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:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13547080-the-runaway-princess?ac=1&from_search=true  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12704827-the-house-of-velvet-and-glass?ac=1&from_search=true  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18667976-the-secret-life-of-violet-grant?ac=1&from_search=true

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!

Rules: 
-  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!