Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Stack of Books

Based on the lack of book reviews on my blog lately, one might suspect that I haven't been reading much. Though I've suffered a few unpleasant reading slumps, I've actually read several books in the past month. Here are my mini-reviews on the books that have graced my night stand since Thanksgiving.

Books for Review : 2
Books from shelf : 2
Ebooks (previously purchased) : 2
Books purchased : 1

The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy

I bought The God of Small Things at the library book sale back in October and everyone told me that it was very good. I've enjoyed several book sets in India and so I was anxious to get a chance to read it. I was nearly finished reading it when I realized that I might already have a copy of this book. When I got home, I checked, and sure enough there was a copy on my shelf that a friend had given me years ago. While I checking I found a second copy of another book I bought at the library that day. My book hoarding collecting has reached the scary level, folks.

The beautiful language and intense emotions combined with the exotic setting kept me completely enraptured. It's a disturbing novel but valuable. I would highly recommend it. 


The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs
by Matthew Dicks

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is one of the SheReads Book Club Fall Selections. I've enjoyed all the others this fall and fully expected to enjoy this one too. Caroline is a quiet wife and mother who suddenly speaks out when she just can't handle the essentially bullying behavior of the PTA President. This surprising surge of courage spurs Caroline on a quest to confront the bully from her school years.

It's a cute idea that is certainly timely but the novel often felt preachy. While the story and ending are fine, it's also predictable and a little too neat. Honestly, I was bored and while I expected to connect with Caroline, I found her character to be annoying.


The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending has been sitting on my shelf for at least a year. Attempting to reach my GoodReads goal (not going to happen) I wanted to add some quality but shorter novels to my reading list. As expected, I read the novel in an afternoon.  With lovely and engaging writing, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and story of Tony Webster and his memories of his friends and girl friends from school.

The novel is downcast and dreary but meanders through Tony's memories of his young adulthood and his relationships with a sense of nostalgia and regret. The ending surprised me and I may have to read it again to see what I missed on the first quick reading. Well written and honest, I loved this introspection and meaningful novel.


What She Knew
by Gilly Macmillan

Rachel and her son Ben were on their usual Sunday walk in the woods near the park. She lets him run ahead to the swing but when she gets there Ben is missing.

Alternating between Rachel's point of view and the reminiscing of Jim, the lead detective, What She Knew starts out as an intense and emotion search for a missing boy. Right away, Rachel becomes a suspect in the media as viewers doubt her sincerity. She must prove her innocence while also recovering her missing son.

The novel got off to a great start but got bogged down in the middle--a very long middle. I nearly lost interest. The novel finally gains speed again toward the end and has a satisfying conclusion that almost felt too fast.


Alice I Have Been
by Melanie Benjamin

I've enjoyed other books by Melanie Benjamin and during a bout of insomnia read Alice I Have Been on my phone, in my bed, under the covers.

A researched historical novel about the life of the real Alice that inspired Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) to write the beloved novel Alice in Wonderland. Filled with the innocence and wonder of childhood, misunderstandings, scandal, love, loss and growing up, Alice Liddell lived an interesting life.

I didn't love the style of writing with this particular story. So much of it is just telling the story. Finally, as Alice starts to grow up and find love, things actually "happen". It was worth reading but I wasn't overwhelmed by it.


King Leopold's Ghost
by Adam Hochschild

My college friend picked King Leopold's Ghost as our book club read and I was excited. It's been a long while since I've read a history or a biography and I do enjoy both. Focusing on a time period that I am not overly familiar with, I liked learning more about the colonization of Africa. A horrible period of greed and corruption, King Leopold ruled the Congo with violence and butchery. It's an enlightening book on the wicked ends people will go to gain power and wealth. It was also interesting to see those who couldn't abide by the evil and actually stood up for it. I enjoyed the connecting between this book at the novel The Heart of Darkness.

While detailing the horrific atrocities committed in Leopold's Congo, Hochschild is quick to point out  that this is only a small amount of atrocities committed by colonizing countries throughout the world.  It was a valuable read. It was very dark and depressing and I read two lighter novels at the same time for balance.


The Last Anniversary
by Laine Moriarty

I loved Big Little Lies and enjoyed The Husband's Secret so when I couldn't sleep and was selecting an ebook to read in bed, The Last Anniversary jumped out at me. Sophie is surprised to inherit a house from her ex-boyfriend's aunt on Scribbly Gum Island. She's loved the island since she was a little girl and has always been fascinated by the unsolved Munro Baby Mystery. As Sophie moves onto the island, feelings are stirred up among the few residents and the truth will be discovered.

Written in the same easy and comfortable style as Moriarty's other novels, I read it quickly. It's cute and clever and witty. I enjoyed it though not as much as her other novels.


Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre - Review

Last Saturday, my family enjoyed the wonderful and fun production of Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre. Once again, we were thoroughly entertained and delighted by the classic story and the fun characters. The actors were so charming and/or wicked that we couldn't get enough.

I especially enjoyed Hook and Smee. Another very young member of the audience was so entranced by Hook that he warned him that Peter Pan was sneaking up on him. I loved how engaged the children in the audience were with the story.

I loved the children actors. Peter Pan and Wendy were both delightful and the lost boys were really darling. My kids enjoy recognizing some of their favorite actors from past shows. It makes me happy to see how much they are learning to love theatre and a higher order of entertainment.

The production was magical and endearing and fun, just like I expect Peter Pan to be. My kids loved it and even Thomas who is the world's toughest ten-year-old critic, enjoyed the show.

It's so cold outside, take your family inside for some quality entertainment. Don't miss Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre this season.

**We received complimentary tickets to Peter Pan. These are my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Monday, December 28, 2015

OurFamilyChef - Review

We all know how important it is to sit down with your family in the evening for family dinner. We've read the studies and heard the advice for years. And we believe it. We want it. We really do.

But it's hard. For a myriad of reasons, sometimes getting dinner to the table and getting the family around it at the end of the day is just really, really hard.

But we want that Chicken Marsala with mashed potatoes and green beans and we want to eat it too.

Let OurFamilyChef saves your family dinner. Three times a week, OurFamilyChef will deliver the prepared ingredients and directions for perfectly delicious meals that take a minimal time to cook and serve your family. For the week before Christmas, my family tried this service and here's how it went.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we received a bag of food. Each bag contained the ingredients for the meal already measured out and prepped. The chicken was already tenderized. The vegetables were fresh. You know when you watch those cooking shows on television and the foods are already measured out and chopped and ready in the little bowls and all the celebrity chef has to do is throw it in the pan? My dream. That dream is absolutely possible with OurFamilyChef. The meals took about 30 minutes to prepare and cook. The directions were so easy that I had my kids help and Rand made the dinner one evening when I was especially busy.

My kids enjoyed each meal. I despise broccoli but I tried the broccoli soup and I loved it. The Mongolian Beef was one of the best versions I've ever had of one of my favorite Asian dishes. I don't like working with raw chicken, but since it was already prepped and I just had to stick it in the pan, it wasn't bad and the results were delicious. I was impressed by the variety of the meals during the week.

Because the meals are proportioned for your individual family, there is less food waste and we rarely threw anything away or had leftovers. The meals are also balanced meals and it was nice to know my kids were getting healthy meals.

While I enjoy cooking, I often struggle with coming up with meal plans every week and I despise grocery shopping. Since, the meals were nearly restaurant quality for a fraction of the price, having OurFamilyChef deliver food to cook at home is actually more economical than going out to eat. Having OurFamilyChef introduce new ideas into our family dinner was so refreshing and spiced up our family dinners. The kids were excited to come to the table and try the new food.

Chicken Bellagio

Broccoli Cheese Bread Bowls & Wedge Salad

kid sized portion of Mongolian Beef
kid sized portion of Chicken Marsala with Creamy Mashed Potatoes

As a family, we loved the meals from OurFamilyChef. As the mom, I was thrilled to have some of the pressure of preparing dinner taken off my shoulders. Wednesday is our craziest night. The kids start running to their activities at six so we have less time to eat. Because we were able to make the OurFamilyChef dinner so quick we were still able to sit down as a family to eat before we had to run out the door. I was much less stressed and therefore a much happier mother. We actually enjoyed sitting down to dinner together, which is probably what the experts had in mind.

OurFamilyChef's website has recently been updated with a FAQ sheet that can answer all your questions. They currently deliver to all of Utah County and South Salt Lake County.

Follow OurFamilyChef :

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**I received a week's worth of meals from OurFamilyChef. These are my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Winner of CanvasPop Give-away

The winner of the CanvasPop Give-away is...

Yvie Field

Please contact me before January 1, 2016 to claim your prize.
If I haven't heard from you by then, a new winner will be chosen.

Thanks for entering.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CanvasPop Give-away!!!

I don't even want to admit to how long it's been since we took a true "hang-it-on-the-wall" family picture. Let's just say that at the time we took our last picture, two of my kids weren't in school yet. This fall I was determined to take a family picture. My sister took a picture of us while we were together in Star Valley but my kids were wearing hoodies and it just didn't satisfy me.

I stressed about what we'd wear and where we would go and who would take the picture. And then the weather got cold or it was windy. So we procrastinated some more.

Last week we finally had a day that was fairly mild temperatures so as soon as the kids got home from school, I announced that we were taking family pictures. I pulled clothes out of their closets and combed their hair. I grabbed my camera and the tripod and we headed out into the "boonies" that is our view from our bedroom window.

I read the camera manual on how to operate the timer function on the drive. We set up the camera and the shot and I ran to squeeze in between the kids. We took seven shots and we were completely satisfied with one.

As soon as I got home, I sent a file for our favorite shot to CanvasPop to print. I've been admiring the canvas printed family pictures and I was anxious to finally get a canvas print of our family. At the same time I added the picture to a pre-designed greeting card from Costco and ordered them.

I picked up my cards from Costco last week and I was disappointed. The colors of the picture seemed dull and a little blurry. I was really worried about my print from CanvasPop.

The canvas arrived yesterday and I couldn't have been more pleased. The colors are vibrant and the picture is crisp. It's really just very, very beautiful--so pretty that it made me want to cry. 

We still need to figure out just where to hang it on the wall and whether or not to hang it by itself or in a gallery wall of photos. But that will come.  In the meantime, Rand stuck it on the wall so we can admire it. I really do adore it.

CanvasPop offers a quality product and turns your pictures into art. Whether you took the picture with an expensive DSLR or your iPhone, CanvasPop can do wonders. They have a "Love it for Life" guarantee. No matter what. With wonderful service and high quality, CanvasPop can turn your picture into a priceless heirloom. They have a wide variety of sizes and options. I'm already scheming and dreaming up a gallery wall.

For the next two months, you can save 35% off your order at CanvasPop with the code : UTAHMOM35 -- This might just be the perfect Christmas gift for just about anyone on your list. 

And right now CanvasPop is giving away a 16x20 inch canvas to one lucky reader. 

To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to entries until Tuesday, December 22nd 11:59pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Wednesday, December 23rd. Contest is open to US residents only.

**I received a complimentary 16x20 canvas from CanvasPop. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own. I really, really do love it!**

Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters's Stuff - Book Review

I'm right in the middle of Christmas shopping. I know! I know! I totally procrastinated this year. But I'm willing to bet that I am not the only one. I happen to have an awesome gift idea for your favorite foodie. Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters' Stuff is an absolutely gorgeous cook book.

I've been a fan of the Six Sisters' Stuff blog for years. Their recipes have never failed me. So, when I saw their newest cookbook I was instantly a fan. With stunning photography for every recipe (I pretty much never make a recipe unless I see a picture of it first) and easy to follow instructions, I was able to recreate the delicious treats.

My kids came home from school the day the cookbook arrived and immediately started looking through it. They were practically drooling. Each of the kids marked their favorite recipes and even now there are little bookmarks scattered throughout it.

The cookbook includes recipes for all seasons and is divided into sections to make finding the perfect dessert easy as pie. I love that they even included a section with recipes for kids to make too. Most of the recipes involve typical ingredients that aren't hard to find or overly expensive. You probably already have most of it in your pantry already. I love that because so often when the desire to bake hits me it is not accompanied by a desire to also run to the grocery store.

Honestly, just looking at this cookbook makes me smile. Add this beautiful cookbook to your shopping list this Christmas season and get one for yourself too.

Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters' Stuff is published by Shadow Mountain and released in September 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Sweets & Treats. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Salt Lake Acting Company - Art Dog - Ticket Give-away

Tonight is the opening night of ART DOG at the Salt Lake Acting Company. Last year my family was thrilled to attend their production of FROG AND TOAD. We loved the show and the Company did a wonderful job of making the kids feel welcome and entertained. You can read more about that show *here*. 
SLAC welcomes its youngest audiences to ART DOG adapted for the stage by John Olive, composed by Susan Ennis, and based on the book by Thacher Hurd. By day, Arthur Dog is a mild-mannered museum guard; by night, he is Art Dog – a mysterious artist who makes the city his canvas. However, when Leonardo Dog Vinci's Mona Woofa goes missing from the Dogopolis Museum of Art, Art Dog is a prime suspect.
ART DOG plays through the month of December and I have four tickets to the show on December 11th available for a give-away. To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open through Monday, December 7, 2015 at 11:59pm MST. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 8th.

Also save $3 off your tickets when you use the code UTAHMOMSLIFE
Find out more and see the schedule at the Salt Lake Acting Company.
                                                               Website             Facebook             

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Penguin Lessons - Book Review

Tom Michell was a young Englishman teaching at a boys school in Argentina. While on a quick vacation in Uruguay, Tom discovers a live penguin in the midst of the hundreds of oil-covered deceased penguins washed up on the beach. Unable to walk away from the struggling penguin, Tom rescues him.

In the delightful The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell, he recounts his story with the lovable penguin and life at the boarding school. Named Juan Salvador, the penguin becomes a sort of mascot for the boys at the school. The story is endearing and thoughtful.

I read the first few chapters of Tom's initial encounter with the penguin and his attempts to clean and rescue him from the deadly oil, aloud to my family while on a road trip. The kids were completely enamored by hearing about the adventures of Tom and the penguin. Though I read the rest of the book by myself in an evening, I think my kids would enjoy the rest of the book. It's a fun book for the entire family.

Every now and then, it's just nice to read a nice story. The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell is a story to share with your kids and your parents and your grandparents. It's funny and tender and hopeful. I kind of want a pet penguin now. The heartwarming story combined with the whimsical cover, makes The Penguin Lessons a great stocking stuffer this season too.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell is published by Ballantine Books and released in October 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Penguin Lessons. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

All of Us and Everything - Book Review

Esme, Liv and Ru never knew their father. Their mother told them that he was a spy, but the girls didn't really believe her. After their eccentric childhood, the dramas and choices led them in different directions.  Now fate has brought the sisters back to their childhood home and the fury of Hurricane Sandy has unearthed the secrets that their mother has been keeping from them their entire lives. In All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, the sisters and their mother will discover whether or not it is too late to try to salvage their familial relationships.

I had a hard time getting into All of Us and Everything. There were a lot of different characters and the novel switches point of view rather abruptly so I initially struggled to make sense of the characters. However, once I got to know the characters and could tell them apart, the story took over and I quickly got swept up in the craziness and antics of the Rockwell family. I read the last two thirds of the novel in an evening that definitely pushed into my sleeping time.

However, the characters still felt two dimensional and lacked chemistry in their interactions with each other. Their relationships remain superficial and the conclusion is rather abrupt. It ended up being a quick read for me and at moments it was fun but overall I was underwhelmed. All of Us and Everything is definitely a forgettable novel for  me.

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher is published by Bantam on November 24, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of All of Us and Everything. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**