Friday, June 30, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: June Roundup

It's time for another roundup of mini-reviews for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge hosted by Lark at the Bookwyrm's Hoard!  I can't believe this challenge (and year!) is already half over!  So far, I've read 18 of the 26 books I listed for this challenge, so I'm 69% done!

The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year by Andy Cohen (2014)

I love me some Andy Cohen; I mean, he's the man behind my beloved Housewives series, so yeah, he's up there.  And while I enjoyed reading about a year in the life of Andy Cohen, part of me wondered what the point of it really was.  This book was literally a diary, a day-by-day account of Andy's life between September 2013 and September 2014. 

Andy talks about pretty much everything: adopting his dog, Wacha; attending various events; meeting up with his friends, famous and non-famous; and going out on Tinder dates.  It was fun to get a behind-the-scenes look at things like the Met Gala and late-night television, and of course I loved the tidbits about Housewives (and house-husbands) behaving badly (although he didn't often name names).  And jeez, he knows a lot of celebrities - name-dropping was a huge part of this book.  I mean, when your best friends are Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, it's to be expected.

But it did get very repetitive - I don't need to know about every walk he took his dog on, every restaurant he ate lunch at, and every time he got a two-hour massage.  Perhaps not every day needed to be included in the book.  3 stars

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen (2009)

Jane Austen with a twist - Seth Grahame-Smith takes Austen's classic work and adds zombies.  At first, the addition of "unmentionables," as the book refers to the zombies, was a fun twist.  It was nice to see the Bennet sisters appreciated for more than a pleasing countenance or proficiency in music - they are lady warriors known for their deadly skills in taking out zombies.

But about halfway through the book, I started to get a bit bored.  It felt too much like the original with just a few sentences added in to bring forth the horror aspect.  And it just started to seem comical - the ninjas, the constant vomiting, the deer wrestling.  The fates of Charlotte/Mr. Collins and Lydia/Wickham were over the top.  The characters retained their original personalities, for the most part, though I could have used more snark from Mr. Bennet.  3 stars

 The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)

An unconventional love story between Clare, an artist, and Henry, a librarian and reluctant time traveler.  Henry doesn't use a machine to time travel; he just disappears and reappears at random times, with no control over it, because of a genetic abnormality.  He first meets Clare when she is 6 and he knows from his future that they will get married someday.

Although Clare and Henry come off very pretentious at times, I enjoyed their story.  Even with all the difficulties their relationship faced, they have an obviously deep love for each other.  However, the time travel factor was an issue for me at times; I wondered how much Henry was actually changing the past and influencing the future by showing up at random times, particularly through his early interactions with Clare during her childhood.

The last third or so of the book is where we see the toll Henry's ability has taken on their relationship.  Clare wants a baby, but there is so much heartache involved; I was kind of surprised at her insistence, knowing the baby could inherit Henry's time-traveling abilities - I mean, how scary would that be for a child?  3.5 stars

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Waiting on/Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Goddesses

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings.  Both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Goddesses
Swan Huntley
Expected publication date: July 25, 2017
When Nancy and her family arrive in Kona, Hawaii, they are desperate for a fresh start. Nancy's husband has cheated on her; they sleep in separate bedrooms and their twin sons have been acting out, setting off illegal fireworks. But Hawaii is paradise: they plant an orange tree in the yard; they share a bed once again and Nancy resolves to make a happy life for herself. She starts taking a yoga class and there she meets Ana, the charismatic teacher. Ana has short, black hair, a warm smile, and a hard-won wisdom that resonates deeply within Nancy. They are soon spending all their time together, sharing dinners, relaxing in Ana's hot tub, driving around Kona in the cute little car Ana helps Nancy buy. As Nancy grows closer and closer to Ana, skipping family dinners and leaving the twins to their own devices, she feels a happiness and understanding unlike anything she's ever experienced, and she knows that she will do anything Ana asks of her. - from Goodreads
This sounds like a really interesting story about relationships, but it seems like there could be something darker going on, too!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I've Read in 2017... So Far

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is best books we've read so far this year.  My favorites of the year so far are pretty varied - some backlist titles, some new releases, some I've reviewed and some I haven't!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Beachy Book Covers

When I was a kid, I loved visiting my grandparents' house at the Jersey shore.  I loved everything about the beach - running along the sand, playing in the water, baking in the sun.  These days I'm more content to sit under an umbrella with a good book and plenty of sunscreen!  To celebrate the beginning of summer, I've put together a collage of covers that all feature the beach!

What are some of your favorite beachy book covers?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: The River at Night

The River at Night
Erica Ferencik
Published January 10, 2017
A high-stakes drama set against the harsh beauty of the Maine wilderness, charting the journey of four friends as they fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident, The River at Night is a nonstop and unforgettable thriller. - from Goodreads
I love a good survival story, and that's what I was expecting from The River at Night - but it quickly became more like a horror movie!

The story starts off a bit slow as we're introduced to the four main characters, a group of late 30-something women, who decide to go on a whitewater rafting trip in basically an uncharted area of Maine.  For me, red flags were already going up - they are literally going to be in the middle of nowhere with only a new and very young guide.

The action picks up quickly and doesn't stop once the group starts their rafting trip.  Not long into their trip, a freak accident kills their guide on the river and their raft and supplies are lost, leaving the four women stranded.  Should they try to find the raft downriver, or should they try to hike back to where they pushed in, assuming they could even find it? 

When the women see a campfire not far from them in the woods, they think their prayers have been answered, but in reality, things are about to go from bad to terrifying.  This part of the novel, where the women meet these two creepy people in the woods, totally cut off from civilization, is where the book went a bit off the rails for me.  It read a bit like a slasher film and was more than a little unbelievable.  However, the short length of the book kept the story moving quickly, and so I actually didn't mind it that much.

I appreciated that the author took the time to develop the characters, despite the nature of the book.  I felt like I really got to know each distinct woman - the tough-as-nails Rachel, the kind-hearted Sandra, the adventure-loving Pia, and the timid narrator Wini.  I understood their motivations, and their feelings and reactions felt very true-to-life.  I was really rooting for all of them!

The River at Night is a great summer thriller (even though it came out in January!).  If you're looking for a quick, suspenseful read, check this one out.

4 stars

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Chocolate Book Tag

I was tagged by Uma at Books.Bags.Burgers, so today I'll be doing the Chocolate Book Tag!  Thanks, Uma!  Plus, I just love chocolate, so this sounded really fun anyway!

1. Dark chocolate - a book that deals with a dark topic

Jodi Picoult doesn't shy away from difficult topics, but this book about a school shooting is definitely hard to read at times.

2. White chocolate - your favorite light-hearted or humorous read

This was a fun and funny story and it definitely had some relevant lessons on how we let social media rule our lives!

3. Milk chocolate - a book that has a lot of hype that you're dying to read

I'm pretty sure I'm the last person on Earth to read this book!  I really need to get to it soon!

4. Chocolate with a caramel center - a book that made you feel all gooey in the middle while you were reading it

This book makes me melt into a puddle of tears every time I read it.  The relationships between the Bommarito siblings are complicated yet loving, and Henry himself will just steal your heart.

5. Wafer free Kit Kat - name a book that has surprised you lately

Unfortunately, I didn't love this one as much as I thought I would!

6. Snickers - a book you're going nuts about

I've been obsessed with this book since I read it earlier this year, and I'm recommending it to everyone I know!

7. Hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows - a book you would turn to for a comfort read

I love this non-traditional love story, but my favorite character is the main character Joyce's dad.  He is funny and sweet and lovable and wise - I just feel happy when I read this book.

8. Box of chocolates - what series have you read that you feel has a wide variety and something for everyone?

Ok, this is a bit of a cop-out, but Harry Potter really does have something for everyone!  I read it as an adult, and I enjoyed just as much as kids do!

I'd love to read your answers, too, so consider yourself tagged if you want to participate!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Waiting on/Can't-Wait Wednesday: Where The Light Falls

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings.  Both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Where The Light Falls
Allison Pataki & Owen Pataki
Expected publication date: July 11, 2017
From the courtrooms to the battlefields to the alleyways of Paris, with cameos from infamous figures in French history, the Patakis have crafted an epic, action-packed novel of the French Revolution as it has never been seen before. Three years after the storming of the Bastille, Paris is enlivened with the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The monarchy has been dismantled and a new nation, for the people, is rising up in its place. Jean-Luc, a young optimistic lawyer, moves his wife, Marie, and their son to Paris, inspired by a sense of duty to contribute to the new order. André, the son of a former nobleman, flees his privileged past to fight in the unified French Army with his roguish brother. Sophie, a beautiful young aristocratic widow and niece of a powerful, vindictive uncle, embarks on her own fight for independence.

Underneath the glimmer of hope and freedom, chaos threatens to undo all the progress of the revolution and the lives of these compatriots become inextricably linked. As the demand for justice breeds instability, creates enemies out of compatriots, and fuels a constant thirst for blood in the streets, Jean-Luc, Andre, and Sophie are forced to question the sacrifices made for the revolution. Liberty proves a fragile, fleeting ideal, and survival seems less and less likely—both for these unforgettable individuals, and indeed for the new nation itself. - from Goodreads
I'll read anything Paris-related and the focus on the French Revolution is a really interesting time period!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Decluttering My Bookshelves

I would love to have tons of shelves, filled with books, but in our current living situation, that's just not possible or practical.  I was running out of shelf space before my husband moved in several years ago, and since then, I've completely run out of room as Tom is using my bookshelves for some of his things and my collection of books has become overwhelming.

I used to be an indiscriminate book-buyer.  The bargain rack at Barnes & Noble was my best friend.  I rarely went to the library and didn't vet books as well as I do now before buying them.  The result was a collection of books that numbered close to 300.  That might not seem like a lot, but it definitely feels that way when you're living in a one-bedroom condo.  In the last several months, I've taken on the large (but sometimes slow) project of decluttering my bookshelves.  The main reasons are threefold:

  1. I like things to be neat and organized.  Right now I have too many books and not enough space, so there are books stacked in front of other books and it's driving me nuts!
  2. Eventually we'd like to move to a larger place, and packing up and transporting all those heavy books is not going to be fun.
  3. In my former book-buying frenzy, I ended up with a lot of books I'm not crazy about.  At this point, I'd rather just have a collection of books that I love, ones that I can see myself reading for years to come.
My primary method of decluttering is rereading my way through my bookshelves!  I love to reread, so this isn't a problem for me, although it's not necessarily the quickest way since I fit the rereads in between all the other books I want to read.  There are a lot of books that I felt meh about the first time I read them, so I feel like I need to give them one more chance before I let them go.  My feelings about a particular book have been known to change, but if I've read something twice and I still don't feel a spark, I'm getting rid of it.  There were also some that I really didn't like the first time I read them but for one reason or another just hadn't gotten rid of yet; those were the first to go in the donate pile.  I might have problems purging my TBR, but I seem to have way fewer qualms about getting rid of physical books, as much as I love them! 

I've been donating my used books to Goodwill.  I like the idea that they're going back out into the world for someone else to enjoy, instead of gathering dust in my house.  Over the past year, I've brought 24 books to my local Goodwill center, and I have 22 more books waiting to be brought over.  I still have more work to do, but this is a good start!

How many physical books do you own?  How often do your purge your collection?  Do you donate them, sell them, etc.?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Gem & Dixie

Gem & Dixie
Sara Zarr
Published April 4, 2017
Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table, and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.

When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep. - from Goodreads
This book just about broke my heart, so many times.  When the story opens up with 17-year-old Gem not sure where she's going to get her next meal from, you know things are going to be rough.

Gem and her younger sister Dixie haven't had an easy life.  Their father hasn't been around for most of it.  Their mother doesn't have steady employment and often does drugs.  Gem was more like a mother to Dixie, but by the time we meet them, Dixie has grown up, way too fast, and now seems more like the older sister (she has a fake ID and a tattoo and buys pills for her mom at school).

The sisters' dad comes back to town and when they find the bag of (probably illegally obtained) money he hides in their room, Gem decides she needs a break, so she and Dixie run away for a couple days.

I felt so bad for Gem.  A teenager shouldn't be the most responsible person in her family.  Her parents' poor choices and behavior have really taken their toll on her.  She often feels lost and lonely, yet she dreams of being on her own someday, away from her family.  Dixie, however, doesn't want to leave their parents, no matter how neglectful they are.  She still believes in them and wants to give them another chance.  The three days Gem & Dixie spend together are a pretty good reflection of their relationship.  Even though they don't always get along, there are moments of closeness and honest conversation between them.

The story was a very quick and easy read, but it didn't end in the way I expected or wanted it to.  Suddenly everything was happening way too quickly, and I'm still not sure how I feel about where the sisters ended up.  Also, at times it was hard for me to believe Gem was 17 years old; there was just something about the character that kept making me think she was much younger.

3.5 stars

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Waiting on/Can't-Wait Wednesday: Cocoa Beach

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings.  Both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Cocoa Beach
Beatriz Williams
Expected publication date: June 27, 2017
Burdened by a dark family secret, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York City for the battlefields of World War I France. While an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, she meets a charismatic British army surgeon whose persistent charm opens her heart to the possibility of love. As the war rages, Virginia falls into a passionate affair with the dashing Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, only to discover that his past has its own dark secrets—secrets that will damage their eventual marriage and propel her back across the Atlantic to the sister and father she left behind.

Five years later, in the early days of Prohibition, the newly widowed Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in the tropical boomtown of Cocoa Beach, Florida, to settle her husband’s estate. Despite the evidence, Virginia does not believe Simon perished in the fire that destroyed the seaside home he built for her and their young daughter. Separated from her husband since the early days of their marriage, the headstrong Virginia plans to uncover the truth, for the sake of the daughter Simon never met.

Simon’s brother and sister welcome her with open arms and introduce her to a dazzling new world of citrus groves, white beaches, bootleggers, and Prohibition agents. But Virginia senses a predatory presence lurking beneath the irresistible, hedonistic surface of this coastal oasis. The more she learns about Simon and his mysterious business interests, the more she fears that the dangers that surrounded Simon now threaten her and their daughter’s life as well. - from Goodreads
I'm looking forward to this one because Beatriz Williams is one of my favorite authors!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Would Buy For My Dad

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is a Father's Day freebie, so I wanted to list some books I'd buy for my own dad!  My dad is a pretty cool guy (I mean, he'd have to be, to put up with me during my teenage years!).  He instilled in me a love of the outdoors and was a big influence in me becoming the reader I am today.


Into Thin Air: My dad is an avid outdoorsman - he loves hiking, skiing, and backpacking.  I think he would be fascinated by this account of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest (maybe not so much the disaster part, but the prep that goes into a climb like that!).

Rick Steves Germany 2017: Rick Steves' guidebooks are a must-have when you're traveling.  My dad and stepmom have taken some amazing trips in the last couple years, and I know Germany is on their wishlist.

Braving it: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild: I get my love of hiking from my dad, so I thought this memoir about a father and daughter traveling and working together in Alaska would be perfect.

Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life: My dad is a huge Mets fan, so I think he would really enjoy this in-depth look at Game 7 in the year they won the World Series.

The Devil in the White City: My sister and I love the non-fiction works of Erik Larson.  She mentioned his books to our dad, and he seemed really interested in them.  This is the perfect one to start with.

What book would you buy for your dad?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Try It, You Might Like It #7: Short Stories

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

For this installment, I've chosen short stories - or rather, short stories chose me.  I was browsing the new release shelves at my library and Jojo Moyes' distinctive font caught my eye.  At first I was a little reluctant to check out Paris for One and Other Stories (2016), but since I loved Me Before You so much, I decided to give it a try.

From the #1 "New York Times" bestselling author of "Me Before You" and "After You," a sensational collection featuring the title novella and eight other stories. Quintessential Jojo Moyes, "Paris for One and Other Stories" is an irresistibly romantic collection filled with humor and heart. 
Nell is twenty-six and has never been to Paris. She's never even been on a romantic weekend away to anywhere before. Everyone knows travelling abroad isn't really her thing. But when Nell's boyfriend fails to show up for their romantic mini-vacation, she has the opportunity to prove everyone including herself wrong. Alone and in Paris, Nell uncovers a version of herself she never knew existed: independent and intrepid. Could this turn out to be the most adventurous weekend of her life? Funny, charming, and irresistible, "Paris for One"is vintage Moyes as are the other stories that round out the collection. - from Goodreads
I think there must be a real art to writing short stories - being able to create characters and a story arc in just a few pages, adding just enough detail so the reader understands what's going on without inundating them.  I think Moyes was successful here in that each short story (and one novella) felt mostly complete; I was able to get a clear sense of the characters and what was happening in each story, without the benefit of many pages and chapters of background.  Some of them had twist endings, which helped.

The novella is a cute story about a woman stood up by her boyfriend who makes the most of a weekend in Paris; it's quite romantic and hopeful, but almost a bit too sweet.  However, some of the stories were just strange - particularly the ones about a robbery at a jewelry store and a woman finding someone else's cell phone.  There wasn't anything particularly special about most of them.  They are all told from a female point of view, and many feature an unhappy woman who is taking control of her life.  The writing was good, but not great. 

My issue with short stories is that I just want more - I know I said the stories here felt mostly complete, but in a lot of the cases, I wanted more detail.  The stories could be fleshed out, particularly the stories about long marriages.  I wanted to know how the characters got to these places in their lives instead of being dropped in, in the middle of the story.  It's hard to feel connected or invested when you only get a few pages.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Almost Missed You

Almost Missed You
Jessica Strawser
Published March 28, 2017
Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always. They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.

So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.

Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.

Told through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been. - from Goodreads
So a lot of other reviews characterize this book as suspenseful or a thriller - maybe it's just me, but I didn't get that impression at all.  I found this book to be way more character-driven than I expected.

Violet is stunned when her husband Finn suddenly disappears while on vacation, taking their son Bear with him.  Finn goes to long-time friend Caitlin and demands her help. After the initial shock of Finn taking Bear, the story then delves into flashbacks of how Finn, Violet, and Caitlin got to this point in their lives, revealing many secrets held by the characters, and how they try to resolve the situation.

Finn was a complicated character.  He was at times selfish, cowardly, remorseful, cold, and threatening; his emotions swayed so quickly from one end of the spectrum to the other.  As the story of why Finn ran is revealed, I could kind of sympathize with him, but at the same time, he definitely handled the situation in practically the worst way possible, and a lot of things would have been different if he had just talked to his wife a long time ago.  Caitlin was also an interesting character - she had to balance her loyalty to Finn and Violet with the possibility that her biggest secret would be revealed to her husband.  Should she turn Finn in?  Should she tell Violet she knows where her beloved son is?  Is all of this worth the potential loss of her own family?

The story brought up a lot of uncomfortable questions about marriage, secrets, and friendship.  Just some of the issues discussed include how well we really know our spouses; why people keep secrets, especially from those they love and who would be affected the most by them; if friends are obligated to share secrets; and seeing what we want to see (like when Violet's grandmother admits to her that Finn appeared to be unhappy and "checked out" for awhile and Violet is shocked because she never noticed).  This story is definitely an extreme lesson in what happens when people are not honest with each other and themselves.

4 stars

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Rocky Ridge Park

In May, we went out to York, Pennsylvania, for my cousin's wedding and we took advantage of some free time in the morning to get in a hike before the ceremony!

For some more information about the park and to get a trail map, click here.

Rocky Ridge Park is a 750-acre park with over 12 miles of trails.  We stayed on the eastern half of the park.  The park is bisected by these enormous power lines; it was a little weird to hear the loud buzzing of the electrical lines in the parking lot, but once we got on the trails, we didn't even notice them anymore.  I was really struck by how quiet and peaceful this park was.

We walked down to the south observation tower, which has a nice view of the York Valley.

From there, we took part of a perimeter trail and then went onto some interior trails.  Some of the paths were wide, but at some points the trails got very narrow.  There were some areas of stone-laden paths, so we had to watch our footing. 

I can't speak for all the trails, but the ones we went on were fairly level, with some small areas of decent inclines and descents.

We finished our hike by heading to the north observation tower, which has views of the Susquehanna Valley (and the power lines).  I really liked these observation points; it's nice to be in the forest, but I loved these wide open spaces that let you see for miles and miles.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

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

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Expected publication date: June 13, 2017
Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways. - from Goodreads

Monday, June 5, 2017

Passing Books Down To The Next Generation

My dad and his sisters were avid readers when they were kids (and still are).  My grandmother kept a lot of their old books (mostly old Nancy Drew mysteries), and when my siblings and I would visit her, we would always have something to read.  My sister and I were voracious readers; it didn't matter that these books were 25 or 30 years old.  We enjoyed the books, and what was even more special was that they belonged to our dad and aunts. 

It got me thinking - what books from my personal collection would I want to save and pass down to the next generation?  What books do I love enough or think are important enough to keep for any future children, nieces, or nephews?  They don't necessarily have to be classics.  Maybe they're popular books today that could become classics for the next generation, or maybe it's just a book that I loved.

I know they could just go to the library and they'll probably all be reading e-books by then, but I like the idea of my younger relatives coming over someday, picking out a book from my shelves, and settling down for a read.  So what books do I envision them reading? There are a particular few that I know I would want to hang onto for them (trying to take into account various ages):

Harry Potter series: I think this one is obvious.  These books are already modern-day classics.  JK Rowling has created something magical and timeless, and I think everyone should read these books.

I Capture the Castle and Jacob Have I Loved: Both of these are coming-of-age stories, although with different feels to them.  One is a bit quirky and the other is more atmospheric.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: I first read this as an adult, but it's obviously suitable for all ages.  I would love to see my niece get enthralled by Narnia!

A Treasury of Best-Loved Fairy Tales: What kid doesn't love fairy tales?  The sheer number of fairy tales in this anthology and relatively short length of each one makes it perfect for kids.

My leather-bound Shakespeare collection: It's arguably the nicest book I own.  It's just a beautiful book, and I think everyone should read at least a little Shakespeare (when they're a bit older - I would hate to see this book go to waste!).

What books from your collection would you want to pass down to the next generation?  What's your favorite book, and would you pass that book down?  Do you have any books from older relatives?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Historical Fiction Mini-Reviews

The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger (2017)

A dual timeline narrative which tells the story of two missing seamstresses in 1870s San Francisco and a woman in the present day who wants to solve the mystery of their disappearance.  Sarah is a grad student working on a novel for her thesis when she becomes inspired by an article she comes across while doing research, about two dressmakers who went missing.  As she digs into the story, she finds links to her husband's family, a wealthy and prominent family in San Francisco.

The author really made the San Francisco setting come to life, and it's not a setting I've come across often.  I enjoyed the comparisons she made between the 19th and 21st centuries and what has changed over the years, like street names and new buildings.

The present-day narrative was decent, although I wish it had been a tad less melodramatic with the addition of some drama from Sarah's past.  I appreciated that, despite some obstacles, Sarah kept going with her research to find out what really happened to the dressmakers, Hanna and Margaret, and was able to right some wrongs that would have otherwise been lost to history forever.  There were some cliche issues in the 1870s storyline and the conversations were a bit stilted, but I liked the way the narratives came together and worked.  3 stars
The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn (2017)

The Echo of Twilight didn't really break new ground with its themes - an unusual friendship between an aristocrat and her lady's maid on the eve of WWI - but the writing and slight twists really made me love this novel.

Pearl, the main character, was not easy to like.  Right off the bat, she's a bit of a liar and very cold.  And her employer, Ottoline, seems a bit flighty.  But throughout the novel, we find that Ottoline has many layers to her, some good and some not-so-good.  Through a series of events, Pearl and Ottoline become very close, but their friendship has a tipping point.

The story starts at the beginning of WWI and we continue to follow the characters long after the war has ended.  The last third of the book felt a bit long-winded.  Some issues regarding adultery and illegitimate children were a bit cliché, but more than one revelation had me shocked.

Kinghorn's writing is beautiful yet still easy to read.  The story was a lovely addition to a genre that I always gravitate towards.  If you enjoy stories about upstairs-downstairs relations, WWI historical fiction, and an English setting, add this one to your TBR.  4 stars