2017 Book Review

I decided for 2017 to up my reading goal from my usual 52 to 60. I did it by finishing my final book a mere 7 hours before midnight! Here is a recap and recommendations!

Favorite Book of the Year

  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Don’t let the slow start dissuade you. Just keep reading and you will be so happy that you did. What an wonderful world that Amor Towles creates in the Metropol Hotel.

Best Non-fiction

  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. There’s a reason this was shortlisted for the National Book Award award. The story of the systematic murders of the Osage Indian Tribe due to their extreme oil wealth that can only be passed on through family. Such a sad story in American history and it definitely needed to be told.

Best Sci-fi

  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I don’t read a lot of science fiction so anything I recommend in that genre is going to be probably “sci-fi lite”. This is definitely a good pick up if it’s not your typical genre either.

Best Series

  • Crazy Rich Asians (three books) by Kevin Kwan. I found this series to just be really fun. I think it helps that I have had experience living and traveling in Asia to be slightly more familiar with references. I think even without this knowledge you’ll find it just as enjoyable as well. The characters are ridiculous and rewarding. Bonus – the first book was seen filming this summer in KL and Singapore!!!

Best Bio

  • Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson. First off, I felt like all of the bio/ memoir/ autobiographies that I read this year were pretty top notch. How can I not be fascinated by a Kennedy story? I found it a very interesting story – starting with the beginning of Jack and Rose’s relationship and showing a quite full picture of how the family functioned and going through to the amazing things Eunice pushed forward because of her sisterly love and bond she had with Rosemary.

5 Stars

  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles (also wrote Rules of Civility)
  • Beartown, Frederick Backman (Author of my favorite book of 2016 A Man Called Ove)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and Birth of the FBI, David Grann
  • The Price We Paid: The Extraordinary Story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Pioneers, Andrew D. Olson

4 Stars

  • Hum if You Don’t Know the Words, Bianca Marais
  • The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, Chris Whipple (Very fascinating especially in our current political climate)
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell (If you love Hamilton read more about America’s Favorite Frenchman)
  • The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown
  • Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1), Sylvian Neuvel
  • Waking Gods (Themis Files #2), Sylvian Neuvel
  • The Dry, Jane Harper (listen as an audio book if you like an Australian accent)
  • The Sound of Gravel, Ruth Wariner (Memoir of growing up in a polygamist colony in Mexico)
  • The War that Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • A Long Walk, Brian Castner
  • The Ashes of London, Taylor Andrew
  • When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  • Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rish Asians #1), Kevin Kwan
  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
  • The Muse, Jessie Burton (author of the Miniaturist)
  • Be Frank With Me, Julia Claiborne Johnson
  • Morality for Beautiful Girls (Ladies #1 Detective Agency #3), Alexander McCall Smith (Overall quality series and lovely narrator if reading via audiobook)
  • Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, Kate Clifford Larson
  • Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue
  • Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner (author of last years YA favorite The Serpent King)
  • One in a Million Boy, Monica Wood
  • Victoria, Daisy Goodwin (If you like the Queen Victoria TV series definitely pick this up).
  • Going Solo, Roald Dahl
  • Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng (Also a Reese Witherspoon pick and author of Everything I never Told You)
  • Orphan Island, Laurel Snyder
  • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, Lindy West
  • Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton
  • The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
  • Our Souls At Night, Kent Haruf
  • Gulp: Adventures in the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach (Author of Grunt and Stiff – lots of funny science non-fiction)
  • My Lovely Wife in the Pysch Ward, Mark Lukach
  • The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn

3 Stars

  • The Forty Rules of Love, Elif, Shafak
  • First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, Kate Anderson Brower (definitely full of goss)
  • Artemis, Andy Weir (I probably wouldn’t recommend this if I didn’t love The Martian so much)
  • The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon
  • Not Becoming My Mother, Ruth Reichl
  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave
  • The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood (The Handmaids Tale meets Lord of the Flies)
  • The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware
  • Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher
  • Eleanor Elephant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
  • Into the Water, Paula Hawkins
  • Finding Aubrey, Sophie Kinsella
  • The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window, Jonas Jonasson
  • The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry
  • Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians, #3), Kevin Kwan
  • China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians, #2), Kevin Kwan
  • I See You, Clare Mackintosh
  • Dark at the Crossing, Elliot Ackerman
  • The Yard, Alex Grecian

2 Stars

  • Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders (completely bonkers)
  • The Nest, Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney
  • Taking the Titanic, James Patterson
  • Killer Chef, James Patterson
  • Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly (skip the book and stick to the movie)

 

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What I Read This Year – 2016 Edition

Yes, I know I haven’t written since March but I couldn’t NOT make a post recapping and recommending my reads from this year. It was a record breaking year for books due to many flights and also using audible while traipsing up and down the road to Saigon. I finished 57 books, 5 ahead of my goal of 52.

First let’s start with my favorites:

Book I couldn’t stop recommendingA Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. I absolutely loved everything about this book. It made me cry.

Favorite Series: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. It’s a futuristic telling of classic fairy tales. I thought it was a really fun take and I didn’t even notice that the final book was over 800 pages long.

Favorite Truth: Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. This was a hard choice since I find reading non-fiction to be utterly fascinating. Truth to the saying “you just can’t make this stuff up”! Mary once again brought her humorous approach to researching interesting things about War that frankly I never think about.

Favorite YA: The Serpent King Jeff Zentner. Confession: I was planning a book club reunion/ girls trip to Nashville and wanted us to read a local author. My brother mentioned a book a friend recently had published so I choose it sight unseen. WHAT A GREAT CHOICE, which has also been reflected in many “Best of 2016” lists.

Favorite Book Published in 2016: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, historical fiction I found this one very interesting and wanted to learn more about the history behind the real life characters.

5 Star Books

4 Star Books

3 Stars

2 Stars

 

I’ve been feeling a bit crafty lately and was looking for a small project that would be a fun gift for friends. After a bit of Pinteresting (that’s a verb right?)  I found the perfect piece. Us women folk are always needing to bring a dish somewhere – a dish with food. There’s always a potluck or a picnic or just a group of people who will surely die if there isn’t 7-layer dip around. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to try to transport the dish, especially if it is on the warm side.

Here is the solution – a fancy casserole dish carrier. (That fits your standard pyrex dish or smaller – but who ever brought something small???)

I can’t take credit for the idea, I found it here on Little Bit Funky (if you want to make one yourself) but I can take credit for the hours of sewing while binging on Gilmore Girls. My friend Taunya tipped me off on a quilt fabric shop in Ho Chi Minh City where I found the perfect pair of prints (very Cath Kitdson style) to start this endeavor.  After I had finished them I realized there was a very very good chance the ladies who were gifted these would end up going to the same bring-a-plate soirees so I took it one step further and put name labels to make sure they would make it home safely. Now how many of y’all want one?

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Look at all the things you can put in there!

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I might’ve made one for myself

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The stack of finished beauty!

Prepare yourself for a long post with a lot of pictures.

A while back we decided to set up a home somewhere, and of course somewhere neither where we live nor where we are from. After a holiday in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, England, we fell in love with the place. Fast forward to the last three weeks and I was in Cowes setting up our new place!

We found a flat located right on the water within walking distance to the ferry and a stones throw to all of the sailing fun. Its easy to walk to lots of fun restaurants and shops that I can buy all sorts of nautical stuffs. The lady that owned it before had made some good updates to the flat so all I had to do was add my our style and paint a few coats over some blue and yellow paint (7 coats to be exact) and call it good! Thankfully my mom was enlisted to hop across the pond to help as well.

We decorated with an eclectic mix of Amazon, charity shops, Ikea and craft projects. I do have to disclaim that the curtains WILL BE REPLACED. So here we go with the before/ after pics!

cowes

The aptly named Osborne Court.

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After a bit of painting, crafting and decluttering this is bedroom 1 (the bottom is the after)

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More decluttering, technology upgrade (seriously), additional seating, rug, homemade pillows and a  vintage 1920 map of the island.

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Replaced the clutter, chair covers and runner.

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Major simplification going on here

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Massive painting overhaul and decor addition

Now it’s time to focus on the awesome charity shop finds. There are so many great items that people part with that are better for decorating than finding some generic print at Ikea. Here they are (and all at $15 or less):

I’m also pretty proud of these amazing oars my mom spotted. We couldn’t find a proper bracket to hang them which turned out to be a blessing as we did find an old leather belt that did the trick even better!

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Oars to the core

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Thank you anonymous Mr Man for the belt your wife most likely donated

There was also a series of craftiness that went on (come on, like you didn’t expect this).

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This mirror started out with horrible purple/ blue shimmer tiles. A package of rope and a glue gun turned it into a nautical dream.

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The mirror was hung over the beds with care

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Practicing my knots

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More leftover rope and inexpensive ikea frames

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I had leftover rope and this fab tea towel – so it turned into a perfect apron

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A little free hand lettering and my trusty Bernina helped me make this beauty

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This was an oldie that I made last year that needed to be in this room!

Out of all the clothes in my closet jeans are the hardest to part with. I think about the struggle that occurred when buying them – the juice cleanse before shopping, the tears running down your face, the squats in the dressing room before seeing how they really look and the victory strut to the register when you finally find a winning pair. There is however a time in which they fall out of fashion *gasp*. I distinctly remember realizing that skinnies had replaced all previous type of cuts that Oprah had dictated were the most flattering style of each year. As my fingers ran down the beautiful stack of folded denim (a skill I honed while working at the GAP in high school) I reminisced of all the various girls nights out, cute summer wedges and even a tripping over of a wide leg with a crock pot in hand while in these denim delights. There was no way I could get rid of them, I would SAVE THEM FOR CAMPING!!!

Yes, camping! Even though my boot cut True Religions no longer looked good on a dance floor they were perfect for a weekend in the woods. Who doesn’t need a good pair of camping jeans. It doesn’t matter if they’re in style. Camping jeans end up smelling of camp fire, getting coated in melted marshmallow and keep the stank of not showering encased. I tried this for a while but after our time in Australia I went camping for a total of four nights – and you know what? I wore my in style skinny jeans so I could fit my gumboots over top of them …

So with this move I was left with a stack of 17 pairs of jeans that I knew with my heart of hearts that I would never wear again. I did what any respected quilter would do, I started cutting away to make a jean quilt. Okay I’ll be honest Robbo had wanted one for a while and I was having jean attachment issues – obviously. I spent last week cutting and measuring and sewing and un-sewing and bingewatching the Biggest Loser and ended up with a cute pattern using 6-inch and 8-inch squares and backed with a lovely red and white flannel. I chose red thread for the stitching because I think it was a nice contrast to the jeans themselves. Rob is now rugged up and happy to have his jean quilt and I’m stuck with trying to figure out what I’ll wear camping.

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Ta-dah!

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All rugged up and nowhere to go

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Great for a picnic!

With the New Year approaching (yes, the Lunar New Year) our town is teeing up some very helpful public service announcements to have great start of the year of the monkey. I’ve taken pictures and since I do not speak Vietnamese here is a very loose translation of what they say.

“A rubbish bin’s job is a lonely job if you throw your trash in the grass. Put it in me and I’ll be happy again!” *please note stick drawings are not to scale.wp-1453554478241.jpg

“Make sure everyone is wearing a helmet as they be crazy driving up in here!”wp-1453554494132.jpg

“These white lines are where you cross the street. Please stop walking into traffic wherever it floats your boat.” This sign is at all of the places people walk across with no crosswalk, basically everywhere.wp-1453554484547.jpg

“These are traffic lights, they each mean something different. Contrary to popular belief you do not have a 5 second leeway on either side of a green or red light”wp-1453554505471.jpg

Now that you are informed I wish you a Happy New Year – drive/ walk/ trash safely!

It’s resolution time and we all know the drill that if you write them down it increases that you’ll actually do it. So here is my attempt at 2016.

  1. I have really enjoyed my 52 books challenge so that will continue
  2. I will make an attempt every day to wear lipstick. I know, this sounds like quite a big task to complete but “my Texans” have made an impact and I don’t want to disappoint them.
  3. Quilting. With my increased free time in Vietnam I decided to do something with a little more purpose than hitting the gym every day. There is a great organization called Quilts of Valor. Their mission is to “cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor”. The patriotic quilts that are made are given to service members and veterans. Since it’s inception they have given 131,794 quilts. My goal is to make four quilts, one per quarter, and more if I can. After a bit of sewing and un-sewing and re-sewing I finished my first top. So here it is in all it’s glory. I can’t wait to get it quilted and give it away.

What are you goals this year?

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Ta-dah!

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The close-up