July 28, 2015

Book Review: Better than Before

Better Than Before is the latest from Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project, Happier at Home). This title takes aim at our habits: how our personalities affect the formation of habits, what challenges we run into in keeping habits, and how our willpower and desires fit into all of it.

Rubin starts by outlining the "Four Tendencies", or the four different types of reactions to habits based on personalities. Upholders respond to all expectations, outer and inner. Questioners question all of them. Obligers respond well to outer expectations but have trouble with inner ones. Rebels resist everything.

While I typically don't "see" myself instantly in reading a book like this, it is incredibly clear to me that I am an obliger. I think being able to read the rest of the book through this lens of my own personality made it MUCH more useful for me. Rubin herself is an Upholder, which she points out is very rare. Most of the population fall into the Questioner or Obliger categories. I'm pretty sure my husband is a Questioner...and one of my kids is probably a Rebel (but that may just be all 5 year olds!)

Rubin follows the same format as her earlier books, mixing personal anecdotes from her life with the research she's done on the topic. It felt a touch more stilted in this book than in the others, and I think she may have struggled with finding the right tone to describe the way she "experimented" on her friends and family. Trying to get someone to form a habit can sound very much like nagging, and Rubin does her best to not come off that way.

Initially I thought about rating this book a 3.5, but after a week of finding myself bringing it up in conversation, and experiencing almost the exact habit forming problems she described in my attempt to start exercising again, I have to give it at least a 4. It may not be as flashy as happiness, but habits have such a concrete effect on our lives that I see myself going back to this book again and again.

Right after I make my husband read it!

I received a copy of this title from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review, but all opinions my own. Some links are affiliate links, thanks for supporting Hearth and Homefront.

July 27, 2015

Book Review: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas

I've always enjoyed books that feature a real person as the sleuth. The Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron has always skillfully blended Jane Austen's real life with her imagined role as an amateur detective. The first book begins the night that Jane turns down Harris Bigg-Wither's proposal of marriage, and for all intents and purposes sets her role of spinster in stone. The series continued for many years on a typical book a year schedule, but it has slowed down in the last 4 or 5 years and so I had forgotten to keep looking for new additions.

I was thrilled when I realized a new one came out last fall. When I finally started reading it, well past the holidays (Christmas in July? That's a thing, right?) I devoured it in about two days.

In Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, Jane travels with her mother and sister Cassandra to stay with her brother James and his family for Christmas and Twelfth Night. When they arrive they are invited to a local estate, The Vyne, for dinner and a short stay. That short stay is extended first by a snowstorm and then a murder. What follows next is a traditional English Country House mystery. The murder at first appears to be an accident, but Jane and another guest, Raphael West (son of the famous painter of the era Benjamin West) discover that all is not as it seems. Without knowing if West is completely trustworthy, Jane rushes to solve the murder and recover a stolen item that new peace in Europe rests upon.

West reminded me of a character from earlier in the series who was Jane's occasional partner in solving mysteries and I think the chemistry between them added a spark of life that the last few books in this series were missing. Jane is at her best when she is working with an intellectual equal (and someone who sees her as such) and West fills this role nicely. I hope that Barron brings him back in future books.

I will certainly be paying better attention so I don't miss any more in this series!

If you are interested in this series, start with Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor. For a full list of the series check out Stephanie Barron's webpage.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. All opinions are my own. Some links are affiliate links, thanks for supporting Hearth and Homefront!

July 14, 2015

Summer Reading Roundup

Catching up on some long overdue book reviews. Today I'm sharing short reviews and linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit. For the rest of July I'll be sharing a few more books that call for a more in-depth treatment in a longer review.

Having the boys home on summer break has only slightly diminished my reading time, mainly because I switched from podcasts to audiobooks for my commute to work. I have complicated feelings on audiobooks-am I the only one?! I love them for non-fiction or lighter fiction, but if I hit a scene that is a little intense, then I can't skim through it the way I would reading the book myself. I'm still convinced that is why I couldn't get through Eleanor and Park last year. (I know, I know, I'll read one of Rainbow Rowell's books eventually!)

This month I read mostly mysteries and I don't think that is at all coincidence. They are what I grew up reading and are still comfort reading to me. Nothing makes me happier than discovering a new mystery series with a whole backlist to devour in row! I'm always looking for new ones-any suggestions?

The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood

I listened to this one and I'm convinced this series is perfect for audiobooks. The narration is fantastic and clear (so you can listen at 1.25 speed), the mysteries are just complex enough to be interesting, but not so much that you will get lost if you miss something and Phryne Fisher is FUN. She's an unconventional lady detective in 1920's Melbourne, Australia. She has a charming band of characters as her helpers, is smart as a whip and occasionally risqué, but always delightful. In this book, Phryne finds a link between the murder of dancing contest contestant and the new lives soldiers who came home shellshocked from the Great War must build for themselves. (The books have also been made into a FANTASTIC tv series in Australia, and the first two seasons are on Netflix right now. I'm anxiously waiting for the 3rd series to show up on Acorn TV!)

Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil by James Runcie

The 3rd book in this series of short stories was less satisfying than the previous entries. Sidney is married now, and several of my favorite characters are not in the stories as much, but I'm not sure if that is quite the reason. The stories felt darker and more disjointed and I think perhaps the larger story arc that connects through all the short stories wasn't as strong as usual. If you love the series, you'll still like it. The first in the series is still the best (another series that inspired a great tv series, Grantchester on PBS, starring James Norton as a very dishy version of Sidney.)

Medal for Murder by Frances Brody

Another audiobook mystery. This one is the second in the Kate Shackleton series about a woman between the wars in England (sensing a theme here?) who has turned her search for missing people into a private detective business. In this, her investigation of a pawn shop robbery is unexpectedly connected to the murder of a fellow theater-goer. Kate is becoming more confident in her abilities and  her identity as a woman rather than another war widow.

Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood

Another Phryne Fisher. In this one her search for a missing female journalist touches on the conditions of the women working in the Church-run laundries and the dangers faced by women of the lower classes who could be exploited in any number of ways. Despite the underlying serious issues it covers, the book is still fun and would be considered a "cozy" mystery.

Design Mom: A Room by Room Guide to Living Well with Kids by Gabrielle Stanley Blair

This book is singlehandedly responsible for me getting back to work on the house. I was gung-ho when we first moved in and then winter killed all my motivation. This book is full of pictures and practical advice, but is so inspiring. She insists that you can have a house that is beautiful and functional with kids and makes it feel attainable. This is not a design book that shows family homes that no real family could live in. Definitely one to pick up!

Murphy's Law by Rhys Bowen

I love all of Rhys Bowen's other mystery series (Her Royal Spyness and Evan Evans) but for whatever reason never picked up this one. Molly Murphy is a outspoken young woman in Ireland who finds herself on the run after an incident with the landowner's son. She ends up in unusual circumstances on a boat to New York and must create a life for herself in a city where she knows nobody. Nobody that is, except for the handsome police officer who thinks she is hiding something after a murder on Ellis Island! I ordered the second book for my Kindle before I was finished with this audiobook, and I'm tearing through it as we speak.

What's up next?
The Nesting Place by Myquillen Smith
Death of Riley by Rhys Bowen
Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin
The Happy Hour Choir by Sally Kilpatrick (who is pretty awesome on Twitter too)

What have you been reading lately? What should I add to my out-of-control To Be Read pile?

Some of these links are affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Hearth and Homefront!

June 17, 2015

Summer Bucket Lists

A few weeks ago our oldest came home talking about the summer bucket lists. Turns out they had a big art project to create one that will come home on the last day of school. After a few minutes of talking with both boys, I realized that for the first time they really had opinions about what kind of things they wanted to do this summer.

Or at least, that they were ready to tell us those opinions.

This was a minor epiphany for me. For years, we've been doing what my husband and I thought the kids would like to do, but it's only been recently that they started expressing their opinions about these choices. From clothing to what we pack in their lunch-they are ready to tell us what matters to them.

So this summer the kids get to help us decide how we spend our days.

We talked and we wrote and came up with a big list of things to do as a family this summer. Some of these are straight from the boys and some are things that the adults chose. This will be our first full summer in New England, and there are things we've just never been able to do with the boys before because of where we lived. It's all fun stuff on this list because I didn't want to clutter it up with the *shoulds*. We should paint the guest room. I should transplant some hosts.

Those have their own list in my Google Docs. They have no place on the fun list that now sits in our living room. I wrote all our plans out on our oversized chalkboard in colorful chalk. We look at it every day and the boys are thrilled to be thinking ahead about our weekend plans. Frankly, it helps the grownups have something to look forward to as well!

One thing I didn't write on the actual list, but is my grownup summer goal:


We all read that article a few summers back about the mom who was never in the picture. I swore I would do better, and with the advent of the "selfie" I have gotten a little better. I realized that I also need to be better about pictures of other grownups. Pictures of all four of us. Pictures of the kids and the grandparents, but also my husband and I with our parents and siblings. Pictures of us with our friends, not just the kids with their friends.

I never change the profile picture on my social media accounts, because it's only once every year or two that I like a picture of myself enough to put it up there. For goodness sakes, my hair is a different color and twice as long now as it is in the picture on this very blog! (Ahem, Laura…I'm going to need you again!)

In case you need a little inspiration, here's our list for this summer. The picture above, by the way, is from this past weekend when we crossed off not one, but TWO items from this list.

Cheers to summer 2015!

Go to the Beach
Get Ice Cream
See Dinosaur Footprints
Visit both sets of Grandparents
Check out the Pratt Center
Visit our best friends from Oklahoma in their new house
Go fishing
Visit the Butterfly Farm
Ride on a carousel
Strawberry picking
Blueberry picking
Go to a carnival
Find a waterfall
Visit a farm
Go to the Dr. Seuss Garden
Visit a museum
Catch fireflies
Make s'mores
watch a movie outside
See Fireworks
Play in the sprinkler
Have a picnic
Go to the zoo and aquarium
Make homemade snowcones
Star gaze
Have a water balloon fight
Go to the lake
See a movie in the theater
Mini golf
Make a sandcastle
Go on a surprise trip

What are your plans for the summer?

June 15, 2015

Quick Lit (June 2015)

Popping in to post a few book reviews that have been languishing in note form for ages. 

This is just a highlight of what I've been reading since my last book review post. In fact 3 of these books came out in April just before my birthday and I ran right out to buy them on release day. Happily, they were all as good as I expected. 

You can always find me on Goodreads if you'd like to see everything I've been reading lately. And I promise to be around here a little more often as well :) 

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

The long anticipated sequel to Garden Spells, Allen brings us back to the Waverly sisters 10 years later. The always unusual Waverley family is even more unusual during the lead up to the first frost of the season and this year is no different. Claire wrestles with a new kitchen venture, Sidney is balancing her own worries while watching her daughter navigate high school as a Waverley. Allen weaves a gorgeous blend of magic and small town life, and this is a worthy sequel to the original tale. If you haven't read Garden Spells though, start with that one before this as it truly is a sequel. (I won a copy of this through a Goodreads giveaway, but my review is my own. I would definately purchased my own copy if I hadn't won that one.)

Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James

St. James is one of my favorite authors right now, perhaps because the books she writes are like nothing else I've read. All her books are set just after World War I in England and are a blend of ghost story and mystery. Ellie Winter, the heroine of The Other Side of Midnight is a pyschic who is thrown back into a world she thought she left behind when  her former best friend and rival, Gloria Sutter, is murdered. Feeling both a duty to the dead and a fear that she might be next, Ellie searches for the killer.
The reader is transported to 1920s London by St. James' amazing sense of place (rivaled only by the first few Maisie Dobbs books I would argue) and the supernatural elements never feel ridiculous or jarring to the story. The interplay between skeptics and believers within the book itself add a grounding touch. If you are interested in the time period or historical mysteries this is one to check out-even if you don't think you like "ghost" stories. 

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
This would be my hands down recommendation for a summer beach read. Bex is an American exchange student at Oxford University where she quickly gets pulled in to the social circle of Prince Nicolas. It's William and Kate re-imagined, but it is never silly. Funny, moving, thought provoking (you will have ALL THE FEELINGS about paparazzi after reading it). I will be shocked if I make it through the summer with out re-reading this one. 

Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
This was the book I HAD to have on release day! This is a time slip novel, where there is action in both the present day and 17th century France, with two romantic storylines to resolve. The connection between the two is a diary that is written by Mary Dundas, the historical heroine and is decoded by Sara, the modern day one. The historical story covers another aspect of the Jacobite rebellion that Kearsley had not written about before, and she slips several Easter Eggs in for long-time readers of her books. An interesting twist to the modern story was that Sara had Asperger's. I felt like Kearsley did a good job of showing it as an aspect of Sara's character but not feeling like that's all her character was.

So what's am I reading now? I'm almost done with Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil by James Runcie and I'm listening to the audiobook of Medal for Murder by Frances Brody on my commute to work. 

Now it's your turn-what are you reading? If you need inspiration check out the rest of the Quick Lit posts at MMD

February 28, 2015

March Reading Challenge


Every Saturday this year the boys and I have gone to the library together. I often pop over there during the week by myself to pick up a hold, or browse the stacks without small, sticky hands pulling on my sleeve, but the weekend visit is for all of us.

We stock up on books and movies to get us through the never ending snow days. I pick up a new mystery or try something from the new arrivals shelf.

Today I was preparing my list of books from my giant to-read list on Goodreads and I realized something. I already have a TON of these books, most of them sitting on my Kindle. I'm in the habit of snagging something I've been wanting to read when it goes on megasale, or adding a book when I order dog food or some other necessity from Amazon.

Then a due date nears and I turn back to my big stack of library books.

Today is the last day of February. I am almost finished with the only library book I have left at home, and there are no holds likely to come in soon.

This March I'm going to challenge myself. I am only going to read books that are already in my house or on my Kindle. Frankly, I think I really need to focus solely on my Kindle! (I did something similar last year but couldn't quite give up my library books). Next week I'll share the books I'm starting with.

Tell me I'm not the only one with this problem! Anyone want to join in? 

February 24, 2015

February Reading Roundup

Being stuck inside with all this snow has at least been good for my reading. I'm even a few books ahead on my goal for the year on Goodreads! It might also have something to do with the fact that all my library holds came in at once. I think I need to spend March playing catchup on the stacks of books in  my house and on my kindle that I've been ignoring because of looming due dates. Tell me I'm not the only one who does that! 

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

A group of my dear friends from our last assignment are doing a long-distance book club and this was our first selection. It was perfect for discussion, for both plot and literary devices. The book follows multiple stories from the 1960s Italian set of Cleopatra to a present day Hollywood production office, and eventually winds them all together. I loved seeing the way everything interconnected in the end.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies and this charming book was a love letter to the  movie and all those who made it. Elwes tells the tale of how the film came to be, filming and it's eventual cult status. He interviews other cast and crew members, shares fun tidbits of filming that you can see when you watch the movie and more. I guarantee you will immediately want to go re-watch the movie as soon as you finish! (We did, and now I send me boys off to school every morning with "Have fun storming the castle!")

Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross

I've been hearing about the Julian Kestrel mysteries from several of my favorite writers for years now, and I'm so glad I picked this up. The first novel finds Julian a guest at a very awkward engagement party at a country house, where pride and arrogance war with the truth when a murder takes place. He has to unravel the family secrets before he can find the murderer. Kestrel is a regency dandy on the surface, but so much more below and he makes for a unique take on a regency sleuth. The writing felt like a smart, updated version of Georgette Heyer. Great start to a series (though sadly the author passed away a few years ago, and there are only 4 Kestrel novels).

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

I was craving Allen's sweet southern magic when the weather turned really cold this month, and picked this up from the library. Gentle as always with a happy ending of course, but not as engaging as the other Allen books I have read. Kate needs a place to recover after the death of her husband, and a chance postcard leads her and her daughter to Lost Lake, a resort run by her great aunt Eby. Here Eby helps them heal, and they help remind Eby of just what she (and Lost Lake) mean to the community.

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

Possibly my favorite book this year (so far) and it was a chance find at the library- I picked it up solely because of the cover! Set between the wars in England, Amory Ames is tired of her marriage to playboy Milo and when her former fiancé Gil shows up asking for help, she says yes. A trip to the seaside turns deadly and she must work with Milo to clear Gil's name. In doing so, they must also figure out what's happened to their marriage. The writing is sparkling, the mystery was just right and I'm so glad that a second in the series is coming out this fall. And it turns out that Ashely Weaver is a librarian-what more could I ask for?

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This book is everywhere lately. I first read about it a few months ago, and patiently worked my way up the very long library waiting list. While interesting, I won't say this was life changing for me. Some aspects were really practical and I can easily see myself putting into practice (new ways to fold clothes and storing all like items together rather than spread around the house) but others I'll never agree with-her take on books for example! The idea is that you only keep what brings you joy and that you need to go through everything once and get rid of everything that doesn't. Some of it is a little loopy to be honest though I suspect part of that is the translation and the cultural differences between Japan and the US. On the other hand…it does make me want to clean out my kitchen cabinets. Who else has read this? I'm dying to discuss it!

What have you been reading lately? 

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