Review: I Choose You Today by Deb DeArmond

Title: I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last
Author: Deb DeArmond
Publication Date: January 6th, 2015
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Genre: Marriage, Christian Non-Fiction
Pages: 257
Source: Paperback from Litfuse Publicity


Synopsis (from Litfuse): How would your marriage change if you and your husband made the spoken declaration "I choose you" every day? Even when "for better or worse" is disappointing, we need to remind ourselves that love is a choice. And it's God's grace that makes that choice possible. 

I Choose You Today offers 31 practical ways you can make love last, by choosing to:

*    Pursue your spouse
*    Challenge one another
*    Listen mindfully
*    Love fiercely 
*    And twenty-seven other opportunities to choose wisely.


Deb DeArmond is an author, a speaker, and relationship coach—helping her clients improve their interactions at work and at home. Her first book, Related by Chance, Family by Choice: Transforming Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law Relationships was released in November 2013 by Kregel Publications.

Deb’s passion is family dynamics and her writing explores marriage, grandparenting, in-law and extended family relationships. She’s currently working on two new books about marital conflict and keeping your marriage fresh and God honoring. Look for them from Abingdon Press.

Deb is wife to her high school sweetheart who showed her the path to become a Christ follower 38 years ago. Mom to three incredible sons and daughters-in-law. Gigi to three perfect grandboys (with one more on the way). But Jesus is her favorite, and the others have learned to live with it.

Deb loves to travel, and considers herself a foodie. Her idea of the perfect job would be to travel on someone else’s dime, writing about her experiences, and eating her way around the world!

Deb and her husband Ron, live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. 

I'm glad to have a Deb DeArmond book on the blog again! This falls into the "self-help" category and is a good book for Christian couples looking to recenter their marriage (or serious dating couples). As someone who has experienced a broken marriage and ultimately a divorce, there are so many things that I either could have done better, or tried but realized it's vital that you both want to make it work.

Now I'm in a serious relationship and we are talking about getting engaged soon. We've discussed premarital counseling and things we can do together to strengthen our relationship and work together within the same page. This book came across my table at the perfect time, and it's definitely something I'll be using for a while (maybe forever).

I Choose You Today is a fairly small book and is very to-the-point. DeArmond gives 31 ways to help your marriage, almost like a couple's devotional. You can go through a new one every day, or you can reflect on a single choice per week (my recommendation). DeArmond gives real-life examples either from her and her husband's relationship, or someone she knows. 

One of my favorite things about this book is that it emphasizes the fact that marriage is a choice. "Love is not a feeling, and neither is marriage. Each is a choice-one that must be made every single day, even if it’s spoken through gritted teeth." It is a choice, but let me add one more thing: it is a choice for BOTH of you. If you work together and choose each other every day, if you keep God center, then no doubt you'll experience a marriage better than you've ever imagined.


Review: Soppy by Philippa Rice

Title: Soppy
Author: Philippa Rice
Publication Date: December 2nd, 2014
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 108
ISBN: 1449461069
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Sometimes it’s about sympathizing with someone whose tea has gone cold, watching TV and sharing a quilt, or allowing your partner to order take-away pizza again. When two people move in together, it soon becomes apparent that the little things mean an awful lot. The throwaway moments in life become meaningful when you spend them in the company of someone you love.

Soppy is Philippa Rice’s collection of comics based on real-life moments with her boyfriend. From grocery shopping to silly arguments and snuggling in front of the television, Soppy captures the universal experience of sharing a life together.

Currently I live in Nottingham and work from my beautiful home studio. I mostly make comics but also spend a lot of time making animations and illustrations too. 

I work in a bunch of different styles and mediums. People keep asking me which is my favourite and I can't choose. It's nice to switch between different materials and techniques. 

Either you're going to love this book or you're going to hate it, but I thought it was one of the most adorable stinken' things I've read in a long time. Perhaps because I'm in a comfortable, happy relationship and can relate to a lot of the little moments found in Soppy, or because I enjoyed taking pleasure in the simplicity of a blossoming relationship without the torture of a love triangle gone awry. I felt like Rice took even the "boring stuff" and made it into a light flavor that triggered fond memories of cozy love.

If I had to describe this book in one word (other than "soppy"), I would call it simple. There is minimal text, a fairly ordinary storyline, and an incredibly limited color palette (you get what you see on the cover...negative/positive space and red). All of these elements reflected the tone, and yet they worked perfectly together to create a soft and sweet storyline.

Rice pours enough of her heart into this book that the love story becomes tangible to the reader. You find yourself relating to the little moments and adoring the declaration of affection jumping off the page. It isn't just sickening sweetness, though. It celebrates the silly moments, the frustrating moments, the selfish and selfless moments, even the mundane every day moments that encourage teamwork. It creates an entertaining little masterpiece to just sit back and enjoy.

Soppy probably wouldn't appeal to those who spend Valentine's Day bitterly sitting at home eating take-out and watching whatever movie-of-choice that helps them cope with being single. But if you like sweet, sappy, and dripping with cuteness, then you'll enjoy this collection of sketches.

This book is a light read and would also make a great gift for the sweetheart in your life.


Review: Ivy in Bloom by Vanita Oelschlager

Title: Ivy in Bloom
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrator: Kristin Blackwood
Publication Date: April 1st, 2009
Publisher: Vanita Books
Genre: Children's Poetry
Pages: 40
ISBN: 0980016274
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Ivy in Bloom captures the weariness of a young girl tired of a long winter. "I stare out the window," she says on the first spread of brown and gray, "looking for birds or flowers / or even warm showers / but I don't see any such thing." But then Spring comes when "March is out of breath snow melting to flowery waters and watery flowers spring rose from its wintry rest." And Ivy's "heart dances with daffodils." As these words also dance across each spread, Ivy's world erupts into a riot of color. 

Ivy in Bloom introduces the poetry of Dickinson, Longfellow, Browning, Wordsworth, Frost and others. Excerpts from their writings, as seen through Ivy's eyes, will open up poetry as a way for children to express their own feelings about the changing of seasons. This book includes longer excerpts and brief bios of each author.

Vanita Oelschlager is a wife, mother,grandmother, former teacher, current caregiver and, for almost ten years, author and poet.

She was born and raised near Pittsburgh. She is a graduate of Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio, where she currently serves as a Trustee.

She has also supported and helped Jim as he built Oak Associates, ltd. into a successful investment management firm.

Today, as an accomplished author, Vanita shares openly the experiences that she, Jim and their families have had with multiple sclerosis. She has likened MS to living with an elephant, one that won't go away or be ignored. Together, she and Jim have found ways to live with this "elephant", and to share some of the larger lessons about life they've learned through the disease. 

This is a lovely children's picture book merging classic poetry and creating a story about Spring. It begins with Vanita Oelschalger's own poem about awaiting Spring's return after a cold and windy winter. The book reads rhythmically, and highlights some of the loveliest lines of poetry that follow this theme.

Poetry picture books are always a commodity to have for storytimes because they expose kids to rhythm, music, and beats. It opens avenues for them to learn how to communicate in effective and diverse ways. This being said, I like the idea of this book. It has a lot of potential, and the illustrations are sure to catch the eye.

On Oelschalger's website you can find activities for kids to coincide with the book, including coloring pages, greeting cards, bookmarks, and more! You can check them out HERE.

The images are gorgeous. Illustrator Kristin Blackwood creates outlines to sketch on a linoleum block printed in black on white stock. She then takes the images and makes them digital by scanning them with a flatbed scanner. The watercolor effect is created by digital editing software, the result being these lovely images capturing the reminiscent nature of the poetry.

This is a book that adults can enjoy for their kids, but it might go over young heads. Also, it would be nice if the respective authors were cited underneath words (or at least somewhere on the page). It is a great idea to create a collection of classic poetry in the form of a light-hearted story, but at times it didn't seem to flow together, and I'm afraid that it might confuse kids a little bit. I definitely support exposing them this way, but I think it probably needed to be done a little more fluently.

Lovely illustrations, great poems, but needs a little more work. 3 stars.


Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Title: Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Publication Date: April 1st, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 327
ISBN: 0374346674
Source: The Library

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person.

Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven't forgiven?

It's not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was—lovely and amazing and deeply flawed—can she truly start to discover her own path.

In a voice that's as lyrical and as true as a favorite song, Ava Dellaira writes about one girl's journey through life's challenges with a haunting and often heartbreaking beauty.

Ava Dellaira is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. She believes this book began when she bought her second album ever—Nirvana’s In Utero—which she listened to on repeat while filling the pages of her journal. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California, where she works in the film industry and is writing her second novel. 

Love Letters to the Dead is the story of Laurel, learning to deal after her sister's death and getting mixed in all sorts of teenagery shenanigans. I've had my eye on this book for a while, and finally decided to bring it home from the library. The premise sounded like it could be hit or miss...but it ended up landing somewhere in the middle. If you're looking for a realistic young adult fiction, you will probably love it or you'll hate it.

The book itself is written in a compilation of Laurel's letters. What I liked was traveling through the process of Laurel's grief and the realistic family dysfunction to go with it. I liked the tragedy, the messy romance, the dramatic friendships, and the almost hopeful tone near the end. The events that moved the plot were entertaining, and I found myself sympathizing with Laurel. I liked how the author left the reader to ask questions throughout the book: How did Sky know May? How did May die? Was it suicide or an accident? What happened to Laurel that made her feel so guilty? All of these elements allowed me to enjoy a great deal of this book.

However, there were a lot of things I thought were really weak. Like the fact that Laurel was in High School, yet she talked like she was 10...but then would suddenly be talking about every single detail of everything around her; the smells, texture, lighting, feeling, memories, etc. etc. etc. It was inconsistent and way too fluffy. I ended up skipping over some of the paragraphs dripping with detail because I just didn't really care. The picture was being overpainted.

I'm not sure if it's because my copy of the book may have had some misprints, but I felt like she repeated the same Judy Garland letter at least 3 times. Also, if she turned all those letters into her teacher she probably would have gotten herself and her classmates in a lot of trouble. And her teacher would have seen what she wrote about her, too. So giving ALL of the letters to her is a fairly huge inconsistency that kind of shattered the enchantment of the book.

Sadly, this book fell short of my expectations. The conflicting impression it has left makes it difficult to rate, so I've decided to keep it right in the middle. I liked it, I'm glad I read it, but it could definitely be better. I would recommend reading the book and deciding for yourself whether you like it or not. 


Review: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Title: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Author: Roz Chast
Publication Date: May 6th, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir
Pages: 228
ISBN: 1608198065
Source: The Library
Awards: National Book Award Nominee for Nonfiction (2014), Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction (2014)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
#1 New York Times Bestseller

In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”—with predictable results—the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies—an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades—the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.

An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast’s talent as cartoonist and storyteller.

Roz Chast has loved to draw cartoons since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn. She attended Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Painting because it seemed more artistic. However, soon after graduating, she reverted to type and began drawing cartoons once again.

Her cartoons have also been published in many other magazines besides The New Yorker, including Scientific American, the Harvard Business Review, Redbook, and Mother Jones. Her most recent book is a comprehensive compilation of her favorite cartoons called Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons of Roz Chast, 1978-2006. She also illustrated The Alphabet from A to Y, with Bonus Letter, Z, the best-selling children's book by Steve Martin.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? : A Memoir, Is a graphic novel by Roz Chast that tells the story of her experiences caring for her elderly parents as they make their way through the least popular stage of life; the last one. Chast uses her unique and candid voice and eccentric drawing style to illuminate a very dark topic in society. What she creates is a story that is equal parts hilarious, heartwarming and downright depressing. 
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant gives a brutally honest account of the author’s life and the lives of her parents from childhood to the inevitable conclusion. Chast pulls no punches when describing the challenges of caring for an aging parent. She manages to distill every moment of heartache and comedy out of everything from senility to generational differences to just plain stubbornness. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is part biography, part memoir, part new Yorker comic, except it’s actually funny. The comedic portions are extremely funny but the dark aspect to the humor had me wondering if I should be laughing at times. The idiosyncrasies of Chast and her family make for some truly funny moments until they are put against the backdrop of the hurt that bore them. In that sense, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is a perfect slice of the human experience; funny on the surface, dig a bit deeper and it is morbidly depressing, see the big picture and everything kind of turns out all right. 
The entire book feels like a therapeutic exercise on the part of the author. She really delves into the problems she had with her parents, especially her mother and how those problems affected their dynamic later in life. Extremely complex feelings are unearthed and captured in comic form. The medium of the comic lends a lighthearted air to what is a very uncomfortable subject, but Chast also uses it to profound effect to plumb the depths of familial relations. Her brutal honesty for her portrayal of events is only matched by her brutal honesty about herself. For every strip about an annoying quirk of her father or the brash overbearing nature of her mother, there is one about her own guilt over her impatience with her parents or selfish thoughts. It all goes a long way toward chronicling the unceasingly arduous, mercilessly expensive, insanity inducing and at times extremely funny experience of taking care of the people who once took care of you. 
Calvin and Hobbes holds the same kind of importance for young, only children as Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant will hold for those in the sandwich generation. It is the quintessential dark comedy for anyone with aging parents but should by no means be limited to that. Within hours of reading it, I had already recommended it to everyone close to me. I would recommend it to anyone who is in need of a laugh, a cry, or both at the same time. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is incredibly evocative and charming and is well worth a read.