Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge Wrap-Up

It's time to wrap-up my progress on the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge hosted by The Bookwyrm's Hoard!  I chose 26 older titles to read during the year, with a mix of new-to-me authors, classics, and series I wanted to catch up on.

I loved this challenge because it really helped me clear out a lot of titles from my TBR.  I thoroughly enjoyed many of the books I chose, and I even found a new favorite author in Taylor Jenkins Reid

Some things I learned during this challenge:
  • I chose a good number of books to tackle.  It averaged out to about two books per month, and I did end up finishing early. 
  • For any future challenges, I wouldn't choose so many books from the same series.  I ended up loving pretty much all the books I read this year in the Inspector Gamache series, but if I hadn't (and wanted to quit the series), that could have put a huge crimp in my ability to finish!  
  • My decision to do mini-reviews for these books was a good one.  Since these books are older, a lot of people may have already read them or even written their own reviews.  I didn't think it was necessary for me to write full reviews, except for one book that I absolutely adored and had so much to talk about!
Here's the books I committed to reading this year (check marks mean I finished the book, X's denote books I DNFed - and it was only two, that's pretty good for me!):

For all of my reviews for this challenge, check out these links:

January Roundup
Review: Forever, Interrupted
February Roundup
March Roundup
April Roundup
May Roundup
June Roundup
July Roundup
October Roundup

Did you do any reading challenges this year?  How did you do?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Blogging Goals - How Did I Do?

Way back at the beginning of the year, I set some blogging goals for myself.  So, how did I do?

  1. Learn more about the technical side of creating a blog/website.  Pretty much a total fail!  I changed the design of the blog slightly at the beginning of the year, but that's it!
  2. Create better graphics.  I started using Canva several months ago, and I think my graphics have really come a long way!  I work on them more, and, to me at least, they look a bit more polished and professional.
  3. Come up with more/better discussion posts.  I'm proud of some of the discussion posts I came up with this year.  For the most part, I had good responses to them.  I also started an original feature in Quotables!
  4. Have at least a month's worth of posts ready to go.  I did pretty good with this.  I got into a routine about how I schedule my posts, so things got a lot more streamlined.
  5. Immerse myself more in the book blogging community.  I give myself high marks on this one!  I've definitely been commenting a lot more on other blogs, and I participated in two reading challenges this year, which I really enjoyed.  I also joined in on Nonfiction November 2017!
  6. Don't forget about my other passion, the outdoors.  It hasn't changed much since the middle of the year - this was not a great year for hiking.  We did get a few amazing ones in, but for a long time, the weather did not cooperate.  Either it was raining or 100 degrees on the weekend.  But, we still have our list of places to check out, and hopefully come spring we'll be out there a lot more!
  7. Have fun!  I had so much fun this year!
How did you do on your blogging goals for the year?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Surprise Me

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

Surprise Me
Sophie Kinsella
Expected publication date: February 13, 2018
After being together for ten years, Sylvie and Dan have all the trimmings of a happy life and marriage; they have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, beautiful twin girls, and communicate so seamlessly, they finish each other's sentences. However, a trip to the doctor projects they will live another 68 years together and panic sets in. They never expected "until death do us part" to mean seven decades.

In the name of marriage survival, they quickly concoct a plan to keep their relationship fresh and exciting: they will create little surprises for each other so that their (extended) years together will never become boring. But in their pursuit to execute Project Surprise Me, mishaps arise and secrets are uncovered that start to threaten the very foundation of their unshakable bond. When a scandal from the past is revealed that question some important untold truths, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other after all. - from Goodreads
I love stories about marriages, and Sophie Kinsella's books are always a good time!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

My Favorite Wanderings of 2017

Today I want to share my favorite parks and trails from the past year.  It wasn't the best hiking year for us - the weather was often an issue.  But, we got to see some gorgeous places!

We finally made our way out to Las Vegas, and we drove out to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead National Recreation Area for a tour and some walking.

Also while we were in Vegas, we went out to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which was one of the most unique and beautiful places I've ever seen.

While in Pennsylvania for my cousin's wedding, we took advantage of a free morning to take a quick hike at Rocky Ridge Park.

Also in Pennsylvania, we checked out Longwood Gardens.

During a family vacation to Missouri, we took a walk at Table Rock State Park.

And closer to home, we finally checked out Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

We finished the year by going back to Longwood Gardens for the holiday light show.

Happy trails!

Friday, December 22, 2017

More Holiday-Themed Mini-Reviews

Kiss Me in New York by Catherine Rider (2017)

Charlotte finds herself stranded at JFK airport on Christmas Eve, where she meets Anthony, who was just spectacularly dumped by his girlfriend.  Having been recently dumped herself, Charlotte convinces Anthony that what they need to get over their exes is a night in New York City, aided by a how-to book and the magic of Christmas in New York.

This was a cute story about two strangers meeting and taking a chance, falling in love as the night goes on.  Yes, it was cliché; yes, by the end it feels like instalove; yes, I thought it was a bit weird that a 17-year-old girl would just gallivant around NYC with a stranger in the middle of the night.  But - it's Christmas, and it's New York City - and there are not many more magical times and places than that. 

At less than 200 pages, the story is a really quick read and the action kept moving, although I wanted more about NYC - there are so many things they could have taken advantage of.  If you're looking for a sweet holiday love story, you'll probably enjoy this one.  3 stars

The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand (2017)

An updated, modern take on the classic A Christmas Carol.  Holly is a 17-year-old girl - and not a very nice one.  This Scrooge refused to change her ways, even after being visited by the three Ghosts, so upon her death, she becomes the Ghost of Christmas Past for Project Scrooge.  Holly spends the next few years helping the organization try to reform people just like her, but this year, the Scrooge isn't the usual miserly old man - he's a hot teenage guy, and Holly finds herself attracted to him.

I like the idea of modernizing this classic story, but I did have issues with this book.  The beginning of the story happens so fast and I felt like there were either details missing or the timeline kept bouncing back and forth, so I was a bit confused right from the get-go.  The idea that Project Scrooge is an actual company that puts on a sort of "production" each year to help reform people is cool, but some of the details didn't make sense to me.  Holly is technically dead, but she can walk around and interact with living people in the real world?  What if she sees someone she knows?

Holly was not the nicest main character.  Before she dies, she is spoiled and selfish, purposely doing things to hurt people.  Even after working at Project Scrooge for 5 years, she doesn't seem to have changed at all.  For most of the book, she is cold to most people and still acts very selfishly, putting the entire Project Scrooge at risk just to spend some time with a cute boy.  Yet, I somehow still found myself rooting for Holly, hoping that she would have some sort of ephiphany.  3 stars

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Daughter of the Siren Queen

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

Tricia Levenseller
Expected publication date: February 27, 2018
The capable, confident, and occasionally ruthless heroine of Daughter of the Pirate King is back in this action-packed sequel that promises rousing high seas adventures and the perfect dash of magic.

Alosa's mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he's under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father's justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.

In Daughter of the Siren Queen, Tricia Levenseller brings together the perfect mix of thrilling action, tense battle scenes, and a heart-pounding romance. - from Goodreads
The first book in this series was such a fun ride, and I can't wait to see where the story goes next!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Christmas Book Bloggers Tag

So yes, yesterday I did a "summer" book tag, and now today I'm doing a Christmas book tag - I couldn't help it when Trish at Between My Lines created an awesome tag that's perfect for the holiday season, The Christmas Book Bloggers Tag!  I hope you have fun reading my answers, and consider yourself tagged if you'd like to participate, too!

What is your favorite Christmas scene in a book?
I love the scenes in the Harry Potter books where the kids wake up on Christmas morning and their presents are magically there.  There is just so much joy, especially for Harry who never really got gifts before.

Do you have any Christmas book traditions?
Not really, but since we've had an explosion of nieces and nephews over the last couple years, I've made it a point to get them all books for Christmas.

Do you prefer to get presents of book vouchers or books?
Vouchers are nice, but lately I've been putting together an Amazon wishlist, so I'd like to get the books I put on there!

Do you give books as presents?
Yes, especially to my niece and nephews.  There are so many cool kids book out there; it's so fun to shop for them.  But I also love giving books to adults, finding that perfect title I think they'll enjoy!

What bookish item is on your Christmas wishlist?
I'm going to go with Trish on this one and say a bookish candle.  There are so many out there to choose from, and I love scented candles.

What 3 books would you love Santa to have in his sack for you?


Fake Christmas tree or real Christmas tree?
There's something so beautiful about a real tree, and they smell amazing, but the mess of needles can be overwhelming.  I actually liked the fake tree my mom had when we were kids because it was a nice tradition to use it every year.

What's your favorite thing about Christmas?
I love everything about Christmas - the festive decorations, spending time with family, and spoiling people with gifts!

What Christmas book would you recommend?
I actually don't read many holiday-themed books, although I did read a few this year - The Afterlife of Holly Chase was a pretty fun reimagining of the classic A Christmas Carol.

What dish on your Christmas menu are you most looking forward to?
I'm not sure yet!  My mom's family is Italian, so there are often some yummy seafood dishes on Christmas Eve, and I think my husband is going to make lasagna for our get-together with his family - all good options!

When do you open your Christmas gifts?
My husband and I usually wait until Christmas morning, but sometimes we'll open one up on Christmas Eve!

What's your favorite Christmas song?
"Sleigh Ride," in all its iterations, but especially the instrumental version by the Boston Pops!

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas?
Yes, but just a little bit of snow - I don't need a blizzard!

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Life's a Beach Book Tag

Christmas may be next week, but that doesn't mean I can't dream of going to the beach!  Today I'm doing the "Life's a Beach" book tag, created by The Left-Handed Book Lover.

1. The Sand: A book that stuck with you long after you finished reading.
I read this one earlier this year, and I can't stop thinking and talking about it!  I recommend it to everyone!
2. The Sun: A book that burned you.
I was so looking forward to this fantasy story about two twins and a battle for the throne.  Unfortunately, it ended up being kind of lame and repetitive!
3. The Waves: A book that calms you down after a long day.
I just love this classic story - the adventures, the characters, the strange new lands.  I never get tired of it, no matter what else is going on around me.
4. The Bathing Suit: A book with a pretty summer-y cover.
This reminds me of a 1930s postcard!
5. The Birds: A book that is everywhere.
It seems like everyone is talking about, and loving, this book!  I have seen so many good reviews, and even my librarians are recommending it!
6. The Fun Memories: A book you can't wait to return to.
The Lunar Chronicles was such a fun series to read - I really want to revisit these stories soon!

If you want to bring a little bit of summer back, I encourage you to do this tag!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

2018 Beat The Backlist Sign-Up and TBR

While I enjoy reading the newest releases, there's no getting around the fact that there are tons of great books already out there.  So, I'm joining the 2018 Beat the Backlist Challenge hosted by NovelKnight!  I have a lot of older titles on my TBR; some have been there for awhile, others have been added more recently as I came across them.  Either way, blogging has caused me to focus more on new releases, so I want to make a concerted effort to get to those older titles!

For all the details, head over to NovelKnight - but the basic premise of the year-long challenge is to read any book published in 2017 or earlier.  You make your own reading list, earning points for each title you read - and there's a team component!  I think it'll be fun to work together to earn points!

I have so many backlist titles on my TBR, but I've chosen 30 to start with.  This year I'm trying to get to a lot of books that I've seen other bloggers rave about.  Any suggestions for where I should start?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Holiday-Themed Mini-Reviews

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak (2017)

The Birch family is under quarantine over Christmas, due to daughter Olivia coming home after treating the Haag epidemic in Africa.  The family, consisting of Olivia, sister Phoebe, mother Emma, and father Andrew, don't normally spend a ton of time together, so this forced holiday may be a strain on all of them.

We find out pretty early on that each family member is hiding something from the rest - Olivia had a relationship with a fellow doctor, who ended up contracting Haag; Phoebe is newly engaged but doesn't seem all that happy about it; Emma just found out she has cancer; and Andrew was recently contacted by a son he knew nothing about.  While I thought all of these secrets were realistic in their own way, it seemed a bit coincidental that they were all happening at the same time. 

Emma is probably the only likable character in the family - she just wants to take care of everyone, have the perfect holiday, and not worry anyone with her health issues, at least not until after Christmas.  Andrew seems pretty unhappy with his life, especially with the way he and his wife have grown apart.  Olivia is rather detached from her family, and Phoebe is kind of spoiled and immature.  I thought the book was well-written and I appreciated that the story didn't get too outlandish.  It felt real, and often melancholy, but there were glimmers of hope, as well.  3 stars

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz (2017)

A modern and gender-swapping take on the classic Pride and Prejudice.  Darcy Fitzwilliam is a rich and successful woman living in NYC; Luke Bennet is a carpenter still living in their hometown.  When Darcy comes home for the first time in years, sparks fly between her and Luke.

For some reason, I've been into Pride and Prejudice retellings lately, and this was a fun one.  I loved that the author made the "Darcy" character a women - it was an interesting dynamic having her as the more "successful" one.  And since the book was from her POV, we got to know her way better than Luke; although people often saw her as cold, she actually had quite a big heart and longed for love.  It really made me see that the original Darcy character was probably a bit misunderstood!

This book was super-short, only 225 pages, so I flew through it in just a couple hours.  The writing was good, but sometimes I felt like I was getting whiplash from how quickly things were happening; conflicts seemed to get resolved too quickly.  However, because it's a holiday story, I appreciated the sappiness more than I normally would.  3.5 stars

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Sweetest Kind of Fate

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

The Sweetest Kind of Fate (Windy City Magic #2)
Crystal Cestari
Expected publication date: February 13, 2018
GREAT. I’ve somehow found myself tangled up with a siren, a mermaid, and a homicidal wicked witch who once tried to strangle me to death. Way to go, Amber!

Amber Sand, legendary matchmaker, couldn’t be more surprised when her arch nemesis, Ivy, comes asking for her help. Ivy’s sister, Iris, is getting married, and Ivy wants to prove her sister is making a huge mistake. But as Amber looks into Iris's eyes, there doesn’t seem to be a problem—Iris has clearly found her match.

It seems happily ever after is in the cards, but when Iris seeks out a dangerous, life-altering spell, it’s up to Amber and Ivy to set aside their rivalry and save the day.

While Iris is willing to put everything on the line for love, Amber continues to wrestle with her own romantic future. Her boyfriend, Charlie, is still destined for another, and no matter how hard she clings to him, fear over their inevitable breakup shakes her belief system to the core.

Because the Fates are never wrong—right? - from Goodreads
I absolutely adored the first book in this series, and I'm hoping the second book captures the same magic!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is our favorite books of 2017 - back in June I made a list of my favorite books of the year so far, so today I want to list my favorite reads from the second half of the year!

What were some of your favorites of the year?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Holiday Decorations for Book Lovers

We all love to give and receive books and bookish gifts during the holidays, but how about taking it one step further and using our holiday decorations to reflect our love of reading?  Here are some fun ways to incorporate books and reading into your holiday décor!

1. Paper Garland (Etsy) - starting at $10.00
2. Snow is Falling, Book is Calling Print (Etsy) - $5.00
3. Origami Christmas Tree (Etsy)

4. Christmas at the Burrow Candle (Frostbeard Studio) - $18.00
5. Wuthering Heights Christmas Ornament (Etsy) - $16.50
6. All I Want for Christmas is My Hogwarts Letter Pillow (Society6) - starting at $29.99

7. Book Page Wreath (Etsy) - $35.00
8. Madeline Book Paper Tree (Etsy) - $35.00

** I apologize if any of these items are not available!  I've been checking these as close to the post going live as I could, but since some of them are one-of-a-kind, they could be bought at any time and the links will no longer work!

What are some of your favorite holiday decorations?  Would you ever upcycle an old book into something new, or would it be too hard to destroy a book?

Friday, December 8, 2017

If You're One of These Types of People, You Should Read "How To Disappear"

How to Disappear
Sharon Huss Roat
Published August 15, 2017
Vicky Decker has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight, quietly navigating the halls of her high school undetected except by her best (and only) friend, Jenna. But when Jenna moves away, Vicky’s isolation becomes unbearable.

So she decides to invent a social life by Photoshopping herself into other people’s pictures, posting them on Instagram under the screen name Vicurious. Instantly, she begins to get followers, so she adds herself to more photos from all over the world with all types of people. And as Vicurious’s online followers multiply, Vicky realizes she can make a whole life for herself without ever leaving her bedroom. But the more followers she finds online, the clearer it becomes that there are a lot of people out there who feel like her— #alone and #ignored in real life.

To help them, and herself, Vicky must find the courage to face her fear of being “seen,” because only then can she stop living vicariously and truly bring the magic of Vicurious to life.

In this beautiful and illuminating narrative, Sharon Huss Roat shines a light on our love of social media and how sometimes being the person you think you want to be isn’t as great as being the person you truly are. - from Goodreads
I've been shying away from contemporary YA lately, because too many of the books I've read have felt unrealistic and unrelatable.  And then I came across How to Disappear.  I identified with Vicky, a high schooler with social anxiety who uses social media to create an alternate life for herself and ends up helping so many others.  I think everyone should read this book, but especially if you relate to any of these types of people:

If you were a loner in high school: After her best friend Jenna moves to Wisconsin, Vicky finds herself alone, barely able to look another student in the eye and skipping class when she feels overwhelmed or embarrassed.  As a way to prove to herself that she actually does exist, Vicky starts an Instagram account, "Vicurious," in which she photoshops a disguised version of herself into crazy situations, like riding a hippogriff.  When the account explodes in popularity, Vicky realizes there are so many others out there who feel alone like her.

If you were popular in high school: Maybe you were the homecoming queen or the star quarterback; it seemed everyone knew and loved you.  But more likely than not, you had your own problems that maybe you tried to keep hidden.  As Vicky gets to know her classmates more, she sees that even the people who seem to have it all together have their own issues and struggles.

If you've ever faced your fears: Vicky isn't just shy, she has social anxiety, but as the story progresses, she makes small steps towards conquering her fears.  She joins the yearbook staff and even starts a relationship with her classmate, Lipton.  I don't have social anxiety, but I am extremely shy, and I really identified with Vicky's desire to kind of hide from others and not draw attention to herself.  I cheered her on as she found the courage to even just say hello to her classmates.

If you use social media: We use social media for so many things - to show off our vacation photos, share funny stories, or promote a business.  Through Vicurious, Vicky encourages people to be kind to one another and really see each other.  She is surprised when she finds out some of her classmates are Vicurious followers and that they've really taken her words to heart, even bringing them into their offline interactions.  Even though Vicky started the account just for herself, it was refreshing to see it being used for good once she started gaining followers.

If you've ever felt invisible: Vicky uses her Instagram account to reach out to these people who feel alone or invisible, to let them know they're not alone and that someone cares about them.  She knows all too well how bad it can feel to be lonely and feel like you don't matter, and she wants to show that sometimes all it takes is just one person reaching out to another to help.

Overall, How to Disappear was a heartfelt story that I got completely swept up in.  Well-written and believable, I think you'll find yourself rooting for Vicky as much as I did.

4 stars