Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Blogging & Reading Goals - How Did I Do?

I can't believe 2018 will be over in a few hours!  It's a great time to check in on those blogging and reading goals I set at the beginning of the year before I come up with some new goals for 2019!  I also want to wrap up the year-long challenges I participated in.

Blogging Goals
  1. Participate in at least two reading challenges. Pass!  I participated in two year-long challenges (recapped below) and also did a summer challenge and Nonfiction November (more of an event than a challenge).
  2. Come up with new or different ways to present our travels. Pass-ish?  In addition to our hiking posts, I did two posts recapping trips we took and another on spots I want to check out the next time we're in Las Vegas.  The brainstorming I wanted to do to for this goal never really happened.  I did a post incorporating books and Disney World, so that might be something to explore more next year.
  3. Learn more about the technical side of blogging.  Fail!  I don't know why I added this as a goal.
  4. Start doing monthly recaps.  Pass!  Monthly recaps have been some of my favorite posts to put together.  I add to it all month long, and it's been a fun way to see everything I've read and blogged in any given month, as well as connect a bit more with readers.
Reading Goals:
  1. Read or reread at least six classics.  Pass!  I read exactly six classics.. and then stopped.  So, I'm glad I read them, but I probably wouldn't do this again.
  2. Read at least one nonfiction book per month.  Pass-ish! While I didn't reach my goal of reading one nonfiction book per month, I did read way more than 12 nonfiction titles for the year.
  3. Listen to more audiobooks.  Pass!  I've listened to 15 audiobooks this year for a total of almost 130 hours of audio.  Considering I only listen to them when I'm driving to and from work, I think this was pretty good!

Originally I chose 30 titles for Beat the Backlist 2018, hosted by NovelKnight.  Of those 30, I read 27, DNFed 2, and skipped one because I realized I didn't actually want to read it!  However, I read way more backlist titles than just the ones on my TBR and ended up reading 64 backlist books in 2018.

I joined the Nonfiction Reading Challenge, hosted by Doing Dewey, to help me with my goal of reading more nonfiction in 2018, and it definitely worked!  I ended up reading 28 nonfiction titles this year.

How did you do on your 2018 reading and blogging goals?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

2019 Beat the Backlist Sign-Up and TBR

I had such a great time doing Beat the Backlist, hosted by NovelKnight, in 2018 that I've decided to sign up again!  You can get all the details here, but basically this challenge helps us get to all those older titles on our TBRs (anything published before 2019 counts!).  This year you have the option of just being a general reader or you can join in the Hogwarts House Mini Challenge and earn points for your house.  There are also some other fun activities you can take part in, like a photo challenge.  I'm going to be playing for House Hufflepuff!

In 2018, I read way more books than I originally planned for this challenge, which is great!  For 2019, though, I'm setting a slightly lower goal, partly because some of the books I chose are really long!  I figure this is just a starting point, anyway.  Here are the books I'm really hoping to get to:

Are you joining Beat the Backlist?  What older titles do you want to read this year?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Backlist Mini-Reviews: Survival Stories

All Stories Are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer (2016)

In the wake of two massive earthquakes, three people struggle to survive in San Francisco.  Unfortunately, I didn't love this one nearly as much as I thought I would.  I was drawn to the survival/disaster aspect of the story, particularly the intense focus on three characters.  However, there was too much character development for me.

Max and Vashti broke up 15 years ago under bad circumstances, yet they've never been able to forget each other.  Vashti decides to visit Max just before the earthquake strikes, and they are both caught in the rubble of a collapsed building.  I found myself not really caring about their part of the story.  They are trapped, struggling to survive, and all they can do is rehash their history in long, strange monologues. 

Gene was a character I could root for, though.  He is a geologist trying to get to his ill husband.  His story felt much more organic and not as forced as the Max/Vashti storyline.  The thoughts he had of his husband Franklin and snippets of his career involving earthquake research made sense.  As the chapters rotated between the three characters, I found myself much more interested in Gene's (and also some secondary characters who give some other glimpses into the disaster).

I thought the writing was lovely, but there was too much extraneous detail about the characters' lives that just felt unnecessary and didn't really add to or advance the story in any way.  I also thought the theme of love was often heavy-handed and clichĂ©.  3 stars

Life As We Knew It (Last Survivors #1) by Susan Beth Pfeffer (2006)

After a meteor strikes the moon, knocking it off its axis and closer to Earth, Miranda and her family must learn to adjust - and survive - in a changing world.

I loved this book so much.  I love disaster stories, especially ones like this where the author gets to be really creative in the what-if scenarios.  I was totally sucked into the story; sometimes I'd forget where I was and have to remind myself that all of this stuff wasn't happening in the real world.   Miranda's mother, although harsh at times, had so much common sense.  Way before things starting falling apart, she knew she had to start stockpiling food and water.  She just seemed to know what she needed to do to keep her family safe.

I could feel the characters' fear as their world seemed to shrink.  They lost pretty much all contact with the outside world, then their neighbors.  As the weather rapidly turned freezing, Miranda, her brothers, and their mother found themselves surviving in the one room of their house they could keep semi-warm.  I enjoyed the diary format of the book.  We really got to know Miranda and her emotions.  My only issue was that there were a lot of word-for-word conversations that one wouldn't expect to see in a diary.  4.5 stars

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Binding

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

The Binding
Bridget Collins
Expected publication date: January 10, 2019
In the tradition of Sarah Waters, Helene Wecker, and Jessie Burton, an atmospheric and mystery-laden historical novel set within a magical world where books are not stories but the repository of individual lives.

Imagine you could erase grief.
Imagine you could remove pain.
Imagine you could hide the darkest, most horrifying secret.

Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder—a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice among their small community but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.

For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to hand-craft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, rows upon rows of books are meticulously stored.
But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesman who use their talents for dark ends—and just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten. - from Goodreads
A book about books with magical realism?  This sounds beautiful!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

My Favorite Wanderings of 2018

Today I wanted to take a look back at the places Tom and I traveled and hiked this year.  Although it wasn't a great year for hiking, we crossed off two more states in our quest to visit all 50!

In April, we spent a couple days in Chicago and had an awesome time, even though it snowed!

We ventured over to Rutgers Gardens and Frank G. Helyar Woods.

We tried out a new hiking spot at Six Mile Run, which we've been wanting to try since we moved to our new house.

We also hiked Sourland Mountain Preserve, which was another new-to-us spot close to home.

The Morris Arboretum was a beautiful and fun place to spend a couple hours.

Lastly, we traveled to Tennessee for the first time for a family vacation in Memphis!

I'm so grateful for all of these wonderful experiences, and I can't wait to see where we go next!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Royal Reading Challenge 2019 Sign-Up and TBR

If you've spent any time at all on this blog, you've probably noticed that I LOVE stories about royalty, so when I came across the Royal Reading Challenge hosted by Adriana at She's Got Books on Her Mind, I knew I had to participate!  You can get all the details on her website, but basically the challenge boils down to any book, in any format, that has a royal theme: "Books that center around anyone with a royal title (Prince, Princess, Queen, Duke, etc.), knights, castles, kingdoms, or heroic quests."  There are 6 challenge levels:
  • Knight: 1-3 books
  • Baron or Baroness: 4-6 books
  • Earl or Countess: 7-9 books
  • Duke or Duchess: 10-12 books
  • Prince or Princess: 13- 15 books
  • King or Queen: 15+ books
Right now I'm aiming for Duke/Duchess level.  I found a good mix of genres: contemporary, historical fiction, fantasy, there's even a nonfiction title in there!  And of course, since I'm obsessed with the Tudors, they show up quite often!

What's your favorite book about royalty?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Mini-Reviews: Library Purchase Suggestions

I'm so lucky to have a great local library, which is also part of an extensive county system, so I can get practically any book I want.  On the very rare times they don't have the book I'm looking for, I can actually make purchase suggestions.  Here are some mini-reviews for two books my library recently purchased from my requests!

One Click by Andrea Mara (2018)

Psychologist and photography blogger Lauren snaps a picture of a woman on the beach in Italy.  After she posts it, she is contacted by someone demanding to know who the woman is.  Lauren's life is turned upside down when the anonymous troll begins to stalk her.

I liked that this book delved into some of the darker sides of social media, and how sometimes maybe we can share too much or how it could be used against us.  I felt for Lauren at times, because her family was so critical of her and her desire to be on social media.  To me, she sounded like a normal woman who wasn't sharing anything outside the ordinary.

I had suspicions of who was stalking Lauren and thought it could be any number of people, so Mara really did a good job of keeping me in suspense.  However, I did have some issues with the book.  When the stalker was revealed, I was surprised, but not necessarily in a good way.  I thought it was a big stretch and kind of convoluted.  Also, the writing felt stiff and stilted at times.  3.5 stars

 Ripple by Rachel Odell Howe (2018)

When Jillian is involved in a car accident, it will take five strangers to save her, each with their own story of survival.

I love stories that play with the ideas of fate and destiny, and I also love stories with a big cast of characters that, throughout the story, we learn are all connected in some way.  Ripple certainly fit that criteria.  The main character is Jillian, an elite athlete who is involved in a terrible accident on her way to the airport.  As the story progresses, we meet the people who will be integral in her making it out alive.  Through flashbacks, it is revealed that each of those people was involved in a life or death situation at some point in their lives.  Is it fate that is bringing all of them together now?

This story was a short, quick read.  The dialogue was awkward, to say the least.  The conversations and thoughts of the characters were so wordy and unreal-sounding - lots of telling, not showing.  As the book progressed, I had to suspend my disbelief so many times and honestly I was rolling my eyes a bit at all the coincidences.  BUT - this book was totally saved by the ending, where a big twist in the last couple pages had me sighing with relief.  3 stars

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Huntress

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

The Huntress
Kate Quinn
Expected publication date: February 26, 2019
From the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel, The Alice Network, comes another fascinating historical novel about a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America.

In the aftermath of war, the hunter becomes the hunted…

Bold, reckless Nina Markova grows up on the icy edge of Soviet Russia, dreaming of flight and fearing nothing. When the tide of war sweeps over her homeland, she gambles everything to join the infamous Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on Hitler’s eastern front. But when she is downed behind enemy lines and thrown across the path of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, Nina must use all her wits to survive.

British war correspondent Ian Graham has witnessed the horrors of war from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials. He abandons journalism after the war to become a Nazi hunter, yet one target eludes him: the Huntress. Fierce, disciplined Ian must join forces with brazen, cocksure Nina, the only witness to escape the Huntress alive. But a shared secret could derail their mission, unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride grows up in post WWII Boston, determined despite family opposition to become a photographer. At first delighted when her long-widowed father brings home a fiancĂ©e, Jordan grows increasingly disquieted by the soft-spoken German widow who seems to be hiding something. Armed only with her camera and her wits, Jordan delves into her new stepmother’s past and slowly realizes there are mysteries buried deep in her family. But Jordan’s search for the truth may threaten all she holds dear. - from Goodreads
Kate Quinn spoke a bit about this book at the Morristown Festival of Books, and her enthusiasm about it made me want to read it even more! I actually won a copy from Goodreads Giveaways, so I'm excited to read it soon!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is our winter TBR.  I feel like every season I make this TBR and then I hardly read any of the books on it.  So let's call this list books I may get to this winter!

Have you read any of these?  Where should I start?

Monday, December 17, 2018

Cake Flavored Books Tag

I came across this adorable book tag over on Paper Fury all about cake and books, originally from #bookstagram at #cakeflavoredbooks.  I knew I had to do it - who doesn't love cake?

Chocolate cake: a dark book you absolutely love.  I don't know that I read a ton of "dark" books, but I enjoyed this Little Mermaid retelling that didn't shy away from the gritty and emotional.

Vanilla cake: a light read.  This whole series is just light and fun and perfect for beach reading!

Red velvet: a book that gave you mixed emotions.  There were things I liked about this story, but it was hard to get over the unethical romance at the center of the book and the cheesy ending.

Cheescake: a book you would recommend to anyone.  I just love this book - it has beautiful writing, great characters, and MAGIC!

Coffee cake: a book you started but never finished.  This is just one of my recent DNFs.  I couldn't get past the ridiculous drama and pedestrian writing.

Carrot cake: a book with great writing.  This book is so beautifully written, you'll forget you're reading an end-of-the-world story.

Tiramisu: a book that left you wanting more.  I thought this book was super-cute and had a good message, but I thought the author missed a lot of opportunities to flesh out the story.

Cupcakes: a series with 4+ books.  There are a few long series that I make sure to keep up with, and Outlander is one of them.  Long books, but really worth the time!

Fruit cake: a book that wasn't what you anticipated.  I love wartime novels, but this novel was so different from what I was expecting after reading the synopsis, and unfortunately I was disappointed.

Consider yourself tagged if you'd like to do this one!

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?