Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Legendary

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

Legendary (Caraval #2)
Stephanie Garber
Expected publication date: May 29, 2018
A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister's. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval...the games have only just begun. - from Goodreads
Tella was by far the most interesting (and under-used character) in Caraval, so I'm excited to see a story from her point of view!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is our spring TBR.  Since I've been adding so much nonfiction to my TBR lately, my list has basically been exploding and I have so much to catch up on!  Here are just some of the books I'm hoping to finally get to this spring.  Any suggestions for where I should start?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Spring Bucket List

Tomorrow is the first day of spring and with it will hopefully come nicer weather!  Here are some things I want to do in the next couple months:

  • Clean up the overgrown, weed-riddled areas of our yard and possibly prepare a spot for a garden
  • Buy flowers for our planters
  • Break out our new cornhole boards and brush up on our skills
  • Host our first big get-together at the house
  • Take more walks around the neighborhood
  • Explore at least 1 new local hiking spot
  • Work on my travel wall
  • Find some new lighter/healthier recipes
  • Clean out our closets

What are you looking forward to this spring?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Review: As You Wish

As You Wish
Chelsea Sedoti
Published January 2, 2018
What if you could ask for anything- and get it?

In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.

Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself. - from Goodreads
Imagine that on your 18th birthday, you could enter a magical cave and wish for practically anything you wanted (because, rules) and you would get it.  Money, beauty, athletic prowess, a new pair of shoes - whatever.  What would you wish for?  As You Wish takes a look at a town where practically anything is possible, through the eyes of Eldon Wilkes, who is about to turn 18 and get his wish.

Eldon is not the most likable of main characters - he's kind of a jerk, used to getting his way, popular and a great football player.  Until everyone in his class starts making their wishes, and suddenly he finds himself at the back of the pack. Unfortunately, he's also dealing with his sister Ebba's accident, which has left her brain-dead.  His mother is pressuring him to use his wish for money, so they can get Ebba better care, but Eldon knows nothing will help his sister at this point.  But he still has to make a wish, so he decides to start talking to other people around town about their wishes - and the consequences.

The premise is so interesting - what may seem to be a good wish at 18 may not pan out the way you hope in 10, 15, or 50 years.  It seems like practically everyone regrets their wish.  And honestly, some of the wishes seem so unfair - there's a rule that you can't affect the world at large (i.e. you can't wish for world peace), but it doesn't prevent you from affecting the life of another individual.  Eldon's mother used her wish to gain the love of Eldon's father, who was never interested in her - now he's forced to love someone he wouldn't even have given the time of day to.

The story was more melancholy than I expected and even had some controversial topics - suicide, wishing away homosexual feelings, and religion.  I appreciated that what could have been a light-hearted book actually had a lot of depth.  Although the book was quite long, it never felt that way.  I really couldn't put it down; I wanted to know what Eldon's wish would be.  Although the main character was believable as a 17-year-old boy, I thought there was maybe a bit too much cursing, and I still have mixed feelings about the ending.

4 stars

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: On A Cold Dark Sea

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

On a Cold Dark Sea
Elizabeth Blackwell
Expected publication date: April 10, 2018

On April 15, 1912, three women climbed into Lifeboat 21 and watched in horror as the Titanic sank into the icy depths. They were strangers then…

Con artist Charlotte Digby lied her way through London and onto the Titanic. The disaster could be her chance at a new life—if she hides the truth about her past. Esme Harper, a wealthy American, mourns the end of a passionate affair and fears that everything beautiful is slipping from her grasp. And Anna Halversson, a Swedish farm girl in search of a fresh start in America, is tormented by the screams that ring out from the water. Is one of them calling her name?

Twenty years later, a sudden death brings the three women back together, forcing them to face the impossible choices they made, the inconceivable loss, and the secrets they have kept for far too long. - from Goodreads
I'm fascinated by the Titanic, so I'm excited to read this new story!

Monday, March 12, 2018

My 3 Biggest Blogging Fears - And How I Plan To Overcome Them

I love being a book blogger, but sometimes it can give me a lot of anxiety!  Here are my three biggest blogging fears and how I plan to overcome them.

Fear #1: I'll run out of ideas
I love writing discussion posts and lists of recommendations, but I worry that one day I'll run out of ideas for original content.  We all know it's not easy coming up with ideas for posts.  I was going through this a bit in January - although I keep a list of potential ideas, I was really uninspired and I didn't have blog posts planned out far in advance like I normally do.

The Plan: 
Try not to do so much.  I don't need to have something original all the time, and I shouldn't put so much pressure on myself.  If I'm feeling a creative lull, it's okay to take a break once in awhile.  Plus, there are so many resources out there to take advantage of - I even have a whole board on Pinterest devoted to blogging resources.  I can take the time to go through them and find some inspiration.

Fear #2: People will stop reading
This kind of goes along with Fear #1 - I worry that if my content isn't appealing enough, people will stop reading my blog.  When I started this blog, I didn't expect that many people would even read it, and because I'll most likely never be a "big" blog, I appreciate all the readers I've gotten to this point.  I guess I have a fear of failure, that this hobby I work so hard on will flop.

The Plan:
Stop obsessing over my stats so much.  I know - easier said than done!  Even if I'm reaching only one person, that's still something.  Plus, there are ways to reach more potential readers - promote my posts more, better utilize social media, etc.  And I need to remind myself that the book blogging community is simply amazing and totally supportive.

Fear #3: I will offend someone
Part of me is afraid that I will state an unpopular opinion or dislike a hyped book, and someone will get offended by it.  A big argument/blow-up may ensue.  I just want everyone who reads to have a good time - I don't want to upset anyone!

The Plan:
There are two ways I can deal with this: write completely PC content all the time or write what I want and not worry so much about the consequences.  I would rather be able to give my opinion on things; this is my blog, after all, and I should feel free to say what I want (as long as it's respectful).  I need to remind myself that I'm never going to be able to please everyone all the time and that in general, there will always be someone who disagrees with me.  It's okay to be controversial; it's not okay to be disrespectful.

What are some of your blogging fears?  How do you deal with them?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Mini-Reviews: Snow White Retellings

The Shadow Queen (Ravenspire #1) by C.J. Redwine (2016)

Princess Lorelai has been in hiding since her stepmother Irina used her magic to gain control of the kingdom of Ravenspire, but after years of watching Irina destroy the land and people, Lorelai knows it's time to make her move and take back her crown.  Irina, though, has enlisted Kol, newly-crowned king of Eldr, to hunt down Lorelai in exchange for her help in defeating the ogres destroying his own kingdom.

I was expecting this story to be a dark retelling of the Snow White tale, but unfortunately it was bland and unoriginal.  Lorelai is such a flat character, I found myself not really caring if she succeeded or not.  The huntsman aspect of the story is wasted, because Kol allies with Lorelai almost as soon as Irina unleashes him.  Many of the plot points felt like they were pulled from other sources, tv shows, and movies.  The writing isn't bad, but it is repetitive - how many times can an author use the word "slammed" in one book?

One thing that redeems this book a bit is Irina - I much preferred the chapters from her POV than from Lorelai's.  She's wicked in the best ways and just plain more interesting than the other characters.  I could have used more of her character!  2.5 stars

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (2017)

A character-driven retelling of the classic Snow White story.  Princess Lynet has always admired her stepmother Mira, but when her father names Lynet as the new queen of the southern territories, the relationship between the two women is fractured.

The story moves back and forth between the points of view of Lynet and Mina, including flashbacks to earlier in Mina's life, allowing the reader to truly get to know each character.  Magic is infused in the story through Mina's father, who not only replaced his daughter's dying heart with a glass one, but created Lynet out of snow at her own father's command.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mina's character; she believes she is incapable of loving anything or being loved, yet there are moments in her life that would prove otherwise.  I liked that she wasn't the typical villainous stepmother; in fact, I don't think she was really a villain at all.  Her relationship with Lynet is complicated, but at the heart of it is love.  And as much as this story is about these two women, much can be said for the theme of father-daughter relationships, because both Mina and Lynet are treated so poorly by their controlling fathers.

The story moves extremely slowly and there isn't a lot of action, but those readers looking for a more elevated version of the Snow White tale won't be disappointed.  4 stars

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: I Was Anastasia

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

I Was Anastasia
Ariel Lawhorn
Expected publication date: March 27, 2018
Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.

Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920 A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened. - from Goodreads

Monday, March 5, 2018

5 Windy City Reads

We're planning a trip to Chicago this year, so I was inspired to create a list of some great books set in the Windy City!



Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: A sci-fi adventure with a crazy plot twist - check out my review here.

The Best Kind of Magic by Crystal Cestari: Contemporary YA story with a bit of magical realism.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: A nonfiction book about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and a serial killer who stalked the city.

Life After by Katie Ganshert: Contemporary story about a woman's survivor's guilt after a train bombing.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: An unconventional love story between Clare, an artist, and Henry, a reluctant time traveler.

What are some of your favorite books set in Chicago?

Friday, March 2, 2018

"Sisters First": What It's Like To Be A Twin

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life
Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush
Published October 24, 2017
Born into a political dynasty, Jenna and Barbara Bush grew up in the public eye. As small children, they watched their grandfather become president; just twelve years later they stood by their father's side when he took the same oath. They spent their college years being trailed by the Secret Service and chased by the paparazzi, with every teenage mistake making national headlines. But the tabloids didn't tell the whole story of these two young women forging their own identities under extraordinary circumstances. In this book they take readers on a revealing, thoughtful, and deeply personal tour behind the scenes of their lives, with never-before-told stories about their family, their adventures, their loves and losses, and the special sisterly bond that fulfills them. - from Goodreads
I'm not a political person, but I was really looking forward to reading this book.  In Sisters First, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush take turns writing short essays about memories from their lives.

I found there to be a distinct difference in their writing.  Barbara's essays were more thoughtful and contemplative, such as her feelings about a high school classmate's suicide and some of her college experiences.  Jenna's were more straightforward and familiar, such as when she talks about meeting her now-husband.

The book focused on more than just the relationship between Jenna and Barbara; there were many stories about their entire family.  I love the close bonds they have with their parents and grandparents, and you can really tell that family is of utmost importance to all of them.  They tell stories of summer vacations and growing up, their memories of the White House, and how they started their careers.  I feel like I got to know the whole family a lot better.

Some of the stories were intensely personal, such as when they talk about their maternal grandfather's decline due to Alzheimer's.  Jenna and Barbara don't shy away from sad or even embarrassing stories, but most of the essays were happy.  Sometimes it felt a little too saccharine, like everyone was just a little too good to be true.

I'll admit, I mostly wanted to read this book because of the fact that Jenna and Barbara are twins.  I have a twin sister, too, so I was eager to see how we could relate to these women, despite the fact that we live wildly different lives.  Twins seems to have this bond that's like no other.  I thought the book would have more focus on their sisterly relationship.  Of course, there are a lot of shared memories, but many individual ones are presented.

However, there were a few instances where the twin bond shone through.  Early in the book, Jenna remarks that to most people, she and Barbara weren't individuals, but a constant pair.  Similarly, my sister and I are most often referred to as "the girls."  But it also meant that we all had a built-in best friend from the moment we were born.  There's nothing like having a person know exactly what you're going through in any stage of life because they're going through the same thing.  Jenna also discusses how she and Barbara are different, especially in the area of academics, with Barbara being much better at math then her - sounds just like Michele and I!  But there also comes a time when twins realize that they need to forge separate identities, no matter how similar they are.  For Barbara, it was embracing her love of travel by studying in Rome during high school; for my sister and I, it was attending different colleges.

4 stars

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Month in Review: February 2018

February was such a busy month for us!  Here are some of the highlights:
  • We celebrated my mom's 60th birthday with a bunch of fun activities - a paint and sip class, some charity work with Project Linus, and a dinner out with the family.  For her gift, we put together a photo album which contained some fun photos from our childhood and more recent ones with her grandkids, interspersed with 60 memories curated by my siblings and me.  It was a big hit!
  • We went to the movies twice: Maze Runner: The Death Cure and Black Panther.
  • We celebrated a low-key Valentine's Day at home with takeout and Netflix.
  • Tom and I visited the Book Art: A Novel Idea exhibit at the Morris Museum.  The exhibit wasn't huge, but it was pretty cool to see what the artists had done with books that were going to be recycled.  Here are a few photos from the exhibit:

The Books:

Sisters First (review to come) // Glitter // The Shadow Queen (review to come) // As You Wish (review to come)


Girls Made of Snow and Glass (review to come) // Water for Elephants // Ask An Astronaut (review to come) // The Space Between the Stars (review to come)

The Posts and Reviews:
The Posts I Loved:
Did you do anything fun in February?  What was your favorite book of the month?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Husband Hour

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

The Husband Hour
Jamie Brenner
Expected publication date: April 24, 2018
When a young widow's reclusive life in a charming beach town is interrupted by a surprise visitor, she is forced to reckon with dark secrets about her family, her late husband, and the past she tried to leave behind.
Lauren Adelman and her high school sweetheart, Rory Kincaid, are a golden couple. They marry just out of college as Rory, a star hockey player, earns a spot in the NHL. Their future could not look brighter when Rory shocks everyone-Lauren most of all-by enlisting in the U.S. Army. When Rory dies in combat, Lauren is left devastated, alone, and under unbearable public scrutiny.

Seeking peace and solitude, Lauren retreats to her family's old beach house on the Jersey Shore. But this summer she's forced to share the house with her overbearing mother and competitive sister. Worse, a stranger making a documentary about Rory tracks her down and persuades her to give him just an hour of her time.

One hour with filmmaker Matt Brio turns into a summer of revelations, surprises, and upheaval. As the days grow shorter and her grief changes shape, Lauren begins to understand the past-and to welcome the future. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Could Reread Over And Over And Over...

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is books I could reread forever.  I wrote a post awhile ago about why I love to reread, so this topic was perfect for me!  Here are some stories I keep going back to:

What are some of your favorite books?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Why I Don't Really Talk About My Blog in Real Life

Last year, Lindsey over at Lindsey Reads had a really thoughtful discussion post about the pros and cons of telling people about your blog.  It's a topic that had also been on my mind for awhile, so I wanted to put down my thoughts on the issue, as well.

Do I tell people about my blog and talk about it in my "real" life?  Yes and no.  Mostly no.

Before I started my blog, I only told two people that I was even considering it: my sister and my husband.  Now that I've been blogging for almost two years, there aren't that many more people that know about it among my family and friends.  My parents read it occasionally; my brother and his wife know, but I don't know if they actually ever check it out. 

I feel like I talk about the blog quite a bit, but my sister has become the (lucky or unlucky?) recipient of almost all my emails and phone calls about it.  She's been really great to brainstorm ideas with or help me proofread upcoming posts (one of these days, I will convince her to start her own blog!).

So far, blogging has been a really wonderful experience and I'm proud of the things I've written and what I've been able to put together.  Logically, I should want others to know about this hobby of mine that has actually become a big part of my life.  So, why don't I talk about my blog with more people or promote my posts on my personal Facebook page?

If I'm going to be really honest, I think there is a little bit of a feeling of embarrassment.  I think if I started telling people, they'd be like, "You do what?"  There are so many blogs out there on every topic imaginable; it's not uncommon for people to have a blog, but for some reason, I think my friends and family might think it's weird for me to have one?  Like, I don't even text on my phone, yet I've created this whole corner of the internet for myself?  And even though it's a public blog and part of the reason I started it was to join this amazing community, it still feels a bit personal.  Even if I'm just writing a book review, it makes me nervous to think that someone I know and see often is reading my words and maybe even judging me for my thoughts.  For some reason, it's less nerve-wracking to have someone I don't know offline reading my posts. 

I think a lot of my family and friends just wouldn't be interested in it.  I know some of them read often, but I don't think it's on the scale and with the passion that I have for it.  I don't really want to be talking about something that no one cares about.  Somehow it would hurt less to keep it to myself than to tell others and not get a lot of support.

Other book bloggers just get it - we started our blogs for a lot of the same reasons; we have the same interests; we understand each other.  Whether we're super excited about an upcoming release or gutted when a book doesn't live up to expectations, we all know how that feels.  I love that I've been able to join this community and develop a friendship with other bloggers.  I have all of you guys - most of the time I don't even feel a need to talk about my blog at work or with friends.

So, this rambled a bit!  Am I overthinking this?  Should I tell my friends and family about my blog?  Do you talk about your blog in "real life" or do you keep it private?

Friday, February 23, 2018

5 Reasons Why You'll Love "Something Like Happy"

Something Like Happy
Eva Woods
Published September 5, 2017
“It's simple, really. You're just meant to do one thing every day that makes you happy. Could be little things. Could be big. In fact, we're doing one right now…”

Annie Hebden is stuck. Stuck in her boring job, with her irritating roommate, in a life no thirty-five-year-old would want. But deep down, Annie is still mourning the terrible loss that tore a hole through the perfect existence she'd once taken for granted—and hiding away is safer than remembering what used to be. Until she meets the eccentric Polly Leonard.

Bright, bubbly, intrusive Polly is everything Annie doesn't want in a friend. But Polly is determined to finally wake Annie up to life. Because if recent events have taught Polly anything, it's that your time is too short to waste a single day—which is why she wants Annie to join her on a mission…

One hundred days. One hundred new ways to be happy. Annie's convinced it's impossible, but so is saying no to Polly. And on an unforgettable journey that will force her to open herself to new experiences—and perhaps even new love with the unlikeliest of men—Annie will slowly begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, there's still joy to be found in the world. But then it becomes clear that Polly's about to need her new friend more than ever…and Annie will have to decide once and for all whether letting others in is a risk worth taking. - from Goodreads
Something Like Happy is the story of Annie Hebden and how her life changes when she meets the terminally ill Polly Leonard.  Here are five reasons why I think you'll enjoy this one:

  1. You'll root for Annie.  When we first meet Annie, she's at a low point in her life and has been there for awhile.  She has a crappy job, a crappy apartment, and her mother has early onset Alzheimer's.  Her husband left her for her best friend, and she also went through the terrible loss of her son.  Even though she has every reason in the world to be unhappy, I still wanted her to find joy again.
  2. You'll fall in love with Polly.  Diagnosed with a brain tumor, Polly doesn't have much time left.  Although she has sad moments, for the most part she is lively and vivacious, not wanting to waste a minute of her remaining days - and she wants the same for Annie.  I think we can all relate to her desire to do something important with her life and leave a positive mark on the world.
  3. You'll laugh AND cry.  The characters all have their snarky moments, and there were some funny one-liners in there.  But you all know I love a book that makes me cry, and this one definitely did.  I was basically in tears for the last 50 pages of the book - both happy and sad ones.
  4. You might be inspired to try your own 100 Happy Days Challenge.  Eva Woods took inspiration from a real-life challenge for her book.  Polly believes she has about 3 months left to live, so she embarks on this challenge to do one happy thing every day for 100 days.  She recruits new friend, Annie, to help her find joy in living again.  I love that the title of each chapter reflected what the characters were doing, but they can also act as suggestions for things we could all try, like "have a makeover" and "go outside."
  5. You won't want to stop reading.  Woods' writing is readable and approachable.  I found myself swept up in the story, wanting to see what Polly would do next.  I felt invested in all the characters, even the secondary ones.  Even though the story is sad at times, I still felt hope.
Although the story isn't terribly original and there was at least one secondary plotline that I felt was unnecessary, there was still so much to love about this book.  If you're looking for an emotional contemporary novel, try this one out.  4 stars

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Elizas

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

The Elizas
Saras Shepard
Expected publication date: April 17, 2018
When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

TV Shows I'm Obsessed With Lately #5

Hmm, am I watching TOO much TV lately?  Here are some more shows I've been watching...

Tyra. Is. Back.  I used to watch America's Next Top Model religiously, but I haven't seen it in so long!  I decided to try it out again this cycle, with Tyra Banks returning after leaving for a year.  The drama, the cattiness, the photos - I'm obsessed.

Future Man is a comedy about a janitor who is recruited by two resistance fighters from the future to help save the world.  If you're not easily offended, you'll probably love this one, too - it's raunchy, it's outrageous, but it's so fun!  And it stars Josh Hutcherson and Eliza Coupe, both of whom I love.

So, 9-1-1 doesn't have the most original premise (it focuses on the EMTs, police officers, and firefighters of Los Angeles), but it's so good and has a great cast.  I especially love Connie Britton as a 9-1-1 operator who is also dealing with a mother with early onset Alzheimer's.

Have you seen any of these?  What are you watching lately?

Monday, February 19, 2018

5 Historical Fiction Books About First Ladies

It's Presidents Day in the United States, and I thought it would be fun to change things up a bit and put together a list of historical fiction novels about the women beside the men, the First Ladies! All blurbs are from Goodreads.

 Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini (2013)

In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world. 

The Secret Letters of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy by Wendy Leigh (2003)

The Secret Letters is a thrilling, compulsive novel with a unique premise: What if Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy---the two most iconic women of our time---had met and begun a secret correspondence?

A compelling page-turner set against the glittering backdrop of Hollywood and Washington during the 1950s and 1960s, The Secret Letters presents Marilyn and Jackie as you have never seen them before. As the story unfolds, we discover the two legends, the wife and the mistress, as friends and enemies, both in love with the same man---Jack Kennedy.

Author Wendy Leigh has created a daring concept and delivers it in fascinating detail. Each letter is rich with factual research on both women, the turbulent era in which they lived and loved, and the people who touched their lives.

Dolley by Rita Mae Brown (1994)

She had the president's ear and the nation's heart.

She's the wife of the fourth president of the United States; a spirited charmer who adores parties, the latest French fashions, and the tender, brilliant man who is her husband. But while many love her, few suspect how complex Dolley Madison really is.

Only in the pages of her diary—as imagined by novelist Rita Mae Brown—can Dolley fully reveal herself. And there we discover the real first lady—impulsive, courageous, and wise—as she faces her harshest trial: in 1814, the United States is once more at war with mighty Britain, and her beloved James is the most hated man in America.

From the White House receptions she gaily presides over to her wild escape from a Washington under siege, Dolley gives us a legend, made warmly human. For there has never been a first lady so testedèor, one who came through the fire so brilliantly.

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini (2015)

In 1844, Missouri belle Julia Dent met dazzling horseman Lieutenant Ulysses S Grant. Four years passed before their parents permitted them to wed, and the groom’s abolitionist family refused to attend the ceremony.

Since childhood, Julia owned as a slave another Julia, known as Jule. Jule guarded her mistress’s closely held twin secrets: She had perilously poor vision but was gifted with prophetic sight. So it was that Jule became Julia’s eyes to the world.
And what a world it was, marked by gathering clouds of war. The Grants vowed never to be separated, but as Ulysses rose through the ranks—becoming general in chief of the Union Army—so did the stakes of their pact. During the war, Julia would travel, often in the company of Jule and the four Grant children, facing unreliable transportation and certain danger to be at her husband’s side.

Yet Julia and Jule saw two different wars. While Julia spoke out for women—Union and Confederate—she continued to hold Jule as a slave behind Union lines. Upon the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Jule claimed her freedom and rose to prominence as a businesswoman in her own right, taking the honorary title Madame. The two women’s paths continued to cross throughout the Grants’ White House years in Washington, DC, and later in New York City, the site of Grant’s Tomb.

Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert (2016)

When AP political reporter Lorena Hickok—Hick—is assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1932 campaign, the two women become deeply involved. Their relationship begins with mutual romantic passion, matures through stormy periods of enforced separation and competing interests, and warms into an enduring, encompassing friendship documented by 3300 letters.

Set during the chaotic years of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War, Loving Eleanor reveals Eleanor Roosevelt as a complex, contradictory, and entirely human woman who is pulled in many directions by her obligations to her husband and family and her role as the nation's First Lady. Hick is revealed as an accomplished journalist, who, at the pinnacle of her career, gives it all up for the woman she loves. Then, as Eleanor is transformed into Eleanor Everywhere, First Lady of the World, Hick must create her own independent, productive life. Loving Eleanor is a profoundly moving novel that illuminates a relationship we are seldom privileged to see, celebrating the depth and durability of women's love.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Review: Miss You

Miss You
Kate Eberlen
Published April 4, 2017 (originally published 2016)
Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven't met properly yet. And perhaps they never will . . .

Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can't get it out of her head, even though she's in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Her life is about to change forever - but not in the way she expects.

Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence. Their lives have already changed suddenly and dramatically. Gus tries to be a dutiful son, but longs to escape and discover what sort of person he is going to be.

For one day, the paths of an eighteen-year-old girl and boy criss-cross before they each return to England.

Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and fate, there's no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly . . . or is there? - from Goodreads
Miss You is the tale of Tess and Gus, but it's also a story about missed connections, family, and identity.

The approach to this story is unique.  This isn't a second-chance romance, it's not "the one that got away."  It's the stories of two people and how they finally connect with each other, after random meetings and near-misses over a period of 16 years.  The reader sees everything leading up to the beginning of their relationship and how they got to that point, with the twist that they've actually come across each other before.  It's an interesting look at fate and makes you wonder if all the people you come across on a daily basis will later have some greater meaning in your life.

The book switches back and forth between the points of view of Tess and Gus.  It's basically two stories in one, and each was fairly interesting enough that it could have been a stand-alone book.  Tess and Gus first cross paths in Florence, Italy, seeing each other at a church and later on the street.  However, they don't really talk and each returns to their own lives.  Gus goes on to medical school, while Tess' plans for college are put on hold after her mother passes away, leaving Tess to take care of her younger sister, Hope (their father is basically useless).

One thing I enjoyed a lot was seeing the parallels between their lives.  Both Tess and Gus are dealing with grief (Tess with the loss of her mother and Gus with the loss of his older brother).  Neither are living the lives they want to.  Tess feels responsible for her sister, especially after she's diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, and I felt for her.  She made so many sacrifices for her family.  Gus, on the other hand, I had less sympathy for.  He's kind of awkward and timid, afraid to tell his parents that he doesn't really want to go medical school, yet he goes through with it all anyway.  He's like a bystander in every area of his life.  Both Tess and Gus are in various relationships that are each problematic in their own way.  Neither are particularly happy, which led to a somewhat melancholy feel over the whole book.

I did have a couple issues with the book.  I felt there was far too much infidelity, in both the stories.  It was a little disappointing that the plot hinged on cheating.  Also, I wasn't crazy about the ending.  It went on a bit too long and I didn't think the characters acted consistently with the rest of the story.  A much simpler ending would have gone a long way.

3.5 stars

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Try It, You Might Like It #8: Science

"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!

Wow, I haven't done one of these in forever!  Over Christmas, I was talking to my sister and brother-in-law about books and how I was looking for something new and different to read.  My BIL suggested Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson (2017).

I was a bit leery.  Science fiction is one thing, but actual science?  And astrophysics at that?  Science and math were not my best subjects in school (I only passed calculus by reading over my twin sister's shoulder).  I was worried that this book would just make me feel stupid, but my BIL assured me it would not.  Deciding to trust him on this, I took a chance on it - and I'm so glad I did!

In Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Tyson has compiled a short book touching on the major areas of his field.  I wouldn't say this book "dumbs down" the science - there were definitely sections I could have used more background or definitions - but it does give an overview on various subjects explained in a more approachable way, like bringing in comparisons to dancing or cooking, for instance.  Tyson's dry humor kept the book from getting too textbook-y and made me chuckle a few times (like when he calls dark matter our "frenemy").

I have to admit, the first couple chapters were not my cup of tea.  He starts out with some of the most abstract topics, like dark matter and dark energy.  I was more than a little confused.  But as the book went on, I became more and more interested.  Tyson talks about different types of telescopes; why the sphere is the most common shape found in the universe; and the various types of matter found in our own galaxy.  I even started reading some of it out loud to my husband.

Some of the things in the book just blew my mind; these definitely aren't topics I think about on a daily basis - how the building blocks of the universe are smaller than you can even imagine; the sheer size, scale, and even age of our own galaxy, let alone the universe; how science has come forward in leaps and bounds in such a short period of time.  It's just astonishing the things we know now, compared to even 10 years ago, and new discoveries are being made all the time.  Tyson freely admits that there are so many things we still don't understand, and his last chapter reflecting on the role science plays in society is particularly inspiring.

I may have said before that I'm not a science person, but this is one book I would gladly read again and again.