Friday, September 28, 2018

Blog Break + Month in Review: September 2018

Just a little housekeeping note that I'll be taking a short break from the blog next week!

September was a great month!  As soon as September 1st hits, I consider it fall, and the weather has finally started cooperating.  I've been wanting to practice my photography, so my sister and her family graciously let me take their Christmas card photos; my niece is turning into quite the little model!  Labor Day was spent with a good chunk of the family.  We were finally able to get some hiking and long walks in, at Sourland Mountain Preserve and the Morris Arboretum.  We did some work in the yard and planted two boxwood bushes; I also got some mums for the front porch.  Fantasy football is in full swing; unfortunately, Team Outlaw is off to a slow start at 1-2, but hopefully we can turn it around!

The Books

Until We Meet Again (review to come) // The Rose Garden (review to come) // The Lightning Thief (audio) // Playing With Matches (review to come)

Wonder Women // Alex & Eliza (review to come) // The Cheerleaders // The Silent Companions (review to come)

The Widow's House (review to come) // The Sea of Monsters (audio) // Reawakened // Wide Sargasso Sea

I, Eliza Hamilton (review to come) // The Girl from Everywhere // The Paper Magician

The Posts and Reviews

The Posts I Loved

  How was your September?  Have you had a pumpkin spice latte yet?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Au Pair

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

The Au Pair
Emma Rous
Expected publication date: January 8, 2019
A grand estate, terrible secrets, and a young woman who bears witness to it all. If V. C. Andrews and Kate Morton had a literary love child, Emma Rous’ The Au Pair would be it.

Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle.

Now an adult, Seraphine mourns the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is beautifully dressed, smiling serenely, and holding just one baby.

Who is the child and what really happened that day?

One person knows the truth, if only Seraphine can find her. - from Goodreads
So... a bunch of secrets, a big estate house, and a comparison to Kate Morton?  I'm definitely in for this one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Sourland Mountain Preserve

Ever since we moved to our new house last year, I've been wanting to check out the nearby Sourland Mountain Preserve, and we finally got a chance to!

Sourland Mountain Preserve is a 4,000 acre preserve located in Hillsborough. For more information about the park and to get a trail map, visit the Somerset County Park Commission here.

The preserve has a couple major trails and then a few connector trails that you can take to visit other areas or make your hike shorter or longer.  Our plan was to take the 5-mile Ridge Trail around the outer limits.  From the trailhead, we started moving up the eastern portion of the trail.  It had a pretty steady incline up to Devil's Half-Acre Boulders.  The trail had an outcropping of rocks and roots through this entire climb, so we definitely had to watch our footing.

Just a small portion of Devil's Half-Acre Boulders

Once we passed the boulders, the trail mellowed out a bit and we were able to move a lot quicker.  Even though there were a lot of cars in the parking lot, we only came across a group of Boy Scouts and it was really quiet most of the way.  That's something that always surprises me when we hike - even though I know we're in the middle of a pretty populated area, it can feel entirely isolated and peaceful.

Unfortunately, the trail conditions weren't the best the day we went (it had rained a lot the night before, so it was pretty muddy), so instead of doing the entire Ridge Trail, we took advantage of a connector trail that basically bisected the preserve.  Coming down a pipeline, this trail had a pretty good view of the area and was somewhat steep - going downhill can be just as hard as going uphill sometimes!

Connector Trail
We ended up doing almost 3 miles, and we're definitely planning on going back and hitting the rest of Sourland Mountain Preserve!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Reading Habits Book Tag

I saw this fun tag about reading habits over at Cornerfolds, and I wanted to do it, too!

 Tom and I have "assigned" seats on the couch; it's just where we always sit, so that's where I do most of my reading, even if I'm by myself!  If it's nice, sometimes I'll read outside.  I want to use the comfy reading chair in my office/library more, and I probably will once the cooler weather gets here and it's not so hot upstairs in our house.

Definitely bookmark!  I have a lot of cute ones (one of my favorites is a bookmark with my niece's school picture) and I even have some from different countries that my co-worker picks up for me on her travels.

I have to stop at the end of a chapter.  If I just stop in the middle of something, I'll forget everything!  If a chapter is super-long, I can stop during it if there is some sort of break in the text.

I'm usually drinking water, or tea if it's cold outside.  Sometimes I'll read while I eat dinner, but it's hard to eat while reading a physical book.

The TV is usually on in the background when I'm reading, sometimes just for white noise.  If Tom and I are watching something together, I read during the commercials.

These days I usually have two books going at once: one physical book and then an audiobook in the car while I'm driving to and from work.  I feel like utilizing that extra hour in the car to "read" has really helped my reading goals!

Usually I just read at home, but if I think I'm going to have to wait awhile at a doctor's office or something, I'll make sure to bring a book with me.  And of course, an audiobook in the car!
Silently in my head!  The only exception to this is if I'm reading some really cool nonfiction book and there's some interesting tidbit that I just need to tell someone - then I will read it out loud to Tom.

Well, we all know I read the last page first.  I count the pages until the end of the chapter so I know how long it is, so sometimes I'll read a little bit ahead.  But I don't skip pages completely; if I'm really bored, sometimes I'll skim paragraphs.

I try to keep it looking like new, but I also feel like a broken spine is a sign of a well-loved book!  I've read my hardcover copy of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova so many times that the spine is completely cracked and it's falling apart.

Do you have any strange or funny reading habits?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Marriage Edition

Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun (2017)

A collection of essays about what marriage really means to the author and an honest look at the ups and downs of binding yourself to another person.

In general, marriage doesn't turn out to be the complete "happily-ever-after" we envision on our wedding day, but neither is it the soul-sucking institution that some would have you believe.  Calhoun takes a look at some things you may not necessarily realize about marriage until you've been in one for awhile.  I thought she made some good points, ones that made me think.  A lot of married life revolves around the mundane - paying bills, going to work, etc.  Your partner will probably change throughout their life, as will you, and you both will need to find ways to be happy with each new version.  Communication is so important, but sometimes there can be comfort in silence.

However, I had a lot of issues with this book.  At less than 170 pages of actual text, it's just way too short.  It seems like Calhoun did a lot of interviews/research and she probably could have included more of it.  The writing felt very scattered, even for an essay format.  I didn't care for her cavalier attitude about infidelity, and when she and her friend fantasized about becoming widows, I almost had to quit.  3 stars

How To Be Married by Jo Piazza (2017)

After a whirlwind courtship, Jo Piazza and her husband Nick spend their first year of marriage traveling the world and learning what it means to be married in various cultures.

I really enjoyed this book - it was part travel memoir and part personal memoir.  Piazza included a lot of research and interviews that she did with people in her travels, but she also opened up about issues such as her health and the stress of buying a home.  Her writing style is very comfortable and easy to read.

I loved learning about the different ways marriage is viewed throughout the world:
  • In Chile, women spend a lot of time nurturing their husbands egos, when really they are the ones in charge.
  • In Denmark, couples work hard to create a cozy home where they can relax and be present in their relationship.
  • A work-life balance is super-important in Holland.
  • Gratitude, especially for the small things, keeps Indian marriages alive. 
Aside from all the cultural discussions, Piazza also touches on other general relationship issues such as marrying older and how to become a unit while still maintaining your own life.  A lot of the things she discussed resonated with me, and I think they'll be relevant for a lot of people.  4 stars

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Kingdom of the Blind

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

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14)
Louise Penny
Expected publication date: November 27, 2018
When a peculiar letter arrives inviting Armand Gamache to an abandoned farmhouse, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec discovers that a complete stranger has named him one of the executors of her will. Still on suspension, and frankly curious, Gamache accepts and soon learns that the other two executors are Myrna Landers, the bookseller from Three Pines, and a young builder.

None of them had ever met the elderly woman.

The will is so odd and includes bequests that are so wildly unlikely that Gamache and the others suspect the woman must have been delusional. But what if, Gamache begins to ask himself, she was perfectly sane?

When a body is found, the terms of the bizarre will suddenly seem less peculiar and far more menacing.

But it isn’t the only menace Gamache is facing.

The investigation into what happened six months ago—the events that led to his suspension—has dragged on, into the dead of winter. And while most of the opioids he allowed to slip though his hands, in order to bring down the cartels, have been retrieved, there is one devastating exception.

Enough narcotic to kill thousands has disappeared into inner city Montreal. With the deadly drug about to hit the streets, Gamache races for answers.

As he uses increasingly audacious, even desperate, measures to retrieve the drug, Armand Gamache begins to see his own blind spots. And the terrible things hiding there. - from Goodreads
I'm just so in love with this series and the characters, and I can't wait to see what Penny does in the next installment.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: My Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is our fall TBR.  I want to try to read some creepy/scary books to fit the season, so I have some of those mixed in with other books I want to read:

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

5 Ways To Make Book Reviews More Fun To Read (& Write!)

One big hot topic issue in book blogging is reviews.  Does anyone actually read them?  Why do they get fewer views and comments than other posts?  Do we even need to write them?  I personally feel that writing book reviews is a big part of book blogging, but I can admit I don't read every blogger's review of every book, and sometimes writing them can be a chore.  I still write and read many traditional book reviews, but sometimes I want to switch it up, so today I've come up with some ways to make book reviews more appealing to read and more fun to write!

I'll be honest, sometimes I just don't have the patience to read (or write) a review that's several paragraphs long.  But lists - those are easy to read!  Whether it's pros and cons, things you liked or didn't like, or bullet points, list reviews get right to the point.  I did this this in my five reasons you'll love "Something Like Happy" review, and other bloggers who are awesome at list reviews are Sam at We Live and Breathe Books and Marie at Drizzle and Hurricane Books.

This is a tactic I've started to use more and more.  Sometimes you just don't have a ton to say about a book, but you still want to review it.  It's a good way to get in the highlights, plus you can review more books.  My sister, who is a reader but not a blogger, says she often prefers reading mini-reviews to longer reviews because she can get impressions of more books in less time.  Grace at Rebel Mommy Book Blog is just one blogger who does a great job of incorporating mini-reviews.

What were you thinking?
Instead of getting into all the particulars of plot, character development, and writing style, tell the reader your impressions of the book as you were reading it.  Using your Goodreads updates or tweets, list your WTF moments, places where the story was dragging, or when you wanted to give a character a hug - without giving away too many spoilers, if possible!  I think this makes the review a lot more personal.

Write a love letter
I often find when I dislike a book, it's easy to write the review and rant about the things that didn't work or I didn't like, but for some reason, when I love a book, it's hard to articulate why.  Writing a love letter to the book, the author, or even a character may help you get some of those fangirl feelings out without the formal structure of a regular review.

Things you learned
I've been reading a lot more nonfiction this year, but sometimes I find it hard to review those types of books.  Listing some interesting facts you learned or lessons you took away from the book is a fun way to talk about the book and get readers interested.  I did this with five takeaways from "The Year of Less," which was a memoir/self-help book about spending less money, among other things.

What are some ways you get creative with your book reviews?  What makes you read a book review?

Friday, September 14, 2018

5 Reasons Why You'll Love "This Could Change Everything"

This Could Change Everything
Jill Mansell
Published June 5, 2018
All it takes is one email to end her relationship, get her kicked out of her apartment, and just about ruin her life. Essie Phillips never meant for her private rant about her boss to be sent to everyone in her address book, but as soon as it goes viral, her life as she knows it is over. Solution: move to a new town, find a new job, make new friends. If only it were as simple as that... - from Goodreads
While drunk one night, Essie decides to write one of those Christmas brag letters - except instead of writing about all the fun things she did during the year, she lets loose a rant that somehow then gets forwarded to all of her email contacts.  Since the rant was about her boss, who just happens to be her boyfriend's mother, she loses her job, relationship, and home in one fell swoop.  This Could Change Everything follows Essie as she tries to start over, with the help of her best friend Scarlet and some new acquaintances.  Here are five reasons why I think you'll enjoy this book!

1. Zillah.  Zillah is Essie's landlady at her new home.  At 83, Zillah is still going strong - she loves people, loves going out, and dresses to the nines.  She was so upbeat and charming!  I think my favorite thing about her was her project to grant wishes for other elderly people, kind of like Make-A-Wish but for adults.  I teared up each time she created a magical memory for someone who didn't have a lot of time left.

2. The romances.  I have to admit, romance is not necessarily something I seek out in books, but there were a couple in this book that were just so sweet.  Even though it was obvious from the beginning who would end up with who, I liked the routes they took to get there.  Mansell plays with the idea that a relationship that seems perfect on paper may not actually be one's destiny.

3. The writing.  I love Mansell's writing - it is comfortable and easy-to-read.  For me, her signature is introducing a bunch of characters and then having them come together in some twist of fate. 

4. The character development.  I typically like plot-driven books more than character-driven ones, but I actually enjoyed that there was less action in this book.  I loved getting to know the characters and watching their journeys.  Even though Essie is the main character, the supporting characters played roles that were just as large.  Each had hidden layers that were slowly peeled back, revealing more depth.  I think you'll love finding out about Scarlet's hidden talents and learning why Conor (Essie's neighbor) quit a successful career as a lawyer.

5. The ending.  Minor spoiler - if you enjoy a "happily-ever-after," this is the book for you.  At the time I read this book, I really needed something happy and charming and cozy, and this hit the spot.  Was it predictable?  Yes.  Did I care?  No.

4 stars

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Love à la Mode

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

Stephanie Kate Strohm
Expected publication date: November 27, 2018
Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent's school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn't all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad's restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent's school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie's growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other. - from Goodreads
Paris, food, and Stephanie Kate Strohm (also the author of one of my favorite books of the year, Prince in Disguise) - I'm in!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is hidden gems.  I went through my Goodreads "Read" list and chose some books I really enjoyed that didn't have a lot of reviews or ratings.  These books are all wonderful, so I'm hoping to get the word out there about them!


Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon: Time travel, love, family, forgiveness - this book has it all. 

Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke: If you like Downton Abbey, try this book out.

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton: A quiet yet powerful "end of the world" story.


 The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice: A quirky coming-of-age story, for fans of I Capture the Castle.

The Windy City Magic series by Crystal Cestari: This YA series with a dose of magical realism is so adorable, I'm really surprised I haven't seen more love for it!


 A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott: If you enjoy historical fiction and Gone With the Wind, you'll love this one.

How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat: Other bloggers have talked about this book, but I really think more people should read it, for its messages about social media and self-confidence.

The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro: A grand English estate, a decades-old mystery - love this one!

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard: This well-plotted, slow burn murder mystery is a must for anyone who likes character-driven suspense.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Some Bookish Memories

A little while ago, the Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl, was about books with sensory memories: books that are linked to very specific memories (where you were, what time of year it was, who you were with, what you were eating, what you were feeling, what you were seeing, etc.).  Even though I've read a ton of books in my life, I didn't think I had many specific memories of individual books that really stood out, so I didn't participate that week.  However, after reading so many other bloggers' lists and memories, it sparked something in my memory and I was able to come up with a few of my own.  So, here's the list I should have had that week! 


Behind the Attic Wall: This is one book I distinctly remember reading as a kid, and more than once.  I loved it so much I named my pet cat after one of the characters!

Nancy Drew: My aunts read Nancy Drew when they were younger, and my grandmother kept a lot of their old books.  When we would visit, she would let my sister and I read them!

The Selection series: I brought this series on vacation with me when we went to Las Vegas last year.  I thought it would be a fun, light reread.  I didn't get much reading done on our trip, but figured I would get some reading time in on the flight home.  Our flight stopped in Denver for what was supposed to be a short time (we weren't even supposed to get off the plane), but something happened, they made us all get off the plane, and we ended up being stuck in the Denver airport for HOURS.  I ended up reading quite a lot during that layover!


Anna Karenina: When I went off to college, I didn't bring many books with me, assuming I wouldn't have a lot of time to read for fun, but I brought Anna Karenina, I guess thinking that because it was so long, I wouldn't need any other books.  I distinctly remember sitting on the couches in the student center on a Friday night, reading it.  Now that I think about it, I was kind of pretentious - I swear, I had friends!

The Almost Archer Sisters: I decided to switch careers in my twenties and attended my local community college at night to get my paralegal certificate.  I would often get there really early because the parking situation was so bad, and I would either sit outside or in the library, eating Pop-Tarts for dinner and reading before my class.  I didn't have many books at home, so I reread a lot, and I remember reading this book at least twice in one semester.

Playing the Game: Tom and I were in Baltimore for a long weekend, and we browsed for a bit in the Barnes & Noble at the Inner Harbor.  I ended up buying this book, but the highlight of the weekend was Tom proposing!  Even though I ended up not liking the book very much, I held onto it for years because it brought back a lot of happy memories from that weekend.

What is your favorite bookish memory?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Check Out Literary Book Gifts!

I know it's only September, but it's never too early to start thinking about the holiday season.  Books are always a great gift for the book lovers in your life (and yourself!), but there are plenty of other unique bookish items out there!  I was recently contacted by Melissa of Literary Book Gifts, and she invited me to check out her site that's full of literary-inspired items, including men's and women's t-shirts, tank tops, and sweatshirts and (my favorite) tote bags. 

Featuring classic authors and books, the clothing items come in several sizes and colors, and for people like me who can never figure out what size they are, there's a handy sizing chart.  Here are just a couple of the fun clothing designs to show off your love of reading:

I'm a firm believer that you can never have too many tote bags, and Literary Book Gifts has some really cute designs (and they come in three sizes).  These are some of my favorite designs:

If you see anything you're interested in, Literary Book Gifts is offering the following promo code MUSINGSOFALITERARYWANDERER20, which is good for 20% off anything in the store, no minimum, and it doesn't expire!
Happy shopping!

Disclaimer: I did not receive anything in exchange for this post.