Monday, September 30, 2019

Down The TBR Hole #5

Down the TBR Hole is a feature created by Lost in a Story (although the blog seems to be down recently).  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:

 Vox by Christina Dalcher

This dystopian novel about a world where women can speak no more than 100 words a day got a huge amount of buzz when it was released last summer.  I've only seen good reviews for it.  I definitely want to read it, I just haven't had time yet!  Keep!
 The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

This one is a no-brainer - I just featured it last week, and I've been waiting for Erin Morgenstern to release another book since The Night Circus (one of my favorite books ever) came out years ago.  Keep!
 This Lie Will Kill You by Chelsea Pitcher

This YA thriller has a bit of a "I Know What You Did Last Summer" vibe that sounds like it could be really cool, although the Goodreads reviews are less than stellar.  Keeping for now!
 In The Blink of an Eye by Jesse Blackadder

This domestic drama follows a family after, you guessed it, "tragedy strikes."  I've read a lot of these types of books, and so I feel like they have to be really unique in some way for me to want to pick another one up.  This doesn't sound different enough.  Pass!
The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This book is about three siblings who discovery they may or may have not been kidnapped.  I added this to my TBR without realizing it was middle grade, which I don't really read.  I'm passing on this for now, unless someone out there has read it and can vouch for it?
Have you read any of these?

Friday, September 27, 2019

Mini-Reviews: Retellings

Ten by Gretchen McNeil (2012)

Thanks to Tracy at Cornerfolds for the rec!

Several teens are lured to a house party on a remote island, but when a storm cuts off all communication and people start dying, they realize something sinister is going on.

I was totally sucked in by this Agatha Christie retelling.  The action (and deaths) started almost immediately and didn't let up.  Knowing the twist from the original story, I was interested to see if McNeil would stay true to it or come up with something new - basically, I was kept guessing the entire time as to the identity of the killer!  The details were kind of gory in some parts, but not anything worse than any teen slasher movie I've ever seen.

I had a couple issues with the book.  There was far too much romance - people are being murdered and they can't find a way off the island, yet Meg, the main character, was so obsessed with every look and touch from her crush.  Also, while the reasoning behind the murders was plausible, I hate when the villain stops to spell out their entire plan, and it also seemed a bit too sophisticated.  Overall, though, it was a very quick, action-filled read!  4 stars

Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell (2019)

A retelling of the classic Les Miserables, set in the future on a distant planet.  Three people from very different walks of life are brought together as their world faces upheaval and revolution.

I've never actually read Les Miserables, but I have a general idea of the story, and I was impressed by how the authors translated the revolutionary times of 19th century France to a futuristic society in a far-off universe.  It didn't feel like a stretch at all that the planet of Laterre, after a few hundred years of civilization, is on the brink of revolution as most of the citizens are poor and barely surviving, while a select few are living the high life.  I loved watching the characters of Chatine, Marcellus and Alouette interact, working with and against each other.  I was probably most interested in Alouette's story, as she has spent much of her life in an underground community that houses books saved from the old world and also keeps a history of the current world.  Yep, in this world, very few people can read anymore - it's a lost art.  Although this book is quite lengthy, I never felt bored, and the cliffhanger ending made me eager for the next installment, to find out where the characters could possibly go next.  4 stars

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Starless Sea

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

The Starless Sea
Erin Morgenstern
Expected publication date: November 5, 2019
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world--a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues--a bee, a key, and a sword--that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians--it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose--in both the mysterious book and in his own life. - from Goodreads
I know I've mentioned on the blog more than once that The Night Circus is one of my favorite books of all time, so when I found out that Erin Morgenstern was finally releasing another book, I was so excited!  This story sounds just as magical and ethereal as her first, and I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: My Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  It's that time again - the week I post my seasonal TBR of books I may or may not get to in the next 3 months!  Honestly, there were so many books to choose from, I practically just chose these from a hat.  And it doesn't include any nonfiction, because I'm getting ready for Nonfiction November and trying to decide what my TBR for that month will be!  So, this is a mix of newer releases and backlist books; I also want to try to mix in some more books inspired by the season (i.e. light horror, creepy, eerie, or thrillers/mysteries).

What will you be reading this fall?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Williamsburg, Virginia Family Vacation

 My sister Michele and I wanted to plan a joint vacation this year (along with Tom and her husband and daughter), and several months ago we decided on Williamsburg, Virginia.  We had been there when we were younger and wanted to go back, plus it didn't involve a plane ride!  So, at the end of August, we hopped in our cars and headed down!

For our full first day there, we decided to head to Busch Gardens, a themed amusement park just a few miles from where we were staying.  We spent ALL DAY at the park - there was just so much to see and so many rides to go on.  I'm not usually one for rides too much, but I decided to go on one of the roller coasters, Verbolten, because it didn't seem too crazy (i.e. it didn't go upside-down).  Mistakes were made, guys - most of the ride ended up being in the dark and it was so disorienting!  Then, at one point the tracks drop out from beneath you, and there were several instances where the coaster would slow down somewhat, only to then shoot you off like a cannon.  I needed a minute after that ride.

The park is really beautiful, though, with each section representing a European country.  I would highly recommend checking out tickets online ahead of time, because we were able to get this incredible deal on a 7-day unlimited pass for Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, and Water Country USA. 

On our second day, we visited Colonial Williamsburg.  We toured the Governor's Palace and walked around the gardens.  We visited several of the trade shops, and it was really neat to learn about the different methods and materials that people used to use.  The cabinetmaker was particularly interesting, and he showed us an elaborate table he was working on.  We also visited the bindery (and learned how expensive books used to be), the magazine (armory), miliner, tin shop, and colonial garden.

On our third day, Tom and I ventured off by ourselves to York River State Park to do some hiking.  This park was so lovely and peaceful.  The trails were very well-marked, which I always appreciate!  The area was mostly flat, as well.  One nice area along the hike was Fossil Beach, right on the York River.

In the afternoon, we all went over to Merchant's Square, which is a charming little area right next door to Colonial Williamsburg that has modern shops and restaurants.  We did a little shopping and walked back into Colonial Williamsburg for a bit.  That night, we went back to Busch Gardens, and it was SO crowded.  It was fun, though, to see everything at night and we got to see the fireworks, which we all enjoyed.

For our last full day in Virginia, we decided to keep it pretty relaxed.  We went over to Freedom Park, where there is a small (but free!) botanical garden.  Then we headed to the Yankee Candle store, which is enormous.  It even has an entire Christmas section where it snows!  In the afternoon, Tom and I took a drive down the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown - the Colonial Parkway is a scenic byway that connects the three major historical areas of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.  It was a beautiful ride, mostly along the water!

Overall, we had a fantastic time.  Williamsburg is a beautiful area, and it has so much to do for kids and adults of all ages!

Have you ever been to Williamsburg?

Friday, September 20, 2019

Mini-Reviews: Library Purchase Suggestions

Today I'm reviewing a couple more books that were purchase suggestions to my library!

The Enlightenment of Bees by Rachel Linden (2019)

After losing her job and being dumped by her boyfriend, Mia is given the opportunity to join a humanitarian trip around the world.

Unfortunately, I liked the premise of this book a lot more than the execution and details.  From a young age, Mia knew she wanted to help others and make a huge impact on the world - and the reader is told this over and over again.  I liked that she was inspired by her aunt, but I never really got the impression that Mia did any volunteer work when she was younger or had any sort of plan to do charitable work as an adult, so her proclamations felt a bit hollow.  The humanitarian trip just kind of fell into her lap, and honestly it felt a little sketchy - the trip seemed a little disorganized, wasted a lot of money, and seemed too concerned with its social media image.  It's not really a good sign when the volunteers themselves feel like it's a waste of time.  It also rubbed me the wrong way that baking was Mia's passion, yet she felt it wasn't a worthy profession and that she was destined for better things.  I felt she was being shortsighted.

However, there were things I enjoyed.  Mia does experience a lot of growth during the book, and so I found myself liking her a lot more as the story went on.  Also, her Nana Alice was the sweetest - I loved how encouraging she was.  3 stars

The Passengers by John Marrs (2019)

In the not-so-distant future, driverless cars are the norm in Britain.  A hacker takes control of 8 cars, setting them (and their Passengers) on a collision course, leaving the public to decide who lives and who dies.

I love how John Marrs was able to take the idea of self-driving cars and perfectly articulate the main fear I have about them - that someone else could take control of the vehicle, leaving me powerless.  He kicks it up a notch by adding this whole social media aspect to it, as people around the world follow along with the Passengers and vote for who they want to survive, using hashtags.  The action and tension in the story move along at a fairly good clip for most of the book, except for the sections where we break away and learn more about the Passengers themselves.  These chapters messed with the pacing a little, but it was really interesting to learn more about these people.  It was a perfect character study in how people are not always who they appear to be and also gave insight into how the hacker was manipulating the entire situation.

One of my pet peeves with thrillers is when the villain is omniscient and omnipotent, and there was a lot of that here; the hacker seemed to always be 20 steps ahead.  It made me roll my eyes a bit, but honestly, I was so invested in the story that I didn't care too much.  This was a super-quick read that will have you guessing until the end!  4 stars

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Christmas Shopaholic

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

Christmas Shopaholic
Sophie Kinsella
Expected publication date: October 17, 2019
Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) adores Christmas. It's always the same – Mum and Dad hosting, carols playing, Mum pretending she made the Christmas pudding, and the next-door neighbours coming round for sherry in their terrible festive jumpers.

And now it's even easier with online bargain-shopping sites – if you spend enough you even get free delivery. Sorted!

But this year looks set to be different. Unable to resist the draw of craft beer and smashed avocado, Becky's parents are moving to ultra-trendy Shoreditch and have asked Becky if she'll host Christmas this year. What could possibly go wrong?

With sister Jess demanding a vegan turkey, husband Luke determined that he just wants aftershave again, and little Minnie insisting on a very specific picnic hamper – surely Becky can manage all this, as well as the surprise appearance of an old boyfriend and his pushy new girlfriend, whose motives are far from clear . . .

Will chaos ensue, or will Becky manage to bring comfort and joy to Christmas? - from Goodreads
I have loved the Shopaholic series from the beginning, so I'm really excited for this Christmas-themed addition!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Embracing Technology: The Serial Reader App

Ever since I started using the Libby app to download e-books from my library (and also to listen to audiobooks!), I've been on the lookout for other apps to enhance my reading experience.  I'd heard about the Serial Reader app awhile ago and thought that would be a good place to start!

The Serial Reader app sends you a snippet of a classic novel, anywhere from 7 to 20 minutes' worth of reading, at the same time each day, and before long, you've read an entire book.  Here's what I love about the app:

  1. It's not a huge time commitment.  Many days I can fit the serial in before I even leave the house.
  2. I don't have to worry about due dates.  Yes, I could borrow these books from the library, but then there's always the issue of finishing it before I have to return it.
  3. It's fun to track your progress and meet your daily goals.
  4. It's a unique way of finally getting to those books I want to read but definitely don't make time for - classics.
  5. It has a pretty extensive collection of books to choose from.
  6. It's free (although you can pay a fee to upgrade and get some additional perks, like the ability to read ahead).
Here are some things I'm not so crazy about, though:
  1. It only has classics, so if you're not into that, this app isn't for you.
  2.  I wish the snippets were a little more uniform in length.  For the first book I read on the app, at least, the lengths seemed to vary widely, some days 7 minutes, other days 20.  That's kind of a big difference.
Overall, if you're someone who wants to wade into the classics or you're looking for a way to incorporate more (or some, or any!) reading into your busy days, I would recommend this app!

Have you tried the Serial Reader app?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Review: The Kingdom

The Kingdom
Jess Rothenberg
Published May 28, 2019
Welcome to the Kingdom... where 'Happily Ever After' isn't just a promise, but a rule.

Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom is an immersive fantasy theme park where guests soar on virtual dragons, castles loom like giants, and bioengineered species--formerly extinct--roam free.

Ana is one of seven Fantasists, beautiful "princesses" engineered to make dreams come true. When she meets park employee Owen, Ana begins to experience emotions beyond her programming including, for the first time... love.

But the fairytale becomes a nightmare when Ana is accused of murdering Owen, igniting the trial of the century. Through courtroom testimony, interviews, and Ana's memories of Owen, emerges a tale of love, lies, and cruelty--and what it truly means to be human. - from Goodreads
Thank you to Tracy at Cornerfolds for the rec!

Imagine Westworld, Disney World, and Jurassic Park all rolled together; now, add in a murder mystery, and you've got The Kingdom.  This book draws on some familiar things, but still feels so unique!

Ana is our main character; she's a Fantasist, a very human-like android Princess in The Kingdom.  Her job is to make dreams come true for the park guests.  Most of the story is told from her POV, but there are also trial transcripts and post-trial interviews from after Ana is accused of murdering a fellow park employee, Owen.  There's an innocence, almost a naivety, to Ana at the beginning of the story, and it was neat to watch her evolve, learn new things, and experience new emotions, especially as she meets and gets to know Owen.

Although eventually I was able to guess the truth behind Owen's murder, there was a sense of unease at times.  Ana is supposed to be incapable of harming someone or telling lies - could she have figured out a way to overcome her programming?  Was she stalking Owen?  In her mind, their relationship seemed real, but was this actually true?  Rothenberg wasn't afraid to go dark in other areas of the book, particularly with Ana's "sister" Princesses, so it made me wonder if something else was going on.

Speaking of the other Princesses, there are a lot of them.  Most of them really get nothing more than a passing mention, so those characters felt a bit flat to me.  They are supposed to be representative of the world's population, but in my head they all felt mostly the same because there is so little description of them.  We really only get to know two of them - Nia, Ana's best friend, and Eve, the oldest model Princess.  Their side stories added depth to both the world-building and Ana's story.

Speaking of world-building, it was incredible in this book.  The Kingdom is this massive fantasy theme park, with so many different areas - a lagoon, a castle, a winter wonderland, a rain forest, a safari - practically anything you can imagine.  It's no wonder it's such a popular place for people to visit.  The transcripts also give insight into the Princess program, how the androids are created and where they live - and also how they're protected from knowing too much about the outside world.

4 stars

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Light at the Bottom of the World

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

The Light at the Bottom of the World
London Shah
Expected publication date: October 29, 2019
Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters.

In the last days of the twenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trapped in the abyss, humankind wavers between fear and hope—fear of what lurks in the depths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to the surface.

When sixteen-year-old submersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. The Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. But the race takes an unexpected turn, forcing Leyla to make an impossible choice.

Now she must brave unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a guarded, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If Leyla fails to discover the truths at the heart of her world, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture—or worse. And her father will be lost to her forever. - from Goodreads
This sounds so fun and imaginative!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'm Avoiding on My TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is books on my TBR that I'm avoiding reading and why.  This is a really interesting topic - I think we all have those books on our TBR that maybe we're not as excited about as other books or for one reason or another haven't picked up yet.  Here are some books that haven't made it to the top of my TBR and why:


The Fairest Kind of Love: This is the last book in the Windy Cindy Magic series.  I've really enjoyed the books and I don't want the series to end; thus, I'm avoiding reading this book!

Nine Perfect Strangers: I love Liane Moriarty, but I've seen so many mixed reviews for this book and I'm afraid of not liking it.


A Column of Fire:  This book is over 900 pages, so it's really just length, pure and simple, that's making me avoid this one.

Frenchman's Creek: I've really enjoyed Daphne du Maurier's other books, but since I've been reading other classics on the Serial Reader app, I haven't made time for this one.


The Trial of Lizzie Borden and The Husband Hunters:  I've been avoiding both of these books because Nonfiction November is coming up in a couple months and I'm saving them for my TBR for that month!


Circe and The Flatshare: Hype is the major reason I haven't read either of these books!  I've only heard good things about both of them, but I have a bad track record of not liking really hyped and well-loved books.  So, I'm a little scared of reading them!  But, I have promised Stephanie from Bookfever that I would read Circe, so I will get to it eventually!

What is your biggest reason for avoiding books on your TBR?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Wallis Simpson Edition

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams (2019)

Journalist Lulu Randolph travels to the Bahamas during WWII to report on the Governor and his wife, who happen to be the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the British king who abdicated for his love, Wallis Simpson).  While there, she discovers some not-so-savory things about the couple, while also meeting and falling in love with Benedict Thorpe, who is not who he appears to be.  In another timeline, we meet Benedict's mother Elfriede and follow her difficult journey.

I love Beatriz Williams' books, and the addition of royalty in this one made it even more of a draw.  I was expecting more action, intrigue, and drama - I felt like Williams kind of glossed over those aspects in order to play up the romance more.  This book felt more like a character study, especially with Elfriede's storyline which focused on her tragic romances and difficulties with motherhood.  Although interesting, I almost could have done without this storyline in order to have more with the Duke and Duchess.  However, as always, Williams chooses interesting time periods and settings, and her beautiful writing really makes you feel like you're there in the midst of it all with the characters.  4 stars

Wallis in Love by Andrew Morton (2018)

In Wallis in Love, biographer Andrew Morton recounts the life of Wallis Simpson, the woman a king abdicated for, through research including letters, interviews, and diaries.  Most people may know Wallis as the central player in a huge royal scandal - King Edward (a/k/a David, the Duke of Windsor) gave up his throne in order to marry her, a twice-divorced American.  But who was she before the controversy?  And what was their life together really like?

I enjoyed Morton's writing style - it's easy to read and a little gossipy, perfect for a tell-all like this.  Knowing her previous divorces were a bone of contention in her relationship with David, I was eager to find out about her other husbands.  It seemed she rushed into some things without properly weighing the consequences, and at other times was on the lookout for the next best thing. She was a social climber, no doubt!

Morton opines that Wallis' friend Herman Rogers was the only man she ever loved, despite her three marriages.  He asserts that Wallis went after David because she had an intense desire to become Queen, but I don't think the evidence supports this, or that she was miserable in this marriage.  I mean, she stayed with him for decades, when there was really no chance of her gaining significant royal status (other than the Duchess title) and David obviously adored her.  Overall, though, this was an informative look at a woman who had an enormous impact on the British monarchy.  4 stars

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Month in Review: August 2019

August was a pretty busy month!  We attended not one, but two baptisms - for our nieces that were born earlier this year.  It's always such a nice time to get together with family and celebrate!

For Tom's birthday, we headed to Philadelphia to see the Marvel exhibit at the Franklin Institute.  It was so cool!  Not only did they have all this stuff about the comic books, but they also had a ton of movie props and costumes - it was so neat to be able to see the actual costumes that the actors wore in the movies.

Summer hours have come to an end at work.  I'll admit, I'll miss having Friday afternoons off and being able to go on day dates with Tom, but it'll be nice getting home earlier during the rest of the week.

At the end of the month, we, along with my sister and her family, trekked to Williamsburg, Virginia for a much-needed and long-awaited vacation!  We had a great time, and I'll be recapping our trip in a future post!

The Books

Thank you to Susie at Novel Visits for the recommendation of Southern Lady Code!

The Picture of Dorian Gray // Wallis in Love (review to come) // Warcross (audio) // The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

Salt to the Sea // The Poacher's Son // A Clash of Kings (reread, #IronThroneReadalong) // The Kingdom (review to come)