Tag Archives: recommendation

Nonfiction November Reading Challenge

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Since nonfiction is one of my favorite reading genres, I have decided to participate in a reading challenge I discovered on YouTube for the month of November. The challenge has become very popular among the YouTube community as well as among Goodreads members. I have picked my four novels for the month based on the challenge categories of the creators, Gemma (whose YouTube channel is Non Fic Books) and Olive (who is known on YouTube as abookolive). They are using #NonfictionNovember2016 as the hashtag to find the tbr of everyone who is participating.

 

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The categories of the challenges, along with my selections for each, are as follows.

1.New: A book on a subject about which you know very little or one that is new to your collection or interest level. For this choice I picked The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War by Caroline Alexander. I teach part of Homer’s Iliad to my seniors every year, and it has always been one of my favorites, so when I found this recently I bought it immediately and without hesitation. It is brand new to my collection, though it was published in 2009, and finding out more about the actual history surrounding the Trojan War is an exciting prospect for me.

2.Fascinating: A book on a subject in which you are highly interested — one you can’t wait to read on a topic that you love. For this category, I have chosen, and already started reading, The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank. I am a huge fan of true crime novels, and this is an in-depth look at the evidence and police action during the investigation of a serial killer who, until only recently, had completely mystified the Boston police department since the middle of the last century.

3.Controversial: A book on a topic about which people might have opposing views. For this category, I have chosen A First-Rate MadnessUncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi. I have been incredibly excited to read this book since I purchased it a few years ago, but somehow it just kept getting shoved to the back of my tbr time after time. I knew that adding it to this reading challenge would finally push me to get around to this controversial little number, which discusses how some of our most famous and infamous world leaders have all had similar qualities, personality traits, and characteristics verging, unfortunately, on the brink of insanity. Considering the premise, I think this novel would start a number of excellent debates among historians as well as mental health experts.

4.Important: A book you think an educated person should read, which helps people understand the world or others around them. For this choice I selected History’s Worst Crimes and the People Who Investigated Them by Bill Price. This is one in a collection of similar books by the same author, and, as previously noted, I am a true crime fan, so this one in particular is right up my alley. I thought that if I check this off the list, it might encourage me to read the others like it in our personal library. It also seems like it will be a very quick read. It fits the category because it shows that, unfortunately, terrible, baffling crimes occur during all times and all over the world; it is a reality we must face if we hope to prevent them in the future.

Join me in this challenge! I would love to hear your thoughts on the books you choose.

Peace and love.

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Fall Reading List: Stephen King

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Picture this: it’s a dark, chilly September evening, much like tonight. You are curled up on the couch in your comfy sweats and favorite long-sleeved tee, wrapped in a soft, cozy afghan. A cat is napping lazily beside you. An over-sized mug of tea sits steaming gently on the coffee table in front of you. The scent from a “twilight woods” candle wafts subtly about as the light from the flame flickers on the walls. The wind blows noisily outside, and a branch taps gently at your window.

What is missing from the perfect evening described above? The perfect book, which will make your heart race, your pupils dilate, the hair stand up at the back of your neck. Enter Stephen King.

I’ve been a fan of The Master of Horror since I was a little girl. And by “fan,” I mean hardcore, dedicated, the-only-thing-that-makes-my-life-complete-is-owning-every-King-novel-in-hardcover, nonviolent stalker. And by “little girl,” I mean from approximately seven, when I watched, for the first time, a movie based on a King book. It was certainly a mistake for my parents to allow a child to see an R-rated horror film, admittedly, yet one which began a lifelong obsession with “catching the fear” that few authors or even movie directors are able to provide.

Thus, from one professional fear-searcher to another, I bring you my choices for the top scariest Stephen King books. I’ve ordered these novels from “scary enough to make you jump” down to “sleeping in Mom’s bed tonight.”

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12. Pet Sematary: A magical place exists where you are able to bury your loved ones and they return to you. In what condition would you be willing to accept them when they come home? How high is the price you would pay for this ability? Would you sacrifice your reputation, your friends, your sanity? While there is a movie for this popular novel, I read the book in only a few days in college, because I couldn’t put it down. It was one of the first King novels I ever read, and  I remember being simultaneously sad and scared for the majority of the book.

11. Thinner: It seems like a dream come true when a morbidly obese man is told by an aging traveler that he will start to lose weight and it actually happens. (If only, am I right?) However, as is typical of curses placed on those who murder a gypsy’s wife and cover it up without punishment, life soon becomes quite unbearable and the rapidly shrinking man finds himself making difficult and dangerous choices in order to reverse his fate. I’ve read this book four times and have loved it each and every one.

10. Gerald’s Game: This novel could quite convincingly be placed under another author’s name in the bookstore, as it is drastically different from King’s typical style. It is fairly short and more verging on terrifying realism than supernatural terror. I read this in a weekend in college and am still deeply disturbed by it. An abusive husband dies after handcuffing his wife to a bed in a secluded cabin. Her subsequent time dealing with the aftermath of her situation is truly chilling. Furthermore, I loved catching the connections this novel has to others in the King universe.

9. The Tommyknockers: This is the King novel I read most recently, and also one which plays to my inner conspiracy-theorist. Imagine, if you will, your town is suddenly and irrevocably changed by an invasion we are all completely incapable of fighting off. “Late last night and the night before, Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at my door.”

8. Delores Claiborne: This monologue is, in effect, a confession by the title character of a murder she committed. While this stylistic choice is commonly reserved for poetry and short stories, it is an underused — though, in this case, highly effective — format for a novel. I found this realistic book to be an exceptionally quick read. It provides an incredibly satisfying tying up of loose ends in Claiborne’s life, as well as a very obvious (and intentional) link to several events described in Gerald’s Game.

7. Night Shift: So many of the short stories in this collection are genuinely disturbing. A few of my favorites are “Sometimes They Come Back,” “Quitters, Inc.,” and “Children of the Corn.” If a full-length King novel seems too much to commit to, try this one out and just read those three first — I promise you’ll want to devour the other stories in the book as fast as possible.

6. ‘Salem’s Lot: I was too scared to sleep in my room in the basement while reading this one summer during college. I remember vividly the anxiety I felt lying alone in the dark, and deciding instead to run up the stairs to sleep on the couch each night. My mom never laughed at this, but instead explained it was a novel by which she, too, had been frightened. The moral of this book is that strangers are dangerous — a valid life lesson, it seems.

5. Needful Things: Few books have left a mark on me the way this one did. I read this in a couple of days, despite its intimidating length. I still grapple with the deep issues raised by the reading. What am I willing to trade to get what I want? Who would I be willing to betray to fulfill my own dreams? Am I strong enough to avoid the temptations to which others would fall prey? Can we truly stand against evil?

4.The Stand: A devastating plague known as “Captain Trips” wipes out most of the world. Those remaining alive must rebuild society but are forced to choose which side to aid: Randall Flagg (a recurring character in King’s novels with a flair for both leadership and destruction) or Mother Abagail, who brought survivors together to begin building “the Free Zone.” This novel is most horrifying in the contemplation of a preventable mistake leading to an unstoppable apocalypse.

3. Misery: A fanatical follower with an untreated mental illness and questionable past captures and cripples the writer of her favorite book series. This story line is literally the biggest hurdle I face when penning my own novel. I just know that some snowy day I’ll crash my car and find myself at the mercy of Kathy Bates.

2. The Shining: The ultimate psychological meets supernatural horror story, this novel has been at the top of my “I must reread this before I die” list since I finished it the first time. Despite its immense size, this book was so engrossing that I finished it over a weekend home from college and actually slept in my mom’s bed because I was so afraid. Allow me to reiterate. I was a grown adult woman in my early twenties who slept in my mom’s bed while Dad was forced to sleep on the living room couch. Apparently, even as a college student, I needed my parents’ protection from a fictional character. Let that sink in.

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1.It: Of course the novel about a supernatural evil entity who takes the form of a murderous clown tops my list. This is the movie I was, for some inexplicable reason, allowed to watch before I’d even turned double-digits. As though that wasn’t bad enough, I had several unfortunate run-ins with a real-life clown that were highly unpleasant. While I may seem a bit biased, this book is hyped for a reason. It really is as good as people make it out to be. This novel is one of King’s longest, yet best written. I owe my phobia of circus freaks as well as my loathing of balloon popping to this story; you owe it to yourself to take the time to read it. Soon. Just make sure your spouse is cool with sleeping with the lights on for a while.

Peace and love.

Book Review: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

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***Warning: Spoilers Ahead!***

Check out my review of the first two books, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.

Summary: This is the last book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It describes the success of Frodo and Sam in making it to the mountain; however, once they arrive, Frodo finds himself unable to cast the ring into the fire. Gollum wrestles for control and bites off Frodo’s finger, obtaining his “precious” moments before slipping into the lava. This effectively ends the seemingly hopeless war that Gandalf, Aragorn, and many others had been waging against Sauron. Thus, Aragorn reclaims the role of king and marries Arwen. They begin setting things right in the land, and the Fellowship officially ends. The Hobbits travel most of the way back to the Shire with Gandalf, who leaves them to their task of rebuilding after Saruman’s minions destroyed it. Gandalf notes that the Hobbits are quite capable of being heroes without him, and his strength is fading because his time in Middle Earth is ending. Eventually, Gandalf, Frodo, Bilbo, and the Elves travel over the sea. They are joined by Legolas, Gimli, and Sam, who bore the ring briefly for Frodo during their time in Mordor. However, the three remaining Hobbits lived long lives after the departure of Frodo and Bilbo, proving that obstacles in life that don’t defeat us truly do make us stronger.

Peace and love.

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Book Review: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

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***Warning: Spoilers Ahead!***

Check out my review of the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring

SUMMARY: In a continuation of the journey begun in the first book, this chronicles the travels of Frodo and Sam, now led by Gollum (the previous owner of the ring and one most untrustworthy). It also explains the fall of Orthanc, the tower of Saruman, a wizard overcome by evil and desire. His downfall is accomplished by the Ents, a race of tree-guards, who keep Merry and Pippin safe until the arrival of their friends. They are reunited with Gandalf, who has become “white,” a symbolic transformation occurring as a result of his return from death. Gandalf helps Theoden, king of Rohan, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas defeat Saruman’s attacking army at Helm’s Deep. Frodo and Sam make it to Mordor, only to have Frodo stunned by a giant spider (as per Gollum’s plan) and carried off by Orcs. This leaves Sam to wonder how he may save his master and friend.

REFLECTION: The towers mentioned in the title may have multiple meanings. First, and most obviously, may be that they are symbols for good and evil. Second, they may represent Cirith Ungol (Mordor and home of Sauron) and Orthanc (Isengard and home of Saruman). This is likely, as men are being squeezed on both sides by two forces of evil. Finally, they may be Cirith Ungol and Minas Tirith (in Gondor), both having stood since the “ancient battle.”

Check out my review of the third book, The Return of the King.

Peace and love.

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Music You Aren’t Listening To But Should Be: The Dixie Chicks

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This is part of a continuing series. Here’s the first, on Billy Joel, and the second, on Matchbox 20.

Admittedly, country music is not my preferred genre. That being said, I do love a surprising number of country bands and solo artists, both old and young. One such group is the Dixie Chicks. These women are incredibly talented, beautiful, and courageous, and I couldn’t recommend that you check them out more highly.

1.”Wide Open Spaces”: Written as a tribute to growing up and going off on your own, this is one of the first songs the band released after Natalie Maines joined as lead singer. It is a song about experiencing new things, meeting new people — essentially going on an adventure and not being afraid to do so.

 

2.”Not Ready to Make Nice”: This song is one of their more recent hits, and was released after the band received media backlash when, during a concert performance in England, they infamously denounced President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. While the controversy over their comments swirled, the band wrote this song to express their own anger and sadness at how people were reacting to them. It won three Grammy awards.

 

3.”You Were Mine”: My favorite song from this band, the lyrics describe the common but heart-breaking situation of one partner falling in love with someone new and the other not wanting to let go. It has a haunting melody and genuine emotion behind the lyrics.

 

4.”Landslide”: While originally written and performed by Fleetwood Mac, this song very naturally shifts into a country vibe and fits the Dixie Chicks’ vocal and instrumental abilities perfectly. Furthermore, while this is completely unimportant and superficial, the three ladies each look absolutely stunning in this video. I’m fairly certain they are actual goddesses.

 

5.”Goodbye Earl”: In this song, the band tackles some tough topics: domestic violence and murder. Sadly, it brings to light some of the flaws of our justice system, in that while someone is in theory protected by a restraining order, it is, in actuality, often an ineffective method of defense. All that aside, this song’s set to an upbeat rhythm and makes for an ideal group karaoke tune on girls’ night.

 

It was incredibly hard for me to only choose a few of the many great options from the Dixie Chicks. I may have to do another post on this band in the future. Until then, I also suggest checking out “Without You” and “Cowboy Take Me Away.”

Peace and love.

Music You Aren’t Listening To But Should Be: Billy Joel

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I am a huge music lover. Big time. It is my passion. I play the cello. I, for a few years, played the string bass in my high school band. I was in every available choir from middle school through my final year of college. I love all genres of music, from hardcore gangsta rap to the classical Baroque pieces performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

Music is my life. That is why the realization that I haven’t written anything related to music came as such a shock to me. I was humming one of my favorite songs while playing an online game when I had an epiphany: I must share my love of music in a new series about songs people probably forgot or never knew to begin with.

So here it is — part one of my new series. I am beginning with an artist who spans decades and is beloved by people of all ages. He crosses musical genres and he appeals to all generations. He writes songs about history, culture, politics, pain, and beauty. He is the Piano Man.

1.One of my all-time favorite songs by Billy Joel is “And So It Goes.” A man recognizes that his inability to truly trust and be open with the woman he loves has led to a distance their relationship is unable to span. He begs her to stay, but knows she cannot. It is a piece about lost love and heartbreak, a lyric poem set to a beautiful, haunting melody.

 

2.Another of my favorites is “Goodnight Saigon.” It was written as an ode to those who lost their childhoods, and often their lives, in Vietnam. It is a powerful reminder of the lasting and life-altering destruction of war. Whether the war is necessary or not, its costs are astronomical. Whether the war is popular or not, its effects are detrimental.

 

3.My next recommendation from Billy Joel is “Allentown.” It’s about a dying town full of unemployed blue-collar workers. They once believed in the “American dream” but are discovering that the world sometimes lets you down, no matter how hard you work. It is a poignant statement about the dangers of outsourcing our jobs to other countries. It’s also a cautionary tale to our nation’s young people, with the moral being that life isn’t fair and you, unfortunately, don’t always get what you deserve.

 

4. Next up is “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” This song is an impressive list of the major occurrences in the world from 1949 through 1989. Each detail had a significant impact on society. Plus, the tune is fun.

 

5. And, finally, “The Piano Man.” Listen closely to the lyrics — this song describes with undeniable clarity the sadness and various disappointments people must face in life. Some rely on other folks to help with their struggles. Joel both accepts and mourns the fact that he is the one to whom people turn to get them through their pain.

 

Let me know your favorite song from one of my favorite artists. Peace and love.

Favorite Budget-Friendly Winter Scents

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Every woman knows that a season change brings about a perfume change. Some fragrances are more appropriate for certain times of the year over others. As a rule of thumb, heavier, more full-bodied colognes work better in the winter, while light, fruity, delicate scents are usually better in the summer.

I am by no means an expert at picking out the light nuances or individual notes of perfumes. My ability to explain to someone the “depth” of a fragrance or its “top notes” or how it will “dry down” is significantly lacking. But I know what I like. The products I discuss below are all surprisingly similar, so it appears that I, perhaps, am the one who lacks “depth.”

The following is a list and brief (and probably inaccurate) description of my favorite winter body fragrances that will not break the bank.

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Bath and Body Works Twisted Peppermint Body Mist: I start with this because it is, to me, the easiest to explain. It smells like peppermint, as assumed from the name. It also has an equal amount of something sweet — caramel or sugar, maybe? It’s one of my hubby’s favorites.

Bath and Body Works Warm Vanilla Sugar Lotion: While I have — and really like — the body mist version of this popular scent, I especially love how the lotion smells when it dries down. Since I always layer my fragrance on top of lotion, I enjoy that this provides a hint of sweet sugary goodness without competing with whatever perfume I put on top. By the way, the vanilla is a very muted, inoffensive scent — I know that sometimes that straight up fake vanilla smell can be overpowering. This is not. Ever.

Bath and Body Works Dark Kiss Fine Fragrance Mist: I love that this body mist is a little heavier, darker, and longer-lasting than a lot of this brand’s other scents. It smells a little like raspberries and blackberries and a little bit musky vanilla, but not in a gross, outdated way. Throw it in your purse and take it along when you go out dancing on date night.

Bath and Body Works Secret Wonderland Fine Fragrance Mist: I told my husband that if Bath and Body Works ever discontinues this I would literally boycott the brand. I can’t emotionally afford to keep getting attached to smells they discontinue. This particular scent has been my favorite of theirs for years. It is a little fruity — think strawberries and raspberries mixed with peaches — with just a hint of floral, some vanilla, and a tiny bit of coconut. It’s definitely something I would wear, happily, every single day forever.

Snooki Eau De Parfum by Niccole Polizzi: Love her or hate her, the now virtually forgotten reality television star knows how to make a delicious-smelling perfume. This is sweet, cotton-candy and cupcake sugar meets fresh, light floral and powder. I know it doesn’t sound like those things would play well together, but they do and in an adorable pink and purple animal-print bottle! I’m most of the way through the largest size I could find, and when I finish this perfume I will immediately buy another. This is that good.

Pink Sugar Eau De Toilette by Aquolina: This smells caramel-sugary. That is all.

Lucky You Eau De Toilette by Lucky Brand: I started wearing this in college, so every time I spray it, it brings back great memories. I have used up four bottles of this perfume, and I love it as much now as the first day I smelled it. It is, not surprisingly, a fruity floral with a tiny hint of sweetness. It smells clean and has a touch of powder — but does not, in any way, smell like baby powder. It is a little bit heavier but really works for all seasons; I just particularly love it in the winter because it’s warm and comforting.

Victoria’s Secret Noir Tease Eau De Parfum: I used up the body mist and repurchased this version of this dark, sexy, fruity, floral, vanilla fragrance. It is a dupe for the pricier Viva La Juicy (I put one on my left wrist, one on my right, then forgot which was which but can’t tell a difference). It has almost a light caramel-vanilla scent. In fact, I got my sister hooked on this, too, and she hates vanilla. This is also one my hubby compliments every time I wear it.

Victoria’s Secret Love Spell Eau De Toilette: I also own the body mist of this fragrance. It is my signature scent. I’ve worn it since college and it’s my something that my husband always comments on. It’s fruity and a little floral. It’s a sweet, peach-based scent that is instantly recognizable. I would recommend this for a light, day-to-day scent in any season.

If you enjoy any of these, please let me know! Also, if you know of any fragrances similar to this, I’d love some suggestions. Peace and love.

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