Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and the theme this week is beach reads.  Here are my favorite books to read while lounging on the beach!

  • A Hundred Summers (Beatriz Williams) - The setting: 1930s, Rhode Island, on the beach, in the summertime.
  • The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren Weisberger) - I don't mind reading about someone else's soul-sucking job when I've got my toes in the sand!
  • The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) - A fun mystery and a fast read.
  • The Shopaholic series (Sophie Kinsella) - These books are funny and light - perfect for the beach!
  • Barefoot (Elin Hilderbrand) - Many of Hilderbrand's books take place on Nantucket during the summertime, so they're great to take to the beach.
  • Chasing Harry Winston (Lauren Weisberger) - A fun, easy read about three friends navigating love and relationships.
  • Shoe Addicts Anonymous (Beth Harbison) - Another light and funny story, this one about a group of women who bond over their common shoe size.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Watchung Reservation

The Watchung Reservation, in Union County, is one of our favorite places to hike.  It has trails ranging from a half-mile to 10 miles, plus other amenities like horse trails, canoeing/kayaking, fishing, and a nature and science center contained within its 2,000+ acres.

For a map of the park, visit the Union County Parks website here.

On a recent visit, we took the History Trail northeast from Glenside Drive and hiked around Lake Surprise.

Lake Surprise

We hiked for approximately 2 1/2 miles.  The trails here are generally well-maintained, but some of them can get rocky, so watch your footing.  One of the reasons I love the Reservation is because there is so much to see.  Markers along the trails point out the locations of historic sites.  According to the Union County Parks website, "The stops along the History Trail recall features from the early years of the Watchung Reservation, or describe uses of the land before it was incorporated into the park."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: A Certain Age

"Waiting on" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating.

A Certain Age

Beatriz Williams

Expected publication: June 28, 2016

As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.

But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingĂ©nue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.

Full of the glamour, wit and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’ fiction and alternating between Sophie’s spirited voice and Theresa’s vibrant timbre, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York.
- from Goodreads

Monday, May 23, 2016

Five Mysteries to Keep You Up at Night

When I'm reading a really good mystery, I'm guilty of losing sleep, running late to work, ignoring my husband... all for the sake of finding out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.  Here are five of my favorite mystery novels:



  1. The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins): Rachel sees something shocking from her seat on the train, but her unreliable memory is a hindrance to the police investigation.  I definitely lost some sleep over this one!
  2. The Distant Hours (Kate Morton): While trying to find out more about her mother's time billeted at Milderhurst Castle, Edie stumbles upon an even bigger mystery involving the sisters who reside there.  Kate Morton's writing is beautiful, and the ending of this book is incredible.
  3. Still Life (Louise Penny): Inspector Armand Gamache investigates a murder in an idyllic Canadian town.  This book is the first in a series and kind of reminds me of an Agatha Christie novel.
  4. The Scent of Rain and Lightning (Nancy Pickard): When the man convicted of killing Jody's father is released from prison, questions arise about what really happened the night her father died and her mother disappeared.  Tension builds through flashbacks, leading to an ending I didn't see coming.
  5. Reconstructing Amelia (Kimberly McCreight): A mother tries to find out what really happened on the day her daughter committed suicide.  A great read told from the mother and daughter's alternating points of view.
Do you have any recommendations for a great mystery novel?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Throwback: Diamond Head

For our honeymoon in 2013, we went to Hawaii.  We spent a week on the island of Oahu, and at the end of our trip, we visited Diamond Head.

View of Diamond Head from Honolulu

Diamond Head is located on the southeast portion of the island of Oahu, near Honolulu and Waikiki Beach.  The crater was formed during a volcanic eruption 300,000 years ago!

To get a better history of Diamond Head and a trail map, visit the Hawaii State Park website here.

There is a small entrance fee to enter Diamond Head State Monument - $5 per car or $1 per person if walking in.

Inside the crater
The trail from the crater to the top of the rim is only 0.8 miles, but it is moderately difficult in places.  There are actually LOTS of stairs, so be prepared!  But it is so worth it once you get to the top!  The views are amazing - but really, it's Hawaii, everything is beautiful! 

View of Waikiki Beach from Diamond Head
You're going to want to stay at the top and stare at the ocean and mountains forever, but there are going to be a lot of other people up on those little platforms with you, so spend a couple minutes taking it all in, shoot some amazing photos, and then let someone else have their turn.

View of the crater

Those stairs!

View towards Honolulu

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: So Close

"Waiting on" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and it spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

So Close

Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

Expected publication date: June 7, 2016

From international #1 best-selling authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus comes a story about a girl from the trailer parks of central Florida and the two powerful men who shape her life, one of whom will raise her up to places she never imagined, the other of whom will threaten to destroy her. Amanda Beth Luker has spent her whole life desperately looking for someone who can show her the way out of her trailer park Florida town. And then, finally, help arrives in the form of Tom Davis, a successful lawyer with political aspirations who grew up just a few towns over from Amanda. But it's his wife, Lindsay, who really captures Amanda's imagination. Strong, smart, and determined, she gives Amanda something she's never had - a role model. Meanwhile Amanda is introduced to the wealthy, charismatic, and deeply troubled Pax Westerbrook. He clearly desires Amanda, but if she gives in will that move her closer to the life she's always dreamed of or make it impossible? Amanda rides Davis's political success all the way to Washington, where he becomes Senator and will later be tapped for president and even make a bid for the White House. But when Amanda starts to suspect, and later confirms, his moral indiscretions, her loyalty is tested. Will a girl from a trailer park even be believed if she goes public with damning information? Will she be willing to risk losing everything she's gained? - from Goodreads

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Winter

Winter (Book 4 of The Lunar Chronicles)

Marissa Meyer

November 10, 2015

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? - from Goodreads
I loved this entire series, and this book was a fitting end.  I was drawn to The Lunar Chronicles series because each book is based on a fairy tale, but with a modern twist: Cinderella (Cinder) is a cyborg mechanic, Little Red Riding Hood (Scarlet) is a French farmer, Rapunzel (Cress) is a computer hacker, and Snow White (Winter) is a princess who lives on the moon.  The whole idea is so much fun and well thought out; Marissa Meyer has created a world that is rich and full of detail.

Although this last book is entitled "Winter" and does a great job of introducing us to this character, the book isn't just about her.  All of our favorite characters from the previous books are back and bringing their revolution to Luna.

There are a lot of main characters in this book, but Meyer excels at putting a spotlight on each and moving their stories along.  I love that each one has such a distinct personality; for example, Winter is mentally unstable but she will always be kind and Thorne will always have a sarcastic comment no matter the situation.  I really appreciated the strong female characters in this book, particularly Cinder and Scarlet; although each has their own romantic entanglement, they are still smart and focused on their mission. 

The book literally ends with "And they all lived happily to the end of their days," but I felt that there were still some unanswered questions.  I don't think there's a need for another book to revisit the characters, though, and I actually liked that the ending wasn't traditionally perfect for all the characters.

4.5 stars - I recommend this book to readers who are charmed by fairy tales and happily ever afters!  Read the whole series, I know you will love it! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Leaving

"Waiting on" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and it spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Leaving

Tara Altebrando

Expected publication date: June 7, 2016

Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been.

Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.

Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story. - from Goodreads

Monday, May 9, 2016

Echo Lake Park

Echo Lake Park is located just off Route 22 in Mountainside, Union County, New Jersey.

For a map of the park, visit the Union County website here.

This park is great for a Sunday morning stroll.  There is a main paved path that traverses the whole length of the park.

Echo Lake Park has a lot of fun amenities - a dog park, playground, picnic tables, and a boat house where you can rent pedal boats.  Fishing is also a popular activity here.  Across Mountain Avenue, you can take advantage of a fitness trail.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Throwback: Cliff Walk

In the spirit of #tbt, I thought it would be fun to revisit an awesome walking trail from our vacation last May.

The Cliff Walk is a 3.5 mile trail along the eastern shoreline of Newport, Rhode Island.  With Easton Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gilded Age mansions on the other, the views along this trail are spectacular!

Google Maps view of the Cliff Walk

There are two main places to park and enter the trail: there is a parking lot at First Beach for entrance at Memorial Boulevard and street parking at Narragansett Avenue (be advised that you have to pay to park at both places).  The trail ends at Bellevue Avenue; the trail is not a loop, so you'll have to take the Cliff Walk back to your car, walk through the streets of Newport, or take the trolley.

We entered at Narragansett Avenue, where Forty Steps is located, which you brings you down close to the water.

The northern part of the walk is paved like a sidewalk; however, the southern part of the trail ranges from paved walk, to dirt, to rocks.  Some parts of it can get rather tricky.  If you want to avoid the rocky areas, you can exit the Cliff Walk at various streets (Webster Street, Sheppard Avenue, Ruggles Avenue, Marine Avenue, and Ledge Road), all well-marked.  Trail markers point out sights of interest and provide historical and geographical information on the area.

The Cliff Walk is a great way to see the sights, like The Breakers, from a different perspective.  We had a pretty cloudy day, but it was still worth it.  It was also really windy - be prepared!

I highly recommend the Cliff Walk if you visit Newport, Rhode Island!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Review: The Mountain Story

The Mountain Story
Lori Lansens
Published June 30, 2015

Five days. Four hikers. Three survivors. From Lori Lansens, author of the national bestsellers Rush Home Road, The Girls and The Wife's Tale comes a gripping tale of adventure, sacrifice and survival in the unforgiving wilderness of a legendary mountain.

On his 18th birthday, Wolf Truly takes the tramway to the top of the mountain that looms over Palm Springs, intending to jump to his death. Instead he encounters strangers wandering in the mountain wilderness, three women who will change the course of his life. Through a series of missteps he and the women wind up stranded, in view of the city below, but without a way down. They endure five days in freezing temperatures without food or water or shelter, and somehow find the courage to carry on.
Wolf, now a grown man, has never told his son, or anyone, what happened on the mountain during those five days, but he can't put it off any longer. And in telling the story to his only child, Daniel, he at last explores the nature of the ties that bind and the sacrifices people will make for love. The mountain still has a hold on Wolf, composed of equal parts beauty and terror. - from Goodreads
Up until the ending, I was thoroughly enjoying this book.  Wolf planned to kill himself that day on the mountain (and through flashbacks we learn the hardships Wolf has faced in his life, from his mother dying young, to his unreliable father, to an accident that nearly killed his best friend), but through a chance encounter, his plans are derailed.  He meets three women (Nola, Bridget, and Vonn) and the group becomes lost on the mountain with no easy way out. 

I loved how Mother Nature was an important character in the book.  Animals lurked just out of sight, leaving the reader to worry if and when they would strike.  The wind took on a life of its own, making the stranded hikers think they were hearing water or a search helicopter. 

The ending kind of fell apart a little for me.  It all seemed to happen too quickly and finding out the true paternity of Wolf's son Daniel (the book is basically a letter to his son finally telling him about his experience on the mountain) was a bit of an unnecessary downer.  However, I would read this book again.

4 stars - The story moved along at a good pace and was suspenseful without knocking you over the head.  I would recommend this to nature enthusiasts and fans of survival stories!