Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Other Side of Lost

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

The Other Side of Lost
Jessi Kirby
Expected publication date: August 7, 2018
Girl Online meets Wild in this emotionally charged story of girl who takes to the wilderness to rediscover herself and escape the superficial persona she created on social media.

Mari Turner’s life is perfect. That is, at least to her thousands of followers who have helped her become an internet starlet. But when she breaks down and posts a video confessing she’s been living a lie—that she isn’t the happy, in-love, inspirational online personality she’s been trying so hard to portray—it goes viral and she receives major backlash. To get away from it all, she makes an impulsive decision: to hike the entire John Muir trail. Mari and her late cousin, Bri, were supposed to do it together, to celebrate their shared eighteenth birthday. But that was before Mari got so wrapped up in her online world that she shut anyone out who questioned its worth—like Bri.

With Bri’s boots and trail diary, a heart full of regret, and a group of strangers that she meets along the way, Mari tries to navigate the difficult terrain of the hike. But the true challenge lies within, as she searches for the way back to the girl she fears may be too lost to find: herself. - from Goodreads
I think we can all relate to trying to portray the perfect life on social media, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Mari recovers and grows.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: My Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is books to read by the pool or at the beach, or in my case, just my plain old summer TBR!  Here are just some of the books I hope to get to this summer:

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

Book Haul #1

Guys, this is my first book haul post!  I've really cut down on the number of books I've been buying in recent years, so I don't normally have a lot to show, but the Project Linus chapter we work with was doing a Barnes & Noble fundraiser a few weeks ago, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to finally use some of my gift cards and support one of my favorite charities at the same time!



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

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review: Hotel on Shadow Lake

Hotel on Shadow Lake
Daniela Tully
Published April 10, 2018
When Maya was a girl in Germany, her grandmother was everything to her: teller of magical fairy tales, surrogate mother, best friend. Then, shortly after Maya’s sixteenth birthday, her grandmother disappeared without a trace, leaving Maya with only questions to fill the void.

Twenty-seven years later, her grandmother’s body is found in a place she had no connection to: the Montgomery Resort in upstate New York. How did she get there? Why had she come? Desperate for answers, Maya leaves her life in Germany behind and travels to America, where she is drawn to the powerful family that owns the hotel and seemingly the rest of the town.

Soon Maya is unraveling secrets that go back decades, from 1910s New York to 1930s Germany and beyond. But when she begins to find herself spinning her own lies in order to uncover the circumstances surrounding her grandmother’s death, she must decide whether her life and a chance at true love are worth risking for the truth. - from Goodreads
Maya's grandmother Martha disappears from Germany soon after Maya leaves for a trip to the United States.  Twenty-seven years later, out of the blue, Martha's body is found in upstate New York, near the Montgomery Resort.  Maya travels to the hotel to find out what happened to her grandmother and why she was found in this place.

Based on stories from the author's grandmother's life, Hotel on Shadow Lake is part mystery, part love story, and part family drama.  The story is told from the third-person POV of three main characters, and each had a slightly different feel.  When we first meet Martha, it is in late 1930s Germany, as the Nazi party is coming to power.  Martha is appalled by what is already happening in Germany, but her brother Wolfgang is an ardent supporter.  Then, the story switches to Maya's POV; while the writing in Martha's section felt sparse and almost utilitarian, Maya's section has a bit more heart and emotion.  There is a third main character, but I don't want to give too much of the story away (although I did figure out the twist pretty early on)!

When Maya goes to the Montgomery Resort to find out what ties her grandmother had to the hotel and the family that ran it, we find out that her grandmother was murdered, many years ago.  At times the story felt a bit over-dramatic, like the author was trying for a creepy feel, but it didn't really work.  Maya didn't always come across as the most competent character, either.

Weaved throughout the story are also a fairy tale that Martha told Maya as a child, some letters, and a gossipy history of the Montgomery family.  These elements helped add depth to the story, although sometimes it was a bit confusing trying to keep all the various generations of Montgomerys straight.  The dialogue at times felt stilted, but the descriptions of upstate New York and the hotel were beautiful and made me want to visit.  I liked the way the dual timelines came together, as well.  Overall, I enjoyed the story, but it didn't make a huge impression on me.

3.5 stars

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Masterpiece

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

The Masterpiece
Fiona Davis
Expected publication date: August 7, 2018
For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.

For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public's disdain for a "woman artist." Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded--even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter--Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they'll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay's life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece--an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931. - from Goodreads
I love the book's focus on a historic NYC landmark!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Guest Blogger: Literary Baby Names

Today I am so happy to have my sister Michele as a guest blogger - I thought it would be fun for her to share the story of how she and her husband came up with their daughter's name!

Naming your new baby is one of the most important and nerve-wracking decisions of early parenthood. Strong contenders must work for a toddler and for your future lawyer/doctor/computer engineer. You may want something unique, but you don’t want family and friends to say “What were they thinking?” behind your back. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and it probably won’t surprise readers of this blog to know that ours came from literature. 

When we found out we were expecting a baby girl, we put our thinking caps on. My husband wanted something a little different, so we scoured baby name sites. We could not agree on anything!  One weekend we were watching a Harry Potter movie marathon on TV. As a joke, I suggested the name Luna to my husband, since he was always making comments about how Luna Lovegood is the character he would most like to be friends with.  

To my chagrin, he loved it.  At first, I was worried it was a little too different and that people would think it was weird.  However, when I thought about the character who inspired it, I began to fall in love. Luna Lovegood is such an amazing character in the Harry Potter books.  She is quirky and dreamy, but also brave, confident, loyal, and intelligent. These are all qualities that I hope my Luna exhibits one day.  
Let the Scarletts, Atticus’s and Lunas of the world unite! Do you know anyone who has drawn inspiration from literature to name their little one?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review: A Lady's Guide to Selling Out

A Lady's Guide to Selling Out
Sally Franson
Published April 10, 2018
A brilliant young woman navigates a tricky twenty-first-century career—and the trickier question of who she wants to be—in this savagely wise debut novel in the tradition of The Devil Wears Prada.        
Casey Pendergast is losing her way. Once a book-loving English major, Casey lands a job at a top ad agency that highly values her ability to tell a good story. Her best friend thinks she’s a sellout, but Casey tells herself that she’s just paying the bills—and she can’t help that she has champagne taste.

When her hard-to-please boss assigns her to a top-secret campaign that pairs literary authors with corporations hungry for upmarket cachet, Casey is both excited and skeptical. But as she crisscrosses America, wooing her former idols, she’s shocked at how quickly they compromise their integrity: A short-story writer leaves academia to craft campaigns for a plus-size clothing chain, a reclusive nature writer signs away her life’s work to a manufacturer of granola bars.

When she falls in love with one of her authors, Casey can no longer ignore her own nagging doubts about the human cost of her success. By the time the year’s biggest book festival rolls around in Las Vegas, it will take every ounce of Casey’s moxie to undo the damage—and, hopefully, save her own soul.

Told in an unforgettable voice, with razor-sharp observations about everything from feminism to pop culture to social media, A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out is the story of a young woman untangling the contradictions of our era and trying to escape the rat race—by any means necessary. - from Goodreads
I have to admit, although I was interested by the blurb, the cover is really what drew me to this book.  I loved the hot pink and the fun typography.  Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to save this book for me.

Casey is a top performer at an advertising agency when her boss approaches her to work on a new project: recruiting authors and writers to become spokespeople and content creators for companies and brands in need of some good PR or new ideas.  The authors generally sign on rather quickly, but Casey begins to feel uncomfortable with the campaigns, worrying that these literary idols of hers are "selling out."  Combined with a fragile romance with one of her recruits and a fracture in the relationship with her best friend, Casey reaches her breaking point.

I had some major issues with this book:
  • Honestly, I don't think I got the gist of the book.  We see celebrities in car commercials and social media influencers with sponsored posts all the time, so I didn't quite get why it was considered "selling out" for writers to do the same thing.  It's inferred in the book that authors are an untapped market in this regard and that they are often awkward loners addicted to their craft who wouldn't stoop so low - but anyone can be bought if the price is right.  But to me, all of the writers Casey approached are adults, who knowingly entered these contracts and often for very good reasons - to get money to help an ill loved one, to start a charitable fund, or even just fund their own retirement.  I don't think they were compromising their integrity by posting about pens, granola bars, or tracksuits, just as I don't think Casey was "selling out" by working in advertising - I mean, wouldn't her English degree be an asset in a job where words are paramount?  It just didn't seem like a big deal to me; none of the products or brands were embarrassing, and if you could easily make some money that might make your life a little more comfortable or give you the freedom to do things like write more, why wouldn't you?
  • Casey's friend Susan was basically just a big stereotype - she's an aspiring author who tries way too hard to show that she doesn't approve of Casey's job, or the "establishment," or whatever.  She's always low on money and her apartment is a wreck because... she's an artist?
  • There were three instances of sexual assault/harassment, including one that the crux of the story relies on.  It was infuriating to see how everything was turned around on Casey and the slut-shaming and even death threats that followed.
  • The book felt very scattered.  Sometimes it felt like the main character was going off on tangents that took me out of the story.  I feel like the author was trying to make some commentary on artistic integrity and finding one's identity (seems to be a popular thing these days), but it didn't feel like it came together.
But, there were some things I liked:
  • The book felt thoroughly modern, from the rampant use of social media to (very unfortunately) the sexual harassment issues.
  • Casey was often very relatable.  She's in her late twenties, working at a job she's really good at but maybe doesn't think is her dream job.  She's always seeking someone's approval and has jealousy issues.  She was over-the-top at times, but I could understand her.
  • These characters loved to read!  Casey and Susan constantly share book recommendations and their heroes are authors.  It was really nice to see characters who enjoy books and reading.
2.5 stars

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Summer Wives

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

The Summer Wives
Beatriz Williams
Expected publication date: July 3, 2018
New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—an electrifying postwar fable of love, class, power, and redemption set among the inhabitants of an island off the New England coast . . .
In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island as a schoolgirl from the margins of high society, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda’s catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.
But beneath the island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans: the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse with his mysterious wife. In summer, Joseph helps his father in the lobster boats, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph’s enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and as the summer winds to its end, Miranda’s caught in a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the island for nearly two decades.
Now, in the landmark summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same—determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naïve teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice for the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island. -from Amazon
Beatriz Williams is one of my favorite authors; she really captures a setting so well, so I can't wait to see what she does in this new book!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Quotables #9

Why it speaks to me: I love the spirit of volunteerism that this quote speaks to.  It doesn't matter if your efforts don't amount to huge changes - every little bit helps.  And it's better to at least try than do nothing at all.

Why it speaks to me: Sometimes it is easier for me to interact with people online than in the real world!  This quote is definitely for the shy and introverted among us.

Why it speaks to me: I love the confidence in this quote, and it definitely places the impetus on ourselves to be the person we want to be, instead of just letting things happen to us.  It puts us in charge of our own destiny.  I like the idea that we can change things about ourselves and not just settle because "that's the way I am."

Which of these is your favorite?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Month in Review: May 2018

Compared to April, May was a pretty quiet month around here.  We did a LOT of yard work, and now I'm obsessed with trying to keep my potted plants alive.  We saw Deadpool 2 and loved it; we also watched The Week Of on Netflix, which is a comedy about the week leading up to a wedding and stars Adam Sandler.  People like to knock Adam Sandler, but for some reason, I seem to love all of his movies!  Speaking of weddings, I got up early and watched the royal wedding; while I wasn't crazy about Meghan Markle's dress, I loved all the flowers (especially the fact that Harry picked flowers for her bouquet himself!) and the weather looked beautiful.  We had a big BBQ on Memorial Day, and everyone had a great time - we also had our first houseguest when my SIL stayed over during her visit to NJ.

The Books
The Posts and Reviews

The Posts I Loved

Did you watch the royal wedding?  What was your favorite book of the month?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Backlist Mini-Reviews: Little Mermaid Retellings

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon (2011)

A retelling of the classic Little Mermaid story that stays very close to the original fairytale, Mermaid is the story of Lenia, who rescues Prince Christopher from his sinking ship.  She leaves him in the care of Princess Margrethe, who she believes to be a nun at a nearby convent.  Margrethe and Christopher's kingdoms are at war, but she believes she can heal the rift by marrying him.  However, Lenia also goes to great lengths to get back to the man she rescued and has fallen in love with.

I didn't expect that this "retelling" would be so close to the original classic fairytale; there were only a few slight changes.  However, I think those changes were enough to make it feel new.  The story had a moody and gothic feel, which I loved; this wasn't the happy, music-filled Disney story from my childhood (although I love that one, too!).  It didn't shy away from pain and sadness.

Although I didn't really care for the prince, I enjoyed the relationship between Margrethe and Lenia.  I was rooting for both of them, although I didn't know how they could both "win" - they were rivals, but there was no villain here.  Lenia was fighting for her life and salvation, and Margrethe was fighting to save the people of her kingdom.  4 stars

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler (2015)

After an accident in her native Tobago leaves her without a voice, Elyse flees to Oregon with friends.  She spends the summer falling in love with Christian and trying to recover from her accident.

I think this is going to be a case of "it's me, not you."  This book has such good reviews on Goodreads, so I was excited to read it, but unfortunately I wasn't wowed by it.  The writing got very poetic and lyrical at times, which isn't my favorite kind of writing.  The pacing felt very slow, and the book felt so long.  It didn't seem like a whole lot happened for the page count.  I couldn't really get behind Christian as a character; although we are told many times he is a player, when he meets Elyse he seems to fall for her and become devoted very quickly, so those things seemed at odds.  Elyse's accident is teased throughout the whole book, and we finally find out what happened near the very end.  I wish we had found out sooner, especially since it involved her twin sister and was the reason she left the island.  The payoff wasn't enough.

However, I did like Elyse's growth throughout the book.  Her accident caused her to become very withdrawn, but she slowly realized that even though she lost her voice, she didn't have to lose herself.  She comes out of her shell as the book goes on.  I also liked her girlfriends; they seemed very fun and supportive.  The small-town Oregon setting was so lovely and atmospheric, and it made me want to visit this little beach community.  3 stars

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Playing With Matches

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

Playing With Matches
Hannah Orenstein
Expected publication date: June 26, 2018
In the tradition of Good in Bed and The Assistants comes a funny and smart comedy about a young matchmaker balancing her messy personal life and the demands of her eccentric clients.

Sasha Goldberg has a lot going for her: a recent journalism degree from NYU, an apartment with her best friend Caroline, and a relationship that would be amazing if her finance-bro boyfriend Jonathan would ever look up from his BlackBerry. But when her dream career falls through, she uses her family’s darkest secret to land a job as a matchmaker for New York City’s elite at the dating service Bliss.

Despite her inexperience, Sasha throws herself into her new career, trolling for catches on Tinder, coaching her clients through rejection, and dishing out dating advice to people twice her age. She sets up a TV exec who wanted kids five years ago, a forty-year-old baseball-loving virgin, and a consultant with a rigorous five-page checklist for her ideal match.

Sasha hopes to find her clients The One, like she did. But when Jonathan betrays her, she spirals out of control—and right into the arms of a writer with a charming Southern drawl, who she had previously set up with one of her clients. He’s strictly off-limits, but with her relationship on the rocks, all bets are off.

Fresh, sweet, and laugh-out-loud funny, Playing with Matches is the addictive story about dating in today’s swipe-heavy society, and a young woman trying to find her own place in the world. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

My Office/Library Makeover!

Back at the end of September, Tom and I bought a house.  There was a smaller room upstairs that we didn't have any immediate plans for, so I kind of claimed it for my bookshelves, which were among the first things I unpacked after we moved in!  I also stored my computer desk in there, and since my books and desk were up there, it made sense to turn the room into an office and library.  The previous owners hadn't done a lot with this room, so I went to work making over the space!

Here's the room before:

And here it is after:

My sister had the fantastic idea of painting a chalkboard wall, so that was one of the first things I did.  It'll be cute to write messages or to-do lists on.  Then, I wanted to change the main color of the room.  It was a beige color, which I normally love, but I wanted something different.  I decided on a pale yellow color, to make it bright and cheerful without being overwhelming.  My mom was such a big help with the painting!

My family was so generous with housewarming gifts: a new desk from my sister and her family and a cozy reading chair and blanket from my dad and stepmom.  These pieces came from Wayfair; it can be a bit pricey, but they also have a lot of amazing sales, so it's really just a matter of keeping your eye out for a good deal.

Then I picked out some décor for the walls.  I found some cute bookish prints on Etsy here and here.  I also wanted to incorporate a Harry Potter-inspired painting I did at a paint and sip class.  The last thing I added was a Little Mermaid canvas, which was an awesome Christmas gift from Tom.

The finishing touches included some new floor and door moldings (thanks, Dad!), a fun area rug, and valances for the windows.  My mom and I found some cute desk accessories (a storage box and basket) at Michael's.  The lamps were things we already owned, and the large white cabinet in the room was left by the previous owners and acts as our linen closet.

I'm so happy with the way it turned out, and I can't wait for all the reading and blogging I'm going to do here!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Review: Forever Is The Worst Long Time

Forever is the Worst Long Time
Camille Pagan
Published February 7, 2017
When struggling novelist James Hernandez meets poet Louisa “Lou” Bell, he’s sure he’s just found the love of his life. There’s just one problem: she’s engaged to his oldest friend, Rob. So James toasts their union and swallows his desire.

As the years pass, James’s dreams always seem just out of reach—he can’t finish that novel, can’t mend his relationship with his father, can’t fully commit to a romantic relationship. He just can’t move on. But after betrayal fractures Lou’s once-solid marriage, she turns to James for comfort.

When Lou and James act on their long-standing mutual attraction, the consequences are more heartbreaking—and miraculous—than either of them could have ever anticipated. Then life throws James one more curveball, and he, Rob, and Lou are forced to come to terms with the unexpected ways in which love and loss are intertwined. - from Goodreads
When James meets his best friend Rob's fiancée Lou for the first time, he knows two things - Lou is completely wrong for Rob, and James is in love with her.  But he ignores those feelings, and only sees Lou occasionally over the next several years.  When Rob and Lou eventually split up, James sees the chance he always wanted - but the consequences are nothing he could have ever foreseen.

I have to admit, it took me a little while to get into this book.  I didn't particularly like James, the main character.  He is kind of pretentious, yet he doesn't have a lot to show for it.  He's not a very good teacher; his plans for a novel stall again and again; and he can't commit to his girlfriend because Lou is always in the back of his mind.  I didn't like that he was holding onto this idealized image of Lou in his head, to the detriment of everything else in his life.  Sometimes it seemed like he was happy when Rob called and complained of problems in his marriage.  And I never really understood what he saw in Lou - she didn't feel like a fully developed character to me.

However, as the book went on, I started to come around on James, particularly after he and Lou spend one night together.  I thought maybe now James could either move on, or be with her, or something, but the story ended up taking a turn I didn't expect and I just felt for him.  I wanted him to finally find happiness, but things aren't that simple.

The book is told from James' POV as he is telling the story to someone else, and when I found out who he was writing the story for and why, my heart just broke.  The story is told over many years, and I definitely liked the later years better than the beginning.  I think I tend to read female-centric stories, so the fact that the MC is a male in this one was a change for me, but I enjoyed it.  I liked the writing and the way the author had the MC telling the story was successful.

4 stars

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Midnight Blue

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

Midnight Blue
Simone Van Der Vlugt
Expected publication date: June 26, 2018
From Simone Van Der Vlugt comes her European bestselling novel of a young woman's rise as a painter in Holland's Golden Age—perfect for readers of The Miniaturist, Tulip Fever, and Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Amsterdam 1654: against the backdrop of Holland's Golden Age, a dangerous secret threatens to destroy a young widow's new life.

Following the sudden death of her husband, twenty-five-year old Catrin leaves her small village and takes a job as a housekeeper to the successful Van Nulandt merchant family. Amsterdam is a city at the peak of its powers: science and art are flourishing in the Golden Age and Dutch ships bring back exotic riches from the Far East. Madam Van Nulandt passes her time taking expensive painting lessons from a local master, Rembrandt van Rigin, and when Catrin takes up a brush to finish some of her mistress's work, Rembrandt realizes the maid has genuine talent, and encourages her to continue.

When a figure from her past threatens her new life, Catrin flees to the smaller city of Delft. There, her gift as a painter earns her a chance to earn a living painting pottery at a local workshop. Slowly, the workshop begins to develop a new type of pottery to rival fancy blue-on-white imported Chinese porcelain—and the graceful and coveted Delft Blue designs she creates help revolutionize the industry. But when tragedy strikes, Catrin must decide whether to defend her newfound independence, or return to the village that she'd fled. - from Goodreads

Monday, May 21, 2018

Why I Never Bring New Books on Vacation

For many people, vacations are the perfect time to break out a new book and read by the pool/on the beach/on a plane.  I think I'm a little bit of an aberration, because no matter how much I might want to, reading always seems to end up being a low priority for me when I'm on vacation, and over the years I've made the decision to only bring rereads when we're on a trip. 

Depending on the length of the trip, I typically bring anywhere from two to four books with me.  I'm always worried I'll run out of stuff to read, but honestly, 99% of the time, it's too ambitious!  Like, when we went to Watkins Glen for a long weekend and I brought Gone With the Wind?  Yeah, I think I read two chapters!

It usually comes down to the fact that I don't end up with a lot of reading time when we're on vacation.  Some of our trips recently have involved our niece and nephews.  I love spending time with them, but apparently tiny children never stop moving (except when they're napping).  And if they're not sitting still, you're not sitting still - so I seem to spend more time blowing bubbles and coloring than reading!

Even when it's just Tom and I, we spend a lot of time exploring.  Our trips aren't typically very long, so we try to cram a lot of sightseeing in, in just a couple days.  And Tom isn't really one for sitting around - when I told him I wanted to spend a day on the beach during our Hawaiian honeymoon, I think we lasted an hour before he got restless!  I do tend to read a lot on planes, so that's one time I can get some uninterrupted reading in.

So, since my reading time is often limited or prone to disruptions on vacations, I'd rather be rereading a favorite book than trying to absorb something new.  I don't have to worry about stopping in the middle of a chapter or forgetting what I've just read!

Do you typically read a lot when you're on vacation?  What kinds of books do you like to bring on trips?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: The Heart Between Us

The Heart Between Us
Lindsay Harrel
Published March 13, 2018
Megan Jacobs always wished for a different heart. Her entire childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, sitting on the sidelines while her twin sister Crystal played all the sports, got all the guys, and had all the fun. But even a heart transplant three years ago wasn’t enough to propel Megan’s life forward. She’s still working as a library aide in her small Minnesota hometown and living with her parents, dreaming of the adventure she plans to take “once she’s well enough.” Meanwhile, her sister is a successful architect with a handsome husband and the perfect life—or so Megan thinks.

When her heart donor’s parents give Megan their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. Caleb—a friend from her years in and out of the hospital—reenters her life and pushes her to find the courage to take the leap and begin her journey. She’s thrown for a loop when Crystal offers to join her for reasons of her own, but she welcomes the company and the opportunity to mend their tenuous relationship.

As Megan and Crystal check items off the bucket list, Megan fights the fears that have been instilled in her after a lifetime of illness. She must choose between safety and adventure and learn to embrace the heart she’s been given so that she can finally share it with the people she loves most. - from Goodreads
Megan spent over 20 years of her life being sick, but even after getting a heart transplant, she is still scared to do anything outside her comfort zone.  She finally agrees to meet her donor Amanda's family, and they give her Amanda's diary, which contains a bucket list of items Amanda wanted to do, before she was killed in a car crash.  Megan decides to complete Amanda's bucket list, hoping it will inspire her.  Megan's twin sister, Crystal, decides to accompany Megan on her trip, in hopes of mending their relationship.

First and foremost, this book will give you a serious case of wanderlust!  Amanda's bucket list takes the sisters all over the world, from Peru, to Australia, to Beijing, to Europe.  Not only did Megan and Crystal see all these amazing sights, but I felt like I learned a lot, too, about each place they visited.

Besides all the traveling, the sisters' relationship is at the center of the novel.  Being a twin myself, I could kind of relate to Megan and Crystal, particularly as siblings grow up and start their own lives.  But for Megan and Crystal, it was different.  Megan was stuck in hospitals, while Crystal got to go school, find a great job as an architect, and get married.  When we meet them, the sisters haven't seen each other in years, and it was nice to see them regain their love and trust as the trip went on, although it wasn't easy.

There is also some romance in the book - Megan reconnects with an old friend who also had a heart transplant, and it was sweet to see them experience parts of the trip together, since neither expected they would ever be able to do that.  Crystal, on the other hand, is having marriage issues and wonders if she can really have it all - a successful career and a happy marriage.

I thought the writing was good and the pace of the story was quick.  Each chapter brought a new country.  However, the ending was a little too bland and saccharine for me; it felt like everything wrapped up too quickly and neatly.  The story felt a bit simplistic at times, as well.  This book is Christian fiction, which I didn't realize when I picked it up, but the religious aspects weren't too overwhelming for me (as someone who doesn't identify with any particular religion). 

3.5 stars

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Mermaid

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

The Mermaid
Christina Henry
Expected publication date: June 19, 2018
From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum's American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn't bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he'd heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he's determined to hold on to his mermaid. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book vs. Movie: Ready Player One

Ready Player One is one of those books I found out about after I started blogging and saw a lot of other people raving about.  For some reason, I kept putting off reading it, and then I saw that the movie was coming out.  My husband was excited for it, because of the pop culture references and video game culture, and so the book went higher up my TBR, with the intention of reading it before the movie was released.  I guess a lot of people had the same idea I did, because when I went to get the book from my library, there was a HUGE wait list - so long I didn't get a chance to read the book before the movie.  Minor spoilers below!

Ready Player One takes place in the not-too-distant future, a bleak place where people turn to the OASIS, a virtual reality game, to fulfill themselves.  The game's creator, James Halliday, announces in his will that he left an Easter egg inside the game, and the first person to find it will gain control of the OASIS and his vast fortune.  Wade Watts is a teenager who is on his way to winning it all after he finds the first key to the Easter egg, but a large corporation, Innovative Online Industries, is using all of its resources in order to get there first.

We saw the movie the first weekend it came out, and it was definitely a fun experience!  The music was awesome, all those '80s hits!  Who doesn't love '80s music?  Visually, the movie was gorgeous - the OASIS seemed like such a lush place where practically anything could happen.  I see why people spent so much time in there. And of course, all the pop culture references were very cool.  Whether they were front and center, like the Iron Giant, or hiding in the background, it was fun trying to spot them all.

As much as I enjoyed the OASIS, the scenes that took place in real life were just as important.  I did have a little bit of an issue with some of the secondary characters on Wade's team - I feel like we didn't get to know them as much, and since they were such fun characters in the movie, I wanted more of them.  But overall, I really enjoyed the movie - it was a good mix of action and heartfelt scenes.

When I finally got a copy of the book, I dove right in.  The first thing I noticed was the incredible amount of detail.  Cline's world-building was amazing.  I almost felt like James Halliday was a real person, I got to know him so well through Wade.  At times, that amount of information felt overwhelming, especially the sections that got overly technical on computer or gaming things, but it made the book feel so authentic.

I generally thought the pacing was good, but there were times it felt off.  Sometimes it took awhile for Wade to figure out each challenge, and then within a few paragraphs, other players would catch up or even surpass him, with little warning or description.  While I liked Wade and thought he was resourceful and smart, even cunning at times, it was a bit hard to believe how much knowledge he actually had.  I mean, I guess he literally spent years watching and playing basically every tv show, movie, and game from the 1980s, but the fact that he had pretty much everything memorized was crazy.  I did appreciate, though, that the secondary characters were fleshed out, and Ogden was a pretty cool character, as well.

It's hard not to notice the big differences between the book and the movie.  Obviously, the general premise is the same, but the challenges were very different (although it makes sense that the filmmakers would have to scale them down for the movie).  The secondary characters also played slightly different roles.  I thought the book did a great job in creating the OASIS and helping me visualize it, but actually seeing the world on the big screen really brought it to life.  I would recommend both!

Have you seen the movie and/or read the book?  What did you think of the differences between them?