Saturday, December 15, 2018

2019 Retellings Reading Challenge Sign-Up and TBR

When I found out about the 2019 Retellings Reading Challenge, hosted by Tracy at Cornerfolds, I knew I couldn't pass it up!  I don't read a ton of retellings, but I do have quite a few on my TBR that I want to get to.

To get all the details about the challenge, visit Cornerfolds here.  Pretty much any retelling, in any genre, in any book form, counts - and you can use books from other challenges, too!  You can earn points by writing reviews and linking up quarterly.  There's also a Bingo element to earn even more points!

There are five challenge levels:

  • Silent Assassin: 1-5 Retellings
  • Warrior Princess: 6-10 Retellings
  • Elemental Witch: 11-15 Retellings
  • High Fae: 16-20 Retellings
  • Fairest of them All: 21-25+ Retellings

  • For now, I am going to aim for Warrior Princess, but things could always change!  Here are the books I'm hoping to get to:

    What retellings are you going to read in 2019?

    Friday, December 14, 2018

    Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: Women With Extraordinary Jobs

    Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward by Elizabeth Ford, MD (2017)

    Dr. Elizabeth Ford is a psychiatrist who worked on the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric prison ward, treating mental illness in prisoners from New York's jails, including Riker's Island.  Sometimes Amazing Things Happen is a chronicle of her time on the ward; she shares stories of the patients she treated and the bureaucracy and red tape she was often caught up in.

    This book definitely featured a lot of heartbreak.  The inmates have so much working against them.  They're in jail, waiting an indefinite amount of time to have their case heard, sometimes for a crime that was a result of their mental illness.  If they get transferred to Bellevue, they'll get treatment, but the downside is that as soon as they're "well," they're transferred back to prison where the guards don't know how to deal with them and they may or may not get their medications.  It's a vicious cycle.  A few chapters on how the hospital was affected by Superstorm Sandy were a stark reminder of the tangled web of the criminal justice system.  It really made me think about this lost population of men and how the system could be improved.

    My issues with this book came from a couple different sides.  This book was really short, about 240 pages, and felt more like short stories than a cohesive narrative.  And unfortunately, I had issues with Dr. Ford herself; more than a few times I got the impression that she felt an air of superiority over everyone else.  She came across as seeming like she was the only one who cared about the patients, and the other doctors, nurses, and officers were overwhelmed, under-educated, and just unsympathetic.  I think it would have done her some good to realize the hard work and hours they also put in to this extremely difficult and often thankless job.  3.5 stars

    The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine (2018)

    After her mother suffers a massive stroke, Tessa Fontaine spends years in limbo - will her mother survive?  What will her life be like?  Then, her stepfather takes her mother on a dream trip to Italy, giving Tessa a few months to join a traveling sideshow, where she performed such acts as snake charmer and the Electric Woman.

    I feel like this was two different books joined together only by the fact that the two events happened to take place at the same time.  On one hand, this was a book about mothers and daughters and the sometimes difficult relationship Tessa had with hers.  Reading about her mother's health issues felt almost invasive at times, but I think a lot of people will be able to relate to it.

    On the other hand, this book is a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to work at a carnival/fair/circus/sideshow.  This part was probably more interesting to me, although it felt a bit repetitive at times.  It's not an enviable lifestyle - the hours are long, it's physically taxing, you're living in a tiny space with a lot of other people, cleaning your clothes in sinks.  However, I enjoyed learning about the different sideshow acts.  3.5 stars

    Wednesday, December 12, 2018

    Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Fairest Kind of Love

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

    The Fairest Kind of Love (Windy City Magic #3)
    Crystal Cestari
    Expected publication date: March 5, 2019
    "Amber! I never even thought of that! Maybe she can tell you your match."

    Whoa. Now that's interesting.

    Amber Sand has spent half her life solidifying other people's happily-ever-afters. As a matchmaker, she has the ability to look into anyone's eyes and see their perfect match. But lately, her powers have been on the fritz, and not only is she totally unsure whether her matches are true, she can't see anyone in the eyes of her boyfriend Charlie Blitzman. With Amber and her friends graduating high school and about to take off for various colleges, Amber is hoping to have one last carefree summer-but she's also dying to find a way to fix her powers, and learn, for better or worse, if she and Charlie are truly meant to be. 
    So when an online matchmaker named Madame Lamour comes to Chicago, Amber sets out to talk to her and find out who her match is once and for all. Of course, when it comes to the magical community, nothing's ever that easy, and Amber soon finds herself caught up in a breathless showdown that involves a fairy family feud and a magical-creature auction--and requires teaming up with a certain siren nemesis. Can Amber and her friends save the day one more time before setting off for their new lives? And will Amber ever learn whether Charlie is her one true love?
    With tons of laugh-out-loud moments, appearances by all your favorite characters, and one totally tearful reveal, you won't want to miss a single swoony moment of this romantic conclusion to the Windy City Magic trilogy. - from Goodreads
    I have loved this series about a teenage matchmaker from the beginning, and even though I'm sad it's ending, I'm really looking forward to this third book!  I would love for more people to try this series!

    Tuesday, December 11, 2018

    Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books From The 2nd Half of 2018

    Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  Earlier in the year, I gave my top books from the first half of 2018, so since this week is a freebie, I wanted to share the books I loved from the second half of the year!





    Have you read any of these?  What are some of your favorite recent reads?

    Monday, December 10, 2018

    How Do You Define Success As A Book Blogger?

    When I first started blogging, I had these preconceived notions about what constituted a successful book blogger.  It was some combination of a beautifully put-together site, tons of comments, a huge social media following, and getting all the ARCs, whether from a site like Netgalley or unsolicited.  I worried about how I would ever make my mark on the book blogging community or even achieve some of the things other bloggers do.

    Over the past couple years, my definition of "success" in blogging has changed a lot.  While I still admire the big blogs, I've learned that there are other ways to define success.  We all talk a lot about stats and at least somewhat keep track of how many hits and visitors we're getting, but it's so much more than that.

    I don't have thousands (or even hundreds) of followers, but I feel like most of my posts get a good amount of interaction.  People leave thoughtful comments and give me their opinions, and I love it!  I love that readers are connecting with what I'm writing.  I feel like I've found a really amazing group of bloggers and we all support each other.  That interaction and camaraderie makes me feel successful, like I really belong in this community.

    I also feel successful when someone comments that I've convinced them to read a book or add it to their TBR.  It's such a compliment to know that my recommendations are being taken.  If it's a book that hasn't come out yet, making other readers aware of it, putting it on their radar, and knowing it might be something they'll enjoy is so fun.  It's an even greater feeling when someone reads my reviews and wants to read a book because of it.  As someone who loves to share books, I'm happy when I can bring a book that I've enjoyed to others.  I want everyone to love the book as much as I did, so I feel like I've done my "job" well when someone else wants to read it, too, based on what I've said about it. 

    How do you define success as a book blogger?  What makes you proud?  Is it reaching a certain number of followers, posting a certain number of times per month, etc.?

    Friday, December 7, 2018

    Review: The Light Between Worlds

    The Light Between Worlds
    Laura E. Weymouth
    Published October 23, 2018
    Five years ago, Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell cowered from air strikes in a London bomb shelter. But that night took a turn when the sisters were transported to another realm called the Woodlands. In a forest kingdom populated by creatures out of myth and legend, they found temporary refuge.

    When they finally returned to London, nothing had changed at all—nothing, except themselves.

    Now, Ev spends her days sneaking into the woods outside her boarding school, wishing for the Woodlands. Overcome with longing, she is desperate to return no matter what it takes.

    Philippa, on the other hand, is determined to find a place in this world. She shields herself behind a flawless exterior and countless friends, and moves to America to escape the memory of what was.

    But when Evelyn goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under. - from Goodreads
    The Light Between Worlds has a lot in common with the classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe - a group of siblings are whisked away from WWII England and find themselves in a magical land.  After joining in a war for several years, they are transported back to the moment they left.  The Light Between Worlds, however, explores what happens to the siblings after they return.

    The story is told from three main POVs - Evelyn, Philippa, and flashbacks to the time in the Woodlands (there is also a brother, Jamie, but the book is more focused on the sisters' relationship).  I loved the first half of the book, which is told from Evelyn's point of view.  Just 11 years old when she finds herself in the Woodlands, Evelyn spends her formative years there, so when they return to London and she is back to being 11, she feels lost.  It came across so clearly that she immediately felt at home in the Woodlands, and her life back in the real world would never be the same.  Although she tries for many years to fit in, there is a desperation running through Evelyn's story that is hard to ignore.  Philippa, unfortunately, is not as interesting as Evelyn.  She even says herself at one point that things just generally work out for her.  After Evelyn disappears, Philippa comes home to England and, without even trying, lands herself a job and a suitor.  I just wanted to know more about what happened to Evelyn.

    The thing I loved most about this book was the beautiful writing.  It's elegant and feels a little poetic, but contains none of the over-the-top purple prose that I often dislike.  There are so many emotions running through the story; at times it felt melancholy and resigned, at others wistful.

    If you're looking for a lot of action, you won't find it here.  There are hints of it in the flashbacks, but this book is more about the characters than anything else.  One thing I did want more of, though, was better world-building of the Woodlands.  It seemed really similar to Narnia, so I was hoping for some differences. 

    4 stars

    Wednesday, December 5, 2018

    Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Lost Girls of Paris

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

    The Lost Girls of Paris
    Pam Jenoff
    Expected publication date: February 5, 2019
    From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

    1946, Manhattan

    Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

    Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

    Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances. - from Goodreads
    I love wartime stories and especially ones that focus on women and the roles they played!

    Monday, December 3, 2018

    Quotables #11

    Why it speaks to me:  Ugh, how true is this??  It is SO HARD to make friends as an adult - like, where do you meet people?  How do you talk to them?  I just assume I'm too boring and dorky and no one will like me anyway!

    Why it speaks to me:  I know this isn't exactly what Riggs is saying, but this quote reminded me that in this world of social media perfection and jealousy, it's important to remember that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.  It's so easy to look at what others have that you don't, but we have to remember all the things that make our own lives unique and amazing.

    Why it speaks to me: It's so amazing to think that as we're reading our favorite books, we are reminded that someone actually wrote this, they came up with these characters, and stories, and far-away lands.  They poured their heart and soul into creating this book for someone like us to read and enjoy.  And it really is joy to be able to read a beautifully-written book, especially at a time in our life when we really need it.

    Which of these is your favorite?

    Saturday, December 1, 2018

    Month in Review: November 2018

    Question for my fellow bloggers before I get into the November highlights - how much do you promote your blog off-line?  I'm asking because I just found out there is a Little Free Library near me and I want to donate some books - would it be silly to include a sticker in the book with my blog name?

    The cheesy holiday movies are out in full force!  For whatever reason, my husband loves silly, romantic holiday movies, so that's what we've been watching!  We had our first snow of the year here in NJ - you may have heard about the 5, 7, even 9 hour commutes that day?  It was nuts.

    Of course, the biggest part of November is Thanksgiving.  We normally host Tom's family on the actual day, but our plans were different this year.  We had his family over the weekend before, because my brother and his family were coming for a visit from Oklahoma the week of Thanksgiving.  We got to spend lots of time with him, my sister-in-law, and their two boys.  I took a day off work and had everyone (including my parents and sister) over - the kids decorated my doors with snowflake stickers and we also decorated some cookies.  We spent Thanksgiving day with my family; since we don't get to see my brother that often, it was so nice to be able to spend a holiday with them.  We exchanged Christmas gifts, too, since we won't see them again this year. 

    Team Outlaw is 7-4 and tied for second place heading into the last week of the regular fantasy football season.  This week will determine our standings in the playoffs, so fingers crossed!

    Last thing, I promise!  The Project Linus chapter that I work with, Project Linus of Mercer County, NJ, is holding an online Barnes & Noble fundraiser from December 4 through 9.  If you're thinking about buying books for the holidays, I ask that you please consider supporting Project Linus on those days.  You can use Book Fair ID#12465076 during checkout to support this wonderful charity that provides handmade blankets to children that are ill or traumatized.  Thank you!

    The Rosie Project

    The Posts and Reviews
    The Posts I Loved

    Sophia at Bookwyrming Thoughts wants to know if you delete old posts

    Aj at Read All The Things! lets loose some controversial Harry Potter opinions 

    Sam at We Live and Breathe Books wants to understand all the hype around Pride & Prejudice

    Marie at Drizzle and Hurricane Books describes her rating system 

    How was your Thanksgiving?  Have you started your Christmas shopping yet (if you celebrate)?  And for my fellow bloggers, how do you promote your blog out in the real world?

    Friday, November 30, 2018

    Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Vanderbilt Edition

    The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan (2017)

    In The Last Castle, Denise Kiernan tells the story of Biltmore, the largest private home in America, constructed by George Vanderbilt in the late 19th century in Asheville, North Carolina.  I visited Biltmore as a teenager, but of course, I didn't remember many of the specifics, so I wanted to read this book to get more information on the house and the family.

    I could tell that Kiernan had really done her research.  There was so much information within the pages, not just about Biltmore, but about the extended Vanderbilt family and also current events of the time.  Sometimes it felt overwhelming, especially with the sheer number of names in the book.  I also felt like the actual construction of the house wasn't as big a part of the story as I would have thought.  I mean, this house is over 175,000 sq. ft. and it took years to build!

    The book was very readable, though, and I flew through it in two days.  I loved learning about how George wanted to create not just a house for himself, but an entire village in the area, as well as promote other projects such as forestry.  His wife Edith was an intriguing character, particularly after George passed away and it was left to her to manage the estate.  She was a big part of the community, whether she was handing out Christmas gifts to the employees or establishing a crafts school that also sold handmade goods.  4 stars

    A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler (2018)

    A Well-Behaved Woman tells the story of Alva Vanderbilt, who married into the wealthy but socially downtrodden family in order to help her own destitute family.

    Alva is a pretty amazing character.  She wasn't typical of women of her time.  Yes, she married for financial reasons (not uncommon then), but she wasn't content to play the roles society established for her.  She worked extremely hard to get the entire Vanderbilt family accepted into high society.  Architecture was a passion of hers (the Newport "cottage" Marble House was all her doing), and she was also interested in charitable endeavors.  I loved how she was never afraid to be honest; I had to chuckle sometimes at the things that came out of her mouth.  I loved the setting, as well; the Gilded Age was a time of great wealth, especially for the Vanderbilts, and it was a fun glimpse into the lives of the super-rich.

    The story is well-written and flows nicely, although with many historical fiction novels that focus on the life of a single person, there isn't really a whole lot of plot.  No tension or drama, and the story petered out a bit at the end.  4 stars

    Wednesday, November 28, 2018

    Can't-Wait Wednesday: My Lovely Wife

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

    My Lovely Wife
    Samantha Downing
    Expected publication date: March 26, 2019
    Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith in this wildly compulsive debut thriller about a couple whose fifteen-year marriage has finally gotten too interesting...

    Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

    We look like a normal couple. We're your neighbors, the parents of your kid's friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

    We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

    Ours just happens to be getting away with murder. - from Goodreads
    Well, that's one way to keep the spark alive in your marriage, I guess!?!

    Monday, November 26, 2018