Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The House at the Edge of Night

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

The House at the Edge of Night

Catherine Banner

Expected publication: July 12, 2016
A sweeping saga about four generations of a family who live and love on an enchanting Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy—combining the romance of Beautiful Ruins with the magical tapestry works of Isabel Allende.

Castellamare is an island far enough away from the mainland to be forgotten, but not far enough to escape from the world’s troubles. At the center of the island’s life is a cafĂ© draped with bougainvillea called the House at the Edge of Night, where over generations the community gathers to gossip and talk. Amedeo Esposito, a foundling from Florence, finds his destiny on the island with his beautiful wife, Pina, whose fierce intelligence, grace, and unwavering love guide her every move. An indiscretion tests their marriage, and their children—three sons and an inquisitive daughter—grow up and struggle with both humanity’s cruelty and its capacity for love and mercy.

Spanning nearly a century, through secrets and mysteries, trials and sacrifice, this beautiful and haunting novel follows the lives of the Esposito family and the other islanders who live and love on Castellamare: a cruel count and his bewitching wife, a priest who loves scandal, a prisoner of war turned poet, an outcast girl who becomes a pillar of strength, a wounded English soldier who emerges from the sea. The people of Castellamare are transformed by two world wars and a great recession, by the threat of fascism and their deep bonds of passion and friendship, and by bitter rivalries and the power of forgiveness, in this richly written and powerful novel. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Pet Peeves

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week is a freebie week, so I've decided to list my top bookish pet peeves!

  1. Characters that don't act their age: I hate when kids speak like adults or middle-aged men and women act like they're in their twenties.  Yes, there are children who are very mature for their age and many people who are young at heart, but mostly it is just annoying and totally takes me out of the story. 
  2. Unrealistic time lines: If something is taking place in way too short a time period or if the time line doesn't make sense, I can't take the story seriously. 
  3. Synopses that don't give an accurate description of the book:  I hate when I start reading a book, thinking it's about one thing, and I get something completely different.
  4. Love at first sight: I get that this happens in real life and it's romantic, but I'd rather my literary couples actually maybe speak to each other before proclaiming their love.
  5. Long paragraphs/chapters: If a paragraph is too long, I'm probably just going to skim it.  I like details, but breaking it up with some dialogue or into smaller paragraphs is just easier to read.  Also, it's a quirk, but I usually look ahead to see how long a chapter is before I start it.  I don't like stopping in the middle of a chapter.
  6. People who are not careful with their books:  I try to keep my books in good condition, so it irks me when I lend a book to someone and I get it back with folded pages, ripped covers, or broken spines.
  7. Quick or convenient endings: Some books have so much going on and then, all of a sudden, they just end.  If I've invested all this time in a book, I want a good ending!  Not one that ties up all the plot lines in a page or two, in ways that make it seem like the author was taking the easy way out, ran out of ideas, or hit their page limit.
  8. Perfect characters: Perfect people don't exist - when a character is beautiful/handsome, and smart, and successful, and kind, etc., it becomes hard to relate to them.
  9. Books published under different names in different countries:  It makes me think there's another book out there I should read, when really there isn't - how disappointing!
  10. Ugly book covers:  I'm gonna be honest, I totally judge books by their covers, so if the cover is too garish, inappropriate, or cheap-looking, I probably won't even take the time to see what the book is about.
Now that I've gotten all my crankiness out, what are some of your pet peeves?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Watkins Glen State Park

When I was younger, my dad and stepmother took all of us kids on a camping trip to the Finger Lakes Region of New York.  One of the places we visited was Watkins Glen State Park.  I remember the park being so beautiful, so when it came time to plan our vacation for this year, I suggested it to Tom - we could get some great hiking in, plus the Finger Lakes are known for their wineries (bonus!).  I showed him some pictures and sent him this Buzzfeed article which named Watkins Glen State Park as one of 29 surreal places in America you need to visit.  He thought it sounded great, and our trip did not disappoint!

For a trail map and more information about the park, visit the New York State Parks website here.  There is a small fee to enter the park.

We started at the Main Entrance and took the Gorge Trail.  The trail follows the gorge as you walk next to, above, and even behind the many waterfalls along the way.  The stone path can get very wet and slippery from the spray.  There are also about 800 steps along the way!  The trail isn't difficult, though - you'll be stopping a lot to just take in all the sights! 

View down into the gorge

Inside the gorge

Glen Cathedral

Central Cascade

Rainbow Falls

We took the Indian Trail back.  There are a couple short paths that will bring you back to the Gorge Trail from the Indian Trail.  We walked down to the suspension bridge, which is 85 feet above the gorge, and then got back on the Gorge Trail to get back to the parking lot.  Our total hike was approximately 3 miles.  Watkins Glen is really popular and can get very crowded, so I would recommend going early in the day.

Indian Trail

The pictures kind of speak for themselves, although at the same time the pictures don't do justice to the beauty of Watkins Glen - you really have to see it for yourself!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: The Things We Keep

The Things We Keep

Sally Hepworth
January 19, 2016
Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there's just one other resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.

When Eve Bennett is suddenly thrust into the role of single mother she finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind house. When she meets Anna and Luke she is moved by the bond the pair has forged. But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them. - from Goodreads

I've come across only a handful of books that can make me cry, and this one got me teary-eyed a few times.  I don't know why I read books about Alzheimer's disease - they just make me sad!  But for all the things about this book that can be upsetting, there was also so much love and hopefulness.

There are two storylines going on here: the first is Anna's, as she enters Rosalind House, the residential care facility due to her early-onset Alzheimer's.  The second story is Eve and Clementine, a mother and daughter trying to recover from Eve's husband's Ponzi scheme fall-out and subsequent suicide when Eve takes a job at Rosalind House.  The book goes back and forth between the two stories, with Eve's taking place several months after Anna's.  I thought this was an interesting and successful technique to use in a book like this.  We learn about Anna's plan to kill herself before her disease can take her, but then she meets Luke, a man her age also suffering from dementia, and she finds a reason to be happy again.  But through Eve's story, we know that something terrible happened, and now Luke and Anna are being kept apart.  It made me want to keep reading to find out what happened.

Anna is a beautifully drawn character.  You can tell she was a very smart and funny woman before her disease took over, and it's hard to see her struggle for words or not recognize her nephew.  I love the bond that was forged between her and Luke and how happy they made each other, even when she can't remember his name.  All they needed to know was that they felt comfort and happiness in the other's presence.

I appreciated that Eve could see how Anna and Luke needed each other and tried to find ways for them to be together, although it was a little frustrating that she kept going against their families' wishes to do so.  She didn't know the whole story, but luckily, it worked out.

4.5 stars - Absolutely amazing.  I would recommend to readers who believe in all kinds of love.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Velvet Hours

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

The Velvet Hours

Alyson Richman

Expected publication: September 6, 2016
As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return. 

An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path.

Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: The Song of Hartgrove Hall

The Song of Hartgrove Hall

Natasha Solomons

December 29, 2015

Natasha Solomons’s breathtaking new novel has it all: a love triangle, family obligations, and rediscovering joy in the face of grief, all set against the alluring backdrop of an English country estate.

It's a terrible thing to covet your brother’s girl

New Year’s Eve, 1946. Candles flicker, a gramophone scratches out a tune as guests dance and sip champagne— for one night Hartgrove Hall relives better days. Harry Fox-Talbot and his brothers have returned from the war determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But the arrival of beautiful wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, and leads to a devastating betrayal.

Fifty years later, now a celebrated composer, Fox reels from the death of his adored wife, Edie. Until his connection with his four-year old grandson - a piano prodigy – propels him back into life, and ultimately to confront his past. An enthralling novel about love and treachery, joy after grief, and a man forced to ask: is it ever too late to seek forgiveness? - from Goodreads
I really wanted to love this book.  It had so many elements that I normally love: it takes place in England, there's a huge country estate, dual time lines, including one just after World War II.  And it was good - I finished it in about two days.  It was just wasn't great like I wanted it to be.

The Goodreads synopsis talks about a devastating betrayal.  There was such a long, slow build-up to the confrontation between Edie, Fox, and his brother, and when it finally happened, it was really anti-climactic.  And where was the fall-out from this betrayal?  The reader never really finds out how Edie and Fox were affected by their decision as the book skips over their entire married life, picking up in a present-day time line after Edie has passed away.  Likewise, Fox seeking forgiveness from his brother almost comes as an afterthought near the ending of the book.

The character of Edie wasn't fully fleshed out; I never really got the sense of why this woman was so irresistible to both Fox and his brother.  Was it because of her fame and fortune?  Unfortunately, we don't get to know her very well.  I believed in Fox as a grieving widower in the present-day time line more than the younger version of Fox.  After spending 50 years with his wife, one can feel how lost he is without her, until he finds purpose again in his grandson, Robin.

Despite these issues, the writing is beautiful.  The descriptions of Hartgrove Hall and its surrounding lands are lush.  I could picture the house, once beautiful, then crumbling.  I felt how attached the Fox-Talbot brothers were to their home and loved the description of how they would take pieces of it, be it pressings of leaves and orchids or songs, to remember the estate by when they were away at school.

3 stars - Many readers will love this book; unfortunately, I wasn't one of them.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Loantaka Brook Reservation

Loantaka Brook Reservation is located in Morris County, New Jersey.

For more information about the park and to get a trail map, visit the Morris County Park Commission website here.

This park has over 8 miles of trails, both paved and unpaved.  On this visit, we took the Blue Trail and part of the Red Trail for a total walk of 3.8 miles.

We really enjoyed this park, and it seems like lots of other people do, too!  We saw many walkers, joggers, and bike riders, but it didn't feel crowded.  The paved trails were great and very flat.

Tom said he would love to come back to Loantaka Brook Reservation and walk some of the other trails.  Definitely adding this one to our list of places to visit again!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Singles Game

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

The Singles Game

Lauren Weisberger

Expected publication: July 12, 2016
The new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Devil Wears Prada and Revenge Wears Prada—a dishy tell-all about a beautiful tennis prodigy who, after changing coaches, suddenly makes headlines on and off the court.

Charlotte “Charlie” Silver has always been a good girl. She excelled at tennis early, coached by her father, a former player himself, and soon became one of the top juniors in the world. When she leaves UCLA—and breaks her boyfriend’s heart—to turn pro, Charlie joins the world’s best athletes who travel eleven months a year, competing without mercy for Grand Slam titles and Page Six headlines.

After Charlie suffers a disastrous loss and injury on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, she fires her longtime coach and hires Todd Feltner, a legend of the men’s tour, who is famous for grooming champions. Charlie is his first-ever female player, and he will not let her forget it. He is determined to change her good-girl image—both on the court and off—and transform her into a ruthless competitor who will not only win matches and climb the rankings, but also score magazine covers and seven-figure endorsement deals. Her not-so-secret affair with the hottest male player in the world, sexy Spaniard Marco Vallejo, has
people whispering, and it seems like only a matter of time before the tabloids and gossip blogs close in on all the juicy details. Charlie’s ascension to the social throne parallels her rising rank on the women’s tour—but at a major price.

Lauren Weisberger’s novel brings us exclusive behind-the-scenes details from all the Grand Slam tournaments: the US Open, the French Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon. Charlie Silver jets around the globe, plays charity matches aboard Mediterranean megayachts, models in photo shoots on Caribbean beaches, walks the red carpet at legendary player parties, and sidesteps looming scandals—all while trying to keep her eyes on the real prize. In this sexy, unputdownable read about young tennis stars who train relentlessly to compete at the highest levels while living in a world obsessed with good looks and Instagram followers, Charlie must discover the secret to having it all—or finally shatter the illusion for good. - from Goodreads

Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Eligible


Curtis Sittenfeld

April 19, 2016

A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving. - from Goodreads
Pride and Prejudice was one of those books that I probably should have read in high school but never did, so I read that before starting Eligible so I would have a frame of reference.  Many of the themes of the original readily lend themselves to modern society, which help make Eligible a very successful re-telling.  Mothers wanting to see their daughters married, relationships between sisters, prejudices against those who are different from us - some things haven't changed much since the early 1800s! 

The original Mrs. Bennet was set on having her daughters marry rich society men; in this version, she was probably a little less picky, considering both Jane and Liz are approaching 40 and still single.  In addition to the Bennet daughters being much older than their Austen counterparts, there is also a huge age difference between the sisters, the youngest being only in her early 20s.  I think this led to some interesting dynamics to their relationships; having lived in New York for most of her adult life, Liz has had little interaction with her youngest sisters, so it was fun to see her get to know them better. 

Many of the characters stayed true to their original inspirations while still feeling like they belonged in the 21st century.  Mr. Bennet retains his wit; Caroline is still the over-bearing sister and romantic rival.  Darcy is probably the least successfully adapted character, for me anyway - while the other characters spoke in modern language, Darcy seemed to be stuck in the Austen era, which was sometimes jarring when he was conversing with other characters.  The original Wickham character is split between two characters here, which I didn't mind because Jasper Wick really turned out to be kind of a despicable person, and I'm glad that Lydia ended up with someone else.

Although it is thoroughly modern, I wasn't crazy about the reality TV element of the story.  In particular, the way it affected the ending of the book almost cheapened the relationship between Jane and Bingley for me.

One of my favorite parts of the book was actually the last chapter.  Mary, the middle sister, was only a minor character in Pride and Prejudice and in this version gets a little more page-time, but in the final chapter, I think we learn more about Mary than in all the other pages combined!

I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

4 stars - This book is fun and funny.  I would recommend it to Jane Austen fans who also love contemporary literature and aren't easily offended!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: Wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Cheryl Strayed

March 20, 2012

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her. - from Goodreads
I don't usually read memoirs, so I was pleasantly surprised that this memoir read more like a novel than non-fiction.  I had to remind myself several times during reading that this was a true story, so it's hard for me to critique some of the events in this book without feeling bad about ragging on Strayed's real life.  For example, I feel immense sympathy for the loss of her mother; they had a close relationship and Strayed was her caretaker at the end.  But I dislike that she used her mother's death to justify cheating on her husband and eventually destroying her marriage with her affairs and drug use.  Strayed and her husband married very young, and she also uses this as an excuse to later leave him, despite stating many times how good of a man and husband he was and how they remained close friends even after their divorce.  I felt she purposefully sabotaged her marriage.  In any event, Strayed eventually decided that hiking the Pacific Crest Trail by herself would give her a chance to reflect upon her life. 

Strayed is honest about her mistakes on the Pacific Crest Trail, although with a bit more research and training before starting the hike she probably could have avoided many of them (like breaking in her boots and packing a lighter bag).  I was heartened to read that even though she wanted to do the trek alone, she came across several other backpackers along the way, most of whom seemed very kind, gave her good advice, and provided companionship when she needed it.

I enjoyed her descriptions of the Trail, the mountains, deserts, lakes.  She spent an awful lot of time recounting her stays at various checkpoints off the trail, which I could have used less of.  In the end, she finishes the trail at the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon.  Strayed doesn't articulate very well what the hike taught her about herself, or maybe I just didn't understand it, so the abrupt ending didn't really sit well with me.

As someone who loves the outdoors, there was one quote in the book that stood out to me, when Strayed is discussing long-distance hikers and why they do it:

It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild.  With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets.  The experience was powerful and fundamental.  It seemed to be that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.

3 stars - I would recommend this to fans of memoirs.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air

Jon Krakauer

October 19, 1999 (first published 1997)

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster. - from Goodreads

Confession:  We watched the movie Everest a few weeks ago, and I almost immediately ran to the library to pick up this book.  Jon Krakauer is a journalist who was researching an article for Outside magazine about the growing popularity and commercialization of Mt. Everest guided climbing trips when he joined Rob Hall's Adventure Consultants team to climb Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996; Rob Hall had previously summited Mt. Everest and was known to be a meticulous guide.

Krakauer's book is equally fascinating and terrifying.  I didn't realize the preparation that goes into a Mt. Everest summit attempt.  Krakauer and the team he was with literally spent weeks in the Himalayas, acclimating to the high altitude and thin air before even attempting the climb.  I was also surprised at the range in skills exhibited by various climbers; some had so little experience, it was amazing that they would even think about attempting to climb the highest mountain in the world.

Even with all the careful preparation and contingency plans in place, a successful Mt. Everest summit attempt seems to rely so much on luck.  Krakauer analyzes the series of events and questionable decisions that happened on the summit attempt that may have contributed to the disaster (not strictly sticking to the schedule, mis-communication about extra oxygen canisters, a fierce storm that seemed to come out of nowhere, etc.).

And then, when Krakauer actually made it to the summit, he couldn't even enjoy his accomplishment.  He was so tired, cold, and half-delirious from lack of oxygen that all he could think about was how he was going to get back down.  For him, the climb was completely debilitating, and even knowing his team was still out there, lost, there was so little he could do, physically and mentally.  He speaks about the guilt he felt and how he thought his actions contributed to the disaster and even perhaps specifically to the death of one of his guides, which was heartbreaking to read.

4.5 stars - A must-read for fans of thrilling non-fiction.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Washington Valley Park

We recently checked out Washington Valley Park in Bridgewater, New Jersey.  The park is split into two different sections, and for this hike, we stayed in the eastern portion.

For more information about the park and to get a trail map, visit the Somerset County Park Commission here.

We parked in the lot at the end of Miller Lane and took the paved path (Yellow Trail) down to the hawk watch.  After the hawk watch, the trail is no longer paved.  We then hiked down to Buttermilk Falls.  From there we took the Yellow Trail north along the East Branch Reservoir up to Gilbride Road.

Buttermilk Falls

East Branch Reservoir

From Gilbride Road, we took the Orange Trail south along the East Branch Reservoir.   We took another section of the Orange Trail back up. 

To get back to the parking lot, we took one of the interior Yellow Trail routes.  Between the two trails, we hiked a little over 3 miles.  It was a nice area, with lots of changes in elevation, but some of the trails were very rocky, so we had to be careful.  I'm always surprised by places like these, that seem so quiet and pretty and remote, when we're right in the middle of suburban Somerset County.  I definitely think this is a place we would visit again, and maybe next time we'll visit the western portion of the park and the Washington Valley Reservoir!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Since She Went Away

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

Since She Went Away

David Bell

Expected publication date: June 21, 2016

Three months earlier, Jenna Barton was supposed to meet her lifelong best friend Celia. But when Jenna arrived late, she found that Celia had disappeared—and hasn’t been seen again. Jenna has blamed herself for her friend’s disappearance every single day since then.

The only piece of evidence is a lone diamond earring found where Celia and Jenna were planning to meet, leading the national media to dub Celia “The Diamond Mom.” And even though Jenna has obsessively surfed message boards devoted to missing persons cases, she is no closer to finding any answers—or easing her guilt.

But when her son’s new girlfriend—who suddenly arrived in town without a past—disappears, a stricken Jenna begins to unwind the tangled truth behind Celia’s tragedy. And as long-buried secrets finally come to light, she discovers how completely lives can be shattered by a few simple lies. - from Goodreads