Monday, July 30, 2018

Summer TBR Wipeout 2018: Update #2

I can't believe it's time for the second update on the Summer TBR Wipeout, hosted by The Candid Cover!  Since my last update, I've read 3 books:

I've been wanting to read The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman since last summer, but for some reason kept putting it off.  I'm so glad I added it to my TBR for this challenge, because I really loved it! The Garden of Small Beginnings tells the story of widow Lilian as she and her young daughters take a gardening class.  I loved the cast of characters around her, especially her sister, and watching Lilian try to open herself up to love again made me cry some happy tears.

Next I moved onto The Address by Fiona Davis, which is set at the historic Dakota apartment building in New York City.  The story is told in a dual timeline: the first is in the 1880s, when the building first opens, and the second is in the mid-1980s and focuses on cousins living in the Dakota who are related to the fictional architect of the building, Theodore Camden.  I loved learning about the historic building; however, even though I enjoy dual timeline stories, it seems like one story is usually more interesting than the other.  In this case, I preferred the 1880s story about the female manager of the building.

The third book I read was Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller.  I really enjoyed Daughter of the Pirate King and was looking forward to the sequel - it didn't disappoint!  I love these strong female pirates, and this book was so action-packed!  There were a lot of tense moments, and not everyone makes it out.  Definitely a great conclusion to the duology!

So, I have three books left on my TBR for this challenge, and I'm looking forward to getting started on them!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Backlist Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Royal Edition

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History - Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie (2013)

Princesses Behaving Badly is a fun, kind of tongue-in-cheek look at the lives of many women throughout history who didn't portray the typical lady-like behavior expected of them.  The book is divided into sections, such as the Schemers and the Partiers.  Each biography is quite short, just giving an overview.  I appreciated that the author tries to debunk some of the inaccuracies surrounding these women and that she included princesses from all over the world and many time periods.  However, I was a little disappointed that some of the women were not actual princesses and a couple of them may have not been real at all, but just stories from local myths or folklore.

The writing style is definitely not dry; it's very readable and almost light-hearted.  I didn't know most of the women highlighted in the book, but there were a few I did, including Princess Margaret of England.  If you're looking for a twist on the typical biography, you may enjoy this one.  4 stars

My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies #1) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (2016)

I normally shy away from hyped books, so when this book first came out and everyone was raving about it, I didn't really want to read it.  I wasn't sure it was my thing, either - people changing into animals?  Trying to inject humor into a very tense time in history?  But, it's loosely based on the Tudors, and I can't resist that!

King Edward is dying, and he is convinced by Lord Dudley to name his cousin, Jane Grey, as his successor and marry her to Dudley's son, Gifford.  While this sounds pretty close to the historical record, this is where the similarities end, and what we get is a whimsical and light-hearted take on the 9-day reign of Lady Jane Grey.  Instead of religious persecution, England is torn between those who can shape-shift into animals and those who cannot.  Jane Grey is a bookish, opinionated, and open-minded young lady.  She doesn't find out until after her marriage that her husband Gifford changes into a horse every day.  While he's human, though, he is a sensitive and poetic lord.  I loved watching them fall in love and even laughed at every near-kiss interruption.  With Edward and Elizabeth (Bess), they try to take back England. 

I just loved this book; the characters were so fun, the story so imaginative, and I couldn't stop reading (knowing the end would be so different from the story we actually know).  My only quibble is that it seemed a bit coincidental that many major players found out they were also shape-shifters at the most opportune of times.  4.5 stars

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Blind Kiss

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

Blind Kiss
Renee Carlino
Expected publication date: August 14, 2018
Penny spends her afternoons sitting outside a sandwich shop, surrounded by ghosts. Fourteen years ago, this shop was her childhood dance studio... Now she’s a suburban housewife, dreading the moment her son departs for MIT, leaving her with a McMansion and a failing marriage. She had her chance at wild, stars-in-her-eyes happiness, but that was a lifetime ago. After The Kiss. Before The Decision.

The Kiss was soulful. Magical. Earth-shattering, And it was all for a free gift card. Asked to participate in a psych study that posed the question, “Can you have sexual chemistry without knowing what the other person looks like?” Penny agreed to be blindfolded, make polite conversation with a total stranger, and kiss him. She never expected The Kiss to change her life forever and introduce her to Gavin: tattooed, gorgeous, and spontaneous enough to ask her out seconds after the blindfolds came off.

For a year, they danced between friendship and romance—until Penny made The Decision that forced them to settle for friendship. Now, fourteen years later, both of their lives are about to radically change—and it’s his turn to decide what will become of their once-in-a-lifetime connection. - from Goodreads

Monday, July 23, 2018

5 Highly-Rated Books I Didn't Enjoy

Previously inspired by Hannah at So Obsessed With and her list of low-rated books she really enjoyed, I made my own list here.  Today I'm doing the reverse, just like Hannah did, and putting together a list of highly-rated books that I didn't enjoy.  I chose books that had an average rating of 4 stars or higher on Goodreads.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult: Goodreads rating of 4.34.  I typically enjoy Picoult's books, but for me her take on racism was filled with clich├ęd characters and her signature twist ending didn't work.

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley: Goodreads rating of 4.27.  This dual timeline story travels from India to England.  At first glance, it seems to have everything I enjoy in a novel, but the writing is so stilted and the story is predictable.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Goodreads rating of 4.25.  I was so happy to see that Hannah had this one on her list, too.  I tend to feel a little weird when I dislike a book that everyone else seems to love, but I can't even with this one.  This book is just so pretentious and the characters are wildly unbelievable.

The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth: Goodreads rating of 4.15.  I loved an earlier novel by Sally Hepworth, but this novel about a single mother dying from ovarian cancer was a mess for me.  I gave it 2.5 stars.

Where the River Ends by Charles Martin: Goodreads rating of 4.10.  I thought I would like this story of a man who takes his sick wife on one last trip down the St. Mary's River, but the pretentious main character, confusing timelines, and general over-the-top-ness of the book turned me off.

Are there any highly-rated books that you haven't enjoyed?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: The Academy

The Academy
Katie Sise
Published May 22, 2018
Frankie Brooks knows what she wants in life: to become the world’s next great fashion editor. All she needs to do is get into the elite American Fashion Academy in New York City. If she gets in, her life plans will be going right on schedule. Anna Wintour, watch out.

But after Frankie messes up one too many times—hey, it’s hard keeping up with classwork and an acclaimed fashion blog—her parents come up with entirely different plans for her future: Military school. How is Frankie, the least athletic person in the world, who knows absolutely nothing about the military, going to survive a whole semester at the famed—and feared—Academy?

With students who seem to be totally uninterested in her, a course-load that’s even more difficult than at her old school, and the weird athletic War Games competition Frankie has to join—her life is way harder than it used to be. And no one, including her roommate Joni, seems to understand Frankie at all.

As she learns how to cope in about a million drills, a hundred different specialized classes, and is maybe even falling for super-hot and super-smart cadet Jack Wattson, can Frankie prove to everyone that being a fashionista doesn’t mean she can’t succeed? - from Goodreads
After cheating on a chemistry test and throwing a party while her parents were away, Frankie's parents decide that military school would be a good place for her to learn some discipline and get her grades back on track.  Frankie, however, would rather work on her fashion blog and is appalled at her new situation.

For most of the book, Frankie is the most unlikable character.  She is at times snobby, snotty, disrespectful, immature, and materialistic.  The only thing she seems to care about is her fashion blog, which she mentions at every chance she gets.  I had to keep reminding myself that she's only 16, and that kind of comes with the territory.  But when she is answering her phone during training and telling her lieutenant she can't wear her uniform because she already has a "fashion moment" picked out, it was a struggle.

At least, though, Frankie could recognize when she was being snotty and disrespectful; she just couldn't seem to control herself.  However, as the book goes on, Frankie gets some extra incentive to keep her grades up and try to make the best of her situation.  I liked that she remembered how amazing it felt to be a good student, before her fashion blog took over, and she wanted those feelings of pride and accomplishment again.

The military academy was a really unique setting.  I enjoyed learning about its structure and classes.  It really seemed like a good place for Frankie to learn discipline and teamwork.  The secondary characters also brought a lot of heart to the book, although I could have used less of the romance plotline with fellow student Jack.  I really just wanted Frankie to focus and grow.  There was a lot of diversity among the students, and it was interesting to learn how they all ended up at this school.

Overall, I thought the book was well-written and the author did a good job in capturing the 16-year-old main character, but I wanted a bit more depth in the story.

3 stars

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Our House

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

Our House
Louise Candlish
Expected publication date: August 7, 2018
On a bright January morning in the London suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought in Trinity Avenue.

Nothing strange about that. Except it is your house. And you didn’t sell it.

When Fiona Lawson comes home to find strangers moving into her house, she's sure there's been a mistake. She and her estranged husband, Bram, have a modern co-parenting arrangement: bird's nest custody, where each parent spends a few nights a week with their two sons at the prized family home to maintain stability for their children. But the system built to protect their family ends up putting them in terrible jeopardy. In a domino effect of crimes and misdemeanors, the nest comes tumbling down.

Now Bram has disappeared and so have Fiona's children. As events spiral well beyond her control, Fiona will discover just how many lies her husband was weaving and how little they truly knew each other. But Bram's not the only one with things to hide, and some secrets are best kept to oneself, safe as houses. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Rutgers Gardens and Frank G. Helyar Woods

Rutgers Gardens is a place I never would have known about if I hadn't seen it on another blog, but when I found out that this botanical garden wasn't too far from us, we decided to check it out.

For more information about Rutgers Gardens and Helyar Woods, including maps, visit their website here.

Rutgers Gardens is open 365 days a year, and there's no entrance fee!  Not only do they host public events like farmers markets, but the Gardens also provide educational opportunities for Rutgers students.

Although it was smaller than I thought it would be, there was still plenty to look at.  There are several small gardens and groves of different tree types.  Cute benches are strategically located throughout the property.  We started at the bamboo garden and then headed to the shrub garden.  In a memorial garden we found these two massive Adirondack chairs, which Tom refused to climb in so I could get a picture of him (JK!).  There were also a couple lovely gazebos.

We then went over to Frank G. Helyar Woods, which is attached to the botanical garden.  Although there are smaller blazed trails, we stuck to the main Pond/Forest Trail (we tried one of the smaller trails, but it was overgrown with lots of downed trees).  The main trail was really easy to walk and pretty flat except for one drop down into a ravine.  At some points we could see glimpses of Westons Mill Pond.

After the pine forest the trail opens out into a meadow, and there's actually a small maze carved into the brush.  At this point in the year, the plant growth was probably about 3 feet high, so it would be fun for kids to run through while still being able to see them.

The main trail is less than a mile, so it didn't take us long to finish.  Although it was a short visit, I'm glad we checked out Rutgers Gardens.  And since it's free, I wouldn't mind coming back at different points during the year to see the flowers changing with the seasons.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Summer TBR Wipeout 2018: Update #1

It's time for my first update of the Summer TBR Wipeout hosted by The Candid Cover!

I started with The Party by Robyn Harding, which I've been wanting to read since Suzanne at The Bookish Libra reviewed it last yearThe Party is the story of the aftermath of an accident at a Sweet 16 sleepover.  I liked the idea behind this book because it sounds so realistic, and I was interested to see how the lawsuit would play out, but the characters were all pretty terrible people.  The parents who hosted the party told anyone who would listen that they weren't responsible for the accident - if I read that one more time, I was going to scream.  But the book held my attention and I flew through it; I didn't even mind the open ending.

I ended up getting Legendary by Stephanie Garber from the library way sooner than I expected, so I dove into that for my second read. I was looking forward to this one because it's from Tella's point of view, and even though she didn't have a huge role in the first book, I got the impression she was spunky and confident and fun.  I was a little disappointed with her boy-crazy thoughts and the flowery writing (which was also an issue I had with Caraval), but I did like that the stakes were higher in this game - I didn't know what was real or who to trust.

Then I picked up Slightly South of Simple by Kristy Woodson Harvey.  This was a summer read from last year that I didn't get to, so I figured now would be a good time for it! Slightly South of Simple tells the story of Caroline Murphy, whose husband leaves her while she's pregnant, as she flees to her mother's home  in Peachtree Bluff.  She is joined there by her sisters.  I think this was a good beach read; it had plenty of drama and a fun Southern setting.  Although there were some random storylines that I felt were unnecessary, I enjoyed the relationship between Caroline and her sisters.

What have you been reading this summer?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Reality TV Edition

Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm (2017)

When Dylan's sister Dusty becomes engaged to a Scottish lord on a reality show, the whole family finds themselves traveling to Scotland to prepare for the wedding.  For shy and awkward Dylan, being followed around by cameras is a nightmare, especially with a blossoming romance and family issues coming to the forefront. 

I enjoyed this book so much; I couldn't put it down and finished it in a day!  I loved the royalty aspect; I loved the reality tv aspect; I loved the Scottish setting.  Everything worked!  The pacing of the story was perfect.  There were never any dull moments.  Dylan was an adorable main character.  She just wants to live her life and appear as little as possible on the show.  She and groomsman Jamie were so cute together; I loved their witty banter and how comfortable they seemed around each other, almost right away.  I was a bit wary of Jamie in the beginning, because he seemed a little cagey and too good to be true.  I mean, the producers of the show messed around with other storylines, so why not this one?  But by the end, I understood Jamie and fell in love with him even more, especially because of his love of reading.    4.5 stars

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman (2018)

Confession: I love reality TV, but I don't watch The Bachelor.  However, I do read a lot of articles about it and I'll kind of keep up with it online as the season goes on.  And I'm a sucker for anything "behind-the-scenes"!

I wouldn't say that anything Kaufman revealed in this book surprised me too much, but it was still kind of shocking.  The producers and casting directors are very calculating, choosing cast members to fill particular roles.  Reading about how the contestants are manipulated and treated during the show made me never want to be on a reality show.  The contestants aren't allowed to watch TV or even read books during their time in the mansion, and there's alcohol everywhere.  Producers practically force contestants to say certain things, like they're in love with the bachelor or bachelorette even if they aren't.  The short timeline, the overly-romantic dates - this isn't how dating works in the real world, yet millions of us tune in every week, and we expect a proposal.  I could have done without the chapter on the history of TV dating shows and perhaps a little less on how contestants try to capitalize on their newfound fame after the show, but I did appreciate the research Kaufman put into the book.  I guess in the end maybe I wanted a little more, but I think other fans of reality TV will enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at one of the country's most popular and enduring shows.  4 stars

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Daisy Children

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

The Daisy Children
Sofia Grant
Expected publication date: August 7, 2018
Inspired by true events, in Sofia Grant’s powerfully moving new novel a young woman peels back the layers of her family’s history, discovering a tragedy in the past that explains so much of the present. This unforgettable story is one of hope, healing, and the discovery of truth

Sometimes the untold stories of the past are the ones we need to hear...

When Katie Garrett gets the unexpected news that she’s received an inheritance from the grandmother she hardly knew, it couldn’t have come at a better time. She flees Boston—and her increasingly estranged husband—and travels to rural Texas.

There, she’s greeted by her distant cousin Scarlett. Friendly, flamboyant, eternally optimistic, Scarlett couldn’t be more different from sensible Katie. And as they begin the task of sorting through their grandmother’s possessions, they discover letters and photographs that uncover the hidden truths about their shared history, and the long-forgotten tragedy of the New London school explosion of 1937 that binds them. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books of 2018... So Far

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is best books we've read so far this year.  I've had quite a few great reads in the past few months, and they're a good mix of new and backlist titles.






Have you read any of these?  What are some of your favorite books of 2018 so far?

Monday, July 9, 2018

5 Low-Rated Books I Really Liked

When I saw Hannah at So Obsessed With post about 8 low-rated books she enjoyed, I thought it was such a fun idea and wanted to try it myself!  I went to my Goodreads list and sorted the books by average rating.  I picked books that had an average rating of below 3.5.  For me, a 3-star rating basically just means the book was ok, but there weren't many books below 3 stars that I actually enjoyed, so I moved it up to 3.5.

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger: Goodreads rating of 2.86.  This sequel doesn't live up to the original Devil Wears Prada, but I am still kind of shocked by the super-low rating on this book.  I liked catching up with Andy and Emily in their post-Runway life.

The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown: Goodreads rating of 3.09.  I gave this haunting and atmospheric story about a woman who can see ghosts 4 stars.

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy: Goodreads rating of 3.2. I rated this book a 4.  I was drawn in by the unique premise (a woman can let the spirit of a deceased person take over her body) and the smooth writing.

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet: Goodreads rating of 3.32.  I gave this book 4 stars.  I really enjoyed the story of four young women who live in a convent.

The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro: Goodreads rating of 3.36.  I haven't rated this one myself, but I would give this book at least a 4.  I love this dual timeline story with a 1930s mystery thrown in.

What are some low-rated books that you've enjoyed?

Friday, July 6, 2018

5 Takeaways From "The Year of Less"

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store
Cait Flanders
Published January 16, 2018
In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. Even after she worked her way out of nearly $30,000 of consumer debt, her old habits took hold again. When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy—only keeping her from meeting her goals—she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year.

The Year of Less documents Cait’s life for twelve months during which she bought only consumables: groceries, toiletries, gas for her car. Along the way, she challenged herself to consume less of many other things besides shopping. She decluttered her apartment and got rid of 70 percent of her belongings; learned how to fix things rather than throw them away; researched the zero waste movement; and completed a television ban. At every stage, she learned that the less she consumed, the more fulfilled she felt.

The challenge became a lifeline when, in the course of the year, Cait found herself in situations that turned her life upside down. In the face of hardship, she realized why she had always turned to shopping, alcohol, and food—and what it had cost her. Unable to reach for any of her usual vices, she changed habits she’d spent years perfecting and discovered what truly mattered to her.

Blending Cait’s compelling story with inspiring insight and practical guidance, The Year of Less will leave you questioning what you’re holding on to in your own life—and, quite possibly, lead you to find your own path of less. - from Goodreads
I don't think I have a shopping problem, but always in the back of my mind, there's a little thought of, how can I spend less?  Do I really need all of this stuff in my house?  So when I heard about Cait Flanders' Year of Less, I was intrigued.

At the beginning of the book, Cait Flanders lays out her plan for a shopping ban, making a list of approved and non-approved items.  She also declutters her home, listing what she gets rid of.  Each chapter focuses on a month of the challenge, but after the initial plan, the book becomes more of a memoir and less of a how-to book.  She talks about her sobriety; her parents' divorce and how it affected her; and her plan to quit her job.  I thoroughly enjoyed Cait's writing; it has a great flow and is very personal and approachable without being preachy.  She isn't trying to tell people that they have to do things her way in order to succeed; you can take her ideas and tweak them to fit your lifestyle.

After finishing the book, there are a few things that stuck with me that I hope will help me moving forward.

1. How many clothes does one person really need?  When Cait began weeding through her clothes, she realized that she really only liked and wore very few outfits.  So - get rid of those clothes you feel uncomfortable in; the clothes that don't fit you just right; the clothes you're holding onto for when your weight fluctuates; and pieces that aren't very versatile.  I wear business casual all week to work, so do I really need 5 or 6 pairs of jeans when I only wear them on the weekends?

2. Analyze your mood before you make that purchase.  One of Cait's shopping triggers was trying to make herself feel better or feel less pain.  She says, "I found myself constantly wanting to do anything at all that might brighten my day, or lighten some of the load I was carrying around with me."  She usually did that through buying something.  But although that might help temporarily, was it really solving anything?  I know when I'm sad, I immediately want to spend money, go shopping, whatever.  But now I can take a step back and really ask myself why I want to make that purchase.  Is it to make me feel better now, or for the long haul?

3. Set priorities.  So many of us complain that we want to travel but don't have the money for it.  If we really took a look at our finances and what we're spending our money on, I bet we could all find things we're wasting money on that we could funnel towards travel (or something else we want to do).  I like to go on trips, even short ones, so saving for that is a priority for me.  When I get my first paycheck of the month, I automatically transfer a certain amount of money into an account dedicated to travel expenses.

4. Never stop learning.   Cait realizes during her year-long shopping ban that she could actually save a lot of money if she had more skills.  She regrets not learning more from her parents when she was younger, like asking her mom how to sew or learning how to change her car's oil from her dad.  For many of us, it's just easier and more convenient to pay someone else to do things like this for us.  Maybe if I had paid more attention to my mom in the kitchen, I'd be a better cook and not rely on take-out so much!  But, it's never to late to learn a new skill, whether it's sewing, or gardening, or whatever!

5. Are you buying for the person you are or the person you'd like yourself to be?  Am I buying this shirt because it's trendy and I see everyone else wearing it and I want to be fashionable, or because it's my style and something I truly like?  Am I buying this book because I think I'll actually enjoy it or because I think I should be reading it?  While I agree with Cait that you should accept yourself for who you are, I think a case could also be made for wanting to try new things or better yourself.  I'm not saying to do this all the time, but some things you just won't know until you try them for the first time.  Like, I want to be a craftier person.  I was artistic as a kid, but not so much now.  I think it's ok to start with one small project; it's not ok to buy every crafting supply in the story and then never use it.

Overall, I think this book had a great message to be more mindful, in every area of our lives.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Red, White & Blue Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is red, white, and blue covers, so I thought I'd get a little creative and try to make a flag out of some book covers!

What are some of your favorite red, white, or blue covers?