Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Cabin

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

The Cabin
Natasha Preston
Expected publication: September 6, 2016
There may only be one killer, but no one is innocent in this new thriller from Natasha Preston, author of The Cellar and Awake.

When Mackenzie treks to a secluded cabin in the woods with six friends, she expects a fun weekend of partying, drinking, and hookups. But when they wake to find two of their own dead and covered in blood, it's clear there's a killer among them.

As the police try to unravel the case, Mackenzie launches her own investigation. Before long secrets start to emerge, revealing a sinister web of sins among the original seven friends. The killer is still free. Every one of them is a suspect. And Mackenzie starts to realize that no one is innocent… - from Goodreads

Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Dessert First

Dessert First
Dean Gloster
Expected publication: September 2, 2016
Upbeat--that's Kat, the girl in the family who everyone turns to when things get difficult. Especially now, when her beloved younger brother Beep is in his second leukemia relapse, and a bone marrow transplant from Kat may be his only chance.
But Kat's worried that she and her bone marrow may not be up to the task: She can't even complete homework, and she's facing other rejection--lost friendships, a lost spot on the soccer team, and lots of heartache from her crush on her former best friend, Evan. Kat doesn't know if her bone marrow will save Beep, or whether she can save herself, let alone keep her promise to Beep that she'll enjoy life and always eat dessert first. - from Goodreads

I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

Kat is not an easy character to like.  She has some serious anger and attitude issues.  She's extremely sarcastic.  She constantly complains (like every other page) that she "can't do" her homework and is subsequently failing most of her classes.  But she finds time to analyze every word said and gesture made by her best friend (and biggest crush) Evan.  And spend literally hours each night flirting, emailing and Skyping with a teenage boy also suffering from cancer, like her brother Beep.  Sometimes her priorities were a little skewed, but in a way, that made her a typical teenager; unfortunately, it also made the story difficult to read at times.

But Kat has a lot of serious things going on in her life.  She is depressed.  Her brother's cancer has returned, and although she is just 16, she takes a lead role in his treatment.  She visits him in the hospital, runs a website devoted to her brother's story, and is his closest match for a bone marrow transplant.  She does all of this without a lot of support from her parents - her mother has an anxiety disorder and her father is constantly working.  I felt bad for Kat that she had to take on a parental role, on top of all her other problems, but I loved the way she loves her brother and is willing to do anything she can for him.  Kat's relationship with her sister started to deteriorate with her brother's illness, and I enjoyed the later growth between the two sisters.

Kat doesn't have many friends, due to some vaguely discussed issue from the previous school year, and she is the target of some bullies.  It's kind of disgusting the things that the other girls say to her, especially about her brother.  It's hard to believe that anyone could be so cruel, but on the other hand, teenagers can be really terrible to each other.

The author also handled the medical information in a great way.  It was clear he knew the subject, and although it was sometimes hard to read about cancer and its treatments and side effects, it made the story richer.

3.5 stars: A quick read that I think a lot of teenagers will be able to find something to relate to within its pages.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Review: Belgravia

Julian Fellowes
Published July 5, 2016
Julian Fellowes's Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London's grandest postcode.

Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

At the Duchess of Richmond's new legendary ball, one family's life will change forever. - from Goodreads
Wow, that blurb really tells you nothing about the book, does it?  The story opens in 1815, at the Duchess of Richmond's ball, the night before the Battle of Waterloo.  Sophia Trenchard, daughter of a merchant, is able to secure tickets to the ball through her beau, Edmund, Lord Bellasis.  It's what happens after the ball that sets the rest of the story in motion.  Edmund is killed during the battle, and shortly after, Sophia finds out she is pregnant.  Sophia dies in childbirth and to save the family's reputation, the baby is placed with another family.  After this short introduction, the book fast forwards 25 years.  The illegitimate baby is now a young man (Charles Pope) making his way in the world.  The Trenchards have kept his identity secret for all this time, but when Edmund's mother laments the fact that she and her husband do not have their own heir, Mrs. Trenchard finds herself unable to hide it from her anymore.  The rest of the novel deals with other characters trying to find out who the mysterious Charles Pope is and his connections to the two families.

I thought the book was too long for the premise.  There just seemed to be a lot of repetition, of characters having the same conversations time and again and constantly meeting with each other, or talking about meeting with each other, without a whole lot of action.  Probably 100 pages could have been cut out without sacrificing any of the plot.

While there were a couple characters who were likable (Charles Pope, Mrs. Trenchard, and some of the secondary characters), many were just so unpleasant.  Here are just a few examples:
  • A social climber whose main concern is what clubs he is admitted to and what parties he is invited to
  • Supposedly loyal servants who will gladly take bribes to spy on their employers
  • A middle-aged son who wants money and a place in society but is unwilling to work for it
  • A man who purposely seeks out married women for trysts
  • A mother who chooses a husband for her daughter based on how well the mother will profit from the marriage
Despite cringing at some of the characters, I did enjoy this book.  It read a bit like a soap opera, with miscommunications, liaisons, and secrets.  Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and Julian Fellowes (creator and writer of Downton Abbey, one of my favorite shows) does a great job of delineating the various social classes of the time period, from aristocrats to servants, and how they interact with each other.

3.5 stars: Belgravia doesn't have quite the spark of Downton Abbey, but it's still a dishy summer read!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Try It, You Might Like It #1: Autobiography/Memoir

"Try it, you might like it" - it's what someone says when they present you with some food you've never had before or your mom wants you to try on some clothes she picked out for you.  I'm using it here on the blog as inspiration to choose books in genres I don't normally read; to branch out from my reading comfort zones; and to maybe find some new favorites!  Thank you to my sister for suggesting this topic to me (hi, Michele!).

For this first installment, I've chosen autobiography/memoir.  I've read a few memoirs before (and even reviewed one here), but it's definitely not a genre I gravitate towards.  I decided on I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb, 2013).

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons. - from Goodreads
I chose this particular book because, first, I felt like everyone was reading it except me.  It also talks about a culture I'm not familiar with.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is usually something about the way autobiographies and memoirs are written that just turns me off.  But I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed I Am Malala.  It had a straightforward writing style that didn't feel pretentious at all.

Malala details the history of the Swat Valley in Pakistan and the various customs her culture observes, which were interesting to learn about.  Sometimes the numerous names of individuals and groups in the region were confusing, but I think the basic ideas came across.

Malala's family is not a typical family.  Her father was delighted at the birth of his daughter, and he encouraged her to go to school.  Malala loves school and learning and believes every child should have the same opportunity for education.  I didn't realize until I read this book how outspoken Malala was before she was targeted and shot by the Taliban.  She gave many public speeches and interviews and won prizes and awards for her efforts.

I found Malala's story to be very inspiring.  For someone so young to have such strong convictions is rare.  In some ways she is a typical young girl: she gossips with her friends and fights with her brothers.  To know she has accomplished so much already, and she is still only a teenager, makes me excited to see what she does in the future.

I know it's hard to judge an entire genre by one book, but Malala's story is beautiful, and if I could find other autobiographies or memoirs like this one, I think I would read more of them.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service!

Today our National Park Service turns 100 years old!  On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act that established the National Park Service to care for our national parks and also leave them “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The National Park Service doesn't just preserve the beautiful natural scenery of the United States.  They also care for important historical and cultural monuments.  Places like Yosemite National Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and Gettysburg National Military Park are all part of the National Park System.

Here in New Jersey, our National Parks run the gamut: from the mountains (the Appalachian Trail) to the beaches (the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail) to Revolutionary War sites (Washington's encampment at Morristown) to historic buildings (Ellis Island and Thomas Edison's home and labs).

I have so many memories of vacations and trips taken to National Park sites, like visiting Yosemite National Park in California while visiting my aunt... checking out the many historical sites in Washington D.C....

Washington Monument and the National Mall

Lincoln Memorial
seeing the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor (although not getting to visit due to the government shutdown in 2013)...

and visiting sites in Boston.

Old South Meeting House
Do you have any favorite memories of visiting National Parks?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: A Great Reckoning

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

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12)
Louise Penny
Expected publication: August 30, 2016
When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes.

Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go. But must.

And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map.

Everywhere Gamache turns, he sees Amelia Choquet, one of the cadets. Tattooed and pierced. Guarded and angry. Amelia is more likely to be found on the other side of a police line-up. And yet she is in the academy. A protégée of the murdered professor.

The focus of the investigation soon turns to Gamache himself and his mysterious relationship with Amelia, and his possible involvement in the crime. The frantic search for answers takes the investigators back to Three Pines and a stained glass window with its own horrific secrets.

For both Amelia Choquet and Armand Gamache, the time has come for a great reckoning. - from Goodreads

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War

Helen Simonson

March 22, 2016
It's the summer of 1914 and life in the sleepy village of Rye, England is about to take an interesting turn. Agatha Kent, a canny force for progress, is expecting an unusual candidate to be the school's Latin teacher: Beatrice Nash, a young woman of good breeding in search of a position after the death of her father. (Never has there been a woman Latin teacher.) Agatha's nephews, meanwhile, have come to spend the summer months, as always, both with dreams of their own: Daniel, the poet, to publish a literary journal in Paris, and Hugh, to graduate from medical studies and marry his surgeon's daughter thus inheriting a lucrative practice. But then Hugh is sent to pick up Beatrice from the train station and life, of course, changes. As with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, the quintessential English village becomes the stage on which entrenched tradition, class, ignorance, family ties and love play out. Here, these characters and others we come to love and root for become characters we hope and pray for when the shadow of the Great War looms ever closer to home. - from Goodreads
It took awhile for me to get into this book; truthfully, I almost gave up on it several times.  But I'm glad I stuck it out, because the last part of this book is really where it came together.

The book tells a "slice of life" story of various characters living in Rye, England, during the months leading up to and the beginning of World War I.  The book started off very slowly and I wasn't quite sure what the point was.  At first, the biggest event happening in the town is the hiring of a woman to be the school's Latin teacher, and even this takes 100 pages to happen. 

When war seems inevitable, we see the upper crust and their long-held beliefs and prejudices take center stage.  It really was quite astonishing to see how the various characters react.  They hold fundraisers, but everything must be just so.  A respected surgeon looks forward to the war so he can pick and choose his cases and further his research.  The surgeon's daughter hands out feathers to men who don't immediately enlist, and she tells potential suitors she will only marry a military man (her motives are questionable, though).  When refugees from Belgium arrive, the townspeople cherry-pick which ones they want to house.

There is a large cast of characters, which sometimes got confusing, but there were a couple standouts.  Agatha Kent is a staple in the community and widely respected, but even she is not immune to local politics.  Beatrice Nash tries way too hard to prove that she is an independent woman; while almost annoying at the beginning, I appreciated her character arc by the end.

The last part of the novel takes place during the war, and we see Daniel and Hugh at the front.  This part saved the book; it felt much more real and had lots more action, but also a lot more emotion.  I admit I teared up quite a few times.

3.5 stars: The meandering plot is saved by the ending.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hacklebarney State Park

Hacklebarney State Park is a small but beautiful park located in Chester, Morris County, New Jersey.

For more information about the park and to get a trail map, visit the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry here.

The trails here are quite short; the longest trail is the Riverside Trail at 1.8 miles, but all the rest are less than a mile.  We started our hike on the Main Trail and then veered off onto the Riverside Trail, which travels along the edge of the park and down along the Black River.  Before getting down near the river, the trails are semi-paved and gravel.

Trout Brook
Once you get down to the Black River, much of the trail is large rocks and we really had to slow down and watch our footing.  The area is so pretty, though!

Black River

Rocky trail along the Riverside Trail
Once we reached the end of the Riverside Trail, we got onto the Windy Ridge Trail, which, coming up from the river, is a pretty steep climb in some places.  This trail was really quiet and tucked into the woods.

Windy Ridge Trail

This park had some cool features; there were picnic tables at many places along the trail, including down by the river.  It would be a beautiful place to have lunch.  There are also benches at various scenic locations. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

YA - Not Just for Teenagers

In recent years, the YA (young adult) genre has exploded in popularity.  As defined by its name, YA books are mainly aimed at teenagers.  However, it's not just adolescents reading these books.  Adults are some of the biggest readers of the YA genre, and it's not hard to see why!

The first reason I think so many adults are reading YA books is because of their popularity and accessibility - they are everywhere!  It's hard to be a reader these days and not run into a YA book.  Is there anyone out there who hasn't heard of The Hunger Games?

YA books deal with the same issues as books for adults do.  Young adult characters go to war in Code Name Verity.  They deal with death in The Fault in Our Stars.  Illness, family problems, friendship, love - whether you're 15 or 35, we've all dealt with these things.  As an adult, it's interesting to me to see how a teenage character would react or think differently than an adult character in a given situation. 


Another reason I think adults like me love to read YA is because it gives us a chance to revisit our youth and our high school days, whether we were a wallflower or voted Most Popular.  Books like Eleanor & Park let us relive the strong and sometimes confusing feelings of first love.  They also inform us about issues that are facing today's teenagers, where technology plays a bigger role than ever.  I wasn't a teenager that long ago, but we didn't have things like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  Books like Reconstructing Amelia use a teenager's texts, emails, and Facebook posts to really get inside their heads. 

There are plenty of adult books that take place in different time periods, on other planets, or within worlds very different from ours (Games of Thrones, anyone?), but YA books seem to take things to a whole new level.  There is so much imagination and nothing is off-limits - vampires, magic, royalty, fantasy, the paranormal.  The worlds created are big and rich in detail.  There's a sense of fun and escapism that isn't always prevalent in adult literature.

Sometimes YA books can just be easier to read than adult books.  I'm not saying they don't have depth, but often times they are just more straightforward.  They are usually quick reads with lots of action. 

Overall, I feel like books are books, and there should be no age limits on who can read them.  YA books may be intended for a teenage audience, but well-written books should be enjoyed by everyone!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Between Two Fires

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

Between Two Fires
Mark Noce
Expected publication: August 23, 2016
Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales' last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King. But the fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen becomes the target of assassination attempts and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan, her world threatens to tear itself apart.

Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her. - from Goodreads

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: The Siren

The Siren

Kiera Cass

January 26, 2016
Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again.

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude…until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. And though she can’t talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny…and Kahlen doesn’t want to.

Falling in love with a human breaks all the Ocean’s rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen’s feelings, she’ll be forced to leave Akinli for good. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart. - from Goodreads
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I appreciate the mythology and characters, but on the other, I have issues with some of the relationships.

When Kahlen meets Akinli, it is insta-love.  It's a little odd that after just a few hours, she is ready to change her life completely for him.  Of course, her biggest dream in life is to be a bride/wife, but I can almost understand that, as Kahlen was born in the 1920s; I think it is more a product of the culture she was raised in.  However, I was hoping that by experiencing the gamut of the 20th century and seeing how far women have come, especially professionally, she would see her potential to be even more.  A little disappointing!

Another relationship I had issues with was between Kahlen and the Ocean.  It is kind of a mother-daughter relationship; Kahlen loves the Ocean and always wants to make Her proud.  I'm not sure why Kahlen loves the Ocean so much.  Yes, she had a choice to become a Siren, but the Ocean leaves her with only the vaguest memories of her previous life, sentences her to 100 years of luring people to their deaths, and when her time is completed, will spit her out into the world with no memory of what she's been doing for the last 100 years!  Doesn't seem like a very loving relationship.

Despite these issues, there were still some things I enjoyed about the book.  I liked the modern take on the Siren mythology.  I always pictured Sirens as living in the ocean, but these girls live on land when they're not sinking ships.  They sell their artwork online, go to clubs, visit the library - as long as they stay silent, they can interact with other people.  I also liked the deep friendships between the Siren sisters.  They really trusted and loved one another, and they helped each other adapt to their unique lifestyle.

2.5 stars - An ok read if you don't overanalyze it!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Duke Farms

Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey, is one of our favorite places to visit!

To learn more about Duke Farms and get a map, visit their website here.  The Duke family purchased land in the area to create an estate and farm, but they eventually turned it into a public park, and today, "Duke Farms is a leader in environmental stewardship and inspires visitors to become informed stewards of the land. It is a place of education, enjoyment and research that enhances the environmental health of the region."

Duke Farms is a beautiful place to walk around, with 18 (!) miles of paved, gravel, wood-chip, and grass trails.  There are several man-made lakes and structures scattered around the property.

Besides walking, there are other ways to get around Duke Farms.  A tram picks passengers up near the visitors center and travels around the estate, with other pick-ups/drop-offs at various points.  It's a nice way to tour the park.  Visitors can bring their bikes and Duke Farms also provides a Bikeshare service.  For $5, you can rent a bike for two hours.  This is a great service for condo-dwellers like us who don't have room to keep bikes at home!  It's so much fun to zip around Duke Farms on a bike.

As many times as we've been here, we still discover new things to see, as well as visiting old favorites, like the Orchid Range with its beautiful garden of flowers and the Old Foundation, with its awesome views of the Great Meadow.  There's even a small sculpture garden in the repurposed Hay Barn!

Looking down into the Great Meadow

Orchid Range

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Wonder

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

The Wonder
Emma Donoghue
Expected publication: September 20, 2016
In Emma Donoghue's latest masterpiece, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.
Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels--a tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can't Believe I've Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Today's topic is a rewind to go back and do a topic you missed or want to revisit.  This week, I wanted to list some books I can't believe I've never read.  Should I be embarrassed that there are so many classics I haven't read?

  • Animal Farm (George Orwell)
  • Little Women (Louis May Alcott)
  • Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
  • Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  • Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)
  • The Odyssey/The Iliad (Homer)
  • Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
  • The Princess Bride (William Goldman)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Review: First Comes Love

First Comes Love

Emily Giffin

June 28, 2016
Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.
As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them, but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover they need each other more than they knew . . . and that in the recipe for true happiness, love always comes first. - from Goodreads
Emily Giffin is one of only a few authors that I will pre-order books from.  She's just that good, and First Comes Love is no exception.  Emily Giffin is a master at taking difficult real-life situations and crafting beautiful stories around them.  In First Comes Love, a family suffers the loss of a brother and son, and we see how they've been affected by it fifteen years later.

The story alternates between first-person narrators and sisters Josie and Meredith.  I love that Giffin uses the first-person, because we get to go so much deeper into the characters' minds.  Although nearing 40, Josie sometimes comes off as immature.  Meredith is deeply unhappy; sometimes it was hard to read her chapters because she just complained about everything.  Both are holding on to secrets relating to their brother's death.

I think a lot of women will be able to relate to Josie.  She wants to be a mother but with no romantic prospects on the horizon, she decides it is time to take some unconventional measures.  I don't necessarily agree with the choice she makes regarding the father for her child and I definitely don't understand why she doesn't want to involve a lawyer and get some sort of agreement in writing "just in case," but everyone involved seems at peace with the decision.

The book shows a realistic relationship between sisters.  Sometimes Josie and Meredith get along so well, but it can turn quickly, and they get annoyed with each other over even small things.  The story also explores the sometimes complicated relationships between husbands and wives and parents and their children.

4 stars - Another winner from Emily Giffin!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Review: Glass Sword

Glass Sword (Red Queen #2)
Victoria Aveyard
February 9, 2016
If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different.

Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.  But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever? - from Goodreads
After having mixed feelings about Red Queen, I decided to give Glass Sword a try to see if I could get into the series a bit more.  This second installment picks up right where the last book ended.

My biggest issue with this book is Mare - she is such a difficult character for me.  As she makes her way to the Scarlet Guard camp, Mare over-emphasizes her role in the revolution.  I guess because of her time in the palace, Mare is important, but she is not unique.  She is not the only Red with Silver abilities.  Mare just seems so arrogant about her powers, like her life is more important than others - but on the flip side, she complains that she has to hide her powers and seem weak, even faking a limp at one point!  It didn't really make sense because everyone knows who she is.  Is she a weapon, a leader - or is she something to be feared and thus hidden away?  There were mixed messages about her role - does the Scarlet Guard want her or not?  And I got tired of her complaining about being betrayed by Maven.  Yes, it happened and it sucked for all involved, but really, she barely knew him!  If anyone should be angry, it should be Cal!  She says she misses the boy she knew - well, she didn't know the real Maven anyway.  If we could have gotten out of Mare's head for awhile and away from her overly-dramatic thoughts about power and trust, I think the book could have been a lot better.

Mare and her friends break away from the Scarlet Guard to pursue the newbloods - Reds like her with Silver abilities.  At times it was repetitive, especially the constant cat-and-mouse games with Maven, but it was fun to see the new characters and their abilities.  I liked seeing how the new recruits fit into the group and how other people stepped up to help them, like Kilorn and Cal.  I think I enjoyed Cameron the most - probably because she has no problem telling Mare how she really feels about her!

The action picks up in the last 100 pages or so, but there are still major events (re: deaths) that happen off the page.   I also felt like too many things were introduced near the end of the book, like potential allies and a plan to save a legion of teenage soldiers.  It definitely set itself up for the next book, though!

2 stars: I know I'm in the minority here, because this series is super popular, but I just can't get past my issues with Mare and probably won't continue with the next book.  I was also hoping for more world-building, but I didn't feel like it progressed very much.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Why I Love My Local Library

I read a lot, well over 100 books a year, and books can be really expensive, so a few years ago, I made my way over to our local library and got myself a library card.  It was so liberating - all those books to choose from, and if I didn't like a book, I could just take it back and not feel bad about wasting money on it.  But libraries are so much more than just the books on the shelves!
  • Books.  Well, I have to talk about the books first, since that's mainly why I go there.  Libraries have almost every book you can think of, and all you have to do is go in and take it off the shelf, and they let you bring it home with you, for free!  Classics, new releases, graphic novels - whatever!  My library is great, because as part of a county-wide system, if my library doesn't have a particular book, they can just request it from another one, at no cost to me.  I can make requests, place holds on upcoming releases, and renew books all from my online account.  My library also has e-books and audiobooks.
  • Programs.  My library hosts children's activities and read-alongs, book signings and discussions, and game nights, and offers cultural and historical programs.
  • Movies, newspapers, and magazines.  In addition to books, I can browse through local papers and even rent movies.  And yes, all for free!
  • Community services and resources.  My library has computers for use by the community and they also provide notary services. 
  • Museum passes.  My library offers passes free-of-charge to some pretty incredible museums, zoos, and sculpture gardens in our area, including the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum!
What do you love about your local library?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What's in My Bag: Short Hikes

Today I wanted to do a quick post on what we take with us when we go on short hikes.  This list isn't totally comprehensive and you may need or want other items, but I think this is a good start!

  • Fully charged cell phone.
  • Trail map.  Sometimes these are available on site, but I always print my own just in case.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Bug spray.
  • Camera.  Because I have to take pictures wherever we go!
  • Water.  And plenty of it.  It's too easy to get dehydrated, so we make sure to bring at least two large bottles of water with us.
  • First aid supplies.  Simple things like band aids for small cuts and scrapes; aspirin for headaches; and sinus/allergy medication.
  • Snacks.  Nothing huge, but something filling that won't melt or go bad if it's kept out too long.  Nuts, trail mix, granola bars - we're partial to KIND bars these days.
  • Sunglasses/hat.  More protection from the sun.
  • Pocketknife/Swiss Army knife.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: We Are Unprepared

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

We Are Unprepared

Meg Little Reilly

Expected publication: August 30, 2016
Ash and Pia's move from Brooklyn to the bucolic hills of Vermont was supposed to be a fresh start—a picturesque farmhouse, mindful lifestyle, maybe even children. But just three months in, news breaks of a devastating superstorm expected in the coming months. Fear of the impending disaster divides their tight-knit rural town and exposes the chasms in Ash and Pia's marriage. Ash seeks common ground with those who believe in working together for the common good. Pia teams up with "preppers" who want to go off the grid and war with the rest of the locals over whom to trust and how to protect themselves. Where Isole had once been a town of old farm families, yuppie transplants and beloved rednecks, they divide into paranoid preppers, religious fanatics and government tools. - from Goodreads

Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Chris Cleave

May 3, 2016
It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.

Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alistair, enlists. Alistair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alistair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.

A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage. - from Goodreads
Oh, I don't like writing bad reviews, but I just couldn't get into this book!  I guess the first thing is that I felt the above synopsis doesn't accurately describe what the book is about.  I expected an epic war story with a love triangle.  I didn't feel like there was a love triangle at all.  Mary and Tom's relationship feels forced, and I think both realize it is reaching its end point when Mary and Alistair meet.  Despite spending only a few hours together, it is insta-love between Mary and Alistair.  I couldn't connect with their relationship, though; there is so little contact between them besides a few letters and a quick ending that the love story portion of this novel never really came through for me.

I wasn't drawn to any of the characters.  Tom seems like a nice fellow, but he isn't around long enough to really know.  Mary is so full of herself.  All of the characters are too witty - honestly, almost every conversation consists of banter, even in the most serious and inappropriate of times.  I can understand using humor to help get yourself through tough times, but it was too much and made all the characters indistinguishable from each other - Mary, Tom, Alistair, Mary's friend Hilda, Mary's mother, Mary's student Zachary, Alistair's fellow soldiers...  The dialogue took away from the serious tone of the novel.  There are fleeting moments of insight from some of the characters, but they are few and far between.

The plot moved slowly and sometimes it didn't seem like anything was really happening.  When big events did occur, there was no sense of urgency; it just felt flat and anti-climactic.  Overall, it just wasn't what I expected and I was unfortunately disappointed.

2 stars - For me, there are better World War II novels out there.