more. It was interesting to watch that play out. How does a family learn to cope with this development? Do they move on or do they try to lure him back? Do they get angry and steel themselves against him or do they miss him forever? 

Then of course Anna becomes an adult and a parent herself and she soon learns that parents are not the infallible creatures we once thought they were. That's when the novel truly is at it's best. To watch a father and daughter play out their emotions, well it was so real and, honestly, I could relate. 

I can not recommend this book highly enough. You will go through a huge amount of history. Learn a lot about how history changed Shanghai and how one man can forever change the dynamics of a family. This movie needs to be made into a movie!

I am thrilled to learn that Bo Caldwell has a second novel out, The City of Tranquil Light. Has any one read this book?

Cover Lust: I love the original photography! It really sets the scene!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Armchair BEA: Nurturing Relationships

Is everyone enjoying Armchair BEA? I think this is such a great idea so I hope you all are getting as much out of it as I am!

Today I am getting on a plane and heading to New York City so I can attend the Book Blogger Convention! To say I am excited is an understatement. This is probably the most active thing I've done to improve and gain knowledge about blogging ever so I really hope I get a lot out of it. I promise when I get back to share my experiences with you!

Today's Armchair BEA topic is about Nurturing Relationships. This topic is apt because I will be able to nurturing my blogging relationships in person there! Two people that won't be in New York unfortunately are two of my greatest blogging buddies though and I would like to talk about how important it is to have bloggers that you can rely on that aren't in person. Let's face it, while these in person events are great, the majority of your blogging time is alone, all alone. When you are faced with a blogging dilemma you need to have someone else you can turn to. Someone who may have dealt with this before or someone you can ask for advice. Even when you just want to vent or say, "Hey, how did you add that thing to your blog?". These are called Blogging Buddies and are invaluable!

I have two and while we may not chat every day, when we do it always makes me smile. I've never met them in person but I really hope I do get to someday!

Melissa at Gerbera Daisy Diaries became a blogging buddy organically. Over a year ago now, what started as an innocent comment on my blog about having received a Christmas present in common: Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall has turned into an affinity for hosting read alongs together and therefore constant contact spanning months at a time! We have similar reading tastes when it comes to massive tomes and we seem to come at them from totally different angles which makes the whole process a blast! You may not think a single gal from San Francisco and a mom from Arkansas would have a lot in common, but believe me, we can chat via email about books all day!

Care at Care's Online Book Club and I formed our buddy relationship with more intent, ie "will you be my buddy". At first, we had some specific questions about our blogs we were trying to resolve. Furious emails ensued until we could get to the bottom of the problem. Now, when things come up we email back and forth. It's great! I know when I have a question, she will respond to me quickly with some really solid blogging advice. We all need that pat on the shoulder in what can be a sometimes lonely endeavour.

So yes I am a big advocate for blogging buddies. Even if you never have a question come up for resolution and it's just someone to chat about books that is like-minded, it's well worth the effort of emailing a blogger you like and saying, "Hi, would you be my buddy?"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We Have A Winner for the Wrecker Giveaway!

Congratulations are in order for the winner of a brand new hardback copy of Wrecker by Summer Wood courtesy of Bloomsbury USA! Chosen via random.org the winner is: Glenda! I hope you enjoy the book!

If you are still in the market for book giveaways, don't forget to enter to win my May Review Book Giveaway where two great books are up for grabs, my 260+ Follower Giveaway which is open internationally, and my giveaway of The Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip!

Armchair BEA: Interview of Allison from Reading Everywhere

Today during Armchair BEA we are practicing the art of networking! I love getting to know bloggers I previously hadn't met before. I think this is such a fun concept and I hope you do too!

I am being interviewed by Carrie over on Books and Movies all about audiobooks! Please go check it out and let me know what you think!

Please join me today in welcoming Allison from Reading Everywhere to my blog! Allison is a fellow Californian who works as a librarian and is the mom to two sweet children. She started her blog in January of this year and I had a blast getting to know her better. I hope you do too!

1. It looks like you started your blog Reading Everywhere in January of this year. What made you decide to get into book blogging?
I'd been reading other people's book blogs for ages- in fact, as a librarian, I occasionally use blog reviews to help make purchasing decisions for my library's collection. Bloggers often post reviews of books earlier than professional review sources, which is really helpful. So I'd been admiring all these great book blogs, and I thought-- I want to get on this bandwagon! I read ALL the time, and it's good for my brain to sit down and compose some substantial book reviews. Plus, I like the community aspect of it. I wanted to jump in and be part of the fun!

2. I was reading book blogs too before I decided to jump into the swing of things so I totally get that! Since starting your book blog, what has surprised you most about the book blogging community or book blogging in general?
I've been surprised by how much people take the time to visit other blogs and comment when participating in memes like "Top Ten Tuesday" and "Waiting on Wednesday." Sadly, I'm usually late to add my link to the meme's hosting blog, but even so, one or two people will STILL stop by with a nice comment. Even though there are, like, 200 other blogs participating! I'm amazed by that. I really appreciate the good will, and enjoy the opportunity to check out other people's blogs, too.

3. I agree, it is wonderful how friendly everyone is! You are the mom of two and a librarian! How do you juggle everything?
Ha, good question! Most of the time, I feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants. But it's a fun ride! I've discovered that I can do more on less sleep than I ever thought possible. And even if I'm exhausted when I get to work, hopping on the reference desk to help people with their information needs really energizes me. I also set my iPhone to beep at me whenever I need to remember something. Thank goodness for technology, huh?

4. Remind me to never complain about being tired again! You have way more on your plate as a mom than I do :)  As someone who has only dabbled in YA, can you recommend some of your favorite YA titles that you've come across this year (all links send you to Allison's reviews)?
If you're just dipping a toe into YA, don't miss The Hunger Games. It's like THE thing right now, and well worth the hype! But as for this what I've read this year, I can't stop raving about Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini. It's a new twist on Greek mythology and forbidden romance, and it's sooooo good. I'm also loving White Cat, by Holly Black. It was a 2010 release, but I only got a chance to read it this year, and I love that it appeals to both male and female readers. The plot is a clever mashup of mafia and magic- very original, and tightly written. Just pure awesomeness.

5. I will definitely be looking into some of these titles as they sound great! Thanks for the recommendations! Are you someone who only reads one book at a time or do you juggle multiple titles at once?
I'm always reading a few books at once. I usually have a book at home, a book at work for my lunch hour, and an ebook on my iPhone to read while nursing the baby. I like to have an audiobook for my commute, too. Reading a lot is easy; it's finding the time to review that's a challenge for me!

6. Wow, that is impressive! That's a lot of books going at once!  You seem to get to meet a lot of cool authors in your role as a librarian! Any particularly great/memorable experiences you'd like to share with us?
Oh my goodness, I love hosting author visits! Sometimes I can't believe how cool my job is. I've been fortunate enough to hang with Meg Cabot, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (who brought along Sarah Rees Brennan, even though she wasn't officially part of the event- such an awesome surprise!). Oh, and I was extremely pregnant when I helped host a signing for Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl series. He offered to deliver my baby if I went into labor, and then told me the most amazing story about his own wife's labor with their second son- I was really touched that he took the time to share a personal story with me. Authors are awesome!

7. That story about Colfer is a hoot! When not reading or blogging, what do you like to do in your free time?
Besides anything book related, my hobbies are... oh. Well, oh dear, I seem to have lost my hobbies. I think my two adorable children may have eaten them. But I have HOPES and DREAMS! When my children are a bit older, fully weaned, fully verbal, and a little more self-sufficient, I'd love to take ballet and photography classes, join some kind of volunteer group, and sing in a choir. Oh, and yoga!  And regular spa visits! Also, wine tastings! Ambitious? Just a bit. For now, I guess you could say my hobbies are the typical stuff-- hit the gym, take walks with the kids, cook, try out new restaurants with the husband... and enjoy the occasional pedi when I can.

Oh, and even though this is sort of reading/blogging related, please allow me to share my latest hobby obsession! I co-host a podcast about YA books at
http://authorsarerockstars.com, where we feature an author interview every month. It combines two of my longtime interests: voiceover and reading, and I'm having a blast with it. 

I will definitely be checking out your podcast in the future, Allison! Thanks for sharing it with us. And no, I don't think your hopes and dreams are ambitious as I share many of them as well! 

Thanks everyone for stopping by and don't forget to swing by Allison's wonderful blog and say hi to my new blogging friend!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: Ugly Beauty

'Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubenstein, L'Oreal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good'
Author: Ruth Brandon

Format: ARC
Published: Harper; Feb. 2011
Pages: 304
Genre: Non-fiction; History; Beauty
Rating: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: With wonderful attention to detail and real affection for her subjects, Brandon tells the story of Helena Rubinstein (1870–1965), a Polish Jew from a poor family with a small salon in Australia, who became the first woman tycoon and self-made millionaire. Her timing was excellent: she struck at the moment when decent women, for the first time, were allowing themselves makeup and were willing to shop for it publicly. At the same time, a young French chemist named Eugène Schueller (1881–1957) was making his name in hair dyes (and later collaborating with the Nazis); it was his company, L'Oreal, that swallowed Rubinstein's business. The descriptions of Schueller's political scandals are fascinating, but the story shines when Brandon returns to Rubinstein, a stubborn, spirited woman who responded to a luxury Park Avenue apartment's "No Jews" policy by buying the entire building, and who calmly thwarted robbers in her home at the age of 91. A clearheaded discussion of current beauty standards, vanity, and the gender politics of the modern cosmetic industry rounds out this lively history of the founding of the beauty business as we know it. 

My Take: This was a book that from the title alone I was intrigued. L'Oreal is definitely a company whose products I know. I see them in the drugstore, in my magazines and on TV non-stop. Rubenstein's however not so much, yet she was a name that I am familiar with. I am someone who loves to play with my makeup and always have so if there is some sort of mystery to unearth behind some of these products than yes, sign me up!

I was instantly engrossed in the story held within these pages, which believe me, when it comes to pure non-fiction is not always an easy task. Ugly Beauty starts with a chapter on Rubenstein and how, from nothing, she started her business with a little magic and a lot of gumption in Australia and became one of the first female self-made millionaires. This woman is fascinating. She had a passion for her business unlike any other. She was innovative and came up with ideas for the beauty business people still use today. Even at the extreme height of her success she maintained a family business sense, helping her seven sisters get jobs running her empire in the different locations, leaving her husbands and two sons sometimes lonely. While Rubenstein as a woman may be a little shrouded in mystery since she always enjoyed spinning tales, what is known about her and what Brandon shared about her is utterly fascinating.

We then flip to what may be deemed a competitor, or at least a rising star at the same time in the beauty business. Where Rubenstein was a Jewish female with beauty creams in her kitchen, Eugene Schuller studied the sciences and started a hair dye company known as L'Oreal in France. He also quickly rose to fame in Europe with safe hair dyes at a time when many dyes would make your hair fall out, make your skin break out in a rash, etc. Where Runenstein believed in sharing the business with your family, Schuller believed in empowering your employees. They basically could not have more different business styles and it was this dichotomy that was interesting to read and you could tell was also thoroughly researched.

When WWII broke out, Rubenstein was in the US and her business rode through the war successfully. Schueller being in France needed to protect himself and his assets throughout the occupation. It appeared he wanted to do so by playing both sides. Doing so would cost him for the rest of his life and the company's well into the next century. This shocked me. How had I never heard of it? Without ruining too many details so you can read all about it in the book, it appeared that when L'Oreal went to buy out Rubenstein's company in the 80s and 90s the news was everywhere of a Nazi scandal within L'Oreal. Granted, I was a kid but I would have thought this would still haunt them. Nice media campaigns L'Oreal is all I can say.

For me, the only downfall is that since this was so well researched there were, especially during WWII, so many players in all of the events of Schuller's life and business dealings, because honestly when is anything simple, that it got incredibly tedious to read. It was almost like reading a report. However, the rest of the story with the intrigue and the information about the impact on their lives and their rise to power and wealth made this book well worth the read!

Cover Lust: I'll be honest, while it is dark to suggest the sinister contents, it leaves something to be desired. It doesn't grab me!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mailbox Monday: May 23rd, 2011

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and May is being hosted by Mari Reads! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

How was everyone's weekend? Did you survive the rapture? :) I got to up to lots of fun things this weekend. The Bay Area hosted the Maker Faire this weekend which a fun, nerdy fest full of inspiration so we went and checked it out on Saturday and it was very cool! Saturday night a friend and I went to the Kylie Minogue concert - freaking awesome as always!! Sunday, I needed to relax so I treated myself to a massage. Why don't I go get those more often?! Ahhh ...

Now, it's Monday again. Remember how I was going to try to reduce the amount in my mailbox? I failed this week! But there's always next week :)

From Ballantine Books:
1. French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

From The Penguin Press for a TLC Book Tour
2. Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America by Maureen Stanton

From Harper Collins:
3. My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

4. Nom De Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms by Carmela Ciuraru

5. Tolstoy and The Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

6. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

From PBS:
7. The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

What did you get?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: Song of the Silk Road

'Song of the Silk Road'
Author: Mingmei Yip

Format: Paperback
Published: Kensington; Apr. 2011
Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Grade: C
Source: Publicist

Synopsis: Yip's lively new novel manages to be at once modern and traditional. Struggling scribe Lily Lin is writing her Chinese-American family saga, stuck in a dead-end relationship with a married man, and employed as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant in midtown Manhattan. When she is contacted by a law firm representing a previously unknown but apparently wealthy Chinese aunt, she ignores her good fortune, thinking it fishy, "like a clichéd plot in a cheap novel." But it's not, and if Lily follows her aunt's obsessive instructions to retrace her own Silk Road sojourn, Lily will receive three million dollars. She accepts the challenge, and thus begins an absorbing journey that only seems to make sense as a way of uniting the Chinese and Western halves of Lily's heritage. 

My Take: I had such good luck reading novels set in Asia last year that I keep reading them this year, but they keep faltering for me. Maybe it's me, maybe it's the book, but so far, no luck! I loved the premise of this book. Who among us doesn't hope that we would be contacted my some mysterious wealthy relative to be told that some fortune awaits us if we first just go on some mystical journey? Sounds pretty cool right? I'd go! So does Lin. She thinks about it a little but she is a struggling writer in New York with very few ties so it doesn't take much to convince her that she doesn't have much to lose so she might as well go one this journey through the famed Silk Road of China.

What worked for me in the novel was the descriptions of China and learning about places I've never been, many of which I've never even heard of. There was a lot of old school wisdom surrounding this trip and Lin was a great guide in that respect. Having not grown up in China, she still knew a great deal about it's culture and customs and having her as my guide on this trip around the country, I learned a great deal.

What didn't work for me was the writing style. Even though the book doesn't appear to be a translation from Chinese it is written as such. Many of the sentences are choppy or written with phrases that are foreign in English. It made the book, well, weird to read. I think if they had just said it was a translation it would have been expected but since it wasn't, this should have been edited differently. Also, it was very sexual. I am not a prude and don't mind sex scenes but Lily would just nonchalantly suggest what kinds of positions she thought other people did or should do to have a satisfying sex life. It was a little voyeuristic. At any rate, it made for a read unlike any other!

If you love travelling through China and Chinese history and culture though I think you will probably get a lot more out of this book and the style with which it is written will not affect you as much.

Cover Lust: I like it but I don't love it. The woman on the cover is beautiful but I think it would look more modern if it was on a white background instead of a green one but that could just be me!

Giveaway Details!

The publicist has kindly offered up one new copy to a lucky winner! The deadline for this giveaway is June 3rd; entries open to those in the US.

To Enter (Mandatory)!
Comment below with a way for me to contact you.

For Extra entries (Optional), indicate that you are:
+1 Follow this blog on Google Connect (see right sidebar)
+1 Follow me on twitter and tweet about this giveaway (include @amusedbybooks in your tweet)
+1 Blog/Post about this giveaway on your sidebar

3 extra entries available. Giveaway open until 11:59pm PST June 3rd. I will draw the winners using random.org and announce them here on my blog. Good luck!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Craft Time: Moroccan Jars!

I love to get crafty but I don't often find the time to do so. I read design blogs and find myself saying: I'll make that! and then never do. However, recently I actually did get inspired and follow it through and thought I'd share the fruits of my labor with you here even though they have absolutly nothing to do with books.

A few months ago I was clicking through trusty design*sponge when they talked about how you could easily turn old glass jars into Moroccan candle holders. I have a special place in my heart for the "Moroccan theme". I don't know why, I've never been there but the colors and the lushness of the whole look always speaks to me. So when I saw how simple this craft was I thought I could totally make this. You know, sometimes these crafts involve lots of steps and well, I just don't think it's gonna look good when I touch it so why try. This one though, I could handle. So I started saving my jars when I made pasta or ate some canned peaches and soon I had three and I went shopping for supplies.

I cleaned my jars of labels, ran them through the dishwasher and if there was any extra glue went over it with finger nail polish remover--it gets rid of everything! Then I went to Michael's and picked up some gold dimensional puff paint (hello 1980s!) and some glass paint in vibrant colors (I bought paint that was specifically for stained glass). I already had paintbrushes and I was ready to go!
Add gold paint!
The next step is to add the gold paint to the outside in designs that you like and let dry. There are all kinds of Moroccan designs you can go with. The goal is to obviously have some holes to let the colored paint shine though. Then let it dry for 24 hours.

Add colored paint to inside of jars
Once gold paint is dry, you add the colored paint to the inside of the jars. I chose red, purple and green. It will dry a lot lighter than it initially looks. You want it to evenly coat. I squirted it in the bottom and then spread it all around. Once dry, add candles to the bottom and presto, you have Moroccan candle holders! I love them :)
All aglow!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Announcing the 260+ Follower Giveaway!

I have reached a milestone that when I started this blog in September of 2009 I didn't think I would ever reach! I am so excited to say that I have officially gained over 260 followers and I am so grateful to each and every one of you! If I could give each of you a prize for following me I would. Every comment you make and conversation we engage in makes me smile. It may sound funny, but I didn't think anyone would care what I had to say when I first started this blog so to know that people do each and every day makes me smile and I really look forward to blogging and visiting your blogs ... so this is my Thank You!

Giveaway Details!
I will be giving away one (1) $25 gift certificate or $25 worth of books to either Amazon, Powell's, or The Book Depository (just indicate which you would like in the comments section). For every 15 more followers I gain while this contest is running, another gift certificate will be up for grabs. And yes, this contest is open internationally! 

This giveaway will be open to followers of this blog only and it will be open for two weeks, until June 1st. 

To Enter (Mandatory)!
Comment below with a way for me to contact you.

Follow this blog on Google Connect (see right sidebar)

For Extra entries (Optional), indicate that you are:
+1 Follow me on twitter and tweet about this giveaway (include @amusedbybooks in your tweet)
+1 Blog/Post about this giveaway on your sidebar

Two extra entries available. Giveaway open until 11:59pm PST June 1st. I will draw the winners using random.org and announce them here on my blog. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The Wilder Life

'The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie' 
Author: Wendy McClure

Format: ARC
Published: Riverhead Hardcover; Apr. 2011
Pages: 352
Genre: Memoir
Rating: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: Obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books about an 1880s pioneer family, children's book editor and memoirist McClure (I'm Not the New Me) attempts to recapture her childhood vision of "Laura World." Her wacky quest includes hand-grinding wheat for bread, buying an authentic churn, and traveling to sites where the Ingalls family attempted to wrest a living from the prairie. Discovering that butter she churned herself was "just butter," McClure admits she "felt like a genius and a complete idiot at the same time." Viewing a one-room dugout the Ingallses occupied that was "smaller than a freight elevator" prompted McClure to admit that "the actual past and the Little House world had different properties." McClure finally tells her boyfriend, "I'm home," after recognizing that her travels stemmed from her reaction to the recent death of her mother. Readers don't need to be Wilder fans to enjoy this funny and thoughtful guide to a romanticized version of the American expansion west. 

My Take: Growing up I devoured The Little House on the Prairie books. I think I read them multiple times. I always loved history and there was something about imaging life in the open plains back in the olden days that really captured my childhood imagination. Then when I entered middle school I was ripped from my beloved Seattle and forced to move to Kansas. Kansas? Who the heck lives in Kansas?! Laura Ingalls Wilder that's who! So I re-read the books all over again, this time reading the books that come after the series when Laura has Rose and they move to Missouri and they are more like letters and are kind of, well, sad. I also discovered the TV series. McClure explains that while the TV show is based on the books, that's where the similarities ends. They really have nothing to do with each other from there. Well when you don't have cable and you come home from school and at 5pm it's that or the news, well I've watched every Little House on the Prairie episode there is and I freakin' loved Half-Pint and Michael Landon as Pa, and Nellie Olson! When you are 12, specifics of whether the show is staying true to the book don't really matter. So yeah, you better believe this book was perfect for me!

When The Wilder Life begins, McClure has recently lost her mother. On a trip to clean out her home she discovers a favorite book from her childhood: Little House in the Big Woods. She decides to re-read the series and then as you can now with the internet, she goes online to look some things up, and bam an obsession begins! I totally understand how this happens and I was thrilled to be along for McClure's ride because I found the tidbits that she discovers fascinating! Also, remember how the childhood books would have random pencil drawings, of say the log cabin or a butter churn? So did this one and it made me smile with fond memories!

So McClure first decides to start small by reading everything she can about the Wilder's. She begins with all of the books Laura and Rose had written. As I've said, I read all of the books Laura wrote but it has been years since I read them, however the details came flooding back and I remember knowing that Rose, Laura's daughter, was a ghost-writer so to speak for the series we all know and love. What I didn't realize was how many people are so passionately for or against Rose and how interesting her life was. Then McClure decides to try to live the lifestyle a little. Not go off the grid or anything (although she meets those types). More like buying a butter churn and making maple candy. Interesting to note, if you should want to churn your own butter, it's a lot of effort to only have it taste exactly the same as butter  you can buy. I have discovered the same is true of cinnamon rolls (unless my grandma makes them. Those, no one can touch the delicousness!).

McClure then decides to hit the road and visit all of the sites where Laura and gang lived. I was thrilled by this. Living in Kansas as a middle schooler I didn't have much (or any say) in vacation schedules. So instead of driving to the middle of nowhere to go visit the site of Laura's home for one year, we would go to Colorado and go skiing or something. I know, poor me! McClure, however, visits all of the sites. It's fascinating to read how different they all are and the people who visit them! I find that whenever I go to a piece of Americana, I'm just as entertained by people watching as I am by the site itself but yes, I got to live out my fantasy via this book.

Bottom line, if as a child you loved this series too, then there is no way you will not get a kick out of this book! Also, if you enjoy a glimpse at Americana this book will make you smile as well. McClure's journey is one I am so glad I got to be a part of.

Cover Lust: It's simple and fit's the bill. Have they changed the design of these Little House books at all? Because they shouldn't!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mailbox Monday: May 16th -21st, 2011

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and May is being hosted by Mari Reads! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

This weekend I needed some cheering up and it was achieved. Friday night, I went with my coworkers to go see the one-man Hugh Jackman show where he sings a bunch of Broadway hits with a live orchestra. You guys this was amazing and Jackman is HOT! Saturday night my boyfriend and I went out to a nice dinner and then saw the new movie Bridesmaids. This movie was freaking hysterical! And if you think it's for women only, my boyfriend can attest to the fact that it is not. It appeals to everyone! Highly recommend it!

Now, mailbox time! Here's what great items came into my mailbox this week:

From Atria Publishers:
1. Confetti Confidential by Holly McQueen

2. Compact with the Devil by Bethany Maines

From PBS
3. Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

4. The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro

What did you get?
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