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Books Lifestyle

2017 Summer Reading List Reviewed

September 7, 2017
2017 Summer Reading Review

Now that it’s September, Summer is officially over in my book. If someone could please inform the state of Texas, that would be great, because I’m ready to go into basic-white-girl-who-love-fall mode. I refused to be ashamed of it either!

I’m wrapping up all of my summer projects and lists now that summer is ending and I am desperately looking forward to fall. However, I wanted to give you a follow up on my summer reading list to let you know how I, and the books, did. I am pleased to announce that I accomplished my summer reading list and then some! I’m not just going to leave you with that, though. I’ve got to tell you how I liked them all. You ready? Hold onto your kindle, here we go!

The Favorites:

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (Finished 05/23/2017)

The Blue Castle was, hands down, my favorite book from my summer reading list! Call me a romantic. I loved it. The Blue Castle tells the story of a young woman named Valancy who receives a startling diagnosis. Even though the diagnosis a death sentence, it frees her to finally live her life on her terms. I think deep down we all love it when the shy character bursts out in confidence (Hello, Neville Longbottom!), and Valancy giving zero shits is delightful. Think Elizabeth Bennet levels of attitude. And of course, there’s a little bit of romance for our heroine as well. This book is easily accessible for a high school level reader, and can be found online for free! I do wish I had it in print though, because I like it that much.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie (Finished 06/14/2017)

I might be a sucker for Agatha Christie, but I loved this book! It goes without saying that this is a murder mystery book. After an unsavory character is found dead on the snowed in Orient Express, Hercule Poirot must determine the killer before snow thaws and the killer escapes. I’ve read a lot of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, so I like to see if I can figure things out on my own, but this book totally got me! I never would have guessed the ending, and it was delightful. This book is being made into a movie this fall so you should totally read it. It’s a totally satisfying, easy little read.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider (Finished 08/15/2017)

I loved this book. It was definitely the most summer reading-esque book on my summer reading list. In At Home in the World, Tsh Oxenreider chronicles the 9 month trip that she and her family took around the world. In it, she finds a delicate balance between the love of constant travel and the need to be a homebody. Besides making me want to travel to all the places (especially New Zealand) and eat all the things, At Home in the World wisely makes the point that sometimes restlessness says more about who we are than where we are. I thought this was a great summer read, but if you don’t have any travel plans before you read it, you’ll wish you did by the time that you are done!

Food for Thought:

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (Finished 08/06/2017)

Hillbilly Elegy sticks out as one of the more meaningful reads on my summer reading list. J.D. Vance is both nostalgic and brutally honest about his upbringing in America’s rust belt. He does not flinch away from deeply troubling scenes of poverty and abuse, but he also doesn’t assign them more meaning than they deserve. In telling the story of a poor, white, American boy who pulled himself out of poverty, Hillbilly Elegy could have come out as self righteous and pious; but J.D. Vance is a humble and thoughtful narrator. He does not shy away from his message, but never gets preachy about it either. Hillbilly Elegy is a complex, thoughtful memoir and I highly recommend it.

 The More of Less by Joshua Becker (Finished 08/11/2017)

I love a good minimalist book. It makes me want to clean out my closet. And then actually do something with the clothes other than bad them up and leave them on the floor of my closet…

Joshua Becker is my go to minimalist writer. He doesn’t over romanticize it and promise that you’ll never struggle. Instead, he encourages you to think about what your ideal life looks like, and asks you to eliminate the barriers to that. I enjoyed his biblical perspective, which was approachable to Christians and non-Christians alike. He wasn’t preachy, but used biblical stories more like parables or fables. Did this book totally change my life? No. I find it hard to reconcile my minimalism with my this-could-be-used-in-a-craft-3-years-from-now. But for someone wanting to know more about the mentality of minimalism, this is one of the better books I’ve read.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (Finished 07/21/2017)

Both Tsh Oxenreider and Sarah Bessey have recommended Hannah Coulter to their readers so I had high expectations for this book.  Honestly, though, I found this one to be a bit slow. Hannah Coulter is comes from the perspective of an old farmer’s wife looking back on her life and her decisions in the fictional town of Port William. It’s got the same dreamy, personal narrative style of a Laura Ingalls book, but with a touch more regret. The writing is beautiful, bittersweet, and full of wisdom. However, it’s best read a little bit at a time and digested. 

Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner (Finished 06/23/2017)

In her book, Chasing Slow, Erin Loechner of Design for Mankind is totally honest about her frequent inability to chase slow. Chasing Slow allows Erin to feel back the instagram perfect facade on her life and talk about the pressures we all face to look like our idea of success. Chasing Slow is the kind of book that tells women to have grace with women, including themselves. I happen to think that is an important genre, and I like books like this when I feel like I’m in a slump. I did think that this book lost some of it’s presentation on the Kindle, so I recommend getting the physical copy if you read this book.

The Fluff:

The Woman on the Orient Express by  Lindsay Jayne Ashford (Finished 05/26/2017)

The Woman on the Orient Express is a book about Agatha Christie that is not an Agatha Christie book. Agatha is grappling with the end of her marriage and fighting off a breakdown when she decides to book a ride on the Orient Express under a different name. On her way, she encounters some complex women with secrets of their own. The Woman on the Orient Express is part drama, part historical fiction and part travel book. I found it difficult to track with the multiple characters at times and definitely skimmed some parts. The ending was dramatic, but I found that some of the character’s story lines were a little contrived. It’s a nice mindless summer read, but I wouldn’t pay more than $5 for it.

 

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker (Finished 06/07/2017)

I’ve mentioned before how much I love Jen Hatmaker. This is still true. However, I found For the Love to be a bit scattered and unfocused.  I didn’t see a lot tying the chapters together, and that make them feel too much like blog posts. It’s not that I disagreed with anything that she was saying, but I can’t really tell you anything about the substance of the book either, except that Jen’s got opinions about the leggings-as-pants situation. Jen is such a smart and heartfelt woman that I believe that she can deliver a more polished, meaningful (that’s “impactful” in church speak) message than this. I’m hoping that’s what has happened with her most recent book, Of Mess and Moxie.

In Praise of Women’s Bodies by Gloria Steinem (Finished 06/13/2017)

This is more of an essay than a book. I wish that I had read it in college, so I could have discussed it with others. I do think that it’s important to see women’s bodies as something other than attractive, but capable, strong and powerful.  Gloria Steinem points out that women’s bodies can be important in different ways for different women. It’s easy for feminists to put as many limitations on women as others so, and so I was glad to see Gloria Steinem calling out and praising diversity among women.

The Extras:

Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman (Finished 08/30/2017)

 This would make a great book club/small group/bible study book, but it was a little slow on its own.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer (Finished 06/12/2017)

Enjoyable. Good for Jane Austen lovers. Predictable is a good, comforting way. Read it when it’s raining, with tea.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (finished 08/16/2017)

Meh. Reliant on too many tropes. I’d skip this one.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth (Finished 08/17/2017)

Do not, I repeat, do not read this book while your sister-in-law is in the hospital with post-partum pre-eclampsia. You will give yourself a panic attack. Other than that, it’s great. 

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Young adult book about the child of a Greek god. Funny and enjoyable, I want to read the rest of the series now. A little biased towards western civilization, but I can suspend belief for a young adult novel.

That’s the end of my summer reading list! I’m a little impressed at how much I was able to finish! Now you know I’m already lining up some books for Fall. I’m taking recommendations! What did you read this summer that blew your mind?

Food Lifestyle Travel

What (and where!) to Eat in Minneapolis, MN

August 3, 2017
What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis

Hello all! If you didn’t notice, I was away last week in Minneapolis, MN seeing sights and participating in the best wedding ever attended. Seriously, these people know how to get married!

Since we were already going to Minneapolis for a wedding, The Hubs and I decided to make a whole trip out of it. Minneapolis wasn’t on either of our short lists for cities to visit, but now that I’ve been there, I’d totally go back! We had so much fun checking out the beautiful landscape, the Mall of America, and stuffing our faces. They have some good food up there in Minneapolis! If you find yourself in the areas, here is my food guide:

The Ju(i)cy Lucy Debate

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Matt's

Californians have tacos, Texans have BBQ, and up in Minnesota they have the Jucy Lucy! While it goes by different names at just about every restaurant, the main concept is the same. It’s a hamburger patty stuffed with melted cheese. The most common cheese is american, but some restaurants allow customization like pepper jack and bleu cheese.

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - 5-8 Club

 

 

There is some debate about the origin of the Jucy Lucy, which two different bars claiming to have invented it. Matt’s Bar calls it the Jucy Lucy, while the 5-8 Club claims the Juicy Lucy. Because I love you, we tried both.

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Matt's

 

Matt’s Bar is about as dive bar as they come(in a good way). Their simple menu consists of the Jucy Lucy, fries and beer. (Okay, you can get a regular burger too, but why would you??) You seat yourself (if there’s not a line) and you pay with cash (they have an ATM in the bar). Personally, I preferred the Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar. It had a great flavor that was just a liiittle more nuanced than 5-8 Club. That being said, I also spilled molten cheese on my thumb and that was not fun. Definitely let this burger sit for a minute before you eat.

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - 5-8 Club

Where the 5-8 club stands out is with it’s options. You can customize your Lucy with different cheese and fixings. It’s still a bar, but has a little bit more of restaurant feel to it. My favorite part of the meal at The 5-8 Club was the sweet potato fries. Not only were they a lovely combo of crispy and soft, but they came with this amazing marshmallow bleu cheese dipping sauce. Amazing! Go just for the fries! Honestly, just go to both Matt’s and 5-8 Club. They’re both excellent greasy bar food.

If you’re not looking for American gastropub food, don’t worry! I have a slew of other suggestions.

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Holy Land 1

Holy Land

Holy Land is both a restaurant and a small ethnic grocery. (Side note: The grocery is a great Whole 30 option for meats!) They’ve been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, which is how we heard about them. They’re a Middle Eastern deli with a huge array of options. I got the gyro, and a side of hummus and pita, and The Hubs got a chicken and lamb gyro meat combo platter.

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Holy Land

First of all, let me say that the portion sizes are HUGE. Like massive. I felt bad because we didn’t even make a dent in our meals. I made 2 gyros out of the one they brought me and still had a ton  of meat left! Second, I will say that everything was delicious. Their gyro meat was already delicious, and the added cucumber sauce knocked it out of the park! The hummus was great and their desserts opened up a whole new realm of food options. The Hubs is obsessed with honey cakes now!

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Holy Land

If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend Holy Land. Bring a friend and an extra stomach!

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Kramarczuks

 

Kramarczuk’s Deli

Kramarczuk’s came highly recommended by some of The Hub’s coworkers who used to live in the area. They touted it as having the best sauerkraut anywhere. Now, I don’t really eat sauerkraut much(ever), but I have to agree. Kramarczuk’s knows what they’re doing! We got bratwurst, pastrami, perogis and of course, lots of sauerkraut. It’s also a deli, so you go down the line cafeteria style with a tray and find your own seating. We went for lunch and it wasn’t terribly crowded. You will probably have to pay to park near Kramarczuk’s, since it’s semi-downtown. We parked in a nearby underground lot and I think we paid about $3. It’s well worth the experience. 

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Kramarczuks

Everything was delicious. Then there was dessert. Their cannoli was excellent, and we got a cream puff for the road, which was still delicious after riding around in the car for an hour or two! I may have a soft spot for cream puffs though…

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Kramarczuks

We didn’t realized it before we went, but Kramarczuk’s has also been in Diners, Drive-ins and Dives! It’s good to know that we have good taste. I’d love to go back and try one of their GIANT meatballs or cabbage rolls, and of course, more of their desserts…

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Victor's 1959

Victor’s 1959 Cafe

Victor’s 1959 is a is a Cuban cafe with some serious brunch vibes. The Hubs is half Cuban, so we couldn’t turn down a chance to try this quirky Cuban cafe. People have signed and left notes on just about every square inch of Victor’s 1959 Cafe, which makes for some interesting reading material. And it’s good to have reading material because you’re going to be waiting for a while! We got there for lunch and the place was packed! 

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Victor's 1959

I ordered the ranchero cubano, which was a breakfast dish with eggs and black beans (delicious!) and The Hubs went straight for the Cuban sandwich. This is usually his litmus test for how accurate the Cuban food of a given restaurant is. Everything came out fresh and hot, but again, it took…a while. Still, the sandwich was authentic and I’d wait as long as it take to get my man some Cuban food if he wants it! 

What and Where to Eat in Minneapolis - Victor's 1959

If you’re like The Hubs and you need some Cuban fare in your life, Victor’s 1959 is a fun place to go. Bring a few friends and get ready to settle in, and look forward to that food! It’s going to be great!

I have to stop talking about food now, because I am getting hungry. Any favorite in the Minneapolis area that I missed? I’d love to hear about them, or listen if you want to weigh in on the ju(i)cy lucy debate!

Food Lifestyle Travel

One Day in Denton, TX

July 6, 2017
One Day in Denton

The past weekend, The Hubs and I traveled up to Winstar Casino in Oklahoma to see Vince Gill. We spent the night in Gainesville, TX and on the way back we stopped to hang out in Denton. Home of both the University of North Texas (where I almost went to school) and Texas Women’s University, Denton has that cool college town feel, while being totally approachable for a quick day trip. Thinking about driving up for a day yourself? Here’s what you shouldn’t miss:

One Day in Denton

Recycled Books

If you love Half Price Books, you’ll love Recycled Books. Residing in the old Opera House in Denton, It’s a used book store with a seventies vibe and serious amount of stock. It’s winding and maze like and boasts several levels. It also has a pretty sizable record section as well. The Hubs and I had fun poking around the children’s book section with my mom. Their prices are pretty darn reasonable, and their stock has a good mix of both current and classic books. They also have a super cool section up at the front that features local authors! Perfect for any traveler trying to get the feel of the place!

One Day in Denton

Mad World Records

I’ll admit, the only reason I can remember the name of Denton’s Mad World Records is because I sing the song to myself to remember. When we went to see Sierra Hull she did a great cover of “Mad World” using a Fender “Mandocaster” that sounded seriously cool! Mad World Records is seriously cool as well. They have a good mix of contemporary and older vinyl and their layout is nice and open. It’s easy to sort through records and never feels overwhelming. Some record stores get too tiring to look through, but Mad World Records doesn’t make me feel this way at all. They also sell little band pins, if you’re into that kind of thing.

One Day in Denton

Atomic Candy

Colorful and quirky, Atomic Candy is the type of store that your inner child will love. It’s a good, old fashioned candy store stocked with everything from gummy colas to jelly beans to salt water taffy. The also have a nice selection of obscure sodas. My dad, who is a huge root beer connoisseur, had a whole case to poke around in and was able to find some new brands he’d never seen before. It’s a seriously tempting store, so watch out! I had to pace myself because the Hubs and I had out hearts set on…

One Day in Denton

Hypnotic Donuts

Now, we have a Hypnotic Donuts in Dallas too, but it seems to attract a much larger crowd than the one in Denton. That means that the things we always want to try are sold out by the time we get there (The Hubs is not an early riser on days off.). The Hypnotic Donuts in Denton is tucked a little bit further back on the square and seems a little quieter, but specializes in the same quirky donuts. The best part? They had blueberry fritters in stock! We’ve been trying to get a blueberry fritter for The Hubs since we heard that Hypnotic made them and we finally got to try it! (Spoiler alert: It was delicious.) If you’re in the area and have a hankering for some donuts, get yourself to Hypnotic Donuts!

One Day in Denton - LSA Burger

LSA Burger Co.

LSA Burger Co. was a total instagram find, but also came highly recommended by some friend of ours. It’s right on the square in Denton and has a cool upstairs patio where you can see the sights. I mostly wanted to go because of their mini margaritas. They come with “loaders” so you can add flavors and since they’re mini, you can try a few different flavors without getting totally sauced. They even sell margarita flights with all 6 flavors! We tried the pomegranate, strawberry, white peach and prickly pear flavors and they were all delicious. The Hubs and split the Ready Freddie burger, which comes with BBQ sauce, grilled onions, bacon, cheese and pickles. I mention that we split because we also got sides of their delicious garlic herb fries and (cue the angels singing) macaroni and cheese! It was good mac too…mmm, I want to go back and eat more. The fries come in small and large sizes and the portion is generous. We easily split the large fries between 4 people. I’ve got to stop typing because I’m making myself hungry, but you’ve definitely got to stop by LSA Burger Co. if you’re in town!

Did I miss any of your favorite? Any place I need to go back and try? Let me know in the comments!
One Day in Denton