Friday, April 28, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: April Roundup

It's time for another round of mini-reviews for the Backlist Reader Challenge!  I think I'm making pretty good progress - I've read 12 of the 26 books on my TBR for this challenge, so I'm about 46% done!

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave #1) by Rick Yancey (2013)

A teenage girl searches for her brother when they are separated after an alien attack decimates Earth's population.

I'm always up for survival stories like this, whether it's a natural phenomenon like an avalanche or something more science fiction-y, like an alien attack.  I'm always interested to see how people change and adapt.  In this case, Cassie was a great main character - just an average teenager before the alien arrival, she becomes a street-smart, resourceful survivor.  That is, until she meets Evan Walker, and then she becomes a ball of mush more concerned about the chocolate-y color of his eyes. 

I enjoyed the parts of this book that were gritty and intense and emotional - Cassie's desperate search for the last living member of her family, her younger brother, and Ben's indoctrination into an army that he thought would be fighting against aliens, not for them.  Unfortunately, the book suffered a bit when it came to the romance portion, which I felt was unnecessary.  It would have been enough for Cassie to gain an ally without having the two of them fall in love for no reason.

There are lots of POVs in the book, which I liked because it allowed me to see the invasion from many sides.  I didn't think it was confusing at all; it was pretty easy to figure out who was talking.  All in all, this was a good (but not great) and fast-paced read.  3 stars

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6) by Louise Penny (2010)

In the 6th installment of the series, Inspector Gamache is in Quebec, trying to recover from a terrorist plot, when he is asked to join a local investigation of the murder of an amateur archaeologist.

This was my favorite book of the series so far.  Three separate story lines kept the pace fast.  The main storyline involved the murder of an archaeologist trying to find the remains of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec.  It was an interesting mystery and I learned a lot about the tense history between the French and English in Quebec. 

The second storyline brought us back to the murder of the Hermit in Three Pines from the last book.  Olivier had been convicted of the murder, but his partner Gabri was not convinced of his guilt.  Gamache, too, is now feeling uncertain about the outcome of that case, and he sends his second-in-command to Three Pines to do some subtle investigating.  I had a feeling this story wasn't over!  And this time, the outcome is very surprising!

But my favorite parts of the book were the flashbacks to something that happened off-page, between this book and the previous one.  One of Gamache's detectives is kidnapped, and the team finally realizes it is part of a much larger terrorist attack.  I don't want to give too much away, but this storyline was so tense and heartbreaking; I teared up a few times.  There's an underlying sadness that permeates the whole book, as Gamache tries to heal both physically and emotionally.  You can just feel the guilt weighing heavily on him.  5 stars
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2015)
With each book I read of hers, Taylor Jenkins Reid is quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors.  In Maybe in Another Life, two parallel stories take place, sparked by a decision made by Hannah Martin - should she go home with her best friend, or stay awhile longer with her ex-boyfriend?
This concept isn't new - there are movies with this plot device and at least one book that I've read (The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver).  But Taylor Jenkins Reid does it so well that I didn't mind it.  Her stories are very relatable and the writing just resonates with me.  It's not over-the-top or too flowery or poetic - it's just straightforward good writing.

The decision Hannah makes sets off two very different paths for her.  Almost immediately, things happen that will drastically change her life.  But, as different as things are, there are some things that remain the same - her deep friendship with Gabby and a thawing of the distant relationship she has with her family in London.

Like with her previous books, the author touches on deep topics - the "what ifs" in life, is there such a thing as a soul mate, and how much of our life is predetermined by fate.  Without giving too much away, I like that each story ends with Hannah in similar yet at the same time very different places in her life.  I think it shows that there are some things we are meant to do, but that in other areas, we choose our own way and could be just as happy with any outcome.  4.5 stars

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

One of the things my husband was most excited about during our Las Vegas trip was a visit to Red Rock Canyon.  Located less than a 1/2 hour west of the strip, Red Rock Canyon is a beautiful place to spend a few hours.

For more information, click here.

There is a $10.00 per car entrance fee.  A 13-mile one-way road loops around the canyon, offering several parking lots to pick up trailheads and locations to take some spectacular photos.

With 20+ trails of varying lengths and levels of difficulty, there's something for everyone here, even trails for small children.  The trails themselves range from dirt/gravel to sand to small rocks to large boulders.

Red Rock Canyon is so different from the hikes we usually go on.  We're used to being in the woods, surrounded by shade and trees.  This time, we were in the desert, wide open spaces with little in the way of shade (although, it was a little more green than I expected!).  They're pretty obvious, but I want to offer the following tips for hiking in Red Rock Canyon:

  1. Wear a hat and sunglasses.  Don't be dumb like me and give yourself a headache by squinting the whole time.  You're in the desert, it's going to be very sunny.
  2. Put on plenty of sunscreen.  It was only in the mid-50s when we were there, but it felt a lot warmer, so I didn't even wear a jacket.  Protect your exposed skin from the beating sun.
  3. Bring plenty of water.  You should always have water when you're hiking, but even more so when you're in this type of terrain and weather.  Stay hydrated! 
First, we hiked the Calico Springs Trail.  The trails were marked way better than I expected.  There were some signs, and when it made sense, the trails were lined by rocks, marking the path.  Calico Springs featured all different types of terrain along the way, but it was still a pretty easy hike.

Is it just me, or does this rock formation look like an iguana?

We also hiked the Keystone Thrust Trail.  This trail had a pretty decent incline the whole way, as well as a path of small rocks, which made for rough going.  But, the view down into the canyon made it all worth it!

My photos don't do this beautiful place enough justice - Red Rock Canyon is a must-see if you're in the Las Vegas area!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Mr. Rochester

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

Mr. Rochester
Sarah Shoemaker
Expected publication date: May 9, 2017
A gorgeous, deft literary retelling of Charlotte Bronte's beloved Jane Eyre--through the eyes of the dashing, mysterious Mr. Rochester himself.

"Reader, she married me."
For one hundred seventy years, Edward Fairfax Rochester has stood as one of literature's most romantic, most complex, and most mysterious heroes. Sometimes haughty, sometimes tender-professing his love for Jane Eyre in one breath and denying it in the next-Mr. Rochester has for generations mesmerized, beguiled, and, yes, baffled fans of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece. But his own story has never been told.

Now, out of Sarah Shoemaker's rich and vibrant imagination, springs Edward: a vulnerable, brilliant, complicated man whom we first meet as a motherless, lonely little boy roaming the corridors and stable yards of Thornfield Hall. On the morning of Edward's eighth birthday, his father issues a decree: He is to be sent away to get an education, exiled from Thornfield and all he ever loved. As the determined young Edward begins his journey across England, making friends and enemies along the way, a series of eccentric mentors teach him more than he might have wished about the ways of the men-and women-who will someday be his peers.
But much as he longs to be accepted-and to return to the home where he was born-his father has made clear that Thornfield is reserved for his older brother, Rowland, and that Edward's inheritance lies instead on the warm, languid shores of faraway Jamaica. That island, however, holds secrets of its own, and not long after his arrival, Edward finds himself entangled in morally dubious business dealings and a passionate, whirlwind love affair with the town's ravishing heiress, Antoinetta Bertha Mason.

Eventually, after a devastating betrayal, Edward must return to England with his increasingly unstable wife to take over as master of Thornfield. And it is there, on a twilight ride, that he meets the stubborn, plain, young governess who will teach him how to love again. - from Goodreads

Monday, April 24, 2017

Celebrating My First Blogoversary By Saying Thank You!

 I can't believe it has already been a year since I started this little blog!  I've had so much fun putting it together, and today I wanted to thank some of the people that have been so helpful and encouraging along the way!
My sister, Michele
Michele was one of the first people I told that I wanted to start a blog.  From the start, she was so encouraging, telling me that my doubts were unfounded, that this was really something I could do.  She has given me great ideas for posts (the Try It series was all her!) and she's even guest-blogged!  Plus, she doesn't mind when I email her draft posts and ask for her opinion in the middle of the work day. 
My husband, Tom
Tom was not even fazed when I told him I was thinking of starting a blog.  His first words were, "Go for it!"  I can run ideas past him (although he doesn't have much of an opinion when it comes to books!) and he's so patient when I just want to get one more thing done or read just a couple more pages.  He's my hiking buddy, and I'm always sending him links to new places we should visit.  He's also learned to accept that I will take too many pictures wherever we go!
My readers
I'm so grateful to everyone who makes their way here each day, reads my stuff, and even comments on it from time to time.  I'm so glad we've gotten to connect and look forward to more in the future!  I hope you've gotten some good book recommendations and enjoyed the pictures from our outdoor adventures!
The blogging community
I was a little nervous about entering the blogging community - all these amazing bloggers with beautiful sites.  It was a little intimidating!  But I'm so glad I did, because everyone has been really wonderful and welcoming and friendly.  You guys inspire me, make me laugh and think, and cause my TBR to grow exponentially. 

Thank you!!

Friday, April 21, 2017

My Dream Reading Nook

If you could design your own perfect reading space, what would it look like?  It's a topic I've been thinking about recently, and when I was approached by Molly from Arhaus, a home furnishings store, to put together a post sharing my vision of a dream reading nook, the timing was perfect!

My style is very eclectic - each room in our condo has a different feel, including a beachy bathroom and a bright, cheerful bedroom.  But I also love lots of wood; warm, earthy colors; and personal touches, including tons of framed family photos.  I don't worry about our home being magazine-worthy - I just want it to reflect us and the things we love.  My dream reading nook would be cozy and inviting, the perfect place to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book (or several!), and here are some things I would include:


First, I'd start with the large pieces of furniture: lots of rich dark wood bookshelves (I love the rustic look of these), a comfy chair, and a cool lamp that ties in my love of the outdoors.

Bookcase from Ashley Homestore  //  Tufted Chair from Target  //  Floor Lamp from Arhaus


Next, I'd start filling it in with fun pieces: a cozy blanket, beautifully scented candles, fun wall prints, and some cool bookends to style my shelves.  As you can see, I like pretty much everything!  Different colors, textures, styles - I love mixing them all together and getting a unique look!

So, if you were designing your dream reading nook, what would you include?  Or if you already have the perfect space, what does it look like?  What's your personal style - traditional, contemporary, something different altogether?  What are your favorite home decorating stores?
* I have not received anything in exchange for this post, and all thoughts are my own.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: The Mermaid's Daughter

The Mermaid's Daughter
Ann Claycomb
Published March 7, 2017
Kathleen has always been dramatic. She suffers from the bizarre malady of experiencing stabbing pain in her feet. On her sixteenth birthday, she woke screaming from the sensation that her tongue had been cut out. No doctor can find a medical explanation for her pain, and even the most powerful drugs have proven useless. Only the touch of seawater can ease her pain, and just temporarily at that.

Now Kathleen is a twenty-five-year-old opera student in Boston and shows immense promise as a soprano. Her girlfriend Harry, a mezzo in the same program, worries endlessly about Kathleen's phantom pain and obsession with the sea. Kathleen's mother and grandmother both committed suicide as young women, and Harry worries they suffered from the same symptoms. When Kathleen suffers yet another dangerous breakdown, Harry convinces Kathleen to visit her hometown in Ireland to learn more about her family history.

In Ireland, they discover that the mystery—and the tragedy—of Kathleen’s family history is far older and stranger than they could have imagined.  Kathleen’s fate seems sealed, and the only way out is a terrible choice between a mermaid’s two sirens—the sea, and her lover. But both choices mean death… - from Goodreads
Fun fact: I was in a co-ed service fraternity in college and the nickname my Big gave me was Ariel, for my long hair and love of the beach.  And Ariel has always been my favorite of the Disney princesses, so when I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it.

The Mermaid's Daughter builds on the original Hans Christian Andersen version of The Little Mermaid.  Kathleen is a college student who experiences strange pains in her feet and longs to touch the sea.  When she and her girlfriend, Harry, travel to Ireland to learn more about Kathleen's family tree, they discover a curse that has been passed down through the generations.  It started with a mermaid who longed for a human, but that human chose another.  To break the curse and return to the sea, the woman must kill her lover, but the women of Kathleen's family have all chosen suicide, instead.  Now that Kathleen knows the truth, how will she make the decision between her life or Harry's?

Some things I loved about this book:
  • Kathleen's totally devoted father and girlfriend.  These two characters were really the stand-outs for me.  They would do anything for Kathleen, Harry especially.  And Harry is basically a saint; even when not dealing with the whole "my girlfriend is a mermaid" thing, she's clearly the more responsible, stable one in the relationship.  She's a calming force and is always taking care of Kathleen.  It would have been so easy for her to just leave, but her love for Kathleen made her want to stay and help her, even though the outcome looked bleak.
  • The melancholy, dark feel.  This definitely isn't a Disney movie.  The original Little Mermaid story is dark, and this story stays true to that, with its themes of murder and suicide.  And as much as I love feel-good stories, I appreciated the fact that this story didn't gloss over the hard parts.  It made it more realistic.
  • The ambiguous ending.  I don't mean ambiguous in the sense that the reader doesn't know what happens, but more in the sense that it's unclear if this is a happy or sad ending, or at least that's how it felt to me.  The choices all the characters had to make were difficult, and it's not clear that anyone is a winner.

The one thing that gave me pause about this book was how the characters intended to break the curse.  Harry and Kathleen's father come up with a plan that they think will work, but I honestly didn't understand how it would fulfill the sea witches' requirements.  However, if you love fairy tale retellings, definitely add this one to your TBR.

4 stars

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Into The Water

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

Into the Water
Paula Hawkins
Expected publication date: May 2, 2017
A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Things That Make Me Want to Read a Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week's topic is things that will make me instantly want to read a book.  Going back through my Goodreads log of books I've read, I can see definite patterns in the types of books I choose, so here's my list of things that will make me want to pick up a book!

  1. A pretty or striking cover.  Not every book that has a good cover is something I will want to read, but it helps!  I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a cover snob - if I'm not drawn in by the cover, I won't even take the time to see what the book is about.
  2. Dual timelines: I'm a sucker for a story with dual timelines.  There's just something about the past and present colliding that really speaks to me, especially if it involves...
  3. World War I or World War II: I'm just so drawn to these time periods.
  4. Psychological thrillers: I've been obsessed with thrillers lately, so if that phrase is in the blurb, I'm probably adding it to my TBR.
  5. A family in crisis: I love reading stories about families that are facing great odds or trying to put the pieces back together.  If the story's focus is on just the siblings or even twins, that's even better!
  6. An old English estate: Perhaps it's my love of Downton Abbey, but I seek out stories that feature a countryside manor that plays as big a role as any of the characters.  I like reading about upstairs/downstairs relations, dilapidated houses that are being restored, and parties in ballrooms.
  7. Alzheimer's: Ok, this is kind of a strange one, but no matter how many times I've cried while reading a book about someone with Alzheimer's, if the blurb mentions this terrible disease, I'm probably going to want to read it. 
  8. A supernatural element that feels real: I don't read a ton of fantasy, but I do enjoy novels that feature some kind of mystical element, whether that's clairvoyants, mediums, or fortune tellers.
  9. The Tudor dynasty: I am obsessed with Henry VIII, his 6 wives, and his children.  If a book is even tangentially related to the Tudors, I'm in!
  10. Paris: I don't know if I'll ever get to visit the City of Lights, so I get my fix through books.  If a book takes place in Paris, it almost doesn't matter what the rest of the book is about.

Do any of these make you instantly want to read a book, too?

Monday, April 17, 2017

How I Create and Maintain a Blogging Schedule

I realized early on that the key to making blogging work for me and my schedule was to be really organized and plan ahead, so today I wanted to share my tips for creating and maintaining a blogging schedule.

Deciding how often to post and what to post
For me, posting 3-4 times per week is the sweet spot.  It's enough to keep things interesting without committing myself to posting all the time.  Capping my weekly posts to 3 or 4 allows me to stretch my existing cache of discussion ideas and book reviews.  Also, I don't do a lot of time-sensitive posts, like weekly updates, so they can be scheduled for any time. 

My blog posts tend to fall into one of just a few categories:
  • Book reviews
  • Weekly features hosted by other bloggers, like Waiting on Wednesday or Top Ten Tuesday
  • Discussions and features I've created
  • Outdoor-related posts (like talking about the different hikes we go on)

Drafting more posts in less time
Some types of posts can be done in advance and quickly.  For instance, take Waiting on Wednesday hosted by Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases.  It's easy to keep a list of upcoming releases and their publication dates.  The posts themselves don't take very long to put together, so I can often do a month's worth of WoW posts in just a few minutes.  It's the same for Top Ten Tuesday - the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish often helpfully publish the topics several weeks in advance.  I can decide which ones I want to take part in and put together my posts.  This saves me time since I can do everything at once and just block out a half-hour or so.  Since I know these posts are happening almost every week, I can then plan everything else around them. 

Putting together a schedule
Remember when I posted about my low-tech blogging tools?  Here's where my printed monthly calendars come in handy.

I take a look at the posts I want to do and see where they will fit in.  I try to make sure the different types of posts are evenly distributed and all posts are spaced out somewhat equally (about every other day or so).  Not blogging everyday means that some posts will be scheduled for weeks away, sometimes even more than a month, from when I originally work on them, but this helps me maintain a steady stream of posts.  I worry a lot about running out of material. 

So, maybe the book reviews aren't the freshest, but I don't think that's a huge deal.  For me, it's more important to have things planned out and ready to go just in case something happens and either I'm not able to work on the blog or a slump hits and I'm just not into it.  It also gives me time to work on things without stressing that I need to post something immediately; I'm not one of those people that does well at the last minute!  The ability to pre-schedule my posts is one of the best tools I've come across. 

This is what has been working for me since I started blogging, but I'd also like to hear from you and how you plan out your posts!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: Girl in Disguise

Girl in Disguise
Greer Macallister
Published March 21, 2017
For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.

In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.

Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can't. She's a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she's been assigned to nab.

Inspired by the real story of Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective's rise during one of the nation's greatest times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country.
- from Goodreads
Girl in Disguise is based on real-life Pinkerton detective Kate Warne, the first woman to hold such a position.  Kate makes for such an interesting main character - a widow without a knack for "typical" women's work, she convinces Allan Pinkerton to hire her as a detective.

The first half of the book felt a bit scattered and choppy; it jumped from one situation to another as Kate takes on different cases.  I was worried that the whole book would be like this; the lack of cohesiveness took away from the story a bit.  However, halfway through the book, my fears were eased as the story settled into one main storyline, when President Lincoln accepts the help of the Pinkerton detectives as spies during the Civil War.  Kate goes undercover with a fellow detective as a married couple to gather intelligence.

It was hard to read about Kate not being accepted by her fellow detectives, who believed she wasn't capable of doing the work or was only there to find a husband, or, even worse, was having an affair with the boss.  Unfortunately, that was so typical of the time, and in this way the author really captured the feel of the era.

Besides the lack of cohesion during the first half of the book, my one major quibble is actually the title.  I feel like calling Kate the "girl" in disguise takes away a bit from her story and is somewhat demeaning, making her seem more like a little kid playing dress-up than the strong, intelligent, resourceful woman she was.  Throughout the course of the novel, she proves herself time and again to her co-workers and becomes indispensable to the Pinkerton Agency, paving the way for more female detectives.  Title aside, Girl in Disguise is a well-written, thrilling, and even emotional tale of a woman ahead of her time.

4 stars

Thursday, April 13, 2017

TV Shows I'm Obsessed With Lately #1

Occasionally I take breaks from reading, and during those breaks, I tend to watch a lot of TV!  Here's some shows I'm obsessed with lately...

Is anyone else watching So Cosmo?  This reality show on E! follows the employees of Cosmopolitan magazine.  Like with all reality shows, it can get a little fake with the drama, but I love this one because of the behind-the-scenes look at the creating of a major magazine.

I know very little about money, and even less about business, but I can't get enough of Shark Tank.  Not only do I watch new episodes on Friday nights, but CNBC runs re-runs of old episodes practically every night of the week.  I love to see what products and services all these entrepreneurs come up with.

And not just RHONY, but almost all iterations of the Real Housewives franchise.  It's just hilarious watching these wealthy, (mostly) elegant women act so low-class sometimes!  Right now on Bravo is a vortex of Housewives shows, with 4 locations all airing at the same time, at various points in their seasons.  My favorite Beverly Hills is finishing up, and Potomac and New York are just getting started!

Do you watch any of these?  What shows have you been watching lately?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Waiting on" Wednesday: All The Best People

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

All the Best People
Sonja Yoerg
Expected publication date: May 2, 2017
Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.

But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.

An exploration of the power of courage and love to overcome a damning legacy, All the Best People celebrates the search for identity and grace in the most ordinary lives. - from Goodreads

Monday, April 10, 2017

Seasonal Book Covers: Springtime!

I love pretty book covers, especially ones that remind me of springtime - the occasional rain, the beautiful flowers, getting outside again, and the bright, fun colors! 

What book covers remind you of spring?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Review: The Clairvoyants

The Clairvoyants
Karen Brown
Published February 7, 2017
On the family homestead by the sea where she grew up, Martha Mary saw ghosts. As a young woman, she hopes to distance herself from those spirits by escaping to an inland college town. There, she is absorbed by a budding romance, relieved by separation from an unstable sister, and disinterested in the flyers seeking information about a young woman who’s disappeared—until one Indian summer afternoon when the missing woman appears beneath Martha’s apartment window, wearing a down coat, her hair coated with ice. - from Goodreads
Martha can see ghosts.  When she decides to go away to college, she's hoping she can leave all that behind, but on the first day in her new home, she sees the ghost of a missing local woman (Mary Rae) and she becomes way more involved than she ever wanted to be.

Martha ends up meeting Mary Rae's friends and starts dating William, who also used to date Mary Rae.  Martha and William get married just months after meeting, but from the start, their relationship has major problems.  Martha's sister Del also plays a large role in the story.  Close as kids, Del and Martha drifted apart when Del was committed to an institution, but she checks herself out and moves in with Martha.  The two share a complicated history that includes the death of a local boy when they were teenagers, and I sometimes wondered if Del shared her sister's gift and just couldn't handle it.

The supernatural elements are atmospheric, never cheesy.  The story is more about Martha's reluctance to use her gift, so we only get snippets of it.  This isn't a fantasy novel; the mystical features felt very real to me, like this could actually be how mediums and clairvoyants experience things (I think it helped that I'm a believer!).

I really enjoyed the writing in this book.  I'll just say it - it was haunting.  Martha is a bit of an unreliable narrator, but not in the normal way.  She's very indecisive, constantly changing her mind about things she believes to be true (like, are Del and William having an affair, or not?).  Her observations made me question everyone and everything right alongside her.  At the same time, the general direction of the story was pretty obvious, particularly when the author includes some "hindsight is 20/20" observations from Martha.  Almost right from the start, we know there are things about William that are just off.  However, even though I could kind of guess the outcome of the mystery of Mary Rae's death, the route it took to get there was not something I saw coming.  There's more to the mystery than there appears to be.  Everyone here has secrets, including Martha. 

4 stars

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

I finally convinced my husband to go to Las Vegas last month, and while we were there, we drove 45 minutes to the Hoover Dam.  Located on Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam is within the boundaries of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  We love to try new hiking spots when we're on vacation, so I was excited to do some research and find that the Historic Railroad Trail was really close to the Hoover Dam - so close, in fact, that the trail can be reached by walking out the back of the Hoover Dam parking garage!

For more information about the Historic Railroad Trail, visit the National Park Service here.

Approximately 3.5 miles long, the Trail historically featured a railroad track passing through 5 large tunnels.  The tracks are no longer there, but the trail still exists, with awesome views of Lake Mead.

After exiting the Hoover Dam parking garage, we walked over a mile before we got a glimpse of Lake Mead - I think Tom was getting a little nervous that we would never actually see it!

Tunnel 5, the first tunnel we encountered

Exiting Tunnel 5, with a view towards Tunnel 4

But, after we exited Tunnel 5, to our right we finally got our first view of Lake Mead, and it was spectacular.

The trail itself is a fairly easy walk, with nothing much in the way of hills.  Even on a Monday morning, we encountered lots of other people.

This hike was a great way to see a bit more of the sights after taking our tour of the Hoover Dam!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Whole Thing Together

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

The Whole Thing Together
Ann Brashares
Expected publication date: April 25, 2017
Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.

Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.

The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love. - from Goodreads

Monday, April 3, 2017

My Low-Tech Tools For Staying Organized While Blogging


There are some days I'm still surprised that I started a blog - I'm one of the least tech-y people I know.  So, it shouldn't come as a shock that some of my biggest tools for staying organized while working on this blog are, literally, paper and pen.

Paper Calendar
One of the first things I did when I started the blog was to print out monthly calendars, to help plan out my posts.  Yes, I could do this online, but hand-writing out each post title, crossing things out or moving them if I need, just appeals to me more!  Since I plan things out ahead of time, I really like being able to spread out 2 or 3 months on the table and seeing where different posts will fit in.

I always carry a small notepad with me wherever I go.  It's easy enough to fit in my purse, and it's great for those bursts of inspiration.  If I have an idea for a discussion post or want to make note of a book title, into the notepad it goes.  Seriously, my memory can be the worst sometimes, so I need to write things down as soon as I think of them!  I know there are lots of apps that you can use to keep lists or make notes in, but since I don't have a smartphone, paper is the way to go for me! 

Legal pad
For some reason, we have an abundance of yellow legal pads in our house, so I've commandeered one for my master list of blog ideas.  At the end of each day, I take everything I've jotted down in my notepad and transfer it to the legal pad.  I like knowing that all my potential ideas are in one place; it's just the best way for me to keep track of everything.  I am kind of obsessed with making lists (and crossing things off when I'm done with them), so this isn't really any different from what I would do for anything else in my life (and it makes my slightly OCD heart happy).

Post-It Flags
I use Post-Its while I'm reading to mark important plot points or quotes I want to remember for later.  This helps me when I'm writing my review so I can easily refer back to the book. 

What kinds of tools do you use to stay organized?  How do you keep track of all the ideas you have for your blog?