Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: My Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is books to read by the pool or at the beach, or in my case, just my plain old summer TBR!  Here are just some of the books I hope to get to this summer:

Have you read any of these?  Where should I start?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Book Haul #1

Guys, this is my first book haul post!  I've really cut down on the number of books I've been buying in recent years, so I don't normally have a lot to show, but the Project Linus chapter we work with was doing a Barnes & Noble fundraiser a few weeks ago, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to finally use some of my gift cards and support one of my favorite charities at the same time!



Have you read any of these?  Where should I start first?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review: Hotel on Shadow Lake

Hotel on Shadow Lake
Daniela Tully
Published April 10, 2018
When Maya was a girl in Germany, her grandmother was everything to her: teller of magical fairy tales, surrogate mother, best friend. Then, shortly after Maya’s sixteenth birthday, her grandmother disappeared without a trace, leaving Maya with only questions to fill the void.

Twenty-seven years later, her grandmother’s body is found in a place she had no connection to: the Montgomery Resort in upstate New York. How did she get there? Why had she come? Desperate for answers, Maya leaves her life in Germany behind and travels to America, where she is drawn to the powerful family that owns the hotel and seemingly the rest of the town.

Soon Maya is unraveling secrets that go back decades, from 1910s New York to 1930s Germany and beyond. But when she begins to find herself spinning her own lies in order to uncover the circumstances surrounding her grandmother’s death, she must decide whether her life and a chance at true love are worth risking for the truth. - from Goodreads
Maya's grandmother Martha disappears from Germany soon after Maya leaves for a trip to the United States.  Twenty-seven years later, out of the blue, Martha's body is found in upstate New York, near the Montgomery Resort.  Maya travels to the hotel to find out what happened to her grandmother and why she was found in this place.

Based on stories from the author's grandmother's life, Hotel on Shadow Lake is part mystery, part love story, and part family drama.  The story is told from the third-person POV of three main characters, and each had a slightly different feel.  When we first meet Martha, it is in late 1930s Germany, as the Nazi party is coming to power.  Martha is appalled by what is already happening in Germany, but her brother Wolfgang is an ardent supporter.  Then, the story switches to Maya's POV; while the writing in Martha's section felt sparse and almost utilitarian, Maya's section has a bit more heart and emotion.  There is a third main character, but I don't want to give too much of the story away (although I did figure out the twist pretty early on)!

When Maya goes to the Montgomery Resort to find out what ties her grandmother had to the hotel and the family that ran it, we find out that her grandmother was murdered, many years ago.  At times the story felt a bit over-dramatic, like the author was trying for a creepy feel, but it didn't really work.  Maya didn't always come across as the most competent character, either.

Weaved throughout the story are also a fairy tale that Martha told Maya as a child, some letters, and a gossipy history of the Montgomery family.  These elements helped add depth to the story, although sometimes it was a bit confusing trying to keep all the various generations of Montgomerys straight.  The dialogue at times felt stilted, but the descriptions of upstate New York and the hotel were beautiful and made me want to visit.  I liked the way the dual timelines came together, as well.  Overall, I enjoyed the story, but it didn't make a huge impression on me.

3.5 stars

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Masterpiece

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

The Masterpiece
Fiona Davis
Expected publication date: August 7, 2018
For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.

For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public's disdain for a "woman artist." Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded--even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter--Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they'll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay's life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece--an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931. - from Goodreads
I love the book's focus on a historic NYC landmark!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Guest Blogger: Literary Baby Names

Today I am so happy to have my sister Michele as a guest blogger - I thought it would be fun for her to share the story of how she and her husband came up with their daughter's name!

Naming your new baby is one of the most important and nerve-wracking decisions of early parenthood. Strong contenders must work for a toddler and for your future lawyer/doctor/computer engineer. You may want something unique, but you don’t want family and friends to say “What were they thinking?” behind your back. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and it probably won’t surprise readers of this blog to know that ours came from literature. 

When we found out we were expecting a baby girl, we put our thinking caps on. My husband wanted something a little different, so we scoured baby name sites. We could not agree on anything!  One weekend we were watching a Harry Potter movie marathon on TV. As a joke, I suggested the name Luna to my husband, since he was always making comments about how Luna Lovegood is the character he would most like to be friends with.  

To my chagrin, he loved it.  At first, I was worried it was a little too different and that people would think it was weird.  However, when I thought about the character who inspired it, I began to fall in love. Luna Lovegood is such an amazing character in the Harry Potter books.  She is quirky and dreamy, but also brave, confident, loyal, and intelligent. These are all qualities that I hope my Luna exhibits one day.  
Let the Scarletts, Atticus’s and Lunas of the world unite! Do you know anyone who has drawn inspiration from literature to name their little one?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review: A Lady's Guide to Selling Out

A Lady's Guide to Selling Out
Sally Franson
Published April 10, 2018
A brilliant young woman navigates a tricky twenty-first-century career—and the trickier question of who she wants to be—in this savagely wise debut novel in the tradition of The Devil Wears Prada.        
Casey Pendergast is losing her way. Once a book-loving English major, Casey lands a job at a top ad agency that highly values her ability to tell a good story. Her best friend thinks she’s a sellout, but Casey tells herself that she’s just paying the bills—and she can’t help that she has champagne taste.

When her hard-to-please boss assigns her to a top-secret campaign that pairs literary authors with corporations hungry for upmarket cachet, Casey is both excited and skeptical. But as she crisscrosses America, wooing her former idols, she’s shocked at how quickly they compromise their integrity: A short-story writer leaves academia to craft campaigns for a plus-size clothing chain, a reclusive nature writer signs away her life’s work to a manufacturer of granola bars.

When she falls in love with one of her authors, Casey can no longer ignore her own nagging doubts about the human cost of her success. By the time the year’s biggest book festival rolls around in Las Vegas, it will take every ounce of Casey’s moxie to undo the damage—and, hopefully, save her own soul.

Told in an unforgettable voice, with razor-sharp observations about everything from feminism to pop culture to social media, A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out is the story of a young woman untangling the contradictions of our era and trying to escape the rat race—by any means necessary. - from Goodreads
I have to admit, although I was interested by the blurb, the cover is really what drew me to this book.  I loved the hot pink and the fun typography.  Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to save this book for me.

Casey is a top performer at an advertising agency when her boss approaches her to work on a new project: recruiting authors and writers to become spokespeople and content creators for companies and brands in need of some good PR or new ideas.  The authors generally sign on rather quickly, but Casey begins to feel uncomfortable with the campaigns, worrying that these literary idols of hers are "selling out."  Combined with a fragile romance with one of her recruits and a fracture in the relationship with her best friend, Casey reaches her breaking point.

I had some major issues with this book:
  • Honestly, I don't think I got the gist of the book.  We see celebrities in car commercials and social media influencers with sponsored posts all the time, so I didn't quite get why it was considered "selling out" for writers to do the same thing.  It's inferred in the book that authors are an untapped market in this regard and that they are often awkward loners addicted to their craft who wouldn't stoop so low - but anyone can be bought if the price is right.  But to me, all of the writers Casey approached are adults, who knowingly entered these contracts and often for very good reasons - to get money to help an ill loved one, to start a charitable fund, or even just fund their own retirement.  I don't think they were compromising their integrity by posting about pens, granola bars, or tracksuits, just as I don't think Casey was "selling out" by working in advertising - I mean, wouldn't her English degree be an asset in a job where words are paramount?  It just didn't seem like a big deal to me; none of the products or brands were embarrassing, and if you could easily make some money that might make your life a little more comfortable or give you the freedom to do things like write more, why wouldn't you?
  • Casey's friend Susan was basically just a big stereotype - she's an aspiring author who tries way too hard to show that she doesn't approve of Casey's job, or the "establishment," or whatever.  She's always low on money and her apartment is a wreck because... she's an artist?
  • There were three instances of sexual assault/harassment, including one that the crux of the story relies on.  It was infuriating to see how everything was turned around on Casey and the slut-shaming and even death threats that followed.
  • The book felt very scattered.  Sometimes it felt like the main character was going off on tangents that took me out of the story.  I feel like the author was trying to make some commentary on artistic integrity and finding one's identity (seems to be a popular thing these days), but it didn't feel like it came together.
But, there were some things I liked:
  • The book felt thoroughly modern, from the rampant use of social media to (very unfortunately) the sexual harassment issues.
  • Casey was often very relatable.  She's in her late twenties, working at a job she's really good at but maybe doesn't think is her dream job.  She's always seeking someone's approval and has jealousy issues.  She was over-the-top at times, but I could understand her.
  • These characters loved to read!  Casey and Susan constantly share book recommendations and their heroes are authors.  It was really nice to see characters who enjoy books and reading.
2.5 stars

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Summer Wives

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

The Summer Wives
Beatriz Williams
Expected publication date: July 3, 2018
New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—an electrifying postwar fable of love, class, power, and redemption set among the inhabitants of an island off the New England coast . . .
In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island as a schoolgirl from the margins of high society, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda’s catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.
But beneath the island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans: the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse with his mysterious wife. In summer, Joseph helps his father in the lobster boats, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph’s enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and as the summer winds to its end, Miranda’s caught in a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the island for nearly two decades.
Now, in the landmark summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same—determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a na├»ve teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice for the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island. -from Amazon
Beatriz Williams is one of my favorite authors; she really captures a setting so well, so I can't wait to see what she does in this new book!