Friday, March 30, 2018

Backlist Mini-Reviews

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick (2016)

While going through his late wife's things, Arthur Pepper finds a charm bracelet he doesn't recognize.  In learning about the bracelet and its charms, Arthur realizes his wife led an exciting life before she met him that she never told him about.

I just fell in love with this book, and Arthur, from the start.  The story was so heartwarming and endearing.  Arthur and his wife Miriam led a happy but quiet and predictable life for 40 years.  The stories behind the charms make Arthur begin to question if Miriam really could have been satisfied with him and how well he really knew her.  At the same time, though, the quest breaks him out of the funk he had been in for a year and helps him form better relationships with his children and friends.  I wanted Arthur to find the answers he craved, but to also learn that even though his wife had all these experiences before she met him, it didn't take away from her love for him.  

Patrick's writing is simple and readable, and the pacing of the story was perfect.  There are so many secondary characters that Arthur meets along the way, yet they are all unique.  I especially loved getting to know Miriam through Arthur's memories of her and through her charms.  If you liked the movie Up, then I think you'll love this book, too (keep some tissues handy!).  4.5 stars

The After Party by Anton DiSclafani (2016)

The After Party focuses on the friendship between two socialites in 1950s Houston.  Cece and Joan have been best friends since childhood, but now in their mid-twenties, Joan is becoming increasingly erratic.

I'm not quite sure what I just read.  This book is almost 400 pages, yet it felt like nothing happened.  Cece is the main character and she seems to have it all - a devoted husband, a young son, and tons of money.  Yet, she spends most of her time worried about her friend, Joan, almost to the point of obsession.  Joan isn't even worthy of Cece's worries - she's selfish and uncaring and keeps too many secrets.  I wanted to shake Cece and tell her to stop worrying so much about Joan and start focusing on what's in front of her.  It was so frustrating to see her continue to seek Joan out when it was obvious it was one-sided.

While I thought DiSclafani's writing was rich and flowing, the pacing was too slow; everything just felt dragged out and melodramatic.  2.5 stars

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Save The Date

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

Save the Date
Morgan Matson
Expected publication date: June 5, 2018
Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.

There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo.

Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractingly…cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future. - from Goodreads
Morgan Matson is a new author to me, but I love stories about weddings and this one sounds so cute!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Quotables #8

Why it speaks to me: Sorry, Anna, not sure I agree with you on this one!  I don't think your partner HAS to be your best friend, but they probably most likely are, right?  I mean, you probably have a lot in common, you spend a lot of time together, and they're with you through the highs and lows of life.  Sounds like a best friend to me!

Why it speaks to me:  I identified so much with this quote when I first read it.  This describes pretty well how I feel too often in my own life.  I'm afraid of speaking up, of joining a conversation, of having people take notice of me, because I'm nervous of how I will appear to them.  I wish I had more courage!

Why it speaks to me: This one just makes me chuckle - I mean, that's all?  Sounds like a very sensible list of qualities to look for in a man, haha!
Which of these is your favorite?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Out Of This World Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews

Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space by Tim Peake (2017)

Tim Peake is a British astronaut who spent 6 months living on the International Space Station.  In Ask an Astronaut, Peake answers pretty much any question you could think of related to astronaut training and life on the ISS.

Peake has an easy-to-read, upbeat writing style and explained some difficult concepts pretty well.  I don't know much about the ISS or even the United States' own space program, beyond the major events, so I feel like I learned a lot.  Some of the questions he answered were serious, while others were in good fun.  I was amazed by the sheer amount of training that goes into a mission to space, literally years, including Russian lessons.   I also learned that the ISS is so massive, it was assembled in space, as various pieces were bought up.  One thing I was disappointed to learn, though, was that there is no official protocol if the ISS encounters aliens!

The book also contains some fun diagrams and several beautiful photographs that Peake took from space.    4 stars

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett (2017)

After a deadly virus wipes out most of humanity across the galaxy, Jamie decides to try to find her partner Daniel, back on distant Earth.  She meets others along the way, and the survivors try to figure out what's next for themselves and humanity as a whole.

Jamie is not the most likable or consistent of main characters.  She's quick to judge and quick to anger; she has spent most of her life keeping her family and Daniel at arm's length, needing her space, yet at the same time she's very comfortable holding hands (and more) with people she's just met. 

I think this book suffered a little from trying to do too much.  It's character-driven, but it's also a bit post-apocalyptic with some romance thrown in there, too.  The world-building within the story is pretty decent; we get glimpses of how Earth's population has exceeded its limits and how colonies were established on other planets.  There were some points in the book that I thought would offer some great action and tension, but the author moves past them quickly and too neatly.  I think the story could have benefitted from expanding on some ideas more and leaving other scenes out entirely.  Thankfully, one big twist at the end helped bring the story more to life for me. 3 stars

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?