Friday, March 22, 2019

Blog Break + Review: Foe

Just a quick scheduling note that I'll be taking a brief break from the blog next week!  I'm hoping to get some fun stuff ready for the coming weeks, so I'll talk to you all in April!

Iain Reid
Published September 4, 2018
A taut, philosophical mind-bender from the bestselling author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

We don’t get visitors. Not out here. We never have.

In Iain Reid’s second haunting, philosophical puzzle of a novel, set in the near-future, Junior and Henrietta live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with alarming news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm...very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Henrietta won't have a chance to miss him, because she won't be left alone—not even for a moment. Henrietta will have company. Familiar company.

Told in Reid’s sharp and evocative style, Foe examines the nature of domestic relationships, self-determination, and what it means to be (or not to be) a person. An eerily entrancing page-turner, it churns with unease and suspense from the first words to its shocking finale. - from Goodreads
The thing that ran through my mind the most while reading this book was, WTF WTF WTF?!? This sci-fi story is a thriller, but not in the typical action-packed sense.  It's a character-driven, atmospheric, and psychological thriller.

Junior and his wife Henrietta ("Hen") live on a farm in the middle of nowhere.  One day, Terrance, a representative of OuterMore, a quasi-government organization that is researching space exploration, visits their farm and announces that Junior has been entered into a lottery to be a part of the expedition to the space station.  Some time later, Terrance returns to inform Junior that he has been chosen.  The trip could last years, but Hen won't be alone back on Earth - OuterMore will provide her with a very familiar companion.

One of my first thoughts when reading was, well, this seems unfair - Junior didn't ask to be part of this expedition, and now there's a chance he could be taken away from his home?  What if he doesn't want to go?  The lottery process takes so long that it's actually a couple years before Terrance comes back to tell Junior he's been chosen, so now he's been stewing about it for all this time.  Then once he's been chosen, the process to prepare him and Hen for the mission starts, and things get even weirder.

In the midst of all this, we have three major characters.  Junior is the narrator; he's a pretty simple guy.  He loves his wife, loves his home, goes to work everyday.  Hen was not super-likable.  There were several times she attempted to tell Junior how unhappy she is in their life together, how she feels smothered by him, how she wants to see more of the world, but she would never come out and say she wanted to leave him.  And then there's Terrance.  It was hard to know what to make of him, to know if I could trust him.  He's so invested in helping Hen and Junior prepare for the mission, but his methods were strange.

Just when I was wondering how this would all work out, boom - MASSIVE twist I didn't see coming!  It totally changed the way I looked back at the story.  I really liked the ending of the book, too - even though it felt slightly heavy-handed, for me it was the only logical conclusion.  I loved the writing; it was very straightforward, but also had an eerie and ominous undertone to it.  If you're looking for a sci-fi story that's a little different, definitely give this one a try!

4.5 stars

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Stepsister

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

Jennifer Donnelly
Expected publication date: May 28, 2019
A startling, fiercely feminist re-imagining of Cinderella from the bestselling, award-winning author Jennifer Donnelly.

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe ... which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

Evoking the darker, older versions of the Cinderella story, bestselling author Jennifer Donnelly shows us that ugly is in the eye of the beholder, and uses her trademark wit and wisdom to send an overlooked character on a journey toward empowerment, redemption, and a new definition of beauty. - from Goodreads
I love that this dark Cinderella retelling is from the stepsister's POV!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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.  I had a hard time narrowing this down to ten books.  Everything has been looking good lately, and I never have enough time for it all!  This spring, I'm hoping to finally catch up on some books that I've been wanting to read for a while.

Have you read any of these?

Monday, March 18, 2019

How Do You Manage Your Blogging Time?

Around this time last year, I was in a little bit of a blogging funk.  I was unmotivated and uninspired, and I had way fewer scheduled posts than I normally do.  Fast forward to this year, and again I feel like I'm falling behind in my blogging.  This time, though, it's not because of feeling burned out.  Now, my biggest issue is time.

There is so much that goes into blogging, and lately I never feel like I have enough time to do it all.  I'm not sure why that is - even though I started a new job, my schedule is still the same.  I have my husband and house to take care of, but that's not new, either!  I think a lot of it comes down to priorities and how much time each individual task takes to do: 

  • Blog hopping - I feel like this is a super-important part of being a member of the book blogging community.  I follow well over 100 blogs (is this normal?  how many do you follow?) so everyday there are dozens of new posts to look at.  I try to comment on as many as I can, and I think this is what's taking up the biggest part of my blogging time.
  • Prepping my own blog posts - This is where I seem to be struggling a bit.  I need to be spending more time working on my own blog, but I tend to blog-hop first, and then whatever time I have left, I work on my own.  Inevitably, I run out of time and keep putting things off.
  • Replying to comments on my own blog - I feel bad that this is a lower priority, because I really do love and appreciate all your comments!  It might take a couple days, but eventually I do respond to all of them.
  • Reading - If I don't read, then I have nothing to blog about, so I definitely have to make time for that!  Since I've been doing more mini-reviews, it feels like I need to read even more, because I usually put two of those into one review post.
I love to blog hop and read everyone's posts; it's also a good way of promoting my blog.  However, if I don't spend enough time on my own posts, there won't be anything new for readers - it's such a catch-22!  As much as I love blogging, I can't (and don't want to) spend several hours a day doing it.  It's really a balancing act, and it's one that I'm not doing such a great job of right now!

So, fellow bloggers, how do you do it all?  How do you allocate and manage your blogging time?  What is your top priority when blogging?  And how many blogs do you follow?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Backlist Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: A Storm Is Coming

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (1997)

In The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger recounts a massive storm that hit the Atlantic in October of 1991 and the lives it affected.  I remember watching the movie of the same name years ago, and so I wanted to read this book to help fill in the gaps.

Probably the most well-known fact about the storm, for me at least, is the loss of the fishing boat Andrea Gail and its crew.  Unfortunately, even with all the research in the world, no one will ever know what actually happened to them.  The men were out of radio contact for several days, and very little of the boat was ever found.  Junger can only speculate what the men's final hours were like.

However, that's not the only case he discusses in the book.  He goes into great detail about the lives of fishermen.  I really got a sense of how dangerous the work is, how transient their lifestyle can be, and, surprisingly, how often they have premonitions.  Junger also recounts several other sinkings and rescues during the storm.  He switches around between the different stories a lot, which sometimes got confusing with all the names, but it was still a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking read.  4 stars

Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye (2015)

In Heron Key, Florida, already-strained tensions are put to the test when a local woman is beaten almost to death and a hurricane bears down on the community.

First off, I loved the setting of this book - Lafaye did such a great job bringing the beach town to life.  I could practically feel the humidity as I was reading.  The story takes places in 1935, and although the Depression didn't hit this area of the country as hard, the people still faced problems, which were exacerbated by an influx of WWI veterans (both white and black) who were brought in to work on public works projects.  The characters were very complex, and the racial tensions were evident in almost every social class.  Black veterans who were embraced by the Europeans during the war came back to a country that still treated them horribly.

The massive hurricane that strikes the town took up a large portion of the book, but I didn't mind.  I was practically on the edge of my seat, wanting to know who would make it through the storm.  Overall, this was a well-written and engaging story about love, family, and racism.  4 stars

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Passengers

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

The Passengers
John Marrs
Expected publication date: April 1, 2019
Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

The new gripping page-turning thriller from the bestselling author of THE ONE - soon to be a major Netflix series.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife - and parents of two - who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem? - from Goodreads
John Marrs' The One was one of my favorite books from last year, and this upcoming book sounds just as clever, thrilling, and unique!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Down The TBR Hole #1

Down the TBR Hole is a feature created by Lost in a Story.  I've seen it on a few other blogs and thought I would try it out myself!  It seems like a really good way to cull your TBR of those books you're no longer interested in.  So how does it work?

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if youre feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

Here are the books I'm looking at this time:

Royals by Rachel Hawkins

Daisy's sister is dating the Prince of Scotland, so Daisy joins her at the castle, where she meets the Prince's younger brother.

I'm obsessed with anything royal, so even though this isn't the most unique premise, it's on my TBR for a reading challenge and I'm still interested in it.  Keeping this one!

The Last Wish of Sasha Cade by Cheyanne Young

A teenage girl is surprised to find out her best friend, who recently passed away, planned a scavenger hunt for her.

This one sounds so emotional, and I love a book that can make me cry.  Keeping this one!

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

Historical fiction novel focusing on the life and loves of Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy.

I'm fascinated by the Kennedy family, and I love historical fiction.  Keeping this one!

The Last Hours by Minette Walters

When the Black Death starts to spread across England, Lady Anne brings her serfs and family inside the manor estate and closes off the outside world.

For some reason, this one just isn't grabbing my attention anymore.  It's 500+ page length also gives me pause!  Passing on this one!

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

The teenage daughter in a very religious family with its own reality show becomes pregnant.

I love anything reality tv-related, plus I've read so many good reviews - keeping this one!

Have you read any of these?

Friday, March 8, 2019

Review: The Dead Queens Club

The Dead Queens Club
Hannah Capin
Published January 29, 2019
Mean Girls meets The Tudors in Hannah Capin’s The Dead Queens Club, a clever contemporary YA retelling of Henry VIII and his wives (or, in this case, his high school girlfriends). Told from the perspective of Annie Marck (“Cleves”), a 17-year-old aspiring journalist from Cleveland who meets Henry at summer camp, The Dead Queens Club is a fun, snarky read that provides great historical detail in an accessible way for teens while giving the infamous tale of Henry VIII its own unique spin.

What do a future ambassador, an overly ambitious Francophile, a hospital-volunteering Girl Scout, the new girl from Cleveland, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club have in common? It sounds like the ridiculously long lead-up to an astoundingly absurd punchline, right? Except it’s not. Well, unless my life is the joke, which is kind of starting to look like a possibility given how beyond soap opera it’s been since I moved to Lancaster. But anyway, here’s your answer: we’ve all had the questionable privilege of going out with Lancaster High School’s de facto king. Otherwise known as my best friend. Otherwise known as the reason I’ve already helped steal a car, a jet ski, and one hundred spray-painted water bottles when it’s not even Christmas break yet. Otherwise known as Henry. Jersey number 8.

Meet Cleves. Girlfriend number four and the narrator of The Dead Queens Club, a young adult retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives. Cleves is the only girlfriend to come out of her relationship with Henry unscathed—but most breakups are messy, right? And sometimes tragic accidents happen…twice… - from Goodreads
The Tudor era is one of my favorite historical eras to read about, both fiction and nonfiction, so when I heard about a modern retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives, set in high school, I knew I had to read it.  In The Dead Queens Club, Hannah Capin has captured the spirits of the original historical figures with a whole new dose of drama.

Undoubtedly, the reign of Henry VIII was marked by personal, political, and religious upheaval, but turning him into a high school golden boy who can't keep a relationship is kind of ingenious (not to make light of history, particularly since he had two of his wives executed).  The Henry of this story is athletic, smart, and charming - everyone loves him.  He's not perfect, though.  He has a wicked temper, and he can't stand the thought of any of his girlfriends cheating on him; it's almost instant grounds for a break-up (but he can cheat on them - hypocrite).  But now that two of his exes have died, is it impossible to believe that he had something to do with it?

Our narrator is Annie/girlfriend #4/"Cleves," who is Henry's best friend.  Although she loves to write and has grand ideas for the school paper, she's not very ambitious and has no idea what she's going to do when she graduates.  She could be frustrating because she obviously still has feelings for Henry and defends him almost to a fault - she never wants to believe anything bad about him.

Running through the story is the mystery of what happened to Anna Boleyn, who died in a fiery explosion on prom night.  Did she really set it all up?  Was she trying to kill Henry?  There were so many rumors and stories, it was hard to know who and what to believe.

The writing and dialogue are snappy and keep the story moving, although the pacing wasn't always the best.  I don't know if it's my age, but at times the writing felt a little too clever and full of slang; there were parts I had to read a couple times just to understand what the characters were saying.  Also, there is A LOT of slut-shaming, with Anna Boleyn and Katie Howard taking the brunt of it.  Such unnecessary malice, although I liked the way Cleves took a stand against it.

4 stars

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Mother-In-Law

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

The Mother-in-Law
Sally Hepworth
Expected publication date: April 23, 2019
Someone once told me that you have two families in your life - the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don't choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm's length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they'll never have the closeness she'd been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something...

From the bestselling author of The Family Next Door comes a new page-turner about that trickiest of relationships. - from Goodreads
Although Sally Hepworth's novels have been hit-or-miss for me, I'm really looking forward to this one - the MIL/DIL relationship can be such a tough one!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Out Of This World Recommendations

While I personally would never want to go to space, I'm still fascinated by it and love books that are set there.  Here are my recommendations for some awesome fiction books that take place at least partially in space and two nonfiction books about space!



What are some of your favorite books set in space?

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Month in Review: February 2019

February was actually a fairly busy month around here!  We got our taxes done, which may not sound exciting, but it's one of the few times I can see my sister during tax season.  She's a CPA, so she is super-busy right now, but she graciously takes time to help us prepare our return.

For Valentine's Day, Tom and I did a paint and sip class - it was a "date night" class, so it had two canvases making up one picture.  I'm not sure how I got him to agree to it!  He did a great job, though, and I think he even had some fun!

We celebrated my mom's birthday with a dinner out at a new-to-us restaurant.  It was a fun night, capped off by a delicious ice cream cake made by my sister!

For the first time in my adult life, I had actually had President's Day off from work, so Tom and I used the day to look for new furniture.  There were some pretty great sales going on, and we were able to get some nice stuff at a price I actually wanted to pay.  I can't wait for it to be delivered!  This is what constitutes "exciting" when you're a homeowner!

The Books

Pancakes in Paris (review to come) // The Royal Runaway (review to come) // A Royal Match // The Gown (review to come)

The Titan's Curse (audio) // The Uncertain Season // The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes // The Secret Wife

Thank you to my stepmom Linda for the recommendation of The Secret Wife!

I Owe You One // The Perfect Storm (review to come) // 40 Love // The Dead Queens Club (review to come)
The Posts and Reviews

The Posts I Loved

Erica at Erica Robyn Reads gives her thoughts on labeling children's books

Tasya at the Literary Huntress discusses the problematic trope of enemies-to-lovers 

Clo at Bookwyrming Thoughts talks about three love cliches she wishes would disappear 

Rita at View From the Books writes about what love looks like to her (have a tissue handy!)

How was your February?  Did you do anything fun to celebrate any of the holidays?

Friday, March 1, 2019

Royal Mini-Reviews

The Royal Runaway by Lindsay Emory (2018)

Princess Theodora is shocked when her fiance doesn't show up on their wedding day, but a visit from his brother (who just happens to be a spy) leads Thea to wonder if this was more than just a case of cold feet.

I thought this book was a fun spin on the books about royalty I normally read - instead of getting her happily-ever-after, Thea's wedding day is ruined and she gets drawn into a web of lies and intrigue (both political and romantic).  The story was well-paced, and there were a few twists I didn't see coming - I didn't know who to trust!

I did have some issues with this book, though.  I felt like there were a lot of inconsistencies - even after it becomes obvious that something nefarious was going on, Thea still kept saying that Christian dumped her - I mean, the man hasn't been seen in 4 months, no one thought that was weird?  Also, there were several instances where other characters described Thea as prone to running away, when actually she seemed the most duty-bound of her whole family.  3.5 stars

The Gown by Jennifer Robson (2018)

Ok, historical fiction, dual timelines, a connection to Queen Elizabeth - this book sounds like it has everything for me.  While I didn't expect that there would be a ton of action in a story about the creation of Queen Elizabeth's wedding dress, I also didn't think it would be so... bland.  Unfortunately, this one was a let-down.

In 1947, Ann and Miriam are embroiderers working for the designer that would create Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth's wedding dress.  In 2016, Heather is going through her late grandmother Ann's possessions when she finds pieces of embroidery that match the Queen's dress, and she sets off on a quest to find out more about her grandmother's life before she emigrated to Canada.

Normally I love dual timelines, but the present-day timeline was almost completely unnecessary.  It just served to show how little Ann's family knew about her.  The past storyline was... okay, for lack of a better word.  There is one unsettling and traumatic event that ends up defining Ann's life, and while I sympathize, I still didn't understand why she had to cut off her friends in England completely and never tell her family about her life in England.  I was just frustrated.  I wanted better character development, I wanted more of the royal family.  There were hints about how the wedding was affecting the country as a whole (was it right to have a lavish wedding so soon after the war, when people were still struggling?  or would it be a great reason to have everyone come together and celebrate?), and that I enjoyed.  2.5 stars