Friday, February 28, 2020

Review: Anna K.

Anna K.
Jenny Lee
Expected publication date: March 3, 2020
Every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way.

Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna's brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather an sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.

As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Anna K.: A Love Story is a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy's timeless love story, Anna Karenina―but above all, it is a novel about the dizzying, glorious, heart-stopping experience of first love and first heartbreak. - from Goodreads
I received this book for free from Goodreads Giveaways.

Anna Karenina was one of the few books I read "for fun" while I was in college.  I remember sitting in the student center on a Friday night getting swept away in Tolstoy's epic love story.  When I heard about this modern retelling, set in NYC high society and from the point of view of teenagers, I was immediately intrigued.  Although some things worked, I also had some issues with this one.

  • Unfortunately, I didn't think the writing was anything spectacular.  It felt really stilted at times.
  • It was really hard for me to connect to the characters.  These teenagers have access to so much money and drugs, and throw elaborate parties just for the hell of it.  There was never enough parental supervision.  While I don't doubt that there's a certain segment of the population that lives like this, it was just very hard for me to like many of the characters.
  • Although the idea of aging down the original characters is good in theory, in some ways it didn't work.  Vronsky seemed a little too young for the amount of experience he purports to have.  At 16, he's had almost more partners than he can count, and yet when he meets Anna, suddenly he is a changed and devoted man.  I can relate to being young and in love and feeling like you're the only two people in the world, but from the outside, it sometimes doesn't ring totally true.
  • At the beginning of the book, I didn't really care for Anna.  She seemed aloof and way too mature for her age.  She's in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend and it seems like her whole life is already planned out for her.  But when she meets Vronsky, she becomes a whole new person, someone I liked a lot more - happier and more spontaneous.  I liked the way Vronsky brought out the best in her.
  • Steven, Anna's brother, was one of my favorite characters.  Although I could have done without all the drug use, I loved the relationship he and Anna have.  He would do anything for his sister, and he also seemed sincerely remorseful after cheating on his girlfriend, Lolly.  He was a fun guy that also had a big heart.
  • The original story is quite long and filled with insights on the politics and culture of the time.  Lee was able to hit the highlights of the original without getting bogged down in too much detail.  It was easy to see the parallels and inspiration and in many ways the modernization felt effortless.  
  • Although there were many gossipy, teenage drama-filled moments, Lee also didn't shy away from tough subjects like addiction and death.  
3.5 stars

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: And They Called It Camelot

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

And They Called It Camelot
Stephanie Marie Thornton
Expected publication date: March 10, 2020
An intimate portrait of the life of Jackie O…

Few of us can claim to be the authors of our fate. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy knows no other choice. With the eyes of the world watching, Jackie uses her effortless charm and keen intelligence to carve a place for herself among the men of history and weave a fairy tale for the American people, embodying a senator’s wife, a devoted mother, a First Lady—a queen in her own right.

But all reigns must come to an end. Once JFK travels to Dallas and the clock ticks down those thousand days of magic in Camelot, Jackie is forced to pick up the ruined fragments of her life and forge herself into a new identity that is all her own, that of an American legend. - from Goodreads
I'm fascinated by the Kennedy family, and after reading a biography of Jackie's life after JFK's death, I'm more interested than ever in books about her.

Monday, February 24, 2020

DNF&Y #4

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!

Verify by Joelle Charbonneau (2019)

I saw this one on my Goodreads "Want to Read" list and my library happened to have an audiobook copy of it, so I decided to try it.  In a vaguely dystopian near future, Meri tries to figure out the meaning behind her deceased mother's artwork and begins to realize that the government may be hiding some serious things from its citizens.  I ended up DNFing this around 33%.  The writing wasn't great - very repetitive (it felt like the characters were saying "mother" or "artwork" in every other sentence) - and the world-building seemed fuzzy and non-descript.  Maybe 5-10 years ago a dystopian like this could have worked, but these days, the genre has come so far that a story needs to be more defined and have more of a hook.  It's not enough that people don't use paper anymore or certain words have "disappeared" from usage.  It also seemed pretty obvious where the story was going, and I wasn't totally interested.

 Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay (2019)

I've never actually read the original Alice in Wonderland books, but I've seen movies and have a general idea of the story.  I think Wonderland is just not my thing - whimsy that's confusing for the sake of being confusing.  I ended up DNFing this one around page 63.  In this retelling, Alice finds herself back in Wonderland after a stint in an asylum and now she's being tasked with killing the Queen of Hearts.  I felt like the author was just trying too hard, and I think you need to be careful when you're doing a retelling that is still set in the same world as the original.  It can feel too similar, like too much is being borrowed.  I would have preferred the author come up with an original idea that incorporated elements of the classic story.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Blog Tour + Review: 100 Hikes of a Lifetime

Thank you to Trish Collins at TLC Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour for National Geographic's 100 Hikes of a Lifetime: The World's Ultimate Scenic Trails!  I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

100 Hikes of a Lifetime: The World's Ultimate Scenic Trails
Kate Siber, Andrew Skurka (foreword)
Published February 4, 2020
From the world's expert in outdoor adventure, here is the ultimate hiker's bucket list, with 100 breathtaking experiences for beginners to experts around the globe--from the celebrated Appalachian Trail to the off-the-beaten path (but not to be missed!) Six Waterfalls Hike in Micronesia.

Filled with beautiful National Geographic photography, wisdom from expert hikers like Andrew Skurka, need-to-know travel information, and practical wildlife-spotting tips, this inspirational guide offers the planet's best experiences for hikers and sightseers. From short day hikes--California's Sierra High Route, Lake Agnes Teahouse in Alberta, Norway's Mt. Skala--to multiday excursions like Mt. Meru in Tanzania and multi-week treks (Egypt's Sinai Trail, Bhutan's Snowman Trek, and the Bibbulum Track in Australia), you'll find a hike that matches your interests and skill level. Crossing all continents and climates (from the jungles of Costa Rica to the ice fields in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Parks), as well as experiences (a wine route through Switzerland or moose spotting on the Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming,) there is a trail for everyone in these pages. So pack your gear and lace your boots: this comprehensive and innovative guide will lead you to experience the best hikes of your life! - from Goodreads
I was very excited when Trish asked me to review this book, because, besides reading, hiking is one of my favorite activities.  In 100 Hikes of a Lifetime, Kate Siber has put together an amazing list of hiking trails from all over the world to satisfy every type of hiker.

The book is arranged by continent, and for each hike, the distance, length of trip, best time to go, and difficulty level are included.  Siber then includes a blurb (varying from one page to several) describing the trek, the surrounding area, where to stay, and who you'll meet (both people and animals!).  Of course, since this is National Geographic, there are tons of incredible photographs, which really served to fuel my wanderlust!

The best thing about this book is how comprehensive it is.  Since the 100 hikes span all seven continents, there really is something for everyone. Almost every type of terrain imaginable is included - jungles, forests, deserts, mountains, and beaches.  While there were many hikes at the difficult or expert-only levels, there were also several easy and moderate ones.  Distances vary from one mile to several hundred, with trip lengths from a couple hours to several weeks or even months.  If you're looking for remote places to enjoy the solitude, this book has it.  If you're looking for something closer to civilization, this book has that, too.

Sometimes I plan trips that revolve around hiking, and for other trips, hiking might be something we only spend one day doing, and a guide like this can help in both instances.  Whether you want to see waterfalls, castles, or ruins, or even drink some wine while you walk, you'll find something here to enjoy.  These trails were chosen because they offer something memorable and you're guaranteed to have a pretty unique experience on any of them.

Although I'd heard of some of these trails (and even hiked parts of them myself), most of them were new to me.  I think maps or websites (if available) would have been helpful for me in envisioning where the trails were or pointing me in the direction of obtaining more information.  Despite that one quibble, 100 Hikes of a Lifetime drove home the point of how vast and beautiful this world is - there is so much to see and do, more than I could ever imagine.  It was really inspiring!

4.5 stars

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Lost Autumn

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

Lost Autumn
Mary-Rose MacColl
Expected publication date: March 3, 2020
An emotional novel of love and the power of lost dreams from an internationally bestselling master of historical fiction, about a young woman's coming-of-age in 1920 and the secrets that surface more than seventy years later.

Australia, 1920. Seventeen-year-old Maddie Bright embarks on the voyage of a lifetime when she's chosen to serve on the cross-continent tour of His Royal Highness, the dashing Edward, Prince of Wales. Life on the royal train is luxurious beyond her dreams, and the glamorous, good-hearted friends she makes--with their romantic histories and rivalries--crack open her world. But glamour often hides all manner of sins.

Decades later, Maddie lives in a ramshackle house in Brisbane, whiling away the days with television news and her devoted, if drunken, next-door neighbor. When a London journalist struggling with her own romantic entanglements begins asking Maddie questions about her relationship to the famous and reclusive author M. A. Bright, she's taken back to the glamorous days of the royal tour--and to the secrets she has kept for all these years. - from Amazon
I love a dual timeline novel, and the addition of royalty makes me even more interested in this story!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Down The TBR Hole #8

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:

 The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger

This book is about a community that's torn apart by competition, secrets, and lies when a school for gifted students opens in their town.  I think this sounds fascinating - keep!
 Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry

Two teenage friends decide they've had enough of their crappy lives and decide to hit the road.  This sounds a little too depressing and unrealistic for me - pass!
 Easily Amused by Karen McQuestion

A romantic comedy about a woman who inherits a house and becomes the "project" of the neighborhood.  Eh, just not into this one - pass!
 Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

I really enjoyed my first Shari Lapena book, and this one about a teenager who breaks into his neighbors' houses and maybe starts sharing their secrets sounds so intense!  Keep!
 The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

This thriller has been getting pretty rave reviews, so I'm going to keep it!
 The Divers' Game by Jesse Ball

I've read the blurb for this book a few times and I still can't figure out what it's about.  I think the story would go way over my head - pass!
 Not The Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher

This book is supposed to be an updated spin on the movie How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days.  Sounds cute, but the reviews are pretty dismal.  Pass!

Have you read any of these?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Review: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird
Josie Silver
Expected publication date: March 3, 2020
In this next captivating love story from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of One Day in December, a young woman is reunited with her late fiancé in a parallel life. But is this happy ending the one she really wants?

Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. They'd been together for more than a decade, and Lydia thought their love was indestructible.

But she was wrong. On her twenty-eighth birthday, Freddie died in a car accident.

So now it's just Lydia, and all she wants to do is hide indoors and sob until her eyes fall out. But Lydia knows that Freddie would want her to try to live fully, happily, even without him. So, enlisting the help of his best friend, Jonah, and her sister, Elle, she takes her first tentative steps into the world, open to life--and perhaps even love--again.

But then something inexplicable happens that gives her another chance at her old life with Freddie. A life where none of the tragic events of the past few months have happened.

Lydia is pulled again and again across the doorway of her past, living two lives, impossibly, at once. But there's an emotional toll to returning to a world where Freddie, alive, still owns her heart. Because there's someone in her new life, her real life, who wants her to stay.

Written with Josie Silver's trademark warmth and wit, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a powerful and thrilling love story about the what-ifs that arise at life's crossroads, and what happens when one woman is given a miraculous chance to answer them. - from Goodreads
I received this book for free from Goodreads Giveaways.

After completely loving Josie Silver's debut, One Day in December, I knew her next book would be a highly anticipated read for me.  While I didn't love it as much as her first, this book was still a solid read.

On Lydia's 28th birthday, her fiance Freddy is killed in a car accident.  She is adrift, unsure how to move forward with her life.  Then, after she begins taking sleeping pills, Lydia discovers that somehow, in her dreams, she's able to continue the life she and Freddy were meant to have together.  However, is that still what she really wants? 

First, I want to talk about Silver's writing - it's so readable and relatable, yet every word and phrase is imbued with so much emotion.  It's so easy to get lost in her stories and swept away in the writing.  I could have finished this book in a few hours, but I wanted to savor it.

You can't help but feel for Lydia when we first meet her.  She's just lost her fiance, she can barely leave the house they recently purchased together, and the wedding and honeymoon they were eagerly planning will never happen.  Her grief is so palpable.  When she realizes what the sleeping pills allow her to do, be with Freddy again, she's tempted to keep taking them, but she realizes pretty early on that this isn't the magic fix she initially thought it was.  She can't just sleep all day, ignoring her real life, but it was still interesting to see what days she chose to take the pills and how even the "dream world" wasn't quite how she imagined her life would be before the accident.

The secondary characters are pretty wonderful in this story.  Lydia's coworkers, sister, and mother are so understanding of her grief and just want to make her life easier.  Then there's also the character of Jonah, who survived the crash that Freddy didn't, and Lydia  has to come to terms with their complicated friendship.

After loving the first 2/3 of the book, I unfortunately thought the story kind of fell apart a little in the last section.  The pacing slowed way down and there were parts that didn't quite fit or seem necessary.  Overall, though, I enjoyed Lydia's journey through this simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming story.

4 stars

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: He Started It

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

He Started It
Samantha Downing
Expected publication date: April 28, 2020
Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven't all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we'll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.

But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.

It's even harder when you're all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory—a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won't stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there's a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.

But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone. - from Goodreads
Samantha Downing's books have the most deliciously twisted blurbs!  This just sounds too fun to pass up!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Quotables, The Love Edition

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is a love freebie, so I thought it would be fun to list some of my favorite quotes about love!

“I know part of our story is the electricity of our connection, but the other part is equally miraculous.  It’s the simple fact that you walked into my life at the exact moment you did. You instead of someone else.  In some ways, isn’t that even more incredible than the connection itself? That we found each other at all?” - Blake Crouch, Dark Matter

“Sweetheart, I’m telling you, you love someone like that, you love them the right way, and no time would be enough.  Doesn’t matter if you had thirty years,” she tells me, “It wouldn’t be enough.” - Taylor Jenkins Reid, Forever, Interrupted

“Wanting to find love does not make someone weak; it’s not a character flaw.  Life is hard, and grueling, and having someone root for you and travel beside you is a gift that anyone in the world would be lucky to have.  I’m not saying that people can’t be happy or fulfilled on their own; of course they can. But being open to the possibility of love doesn’t make you weak; it actually makes you strong.”  Crystal Cestari, The Best Kind of Magic

“Love can be an excellent motivator for change.  Falling in love can help us to see the things in life that are truly important.  It can make us want to be better people. It can teach us to sacrifice what is in our own best interest for the sake of someone else.” - Cynthia Hand, The Afterlife of Holly Chase

“Love does that.  It makes you feel infinite and invincible, like the whole world is open to you, anything is achievable, and each day will be filled with wonder.” - Jill Santopolo, The Light We Lost

“Love me when I’m at my worst.  Love me when you don’t agree with me, and when this no longer feels new and surprising.  Love me through it all.” - Camille Pagan, Forever is the Worst Long Time

You are not entitled to me, just because you love me.  And not just because I love you back.  You have to keep on earning that love, every day, again and again and again.” - Bethany Chase, Results May Vary

‘You are in love,’ he said, ‘for that is exactly how love feels.  It is the lifting of a mask, the revealing of one’s true self to another, and the forced acceptance, the awful awareness that the other person may never feel the same way.’ - Kate Morton, The Clockmaker’s Daughter

She fondly recalled the moment when the butterflies disappeared, when she was able to smile to herself and know that this wasn’t a case of falling in love; it was love.  She wasn’t a high school student swept up in romance; she was a puzzle piece that had found the match to interlock beside it.” - Yoav Blum, The Coincidence Makers

Do any of these resonate with you?

Friday, February 7, 2020

Backlist Mini-Reviews

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis (2019)

I really wanted to love this book - the concept appealed to me (two housemates feel a connection but spend the next year dancing around each other), but unfortunately, this turned out to be just an average read for me.

The story is told from two POVs - Jess, who recently moved to London to start a new job at a publishing house, and Alex, a former lawyer who is now going to nursing school.  I liked that we got to see the story from both of their points of view, because the reader could clearly see all the near-misses and misunderstandings.  It made me want to root for Jess and Alex to finally get together, yet at the same time that was hard because I felt so little chemistry between them.  I could understand Jess' crush on Alex, but I never got the same feelings from him, especially since he's carrying on a months-long friends with benefits situation with another of their roommates (it also didn't sit well with me that he kept proclaiming he wasn't the FWB type - if you're doing this for months, you're that type of person).  Jess was such a bland character, as well - I feel like the only thing I know about her is that she loves her grandmother and Instagram.  The secondary characters weren't much better - all everyone did was eat, drink, and complain how tired they were all the time (ok, maybe I identified with this a little bit!).   However, it's a quick read and if you enjoy slow-burn romances, you may enjoy this one.  3 stars

 The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell (2018)

This book wasn't even on my radar, but I came across it while browsing the shelves at my library.  A dual timeline, a crumbling English estate - I couldn't resist!

In the summer of 1955, Lillian is rather unhappily married to Charles Oberon, the wealthy owner of the Cloudesley estate, when the arrival of artist Jack Fincher changes everything.  In the present, Lillian's granddaughter Maggie returns home to take care of her ailing grandmother and figure out how she can save the family home.

A bit Gothic and very atmospheric, I enjoyed reading this novel.  Richell's writing is smooth and elegant without being stuffy.  Lillian's storyline appealed to me more - her life isn't what she imagined it would be, and her sense of honor and duty is simultaneously respectable and heartbreaking.  I couldn't help but feel for her as she experienced true love for the first time while knowing it might not last.  Although not necessarily ground-breaking for the genre, there were a couple of surprises contained within the pages that helped elevate the story.  If you enjoy books with dual timelines, family secrets, and forbidden love, try this one.  4 stars

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Kingdom of Back

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

The Kingdom of Back
Marie Lu
Expected publication date: March 3, 2020
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu comes a historical YA fantasy about a musical prodigy and the dangerous lengths she'll go to make history remember her—perfect for fans of Susanna Clarke and The Hazel Wood.

Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish—to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she'll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in 18th century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age—her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

And as Nannerl's hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true—but his help may cost her everything.

In her first work of historical fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu spins a lush, lyrically-told story of music, magic, and the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister. - from Goodreads
I've only read one other book by Marie Lu, but the historical fiction aspect really intrigues me on this one!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Month in Review: January 2020

January is usually a pretty quiet month, and honestly I can barely remember anything that happened!  We held our first Project Linus "working day" of the year, where we all come together with our current blanket projects and also help ready others for delivery.  We got over 100 blankets labelled and ready to go!

Our niece's birthday is one bright spot during this dreary month.  She turned 4 and we celebrated with her at her party.  I also took her shopping to pick out her own present.  She really wanted to go to the Disney store to get a new doll, and I thought she wanted an Ariel doll until we got there and she beelined for the new Anna and Elsa plushy dolls.  I think her goal is to collect every Frozen doll out there!

We had our first snow of the year, which promptly melted the next day.  I also got sick near the end of the month.  It was just a cold, but the cough was pretty unbearable and I actually ended up taking a day off work - I can't even remember the last time I took a sick day!  I spent the whole day reading, so it wasn't too bad! 

The Books

The Posts and Reviews

How was your January?