Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My 7 Favorite Reads of 2014

Well, it's that time of year again. Everyone is reminiscing about the past year, making their best whatever lists. I've got my fair share of lists happening, too, but this is my favorite one to share. My favorite reads of 2014! This year the selection is a bit diverse, and not too long. I didn't read as much as usual this year. In fact, I don't even think I'll make it to 40 books, never mind my goal of 50 :( But it was such a fun year of adventures and fun that I can't complain. I'll just have to try harder next year :) So let's talk books now.


Let's All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

This list isn't in much of an order, but this book is definitely my favorite book of the year. So much so, that I bought copies for a few of my girls to make them read it. It is SO. GOOD. I just, I can't even explain to you what this book means to me. Annie writes in a way that is simple and inspiring and makes me want to be her best friend. Her manner, her thoughts, her subject matter are something that I related to so much, even while thinking "she's so much braver than me", but that just made me braver in my day-to-day life, all at the same time. I finished reading this book in early September and it hasn't left my coffee table. I can't bear to put it away yet. Just seeing it on my table every day, thumbing through the highlighted passages every so often, inspires me to be my best self, my bravest self. I could go on and on about how much I love this book, but just go out and buy this book. Now.


The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

I kept seeing this one floating around the interwebs and in my DnB groups, so I finally broke down and bought it. And I am so glad I did! This is a great companion to Let's All Be Brave. Chris shares the stories of people who have undertaken quests of all shapes and sizes to find their purpose in life and breaks down the common traits to inspire the reader to find their own Quest. I still have no idea what mine really is, but I'm inspired and searching. This book flew by and was so interesting and encouraging. 


Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

This is the most fun and creative autobiography ever. I love NPH, and when I learned he had a book out, I immediately headed to the bookstore to get it. I was already in my pajamas for the night, but I changed to jeans and went to buy it, then read it in a day. He wrote the whole story in second person narrative like the choose your own adventure books of old. You choose how the book plays out, which stories you read in which order. It was fantastic! It was such an entertaining read from an entertaining man and made me love him even more.


What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Okay, quick little disclaimer: this book is not a clean read. Kristin's lifestyle and my own are very different. But we do share the travel addiction, and that made me absolutely love this book. The way she describes her relationship with travel finally gave me a way to put my own into words. She understood the feelings I get when I travel, and when I don't travel, in a way I haven't been able to describe or find someone else who relates. Her search for herself was absolutely relatable. Take out the massive drinking and crazy sexcapades, and I think we're the same person. Right down to travel injuries.


Impact by Casey Lewis

I read two finance books this year: this one and Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. And as I said in my review, I like Casey's better. I found him to be more relatable and down to earth, even while they both shared the same info and similar methods. Great tips and advice in a non-threatening manner. If you need to get your finances in order, check it out!


The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

I read the whole series this year, including Four just yesterday (thanks Chrissy!)! I loved this series! In case you don't know what it's about (have you been living in a cave?), the Divergent series follows Tris Prior in a dystopian future where society is divided into five factions based on the personal traits they most value. At 16, she must choose what faction she wants to be part of, even if it means abandoning her family. But, of course, nothing is as it seems and soon the world they've come to know is falling apart and Tris is at the center. This series is great! There is plenty of action and drama, romance, humor, you name it. And it fit in with the apparent theme of bravery my reading took this year. My biggest complaint is with Allegiant, and not for the reason most readers dislike it. I just found the Tobias sections super whiney, and he was never like that before! It made me really angry that he was being so whiney and made it tough to get through the book. So I try to pretend it didn't happen, because I really like Four. The rest of the series I love, especially getting to see into Tobias's past in Four.


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Ohmygosh, this book, ohmygosh. You guys, I LOVE this book. I think this should be up at the top, but I wanted to bookend this post with my top two favorites. Everything else is a random order, but this....this is definitely my favorite fiction read of the year. Fangirl is about an introverted uber-fangirl named Cath who is starting college with her twin sister- who seems to want nothing to do with her now that they're in college. So Cath sticks to herself, mainly writing popular fanfiction in her dorm room and avoiding the real world. Her roommate Reagan and the over-friendly Levi refuse to let her hole up completely, pulling her out of her shell and becoming an unlikely trio. Okay, that's not a great description. But let me just say, that if you fangirl over anything, you'll probably relate to this book. I loved that the main character was so introverted and socially awkward and slightly neurotic, because it was so so so relatable! I was laughing, I was crying, I was and am Cath. I flew through this book, too, reading it in less than 24 hours because I just couldn't stop. I NEEDED to know what happened. There was just so much to this book! So many turns and stories woven in. I didn't love the ending, mainly because it ended. I just wanted more! It left off at a very sweet moment, but I just wanted a little more...something. But ohmygosh, I just want to read it again, and I just finished it last week. If you fangirl or geek out about books, you need this in your life.

So that's it! My top 7 favorite books of 2014! What were your favorite books of the year?


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Intro to Iceland, and Gorgeous Gullfoss

One year ago, I went to Iceland for an awesome whirlwind of a long weekend. And for some reason, I never shared it here on the blog! So here's my first post about the gorgeous country of Iceland! There's not a whole lot of information in this post. But there's a bunch of pretty pictures. The adventures and stories will be coming in future posts.

This first photo is right around the corner from our hotel (Icelandair Reykjavik Natura).

Obligatory money shot (Icelandic Krona):


Picturesque random street downtown Reykjavik:


Our giraffe friend:


The Hallgrimskirkja. This church holds the record as the tallest building in Iceland, at 244 feet.


The interior is pretty sparse and basic, but houses a beautiful pipe organ. It's rumored that the bell tower has the best views in the city, but we were too late in the day to find out.


This may seem like a random photo, but it's the one that best captures the strange feeling I had the whole time. Unlike any other place I've been, the sky in Iceland seemed so close, the clouds so low, like I could reach out and touch them if I wanted to. Like the sky loved Iceland too, and was giving it a big hug.


After this little walk our first day in town, we were exhausted, but it was too early to go to bed. The hotel TV only had 5 channels (only 2 in English), so we were going to crowd around the Kindle except...


Sad day!  We wasted away the hours flipping the channels and trying to figure out how to order a pizza. That was our first adventure in Iceland. The website was only in Icelandic, so we called, and the man who answered the phone didn't know our hotel by name. So he asked for the address....which we couldn't pronounce and I attempted to spell....until: "umm, I don't have that letter in my language. It's like a curvy 'd' with a cross?" Thankfully, someone there knew where we were and we got our pizza!

Our first excursion was to the Gullfoss waterfall. But even before we got there, we had beautiful sights! Like these random hot springs seen from the bus:


The tour made a quick bathroom and coffee stop at this little strip mall that happened to be the victim of an earthquake several years back. The powers that be made the best of it by lighting the crack, laying some thick glass, and making it a tourist attraction. I felt super brave standing over this 6-foot-deep crack!


Then it was onto Gullfoss!


Fun story: see the first group of people in the above photo? That's approximately the spot where I slipped on the ice and slid downhill a good 10 feet, briefly wondering how Chrissy and Kathryn would explain my death-by-icy-Icelandic-waterfall to everyone back home (this would not be the last time this trip I had that thought...but those stories are for another post).

It's easy to see why this place is one of the top tourist destinations in Iceland. It's stunning.





So. Stinkin. Beautiful.


So I leave you with a group shot.


Have you been to Gullfoss (or Iceland in general)? What did you think?

Friday, October 17, 2014

"The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee"


I usually use stock photos of book covers for my reviews, but look at the cute certificate that came with this book (adorable old dog just for because he's asleep on me)! You can find the book here.
Okay, on with the review.

Some people label Candice as being "on the spectrum", but she just knows she's different. She takes things literally, she's caused her pet fish to have a religious crisis, and her best friend is from another dimension (maybe). On top of all that, her family is falling apart and she's the only one who can save it. Well, with a little help from her dad's estranged brother, Rich Uncle Brian.

I don't usually go for middle reader books (I didn't realize that's what it was when I requested it), but I really enjoyed this one! Jonsberg has written a witty kids book featuring a lovable, quirky character that's a little out there, but still relatable. It was an entertaining read as an adult, and I definitely would've felt the same as a kid! Go ahead and pick this one up.

3/5 Stars
Recommended.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"Impact: Get Rich! Be More Awesome! Change The World!"



I really enjoyed this book, and read the whole thing in one day of flights and airports. Casey Lewis draws on his personal experience to demonstrate what a healthy financial plan can do for even the most dire circumstances. He lays out a step-by-step process to get you in financial shape, no matter where you are in the journey, making it easy to get your money in order. More importantly, he makes a case for why you should get it in order.

This might get me in trouble with the FPU crowd, but I like Lewis' book more than Dave Ramsey's (if I get trampled by a gazelle or run over by a snowball, you all know why). Why can I say that? They share pretty much the same information and have a similar plan, but Lewis is very relatable in his writing style, it's quick to read and implement, and he makes it really easy to understand how to handle your money in a wise and responsible way.

If you're looking to get your money in order to have a healthy financial future, you need to read this. As grateful as I am for Ramsey's resources helping me get started on my own financial journey, Lewis' Impact is the book I'll be recommending more often than other financial books.

Highly Recommended, 5/5 Stars
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Acceleration"



Acceleration is a down and dirty, no-nonsense book about getting things done quickly and efficiently, providing you with maximum impact and influence.

In his first book, Matoga explains how to succeed in business and ministry using his nine time-tested Principles of Acceleration. These simple principles are explored through each chapter with a blend of business acumen, common sense, and Biblical standards in a simple but powerful way.

This book is an easy read packed with information to help you excel, and organized in an easy-to-reference format. You can easily pick it up anytime to get a quick refresher of whatever material you want. While several of the principles in the book have been stated before, Matoga uses his unique voice and outlook to make them pop, and strings them together to create a fool-proof attack plan for success.

If you're a leader in business or ministry, check out this quick primer to accelerated success.
Recommended, 4/5 stars.

This book is not yet released. I will post the link here when it is available.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Dirty Faith"



Christians are called to serve "the least of these", but what does that really look like? What does it mean to be a follower of Christ, and not just a believer in Christ? Nowell outlines this kind of life with a mix of personal stories, statistics, and scripture analysis to stir readers into action. Using his experience with street kids in Brazil, Nowell has a clear vision of what loving the orphan, widow, and prisoner actually means, and he does a good job or clarifying this call for the reader.

Dirty Faith is the latest release in the Christian social justice explosion, and I put it on par with David Platt's Radical. The message isn't radical or new; it's the foundation of a biblical Christian lifestyle. But in today's culture of self-centered faith and easy sacrifice, it's an important starting point for anyone looking to get back to New Testament Christianity. For those already involved in serving the least, this  book will not present anything new, but will confirm what you're working for. I'd recommended for anyone wanting to make a difference and not sure where to start, for anyone who feels like something is missing from their Christian walk.

3/5 Stars, Recommended.

I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Giant's Causeway and Northern Ireland

This post is part of my British Invasion 2014 series. For all posts in the series, click here.

We've reached the end of my Ireland posts (for this trip anyways). I think that's why this post has been so delayed. I felt like writing it means the trip is officially over with a capital "O". In reality, this isn't true, because the best trips never really end. They live forever in the mind of the traveler, replaying the memories over and over. So allow me to share my last day in Ireland with you, the Giant's Causeway/Northern Ireland day tour with Irish Daytours and our driver Bud. 

Warning: this post contains lots of pictures because they were all beautiful and I couldn't narrow it down to just a few.

This was a long day, since it's a lot of driving to get to Northern Ireland from Dublin, but it is a beautiful drive. The day started off rainy and foggy, so you couldn't see much of the scenery, but it made for it's own type of beauty. There's a big hill behind those clouds.


The rain and the twisty roads made for a bit of motion sickness, but the iconic Irish vistas helped a little.


We made a stop in this sleepy little riverfront town called Carnlough....or Larne. There were signs saying both, so I have no idea what it was actually called, but I enjoyed it.


They have a monument to a pigeon named Paddy here in Carnlough/Larne. It's got a plaque as big as the one commemorating a shipwreck.


Even in the fog, this is a beautiful and serene place.


After another while in the bus, the sun finally broke through the clouds, just in time for us to venture across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.



The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is suspended a hundred feet over the water, connecting the main land to a small island. In the past, this bridge (the scarier version, anyways) was used by fisherman. Currently, it's purpose is to make tourists like myself feel brave and daring. 


The noise of the waves, and the wind whipping my hair around made it a scary walk, though not as bad as I expected it to be. If you look closely at this picture you can see both the terror and excitement in my eyes as I cross. 


 Once you make it across, though, you're rewarded with beautiful views and the most stunning colors I've ever seen in real life. This whole day was like walking through a 120-count-box of Crayola crayons.



 I'd love to come back here someday with more time to explore the hiking trails all around the area.


Lunch was a quick stop at the very touristy -but delicious- Chilly McCools. I've seen mixed reviews online, so here's my two cents: It's Irish fast food. It doesn't claim to be anything super special, and it's obviously a tourist stop, with a cafeteria style. But they did have good food. I had the Steak and Guiness pie. Yum.


Then it was on to the main event: The Giant's Causeway! FYI, when I have a husband and kids, I plan to be this family:


As hard as it is to narrow down my favorite part of this trip, Giant's Causeway (this whole day, really) comes close.


It's so classically Ireland, and there's just something magical about it. So unlike any other place, while still being familiar. 



I mean, it's basically a "beach", right? Ocean meets land, just like home. But the rock formations make it something so different, so foreign, unlike anywhere else. 



Then there's the little surprise ecosystems happening in some of the crevices.


I can't put my finger on why I loved this place, I just did. So much. 





 Really wish I could've stayed longer, just relaxing on these rocks. Someday.


I couldn't resist putting my feet into the "wrong" side of the Atlantic, thinking about how crazy it is that this same water touches the shores of my home state.



Some visiting tips: Avoid the visitor center. According to Bud (we didn't test it ourselves), the visitor center charges just for admission to the building! We just headed straight to the Causeway. There is about a mile walk from parking to the Causeway. They do have a shuttle service for a pound each way, if you need it, but if you're able, I recommend the walk. It's gorgeous, and not difficult.

Our last stop of the day was in Belfast. We didn't have long, and we arrived late in the day, so almost everything was closed, even the church-headquarters-turned-mall. All we did in Belfast (besides take a few photos of the gorgeous architecture) was eat dinner at the famous Crown Liquor Saloon.


On our way home, we had to stop for a few minutes to let the cows cross. It was a great way to end our first Irish adventure!


Have you been to Carrick-a-rede or the Giant's Causeway? What did you think?


Disclaimer: I am not cool enough to have affiliate links or sponsors (at least not yet). All opinions are strictly my own, and all links are shared because I think they're awesome.
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