Friday, May 29, 2020

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: Foodie Memoirs

Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen (2017)

In Give a Girl a Knife, chef Amy Thielen recounts her many years cooking in fine dining restaurants and the time she spent living in a rural area.  I wanted to love this memoir, but unfortunately it fell flat for me.

What didn't work for me: Although it's obvious that Thielen is a gifted writer, much of the book felt overwritten and too flowery for my taste.  The narrative wasn't in a chronological format, so sometimes it was hard to place where she was in her career and life.  Some of the anecdotes she told felt extraneous.  At the risk of sounding like a jerk, I didn't think she came across that well as an employee, either.  She skipped around from job to job, was often late or disinterested, and also seemed to spend a lot of time not working at all.

What worked: I liked the juxtaposition of working as a chef in high-end NYC restaurants with the time she spent at a cabin in the middle of nowhere, cooking from her own garden.  I also enjoyed when she spoke of her mother and grandmother and how they inspired the chef she later became.  You can tell that Thielen loves food, the act of cooking, and using food as a way to connect to people and her heritage.  3 stars

Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America's Youngest Sommelier by Victoria James (2020)

In Wine Girl, Victoria James recounts how she overcame her troubled childhood to become a highly successful sommelier in some of New York City's Michelin-starred restaurants.

From a young age, Victoria showed herself to be extremely intelligent and hard-working, and also very interested in hospitality.  This led her to become interested in wine, which she parlayed into a career as a sommelier, helping patrons make the best food and wine pairings and building up the cellars at the restaurants she worked at.   Both her age and the fact that she's a woman were obstacles that she had to continually overcome, and I think James did a great job showing how unglamorous the restaurant industry can be.  There were so many ugly encounters, on top of the extremely long hours and often low pay; it makes you wonder if it would all be worth it, but over the years James came up with coping mechanisms.  I was also amazed at the sheer amount of knowledge one has to have to become a sommelier.  4 stars

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Heir Affair

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

The Heir Affair (Royal We #2)
Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Expected publication date: June 16, 2020
Making it up the aisle was the easy part: After marrying the heir to the throne, Rebecca “Bex” Porter must survive her own scandals as she adjusts to life in the glamorous British royal family, in this “highly anticipated” follow-up to The Royal We, the “fun and dishy” bestseller and NYT Summer Reading List pick inspired by Will and Kate’s romance (People).

After a scandalous secret turns their fairy-tale wedding into a nightmare, Rebecca “Bex” Porter and her husband Prince Nicholas are in self-imposed exile. The public is angry. The Queen is even angrier. And the press is salivating. Cutting themselves off from friends and family, and escaping the world’s judgmental eyes, feels like the best way to protect their fragile, all-consuming romance.

But when a crisis forces the new Duke and Duchess back to London, the Band-Aid they’d placed over their problems starts to peel at the edges. Now, as old family secrets and new ones threaten to derail her new royal life, Bex has to face the emotional wreckage she and Nick left behind: with the Queen, with the world, and with Nick’s brother Freddie, whose sins may not be so easily forgotten — nor forgiven. - from Goodreads
I'm a huge royal watcher and The Royal We was one of my favorites from a few years ago.  I'm so excited to revisit Bex and Nicholas' relationship!

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Book Snob Tag

I haven't done a book tag in awhile, so I figured I'd try this one!  I've had it saved for awhile from Tracy at Cornerfolds, and apparently it originally started on Booktube!

Adaptation Snob: Do you always read the book before you see the film?

Nope!  Sometimes seeing the movie actually makes me want to go back and read the book, to see how they differ.

Format Snob: You can only choose 1 format in which to read books for the rest of your life. Which one do you choose: physical books, eBooks, or audiobooks?

Oh, this is hard because I've really come to rely on my Kindle this year, but I think I'd choose physical books!  There's just something about having an actual book in your hands!

Ship Snob: Would you date or marry a non-reader?

Absolutely!  In fact, I wrote a whole post about how my husband is a non-reader and why it works for us!

Genre Snob: You have to ditch one genre – never to be read again for the rest of your life. Which one do you ditch?

At the risk of seeming like I'm cheating, I'd choose a genre that I hardly read anyway - maybe something like horror?  Sometimes I read spooky or eerie books around Halloween, but it wouldn't bother me too much to not read them again!

Uber Genre Snob: You can only choose to read from one genre for the rest of your life. Which genre do you choose?

As someone who reads pretty broadly and enjoys many genres, this is a really hard question for me!  I love women's fiction, and contemporary romance and science fiction are two more genres I've been enjoying a lot lately, but if I had to choose just one, I think I'd go with my first love, historical fiction!

Community Snob: Which genre do you think receives the most snobbery from the bookish community?

I have to say, I haven't seen too much snobbery WITHIN the bookish community, but I think romance gets a pretty bad rap sometimes, and also maybe YA, specifically adults reading YA.  Can we just all agree that any reading is good reading?

Snobbery Recipient: Have you ever been snubbed for something that you have been reading or for reading in general?

I've never been snubbed for something I was reading, and as for reading in general, I typically get one of two reactions: either total neutrality or they seem impressed at how much reading I do.  It's not usually negative.  One time, though, my mom did ask me what the point of reading so many books was when I don't remember everything about every book.  It would be nearly impossible to remember that much; it's more about the experience you have with the book while you're reading!

Do you agree with any of my answers?  Consider yourself tagged if you'd like to join in!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Quick Reviews: The Colleen Hoover Edition

Ok, so I am super-late to the Colleen Hoover bandwagon, but after amassing copies of several of her books, I finally dove in!

All Your Perfects (2018)

Quinn and Graham's relationship starts in the most unexpected of ways - they meet when their significant others are caught cheating on them.  Several years later, their own marriage is facing serious issues.

This is going to be a major spoiler, but I think it's an important trigger warning: this book is all about infertility.  I never would have known that from the blurb, and I kind of wish I had.  Told in alternating "then" and "now" chapters from Quinn's POV, the reader experiences the extreme highs of Quinn and Graham's early relationship and the serious lows they are facing after years of unsuccessfully trying for a baby.  It almost felt like emotional whiplash at times, but it also felt very honest and raw.  I honestly didn't know how this story would end - it's obvious that Quinn and Graham have something special, but it's been eroded so much and Quinn seems ready to give up.  This definitely isn't a light read, and I think Hoover did a great job in exploring all the feelings related to infertility.  4 stars

 It Ends With Us (2016)

Lily and Ryle are caught up in a whirlwind romance, but when Lily's first love, Atlas, returns to her life, her relationship is put to the ultimate test.

I went into this book pretty blind, but as soon as we meet Ryle, I had a bad feeling about him.  Trigger warning: domestic violence.  Colleen Hoover never seems to shy away from tough topics, and I thought her treatment of domestic abuse was heartbreaking, honest, and delicate.  It was interesting to see Lily finding herself in the same position as her own abused mother, and I think the way she tries to justify Ryle's actions and her own behavior is probably very common.  I was rooting for Lily the whole time; you could really see her struggling with her feelings, especially knowing her history.  I thought the relationship and everything that happened just felt too quick, and although I respected the decisions Lily ultimately made for herself, I actually could have done without the epilogue.  4 stars

 Verity (2018)

Struggling author Lowen is hired to complete the final books in a series by Verity Crawford, a popular author, after Verity is injured.  While working in Verity's office, Lowen finds a document in which she makes some disturbing confessions about her children.

This book felt very different from the Colleen Hoover books I've read previously - more thriller, less romance - and I really enjoyed it!  I liked the way Hoover incorporated parts of Verity's autobiography; I kept wondering if it was actually true or if there would be some twist later.  I think overall the thriller vibe of the story felt a bit over-the-top; Lowen's reactions to things, her fear and discomfort, seemed too strong and too quick sometimes.  The fact that she was also an unreliable narrator added to this.  Yet at the same time, I couldn't stop reading - I needed to know what would happen next, to Lowen, to Verity, to Verity's son Crew and her husband, Jeremy.  There was definitely something weird going on in that house!  4 stars

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: I Was Told It Would Get Easier

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

I Was Told It Would Get Easier
Abbi Waxman
Expected publication date: June 16, 2020
Squashed among a bus full of strangers, mother-daughter duo Jessica and Emily Burnstein watch their carefully mapped-out college tour devolve into a series of off-roading misadventures, from the USA Today bestselling author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.

Jessica and Emily Burnstein have very different ideas of how this college tour should go.

For Emily, it’s a preview of freedom, exploring the possibility of her new and more exciting future. Not that she’s sure she even wants to go to college, but let’s ignore that for now. And maybe the other kids on the tour will like her more than the ones at school. . . . They have to, right?

For Jessica, it’s a chance to bond with the daughter she seems to have lost. They used to be so close, but then Goldfish crackers and Play-Doh were no longer enough of a draw. She isn’t even sure if Emily likes her anymore. To be honest, Jessica isn’t sure she likes herself.

Together with a dozen strangers–and two familiar enemies–Jessica and Emily travel the East Coast, meeting up with family and old friends along the way. Surprises and secrets threaten their relationship and, in the end, change it forever. - from Goodreads
I've really enjoyed Abbi Waxman's books, and this one about a mother-daughter duo on a road trip sounds just as heartfelt!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Down The TBR Hole #11

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 Arrangement by Robyn Harding

An art student falls in love with her sugar daddy, and when he ends the arrangement, she begins stalking him.  Hmm - pass!
The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

This story about a small town and the librarian who wields magic with books sounds perfect for book lovers!  Keep!
A Girl Named Anna by Lizzy Barber

A Girl Named Anna is the story of two girls, one whose sister went missing 15 years ago and one who has lived a strict and sheltered life for as long as she can remember.  I feel like I can guess too much of the story just from the blurb, so I think I'll pass on this one!
The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

I've really enjoyed Jenn Bennett's books, and this historical fiction book about a young woman and her first love searching for her father, and a ring that may have belonged to Vlad the Impaler, sounds awesome!  Keep!
The Lying Room by Nicci French

A married woman finds her fling murdered, and she worries she will be implicated.  Eh, just not really grabbing me anymore.  Pass!
Sidelined by Suzanne Baltsar

This romance about a female football coach trying to prove herself to her male assistant coach sounds fun - keep!
 Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay

I cannot resist stories like this, that sound like they could be great movies - NYC is thrown into chaos when elevators in several high-rise buildings start plummeting to the ground, and the police have to try to find the person behind it.  Keep!

Have you read any of these?

Friday, May 15, 2020

Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Out of This World Edition

Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson (2019)

In Letters From an Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson has handpicked 100 letters and emails received throughout his career and provided his responses to them. It’s a fun look at the types of things people want to ask or relay to a public figure, and they run the gamut from science to religion to life in general. Interestingly, many of the letters and questions don’t even pertain to his specialty of astrophysics. People look to him as a role model for their children, for example.  The letters and responses cover both heavy emotional topics (such as Tyson's memories of 9/11) to the kind of silly (such as why he believes Bigfoot does not exist).  The content felt a bit repetitive at times (he mentions several times that eyewitness testimony is unreliable) and a big focus of the letters was on religion (how people can reconcile faith and science, etc.), which wasn’t always that interesting to me. However, although blunt at times, Tyson’s witty, personable nature shines through in his responses, and it’s really cool to see how he engages with the public. 4 stars

Light From Other Stars by Erika Swyler (2019)

A thoughtful dual timeline science fiction story about space, time, and family relationships.

This was a gem of a book.  I didn't know a lot about the story going in, but I ended up really enjoying it.  In 1986, Nedda and her family are living in Easter, Florida.  Just after the Challenger tragedy, a project that Nedda's father was working on plunges the town into chaos.  In the future timeline, Nedda is an astronaut on a mission to help build a colony on a distant planet.   

The writing is beautiful, although in some places it felt a little high-brow for me.  But, it did help elevate this science fiction story into something more.  Nedda's father's project, a machine that manipulates time, is definitely in the sci-fi realm, but it's the reason he wants to create the machine and how he relates to his daughter that are at the heart of the story.  The pacing did feel a bit slow at times, but there are some interesting reveals near the end that make it worth sticking around.  4 stars

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Paris Never Leaves You

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

Paris Never Leaves You
Ellen Feldman
Expected publication date: June 2, 2020
Living through WWII working in a Paris bookstore with her young daughter, Vivi, and fighting for her life, Charlotte is no victim, she is a survivor. But can she survive the next chapter of her life?

Alternating between wartime Paris and 1950s New York publishing, Paris Never Leaves You is an extraordinary story of resilience, love, and impossible choices, exploring how survival never comes without a cost.

The war is over, but the past is never past. - from Goodreads
WWII setting, dual timelines, Paris, a bookstore??  I can't resist any of this!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Last 10 Books I DNFed

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is the last ten books we abandoned.  DNFing can be a controversial habit, but it's one I'm all for - there's no sense in wasting my time on a story that I'm not enjoying.  Here are the last 10 books I didn't finish:

Do you DNF?  What was the last you didn't finish?

Friday, May 8, 2020

April Quick Reviews

Here are some mini-reviews for a couple of the books I read in April!

Wasted Words by Staci Hart (2016)

Two roommates (a big, brawny ex-football player and a tiny, delicate bookworm) friend-zone each other until they finally admit their feelings.  This was a cute, fluffy romance, and sometimes you just need that!  If you love bookworm characters like I do, you'll love Cam.  Tyler was the perfect book boyfriend, manly but also a softy at times.  I think this book had some good messages about how having a "type" when it comes to relationships can make you miss out on someone great, although at times it relied heavily on cliches and stereotypical characters, and Cam's self-doubt when it came to Tyler was too over-the-top.  Overall, though, a fun friends-to-lovers romance!  4 stars

 I'm Fine and Neither Are You by Camille (2019)

Penelope is overwhelmed with her life - two rowdy children, a career she's good at but doesn't love, and a husband who's perpetually underemployed.  When tragedy strikes her best friend's family, she realizes she needs to make changes in her own life.

I found this book to be so relatable.  I think many of us are just kind of getting through the daily grind, and too often it takes something momentous to make us really take a hard look at our lives.  In the wake of tragedy, Penelope realizes she needs to make honesty a priority in all areas of her life, deal with her issues, and find out what makes her truly happy.  I love

A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier (2017)

Seventeen-year-old Sophie is an intern at a luxury hotel in the Swiss Alps.  She's just trying to get her duties done (and maybe flirt a little), when she gets swept up in the lives of the guests and finds herself on a bit of an adventure.

I thought this was a super cute book that would be perfect to read on a snowy day.  I loved the hotel setting and learning a little about the ins and outs of working at such a place.  There were quite a few characters, between the employees and the guests, but it never really got confusing - each character was very unique.  I felt like this trended towards the younger end of YA; Sophie and a lot of the other teenage characters acted very young, from the childish bullying and name-calling they used.  The pacing was, unfortunately, pretty bad.  I kept waiting for something big to happen, and it took until nearly the end of the book. But, if you're looking for an easy, quick, sweet read, try this one.  4 stars

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: My Calamity Jane

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

My Calamity Jane (The Lady Janies #3)
Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Expected publication date: June 2, 2020
Welcome ​to 1876 and a rootin’-tootin’ America bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou.

JANE (a genuine hero-eene)

Calamity’s her name, and garou hunting’s her game—when she’s not starring in Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, that is. She reckons that if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.

FRANK (*wolf whistle*)
Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler is the Wild West’s #1 bachelor. He’s also the best sharpshooter on
both sides of the Mississippi, but he’s about to meet his match. . . .

ANNIE (get your gun!)
Annie Oakley (yep, that Annie) is lookin’ for a job, not a romance, but she can’t deny there’s something about Frank she likes. Really likes. Still, she’s pretty sure that anything he can do,
she can do better.

After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s been talk of a garou cure. But things ain’t always what they seem—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short. - from Goodreads
The Lady Janies series has been so much fun so far, so I have high hopes for this third installment!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Anticipated Releases: How Often Do You Read Them?

A little over a year ago, Heidi at Rainy Day Ramblings posted an interesting topic during her "Tell Me Something Tuesday" - do you participate in Waiting on Wednesday, and do you read the books you highlight?  Waiting on Wednesday was a weekly feature hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine in which bloggers highlight an upcoming release they're eagerly anticipating.  Since that blog hasn't been active in awhile, Tressa at Wishful Endings started hosting Can't-Wait Wednesday, with the same premise.

WoW/CWW is a meme I've been participating almost every week since I started blogging.  It's fun to spotlight upcoming releases, fangirl about them a bit, and even introduce other readers to books they may not have been aware of.  So, I thought it would be fun to look back through my archives and figure out how many of those books I've featured I've actually read - and if not, why not.

I looked at all my CWW posts for 2019, assuming that at this point in 2020, they've all been released:

Total posts: 44
  • I've read 19 of the books I featured (43%)
  • I DNFed 5 of them (11%)
  • 20 are unread (~45%)
  • Of those 20, 13 are still on my TBR (29.5%) and 7 have been deleted
So what do these numbers tell me?  Of the many, many books that are released each year, and of the multitudes that I add to my TBR, 44 stood out in some way that made me want to feature them specifically.  I read (or attempted to read) just over half of those.  Although I deleted some, I have almost 30% of them still on my TBR.  As someone who tends to read more backlist books than new releases, that's not too bad!

When I look at the books I did read, one general pattern stands out - I tend to read anticipated releases by authors I've read and enjoyed before (in this case, Sophie Kinsella, Fiona Davis, Beatriz Williams, John Marrs, Jenn Bennett, Blake Crouch, etc.).   I know I can rely on them to deliver amazing stories.

And what about the ones I haven't read yet?  There are so many reasons why I might not have picked up an anticipated release: maybe I'm no longer interested in it; maybe the release date was so far away that I've forgotten about it; maybe it's moved down my TBR because I've added other books to the top; maybe I haven't been able to get a copy from my library yet.  And, there just aren't enough hours in the day to read every book I want to read!

So, how about you?  Do you find yourself always reading those books you're really anticipating?  Or does it depend?

Friday, May 1, 2020

Month in Review: April 2020

Wow, what a crazy month!  Today marks day 42 of staying at home for me, so like most of you, I spent the entire month of April inside my house.  Most of the month was fairly quiet - I did a lot of reading, took walks when the weather allowed, worked on puzzles, cleaned my house.  Pretty boring, really!

April is a big month for birthdays in my family, including my own.  It was weird to not spend it with my family, especially my twin sister, at any point during the month.  I kept telling everyone that I wanted to forget about this birthday, pretend it didn't happy, so of course my dad sent a card that said, "Happy 35th birthday for the second time!"  For one of our nephews, we had a little Zoom meeting to sing happy birthday to him and see him blow out the candles on his cupcake.  It was a fun way to get everyone together!  Speaking of birthdays, my blog turned 4 in late April.  I was thinking about doing a giveaway like last year, but with the way the mail has been lately, I decided to hold off and maybe do a bigger giveaway later in the year.

We usually have Tom's family over for Easter, but it was just the two of us this year, so it was a pretty low-key affair.  I've seen my mom a few times since she lives really close by, and my dad stopped by once.  Thank goodness for phones - I talk to my mom and sister almost daily!  Although I'm fortunate enough to be "quarantined" with my husband, at times it can feel lonely, not seeing all the people we're used to seeing, and I think it's important to make the effort and keep in touch.

Anyone else doing things they don't normally do?  I actually cut my husband's hair for the first time this month!  I just buzzed the whole thing so it was hard to mess up, but I think he should go to a barber in the future!

As for my work situation - the start date at my new job was kind of up in the air for awhile, so thankfully, my unemployment claim was accepted and I was able to collect.  The unemployment system in my state has been overwhelmed with new claims and many people are still waiting to get their money, so I was very fortunate that mine worked out.  I was able to start at my new job near the end of the month.  They gave me a laptop and I've been working remotely along with the rest of the office.  It's definitely been a big adjustment and I have so much to learn, but my sister actually works at the same company and she has been a huge help!

The Books

 While We Were Watching Downton Abbey (reread) // Light From Other Stars (review to come) // Daisy Jones & The Six (audio, reread) // Wasted Words (review to come)
The Posts and Reviews

How are YOU doing?  What's your best coping mechanism for these crazy times?