Saturday, February 20, 2016

King Spa

Place: King Spa
Location: Chicago, IL

My husband and I got a Groupon for this AWESOME place when we saw it advertised on Facebook. We'd never realized that it was less than a mile from our home, and we regret it so much! We're getting ready to move (again) in just a few weeks, so we can't take advantage of it too many more times. It's a shame because there are year-long subscriptions, and we would have jumped on that in a heartbeat.

Oh, well. Suffice to say, we LOVED this place. There are eight steam rooms, and the whole point of the place is to relax. We sat and enjoyed letting the hours slip by while breathing the warm, moist air. It worked wonders on my sore throat. I went home almost completely healed. Hooray!

The tubs (separated by gender) were very relaxing. It was a little awkward stripping down to my birthday suit with so many strangers, but I got over it pretty quickly. There were three temperatures of tubs: HOT, warm, and ICY. I jumped from one to the other in intervals and followed it up by sitting in the steam room. Then I showered and did it all over again.

Hydration-wise: There were several water fountains and water coolers. You will not dehydrate unless you don't pay attention to your body.

Food-wise, there was a Korean restaurant inside. We had delicious meals that were light but filling.

King Spa is also located in Dallas. If you're anywhere near one, GO THERE! You'll probably find a Groupon or Living Social coupon somewhere, and it's well worth the experience. Enjoy!

Islam: A Short History

Title: Islam: A Short History
Author: Karen Armstrong
Genre: Non-Fiction, Religion

Karen Armstrong is an excellent author if you want to learn a complicated subject. She breaks things down into simple parts and explains them thoroughly without making the reader feel dumb. She handles the history of Islam in a handful of chapters, going through each major period with minor sub-titular breaks.

Islam has long been a subject I wanted to know more about, but all the books I tried were just a little too involved or a little too dry. Now that I've got this one in my brain, I'll probably be able to handle the more complicated ones. Thanks, Karen Armstrong!


Title: Pygmalion
Author: George Bernard Shaw
Genre: Play

Oh, George Bernard Shaw. I just love reading his plays. They're snappy and witty and fun.

This, of course, is the play on which My Fair Lady is based. It is really fun. Reading Shaw's intended accents for Eliza sort of turned my mind in loops-it's such a strong, harsh language!

And the ending is much different. Shaw wrote it much differently than the movie had it. There will be no spoilers here, so read it and discover Eliza in her true sharp glory.

All the Light We Cannot See

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Genre: Fiction, World War II

I finally figured out why everyone's been talking about this book. Wow, is it fantastic! I loved every minute of it. There are two points of view we read this from: a German soldier's and a blind French girl's. Doerr handles the transitions flawlessly, moving you from one mindset to another, always cleverly weaving the story like Charlotte did her webs.

I especially loved Doerr's attention to details. It was so easy for me to picture the buildings, the cities, and the people themselves. The scent of the bakery and the sea of the coast of St. Malo drifted into my mind as though I was there. This was definitely a highly sensory book, and I loved it.

Enjoy this one!

Twelve Years a Slave

Title: Twelve Years a Slave
Author: Solomon Northup
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography

Oh. My. Goodness. I read this on the heels of watching Amazing Grace (completely unplanned). I truly don't know how anyone would have read this in the 1850s and still thought slavery was an acceptable thing. Mr. Northup wrote this beautifully: he includes the joys of his life despite the wicked cruelty surrounding him in the Louisiana antebellum period. I sobbed during several chapters, hurting for him, wishing I could step into the book and cart him away to his family in New York. Definitely moving, powerful, and eye-opening. 

I am so thankful slavery is no longer permissible here in the States and look forward to a day when there is no longer any slavery anywhere. Read this slowly, with purpose and compassion. Learn the horrors and work to prevent them!

The Thirteenth Earl

Book: The Thirteenth Earl
Author: Evelyn Pryce
Genre: Romance, Mystery

This was a really quick, really easy read. This is a typical romance in that the characters weren't too deep, there was a lot of "romantic angst", and the plot sped along. For me, this was a "finish in two sittings" type of read, and although it was fairly shallow, I still enjoyed it. 

There were some fun historical references to the Spiritualism movement in England that I didn't know about. Consequently, I spent some time on Wikipedia learning more about it, so hey-this book got me to learn something new! 

I liked how the heroine wasn't the typical simpering lass, but she had too many "woe is me" moments for my sensibilities. Overall, the three female leads were good blends of strong and weak, and they allowed me to get through the book. The three male leads were typical of this genre: focused on one thing and good-looking.

Figuring out the plot was fun. The "cursed" earl tries to drown himself in alcohol in order to escape his sad existence. The spunky heroine falls for him against her better judgment, especially because she's been engaged to his cousin for nearly a decade. Mysterious accidents and events occur, and the heroine sets out to prove her love isn't cursed by anything other than a dastardly human.

If you're not into sex scenes, there are some pages you'll need to skip. If you are, they're rather decent-just enough to stimulate the brain, not too much that leaves you thinking "enough already".

If you're in need of some easy on the brain entertainment, The Thirteenth Earl fits the bill.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Night Without Armor

Book: A Night Without Armor
Author: Jewel
Genre: Poetry

I have been a HUGE fan of Jewel's since high school, c. 1995. I purchased this book when it was published in 1999. Sadly, it got lost some time ago during one of our many moves. I love Jewel's honest voice and how she plays with words to bring depth and richness to her ideas.

Today, I just finished listening to the audiobook version of A Night Without Armor, which is read by Jewel. I highly recommend listening to her read her poetry. Her voice lilts and deepens, and her dry, understated humor all make the words dazzle the ear. After years of listening to her music, reading her books (most recently, Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story), and growing up in general, I understand her poems so much better. They are beautiful for the truths and observations Jewel catches in the world around her. They evoke sadness and longing while her wit shines in the happier poems.

Read or listen to these poems slowly. Enjoy the sketches included in the book. Rewind your audiobook if you're listening. This collection is a pleasure best taken in small bits at a time.

Happy reading!

Esperanza Rising

Book: Esperanza Rising
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Genre: Children's
(No spoilers)

As with George, I didn't realize this was a children's book. I just looked up "book with a woman's name in it" for my annual reading challenge, and since Esperanza is a Hispanic name, I thought, "Bingo!"

This is a lovely children's book, and I can't wait for my own kids to discover it. I'm partial to it because it's got a bit of Mexican history in it. Being half Mexican, I like learning more about "that side's" history. I know a lot of American history already. :)

Esperanza starts her story as a wealthy teenager who knows nothing about the world except for what goes on in her hacienda. When her father is killed and danger comes to her mother, grandmother, and herself, Esperanza is thrust into whole new worlds: poverty, work, illness, exhaustion, America. Watching her deal with all these new experiences in 1930s California is touching.

The epilogue gives us some more insight on why this subject is so important to Pam Munoz Ryan. It's actually a dark time in American history, and very few of us realize it. Read this with your pre-teen and have fun discussing a slew of different concepts about life, privilege, work, and courage.


Book: George
Author: Alex Gino
Genre: Children's
(No spoilers)

I finished this book pretty recently. Honestly, I didn't realize it is a children's book. It was very good, though. The first three chapters put their talons in me, and I couldn't put it down until I was done. I actually wanted to re-read it, but I have a ton of books on my reading list and don't have the luxury of doing that right now.

George is moving because the narrator, a boy named George is so honest and raw. He is trying so hard to be a good person who is true to himself while preventing the people he loves most from emotional injury. Gino artfully tells the story, and I love how he put everything together at the end, moving things to good despite knowing George is going to have a tremendous uphill battle in his life.

It's an easy read if you don't dig, but I highly recommend giving George a few extra minutes to settle down and think about. Let it inspire you to look at things differently. Give yourself some time to look at any issue you're passionate about from another perspective. See if you can maybe work to resolve things peacefully or in a more loving manner. All people are different, all people want to be respected. How can we honor that while clinging to our own morals?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Return of Me

Well, it's been years. I don't know what I've done with myself other than go through two deployments, homeschool our kids, move several times, and love my husband.

I'm embarking on a new adventure: Professional Reading. Since my annual goals always include something about reading at least eight books a month, I figured it was finally time to get serious. It's not paid or anything, but I'll be sharing my reading views with the world. Tell me what books you recommend, and I'll add it to the list (it's about 100 strong right now, so it may take a little while!).

Professional Reader