Monday, October 31, 2016

Try It, You Might Like It #3: Horror

"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!

Inspired by Halloween, I've chosen a horror novel for this installment.  I read a lot of Stephen King novels as a teenager, but horror is not a genre I usually gravitate towards these days, probably because I'm a huge scaredy cat (I cover my eyes when I watch scary movies and peek out between my fingers).  I chose The Ruins (Scott Smith, 2006) because although it's classified as a horror novel, it's something different from the typical zombies, vampires, or ghosts.

Trapped in the Mexican jungle, a group of friends stumble upon a creeping horror unlike anything they could ever imagine. Two young couples are on a lazy Mexican vacation–sun-drenched days, drunken nights, making friends with fellow tourists. When the brother of one of those friends disappears, they decide to venture into the jungle to look for him. What started out as a fun day-trip slowly spirals into a nightmare when they find an ancient ruins site . . . and the terrifying presence that lurks there. - from Goodreads
I actually really enjoyed this book!  Two American couples are vacationing in Mexico when they befriend a German tourist.  When the brother of the German tourist follows a woman into the jungle, he and the Americans (plus a Greek tourist they also met) decide to go find the brother, thinking they will only be gone a few hours.

Things start going wrong almost from the start.  Reliable transportation is iffy in this part of Mexico, and at first they have trouble finding the archaeological dig that the German tourist and woman were supposed to have gone to.  The group comes across a Mayan village, but not speaking the language, they have no way of communicating.  They find the dig site, on a hill, but no one is there.  They also realize the Mayans have followed them, armed with guns and bows, and aren't letting them leave.  And there's this plant, a vine really, covering the hill, and it totally isn't what it seems.

This book showcased horror and fear on a few different levels.  The first is being lost in another country.  The second is being trapped on this hill by the Mayans, with little in the way of food or water.  Although it seemed a bit extreme, one character thinks almost immediately that they could be stuck here for days or weeks and tries to come up with a survival strategy.  The third is the monster, which is this pervasive and deadly vine.  As the story goes on, the characters learn that this vine can burn with its sap; mimic sounds; create smells; and attack its victims.  Not your typical horror monster, but creepy nonetheless!

There's lots of gore, there's suspense, there's desperation, there's a bit of mystery - where did the vine come from, how did it get these supernatural powers, why don't the Mayans let anyone off the hill?  Is it some sort of sacrifice, an understanding with the vine?  Will anyone come looking for the tourists?  So many unanswered questions!  To prevent myself from having too many nightmares, I probably won't read much horror in the future, but it was definitely fun to read something like this at Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: The House of Silence

The House of Silence
Blanca Busquets
Published October 4, 2016 (first published February 2013 in Spanish)
In the tradition of Elena Ferrante — a breathtaking European novel of love, loss, and the mysterious connection between four people, a valuable violin, and their passion for music.

Moving between Barcelona and Berlin in the 1980s, this is a profoundly moving story of loneliness and connection, music and desire, from an award-winning Spanish novelist, translated into English for the first time.

A three-hundred-year-old Stainer violin lost and found connects a charismatic conductor who emigrated to Barcelona from behind the Iron Curtain, his two star violinists, and his Spanish maid. Love triangles, the pursuit of the precious violin, and the need for beautiful music shoot through The House of Silence.

The love of music the characters share is tempered by ambition, envy, and greed, which crescendo on the evening of a memorial concert in Berlin, when the presence of an elderly lady in the audience makes some members of the orchestra very nervous. Who is the rightful owner of this exquisite violin? And, as secrets come to light, how far will people go to seek revenge? - from Goodreads
I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

The House of Silence is one of the most character-driven novels I've read in a long time.  It tells the story how a group of people are all connected by a violin and a conductor.

The book is told from the points of view of four of the characters.  They have gathered in the present-day of the novel for a memorial concert for Karl, the conductor, but they frequently, and without warning, flash back to the events of the last couple decades and how they all arrived at this point.  Mark, the conductor's son, is leading the show; Anna and Teresa, two of Karl's star violinists, are headlining; and Maria, Karl's longtime housemaid, is in the audience.

Anna was the stand-out character for me, although she wasn't the most likable.  After a troubled childhood, Anna became a selfish and immature woman.  Anna at least wasn't bland; Mark was almost a non-entity for me.  Maria was also an interesting character; she was very observant and knew more than the other characters gave her credit for.

This story was very quiet for me. Yes, secrets and feelings were revealed through the flashbacks, but I didn't get a sense of mystery or thrill.  The writing is lyrical, almost poetic at times.  Although, I did feel that maybe a bit was lost in translation; sometimes the words or phrases used didn't really fit in the context of the story or seemed out of place.

3 stars: This wasn't necessarily my kind of book, but I think readers who appreciate character-driven novels will enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Faithful

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

Alice Hoffman
Expected publication date: November 1, 2016
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap. - from Goodreads

Monday, October 24, 2016

To Continue or Not To Continue: The Series Question

I love a good series - I like getting to know the characters and seeing the stories evolve and continue.  Here are five series that I started recently but am wavering over whether or not to continue.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether I should give up or soldier on!

Series: Delirium by Lauren Oliver
I read the first book and thought it was okay, but I definitely wasn't blown away by it.  It seemed kind of slow-moving.  Does the action pick up in the next installment?

Series: Starbound by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
I actually really enjoyed These Broken Stars and even though there were some unanswered questions, I felt like it was a good stand-alone book.  It seems like the next two stories feature different characters, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue.

Series: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
I was really excited when I heard about this book: I love The Wizard of Oz and thought it sounded really fun.  But I DNF'ed this book around page 100!  The author just seemed to be trying way too hard to be edgy.  Unless someone has a really convincing argument, I doubt I would pick this up again.

Series: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
I though the first book was decent (although could have used more world-building), but I had a really difficult time getting through the second book and almost gave up on it.  I kind of feel like now that I'm two books in, I should continue when the next book comes out in 2017, but I'm kind of dreading it!

Series: The Great Library by Rachel Caine
The first book had a unique-sounding premise, and I did enjoy it.  But - I felt like there was SO MUCH going on; non-stop action and every other page it seemed like something important was happening.  It was just so much to keep track of.  I actually felt tired after I read this.
So, to continue or not to continue?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Liebster Award Nomination!

Thank you so much to Suzanne at The Bookish Libra for nominating me for a Liebster Award! I really look up to Suzanne as a blogger - her site is so polished and well-written, and to be recognized by her is an honor!

The Rules:

  • Acknowledge the blog that nominated you, link it to your post and display the award.
  • Answer 11 questions that the blog gives you.
  • Nominate 5-11 blogs you think deserve the Liebster Award.
  • Give them 11 questions to answer.
  • Write the rules in your Liebster Award blog post.
  • Let the blogs know about your post and that you have nominated them.


My Answers:

1. What is your favorite childhood book? Was there one in particular that made you fall in love with reading?

I loved Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy - I even named my childhood pet after one of the characters!   

2. If you could do an interview for your blog with any author, who would you choose and why?

Kate Morton, without a doubt!  She is hands-down one of my favorite authors, and I would just love to pick her brain about how she comes up with those plot twists that always leave me guessing.  Plus, she just seems so lovely and charming!

3.  Have you ever hated a book that everyone else loved?  If so, which book and what didn’t you like about it?

Everyone seems to love Victoria Aveyard's Red Queen series except for me!  I didn't necessarily hate it, but I was really disappointed by Glass Sword.  Mare became such a difficult character for me to side with, and her overdramatic attitude kind of ruined the story for me. 

4.  What made you decide to become a book blogger and what have you learned along the way so far?

I wanted to start a blog because I love reading but don't have a lot of people in my life to talk about books with.  I've learned that the book blogging community is full of awesome people! 

5.  Aside from blogging and reading, what are some of your other hobbies?

When the weather is good, I love to go hiking.  I also love photography!

6.  Who is your least favorite fictional character? What do you dislike about the character?

Recently I read a book called We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly, and I absolutely hated the main character - he was pretentious, condescending, and critical.

7.  If you could choose to live anywhere else in the world aside from where you are now, where would you choose and why?

Hmm, this is tough!  There are plenty of places I'd love to visit for awhile, but there's no place like home!  New Jersey has it all - mountains, beaches, great pizza, and we're just a short train ride from New York City.  But maybe I'd live closer to the beach then we do now!

8.  What is the last book that made you cry?

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth, about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's.

9.  What is your beverage of choice?

Tea!  Or if it's Friday night, rum and diet soda.

10. What are your favorite reads of 2016 so far?

Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon and Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton.

11.  What is your favorite movie that was adapted from a book?

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - the book is so gorgeous, and to see it come to life on the big screen was magical.

My Nominees

I thoroughly enjoy reading their posts each day, so I'd like to nominate the following bloggers: 

1. Rebel Mommy Book Blog 
2. Lindsay's Library 
3. All Books Considered
4. Stardust and Words
5. Booker T's Farm - Books and Nails and Puppy Dog Tales


Questions for My Nominees 

1. If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only have 5 books, what would they be?
2. If you could have a beer or coffee with any literary character, who would you choose and why? 
3. What is your #1 blogging tip? 
4. How has your blog changed since you started it? 
5. What was the last movie you saw?
6. What are some of your bookish pet peeves? 
7. What book setting would you most like to visit and why? 
8. What is your favorite post on your own blog, and which post has been the most popular among your readers? 
9. What 2017 release are you most looking forward to, so far? 
10. What book are you reading next, and how did you decide on it?
11. What's your favorite comfort food? 

Friday, October 21, 2016

I Can't Give Up My Paper Books

Don't get me wrong, I can totally see the value in investing in an e-reader.  The convenience factor is really high.  Instead of schlepping 2 or 3 (or more) books on vacation with me, taking up suitcase space, I could literally bring hundreds of books with me, all saved in one portable and handy space.  If we move to another house, it would make packing my books a breeze.  E-books are clean and you don't have to worry about other people writing in them or destroying the spine or cover.  I could check books out of the library without having to actually go there in person.  And as a blogger, it seems like there are more opportunities to receive advance copies of books in e-format rather than paper.

But I just can't seem to do it!  I can't get into e-books.  I love my paper books and don't want to give them up!  I thought my husband bought me a Kindle for our anniversary a couple years ago, and I was panicking for days, wondering how I was ever going to figure out how to use it.  Fortunately, the gift was not a Kindle - crisis averted!

Technology is a big part of why I don't want to convert to an e-reader.  I'm a millennial, I should be adept at all things computer-y - but I'm not.  I don't use Twitter or Instagram.  I don't even have a smart phone!  It makes me so nervous to think about having to learn how to use something new.  I know, I know - it's probably super simple and I'm worrying for nothing.

Another reason I stick to paper is because I work in an office and I stare at a computer screen ALL DAY.  The last thing I want to do is look at more screens when I get home.  Sometimes I just want to unplug (and not worry about batteries running out when I'm in the middle of a chapter).

And of course, I just love BOOKS.  Physical books.  I love the way they look, I love the way they smell.  I love picking up a book and just flipping through the pages.  I love carrying a big stack of books out of the library and declaring to the world that yes, I love to read!  I don't know for sure, but I imagine it's easier to skip around a paper book as opposed to an e-book; I have a bad habit of always skipping to the end of a chapter or reading the last page of a book first.  Through blogging, I've picked up the routine of using Post-it notes to mark important places in the text that I may want to come back to when I'm writing my review.  I think there are ways to do that on a Kindle, but to me it seems more visual to have the little flags sticking out from the pages.  I can share paper books with my family and friends.  Plus, there are the advantages of re-selling or donating old books instead of just deleting them, putting them back out into the world for someone else to enjoy.

So what do you think - should I join the 21st century and get an e-reader?  Do you prefer paper or e-books?  (Incidentally, the New York Times had an article in September about Americans preferring paper books.)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cheesequake State Park

We recently checked out Cheesequake State Park, located in Middlesex County, near where Tom grew up.  He hadn't been there since he was a kid, and this was my first visit!

For more information about the park and to get a map, visit the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks and Forestry here.

This park is unique - the trails range from dirt to gravel to boardwalk to even sand!  In addition to all the trail types, visitors experience forest, marshes, and open fields.  The ocean is only a few miles away from the park, and I definitely got a beachy feel from the sand trails and even the types of trees in the park.

We started at the trail head, where all the trails converge.  We split off onto the Blue Trail and went past a small pond.  When the trails met up again later, we took the Green Trail around the southeastern perimeter of the park.  Our total hike was 3.5 miles.

The trails, ranging from 1 mile to approximately 3 miles, are well-marked and there are even distance markers along the way.  The trails we went on ranged from easy to moderately difficult with some changes in elevation.

The park is a pretty popular place - even though we were there on a cloudy, damp day, there were lots of other hikers and the campground we passed was pretty full.  All in all, Cheesequake State Park was a beautiful place to spend a couple hours hiking!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Scrappy Little Nobody

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

Scrappy Little Nobody
Anna Kendrick
Expected publication date: November 15, 2016
A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

“I’m excited to publish my first book, and because I get uncomfortable when people have high expectations, I'd like to use this opportunity to showcase my ineptitude, pettiness, and the frequency with which I embarrass myself. And while many of my female inspirations who have become authors are incredibly well-educated and accomplished comedy writers, I'm very, very funny on Twitter, according to Buzzfeed and my mom, so I feel like this is a great idea. Quick question: are run-on sentences still frowned upon? Wait, is ending a sentence with a preposition still frowned upon? I mean, upon frowned? Dammit!” —Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick’s autobiographical collection of essays amusingly recounts memorable moments throughout her life, from her middle class upbringing in New England to the blockbuster movies that have made her one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses today. Expanding upon the witty and ironic dispatches for which she is known, Anna Kendrick’s essays offer her one-of-a-kind commentary on the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture. - from Goodreads

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, Midnight
Lily Brooks-Dalton
Published August 9, 2016
Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives? - from Goodreads
Good Morning, Midnight is not my typical kind of read - it's not historical fiction, a mystery/thriller, or chick lit.  It's more thought-provoking and less action-filled.  And I absolutely loved it.

Augustine is conducting research in the Artic when rumors of war reach his station.  While everyone else evacuates, he refuses to leave - he doesn't have a family to seek out or a permanent home to return to.  He thinks he is alone until he comes across a young girl, Iris.  He doesn't recognize her or know why she's there, but when no one returns for her, he realizes it is up to him to take care of her.

Sully and the rest of the Aether crew are returning from a mission on Jupiter when they lose all contact with Mission Control, with no warning.  As days turn into weeks and months, the crew begins to worry about what kind of home they are returning to.

The story is quiet, but powerful.  After a lifetime of pushing people away, Augustine now finds himself lonely, scanning radio waves for any signs of life.  Eventually he reaches Sully, as she and the rest of the crew are trying not to fall apart.  Although they only speak a few times, Augustine and Sully form a sort of friendship, and the connection between them is even deeper than they realize.  Although there is some focus on daily survival, the story is more contemplative, as Sully and Augustine think about the work they have devoted their lives to and the family Sully left behind.

Brooks-Dalton's writing is pure magic.  She creates vivid images of both the Artic and outer space, through lush descriptions.  As I was reading, I feared for Augustine and Sully - if some catastrophic event was happening on Earth, I think the last two places I would want to be would be alone in the Artic or hundreds of thousands of miles away in space, unable to reach anyone.  Augustine and Sully are brilliantly full characters - despite the short length of the novel, we get to know them so well. 

5 stars: Not your typical "end-of-the-world" novel, this strong story will stay with you long after you're finished reading.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Review: The Regulars

The Regulars
Georgia Clark
Published August 2, 2016
Best friends Evie, Krista, and Willow are just trying to make it through their mid-twenties in New York. They’re regular girls, with average looks and typical quarter-life crises: making it up the corporate ladder, making sense of online dating, and making rent.

Until they come across Pretty, a magic tincture that makes them, well...gorgeous. Like, supermodel gorgeous. And it’s certainly not their fault if the sudden gift of beauty causes unexpected doors to open for them.

But there’s a dark side to Pretty, too, and as the gloss fades for these modern-day Cinderellas, there’s just one question left:

What would you sacrifice to be Pretty? - from Goodreads
The Regulars is the perfect summer beach read - it's fun, playful, racy, and even a little relatable.  And that cover?  Absolutely adorable.

The story follows three friends (Evie, Krista, and Willow) as they are introduced to Pretty, a magic potion that makes them gorgeous (and unrecognizable) for a week.  Evie is a copy editor at a magazine; Krista is a struggling actor; and Willow is a photographer trying to get out from under the shadow of her famous father.  Evie really believes that her looks are holding her back in both her career and her personal life, and even though she tries to resist, she decides to try Pretty.  Krista's reasoning is the most straightforward - if she were better looking, she'd get more acting jobs and be able to pay her bills. 

Krista is fun and flirty (and smart - she got into law school but quit to be an actor), but she just can't get it together.  She is chronically late and can't get her spending under control. Evie is the feminist of the group.  She isn't climbing the career ladder very quickly, and she thinks Pretty will help her in a new assignment at work.  Her ideas for more articles empowering women have been falling on deaf ears, and she hopes to make more of an impact with a different face.  Willow was probably my least favorite character - it's clear that she has serious self-esteem issues, suffers from depression, and is holding onto issues from her childhood.  Her boyfriend Mark seems like such a sweet guy, and Willow uses Pretty to change her appearance and trick him into cheating on her.  She is so self-sabotaging!

I think this book is a clever and fun commentary on how our society values beauty - these girls deem themselves only average-looking and believe their lives would be so much better if they were beautiful.  I mean, who hasn't thought that maybe they'd get more dates or a promotion at work if they were just taller or had a more symmetrical face or a better body?  However, as the story goes on and Pretty doesn't change their lives in the ways they expected it to, I think it becomes obvious to the characters that happiness and success are not just about having a pretty face.

3.5 stars: Provocative, funny, and easy to read, take The Regulars on your next vacation!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Fill the Sky

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

Fill the Sky
Katherine A. Sherbrooke
Expected publication date: October 20, 2016
Tess Whitford’s world is thrown into turmoil when Ellie, her dearest friend, runs out of medical options and grabs onto the hope that traditional healers in Ecuador might save her from a terminal diagnosis. Tess is skeptical, but cannot deny a request that might be Ellie’s last. Together with Joline, whose spiritual work inspired the trip, they travel to the mountain village of Otavalo, where they are immersed in nature and introduced to strange, ancient traditions. After an ayahuasca ceremony goes awry, and an unlikely betrayal threatens their friendship, each woman faces her own deep need for healing. FILL THE SKY is a story about the complexity of friendship, the power of the spirit, and the quest to not simply fight death, but to shape an authentic life. - from Goodreads

Monday, October 10, 2016

Books for Downton Abbey Fans

I absolutely loved the show Downton Abbey and I'm so sad it's over!  The stories were beautiful, the characters were entertaining.  If you're like me and you need something to remind you of your favorite characters like Mary, Lord Grantham, and Mr. Carson, try these books!

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton: The House at Riverton is a gorgeous debut novel set in England between the wars. Perfect for fans of "Downton Abbey," it's the story of an aristocratic family, a house, a mysterious death, and a way of life that vanished forever, told in flashback by a woman who witnessed it all.

The novel is full of secrets -- some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne du Maurier. It's also a meditation on memory and the devastation of war and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history. - from Goodreads

 Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke: For the Cavendish family, Rutherford Park is much more than a place to call home. It is a way of life marked by rigid rules and lavish rewards, governed by unspoken desires…

Lady of the house Octavia Cavendish lives like a bird in a gilded cage. With her family’s fortune, her husband, William, has made significant additions to the estate, but he too feels bound—by the obligations of his title as well as his vows. Their son, Harry, is expected to follow in his footsteps, but the boy has dreams of his own, like pursuing the new adventure of aerial flight. Meanwhile, below stairs, a housemaid named Emily holds a secret that could undo the Cavendish name.  On Christmas Eve 1913, Octavia catches a glimpse of her husband in an intimate moment with his beautiful and scandalous distant cousin. She then spies the housemaid Emily out in the snow, walking toward the river, about to make her own secret known to the world. As the clouds of war gather on the horizon, an epic tale of longing and betrayal is about to unfold at Rutherford Park… - from Goodreads

 Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore: The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems . . .

Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn't sure she possesses the courage -- or the means -- to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever. - from Goodreads

 Habits of the House by Fay Weldon: From the award-winning novelist and writer of Upstairs Downstairs, the launch of a brilliant new trilogy about what life was really like for masters and servants before the world of Downton Abbey

As the Season of 1899 comes to an end, the world is poised on the brink of profound, irrevocable change. The Earl of Dilberne is facing serious financial concerns. The ripple effects spread to everyone in the household: Lord Robert, who has gambled unwisely on the stock market and seeks a place in the Cabinet; his unmarried children, Arthur, who keeps a courtesan, and Rosina, who keeps a parrot in her bedroom; Lord Robert’s wife Isobel, who orders the affairs of the household in Belgrave Square; and Grace, the lady’s maid who orders the life of her mistress.  Lord Robert can see no financial relief to an already mortgaged estate, and, though the Season is over, his thoughts turn to securing a suitable wife (and dowry) for his son. The arrival on the London scene of Minnie, a beautiful Chicago heiress with a reputation to mend, seems the answer to all their prayers. - from Goodreads

 Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist: From the day she arrives at the Biltmore, Tillie Reese is dazzled—by the riches of the Vanderbilts and by Mack Danvers, a mountain man turned footman. When Tillie is enlisted to help tame Mack's rugged behavior by tutoring him in the ways of refined society, the resulting sparks threaten Tillie's efforts to be chosen as Edith Vanderbilt's lady's maid.

But the stakes rise even higher when Mack and Tillie become entangled in a cover-up at the town orphanage. They could both lose their jobs...and their hearts. - from Goodreads

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes (creator and author of Downton Abbey!): 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

Thursday, October 6, 2016

When a Book Lover Marries a Non-Reader

What happens when a book lover marries someone who hasn't touched a book in their adult life?  Tom and I are celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary, and so I got to thinking about what our life is like as a book lover (me) married to a non-reader (Tom).

Photo by The Markows Photography
We were in college when we met.  Back then, I didn't have a lot of time to read for fun, because as history majors, we both read plenty for our college courses.  After we graduated, I had a lot more free time, and so I started to read like crazy.  It wasn't until we moved in together that I realized how different we are in that respect.

Before we lived together, we would only be spending a few hours at a time together, going to movies, for walks, out to dinner.  I think it's safe to say he knew I liked reading, but maybe not to what extent.  Initially Tom was a little shocked by the number of books I owned.  He seemed worried that all of his stuff would get relegated to some back closet corner and my books would get preferential treatment (okay, he was kinda right about this!).  And while he brought plenty of video games with him, he didn't bring any books.  But through the years, I've realized that our disparate reading habits are no big deal and it actually works really well for us!

Spouses don't need to have all the same interests.  Each person can have their own hobbies.  It gives you each time to do something you enjoy, and it can give you more to talk about when you share what you've been up to.  My husband tends to play a lot of video games; while he's playing and talking to the friends he games with, I have time to read.  We're still in the same room, and he can show me some funny thing in the game or I can tell him about the book I'm reading.  And it's not like we have nothing in common - if you take a quick look around the blog, you can see that we love to go walking and hiking together.  We also like to go to the movies and have our favorite TV shows to binge together.

One thing that helps is our schedules.  Tom has to get up really early for work, and he is usually in bed before I am during the week.  We spend time together when I get home from work, have dinner together, watch some TV, but when he goes to bed, I have a lot of free time, and that's when I get most of my reading done.  Since I'm also usually by myself in the morning, getting ready for work, I will sometimes use those few minutes to get some chapters in, too.

One of the many things that I love about Tom is how supportive he is.  He doesn't mind all those times I have my nose in a book.  He'll ask me what I'm reading (and sound sincere about it!).  He'll gladly visit Barnes & Noble with me (probably because he can get a Starbucks coffee!).  He buys me gift cards so I can get even more books, and one year even gifted me with a new bookshelf to house my books.  And when I wanted to start this blog, he cheered me on. 

Yes, sometimes I wish Tom was a reader like me.  Over the years I've tried to gently nudge him to read more by buying him books, usually Dr. Who-related, but I've accepted that magazines and entertainment articles are as far as he is willing to go into reading territory.  And that's ok!  We don't need to share everything, and even though reading books is not important to him, he appreciates that it's important to me.

Some perks of being married to a non-reader?
  • I don't have to fight with him for shelf space.
  • I don't have to worry that he hates a book that I love. 
  • I don't have to worry about *spoiler alerts* when telling him about a book.
  • He won't judge me for books I have or haven't read.
  • Because he doesn't spend all his time reading, he's got skills that I don't - like cooking and fixing things around the house!
So, do you and your significant other share a love of reading?  Do you read the same books?  Or are you more of an "opposites attract" couple, like Tom and me?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Heartless

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

Marissa Meyer
Expected publication date: November 8, 2016
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king's marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.

Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Review: The Guineveres

The Guineveres
Sarah Domet
Publication date: 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
I received an ARC for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

I've had really good luck this year with books I've won through Goodreads Giveaways, and The Guineveres was no exception.  The Guineveres tells the story of four teenage girls, all named Guinevere (nicknamed Vere, Gwen, Win, and Ginny), who live in a convent.  Bound by their common name, the girls form their own little family, but their friendships are tested when four comatose soldiers are brought to the convent.

The Guineveres are supposed to live at the convent until they turn 18, but they don't want to wait that long.  They dream of moving to the city, getting jobs, getting married - maybe even finding the families that gave them up.  When their initial plan to run away fails, they concoct a new plan involving the comatose soldiers - if they nurse the soldiers and figure out who they are, maybe the soldiers' families will take The Guineveres home with them.  The soldiers are a chance for the girls to escape their lives behind the convent walls, but as the months go on, the girls develop complicated feelings for these soldiers.

Despite their common name, Domet has created four distinct characters.  Vere is the narrator; she is the first of the group to arrive at the convent.  Win is the stoic one.  Ginny is the artist.  Gwen is clearly the leader of the group.  Each girl had a difficult family life which resulted in them being left at the convent, and I was touched by the somewhat naivety (or maybe hopefulness) of a couple of the girls, who really believed they would be reunited with their families and get their happy ending.

Because the story takes place in a convent, there is naturally a focus on religion.  Various chapters feature different saints; the girls perform as altar servers; and the nuns are charge of education.  Not being a particularly religious person myself, I was a little worried that the focus on religion would take away from my enjoyment of the book, but it actually never felt overbearing.  I felt the religious aspects were straightforward and not preachy.  The setting of the book may be a religious institution, but the story is more about the girls, none of whom is a particularly strong believer, other than Vere at times.

4 stars: Although I wasn't crazy about the ending, I felt The Guineveres was an effective coming-of-age story which explored the sometimes difficult friendships between teenage girls and the idea of creating homes and families of our own.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Review: Valley of the Moon

Valley of the Moon
Melanie Gideon
Published July 26, 2016
In this captivating novel from the author of Wife 22, a woman who feels lost in her own time stumbles across a California community that has, impossibly, been marooned in the early twentieth century perfect for readers of The Time Traveler's Wife, Time and Again, and Sarah Addison Allen.

Lux is a single mom struggling to make her way when she discovers an idyllic community in the Sonoma Valley. It seems like a place from another time until she realizes it actually is. Lux must keep one foot in her world, raising her son as well as she can with the odds stacked against her, but every day she is more strongly drawn in by the sweet simplicity of life in Greengage, and by the irresistible connection she feels with a man born decades before her. Soon she finds herself torn between her ties to the modern world, her adored son and the first place she has ever felt truly at home. - from Goodreads
Less than 50 pages in, I knew I was in love with this book.  I fought competing feelings of wanting to rush through the story, because I just needed to know what happens, and wanting to read it slowly because I didn't want it to end.

Lux is a single mother in her mid-twenties, living in San Francisco in 1975.  Although she loves her son dearly, she is struggling in her daily life: she can't seem to get ahead at her dead-end waitressing job; every day feels monotonous; and she is estranged from her parents, who live in Rhode Island.  When Benno, her son, goes to visit her parents, Lux takes the opportunity to go camping, something she used to love but hadn't done in years.  In the middle of the night, she is caught in a thick fog and finds herself in a wholly different place.

Joseph is married, living on a farm called Greengage in the Valley of the Moon in 1906.  At Greengage, Joseph, a progressive for his time, has created a place where everyone is equal and works together.  After an earthquake, Greengage is surrounded by a fog that kills anyone that enters it.  The Greengage settlers are cut off from the outside world, until Lux wanders in through the fog.

It doesn't take Lux long to accept the reality of Greengage.  It feels like a place she was always meant to be a part of.  Every time she stepped through the fog, I could feel her relief and a sense of calm come over her.  Lux is truly happy, and even hopeful, when she is in Greengage, but she can't leave her son.  Eventually she introduces him to Greengage and he, too, takes to it immediately, but she knows she can't force him to stay forever.  He needs to live his own life.  And even though Lux finally starts to get her life in San Francisco on track, she is always torn between her two homes.  The ending is bittersweet, as Lux's decision on whether to return to Greengage permanently is made for her, in a way she (nor I) ever expected.

Time is almost as big a character as Lux and Joseph in the story.  Joseph and his friends and family are trapped in time, and Lux can only reach them when the fog appears.  Lux's ability to reach Greengage is somehow tied to the full moon, but even this isn't exact.  Sometimes the fog shows up every month, and sometimes it is years between appearances.  Time in Greengage moves slowly, while in San Francisco the days and weeks speed by.  At one important point, Lux stays in Greengage for just a few hours past her deadline, and when she returns, she finds she has missed an entire year in San Francisco.  And frustratingly, at times when Lux needs to return to Greengage the most, the fog eludes her.

This story can't be pigeon-holed into any specific genre - it's a story about family, about forgiveness.  It's a love story, but it also has elements of science fiction.  I enjoyed the time-travel aspect of the story; even though it could be confusing, it never felt gimmicky. 

5 stars: Sometimes I can pinpoint exactly why I like a book: a beautiful story, flowing writing, distinctive characters, richly drawn settings.  In this case, it's a little harder to articulate why I loved this book so much.  Valley of the Moon certainly had all these elements, but it was really more about the feeling I got while reading it that made me enjoy it so much.