Friday, June 28, 2019

Mini-Review: Sherwood

Meagan Spooner
Published March 19, 2019
Robin of Locksley is dead.

Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancĂ©.

Who is there to stop them?

Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood. - from Goodreads
When Robin is killed fighting in the Crusades, Marian doesn't know what she'll do.  While trying to help a friend, she is accidentally mistaken for Robin and she realizes she has a chance to help improve the lives of those in her community.

I've never read a Robin Hood retelling and I only know the basic premise of the original story,  so I went in with minimal expectations.  Spooner is a gifted writer; her stories always have this quiet elegance about them.  However, this kind of meant that the action scenes didn't have a huge spark to them.  I never really got a thrill from any fight or heist scenes.  And I wanted more of those heist scenes; the small bits we got of Marian and the Merry Men planning and executing their missions to steal from the rich to give to the poor were quite fun.

Marian is a bit of the cliche "not like other girls" character.  Her height and archery skills set her apart and she doesn't feel particularly comfortable performing "typical" female duties.  I had to suspend some disbelief that people couldn't immediately tell she was a woman in Robin's clothes (although there were some good discussions about people seeing what they want to see, and to be fair, those closest to her weren't fooled).

The romance felt completely underdeveloped and unnecessary.  I much preferred the flashbacks to choice moments in Robin and Marian's relationship.  It just felt so real, especially how Marian remembered Robin in certain ways that others didn't necessarily agree with.  It made me wonder if that was because of his death and how things would have been different had he come back from the Crusades, and it made Marian question how well she actually knew him.

3 stars

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

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

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
Abbi Waxman
Expected publication date: July 9, 2019
The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They're all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It's a disaster! And as if that wasn't enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn't he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It's going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page. - from Goodreads
I think Nina and I could have a lot in common, and this story sounds cute, fun, and funny!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer Reading

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is our summer TBR - or what I like to call, my seasonal list of books I probably still won't get to!  Sometimes I actually do pretty well and read most of these TBRs, but I just took a look back at my spring TBR and realized I only read 2 of the 10 books I chose.  Oops!  Perhaps we should call this a list of books I would enjoy reading this summer, instead of a firm TBR!

Have you read any of these?  Where should I start (I mean, Recursion, obviously?!)?

Monday, June 24, 2019

Winterthur, Delaware

For my mom's birthday earlier this year, we promised her a trip to Winterthur, a house museum and garden in Delaware, to see the Costuming The Crown exhibit and walk through the gardens.  We had been there a few years prior to see the Downton Abbey costume exhibit, so we were excited to return, and a couple weeks ago, we visited on a perfect Saturday.

Winterthur is the 175-room former home of Henry Francis du Pont; for more information about the estate, click here.

We purchased timed tickets to take the house tour.  Small groups are led through a portion of the house every half hour.  The house is deceptively large; it was built in stages over generations, finally ending with 175 rooms over several stories.  Since you only see a small portion of the house, it's kind of hard to gauge how big it actually is, but it is sprawling and cleverly built into the terrain - at one point, you're on the fifth floor, but can walk out a door onto a lawn.


After we finished the house tour, we went over to the Costuming The Crown exhibit in one of the wings.  We've all watched and loved the show, so it was really neat to the see actual costumes the actors wore, oftentimes next to the real-life pictures that served as inspiration.  My niece loved seeing all the pretty dresses!

After the exhibit, we wandered out into the gardens, starting at the reflecting pool.  From here, you can kind of see the scale of the house!

Next we went to the Enchanted Forest section of the gardens; my niece loved this area and didn't want to leave, especially because she could have a tea party with grandma there!

After lunch, we took a tram ride around the perimeter of the garden; I love this part of the tour because you can see all different parts of the grounds; the guide talks about different plants and trees and also what the land was historically  used for in various sections (for example, there used to be a dairy on the property).  You can also walk the many paths through the garden.

We really enjoyed our second trip to Winterthur; I would highly recommend if you're ever in the area that you make it a point to stop there!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Backlist Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Wilderness Edition

Braving It: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey Into the Alaskan Wild by James Campbell (2016)

James Campbell recounts three trips to Alaska he took with his daughter Aidan over the course of a year.

I bought this book for my dad a couple years ago, as he is an avid outdoorsman, and I finally got around to reading it myself!  I really loved this travel memoir and also seeing the relationship between Campbell and his daughter grow.  Their first two trips to Alaska were to visit Campbell's cousin in the Arctic National Wildife Refuge; during the summer they helped him build a new cabin, and in the winter they helped him trap furs.  The third trip was a hiking and rafting trip with friends.

Campbell's writing is easy to read, but he doesn't skimp on the description.  I really feel like I got a good sense of the terrain and what it takes to live off the grid in the Arctic.  He isn't afraid to admit when he made mistakes and also doesn't sugarcoat anything when it comes to Aidan - when she's being a sullen teenager, he points it out.  Aidan, however, is an incredibly capable and impressive girl.  She is a hard worker and quick learner, and Campbell's pride in watching her grow, learn, and overcome her fears comes through so well.  4.5 stars

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar (2013)

In 1959, a group of hikers was found dead in the Ural Mountains of Russia, underdressed with no shoes, some injuries, and far from their torn-up tent.  Author Donnie Eichar uses government reports, the hikers' journals and photographs, and interviews to try to find an explanation for what happened to the group.

This book was fascinating - creepy, but fascinating.  Eichar, kind of by accident, came across the story of Igor Dyatlov and his group of friends, and he became obsessed with figuring out what happened to them.  The structure of the book was interesting - he interspersed chapters of his own research and trips to Russia with a narrative account of the hikers' trip, all leading up to a final chapter, which is purely speculative but attempts to lay out what Eichar thinks happened, based on his ability to rule out many possible theories.  And the theories are crazy - was there an avalanche that chased the hikers from their tent?  Were they attacked, by animals or humans?  Did they see something they shouldn't have, like a missile launch, and were murdered because of it?  Was it aliens or radioactivity?  The context of life and politics in Russia during the 1950s added additional layers to the case.

The book was a fairly short, quick read, which was good because I couldn't put it down; I needed to know what he would conclude.  The addition of excerpts from the hikers' journal and photographs they took along their trip made it feel so much more personal.  4.5 stars

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Maybe This Time

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

Maybe This Time
Kasie West
Expected publication date: July 9, 2019
One year. Nine events. Nine chances to . . . fall in love?

Weddings. Funerals. Barbecues. New Year's Eve parties. Name the occasion, and Sophie Evans will be there. Well, she has to be there. Sophie works for the local florist, so she can be found at every big event in her small hometown, arranging bouquets and managing family dramas.

Enter Andrew Hart. The son of the fancy new chef in town, Andrew is suddenly required to attend all the same events as Sophie. Entitled, arrogant, preppy Andrew. Sophie just wants to get her job done and finish up her sketches so she can apply to design school. But every time she turns around, there is Andrew, getting in her way and making her life more complicated. Until one day she wonders if maybe complicated isn't so bad after all . . .

Told over the course of one year and following Sophie from event to event, this delightful novel from master of romantic comedy Kasie West shows how love can blossom in unexpected places. - from Goodreads
I've been seeing the name Kasie West around for as long as I've been blogging and everyone seems to love her, yet I've never read her books!  I think this will be the one that finally gets me on the Kasie West bandwagon!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Mid-Year Reading & Blogging Goals Check-In

It's kind of hard to believe that this year is already just about half over, but that makes it the perfect time to check in on the reading and blogging goals I set in January!

  1. Keep track of where I'm finding books. I keep my TBR on Pinterest, and in the caption I always try to note if I'm adding the book because of a particular person or blog.  I think I've done a pretty good job of doing shoutouts, either in a review or a monthly recap, when I read a book that I've added because of someone else.
  2. Participate in at least two challenges.  I'm currently participating in three challenges, recapped below!
  3. Read at least 12 nonfiction books.  I've actually already read 12 nonfiction books, so I'm doing great on this goal!
  4. Bring back my "Try It, You Might Like It" feature.  I've done one post for this feature this year and have plans to do at least one more.
  5. Host a giveaway.  I did it!  I celebrated my blog's third blogoversary by hosting a giveaway.  I used Rafflecopter and Book Depository, and it was actually way easier than I thought it would be!  Thanks, everyone, for your tips and advice when I first announced this goal.
  6. Read the unread physical books on my shelves. Somehow I have even more unread books on my shelves than I did at the beginning of the year, but I've definitely been reading them.  I bring them to read during my lunch break, and that extra hour per day has really upped my reading totals for the year.
  7. Reorganize my book shelves. My library's book sale was earlier this year, so that was the perfect time to purge my shelves.  I ended up getting rid of 70 books and reorganized a bit better by genre.
As for the challenges I'm participating in...

For Beat the Backlist, hosted by Austine at NovelKnight, I chose 24 backlist books to read, and so far I've read 11.  I'm slightly behind on my TBR, but I have a couple of them out from the library right now waiting to be read.  And actually, out of the 89 books I've read so far this year, 68 of them have been backlist!

I've also joined the 2019 Retellings Reading Challenge, hosted by Tracy at Cornerfolds.  I've read 6 of the 9 books I originally chose, plus one in progress.  I've also read a few others not on my TBR and am working my way through the Bingo board!  If anyone has suggestions for the ones I haven't read yet, I'd love to hear them!

The last challenge I'm doing is the Royal Reading Challenge hosted by Adriana at She's Got Books on Her Mind.  So far I've read 6 of the 10 books I chose, with two more in progress.  I've also read a couple more that weren't on my original TBR.

This last one isn't a challenge, but I'm also working on the #IronThroneReadalong, hosted by NovelKnight and Of Wonderland.  Week 3 just started, so we are well into the first book!

How are you doing on your goals and challenges?

Friday, June 14, 2019

DNF&Y #1

DNF&Y is a feature hosted by Lindsi at Do You Dog-ear?  According to Lindsi, "DNF&Y is used to explain why I gave up on certain books, and what about them just didn't work for me. What I disliked about a book might be something you love, so it helps to share your thoughts even when they're negative!"  Since I tend to DNF quite a bit, I thought it would be fun to participate!

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly (2019)

Since I've been participating in a retellings reading challenge this year, I was really looking forward to this Cinderella-inspired story, told from the POV of one of the stepsisters.

I ended up DNFing around page 50, and I think this was a total "it's me, not you."  The story wasn't bad, but it was a bit confusing.  I think part of the problem for me is that I've been feeling a little burned out on YA fantasy lately and I have little patience when the world-building doesn't immediately provide answers or make sense.  I put this one aside, but I might pick it up again in the future.

One in a Million by Lindsey Kelk (2018)

I picked up this book on a whim at the library.  I was browsing the new release section and the cover jumped out at me; it was so adorable!  The blurb grabbed my attention, too - digital marketing and social media maven Annie accepts a challenge from a friend to make someone Instagram-famous in 30 days; that person just happens to be a social media-averse historian named Samuel.

I really wanted to like this one, but I ended up DNFing around 50%.  Although the idea for the story was really cute, the pacing was so slow and there was too much about Annie's family and not enough about Sam.  Also, it was feeling a bit predictable (like, of course the nerdy historian is a total hottie once he gets a haircut and new clothes).  I never really felt a pull to keep reading, and after a few days I finally decided to give up.

 Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke (2019)

I used to read my horoscope every day, so I was really looking forward to this story about a woman who manipulates the horoscope section of the magazine she works for to try to nudge a man into a relationship.

The beginning of the book just moved at a glacial pace.  I ended up DNFing at page 72 because it felt like nothing was happening, and the characters were relying too much on outside forces instead of their own brains.  I found myself caring more about the unsuspecting periphery characters and how the manipulated horoscopes were affecting their lives than I was about the main duo.  Also, I felt like the author was trying too hard with the main female lead, Justine - with her quirky clothes and penchant for constantly correcting other people's spelling and grammar.

Have you read any of these?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Golden Hour

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

The Golden Hour
Beatriz Williams
Expected publication date: July 9, 2019
The New York Times bestselling author of The Summer Wives and A Certain Age creates a dazzling epic of World War II-era Nassau—a hotbed of spies, traitors, and the most infamous couple of the age, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The Bahamas, 1941. Newly-widowed Leonora “Lulu” Randolph arrives in Nassau to investigate the Governor and his wife for a New York society magazine. After all, American readers have an insatiable appetite for news of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that glamorous couple whose love affair nearly brought the British monarchy to its knees five years earlier. What more intriguing backdrop for their romance than a wartime Caribbean paradise, a colonial playground for kingpins of ill-gotten empires?

Or so Lulu imagines. But as she infiltrates the Duke and Duchess’s social circle, and the powerful cabal that controls the islands’ political and financial affairs, she uncovers evidence that beneath the glister of Wallis and Edward’s marriage lies an ugly—and even treasonous—reality. In fact, Windsor-era Nassau seethes with spies, financial swindles, and racial tension, and in the middle of it all stands Benedict Thorpe: a scientist of tremendous charm and murky national loyalties. Inevitably, the willful and wounded Lulu falls in love.

Then Nassau’s wealthiest man is murdered in one of the most notorious cases of the century, and the resulting coverup reeks of royal privilege. Benedict Thorpe disappears without a trace, and Lulu embarks on a journey to London and beyond to unpick Thorpe’s complicated family history: a fateful love affair, a wartime tragedy, and a mother from whom all joy is stolen.

The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic of espionage, sacrifice, human love, and human courage, set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple. - from Goodreads
Beatriz Williams is an auto-read author for me.  I love her writing and the way she totally immerses readers in the setting.  This one has the added bonus of royalty!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Unpopular Bookish Opinions

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is unpopular bookish opinions.  Oh, boy, here we go...

  1. I think it's ok to read the last page of a book first.  Some people don't mind spoilers, and I'm one of them!  Sometimes I know I'm not going to finish a book, but I still want to know how it ends, which kind of leads to...
  2. DNFing is a good thing!  Some readers need to see a book through once they've started (my sister used to be one of them), and that's fine!  But for me, if I'm not enjoying a book, I stop reading it.  No sense in forcing myself to finish something, which leads me to...
  3. I DNFed This Savage Song.  This duology is so beloved around the blogosphere, but just a couple chapters in, I knew it wasn't the book for me.
  4. I also didn't finish The Book Thief.  Just... no. 
  5. I hated The Fault in Our Stars...
  6.  I also didn't really like Six of Crows or Red Rising.  Hmm, I seem to have a bad habit of disliking really hyped and highly-rated books!
  7. Other than two e-books I read a couple months ago, I read exclusively paper books.  I can totally see all the good things about e-readers, I just don't feel a pull to start using one more. 
  8. I've never read Sarah J. Maas, and I have no plans to. 
  9. I was really disappointed by Caraval and Legendary... but I might read Finale just to see how the series ends.

What are some of your unpopular bookish opinions?  Do we have any in common?

Monday, June 10, 2019

Six Things That Make Me Want to Read a Blog

Before I started my own blog, I was an avid reader of book blogs.  There were certain things then that drew me to particular blogs, and now that I've started my own, some things really stand out to me that make me want to keep reading the many blogs I follow, as well as incorporate into my own!

  1. A similar taste in books.  I like following bloggers who read the same books I do.  They're so helpful in finding even more books to read, and I can rely on them for reviews that help me decide whether to pick up a certain book or not.
  2. A dissimilar taste in books.  I know, this totally contradicts the first one!  There are so many bloggers out there and we definitely do not all read the same books - but this is good!  Bloggers who read stuff outside my comfort zone have really opened my eyes to all the possibilities out there.  I find out about books I probably never would have otherwise heard about, and it really broadens my reading horizons.
  3. A search button.  Sometimes I know I remember reading about something on a blog, but I can't remember exactly where.  A search button makes it so easy to find things instead of searching through all the posts.
  4. A way to easily add a book to my TBR.  If I see a book on a blog that I want to add to my TBR, it makes my life so much easier if there's an "add to Goodreads" or "add to Amazon" button or even just a link in the title.  I can open up new tabs and search for it myself, but let's face it, I'm lazy.
  5. Good discussions.  I think we can all agree that discussions are some of the most fun and thought-provoking posts out there.  I love reading the creative things other bloggers are coming up with and the way they can bring the community together.
  6. Getting personal.  If a blogger only wants to talk about books, that's totally cool.  Everyone has their own comfort level with what they want to share.  However, I also enjoy getting to know the people behind my favorite blogs.  Even if it's just little things like what you did over the weekend, it can make me feel even more of a connection with a blogger.
What are some things that you like to see in a blog?

Friday, June 7, 2019

Mini-Reviews: 2019 Releases

The Inbetween Days by Eva Woods (2019)

Rosie is in a coma after being hit by a bus, and she finds herself caught between life and death, conscious yet unable to communicate with her family.  As she begins to remember certain things, Rosie realizes that although her life before the accident wasn't perfect, maybe she has something to live for.

I loved Eva Woods' last book, Something Like Happy, so I was eager to return to her writing.  Like her previous novel, the writing is approachable and easy to read.  However, the tone of the novel, particularly at the beginning felt off, and honestly I almost DNFed the book.  As Rosie lies in her coma, she is visited by ghosts like her grandmother and childhood friend, A Christmas Carol-style, who bring her to random memories from her past.  I felt like there was a levity to this that didn't fit the crux of the story, that perhaps Rosie had stepped in front of the bus on purpose.  Her memories show an unhappy life, estrangement from her family, no career, a lost potential love interest.  I wanted the story to be serious, and the ghosts just kind of felt like a silly addition.

As the story went on, though, the uneven tone seemed to correct itself.  I felt Rosie's frustration in not being able to remember things and wondering why certain memories were presented; when all is finally revealed, it felt very poignant.  I also enjoyed that the story alternated between Rosie's memories and a POV from her sister Daisy, which helped add depth to their story.  3.5 stars

A Palm Beach Wife by Susannah Marren (2019)

Faith has it all - a wealthy husband, a place in Palm Beach high society, a successful business, and a grown daughter.  But what will happen to her when all of that is threatened?

I feel like this book had a lot of potential that was completely wasted.  I thought it was going to be about a woman who overcame a checkered past to strike it rich and now that past was coming back to haunt her, and that's not what I got.  Instead, Faith's husband Edward makes some bad investments and loses all of their money, leaving Faith to figure out how to pay off the creditors without losing her reputation.  I liked the idea that Faith took control immediately, because Edward was completely useless.  There were other random storylines that could have made plot so much more interesting but ultimately added nothing.  A secret daughter from Faith's past?  An affair?  Now, those could have made for some hot gossip around Palm Beach, but they didn't even come into play.  The author barely scratched the surface, and instead of being a fun summer read, the story felt bland.  Add in too much name-dropping of designer brands and awful dialogue, and this one was just a bummer.  2 stars

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Call It What You Want

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

Call It What You Want
Brigid Kemmerer
Expected publication date: June 25, 2019
When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.

Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.

When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship...

This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question: Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons? - from Goodreads
This sounds like it's going to be an emotional read, but that's what Brigid Kemmerer does best!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Month in Review: May 2019

Thank you to everyone who entered my 3rd blogoversary giveaway - the winner was Alicia!

The weather this month was unusually rainy, particularly at the beginning and then again at the end of the month.  It led to a lot of relaxing and reading inside!  We did have a few nice days, and we took advantage of that to start doing some stuff outside to get ready for summer - getting flowers for our planters and putting out the patio furniture.  I got an early start to the Memorial Day weekend when we lost power in our office and were sent home early, and the good luck continued into Monday when we had great weather for our barbecue!

I mentioned last month that our niece was born, and this month we welcomed yet another new little niece to the family!  So many kids to keep track of!  I've been wanting to do a travel wall of some of our vacation photos for years, but we didn't have room for it at our condo.  Finally, a year and a half after we moved into our house, I started this project!  I can't wait to add to it and keep ticking off states on our scratch map.  Also this month, we had a little get-together for family and friends to make blankets for Project Linus.  We were able to collect, make, and label 43 blankets for our local chapter!

Starting in June, Austine at NovelKnight and Aly at Of Wonderland are hosting a readalong of all the Game of Thrones books, dubbed #IronThroneReadalong!  I've been wanting to reread the books, but they are such a commitment!  The readalong breaks down the books into manageable weekly chunks, and I think that's a great way to go.  I'm planning on joining in - how about you?

The Books

The Posts and Reviews

The Posts I Loved 
This month I decided to highlight some book reviews I enjoyed!

Di at Book Reviews by Di reviews Romanov

Katie at Doing Dewey reviews Park Avenue Summer 

Greg at Book Haven reviews The Blue 

Amy at A Magical World of Words reviews Bright Burning Stars 

Verushka at POP.EDIT.LIT reviews For Better and Worse

How was your May?  Any summer plans coming up?