The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker - a NetGalley Review

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Publisher: Random House (January 31, 2017)
Description from the publisher: 
She was the first person to see me as I had always wanted to be seen. It was enough to indebt me to her forever.
In the male-dominated field of animation, Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses are a dynamic duo, the friction of their differences driving them: Sharon, quietly ambitious but self-doubting; Mel, brash and unapologetic, always the life of the party. Best friends and artistic partners since the first week of college, where they bonded over their working-class roots and obvious talent, they spent their twenties ensconced in a gritty Brooklyn studio. Working, drinking, laughing. Drawing: Mel, to understand her tumultuous past, and Sharon, to lose herself altogether.
Now, after a decade of striving, the two are finally celebrating the release of their first full-length feature, which transforms Mel’s difficult childhood into a provocative and visually daring work of art. The toast of the indie film scene, they stand at the cusp of making it big. But with their success come doubt and destruction, cracks in their relationship threatening the delicate balance of their partnership. Sharon begins to feel expendable, suspecting that the ever-more raucous Mel is the real artist. During a trip to Sharon’s home state of Kentucky, the only other partner she has ever truly known—her troubled, charismatic childhood best friend, Teddy—reenters her life, and long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.
A funny, heartbreaking novel of friendship, art, and trauma, The Animators is about the secrets we keep and the burdens we shed on the road to adulthood.

After reading the description, I thought I was getting into a sort of highbrow hipster chick-lit narrative. It was in some ways, but this novel surprised me. Yes, it was definitely written with wit, but not to a fault. Certain scenes felt hyper realistic - especially ones that revolved around Mel and her antics, as if she was a dark version of the manic pixie dreamgirl. And sometimes I felt that it got mired in it's own intellectualism: I felt it difficult to visualize the animation in my head based on the very niche language used to describe the process, and all the cult animation talk smacked of elitist Rob on music in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. However, just as Rob becomes a dear literary figure, so do Mel and Sharon. As the pretentious layers gets stripped away, various unexpected truths emerge about both of these vulnerable characters, and I couldn't help but empathize with them despite their flaws.

There is a lot of heavy stuff to ponder as they mine their personal lives for art, and I think it will stay with me for awhile. What makes a shared experience our story to tell? How much does reality mirror the life we live inside our heads? Does rehashing past trauma exorcise our demons or exacerbate them? How does that process affect our loved ones? How much do we really know the people closest to our hearts?  This story took so many unexpected turns, and some horrible ones, that it took my breath away. There's an aura of melancholy throughout the book and I would caution anyone with emotional or traumatic triggers to research it before reading. It chewed me up and spit me out, but in a good way. It was an engrossing and indelible read.

Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for an advance copy for my review.


Everyday Life and Menu Plan (1.29.16)

This was a pretty nutty week, in so many ways... For us, it was school conference week interspersed with sick days - one for my girl and two and a half for the boy child. Thankfully, they were okay-ish on conference day and missed school on mostly short days. Though, we didn't get out to celebrate their achievements with a trip for fro yo like usual, we DID go to the Bellevue Arts Museum for the first time this weekend. The free family day was a FANTASTIC experience. 

The theme for arts and crafts was Cultures Around the World and the amount of art, QUALITY art, we came home with was plentiful and so much fun to create: Aboriginal animal dot painting, 
make your own felt flag, Japanese kimono cut outs 
(so pretty, I made one too), Egyptian gold cuffs, and appropriately Chinese dragon puppets on the beginning of the lunar new year. It's also been so long since my husband and I have gone to view art. We had a lot of great discussions, and the bingo game for the kids was a perfect way to get them engaged, too. 
We will for sure be back for family day at the BAM.

And at the beginning of the week, I got to catch up with friends and see Laurie Frankel at Elliot Bay Book Company on the launch day of This is How it Always Is (review here). 
She was interviewed by Nancy Pearl, superhero Seattle librarian. What a fun book nerd extravaganza! Laurie was super charming, a fellow serial novel reader, and we were surrounded by so many authors. Laurie's husband and his band did an opening number which included Garth Stein - who you hopefully know as the author of the amazing The Art of Racing in the Rain
(Laurie's husband is in the lovely pink hat, and Garth is on the right.)
AND Carol Cassella was sitting just a few rows behind us. Cassella is a doctor and bestselling author - I quite enjoyed her novel Gemini, and she helped Laurie shape the mother's character in her book, a doctor. I'm sure there were others in attendance, but those two stood out to me!

On to this week - thankfully the kids are well and are back to FULL DAYS at school...

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel - A NetGalley Review

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Publisher: Flatiron Books (January 23, 2017)
Description from the Publisher:
This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.
This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.
This is how children change…and then change the world.
This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.
When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.
Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.
Laurie Frankel's This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

I feel as if I should preface this review with a fun story: I first heard about this novel while listening to Anne Bogel host Sarah Stewart Holland on her What Should I Read Next podcast. This was one of my favorite episodes because it not only brought me to request this book, but it also brought me to Holland's fantastic podcast: Pantsuit Politics (along with Beth Silver). Now, fast forward a few weeks later, and I get a re-tweet from Elliot Bay Book Company of a picture I took at Brit Bennett's reading of The Mothers. This garnered me a couple of new followers, one of which was... Laurie Frankel! Unbeknownst to me, she's a local and follows EBBCO. And THEN, one of my dear friends chimes in on my tweets to Laurie (thanking her for the follow and that I had my fingers crossed for a NetGalley of her latest novel) that Laurie was her professor in college! And tonight I'm going with said friend to Laurie's reading at... Elliot Bay Book Company. Full. Circle. Twitter can be a pretty horrible place, but it can be a miraculous one, too.

This is How it Always Is immediately grabbed me as a wonderful story about marriage and family. Yes, the plot is driven by the child with gender dysphoria, but each of the characters are imbued with such authentic detail that Penn, Rosie and their children ALL wormed their way into my heart. The minutiae of their family life felt so familiar and intimate: from the details like the names given for the kids rooms (the self proclaimed 'shark cave' or parent named POH for 'pit of hell'), to those terrifyingly familiar moments of parenting decisions.

"When was the last time something was bothering one of the kids or he was acting strange or he wasn't sleeping or doing well in math or sharing nicely during free-choice time, and we knew why?" "Knew why?" Rosie said. "Knew why. Absolutely knew what was wrong and what should be done to fix it and how to make that happen." "As a parent?" "As a parent." "Never?" "Never," Penn agreed. "Not ever. Not once. You never know. You only guess. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what's good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don't get to see the future." 

DAMN. This novel is full of these sharp observations about life as a parent and how everything affects the family as a whole. At times it almost felt like an editorial, but with great breadth and depth of emotion: I laughed, I cried, I clutched my hand to my heart. And, of course, it's a fascinating portrait of a transgender child - written by a parent of a transgender child. As progressive as I am, I felt like I learned SO MUCH and gained even more perspective on this timely issue. It is not at all heavy handed, but we can all learn from someone so brave to share a part of her story. You can read more about Laurie in this Seattle Times article.  It sparked great conversation at the dinner table with my husband and he directed me to this article he found enlightening from National Geographic, which is also worth a read. 

Thank you NetGalley and Flatiron Publishing for an advance copy for my review. And, of course, to Laurie Frankel for sharing a version of your story, your truth - and hopefully changing the world.


Everyday Life and Menu Plan (1.22.17)

This was a pretty uneventful week, which I'm always thankful for! I did participate in a fun Instagram challenge some friends of friends started: 

We invite you to join us.
Follow #lifecaptcha on Instagram.
On the 19th day of the month,
Every hour at 44 minutes past the hour,
drop everything and take a picture.
Share on Instagram using #lifecaptcha.
Connect with others.
This was my most liked photo, which ended up being a pretty nice shot, but I think most people could identify with the caption: Here they come - time for homework and bickering! Ha! I enjoy partaking in these, and even did a day in the life here awhile back. So join in next month if it sounds fun to you, too. 

And since I like to look back on these posts for posterity and want to remember this time (not just my hour to hour day) I should acknowledge the historical events that have transpired. I must admit that I spent most of the week off of Facebook (even less than my now limited engagement on my laptop or occasionally through Safari) except to push posts from here, answer a question about Hot Chocolate and use messenger. Friday felt like a very dark, scary and sad day. (Carnage? REALLY??) But I knew so many friends participating in the Women's Marches across the country, including many who traveled to DC, that I completely GORGED on social media Saturday and Sunday. So uplifting and inspiring! If people are going to distill this march down to one type of sign, which people seem wont to do, let it be this one:

So, even if I was not there, I want to always remember this historic Saturday and the way it made me feel. Like this amazing video:
I really wanted to take my family to Seattle's march, to be a part of history that rivals the marches of the Civil Rights or the Suffragette Movement. but my daughter had a birthday party, and you can't stand in the way of a six year old and a pinata... 
This week:

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


New Year, New Goals 2017

Photo from my Y, where we are all invitied to write our goals.
Since I didn't refer much to my 2016 goals throughout the year, and petered out on quarterly check-ins, I thought about forgoing them 2017. But I enjoy lists too much, and even if I only get around to a few of them, I still find the practice worthwhile and I think I did check off a good amount - about 7 out of 11:
  • End the run streak when the time is right/obvious. Yep, I did this and am still coming back from ye olde plantar fasciitis. 
  • Read 55 books. Woot! 62!
  • Do the Book Riot read harder challenge. Welp. I never outlined books to read for the challenge and really didn't make decisions based on the prompts. However, it's fun to see how many I tackled looking back and I checked off about half the list!
  • Run 5 races, including one trail race. Ha! Nope.   
  • Aim for one PR. Welp. I can't PR if I'm not racing. I sincerely hope that my PR days are not behind me...  
  • Plan a girls trip with my high school buddies. Yay! DONE.  
  • Plan another summer family road trip. Also yay! DONE.
  • More picture taking and maybe a small weekly or monthly roundup. Check! I enjoyed adding 'everyday life' to my weekly meal plan, because those are the posts I look back on the most. Definitely keeping up this routine.
  • Get at least 5 new meals into regular rotation. I barely squeaked this one in, with exactly 5 favorite new recipes this year.   
  • Try new restaurants with the hubs. Hm. Do vacation restaurants count? 
  • Have more fun with makeup and find the right routine, colors, etc. for me. I think I can check this one off, too. I am definitely having more fun with it and learned a thing or two.
For this year, I thought about going with the increasingly popular idea of coming up with my one word for the year. And it was haaaaard. It felt rather limiting to me, and I love lists. I suppose I could do both. So my best attempt for a 2017 word is: SUBSTANTIVE. I want to engage in things that are substantive and nourishing to my life. Which equals reading things that bring me contentment and knowledge, continuing to eat healthy meals (mostly! everything in moderation!), more in person time with friends, less Twitter (and OF COURSE Facebook - I deleted the app from my phone/tablet months ago) and more New York Times (I added that app when I subscribed). Yet I had to write a list...
  • Read 65 books! It'll be fun to attempt this, but like the Read Harder challenge, I think I'm going to forgo any hard and fast reading goals. I like the idea of reading pretty freely with the intention of: reading more diversely (hopefully increasing my percentage of POC authors to more than 10% this year), keeping advance copies to about one a month (though it's always so tempting to request ALL THE BOOKS), get back to reading more YA (I read so little in 2016) as well as more middle grade/Newberry Books.  
  • Get back to regular Mom's Demand meetings, and perhaps add ACLU ones. I fell off going regularly to MDA when the school year started and all of a sudden it was the holidays. Plus I joined this equally substantive organization and will try to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
  • Get plantar fasciitis under control. It's SO much better, but not entirely gone. I don't feel it at all before, during, or after a run up to about four miles. But if I add distance or speed, my foot aches at night. I did end up getting orthotics and I'm hoping they help me turn a corner. But, I have let a lot of the prehab slide, so I need to commit to that daily.
  • Run three races. This sounds ridiculously easy, given my past racing history. Yet there it is. I don't want to aim for PRs, I just want to feel 100% injury free. Obviously Hot Chocolate and the 5K for the first time! And the Tenacious Ten (see sidebar!), albeit the 10K rather than the 10 miler that I wish I could do, but I know that would be pushing it - even as far out as April.
  • Eat more fruit! I am a veggie person and get plenty of servings at lunch and dinner to cover the lack of fruit. But, I think it'd be a good thing for my overall health to incorporate into my diet/change things up. 
  • Get 6 new meals into regular rotation. Why not one up last year's goal? I already have one to put on the list, too!
  • Plan the summer road trip and PERHAPS another girls trip. I have yet to hit my girls up on ideas about this, but I kinda want to make it happen!
  • Do the 52 Lists Project. How could I not want to dive into this beautiful book every week?


Everyday Life and Menu Plan (1.17.17)

A little late on the menu posting, the long weekend had me in a time warp... However, I had to convey how yummy this recipe is:
The Roasted Cauliflower Soup we tried last week was delicious! (Edited to add: I put crumbled bacon on top, which was a perfect accompaniment. Also, I'd advise using an immersion blender - they are invaluable!) 

I didn't put anything new on the menu this week, but I pulled a tasty meatloaf recipe from the archives that we haven't made in YEARS. Speaking of going through the archives, in case you missed it, I posted my annual list of favorite books here.

I got out with friends to see Hidden Figures and cannot recommend it enough. SO WONDERFUL! Go see it!
Yesterday we took advantage of our run of sunny and cold weather to take a stroll around Discovery Park.
We shall see how much rain we get this week...
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Favorite Books of 2016!

Yes, finally! Although, I think I'm pretty consistent with waiting a bit into the new year to reflect on everything I've read. Often, one from December makes it onto the list. Probably because it's top of mind, but this year's will stick with me for awhile. It was a banner year for my reading life - probably the most books I've ever read in a single year. Before I get into the details on the favorites, I thought I'd take a deeper dive than my Goodreads overview.

Yes, I got a little geeky with the numbers:
Books written by women: 43 (70%)
Books written by people of color: 10 (16%)
Nonfiction: 5 (8%)
Advanced copies: 11 (18%) 2 of which were debuts (18% of ARCs)
Debut novels: 13 (21%)
Published in 2016: 32 (52%)

Not sure what I'm going to do with this info, perhaps it will inform me on my goals for the year, which I'm still pondering...

The favorites from this year are in no particular order. I also don't strive for a top five or ten so that I don't add more to hit a certain number, nor do I exclude something that was really great to pare down my list. Some I may have rated four stars or five. But they are all indelible in some way, and are books that I find myself recommending the most. 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
So, I was wondering why this didn't land on any 'best of' lists this year and I realized that it was a 2015 publication and the only one from my favorites that was not published this year! (Which is interesting because I was nearly 50/50 on new releases vs. backlist titles.) I was close, though, since I read it in January. But it has stayed with me all this year as an incredibly unique and moving story. Plus making Pat Praeger's Peanut Butter Bars was a highlight of the year.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My first Book of the Month made quite an impression on me! I read this back in August and it's not perfect, but it was one of the few books this year I read in less than 48 hours and it also has remained top of mind. I think it's a story that would appeal to ANY reader and I recommend it often. It has mystery, romance, sci-fi, and, beneath the surface, a philosophical question about what makes you YOU.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I also read this one in August, and I can't fathom a best of 2016 book list where it is absent. How Gyasi managed to make an epic and captivating story in such a succinct way is a marvel. If there's one book on this list that should be required reading, it's Homegoing.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Patchett might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I just love her. I made a conscious decision to mostly request advanced copies of established authors, and authors that I admire (and now that I look at the data, only 2 of eleven advance requests were debuts). This was my most anticipated novel of the year, so perhaps I went in with rose colored glasses. But, it did not disappoint: a family drama of great characters, writing, and emotional heft.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett
This was another great Book of the Month pick, which I read in October. It is also a novel that is not lacking on Best of the Year lists, and for good reason. For me, I think held the most highlighted passages of any book I read in 2016. Bennett writes so beautifully, with simple and powerful prose - while also telling a great story. 

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
Like Patchett, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favorite authors and this was another advance copy I was so thankful to receive. This whip-smart, and fun, romp of a modern day Austen classic is one that I find myself recommending often. 

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
As I am susceptible to doing from time to time, I end up putting a December read on my best of list. But! I'm hardly alone, as this one was Goodreads winner for best YA of 2016. I think I sped through this novel faster than any other this year. It was just a wonderfully told story about a subject so fascinating and devastating. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these, or your favorite books of the year! 

Favorite Books of 2015
Favorite Books of 2014
Favorite Books of  2013 
Favorite Books of 2012


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 1.9.16

This has been a pretty uneventful week of getting back into the swing of things after the holiday break. Although my dog Chewie would argue otherwise...

Could he look any more pathetic?? Poor guy caught his toenail on the back of his crate and it got nearly split in half. Yeah. It was gross. So between my husband and I, there have been three visits to the vet in the last week! To add insult to injury, some idiot rear ended my husband at a red light. Thankfully he's okay, even though it was on a highway off ramp. So we've been juggling one car this weekend. Yay!

Alas, we did a little self care at the bookstore today, so all was well.
This week:
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Books I Read in December

So many books in December! This is part of the reason I delay my favorites of the year until mid-January...

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
This was a short and powerful read. However, I found it a little dry and rife with generalizations about many problems we face today. It certainly gave me a new perspective of looking at ways we are a tribal species, and how that helps and hinders our lives. The loss of tribe definitely seems like the driving force of trauma for veterans, but I'm not entirely sold on the fact that our society evolving from tribalism is the root of nearly all of it's ills, the way Junger seems to imply.

Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand
Ohhhh, this was such a fun escapist read. I originally gave it three stars, because: total fluff. But this terribly sweet conclusion of the Winter Street series, and the the end of the story for the characters I've become quite attached to, was a wonderful holiday treat. Upgraded to four star rating for humor and heart. Hilderbrand is great with memorable character development, as well as making me feel like I've been to Nantucket - even though I just desperately want to visit now. I'm hopeful she'll start another series for next Christmas!

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bojalian (You can read my review here!)

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
I finally caved to finishing this gorgeous YA series and I love these characters SO MUCH. This installment of the Raven Cycle was kinda iffy on plot for me, even with the first three as a benchmark for a lack thereof. Honestly, I'm thinking about it now and can't really describe what the heck happened. There were a lot of loose ends, secondary characters left hanging, new inscrutable ones introduced, and a slapdash solution to the major final obstacle of the book. And yet... I was sucked in as always and turning pages because of the beautiful and nuanced writing, the relationships, the swoon factor for... well, every character - I'm in love with ALL OF THEM. If (when?) she writes more Raven Boys lore, I will read the heck out of it.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
There must be something about reading a WWII novel at the end of the year that lands it as one of my favorites, as with The Nightingale. Or maybe it's because I parse out these novels, only allowing myself one or two a year on this subject. They are usually so good, though! I was quickly enraptured with Sepetys characters and the journeys they faced during Operation Hannibal, the German evacuation of troops and civilians from East Prussia and Poland. I loved the short chapters told from the perspective of each character, each from a different country. I can see how it would be jarring/crazy making for some, but I found myself up late saying 'just one more chapter.' It is fraught with tension and a lightning paced read. It was hard to wrap my head around the biggest maritime disaster in history being so unknown. This book is a must read: fascinating, engaging and bittersweet.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Since my December Book of the Month (Swimming Lessons by the same author) was delayed, I thought I'd read her debut novel that has been on my TBR for quite awhile. This was an outstanding read. This story of a girl taken to the woods to live in isolation with her survivalist father begins with her acclimating to the 'real world' after her ordeal and I thought this was a brilliant way for her story to unfold. As we learn more in flashbacks, it becomes clear that whether or not she returns home is not where the mystery and tension lies, but HOW she gets out of her situation. How does she leave her father? How does she come to understand what is really happening? The ending is pretty harrowing, but following the breadcrumbs of ideas that Fuller deftly drops along the way is RIVETING stuff. I can't wait to dive into her latest novel!

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
This was on my summer list, and it's one I'm glad I finally got around to reading. It follows a amiliar, but fun, 'You've Got Mail' trope: the main character begins a communication via email with a mystery individual. In many cases it may be a secret admirer - see also Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and This is What Happy Looks Like. I enjoyed this as a straight up high school drama, but there was also a lot of good subject matter to chew on about friendship, parenting and loss. Even though the mystery person is pretty easy to pin down, I furiously turned the pages towards the end of the book to confirm my theory. It's just ADORABLE. I was surprised to learn that this was Buxbaum's first YA novel. Her depiction of teen life was evocative of my youth and felt spot-on. 


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 1.2.17 (and Favorite New Recipes of 2016)

Happy New Year! I'm glad to be back into the swing of things and 'real life.' But, I did thoroughly enjoy our leisurely two weeks of family time together. 

We checked off our list of favorite holiday traditions, as well as slept in, ate a ton, watched movies, went to the Y a lot and did a lot of reading! I got lots of bookish goodies for Christmas, including my now yearly installment of the illustrated Harry Potter editions.
It was an excellent Christmas and I think this one will stand out to me as the year of Snuggles the Puppy. This was the first time my daughter had a highly coveted item on her list. She's usually the toughest to get gifts for: she likes everything, will play with any toy and is not really obsessed with anything, unlike her brother who goes in easy to shop for phases (this year it's all about Halo Mega Bloks).
Getting her this hilarious animatronic dog has been a HOOT. My husband had the brilliant idea to also give her our old soft sided dog carrier with a removable bed and she has her puppy sleep in it next to her every night. She's even started dressing her up with barrettes (that she never uses). 
It's priceless and reminds me of my first Cabbage Patch doll, an all fabric handmade one, and how much I loved her.

If it were up to me, we'd probably have soup or salad every night this week because I still feel full from holiday eating. Alas, I don't think my family would go for that, so maybe we'll have one or two favorites from this year that I've rounded up, as well as get cracking on trying new recipes. I'm finishing up my December book reviews and pondering my favorite reads of the year, but for now:

Favorite New Recipes of 2016:

Tequila Lime Sheet Pan Chicken Nachos from The Cookie Rookie
Spinach Lasagna from Chowhound
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!