Thursday, April 25, 2019

Double Feature Review: Best Hikes Washington, D.C. and Best Hikes Baltimore

Titles: Best Hikes Washington, D.C. and Best Hikes Baltimore
Authors: Bill Burnham and Heather Connellee
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Falcon Press Publishing
Publish Date: April 1, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads for Washington, D.C.: "In Best Hikes Washington, DC authors Bill and Mary Burnham detail the best hikes within about an hour's drive of downtown, hikes perfect for the urban and suburbanite hard-pressed to find great outdoor activities close to home. Each featured hike includes detailed hike specs and descriptions, trailhead location and GPS coordinates, mile-by-mile directional cues, gorgeous full-color photography, and a detailed map."

From Goodreads for Baltimore: "It's not necessary to travel far from home for a great hike. With these information-packed guides in hand, readers have everything they need for the adventure they seek, from an easy nature walk to a multiday backpacking trip. Each hike includes: location, length, hiking time, level of difficulty, and if dogs can come along. Other features include: -Trail finder chart that categorizes each hike (e.g. for particular attractions such as scenic views and if it's suitable for families with kids) -Full-color photos throughout -Information on the area's history, geology, flora, and fauna -Full-color maps of each trail"

My Two Cents: 

Here in the DMV area, we often have very short springs. Cold, icy winters seem to melt into hot, sticky summers much too quickly. Luckily this year we are actually getting a real spring and it is making me want to get outside as much as I possibly can. These guides make me want to escape even more! Today, I am so happy to be able to introduce you to Falcon Press Publishing's "Best Hikes" series. I am reviewing both the guide for Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. These are fantastic guides that have full-color, lovely pictures, and easy to navigate maps.

I live outside of D.C. and went to college outside of Baltimore and still visit quite frequently. I also have the tendency to visit the same places over and over again when it comes to spending time outside with my family (I very much have a 'if it ain't broke, why fix it' mentality when it comes to exploring things). There are still so many places that I haven't explored! These books are definitely making me want to break out of that rut!

I love how easy these books make it to find really wonderful hikes that cater to all levels of hikers. I also really like the hints and tips sprinkled throughout the books - that's a really nice touch. I know these are going to be books that have a prominent place on my shelves that I revisit over and over again. These are also going to be the books that I thrust into the hands of anyone that comes to visit us and wonders how best to see all of the amazing places in this area! I know I definitely want to check out some of the other Best Hikes titles for places a little bit further from home! These are wonderful guides and now you can see exactly what I'll be doing with my family this spring and summer! 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Review: A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd

Title: A Song for the Stars
Author: Ilima Todd
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Publish Date: April 2, 2019
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "As the second daughter of a royal chief, Maile will be permitted to marry for love. Her fiancé is the best navigator in Hawaiʻi, and he taught her everything he knows—how to feel the ocean, observe the winds, read the stars, and how to love.
But when sailors from a strange place called England arrive on her island, a misunderstanding ends in battle, and Maile is suddenly widowed before she is wed.

Finding herself in the middle of the battle and fearing for her life, Maile takes John Harbottle, the wounded man who killed her fiancé, prisoner, and though originally intending to let him die, she reluctantly heals him. And in the process, she discovers the man she thought was her enemy might be her ally instead.
John has been Captain James Cook’s translator for three voyages across the Pacific. He is kind and clearly fascinated with her homeland and her people—and Maile herself. But guilt continues to drive a wedge between them: John’s guilt over the death he caused, and Maile’s guilt over the truth about what triggered the deadly battle—a secret she’s kept hidden from everyone on the island.
When Maile is tasked with teaching John how to navigate using the stars so he can sail back to England, they must also navigate the challenges of being from very different cultures. In doing so, they might also find the peace that comes when two hearts become one."

My Two Cents:

"A Song for the Stars" is the story of Maile, daughter of a Hawaiian chief, and John, the translator for the famous Captain James Cook. Both of them are from very different worlds with very different cultures. At first, neither one really understands each other. Through a series of events and misunderstandings, they are thrown together in ways that they can't begin to understand. 

The relationship between Maile and John was so interesting to watch unfold. Both of them start out knowing nothing about each other's culture at all so they teach each other. Neither one of them can believe that they're forming a tenuous friendship (but a friendship nonetheless) with each other. It will astonish their family and friends and it may even push them away but they can't help it. I really liked the addition of John's journal entries, which give us a lot of insight into what he's feeling and going through at different parts in the book.

The book takes place in the late 1700s when European explorers roamed the earth finding "new" lands. I loved all of the detail that the author infused into the story. I love reading about Hawaii - it truly has amazing history but I think this might be one of the first books that I have ever read that was set during this time period. I love how the author captured the friction between the Hawaiians and the Europeans. 

Overall, this was an interesting read with a lot of good detail!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Review: Button and Bundle by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan

Title: Button and Bundle
Author: Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publish Date: February 19. 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Button and Bundle are best friends. So are their dolls.

But when Button has to move away, she's sad and lonely without Bundle.

Until one day, Button finds a single yellow balloon and an idea. With a little luck, maybe she can reunite Bundle with their dolls again!

Knowing that her faraway friend would be happy is the happiest idea of all."

My Two Cents:

"Button and Bundle" is a cute story about two best friends named Button and Bundle. They play with their dolls together. They go on adventures together. They are best friends forever. When Button moves away, both girls are broken-hearted but with a bit of music and a bit of magic they can move forward. 

Moving is hard no matter how old you are. It is especially hard for little kids. This book is all about that. Leaving friends is fraught with so many emotions. Will you make new friends? Will you remember your old friends? Will they remember you? This book explores all of these thoughts in an easy to understand way for a younger audience. I loved the metaphor of music throughout the book: first in Button and Bundle's song and then their song weaving through Button's song with her new friend. It's really beautiful!

The illustrations are so charming. The colors are lovely and pastel and very calming! My girls loved the pictures of the friends and their dolls. This was a great story and it would be particularly good for little ones going through a move of their own or a move of their friends!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Review: The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan

Title: The Storyteller
Author: Pierre Jarawan
Format: ARC
Publisher: World Editions
Publish Date: April 2, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Samir leaves the safety and comfort of his family’s adopted home in Germany for volatile Beirut in an attempt to find his missing father. His only clues are an old photo and the bedtime stories his father used to tell him. The Storyteller follows Samir’s search for Brahim, the father whose heart was always yearning for his homeland, Lebanon."

My Two Cents:

"The Storyteller" is the story of Samir, who mostly grew up in Germany after his family leaves war-torn Lebanon. He grows up hearing stories of the family's homeland. His father is especially good at telling these stories. When a mysterious photograph seemingly causes the disappearance of his father, it will eventually send Samir on a journey back to Lebanon, a place where he now feels totally out of place, to search for his father.

Oh man, you all know that I love a good family secret and this book definitely has a huge one. I don't want to give anything away but the mystery of what happened to Samir's father is oh so good and definitely kept me reading to try to figure out what happened. The author does a great job of giving out small hints to keep you wanting to read.

This book also has a really good sense of setting. I loved reading about Germany and Lebanon through the eyes of these characters. We get to see how the family adapts to their new home in Germany and how Samir's father goes out of his way to make conversation with everyone he meets, always making people feel welcome even when their new home is not so welcoming always to his family. I loved reading about Lebanon, both the myth in Samir's father's mind and the reality that Samir experiences when he sees the country for himself.

The writing of this book was so good! The descriptions are almost lyrical and really lovely to read. I especially appreciated the descriptions when reading Samir's father's stories. The descriptions really made the story pop. Overall, this was a great story that will stick with me for a long time!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Review: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

Title: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive
Author: Stephanie Land 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publish Date: January 22, 2019
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work--primarily done by women--fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter's head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today's inequitable society.

While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren't being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans."

My Two Cents:

"Maid" is a memoir by Stephanie Land. It's about her life trying to make her way on minimum wage jobs, specifically as a maid. This is an eye-opening memoir about how hard it is to get by on a minimum wage job. There have been a lot of books that have come out recently that have tried to shed light on the plight of so many Americans that are trying to hold down a few jobs just to get by. Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" comes to mind and Ehrenreich actually wrote the foreword to this book. While this book was interesting, I wish it had been tied together a little more tightly in the end.

We get to see how difficult things are for Stephanie as she tries to take care of her young daughter. Childcare alone is incredibly daunting in this country but Stephanie has to worry a lot more about other things like bills and food. She has to navigate a bunch of confusing government subsidies in order to make ends meet. The companies that she works for seem to worry more about the labor than the actual people that work for them a lot of times. 

This book is very much a personal memoir about one single person's plight. It is powerful but feels simply anecdotal. What I mean by that is that it seems to be one person's experience and I wish that it would have had a higher-level connection or a more universal message. Maybe it is a lot to ask about what to do but I was hoping for something more prescriptive with the connection to "Nickel and Dimed." I liked this book but wanted a little more!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review: Little Taco Truck by Tanya Valentine

Title: Little Taco Truck
Author: Tanya Valentine
Format: ARC
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Publish Date: April 2, 2019
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Little Taco Truck serves up tasty treats to the hungry workers on Union Street . . . until one day, Miss Falafel shows up with her baked pita bread and crunchy chickpea fritters--and parks in his space. The next day, Miss Falafel is there again, and this time she's brought Gumbo Jumbo and Annie Arepas with her. Little Taco Truck's headlights dim. What if people like Gumbo Jumbo's spicy stew and Annie Arepas's warm cornbread cakes more than they like his tacos? When more trucks arrive the following day and there's no space left for Little Taco Truck, he swishes his wipers to hide his tears and heads home. At last, with some ingenuity and help from new friends, Little Taco Truck wins back his coveted parking spot. And guess what? There is room enough for everyone!"

My Two Cents:

"Little Taco Truck" is the story of a little taco truck just trying to find his place in the world when a bunch of other food trucks take his spot. He's left wondering if there is enough room for him. This is a cute story about there being room for everyone and about different cultures. I loved being able to talk about the different foods that appear in the book and what they taste like with my girls. My girls decided that they'd love to taste a lot of the foods in the book. This was such a fun way to introduce different cultures to them!

The illustrations in the book are really cute and super colorful! We all loved all of the bright colors! This book definitely kept our attention and made for a great bedtime story!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Reading Challenge Update

As a reminder, I am aiming to read a book from or set in each country the Department of State recognizes, which is 195 countries!

I read books from this many countries this month:
You can check out my progress on my map or see a list of where and what I'm reading here.

I've read a total of 33 books so far for this challenge. Solid progression!

Now I need some help with a few countries! Do you have suggestions for any of the countries below?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Review: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Title: Finding Dorothy
Author: Elizabeth Letts
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: February 12, 2019
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy--especially when Maud heard her sing "Over the Rainbow," a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living--until Frank Baum's book became a national sensation.

This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud's youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank's early days when they lived among the people--especially young Dorothy--who would inspire Frank's masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy."

My Two Cents:

"Finding Dorothy" is the story of Maud Gage Baum, wife of L. Frank Baum who was the author of "The Wizard of Oz." It's the late 1930s and Baum's master work is being made into a highly billed movie that stars Judy Garland. Maud wants to make sure that her husband's work is translated to screen perfectly and so she goes to Hollywood where she isn't welcomed at first. She makes a place for herself when she entrenches herself into taking care of Judy Garland, who reminds Maud of the real Dorothy that "The Wizard of Oz" was based off of.

One thing that I absolutely love about historical fiction is how it can take on some of the small unknowns in history. I love both "The Wizard of Oz" movie and the books but I realize that I knew little about the background of either until reading this book. I really liked seeing what Maud and Frank's lives were like back in South Dakota and about the inspiration behind the book that captured and continues to capture so many imaginations. I loved reading about the sort of friendship that develops between Maud and Judy. We get to see Judy at a pivotal time in her young career. 

The writing of this book was very good. I loved all of the historical detail that the author was able to weave into the book. Maud and Judy especially jump off of the page but all of the other characters are quite vivid as well. I really liked how the author was able to take something so familiar to so many people and shed more light on it. This was a true treat to read!

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