Fun Book Club Picks

I love book clubs. But have you noticed how this thing tends to happen in your book club where every book is about death, war, adultery, loss, grief, etc., etc.? Sometimes you just want to get together with your friends to talk about a book that didn’t leave you heartbroken and sad, am I right? 

affiliate links picToday I’ve got a roundup of picks for your book club or your personal reading. I know that when I’m in a slump or if I’m feeling down, I want a book that’s a little more of a pick me up. And it’s hard for me since my tastes tend towards the dark and twisty. So even my fun and light picks need some meat on their bones, which is essential for a good book club pick that’ll give you an interesting discussion. (Links below are affiliate links that help support the blog.)

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang. This is a newly released debut novel, one of the big ones of the Fall and it’s a great club pick for so many reasons. If you enjoy watching complex family dynamics play out, this will be right up your alley. Charles Wang is a Chinese immigrant who made his fortune in cosmetics, and has just seen it come crashing down. Now the family he raised in luxury doesn’t know they’ve been ruined and Charles decides that what they all need is a road trip. This kind of story could be a downer, but instead it’s full of humor and laughs. And extra special bonus! Scroll down to enter to WIN a copy of The Wangs vs. The World provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson. The book of essays by funny women is becoming its own genre, but this is one of my favorites of the bunch. Robinson, who you may know if you listen to the 2 Dope Queens podcast, is a stand up comic and she does not hold back in making sure she squeezes in as many jokes per page as possible while also talking seriously about what it’s like to be black, and a woman, and a comedian in the modern world. Some books of essays are inconsistent, but this one regularly delivers. (Note: Robinson is definitely a millennial and I definitely foresee a potential generation gap if your book club readers are 40+. In that case, go with my other favorite funny woman book that’s also great though more heartfelt: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler.)

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. If you want a book that manages to be both very real-life and very escapist, somehow this one manages to be both. Becky is a housewife, a mother of three with baby #4 on the way, when she meets movie star Felix. In a brief chance meeting something clicks, and these two most unlikely allies become best friends. My favorite thing about this book is the way it plays with your expectations about what’s supposed to happen in this kind of story, the way you never really know what will happen between these two. If you want to have some real discussions about whether men and women be friends without romance coming into play, the twists and turns of Becky and Felix’s relationship will give your book club a lot to talk about.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell. If you don’t read a lot of nonfiction or history, Vowell is a really enjoyable way to learn a lot of fascinating history. I’ve read a whole bunch of her books and this may be the best book club pick, since everyone thinks they know all about the Revolutionary War but it turns out what you learned in school isn’t a very accurate picture. Also if there are any Hamilton lovers in the group, they’ll get plenty of Washington and Lafayette (and a little bit of our man A. Ham as well). I promise that Vowell’s books are so funny and enjoyable while also making you feel smart and informed.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradahl. This one should be an easy sell to your average suburban lady book club. Food! Family! Midwestern accents! But this book takes you by surprise. It is incredibly charming and it’s one of those gimmicky books where every chapter is from a different character and seemingly random lives end up being intertwined, with a big fat bow on top at the very end. Looking through so many different sets of eyes guarantees interesting discussion, and underneath this book’s sweet demeanor is a lot of interesting commentary on modern life. Plus the extra bonus of several recipes you can make and bring to your book club feast.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. If anyone in your club watches Scandal or Grey’s Anatomy or HTGAWM, odds are they will be very very happy about this pick. But you don’t need to be a Shonda fan to enjoy this book. Honestly, you don’t need to be a self-help fan to enjoy this book. I hate self-help books. Hate them. And I adored this book so very much. Want to talk about goals? Want to talk about work-life balance? Want some pinterest-worthy inspirational quotes? This book will give you all those things, and even if you have a cold, bitter heart like me, you will be won over by Shonda. You can’t not like her. She is so funny and personable and honest. 

 

And now for our giveaway! One lucky reader will win a copy of The Wangs vs. the World, the new novel by Jade Chang. To enter, just leave a comment below with your light or funny book club pick. Entries are open until Wednesday, October 26th.

Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this giveaway. One entry per household. Limited to entrants over 18 in the United States. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on 10/26/16 at 6 pm Eastern Time. The winner will receive a copy of the novel The Wangs vs. the World. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. The winner will be chosen randomly using the plugin And the Winner Is…  Winner will be notified by email and must respond within 48 hours to receive their prize. If the winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Don’t Mind the Mess is not responsible for any problems with receipt of the prize. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited.

Disclosure: Thanks to HMH for providing the giveaway prize for this post! 

Frozen: The Songs and a Giveaway

affiliate links picTessa never really had a first word. Nothing stood out, and so much of it was mumbled and unclear. But if you made me nail down something as the first thing she said repeatedly and recognizably, it would be “Let It Go.” In her toddler mushy mouth it came out more as “Deh-do” but it was clear what she wanted. When I got the soundtrack she’d make me play it on repeat and wouldn’t listen to any other song.

I passed the soundtrack off to her Dad during this obsessive period and then never got it back. So the kids were pretty thrilled when we got this in the mail:

Frozen Soundtrack

 

As a kid, I always hated soundtracks with the full score. I wanted the SONGS and only the songs. And I’m sure you’re wondering if you are one of the many who purchased the original Frozen Soundtrack, the new edition does rectify the massive error in that version: there is now a track for Christoff’s reindeer song. 

My kids would probably be just fine with 4 or 5 copies of the soundtrack. One to have in their room, one for Mom’s car, one for Dad’s car, you get the idea. We aren’t a big iPod family, and even if we were I’m not letting the kids’ stuff take over my gadgets. So we’ve done well with CD’s to appease them.

I’m guessing a lot of you are like us and could do with several copies. For kids who don’t want to share, for an extra copy in the car, for whatever it is you can probably use it even if you have the old soundtrack already. And if you didn’t get the old one, the new one is out today and available for $9.99

There’s also stickers and a poster inside to make the kiddos happy. Not a bad choice for stocking stuffers if you’re one of those thinking-ahead types.

Even better, you can get a copy for free! I’m giving away a copy of the new Frozen: The Songs CD if you act fast, the giveaway ends on Thursday!

Mandatory Entry: Leave a comment on this post with your favorite song from Frozen. 

Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this giveaway. One entry per household. Limited to entrants over 18 in the US and Canada. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on 10/2/14 at 6 pm Eastern Time. The winner will receive a Frozen: The Songs CD. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. The winner will be chosen randomly using the plugin And the Winner Is…  Winner will be notified by email and must respond within 48 hours to receive their prize. If the winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by Disney. Don’t Mind the Mess is not responsible for any problems with receipt of the prize. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited.

Disclosure: We received a copy of Frozen: The Songs to review as a member of the Entertainment New Media Network.

Big Apple Circus Ticket Giveaway

Event Disclosure.jpgI love having kids who are old enough to DO stuff and ENJOY stuff. We’re at kind of a sweet spot that way. And next week I’ll be taking them to the Big Apple Circus, which is coming to Boston from March 25 to May 11. 

Graham doesn’t know what a circus *is* yet, so I’m looking forward to finding some circus books and Youtube videos to watch with him to get him all pumped up. Honestly, I haven’t been to a circus since I was around 12, so it’ll be a great event for me, too.

Luminocity_Ad_BOS_9 5x11

Big Apple Circus has horses and dogs in their show, but no exotic animals and is a cruelty-free show. It’s handicap accessible and climate controlled, too. (Good thing, since we seem to still be due for a few more cold snaps.) 

Opening weekend starts on Friday the 28th and runs through Sunday the 30th. At these shows there will be performers out in the lobby for an hour before showtime if your kids want to get up close and personal. 

And I’m giving away 2 tickets to the Friday 6:30 pm performance right here. Just enter in the widget below. And if you’d like to get some tickets for your family, you can use the promo code BIGAPPLE to save $10 off EACH ticket. (Limited availability, conditions apply, etc.) Oh, and it’s also a littles-friendly show, you can bring kids under 3 in and hold them on your lap instead of having to buy another seat. LOVE that.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: Thanks to Big Apple Circus for inviting me and the kids to their opening weekend and providing tickets for the giveaway.

Introducing Graham. The Other One.

review pic

 

(Psst. There is a giveaway at the end of this post… Keep reading…)

My kids love animals. A pet was not exactly in the cards. Between the two of them and work and my half a billion projects a pet didn’t seem like a good idea. But then we found the perfect pet:

This is Graham. (Guess who named him?) He’s a hot pink betta who’s happily living in our house. Fish are the bestest pets when you have little ones. No walks, no picking up poop, no chewing on furniture. Of course, this doesn’t stop me from worrying about Graham. Is he getting enough food? Is he getting too much food? Is he happy? Is he lonely? (Betta’s don’t do well with other fish but I’m wondering if he’d enjoy having a snail to keep him company.) 

But I still put off getting a fish for a long time. Buy a giant tank! Clean the giant tank! These were obstacles I didn’t have the energy to surmount. If you are in a similar position then I have a solution for you:

Aquafarm from Uncommon Goods It’s the Aquafarm! I will tell you why I immediately said yes when given the opportunity to review it.

Tank Made Simple

 I am not an experienced fish buyer. I never had them growing up. This is my first fish too and I want it simple. I want a tank where I don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about cleaning. That was the thing that held me back from buying a fish for years. But the Aquafarm has an awesome system where water goes back and forth from the fish tank up to the top. The fish provides nutrients for the plants. The plants clean the water for the fish. You don’t have to clean your tank. BOOM.

The tank is a good size, nice and sturdy but won’t take over the surface you set it on. Plus it comes with all the instructions you need and all the tools you’ll use to get it ready. We did it in less than an hour. (Not counting the time it took us to go pick up Graham the Fish.) Y’all know I’m not exactly a big ball of energy in the evenings, but it was totally doable, even for me.

Plants That Grow

At the end of the last school year, Graham the Boy brought home a potted bean plant. It grew. And grew. And grew. Until I forgot to water it. And then it died. I have that effect on plants.

But the Aquafarm gives you plants you don’t have to water! Another crowdpleaser with the kids. Our Aquafarm came with seeds for wheatgrass and basil. The wheatgrass is great for the kids because it grows FAST. This was ours less than a WEEK after I planted it.

Seriously, the only upkeep is I have to trim the wheatgrass once it hits 5 inches or so. If you’re a juicer, you can even use it!

The other pods I use for the basil, which is just for Mama. Because fresh basil at the store costs a bajillion dollars. It’s a super cool system. You grow the seeds in these porous rocks instead of dirt, so less mess.

Problems? No Problem!

So while I did a great job and won my Mother of the Year medal presenting my kids with both a fish AND a set of growing plants, I forgot to turn the air pump off one night a week. And it died last week. My fish was looking tepid, the water turned cloudy, my plants wilted. When I do a review, this is where it has the potential to go to awesome or horrific. I tweeted and emailed Back to the Roots, the people who make the Aquafarm, and they were fantastic. Told me they’d send me a new pump free of charge. (They knew nothing about this review, by the way.) They also gave me a set of instructions for an alternate set up for the pump to help it run better. 

Got my pump, my fish is happy again, and all is well. Nicely done.

Where to Get It

Uncommon GoodsThe Aquafarm is such a fun, funky gift. A great thing to give as a family gift, too. You can get one from Uncommon Goods, an online retailer that specializes in handmade items, green and recycled gifts, donate to several charities, and pay a living wage to their workers. You’ll be hearing more from me about them in my upcoming Cyber Monday Shopping Sites roundup. 

I’ve had my eye on the Pick Punch for years as a gift for my brother the musician. Guitar picks out of old gym cards? Sweet.

They have a set of iPhone cases with designs made by independent artists. Not the same old stuff you seen in the mall kiosk. 

And you can bring the beach beneath the tree with the super cool Kinetic Sand. 

I love a site that picks their products with care and stands for something. 

Giveaway Time!

The lovely folks at Uncommon Goods are offering a $50 gift card for one lucky Don’t Mind the Mess reader, just in time for your holiday shopping. 

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to Uncommon Goods for providing us with the Aquafarm for review. Opinions are my own. 

Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks

review picTrains are big at our house and I know we’re not alone. We also live in a small apartment, so if Graham decides he’s going to pull out his wooden tracks, odds are it’ll take up half the living room when he’s done. The wooden tracks have served us well, but I admit that when I first saw TOMY’s Chuggington StackTracks all I could say was, “My kid would love these.” affiliate links pic

Chuggington StackTrack Rescue at Rocky Ridge PlaysetI’ll be totally honest, I saw those StackTracks at a party at BlogHer in 2012. I gushed and gushed over them to the person repping TOMY. But it wasn’t until this year that I finally got a chance to review them. I did not let the long wait hold me back, I jumped at the chance. If anything, Graham was way more ready for them now than he was a year ago.

There are a bunch of Chuggington StackTrack playsets, we received the Chuggington StackTrack Rescue at Rocky Ridge Action Playset with the accompanying ChugPatrol DVD. The fact that the playset has an accompaying episode is cool, though it hasn’t influenced Graham’s play, but I do think it’d be good for the re-enacting types.

So, parents of train enthusiasts, here’s the skinny: The StackTracks come with a variety of pieces, some flat, some going up, some going down. There’s a bunch of hills and turns and other stuff that makes trains go fast. There are guard rails on the side so you won’t lose your train on tight curves. And there are supports to stack to hold up the elevated parts of the track. The set came with 2 trains (Koko and Wilson, who Graham has always called Rilsen because it’s the name of a kid in his class last year) and they’re die-cast plastic. 

Graham plays with jTOMY Chuggington StackTracks

Overall, it’s very easy to assemble for an adult. The track pieces fit together very simply and obviously. It may take a child under 5 a little effort to figure it out but they’ll make progress quickly. The supports are also easy to attach. There are some extras that come with this playset: a gate to break through, a boulder to chase you down the hill. These extras are a little harder to get on and off and click on over the supports. The track looks a little intimidating. But it comes with instructions for 4 layouts. One of them has a detailed set of instructions to assemble, the others are pictures. Once I’d gone through one assembly, I was good for the rest by sight. Younger children will probably need a parent to assemble for them.

The Pros:

  • As I’d hoped, it takes up less space than the wooden tracks. The stacking means they can go up instead of all over the floor.
  • The kids get way more into it than with the wooden tracks. We’ve had it for over 6 weeks and I’ve waited to see if it wears off… but it hasn’t.
  • The trains look just like the ones on the show, lots of character and the kids seem more eager for pretend play with them than some of the trains we have on the wooden set. 
  • The price of this one set is about the price of one stinking Thomas train. Seriously, the price of Thomas merch is ridiculous. I am HAPPY to expand beyond Thomas gear.
  • I was really worried that we wouldn’t be able to do anything with this set beyond the planned layouts. It took Graham about a month before he started building his own tracks. They may be wobbly and he may ask for help, but he’s showing creativity, and he gets to show a lot more of it than he can with the wooden tracks. 
  • There are multiple StackTrack sets and they all can fit together. And yes I will be asking for StackTrack merch for Graham this Christmas because I think we could design some wicked awesome tracks.
  • The trains can couple up, always good. And it’s a more secure coupling than the magnetic wooden trains.
  • Price is good, a new train is $5.99 or so and a set runs from $20 to $40, with expansion packs varying in price. 
  • They’re just plain fun. Here’s a look at Graham playing with the set:

Cons:

  • Younger kids will need help. As I mentioned, some of the extra elements like the gate are harder to connect.
  • Some layouts are wobbly. The supports don’t actually click into place, you just push them together like legos. So if someone bumps the track this can lead to a big collapse. This only happened to us on a couple of layouts, but it is an issue. The tracks themselves are nice and strong, it’s the supports that I wish were better.
  • The many kinds of track pieces may frustrate some kids.
  • Overall, I’m just not sure this is going to be a good product for kids who are very perfectionist, anxious, ASD, etc. If you think they’ll have a meltdown if the track falls down, this may not be the set for you. With that said, Graham can certainly fall into that category sometimes but he’s at the point now where a track that falls down can mean extra excitement for the story he’s telling in his head.

Tessa playing with TOMY Chuggington StackTracks

Both kids have really enjoyed playing with these tracks and I find that for us the positives outweigh the negatives by a good amount. I’m weary of putting together wooden train tracks, there’s only so much I can do with our limited amount of straights and curves. We just have more fun putting these together, whether we follow the instructions or not.

So, would you like to bring one home? The kind folks at TOMY are giving away one Chuggington StackTrack Rescue at Rocky Ridge Action Playset  and a Chug Patrol – Ready to Rescue DVD for your kiddos. Want to enter?

Mandatory entry: leave a comment on this post letting me know the train lover in your life who’d love these StackTracks.

Bonus entry: Tweet this: “Win Chuggington StackTracks from @Tomy_Toy from @jessicaesquire! http://bit.ly/1ae53QQ” and make sure you leave a comment with the link to your tweet. (You can find it by clicking on the timestamp of the tweet.)

Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this giveaway. One entry per household. Limited to entrants over 18 in the US and Canada. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on 10/31/13 at 6 pm Eastern Time. The winner will receive a Chuggington StackTracks playset and a Chuggington DVD, a retail value of  approximately $40 US. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. The winner will be chosen randomly using the plugin And the Winner Is…  Winner will be notified by email and must respond within 48 hours to receive their prize. If the winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by TOMY Toys. Don’t Mind the Mess is not responsible for any problems with receipt of the prize. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited

Disclosure: Thanks to TOMY for providing us with these products for review.