Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family's Lives Forever by John Marshall (Book Review)

Disclosure of material connection- I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest thoughts. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions stated are 100% my own.

About the book-

For readers of Three Cups of Tea; Eat, Pray, Love; and Wild comes the inspiring story of an ordinary American family that embarks on an extraordinary journey. Wide-Open World follows the Marshall family as they volunteer their way around the globe, living in a monkey sanctuary in Costa Rica, teaching English in rural Thailand, and caring for orphans in India. There's a name for this kind of endeavor - €”voluntourism - and it might just be the future of travel.
Oppressive heat, grueling bus rides, backbreaking work, and one vicious spider monkey . . . Best family vacation ever!

John Marshall needed a change. His twenty-year marriage was falling apart, his seventeen-year-old son was about to leave home, and his fourteen-year-old daughter was lost in cyberspace. Desperate to get out of a rut and reconnect with his family, John dreamed of a trip around the world, a chance to leave behind, if only just for a while, routines and responsibilities. He didn'€™t have the money for resorts or luxury tours, but he did have an idea that would make traveling the globe more affordable and more meaningful than he'd ever imagined: The family would volunteer their time and energy to others in far-flung locales.
Wide-Open World is the inspiring true story of the six months that changed the Marshall family forever. Once theyĆ¢€™d made the pivotal decision to go, John and his wife, Traca, quit their jobs, pulled their kids out of school, and embarked on a journey that would take them far off the beaten path, and far out of their comfort zones.
Here is the totally engaging, bluntly honest chronicle of the Marshalls'€™ life-altering adventure from Central America to East Asia. It was no fairy tale. The trip offered little rest, Even less relaxation, and virtually no certainty of what was to come. But it did give the Marshalls something far more valuable: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conquer personal fears, strengthen family bonds, and find their true selves by helping those in need. In the end, as John discovered, he and his family did not change the world. It was the world that changed them.
My thoughts-
I have always had a desire to both travel and to help other people. As a teen I dreamed of being a missionary, taking care of orphaned children in Romania, joining the Peace Corps. I never had the courage to do any of them. Don't get me wrong, I do what I can from my home, but I think the desire to help in other corners of the world will always be there and maybe some day I will get to explore that a little, but for now I was delighted to live vicariously through the Marshall clean while reading Wide-Open World. Their time of service around the world led them to interesting places and showed them how there is a need for help (in so many varied ways) pretty much everywhere around the globe. The book takes us through their journey as they live and volunteer at an animal sanctuary where they became close with some primates, they worked at an orphanage in India (I suspect this was the hardest place for them to leave, having forged close relationships with many of the children), they taught English in Thailand and visited and served in so many other places. They learned things about themselves as a family and things about themselves as individuals and were changed forever because of it. It was fascinating to me to take a peek into the lives of people in different parts of the world, how things operated differently in each place. Not only did this trip give the Marshalls the opportunity to do good, it would set the course for where each of  their lives would go upon their return home...but I will let you read the book to find out just what that was! I absolutely recommend this book to anyone at all, I think we can all learn from this type of memoir, but I particularly recommend it to people who want to good, who love to travel, who enjoy adventure and who enjoy reading non-fiction. This is the type of book that I hope will become a movie someday. I would love to see the Marshalls' adventures come to life on the big screen!
Wide-Open World will be available on February 10. You can pre-order it on

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar (Book Review)

*Disclosure of material connection- I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest thoughts. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions stated are 100% my own.

About the book-

From the author of the acclaimed bestseller Holes, winner of the Newbery Award and the National Book Award, comes a new middle-grade novel with universal appeal. Combining horror-movie suspense with the issues of friendship, bullying, and the possibility of ecological disaster, this novel will intrigue, surprise, and inspire readers and compel them to think twice about how they treat others as well as their environment.
Be careful. Your next step may be your last.

Fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi and seventh grader Marshall Walsh have been walking to and from Woodbridge Academy together since elementary school. But their routine is disrupted when bully Chad Wilson challenges Marshall to a fight. To avoid the conflict, Marshall takes a shortcut home through the off-limits woods. Tamaya reluctantly follows. They soon get lost, and they find trouble. Bigger trouble than anyone could ever have imagined.
In the days and weeks that follow, the authorities and the U.S. Senate become involved, and what they uncover might affect the future of the world.

My thoughts-

Louis Sachar (pronounced SACKER) has been entertaining children for decades with his wonderful books. You would be hard pressed to find a kid from my generation who didn't devour Sideway Stories From Wayside School, a personal favorite of mine or There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom, another book I remember reading over and over again in elementary school. Fast Forward a decade or so and the kids of that generation will tell you that Holes is one of their very favorite books (rightfully so, as it is a Newbery winner and even spawned a movie version!) Sachar has penned over 20 books over the years and now he is back with Fuzzy Mud, a great children's novel that I think my children's generation will cherish. Tamaya and her neighbor Marshall take a shortcut through the woods one day to avoid a bully which sets off a series of events. Tamaya touches the fuzzy mud and immediately her hand feels weird. I like the writing style Sachar uses in this novel switching back and forth between the events that started with the fuzzy mud and a court case taking place that is related to those events. As in many of Sachar's books there are lessons weaved throughout. Fuzzy Mud focuses mainly on bullying, something pretty prevelant these days. It doesn't just focus on the bullied, but also shed's some light on the person doing the bullying. This is a great conversation starter about to broach the subject with your children or to get them thinking about bullying and what they can do to prevent it or that things aren't always what they seem. I definitely recommend Fuzzy Mud for any elementary aged children and I also recommend it to their parents. This would be a great book to read together and discuss!

Fuzzy Mud will be available on August 4, 2015. You can pre-order it on

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Skin Daily Skincare Solutions Rose Water Review

Disclosure of material connection- I received the product in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions stated are 100% my own.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I married into a Persian family and so I have been exposed to (and a huge fan of) rose water for several years now. I didn't think of using it on my face or body until a few years ago, but I am so glad that I finally figured out what a great skincare product it is and how wonderful it feels on my skin. I am also so happy to see it become a mainstream beauty product. There is no need to spend a fortune on several different beauty products for your face or to expose your body to the many chemicals most of them contain. This is a multi-functional product!

I absolutely love to use rose water for so many things, but let me tell you, it is pretty much the only thing you need to use on your face. It makes a terrific toner, cleanser and light makeup remover. I adore the lovely clean tingly feeling it leaves on my skin and the pleasant aroma that it leaves behind. Beyond using rose water on your face, it makes a great addition to do it yourself body care. I like adding it to homemade lotion and putting it straight into my bathwater for a fragrant, relaxing treat. I absolutely recommend adding this to rose water from Skin Daily Skincare solutions to your daily beauty regimen!

IGotTech Texting Gloves Review

*Disclosure of material connection- I received a product in exchange for my honest thoughts via Tomoson. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions stated are 100% my own.

I am excited to have received these gloves right before I am headed to Denver for a weekend with my husband. It hasn't been too cold very often this winter where we live, but we do have our cold days and these gloves will be a great help on those days. I tried them on and my one complaint would be that they are a little on the small side. They fit my small hands pretty well (besides being a tad tight on the wrists, but they will stretch out with more wear), but I would be concerned about someone with bigger hands trying to wear them. Beyond their functionality, I felt like these were appealing to the eye with the touch of grey on the texting fingertips. I look forward to using them quite a bit this weekend and during the rest of the cold days we might have this winter and in the coming years. 

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar (Book Review)

Disclosure- I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest thoughts. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions stated are 100% my own.

About the book-

London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.

Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Le
onard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.

But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative, and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa’s constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else.

The work of exciting young newcomer Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister exquisitely captures the champagne-heady days of prewar London and the extraordinary lives of sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.

About the book-

I will admit that while I believe myself to be fairly well read, Virginia Woolf is not an author I have really read much from. However, I find her story interesting and the people  her fascinating and I love reading novels that are inspired from true life people and situations. Vanessa and Her Sister is written to appear as a (fictionalized) journal written by artistic Vanessa, sister of Virginia. I like the idea of the writing style, but for some reason it just wasn't holding my attention the way would like it to and it took me a while to get through the book. I found the dynamic between the sisters and the dependence on one another, especially Virginia's dependence on Virginia, interesting to read. The exploration of mental illness in Virginia was something I won't soon forget. The most interesting thing to me is reading what life was likely like for an extraordinary group of talented artists at the turn of the century in a time where they were yet to be famous but trying to find their own footing. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Virginia Woolf or lovers of history. 

Vanessa and Her Sister is available at and other retailers nationwide.

About the author-

Priya Parmar is a former freelance editor. She educated at Oxford College and The University of Edinburgh. Her debut novel was Exit the Actress.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Clean Slate From the Editors of Martha Stewart Living (Cookbook Review)

Disclosure of material connection- I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest thoughts. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

About the book-

More than just a cookbook, Clean Slate, from the editor's of Martha Stewart Living, provides you with the nutritionally sound information you need to shop for and prepare food that nourishes body and mind. You'll find guidelines for restocking your pantry with whole grains, beans and legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats; glossaries of the best sources of detoxifiers, antioxidants, and other health-boosting nutrients; and menus for a simple 3-day cleanse and a 21-day whole-body detox, with easy-to-follow tips and strategies for staying on track.

My thoughts-

I saw Martha Stewart recently on Late Night with Seth Meyers and I knew immediately I needed to get my hands on a copy. To me, anything with Martha's name on it having to do with food is going to be fabulous and Clean Slate well exceeded my expectations.  The cover is simple but beautiful and the pages within the book follow the same theme. The first section of the book is full of information on what is good for your body vs. things that you should steer clear of. This is the most organized book of the sort that I have ever seen. After the pages giving you the foundation for healthy living there are a couple of detoxes to follow to give your body the recharge it may need, a 3-day and a 21-day full body detox. Each meal is completely laid out for you on both plans so there is no guesswork involved. My favorite part of the book, of course, are the recipes. As I have already mentioned, the recipe section is laid out beautifully with gorgeous pictures, but beyond that the recipes each include nutritional information and even have a note to what kind of diet each recipe is suited (labels include gluten free, nut free, dairy free, ect.) This makes it very easy for someone on a special diet to know which meals they can make as is from the book. I was very impressed by the breakfast and dessert sections. In most books, these two sections are full of recipes comprised mostly of grain and refined sugar, not so in Clean Slate. There are some tasty sounding savory breakfast recipes and the desserts while free of refined sugar still sound tantalizing and satisfying. I highly recommend this book to anyone at all who wants to get back to the basics, eat clean food and say no to all of the processed junk out there making so many of the people eating them very ill. This is a book worth having on a cookbook stand on your counter for very easy access!

Clean Slate is available at online retailers such as and at books stores and other retailers nationwide.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen (Book Review)

*Disclosure of material connection-  I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest thoughts. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions are 100% my own. 

About the book-

It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly.  As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.
Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies.  Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.
Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.
Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before.  And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.

My thoughts-

We all know the saying, don't judge a book by it's cover, but sometimes when a cover is this beautiful that alone will compel me to want to read it. Although you wouldn't be able to tell at first glance, this lovely cover convey a lot about the story within it's pages about several women in the Waverley family. First Frost is full of interesting characters, a touch of magic and lots of mystery, love and drama. I particularly liked following Bay's storyline, but I loved learning about all of the Waverley women and where they are in life and what sort of "Waverley Magic" they possess and what exactly that means to (and for) each of them. I loved the little touch of magic throughout the book surrounding the apple tree and the Waverleys, it added a nice spin to the story.  Sarah Addison Allen's previous book Garden Spells was also about the Waverley women so I definitely need to go back and read that. I am sure it contains even more back story to this very interesting family. I would recommend First Frost to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction. 

First Frost will be available on January 20. You can pre-order it on 

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