Friday, August 18, 2017

Blog Break + What I'll Be Reading

Hi everyone, just wanted to let you know I'll be taking a brief break from the blog next week as I spend some time with family, relax, and (hopefully) do some reading!

I typically stick to rereads when I'm on vacation, because I'm never sure how much actual reading time I'll get in and there are always lots of distractions, so I don't really want to start something new.  Here's what I'll be bringing with me next week:

What do you like to read when you're on vacation?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Waiting on/Can't Wait Wednesday: Origin

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings - both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Origin (Robert Langdon #5)
Dan Brown
Expected publication date: October 3, 2017
Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself . . . and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery . . . and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us. - from Goodreads
So yeah, some people might scoff at Dan Brown's books, but I've always loved his stories and their mix of suspense, history, and art!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer TBR Wipeout 2017: Wrap-Up

I can't believe it's already time to wrap up the Summer TBR Wipeout, hosted by The Candid Cover!


After my last update, I had three more books to go from my challenge TBR of 10 books.  Things You Won't Say is a timely story about a police shooting.  Sarah Pekkanen's novels are a bit hit-or-miss for me; this one was an okay read.  I could have used less of the supporting characters and more of the police officer that the story is actually about.

I devoured The Best Kind of Magic by Crystal Cestari in just two days.  This book was so adorable - a matchmaker, large sprinkles of magic, and touches of adventure.  I absolutely loved it!

Finally, I read The Girl Before by JP Delaney, a thriller about an unusual home, its mysterious architect, and the women who have lived in this unique place.  Although things got a bit odd at the end, I loved the twists and turns in this fast-paced story.

I really enjoyed this summer reading challenge.  I thought it was the perfect length of time to be able to read a good number of books without feeling like I needed to rush through them or spend all my time reading (as much as I would love to, I do need to do other things sometimes!).  And it helped me finally get to some unread books on my shelf and clear out some titles from my TBR from earlier in the year. 

Hope you all had a great summer of reading!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Dividing Eden

Dividing Eden (Dividing Eden #1)
Joelle Charbonneau
Published June 6, 2017
Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option: to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal? - from Goodreads
I love books about royalty, and with the added twist of twins and the fantasy element I've been craving lately, I dove right into Dividing Eden.  However, while it started out strong, the story and characters lost their way and I ended up disappointed.

Princess Carys is strong and stoic.  She has spent her life protecting her brother and helping him hide his secret from the rest of the kingdom, but she's also facing her own struggles, namely an addiction to a painkilling medicine.  Prince Andreus is a womanizer but he also has a big heart for those who are suffering.

After the king and crown prince are killed and the queen renounces the throne, the Council of Elders of Eden is ready to name a new king, even though two heirs remain.  Apparently, no one knows which twin was born first; therefore, neither can be crowned.  Until someone points out that the law says the heirs can battle each other in a series of trials, with the winner receiving the crown.  At this point I was super excited - I couldn't wait to see what trials the twins would have to go through and how they would retain their strong relationship while battling each other.  Some of the trials turn out to be kind of lame and seem to have little to do with ruling a kingdom.  They also move through them so quickly that it was hard to get invested.

Unfortunately, the issues kept coming.  The whole beginning of the story leads us to believe the twins are so close, yet Andreus is swayed by another character during the trials and turns on Carys so quickly, it's really unbelievable.  It totally contradicted what we know about Andreus.  Many of the secondary characters are shady but interchangeable.  Honestly, I kept getting a lot of them confused.  There is a twist of magic at the end that to me seemed to come out of nowhere and isn't supported by anything else in the book (the author gives an explanation, but I wasn't buying it).  Plus, I kept getting a Game of Thrones vibe, with winter approaching and creatures that come out of the woods with the cold.  The writing is also very repetitive - how many times in a chapter can we be told that Andreus has a secret?

Overall, I wanted to love this story - the idea is unique but it also has so many elements that I normally like.  And while I want to see Carys and Andreus find the strong bond they once had, I'm not sure I'll continue with the series.

2.5 stars

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens is a 1,000+-acre botanical garden located in Kennett Square, PA.  We originally tried going in January for their Christmas light show, but of course, there was a snowstorm that weekend.  We finally made our way down there a couple weeks ago, and it was so beautiful!

For more information about Longwood Gardens, visit their website here.  On non-peak days, there is a $23 charge to enter the gardens, and the tickets are for timed entry. 

The Main Fountain Garden has reopened after renovations, so we made our way there first; like the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Longwood Gardens puts on a show with their fountains, set to music (and lights at night).  We caught the show a couple times that day - for a good view, definitely get there early; people start lining up well in advance!

Next, we went through the Conservatory, a massive building with so many different themed rooms filled with plants and flowers.  I probably could have spent hours just in there!

One of my favorite parts was actually just outside the Conservatory, where they had several pools of lily pads - it was so pretty!

Then we did some exploring outside - we walked past the Meadow and made our way down to the Italian Water Garden.

There are several fun structures located around the grounds, including two treehouses and this beautiful gazebo:

The last place we walked through was the Flower Garden Walk - it had so many different types of flowers, arranged by color - such a cool rainbow effect!

We spent a few hours walking around here and probably could have stayed for longer, there was just so much to see.  It was a really great place for kids - our niece had a blast running around and looking at everything.  We can't wait to go back in the winter to see the holiday decorations!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Waiting On/Can't Wait Wednesday: Wish You Were Here

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings - both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Renee Carlino
Expected publication date: August 15, 2017
Charlotte has spent her twenties adrift, floating from interest to interest, job to job, and guy to guy, searching for a spark but never quite finding it. All she knows is that she won’t discover it working as a waitress at a pies-and-fries joint in Los Angeles or living with her fun but aimless best friend in a tiny apartment in the Arts District.

Then Charlotte collides with Adam, a gorgeous and soulful painter who seems just as lost as she feels. Their instant connection turns into a midnight drink… and a whirlwind night of champagne, Chinese food, and the kind of conversation that only happens in romantic comedies. But the next morning, Adam gives Charlotte the cold shoulder, leaving her confused and hurt—and wondering if the few odd moments between them the night before were red flags in disguise.

Months later, Charlotte hasn’t been able to shake Adam, so she decides to find out what happened the morning after their magical night together. This fateful decision rewrites their wild love story, but what Charlotte doesn’t know yet is that the ending has already been written. - from Goodreads
For all those girls who just want answers - I can't wait to read this one!

Monday, August 7, 2017

6 Ways to Support Your Favorite Charity Without Writing a Check

Donating money to a charity is, without a doubt, an awesome way to support your favorite causes - they can use the cash in the areas that need it most and often they can get better deals (like food banks buying in bulk) than individuals can.  But there are lots of other ways to help out, so today I wanted to list some ways you can support your favorite charities that go beyond writing a check (although, TBH, some of these things may involve some cash layout)!

  • Donate your used books.  Places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or your local library will accept your used books.  These organizations will most likely sell them and use the profits for support.  There are also some charities that will distribute your used books or help match you with a new reader; check out this list of charities that accept and distribute used books.  I love the idea of putting books back out into the world for others to enjoy.
  • If you're hosting a baby shower, ask guests to bring extra packs of wipes or diapers.  We did this at my sister's baby shower.  The guests were so generous and we were able to donate the items to Children's Home Society of New Jersey, an organization that helps at-risk children and families.
  • At your next barbeque, when your guests ask if they can bring anything, request non-perishable items that can be donated to your local food bank.  Instead of having your guests bring an extra side dish, ask if they'd be willing to bring some canned vegetables or boxes of cereal.
  • Participate in a walk for charity.  There may be a registration fee, but sometimes there isn't.  Ask your friends and family to sponsor you or join you!  Charity walks are a great way to support a cause while getting outdoors at the same time.
  • Organize a get-together with friends and family to put together dinner bags/snack bags/hygiene bags for your local soup kitchen.  Check with your local soup kitchen and see what items they accept.  Some in our area look for bagged non-perishable dinners or snacks they can hand out; they often also accept hygiene products.
  • Host a Make-A-Blanket Day for Project Linus.  My sister and I love making no-sew blankets for Project Linus, so we hosted a Make-A-Blanket Day and invited family and friends.  It was so great to see the huge stack of blankets we had made at the end of the day.

What are some of your favorite charities?  What kind of volunteer work do you do?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: The Night The Lights Went Out

The Night The Lights Went Out
Karen White
Published April 11, 2017
Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. It's not her first time starting over, but her efforts at a new beginning aren't helped by an anonymous local blog that dishes about the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail.

Merilee finds some measure of peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Though stubborn and irascible, Sugar sees something of herself in Merilee--something that allows her to open up about her own colorful past.

Sugar's stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms in their tennis whites and shiny SUVs, and even on her new friendship with Heather Blackford. Merilee is charmed by the glamorous young mother's seemingly perfect life and finds herself drawn into Heather's world.

In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee's house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three women.... - from Goodreads
Wow, there was a lot going on in this book!  First off, I love this cover - I love the retro look (even though the story is contemporary) and it represents the book really well.  This book packs so much into its 400 pages:
  •  A newly divorced woman trying to rebuild a life for herself and her children
  • An elderly woman's icy demeanor thawing when she finds a kindred spirit
  • An anonymous blogger who knows all the gossip about everyone in town
  • Mommy wars/Desperate Housewives vibe - who's the richest, the most glamorous, and volunteers the most at the school
  • Not one but two murder mysteries
I thought this story would be about the friendship between Merilee, the single mom, and Sugar, her elderly landlady.  And a lot of it was - it was nice to see Sugar, who has been alone for so long, really take to Merilee and her children.  However, I felt like these two main characters kind of took away from each other, like their stories were competing with each other for prominence in the book.  For example, there are a couple flashbacks to Sugar's earlier life; while it was good to get to know the character better and discover why she is so cold and blunt, it wasn't enough.  With so much else going on in the story, the flashbacks kind of got lost and didn't fit with the rest of the book.

Another issue I had was with the dialogue.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when dialogue doesn't sound true to life, and in this case, the dialogue was often stilted and too descriptive; there was too much telling and not enough showing.

However, there was a lot to like in this book.  The writing flowed nicely.  The Southern vibe came through very strong; I got a really good sense of the Georgia setting, through the language used (I'm totally going to start using "bless your heart"), the multiple references to sweet tea, and the nuances of Southern life.  I've always wanted to visit this area of the country, and I felt very immersed in the culture through this book.  And lastly, the soap opera-like story is perfect for a light summertime read.

3 stars

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Liebster Award Tag

Thank you to Amy at A Magical World of Words for nominating me for a Liebster Award!

-  Thank the person who nominated you. 
-  Answer the 11 questions they wrote for you. 
-  Nominate 11 people. Give them your set of 11 questions to answer.

Questions from Amy:

1: If you were a colour, what would you be? (What colour best suits your personality?)  Probably blue.  I'm pretty calm most of the time and it's the color of so many of my favorite things - the sky, the ocean, and my husband's eyes (I'm so cheesy).

2: A magical animal you'd love to have as a pet?  A dragon, so I could fly around on it!

3: Guilty pleasure book? Sometimes I read romance novels by Nora Roberts.

4: Would you rather live in Oz or Neverland, and why?  Oh, this is hard.  I love Oz, but the never-aging factor of Neverland is pretty attractive - I wouldn't have to worry about more wrinkles or gray hair!

5: You're only allowed to watch 1 movie your entire life. What movie would you choose?  The original Ghostbusters.  I loved the remake last year, but the original is just so funny and campy!

6: You're stranded on an island with Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen. Who do you think is more likely to escape without you and leave you behind - given dire circumstances?  Definitely Katniss.  I think Hermione is more friendly and would try to exhaust all options before leaving someone behind.

7: One book that forever changed your life?  OMG, Amy, these questions are HARD!  I'd have to go with Behind the Attic Wall - it's a book I distinctly remember reading and even rereading as a child.  I loved it so much I named my cat after one of the characters.  I think this book just reinforced my love of reading, so much so that I remember it today.

8: Who's your fictional hero/role model?   Weird choice, but I'd say Ned Stark from Game of Thrones.  Yeah, he's not around for long, but you can tell he's a guy with a lot of integrity, a good parent, and he knows how to keep a secret!

9: Would you rather drown in ice-cream or burn in pizza? (I'm weird, I know).  This is difficult - I like pizza more than ice cream, but burning and drowning both sound like terrible ways to go.  Maybe the cold of the ice cream would knock me out before drowning me?

10: What's one famous book you wish you'd written?  Harry Potter.  Just knowing I had created something so beloved would be awesome - and of course, I'd be SO RICH.

11: What's one book you know you'll never, ever read?  Fifty Shades Darker.  I read the first book out of curiosity, but didn't care for it.  It's just not my type of book.

Since I also received a Liebster Award a few months ago and have tagged some other bloggers recently, I'm going to refrain from doing so now.  Thank you again to Amy!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Waiting on/Can't Wait Wednesday: Emma in the Night

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings - both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Wendy Walker
Expected publication date: August 8, 2017
From the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten comes a thriller about two missing sisters, a twisted family, and what happens when one girl comes back...

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn't add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister's return might just be the beginning of the crime. - from Goodreads
Oh, this sounds like such a good mystery, especially since it involves a dysfunctional family!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer TBR Wipeout 2017: Update #2

I'm still plugging away at the books I chose for the Summer TBR Wipeout hosted by The Candid Cover.  Here's what I've been reading recently:

I finally read Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer - I saw so many glowing reviews for this a couple months ago that I knew I had to read it.  This story about two teenagers who anonymously share their grief with each other was so emotional; I really loved the way Juliet and Declan opened up to each other in ways they couldn't with other people in their lives, and the story and characters felt so real.  

After reading Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard, I am so glad I'm not going on a cruise this summer!  This story about a man trying to find his girlfriend after she disappears from a cruise ship is a fast-moving and suspenseful read.  I definitely lost some hours of sleep over this one, and it kept me guessing until the very end. 

Maybe it's because her books always take place on Nantucket, but when I think of quintessential "summer" authors, Elin Hilderbrand is at the top of that list.  The Castaways is about a group of eight friends (four couples) and the aftermath when one of the couples drowns on a boating trip.  This book is intensely character-driven; I could have used a bit more plot.

So - I have three books left out of the 10 I originally chose - I'm hoping these last three will be winners!

Friday, July 28, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: July Roundup

Here are some mini-reviews for my latest reads for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge hosted by The Bookwym's Hoard!

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8) by Louise Penny (2012)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache travels to a remote monastery in the Quebec wilderness when the monastery's prior/choirmaster is found murdered.  Although this was a cool mystery (the suspect list is limited to the other 23 monks living there, the focus on Gregorian chants, and the vow of silence taken by the monks), sometimes it was a little hard to follow the religious terminology, at least for me.  I really had to concentrate on abbot v. prior, etc., because the monastery was split between the two spiritual leaders.

This installment of the series was a really interesting character study of these men who joined this monastery - how they came to be there, their roles in this mini-society.  But as always, I was drawn to Gamache and his second-in-command, Beauvoir.  I feel like we saw a side to Gamache that we hadn't seen before, especially when his superior, the Superintendent, comes to the island supposedly to help with the investigation.  Extra layers were also added to Beavoir's character, as he is now (secretly or not-so-secretly) dating Gamache's daughter, and he is still struggling from the after-effects of the foiled terror plot from a couple stories ago.

Even 8 books into the series, I still find Penny's writing to be magical - it's comforting yet suspenseful, building the mystery while never losing focus on the characters.  I feel like something big is coming in the series, and I look forward to the next installment.  4.5 stars

How The Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #9) by Louise Penny (2013)

Another masterful installment from Louise Penny.  Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back in Three Pines to investigate the murder of a friend of a Three Pines resident.  That friend turns out to be quite a famous person, although she had kept her true identity hidden for many years.

As interesting as this mystery was, I felt the bulk of the novel was devoted to increasing problems in the police department.  Gamache's team has been dismantled and he begins to suspect that things are more than what they seem.  As he uncovers major corruption, he's not sure who he can trust, but he knows he needs help.

The way Penny builds tension is just amazing - I could not put this book down. I felt like I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what happened to all the characters.  I loved how Penny incorporated the residents of Three Pines into the big scandal at the police department.  She really seamlessly brought together these two elements in a way that felt genuine.  4.5 stars

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sunshine Blogger Award

Thank you to Suzanne at The Bookish Libra for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award!  It really is such an honor to be thought of for things like this!

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to those who are creative, positive, and inspiring, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.

The Rules
  • Thank the person(s) who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog
  • Answer the 11 questions sent by the person who nominated you
  • Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post and/or on your blog
My questions from The Bookish Libra
  1. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?  Paris, for sure.  I love reading books that are set in Paris.  It just seems like such a beautiful and historic city.
  2. If you were given a $50 gift card to your local bookstore, what books would you buy?  Lately, I've really been wanting to purchase some nice hardbound classics, so I'd probably get all the Oz books, maybe Alice in Wonderland.
  3. What do you wish you could change about yourself?  Physically, I wish I was taller - sometimes I feel silly standing next to my husband, who is a foot taller than me.  Personality-wise, I wish I was more outgoing.
  4. If you could meet any character from any book you’ve read, who would you want to meet and why?  Hmm, I'd have to go with Tyrion from Game of Thrones.  He's smart and cunning and just plain funny.
  5. What made you decide to start blogging?  Last year I was starting to read a lot of book blogs and I thought to myself, "I think I could do that, too!"  I wanted to share my thoughts about books and participate in some of the weekly features I saw other bloggers doing.
  6. What fictional character (books, TV, or film) is most like you?  In what ways?  I would say Elsie from Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid.  She's an ordinary girl who thinks the perfect Friday night is reading, watching tv, and eating pizza.  Sounds just like me!  Also, she can lash out and get a bit nasty when she's upset, which unfortunately is also like me!
  7. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?  Anything that combines chocolate and peanut butter.
  8. What makes you happy?  So many things!  My husband, my family, books, blue skies, pizza...
  9. If you had to describe yourself in one word, what word would you choose?  Sentimental.
  10. Are you a dog person or a cat person?  Definitely cat!  Although, we can't have one because of my husband's allergies.
  11. What is your all-time favorite book?  Oh, wow, that is difficult!  I think I would say Gone With The Wind - it's just such a classic, such an epic story.  Rhett Butler is probably my favorite character of all time, and even though she's spoiled and selfish at times, I can't help but love Scarlett.
Questions for my nominees

1.  If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only have 5 books, what would they be?
2.  If you could have a beer or coffee with any literary character, who would you choose and why? 
3.  What is your #1 blogging tip? 
4.  How has your blog changed since you started it? 
5.  What was the last movie you saw?
6.  What are some of your bookish pet peeves?
7.  What book setting would you most like to visit and why?
8.  What is your favorite post on your own blog, and which post has been the most popular among your readers?
9.  Are there any 2018 releases that you're already looking forward to?
10.  What book are you reading next, and how did you decide on it?
11.  What's your favorite comfort food?

My nominees (I'm going to nominate a few blogs that I really love, and I will not feel bad if you don't want to participate!)

A Magical World of Words
Somewhere Only We Know
Books & Beauty Are My Bag

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Waiting on/Can't Wait Wednesday: The Cottingley Secret

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings.  Both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Cottingley Secret
Hazel Gaynor
Expected publication date: August 1, 2017
The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself? - from Goodreads
I really enjoyed The Girl Who Came Home, so I'm interested to see what Hazel Gaynor does next!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Quotables #4: The Taylor Jenkins Reid Edition

I've finally gotten on the Taylor Jenkins Reid bandwagon and I am loving her books!  They're so relatable and so quotable!

Why it speaks to me:  Some people are always looking for the next best thing; they think "perfection" is out there and they have to find it.  But perfection doesn't exist and I think our happiness is what we make of it.  I'm not saying you should settle for a less-than-ideal job or a guy who kinda makes you happy, but I think we can find contentment in lots of things and make our situations work for us.

Why it speaks to me:  I'm not so sure I totally agree with this quote.  I believe in things like fate and karma, but I don't rely on those things to govern my life.  I'd like to think I have some say in what happens.  I don't think believing in fate means blindly doing whatever you want, regardless of consequences, "knowing" that things will work out the way they're supposed to.  It kind of sounds like a dangerous way to live.

Why it speaks to me:  I love this quote because it reminds me that beauty and excitement are all around us.  I dream of going to Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower or touring the historic sights of London, but there are so many things closer to home that can inspire just as much wonder. 

Which of these quotes is your favorite?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: This Time Around

This Time Around
Tawna Fenske
Published April 4, 2017
Allie Ross is not living the life she once dreamed. Her law career ended before it ever started, her parents landed in jail for running a Ponzi scheme, and she just inherited her grandmother’s B&B—which is nice, even if it is full of extra-toed cats. As for her love life…she’d rather not talk about it.

When Jack Carpenter reaches out to reconnect with Allie, the girl who broke his heart in college, his plan is to impress her with the adult he’s become. Sure, he was a deadbeat then, but life has forced him to grow up. And it’s a relief to find out that things didn’t necessarily go the way Allie expected either.

As Allie and Jack get reacquainted, they rediscover the things they loved—and hated—about each other. But who they are now isn’t who they were then, and secrets—old and new—will test whether they have a future together, or if the past is destined to repeat itself. - from Goodreads
I don't generally read a lot of contemporary romance books, but I really liked the sound of this one and I was not disappointed!

Allie and Jack dated as teenagers, eventually getting engaged early in college.  But then they break up and don't see each other for 16 years, until Jack moves back to town and gets in touch with Allie.  The spark is still there, but could a relationship between them work now?

A huge part of the story is who Jack and Allie were the first time they dated versus who they are now.  Back then, Allie was the organized, responsible one, with dreams of going to law school and getting married, and she came from a wealthy family who didn't approve of Jack, who was basically a slacker with no real ambitions and terrible with money.  Fast forward 16 years, and the two have basically switched places in life.  Allie never finished law school and has three more failed engagements to her name; her parents are now in prison.  Jack, however, really turned his life around - he eventually finished college, started a successful career, got married (his wife unfortunately passes away), and had a daughter. 

A lot of the issues that plagued their relationship as teenagers aren't really factors anymore, because of the benefit of time.  Allie and Jack have both grown up, and their experiences (plus the chemistry they always had) potentially make them better partners for each other now.  There's a sense of familiarity combined with chances to learn new things about each other.  But - and there's always a but - there's still some hesitation.  Maybe some of their old problems will resurface, or maybe there will be new ones...

Fenske has crafted a fast-moving, sexy, and mostly lighthearted second-chance romance.  Allie and Jack are relatable and realistic main characters, and there is a good cast of secondary characters that provide humor and heart.

4 stars

Thursday, July 20, 2017

TV Shows I'm Obsessed With Lately #2

Tom and I watched this show years ago and I loved it, so for Christmas he bought me the box set of the entire series and now I'm working my way through it again.  I'm just fascinated by the Tudors and I'll pretty much read or watch anything related to this family!

Tom watches BBC America for Doctor Who; I watch it for Graham Norton.  Graham Norton hosts a British talk show and he is just hilarious.  It's similar to our late-night talk shows here in the US: he does a monologue, chats with celebrities, and has a musical guest each week.

Ah, Neflix, you've done it again!  This series tells the story of a young woman starting her own online vintage clothing store.  It's just a really cute and fun show!  And it's based on the autobiography #GIRLBOSS, by Sophia Amoruso, which I really should read.  (Unfortunately, I just found out it's been cancelled and won't be getting a second season, but hey, at least you can binge this season.)

Have you watched any of these?  What shows are you watching lately?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Waiting on/Can't Wait Wednesday: The Address

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings.  Both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Address
Fiona Davis
Expected publication date: August 1, 2017
After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she'd make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility--no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one's station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey's grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won't see a dime of the Camden family's substantial estate. Instead, her -cousin- Melinda--Camden's biological great-granddaughter--will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda's vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell's Island.
One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages--for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City--and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side's gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich--and often tragic--as The Dakota's can't hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden--and the woman who killed him--on its head.  - from Goodreads

Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer TBR Wipeout 2017: Update #1

Hey, all!  Hope you're enjoying your summers and getting some good reading in!  Two weeks ago I started the Summer TBR Wipeout 2017 hosted by The Candid Cover, so it's time to update my progress!


I started with Caraval by Stephanie Garber, which I've had on my TBR since last year.  I'd seen some mixed reviews on this one, but the magic and fantasy aspects drew me in (for some reason, this summer I've really been wanting to read a lot of fantasy stories!).  I loved the magical parts of this book - the idea of this fantastical game, the crazy buildings, the clothes that change according to your mood, the idea that NO ONE is who they say they are.  But, the writing was overly flowery with some strange descriptions (how can something smell like the moon or laughter?) and the main character Scarlett was kind of infuriating at times.  However, the epilogue did get me a bit excited, because it seems like the next story will be from sister Tella's POV, and she's definitely the more interesting of the two sisters!

Next, I moved onto Driving Lessons by Zoe Fishman, a book I bought at B&N on a whim.  This story is about a woman and her husband who move to Virginia from NYC for a slower pace of life, but when her best friend is diagnosed with cancer, she goes back to NYC to help her out.  Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this one that much.  The story felt very disjointed - I would have preferred more of a "fish out of water" story set solely in Virginia.  The main character is obnoxious and grumpy, and the story is too heavy-handed with the topics of babies and pregnancy.


Then, I moved onto Last Summer by Holly Chamberlin, a story about two women, their daughters, bullying, and a ruined friendship.  I couldn't get into the stuffy writing of this book, so I DNFed at page 25.

Based on a great review from The Bookish Libra, I wanted to make sure I read The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti sooner rather than later.  I was impressed by this story about a father-daughter relationship.  Not only is it a great coming-of-age story for daughter, Loo, but it's also kind of a coming-of-age story for father, Hawley, too.  Flashbacks show Hawley's violent past but also how he has now evolved into a very protective and loving father.  And it was interesting to see how growing up with a father like Hawley has affected Loo (she's definitely not a meek character!).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Sisters One, Two, Three

Sisters One, Two, Three
Nancy Star
Published January 1, 2017
After a tragic accident on Martha’s Vineyard, keeping secrets becomes a way of life for the Tangle family. With memories locked away, the sisters take divergent paths. Callie disappears, Mimi keeps so busy she has no time to think, and Ginger develops a lifelong aversion to risk that threatens the relationships she holds most dear.

When a whispered comment overheard by her rebellious teenage daughter forces Ginger to reveal a long-held family secret, the Tangles’ carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. Upon the death of Glory, the family’s colorful matriarch, and the return of long-estranged Callie, Ginger resolves to return to Martha’s Vineyard and piece together what really happened on that calamitous day when a shadow fell over four sun-kissed siblings playing at the shore. Along with Ginger’s newfound understanding come the keys to reconciliation: with her mother, with her sisters, and with her daughter. - from Goodreads
Hmm, I seem to be really into stories lately that feature dysfunctional families and the secrets they keep.  Sisters One, Two, Three tells the story of the Tangle family, which imploded after a deadly accident during a family vacation.

The story is told in a dual narrative, two different time periods but both from the point of view of oldest sister, Ginger.  One narrative shows Ginger as an adult, married with a teenage daughter (with whom she has a very tense relationship).  The other narrative takes place during the 1970s, leading up to the accident.  We know pretty early on that son/brother Charlie has died, but we don't know how, so I was on pins and needles waiting for it to happen.  I took everything as foreshadowing!

After Charlie dies, mother Glory has a bit of a breakdown, so it is decided that the family will never talk about what happened.  But of course, this is a terrible way to handle things, and the family continues to deteriorate, first with the death of father Solly.  Then youngest sister Callie is sent away to boarding school, and her sisters Ginger and Mimi don't hear from her for over 25 years, until after the death of their mother.  They don't know where she's been or what she's been doing.

After Callie returns, secrets are revealed as to where she's been all this time and honestly, I was kind of horrified to find that out.  It just seemed unusually cruel to me.  It was also cruel to find out that Glory had known for years where she was and kept that from the other siblings. 

It was interesting to see how Ginger's childhood affected the woman she became.  When we meet Ginger as an adult, she's an extreme worrier, way overprotective of her daughter, and definitely a planner in every aspect of her life.  As the book moves along, it's obvious that Glory was a pretty terrible mother - she lied about everything, she was often cruel to her children, and sometimes it seems like she forgot they were even there.  I wouldn't say it was abusive - Glory was just supremely selfish.  Ginger had to learn how to manage her mother's moods and watch out for her younger siblings, and she was deeply affected by her brother's freak accident.

The overall feel of the book was quite melancholy, so this wasn't quite the summer read I was expecting it to be.  I appreciated that the ending didn't just tie everything up in a happy bow.  It was actually pretty open-ended, leaving the reader to wonder where the characters go from here.

4 stars

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Waiting on/Can't Wait Wednesday: Emerald Coast

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings.  Both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Emerald Coast
Anita Hughes
Expected publication date: August 1, 2017
Lily Bristol arrives at a luxurious resort in Sardinia for the grand opening of her newest home furnishing store on the Emerald Coast. She's a successful business woman with an international chain of stores from San Francisco to Milan. Thirty-two and newly divorced, she's ready to handle things on her own. At least until her private butler, Enzo, escorts her to a beautiful suite where she notices a suspiciously familiar pair of men's slippers and shaving kit.

Lily is horrified. Her ex-husband Oliver moved out of their restored Connecticut farmhouse six months ago, but they booked this trip when they were trying to save their marriage and never cancelled the reservation. Oliver, a food critic for the New York Times, is here covering Sardinia's hottest new restaurant. The only other available room is the adjoining suite; and worse, Oliver isn't alone. He's brought a twenty-something named Angela with him.

Lily is determined to make do and enlists Enzo to find her a suitable man. But it's not as easy to find new love as they both expected. When Lily and Oliver find themselves alone on a very important night, they turn to each other. Sparks begin to fly, but can they be together without breaking each other's hearts?

Set on the glamorous Italian island, Emerald Coast is a touching and humorous story about marriage and the difficulty of finding love and happiness at the same time. - from Goodreads

Monday, July 10, 2017

What The Kids at My Old High School Are Reading This Summer

I remember having to do summer reading when I was a teenager, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at the current summer reading list for my old high school!

I personally think summer reading is a good idea (admittedly, I'm not a parent who is fighting with a kid the day before school starts to finish said reading).  It keeps kids in the mindset of learning and critical thinking.  It gives them something to focus on.  Maybe they'll realize that reading isn't so bad, after all!  I like when the schools give kids a wide range of books to choose from - the students can pick for themselves if they want something in their comfort zone or maybe out of it if they're feeling adventurous.

So, now for the specifics at the high school I attended (longer ago than I would care to admit to!): except for the AP students, who get a separate assignment, each student has to read two books this summer: one required book for each grade and an additional book from a list of suggestions, which are different for each grade.  Sounds pretty reasonable to me, for both students (who only have to read 2 books) and teachers - the teachers get the benefit of being able to discuss one book that everyone has read and then maybe everyone can be more creative for another assignment based on the suggested reading.

Here are the required books for each grade:
Of these, the only one I've heard of is The Kite Runner.  I'm kind of surprised that all of these are relatively recent books, and from my perusal of Goodreads, they sound really good.  Has anyone read any of these?

The lists of suggested titles for each grade offer anywhere between 26 and 29 choices, with at least a couple non-fiction titles, and this is where things get really interesting, at least from my perspective (I'm not going to list all the books, since I haven't even heard of a lot of them, just ones that stand out to me). 
  • The 9th grade suggested list includes Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  With the Netflix series being so controversial, I'm surprised yet not surprised to see this one.  I bet a lot of kids will be reading this and maybe it will spark some deep discussions.
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky are just a couple of the YA titles on the 10th grade list, which I think is really fun!  There's even some fantasy YA with a book by Maggie Steifvater.  Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes and John Krakauer's non-fiction Into Thin Air (both of which I enjoyed) are some of the more adult titles on the list.
  • The 11th grade list starts adding in more classics, with titles by John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I thought a nice inclusion on the non-fiction side was The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story, since the movie version is coming out this year.
  • The 12th grade list also features popular classics like Emma by Jane Austen.  This list had quite a few titles that I recognized, like Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper.  Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone is also on the list, and I'm pretty sure the copy I have at home is the one I bought for my own summer reading a million years ago!

What do you think of required summer reading?  Did you have required reading when you were in school?  What types of books did you have to read?  If you have kids, what kinds of summer reading are they doing?