Monday, January 22, 2018

4 Free Things We Did in Las Vegas... and 5 For The Next Trip

(In an effort to freshen up the "wanderings" part of my blog, I want to start incorporating more travel posts, so this is my first attempt!)

I was so excited to go to Las Vegas for the first time last year, but I was also a bit worried about the costs - the restaurants, the gambling, the drinking - it wouldn't be cheap!  So I did some research before we left and came up with a list of things that we could do for free.  Because our trip was rather short and my list was really long, we only got to a few of them, so I guess that just means I'll have to go back!

1. Walking the Strip and checking out the casinos.  After parking our car, we basically walked anywhere we wanted to go along the Strip.  There's so much to see both inside and outside the casinos.  The themed hotels are so ornate and busy, we didn't even need to gamble to have fun.  And with the way we ate, we definitely needed the exercise.

2. The Park.  The Park is an outdoor area located between the Monte Carlo and New York-New York hotels.  It offered some respite from the craziness of the Strip and also housed some very cool sculptures.

3. The Bellagio fountains  The fountains run on a schedule, so it's pretty easy to figure out when you should get there to see the show.

4.  The Welcome to Las Vegas sign.  The sign is actually located down Las Vegas Boulevard from the heart of the Strip, but since it was on the way to where we were staying, it was a quick stop for us.  There's actually a parking lot in the center of the road, which makes for an easy visit.  Also, it was quite a bit smaller than I thought it would be!

So, we ended up hitting the major tourist attractions while we were there, but if (when) we go back, there are five other attractions I'd like to check out, all for free:

Neon Museum: The Neon Museum houses an outdoor collection of classic neon signs.  Most of their collection is accessible through guided tours for a fee, but they also have a gallery of 9 restored signs that is open and free to the public, 24/7.

Ethel M. Chocolates: The Ethel M. Chocolates factory is actually located in Henderson.  You can do a free self-guided tour of the viewing aisle to catch a glimpse of them making the chocolate, and afterwards you can take a walk through their Botanical Cactus Garden, the largest in Nevada.

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden: The conservatory at the Bellagio houses a multitude of plants, flowers, and trees, and the design is changed for each season.  Unfortunately, we were in Las Vegas for the couple days each quarter when the Garden is closed to create the next season's scene!

The Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo: Inside the flashy Flamingo resort is a wildlife habitat that features fish, turtles, and of course, flamingos. 
ARIA fine art collection: All over the ARIA hotel campus, you can find stunning pieces of public art, from sculptures to paintings.

Las Vegas isn't just about gambling and drinking - there really is something for everyone, and you don't always have to spend a ton of money to have fun!
What are some of your favorite Las Vegas attractions?  What's your favorite thing about Las Vegas?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: The Night She Won Miss America

The Night She Won Miss America
Michael Callahan
Published April 18, 2017
Inspired by a true story, a young woman is swept up in the glamour and excitement of chasing the title of Miss America 1950—only to vanish the night she wins.

Betty Jane Welch reluctantly enters the Miss Delaware contest to make her mother happy, only to surprisingly find herself the judges' choice. Just like that, she's catapulted into the big time, the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.

Luckily, her pageant-approved escort for the week is the dashing but mercurial Griffin McAllister, and she falls for him hard. But when the spirited Betty unexpectedly wins the crown and sash, she finds she may lose what she wants most: Griff's love. To keep him, she recklessly agrees to run away together. From the flashy carnival of the Boardwalk to the shadowy streets of Manhattan to a cliffside mansion in gilded Newport, the chase is on as the cops and a scrappy reporter secretly in love with the beauty queen threaten to unravel everything-and expose Griff's darkest secret. - from Goodreads
This was one of those impulse grabs from the library new release shelf.  I didn't know anything about the book, hadn't checked out any reviews, but I thought the cover was adorable and the blurb was interesting, so I took it home.

In 1949, Betty Jane enters the Miss Delaware pageant as a favor to her mother, not expecting she would ever win - but she does, and she is swept off to the Miss America pageant.  There, she meets her escort for the week, Griff McAllister, and the two fall head over heels in love.  However, Griff tells Betty that if she were to win, he couldn't be with her; it would be too stressful for him.  When Betty unexpectedly wins, she has to make the choice between being Miss America and being Griff's girlfriend, and she chooses Griff - but was it the right choice?

I really enjoyed the first half of the story, up to when Betty wins the pageant.  The behind-the-scenes pageant tidbits and mid-century Atlantic City setting were fun.  After Betty runs away with Griff, the story got quite a bit more outlandish.  With stops in New York City and Newport, car chases, and an attempted rape, it felt like a soap opera.

At times it was hard to pin down Betty Jane as a character.  She seemed like a typical young woman, a college student who hasn't led the most interesting of lives.  When she meets Griff, she falls hard, and as a girl who hasn't had many boyfriends before, she loves the attention Griff gives her.  When she ultimately wins the Miss America title, Betty Jane vacillates practically every page.  Although the win isn't something she wanted, she begins to see all the possibilities and advantages it could bring, not to mention all the scholarship money, but she is worried about Griff.  To his credit, Griff never asks Betty to give up her title; she does that all on her own.  As the story goes on, she shows a cunning level-headedness that I didn't expect from her.

Griff, although charming at times, is hiding a big secret from Betty.  Maybe it's a bit of a spoiler, but Griff has schizophrenia, and by the time Betty learns the truth, it's too late; she's in too deep to just leave.  Griff's schizophrenia was a somewhat heartbreaking addition to the story, but the touches upon treatment and prognosis of mental illness in the 1940s were rather interesting.

Overall, I thought this story was engaging and quick-moving, although a bit inconsistent. 

3.5 stars

Thursday, January 18, 2018

TV Shows I'm Obsessed With Lately #4

Although I probably liked the first season slightly better, I'm still loving the second season of The Crown on Netflix.  It's no secret that I love royalty, so I am fascinated by this show about Queen Elizabeth II.  And this season devotes whole episodes to other members of the royal family, including the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, and her son, Prince Charles.

By Unknown - Netflix, Public Domain,

Travelers is yet another fantastic original series by Netflix.  In this series, the future is a bleak place, so "travelers" are sent back to the present-day to try to prevent all the things that caused society to collapse.  The consciousness of the traveler is transferred into the body of someone who is just about to die, saving them and taking over their lives in order to complete missions.  If you love time travel and sci-fi, there are two great seasons of this show to binge!

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

No matter how many years it's been since my own wedding, I will never get tired of looking at pretty dresses (especially ones I could never afford!) and hearing about people's love stories.  I can lose an entire afternoon watching reruns, and the new season has finally started!

What tv shows are you watching lately?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Sociable

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

Rebecca Harrington
Expected publication date: March 27, 2018
The Assistants meets The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. in this exuberant comedy of manners set in the world of Internet media, a brilliantly irreverent novel about what it means to be young, broke, dumped, and scarily good at creating viral content.

When Elinor Tomlinson moved to New York with a degree in journalism she had visions of writing witty opinion pieces, marrying her journalist boyfriend, and attending glamorous parties with famously perverted writers. Instead, Elinor finds herself nannying for two small children who speak in short, high screams, sleeping on a foam pad in a weird apartment, and attending terrible parties with Harper's interns wearing shapeless smocks. So when Elinor is offered a job at, the digital media brainchild of a Silicon Valley celebrity, she jumps at the chance. Sure, her boyfriend is writing long think pieces about the electoral college for a real website while Elinor writes lists about sneakers and people at parties give her pitying glances when she reveals her employer, but at Elinor discovers her true gift: She has a preternatural ability for writing sharable content. She is an overnight viral sensation! But Elinor's success is not without cost. Elinor's boyfriend dumps her, two male colleagues insist on "mentoring" her, and a piece she writes about her personal life lands her on local television. Broke, single, and consigned to move to a fifth-floor walkup, Elinor must ask herself: Is this the creative life she dreamed of? Can new love be found on Coffee Meets Bagel? And should she start wearing a smock? With wry humor and sharp intelligence, Sociable is a hilarious tale of one young woman's search for happiness--and an inside look at life in the wild world of Internet media. - from Goodreads

Monday, January 15, 2018

5 Little Mermaid Retellings For Adults

I am a huge Disney fan, and when I was a kid, my favorite of the Disney princesses was (and still is) Ariel (although Belle the bookworm also holds a place in my heart!).  I loved The Little Mermaid, but it was only when I got older that I realized that original Hans Christian Andersen tale is actually pretty dark.  So today I wanted to compile a list of Little Mermaid retellings for adult fans!

The Seafarer's Kiss by Julia Ember: A mermaid falls in love with a maiden trapped on a glacier.

The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb: An opera student in Boston feels stabbing pains in her feet, unless she's touching the sea.  I can highly recommend this one - check out my review here.

The Summer Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler: A singer loses her voice, but a potential new relationship may give her renewed hope.

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon: Close to the original story, this retelling focuses on a love triangle between the mermaid, prince, and another princess.

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama: A mermaid's decision to join her human love echoes through generations.

Do you have any other recommendations for Little Mermaid retellings?  What's your favorite fairy tale retelling?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Review: Invictus

Ryan Graudin
Published September 26, 2017
Time flies when you're plundering history.

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far's birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he's ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far's very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems. - from Goodreads
In the distant future, Farway McCarthy is a student hoping to become a time traveler, so he can explore history.  But after he fails his final test, he is recruited by a shady guy to locate and steal valuable items that were lost to history.  One such mission involves stealing a book from the sinking Titanic, where Far crosses paths with Eliot, a girl with many secrets.  Who is she, and what does she want?  When she finally reveals her reasons for seeking out Far, Far and his team are thrown into something that could affect all of time and space.

I love time travel (although I don't always understand it), and I especially loved the way the author approached it in Invictus.  In Far's time, time travelers are sent back to different times and places in order to record history - can you imagine being able to say you walked with dinosaurs or saw President Lincoln give his Gettysburg Address?  It sounds like the perfect job - one that Far wants desperately.  He assumes he'll get it, too - he's at the top of his class and everyone expects that he'll pass his exam with flying colors.  But he doesn't, which leads him to accept a black-market job as captain of the Invictus, with a crew comprised of his medic girlfriend Priya, historian cousin Imogen, and engineer best friend Gram.

I generally liked all the individual characters, although my one biggest problem with YA is that the teenagers always seem way too smart for their ages.  The characters are all around 18 years old, yet they're able to pilot this ship and plan and carry out missions like it's no big deal.  It's just a little weird to me.  Anyway... there was also some romance going on - I liked Priya and Far's relationship.  It felt real and deep, as opposed to the huge crush Imogen has on Gram.  Her "I like him but I can't tell him" utterings got old, real fast.  She seemed a bit immature.

When Eliot appeared on the scene, I was anxious to find out what her deal was.  I wish the author had gotten to it a bit faster; the reveal was pretty cool, but it took so long to get there and the mystery surrounding Eliot just confused me.  After her reveal, the story became tense and action-packed.  I don't want to give too much away, because it's a really fun but also unexpectedly dark and emotional ride.

I loved Graudin's writing; I've never read anything by her before, and I found her writing to be elegant in a way I don't necessarily expect from YA books.  I appreciated where she went with the story in the end; I think it was risky to have the events play out the way they did, but I was very satisfied with the choices she made.

4 stars

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Family Next Door

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

The Family Next Door
Sally Hepworth
Expected publication date: March 13, 2018

A gripping domestic page-turner full of shocking reveals, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty, Amanda Prowse and Kerry Fisher.

The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It's the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.

Isabelle Heatherington doesn't fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.

But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. Like the reason behind Ange's compulsion to control every aspect of her life. Or why Fran won't let her sweet, gentle husband near her new baby. Or why, three years ago, Essie took her daughter to the park - and returned home without her.

As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread - and they'll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see. - from Goodreads