Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: The Goddesses

The Goddesses
Swan Huntley
Published July 25, 2017
The Descendants meets Single White Female in this captivating novel about a woman who moves her family to Hawaii, only to find herself wrapped up in a dangerous friendship, from the celebrated author of We Could Be Beautiful.

When Nancy and her family arrive in Kona, Hawaii, they are desperate for a fresh start. Nancy's husband has cheated on her; they sleep in separate bedrooms and their twin sons have been acting out, setting off illegal fireworks. But Hawaii is paradise: they plant an orange tree in the yard; they share a bed once again and Nancy resolves to make a happy life for herself. She starts taking a yoga class and there she meets Ana, the charismatic teacher. Ana has short, black hair, a warm smile, and a hard-won wisdom that resonates deeply within Nancy. They are soon spending all their time together, sharing dinners, relaxing in Ana's hot tub, driving around Kona in the cute little car Ana helps Nancy buy. As Nancy grows closer and closer to Ana skipping family dinners and leaving the twins to their own devices she feels a happiness and understanding unlike anything she's ever experienced, and she knows that she will do anything Ana asks of her.

A mesmerizing story of friendship and manipulation set against the idyllic tropical world of the Big Island, The Goddesses is a stunning psychological novel by one of our most exciting young writers. - from Goodreads
When Nancy, her husband Chuck, and their two teenage boys relocate to Hawaii for Chuck's job, Nancy thinks this will be the new beginning they all need.  However, Nancy soon finds herself falling into her old habits, so she tries something different - a yoga class - where she meets Ana.  Nancy immediately feels a strong connection to Ana, so when she tells Nancy she has terminal pancreatic cancer, Nancy wants to do anything she can to help Ana live out her final days.

At first, Nancy helps Ana with some good deeds, like giving out sandwiches to the homeless.  But as Ana becomes more upset about her cancer fight, she decides she'd rather seek vengeance, and she pulls Nancy, and even her family, into her destructive behaviors.

Nancy was a relatable character, in the way that she wanted to reinvent herself in her new home.  She seemed a bit lonely, and the attention that Ana gave her was just what she was looking for.  At times I thought she seemed a bit naive, or maybe she just didn't want to see what was right in front of her.

I disliked the character of Ana almost right from the start.  Although her "yoga teacher" persona seemed authentic, I quickly learned that there was more to her and that she wasn't necessarily who she presented herself to be.  I found her to be totally manipulative and I didn't trust her.  The way she insinuated herself into Nancy's home and family so quickly was kind of scary.

The book had an easy, conversational writing style that moved quickly, but the author still managed to impart some keen insight into relationships, including about why we sometimes aren't totally honest with our loved ones and how we can so easily fall back into bad habits and patterns.  I expected going into the story that there would be some sort of destructive friendship between Ana and Nancy and while there is drama, I needed more; the story kind of fizzled out near the end for me.  I didn't feel like there was enough tension and the story didn't have that powerful "ah-ha" moment.

3.5 stars

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Invictus

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

Ryan Graudin
Expected publication date: September 26, 2017
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.

In this heart-stopping adventure, Ryan Graudin has created a fast-paced world that defies time and space. - from Goodreads
This sounds like such a fun adventure story!  I'm so into time-travel books lately, and I love the reference to the Titanic!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week's topic is books on our fall TBR.  Here are some books I'm hoping to get to in the next couple months:

Have you read any of these?  Which one should I start with?

Monday, September 18, 2017

What Does It Really Mean To Be A Book Blogger?

Before I started this little book blog, I didn't really know what it meant to be a "blogger," and more specifically a book blogger.  I mean, yeah, I had an idea about what bloggers do, but once I really got into it, I started realizing all the hats we wear as book bloggers and all the work that goes into it!

  • First and foremost, we're readers.  Dedicated, obsessed, lose-all-sense-of-time readers.  Whether we're reading 20 books a year or 200, we all share a love of reading and it's our desire to talk about books with others that has brought us all here!

  • We're also reviewers.  We talk about books, things we loved within the pages and things we didn't.  We look at books critically and articulate what does and doesn't work.  And sometimes we just fangirl out or rant about a book we've recently read!

  • We're writers.  Hey, these posts don't write themselves (although sometimes I wish they did).  And not only blog posts - how many of you out there are working on your own original stories?

  • We're coders.  Whether it's building a blog from scratch or expanding upon an existing template.

  • We're editors.  We proofread everything that gets published on our blogs.  We decide what's going to get posted and when; we're in charge of planning out the schedule.  We make sure our blogs have a good flow and everything looks the way it's supposed to.

  • We're "chief content officers."  We come up with all the ideas and decide what we're going to talk about.  It's definitely not easy coming up with fun, unique posts all the time.

  • We're photographers and graphic designers.  A lot of work goes into making our sites look nice, from taking those perfect pictures to designing eye-catching graphics for our posts.

  • We're promoters, getting the word out about our favorite books, authors, and upcoming releases.  Giving and getting recommendations is a big part of book blogging, and it's because of you guys that I've found some new favorite authors!

  • We're active members of a huge book-blogging community.  Seriously, I did not even realize how many book blogs were out there when I started, but it's so cool because everyone has their own unique perspective!  I love the sense of community that everyone has, whether it's commenting on someone else's blog or participating in a reading challenge.

  • Some other skills we have?
    • Time management - For most of us, blogging is a hobby and we have to learn how to fit it into our lives already filled with families and jobs (and books!).
    • Social media savvy - Okay, maybe not me so much, but all of you bloggers out there on Instagram and Twitter!

What skills have you learned or honed as a result of being a book blogger?  What does being a book blogger mean to you?  Did anything surprise you when you first started blogging?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach
Beatriz Williams
Published June 27, 2017
Burdened by a dark family secret, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York City for the battlefields of World War I France. Driving an ambulance for the Red Cross, she meets a charismatic British army surgeon whose persistent charm opens her heart to the possibility of love. As the war rages, Virginia falls into a passionate affair with the dashing Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, only to discover that his past has its own dark secrets—secrets that will damage their eventual marriage and propel her back across the Atlantic to the sister and father she’d left behind.

Five years later, in the early days of Prohibition, the newly widowed Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in the tropical boomtown of Cocoa Beach, Florida, to settle her husband’s estate. Despite the evidence, Virginia does not believe Simon perished in the fire that destroyed the seaside home he built for her and their young daughter. Separated from her husband since the early days of their marriage, the headstrong Virginia plans to uncover the truth, for the sake of the daughter Simon has never met.

Simon’s brother and sister welcome her with open arms and introduce her to a dazzling new world of citrus groves, white beaches, bootleggers, and Prohibition agents. But Virginia senses a predatory presence lurking beneath the irresistible, hedonistic surface of this coastal oasis. The more she learns about Simon and his mysterious business interests, the more she fears that the dangers surrounding Simon now threaten her and their daughter’s life as well. - from Goodreads
Beatriz Williams is one of my go-to authors, so I eagerly snatched up her latest book, Cocoa Beach.  Taking a briefly-mentioned character from a previous novel, Williams has crafted a story of love, lies, and betrayal.

To escape her life in New York, Virginia Fortescue heads to France to become an ambulance driver in WWI, where she meets Simon Fitzwilliam, a charming British doctor.  Soon after they marry, though, Virginia discovers that Simon has lied to her about many things, and she flees back to the United States.  A couple years later, she is notified that Simon has died in a house fire in Florida and has left his entire estate to her.  When she goes to Florida to settle his affairs, she is confronted with a danger she never saw coming.

The story is told in a dual narrative, both from Virginia's point of view, with the first showing her meeting and marrying Simon and the second showing her time in Florida.  Sometimes it was hard to believe that it was the same character in both narratives; the younger Virginia is naïve, falling head over heels for the duplicitous Simon.  The older Virginia is a take-charge, no-nonsense mother.

I disliked Simon's character from the beginning.  Although he may come across as charming, I found him to be smarmy in the flashback chapters.  He's the type of man that acts first and apologizes later; he didn't seem sincere, and he lied to Virginia about so many things.  I didn't blame her when she bolted just days after their wedding.  He tried to make things right by moving to Florida and starting a business to provide for his family, but really, he ended up putting Virginia and her daughter in danger because of the highly illegal rum-running he got involved in.  Although he was maybe a bit redeemed by the actions of other characters, particularly his brother Samuel, I never had a good feeling about him.

The story moved at a slow pace and some of the writing was overly poetic.  Things ramped up a bit at the end, when Virginia discovers that Simon's siblings haven't been truthful with her, and there is sort of an underlying tension throughout the novel, like when you feel like someone is watching you.  I've been waiting for Beatriz Williams to dazzle me again like she did with her earlier novels; however, this didn't do it for me, and I was especially disappointed with where Virginia wound up in the end.

3 stars

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Table Rock State Park

A couple weeks ago, we flew to Branson, Missouri, for a family vacation.  While we were there, we went for a walk at Table Rock State Park.

For more information about the park, visit the Missouri State Parks website here. 

I knew Tom and I would want to go for a long walk somewhere, so when I found Table Rock State Park not far from where were staying, I was excited!  So, here's the view of Table Rock Lake from our timeshare:

Pretty awesome, right?  The weather was sunny and warm the entire trip, EXCEPT for the day we went for the walk.  Of course!  We endured a bit of rain during our walk, but we're still glad we went! 

We did the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail, which, just as it sounds, goes along the shore of Table Rock Lake.  The trail is 2.25 miles one way, and has three entrance points: Dewey Short Visitor Center, the showboat Branson Belle parking lot, and the parking lot for the state park.  We started at the park entrance, walked down to the marina at the end of the trail, and then walked to the north end of the trail, so in all our walk was 3 miles.

The trail is paved the entire length, so at least we weren't walking in mud!

At some points during the trail, it felt like we were in the woods, but often the view would open up and we would get these great looks at the lake.

We ended our walk at the Dewey Short Visitor Center, which is an Army Corps of Engineers building with some exhibits about the local wildlife and landscape, outside of the state park.

If you ever find yourself in Branson, Missouri, and have some time on your hands, I would recommend taking a ride down to Table Rock State Park and walking this easy trail along the lake!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Can't-Wait Wednesday: I, Eliza Hamilton

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

I, Eliza Hamilton
Susan Holloway Scott
Expected publication date: September 26, 2017
In this beautifully written novel of historical fiction, bestselling author Susan Holloway Scott tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Eliza—a fascinating, strong-willed heroine in her own right and a key figure in one of the most gripping periods in American history.

“Love is not easy with a man chosen by Fate for greatness . . .”

As the daughter of a respected general, Elizabeth Schuyler is accustomed to socializing with dignitaries and soldiers. But no visitor to her parents’ home has affected her so strongly as Alexander Hamilton, a charismatic, ambitious aide to George Washington. They marry quickly, and despite the tumult of the American Revolution, Eliza is confident in her brilliant husband and in her role as his helpmate. But it is in the aftermath of war, as Hamilton becomes one of the country’s most important figures, that she truly comes into her own.

In the new capital, Eliza becomes an adored member of society, respected for her fierce devotion to Hamilton as well as her grace. Behind closed doors, she astutely manages their expanding household, and assists her husband with his political writings. Yet some challenges are impossible to prepare for. Through public scandal, betrayal, personal heartbreak, and tragedy, she is tested again and again. In the end, it will be Eliza’s indomitable strength that makes her not only Hamilton’s most crucial ally in life, but his most loyal advocate after his death, determined to preserve his legacy while pursuing her own extraordinary path through the nation they helped shape together. - from Goodreads

Monday, September 11, 2017

4 Fantasy Series I Need to Start

I don't read a ton of fantasy, but it's a genre I've been getting into lately more and more.  I've been adding a lot of fantasy series to my TBR, and here are just four of the many that I really want to start soon:


The Ravenspire series by C.J. Redwine, starting with The Shadow Queen.  This series looks like it has dark fantasy/fairy tale retellings, starting with Snow White and moving onto Rumpelstiltskin.

Daughter of the Pirate King series by Tricia Levenseller.  I mean, it's pirates!  I don't read enough stories about pirates.


Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton.  I read an awesome review of the first book in the series over at Book Reviews by Di and I knew I had to read it, too.  She describes it as "the Wild West meets the Middle East with a huge fantasy spin" - that sounds amazing!  Plus, I can't get enough of that cover.

Reawakened series by Colleen Houck.  Egyptian-inspired fantasy?  Yes, please!

Have you read any of these?  Which should I read first?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: Into The Water

Into The Water
Paula Hawkins
Published May 2, 2017
A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she'd never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.
- from Goodreads
When I read The Girl on the Train, I was mesmerized.  I couldn't stop reading - the tension, the suspense - I had to know what would happen next, even if it meant being late for work or losing a couple hours of sleep.  So when I heard Paula Hawkins was releasing her second novel, I was super excited.

Into The Water is about the aftermath of the death of Nel, a single mother.  Nel's body is found in the same river where a girl, Katie, was found earlier in the year; Katie just happened to be best friends with Nel's daughter Lena.

At the beginning, the story is very quick-moving; I was anxious to get into the story and find out more about Nel.  Although there was a feeling of suspense, it's not overwhelming and actually, I felt the story was more eerie and melancholy.

The standout in this book is the use of multiple narrators.  I think there were 10 narrators and each one had their own distinct voice.  Nel's daughter Lena is angry; Nel's sister Jules seemed a bit confused and unreliable, often confusing Lena for her deceased sister.  Other characters include two local detectives and Katie's grief-stricken mother.  I enjoyed this narration device; it showed that there are so many sides to any story.  Each character had their own theory about Nel's death; Lena insists her mother committed suicide, but others believe Nel wouldn't have done that.  And in this small town, everyone is connected in some way, and everyone is hiding something.

Another interesting part of the story is the local lore around a spot called the Drowning Pool.  Nel was obsessed with this place and was compiling historical anecdotes about all the woman who were either killed or committed suicide there through the years.  I like when a setting is a big part of a story, almost becoming its own character. 

Although the book started out strong, by the end it was starting to drag a bit for me.  I just wanted to know what happened to Nel, and all the misdirections and lies started to feel like overkill.  But, I enjoyed the overall feel of the book and the mysteries within.  Inevitably, this book will be compared to Hawkins' first monster hit, but this was a very different book and I wouldn't go into it with any preconceived notions, if you can!

4 stars

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Can't-Wait Wednesday: A Column of Fire

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

A Column of Fire (The Kingsbridge Series #3)
Ken Follett
Expected publication date: September 12, 2017
Christmas 1558, and young Ned Willard returns home to Kingsbridge to find his world has changed.

The ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn by religious hatred. Europe is in turmoil as high principles clash bloodily with friendship, loyalty and love, and Ned soon finds himself on the opposite side from the girl he longs to marry, Margery Fitzgerald.

Then Elizabeth Tudor becomes queen and all of Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch immediately sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions and invasion plans.

Elizabeth knows that alluring, headstrong Mary Queen of Scots lies in wait in Paris. Part of a brutally ambitious French family, Mary has been proclaimed the rightful ruler of England, with her own supporters scheming to get rid of the new queen.

Over a turbulent half-century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed, as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. With Elizabeth clinging precariously to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents, it becomes clear that the real enemies – then as now – are not the rival religions.

The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else – no matter the cost. - from Goodreads
I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, so I'm excited to see where Ken Follett takes the story next!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Couldn't Finish

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is books we had a hard time with, so I've decided to list some recent books that I've DNFed.  Whether it was the writing style, the characters, or the plot, something about these books didn't jive with me, and I had to put them down!

Have you read any of these?  Do I need to give them a second chance?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Mini-Reviews With Old Hollywood Glamour

The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott (2017)

For Jessica "Jesse" Malloy, growing up in the 1940s, actress Ingrid Bergman is the epitome of both glamorous actress and caring mother.  Ingrid is her hero, and it helps that Jesse's father is Ingrid's publicist.  However, a huge scandal erupts when Ingrid Bergman cheats on her husband and has a baby with her lover.  The ripple effects of the scandal carry over into Jesse's own home, where tensions are high between her father and her staunchly Catholic mother.

Through the years, Jesse's relationship with her parents becomes strained, particularly because of some impulsive actions taken by a teenage Jesse that have far-reaching consequences and cause her to question the ideals she was brought up on.  She flees Los Angeles as soon as she finishes high school, only returning almost 10 years later when she receives a mysterious invite to the Academy Awards.

I really enjoyed this book.  I loved the insider view of mid-century Hollywood and how the era of McCarthyism and the hunt for communists affected both the industry as a whole and, more specifically, Jesse's family.  The book is very readable and Alcott has created unique, well-rounded characters (even real-life people like Ingrid Bergman) and placed them in a setting that is fully realized.  From the movie sets to the Catholic school attended by Jesse, I felt immersed in the time period.  3.5 stars

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott (2015)

Gone With The Wind is one of my favorite books, so when I heard about this story of a woman working for actress Carole Lombard, who is in a relationship with Clark Gable during the filming of the movie, I knew I had to read it.

Julie Crawford is a young woman from the Midwest who goes to Hollywood to fulfill her dreams, not of becoming an actress but of becoming a screenwriter (refreshing!).  At times naïve, Julie is also practical and headstrong, except when it comes to her relationship with producer's assistant Andy.  The novel follows two romances and it was interesting to see the juxtaposition between the rocky relationship of "regular people" Julie and Andy and the idyllic relationship of actors/celebrities Lombard and Gable.  Lombard's character sparkles; she is happy and carefree, and I couldn't help but love her.

The behind-the-scenes movie tidbits were fascinating and well-researched.  From the numerous script rewrites, to the building of the sets, to the casting of the roles, to the filming of iconic scenes, the world of Gone With The Wind really came alive (and made me want to see the movie again!).  It was such an immersive look at how movies are made and how books are translated into films.  If you're a fan of "Old Hollywood," I highly recommend this book!  4.5 stars

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Waiting on/Can't Wait Wednesday: One Dark Throne

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings - both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns #2)
Kendare Blake
Expected publication date: September 19, 2017
The battle for the Crown has begun, but which of the three sisters will prevail?

With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.

In this enthralling sequel to Kendare Blake’s New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns, Fennbirn’s deadliest queens must face the one thing standing in their way of the crown: each other. - from Goodreads
The ending of Three Dark Crowns was pretty unbelievable - I can't wait to see what happens in the next installment!

Monday, August 28, 2017

How Blogging Has Changed My Reading Habits

Hi everyone!  I'm back from vacation - we had a great time!  I didn't get in a lot of reading (mostly on the plane), but that's ok because I got a lot of quality time with my niece and nephews!  Today I'm delving into how blogging has changed my reading habits.  It wasn't something I expected, but becoming a book blogger has actually had a big impact on what and how I read.

I read a lot faster than I used to. 
I used to read maybe 70 books a year, which is still a lot, but last year, the year I started to blog, I read 130 books.  Instead of lingering over one book for a week, now I read at least two books a week.  Now that I have an ever-growing TBR, I want to read everything, and the only way I can read more is to read faster!

I go to my library a lot
Like, all the time.  At least once a week.  I don't have the money to buy books all the time and especially not if I'm reading at such a high rate.  I really rely on my library and I'm so lucky they have a great collection.

I read more new releases. 
I never really used to pay attention to publication dates; I would just read whatever looked interesting.  Now I'm constantly coming across new books (through Goodreads and especially through all my fellow bloggers!) and I want to read them as soon as they're released.

I'm making notes in my head as I read, even if I'm not going to review a book. 
I think I read a bit more critically and I make mental notes of things I would have discussed had I been writing a review.  All those things we talk about in reviews (character development, plotlines, writing style) - I seem to notice all these things more.

I'm branching out and trying new genres.
I'm more willing to try something different, especially based on recommendations from other bloggers.  Reading so many other blogs has really opened my eyes to all the books that are out there and genres that I never even knew existed.  It's inspired me to start my own feature in which I read books from genres that are outside my normal comfort zone, and there are also some genres, like YA and fantasy, that I'm reading pretty regularly now that I didn't before.

How has blogging changed your reading habits?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Blog Break + What I'll Be Reading

Hi everyone, just wanted to let you know I'll be taking a brief break from the blog next week as I spend some time with family, relax, and (hopefully) do some reading!

I typically stick to rereads when I'm on vacation, because I'm never sure how much actual reading time I'll get in and there are always lots of distractions, so I don't really want to start something new.  Here's what I'll be bringing with me next week:

What do you like to read when you're on vacation?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Waiting on/Can't Wait Wednesday: Origin

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings - both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Origin (Robert Langdon #5)
Dan Brown
Expected publication date: October 3, 2017
Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself . . . and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery . . . and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us. - from Goodreads
So yeah, some people might scoff at Dan Brown's books, but I've always loved his stories and their mix of suspense, history, and art!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer TBR Wipeout 2017: Wrap-Up

I can't believe it's already time to wrap up the Summer TBR Wipeout, hosted by The Candid Cover!


After my last update, I had three more books to go from my challenge TBR of 10 books.  Things You Won't Say is a timely story about a police shooting.  Sarah Pekkanen's novels are a bit hit-or-miss for me; this one was an okay read.  I could have used less of the supporting characters and more of the police officer that the story is actually about.

I devoured The Best Kind of Magic by Crystal Cestari in just two days.  This book was so adorable - a matchmaker, large sprinkles of magic, and touches of adventure.  I absolutely loved it!

Finally, I read The Girl Before by JP Delaney, a thriller about an unusual home, its mysterious architect, and the women who have lived in this unique place.  Although things got a bit odd at the end, I loved the twists and turns in this fast-paced story.

I really enjoyed this summer reading challenge.  I thought it was the perfect length of time to be able to read a good number of books without feeling like I needed to rush through them or spend all my time reading (as much as I would love to, I do need to do other things sometimes!).  And it helped me finally get to some unread books on my shelf and clear out some titles from my TBR from earlier in the year. 

Hope you all had a great summer of reading!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Dividing Eden

Dividing Eden (Dividing Eden #1)
Joelle Charbonneau
Published June 6, 2017
Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option: to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal? - from Goodreads
I love books about royalty, and with the added twist of twins and the fantasy element I've been craving lately, I dove right into Dividing Eden.  However, while it started out strong, the story and characters lost their way and I ended up disappointed.

Princess Carys is strong and stoic.  She has spent her life protecting her brother and helping him hide his secret from the rest of the kingdom, but she's also facing her own struggles, namely an addiction to a painkilling medicine.  Prince Andreus is a womanizer but he also has a big heart for those who are suffering.

After the king and crown prince are killed and the queen renounces the throne, the Council of Elders of Eden is ready to name a new king, even though two heirs remain.  Apparently, no one knows which twin was born first; therefore, neither can be crowned.  Until someone points out that the law says the heirs can battle each other in a series of trials, with the winner receiving the crown.  At this point I was super excited - I couldn't wait to see what trials the twins would have to go through and how they would retain their strong relationship while battling each other.  Some of the trials turn out to be kind of lame and seem to have little to do with ruling a kingdom.  They also move through them so quickly that it was hard to get invested.

Unfortunately, the issues kept coming.  The whole beginning of the story leads us to believe the twins are so close, yet Andreus is swayed by another character during the trials and turns on Carys so quickly, it's really unbelievable.  It totally contradicted what we know about Andreus.  Many of the secondary characters are shady but interchangeable.  Honestly, I kept getting a lot of them confused.  There is a twist of magic at the end that to me seemed to come out of nowhere and isn't supported by anything else in the book (the author gives an explanation, but I wasn't buying it).  Plus, I kept getting a Game of Thrones vibe, with winter approaching and creatures that come out of the woods with the cold.  The writing is also very repetitive - how many times in a chapter can we be told that Andreus has a secret?

Overall, I wanted to love this story - the idea is unique but it also has so many elements that I normally like.  And while I want to see Carys and Andreus find the strong bond they once had, I'm not sure I'll continue with the series.

2.5 stars

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens is a 1,000+-acre botanical garden located in Kennett Square, PA.  We originally tried going in January for their Christmas light show, but of course, there was a snowstorm that weekend.  We finally made our way down there a couple weeks ago, and it was so beautiful!

For more information about Longwood Gardens, visit their website here.  On non-peak days, there is a $23 charge to enter the gardens, and the tickets are for timed entry. 

The Main Fountain Garden has reopened after renovations, so we made our way there first; like the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Longwood Gardens puts on a show with their fountains, set to music (and lights at night).  We caught the show a couple times that day - for a good view, definitely get there early; people start lining up well in advance!

Next, we went through the Conservatory, a massive building with so many different themed rooms filled with plants and flowers.  I probably could have spent hours just in there!

One of my favorite parts was actually just outside the Conservatory, where they had several pools of lily pads - it was so pretty!

Then we did some exploring outside - we walked past the Meadow and made our way down to the Italian Water Garden.

There are several fun structures located around the grounds, including two treehouses and this beautiful gazebo:

The last place we walked through was the Flower Garden Walk - it had so many different types of flowers, arranged by color - such a cool rainbow effect!

We spent a few hours walking around here and probably could have stayed for longer, there was just so much to see.  It was a really great place for kids - our niece had a blast running around and looking at everything.  We can't wait to go back in the winter to see the holiday decorations!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Waiting On/Can't Wait Wednesday: Wish You Were Here

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings - both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Renee Carlino
Expected publication date: August 15, 2017
Charlotte has spent her twenties adrift, floating from interest to interest, job to job, and guy to guy, searching for a spark but never quite finding it. All she knows is that she won’t discover it working as a waitress at a pies-and-fries joint in Los Angeles or living with her fun but aimless best friend in a tiny apartment in the Arts District.

Then Charlotte collides with Adam, a gorgeous and soulful painter who seems just as lost as she feels. Their instant connection turns into a midnight drink… and a whirlwind night of champagne, Chinese food, and the kind of conversation that only happens in romantic comedies. But the next morning, Adam gives Charlotte the cold shoulder, leaving her confused and hurt—and wondering if the few odd moments between them the night before were red flags in disguise.

Months later, Charlotte hasn’t been able to shake Adam, so she decides to find out what happened the morning after their magical night together. This fateful decision rewrites their wild love story, but what Charlotte doesn’t know yet is that the ending has already been written. - from Goodreads
For all those girls who just want answers - I can't wait to read this one!

Monday, August 7, 2017

6 Ways to Support Your Favorite Charity Without Writing a Check

Donating money to a charity is, without a doubt, an awesome way to support your favorite causes - they can use the cash in the areas that need it most and often they can get better deals (like food banks buying in bulk) than individuals can.  But there are lots of other ways to help out, so today I wanted to list some ways you can support your favorite charities that go beyond writing a check (although, TBH, some of these things may involve some cash layout)!

  • Donate your used books.  Places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or your local library will accept your used books.  These organizations will most likely sell them and use the profits for support.  There are also some charities that will distribute your used books or help match you with a new reader; check out this list of charities that accept and distribute used books.  I love the idea of putting books back out into the world for others to enjoy.
  • If you're hosting a baby shower, ask guests to bring extra packs of wipes or diapers.  We did this at my sister's baby shower.  The guests were so generous and we were able to donate the items to Children's Home Society of New Jersey, an organization that helps at-risk children and families.
  • At your next barbeque, when your guests ask if they can bring anything, request non-perishable items that can be donated to your local food bank.  Instead of having your guests bring an extra side dish, ask if they'd be willing to bring some canned vegetables or boxes of cereal.
  • Participate in a walk for charity.  There may be a registration fee, but sometimes there isn't.  Ask your friends and family to sponsor you or join you!  Charity walks are a great way to support a cause while getting outdoors at the same time.
  • Organize a get-together with friends and family to put together dinner bags/snack bags/hygiene bags for your local soup kitchen.  Check with your local soup kitchen and see what items they accept.  Some in our area look for bagged non-perishable dinners or snacks they can hand out; they often also accept hygiene products.
  • Host a Make-A-Blanket Day for Project Linus.  My sister and I love making no-sew blankets for Project Linus, so we hosted a Make-A-Blanket Day and invited family and friends.  It was so great to see the huge stack of blankets we had made at the end of the day.

What are some of your favorite charities?  What kind of volunteer work do you do?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: The Night The Lights Went Out

The Night The Lights Went Out
Karen White
Published April 11, 2017
Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. It's not her first time starting over, but her efforts at a new beginning aren't helped by an anonymous local blog that dishes about the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail.

Merilee finds some measure of peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Though stubborn and irascible, Sugar sees something of herself in Merilee--something that allows her to open up about her own colorful past.

Sugar's stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms in their tennis whites and shiny SUVs, and even on her new friendship with Heather Blackford. Merilee is charmed by the glamorous young mother's seemingly perfect life and finds herself drawn into Heather's world.

In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee's house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three women.... - from Goodreads
Wow, there was a lot going on in this book!  First off, I love this cover - I love the retro look (even though the story is contemporary) and it represents the book really well.  This book packs so much into its 400 pages:
  •  A newly divorced woman trying to rebuild a life for herself and her children
  • An elderly woman's icy demeanor thawing when she finds a kindred spirit
  • An anonymous blogger who knows all the gossip about everyone in town
  • Mommy wars/Desperate Housewives vibe - who's the richest, the most glamorous, and volunteers the most at the school
  • Not one but two murder mysteries
I thought this story would be about the friendship between Merilee, the single mom, and Sugar, her elderly landlady.  And a lot of it was - it was nice to see Sugar, who has been alone for so long, really take to Merilee and her children.  However, I felt like these two main characters kind of took away from each other, like their stories were competing with each other for prominence in the book.  For example, there are a couple flashbacks to Sugar's earlier life; while it was good to get to know the character better and discover why she is so cold and blunt, it wasn't enough.  With so much else going on in the story, the flashbacks kind of got lost and didn't fit with the rest of the book.

Another issue I had was with the dialogue.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when dialogue doesn't sound true to life, and in this case, the dialogue was often stilted and too descriptive; there was too much telling and not enough showing.

However, there was a lot to like in this book.  The writing flowed nicely.  The Southern vibe came through very strong; I got a really good sense of the Georgia setting, through the language used (I'm totally going to start using "bless your heart"), the multiple references to sweet tea, and the nuances of Southern life.  I've always wanted to visit this area of the country, and I felt very immersed in the culture through this book.  And lastly, the soap opera-like story is perfect for a light summertime read.

3 stars

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Liebster Award Tag

Thank you to Amy at A Magical World of Words for nominating me for a Liebster Award!

-  Thank the person who nominated you. 
-  Answer the 11 questions they wrote for you. 
-  Nominate 11 people. Give them your set of 11 questions to answer.

Questions from Amy:

1: If you were a colour, what would you be? (What colour best suits your personality?)  Probably blue.  I'm pretty calm most of the time and it's the color of so many of my favorite things - the sky, the ocean, and my husband's eyes (I'm so cheesy).

2: A magical animal you'd love to have as a pet?  A dragon, so I could fly around on it!

3: Guilty pleasure book? Sometimes I read romance novels by Nora Roberts.

4: Would you rather live in Oz or Neverland, and why?  Oh, this is hard.  I love Oz, but the never-aging factor of Neverland is pretty attractive - I wouldn't have to worry about more wrinkles or gray hair!

5: You're only allowed to watch 1 movie your entire life. What movie would you choose?  The original Ghostbusters.  I loved the remake last year, but the original is just so funny and campy!

6: You're stranded on an island with Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen. Who do you think is more likely to escape without you and leave you behind - given dire circumstances?  Definitely Katniss.  I think Hermione is more friendly and would try to exhaust all options before leaving someone behind.

7: One book that forever changed your life?  OMG, Amy, these questions are HARD!  I'd have to go with Behind the Attic Wall - it's a book I distinctly remember reading and even rereading as a child.  I loved it so much I named my cat after one of the characters.  I think this book just reinforced my love of reading, so much so that I remember it today.

8: Who's your fictional hero/role model?   Weird choice, but I'd say Ned Stark from Game of Thrones.  Yeah, he's not around for long, but you can tell he's a guy with a lot of integrity, a good parent, and he knows how to keep a secret!

9: Would you rather drown in ice-cream or burn in pizza? (I'm weird, I know).  This is difficult - I like pizza more than ice cream, but burning and drowning both sound like terrible ways to go.  Maybe the cold of the ice cream would knock me out before drowning me?

10: What's one famous book you wish you'd written?  Harry Potter.  Just knowing I had created something so beloved would be awesome - and of course, I'd be SO RICH.

11: What's one book you know you'll never, ever read?  Fifty Shades Darker.  I read the first book out of curiosity, but didn't care for it.  It's just not my type of book.

Since I also received a Liebster Award a few months ago and have tagged some other bloggers recently, I'm going to refrain from doing so now.  Thank you again to Amy!