Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Things That Happened Before The Earthquake by Chiara Barzini

I recently finished Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini and couldn't wait to share my review! Told in three sections, TTHBTE is a story about Eugenia who is an Italian teenage girl trying to find her place in either her home country (Italy) or nineties LA (where her parents move their family at the start of the book).

So much of this story is relatable on the level of being a teenage girl who doesn't quite fit in. A girl trying to find a place as the "new girl" among different ethnic groups and cliques at her high school, trying to reconcile her family and their annoying tendencies at they navigate America (without being too embarrassed and frustrated by them at the same time) annnnd figure out what it means to be with a boy, what she is "supposed" to do. The first section of the story begins with Eugenia in LA, 1992, starting school and finding some sort of place in this new American world. The second section takes place over a summer on an island in Italy where she and her brother are sent after their first year in LA. The third, culminating section introduces Deva, a girl Eugenia meets and falls for and finally the Earthquake of 1994 that settles the dust and her own view of herself, finally.

There were quite a few moments/lines in this book that bothered me. Situations Eugenia was in, sentences that were written in such a way I can't seem to forget. Overall, I thought the story was unique and well written, that the time period was one of angst in general but more so if you were a teenage girl trying to fit in (I was in first grade in 1994, so a lot of the cultural references went a bit over me).  And honestly, a time I hadn't read in a book before. That grungy, dirty LA of the nineties (a world Eugenia was probably all together too nice for).

I rated this book 3.5 starts on Goodreads much for the reason I stated above but would highly recommend this story and author regardless of my personal reasons regarding a few scenes! I am still thinking of Eugenia and how her story ended, how strong she became through those two years in LA. I'm not sure I would have figured out half of what she did about herself when I was in high school, especially having so many negative experiences right off the bat (ones she decided were omens that they should never have left Italy).

I can't thank Doubleday enough for this advance copy! I enjoyed reading something slightly outside of my usual and am grateful for the chance to give Things That Happened Before the Earthquake an honest review! It will be available for purchase on August 15th!

Things That Happened Before The Earthquake by Chiara Barzini
304 pages
Published by Doubleday

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Bookshop at Water's End by Patti Callahan Henry

I received Patti Callahan Henry's The Bookshop at Water's End through a Goodreads giveaway and wasn't sure what to expect! I just knew that any book that takes place in and around a bookshop is bound to be worth reading, right?

Pleasantly surprised as this story unfolded, I quickly became immersed in the world of two friends who lost something their third summer vacationing together but remained friends throughout their lives. As both are at the risk of losing again, they meet again at the beach house in South Carolina hoping it will heal their hearts from the past and from their troubled present.

Bonny and Lainey, friends since those fateful summers on vacation with their families, struck me as such a realistic portrayal of what adult friendship can be. Despite time, distance and obligations they were there for each other when it was needed most.

I enjoyed the alternating chapters in each woman's voice, along with that of Bonny's daughter, as the summer in South Carolina unfolded. I also appreciated the flashbacks to the summers of their childhood which helped fill in what had transpired while they were children. And lets be honest, Mimi the bookshop owner was one of my favorite characters!!

I highly recommend this book if you like stories that center around friendship and connection, love and mystery. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book and am excited to get to know Patti Callahan Henry's writing a bit more. She has published quite a few books!

Thanks to Berkley Publishing for the advance copy! The Bookshop at Water's End will be out on July 11th!

The Book Shop at Water's End by Patti Callahan Henry 
352 pages
Published by Berkley Publishing

'Round Midnight by Laura McBride

Everybody loves the glitz and bright lights of Vegas, especially vintage Vegas and Laura McBride's 'Round Midnight did not disappoint! I love when an author creates a setting that makes you really feel as if you're there with the characters, feeling the heat and dry desert sand under your feet but also visually aware of the lights, glamour and noise of a certain place. From the beginning, the setting and time period of 'Round Midnight had me hooked.

The other thing that was great about this book was how McBride intertwined four different women and their own unique stories into this setting and specifically The Midnight Room in Las Vegas. Spanning decades, this room and these women somehow found themselves connected to each other in ways that gave them the strength and courage to be what they weren't sure they could.

My favorite character was Honorata, who was sent to America as a bride purchased by a man from her uncle. Under such dismal and terrible circumstances she is able to take hold of her life, with the help of The Midnight Room and June and rise above her situation. June is another character that I felt deeply for and while her story was not as rewarding or uplifting, she brought about the necessary change in the other women's lives.

I think, overall, this story was incredibly well written and the four women were depicted in such a way that you wanted to keep reading and see them succeed. For me personally, I enjoyed the first half of the book (vintage Vegas!) and June's character as she navigates her newly married status and the heat (literal and figurative) of the desert climate.

I would recommend this book if you are looking for a well thought out character based story that moves slowly but with a rewarding finish for the characters involved. I think you'll be rooting for all of them by the end.

I gave this book 3.5 stars on Goodreads!

Thank you Touchstone books for the opportunity to review this book.

'Round Midnight by Laura McBride 
372 pages
Published by Touchstone Books

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

"Love does that. It makes you feel infinite and invincible, like the whole world is open to you, anything is achievable, and each day will be filled with wonder. Maybe it’s the act of opening yourself up, letting someone else in— or maybe it’s the act of caring so deeply about another person that it expands your heart. I’ve heard so many people say some version of I never knew how much I could love another human being until . . . And after the until is usually something like my niece was born or I gave birth to a child or I adopted a baby. I never knew how much I could love another human being until I met you, Gabe.
I’ll never forget that." 

If you're looking for a book to read that will make you long for a first love or that fluttery first love feeling and ache for the way life sometimes makes a mess of things....The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo is it. I went into this book not really having any idea of what it was about, other than that I knew I would probably cry (like so many others warned me about) and that it involved missed chances and true loves. What's more devastating than a missed chance? Especially when it involves the truest love of your heart.

I don't want to write this review with spoilers but I will say that the flow of the chapters, the back and forth between Lucy and Gabe, the fact that from the very first day they met they were marked by unspeakable circumstances and the heartache at the center of it all made this book truly unique. I've read plenty of Nicholas Sparks in my time and cried over the unfairness of love but its a different feeling altogether when an author can hit home something deep inside of you. When two characters can be written with such honesty and normality that it almost feels like you're reading a story that could've happened to you. Yes, I could see myself sitting in that bar and walking over to a an old friend from college. Yes, I could see myself getting caught up in the meaning behind two lines in an email. Yes, yes, yes, I could see telling myself over and over again that it means nothing....that a love missed isn't the end of the world.

Jill Santopolo has written a truly remarkable, original and still very believable love story that takes place in one of the best places a love story can: New York City. I highly recommend this book if you want to escape into a love story that may break your heart but in doing so will remind you what it means to love someone, or multiple someones, in very different and real ways.

xo, R.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
321 pages
Publish by Puntam Books

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Have you ever read a book and had to repeatedly remind yourself it wasn't a true story? That you weren't reading a memoir? That the beautifully written passages were works of fiction and not someone's own struggle? This is how I felt while reading What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. I'm not sure if it is because I've been reading more memoirs than usual lately or if the writing is just so honest that it was hard to differentiate real from not but I constantly had to remind myself that this was fiction. It was that good.

Told in short vignettes, chapters that sometimes were no longer than a sentence, Clemmons created a sense of reading something incredibly personal. Almost as if I had stumbled upon the diary of Thandie, the main character. Her story of loss (her mother) as well as the pull between two cultures, her own skin color (not black, not white), her place in life and in love, as a mother and a wife and then not. Oh gosh. There was so much happening here, in this short book. The glimpse into Thandie's world, her struggles and the loss of her mother (I can't even imagine) gave me pause time and again to think. It brought to mind the quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

Zinzi Clemmons did an excellent job making me feel like I was reading a true story, she made me question what I would do in similar circumstances and left me considering life from a different perspective. I have nothing in common with the main character in this book, with her struggles or her setbacks, her losses or achievements but actively putting myself in her shoes while I read through this short work of fiction made me appreciate Clemmon's writing all the more!

I would recommend this book highly to anyone who is interested in reading something a bit different, looking for a different perspective on loss and finding yourself in a world where there isn't a box for you to fit in. The vignettes of Thandie's life created all the more a sense of peeking into someone's personal diary. I rated this 4 stars on Goodreads and am excited to pass it along to other reader friends! Look for it's release on July 11th of this year!

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons 
207 pages
Published by Viking Books

June New Releases!

June has been good to all of us book lovers! I am so excited for each and every one of these books. And there are quite a few more that I haven't had a chance to pick up yet that Im looking forward to reading as well!

PRH kindly sent me The Little French Bistro by Nina George. I haven't read The Little Paris Bookshop (yet! its on my shelf!) but am excited to read both back to back.

The One That Got Away by Leigh Himes is now available in paperback and oh my goodness I adore that cover! So chic! I loved the movie Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow forever ago and this sounds somewhat similar.

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor is one thats been on my TBR list for ages! I've been anxiously awaiting its release and was thrilled when Riverhead Books kindly sent me an a copy! Historical fiction is my absolute favorite genre.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of those books that I think EVERYONE has been anticipating! I recently discovered Taylor Jenkins Reid over the winter and fell in love with her way of storytelling. I have no doubt Evelyn Hugo will not disappoint! Was excited to win this ARC from Andrea Dunlop on her IG page!

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan was sent to me by Scribner and I so interested in the story line! Any book about books or bookshops makes me swoon and this sounds like the perfect thriller as well, combing the two.

There are quite a few other releases I'm looking forward to reading, such as Julia Glass's A House Among The Trees.

Happy Reading!
xo, R.

Monday, June 12, 2017

White Bodies by Jane Robins

Ohhhh goodness. This book! A psychological thriller that kept me absolutely clueless until the very end, I cannot say enough about White Bodies by Jane Robins. I have a really hard time reading a lot of the thrillers on the shelves right now, especially ones with a recommendation that begins with "If you loved Gone Girl...". Please. (eye roll) I've given a few a chance and have ultimately been disappointed with lackluster characters that have no redeeming qualities, a choppy story line or a predictable ending. Its frustrating and ultimately a genre I've just left alone.

I'll be honest, I went into White Bodies with much the same (bad) attitude. And then I kinda forgot about all those other books as I got to know twin sisters Callie and Tilda. And then Tilda's new boyfriend Felix. Such a tangled, twisty creepy relationship the three of them had right from the beginning....and try as I might I could not figure out what was happening! I had a few suspicions and thought out a few different scenarios for the ending but man, I was way off. Which is exactly how a good, well written thriller of any sort is supposed to be. Bravo Jane Robins! You did your job extremely well.

I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for a thriller that will genuinely keep you guessing, involves characters that are "normal" but also really kind of weird/twisted underneath and involves enough plot lines woven through that you're not sure exactly what is what and how it relates to the ultimate outcome. There were plenty of times I actually had to put the book down and walk away for a bit to process the last few chapters I had just read, to see if I could figure it out.

Heres a quick synopsis:
Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless façade, not everything is as it seems.

Callie, Tilda’s unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix’s domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix’s uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister’s arms.

Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies—or was he murdered?

Thank you Touchstone books for the advance copy! White Bodies will be released in September of 2017!

White Bodies by Jane Robins
296 pages
Published by Touchstone Books

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Foxe and the Hound by R.S. Grey Blog Tour!

I jerk my head back and glare at him. “You’re holding me against my will. I think this is called assault.”
His gaze drops to my lips. “Assault?”
It’s like I’ve just given him a brilliant idea. He inches closer, and his body wash tortures me a little bit more.

Oh my gosh, does it get any steamier than this? I can't even handle it! You guys have got to check out R.S. Grey's new romantic comedy The Foxe & The Hound ASAP! I just started reading it Sunday night and cannot put it down, I actually am contemplating purchasing the print copy that just went on sale today at Amazon (I'm a slow e-reader). Madeleine and Adam's back and forth has so far been really entertaining to read! I love a good contemporary story that makes you laugh out loud and feel like you've got a new best friend. Cannot wait to share more of my thoughts later this week! 



When your life is a hot mess at twenty, it’s cute. At twenty-seven…well, not so much.
It’s just that my lofty dreams—making it as a real estate agent, paying rent on time, showering daily—have stayed just that: dreams. Oh, and love? I’ve decided love might be a little ambitious for me at the moment. Instead, I’ve settled for the two guys who will never leave me: Ben & Jerry.
That is, until Dr. Adam Foxe takes up residence as the town’s new vet.
With his strong jaw, easy confidence, and form-fitting scrubs, it’s not long before every housewife in Hamilton is dragging neglected tomcats in for weekly checkups.
Like everyone else, I’m intrigued. Even after I spoil my chance at a good first impression, he still offers me a proposition I can’t refuse: play his girlfriend at a family function and he’ll hire me as his real estate agent. Welcome to love in the 21st century.
It’s too bad I underestimated Adam’s irresistible charm and the undeniable attraction that burns between us. The day he pins me to the wall and silences me with a kiss, the line between reality and ruse begins to blur. Every teasing touch brings me to my knees. Every kiss promises more.
It looks like my hot mess of a life is about to get a little hotter.
Add THE FOXE & THE HOUND to your Goodreads list here!

Get your hands on THE FOXE & THE HOUND by R.S. Grey now!

About R.S. Grey

R.S. Grey is the USA Today bestselling author of thirteen novels, including THE FOXE & THE HOUND. She lives in Texas with her husband and two dogs, and can be found reading, binge-watching reality TV, or practicing yoga! Visit her at

Saturday, June 3, 2017

GONE A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung by Min Kym

I have been on a bit of a memoir reading kick lately and have gotten really lucky with quite a few of them. When I read the synopsis of Min Kym's memoir I was instantly intrigued. Her story about growing up as a child prodigy with the constraints and challenges of being Korean sounded like something far from the usual memoirs I see on the shelf (and don't pick up). I was also instantly curious about her relationship with the violin that is stolen and how her life falls apart after its disappearance. All in all, I was excited to start this book!

Most of the beginning of the memoir, while interesting at points, was hard for me to enjoy. I am not musically inclined in any way and while I have a true passion for reading and art I was having a hard time connecting with the descriptions of what it means to be fully consumed by something. To have music and the sound of the violin play through your soul and be a living breathing part of you. I also don't know much about classical music or music theory and found myself skimming over parts regarding names of musical pieces and the like. I haven't had a chance to play through the musical playlist that accompanies the book (written out in the front and then tagged throughout the memoir, when you should play a certain piece) and I really need to do that. I think more than anything, for someone struggling to connect with this story on a musical level that would certainly help!

As the book went on and Kym finds her "soulmate" in this very special Stradivarius violin, I found myself connecting a bit more with her. Her description of the loss of this instrument (which seems like such a bland word to describe what the violin really became for her as a musical artist) was honest and well written. I felt myself hurting alongside with her, after the trials of her youth and all of her accomplishments, to have been dealt such a blow.

In the end, I enjoyed Kym's honest writing (with little regard to explanations or descriptions of things unknown to non-musicians). While I struggled with some of the more factual parts of the story when it came to names and the like, I did enjoy the memoir as a whole and the peek inside of a life I wouldn't normally have gotten to see or learn about.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Gone A Girl A Violin A Life Unstrung by Min Kym
227 Pages
Published by Crown Publishing

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan is a historical fiction novel set during the early days of WWII in a small town of England. Told through letters and diary entries, the story follows a few of the women in the local town ladies' choir as the struggles of war hit closer to home.

One of my favorite characters, Mrs. Tilling, leads the town through her quiet steadfast determination to not let the Nazis take away all of their happiness. Her character's transformation from a subservient wife and mother to a strong woman with a voice made me want to applaud her by the end of the book! One of my favorite quotes of the book came from her chapter...

"Everything was black in the moonless night, the blackout rules forcing all of the light out of the world. But with a cautious smile, I realized that there are no laws against singing, and I found my voice becoming louder, in defiance of this war. In defiance of my right to be heard."

I enjoyed the shenanigans of the other townspeople as well and my heart hurt right along with them when things went badly and the war turned up right on their doorstep. I think this story made more of an impact to me because it dealt with the personal lives of the people left behind, the women specifically, left to keep their world turning without the men they had learned to rely upon.

I'd love to see a sequel to this book! I was so proud of Mrs. Tilling by the end and would love to hear more about her time surviving the war with her fellow villagers and everything that followed in their lives during its aftermath.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan
384 pages
Crown Publishing

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Animal Under the Fur by E.J. Mellow

I finished The Animal Under the Fur by E.J. Mellow a few weeks ago, after reading it as fast as humanly possible. I couldn't put it down!! I definitely ordered this on a whim, pulled in unashamedly by the various posts on Instagram I was seeing before the release. I splurged on the paperback copy (I can't read on e-readers) and am SO glad I did!

Nothing gets me to read a book faster than when I can picture the story unfolding in my head like a movie. From the first chapter, the seamless writing and easy to follow storyline pulled me in and I was a goner.

Set around the main character, Nashville (or Kill Operative 3, her "work" name) the story takes off right away introducing us to a kick-ass unforgettable character and doesn't let go until the very last line. As the plot unfolds and Nashville has to align herself with another hired assassin, Carter, the fierce and sexual tension between them becomes almost too much to read! It made me turn the pages faster, hoping for each of them that they would just fight it out and then get it together. As much as both characters had their own arsenal of flaws and negative qualities, I rooted for them the whole time, hoping they would find each other and a little bit of peace amongst all the killing and espionage.

I don't want to share too much of the actual story, its too good and plays out like any five start blockbuster movie would, fast and furious and set in an exotic/foreign setting. I will say this, if you need something good to read, just really really good and want a cool, enviable strong, bad ass female character to go with it: THIS IS YOUR BOOK.

So so glad I splurged on this one, it didn't let me down in the slightest.

The Animal Under the Fur by E.J. Mellow
452 pages
Published by Four Eyed Owl

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

After reading a few very positive reviews online, I decided to read The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis as a change of pace from the historical fiction I have been reading of late. I was not disappointed! A coming of age story about a father and son, this is the type of book I usually hesitate to pick up. Heavy, emotional and not something I can usually relate to.

Surprisingly, I was hooked from the opening pages. Set in the backwoods of North Carolina, the descriptions of life in such a place was eye opening and heart catching. The people, the lives the led all brought me into the story right from the beginning. As we meet Henry Aster's father in his early years (a book lover and intellectual from an early page and very out of place in such a life), I felt so much promise for this young man. As he left for college and met his wife, I wondered how this story would circle back around to his life in North Carolina. And circle back around it did, as we watch his own young son grow up in those same backwoods between the mountains. As his father struggles to write the next great American novel, young Henry idolizes and worships the ground he walks on and it is clear how the stage is set for the remainder of the story, the relationship between these two characters.

I don't want to give away any spoilers but the tragedies that strike the Aster family as Henry is growing up change him in ways he cannot undo. As he moves ahead and away from his life in North Carolina, for college, he's unable to escape the affects his childhood and his father had on him. It was incredibly heartbreaking to read at times, to witness how such simple acts of selfishness and absorption from his father could wreck such havoc on a son's soul and person. And yet, that powerful bind between father and son couldn't be severed.

"-although much of the child's love I had once felt had been replaced, I think, by a souring and pathetic sympathy for the wasted existence my father had come to represent. Yet I knew he had a good heart, and a kind heart, and on this night it was comforting to simply be near him." p. 330

The Barrowfields, from opening line to the very last sentence, captured my heart and reeled me in. Lewis's writing is sublime, truly. There were passages about time and hell that just took my breath away, the truth of how fleeting our time is and how quickly our experiences and relationships are left meaning nothing to no one as generations pass on without us. I found myself rereading certain paragraphs, captivated by the truth in the words written not just about Henry and his father but life in general. It's been a long time since I read such a masterpiece of a story.

So grateful to Blogging for Books for this copy in return for my honest review! Thank you!

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis 
348 pages
Published by Hogarth

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger

After finishing The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger I needed to take a little break before selecting my next book. It's always hard to find your next read after finishing one that has completely swept you up inside it's world! I read this book pretty quickly because I had such a hard time putting it down!

The Dressmaker's Dowry is a story told in two parts, the first of two dressmakers in San Francisco during the later 1800's that are living under extremely poor conditions and with very abusive fathers and little siblings they must take care of. After meeting a wealthy gentleman and his cousin in their dress shop, the main character Hannelore, is taken with with him. Through a turn of a chance she ends up meeting him for a night at the opera. After Hannelore's dressmaker friend Margaret disappears, Lucas is the only person she can turn to for help. Thus begins their adventure and romance, spending time scouring the back alleys of the Barbary Coast and skirting the dangers there.

I found this part of the story to be extremely fascinating as I knew nothing previously of San Francisco during this time. I've read books that take place right before the turn of the century in Chicago or NYC but never out on the West Coast. Jaeger did a fantastic job describing life and situations the poor were met with, with exquisite detail and I really felt transported there. These chapters really kept the book moving and I felt compelled to find out what happened to both girls as quickly as possible!

The second part of the story, told in alternating chapters, is that of Sarah Havensworth and her "perfect" husband (so he seemed written in the story!) Sarah is struggling with a thesis paper when inspiration strikes as she stumbles across a newspaper article mentioning two dressmakers that disappeared during 1876. Intrigued, Sarah begins researching further and finds that her husband's family may have a direct link to the missing girls.

The chapters that involved this part of the story did not capture me quite as much as the others, mostly because I couldn't quite love Sarah's character. I found the way she approached her relationship with her husband to be strange, with being out researching or at bars with her friends while not really spending much time with him. I know this had a lot to do with her own secret and her pulling away from him but it made me like her less, if that makes sense.

What I loved most about the way the two stories came together were the little details that would pop up in the past and reoccur in the present (or vice versa). Sort of like a puzzle being put together, I was anxious for Sarah to find out what had happened to the dressmakers and how she fit into the story.

The ending was quite a shocker, considering where I though the story was going to go but I loved it! All the way up to the last page I was not disappointed. I think most of what Hannelore and Sarah  struggled with during the book was concluded in a respectful way (without it seeming overly perfect or tied with a ribbon).

Meredith Jaeger, thank you so much for sending me a copy of this book! I loved it! It was such an easy read to get lost in and I am already missing the world you created in San Francisco and the dressmakers.

The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger
384 pages
Published by William Morrow Books

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

“There is music in your soul. A wild and untamed sort of music that speaks to me. It defies all the rules and laws you humans set upon it. It grows from inside you, and I have a wish to set that music free.” 

Ohhh Wintersong. I really feel so conflicted about you. I finished Wintersong last week after buddy reading it with a friend. I really loved so much of this book, there was a lot going on and the story felt like it had a lot of potential right from the beginning (although often it reminded me of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden). 

The imagery and feelings invoked by S. Jae-Jone's writing was absolutely and by far my favorite part of the book. I was enchanted through much of my reading and still thinking about the world she created between readings, lost in the Underground with Liesl. Liesl's music, her experiences and her memories all felt so very real to me. 

What I found most frustrating was the disconnect between the first half of the book and the second. I would've loved to see Liesl and Kathe meet again at the end, after Kathe's character was given so much time and attention at the beginning. I kept wondering what was happening to her and was waiting for that reunion. I also felt that the back and forth between the Goblin King and the young man became a bit much, so frequent were the times he switched between the two (and without solid reason for why). I really felt his character had a lot more potential, instead of the rushed intimate knowing they finally had together towards the end. 

In the end though, I appreciate so much of what S. Jae-Jones did with this story. The symbolism of Liesl having to go to the Underground to find herself and her music was not lost on me, I found it to be the perfect parallel to Liesl's conflict of self and the ending was fitting in that sense.

I would recommend this book with a hesitant explanation of that disjointed feeling, but with the promise that the writing will sweep you in and enchant you. 

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
436 pages
Published by Thomas Dunne Books

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My April List

One of my favorite things about the start of a new month is selecting what books I think I may want to read! I try to not stress too much if I don't get to them all or if I had a few in, but its fun to think ahead. I've been trying to choose more books from my shelves and also more books from the library shelves (all in the name of spending less money on books) but I think every book lover knows how that goes.

My reads for April include quite a few I've been looking forward to. From the top!

1. The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger: I received this book from Meredith via Instagram and was so so thrilled. She's the sweetest! I'm about halfway through and loving the historical context. Can't wait to share a solid review when I'm finished!

From Goodreads:
...this gripping historical debut novel tells the story of two women: one, an immigrant seamstress who disappears from San Francisco’s gritty streets in 1876, and the other, a young woman in present day who must delve into the secrets of her husband’s wealthy family only to discover that she and the missing dressmaker might be connected in unexpected ways.

An exquisite ring, passed down through generations, connects two women who learn that love is a choice, and forgiveness is the key to freedom...

2. South and West by Joan Didion: I love Joan Didion's writing and was so excited to see she was releasing a short book of essays from one of her personal notebooks. This should be a quick read and I'm really looking forward to it! 

From Goodreads: 
Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles--and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies' brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters' Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through. 

And from a different notebook: the "California Notes" that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.

3. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: My sweet bookish friend Amanda gifted this to me recently and I am looking forward to seeing what all of the excitement is about! She's already finished it and patiently waiting for my opinion on a few things I think. This is one of the only YA books that made my list for April! 

From Goodreads: 
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

4. The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood: I read this a few years ago and am so excited to read it again. I've seen quite a few other bloggers reading it also and have enjoyed reading their thoughts on Offred and the overall story of the book. This is one of the good ones. 

From Goodreads: 
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now... 

5. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman: This has been ALL OVER the internet what with the new movie coming out. Ive had this one on my shelves for years and only recently found it again! I thought I'd add it to my list this month just in case I get a chance to see the movie. (Books first! Always.)

From Goodreads: 
In 1939 Poland, Antonina Żabiński (portrayed by two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh), have the Warsaw Zoo flourishing under his stewardship and her care. When their country is invaded by the Nazis, Jan and Antonina are—and forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). To fight back on their own terms, the Żabińskis covertly begin working with the Resistance—and put into action plans to save lives out of what has become the Warsaw Ghetto, with Antonina putting herself and even her children at great risk.

6. The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan: I have been waiting months for this book to come out! I love historical fiction set during either WWI or WWII and this one sounds really good! Its a nice break to read a book written through journals and letters sometimes too. I can't wait to read it and may make it my next book! 

From Goodreads: 
As England enters World War II's dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar's stuffy edict to shutter the church's choir in the absence of men and instead 'carry on singing'. Resurrecting themselves as "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir", the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives. 

Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies' Choirmoves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit -- a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn't understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past -- we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir's collective voice reverberates in her individual life. 

7. The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review and am looking forward to seeing what all of the hype is about! It has such good ratings already on Goodreads and Amazon. Father/son stories always get to me! 

From Goodreads: 

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again. 

Happy reading this month!! 

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley

“It took me a long time to understand that what I had wanted was not a picture of something perfect. I already had that. What I had wanted was the feeling inside the pictures, the thing I had been trying to buy and drink and eat and not eat and fake my way to all my life. I wanted what everyone wanted. I wanted love.”

I love this quote. How real is that feeling in our land of Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat? Its SO SO easy to see something online and then see it again and again in various permutations and think "Oh, I want that." and then "Oh, I want people to think I have that too." Without even realize you're doing it. 

Swan Huntley's We Could Be Beautiful was so much of that sentiment, wrapped up in a twisty thriller of sorts. Catherine is a thirty something Manhattan woman with seemingly the "perfect" life. Fancy apartment, clothes, owner of a boutique card shop, spa days and a massages...all those things that cost money. What she doesn't have is love, which is a resounding theme throughout the story and the thing that makes her question what she's really doing with her life. When she meets William, a man with similar tastes, she immediately falls for him. He says and does all the right things. And she wants so desperately to love someone and be married and have all those married couple things. As their relationship continues she starts to pick up on some strange signs, words from her mother's diary, little things that make her wonder if William is being truthful about his past and their connection through their parents long ago. The ending was a bit of a shocker to me and something I'm not sure would really ever happen, but still good none the less, with where it leaves Catherine emotionally. 

There was a lot about this book that I loved. Reading this story through Catherine's privileged viewpoint was kind of like putting on a pair of fancy shoes and pretending you wear them everyday to work (and not just once a year on your birthday). I know some reviewers mentioned a disconnect because of this but I really loved reading about fancy lunches and dresses from Bloomingdales and buying art (real art!). It made the story more enjoyable, slipping on that lens for a while and viewing the world as if money was no object. 

I also loved that Catherine was able to come down from all of that "privilege" and learn something from the lack of responsibility she'd had for so long when it came to money. As much as this book was a page turner trying to figure out what William was really up to, it was also about Catherine figuring out whats really important, love. 

340 pages
Published by Doubleday

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese

Look at this cover! Isn't it gorgeous? If you're looking for your next read and love historical fiction and art and lovers and all of those good things, this is the book. Right here. Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese.

Stolen Beauty is a novel about love and passion and strength in the face of evil. It's about the power of art and its lasting legacy. Stolen Beauty follows the story of a young woman, Adele Bloch-Bauer, as she navigates a man's world in early 1900 Vienna. A woman of intellect and curiosity, Adele struggles to find her place, in a time where women are to be seen and not heard let alone smoke or attend coffee shops.  During the rising art movement in Vienna, Adele meets Gustav Klimt (the painter) and is immediately taken with him. He requests to paint her, seeing the strength, power, passion and desire that is just under her mask of propriety and in so doing embarks upon the creation of some of his most famous works of art, with Adele as his muse. Their love affair and mutual respect is something Adele craves and is unable to find in her own marriage at the time, creating a passionate atmosphere for the work Klimt is creating in his studio. Some of my favorite passages were the ones that brought Klimt and Adele together in the studio.

And alongside, in alternate chapters, is the story of Adele's niece Marie. Fleeing Germany as Hitler invades, Marie faces her own demons in her new husband and way of life. Time moves forward, as Marie and her husband eventually escape to America. Following in the shadows is the fate of The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (or The Woman in Gold as the Nazi's renamed it), the portrait Klimt created of her Aunt Adele. This portrait is something that haunts Marie until late in her life, when the story finally concludes.

I found these chapters to be a bit disjointed from Adele's. Im not sure if that is because I was so attached to Adele's character and her relationship with Klimt, but these sections of the story seemed just a bit less in comparison. I didn't feel a strong connection with Marie and I know that had something to do with it. I also felt the concluding chapters were a bit rushed, but mainly because I feel like I didn't get to know Marie very well or appreciate her relationship with Adele.

All in all, I loved this story! Like I've mentioned before, I really enjoy books that revolve around artwork or artists from the past and this one did not disappoint! I've seen a few of Klimt's pieces in museums and have always been intrigued by his use of the metallic gold and silvers along with the symbolism in paintings like The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and The Kiss. I loved reading  this fictionalized account of Adele's life, life in Vienna at the turn of the century and Klimt's artwork.

Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese
320 pages
Published by Atria Books

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Have you ever picked up a book thinking you had a pretty good idea what to expect and then were completely blindsided with how you ended up feeling by the end? This is exactly what happened to me during my reading of Jessica Shattuck's new novel The Women in the Castle. I read the synopsis and immediately knew I wanted to read it, I love stories set in WWII that involve strong women characters and hardship. I find it fascinating because through school and during my WWII class in college, all we ever focused on were the battles fought, the generals, the atrocities, the dates. Reading stories set in this time helps fill in some of the blanks for me, when it comes to understanding a little better what life was really like during either war.

Where The Women in the Castle changes things for me is that it's story centers around three very different women living in Germany before, during and after WWII. Marianne, Ania and Benita were all such strong women living out their own truths and battling their own shames and lies while their homeland fell apart around them. With husbands who died fighting with the resistance, with family members and friends part of the Nazi party, each woman has to decide at some point what she is willing to move past and forgive, at the expense of living.

I've never once put myself in the place of these women, wondering what it would've been like to live in Germany surrounded by friends who no longer agree with what you believe in.  How would you keep yourself safe? How would you maintain your morals and raise your children in such a place? Or even more so, keep on living after its all over, after the truth of what happened during those years actually came out. Those were the questions I kept coming back to, especially toward the end of the book.

My favorite character was Marianne, who used her strength and willpower to help others and keep the women and their children safe during those years. I really appreciated that despite all of those things, she was also flawed, unable to offer forgiveness and understanding until time had passed and she could look back on things from a safe distance. This seems like a very real and honest portrayal.

Much of what I loved about Shattuck's story is just that. Everything seemed so real and honest. There weren't any sugar coated endings or perfect friendships. As strong as these women were, they were still flawed and their relationships with each other suffered because of it. I think that is just being human and something that I can believe would actually have happened. That time and distance heal wounds, that a quiet suffering remains from those terrible years that no one could understand unless they had been there too. In the end, this book was extremely emotional. Not just for the content and the storyline, but the true portrayal of human nature in such a time. I absolutely loved it. Well done, Jessica Shattuck!

Thank you to William Morrow books for the advance copy!!!

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck 
368 pages
Published by William Morrow Books

World Poetry Day

In honor of World Poetry Day, I pulled out a few of my poetry volumes by Mary Oliver. Right now, at this stage of my life, Mary Oliver speaks to me in a way that I don't think other poets have before. Poetry has never been something that I've felt moved by. I'm not sure why.

As a homemaker and mother, I try to keep our days slow moving and full of light. I want to focus on the good things, the memories and moments I can keep for later. Children grow so fast and I don't want to miss it! I try not to dwell on worries and things, but when I do,  reading a few of Mary Oliver's poems helps me feel a bit more at ease.

I also enjoyed her book of essays, Upstream, immensely when I read it in the fall. It was the perfect time to read this book, while we were taking weekend walks as a family and focusing on being outdoors before the cold and snow began. I can't wait to reread it soon, as Spring brings more light and warmth back to our days.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

"He did get one thing right: Sometimes a sanctuary, sometimes a prison, that house on the hill has always been my home. I've spent my life yearning toward it, wanting to escape it, paralyzed by its hold on me." (prologue)

I cannot say enough how much I loved this story. Christina Baker Kline (author of The Orphan Train)  has magnificently portrayed the quiet life of Christina, the girl in Andrew Wyeth's famous painting Christina's World (see photo below, from the back of the book).

I really love reading books about art, works of art lost and found, artists and paintings. As an art teacher and someone who thinks the perfect date is wandering around an art museum, its really no surprise that these are the type of stories I get excited about. A Piece of the World was no different. There is something really fulfilling to me, reading a story about a work of art. I've seen Christina's World in person at the MOMA and felt moved by the girl in the painting. The way her arm is outstretched reaching toward that house. The colors in the grasses. The mystery of her face. I already felt a kinship toward Kline, who has also wondered these same things, enough to write a story about it.

Kline's story slowly unfolds between Christina's present at the time of the painting and her past, as a young girl growing up in the farmhouse with her family. After a strange illness as a child, Christina's bones and muscles begin to deteriorate over time, affecting her ability to walk, run and be a 'normal' person.

"We all have our burdens to bear." " You know what yours is now. That's good. You'll never be surprised by it." (p. 22)

Over time Christina adjusts to her life of hard work on the farm with her head held high, despite numerous instances of humiliation and meanness. We see glimpses of her true emotions regarding her condition and her frustration with it but I really think, rather than it being a character flaw (or as some reviewers have said, she was too flat of a character) I think her lack of emotion is a vital part of her character. There are enough moments where she lets herself really feel that I think show in contrast how vital her hardness of character is to her everyday life. She wouldn't have been able to get through her days of work and cleaning and cooking, dragging herself along the walls and up stairs, if she let every emotion show.

I had to put the book down about halfway through, as her relationship with Walton reaches a breaking point. It was hard as a reader to see that outcome happening before Christina, knowing how devastated she would be. Seeing a glimpse of something different, a life path completely opposite of the one she had so long resigned herself to, be closed before she could experience it was heartbreaking.

"It feels as if my life is moving forward at two separate speeds, one at the usual pace, with its predictable rhythms and familiar inhabitants, and the other rushing ahead, a blur of color and sound and sensation. It's clear to me now that for twenty years I have gone through the motions of the day like a dumb animal, neither daring to hope for a different kind of life nor even knowing enough to desire one." (p. 120)

Reaching her lowest point, Christina compares herself to the main character in The Yellow Wallpaper, seeing her self confined to the farmhouse forever. It was a hard section of the book to read, trying to put myself in her position. I appreciated the breaks from this sadness as we traveled to her present day, enjoying Andrew Wyeth's company and companionship as he painted on her property.

The outcome of the painting, the way Wyeth positioned Christina on the field, starts to have new meaning as the story moves forward. Christina looks toward her future with determination and resolve, knowing she has resigned herself to it, that her pride (as her parents stated multiple times during her child hood) and her fears kept her there too.

"Maybe my memories of sweeter times are vivid enough, and present enough, to overcome the disappointments that followed. And to sustain me through the rest." (p.217)

"Do our natures dictate the choices we make, I wonder, or do we choose to live a certain way because of circumstances beyond our control?" (p.240)

In the end, I think what really made me love this book was how well Kline was able to give Christina from the painting and entire story, make her a character that was entirely realistic and believable. Which is something I wonder about any painting I stand in front of for more than a few seconds. Who is this person? What are they thinking? What is their story?

"You showed what no one else could see," I tell him" (p. 295)

I highly recommend this book! Especially if you love wondering about the story behind a painting too. Christina is not a character I will soon forget.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
320 pages
Published by William Morrow Books

Sunday, March 19, 2017

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

I fell in love with Eowyn Ivey's writing when I read her first book The Snow Child almost five years ago. When I saw she was releasing a new book, I couldn't wait to read it. I was not disappointed!

To The Bright Edge of the World is set in the wilderness of Alaska along the Wolverine River, during a time when it was still being explored, when the native people with their mysteries and beliefs were the prevailing force of the unexplored lands. Told in letters and diary entries between a husband (Col. Forrester) and his wife (Sophie) as they navigate the early days of their marriage against the harsh Alaskan backdrop, I found this way of storytelling to be so enjoyable.

Even against this hard to imagine setting (so cold and isolated!), the story of Sophie and her unwavering strength living in the army barracks while her new husband is away exploring the Alaskan wilderness, won me over completely. I loved her! I loved her patience and desire to learn the rather new skill of photography, I loved that she wanted to be more than "wife", that was able to pull herself out of her grief. And that her desire to learn and be something was so strong she was able to overcome whatever gossip the women in town shared about her. Knowing her husband would only approve of her time spent photographing birds while he was gone, made me love and appreciate their relationship even more. Although it was painful to continue reading the length of the book after Sophie loses the child, knowing the miscommunication that happened in her relaying the news in a letter to Col. Forrester, I really admired her strength in getting through those months while she waited for him. I think that really made me rush through to the end,  I just needed to know that he came back safely and showed her he still loved her and wanted their marriage despite the loss of the child.

I also feel that the mystical elements that Col. Forrester experienced while exploring the Alaskan terrain fit perfectly in the wider context of the story too. That raven! And how it connected husband and wife over such great distance, really turned the story into something subtly magical that wasn't necessarily obvious at all times but still there throughout. Lingering under the surface. I think that is why I enjoy Ivey's writing so much. She added elements to the story that you could almost escape you, but added a depth unique to her way of story telling. This wasn't just a story of husband and wife exchanging letters, but so much more. And if anything, it made me want to visit Alaska and see those landscapes for myself.

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
417 pages
Published by Little, Brown and Company

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick caught my eye partially because the cover is intriguing and also because a review I read compared it to The Time Traveler's Wife (LOVE). I purchased this soon after it was released, taking a gamble on both of those things that I would love it. I wasn't wrong!

Again, a well written setting is one of the things that will keep me going in a story and this one did not disappoint, being that it revolved around various comets throughout time. I love books that travel generations, especially when there is something significant linking them together. In this case, the comets.

Roisin and Francois captivated me not through their own present day story, but the numerous instances in which they crossed paths prior to actually meeting in Antartica. It made me wonder if you would sense something like that, in another person, all those previous encounters before you "knew" them. If some fiber of your being would be able to connect those dots regardless of your knowing.

Pair that with ghosts of relatives past, all connected through the comets, oh gosh. I couldn't get enough of these stories! I loved traveling back in time and meeting each family member, watching their story unfold under another miraculous comet in the sky.

I think this book is highly underrated, I've hardly heard mention of it anywhere and am SO glad I came across it. Sedgwick's storytelling, crafting all of these events into a larger picture and connecting two people over time, was masterful. I cannot wait to read this one again, more slowly this time.

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick
302 pages
Published by Harper Collins

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jeffries

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jeffries was my seventh read for 2017. I found it to be an engaging story, set in the exotic land of Ceylon during the 1920's and beyond. Gwen, the wife of the tea planter, grew on me as the story unfolded. My heart ached for her sorrows and worries as she tried to piece together the life her husband had prior to their marriage and who she could trust around her. An interesting setting goes a long way for me and the descriptive narratives of Ceylon and the workers on the plantations made it possible for me to really connect with Gwen and her daily struggles.

A longer read, it still kept my interest and while I had more or less guessed the general outcome I still appreciated the realistic ending (as opposed to some sort of fluffy everyone ends up happy ending). I gave this three stars since I was able to see about halfway through where the book was going but all in all it was a mysterious story. It honestly reminded me in a (very) small way of Daphne Du Maurer's Rebecca, which I absolutely love.

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dina Jeffries
432 pages
Published by Crown 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I have a hard time using the word "favorite" with books. Its just too hard and there are too many good ones and sometimes I read a book at just the right time and it feels perfect but I go back and reread it later and I don't feel the same way. So what makes a "good" book? What makes a book worthy of that title "favorite"?? Im still trying to figure that out myself. But I do know there are a handful of well written books that make me feel all heart eyed after I'm finished reading them. That make me think, change something in me. Those are the ones I deem for that "favorite" title.

The Night Circus by Emily Morgenstern is by far one of those. I've read it a few times and felt completely immersed in her world of magic each time. There are endless quotes that give me goosebumps and I have a constant yearning for that perfect fall smokey bonfire smell when I read it.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by the books they read (or don't read). What better way to kick off my little home on the internet of book reviews than to introduce you to myself through my favorite book?

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”