Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Midnight Blue

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

Midnight Blue
Simone Van Der Vlugt
Expected publication date: June 26, 2018
From Simone Van Der Vlugt comes her European bestselling novel of a young woman's rise as a painter in Holland's Golden Age—perfect for readers of The Miniaturist, Tulip Fever, and Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Amsterdam 1654: against the backdrop of Holland's Golden Age, a dangerous secret threatens to destroy a young widow's new life.

Following the sudden death of her husband, twenty-five-year old Catrin leaves her small village and takes a job as a housekeeper to the successful Van Nulandt merchant family. Amsterdam is a city at the peak of its powers: science and art are flourishing in the Golden Age and Dutch ships bring back exotic riches from the Far East. Madam Van Nulandt passes her time taking expensive painting lessons from a local master, Rembrandt van Rigin, and when Catrin takes up a brush to finish some of her mistress's work, Rembrandt realizes the maid has genuine talent, and encourages her to continue.

When a figure from her past threatens her new life, Catrin flees to the smaller city of Delft. There, her gift as a painter earns her a chance to earn a living painting pottery at a local workshop. Slowly, the workshop begins to develop a new type of pottery to rival fancy blue-on-white imported Chinese porcelain—and the graceful and coveted Delft Blue designs she creates help revolutionize the industry. But when tragedy strikes, Catrin must decide whether to defend her newfound independence, or return to the village that she'd fled. - from Goodreads

Monday, May 21, 2018

Why I Never Bring New Books on Vacation

For many people, vacations are the perfect time to break out a new book and read by the pool/on the beach/on a plane.  I think I'm a little bit of an aberration, because no matter how much I might want to, reading always seems to end up being a low priority for me when I'm on vacation, and over the years I've made the decision to only bring rereads when we're on a trip. 

Depending on the length of the trip, I typically bring anywhere from two to four books with me.  I'm always worried I'll run out of stuff to read, but honestly, 99% of the time, it's too ambitious!  Like, when we went to Watkins Glen for a long weekend and I brought Gone With the Wind?  Yeah, I think I read two chapters!

It usually comes down to the fact that I don't end up with a lot of reading time when we're on vacation.  Some of our trips recently have involved our niece and nephews.  I love spending time with them, but apparently tiny children never stop moving (except when they're napping).  And if they're not sitting still, you're not sitting still - so I seem to spend more time blowing bubbles and coloring than reading!

Even when it's just Tom and I, we spend a lot of time exploring.  Our trips aren't typically very long, so we try to cram a lot of sightseeing in, in just a couple days.  And Tom isn't really one for sitting around - when I told him I wanted to spend a day on the beach during our Hawaiian honeymoon, I think we lasted an hour before he got restless!  I do tend to read a lot on planes, so that's one time I can get some uninterrupted reading in.

So, since my reading time is often limited or prone to disruptions on vacations, I'd rather be rereading a favorite book than trying to absorb something new.  I don't have to worry about stopping in the middle of a chapter or forgetting what I've just read!

Do you typically read a lot when you're on vacation?  What kinds of books do you like to bring on trips?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: The Heart Between Us

The Heart Between Us
Lindsay Harrel
Published March 13, 2018
Megan Jacobs always wished for a different heart. Her entire childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, sitting on the sidelines while her twin sister Crystal played all the sports, got all the guys, and had all the fun. But even a heart transplant three years ago wasn’t enough to propel Megan’s life forward. She’s still working as a library aide in her small Minnesota hometown and living with her parents, dreaming of the adventure she plans to take “once she’s well enough.” Meanwhile, her sister is a successful architect with a handsome husband and the perfect life—or so Megan thinks.

When her heart donor’s parents give Megan their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. Caleb—a friend from her years in and out of the hospital—reenters her life and pushes her to find the courage to take the leap and begin her journey. She’s thrown for a loop when Crystal offers to join her for reasons of her own, but she welcomes the company and the opportunity to mend their tenuous relationship.

As Megan and Crystal check items off the bucket list, Megan fights the fears that have been instilled in her after a lifetime of illness. She must choose between safety and adventure and learn to embrace the heart she’s been given so that she can finally share it with the people she loves most. - from Goodreads
Megan spent over 20 years of her life being sick, but even after getting a heart transplant, she is still scared to do anything outside her comfort zone.  She finally agrees to meet her donor Amanda's family, and they give her Amanda's diary, which contains a bucket list of items Amanda wanted to do, before she was killed in a car crash.  Megan decides to complete Amanda's bucket list, hoping it will inspire her.  Megan's twin sister, Crystal, decides to accompany Megan on her trip, in hopes of mending their relationship.

First and foremost, this book will give you a serious case of wanderlust!  Amanda's bucket list takes the sisters all over the world, from Peru, to Australia, to Beijing, to Europe.  Not only did Megan and Crystal see all these amazing sights, but I felt like I learned a lot, too, about each place they visited.

Besides all the traveling, the sisters' relationship is at the center of the novel.  Being a twin myself, I could kind of relate to Megan and Crystal, particularly as siblings grow up and start their own lives.  But for Megan and Crystal, it was different.  Megan was stuck in hospitals, while Crystal got to go school, find a great job as an architect, and get married.  When we meet them, the sisters haven't seen each other in years, and it was nice to see them regain their love and trust as the trip went on, although it wasn't easy.

There is also some romance in the book - Megan reconnects with an old friend who also had a heart transplant, and it was sweet to see them experience parts of the trip together, since neither expected they would ever be able to do that.  Crystal, on the other hand, is having marriage issues and wonders if she can really have it all - a successful career and a happy marriage.

I thought the writing was good and the pace of the story was quick.  Each chapter brought a new country.  However, the ending was a little too bland and saccharine for me; it felt like everything wrapped up too quickly and neatly.  The story felt a bit simplistic at times, as well.  This book is Christian fiction, which I didn't realize when I picked it up, but the religious aspects weren't too overwhelming for me (as someone who doesn't identify with any particular religion). 

3.5 stars

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Mermaid

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

The Mermaid
Christina Henry
Expected publication date: June 19, 2018
From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum's American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn't bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he'd heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he's determined to hold on to his mermaid. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book vs. Movie: Ready Player One

Ready Player One is one of those books I found out about after I started blogging and saw a lot of other people raving about.  For some reason, I kept putting off reading it, and then I saw that the movie was coming out.  My husband was excited for it, because of the pop culture references and video game culture, and so the book went higher up my TBR, with the intention of reading it before the movie was released.  I guess a lot of people had the same idea I did, because when I went to get the book from my library, there was a HUGE wait list - so long I didn't get a chance to read the book before the movie.  Minor spoilers below!

Ready Player One takes place in the not-too-distant future, a bleak place where people turn to the OASIS, a virtual reality game, to fulfill themselves.  The game's creator, James Halliday, announces in his will that he left an Easter egg inside the game, and the first person to find it will gain control of the OASIS and his vast fortune.  Wade Watts is a teenager who is on his way to winning it all after he finds the first key to the Easter egg, but a large corporation, Innovative Online Industries, is using all of its resources in order to get there first.

We saw the movie the first weekend it came out, and it was definitely a fun experience!  The music was awesome, all those '80s hits!  Who doesn't love '80s music?  Visually, the movie was gorgeous - the OASIS seemed like such a lush place where practically anything could happen.  I see why people spent so much time in there. And of course, all the pop culture references were very cool.  Whether they were front and center, like the Iron Giant, or hiding in the background, it was fun trying to spot them all.

As much as I enjoyed the OASIS, the scenes that took place in real life were just as important.  I did have a little bit of an issue with some of the secondary characters on Wade's team - I feel like we didn't get to know them as much, and since they were such fun characters in the movie, I wanted more of them.  But overall, I really enjoyed the movie - it was a good mix of action and heartfelt scenes.

When I finally got a copy of the book, I dove right in.  The first thing I noticed was the incredible amount of detail.  Cline's world-building was amazing.  I almost felt like James Halliday was a real person, I got to know him so well through Wade.  At times, that amount of information felt overwhelming, especially the sections that got overly technical on computer or gaming things, but it made the book feel so authentic.

I generally thought the pacing was good, but there were times it felt off.  Sometimes it took awhile for Wade to figure out each challenge, and then within a few paragraphs, other players would catch up or even surpass him, with little warning or description.  While I liked Wade and thought he was resourceful and smart, even cunning at times, it was a bit hard to believe how much knowledge he actually had.  I mean, I guess he literally spent years watching and playing basically every tv show, movie, and game from the 1980s, but the fact that he had pretty much everything memorized was crazy.  I did appreciate, though, that the secondary characters were fleshed out, and Ogden was a pretty cool character, as well.

It's hard not to notice the big differences between the book and the movie.  Obviously, the general premise is the same, but the challenges were very different (although it makes sense that the filmmakers would have to scale them down for the movie).  The secondary characters also played slightly different roles.  I thought the book did a great job in creating the OASIS and helping me visualize it, but actually seeing the world on the big screen really brought it to life.  I would recommend both!

Have you seen the movie and/or read the book?  What did you think of the differences between them?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Satisfying Reads Under 300 Pages

Here are some recommendations for books that you'll find totally satisfying but can still be read in a day or two (or even an afternoon), because they're all under 300 pages!

The Assistants by Camille Perri: A fun and funny story for anyone who has student loan debt.

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton: Not your typical end-of-the-world story.

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf: A fast-paced thriller that takes place in a luxury hotel.

Avalanche by Melinda Braun: An over-the-top survival story.

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott: Historical fiction taking place on the set of Gone With the Wind.

When The English Fall by David Williams: A post-apocalyptic story told from a unique point of view.

What are some of your recommendations for books you can read in an afternoon?

Friday, May 11, 2018

Mini-Reviews: The Emma Mills Edition

First & Then by Emma Mills (2015)

What a refreshing story!  A contemporary YA novel that actually feels realistic and relatable.  Devon is in her senior year of high school, unsure of what she wants to do after graduation, while also dealing with some issues at home.  Her cousin Foster has come to live with Devon and her parents because his own mother has major problems.

I love that the crux of this story begins in gym class, of all places.  Devon and Foster have gym class together, and there they cross paths with All-American football player Ezra, who really takes Foster under his wing and (maybe?) develops feelings for Devon.

At first I wasn't sure if I would like Devon; I thought she was going to be whiny and overly sarcastic, but she wasn't.  I grew to really love her.  I identified with her fear of being average, of not knowing what she wanted to do with her life, of being kind of on the fringe in school, and having an unrequited crush on her friend Cas (and she loves books!).  I also fell in love with Foster - there was so much more to him than just an awkward kid.  And Ezra as well - I think this is where the Pride and Prejudice influence came in the strongest.  At first Ezra seems aloof and silent, but by the end of the story, we've learned so much about him.

Nothing really outrageous happened in the story, but that's what I enjoyed.  The characters felt like real high schoolers, living normal lives while also going through some tough issues.  4 stars

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills (2017)

Emma Mills has become a queen of contemporary YA for me.  She has the ability to take the most relatable, even (dare I say it) mundane, parts of high school and craft heart-warming stories around lovable characters.

In Foolish Hearts, Claudia finds herself stuck working with Iris, who really doesn't like her, on the school play, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  She also becomes close with Gideon, a popular boy at a neighboring high school who is also in the play, but can she overcome her fears of dating?

I loved the evolution of Claudia and Iris' friendship.  They eventually find some common ground, and Iris really grows as a character.  She doesn't have a lot of friends, but I think she's also a bit misunderstood.  And the slow burn romance between Claudia and Gideon is adorable - at first, I wasn't sure Gideon was even into Claudia.  He just seemed like a bubbly, flirtatious guy.  But when it became obvious that he really does care for her, I wanted Claudia to get out of her own way and just go for it.

Mills also includes one of my favorite things in YA - great families surrounding the main character.  We don't see Claudia's parents that much, but we do meet her brother Alex and sister Julia, and they are all so much fun together, playing their online game.  4 stars