Friday, September 30, 2016

Try It, You Might Like It #2: Self-Help

"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!

For this installment, I've chosen self-help books.  I don't think I've ever actually read a self-help book, but with the popularity of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Marie Kondo, 2014), I figured I'd see what all the hype was about.

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?
Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you'll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo's clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).
With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house "spark joy" (and which don't), this international best seller featuring Tokyo's newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home - and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire. - from Goodreads
Marie Kondo has created a system for tidying and organizing a home that she claims will change lives.  While I agree with her overall message, I found some of her methods to be a little strange and impractical.

Kondo theorizes that an uncluttered home allows us to think more clearly, be confident in our decision-making, become healthier and happier, and help us realize our goals for the future.  I agree that not being bogged down by material items can help someone feel more relaxed and clear-headed, at least to a certain extent.  Some people just like "stuff," and as long as it's well-organized and neatly displayed, I don't see a problem with having lots of things.  When it gets to the point where you can't see your floors or you just have messy piles of things everywhere, ok, that's a problem.  I also think this could even be applied to the workplace - when my desk is tidy and organized, I feel like I can be more productive.

Kondo talks about clients who have thrown out 35 bags of clutter and 200 books on their first round of decluttering.  My husband and I live in a small condo that is pretty full right now, but pretty much everything has its place and our closets are neatly organized - I don't think we could get rid of that much stuff.  Kondo suggests only keeping those items that "spark joy" - my cleaning supplies don't spark joy, but I still need them, and they are kept neatly out of sight.  However, I do agree with trying to surround ourselves with only things that we LOVE, not just for the sake of having things or because they were a gift from someone.

I found some of Kondo's decluttering methods to be impractical.  She says we should not ball up our socks, but instead fold them and line them up in the drawer.  She also says we ladies should unpack our purses at the end of each day.  Some of these methods seem to add a lot of unnecessary work that most people just don't have time for.  As for documents, she basically suggests throwing everything out, as user manuals have no use and paystubs aren't needed past pay-day.  She also seems kind of unsentimental about things like photographs and books.

Kondo believes that one house-wide massive tidying-up is better than doing things piecemeal, even though it may take awhile.  I can't imagine having everything in my house in one big pile, touching each item and deciding if it sparks joy in my life, for possibly a month or more.  I believe doing a little at a time is still a great approach, so it's not completely overwhelming.

I don't know that I would read more self-help books in the future, maybe if I had some specific issue I wanted to work on (kinda obvious, that's what they're for!).  I think instead of trying to apply every piece of advice in a self-help book, I would just pick and choose the best methods that will work for me.  Sometimes you don't need a complete overhaul, but maybe just a change in your point of view, a new way of looking at things.  As far as Marie Kondo and her decluttering methods, I may try some of them, such as paring down our clothes, cleaning out those junk drawers, and getting rid of items we clearly don't need or use - but I'm still going to ball up our socks! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

This or That Book Tag

Thank you so much to The Bookish Libra for tagging me and to Tea and Paperbacks for creating this tag!  I've never been tagged before, so I'm excited and a little nervous!  I'm normally a very indecisive person, but hopefully I can give you all some fun answers. 

The Rules:

  • Mention the creator of the tag
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you!
  • Choose one of the options, you don’t have to tell the reasons why you chose that but you can also do them if you want to.
  • Tag 10 other people to do this tag to spread the love

The Questions:

One: Reading on the couch or on the bed?
Couch, definitely.  It's way more comfortable and I can be in the same room as my husband, as long as he's awake, and if he's sleeping, I don't want to bother him by having lights on in the bedroom.

Two: Male main character or female main character?
Female.  I think I connect with them better.

Three: Sweet snacks or salty snacks when reading?
Sweet!  I'm not really into salty food; I'd rather have chocolate!

Four: Trilogies or quartets?
I'd take either.  I like series as long as the story is still progressing and makes sense; and if they continue on even longer than 3 or 4 books (like Outlander or Game of Thrones), I'm okay with that, too!

Five: First person point of view or third person point of view?
Probably third person, particularly if the book follows more than one character.  It can get confusing if there is more than one first-person narrator.  Sometimes I also run into the issue of not really liking the main character, so to be stuck in their heads exclusively can be a bummer.

Six: Reading at night or in the morning?
At night.  Sometimes I read in the morning, but I don't usually have that much time, so I'd rather read at night after all the household chores are done and I can relax.

Seven: Libraries or bookstores?
Libraries! I like being able to just walk around and pick whatever I want off the shelf, without worrying about how much it's going to cost!

Eight: Books that make you laugh or make you cry?
Cry.  It's very rare that I will laugh while reading a book.  I think hearing a tone of voice or seeing a facial expression are really important in humor.  But some of my favorite books can make me tear up just through words.

Nine: Black book covers or white book covers?
I like books with interesting covers, but I guess if I had to choose, I'd say black because a lot of the books I own have darker covers.

Ten: Character driven or plot driven stories?
Hmm... I guess I would say plot-driven stories.  I don't necessarily mean non-stop action, but I like for things to be happening and moving along and giving the characters something to react to.


I'm tagging the following bloggers (if they haven't already done it), and I'm leaving the rest of the spaces open for anyone else who would like to participate!  Please drop me a note with your link!

2. Jessica L. Brooks -- Let Me Tell You a Story
3. Booker T's Farm - Books and Nails and Puppy Dog Tales
4. All Books Considered
5. Opinionated Book Lover

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Superficial

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

Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries
Andy Cohen
Expected publication: November 15, 2016

The megapopular host of Watch What Happens: Live and executive producer of The Real Housewives franchise is back, better than ever, and telling stories that will keep his publicist up at night.
Since the publication of his last book, Andy has toured the country with his sidekick Anderson Cooper, hit the radio waves with his own Sirius station, Radio Andy, appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher despite his mother’s conviction he was not intellectually prepared, hosted NBC’s Primetime New Year’s Eve special, guest edited Entertainment Weekly, starred in Bravo’s Then & Now with Andy Cohen, offended celebrities with his ongoing case of foot-in-mouth disease, and welcomed home Teresa “Namaste” Giudice, from a brief stint in jail. Hopping from the Hamptons to the Manhattan dating world, the dog park to the red carpet, Cardinals superfan and mama’s boy Andy Cohen, with Wacha in tow, is the kind of star that fans are dying to be friends with. This book gives them that chance.
If The Andy Cohen Diaries was deemed “the literary equivalent of a Fresca and tequila” by Jimmy Fallon, Superficial is a double: dishier, juicier, and friskier. In this account of his escapades—personal, professional, and behind-the-scenes—Andy tells us not only what goes down, but exactly what he thinks of it. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Fall TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week's topic is books on my fall TBR list.  There are some great books coming out this fall, but I'm really trying to play catch-up with books that came out earlier this year that I haven't gotten to yet.  Here are some books I'm hoping to finally get to:




Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: The Hourglass Factory

The Hourglass Factory
Lucy Ribchester
January 1, 2015
London, 1912.

The suffragette movement is reaching a fever pitch, and Inspector Frederick Primrose is hunting a murderer on his beat. Across town, Fleet Street reporter Frances “Frankie” George is chasing an interview with trapeze artist Ebony Diamond. Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly-laced acrobat and follows her to a Kensington corset shop that seems to be hiding secrets of its own. When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie and Primrose are both drawn into the shadowy world of a secret society with ties to both London's criminal underworld and its glittering socialites.

How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory? From newsrooms to the drawing rooms of high society, the investigation leads Frankie and Primrose to a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined.
- from Goodreads
What a strange book!  Two main storylines collide during the novel: Frankie George, a reporter, is searching for a trapeze artist (Ebony Diamond) who vanishes in the middle of a show while Inspector Primrose, assigned to the suffragette beat, is investigating a murder.  Frankie George seemed a bit cliché - she wants to be a journalist but none of the men around her take her seriously; she wears pants; she drinks too much.  I think Inspector Primrose was my favorite character - he just wants to do his job and go home to his wife, but he is hindered by incompetent police officers.  Frankie and Primrose are surrounded by a huge cast of characters, some well-drawn, some not, some with ridiculous names (really, Twinkle?).

The plot suffers from too many ideas.  It's almost as if the author, in trying to establish the historical setting, threw in every reference to the time period she could, among many other ideas as well.  The women's suffrage movement in England, a Jack the Ripper-style murder, a reference to the sinking of the Titanic, plus a trapeze artist, more information about corsets than I ever needed to know, bombs made from a deck of playing cards... Each of these devices certainly made the novel that much more entertaining, but the mystery suffered, becoming too convoluted, and the ending was quite bizarre and unbelievable at times. 

It's not that I didn't like the book - I did, or at least I'm pretty sure I did.  Although long (almost 500 pages), the story moves along quickly, and I was interested to see the big reveal that the book was leading up to.  The book was good, but not great.  It kept my interest, although I did find myself skimming certain areas.

3 stars: A quirky, entertaining read that is overly long and complicated in some parts.  I'd recommend this to readers who have an interest in early 20th century London.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fall Bucket List

Happy first day of fall!  Spring and autumn are my two favorite seasons, but if I had to pick just one, I think I'd choose autumn!  Here are some of the fun things I want to do this fall:

  • Pumpkin-picking
  • Apple-picking
  • Do something fun to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary
  • Decorate our mantel for Halloween and the season in general
  • Have a fall-flavored adult beverage (and a pumpkin spice latte, too, of course!)
  • Go leaf peeping
  • Stock up on fall-scented candles
  • Read at least one book inspired by the season
  • Take a walk through the woods on a chilly morning
  • Watch a scary movie

What are you looking forward to this fall?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Guineveres

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

The Guineveres
Sarah Domet
Expected publication: October 4, 2016
In the vein of The Virgin Suicides, a dazzling debut novel about four girls inexplicably named Guinevere, all left by their parents to be raised by nuns, and the year in which their tightly knit Guinevere family implodes when four comatose soldiers arrive.

Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration by different paths, delivered into the rigorous and austere care of Sister Fran. Each has their own complicated, heartbreaking story that they safeguard. But together they are the all powerful and confident The Guineveres, bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives. Together, they learn about God, history, and, despite the nuns' protestations, sex. They learn about the saints whose revival stories of faith and pain are threaded through their own. But above all, they plot their futures, when they can leave the convent and finally find a true home. But when four comatose soldiers, casualties of the War looming outside, arrive at the convent, The Guineveres’ friendship is tested in ways they never could have foreseen.

In The Guineveres, Sarah Domet navigates the wonder and tumult of girlhood, the families we yearn for and create. In prose shot through with beauty, Domet intertwines the ordinary and the miraculous, as The Guineveres discover what home really means. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: We Are All Made of Stars

We Are All Made of Stars
Rowan Coleman
May 21, 2015
Stella Carey has good reason to only work nights at the hospice where she is a nurse. Married to a war veteran who has returned from Afghanistan brutally injured, Stella leaves the house each night as Vincent locks himself away, unable to sleep due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

During her nights at the hospice, Stella writes letters for her patients, detailing their final wishes, thoughts and feelings – from how to use a washing machine, to advice on how to be a good parent – and posts them after their death.

That is until Stella writes one letter that she feels compelled to deliver in time, to give her patient one final chance of redemption... - from Goodreads
We Are All Made of Stars is a touching story about the importance of love, family, and forgiveness.

Stella is a hospice nurse who often writes final letters for her patients, to be delivered after they have passed away.  Normally, Stella has no problem keeping this promise, but when new patient Grace asks her to write a letter, Stella is torn about whether or not she should deliver the letter early.  I think this premise is so interesting: Stella faces the moral dilemma of abiding by her patient's last wishes or possibly setting up a final reunion with the son Grace abandoned years ago.  And I wish we had seen more of Stella's struggle!  I felt like a big chunk of the book was missing.  Grace is hardly in the book at all, and Stella only mentions a couple times in passing that she is holding on to a letter that she doesn't know what to do with.  Stella's decision regarding the letter is made rather abruptly, although we do get to experience the full fall-out of that decision.

A bigger part of the story is Stella's marriage to Vincent, a solder who was injured in Afghanistan.  When he returns home, he faces many emotional struggles, including survivor's guilt, and he pushes Stella away.  The conversations between husband and wife were difficult to read: heartbreaking but honest. 

There is a concurrent storyline about a young woman named Hope, who is a rehab patient at the hospice.  She has cystic fibrosis, but she will be able to leave the hospice, unlike many of the other patients around her.  Although connected by her friendship with Stella, Hope's story felt a little out of place and unnecessary; I would have preferred more about Grace's story.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the letters from the patients: to husbands, wives, children, siblings, friends, secret loves.  Some were funny, some were serious.  Wives give their husbands practical advice about cleaning the house or when to start dating again; a brother replaces his sister's toy he destroyed when they were children; a woman thanks her friends for their support during her battle with cancer.

The story is quite heavy at times, but there are moments of lightness.  The plot is a little predictable, but I think it works here.

4 stars: Overall, this was a really special story that delicately handled tough subjects like PTSD and death.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Childhood Favorites

For as long as I can remember, reading has always been a huge part of my life.  There are books I read as a child that I still remember fondly, and so today I wanted to share some of my childhood favorites!

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . . . - from Goodreads

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume: Margaret Simon, almost twelve, likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain, and things that are pink. She’s just moved from New York City to Farbook, New Jersey, and is anxious to fit in with her new friends—Nancy, Gretchen, and Janie. When they form a secret club to talk about private subjects like boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret is happy to belong.  But none of them can believe Margaret doesn’t have religion, and that she isn’t going to the Y or the Jewish Community Center. What they don’t know is Margaret has her own very special relationship with God. She can talk to God about everything—family, friends, even Moose Freed, her secret crush. - from Goodreads

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone.  That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits. - from Goodreads

Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy: They were watching...and waiting.  At twelve, Maggie had been thrown out of more boarding schools than she cared to remember. "Impossible to handle," they said -- nasty, mean, disobedient, rebellious, thieving -- anything they could say to explain why she must be removed from the school.  Maggie was thin and pale, with shabby clothes and stringy hair, when she arrived at her new home. "It was a mistake to bring her here," said Maggie's great-aunts, whose huge stone house looked like another boarding school -- or a prison. But they took her in anyway. After all, aside from Uncle Morris, they were Maggie's only living relatives.  But from behind the closet door in the great and gloomy house, Maggie hears the faint whisperings, the beckoning voices. And in the forbidding house of her ancestors, Maggie finds magic...the kind that lets her, for the first time, love and be loved.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle's great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.  The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary's only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life? - from Goodreads

And I loved a good series: Goosebumps, Nancy Drew, and The Baby-sitter's Club were my favorites!


What were some of your favorite books to read as a child?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review: Only Daughter

Only Daughter
Anna Snoekstra
Expected publication: September 20, 2016
In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared.  She'd been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast-food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen—blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched—though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come.

Eleven years later she is replaced.

A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec.  Soon the imposter is living Bec's life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers.

But Bec's welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem. As the imposter dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter—and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger. - from Goodreads
I received this book for free from Goodreads Giveaways.

Wow.  Just wow.  This fast-paced psychological thriller really kind of blew me away!

Rebecca Winter was a typical teenager, working a part-time job and enjoying the summer with her best friend, when she disappeared without a trace.  Eleven years later, a young woman uses her resemblance to the missing girl to get out of a shoplifting charge.  She claims to be Rebecca, escaped from her captors.  Initially, Fake Bec (I'm going to call her that, since she never actually gives her real name) plans to leave as soon as she can, but the thought of a warm bed, clean clothes, and food makes her rethink her plan.

Fake Bec is street-smart.  She knows the police will have to test her DNA to make sure she is really Bec.  Her quick thinking gets her out of some tough situations.  Some of the tactics she uses are pretty ingenious - if it had been me, I probably would have done or said something almost immediately to reveal my true self!

The book switches between first-person narrator Fake Bec and flashbacks to the days leading up to the real Bec's disappearance.  There is so much tension in both narratives - strange things are happening to the real Bec in the past, and in the present, Fake Bec is realizing she may be the only person who can find out what really happened to Bec, because someone may be after her, too, who knows her secret.

The book is quite short, which kept the action continuous.  The writing is tight and concise.  I just couldn't stop reading!  The ending completely shocked me - some parts were a little outlandish, but the main premise was not something I had even considered.  It was seriously disturbing!

There were several grammatical errors and typos in the text, which will hopefully get cleaned up before final publication.  In addition, some of the language, particularly in conversations between characters, felt a bit stilted.  But overall, the book was fantastic!

4 stars: Fans of The Girl on the Train will enjoy this intense thriller!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Duke Island Park

Duke Island Park is a beautiful park in Bridgewater, Somerset County, New Jersey.  We liked it so much that we actually visited this park twice over Labor Day weekend!

To get more information about the park and download a park map, visit the Somerset County Park Commission here.

When you first enter the park, you see these lovely wide open spaces.  There is a large playground for kids and some ball fields.  Several large covered patios house picnic tables, which would be perfect for a barbeque.  The park also hosts concerts at its bandstand.

Raritan Power Canal
 The park really is an island, bordered by the Raritan Power Canal and the Raritan River.

Raritan River

There are two main types of trails in the park.  A dirt and gravel path lies along the canal, and a paved bike path neighbors the river and travels through some of the park interior.

Canal Trail


This park is perfect for taking a long walk or bike ride - the trails are flat and the park is so picturesque!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Real Liddy James

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

The Real Liddy James
Anne-Marie Casey
Expected publication: September 20, 2016
Forty-four, fit, and fabulous, Liddy James is one of New York’s top divorce attorneys, a bestselling author, and a mother of two. Armed with a ruthless reputation and a capsule wardrobe, she glides through the courtrooms and salons of the Manhattan elite with ease. What’s her secret? Liddy will tell you: “I don’t do guilt!”

This is the last thing literature professor Peter James wants to hear. Devastated by his divorce from Liddy six years earlier, the two have a tangled history his new partner, Rose, is only just sorting out. But Rose is a patient woman with faith in a well-timed miracle and she’s determined to be sympathetic to Peter’s plight. Together, Liddy, Peter, and Rose have formed a modern family to raise Liddy and Peter’s truculent teen and Liddy’s darling, if fatherless, six-year-old.

But when Rose announces she’s pregnant, Liddy’s nanny takes flight, the bill for a roof repair looms, and a high-profile divorce case becomes too personal, Liddy realizes her days as a guilt-free woman might be over. Following a catastrophic prime-time TV interview, she carts her sons back to Ireland to retrace their family’s history. But marooned in the Celtic countryside things are still far from simple, and Liddy will have to come to terms with much more than a stormy neighbor and an unorthodox wedding if she ever hopes to rediscover the real Liddy James. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Would You Go "Running Wild" with Bear Grylls?

Bear Grylls - you've heard of this guy, right?  A former soldier in the British Special Forces, Bear Grylls is an expert in wilderness survival.  For many years, he had a television show called Man vs. Wild, which showcased Bear doing some pretty crazy things in the outdoors to teach his audience his trademark survival skills.

He is currently the host of Running Wild with Bear Grylls, in which he takes celebrities out for a 48-hour adventure in some of the most stunning but sometimes unforgiving places on Earth.  Zac Efron, Channing Tatum, Kate Hudson, and Julianne Hough are just a few of the celebrities that have taken part in the show.  President Obama even appeared on one episode, to discuss climate change in the Alaskan wilderness.  Bear challenges his guests physically, with long hikes, rock-climbing, swimming through frigid waters, and unorthodox sleeping arrangements.  And since this is Bear Grylls, the trip is not complete without having to eat some truly disgusting things - bugs, snakes, even the placenta from a recently born animal.

Tom and I watch every week, and when I ask him if he would ever want to be on the show, his answer is an emphatic NO.  I think my answer would have to be the same!  I did some camping as a teenager, so it's not like I've never slept outside.  But it was always in a tent, with a sleeping bag, and some sort of working bathroom nearby.  And even though Bear makes all the physical stuff look so easy, I doubt I could keep up with him.  I think I lack the upper body strength to do ANY of the climbing featured on the show.  And don't even get me started on the revolting things these celebrities have to eat.  No, no, and no. 

However, there is a (very small) part of me that would love to go on an adventure like this.  I mean, if you're going to be in the wilderness, you can't get a better guide than Bear Grylls - he can find the best routes and you know you'll be safe.  Plus, the places he visits with these celebrities are AMAZING: beautiful locations in the United States like the Catskill Mountains and Yosemite National Park and around the world like the Irish Highlands, the South African savannah, and the Italian Alps.  I get wanderlust just watching the show sometimes.  With Bear as the guide, you know he's going off the beaten path and truly getting into some lesser seen areas.  Maybe it's worth eating a bug or two to be able to see some of the most majestic and pristine places on Earth!

So all you outdoorsy adventure-loving folks -  would you want to join Bear Grylls on one of his wilderness quests?  And how many granola bars would you take with you so you wouldn't have to eat whatever Bear finds in the woods?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Review: The Singles Game

The Singles Game
Lauren Weisberger
July 12, 2016
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. - from Goodreads
After she suffers an injury that could have ended her career, tennis player Charlie Silver decides she needs to take her game to the next level - and the first thing she does is fire her coach (who is also a good friend) and hire legendary coach Todd Feltner.  The Singles Game follows the next year of her career as she ups her training and undergoes a serious image makeover.

Under Todd's guidance, Charlie not only changes her style of playing to become more aggressive, but also her off-the-court persona.  Because she wants to win a Grand Slam title, Charlie goes along with these changes with little resistance.  For awhile, the new plan seems to be working for her, at least on the court, but eventually Charlie sees that her life has become unrecognizable.  She has to decide who she's playing for and why she's doing it.

I felt bad for Charlie at times; she has to deal with a verbally abusive coach (admittedly, by her own choice), and her father and brother both keep very large secrets from her, because they don't want to interrupt her training.  That was disheartening - I understand she has to keep her focus, but this is her family!

The book was so well-researched and gave a really in-depth look at the lives of professional athletes.  The constant traveling, the strict schedules and rituals, hours of daily practice, random drug-testing, the loneliness - it was fascinating.  The story itself was kind of predictable, but Weisberger's strong and straightforward writing shined through as always.

4 stars: A fun summer read and insider look at the world of professional tennis.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Why I Love to Reread the Same Books, Over and Over and Over...

With so many books out there, and new ones coming out every week, some people might think it's silly to spend time rereading books.  But I love to reread my favorite books, and here's why!

One reason I reread books is because I already know what's going to happen.  I love reading new books and being on the edge of my seat, hardly waiting to find out what happens next.  But with my favorite books, I can take my time, get lost in the story if I want - or not, I can put it down for awhile and not be confused when I come back.  It's why I rarely bring new books on vacation with me.  Usually when I'm on vacation, we are out exploring, visiting, etc.  I know I may not have a lot of time to read, I may be interrupted or I may not be paying as close attention, so for me, it's better to reread a book than start a brand new one.  Plus, I know it's going to be a good read.

I like to reread to find things I may have missed or forgotten.  Sometimes when I'm reading a mystery and I get to the surprise ending, I say to myself, "How did I miss that?"  I love the book The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard, which is a slow burn of a mystery to find out who killed a young mother.  Now each time I read it, I try to catch the instances of foreshadowing that I may not have picked up on at other times.  Even if a book is not a mystery, it's still fun to catch a little detail you might have missed or a funny line by a character you didn't remember.

I also reread books because I love the stories and I want to experience them again.  Kate Morton is one of my favorite writers.  The way she crafts a story is just unbelievable.  Every time I read The Distant Hours, I am blown away not only by the writing itself, but the beautiful story she tells about these sisters living in an English castle.  I'll never get tired of it!  I'll also never get tired of reading about the Tudor dynasty; The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory is one of my go-tos on the time period.  I love that the story is told from the point of view of the infamous Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary.


Sometimes I just want to be revisit beloved characters.  Like fierce little Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Or brash Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind.  Or Dumbledore (or Sirius, or Dobby, or Fred & George...) in the Harry Potter series.  And who doesn't love Harry being snarky to Professor Snape?


Sometimes I reread for the feelings I get from a particular book.  If I'm not afraid to ugly-cry, I read Henry's Sisters by Cathy Lamb.  If I want to laugh, I reach for Thanks for the Memories by Cecilia Ahern.  And sometimes you just don't know how you feel about a book until you read it for the second time.  The first time I read A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin, I thought it was kind of boring.  But after reading it once or twice more, I found that I actually really enjoy it!


So, do you reread?  Which books do you go back to again and again?  And if you don't reread, why not?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Review: Where They Found Her

Where They Found Her
Kimberly McCreight
Published April 14, 2015
At the end of a long winter, in bucolic Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of an infant is discovered in the woods near the town’s prestigious university campus. No one knows who the baby is, or how her body ended up out there. But there is no shortage of opinions.

When freelance journalist, and recent Ridgedale transplant, Molly Anderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the story for the Ridegdale Reader, it’s a risk, given the severe depression that followed the loss of her own baby. But the bigger threat comes when Molly unearths some of Ridgedale’s darkest secrets, including a string of unreported sexual assaults that goes back twenty years.

Meanwhile, Sandy, a high school dropout, searches for her volatile and now missing mother, and PTA president Barbara struggles to help her young son, who’s suddenly having disturbing outbursts.

Told from the perspectives of Molly, Barbara, and Sandy, Kimberly McCreight’s taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth about the baby’s death revealing that these three women have far more in common than they realized. And that their lives are more intertwined with what happened to the baby than they ever could have imagined. - from Goodreads
Kimberly McCreight's 2013 novel Reconstructing Amelia was one of my favorite reads from last year, so I was excited to read another mystery from her.  While I enjoyed this book, it unfortunately did not live up to the magic of McCreight's first novel.

The story is told from three points of view.  Molly is a reporter at the local paper.  She normally doesn't do hard news, so when she is assigned the story after the body of an infant is found, it presents many challenges, the biggest of which is how she will cope following the loss of her own baby a couple years before.  Barbara is the wife of the police chief and is struggling with her young son's disturbing change in personality.  And Sandy is a high school dropout with an unreliable mother.  One thing readers will quickly learn is that everyone in this small college town is connected, in ways both big and small.  Sometimes the connections seemed a little too convenient and a little too forced.

I think McCreight did a good job in creating three distinct characters.  Although Molly is the main character, Barbara is the most well-drawn.  She is a very involved parent, and she refuses to hear any criticism about her son and his odd behavior.  She's also very tough on her teenage daughter.  She's quick to point out faults in others, such as in the way she seems overly-critical of other mothers.

The main mystery in the book revolves around the body of the infant found near the college campus.  Whose baby is it, and how did it get there?  I would have been satisfied with just this one mystery, but Molly's digging uncovers other secrets involving the local college, and there are also flashbacks to an accidental death involving some of the adult characters when they were in high school.  I sometimes felt like there was too much going on; there were too many concurrent stories, and while they are linked because of the people involved, they didn't necessarily have much to do with each other.  I also felt the resolution to the main mystery of the baby's death was cliché and disappointing.

However, I thought this book was well-written and readable.  The chapters were fairly short, which kept the story moving.  The story wasn't necessarily suspenseful, but there were a lot of twists, turns, and revelations.  I also enjoyed the mixed media approach - like in Reconstructing Amelia, McCreight makes use of more than just the standard narrative, weaving in articles written by Molly, comments on the articles from Ridgedale residents, journal entries, and transcripts from therapy sessions. 

3.5 stars: Although it doesn't have quite the suspenseful spark of the author's first novel, I think fans of Reconstructing Amelia will enjoy this story about the secrets of a small town.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Bookshop on the Corner

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

The Bookshop on the Corner
Jenny Colgan
Expected publication: September 20, 2016
Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.

From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TV

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is fall TV, so I wanted to make a list of both new shows we want to try out and shows we're anxiously awaiting the return of this fall!
  • Project Runway (Lifetime, September 15) - Can't wait to see what the new designers come up with each week!
  • The Big Bang Theory (CBS, September 19) - Seriously one of the funniest shows on TV!
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox, September 20) - Another hilarious show!
  • Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC, September 20) - My husband has gotten me hooked on all things Marvel, and we watch this show while waiting for the next blockbuster movie to come out.
  • How to Get Away with Murder (ABC, September 22) - I work in the legal field, so I love to watch the crazy tactics the lawyers and students use on this show.
  • Once Upon a Time (ABC, September 25) - I have to get my Disney fix!
  • Luke Cage (Netflix, September 30) - Netflix original programming has been awesome lately (did anyone catch Stranger Things??), and we're excited for another dark and gritty Marvel installment.
  • Timeless (NBC, October 3) - A new show about a team that time travels to stop a criminal from changing the course of American history.
  • The Crown (Netflix, November 5) - A biographical story of the British royal family.  I love all things royal, so I'm looking forward to this!
  • Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (Netflix, November 25) - I wasn't a Gilmore Girls super-fan when it was originally on TV, but I've caught many of the episodes over the years, and I'm actually really excited to see what Lorelai and Rory are up to these days!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Review: Before the Fall

Before the Fall

Noah Hawley

May 31, 2016
On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together. - from Goodreads
Before the Fall tells the story of a mysterious plane crash over the Atlantic and its aftermath.  What caused the plane to crash?  Foul play? Terrorism? Mechanical failure?  Many of the characters had secrets - David Bateman, the owner of the plane and a media mogul, was facing a potential scandal at his company; the co-pilot was not supposed to be on that flight; passenger Ben Kipling was about to be arrested.  Was someone being targeted?  I think the author does a decent job of laying out several possibilities.

The chapters move back and forth between the present day and flashbacks to the characters' earlier lives and what happened to each on the day leading up the crash.  I can see how the author was trying to establish each character and set up possible motives for the crash, but I didn't really like the flashbacks at all.  Most of the flashbacks were completely unnecessary with details that added nothing to the story.  Sometimes they just felt forced and really out of place; reading about the pilot's unorthodox childhood or how the lead investigator's marriage fell apart 10 years ago, for example, took me out of the story.

A big focus of the book is on the media and how they sensationalize news stories, with really no regard for the truth sometimes.  Bill Cunningham, a news anchor at David Bateman's company, is the worst offender.  He spends hours on-air, postulating wild theories on what might have happened.  He also uses unethical and illegal techniques to get information.  Scott is the target of many of the news stories: who he is, why he was on the plane, his heroic swim to save the young boy.  For someone like Scott, who mostly lives off the grid, it is almost overwhelming to have such attention on him, both good and bad.  I think at times the author was trying too hard to be cerebral about some issues, and it didn't really fit with the tone of the novel.

I don't really want to say too much about the ending and give away the mystery; suffice to say, it was disturbing.

3 stars: A good idea gets bogged down by the details, but I would recommend to fans of mystery novels.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: Fitbit Flex

For our first wedding anniversary, my husband got us each a Fitbit Flex to "clock" our workout progress (clocks being a modern first anniversary gift - he's so punny!).  The Fitbit Flex is a basic activity/fitness band that tracks steps, distance, calories burned, and active minutes.  Since we've been using them for awhile now, I thought it would be a good time to review my Flex!

The main things I use the Flex for are the step and distance counts.  I like to see how far I'm going during the day.  I'd say these counts are fairly accurate - the step tracker takes into account the motion of your wrist, so if you're not moving your arm a lot when you walk, your step count may be somewhat lower.  But I've never felt that it's so wildly off to make it a big deal.  What it can't monitor is activities where you're not moving your arm - riding a bike is a major one that comes to mind.  However, you can add activities using the Fitbit app or website, and by telling it how long you did the activity for, it will add an appropriate number of calories to your daily total. 

The tracker has a good battery life.  I can usually go about 6 days between charges, and charging takes no more than a couple hours.  The bands that you wear on your wrist don't last forever, though.  My husband has gone through several already.  You can order more through Fitbit, or you can find comparable ones for cheaper on Amazon.  They even have cute patterns, like these that my sister found:

i-smile replacement bands on Amazon
On the Fitbit app and website, there is a section where you can log what you eat during the day and count your calories.  Over the past few months, I've been using this feature a lot as I've been trying to lose some weight.  It's been really useful in helping me stay within my daily calorie allotment.  Of course, there are tons of other websites that can track your food intake, but it's great having everything all in one place.

There's also a social media aspect to the Flex.  You can become friends with other people who use the Flex and see how far they're walking each day.  I admit, sometimes it's a little disconcerting to see others leaving me in the dust, but most of the time it's fun.  You can also participate in challenges through the app: daily step challenges, workweek step challenges, and weekend step challenges.  I've done the weekend step challenge a couple times with my sister, and it's funny to see how competitive we get.  But hey, as long as we're moving and getting exercise, that's all that matters!

For me, the biggest plus to the Fitbit Flex is how it gets me moving.  When I first started using it, I was kind of shocked at how little I walk around during the day.  I work at a small law firm, so it's hard to get exercise during the day.  Now, I try to get up more often and take a stroll around the office.  It's been a great motivator for me. 

There are fancier and more high-tech fitness bands out there, but for someone looking for a basic fitness monitor, the Fitbit Flex is a great option!