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review 2018-07-13 07:12
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Why Not Me? - Mindy Kaling

From the author of the beloved New York Times bestselling book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and the creator and star of The Mindy Project comes a collection of essays that are as hilarious and insightful as they are deeply personal. In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.




Really thought I would dig this one more, as I DO find Kaling funny in her movie and tv roles, but something just didn’t work for me here. It wasn’t gawd awful or anything that bad, but I was surprised to find that I did not laugh out loud once. Not. Once. Even though I could count at least half a dozen mentions of her pointing out that she was a comedy writer. All I could think was one of my favorite lines from Finding Nemo: “You know, for a clown fish, he’s not that funny.” And at times I felt like she went a little heavy-handed with the self-deprecation… to the point of being irritating. Additionally, I found myself cringing a bit at some of the people she refers to as friends.


I did finish it, as it is an easy read and it is mildly interesting in a “skimming People magazine in the waiting room” kind of way, but about the only bit where I was honestly invested was the portion where she writes this whole scenario for “alternate Mindy” – the Mindy she imagines if she hadn’t found fame, the Mindy who teaches Latin at a private school in NYC. That whole bit is done in a blend of work emails, text messages and IMs and she actually does make a pretty entertaining story there. I would’ve happily read a whole novel with those characters!


A couple things I did appreciate or relate to: I give props to Kaling for her work ethic. Regardless of what I think of this book, I can’t knock her dedication to her job, as she lays out an average day for her readers, a day that she says typically runs from 5:30am one day to 12:30 am the next… over and over again. You have to give a nod to that.

Also nice to know it’s not just me that worries if some Uber drivers are secretly serial killers.

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review 2018-04-06 02:11
Green by Laura Peyton Roberts
Green - Laura Peyton Roberts

Lily's thirteenth birthday starts off with a bang. Literally. A present explodes on her porch . . . and soon after, a trio of leprechauns (yes, leprechauns) appears in her bedroom. They whisk her away to a land of clover, piskies, a new friend, a cute boy, and lots of glimmering, glittering gold. A world of Green. It turns out that Lily—as her grandmother was before her—is in line to be keeper for the Clan of Green, in charge of all their gold. That is, if she passes three tests. And she has to pass them. Because if she doesn't? She may never get to go home again. She'll be stuck with the Greens. Forever.




On the day of Lily Green's 13th birthday, she answers her doorbell to find a package, addressed to her, sitting on her front porch. A package that promptly explodes, sending her flying back, the blast also breaking a front window. When she comes to again, the neighbors have gathered around to access the situation and wait for paramedics to arrive. Excusing herself, Lily rushes to her room, where she finds three leprechauns waiting for her. They quickly inform her that she is to come with them back to their kingdom, as she is next in line to serve as this leprechaun clan's Keeper, the person assigned to manage the clan's gold stores. 


It's a lot of information to take in at once, so naturally Lily's first reaction is to resist going anywhere with these wee strangers but they have no intention of accepting any refusal. As they point out, they've been waiting for a number of years for her to turn thirteen, the minimum age requirement for a Keeper. Turns out Lily's own grandmother, recently departed, passed away before she had a chance to give Lily the rundown on the secret family business. 


Once in the leprechaun kingdom, Lily gets a little more information to take in. For one, from her father's side she descends from a long line of leplings, humans who have a small strain of leprechaun blood in them. Since the creation of leplings, it has become tradition that one in their line should always be Keeper (a kind of banker for the clan) of the gold deposits. In order to accept her role though, Lily must first pass three tests to fully prove to the clan that she is the true heir to the position. You might have heard leprechauns are pretty particular about who gets around their gold. ☺ If she doesn't pass these tests, her mind will be wiped of all things leprechaun related, including ALL memories of her grandmother. Lily accepts the challenge, but as the tests get increasingly dangerous -- the third and final test even putting her in a bit of a Catch-22 -- she starts to suspect someone might not want her to succeed after all. 


The first few chapters read a little depressing: Lily's parents are split up, her grandmother is dead, Lily is painted as a bit of an awkward loner, so when her birthday comes around, author Laura Roberts paints a pretty sad picture. Lily's mom refuses to take the day off from work and there seems to be only one friend in Lily's life who might be by later to do some celebrating. Also, a NOTE for sensitive readers prone to triggering material: there IS a split-second reference to self-harm in this story... not someone actually carrying out, only one character mentioning suspicion of another character, but the topic is hinted at. The story takes a few chapters to really get into (maybe because of the heavier bits in these early pages) but the pace picks up once Lily gets into her Keeper challenges. 


From there, everything is good fun! There's a healthy dose of humor being thrown about once Lily meets her new leprechaun relatives.  Lily getting injured by the package bomb blast, one leprechaun notes, "I didn't know you'd be so delicate." When Lily gets to the kingdom and they see her hair is damaged, a female leprechaun is sent in with some magic shears that can make hair longer rather than shorter... but when Lily voices that she's not entirely happy with the patch up results, the lady leprechaun tosses back, "It's a bit o' magic, not a miracle." Even in a leprechaun kingdom, hair stylists will set you straight on the limitations of their trade! But my favorite was Lily being teamed with the leprechaun Cain for the pisky hunt. Too bad Cain ends up being someone to give Lily a hard life lesson in trust. :-(


So if you are all about going on a light adventure filled with magic, chases, intrigue, a dash of backstabbing, and crowd-surfing leprechauns to boot, this one might be a fun one to while away a chill afternoon this spring! It even closes on a cute scene so you can leave with a smile!


As far as I know, this is a stand-alone story, but I could see potential for continuation of the storyline...I would be all for revisiting these characters as they grow up (or older, in the case of the leprechauns lol).

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review 2018-01-26 02:08
Angel On Assignment (Elf on The Shelf Alternative) by Wanda Carter Roush
Angel on Assignment: Move over elf. It's time to share the shelf. - Wanda Carter Roush,Mike Motz

If your family loves the Elf on the Shelf and you want to keep the fun going, check out Angel on Assignment. It's a children's activity book that offers a Christian alternative to the elf, teaching children about the angels who watch over them, not just at Christmas but all year long. With beautiful illustrations and rhyming verse, Angel on Assignment takes readers through the angels' roles in the Christmas story and presents the ways guardian angels look out for boys and girls today--and how children can act as angels in disguise for friends who need help. See how many angels your child can find--some are hiding!





In recent years, it seems the Elf On The Shelf holiday tradition has become nearly as standard an element as gingerbread cookies and numerous twinkle light displays. Wanda Carter Roush, former Sunday school teacher and author of Angel on Assignment, after witnessing her daughter battle Dravet Syndrome-induced epilepsy, wanted a special spin on the elf tradition. Roush wanted something that would teach young readers about the role of angels not only during the holiday season -- though the nativity story is incorporated -- but throughout the entire year, reassuring each reader that an angel has your back nonstop, watching and protecting you every day of your life. The intent of this is to not only instill hope and wonder in the hearts of children, but Roush also urges children to think of these angels and be inspired to carry out charitable acts of their own each day, to aspire to make it a natural way of life as they grow towards adulthood. 


From a poor simple stable and a bed made of hay, 

To the cross on a hill, in a borrowed tomb he lay.

Angels were there from the start to the stone,

When the greatest gift to the world was made known.


      ~text from page 6 of Angel on Assignment


But there's more than just a mere story here. Readers are given a fun interactive experience throughout! In addition to a heartwarming tale told in rhyming verse, Angel on Assignment  features wonderfully colorful illustrations done by Mike Motz as well as a "spot the angels" game in each illustration. At the back of the book, there are also pages that instruct children on how to make their own paper angels (with adult supervision, of course) and encourages children to post their creations to the book's Facebook page. The last page of the book is an inscription page where families can record the date that they first started the Angel tradition in their home. 





Since being released in 2017, Angel On Assignment has gone on to be awarded the Gold Medal Christian Book Award in Young Kids category as well as the Bronze Medal Readers' Favorite Book Award in the General Christian category. The rhyming is done in a pleasant rhythm, flowing nicely without being TOO simple in vocabulary or awkward & clunky in pace. Roush's spin on the classic Elf tradition offers a refreshing alternative to parents looking to incorporate more "reason for the season" kind of celebrating into their family festivities during the Christmas season. 


FTC Disclaimer:  BookCrash.com and Ella's Pearl Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2017-11-05 10:55
Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment In Relishing The Season by Alexandra Kuykendall
Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season - Alexandra Kuykendall

The Christmas season is a particularly difficult time for women to slow down and relish what's right in front of them. An annual marker for many, it is a holiday that can often remind us how life is not going as we'd planned. Our family relationships remain strained, our finances stretched, and our schedules stuffed with too much to do in too little time. Following the formula of her successful Loving My Actual Life, Alexandra Kuykendall shares with readers her own personal experiment to be completely present in her life as it is during the holiday season. Addressing the themes of Advent and Christmas, she reflects on hope, love, joy, peace, and relishing the season, with practical pullouts on common Christmas stressors, such as finances, schedules, and extended family. Kuykendall's signature candor helps women go easy on themselves, remember what truly matters, and find joy in their imperfect Christmases.





It all started with Alexandra Kuykendall's previous release, Loving My Actual Life, in which for an entire year she challenged herself to slow down a bit and take in the actual life she was living rather than the one she was obsessively trying to achieve through insane schedules, a go-go-go lifestyle and maybe a touch of subconsciously trying to compete with friends and neighbors for a mythical "best life" award. Using the format of that experiment, Kuykendall challenges herself once again, this time tackling the seemingly inevitable stress that comes with each year's impending holiday season -- the days packed with endless holiday festivities, the decorating, the blown out holiday budget that depresses her come January. She explains that her inspiration this time around was the realization that she did not want her daughters to grow up and have their dominant holiday memories be of stressed out, edgy and resentful parents. Instead, she wanted to put the need for perfection aside and just try to be present and authentically capture the true magic of Christmas for her girls. This year, Kuykendall wants to put the focus back on true family togetherness, charity, kindness, all those warm fuzzy emotions we ALL desperately need a good dose of right about now. 


Can I do this? Create an experiment where I'm able to savor the season in front of me without ending up overwhelmed and bitter? Where I avoid needing a detox from the fa-la-la-la and the mistletoe? It is worth the try. Because hope, peace, joy, and love are certainly words I want to associate with this time of year. Rather than overspending, overeating, undersleeping and underrejoicing, I want to notice the goodness God has offered in the here and now. In this year. This Christmas. Regardless of the circumstances. Because I don't want to resent this actual Christmas. I want to love it. 



It's a tough year for Kuykendall, as it's the year her stepfather passed away, a man she had come to rely on as a loving, reliable male figure in her life (for more on the difficult relationship Kuykendall has with her birth father, check out her memoir, The Artist's Daughter). Hard as it will be to tackle a season of family gatherings without this important man there for her, Kuykendall works hard not to let the sadness tarnish the warm memories she wants to cultivate for her family. 


In Loving My Actual Christmas, Kuykendall admits from the very beginning that this round will be slightly different because she is not working within the luxury of an entire year. We are talking about a season. So she gets the ball rolling in November, jumping right into family gatherings and activities around Thanksgiving, Christmas right around the corner. After moving passed Christmas, the book closes out a few days past the New Year (this past January 2017, as she notes that she started writing this book during 2016 holiday season).


Though she may not have a full year to work through, to give herself some sense of structure to this experiment, Kuykendall plots out the time frame of the experiment using the window of Advent (the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas Day) as well as Christmastide (more commonly known as the Twelve Days of Christmas), carrying through to just after New Year's celebrations. This book has the same diary-like layout as Loving My Actual Life. From day one, Kuykendall makes entries for every day of every week, giving readers a rundown of what the day's activities looked like, what she hopes to accomplish with that day, what she comes away with (lesson-wise) at day's end, and what Scripture she used that day to ponder on as she worked through each day's schedule. The entries are divided by Advent week and for each week she gives herself an overall theme to focus on: 


  • Week 1 = HOPE
  • Week 2 = LOVE
  • Week 3 = JOY
  • Week 4 = PEACE
  • * and then a section that does an overview on her Christmastide experience


Each chapter closes on "Questions for Reflection", questions that help guide readers on their own journey of better appreciating the season. She also offers relevant scripture, so this book (as well as her previous experiment book) have potential to be used as devotional supplements. Kuykendall is quick to address that a lot of the issues / stressors she tackles in this book will likely come of as #firstworldproblems, but as she points out -- the experiments are called MY ACTUAL LIFE and MY ACTUAL CHRISTMAS... it might seem first world, but it is the life SHE is personally living, so we gotta let her do her thing. 


What I love about these experiments of hers is that Kuykendall gives it to her readers honestly, warts and all. She fully admits to being human, starting with the best intentions and then getting in the moment and seriously wanting to throw in the towel instead. Immediately from Day 1 of her Christmas experiment she hits a wall. Not a good start, but a humorous and relatable one! She talks of facing the living room mantel, realizing she has to take down all the "harvest" decor to set up the Nativity scene... and she's honestly just not feelin' it, y'all! Who hasn't been there!


Also on this day she's hit with the first wave of holiday family travel plans (orchestrating all that) as well as trying to find time to sit down to do the obligatory Christmas cards. Those Christmas cards haunt her through many of the days, leading her to tell a story of when she just decided to NOT do cards one year, and guess what? There was a little guilt involved on her part, but no one died and no one disowned her. This spoke to my soul as it's exactly where I was last Christmas, and frankly I don't know that I'm feeling much for the cards this year, so it was nice to get a sense of camaraderie from that. Kuykendall encourages readers to still do cards, but do them for the right reason. Do it because you honestly love and miss these people and WANT to connect, don't just make it a chore to scratch off because you don't want things to get awkward later. 


No big surprise, but one of Kuykendall's big takeaways from this project is that the best gift is really just giving someone time / attention / respect / love. If you love the act of bestowing physical gifts, just make sure that the gifts show you LISTEN TO THEM. Don't get caught up in getting what everyone else seems to be buying -- unless, I guess, your people have expressed that's truly what they want with all their hearts. But in general, it's nice to give gifts that give a nod to something said in passing that shows you were listening even when they thought you weren't! ;-)


Other main points:


* Decide on a holiday budget and STICK TO IT. Also, it might help to make an inventory of all expected costs for the season -- what you anticipate to spend on holiday meals, outings, travel, holiday clothing, etc. Factor that into the overall "holiday budget" at the beginning of the season and you probably won't have quite as much sticker shock come January. 


* As Kuykendall's husband kept telling her throughout this process: "No bad-mouthing Christmas!" Your season might still have an element of stress no matter what you do but don't blame the season, just find your zen again and remember the real "reason for the season".


As I carried out the experiment, I was reminded that this holiday becomes a circus because we are operating out of our longings. We long for memories and fun and happiness. We long for meaning and purpose. We know it must be hidden somewhere among the decorations and the fuss. And when I stopped and paid attention, this is what stood out to me about why we do all of this Christmas making in the first place. 


* Learn to say "no" sometimes and be okay with it. Much of the stress of the season comes from us allowing ourselves to be roped into doing every little thing to ensure everyone else has the perfect season. Once in awhile, stop and say no. And then go let yourself have some you time so YOU can enjoy the season. 


At the back of the book, Kuykendall also offers supplemental guides such as "Practical Tips and Strategies" where she outlines just how exactly she pulled off this experiment and how you can try it yourself. Within the guides she also encourages readers to engage in some moments of contemplation: evaluate family holiday traditions, WHY you still do them and should you continue with them or are you merely doing it out of habit? (Think: are the kids too old for it? Are there enough people that still enjoy the tradition or are you just forcing them through?). She gives you a really handy guide on ways to be more economical during the season as well as a pep talk on the power of "no thank you".

She closes with the plea to readers that while they go through this process (should they choose to, that is), in all things always strive to continually be kind, gracious and compassionate. 


Near the end of the experiment, Kuykendall points out that throughout this process it is important to keep in mind that you can't (or at the very least, shouldn't) gloss over the hurts and struggles of the year with a simple dusting of tinsel, a few rounds of carols and a nice mug of eggnog (if eggnog is your thing). Kuykendall advises readers to remember the Nativity story: all the struggles that were going on in that time in history, how so many people craved a positive change for peace... and what happened? A star suddenly appeared in the night sky shining a light so bright as to leave any observer awe-struck, so bright as to be able to guide three wise men to a random manger. A light in the darkness. The darkness doesn't go away for good, but having your heart in the right place helps keeps the hardships at bay. That's the idea here. Acknowledge the struggles but embrace the joy and grace found behind them. We will likely always be trying to fight off one evil or another in the world, but Kuykendall encourages you, when faced with dark times, to allow yourself to still be in awe of the marvels & beauties in the world, because if you keep yourself open enough, they will remind you that they are still out there. As she says, "This is a year to celebrate the good news within the context of our actual lives."



FTC Disclaimer:  Baker Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2017-10-09 05:59
The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti by Annie Vanderbilt
The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti - Annie Vanderbilt

Lily has come to southern France in search of a new perspective, hoping that the sun's soft rays and the fragrant sea breezes will provide a relaxing respite from the demands of her lively daughter and her family's Idaho cattle ranch. Two years after her husband's sudden death, in the house that's been in his family for generations, she finally finds some stolen weeks to make sense of the past. To Madame Olivetti, her cranky old manual typewriter, Lily entrusts all her secrets, pounding out the story of the men she loved, the betrayals she endured, the losses she still regrets. And with the companionship of Yves, the seductive handyman who comes by to make repairs, Lily comes closer to understanding her exhilarating past and to discovering she has a new story to tell, one about the delights of starting over.




Needing a break from the demands of family and her cattle ranch business, Idaho widow Lily Crisp decides to take a vacation in the South of France. While settling in at La Pierre Rouge, the home she inherited after her husband's passing, Lily journals her French-inspired / influenced thoughts and experiences using an old typewriter she's dubbed "Madame Olivetti". It's through the "Madame Olivetti papers" that the reader also learns the story of not only Lily's relationship with her late husband (how they met, how their romance developed, struggles in later years, etc) but also her more recent bedroom escapades with a certain French hottie handyman by the name of Yves Lebrun. Yves arrives one day to start work on repairing the roof of La Pierre Rouge, but over time his down-to-earth perspective on things (once Lily deciphers it through his limited English) helps our girl unravel twisted up mysteries within her heart and mind... by way of her lower regions ;-)


While much of this novel comes off very fluffy and surface level, there is something to be said for the topics it quietly addresses: the struggles of rebuilding a life after a spouse of decades passes away, the tricky navigation of dating after the age of 40, the side eye a woman might get for being so bold as to date an obviously younger man (Lily writes of her annoyance at the looks she gets for being in the Over 50 crowd but still happily living as a woman a good 20 years younger). There's something here that could easily appeal to those who've had late in life romances themselves.  Though I'm years away from those years myself, I still found a portion of Lily's story relatable when she speaks of younger years, having had her heart shattered over a failed romance but how that pain eventually led her to discovering how to open her heart again, which in turn led her to meeting her then-future husband, Paul. My romance with my own husband unfolded in a  similar way, in that respect. I even found myself nodding in understanding to Lily writing of her first time sleeping with Paul: "a sexual exorcism of one ex-wife and an ex-lover." That sense of joy and even relief, when you get that inkling in your mind that maybe, just maybe, you got things right this time! 


"I think she fell in love with my love for her. I was pretty well gone and I made her feel like an infinitely fascinating woman -- which of course I thought she was."



The slow build of Lily and Paul's relationship made for sweet reading. Author Annie Vanderbilt also writes in a layer of realism to Lily and Paul's later years that I could appreciate. Vanderbilt illustrates that sure, over years of being together, doldrums can set in, things can get predictable, which can sometimes lead people to make poor choices in their fervent attempts to shake things up in their lives. Even the most outwardly perfect couplings take dedicated work behind the scenes to hold that foundation together.


He kissed her lightly on the cheek , then turned and walked down the alleyway toward his car. It's over, she thought, it can get no worse. 


Blessedly, the future is all delusion. Only the past is known, and even then we tamper, we distort. But that moment she saw clearly: the heart's great pulse of desire, undiluted. Nothing more. So she watched him leave, and when he had left, she closed and latched the blue door behind her. 


All in all, some nice observances about long term (I'm talking decades here) relationships. The writing has a nice, easy flow and the contents within these "secret papers" will likely resonate, even if just a small bit, with a good many female readers... at least those past their freshman college years! 

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