Monday, April 29, 2024

Michele's Monday Picks #44

Angela is so generous to let me pop in with my little series, Michele’s Monday Picks!  I’m not a blogger or bookstagrammer, but I love getting excited about new releases with the rest of you.  Here I’ll be sharing new books I’m really looking forward to!


By Sarina Bowen
Expected Publication: May 14, 2024

From Goodreads:
Dead men don’t send texts…
On an ordinary Monday morning, Ariel Cafferty's phone buzzes with a disturbing text message. Something’s happened. I need to see you. Meet me under the candelabra tree ASAP. The words would be jarring from anyone, but the sender is the only man she ever loved. And it's been several years since she learned he died.
Seeing Drew’s name pop up is heart-stopping. Ariel’s gut says it can’t be real. But she goes to the tree anyway. She has to.
Nobody shows. But the text upends everything she thought she knew about the day he left her. The more questions she asks, the more sinister the answers get. Only two things are clear: everything she was told five years ago is wrong, and someone is still lying to her. 
The truth has to be out there somewhere. To safeguard herself—and her son—she’ll have to find it before it finds her. And with it, the answer to what became of Drew. 

For fans of Laura Dave and Julie Clark, but with a heart-stopping romance that only Sarina Bowen can execute, The Five Year Lie is a page-turning, spine-tingling thriller that will have you guessing until the very end.

I am so excited for Sarina Bowen’s foray into thrillers - do you think you’ll be picking this one up?

Friday, April 26, 2024

Quick Reviews

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins (2023) 

Emily is an author struggling to finish her current book.  When her long-time friend Chess suggests a change of scenery, she jumps at the chance to visit a historic villa in Italy.  It's the same villa where, decades earlier, a brutal murder took place, with a classic novel and hit album produced by two of the survivors.  Inspired by her setting, Emily starts digging into the murder, but her present-day situation may also be hiding some secrets. I liked the way the story played out, alternating between the two time periods.  We think we know what happened in the 1970s, but as Emily learns more, there turns out to be more to the story.  The friendship between Emily and Chess in the present day has some tension, as there seems to be some rivalry or friction between the two.  While the story does have some twists at the end that made me question a lot, I would say it's more of a mystery than a thriller, and that's not necessarily what I was expecting.  Maybe I was just eager for it to end, but it felt like some big things got glossed over, and I wanted more of a "vibe" from the story, especially considering the setting.  3.5 stars

Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan (2023)

Ana is a freshman at a highly exclusive and somewhat secretive high school, which focuses on all things related to the ocean.  On the weekend of the freshman trial, though, the school is attacked, leaving Ana and her friends to figure out what happened and stop the danger that is coming their way.  This one was kind of a mixed bag for me.  I enjoyed the literary connections with Jules Verne and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, finding out that for Ana, the events and people in the book are very real and have a strong connection with her family.  The pacing is quite good, as the story moves along from the initial attack, to Ana and her friends regrouping, to the final big battle.  I think, however, the world-building was very lackluster.  I feel like we didn't know a lot about the fancy school Ana attends, and especially why students go there.  Some students are legacy attendees, but what about all the others? How did they know about this school? And what goes on at this school?  Which brings me to my issue with a lot of YA books, in that the teenagers seem way too smart and mature.  In less than two years, Ana learns MULTIPLE languages, other students are trained in warfare, etc.  They just seem to have all these specialized skills that, first, kids probably shouldn't be learning, and second, there's little way they would become so proficient in them.  In Riordan's other books, these things sort of make sense, since, for example in the Percy Jackson books, these children are literally the sons and daughters of gods - so the rules are completely different.  But, these are just regular kids, and it didn't make a ton of sense.  3.5 stars

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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Top Ten Tuesday: Unread Books On My Shelves


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is unread books on our shelves that we want to read soon (bonus points if we can identify how long it's been on our shelves!).  No matter how good I think I am at reading from my shelves, I always seem to have a big stack of unread books.  Lately it's gotten a little worse because of gifts, etc.  Here are just some of the unread books on my shelves that I hope to get to soon!






What are some unread books you've had on your shelves for a long time?

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Friday, April 19, 2024

Fiction/Nonfiction Quick Reviews: The Romanov Edition

The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull (2022)

The end of imperial Russia (and the reigning Romanov family) is told through the point of view of eldest daughter Olga, Grand Duchess.  From her sheltered childhood, to some freedom at the home of her aunt, to helping out during the war effort, to finally being confined with her family after the Bolsheviks take power, the reader experiences a critical time in Russian history through the eyes of a young woman.  The story moves back and forth between Olga's teenage years and work as a nurse during the war and the time when the Romanov family was removed from power and confined to various houses, awaiting their fate.  Olga is portrayed as someone who is somewhat naive, very sheltered, and fiercely loyal to her family, although she does speak out occasionally.  Despite their royal roles, the Romanovs come across as a very close family, and Nicholas as a particularly loving father.  Knowing what eventually happens to the Romanovs made for some tension as the book went on (and the book ends on quite a note), but overall, this is a well-written but quiet historical fiction novel.  4 stars

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport (2015)

In The Romanov Sisters, Helen Rappaport uses extensive research in the form of letters, diaries, and documents from private collections (many before unseen) to provide a view into the lives of the last Grand Duchesses of Russia, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia.  Although famous due to their positions and family, the girls lived quite sheltered lives, and Rappaport shows that despite their duties, their close-knit family was the most important thing to them.  Rappaport does spend quite a lot of time setting up the eventual births of the sisters and their longed-for brother (their mother Alexandra ends up being probably the largest figure in the book), but the use of their letters and diaries really helps us get to know the young women.  Because the family was so private, I think there is a sense that we still don't know a lot of about them, but this book does an admirable job of peering into those quiet family moments and giving us glimpses of what their day-to-day lives were like, even into such things as potential love interests and illnesses suffered.  The writing is a little long-winded at times (many paragraphs are entirely too long) but also very matter-of-fact, in that the author doesn't delve into the many conspiracy theories surrounding the tragic deaths of the Romanov family members.  4 stars

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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Paradise Problem

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

Christina Lauren
Expected publication date: May 14, 2024
Christina Lauren, returns with a delicious new romance between the buttoned-up heir of a grocery chain and his free-spirited artist ex as they fake their relationship in order to receive a massive inheritance.

Anna Green thought she was marrying Liam “West” Weston for access to subsidized family housing while at UCLA. She also thought she’d signed divorce papers when the graduation caps were tossed, and they both went on their merry ways.

Three years later, Anna is a starving artist living paycheck to paycheck while West is a Stanford professor. He may be one of four heirs to the Weston Foods conglomerate, but he has little interest in working for the heartless corporation his family built from the ground up. He is interested, however, in his one-hundred-million-dollar inheritance. There’s just one catch.

Due to an antiquated clause in his grandfather’s will, Liam won’t see a penny until he’s been happily married for five years. Just when Liam thinks he’s in the home stretch, pressure mounts from his family to see this mysterious spouse, and he has no choice but to turn to the one person he’s afraid to introduce to his one-percenter parents—his unpolished, not-so-ex-wife.

But in the presence of his family, Liam’s fears quickly shift from whether the feisty, foul-mouthed, paint-splattered Anna can play the part to whether the toxic world of wealth will corrupt someone as pure of heart as his surprisingly grounded and loyal wife. Liam will have to ask himself if the price tag on his flimsy cover story is worth losing true love that sprouted from a lie. - from Goodreads

Monday, April 15, 2024

Meeting Abby Jimenez! Plus, A Giveaway!

When Abby Jimenez released the tour schedule for her new book, Just for the Summer, I was excited to see that she was going to be stopping in New York City, just a short(ish) train ride away!  My sister and I snatched up tickets and on Saturday, April 6, we (escorted by her husband) made our way to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square.

The event started at 6pm on the 4th floor of the bookstore, and we chose our seats shortly before that.  Every chair was full for the sold-out event!  Originally, Abby was supposed to be in conversation with author BK Borison, but she had to back out due to illness, so Abby was interviewed by AD Jarvis, a local author who happened to already have a ticket to the event and is a big Abby fan.  For someone who had to fill in at the last minute, I think she did a great job!  She asked Abby questions about the new book (of course), her characters, and her writing process.  Although a self-proclaimed introvert, Abby is a wonderful public speaker - she’s warm, engaging, funny, and charismatic.  Her love for her books and her characters really shines through.  She seemed so happy to be there, and that’s really awesome for fans to see.  She even dropped some information about her next book!

After an hour of interviews and an audience Q&A session, the meet-and-greet portion of the evening began.  Since we were near the back of the audience, we did have to wait quite awhile, but it’s nice that Abby took the time to briefly chat with each person, sign their books, and snap a photo.  My sister met her first, and they had a good laugh about Abby almost spelling her name wrong in her personalization (my sister is one of those elusive one L Michele’s!).  Then it was my turn, and of course I can never think of anything smart to say, so I just mentioned that the previous guest was my twin sister, and she was the one who got me hooked on her books.  Abby replied that she loves meeting friend or sister pairs and hearing which one found her books first.  

LOL, yes, my eyes are open, but just barely!

It’s funny to think that when I was younger, authors were these elusive, almost anonymous figures in my life, but now, through social media and in-person events, it’s possible to get to know them and even meet them!  I’ve had the good fortune to meet a couple of my favorite authors, and I always get starstruck!  I’m glad we had the opportunity to see Abby Jimenez, and hopefully we will get to meet other authors soon!

And now for a giveaway! My sister had preordered a copy of Just for the Summer before we decided to go to this event, so she has an extra SIGNED copy that she has generously donated for this giveaway!

A few rules and notes:
  • You must be at least 13 years old and a resident of the United States to enter.
  • The giveaway will be open until April 22, 2024.
  • The winner will be notified by email, and they will have three days to respond with their full name and mailing address.  If they don't, another winner will be chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks and good luck!

Friday, April 12, 2024

Little Free Library Sightings

It's always fun to see a Little Free Library "out in the wild!"  I love to spot them, browse their selection, leave a book if possible, and then look them up on the official website, because sometimes they have interesting stories to go along with them!  There's also an app you can download to find local Little Free Libraries where you can even "check in" to keep track of the ones you've visited!  Here are a couple I've visited recently!

 #58226 - I stopped by this LFL after a recent visit to my sister's house.  I didn't really have time to browse too much, but I did notice that it was packed with books.  I love the rich green color of this one, and the ivy climbing the post was a surprise because the picture in the app didn't have that.  But, I thought it was beautiful!

#111671 - This LFL is also near my sister's house, not far from the previous one, so it was easy to make a stop. It was completely stuffed with books!  Unfortunately, I didn't have any with me to leave.  I love the bright color of the library, as well as the Dr. Seuss quote on the side, "The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

Monday, April 8, 2024

Michele's Monday Picks #43

 Angela is so generous to let me pop in with my little series, Michele’s Monday Picks!  I’m not a blogger or bookstagrammer, but I love getting excited about new releases with the rest of you.  Here I’ll be sharing new books I’m really looking forward to!


By John Marrs
Expected Publication: May 9, 2024

From Goodreads:
From the acclaimed author of The One and The Marriage Act, The Family Experiment is dark and brilliant speculative thriller about families: real and virtual.

Some families are virtually perfect…

The world's population is soaring, creating overcrowded cities and an economic crisis. And in the UK, the breaking point has arrived. A growing number of people can no longer afford to start families, let alone raise them.

But for those desperate to experience parenthood, there is an alternative. For a monthly subscription fee, clients can create a virtual child from scratch who they can access via the metaverse and a VR headset. To launch this new initiative, the company behind Virtual Children has created a reality TV show called The Substitute. It will follow ten couples as they raise a Virtual Child from birth to the age of eighteen but in a condensed nine-month time period. The prize: the right to keep their virtual child, or risk it all for the chance of a real baby…

Set in the same universe as John Marrs's bestselling novel The One and The Marriage Act, The Family Experiment is a dark and twisted thriller about the ultimate Tamagotchi—a virtual baby.

John Marrs’ thrillers are so good - do you think you’ll be picking this one up?

Friday, April 5, 2024

Review: Wild Card by Staci Hart

Staci Hart
Published April 5, 2024
The hot baseball player I’m forced to stay with for my best friend’s wedding is off limits.

Remy Winfield has more muscles than manners, and he’s on a mission to get me into bed by way of the filthiest mouth I’ve ever wanted to kiss. He doesn’t care about my long time crush or my certainty that we’re finally about to happen.

Remy's sure I’ll break first and kiss him, and he’ll tease me to the limit to make sure I do. I might be a Lady, but I can still play his dirty little game. It’s perfectly safe, totally harmless.

Until I fall for him.

Suddenly, Mr. Long-Time Crush doesn’t matter at all.

And my best friend can never know. -  from Goodreads
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Jessa is in Tennessee for her best friend Cass' wedding.  She thinks it's her opportunity to finally make something happen with her friend Henry, who is the best man in the wedding, but she doesn't count on a mix-up which has her rooming with Cass' cousin, Remy, a super sexy baseball player.  While Cass expressly forbids the two from hooking up, it doesn't stop them from fake dating to make Henry jealous - but then they both catch feelings.  With Jessa heading back to England after the wedding, where will that leave her and Remy?

After a bit of a break, Staci Hart is back with a brand-new romance that will satisfy all her fans.  While there are certain Staci Hart elements, this book also feels different from her previous stories, and I was all in!  Jessa and Remy are total opposites - she's a high society British lady, while he's a small-town athlete.  But from the moment they meet, there's a spark that Jessa can't ignore, even though she's there for Henry.  Their sexual tension is off the charts, and their flirtatious banter is perfection.  This book is much steamier than her previous offerings; I am the first to point out if a story has too many sex scenes that take away from the story, but that isn't the case here.  Yes, there are a lot of steamy scenes, but to me they only served to show how much chemistry Remy and Jessa had and how into each other they were.  

Staci's books are always filled with great writing, but this one had a lightness to it that I appreciated.  Even as Jessa and Remy (and the other characters) face some tough issues, the vibe felt fun, with some moments of true humor.  There's small-town shenanigans, wedding prep, and plenty of sweet and sexy moments.  And, Staci sets up the next book in the series in an unexpected way!

4 stars

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Demon of Unrest

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

Erik Larson
Expected publication date: April 30, 2024
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Splendid and the Vile brings to life the pivotal five months between the election of Abraham Lincoln and the start of the Civil War—a slow-burning crisis that finally tore a deeply divided nation in two.

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the fluky victor in a tight race for president. The country was bitterly at odds; Southern extremists were moving ever closer to destroying the Union, with one state after another seceding and Lincoln powerless to stop them. Slavery fueled the conflict, but somehow the passions of North and South came to focus on a lonely federal fortress in Charleston: Fort Sumter.
Master storyteller Erik Larson offers a gripping account of the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter—a period marked by tragic errors and miscommunications, enflamed egos and craven ambitions, personal tragedies and betrayals. Lincoln himself wrote that the trials of these five months were “so great that, could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.”
At the heart of this suspense-filled narrative are Major Robert Anderson, Sumter’s commander and a former slave owner sympathetic to the South but loyal to the Union; Edmund Ruffin, a vain and bloodthirsty radical who stirs secessionist ardor at every opportunity; and Mary Boykin Chesnut, wife of a prominent planter, conflicted over both marriage and slavery and seeing parallels between both. In the middle of it all is the overwhelmed Lincoln, battling with his duplicitous Secretary of State, William Seward, as he tries desperately to avert a war that he fears is inevitable—one that will eventually kill 750,000 Americans.
Drawing on diaries, secret communiques, slave ledgers, and plantation records, Larson gives us a political horror story that captures the forces that led America to the brink—a dark reminder that we often don’t see a cataclysm coming until it’s too late.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Month in Review: March 2024

March was a very busy month for us!  While it did rain a lot, we did have one week of beautiful weather, and Henry and I spent a lot of time at the park after work/school.  My in-laws came over for St. Patrick's Day, with Tom cooking all the staples - corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.  Henry and I both caught a stomach bug, which made for an unpleasant couple of days.  I even called out sick from work one day, which I felt weird doing because I work from home.  Henry attended his first non-family birthday party - one of his daycare classmates invited him to his party at a local indoor playground, and he had a great time!  It's a place we've been wanting to try, so I'm glad we got to go.  At the end of the month, my mom came for a visit from Oklahoma.  She stayed with my sister because my niece was on spring break and my sister is still very busy with tax season.  Henry's daycare was closed for Good Friday, so my mom and I took the kids to an indoor trampoline park, and they had a blast.  The next day we went down to my sister's again, and my mom took us out for manicures and dinner for our upcoming birthday.  My sister then also hosted Easter, and that was another fun day - Henry is very into hunting for eggs!

Obligatory Henry update - man, it was a rough month for the terrible twos!  The tantrums!!  It's overwhelming sometimes when my normally very sweet boy just melts down.  And the communication issues - he asks for something, we give it to him, he cries, we take it away, he cries even more.  I just don't know what to do sometimes!  It often feels like a lose-lose situation for me.  But, when we are not melting down, Henry is very into music - he loves to sing and actually knows (some of) the words to a few songs!  My mom got him a small guitar, so he has been loving strumming that.  And his language is just blowing up, new words every day.  I actually had two teachers at his school this month compliment his speaking skills - one said he talks like a much older child, and the other was impressed by his vocabulary and grammar, saying that it was proof that we spend a lot of time reading together at home, which was nice to hear!

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