2017 Book Challenge: A Book Based on a True Story

The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

The Magnolia Story

Synopsis: If you’ve seen the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” you might be wondering if Chip & Joanna Gaines are really that silly in real-life. Has Joanna always been a designer? Is Chip that impulsive all the time? And how did Chip land a beauty like Joanna in the first place? This is the story of how Chip & Joanna became Chip & Joanna (as seen on TV).


I enjoyed this book primarily because I enjoy their show. I laugh at Chip and wonder how Joanna keeps her cool. It was fun to find out how they met and married. How they make decisions and how Joanna and Chip wound up being on TV. It was ALL interesting to me because I find THEM interesting. While each chapter jumped around from topic to topic a little more than I would have liked, it is still a quick and fun read.

Philomena by Martin Sixsmith


Philomena Lee knew her son Anthony was destined to be beautiful; his father captivated her with his looks and promises that night at the fair and their child would look the same. Anthony’s looks would be her only reminder of his father. As was common in 1950’s Ireland, Philomena was thrown out by her family as a “fallen woman”, and sent to the convent at Roscrea. There she gave birth and raised him for three years under the supervision of the nuns, all the while laboring to pay off her debt. After swearing she’d never give away her son, even she was coerced by the Church to sign the documents agreeing to never look for her child.

Oh, this story is heartbreaking! My youngest son is 3 (same age as Anthony Lee/Michael Hess was when he was sent to America) and the thought of him forgetting me and forever feeling inadequate makes me feel ill. Philomena’s story seems like the perfect platform to point out the horrific policies of the Catholic Church, but the author’s story doesn’t focus on the obvious and instead pieces together the story of the man who came to be known as Michael Hess. I found the details of his adult life especially interesting as he struggled with the strange dichotomy of his homosexuality and working for the Republican Party. What I took away from this book is that we are complicated beings, juggling in the situations we find ourselves, and looking for acceptance.



2017 Book Challenge: A Book with a Blue Cover

A Man Called Ove by Fredric Backman

A Man Called Ove

Synopsis: Ove spends his days patrolling his neighborhood, making sure the bikes are placed in the correct area, that cars obey traffic signs, and that his garage is locked. But when new neighbors move in, they prevent Ove from carrying out his plans. As Ove’s solitary existence is challenged by neighbors left and right, Ove realizes that he still has more to fight for.

I love this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think of my grandpa. Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man, but as the story progresses; we get a glimpse as to why Ove ignores some basic social rules. What we, as the reader, begin to see is that Ove is not a modern man. He is a man who only says what he will do—little more, little less. What’s also amazing about this book, besides Ove as a character, is the love story that is revealed through flashbacks. It’s always a little annoying when a male author writes a male lead character that the novel isn’t characterized as anything other than fiction. But, in my opinion, this is one of the greatest love stories. Rich and deep, it is poignant and bittersweet. Love, not just romantic love, is represented in all of its forms. A great picture of the beauty of life. I can’t say enough about this book.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton


Synopsis: Nella Oortman can’t help but be offended by the wedding present from her new husband; what eighteen year-old woman, newly married wants to play with a toy? Nella quickly feels neglected and lonely as the new Mrs. Johannes Brandt but can’t help but be captivated by the exquisite details and beauty of the miniature home, their home. Nella begins to believe that the miniatures, and the miniaturist that supplies them, are much more in tune to her household than she.

I picked up this book at a store in a mall in England (yes, in England their malls still have bookstores) because the title and the time period interested me. Although the cover is not completely blue (the back cover and spine are solid blue), I am going to cheat and use for the challenge because it is set in Amsterdam and everyone is familiar with Delft Blue. In this plot-driven story I kept finding myself thinking it was getting “curiouser and curiouser”. And to its credit, I only mildly suspected one of the many twists and turns throughout the novel, but was more often sitting on the couch with my eyebrows raised making my surprised face. So put away your verkeerspel, put on your patterns, get your favorite puffert or oliekoechken, and spend some guilders for this story.

2017 Book Challenge: A book you Learned about because of this Challenge

*Note: I meant to publish this book review last month, so we’re a bit off schedule with our book challenge. In any case, enjoy our reviews and join us for our next book challenge on August 31.


Scrappy Little Nobody 

by Anna Kendrick


Many may criticize the films in the Twilight franchise, but you won’t hear anything negative from Anna Kendrick as she describes how being in those movies kept her lights on at home, and allowed her to do the projects that mattered most to her. She remains relatable, even while describing the different stages of her acting career. Scrappy Little Nobody is funny and I was entertained by her anecdotes about growing up a theater kid, moving to LA, her relationships, and adjusting to her success.

I came across this book while searching the library’s e-book catalog when I was looking for one of the other challenges. I’ve seen 15 of the movies she’s been in (thank you and can say with confidence that I like her. I’ve also listened to podcasts she was on and I genuinely found her sense of humor amusing. Like, I’m pretty she, Jennifer Lawrence, and I could be BFFs. If you like her in what you’ve seen (Twilight does not count) and also enjoy memoirs by well-known people, then get on your library’s waiting list (because they probably don’t have a lot of copies).


A Girl’s Guide to Vampires (Dark Ones Series book 1)

by Katie MacAlister

Girl's Guide ot Vampires

Joy Randall is just having fun and supporting her crazy friend Roxie by participating in a “goddess invoking ceremony.” When the fortune teller reveals to Joy that her true love will put her immortal soul in danger, Joy just writes it off as too much alcohol. But as she follows her friend Roxie on a European vacation inspired by their favorite vampire series, Joy is challenged to either loose her sanity or admit there are some things that are unexplainable.

I actually picked this book up because I needed a back-up book for the lion, witch, or wardrobe challenge. There was/is such a long wait time for the Chronicles of Narnia series that I doubted I’d get to read it before the challenge. I also read this book because Katie MacAlister is a pretty popular author and the Dark Ones series is one of her well-known ones. That being said, I’ve tried to read MacAlister’s books before and they all fell flat for me. I managed to finish this one because of the challenge, and there were some funny bits in it, but the pacing of her books is terrible. The books are too long for the storylines, the characters are almost cartoon-like in their simplicity, and I can’t say all that many things about the romantic connection between the hero and heroine. I hate to be a critic, but I can’t say stumbling across this book and this author helped me to find a new series to love.

Our next book challenge is a book with a blue cover. Join us on August 31 to see what we picked and what we thought.

2017 Book Challenge: A Book with Pictures

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher


Synopsis: Inspired by her old, forgotten journal, Fisher recollects her time filming Star Wars. More specifically, her diary is filled with pages of her 19 year-old self trying to figure out what her affair with and older, married man means, if anything. She also touches upon getting cast as Leia, how she dealt with “instant” fame, growing up in a Hollywood family, and the fans.

When I put my name on a super long waiting list for the book from the library, I didn’t know that this was the official confirmation of Fisher and Ford’s on-set affair. I’m a Star Wars fan, Fisher had died a couple of months before, I found her funny, and I knew she was a successful screen writer. I figured there was little to no chance that I wouldn’t enjoy this. However, I didn’t care about the affair and found myself enjoying the anecdotes about every other topic discussed. I think I’ll have to check out her other books in search of the fan girl “rush” I was looking for. Oh yeah, the pictures were great!

 Animate Me by Ruth Clampett

Synopsis: Shy animator Nathan knows exactly what he wants. He enjoys his job, he works on his comic books on the side, and he is in love with Brooke. The only problem is Brooke has no idea he exists. When Brooke suddenly realizes they work at the same animation studio, Nathan knows this is his chance to create the life he’s always envisioned for himself. But Brooke’s boyfriend isn’t going to let Nathan sweep his girlfriend off his feet.

This is a really sweet, funny, and surprisingly sexy romance novel. I met Ruth at an author signing event. In fact, I was recommended her book by Penny Reid, another author I love. Penny is great at recommending books and this one is no exception. The cartoons interspersed throughout the book are very sweet and add a lot to the storyline. I’m always a sucker for nerdy heroes and heroines, so this book is right up my alley. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited if you think it’s something you’d enjoy.

2017 Book Challenge: A Book that was Made into a Movie

A Book that was Turned Into a Movie

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate

Synopsis: The subtitle is A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies. Tita loves Pedro, but because she’s the youngest daughter of Mama Elena, she must stay home to take care of Mama Elena when mama gets old. Instead, Pedro marries Tita’s sister to be close to her. The only way Tita can express her emotions is through the food she makes.

I remember seeing the trailer for this movie a long time ago and being intrigued by it. I’m really glad I read it. It’s some of the best magical realism I’ve read. I hated Mama Elena and felt so sad for Tita. But I loved reading about Tita’s journey as she grows up. The recipes are fascinating as they are a bit of realism to anchor the magic in the narrative. I was really surprised by the ending, since Tita makes a choice I wouldn’t have made had I been in her shoes, but it’s consistent with the novel.


Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen


Synopsis: Thirty minutes after meeting a doctor for the first time, Susanna Kaysen finds herself on the way to McLean Hospital at the age of 18. There she is treated for her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (what would be considered a case of depression by today’s standards) and remains at the institution for nearly two years. Kaysen describes her time, her health, and those she met while at McLean.

I saw this movie not to long after its 1999 release. I don’t remember much besides Angelina Jolie’s character was much more “messed up” than Wynona Rider. I wasn’t sure whether this book was going to be rhetoric on women’s healthcare or mental healthcare in the late 1960s, but I was surprised that it was neither. By Kaysen’s descriptions, she was definitely suffering and needing specialized assistance, but the reason she began having treatment was because she was found to be “promiscuous.” Girl, Interrupted was a quick read with short chapters and fascinating people (I mean, come on, mental institution); with her own insight on why she was there. It’s crazy (yes, I did choose to use that word) to think that today Kaysen would have been given Prozac and recommended weekly sessions with a medical professional not covered by insurance.

Have you read a book that was turned into a movie? What did you think? Is the movie better or the book? 

Our next book challenge is: A Book with Pictures. See what Fallon and I chose on July 14.

2017 Book Challenge: Lion, Witch, or a Wardrobe

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe

By Romain Puertolas


A fakir by trade, Ajatashatru Oghash, takes an unexpected trip across Europe and into Africa in what should have only been a few hours in Paris. Aja travels by plane, taxi, wardrobe, trunk, hot air balloon, and merchant ship and meets a variety of individuals before he realizes his ultimate destination.

On the surface, this story is whimsical, fantastical, and even enjoyable. I found myself anticipating the protagonist’s next misadventure. But it was within the first two pages of the novel I found myself thinking some of the humor was racist. In a running joke that lasts throughout the novel and extends to several characters, the story offers multiple phonetic translations of certain names, for example: “Ajatashatru Oghash (pronounced A-jar-of-rat-stew-oh-gosh!)”. I know this doesn’t blatantly intend to harm or degrade a person of another race, but it’s that ever present racism that makes fun of anything different. And in this case, that difference is the inability for a Westerner to pronounce an Indian name. On the flip side, Puertolas’ novel touched upon the struggles of immigrants, so it made me go, “huh?” I also wish the other characters that Aja met were fleshed out beyond stereotypes (with the slight exception of Assefa). Any woman in the story, besides his mother-figure, was either beautiful or overtly sexual. Maybe some jokes were lost in translation (the original text is in French). I’m sad I couldn’t laugh more and feel good about it.

The Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia Book 1)

By C.S. Lewis

the magician's nephew

A boy and a girl become friends over a dreary summer. When the boy’s uncle manipulates them into a dangerous situation, the two must outsmart an evil witch and the boy’s hapless uncle. Through situations that test their character and their courage, the two friends play a hand in the future of Narnia.

So, most people have read this book when they were young. I missed it growing up. Too much time spent on the Boxcar Children series and not enough time reading the classics, I guess. But in any case, since this challenge was obviously inspired by the series, I decided to go to the original books and read them. Unfortunately, the wait for the ebooks is very long and this is the only book I’ve managed to borrow and read. The good news is that I found the second book in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in hardback and so I’m reading it with my 5 year old and 2.5 year old now. It’s great to share in these books and have it be new to all of us.

Next challenge: A Book that was Made into a Movie

Read along with us by picking your own book that fits into the category and sharing it with us on June 30.

2017 Book Challenge Book Everyone but You has Read

*Note: Our last post had us reading books with a lion, witch or a wardrobe in it, but we pushed the back to do this challenge. We’ll do the lion, witch or wardrobe book on June 16.

A Book Everyone but You Has Read

Me Before You

by Jojo Moyes


Louisa Clark lives in a tourist town and accepts her hum-drum life. It isn’t until she loses her just-above minimum-wage job and starts working with Will Traynor that she begins to believe she deserves more. Will was involved in an accident two years prior and is now a quadriplegic, relying on Louisa and Nathan (his nurse) for everything. Both Louisa and Will soon realize that they can make life better for each other, though not how one would expect.

Disclaimer: I saw the movie adaptation before reading. I choose this book because I was surrounded by co-workers who had read and loved this book. They joyfully described how much it made them cry and anyone with feelings would do the same. Well, I must be a robot because the tears did not come. But please, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading Moyes’ story. It only took me a few days (that’s good for my current work-life schedule); I think I was motivated by knowing what was going to happen next since I had seen the film. I liked Louisa and her understated strength. There were a multitude of times when I’m pretty sure I would have given up if I was in her shoes and I respect her so much. Will was beyond interesting and the author made me pause and reflect on life in general. So I felt like this was so much more than a sweet, love story or summer reading book; once I’m done with this book challenge I’ll read the sequel, After You.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey

Synopsis: Anastasia Steele interviews billionaire Christian Grey as a favor to her roommate and best friend. When Christian pursues her, Ana is surprised. She’s even more surprised when Christian asks her to sign a non-disclosure agreement and a contract outlining the nature of their relationship. But Ana’s less than confident she can navigate the kind of relationship Christian wants when whips and canes are involved.

I know I’m about 5 years late in reading this series, especially since my blog is focused on romance novels, but they never appealed to me. I also started my master’s degree right around the height of the book’s popularity and there were so many negative reactions to it. Many people said it was poorly written. I found this to be false. It’s a fine book, I’ve read worse, although the author uses obscure adjectives that do little to add meaning to the story. Many people said there were issues with consent. I did not think this was an issue in the book. Christian is very clear about consent, going so far as to have his sexual partners sign a contract. Ana is the one who gets consent wrong and Christian goes about trying to prevent problems of consent in the future. What I did agree the book missed was what a BDSM relationship is about. I’m not an expert, but being involved in this kind of sexual relationship is not “wrong.” It’s a choice. The book also implies that people who enter these kinds of relationships are traumatized or damaged. I don’t think that’s true either, although I’m no expert. But I enjoyed the first and second books in the series. I even laughed at some points. I love Christian, but Ana really annoys me, which is why I didn’t read the last book in the series. And in case you’re curious, no I’m not going to watch the movies.