Friday, August 31, 2018

Historical Fiction Mini-Reviews

Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger (2018)

In 1940, housewife Violet Harcourt is named Miss California, but her life isn't as perfect as it seems.  In 2007, single mother Marisol Cruz wants to preserve a historic landmark in her Santa Cruz community, and in her research she comes across Violet's story.

I love dual timeline stories - wondering how they will come together is one of my favorite parts.  Almost right from the start, we know the stories are tied together through Mari's grandfather, but as the story goes on, more links show up.  I admired Violet's courage, and I really identified with Mari's love of history.  She had so many ideas to help bring awareness to her community.

Although I thought there were too many coincidences and predictable storylines, I enjoyed this one.  Part of Violet's story takes place in Hollywood, and I felt all the old glamour as well as the seediness.  In Mari's story, I felt immersed in the setting of Santa Cruz, with its history and charm.  The writing was engaging, and the dialogue was much-improved from Jaeger's previous book, The Dressmaker's Dowry3.5 stars

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams (2018)

Miranda Schuyler returns to Winthrop Island, where 18 years earlier she spent a summer marked by tragedy with the murder of her stepfather.

I love Beatriz Williams' books - I feel like I read them more slowly than other books because the writing is just so lush and immersive that I don't want to miss a single word.  In her newest book, Williams explores the life of Miranda Schuyler in the 1950s and 1960s as she visits Winthrop Island, a haven for the wealthy in New York.  I actually enjoyed both timelines equally.  In 1951, Miranda doesn't quite fit in on Winthrop Island; although her mother is marrying one of the island's elite, Miranda feels more drawn to the working class people.  When she returns in 1969, she is basically an outcast.  I figured out the truth to the murder mystery quite early on in the book, but that didn't hamper my experience. 

I think Williams relied a bit too much on cliché tropes in this one and the ending dragged a bit, but I enjoyed her exploration of class dynamics and as always, I felt completely swept up in the setting and time period.  4 stars

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Clockmaker's Daughter

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

The Clockmaker's Daughter
Kate Morton
Expected publication date: October 9, 2018
My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing, and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing a drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery, and thievery, of art, love, and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter. - from Goodreads
Kate Morton is one of my favorite authors EVER, so of course I can't wait for this one - I've already pre-ordered it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Not Your Typical History Lesson

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is a Back to School/Learning freebie.  I've always been a history buff - it was one of my majors in college, and for a few years I worked as a historian.  When I saw that this week's topic was all about school, learning, required reading, etc., I thought it would be fun to put together a list of books that put a unique spin on the historical events and people we've all learned about in school.  While they are all based somewhat in reality, these alternate history books take a look at all the "what ifs..."


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith: What if the 16th President of the United States led a secret double life as a vampire hunter?

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland: Zombies rise during the Civil War.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: What if the Underground Railroad was an actual working railroad?

The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove: The outcome of the Civil War is changed by time travelers from the future who bring modern weapons to the Confederate Army.


The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick: How the United States would be changed had the Axis powers won World War II.

11/22/63 by Stephen King: A man goes back in time to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.


Making History by Stephen Fry: What if Hitler had never been born? 

Deck Z: The Titanic. Unsinkable. Undead. by Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon: A zombie virus is unleashed on the doomed ocean liner.


The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson: An epic imagining of what it would have been like if the Black Plague had killed 99% of the population of Europe.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows: A fun and light-hearted spin on the 9-day reign of Lady Jane Grey in England.

What are some of your favorite alternate history books?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Quotables #10

Why it speaks to me:  Sometimes those life-changing moments are obvious, and even in the moment you can recognize, wow, it's happening.  But I think a lot of times you don't realize how important a moment is until you get the benefit of hindsight. 

Why it speaks to me:  This quote has so much truth in it.  It's easy to love someone when things are going great and everyone's happy.  It can be hard to love someone when they've made a mistake, or done something to upset you, or they're just not being a very nice person.  But that's what love is, being by someone's side through all of life's ups and downs.

Why it speaks to me:  I feel like I could relate a lot to this when I was in high school.  Sure, my life wasn't perfect, but really, nothing absolutely terrible happened to me; at the same time, not too many truly amazing things did, either.  I was just a regular, run-of-the-mill teenager.  But who doesn't dream of finally doing something great?

Which of these is your favorite?

Friday, August 24, 2018

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy (2017)

I have been looking forward to this book for awhile; not only did I want to learn more about women's efforts during World War II, but because of the secret nature of their work, the story of the code breakers who worked for the Army and Navy in the 1940s had actually never been released before.  I was impressed at the sheer number of women who joined the war effort at the government level, especially those who were specifically recruited.  They did amazing work that helped shorten the war and save lives, and they have never really been recognized for their contributions.  However, as interesting as the subject matter was, I had a lot of trouble with this book.  In the early chapters, the story kept skipping back and forth in time, which just left me confused as to when things were actually happening.  There were a LOT of people introduced, some for just a brief time.  The author included information on what codes and ciphers are and how they are broken, and I enjoyed those parts of the book, although to be honest most it went way over my head.  The book felt very wordy and the paragraphs were so long; I unfortunately found myself skimming a lot.  3 stars

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore (2017)

Starting during WWI and going through the 1920s and 1930s, women in New Jersey and Illinois were hired by companies to paint watch faces with luminous paint riddled with radium.  Assured there were no risks, the women touched the paint, ate around it, and, worst of all, put the paintbrushes in their mouths.  As the women started to get horrifically ill, they finally realized what was happening and started to take legal action.

I didn't realize that a couple of these factories were located in my home state of New Jersey, so right there I felt a connection to these women.  Reading about the physical side effects the radium caused was sickening - it ate away at their bodies, ruined their teeth and jaws, caused their legs to shorten and massive tumors to grow.  It took awhile for doctors to make the connection between their jobs and their illnesses, but even after, these poor women were still in for a huge fight.  The companies they worked for used every tactic they could to get out of paying what the women deserved - hiding medical records, moving their assets to different states, and utilizing legal technicalities to get their cases dismissed.  So many deaths, so many lives ruined - yet many of the women wouldn't stop fighting.

I didn't know about this story before I started reading, and I just flew through this book, wanting to know if the women would get justice.  I loved the way the author incorporated the women's own words; although a lot of people were introduced, it never felt overwhelming.  This is nonfiction at its best.  5 stars

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Royal Runaway

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

The Royal Runaway
Lindsay Emory
Expected publication date: October 9, 2018
For fans of The Princess Diaries and The Royal We comes a fun and daring novel about a modern-day princess who teams up with a spy to find out what happened to the fiancé who left her at the altar—and who just might get her own fairytale in the process.

Princess Theodora Isabella Victoria of Drieden of the Royal House Laurent is so over this princess thing.

After her fiancé jilted her on their wedding day, she’s finally back home after spending four months in exile—aka it’s back to press conferences, public appearances, and putting on a show for the Driedish nation as the perfect princess they expect her to be. But Thea’s sick of duty. After all, that’s what got her into this mess in the first place.

So when she sneaks out of the palace and meets a sexy Scot named Nick in a local bar, she relishes the chance to be a normal woman for a change. But just as she thinks she’s found her Prince Charming for the night, he reveals his intentions are less than honorable: he’s the brother of her former fiancé, a British spy, and he’s not above blackmail. As Thea reluctantly joins forces with Nick to find out what happened the day her fiancé disappeared, together they discover a secret that could destroy a centuries-old monarchy and change life as they know it.

Funny, fast-paced, and full of more twists and turns than the castle Thea lives in, The Royal Runaway is a fresh romantic comedy that will leave you cheering for the modern-day royal who chucks the rulebook aside to create her own happily-ever-after. - from Goodreads
You guys know I love anything royal, and this sounds so fun - and that cover is so cute!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

TV Shows I'm Obsessed With Lately #6

Wrecked is about a group of people who become stranded on an island after a plane crash.  This show is so funny - watching these people attempt to survive in ridiculous situations.  The third season just started, so catch up if you can!

Face Off is a special effects makeup competition show.  I'm so sad that it just finished airing its 13th and final season, but since we only started watching a few seasons ago, I'm going back and watching it from the beginning.  I'm just in awe of the characters and makeups the artists come up with each week.  So imaginative!

I guess I'm on a reality kick lately, because I've also been watching Making It, which is a crafting competition show.  It's hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, who is apparently also an accomplished woodworker.  Each crafter kind of has their own specialty or medium they like to use, whether it's paper, wood, or felt.  They are so creative and inspiring!

What have you been watching lately?

Monday, August 20, 2018

5 Things I Would Tell Myself As A New Blogger

I've been blogging a little over two years now, so I'm by no means an expert, but there are definitely things I know now that I wish I knew then, or at least some tips I would give myself as a new blogger.

Don't obsess over your stats.
This is still something I struggle with, obsessing over my stats and checking them a million times a day, but I would tell myself to TRY not to worry about them so much.  Sometimes they aren't the best reflection of how the blog is doing anyway, or rather, they're not the only way to measure success.  Look instead at how much interaction is going on within the posts and how people are responding.  This may take awhile, too, but it's okay.

Don't compare yourself to other bloggers.
As a new blogger, the easiest thing (and one of the worst things) to do is to compare yourself to other bloggers, especially ones that have been around for years.  Don't do it! It'll just get you feeling down.  You'll wonder why you don't have as many followers and why they're getting all the ARCs.  Remember that it takes time to grow a following, to find your voice, to create a visually interesting blog.  Everyone has to start somewhere, so just try to focus on what you're doing. 

Be yourself.
It's tempting to try to model yourself after successful bloggers - if it works for them, it should work for me, right?  But it's one thing to be inspired and another entirely to be something you're not.  There are so many book blogs out there, and the best way to distinguish your blog is to be yourself.  Read the books you want to read, talk about the stuff you want to talk about - you'll find an audience that's drawn to your authentic, honest voice.

And don't be afraid.
As a shy and introverted person, it may seem difficult at first to put yourself, your words and thoughts, out there on the internet (although I've explored why blogging is actually good for shy people).  But I've learned over the past two years that the book blogging community is amazing - thoughtful, kind, supportive.  Don't be afraid when people start finding your blog - it's actually going to feel really great to have people comment and respond to your posts!  And don't be afraid to put yourself out there - visit other blogs, comment A LOT, and participate in challenges and memes.  You're going to "meet" some awesome people!

It's okay to take breaks.
Sometimes you're going to get busy or even feel a little uninspired, and at those points, it's okay to take a break for a little while.  Readers, especially other bloggers, will totally understand, and they'll be there when you come back!

What advice would you give yourself as a new blogger?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Science Fiction Mini-Reviews

Obscura by Joe Hart (2018)

In the near future, a dementia-like disease called Losian's is striking Earth's population.  Dr. Gillian Ryan is researching a cure when she accepts a position to study a crew on a space station that's exhibiting similar symptoms.  However, the mission turns out to be not what she expected and she finds herself in serious danger.

This book was part science fiction, part thriller, and part mystery.  When Gillian finds out after she's already in space that they're actually headed to Mars to examine a crew working on a top secret mission, I felt for her - she had no clue she would be millions of miles away from her daughter, who is suffering from Losian's.  During the journey and after they reach the Mars station, there's this pervasive sense that something is very wrong.  It didn't help that Gillian was somewhat of an unreliable narrator (she has an addition to painkillers), so sometimes it was hard to know what was real and who to trust.

The  twists and turns just kept coming, and the space setting really added to the tension.  I thought the mystery got a bit muddled at times, but the pacing of the story was so good and I loved the ending.  4 stars

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (2018)

Romy has been alone for years on a spaceship speeding away to a potential Earth II since her parents died when she learns that another ship is on its way.

Being alone in space is probably one of my worst nightmares, but Romy seems to handle it fairly well.  Her father taught her a lot about the ship and survival, so even though it literally takes years to send communications back and forth to Earth, teenage Romy isn't doing too bad.  Then, communications with Earth slow and stop, but Romy is hoping she'll get some answers from J, commander of the ship that is joining her mission.  However, strange things start happening and J seems a bit off.

It takes awhile for the real action to start in the story, but I was never bored.  It was interesting learning about Romy's life (although I wish the story of how she came to be alone had been presented a tad earlier), and I think the author did a great job capturing how Romy is a captain of a ship (although not by choice) but still a teenager (forming a crush on J).  This book was more of a thriller than I was expecting, and I loved all the surprises that kept cropping up during the second half of the book.  If you're looking for a space thriller that will give you the creeps and yet still has a lot of heart, this is the book for you.  4 stars

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Kennedy Debutante

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

The Kennedy Debutante
Kerri Maher
Expected publication date: October 2, 2018

A captivating novel following the exploits of Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, the forgotten and rebellious daughter of one of America's greatest political dynasties.

London, 1938. The effervescent "It girl" of London society since her father was named the ambassador, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy moves in rarified circles, rubbing satin-covered elbows with some of the 20th century's most powerful figures. Eager to escape the watchful eye of her strict mother, Rose, the antics of her older brothers, Jack and Joe, and the erratic behavior of her sister Rosemary, Kick is ready to strike out on her own and is soon swept off her feet by Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire. But their love is forbidden, as Kick's devout Catholic family and Billy's staunchly Protestant one would never approve their match. When war breaks like a tidal wave across her world, Billy is ripped from her arms as the Kennedys are forced to return to the States. Kick gets work as a journalist and joins the Red Cross to get back to England, where she will have to decide where her true loyalties lie--with family or with love . . . - from Goodreads
I love historical fiction, and the Kennedys are such a fascinating family!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Summer TBR Wipeout 2018 Wrap-Up

I can't believe it's already time to finish up the Summer TBR Wipeout, hosted by The Candid Cover!  After my last update, I had three books left on my TBR for this challenge, and I was really looking forward to them!


The Sweetest Kind of Fate by Crystal Cestari is just such a sweet and adorable book.  It's the second book in the Windy City Magic duology and it's about a teenager who's also a matchmaker.  I love all the magical realism in these books: you have high school students doing regular things, like applying to college and working after-school jobs, but there's also mermaids and sirens and witches.  Friendship, love, and family are all themes of this book, without being too heavy on the drama.  Highly recommend!

Then I moved onto Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  I don't know why it took me so long to read this book; I remember seeing the movie and enjoying it, and I always thought the cover looked cool, and a bit creepy.  I enjoyed the world building in this book and the way the author incorporated all the old photographs.  Even though the story took a long time to get going, I still liked this one.
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter was my last, and shortest, read for this challenge.  At only 134 pages, I flew through this book in less than two hours.  Basically, it's kind of a dystopian/post-apocalyptic book that focuses on a woman who has just given birth when flood waters rise exponentially and she is forced to flee her home.  The writing is very sparse and straightforward, and the juxtaposition of the massive changes in the environment and civilization versus a mother watching her child grow was pretty cool.
So, that's it!  The Summer TBR Wipeout 2018 is complete!  I'm so glad I did this challenge and knocked 9 books off my TBR!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Sweet Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: Everything Is Better With Ice Cream

Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian (2018)

Amelia has been looking forward to spending her summer working at the local ice cream stand, but when the owner passes away, leaving the business to her grand-nephew, Amelia's plans are put on hold.

I thought this was a cute story.  I love the idea that the ice-cream stand has an all-female staff, and the girls become very close.  Amelia is very much a rule follower and almost becomes obsessed with keeping the business alive, but I loved her passion.  She kept everything going, even after Grady took over, I felt like he had some good ideas, like incorporating more social media, but he seemed so over his head.  He was trying to prove himself to his father; however, he didn't have the experience or the money to really make the ice cream stand thrive when things got tough.

One thing I didn't care for was Amelia's friendship with Cate.  Cate didn't seem to take anything seriously; even when she became Head Girl at the ice cream stand, she was more interested in having fun and gossiping than making sure the stand was clean and serving the customers.  However, I loved the excerpts from the diary of Molly Meade, the original owner.  I wanted even more of her story.  3.5 stars

Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America by Amy Ettinger (2017)

A journalist with a love for ice cream delves into the history of ice cream and other frozen treats, as well as visiting several ice cream businesses.

I thought this would be a fun summertime read where I would learn a few things, and it was, partly.  The author talked about the history of different large ice cream companies, various types of cold desserts, such as gelato and frozen yogurt, and visited some cool places, such as one that's making ice cream out of water buffalo milk.  I discovered that there's a short college course that one can take at Penn State on making ice cream, and I finally found out what happened to the Chipwich!  For those interested in trying their own hand at making ice cream, some recipes are included.  I appreciated these parts of the book, but the overall tone of the book could be quite negative.  The author comes across as obsessed (seriously, I think her entire life revolves around ice cream and where she can get her next fix), snobbish, and judgmental.  Just one example: upon finding out that most ice cream places don't make their own base (it's an intensive and highly regulated process), she is horrified and sometimes seems to lose respect for the business owner.  Her negativity left a bad taste in my mouth, and I feel sorry if any of the people she interviewed actually read this book.  3 stars

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Last Wish of Sasha Cade

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

The Last Wish of Sasha Cade
Cheyanne Young
Expected publication date: October 2, 2018
The day Raquel has been dreading for months has finally arrived. Sasha, her best friend in the whole world -- the best friend in the whole world -- has died of cancer. Raquel can’t imagine life without her. She’s overwhelmed and brokenhearted.

And then a letter from Sasha arrives. Has she somehow found a way to communicate from the afterlife?

In fact, Sasha has planned an elaborate scavenger hunt for Raquel, and when she follows the instructions to return to Sasha’s grave, a mysterious stranger with striking eyes is waiting for her. There’s a secret attached to this boy that only Sasha—and now Raquel—knows.

This boy, Elijah, might be just what Raquel needs to move on from her terrible loss. But can Raquel remain true to herself while also honoring her friend’s final wish? - from Goodreads

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Six Mile Run

We took advantage of a break in the heat one Sunday morning to check out Six Mile Run in Franklin Township, Somerset County, New Jersey.  There are three parking areas for the park, which is part of the D&R Canal State Park, and we started at the Canal Road lot.

For a trail map, click here.

Our original goal was to hike to the parking lot at the eastern end of the trail, on Route 27, and then come back.  We started on the Blue Trail, and I immediately loved it.  It moved from forest to wide open fields and back, and it was just so peaceful and lovely.  The trail was very winding, almost curling back on itself several times.  This area is also really popular with mountain bikers, and there were quite a few of them on the trail that day.

However, after being on the trail for a really long time and still not coming to the intersection with the Red Trail, our plan changed.  I feel like either the map wasn't super accurate or I had completely misjudged the length of the hike.  

When we finally reached the fork in the trail, we met up with some bikers we had come across a couple times.  They told us if we made a sharp right turn on the Red Trail, it would take us almost straight back to the parking lot, in half the time it took us on the Blue Trail.  This isn't marked on the map, so I'm glad they confirmed it for us.  And since we had been out there for almost 2 hours already, we took that option! 

The Red Trail was so scenic, overlooking the creek.  Although it had a couple big dips (very popular with the bikers), it wasn't a hard trail at all.

Overall, our hike was almost 6 miles, and we barely covered half the park.  I would love to go back someday and start at the other end, to see the rest of the area.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Coffee Book Tag

I saw this tag, originally created by BangadyBangz, over on He Said Books Or Me, and thought it sounded really fun.  I mean, books and coffee - what could be better?

Black - a book or series that was hard to get into but has a die-hard fanbase.  I'm going with Caraval on this one; although I know a lot of bloggers had the same issues I did with this book, there's no denying that it's really popular.  I wasn't a huge fan of the flowery writing, but I did get drawn into the game.

Peppermint Mocha - a book that gets popular around the holiday season.  A Christmas Carol.  It's such a classic and instantly recognizable as a holiday favorite.

Hot chocolate - your favorite children's book.  Behind the Attic Wall.  It's one of the first books I remember rereading as a child.  I named my cat after one of the characters!  Although, since this book is about talking dolls, I'm surprised it didn't give me nightmares.

Double shot of espresso - a book that kept you on the edge of your seat.  The Girl on the Train was such a thrill ride for me - I had to know what would happen.  I lost sleep, I got to work late, I couldn't put this one down!

Starbucks - a book you see everywhere.  The Kiss Quotient.  Am I the only person not reading this book?

Hipster coffee shop - shoutout to a book by an indie author.  This one is hard for me, as I don't really read indie authors.  But this book, Wild Mountain, will make you want to take a trip to Vermont.

Decaf - a book you expected more from.  I chose Red Rising.  After seeing so many other bloggers rave about it, I finally read it and I was... underwhelmed.  I did a lot of skimming and the world just didn't make sense to me.

The perfect blend - a book with the perfect combination of bitter and sweet.  At times both completely heartwarming and heartbreaking, Henry's Sisters is a good mix of bitter and sweet.  You'll laugh, and then you'll cry your eyes out.

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