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What We’re Reading Right Now

Our family likes books, you might say. I started working in an independent bookstore in 1998, and met Brandon when he was hired a year later (and we both stayed on until 2004 — the same year we were married). The kids have tons of books in their rooms, and we installed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to hold (most of) our collection in the front parlor of our Victorian after having made a library of our second floor landing in our first house. Yeah, we kinda like reading.

Brandon switched over to digital books a few years before I did, and now we both read like a mix of traditional and e-books. I use an iPad or sometimes my iPhone, and Brandon reads a Kindle. We were recently introduced to Oyster, which has been described as “Netflix for books,” and it’s pretty awesome. It works on both of our operating systems (and Android, too), and there are several display settings to choose from, letting you customize the look. You get unlimited access to over half a million books for $9.95 a month, and they have everything from classics to new releases (with new titles being added all the time). The best part is that the app makes it easy to find new books through their collections by genre, and it even learns what you like and makes recommendations based on your tastes and activity.

Oyster is offering a 30-day free trial right now and you can browse their popular titles to find some good new books, but I thought it would be fun to put together a reading list with picks from both Brandon and me. Summer’s winding down, but I’m still sort of in that light and fun frame of mind when choosing what to read right now, so my list reflects that. I’m guessing by Brandon’s list that he’s in the ‘end of the world apocalypse’ frame of mind, but you know, to each their own.

Our Oyster Books Reading List

Summer Reads

If you’re still looking for something quick and easy to pick up, these are some good options.

Guilty Pleasures

I re-read a couple of these recently, and oh man. They are ridiculous, in the best way.

My To-Read List

We all have that list of books that we’ve been meaning to get to, right? These are a few of mine.

Brandon’s Picks

Brandon assures me that A Confederacy of Dunces comes together in the end, but I only made it halfway before I gave up on it in favor of something else. (I’m sure I’m wrong and in the minority here, seeing as it’s a Pullitzer Prize winner and all.)

Oyster is offering a free 30-day trial for my readers, so you can try it out for yourself. I have a bunch of other titles that I’m eager to read (I narrowed it down to just three here!), but I’d love a few suggestions too. I’ll add them to my reading list!

Gifts for the Hard to Buy For

I presented a gift guide in partnership with American Express last week, featuring items that could be purchased through their Membership Rewards program. I also asked if you needed help finding gifts for anyone, and today I’m going to follow up and help out with some ideas for the hard to buy for people in your life.

American Express Points for Presents Gift Guide, Part 2

  • Brothers

    Emily said: “I always struggle with new gift ideas for my brothers in their mid-late twenties. I always go with t-shirts or something boring like undies or socks.” And Valerie said: “I’m trying to figure out what to get my brothers (18 and 19) that isn’t in the video game/dvd/gift card oeuvre. But I’m pretty broke this year, so I have a $40 limit for both of them. Everything I’ve looked at so far that I thought would be good goes way over that!”
    There were a lot of requests for brotherly gifts! This Cards Against Humanity game (4) looks awesome, and you can’t go wrong with a Jon Ronson book (Brandon and I both like him). Lost at Sea (5) is Ronson’s newest. You can pay for these with points through Amazon’s checkout.

  • Sisters

  • Ashley said: “I’m having a really hard time coming up with something for my 18 year old sister. She has so many interests its hard to narrow down a meaningful gift.”
    I think sisters would enjoy the brotherly gifts above too, but if you’re looking for something a little more girly, perhaps a bracelet with meaning (2)? The one shown represents strength, motivation, and knowledge, but it would also just look cute as part of an arm party. If she’s a maker, use a gift card to west elm to buy beautiful heirloom scissors (3).

  • Parents (Yours or Hers/His)

    Marie said: “I could use gift ideas for my boyfriend’s parents!! We’ve been dating for 1.5 years and although I’m not very close with them (distance makes it tough), I’d like to give something thoughtful.”
    Give tickets to a show. I cashed in a bunch of my Amex points recently to get tickets to The Book of Mormon (1) (Brandon and I will be going on our anniversary in May). You can pay with points through TicketMaster, so there are tons of options for shows and concerts that they’ll like.

  • For Those Who Don’t Need Another Thing

    Hillary said: “Would love advice about what to get my dad and stepmom. They are retired, don’t really need any “stuff” and are just plain hard to shop for. I usually default to restaurant gift cards but would like to give something more thoughtful. Help!”
    Give to charity. Donate your points to Hurricane Sandy Relief (6), or to another charity on behalf of your gift recipient.

  • The Wild Card

    Sarah said: “I’m having a tough time coming up with something for a family gift exchange. It could go to anyone in my family from my 12 year old niece to my 50+ uncles. I seem to only be able to come up with girly or adult ideas.”
    My best bet for one-gift-fits-all is How Music Works by David Byrne (7) (pay with points on Amazon). It will appeal to book-lovers, music-lovers (young and old — doesn’t everyone agree that David Byrne is awesome?), and it has a technology/science bent.

Paid

I was selected by American Express to help educate consumers about how to use Membership Rewards points. As such I was paid for my services as an ambassador, but all gift choices selected and opinions about the gifts and American Express are my own.

Young House Love

The Day John and Sherry Showed Up at My House

John Petersik of Young House Love taking photos of Making it Lovely's house

I’ve ‘known’ John and Sherry Petersik of Young House Love since 2007. We started our blogs around the same time and we’ve chatted plenty of times via email over the years, but we had never met before. When I read that they were going to be in Chicago for their book tour, I sent them an email hoping to find a little time to meet up. Sherry wrote back and said that they were down for one of their infamous house crashes, and so we set a date.

Do you know how weird it is to meet someone you’ve known for five years by them coming to your house? I mean, it was awesome, but it was also a little surreal to see John and Sherry walking up to my front door.

Sherry Petersik (Young House Love) and Nicole Balch (Making it Lovely)

They came in, we all hugged, and then they house crashed. Brandon and August were home the whole time, and John and Sherry met Eleanor for a few minutes too after Brandon picked her up from preschool. Clara was back at home with her grandma, but we all agreed that she and Eleanor would have been toddler besties.

I drove John and Sherry to their hotel when they were done taking photos of the house, and on the way I tried to point out interesting things around Chicago. “There’s the Sears/Willis Tower, over there is the Trump Tower” and so on. And of course I blurted out “here’s where R. Kelly shot Trapped in the Closet!” I’m not sure if they were into that (but man, “En Vogue… with a new lead singer” had me and Brandon cracking up in the latest installment). Later that night, Sherry and I realized that we (professional bloggers that we are) forgot to take a picture of “Young House Love and Making it Lovely” together with a decent camera. We made sure to get one with the three of us the next day, but of course I only had my phone with me. Behold!

Sherry Petersik, Nicole Balch, and John Petersik  (Young House Love and Making it Lovely)
(Pics or it didn’t happen.)

See all those people behind us there? The line for them at their book signing was crazy long, with people wrapped around the store and waiting out in the rain. It was a dedicated (and really sweet) group of people. I’ve worked and attended a lot of book readings, but this was a particularly good one. A few people in the crowd even recognized me and had me sign my page in the book (I contributed project #199), which felt really cool.

Young House Love Book Signing at West Elm

John and Sherry are now New York Times best selling authors for their book, Young House Love, and I couldn’t be happier for them. (Congrats, guys, and thanks again for coming over.)

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