Reviews


Way back in November 2010 I reviewed an older Sony Reader, and I was not sold on the whole e-reader thing. It only took two years, but I’ve finally given in and bought a Kindle and I have to admit it’s pretty awesome!

Over the summer I made a new life goal to travel more and I knew from flying across the country multiple times per year in college that a purse small enough to be a carry on + a voracious reader who can’t stick to one genre = one overstuffed and heavy bag. So with the goal of travel to motivate me, I bough the cheapest Kindle I could (hey, if I wasn’t going to like this thing, I wasn’t going to spend lots of money on it!) and a cover to protect it.

After three weeks with my new Kindle and four finished books, I have to admit I’m in love. E-readers don’t give me head aches, it hasn’t completely replaced my physical books, and the significant decrease in my purse weight has really helped my back. The battery life has also been great so far–I’ve only charged it twice in three weeks (which included two multi-hour train trips of almost solid reading). The books I’ve read have all been shorter books between 200 and 300 pages so I’ve yet to tackle a super long project…although I do have War and Peace on there…but it has been a great change of pace to read so many short books while I’m also reading some longer/more dense books without increasing the piles of random books in the house.

The other thing I love is my adorable cover. Ordered from eKover on Etsy, the cover has been just as fun as the Kindle. I’ll be the first to admit I can be rough on my books, and even with the cheapest Kindle model I was worried about scratches and general wear. My cover is a floral/bird blue and gray print and sturdy enough that I feel comfortable throwing my Kindle back in my bag when I’ve got to rush off to judge a debate round (doesn’t everyone spend their weekends volunteering as a judge for high school speech tournaments?)  but still light enough that the benefits of the Kindle aren’t lost. I do find it a bit amusing that the cover was half the cost of the Kindle, but I’ve already gotten compliments on it so I think it’s money well spent!

Will my Kindle ever completely replace physical books? Not a chance, if my three overflowing bookshelves have anything to say about it! But I am excited by how much this one change has revitalized my reading habits, and for that I’m now a huge advocate for adding an e-reader to your collection.

Has anyone else held out longer than seems logical, only to be sucked into the e-reader world like me? Anyone else still staying strong in the no e-reader camp? Any suggestions of good places to find free or cheap Kindle books?!

It seems like one of the largest parts of being an “adult” is properly managing money. Now that I’ve got a college education and started a career, I feel like I should be handling my money better. Investing, saving for retirement, paying off my debt…I’m not really sure what I’m doing, but I’m excited to figure it out. So last week when I made a trip to the library I got three personal finance books. Finance may not be the most exciting topic to read (or write) about, but I’m throwing myself into this new project completely!

The Total Money Makeover

This book, The Total Money Makeover: A proven plan for financial fitness by Dave Ramsey, was recommended by my grandmother. While I usually don’t like to talk money with family, she was so insistent I figured I would give it a shot. Several of the personal finance blogs I read (see, told you I was jumping right into this!) don’t seem to like his advice, but most of that is based on investing advice that I can’t fully understand yet. As far as basic step-by-step guides go to getting out of debt, his plan seems pretty good.

The Total Money Makeover is based on a series of seven baby steps for getting out of debt in only a few years. They are the same steps Ramsey says he and his wife have used, so he knows they work. Yet the actual steps take up only the last half of the book–the first half is dedicated to debunking common money myths and starting the mental/emotional makeover of our relationship with money. While this part was annoyingly repetitive at times, the personal stories (both from Ramsey and from people he’s helped) kept it interesting enough to continue reading. Some of the stories were hard for me to understand or sympathize with–families that managed to rack up thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands) in credit card debt, car loans, and general toys/stuff. But others seem like they could easily be me in a few years: graduated college with insane amounts of student loans, married someone with student loans, and suddenly couldn’t do anything but use a credit card because college was so expensive. Either way, all the people featured in the book had a serious need to get out of debt.

The seven baby steps are designed to produce a few “easy wins” at the start, which will hopefully motivate people to continue working on their debt. Step one is about saving a $1,000 emergency fund. Step two is to start the debt snowball, the central theory of his debt reduction plan. To start, you organize all your debt (minus mortgage) from smallest to largest. Many critics disagree with this and would rather organize it by interest rate, but again he’s going for quick wins to keep people motivated. You pay the minimum on every loan but the smallest, and dedicate all your extra money to that one loan. After it’s paid off, you transfer all that money to paying off the second loan, and so on. The third step is to finish creating an emergency fund. Step four is to invest 15% of your income to retirement (setting up a 401(k), Roth IRA, ect). In step five you save for your children’s college education. Step six is for paying off the home mortgage left out of the debt snowball in step two. And finally, step seven is for building wealth.

There were several things I enjoyed about this book. Ramsey’s enthusiasm for educating people on personal finance really comes through, and I think a positive attitude is essential when trying to get people to change. He also provides many stories from people in every stage of life, so readers can relate to the examples. He also included a few worksheets in the back of the book for organizing all your financial information, great for people who don’t know how to make their own documents to track spending/bills/debt. And at the end of the book, in the building wealth stage, he very strongly advocates for donating money to charities and people in need.

But there were two things I didn’t enjoy as much. Ramsey ties money and religion together (part of why my grandmother enjoys his work), but I thought it was forced in some parts and distracted from his overall message. I also slightly question the order of his baby steps, but I’m also not in so much debt that I can’t contribute to my 401(k) up to the employer match while still paying extra on my loans and maintaining a $1,000 emergency fund–I feel very grateful that at 23 my only debt is the loans I took out for college instead of the loans and credit card debt many of my peers have. He advocates to completely ignore future steps while working on the debt snowball unless you’re very close to retirement age, but I don’t think it’s necessary in every situation. My main problem was that his book seems so tailored to people with mountains of debt, not people with minimal debt who want to get a handle of person finance before it becomes a problem.

Overall, it was a quick and enlightening read. I’m not going to commit 100% to his plan, but I certainly took away a few important ideas. If you know someone who is in debt, or are struggling with money yourself, I would recommend this book as a good starting point. The idea of quick wins (using psychology to get motivated instead of pure strength of will) is something I completely understand and have seen work, and the fact remains that taking any step to get out of debt is better than continuing to do nothing.

Two weeks ago I offered to pick out some books for a friend, and decided to read my favorite one from the selection I’d pulled. My optimism when I finished the 10th Wheel of Time book has worn off so I was looking for something new and different to get me back into reading. I’m not at all familiar with the author Armistead Maupin, but the back cover describes The Night Listener as a “complex, vertiginous world” that would deal with parent relationships, break-ups, and truth. Sounded good to me!

The Night Listener

The narrator and main character of The Night Listener is Gabriel Noone, a 50-something gay radio host living in San Francisco with his husband Jess. He hosts a late-night show reading his stories, wonderful fiction stories about the truth of life (although the “fiction” often mirrors his own life). Currently stuck on his next book project and trying to deal with his failing marriage to a man dying of AIDS, Gabriel is waiting for something to distract him and spark his imagination again.

One day, after Jess has moved out, Gabriel receives a book in the mail. It’s a chilling memoir written by a 13 year old boy who was abused by his parents, and Gabriel is touched by the honesty of the writing. With nothing else happening in his life, Gabriel reaches out to the young author, Pete, and a strange friendship soon turns into a powerful father/son relationship…with a boy Gabriel has never met in person. When he tells friends and family about his young friend they are worried about the nature of the relationship–should a 13 year old boy who was sexually abused by his father and father’s friends be talking to a gay adult male? And some people begin to wonder if Pete even exists, or is he being played by a crazy woman hungry for attention? And does it even matter, as long as Gabriel can find his way in life again thanks to Pete?

The relationships in The Night Listener are incredibly complicated, which was the most enjoyable part. Gabriel and Jess have been together for years, and have fought together against Jess’ AIDS the whole time; now that Jess has gained his health back, what reason do they have to stay together? Gabriel and his father have always ignored any emotions, especially when dealing with his sexual orientation–the polite, upper-class southern society they come from doesn’t “do that,” so Gabriel grows up feeling betrayed by his father. Yet Gabriel’s father is still dealing with the betrayal of his own father’s suicide when he was a teenager. Gabriel’s mother was a wonderfully patient woman yet she allowed her husband to bully the family into ignoring their own feelings to protect the father, and he hasn’t ever forgiver her for allowing that. Pete is deathly sick and can only communicate with people by phone or online, yet he seems to have more life and joy than any other person. Gabriel and Pete quickly become friends, and Pete becomes the only person he can trust with his feelings about growing old, being gay, Jess leaving, and his father’s inability to express love.

This was a difficult book to read. Pete’s story is horrifying, and even without all the details (there are many hints that the worst abuse was kept out of his book) it broke my heart to read about a child betrayed by his parents. Gabriel’s relationship with Jess is less defined by their sexuality and more about how strongly two people can become dependent upon each other. They love each other so much and have been through so many difficult things together, but does a complicated history mean people have to stay together? What responsibility does a parent have to provide a secure and emotionally nurturing home, even when that parent can’t deal with his or her own feelings? So many questions!

I finished this book several days ago, and still can’t decide how I feel. I’m annoyed hardly any answers were provided in the end, but I also love how realistically open the ending was. For readers who love complex characters, this book is highly recommended.

I’m not big into diets or weight loss–I love food and baking too much to fully commit to any health food craze. But I am a fan of healthier eating, as a way to balance my too-often chocolate indulgence. So while I would never read a “diet book,” I would read a “healthy lifestyle” book. Which is what lead me to Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, a guide to living (and eating) like a French woman.

Three out of Five Bookmarks

Guiliano’s experience in France is rooted in her family–she grew up there and frequently visits, although she is now married and lives in America. Until her semester studying abroad in Massachusetts, Guiliano was  what she describes as a typical French teenage girl: skinny, beautiful, and intelligent. Then she came to America for a summer, discovered American portion sizes and brownies, and gained so much weight she wasn’t recognized by her own father when she got home. Her doctor back in France put her on a diet of soup and plenty of activity (but never exercise, because French women don’t sweat), and she magically lost weight and devoted herself to never living like an American again. Ok, maybe that’s not exactly how she phrased it, but that’s what I got out of this book–Americans have no self control, they don’t care about appearances or else they wouldn’t be fat, and exercise is stupid.

Most of the book isn’t actually about her specifically, but rather how generations of French women (or at least the ones in her family and her small town) have managed to eat delicious and rich food without creating an obesity epidemic. In simple terms, it comes down to balance: if you want to eat a rich dessert you need to eat a light dinner and only have one glass of wine, and then walk up an extra flight of stairs the next day. But because an entire book can’t just say “eat better and walk more,” she has several steps for American women to take on the path to being more French. First, record everything you eat and the amounts for several weeks. Don’t do anything to change your eating habits, just write everything down. At the end, it should be clear what foods you are eating in excess and can cut down on. Second, do a crash diet for a weekend,eating only magical leek soup, to jump-start your taste buds and rewire your brain to accept proper portion sizes. Then, for the next several months, eat healthy foods prepared at home and don’t indulge. After several months you’re allowed to start eating a diet that balances healthy foods with mindful indulgences; eat sweets on the weekends, but remember to have a few weekends of magical leek soup too. And always, always remember to trick yourself into an active lifestyle (because exercise means sweat, which is as far from a glamorous French woman as you can get) by taking the stairs.

The book also includes many recipes, which were my favorite parts of the book. While some of them seemed weird–all the soups called for the cooked veggies to be blended in a food processor after cooking–most of them included seasonal ingredients and easy prep work. Her healthy desserts were my favorite, including recipes for fruit tarts without crusts and baked apples with walnuts. She created a menu for each season, highlighting which meat and produce would be freshest (I’m a fan of seasonal eating, just because fruits and veggies taste so much better right after they’re picked). She doesn’t give any calorie counts, but there is minimal use of salt and portions are small.

Her often flippant attitude does a disservice to the common sense advice of balance in diet and lifestyle. It’s not the most ground-breaking book on healthy eating, but her advice is something many people need to remember and is obtainable in everyday life. Don’t overload yourself with the empty calories of sugary drinks, don’t eat out all the time because you can’t control portion sizes and ingredients, and don’t forget to plan your day to compensate for an indulgent dessert. She throws in a few too many French words for my taste (I thought it came off as snobby, the boy says it just shows she is multi-cultural) and her attitude toward all non-French women may put off some readers, but if you need a common sense kick in the butt to get your life back in balance, French Women Don’t Get Fat may be for you–just remember not to take anything too seriously.

Fun and comfortable t-shirts are my favorite article of clothing so I was excited to learn about Out Of Print Clothing, a company that designs shirts with vintage book covers. The company motto is “Books on shirts. Shirts on a mission,” with the aim of celebrating great books. Their shirts (which come in men’s, women’s, and children’s sizes) are wonderfully colorful and soft–what more could you ask for in a t-shirt? As stated on their website, “How we read is changing as we move further into the digital age. It’s unclear what the role of the book cover will be in this new era, but we feel it’s more important than ever to reflect our own individual experiences with great literary art before it’s forever changed.”

Along with designing great shirts, they are also actively involved in giving back to the community. For every shirt sold, Out Of Print Clothing donates a book to their partner charity Books For Africa to help communities in need. Doing good for my fellow readers just by buying a book? I was sold!

My new favorite shirt

As a very belated Christmas present, my brother bought me the To Kill A Mockingbird shirt. I first read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee in 7th grade, and fell completely in love with Scout. I’ve read the book several times since I was 14, and every time I read the courtroom speeches scenes I get chills. While there are several other Out Of Print shirts I want, I knew the To Kill A Mockingbird one would be my first purchase. I’ve only had the shirt for a week and I’ve worn in twice, I love it so much!

Adult size t-shirts are $28, and kid’s shirts are $22. While I normally wouldn’t pay (or ask my brother to pay) $28 for a t-shirt, the fact that the cost of the shirt also pays for a donation to Books For Africa, so For $28 I got a shirt and a book, which I thought was a good deal. The shirts are super soft, and thin enough to be comfortable in summer and easily layered in winter. The description on the To Kill A Mockingbird shirt said it ran small, so I sized up to a medium to be safe–I probably could have worn a small, but it was easier to shrink the shirt in the dryer to make it just an inch or two shorter. The shipping was fast, as my shirt arrived less than a week after my brother ordered it. The shirt is 100% cotton, and can be washed in cold water and tumble dried on low, so it’s easy to care for. They also offer iPhone cases and eReader jackets, along with gift cards.

I love sharing my passion for reading with people, so Out Of Print Clothing is my ideal store. For anyone who loves fun t-shirts and reading, I would highly recommend Out Of Print Clothing.

The opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. I was not contacted by Out Of Print Clothing or solicited in any way. This post was written because I had a good experience with a company, and I wanted to share it with my readers.

Way back on March 1st I mentioned I was baking four dozen cupcakes, using recipes from a cute little cupcake book. The baby shower was fun, and the cupcakes got great reviews. I’m now using the same book for a birthday party for a girl at work, so I thought I would give my favorite cupcake cookbook, Cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans, a formal review.

4 1/2 out of 5 bookmarks

I was given this adorable book as a Christmas present, and surprisingly out of my dozens of cookbooks it filled an unknown-to-me hole in my collection. There were baking cookbooks, general cookbooks that included desserts, and several brand-specific chocolate cookbooks, but not a single cupcake book! Not that I was exactly lacking for cupcake recipes (my “cupcakes and cakes” bookmark folder has over 100 recipes), but I always prefer a recipe in a book to one I find online. Does anyone else still use and love cookbooks, even with e-books and food blogs?

I’ve made three recipes from this book: Easy-Mix Yellow Cupcakes, Chocolate Sour Cream Cupcakes, and Cream Cheese Frosting. They have all turned out great (the chocolate ones fell the first time, but the second time I mixed them longer and the batter behaved better), and I’m using the Easy-Mix Yellow Cupcakes for an end-of-a-long-week birthday party at work.

The book also has many interesting recipes I can’t wait to try, each a variation on the simple recipes introduced at the beginning of the book. Some of my favorites include Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Glaze, Banana Butterscotch Cupcakes, and Cinnamon Sugar Puff Cupcakes.

My only real problem with this cookbook is the small number of pictures. I prefer to have a picture for each recipe, and while I understand that the same frosting/glaze is used in several recipes, a photo would still be nice. But there are great tips and general cupcake advice in the first few pages, which almost makes up for the lack of cute cupcake photos. So if you’re looking for a fun little cupcake cookbook, I recommend Cupcakes! Now excuse me, I’ve got to go make some frosting.

The other weekend, I had a chance to see the musical Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of OZ in Eugene with a friend. Wicked has been on my “must see” list for a few years now, and I’d actually missed seeing it three times because of scheduling issues–it was in Boston and I was home, or it was in Portland and I was in Boston.

Wicked is a musical based on the book by Gregory Maguire. It tells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and how she came to be so wicked (hint–it wasn’t her fault). I first read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of OZ series in grade school, and enjoyed it much more than the Wizard of OZ movie. I read Wicked in the summer between high school and college, and while Maguire’s writing style was a struggle for me to get into, I love the idea of the story. So when I heard it was also a musical, I knew I would see the show someday.

Wicked the musical takes all the best parts of the book and puts it to great music (confession: I listened to the soundtrack every day for a week or two leading up to the show, and still listen to daily more than a week later). The costumes, lights, and music were amazing–I was completely enthralled the entire show. All the actors were spot-on, and my favorite song (No Good Deed) was beautifully done. For anyone who read the book and liked the story itself better than the writing, I would highly recommend seeing the musical.

Has anyone else seen the show, either on Broadway or on tour? I loved it, but would also love to hear your opinions. Did you think it followed the book well? Would you see it again, or recommend it to others? Do you like seeing books turned into shows? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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