Friday, May 25, 2018

Review: Forever Is The Worst Long Time

Forever is the Worst Long Time
Camille Pagan
Published February 7, 2017
When struggling novelist James Hernandez meets poet Louisa “Lou” Bell, he’s sure he’s just found the love of his life. There’s just one problem: she’s engaged to his oldest friend, Rob. So James toasts their union and swallows his desire.

As the years pass, James’s dreams always seem just out of reach—he can’t finish that novel, can’t mend his relationship with his father, can’t fully commit to a romantic relationship. He just can’t move on. But after betrayal fractures Lou’s once-solid marriage, she turns to James for comfort.

When Lou and James act on their long-standing mutual attraction, the consequences are more heartbreaking—and miraculous—than either of them could have ever anticipated. Then life throws James one more curveball, and he, Rob, and Lou are forced to come to terms with the unexpected ways in which love and loss are intertwined. - from Goodreads
When James meets his best friend Rob's fiancĂ©e Lou for the first time, he knows two things - Lou is completely wrong for Rob, and James is in love with her.  But he ignores those feelings, and only sees Lou occasionally over the next several years.  When Rob and Lou eventually split up, James sees the chance he always wanted - but the consequences are nothing he could have ever foreseen.

I have to admit, it took me a little while to get into this book.  I didn't particularly like James, the main character.  He is kind of pretentious, yet he doesn't have a lot to show for it.  He's not a very good teacher; his plans for a novel stall again and again; and he can't commit to his girlfriend because Lou is always in the back of his mind.  I didn't like that he was holding onto this idealized image of Lou in his head, to the detriment of everything else in his life.  Sometimes it seemed like he was happy when Rob called and complained of problems in his marriage.  And I never really understood what he saw in Lou - she didn't feel like a fully developed character to me.

However, as the book went on, I started to come around on James, particularly after he and Lou spend one night together.  I thought maybe now James could either move on, or be with her, or something, but the story ended up taking a turn I didn't expect and I just felt for him.  I wanted him to finally find happiness, but things aren't that simple.

The book is told from James' POV as he is telling the story to someone else, and when I found out who he was writing the story for and why, my heart just broke.  The story is told over many years, and I definitely liked the later years better than the beginning.  I think I tend to read female-centric stories, so the fact that the MC is a male in this one was a change for me, but I enjoyed it.  I liked the writing and the way the author had the MC telling the story was successful.

4 stars

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Midnight Blue

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases!

Midnight Blue
Simone Van Der Vlugt
Expected publication date: June 26, 2018
From Simone Van Der Vlugt comes her European bestselling novel of a young woman's rise as a painter in Holland's Golden Age—perfect for readers of The Miniaturist, Tulip Fever, and Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Amsterdam 1654: against the backdrop of Holland's Golden Age, a dangerous secret threatens to destroy a young widow's new life.

Following the sudden death of her husband, twenty-five-year old Catrin leaves her small village and takes a job as a housekeeper to the successful Van Nulandt merchant family. Amsterdam is a city at the peak of its powers: science and art are flourishing in the Golden Age and Dutch ships bring back exotic riches from the Far East. Madam Van Nulandt passes her time taking expensive painting lessons from a local master, Rembrandt van Rigin, and when Catrin takes up a brush to finish some of her mistress's work, Rembrandt realizes the maid has genuine talent, and encourages her to continue.

When a figure from her past threatens her new life, Catrin flees to the smaller city of Delft. There, her gift as a painter earns her a chance to earn a living painting pottery at a local workshop. Slowly, the workshop begins to develop a new type of pottery to rival fancy blue-on-white imported Chinese porcelain—and the graceful and coveted Delft Blue designs she creates help revolutionize the industry. But when tragedy strikes, Catrin must decide whether to defend her newfound independence, or return to the village that she'd fled. - from Goodreads

Monday, May 21, 2018

Why I Never Bring New Books on Vacation

For many people, vacations are the perfect time to break out a new book and read by the pool/on the beach/on a plane.  I think I'm a little bit of an aberration, because no matter how much I might want to, reading always seems to end up being a low priority for me when I'm on vacation, and over the years I've made the decision to only bring rereads when we're on a trip. 

Depending on the length of the trip, I typically bring anywhere from two to four books with me.  I'm always worried I'll run out of stuff to read, but honestly, 99% of the time, it's too ambitious!  Like, when we went to Watkins Glen for a long weekend and I brought Gone With the Wind?  Yeah, I think I read two chapters!

It usually comes down to the fact that I don't end up with a lot of reading time when we're on vacation.  Some of our trips recently have involved our niece and nephews.  I love spending time with them, but apparently tiny children never stop moving (except when they're napping).  And if they're not sitting still, you're not sitting still - so I seem to spend more time blowing bubbles and coloring than reading!

Even when it's just Tom and I, we spend a lot of time exploring.  Our trips aren't typically very long, so we try to cram a lot of sightseeing in, in just a couple days.  And Tom isn't really one for sitting around - when I told him I wanted to spend a day on the beach during our Hawaiian honeymoon, I think we lasted an hour before he got restless!  I do tend to read a lot on planes, so that's one time I can get some uninterrupted reading in.

So, since my reading time is often limited or prone to disruptions on vacations, I'd rather be rereading a favorite book than trying to absorb something new.  I don't have to worry about stopping in the middle of a chapter or forgetting what I've just read!

Do you typically read a lot when you're on vacation?  What kinds of books do you like to bring on trips?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: The Heart Between Us

The Heart Between Us
Lindsay Harrel
Published March 13, 2018
Megan Jacobs always wished for a different heart. Her entire childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, sitting on the sidelines while her twin sister Crystal played all the sports, got all the guys, and had all the fun. But even a heart transplant three years ago wasn’t enough to propel Megan’s life forward. She’s still working as a library aide in her small Minnesota hometown and living with her parents, dreaming of the adventure she plans to take “once she’s well enough.” Meanwhile, her sister is a successful architect with a handsome husband and the perfect life—or so Megan thinks.

When her heart donor’s parents give Megan their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. Caleb—a friend from her years in and out of the hospital—reenters her life and pushes her to find the courage to take the leap and begin her journey. She’s thrown for a loop when Crystal offers to join her for reasons of her own, but she welcomes the company and the opportunity to mend their tenuous relationship.

As Megan and Crystal check items off the bucket list, Megan fights the fears that have been instilled in her after a lifetime of illness. She must choose between safety and adventure and learn to embrace the heart she’s been given so that she can finally share it with the people she loves most. - from Goodreads
Megan spent over 20 years of her life being sick, but even after getting a heart transplant, she is still scared to do anything outside her comfort zone.  She finally agrees to meet her donor Amanda's family, and they give her Amanda's diary, which contains a bucket list of items Amanda wanted to do, before she was killed in a car crash.  Megan decides to complete Amanda's bucket list, hoping it will inspire her.  Megan's twin sister, Crystal, decides to accompany Megan on her trip, in hopes of mending their relationship.

First and foremost, this book will give you a serious case of wanderlust!  Amanda's bucket list takes the sisters all over the world, from Peru, to Australia, to Beijing, to Europe.  Not only did Megan and Crystal see all these amazing sights, but I felt like I learned a lot, too, about each place they visited.

Besides all the traveling, the sisters' relationship is at the center of the novel.  Being a twin myself, I could kind of relate to Megan and Crystal, particularly as siblings grow up and start their own lives.  But for Megan and Crystal, it was different.  Megan was stuck in hospitals, while Crystal got to go school, find a great job as an architect, and get married.  When we meet them, the sisters haven't seen each other in years, and it was nice to see them regain their love and trust as the trip went on, although it wasn't easy.

There is also some romance in the book - Megan reconnects with an old friend who also had a heart transplant, and it was sweet to see them experience parts of the trip together, since neither expected they would ever be able to do that.  Crystal, on the other hand, is having marriage issues and wonders if she can really have it all - a successful career and a happy marriage.

I thought the writing was good and the pace of the story was quick.  Each chapter brought a new country.  However, the ending was a little too bland and saccharine for me; it felt like everything wrapped up too quickly and neatly.  The story felt a bit simplistic at times, as well.  This book is Christian fiction, which I didn't realize when I picked it up, but the religious aspects weren't too overwhelming for me (as someone who doesn't identify with any particular religion). 

3.5 stars

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Mermaid

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases!

The Mermaid
Christina Henry
Expected publication date: June 19, 2018
From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum's American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn't bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he'd heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he's determined to hold on to his mermaid. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book vs. Movie: Ready Player One

Ready Player One is one of those books I found out about after I started blogging and saw a lot of other people raving about.  For some reason, I kept putting off reading it, and then I saw that the movie was coming out.  My husband was excited for it, because of the pop culture references and video game culture, and so the book went higher up my TBR, with the intention of reading it before the movie was released.  I guess a lot of people had the same idea I did, because when I went to get the book from my library, there was a HUGE wait list - so long I didn't get a chance to read the book before the movie.  Minor spoilers below!

Ready Player One takes place in the not-too-distant future, a bleak place where people turn to the OASIS, a virtual reality game, to fulfill themselves.  The game's creator, James Halliday, announces in his will that he left an Easter egg inside the game, and the first person to find it will gain control of the OASIS and his vast fortune.  Wade Watts is a teenager who is on his way to winning it all after he finds the first key to the Easter egg, but a large corporation, Innovative Online Industries, is using all of its resources in order to get there first.

We saw the movie the first weekend it came out, and it was definitely a fun experience!  The music was awesome, all those '80s hits!  Who doesn't love '80s music?  Visually, the movie was gorgeous - the OASIS seemed like such a lush place where practically anything could happen.  I see why people spent so much time in there. And of course, all the pop culture references were very cool.  Whether they were front and center, like the Iron Giant, or hiding in the background, it was fun trying to spot them all.

As much as I enjoyed the OASIS, the scenes that took place in real life were just as important.  I did have a little bit of an issue with some of the secondary characters on Wade's team - I feel like we didn't get to know them as much, and since they were such fun characters in the movie, I wanted more of them.  But overall, I really enjoyed the movie - it was a good mix of action and heartfelt scenes.

When I finally got a copy of the book, I dove right in.  The first thing I noticed was the incredible amount of detail.  Cline's world-building was amazing.  I almost felt like James Halliday was a real person, I got to know him so well through Wade.  At times, that amount of information felt overwhelming, especially the sections that got overly technical on computer or gaming things, but it made the book feel so authentic.

I generally thought the pacing was good, but there were times it felt off.  Sometimes it took awhile for Wade to figure out each challenge, and then within a few paragraphs, other players would catch up or even surpass him, with little warning or description.  While I liked Wade and thought he was resourceful and smart, even cunning at times, it was a bit hard to believe how much knowledge he actually had.  I mean, I guess he literally spent years watching and playing basically every tv show, movie, and game from the 1980s, but the fact that he had pretty much everything memorized was crazy.  I did appreciate, though, that the secondary characters were fleshed out, and Ogden was a pretty cool character, as well.

It's hard not to notice the big differences between the book and the movie.  Obviously, the general premise is the same, but the challenges were very different (although it makes sense that the filmmakers would have to scale them down for the movie).  The secondary characters also played slightly different roles.  I thought the book did a great job in creating the OASIS and helping me visualize it, but actually seeing the world on the big screen really brought it to life.  I would recommend both!

Have you seen the movie and/or read the book?  What did you think of the differences between them?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Satisfying Reads Under 300 Pages

Here are some recommendations for books that you'll find totally satisfying but can still be read in a day or two (or even an afternoon), because they're all under 300 pages!

The Assistants by Camille Perri: A fun and funny story for anyone who has student loan debt.

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton: Not your typical end-of-the-world story.

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf: A fast-paced thriller that takes place in a luxury hotel.

Avalanche by Melinda Braun: An over-the-top survival story.

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott: Historical fiction taking place on the set of Gone With the Wind.

When The English Fall by David Williams: A post-apocalyptic story told from a unique point of view.

What are some of your recommendations for books you can read in an afternoon?

Friday, May 11, 2018

Mini-Reviews: The Emma Mills Edition

First & Then by Emma Mills (2015)

What a refreshing story!  A contemporary YA novel that actually feels realistic and relatable.  Devon is in her senior year of high school, unsure of what she wants to do after graduation, while also dealing with some issues at home.  Her cousin Foster has come to live with Devon and her parents because his own mother has major problems.

I love that the crux of this story begins in gym class, of all places.  Devon and Foster have gym class together, and there they cross paths with All-American football player Ezra, who really takes Foster under his wing and (maybe?) develops feelings for Devon.

At first I wasn't sure if I would like Devon; I thought she was going to be whiny and overly sarcastic, but she wasn't.  I grew to really love her.  I identified with her fear of being average, of not knowing what she wanted to do with her life, of being kind of on the fringe in school, and having an unrequited crush on her friend Cas (and she loves books!).  I also fell in love with Foster - there was so much more to him than just an awkward kid.  And Ezra as well - I think this is where the Pride and Prejudice influence came in the strongest.  At first Ezra seems aloof and silent, but by the end of the story, we've learned so much about him.

Nothing really outrageous happened in the story, but that's what I enjoyed.  The characters felt like real high schoolers, living normal lives while also going through some tough issues.  4 stars

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills (2017)

Emma Mills has become a queen of contemporary YA for me.  She has the ability to take the most relatable, even (dare I say it) mundane, parts of high school and craft heart-warming stories around lovable characters.

In Foolish Hearts, Claudia finds herself stuck working with Iris, who really doesn't like her, on the school play, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  She also becomes close with Gideon, a popular boy at a neighboring high school who is also in the play, but can she overcome her fears of dating?

I loved the evolution of Claudia and Iris' friendship.  They eventually find some common ground, and Iris really grows as a character.  She doesn't have a lot of friends, but I think she's also a bit misunderstood.  And the slow burn romance between Claudia and Gideon is adorable - at first, I wasn't sure Gideon was even into Claudia.  He just seemed like a bubbly, flirtatious guy.  But when it became obvious that he really does care for her, I wanted Claudia to get out of her own way and just go for it.

Mills also includes one of my favorite things in YA - great families surrounding the main character.  We don't see Claudia's parents that much, but we do meet her brother Alex and sister Julia, and they are all so much fun together, playing their online game.  4 stars

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Boardwalk Summer

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases!

Boardwalk Summer
Meredith Jaeger
Expected publication date: June 19, 2018
What happened on that long-ago summer? In this riveting novel from the author of The Dressmaker’s Dowry, an aspiring Hollywood actress makes a shocking choice in 1940, and seventy years later, a young mother sets out to discover what happened …

Summer, 1940: When Violet Harcourt is crowned Miss Bathing Beauty in her hometown of Santa Cruz, she’s determined to see herself on the silver screen. But Violet’s pageant victory comes with a price—cracks appear in her seemingly perfect marriage…and she quickly discovers Hollywood is not the glittering escape she dreamed of. So she makes a shocking choice, leaving her name in headlines and creating a mystery surrounding her fate.

Summer, 2007: Single mother Marisol Cruz lives in a charming seaside cottage that belonged to her grandfather, Ricardo, once a famed performer on the Beach Boardwalk. Drawn to the local history of her town, Mari discovers her grandfather’s connection to a beauty queen who died too young. She embarks on a journey that uncovers his lifelong secret—Ricardo’s connection to Violet…a story of tragedy and courage that will forever transform her. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Blue Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is books with our favorite color on the cover or in the title.  I was able to find SO MANY books with my favorite color, blue, on the cover - it was narrowing them down that was a problem!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Three Days in Chicago

Last month, we took a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to celebrate our nephew's first birthday.  We decided to extend our trip and stop in Chicago for a couple days on the way back.  I'd never been there before, and Tom wanted to see his sister and niece, who live just outside the city.  One of my brothers and his wife also lived there for a couple years, so we got some great suggestions from them.

Day 1: We arrived on a rainy Sunday morning and Tom's sister and niece picked us up at the airport.  We drove out to Shedd Aquarium first.  I had looked into getting the City Pass before we left, but didn't buy it because I wasn't sure we'd have enough time to really get our money's worth out of it (the $106.00 pass gives you fast pass/express entry for 5 attractions from a choice of 7).  When we saw that entry into the aquarium was $40.00 by itself, we decided to get the City Pass (and we ended up using every ticket in it, so we saved a TON of money).  Shedd Aquarium was fun, and they even have a dolphin show right inside the building.

After that, we walked across the Museum Campus to the Field Museum.  This enormous museum boasts a ton of science and history exhibits, from Egyptian mummies to animals to gemstones.  They also have the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton, but unfortunately SUE is not currently on display. 

After spending a couple hours at the Field Museum, we checked into our hotel in the theater district and then went out to dinner with Tom's family.  We went to Portillo's and tried some Chicago-style hot dogs.

Day 2: Even though it was mid-April, it snowed all day.  We walked to Cloud Gate ("the bean") early before the crowds got there and got some fun pictures with the iconic sculpture.  Since the Art Institute of Chicago didn't open until 10:30am, we walked around a bit more in the chilly weather, through Millennium Park and down to Buckingham Fountain (which wasn't turned on yet for the season).  Then we spent a couple hours at the Art Institute, which had a fabulous collection; some fun, recognizable pieces with a lot of other things we hadn't seen before.

We had lunch at the Italian Village, Chicago's oldest Italian restaurant, which is actually three separate spaces, each with a different feel.  We ate upstairs, and it was really good!

After lunch, we walked down to the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) and went up to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor.  From here, you can see views of 4 states and also try out the Ledge, which are a series of 4 glass boxes extending out from the Skydeck.

For dinner, we had to try some deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's - so yummy!!

Day 3: On Tuesday, the sun finally came out, although it was still pretty cold.  We started our morning with a lake and river architectural tour with Wendella's.  They also have an architectural tour that just focuses on the river, but my brother and SIL suggested we go out on Lake Michigan if we could because we would get great views of the city skyline, and they were totally right!

We then walked up the Magnificent Mile, which is a stretch of North Michigan Avenue that has tons of high-end stores and restaurants, to the John Hancock Observatory.  We went up to the 93rd floor and saw some amazing views.  Yes, we did both the Hancock and Willis Towers, but the views were actually pretty different, so I'm glad we did both.

View looking southwest towards the Willis Tower

View looking north towards the Lincoln Park Zoo

After that, we walked to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is open every day and it's FREE!  I think because of the weather, lots of the animals were hiding and staying warm, but it was still a beautiful place.  We also visited the Lincoln Park Conservatory, where it finally felt like spring and smelled so lovely.  For our last night, we had dinner at the Berghoff, a Chicago institution where we had some delicious German food.  We got one last treat at Garrett Popcorn, known for its mix of caramel and cheddar popcorn (will definitely be ordering more of that soon!).


We packed a lot into three days, but we had a blast in Chicago and I could definitely see us going back someday!

Have you ever been to Chicago?  What was your favorite attraction or thing to eat?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Review: How To Walk Away

How To Walk Away
Katherine Center
Expected publication date: May 15, 2018
Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment .

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect. - from Goodreads
I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

Judging from the many glowing reviews for this book on Goodreads, it seems like I may be an outlier, because I was not blown away by How To Walk Away.  I really wanted to like this one, too!  Warning: minor spoilers below.

Despite Margaret's fear of flying, her boyfriend Chip takes her up in a Cessna and proposes to her.  Their joy, though, is quickly erased when their plane crash-lands, leaving Margaret partially paralyzed and badly burned.  Now, Margaret must learn to navigate her new way of life.

Ugh, I just had a lot of issues with this book:
  • Obnoxious characters.  So many of them.  Margaret's mother is overbearing and blunt to the point of rudeness.  Chip completely falls apart after the accident, wracked with guilt.  Ok, I know it's not really right to judge someone else's grief, but Chip was basically the worst.  He can't even bear to look at Margaret; he gets drunk every night; and he cheats on her, then proposes to her again because he feels obligated.  And Margaret's physical therapist Ian is one of the most unlikable characters I've come across.
  • The romance.  I guess this is a hate-to-love romance?  Ian doesn't talk to Margaret during sessions, except to criticize her.  She doesn't really like working with him, either, until she gets a whiff of his "intoxicating scent," and suddenly she's obsessed with him.  He gives her completely mixed signals, passionately kissing her then telling her he has no feelings whatsoever for her.  The whole thing was just kind of unethical.
  • The cheesy, cliche ending.  Most of the book takes place in the weeks following the accident, but when Margaret is released from the hospital, the story kind of went off the rails for me.  Over the next year, a big secret rips through Margaret's family and there's a random trip to Brussels.  It was just too saccharine for me.
There were, though, some things I enjoyed:
  • Margaret's relationship with her sister, Kitty.  Although Kitty walked out on the family three years ago, as soon as she hears about Margaret's accident, she's by her side, never leaving her and always encouraging her.
  • The research the author put into the book.  I could tell the author had learned about paralysis, different therapy techniques, and the potential prognosis for Margaret.
  • Margaret's internal struggles.  I appreciated that the author included both setbacks and successes for Margaret.  Her feelings in the weeks after the accident felt so real; a lot of the time she was completely numb.  I mean, it must be so hard to reconcile that just days earlier, she had it all, and now she had to basically start all over again.  She had good days, but she also had a lot of bad days where she felt hopeless and even depressed.  Ok, not that I want people to feel hopeless; I just want it to be realistic.  I kind of wish the author had included more mental health therapy in the book, as opposed to just the physical therapy.
So, this didn't end up being the book for me, but I know a lot of people will enjoy this one.  3 stars

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Dreams of Falling

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases!

Dreams of Falling
Karen White
Expected publication date: June 5, 2018
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night the Lights Went Out comes an exquisite new novel about best friends, family ties and the love that can both strengthen and break those bonds.

New York Times bestselling author Karen White crafts evocative relationships in this new contemporary women's fiction novel about best friends who share a devastating secret, set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

It's been nine years since Larkin fled Georgetown, South Carolina, vowing never to go back. But when she finds out that her mother has disappeared, she knows she has no choice but to return to the place that she both loves and dreads--and to the family and friends who never stopped wishing for her to come home. Ivy, Larkin's mother, is discovered in the burned out wreckage of her family's ancestral rice plantation, badly injured and unconscious. No one knows why Ivy was there, but as Larkin digs for answers, she uncovers secrets kept for nearly 50 years. Secrets that lead back to the past, to the friendship between three girls on the brink of womanhood who swore that they would be friends forever, but who found that vow tested in heartbreaking ways. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Review: Sorority

Genevieve Sly Crane
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Prep meets Girls in White Dresses in Genevieve Sly Crane’s deliciously addictive, compulsively readable exploration of female friendship and coming of age that will appeal to anyone who has ever been curious about what goes on in a sorority house…

Margot is dead.

There’s a rumor she died because she couldn’t take the pressure of being a pledge. You may not ask what happened to her. It’s not your business. But it wasn’t a suicide, if you’re wondering.

Spring Fling will not be cancelled. The deposit is non-refundable. And Margot would have wanted the sisterhood to continue in her absence, if only to protect her sisters’ secrets: Shannon is the thinnest girl in the house (the other sisters hate her for it, but they know her sacrifice: she only uses the bathroom by the laundry room); Kyra has slept with twenty-nine boys since she started college (they are all different and all the same); Amanda is a virgin (her mincing gait and sloping posture give it away); and while half the sisters are too new to have known Margot, Deirdre remembers her—she always remembers.

With a keen sense of character and unflinching, observant prose, Crane exposes the undercurrents of tension in a world where perfection comes at a cost and the best things in life are painful—if not impossible—to acquire: Beauty. A mother’s love. And friendship…or at least the appearance of it. - from Goodreads
I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

As a member of a co-ed service fraternity in college, I was interested in reading Sorority, because there don't seem to be a lot of books out there about the college experience.  If I had read this book before rushing my fraternity, I probably never would have gone through with it!  This sorority experience isn't all puff paint and toga parties, but a dark look at college Greek life.

This book is less of a linear story and more a compilation of vignettes, each devoted to one or two sisters and sometimes a "chorus" narrator.  I was a bit surprised by the structure of the book, especially because the blurb made me think it would be about the death of one of the sisters (Margot), what happened and the other sisters' reactions to it.  But, Margot isn't even mentioned in a lot of the stories, and the timeline skips around several years.  It took me awhile to get into the book, but once I started approaching each chapter as its own new story, I could appreciate it more.

Within the chapters, Crane has crafted a look into different aspects of sorority life - what might happen if a sister got pregnant, the friendships that last long after graduation, and how not everyone will get along all the time.  There is a pervasive darkness to the stories - drug use and drinking are rampant throughout the house, and one story explores a sexual assault that occurs during pledging.  I thought some stories didn't fit at all, including (surprisingly) a chapter on the founders, and one of my favorite chapters was actually a short one with each sister detailing what pledging meant to her.

Crane's writing is sharp and tight, which really highlights, in a no-nonsense way, the messy, gritty lives of these girls, inside and outside the house.  The stories often feel raw and give the reader a super-personal look into the characters.  While I don't think this book is representative of every fraternity or sorority (particularly not my experience), there's enough realness here to give the reader a peek behind the curtain of Greek life.

3.5 stars

Monday, April 30, 2018

Month in Review: April 2018

April was a super-busy month, as you can probably tell from my low reading total!  So, what made it so busy?
  • So many birthdays!  April is a huge month for birthdays in my family, so in addition to my sister and I celebrating ours, there were also numerous aunts, cousins, my BIL, and two of our nephews.
  • We finally sold our condo!  It had been on the market for a few months, but we closed this month and it's a relief to not have to worry about it anymore.
  • Tom and I traveled to Tulsa for our nephew's 1st birthday party, and on the way back, we stopped in Chicago for a couple days.  I'll have a post next week about the fun time we had!
  • I celebrated my two-year blogoversary by doing... nothing!  But it was fun to realize that it's already been two years!
  • I had a few friends and family over and we made 25 blankets for our local Project Linus chapter. 
  • We saw Avengers: Infinity War and I.. don't even have words.  I think I'm in shock.

The Books:

How To Walk Away (review to come) // Of Mice and Men // First & Then (review to come) // Revenge Wears Prada

Foolish Hearts (review to come) // Sorority (review to come)

The Posts and Reviews:

The Posts I Loved:
Greg at Book Haven asks what bookish or pop culture world you'd want to visit

Jenn Renee and Ash at JennReneeRead featured my blog in their Bloggy Buddy series

Marie at Drizzle and Hurricane Books lists 10 underrated books we should be talking about

Aj at Read All The Things admits to a reviewing crisis

Jordan at Forever Lost in Literature discusses genre snobbery

Sarah at Sarah's Book Shelves goes behind-the-scenes of being a book blogger

How was your April?  Is it finally feeling like spring where you live?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Women Who Lived and Worked in "Atomic City"

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan (2013)

In 1942, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was founded as a secret work location for the Manhattan Project.  It was more than just labs and factories - an entire town was created, and because of the ongoing war, many women were recruited or applied to fill the positions.  Secrecy and discretion were of utmost importance to the government at this site.  Workers couldn't discuss their daily work with anyone, not even family members.  And no one there knew they were enriching uranium for use in an atomic bomb until the first one was dropped on Japan.

Kiernan offers a broad overview of how Oak Ridge came about and what life there was like, at times through the personal stories of some women who lived and worked there.  While the writing was good, I had a hard time keeping the women straight and the story was at times repetitive.  I thought the book would be focused on women and the types of jobs they did, but there isn't really much about the specific work done.  The book focuses more on life in general in the town - how all the residents tried to make it feel more like home; how there was often a general unease among the residents, because of all the secrecy.  You couldn't ever be sure you weren't speaking to someone who was purposely sent in to spy on everyone.  The narrative ended with the town's reaction to finding out what they had been working on; many residents had conflicting feelings - they were proud that they helped end the war, but at what cost?  3 stars

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard (2018)

In 1944, June Walker begins work at the secretive Oak Ridge site.  She immerses herself in her new life, forming a friendship with her social climber roommate Cici and beginning a relationship with scientist Sam, but very few people in Oak Ridge know that they are actually helping build an atomic bomb to end WWII.

I love WWII historical fiction, and this is an angle that is relatively new to me.  Because I had read the nonfiction story of practically the same name first, I was familiar with the basic facts behind the story.  I could tell the author had done her research; some parts felt more like info-dump and were very reminiscent of the nonfiction book.

Although the story is mainly about June's journey in Oak Ridge, two of the four main characters are men, so I'm not sure why the book is called "Atomic City Girls."  In any event, I think I enjoyed Joe Brewer's storyline the most.  He is a black construction worker, and while his story didn't really fit with the rest of the book (he doesn't interact with the rest of the characters for 95% of it), it highlighted how differently (and poorly) African Americans were treated in Oak Ridge.  3.5 stars

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: When Life Gives You Lululemons

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases!

When Life Gives You Lululemons
Lauren Weisberger
Expected publication date: June 5, 2018
New York Times bestselling author Lauren Weisberger returns with a novel starring one of her favorite characters from The Devil Wears Prada—Emily Charlton, first assistant to Miranda Priestly, now a highly successful image consultant who’s just landed the client of a lifetime.

Welcome to Greenwich, CT, where the lawns and the women are perfectly manicured, the Tito’s and sodas are extra strong, and everyone has something to say about the infamous new neighbor.

Let’s be clear: Emily Charlton, Miranda Priestly’s ex-assistant, does not do the suburbs. She’s working in Hollywood as an image consultant to the stars, but recently, Emily’s lost a few clients. She’s hopeless with social media. The new guard is nipping at her heels. She needs a big opportunity, and she needs it now.

Karolina Hartwell is as A-list as they come. She’s the former face of L’Oreal. A mega-supermodel recognized the world over. And now, the gorgeous wife of the newly elected senator from New York, Graham, who also has his eye on the presidency. It’s all very Kennedy-esque, right down to the public philandering and Karolina’s arrest for a DUI—with a Suburban full of other people’s children.

Miriam is the link between them. Until recently she was a partner at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious law firms. But when Miriam moves to Greenwich and takes time off to spend with her children, she never could have predicted that being stay-at-home mom in an uber-wealthy town could have more pitfalls than a stressful legal career.

Emily, Karolina, and Miriam make an unlikely trio, but they desperately need each other. Together, they’ll navigate the social landmines of life in America’s favorite suburb on steroids, revealing the truths—and the lies—that simmer just below the glittering surface. With her signature biting style, Lauren Weisberger offers a dazzling look into another sexy, over-the-top world, where nothing is as it appears. - from Goodreads
I've loved Lauren Weisberger's books for years, beginning with (of course) The Devil Wears Prada.  Finally, Emily gets her own book!

Monday, April 23, 2018

5 Books Guaranteed to Make You Shed a Tear

It's no secret around here that I love books that make me cry.  Happy tears, sad tears - it doesn't matter.  Keep the tissues handy when reading these next five books!

Henry's Sisters by Cathy Lamb: This is one of my favorite books, no matter how much it makes me ugly cry.  Three sisters return home to take care of their mother and mentally disabled brother.

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth: Books in which a character is suffering from Alzheimer's will always have me sobbing, and this one is no exception.  Anna has early-onset Alzheimer's, and her story is alternately heartbreaking and hopeful.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes:  It took me awhile to get into this road-trip book, but as it progressed, I found myself falling in love with the characters.

Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell: Jill Mansell writes such heartfelt books.  In this story, three women are brought together through the gift of organ donation.

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny: Flashbacks to a hostage situation and thwarted terrorist attack involving Inspector Gamache's team will definitely have you reaching for the tissues in the 6th book of the series.

What are some books that have made you cry?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Blog Break + Review: She Regrets Nothing

Just wanted to let you all know that I'll be taking a break from the blog next week.  I look forward to catching up with everyone soon!  Now, onto this week's review!

She Regrets Nothing
Andrea Dunlop
Published February 6, 2018
In the tradition of The Emperor’s Children and The House of Mirth, the forgotten granddaughter of one of New York’s wealthiest men is reunited with her family just as she comes of age—and once she’s had a glimpse of their glittering world, she refuses to let it go without a fight.

When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before.

Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Point, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy, She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth. - from Goodreads
This is one of those books that had so much potential for me (NYC setting, family secrets), but unfortunately, it fell flat.  After her mother dies, Laila Lawrence finds out she's actually a member of a very wealthy New York family.  Two years later, she moves to NYC to claw her way into the lives of her cousins (Liberty, Nora, and Leo).

Laila is probably one of the most unlikable main characters I've ever come across.  She's a conniving, manipulative social climber.  She feels she's entitled to a glamorous lifestyle and is willing to dredge up old family secrets in order to get her way.  Lying is second-nature to her, and she readily puts on different personas depending on who she's trying to manipulate.

Many of the other characters are just as bad as Laila.  Nora and Leo are stereotypical socialites, allergic to hard work and addicted to gossip and spending money.  Pretty much all the male characters are sexist and ageist (such as believing only women in their 20s are worth marrying, for their looks and fertility).  Perhaps it's an accurate look at the lives of the wealthy (I wouldn't know), but it was hard to get past.  Pretty much the only redeeming character is Liberty, who is so dedicated to her career as a literary agent despite not needing to work (I love that she is always reading a book!).

The writing was kind of bland and stilted at times, and it was hard to get a handle on the tone of the book.  It wasn't really scandalous enough to be dark, nor light enough to be chick lit.  Then, an event near the end of the book comes out of nowhere and unfortunately for me brought the whole book down with unnecessary drama.  If the story had just focused more on Laila and how she tries to insert herself into the rest of the family (and been about 50-75 pages shorter), I think the book could have been more successful.

2.5 stars