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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review: Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Title: Best Day Ever
Author: Kaira Rouda 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Graydon House
Publish Date: September 19, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he's promised today will be the best day ever.

But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How much do they trust each other? And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really? "

My Two Cents:

"Best Day Ever" is the story of Paul and Mia. From the outside, their lives look pretty perfect. Paul is a successful ad exec who prides himself on his mind and body. Mia is the perfect wife and mother. The story opens when Paul is taking Mia to their lovely lake house for what promises to be a weekend to remember.

This is a thriller with an interesting character study on top of it. You can see where the story is going (the ending didn't really surprise me). Paul is fascinating. The story is told from his point of view, which worked really, really well here. Paul only thinks about himself. If he does something nice for someone else in the book, it is only because it has something in it for him as well. He is absolutely terrible to everyone in the book, including those that he loves. He is cold and sees everyone else as flat characters waiting to do his bidding. 

The writing and the character study of Paul took this book far for me even if the plot was a little bit predictable. The author does a good job of dropping little hints through Paul as to what kind of person he really is and where things are going. Paul definitely gave me the heebie jeebies throughout the book, which I loved. I love when books can make me feel strongly, positively or negatively! If you like characters that will frighten you, this is a good choice.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

All I Want for Christmas!

It should come as no surprise that a major part of my Christmas wish list is made up of books. Here's what my list looks like right now!

The Girl in the Tower: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy)

Of Love and Shadows: A Novel

In the Midst of Winter: A Novel

The Song Rising (The Bone Season)

The Hate U Give

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

To the Bright Edge of the World: A Novel

The Revolution of Marina M. (A Novel)

Love and Other Consolation Prizes: A Novel

London, Can You Wait?

Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome

The Sun Is Also a Star (Yoon, Nicola)

What books are you asking Santa to bring you?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: Christmas in London by Anita Hughes

Title: Christmas in London
Author: Anita Hughes 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: October 3, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "A charming, glamourous love story set at Claridge's in London during the magical week before Christmas starring a sweet NYC baker and the Cooking Channel Producer who could change her life.

It’s a week before Christmas and Louisa Graham is working twelve hour shifts at a bakery on Manhattan's Lower East Side. When a young cooking show assistant comes in from the rain and begs to buy all the cinnamon rolls on her tray, she doesn’t know what to do. Louisa is just the baker, and they aren't hers to sell. But the show burned the rolls they were supposed to film that day, so she agrees.

The next morning, Louisa finds out that her cinnamon rolls were a hit, but the star of the show was allergic, and the whole crew is supposed to leave for London that afternoon. They want Louisa to step in for their annual Christmas Eve Dinner TV special at Claridge's. It’s a great opportunity, and Digby Bunting, Louisa’s famous baking idol, will be there. Even if he does seem more interested in her than her food."

My Two Cents:

"Christmas in London" is a warm story about food and romance in the coziest season of the year. A chance break lands fledgling baker Louisa on a huge cooking show in London. She is whisked away to London, a city that seems to be made for the holiday season. Louisa finds herself in the lap of luxury and with a potential love match in Noah, the man who discovers her baking talent and lands her the show. There is also Kate, the television producer who may rekindle an old flame in London.

This is a confection of a story; exactly the kind of story I'm looking for in the cozy season upon us now. I really liked both of the romances in the book. Louisa and Noah get off on the wrong foot and then the wrong foot again and then the wrong foot again as they try to figure out each other. Kate and Trevor are old flames with a bunch of misunderstandings between them themselves. I was a little more interested in the history between them a little more. There were some swoon-worthy moments!

The major draw for me to this book was the setting. London is one of my very favorite cities in the world and this book made me want to visit London during the Christmas season. The characters hit all of the major sites. Harrod's at Christmas sounds wonderful. Some of the characters get to go to a royal reception at Buckingham Palace - swoon!

The writing was okay. There were a few sticky parts where the narrative got hung up with saying too much and not showing enough. Overall, this was a sweet read.


Friday, December 8, 2017

HFVBT Review: There is Always a Tomorrow by Anna Belfrage

Title: There is Always a Tomorrow
Author: Anna Belfrage
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Matador
Publish Date: November 5, 2017
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "It is 1692 and the Colony of Maryland is still adapting to the consequences of Coode’s Rebellion some years previously. Religious tolerance in the colony is now a thing of the past, but safe in their home, Alex and Matthew Graham have no reason to suspect they will become embroiled in the ongoing religious conflicts—until one of their sons betrays their friend Carlos Muñoz to the authorities.

Matthew Graham does not leave his friends to rot—not even if they’re papist priests—so soon enough most of the Graham family is involved in a rescue attempt, desperate to save Carlos from a sentence that may well kill him.

Meanwhile, in London little Rachel is going through hell. In a matter of months she loses everything, even her surname, as apparently her father is not Master Cooke but one Jacob Graham. Not that her paternity matters when her entire life implodes.

Will Alex and Matthew be able to help their unknown grandchild? More importantly, will Rachel want their help?"

My Two Cents:

"There is Always a Tomorrow" is yet another installation to Belfrage's The Graham Saga. It is the ninth book in the series but largely works as a standalone. I caveat with "largely" for just one major reason that I will detail below. It's the late 1600s in the colony of Maryland and religion seems to be a major factor throughout the colonies. Religious tolerance does not seem to be so easy to find these days.

This book is a family saga. While it focuses on one couple: Matthew and Alex, our attention is split with the whole family. This book is truly a family saga and it is the relationships between the family members that really drives the action. While the Graham family has mostly seemed to be very happy, all of that happiness is threatened by one of the main couple's (Matthew and Alex) sons who has turned out to be so serious about his religion that he seems to forget about everything and everyone else, even when it threatens to upend his whole life. It was interesting to see why he would do this and more importantly, how his family copes (or does not cope in some cases).

I was especially interested in the setting. I live in Maryland but much further north and closer to Washington, D.C. than the characters did. It was so interesting to see what my state was once like. I really liked all of the historical detail the author infuses into the book about this.

It can be dangerous territory to jump into the middle of a series but for this book, it works pretty well. We do catch on that Alex is not from the time period and instead somehow travels back in time to this time period but it is never explained why and seems to be taken for granted by the other characters. That being said, this isn't a huge distraction but instead left me wanting to go back and read the other books.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Title: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Author: J.D. Vance
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: June 26, 2018
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come."

My Two Cents:

"Hillbilly Elegy" is a memoir of sorts by J.D. Vance. It talks about his childhood and his family in Appalachia where the term "hillbilly" seems to be a name to take pride in. I will admit that I had heard a ton about this book in the aftermath of the election in order to help "explain" some of Trump's base. There are many different factors but this book definitely explains some of those factors and is fascinating in that regard. Vance grew up in Ohio and Kentucky in areas marred by economic and often social despair so he if very familiar with the subject.

The best books for me are the ones that force you to chew things over and to think long after you close the book. This is one of those books for me. It makes you go from understanding to trying to mull over fixes to being bewildered about what you're reading. Even after reading this, there is a confusing juxtaposition present. On one hand, this group will push away outsiders without a second glance but drop everything to help others in the community if needed. They want help but claim to be against receiving anything called a hand out. It's a complicated issue and anecdotally, Vance seeks to give us a little insight into how this happens.

Many in the community that he grew up in will not have the chances that Vance had. Vance joined the military and went to school and was able to start a good, solid career through having support but also a lot of luck. The differences between his personal story against the stories of many of the people in his family and friends that he grew up with are especially stark.

This book did leave me with the question of what do we do to overcome the obstacles in this book. While I feel like I understand a little bit better, I still have a lot of questions. For me, it's not a question of how you get people to feel differently and to therefore vote differently but it's more of a question as to how you fix the ills that the people in the book face. By attacking those problems, you start to change mindsets but this book really doesn't address that. This book is very much a good picture of a place that was unfamiliar to me.  


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Reading Challenges 2017 - November Check In!

Here's where I am with my reading challenges! 

Here's where I am with my reading challenges! 
Here is the original post about all of the reading challenges I'm taking on. The date listed after each book is the date I completed the book. 

PopSugar Monthly Challenge

  • January (A book with one of the four seasons in the title ): Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (1/25)
  • February (A book by a person of color): Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang (2/15) 
  • March: A book about an interesting woman: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (3/25) 
  • April (A book with an unreliable narrator): We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (4/6)
  • May (A novel set during wartime ): The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan (5/6)
  • June (A book involving travel): News of the World by Paulette Jiles (6/18)
  • July: A book set in two different time periods : The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor (7/27) 
  • August: A book set in the wilderness: American Wolf by Nate Blankslee (8/27) 
  • September: Keep Me Posted by Lisa Beazley (9/2) 
  • October: A book with a mythical creature: Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon (10/26) 
  • November: A book about food: Sourdough by Robin Sloan (11/15) 

 PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge Basic

  •  A book recommended by a librarian: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (1/19)
  • A book you loved as a child: Matilda by Roald Dahl (1/12)
  • A book with a subtitle: Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge  by Helen Rappaport (2/3)
  • A book that's published in 2017: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (2/5)
  • A book with a red spine: Stalin's Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan (2/8)
  • A book of letters: 100 Love Notes by Hyong Yi (2/13) 
  • A book about food: A Square Meal by Jane Ziegelman, Andrew Coe (2/27)
  • A book written by someone you admire: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (3/1) 
  • A book by an author from a country you've never visited: Havana Real by Yoani Sanchez (3/5)
  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (3/5) 
  • A novel set during wartime:The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff (3/10) 
  • A book set in two different time periods: A Bridge Across the Ocean bySusan Meissner (3/12)
  • A book with a cat on the cover: A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy (3/14)
  • A book by or about a person who has a disability: The Secret Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach (3/14)
  • A book about an interesting woman: Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (3/22)
  • A book with pictures: Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher (3/28)
  • A book by a person of color: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (3/31)
  • A book with a title that's a character's name: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith (4/1)
  • A book from a nonhuman perspective: Watership Down by Richard Adams (4/13)
  • A book involving travel: The Gods of Tango by Carolina de Robertis (4/19)
  • A book set in the wilderness: The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis
  • A book with multiple authors: I Hate Everyone but You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin (8/23)
  • A book that's been on your TBR list for way too long: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (9/26) 
  • A book that is a story within a story: Glow by Megan E. Bryant (10/5) 
  • A book with one of the four seasons in the title: Summer Island by Kristin Hannah (10/8)
  • A book with an unreliable narrator: We Can't Be Friends by Cyndy Etler (10/8) 
  • A book set in a hotel: The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith (10/13)
  • A bestseller from a genre you don't normally read: Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land (10/22)
  • A book involving a mythical creature: A Sea of Sorrow by The H Team (10/24)

Pop Sugar Ultimate Reading Challenge Advanced 

  • A book about an immigrant or refugee: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquadt (1/23)
  • A book about a difficult topic: Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen (3/2) 
  • A book with an eccentric character: Eggshells by Catriona Lally (3/14)  
  • An audiobook: Identical by Ellen Hopkins (5/1)
  • A book recommended by an author you love: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (6/28) 
  • A book from a genre/subgenre you've never heard of: Perilous Undertaking by Leanna Renee Hieber (7/12) 
  • A book that's more than 800 pages: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett (10/15)  
  • A book that takes place over a character's life span: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines (11/18) 

Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge

  • Read a debut novel: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee (1/6)
  • Read an all ages comic: Scenes from an Impending Marriage by Adrian Tomine (1/14)
  • Read a book you've read before: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1/19)
  • Read a book about war: Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese (1/29)
  • Read a fantasy novel.: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (1/31)
  • Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams 2/9)
  • Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (3/11)
  • Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley (3/23) 
  • Read a book about books: A World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan (3/26) 
  • Read a book published by a micropress: Concepcion and the Baby Brokers by Deborah Clearman (4/6)
  • Read a travel memoir: Schadenfreude by Rebecca Schuman (4/18)
  • Read a book published between 1900 and 1950: I Change Worlds by Anna Louise Strong
  • Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
  • Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan (5/5)
  •  Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.: Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda (5/12) 
  • Read a book about sports: Moneyball by Michael Lewis (6/6)
  • Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.: Farhenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (11/15)
  • Read a collection of stories by a woman.: Paris and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes (11/25)
  • Read a classic by an author of color.: Beloved by Toni Morrison (11/27) 

Curious Iguana's Read Broader (COMPLETED OCTOBER!!!)
  • Peek into the Past: Putin Country by Anne Garrels (1/7)
  • Justice for All: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2/1)
  • Justice for All: Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf (2/6)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Global Voices): The Chosen Maiden (3/5) 
  • LGBTQ+ Perspectives: Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt (3/20)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Global Voices): The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George (3/20)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Justice for All): One Child by Mei Fong
  • Choose Your Own Category (Justice for All): Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • Armchair Adventures: Kindred by Octavia Butler (5/7)
  • Global Voices: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (6/1) 
  • Small Press Works in Translation: Before the Feast by Sara Stanisic (6/5)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Peek Into the Past): Bears in the Streets by Lisa Dickey (6/15) 
  • Armchair Adventures: Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (7/1) 
  • Collections Near and Far: Whatever happened to interracial love? By Kathleen Collins (7/22)
  • Peek into the Past: The Black Calhouns by Gail Lumet Buckley (7/23)
  • Global Voices: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (7/24)
  • LGBTQ+ Perspectives: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North (7/25)
  • Collections Near and Far: Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli (7/26) 
  • Small Press Works in Translation: The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux (10/15)

Challenge Totals:
  • January: 10 books
  • February: 9 books
  • March: 19 books 
  • April: 11 books
  • May: 5 books
  • June: 6 books 
  • July: 8 books 
  • August: 2 books 
  • September: 2 books
  • October: 9 books
  • November: 5 books 

How did it go?

Steady progress, one month to go!

Monday, December 4, 2017

HFVBT: David Blixt Cover Reveal!!!

Feast your eyes upon the new covers for Voice of the Falconer and Fortune's Fool, books #2 and #3 in Blixt's Star-Cross'd series! Based on the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante, and the history of Italy, the Star-Cross'd Series is a tale of wars won, friendships lost, and conspiracies both mortal and stellar, an epic journey into the birth of the Renaissance that recalls the best of Bernard Cornwell and Dorothy Dunnett.

Voice Of The Falconer (Star-Cross'd #2) by David Blixt

Publication Date: July 6, 2010
St. Martin's Press
eBook & Paperback; 496 Pages
Italy, 1325. Eight years after the tumultuous events of THE MASTER OF VERONA, Pietro Alaghieri is living as an exile in Ravenna, enduring the loss of his famous father while secretly raising the bastard heir to Verona's prince, Cangrande della Scala. But when word of Cangrande's death reaches him, Pietro must race back to Verona to prevent young Cesco's rivals from usurping his rightful place. With the tentative peace of Italy at stake, not to mention their lives, Pietro must act swiftly to protect them all. But young Cesco is determined not to be anyone's pawn. Willful and brilliant, he defies even the stars. And far behind the scenes is a mastermind pulling the strings, one who stands to lose - or gain - the most. Born from Shakespeare's Italian plays, in this novel we meet for the first time Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, the Nurse, as well as revisit Montague and Capulet, Petruchio and Kate, and the money-lending Shylock. From Ravenna to Verona, Mantua to Venice, this novel explores the danger, deceit, and deviltry of early Renaissance Italy, and the terrible choices one must make just to stay alive.
"For anyone who has not yet read one or more of David's novels, you are about to hit the literary lottery. Yes, he is that good. In his hands, history comes to bright, blazing life." -Sharon Kay Penman
"Dante's Italy and the internecine, blood-feuding struggle of the dominant families of the northern city states. This story of corruption and the quest for power is as compelling as Mario Puzo's Godfather and as thrilling as any of Rafael Sabatini's historical adventures." -Peter Tremayne

Fortune's Fool (Star-Cross'd #3) by David Blixt

Publication Date: April 23, 2012
Sordelet Ink
eBook & Paperback; 576 Pages
Italy, 1326. While the brilliant and wily Cesco is schooled in his new duties at the hand of a hard master, Pietro Alaghieri travels to Avignon, current seat of the Papacy, to fight his excommunication and plead for Cesco's legitimacy. He doesn't know an old foe has been waiting to ruin Pietro's life and seize control of Verona for himself. Back in Verona, separated from everyone he trusts, Cesco must confront his ambitious cousin, a mysterious young killer, and the Holy Roman Emperor himself. A harrowing series of adventures reveal a secret long hidden, one that threatens Cesco's only chance for true happiness. Inspired by Shakespeare, Dante, and Petrarch, full of Renaissance intrigue and passion, this third novel in Blixt's acclaimed Star-Cross'd series reflects the heights of drama, exploring the capricious whims of lady Fortune, who has her favorites - and her fools.
"This is one of the most exciting, and satisfying, reads that I have immersed myself in for a long time. David Blixt is a gem of a writer." -Helen Hollick

The 10th Anniversary Edition of The Master of Verona is now available in eBook, Paperback, & Audiobook!

For additional reading on the Capulet-Montague feud, The Origin of the Feud is out November 28th!

About the Author

David Blixt‘s work is consistently described as “intricate,” “taut,” and “breathtaking.” A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS’D series) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY’S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, he describes himself as “actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order.” For more information, please visit David Blixt's website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Cover Reveal Schedule

Monday, November 27 Passages to the Past Tuesday, November 28 The Writing Desk Wednesday, November 29 What Is That Book About Thursday, November 30 The Never-Ending Book Friday, December 1 Svetlana's Reads and Views Monday, December 4 A Bookish Affair Tuesday, December 5 Historical Fiction with Spirit Wednesday, December 6 The Book Junkie Reads Thursday, December 7 Dressed to Read Friday, December 8 WS Momma Readers Nook Monday, December 11 Book Nerd Tuesday, December 12 Locks, Hooks and Books Friday, December 15 Historical Fiction Reviews


During the Cover Reveal we will be giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below. Giveaway Rules – Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on December 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter. – Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY. – Only one entry per household. – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. – Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. David Blixt
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