This Girl Likes #7

Ahh, Friday!  That glorious close to a week of work that looks back with satisfaction on what has been accomplished and with thankful eyes looks forward to a couple days of blissful inactivity – before it starts all over again.  Oh well.  We'll enjoy it while it's here.  Anyway, I've found a lot of fun stuff this week that I'm excited to share.

First of all, some tweets.  I really like Twitter, and there were a couple this week that made me laugh.

Also, I know this is pretty late, but I saw an awesome quote from Martin Luther King Jr. in my Twitter feed on MLK Day, and I thought I'd share it.  It's such a good one. 

Chris Pratt and Chris Evans made a pretty awesome Superbowl bet a couple weeks ago via Twitter, and I love it!  Read about it here.

I also discovered a new website this week about books (surprise, surprise) called Book Riot.  There are quite a few posts about YA books and feminism stuff, which I don't read, but they have some good ones once in a while, like this one, which offers some books to read if you enjoy Marvel's Agent Carter *raises hand* and this one, which lists plenty of offerings for anyone addicted to tea and books, preferably together, in large quantities. *raises hand again*

And finally, I am kind of freaking out about a new show I've found.  Last week, I was out of stuff to watch (oh, the annoyance of waiting for another Downton Abbey episode to be released), and discovered the show Arrow.  Oh. My. Word.  Now, I am an avowed Marvel fan, and a few weeks ago I am pretty sure I said that I would never watch anything DC, but, it was staring at me on Netflix, begging to be watched, so I caved, and I absolutely love it.  No spoilers (I'm only halfway through the first season), but the Green Arrow is a modern Robin Hood, and he is great.  That's all I'll say, but I am seriously hooked.  I love it way more than I thought I would.

That wraps up what I've been loving over the last week or so!  Have a great weekend, and I will be back on Monday to share the books I will review in February.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City

Time for my last book review of the month, and this one took me a while to get through.  It was a fantastic book, though, and so I'm excited to talk about it today!

Title: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of The Women Who Helped Win World War II

Author: Denise Kiernan

Publisher/Price: Touchstone/$10.12 here

Type: Nonfiction

Genre: History

Number of pages: 416

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overview: The Girls of Atomic City is a narrative-like story of the lives of several women and women as a whole in Oak Ridge, the secret boom-town in Tennessee where thousands of people were put to work by the government on a top-secret Project during World War II and promised that their work would help bring a speedy end to the war.  For many mothers and sisters of boys fighting overseas, the job was a dream come true.  There was a catch, though.  No one living in Oak Ridge, and working on the Project had any idea what exactly it was that they were working on.  The work was compartmentalized and information about anything had to be scraped together in a little heap of "maybes" and "what ifs."  If anyone started getting too curious, they disappeared.  The residents of and workers at Oak Ridge tried to ignore the strangeness of the secrecy and put their heads down.  If they were given a chance at bring their loved ones home soon, nothing was going to deter them.  As they learned at the end of the war, the Project was actually the first atomic bomb.  The Girls of Atomic City is a story of a forgotten chapter, even an unknown one, a story of wartime necessity and American perseverance.

My thoughts:  I picked this book up at Barnes & Noble shortly after I finished Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, and I was hoping it would be very similar – a story-like retelling of the lives of extraordinary people.  In many ways, it was.  Kiernan was able to weave the individual stories of several women who worked at Oak Ridge (and whom she was able to talk to in person) with the greater story of what was going on in the secret town.

Unlike LTSS, though, I didn't whiz through this book.  I didn't read it a day like I did LTSS, and it took me a while to get through.  That's okay, though.  It's nonfiction, and it's rare that I cannot put a nonfiction book down, so I'm counting LTSS as an exception.

Despite the fact that I didn't fall in love with The Girls of Atomic City, I learned so much.  Like, I had no idea – not a clue – that there was an entire town dedicated to working on developing the atomic bomb.  That was never in any history textbook I read, ever.  And believe me, I had a very thorough history class.  I had always assumed the atomic bomb was developed way out in New Mexico, in the middle of no where by a small group of genius scientists with lots of time and money on their hands who figured out how to make sand jump in the desert.  I can easily say that I definitely learned something from this book.  It kind of blew me away, really.  I had no idea that the government gave people jobs and ordered them not to speak of what they were doing, or not to ask questions, or asked them to make huge sacrifices to work on something about which they had no idea.  Frankly, some parts of Oak Ridge and its rules seemed straight out of a book by George Orwell.  But I also understand that World War II, or any war, for that matter, could not have been won without the government temporarily changing and making exceptions.  I get that.

But, let's get back to the book.  As I said, I learned a ton from it, and I've said before that I read nonfiction to learn something.  If it moves me emotionally, that's just a bonus.  So, yes, I really enjoyed this book.  There were several times I'm pretty sure I gasped or read a part to my parents, like: "Dad, did you know...", or "Oh. my. word.  Listen to this...".  One of my favorite things Kiernan did with this book, was after every chapter of talking about Oak Ridge, she would write a short chapter about Tubealloy, which was some form of plutonium, which was used in making the atomic bomb.  These chapters were absolutely fascinating and they helped me realize how crazy powerful the atomic bomb was, how powerful even the chemicals/stuff that made it up were.  For example, when the bomb was first tested in New Mexico, "the Test Gadget annihilated the steel tower and carved a crater six feet deep and 1, 200 feet in diameter.  The temperature at the center of the mass of fire was four times the temperature at the center of the sun (Kiernan 237)."  That's crazy!

Finally, I gotta talk about the writing in this book.  Denise Kiernan is an ah-mazing writer.  She has such a way with words and is able to create beauty with them.  Even when talking about technical stuff and chemicals and experiments, the way she uses words gives what she writes about so much more force and conviction.  She is such a talented writer.  I shared one instance of this in last week's grammar post, but I wanted to share a few more, because they are so good.

In a chapter when she was explaining the secrecy and "mum's the word" attitude in Oak Ridge:

"But many Oak Ridgers didn't see it that way.  These disparate residents had come together to work, to love, to get married, and plant Victory Gardens behind makeshift trailers and cemesto prefab homes  They fought to smile through the lines and the mud and the long hours, dancing under the stars and under the watchful eyes of their government, an Orwellian backdrop for a Rockwellian world. (166-167)"   

Describing how one of the women ingeniously repurposed scrap metal into a biscuit pan:

"From the warped, discarded metal of a top secret war plant to her hands came a simple pan and some fresh biscuits. (171)"

There are so many more places throughout the book where the power of the writing stopped me.  It was an awesome book for the writing alone.

If you are history nut like me and love learning about the lesser-known parts of it, check out The Girls of Atomic City.  It's an amazing story about a time when Americans felt compelled to "do their bit" because there were lots of other people doing their bit in a much harder way and the least those at home could do was anything.  It's a beautiful story about sacrifice and love and a different way of life in a different time.

That wraps up this month's last review!  Thanks for reading, and I'll be back tomorrow to share some stuff recently liked (and loved).  xo, Ella


Book Review: The Monogram Murders

Hello and happy Monday, if there is such a thing!  I am here today to review the newest addition to Agatha Christie's series of books about the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.  This newest installment, however, is not written by the illustrious crime-writer herself, but by Sophie Hannah, who also writes psychological thrillers.  I picked this up in Barnes & Noble and my high expectations were more than met.  But, enough talking, let's get to the review.

Title: The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery

Author: Sophie Hannah

Publisher/Price: William Morrow/ $19.70 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Mystery

Number of pages: 320

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overview: Hercule Poirot is supposed to be taking a short hiatus from his usual mystery-solving, to "restore the little gray [brain] cells" as he would say, when his friend, Mr. Catchpool (police detective) becomes involved in unraveling a murder.  With diabolical twists and turns, the mystery takes the duo to an obscure village with a shameful secret, introduces them to a painting that seems to be hiding things, and leads the iconic detective through a complicated maze of motives and time stamps that will, by the end, have you wondering about the integrity of your "little gray cells."

My thoughts: As I said in my "On the Stack" post for January, I was introduced to Hercule Poirot late last year when perusing my library's stash of Agatha Cristie books.  After reading a couple of those, (I speak about one here) I got into the BBC Hercule Poirot series, which I spoke about here and absolutely LOVE.  Despite my apparent obsession, I do not claim to be any sort of expert on Poirot or on Agatha Christie's style of writing mysteries.  That said, I have seen a couple reviews of The Monogram Murders that rate it negatively because they think that Hannah strayed quite a bit from Christie's Poirot.  At first, I was extremely resistant to the idea because I really enjoyed the book.  But, I do see where they are coming from.  While Hannah has Poirot's every quirky detail down pat (his French phrases, his habits, his manner of speaking, his mustache, his attention to detail), there were a couple things even I recognized that were slightly un-Christie-y (what?), such as the very complicated and complex plot – I got majorly confused at several points.    And the simplicity of Christie's plots wasn't there.  When reading a Christie book, I get to the end and am always struck by the obvious conclusion to the mystery that was right in front of my face the whole time!  That was not the case with The Monogram Murders.  The plot was ingeniously crafted, but not quite in the vein of Christie's work.  I will link to a couple of those aforementioned reviews at the end of this post.

Moving on.  Despite all of that, despite the fact that The Monogram Murders was not a purely Christie book, I will admit that I loved it.  Because I am not a deeply-invested Christie fan (yet), I was able to enjoy the book more at face-value and was able to sideline any issues I had with the claim that it was a continuation of Poirot's legacy.  It was truly brilliant.  I loved the setting, the characters, and the plot.  Sprawled out on my bedroom floor, I whipped through it on a Saturday afternoon and there were a couple times I audibly gasped and had to stop and stare at the ceiling for a few moments because the plot had taken another impossible turn or new evidence had turned up.  I remember telling my mom it was the book I wished would never end.  Obviously, I get kind of involved in what I'm reading.

My favorite part of the book was definitely the plot, even though it got very confusing towards the end.  The unpredictability of it was what made it the sort of book you don't get bored with.  Lately I've had issues with books that seem to drag on and on, but The Monogram Murders was fast-paced, though not in the way an action film is fast-paced.  There were so many twists and turns and new discoveries and revelations that it never dragged or made me wish it would end.

Reading The Monogram Murders, I saw that Sophie Hannah is a brilliant writer.  She knows how to write, how to craft a genius plot, how to breathe life into unique, memorable characters, and if anyone was to try her hand at resurrecting the iconic Belgian detective, Hannah seems like one of the best.  Perhaps Agatha Christie is just one of those people whose work cannot be duplicated or copied – one of those people who has a certain magic only they can inject into their writing.

All in all, I loved The Monogram Murders as an addition to the story of Hercule Poirot.  But to claim that it is "The New Hercule Poirot Mystery" and put Christie's iconic signature on the front – that may be overdoing it a little.  But apart from that, it was a fantastic and brilliantly-crafted mystery with a mind-blowing plot and I would be happy to read it again.  If you are a lover of mystery, I would highly recommend it.

Negative reviews: The Guardian, Express UK

Positive reviews: Washington Post, The New York Times

There are many points from all of the above reviews that I agree with and I do not want to make this review sound like I am upset with Hannah's portrayal of Hercule Poirot.  Her book was remarkably Christie and Poirot-like – I don't think anyone could have done better – and I cannot begin to imagine how hard it would be to write such an iconic figure into a mystery and retain the style of the original creator.

That wraps up my second review of the month!  I will be back before Friday to share my final review.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


War & Peace: Week 3

Another week, another few chapters of War and Peace under my belt.  This week I read about the Russian army, and it was kind of boring.  I'm ready to get back to the more interesting high society.

It is October of 1805, and the army is stationed near Braunau in Austria, the home of their ally, Archduke Ferdinand.  The army is clean and orderly, despite their lack of decent clothing.  Pierre's friend, Dolokhov, has been demoted because of inappropriate clothing and is told that only if he proves himself in battle will he be promoted.  

In a Russian hussar camp near Braunau, Nicholas Rostov and his commanding officer, Denisof, are enjoying leisure time until a fellow officer, Telyanin, steals Denisof's purse and Nicholas demands it back.  When Nicholas publicly accuses Telyanin, he earns charges of insubordination from his superior officer.  

The Russian troops retreat over a river, pursued by the French.  The situation is chaotic: a Russian officer is nearly trampled as the army crosses a bridge, the splash of a cannonball into the water goes unheard, and orders are misunderstood.  The Russian hussars, Nicholas included succeed in burning the bridge to slow the French down, but at the loss of three Russian soldiers.  The commanding officers display their selfishness in overlooking the loss of life in highly praising the platoon.

This week's reading was fairly short, but that's a quick summary of what I read.  Either tomorrow or Tuesday I will have the second review of the month up!  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


Grammar Talk #1

Hello, hello!  As promised, I am here today to write the first post of a new series I'm doing about grammar, good writing, and anything else that has to do with English.  These posts are going to be super laid-back and not very structured, and most of the time I'll just share grammar-related stuff I've found.

For this first installment, I have a grammar mistake to share (read: laugh about) and some pretty amazing bits of writing from books I've been reading recently.

I took this picture a while ago of a remote control helicopter my cousin got for his birthday.  Now granted, it was probably made in China, and I'm assuming their grasp of the English language isn't stellar, but I just had to laugh.  Just in case the people who designed the packaging are reading this, the correct wordage here would be: easier to control, or more easy to control, though the first sounds better.  You're welcome. *wink*

On the subject of grammar, and since my book review this week was on The Glamour of Grammar, I want to share a paragraph from it that just makes my grammar-ly heart sing.  It's also kind of funny, which is never a bad thing.

Here, the author was trying to illustrate the power of punctuation (alliteration unintended) by showing a few famous telegraphs.  As you know, when sending a telegraph, the point was to keep the words to a minimum, so the sender had to economize.  My favorite of all of these is the last one.  Makes me happy.

I've been doing lots of reading in the last couple weeks in trying to get through my books for this month.  I spoke about The Glamour of Grammar earlier this week, and whenever I read books like that about writing or grammar, I automatically become more conscious of and alert to good writing.  Here are a couple instances where the writing stopped me in my tracks (er, page?).

This one is from The Girls of Atomic City, my third book to review this month which is taking me longer than I would like.  But this paragraph...

Sometimes I read something that just makes me marvel at words and the beauty they create when an author fits them together so expertly.  Look at that: "the hydrogen in the vinegar slammed into the bicarbonate..." What an awesome verb!  If you have ever put baking soda into vinegar, you would know that slammed is the perfect word to describe the reaction between them.  A good active verb can absolutely make a sentence.  Throughout the entire highlighted sentence, the author uses several powerful verbs: slammed, transformed, releasing, expanding, resulting.  Active verbs can be the vehicle for a sentence that sounds like the reaction it's describing.  The introduction of such a strong verb as slammed right in the beginning provides the launching point for the sentence, which sounds like a chemical reaction itself.  I love that.  

And finally, one more amazing use of words I found this week that just amazed me.  The sentence comes from a book I'm reading this month for the Snagged at the Library reading challenge, and it's called Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King.  The writing is fantastic.  Here's the sentence:
"The brilliance was painful, even though the sky was grey with unshed rain." (King, 5)
Look at the way the author describes the sky.  "...grey with unshed rain."  Isn't that beautiful?  To think of the grayness of the sky as being caused by rain that has not yet fallen.  Unshed rain.  When it rains, the sky sheds the water.  Just by using that one little word, the author immediately brings an image to the reader's mind.  I love it when a writer uses unfamiliar descriptions to describe something utterly familiar.  I'd never thought of rain as the sky shedding water, but I will now.  When writing is such that it not only provides a vehicle for whatever the writer wants to say but enriches the reader's comprehension and his or her vocabulary, I think that is the hallmark of good writing.  And because of that sentence, I am bound to love this book, whether I enjoy the story or not.

And that concludes this long rant of my nerdy obsession with writing and grammar!  These posts will probably be monthly and in largely the same unstructured format (oxymoron?).  Thanks for reading, and I will be back this weekend with an update on War & Peace.  xo, Ella


Series Spotlight: Lady Emily Series

I spoke about this series in my "books of the year" post for 2014, and I thought I'd do a slightly more in-depth post about it.  So far these are the only books I've read from the series, but I have a couple more from the library that I need to read.

The series is set in Victorian London.  The protagonist is a fashionable, scholarly, somewhat unconventional young woman named Emily.  I believe these are books 2 and 7 and in the second she is in a courtship-like relationship with a man, Colin Hargreaves, whom she is married to in the 7th.  The series is a mystery series.  Emily herself is not a detective per se, but she enjoys solving mysteries and they tend to just fall into her lap most of the time.  Her husband is employed by the British government for technically the same thing – he is a detective/policeman and she accompanies and helps him with his cases from time to time (that's the case with the 7th).

The plot of the 2nd book is fairly fast paced.  It is based in London during the "season," a time when prospective young men are encouraged to find a young woman, many times through the ladies' overly eager mothers who are not unlike Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice.  So glad I do not live in time when finding a husband is a woman's one and only goal in life!  However, I found the 7th one to get a little long and it felt a little dragged out towards the end.  I did enjoy it, though.

Let's talk characters for a minute.  I love Lady Emily.  I love that she's different from everyone around her and that she's not afraid to be herself and do the things she likes.  I loved the playful banter between her and Mr. Hargreaves in the 2nd book, and her witty personality is never overdone or overbearing.  I really enjoy her.  I also really like Colin.  He is the perfect gentleman.  His manners are impeccable and he honors Emily's wishes above his own.  I like that the books are about Emily, that the presence of him as her suitor, fiancee, and then husband is in the background.  I like books where there is a strong central character and where the author focuses on her.

Also, for just a second, Emily's mother.  She is hilarious and basically a reincarnation of Mrs. Bennet.  She and Lady Emily don't always get along, which is kind of entertaining.

And because you should know me by now, let's talk about some superficial things I did and did not like.  First of all, something I did not like.  Before Colin and Emily are married – while he's courting her – they have a kind of unofficial "pact" of minimal physical contact, or at least, Colin does.  Emily is always teasing him and trying to get a kiss when they separate, but he is fairly strict about it.  Not in a stern or fatherly way – you can tell he wants one as much as she does – but he is certainly more principled in this area than Emily.  They hint several times that something happened before that they wouldn't want to repeat.  This is all good and whatever, but I felt like in the 2nd book it's overstated.  Like the author doesn't think the readers remember and so she has to repeat the process every time Emily and Colin part.  Emily teases him for a kiss, Colin reminds her what "happened before," she agrees, and they go their separate ways.  It just happens a lot.  So that's my one beef, and it may have just been that one book, I'm not sure.  I don't appreciate when authors overstate something.

And then something I did appreciate.  I love the writing in these books.  The author's style perfectly fits the time period and the characters.  She does an amazing job at connecting the reader with Lady Emily.  It really bothers me when I can't connect with the main character in a book, and I have no problems with this series.  Emily is not completely transparent, but the author opens her up enough that the reader really feels like he/she knows her.  I love that.  I also appreciate that the romance is not overdone.  I love my historical mysteries full of history and mystery, with a little bit of romance woven throughout to keep me interested.  This series is perfect at balancing all three of those in a way that makes me love it.

I believe there are 9 or 10 books in the series, so be sure to check them out if you love historical mysteries!  Thanks for reading! xo, Ella


Book Review: The Glamour of Grammar

Title: The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to The Magic and Mystery of Practical English

Author: Roy Peter Clark

Publisher/Price: Little, Brown & Company / $13.00 here

Type: Nonfiction

Genre: Writing/Language

Number of pages: 281

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Format: The Glamour of Grammar is divided into 5 parts: Words, Points, Standards, Meaning, and Purpose.  It is further broken down into 50 small chapters.

Overview: Through the entire book, the author's goal is to instruct the writer how to harness the power and beauty of grammar in a way that it will benefit his or her writing and elevate it to new heights.  The book begins with the basics, dealing with words and punctuation, and then moves on to explain how one can use grammar to increase meaning in his or her writing.  Finally, the author explores how to get one's purpose across through grammar.

My thoughts: I loved this book.  For me, it seemed more practical than the other book I read by Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools, probably just because I know I will use the grammar stuff more than I will the writing tools.

This book is a book about grammar for a wide range of people – from the ones who love grammar (like me) to the ones who are self-proclaimed haters.  I reveled in every bit of it.  There were so many things I learned from it, but the book was also a good refresher for some of the grammar bits I forgot.  I think I enjoyed it more than Writing Tools because it seemed a lot more laid back for some reason.  Some of the chapters seemed more random, which I liked – it was just much more interesting to read.  The Glamour of Grammar helped me see grammar in a much broader way.  It's not just something essential for writing, but is such a key ingredient in being able to get a point across in writing or being able to move someone with your writing.  Grammar, far from being a set of unfeeling rules you had to follow to do well in the SAT, is such a rich part of the English language, and an understanding of its versatility and all around usefulness will make you a better writer.  I was very impressed by The Glamour of Grammar, and I came away from it with a deeper appreciation and respect for grammar and words and a better grasp of its role in good writing.

If you care about language or are looking to boost your writing skills, and even if you hate grammar, I encourage you to try this book out.  It made me laugh, made me happy, and hopefully what I learned from it will make me a better writer.  Oh, and I kind of love the cover.  Here's to using semicolons, respecting the rules of the apostrophe, and not being afraid to write a sentence fragment once in a while!

I will be back on Wednesday to share a new series I've been enjoying.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


War & Peace: Week 2

This week, I really began to enjoy War & Peace.  To the point where I was kind of disappointed when I finished the chapter.  I am sticking with the format I used last week, as it seems to work for now.

Boris, the guy I talked about in last weekend's post, and his mother, the impoverished but well-connected Princess Anna Mikhaylovna go to visit Boris's dying godfather, Cyril Bezukhov.  There, they are greeted by Vasili Kuragin.  Vasili is the heir in line to Count Bezukhov's fortune, due to Pierre Bezukhov's illegitimacy.  Vasili is worried that Anna Mikhaylovna will seek the fortune for her son.  While visiting the Count, Boris speaks to Pierre, who has been expelled from St. Petersburg, and invites him to dine at the Rostov's.  At the Rostov's dinner party, there is more talk of war and more flirting among the four young people.  After dinner, Natasha looks for Sonya and finds her crying because she is afraid her love for Nicholas will never amount to anything.  

Meanwhile, Count Bezukhov has had another stroke, this time with no chance of recovery.  Prince Vasili speaks to Princess Catherine Semenovna, a third potential heir, and tells her that the count has written a letter asking the tsar to legitimize his son Pierre, making him the full heir to his fortune.  The two schemers try to destroy the letter, but Anna Mikhaylovna stops them.  Pierre visits his father's room and sees the dying count, but leaves when he sleeps.  Shortly after, he passes away.  

At Bald Hills, Prince Nicholas Bolkinski's estate outside Moscow, the prince lives in seclusion with his daughter Mary.  After a difficult math lesson with her father, Mary receives a letter from her friend Julie Karagina.  In her letter, apart from the usual words of friends, Julie tells Mary of her sadness at Nicholas Rostov going to war and also informs her of Pierre's sudden inheritance.  Later that day, Mary's brother, Andrew Bolkinski arrives at the estate with his wife, Lise.  Andrew and Mary are very close siblings and he reveals to her and his father that he is unhappy in his marriage.  After dinner, he bids his father and daughter and wife goodbye as he leaves to go to war.

This week finished off "Part First" of the 16 parts.  I hope I continue to enjoy War & Peace now that I have been introduced to many of the characters and know a bit of what is going on.  I will be back on Monday with a review of The Glamour of Grammar.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


This Girl Likes #6

Hello!  I am so excited for this post today!  I haven't done a "This Girl Likes" post in forever, so this is going to be a doozy of a post, as I have a ton of stuff to share.  Let's get started!
  • Okay, so unless you've been hiding under a rock or don't like period dramas (what?), you probably know that Downton Abbey has aired for a fifth season.  I watch it through Amazon, and so far I am loving it.  I'm so glad it's back! *heart-eyes*  And because I am sort of (very) obsessed, I followed an awesome Twitter account called Lady Mary's Eyebrows.  Yes.  And it is absolutely great.  If you're a superfan like me, go check it out.  
  • Also, Agent Carter!  This show is amazing.  Peggy Carter is so good, and I love seeing a Marvel show set in the past as I really liked that in the first Captain America film.  She's all red lipstick, heels, and killer fighting moves and I am loving it.  I follow Hayley Atwell on Twitter, and I would totally recommend following her.  She's funny and seems like such a down-to-earth person I would totally want to hang out with IRL.  Also, this article is kind of the best.  Made me laugh way too loud.  
  • I've talked about She Reads Truth on the blog before, but this year they have a new plan to read through the entire Bible in a year.  I am following along in addition to their usual plans (John right now), and so far I'm really enjoying it!  You read from the Old Testament and New Testament on a given day, and that keeps it from getting kind of long.  
  • I have discovered a new blog thanks to a tweet – man, I love Twitter.  Anyway, it's a super fun and funny blog about pop culture stuff with a generous sprinkling of level-headedness and semi-profundity.  It's called The Sugar Box and this is an awesome post.  Also, this one.  K, stopping now.
  • I have new music I'm kind of in love with!  I literally discovered it like the day I wrote this which would have been yesterday, so yeah, I discovered it yesterday.  Anyway, it is a new album by Misty Edwards, and it is the best.  I am loving it right now!  I haven't bought it yet, I'm still listening on The Drop, but it is a fantastic album and my favorite songs are "Killing Me With Mercy," and "Sound of A Heart."  She is a indie/worship artist, and color me obsessed.  Her lyrics are beautiful and profound and so real.  Click on the link above and go have a listen!
  • I have found so many neat/beautiful quotes on Pinterest recently, and I think this one is so good for the first month of the year.  And the handwriting!  Perfect.
  • One more neat link before I sign off.  I am always interested in reading those lists of "books everyone must read," and this one I came across is so neat!  If you click on the title, it will take you to the book on Amazon.  I selected a few classics from the image to use in my reading challenges for 2015.  It's really neat.
And that wraps up this installment of "This Girl Likes!"  I hope you enjoyed seeing what I've been enjoying around the web lately.  Have a great Friday and I will be back sometime this weekend with an update on War & Peace!  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


Winter Books TBR

Hello!  I realize we're a little over a third through winter, but I thought I'd pop up a post about my TBR (to be read) list for this season.  It is incredibly ambitious, especially because my schedule is going to get a lot busier in the next couple months.  Like what am I thinking?  Anyway, these are the books I would like to read this winter.  Like being the operative word there.  

Starting from the bottom...

  1. Coolidge – I studied Calvin Coolidge last year in school, and found him fascinating.  This book was on clearance at Barnes & Noble, and so I decided to pick it up!  Nonfiction history books are those books I always want to read, but it takes a while for me to get into them.  
  2. The Bully Pulpit – I think Theodore Roosevelt is awesome and I got this book because I wanted to learn about him – obviously.  I have started it, and I will admit right now it isn't gonna get finished this season.  
  3. A Million Little Ways – This book is actually a reread, but I saw someone tweet about it and mention bravery, and that was enough to make me pick it up again.  I loved it the first time, and hopefully I'll get to read it again.
  4. Taking God At His Word, Live Like A Narnian – These two I got last year for my birthday, and I still have not cracked them open.  I feel like it's time to do some heavier reading, so I'm going to try to get to these.
  5. The Hobbit – Yeah, so I haven't read this yet.  'Nuff said.
  6. The Spy Who Loved – I just finished a research paper about the women British SOE agents in World War II and I literally freaked out when I looked behind me in Barnes & Noble and saw this.  It's a biography about one of SOE's best agents.  I am definitely reading this soon.
  7. And finally, a book I purchased just because I wanted to buy a book.  *sigh*  It's a historical fiction book about Charles Lindbergh's wife, and I am looking forward to it.  
And those are the books I hope to read in the next couple months.  Fingers crossed I can find time to get through a couple!  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


On the Stack // January 2015

Wow!  It's been a while since I've done one of these posts!  Today I'm here to share the three books I'll be reviewing this month.  I'm excited because there's actually a fiction book in here!  Let's get started...

Yep, it's a book about grammar.  I got this for my birthday last year, and I've read most of it, but there are few chapters to finish.  It's by the author who wrote this book, and I think he's awesome.  The Glamour of Grammar is a really entertaining grammar book – it's fun to read, very enlightening, and believe it or not, I laughed out loud at least a couple times.  From Amazon:
Early in the history of English, the words "grammar" and "glamour" meant the same thing: the power to charm. Roy Peter Clark, author of Writing Tools and the forthcoming Help! For Writers, aims to put the glamour back in grammar with this fun, engaging alternative to stuffy instructionals. Now in paperback, this widely praised practical guide demonstrates everything from the different parts of speech to why effective writers prefer concrete nouns and active verbs. Above all, Clark teaches readers how to master grammar to perfect their use of English, to instill meaning, and to charm through their writing. 

In a world where we comminucate more and more through emails and text messages, how you use language matters--even in 140 characters. The Glamour of Grammar prepares readers to captivate with every word.

I am so excited about this book!  I picked it up in Barnes & Noble a couple weeks before Christmas, being the recently converted Poirot lover I am, and it quite lived up to my expectations.  I had read in a magazine that Sophie Hannah would be writing/was writing a book based on Agatha Christie's detective, but at the time, I had no idea who Hercule Poirot was.  I am not, by any imagination, an expert on the Belgian detective, I've only read one of the books and watched several of the episodes, but I think Hannah has stayed very close to Christie's Poirot, and The Monogram Murders is filled with all the wonderful Poirot-isms that he is known for.  
Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, more than two billion copies of Agatha Christie’s books have been sold around the globe. Now, for the first time ever, the guardians of her legacy have approved a brand new novel featuring Dame Agatha’s most beloved creation, Hercule Poirot.
‘I’m a dead woman, or I shall be soon…’
Hercule Poirot's quiet supper in a London coffeehouse is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered.  She is terrified – but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.
Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at a fashionable London Hotel have been murdered, and a cufflink has been placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim...

The final book I will review this month is one I have barely begun.  So far, though, I have really enjoyed it.  Crossed fingers I can whip through it by the end of the month...
The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—an incredible true story of the top-secret World War II town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the young women brought there unknowingly to help build the atomic bomb.

“The best kind of nonfiction: marvelously reported, fluidly written, and a remarkable story...As meticulous and brilliant as it is compulsively readable.” —Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City
Drawing from the voices and experiences of the women who lived and worked in Oak Ridge, The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of World War II from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. “A phenomenal story,” and Publishers Weekly called it an “intimate and revealing glimpse into one of the most important scientific developments in history.”
“Kiernan has amassed a deep reservoir of intimate details of what life was like for women living in the secret city...Rosie, it turns out, did much more than drive rivets.” —The Washington Post 
And that's all of the books for this month!  I'm excited to review them starting next week.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


War & Peace: Week 1

image source
So I realize I'm getting this up a little late today, but writing this is proving harder than I thought.  There is no breather before you jump into the book; it throws you in and you have to learn who everyone is and the story line as you go.  Reading War & Peace is gonna be tough.  The plot is hard to follow as it jumps around quite a bit between lots of different characters/places/times.  I don't know how this first summary will go, but now that I know what to expect, next week should go easier.

The book starts off with a party hosted by Anna Pavlovna in St. Petersburg.  The year is 1805.  Her parties are known for gossip, and this particular one is filled with talk about the prospect of war.  There is also talk about personal issues; Anna talks to her old friend Prince Vasili and praises his children – with the exception of Anatole, a rogue – especially his beautiful daughter Helene.  In an effort to get his son to settle down, Vasili asks her to arrange a meeting between Anatole and a young woman, the daughter of Prince Bolkonski.  Several more people arrive at the party: Vasili's daughter Helene, Lise, Bolkonski's daugther-in-law who is married to his son, Andrew, a military officer.  Pierre, the awkward and unpolished illegitimate son of Count Bezukhov.  He has just recently returned to Russia after studying abroad.  Lise's husband Andrew arrives as well.  Vasili promises a promotion to Boris, the only son of a well-connected but impoverished friend, Princess Anna Mikhaylovna Drubetskaya.

Following the party, Pierre visits Andrew Bolkonski at his house where they talk for a while.  Andrew encourages Pierre not to marry because he says that it wastes a man's sense of purpose and resolve.  Later, Pierre visits his friend Anatole, Prince Vasili's rogue son.  The consequences of their foolish actions that night get Pierre informally banished from St. Petersburg for a time.  

Anna Mikhaylovna, the mother of Boris, goes to Moscow to visit her wealthy relatives, the Rostovs.  Natasha, the thirteen-year-old Rostov daughter appears accompanied by her brother, Nicolas, Boris, who is friends with Nicolas, and Sonya, Count Rostov's daughter.  Nicolas proclaims that he is joining the army out of a sense of duty, rather than because of Boris going.  Natasha hides to watch a tearful exchange between Nicolas and Sonya.  He begs her forgiveness for flirting with one of the guests.  When Boris comes in, Natasha seeks a kiss from him and he somewhat jokingly promises to marry her in four years.

There are 16 "parts" in War & Peace (basically just huge chapters), and anywhere from 5 to 20-something chapters within those.  I plan to read one part over 2 to 3 weeks (3 if it's a super long one) and I read half of the first part this week.  What I have to read each week is reasonable, and I'm thankful for that since the reading is pretty dense.  I'm not sure if this is the format I'll keep using or come up with something else for next week.  Maybe bullet points?  I don't know.  We'll see.  I'll be back tomorrow to share the books to review for this month!  Thanks for reading! xo, Ella


2014 Music of the Year

To wrap up my "favorites of the year" posts, I'm here to share my favorite artists, albums, and songs from 2014.  I found a ton of awesome music last year, and I'm excited to talk about it!  First up, my favorite artist.
Last year was the year I discovered Kye Kye.  I mentioned them on the blog last year in a This Girl Likes post, I think, but I want to formally talk about them again.  The four albums in the image are their "Young Love" album, "Young Love Remix EP", "Fantasize," and "Fantasize Remix."  I like Young Love for the lyrics, and I love Fantasize for the incredible music.  If I could choose music for my life's soundtrack, it would be Kye Kye's music.  Definitely.  I love the music and the girl's voice is amazing.  Check them out on iTunes!
Apart from the Kye Kye albums, my second favorite album of 2014 was Rend Collective's newest album, "The Art of Celebration."  It has some really awesome songs on it – I don't think there's a single one I don't like.  It's one of those albums that just makes you happy, but I guess the title attests to that.  I love all the songs, but my favorite is probably "My Lighthouse" or "Burn Like a Star."

My third favorite album was Audrey Assad's new EP, "Death, Be Not Proud."  It's a very solemn album, but one with a lot of hope.  The songs are incredibly moving, and Audrey's voice is just perfection.  My favorite song is "Lamb of God."

My fourth and last favorite album from last year is All Sons & Daughters' new album.  It's a beautiful album, with lots of soothing songs filled with thoughtful lyrics.  It reminds me of dark, starry nights, for some reason.  The reason I loved it was probably a combination of the awesome music, beautiful harmony, and really meaningful lyrics.  I loved it last year, and talking about it is making me want to listen to it.  My favorite song from the album is "King of Glory."  It's a good one.

As far as individual songs go, I discovered several on The Drop last year, and I'll just list them below.

  • "Song of Solomon" by Martin Smith – Ugh, this song is seriously so good.  It's one of those that I could have on repeat forever.  Literally.
  • "East & West" by Cageless Birds – I love this song!  The lyrics are so profound and the music is amazing.  
  • "Gotta Have You" by Jillian Edwards – I actually have the entire album, and I'm going to throw in here as an honorable mention for this year's favorites.  It's called "Daydream" and you can find it by going to the link above.  Honestly, I got it like within the last 5 days of 2014, but hey, I beat the deadline.  
  • "Marvelous Light" by Ellie Holcomb – Another song I could have on repeat 24/7.  Ellie Holcomb is quickly becoming a favorite, and this song is just awesome.  The music video's great!
  • "Oceans" by Hillsong United – I didn't discover this on The Drop, but it plays on the radio and reminds me of being brave.  I love everything about it.  Beautiful lyric video!
And that's it for my 2014 music favorites!  It was a great year music-wise, and I discovered so many awesome artists, albums, and songs!  I can't wait for the music 2015 will bring.  Thanks for reading! xo, Ella


2014 Films/Shows of the Year & 2015 Film/Show Anticipations

Hello!  For the second post of this year, and to follow my "best of" theme, I am here today to talk/rave about my favorite films and shows of 2014.  I didn't watch that many films that came out in 2014, but I'll talk about the two I saw that were my faves, discuss some TV shows I loved, and write about the films and shows I am looking forward to seeing this year!

My favorite movie I saw this year was Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  I am a huge fan of Captain America, and I absolutely loved The Winter Soldier.  I loved seeing him and Black Widow work together, and the elevator scene was just the best, right?  Anyway, this was definitely my favorite movie I saw this year – I gotta say, Cap's my fave!  Check out my full review where I go on and on about how much I loved The Winter Soldier here.

My second favorite movie of 2014 was The Battle of the Five Armies.  I plan to do a full review eventually, so I'll keep this short.  I went to see this movie the day after Christmas, and I cried at least 5 times, gasped probably like 20 times, and laughed a couple times, too.  It was amazing.  It kind of blew my mind.  I love Thorin, and Bilbo, and Tauriel, and Kili, and Bard, and Gandalf, and Thorin's cousin dwarf.  They were all awesome.  The fight scenes were incredible, the landscapes breathtaking, and Kili and Tauriel's relationship ended in the best possible way.  I definitely cried.  While I was watching it, the thought that kept running through my mind was, "there are so many brave people in this movie."  And yes, there were.  My single favorite part of the entire thing was when Thorin shakes off his dragon-sickness and all the dwarves come charging out of the mountain.  I cried at that part, too.  Thank goodness for waterproof mascara, right?  Anyway, it was an amazing movie, and you can bet I will be talking about it again.

Those are my favorite movies that came out in 2014, but I watched other movies last year that didn't come out last year.  I watched Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Desolation of Smaug, Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, among others.  I really enjoyed all of those.  But now, onto the TV shows...

My favorite show of 2014 was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I watched the first season last year and I am working my way through the second season right now.  I love that show so much!  The characters are awesome, the cast is perfect, and I love that the show coincides with the other Marvel films.  It's perfect.  You can read the full review/rant here.

My other favorite show of last year was Sherlock season 3.  I watched it at the beginning of the year, and I fell in love with Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock.  I really enjoyed the chemistry between him and Martin Freeman – they are brilliant together.  I talk some about the show here.

For the last part of this post, I want to talk about the films and shows I am excited for this year.  There are some I literally cannot wait for!  I'll just put them down randomly.
  • Downton Abbey Season 5!  Ahh!  I love that show and I cannot wait to see what happens in the next season.  I have kept up with it so far and I'm anxious to see what's in store.
  • Agent Carter – This show starts this month, but I'll wait to watch it through Amazon.  I've seen the trailer and I am so pumped.  I loved Peggy Carter in The First Avenger, and I'm so excited to see her in her own show. 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. part 2 of season 2 – I'm excited.  
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron – I am equal parts nervous and excited for this movie.  I really didn't like what I saw in the trailer, so I'm kind of scared about what's going to happen.  Like, Captain America's shield was in two!  What?!
  • Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – I'm one of those Star Wars fans who ardently hates the most recently made trilogy, so my fingers are crossed that this one is good.  The trailer looks promising and I've heard good things about the cast, so I'm hoping it'll meet all my expectations.
  • Also, I know I'm late to the game, but I have not seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet.  What?  I know.  So I'm looking forward to watching that maybe this next week.  I've heard soooo much about it. 
That's my list for now, but as I hear about more things to come, I'm sure it will grow.  I have a feeling this year is going to be a good one movie/tv show-wise.

And that wraps up my Movies/TV Shows of the Year for 2014!  I saw some good stuff this year, and I'm pumped for what's to come!  Look out for a review of Battle of the Five Armies within the next few weeks!  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


2014 Books of the Year // 2015 Reading Challenges & Goals

Hello!  To kick off the New Year, I am here today to talk about my favorite books of 2014.  It's going to be a fairly short list, but that doesn't mean the books I talk about are the only books I enjoyed in 2014.  I enjoyed a lot of books last year, but only a few made it to my favorites list.  Also, I didn't read as many books last year as I could have.  I started the blog in August, and that sort of kicked off my reading obsession, but in the months prior, I didn't get into too many books.  For 2015, I plan on setting goals to keep me reading and I'll share those at the end of this post.  Now, drumroll please...
If you read my review of this book, this one was a no-brainer.  Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy was by far my favorite book last year.  It's a historical nonfiction book about four women who were spies during the Civil War.  I honestly do not have anything bad to say about it – it was an amazing book that I won't soon forget.  If you would like to read my long-winded rant about it, you can go here for the full review.
My second favorite book of this year is Let's All Be Brave.  It was the book that made me all passionate about bravery, especially when I read Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.  These two books are  my favorites this year because they made a big impression on me.  They changed the way I think about bravery and made me notice bravery around me.  I can see myself rereading both of them this year.  To read my full thoughts on Let's All Be Brave, check out the full post here.
My third book of the year is The Secret Rooms, another historical nonfiction book.  This one is about a duke and his mysterious castle and death – it reads like a historical mystery and it's fascinating.  I only remember getting bored once, but other than that, it was great.  You can read the full review here.

Now technically, those three books are my favorites from last year.  Yep, only three.  I thought I would be able to find a lot more, but as I looked at all the books I read in 2014, I realized that while I really enjoyed a lot of them, most weren't true favorites.  Also, I have to laugh that all of these are nonfiction.  But, I do want to share some of the new series I discovered this year that will hopefully become favorites, even though I wouldn't consider the books I read in the series favorites (does that even make sense?).  
First up, The Baker Street Letters series.  This was new discovery last year, and I have really enjoyed it.  Some of the books I liked more than others – I believe I've read three of the four books in the series – but I think the premise of the series is brilliant and I enjoy the plots most of the time.  I reviewed one book in the series and you can find that review here

I'm really excited about this next series.  The Lady Emily series is set in Victorian London and the heroine is a scholarly amateur detective with a taste for Greek and sleuthing.  She moves in the circles of London's high society and she is fun, unconventional, and witty.  I liked her from the beginning.  (Side note: I have read two books from the series, #2 and #7)  She is not a hard-core detective like Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot, she is more of an amateur detective who takes on cases that fall into her lap (#2) and helps her husband, who works for Britain's government, with his (#7).  So far I've enjoyed the series and I'm looking forward to reading more of it.  

I have spoken about the series by Rhys Bowen before, but she is another author I discovered last year as well as her enjoyable mysteries.  I prefer the Royal Spyness series to her Molly Murphy series, for minor superficial reasons, so I thought I would share it here.  The 12 Clues of Christmas was my favorite book of the two I read from that series last year.  The "royal spyness" is Georgie Rannoch, who is number 30-something in line to the throne of England, but her penchant for solving murders makes her an unusual member of the distantly-royal Rannoch family.  She is a lot of fun – spunky, smart, and gifted with highly entertaining relatives who are a pleasure to have in the story.  I am taking a break from the series for now because my to-be-read list is about a mile high (more like 2 feet), but I look forward to reading some new ones this year.  

I got back into Agatha Christie last year, and the ABC Murders was by far my favorite from the ones I read.  It was through that book I discovered Hercules Poirot, of whom I am now an ardent fan, so aside from the brilliant plot twists, that was a big reason for my love of it.  I am definitely going to continue reading Agatha Christie this year – she is just the best!

And that rounds up my favorite books of 2014!  Later this week I will be sharing my favorite movies and music from last year as well.  

For the second part of this post, I am going to share my reading goals and the reading challenges I decided to do this year.  I will link to the blogs hosting the challenges; go check them out if you're interested in joining!  

The first challenge I decided to do is called Snagged at the Library and it is hosted by the Book Nympho and the Geeky Blogger.  The challenge is to read at least 12 books from the library in 2015, but there are four levels to choose from.  I chose to do the Thrifty Reader, so I have to read 24 books.  I already haunt my library, so checking out a couple books a month shouldn't be difficult at all.  I'm excited about it!  I may decide to chart my progress somehow on the blog or dedicate a shelf on Goodreads, so keep an eye out for that!  Check the links to the hosting blogs above to sign up for the challenge.

The second challenge I signed up for is the What's in a Name challenge, hosted by The Worm Hole.
There are six categories from which you must choose a book to read.  Specifically, the title must include a word with 'ing' in it, the title must include a color, a familiar relation, a body or water, a city, and an animal.  I'm excited about this one because it will make read books I maybe wouldn't normally check out.  Check out the link above to sign up!  

Finally, I've made out a little challenge for myself this year, too.  I'm hoping it will get me out of my comfort zone as far as reading goes and keep me reading all year long.  Maybe I should come up with a reward for myself at the end of the year...  :)

Ella's Reading Resolutions/Goals:
  • Keep track of every book I read in 2015 in Goodreads
  • Discover 5 new authors I enjoy
  • Read 5 books that challenge me personally – whether in the difficulty of the material (writing style/vocabulary) or mentally/spiritually
  • Read 5 books that teach me something
  • Read 2 books from genres I am not familiar with
  • Read War & Peace before 2016
  • Read 3-5 books written in 2015
  • Read 2-3 literary criticisms
  • Read Grapes of Wrath, The Hobbit, Persuasion, Sense and Sensability, Middlesex, Tess of the D'Urbervilles (inspiration here)
  • Read 2 books that were reviewed on other blogs
And those are my reading challenges for 2015!  I am excited for this year – it's going to be great.  I hope you had a fantastic New Year's celebration and that 2015 got off to a great start.  As always, thanks for reading – I really appreciate it!  xo, Ella