Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020 Favorite Books


I know I'm not going to be the first one to say this but I am so ready for 2020 to leave. While there have been some high points like being able to spend more time at home and lie low (something that I recognize is a privilege as well a gift for my typically over-scheduled self), there have been a lot of low points. While not the most important low light, my reading has been down the drain, my friends. Pre-pandemic, I imagined that having extra time at home would equal more reading and throughout the past year, it did not always mean that. With the state of the world and everything going on between the pandemic and all of the other news that was made this year, it was so easy to get locked into doom scrolling on my phone. Finally in November (really after the election), I was able to get back to reading but still not as much as I used to read pre-pandemic (who would have ever guessed that I would miss my commute???). The upside of all this is that I still managed to read some pretty great books this year!

In no particular order, here are the ones at the top of my list:

What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

TLC Book Tours: Cosmos: Possible Worlds by Ann Druyan

Title:  Cosmos: Possible Worlds

Author: Ann Druyan

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: National Geographic

Publish Date: February 25, 2020

Source: TLC Book Tours


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "This sequel to Carl Sagan's blockbuster continues the electrifying journey through space and time, connecting with worlds billions of miles away and envisioning a future of science tempered with wisdom.

Based on National Geographic's internationally-renowned television series, this groundbreaking and visually stunning book explores how science and civilization grew up together. From the emergence of life at deep-sea vents to solar-powered starships sailing through the galaxy, from the Big Bang to the intricacies of intelligence in many life forms, acclaimed author Ann Druyan documents where humanity has been and where it is going, using her unique gift of bringing complex scientific concepts to life. With evocative photographs and vivid illustrations, she recounts momentous discoveries, from the Voyager missions in which she and her husband, Carl Sagan, participated to Cassini-Huygens's recent insights into Saturn's moons. This breathtaking sequel to Sagan's masterpiece explains how we humans can glean a new understanding of consciousness here on Earth and out in the cosmos--again reminding us that our planet is a pale blue dot in an immense universe of possibility."

My Two Cents:

"Cosmos: Possible Worlds" is the sequel to Carl Sagan's book, "Cosmos" and it is a worthy follow-on. This book explores so many corners of our universe and highlights many people who took scientific exploration further than it has ever gone before and tried to figure out this big, amazing world.

Sometimes you just want a book that totally sucks you in and makes you mull over so many different things that you've never thought of before. This is that book. The book opens with the story of a young Carl Sagan being captivated by the World's Fair and how that experience set off a lifelong journey to explore the furthest most corners of the universe. I love the intimate picture that you get of Sagan through various life stages: this book was written by his wife, a noted scientist and scientific writer in her own right.

This is one of those books that can be read straight through or story-by-story. There is so much to ponder here and while Druyan gives the reader tons and tons of detail, the stories still feel accessible. The book also has some really gorgeous pictures in it that bring the stories even more to life. In a time where I am constantly looking for books that are fully engaging and take me away, this book certainly fit the bill. This book would be perfect for readers who love science and know all the doors that just having the willingness to explore can open!


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

TLC Book Tours: Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Greatest Road Trips by National Geographic Society

 Title: Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Greatest Road Trips

Author: National Geographic Society

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: National Geographic

Publish Date: October 27, 2020 (Today)

Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

 From Goodreads.com: "Compiled from the favorite trips of National Geographic's legendary travel writers, Drives of a Lifetime spans the globe to reveal the best celebrated and lesser-known road trips on the planet. Inside this fully updated and revised edition--featuring more than 20 new drives--you'll find routes through spectacular landscapes, ideas for quick getaways, leisurely journeys of discovery, and revelations of secret worlds beyond Google Maps. Some are legendary long-distance odysseys; others are easy day trips close to home, taking you down charming local byways. All will inspire you to pack up the car and hit the road. The possibilities are endless: Take Colorado's San Juan Skyway for a 10,000-foot climb over towering mountain passes. Or travel the ancient Silk Road on an expedition across Central Asia and through time. Or why not drive the perimeter of Puerto Rico, a tropical paradise with many beaches along the way? Whatever your taste and budget, you'll find plenty of routes tailored to your interests. Alongside detailed descriptions, full-color maps guide the way and planning tips help you make the most of your journey; top 10 lists offer quick, easy side trip ideas. Beautiful, informative, and inspiring, this luxurious volume is a lifelong resource that readers will treasure."

My Two Cents:

"Drives of a Lifetime" begins with an amazing drive that my husband and I took a few weeks ago: Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and then takes turns through places both well known and those that are more off the beaten path. Filled with the customary gorgeous pictures we've come to expect from National Geographic as well as fantastic descriptions of the drives, this book certainly made my to-visit list much, much, much longer!

2020 might be the year of the road trip with COVID. We have not ventured far but when we've left home, we've taken a car and we have definitely rediscovered our love of the open road. This book contains road trips, both foreign and domestic and they all sound lovely. The book is broken down mostly by topographical features with a few fun categories thrown in the mix like gourmet trips (please take me).

This book has something for everyone and is a perfect mix of both attainable and trips-to-dream about for someday. It is also a really nice mix of trips that are well-known and those that explore much lesser known places. I love all of the travel tips for each road trip. With the purveyor being National Geographic, you know you are getting some really quality trips. I know this is a book that I want to keep looking at and would make a perfect gift for my fellow travel-deprived friends! 


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Review: A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost

 Title:  A Very Punchable Face

Author: Colin Jost 

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Publish Date: July 14, 2020

Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "If there’s one trait that makes someone well suited to comedy, it’s being able to take a punch—metaphorically and, occasionally, physically.

From growing up in a family of firefighters on Staten Island to commuting three hours a day to high school and “seeing the sights” (like watching a Russian woman throw a stroller off the back of a ferry), to attending Harvard while Facebook was created, Jost shares how he has navigated the world like a slightly smarter Forrest Gump.

You’ll also discover things about Jost that will surprise and confuse you, like how Jimmy Buffett saved his life, how Czech teenagers attacked him with potato salad, how an insect laid eggs inside his legs, and how he competed in a twenty-five-man match at WrestleMania (and almost won). You’ll go behind the scenes at SNL and Weekend Update (where he’s written some of the most memorable sketches and jokes of the past fifteen years). And you’ll experience the life of a touring stand-up comedian—from performing in rural college cafeterias at noon to opening for Dave Chappelle at Radio City Music Hall.

For every accomplishment (hosting the Emmys), there is a setback (hosting the Emmys). And for every absurd moment (watching paramedics give CPR to a raccoon), there is an honest, emotional one (recounting his mother’s experience on the scene of the Twin Towers’ collapse on 9/11). Told with a healthy dose of self-deprecation, A Very Punchable Face reveals the brilliant mind behind some of the dumbest sketches on television, and lays bare the heart and humor of a hardworking guy—with a face you can’t help but want to punch."

 My Two Cents:

"A Very Punchable Face" by Colin Jost is a hilarious book! These days, I am always looking to laugh and the harder I laugh, the better. I love Saturday Night Live and it's one show that I always try to watch. I get way too tired to stay up to watch it live but we usually catch it the day after. For the past several years, Colin Jost has been a mainstay on SNL as both a writer and a host on Weekend Update.

In this book, Jost covers from his very young life up until now. He tells all sorts of stories like the time he became a journalist for his small hometown newspaper on Staten Island or the time he studied abroad in Russia (who knew he studied Russian literature) and his host family didn't talk to him at all. While most of the book is non-stop hilarity, there are also some poignant moments like when Jost is describing his amazing mother's experience during 9/11 (she worked as a medic with the New York Fire Department). She is pretty amazing!  Jost is a great writer and you feel like a friend is talking to you about some of their funniest exploits!

This book is also a must read for any SNL fan of the past several years. I loved the behind the scenes look that you get in this book. We get to see everything from how he applies to how he finds out that he landed a spot. Jost talks about some of the best and worst hosts during his time (the Trump episode seemed pretty surreal). And we also get a deep dive into how some of his favorite sketches came together and which ones were the most memorable for him.

If you're looking for a book that will force you to burst out in laughter, this is a fantastic pick!



Monday, October 12, 2020

The Story Graph!!!

 If you are a bookish person, you probably have your go-to way to track all of the books you're reading and everything you want to read! For some of us, it's spreadsheets. For others, including myself, it's a website. I have been using Goodreads for several years but there are a few things that I really wished for that it didn't really have. One of the big reasons I started using Goodreads is that I really wanted was to be able to find good book recommendations and while Goodreads has a plentiful list function for just about any topic that you could wish to read about, the recommendations kind of failed for me. Goodreads can also just be really, really, really, extremely clunky!

Enter The Story Graph! Right now, the site is in its beta version but the site is trying to make it easier to find book recommendations that actually fit what you are looking for! The interface is also really beautiful! I was able to download a file from Goodreads and seamlessly upload it to The Story Graph where I started getting recommendations that ACTUALLY look like things that I might like to read! The site is still relatively bare and is missing some of the things that I loved from Goodreads: a mobile app; the ability to scan the cover/ isbn rather than search for a book title; some of the social function; etc. But again, this is just the beta site so there is room for some of these things to be added in the future (fingers crossed!!!) and I am so excited to see what they do!

Have you heard of The Story Graph? What are your thoughts?


Here are two of my kittehs for your viewing pleasure.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Review: The Night Portrait: A Novel of World War II and da Vinci's Italy by Laura Morelli

 Title: The Night Portrait: A Novel of World War II and da Vinci's Italy

Author: Laura Morelli

Format: Paperback

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Publish Date: September 8, 2020

Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Milan, 1492: When a 16-year old beauty becomes the mistress of the Duke of Milan, she must fight for her place in the palace—and against those who want her out. Soon, she finds herself sitting before Leonardo da Vinci, who wants to ensure his own place in the ducal palace by painting his most ambitious portrait to date.

Munich, World War II: After a modest conservator unwittingly places a priceless Italian Renaissance portrait into the hands of a high-ranking Nazi leader, she risks her life to recover it, working with an American soldier, part of the famed Monuments Men team, to get it back. 

Two women, separated by 500 years, are swept up in the tide of history as one painting stands at the center of their quests for their own destinies."

My Two Cents:

"The Night Portrait" is a dual-narrative historical fiction of two women set in both the time of Renaissance Italy and in 1940s Europe during the height of World War II's messy ending. The narrative has a lot of twists and turns and kept me on my toes with the connection between Cecilia and Edith over 500 years. This book was a treat!

In Renaissance Italy, Cecilia is a beautiful girl trying to change her fate from that of a nobleman's mistress to that of a titled noblewoman. She is such a fascinating character. At 16, she is wise beyond her years and understands how the game of climbing the social ladder must be played. I loved following her as she figures out ways to ensure that she continues moving ever forward with her plans. She fully recognizes just how little control she has over her fate as a young woman but is doing everything she can think to ensure she achieves her goal, including getting her portrait done by Michaelangelo who may have the recipe to keep her in mind and in view for centuries to come.

In the 1940s, Edith is an art conservator called into service to "rescue" paintings in Poland and send them back to the Motherland of Nazi Germany. Edith knows how to survive but she also knows that what she is being asked to do isn't right and that she needs to find her way to fight the injustice of helping to steal paintings while still being able to survive. She is super brave in the face of the risk of what will happen to her if her plans are discovered! She finds herself working with the infamous Monuments Men in a race against time to protect as many paintings as she can, including a strange one of a young woman holding a very odd pet.

This book had so much going for it. Not only were the main characters good but the secondary characters were wonderful as well! I loved the taste of Michaelangelo that we get: a man who dreams of creating war machines but just hasn't gained ground. Dominic dreams of going home to the United States but realizes how much there is at stake in the last days of World War II.

I really enjoyed all of the historical detail as well! You get a good taste of both the Renaissance Italy and the World War II era Europe. I loved how the world building was so well woven into the narrative that you can very much picture what the characters are going through without the narrative ever feeling like a major information dump.

This book is a treat for my fellow historical fiction lovers who want a fully engaging read about some amazing art and memorable characters!

Monday, August 31, 2020

TLC Book Tours Review: The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild by Enric Sala

 Title: The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild 

Author: Enric Sala

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: National Geographic

Publish Date: August 25, 2020

Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Enric Sala wants to change the world--and in this compelling book, he shows us how. Once we appreciate how nature works, he asserts, we will understand why conservation is economically wise and essential to our survival. 

Here Sala, director of National Geographic's Pristine Seas project (which has succeeded in protecting more than 5 million sq km of ocean), tells the story of his scientific awakening and his transition from academia to activism--as he puts it, he was tired of writing the obituary of the ocean. His revelations are surprising, sometimes counterintuitive: More sharks signal a healthier ocean; crop diversity, not intensive monoculture farming, is the key to feeding the planet.

Using fascinating examples from his expeditions and those of other scientists, Sala shows the economic wisdom of making room for nature, even as the population becomes more urbanized. In a sober epilogue, he shows how saving nature can save us all, by reversing conditions that led to the coronavirus pandemic and preventing other global catastrophes. With a foreword from Prince Charles and an introduction from E. O. Wilson, this powerful book will change the way you think about our world--and our future."

My Two Cents:

An alternate title for Enric Sala's "The Nature of Nature" is "Everything is Connected." As he states in his book, it is so very important to look at the world as one ecosystem full of obvious connections and much less obvious connections. The ecosystem is deserving of protection. It is also so very important to continue to value science and push science forward for better understanding of our environment and the effects of how we live our lives has on the world.

This book is filled with fascinating stories from Sala's own work experience as well as accounts of experiments that show just how interrelated everything is. Written in a way that excited my interest enough to read further about some of the things he talks about in this book, this book has the power to ignite curiosity and determination in protecting our world.

Shortly before this book was printed, COVID-19 started making its way around the globe. Recognizing that this zoonotic disease represented a great example of why it is so important to take care of our world and ensure resilience, he and the publisher pulled the book back to write one more chapter on COVID-19 and everything we know so far. It was fascinating (and a bit jarring) to read about this thing that we are very much still facing and some of the lessons that I have already come from it in a very short amount of time!

This was a fascinating read that left me ruminating how much work has been done as well as how much work there is still to do! 


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Cover Reveal: The Social Graces by Renee Rosen

 I am so excited to show you the gorgeous new cover for "The Social Graces" by Renee Rosen! I have loved her other books and am so excited for this one!

Book details:  

THE SOCIAL GRACES by Renee Rosen (Berkley trade paperback; on-sale April 20, 2021)

Pre-order link:   


What's the Story?:

Renee Rosen, bestselling author of Park Avenue Summer, delivers readers a peek behind the curtain at one of the most remarkable feuds in history: Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Astor's notorious battle for control of New York society during the Gilded Age.

In the glittering world of Manhattan's upper crust, where wives turn a blind eye to husbands' infidelities, and women have few rights and even less independence, society is everything. The more celebrated the hostess, the more powerful the woman. And none is more powerful than Caroline Astor--the Mrs. Astor.

But times are changing.

Alva Vanderbilt has recently married into one of America's richest families. But what good is money when society refuses to acknowledge you? When it carries on just as it has done for generations? Alva, who knows what it is to have nothing, will do whatever it takes to have everything.

Sweeping three decades and based on true events, this gripping novel follows these two women as they try to outdo and outsmart each other at every turn. As Caroline comes closer to defeat and Alva closer to victory, both will make surprising discoveries about themselves and what's truly at stake.

 Q&A with Renee Rosen:

What inspired you to write THE SOCIAL GRACES?

THE SOCIAL GRACES is the story of Alva Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor vying for control of New York society during the Gilded Age.  That’s my elevator pitch, but it’s also the story of mothers and daughters, of sisters, of husbands and wives, of class and examining one’s shifting values. 

In terms of inspiration, it was more of a “who” rather than a “what”. I was brainstorming on new book concepts and my agent mentioned Consuelo Vanderbilt. Right after that, my editor suggested doing something in the Gilded Age. So really it was the two of them who inspired me, and after some preliminary research on New York in that time period, it was obvious that the rivalry between Mrs. Astor and Alva Vanderbilt had the makings of a really interesting novel.

Tell us about what it was like to write the feuding Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Vanderbilt, two of America’s wealthiest and most powerful women. Did you relate more to Mrs. Astor, or Mrs. Vanderbilt?

Bringing Caroline Astor and Alva Vanderbilt to life on the page was far more challenging than I had anticipated.  When I first started working on the novel, I looked at my cast of characters and realized I had a group of rather unlikable people. On the surface, they came across as spoiled, entitled, greedy and superficial. I knew that if I wanted to engage the reader, I was going to have to really drill down to find the humanity in these people and find a reason for us to root for them. Once I started to see Alva and Caroline as wives, mothers and daughters themselves, they started to come alive for me. I found myself able to relate to both of them in different ways and for different reasons. I related to Caroline reaching the prime of her life and worried that her youth and significance were slipping away. With Alva I related to her passion, her drive, her unconventional spirit.  In the end, I’m happy to say that I found them both women to be fascinating and bewildering characters to work with.

Did you discover anything in your research that surprised you?

I was really surprised by how understated the knickerbockers (the old money) were early on, before the nouveau riche began exerting their influence. For example, Caroline Astor and other society matrons of her ilk found those wonderful Worth gowns to be very gauche and pretentious. They never wore them and instead favored more plain gowns. The knickerbockers lived in very refined, nearly identical townhouses. It wasn’t until Alva Vanderbilt embarked on her architectural masterpieces (such as Petit Chateau and Marble House) that the rest of society began trying to out-build one another with their palatial mansions. The same goes for their extravagant entertaining. It wasn’t until the new money began throwing such elaborate and outlandish balls that the knickerbockers felt they needed to compete and became a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.

If THE SOCIAL GRACES was made into a movie, who would you choose to cast as your two leading ladies?

Such a fun question! I think Kathy Bates would be a fabulous Mrs. Astor and I could see Julia Garner bringing Alva to life. After seeing her portrayal of Ruth Langmore in Ozark as well as a few other performances, I’m convinced she’d be brilliant in any part she plays.

 Want to win your own copy of "The Social Graces?" Enter here!

Hello, New Adventure!

 As all good bookish stories start, this one started with the promise of discounted books. By now, most of you know that I have two five year girls who keep me FOREVER on my toes. And since I love books, I really want them to love books too and fortunately my plan seems to be working. Our house is now not only filled with my books but with the girls' books as well! One of my favorite book publishers for littles are Usborne Books. They're super durable and cover tons of topics! I love them!

Enter A Little Bookish Affair, which will be my corner of the interwebz for these books geared for kiddos! I've started a Facebook group where I'm sharing some of these books if you're interested!

If you could make your kids read a book on any subject, what would it be and why? (Mine would be a book about picking up after themselves :) )

Monday, August 24, 2020

Review: The Giant: A Novel of Michelangelo's David by Laura Morelli

 Title: The Giant: A Novel of Michelangelo's David

Author: Laura Morelli

Format: Paperback

Publisher: The Scriptorium

Publish Date: May 31, 2020

Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "As a colossal statue takes shape in Renaissance Florence, the lives of a master sculptor and a struggling painter become stunningly intertwined.

Florence, 1500. Fresco painter Jacopo Torni longs to make his mark in the world. But while his peers enjoy prestigious commissions, his meager painting jobs are all earmarked to pay down gambling debts.

When Jacopo hears of a competition to create Florence's greatest sculpture, he pins all his hopes on a collaboration with his boyhood companion, Michelangelo Buonarroti. But will the frustrated artist ever emerge from the shadow of his singularly gifted friend?"

My Two Cents:

"The Giant" is the story of painter Jacopo Torni, who dreams of making a lasting mark on the art world with his painting. Instead, he is forced to take any job he can as long as it pays so he can pay down some longstanding debts. The jobs are not noteworthy and he finds himself jealous of the notoriety that so many of his fellow artists seem to be finding with ease. Suddenly he has the opportunity to hitch his star to his friend Michaelangelo, already famous in his own right, and Jacopo is ready to take a leap of faith!

This is a well-researched and fascinating story! I always have a soft spot for down on their luck characters and when the story opens, Jacopo just can't seem to make his way towards everything he is dreaming of. Obstacle after obstacle comes his way and while some of them are just bad luck, some of the difficult situations are of his own making. When the story opens, he seems to be aimless and lacking drive. Eventually that shifts as he begins to see a way forward, even if it means playing second fiddle instead of being the star. I loved seeing how he changed throughout the book!

The star of this book was really the world-building and the descriptions. The author takes us back to gorgeous Florence in the 1500s where everyone is racing to make the greatest art to change the art world and make their mark. It's an exciting place and with the detail that the author gives, it makes it easy to imagine that you are in the center of it all as the characters struggle against each other and with each other in order to push forward and achieve greatness.

This book was a perfect pick for when you are looking for an escape to a world filled with art and intrigue!



Monday, August 17, 2020

Review: Tales of Ming Courtesans by Alice Poon

 Title: Tales of Ming Courtesans

Author: Alice Poon

Format: eBook

Publisher: Earnshaw Books

Publish Date: June 1, 2020

Source: Author


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Inspired by literary works and folklore, Tales of Ming Courtesans traces the destinies of the three girls from the seamy world of human trafficking and slavery to the cultured scene of the famously decadent pleasure district of the city of Nanjing, evoking episodes in Memoirs of a Geisha.

The girls all existed - Rushi was a famous poet, Yuanyuan became the concubine of a general who changed the course of Chinese history by supporting the Manchu invasion in 1644 and Xiangjun challenged the corruption of court officials to try to save her lover. Rushi's daughter, Jingjing, gradually pieces together the stories of the three from a memoir left to her by her mother.

Betrayal, tenacity and hope all come together in a novel that brings to life an important era in China's history, and particularly highlights the challenges faced by independent-minded women."

My Two Cents:

Now comes the time in the pandemic where I am just looking for an escape. I'm dreaming of books that thrust me into the center of a fascinating story with supreme world building and "Tales of Ming Courtesans" certainly fit the bill. This book tells the stories of Liu Rushi, Chen Yuanyuan, and Li Xiangjun, three famous courtesans in China during the Ming Dynasty. Their stories are fascinating and I loved following each one of them!

Liu Rushi, Chen Yuanyuan, and Li Xiangjun are all very different from each other, they just happen to have the same job. Court life is difficult for all of them to adjust to - there are so many rules to follow and so many social norms to tow the line on. There is also a lot to just get used to: everything must follow certain unspoken rules and seeing how each woman navigates this in their own way really made the story for me. I love that through these three characters, you get three very different viewpoints of what life would have been like for a courtesan within the palace walls!

The detail of the book was really good! I really liked how the author brought the Ming Dynasty to life. You can picture what life was like there: the glitz, the glamour, and the hardship when things didn't fall according to the rules.  You see the dazzling palaces and the grand events. While sometimes the descriptions do verge into telling rather than showing, the balance is generally pretty good. This isn't an era that I know a lot about and I loved seeing it through the eyes of these characters.

This book is perfect for those looking for tons of palace intrigue and strong female characters!


Friday, August 14, 2020

Review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

Title: Love From A to Z
Author: S.K. Ali
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Publish Date: April 30, 2019
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting."

My Two Cents:

"Love from A to Z" is a sweet romcom about Adam and Zayneb, two people who for different reasons both feel like fish out of water. Zayneb has been sent to Qatar to visit her aunt and to get away from the hurt and anger she felt attending a school where being a Muslim made her the target of hate from both students and teachers. Adam is hiding a secret about his health that he fears will further force his family to spiral out of control. When Zayneb and Adam meet, their worlds collide in such a way that they realize that their worlds will never be the same.

I really enjoyed this book! The story is very multi-faceted and I loved reading about how both Zayneb and Adam are able to deal with so many difficult things at a really young age. My heart ached for both of them. With both of their situations, she are trying to take on so much by themselves without breaking. Both of them long to be accepted for who they are even when that seems like such a heavy challenge with everything going on around them. They are both strong, vivid, and resilient characters so when they meet, you are really rooting for them as they meet and begin to fall for each other.

The romance at the center of the book was great. Adam and Zayneb meet by chance but as the story unfolds, it seems that perhaps fate had something to do with it. I loved seeing how they begin to open up to each other even when opening up means also opening old wounds and letting their guard down somewhat, incredibly difficult for strong people, of course. Their meeting definitely gave me butterflies.

I loved how many subjects this book touched on and how diverse the representation was. The book really took me through a rollercoaster of emotions with how many different subjects it touched on, which I loved! This would be a great pick for someone looking for a YA that touches on both the serious and tender.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Review: Mop Rides the Waves of Life: A Story of Mindfulness and Surfing by Jaimal Yogis

Title: Mop Rides the Waves of Life: A Story of Mindfulness and Surfing
Author: Jaimal Yogis
Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Plum Blossom

Publish Date: June 30, 2020

Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Celebrated San Francisco surfer-journalist-dad Jaimal Yogis teaches 4-8 year olds timeless beach wisdom with the story of Mop, a sensitive and fun-loving kid who just wants to be in the ocean.

Going to school and navigating classmates can be hard--but all that goes away when little surfer Mop paddles out in the waves. With a few tips from his clever mom, Mop studies the wisdom of the water and learns to bring it into his life on land: taking deep breaths, letting the tough waves pass, and riding the good ones all the way. With newfound awareness and courage, Mop heads back to land--and school--to surf the waves of life."

 My Two Cents:

"Mop Rides the Waves of Life" is the story of a little boy named Mop, who feels totally at home surfing the waves and being in the ocean. He feels more "at sea" when he's on land trying to navigate school and bullies. When he has a terrible day, Mop learns that by not staying calm, everything will get a lot worse. His savvy mom shows him that by taking a step back and practicing mindfulness, Mop can begin to ride the waves of life, the good and the bad, just as well as he shreds the real waves in the ocean.

This book is a wonderful introduction to mindfulness, something that we can all use, especially these days. I love how the author is able to take an idea like mindfulness that can be a little bit complicated and breaks it down so it's easily understood by little ones. I know that I have invoked Mop's name a lot already with my little ones when they're having trouble making good decisions about what they should or should not act out about. Between the sweet lesson and the gorgeous illustrations, this book is one that gets a lot of mileage in my house with my five year old girls. This book would be a great pick for anyone with little ones looking for some gentle guidance. 



Friday, August 7, 2020

Reading Challenge Update!


So if you saw my post from Monday, you know that my reading hasn't been going great recently and so I am still not finished with my around the world reading challenge (it's getting a little silly at this point). I am really going to focus it in August so come back in early September to see how I've done. Part of the reason that I'm writing this particular post is that I want to hold myself accountable and perhaps you'll do me the favor of holding me accountable as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

#CoverReveal: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

I am so excited to be a part of the cover reveal for The Rose Code by Kate Quinn! Check it out!

Synopsis: The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over.

1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter--the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger--and their true enemy--closer...

·         Book details: THE ROSE CODE by New York Times bestselling author Kate Quinn (Morrow; on-sale March 9, 2021)

·        Pre-order here: https://bit.ly/3k4t8o5

·         Add to your Goodreads list à https://bit.ly/2XBJgUD

·         Sign up for Kate’s newsletter à https://bit.ly/2DfrgIz

Monday, August 3, 2020

Hello, it's me!

The pandemic has been weird, everyone! Some days I feel like everything is going okay and I'm hitting a groove and then I'll go through weeks and weeks where everything feels super terrible and I feel like I'm stuck in a rut. And the past several weeks have been just that: I've been putting a lot of hours in at the day job as we're in a busy period.  I've been trying to keep the kids entertained and because I'm feeling super guilty about having to work so much, I'm trying to throw myself into making this weird time that we're living in *MAGICAL* for the children. I'm trying to do all the things while not being able to focus or feel like I'm doing anything well. I also lost my sweet 18 year old kitty, Totoro. He was my buddy through so much all the way since college. And reading, which is my usual oasis, has been so hard to focus on. I find my mind wandering as soon as I sit down to start reading. I think the late June - July period is the longest that I've had this rut during the past few months and it has sucked.

Last week, I finally felt a bit of relief. I don't know where it came from, which is making it hard to know how to hang on to this feeling but I'm trying to be in the moment and ride the waves as they come at me. One, well two, small reasons could be our new additions. We adopted two kittens (I never wanted kittens and suddenly we have three kitties in our house). They are so sweet and so fun and they are keeping us all on our toes. We named them Amelia (calico) and Fred (orange) after Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. They're bringing a lot of joy to the whole family at this ridiculous time. I know there are probably going to be more trying days ahead but I'm trying to find happiness in the everyday. So I'm back here again!

What are you all doing to maintain your sanity during these trying times?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Review: Your Ad Could Go Here: Stories by Oksana Zabuzhko

Title: Your Ad Could Go Here: Stories
Author: Oksana Zabuzhko
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Amazon Crossing
Publish Date: 2014 (original, now in translation)
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Oksana Zabuzhko, Ukraine’s leading public intellectual, is called upon to make sense of the unthinkable reality of our times. In this breathtaking short story collection, she turns the concept of truth over in her hands like a beautifully crafted pair of gloves. From the triumph of the Orange Revolution, which marked the start of the twenty-first century, to domestic victories in matchmaking, sibling rivalry, and even tennis, Zabuzhko manages to shock the reader by juxtaposing things as they are—inarguable, visible to the naked eye—with how things could be, weaving myth and fairy tale into pivotal moments just as we weave a satisfying narrative arc into our own personal mythologies."

My Two Cents:

"Your Ad Could Go Here" is a collection of short stories by Ukrainian author, Oksana Zabuzhko. In this book, she explores everything from siblings, to what it means to be a woman, to the political turmoil of her home country. I had a chance to visit Ukraine in 2011 and it holds a special place in my heart so I am always looking for ways to get back to Ukraine, at least through reading if I can't visit. This book was a great taste of Ukrainian life.

The subject matter of these stories explored so many different areas and some of the stories could be quite difficult for sensitive readers to get through. I, on the other hand, really appreciated the rawness of the stories. The author doesn't flinch from the difficult and sometimes runs head first into some dark territory. It did take me a bit to get into some of the stories but there were others that were rather gripping. My favorite of the book was the story that the book is name for - it was very good!

One interesting thing about this book is that each of the stories seemed to have a different translator. It made me wonder about that choice: was it a conscious choice or just a coincidence? Would any of the various translators translate the story differently. This had absolutely no bearing on my feelings about the book but it is interesting to think about!

This would be a great pick for someone who wants to explore parts unknown with an author that forces you to keep your eyes open!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

HFVBT Review: The Highlander's English Bride by Vanessa Kelly

Title: The Highlander's English Bride
Author: Vanessa Kelly
Publisher: Zebra
Publish Date: May 26, 2020
Format: Paperback
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Lady Sabrina Bell has never been so embarrassed in her life. Not only did her new suitor fail to appear for their morning rendezvous in Hyde Park, but a thief pushed her into the Serpentine. Being rescued by a burly Highlander just adds to her humiliation. Nor is he content with rescuing her just once. Even when Sabrina travels to Edinburgh as part of King George's entourage, Graeme Kendrick is there, interfering, exasperating, and so very tempting...

Once notorious for being the most unruly Kendrick brother, Graeme now runs dangerous missions for the King's spymaster. Yet nothing has prepared him for Sabrina. The only child of a wealthy earl, and the pampered goddaughter of the king himself, she is stubborn, impetuous, and far too good for him. He doesn't deserve her, but he can protect her and then send her safely back home. But the bonny Sassenach has her own ideas—and a plan for seduction that no red-blooded Highlander could resist..."

My Two Cents:

"The Highlander's English Bride" is the story of Lady Sabrina who finds herself being rescued from the most embarrassing situation when she goes to meet her suitor, the Marquess of Cringlewood, in the park only to find herself alone and under attack. Luckily for her, Graeme Kendrick is there to hear her cries and rescue her. When he finds out who she is waiting for (the very same man that has threatened his family), Graeme is ready to walk away but he can't just leave once he meets Sabrina. This event kicks off a chain that will bring Sabrina and Graeme together in new and surprising ways.

This book is the third book in Vanessa Kelly's Clan Kendrick series. Graeme is the brother of the starring heroes from the first two books. I really liked getting to see what his family was up to! Although this book is the third in the series, you will have no problem picking up right from this book. You get a chance to catch up with everything that happened in the previous books. Some of this detail bogs down the story but is useful if you are not familiar with the previous books!

I really liked the romance between Graeme and Sabrina. They were never supposed to meet and they definitely were not supposed to fall in love but when they meet, the chemistry between them very quickly turns into something that neither of them can walk away from. It takes awhile for the romance to really heat up between them as they are both initially fighting their attraction as much as they can. Falling for each other eventually feels inevitable as neither one can stay away. This book fit the bill for me when I was desperately seeking a comfort read! I'm interested to see where this series goes next!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

We Need Diverse Books!

I have often been at a loss of words over the past few weeks. What happened to George Floyd was devastating and so needless. Even before this event, I had been thinking a lot about inequality with regard to the pandemic. The pandemic is affecting various groups of people differently with regard to things like who is affected by COVID-19, who has health insurance, and who holds which jobs. When the world began to think about reopening, many of the jobs that were or are in the first phase of reopening fall to many occupation holders with few safety nets (grocery store, public transportation workers, etc.). These first phase workers are somewhat canaries in the coal mine, who knows what could happen with COVID-19. So you have all of this going on and then you have the tragedy that happened in Minneapolis and it is no wonder that everything boiled over.

I'm angry. I'm angry (but not surprised) about George Floyd. I'm angry that we as a society constantly seem to be prioritizing things over people. I'm angry that things are so disparate for different people. I'm angry about the crackdowns on free speech that we've seen over and over again the past few days. I don't have all the answers (in fact, I doubt that I have any of the answers) but I know that things need to change.

If you found this blog, you probably already know that I make sense of my world through books.  And that's what I have been desperately trying to do to make sense of all of this: I'm trying to read books that shake me awake, shake my beliefs, shake my assumptions, shake my prejudices. I want to learn. I want to be a better person and a better ally to those suffering. I see you. I stand with you. I am here for you.

I want to fix this so badly. I want my generation to be the generation that finally stands up and says enough, let's make things right. I don't have all the answers (I'm really not sure I have any of the answers) but in the words of one of my favorite bands, "to change the world, it starts with one step, however small." My small step may not change the world but it is something. We need diverse books. Books allow us to see ourselves, and perhaps more importantly, others in a new light. Books help us understand familiar and unfamiliar situations better. They help us to take a walk in someone else's shoes. It is so powerful and empowering to be able to see yourself in the pages of a book. Reading a book is a low-risk way to allow you to get to know people both familiar and unfamiliar to you. Books make you more empathetic. They have the power to thrust you in the middle of someone else's struggle and see things in a new light.

Particularly with my Around the World Reading Challenge, I have become even more painfully aware of how far we have left to go to literature reflecting the world around us, particularly in the realm of adult literature. This is why things like the Walter Grant make me so excited. The Walter Grant is a grant for writers and illustrators who fit in one of these categories:
    • Person of color
    • Native American
    • LGBTQIA+
    • Person with a disability
    • Marginalized religious or cultural minority
  • The Walter Grant is a small way to move towards more diverse books. What does having more diverse books do for us? It makes it so anyone can pick up a book and see themselves in it. It makes it easier for someone to take that proverbial mile in someone else's shoes. It ensures that more voices are heard. It ensures that more people are able to tell their own stories in their own voices. Representation is super powerful. More diverse books certainly does not fix everything but perhaps it is a start.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Review: Little Sister: A Memoir by Patricia Walsh Chadwick

Title: Little Sister: A Memoir 
Author: Patricia Walsh Chadwick 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Publish Date: April 28, 2020
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Imagine an eighteen-year-old American girl who has never read a newspaper, watched television, or made a phone call. An eighteen-year-old-girl who has never danced—and this in the 1960s.

It is in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Leonard Feeney, a controversial (soon to be excommunicated) Catholic priest, has founded a religious community called the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Center's members—many of them educated at Harvard and Radcliffe—surrender all earthly possessions and aspects of their life, including their children, to him. Patricia Chadwick was one of those children, and Little Sister is her account of growing up in the Feeney sect.

Separated from her parents and forbidden to speak to them, Patricia bristles against the community’s draconian rules, yearning for another life. When, at seventeen, she is banished from the Center, her home, she faces the world alone, without skills, family, or money but empowered with faith and a fierce determination to succeed on her own, which she does, rising eventually to the upper echelons of the world of finance and investing. "

My Two Cents:

In "Little Sister," Patricia childhood is spent in a cult called "The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart." Started as a sect based on Catholic doctrine, the cult is led by a priest who will be excommunicated and a couple of... accomplices (I can't think of what else to call them). The group takes their beliefs to the extreme and everyone is expected to do what the leader, Leonard Feeney, says they must do in order to save their souls, even if it means giving up their children. Patricia is one of these children. This book provides an unflinching look at a terrible situation but it's also a story of great resilience!

As a parent, it is so hard for me to put myself in the shoes of a parent who would be willing to give up their children. Patricia's parents are so moved by what they think this group offers that they are willing to give their children over to essentially be raised by other adults in the group beginning at age 3. They go from being the primary parents to only seeing their children on rare occasions when Patricia and her siblings have to refer to their parents by new names doled out by Feeney. It was so hard to read about how Patricia tries to get used to this new world.

I am always impressed by writers who are able to write about really difficult situations, particularly when they are first-person accounts. I felt for Patricia throughout the book. She goes through so many things that seem just so hard to believe. She and the other children in the book go through a lot of abuse and mistreatment that was sometimes hard to read about.

Her story is inspiring and it was really wonderful to read how she comes into her own as a young adult. She is able to overcome so much. Humans are just so amazingly resilient. This was a riveting memoir and would be a perfect pick for anyone looking for a story of triumphing over what could have ended tragically!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Title: The Jane Austen Society
Author: Natalie Jenner
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: May 26, 2020 (Today!)

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society."

My Two Cents:

"The Jane Austen Society" is the story of a group of people brought together by their love and appreciation of the beloved author, Jane Austen, in order to try to save her legacy. The book largely takes place in the mid-1940s just as England is beginning to come out of World War II. The quiet novel is the story of how different people with singular goal in mind can come together to do something wonderful.

The group that comes together comes from all sorts of backgrounds that don't seem to have much in common with each other: a laborer, an actress, a doctor, a widow, and many others. I loved how this book shows how these people are able to find common ground and organize to do something wonderful. This was certainly comforting to read during these uncertain times when it seems like in many ways, people are having difficulty coming together!

While the Jane Austen Society is the center of the book, there are lots of different offshoot story lines between all of the characters in the story, which added some interest to the book. There are love stories and mysteries and many of these stories are often seen through the lens of Jane Austen's stories, which I enjoyed as a fan of Austen's work.

Chawton, Jane Austen's home is at the center of the book. It's a place that I dream about being able to visit someday! And since I can't go anywhere now, I loved reading about it and how the group of characters come together to save such a great place. This book is a very cozy read. It's not flashy, nor fast-moving but it is comforting, like a perfect cup of tea.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Review: The Way You Burn by Christine Meade

Title: The Way You Burn
Author: Christine Meade
Format: ARC
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publish Date: April 14, 2020
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When David approaches his New Hampshire cabin one cool October night to find it engulfed in flames, he knows his girlfriend Hope set the fire. At least, he’s pretty sure he knows.

David first decides to upend the creature comforts of his post-collegiate life and try roughing it for a year after he inherits two acres of land and a rustic cabin from his deceased grandfather. Life at the cabin proves to be more difficult than expected, however, and it all starts with the woman he loves—Hope—whose dark past is written in the twisting pink scars covering her body. Their relationship is challenged after his car slides through an intersection one dark night and, later, his realization that someone is out there, watching him through the trees

Over the course of five seasons, David struggles to maintain his relationship with Hope. Ultimately, in an attempt to understand the sacrifices she has had to make, he decides to rewrite their story. In doing so, he explores the lessons he’s left with--after everything he thought mattered is gutted or burned away—and the surprising bits of wisdom he finds in the ashes."

My Two Cents:

"The Way You Burn" thrusts us into a scene where our main character, David, is watching his grandfather's house burn to the ground. David now lives there in rural New Hampshire after his grandfather gave it to him in his will. David looked at the cabin as a fresh start, both for him and his girlfriend, Hope. Fresh starts don't always come so easily though and David is beginning to see that the proverbial writing on the wall may have been there with Hope the whole time!

First off, I love the way this story unfolded. I love that we initially get to see the aftermath of the other events in the book. Arriving at the fire right away really made for a good entry point into figuring out where the characters stood with each other. I found myself wondering how everything collapsed so spectacularly! Talk about leaving you wanting more!

As the story rewinds, we see how David is desperate for a new start. He can't figure out why his grandfather gave him the cabin in the first place but he recognizes that it may give him the independence he is seeking just entering adulthood. Enter Hope. She's witty, funny, and she makes David feel so very happy... at first at least. Hope is hiding a lot of things from David and she may not be who she says she is. I really loved watching the relationship between them unfold. The author gives us a lot of small details to keep us going throughout the book and I couldn't wait to see what dropped next.

I also really liked the family secret at the center of the book. Between the mystery of David's grandfather and the relationship between David and Hope coming together and then falling apart, you have a really great thriller that kept me reading!

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