Thursday, July 20, 2017

It's Not Yet Dark by Simon Fitzmaurice

I received a copy of It's Not Yet Dark by Simon Fitzmaurice from HMH books a few weeks ago, letting it sitting on the top of my TBR stack while I considered when I would be ready to read it. A short memoir, it wasn't the time available that I was worried about but the emotional affect such a story was going to have. When I finally picked it up a few evenings ago, needing something 'real' to read for a bit, I wasn't wrong. It was incredibly emotional, leaving me at a loss for words after the last page.

Told in small glimpses, short paragraphs recounting moments and feelings from Simon's past and present, this story left an enormous impact on my heart. Simon was a father of two, husband, friend, artist, director, son when he was diagnosed with ALS and given only a short three-four years to live. During those years, he rocked between depression and hope, trying healing techniques and battling a strong will to live. Since then, he and his wife have had three more children, they've traveled and moved and he's directed movies. He's lived, while others said he wouldn't. He's persevered when he felt like he couldn't. His story is truly a remarkable one. And he asks the hard questions.

"I want to live. Is that wrong? What gives a life meaning? What constitutes a meaningful life? What gives one life more value than another? Surely only the individual can hope to grasp the meaning of his or her life." p.84

There are so many corners folded over in this book, marking passages that captured my heart and attention. Too engrossed to get up and find a pencil or page marker, I folded those corners and kept reading until I fell asleep. The next morning I woke up and grabbed the book first thing, finishing the last fifty pages or so in a state of admiration for a man who has had his life taken away and still gets up in the morning to marvel at his small children running through the house, his wife passing by the doorway.

This passage, which I reread after I finished the book, spoke so true to me.

"It's not important that you know everything about where I come from. About who I am. It's not important that you know everything about ALS, about the specifics of the disease, about what its like to have it. It's only important that you remember behind every disease is a person. Remember that and you have everything you need to travel through my country." p.92

Written with an eye-gaze computer and a movie set to be released this summer, Simon Fitzmaurice is truly an inspiration to anyone struggling with a disease but more so for those of us on the outside unaware and unsure how to contemplate such a struggle. His words were eyeopening for me and not ones I'll soon forget.


I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone. Enough said.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Historical Fiction Favorites of 2017 (January-September)

One of my favorite favorite FAVORITE genres is historical fiction! When I look over the books I've given 5 stars to on Goodreads or when I'm thinking of a "favorite book" (that elusive thing!) most often I'm passing over various historical fiction books that I've loved. I've always enjoyed history, especially the time periods that stretch across both world wars or following, during the fifties.

Thankfully there is no shortage of great historical fiction books out this year! So many good ones have been released already and there are a few that I'm excited to share with you that will be released in the next few months. Some of these I have read and reviewed already, some I have on my TBR stack and I'm looking forward to starting! There are plenty of historical fiction books I haven't picked up yet (The Alice Network by Kate Quinn for one!) and am looking forward to adding my reviews and books to my list as the year goes on. Let me know if you've read any of these! 
If you love Little Women or the story of Lousia May Alcott, than this is the book for you. Told from the perspective of Louisa May Alcott's sister, May, who was the inspiration for Amy in Little Women,  this story is one I am really excited about starting! I've never liked Amy's character (I have a younger sister and can speak from experience some of those annoying things that happened during Little Women) but I have a feeling this book is going to change my mind. 

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May. 

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”
I was so excited to read The Dressmaker's Dowry because I hadn't read anything set in San Francisco before the turn of the century before. The streets and city life, the poverty and social classes, all of it was new to me and made for an incredibly interesting read! It is obvious from the story and the extras in the back of the book how much research Meredith Jaeger did in preparation for this story. Told in simultaneous present/past story lines, The Dressmaker's Dowry is definitely worth a read! You can see my full review here. 

San Francisco: 1876

Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O'Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city's most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna's future is altered forever. With Margaret's encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating that will echo through the generations.

San Francisco: Present Day

In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer?

I couldn't wait to get Seven Days in May when I spotted it on Instagram shortly before it was released! One of my favorite time periods, during the First World War, and more specifically aboard the Lusitania, I knew this book was going to be unique. A seldom told story in fiction, the sinking of the Lusitania was something I haven't read about previously so I am looking forward to starting this one. 
As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in thewedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitaniafor the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead.

In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn’t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war.

As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate

Another great historical fiction release this summer and one that takes place in a setting I haven't read about before, 1881 and the formation of the first sorority. I can't wait to start this one because I know its going to be an interesting read, as we follow Beth on her quest to start her own fraternity in a time when it wasn't deemed important for women to have or need one. I love stories that center around women fighting back against the norms placed for them during a specific period in time, empowering to say the least! 

Illinois, 1881: Whitsitt College sophomore Beth Carrington has two goals to fulfill by the time she graduates: obtain a medical degree, and establish a women’s fraternity, Beta Xi Beta, that will help young women like herself to connect with and support one another while attending the male-dominated Whitsitt.

Neither is an easy task. The sole female student in the physicians’ program, Beth is constantly called out by her professors and peers for having the audacity not to concentrate on a more “fitting” subject like secretarial studies. Meanwhile, secret organizations are off-limits, and simply by crowding together in a dank basement room and creating a sense of camaraderie, she and her small group of fraternity sisters risk expulsion.

In order to have the fraternity recognized, she knows she needs help. She turns to the most powerful student on campus: senior Grant Richardson, Iota Gamma fraternity president and the scion of a Whitsitt family—a man she’s only acquainted with because of her longstanding friendship with his fraternity brother Will Buchannan. Staunchly traditional, Grant doesn’t see the purpose of this women’s organization, but captivated by Beth, he agrees to give her a helping hand. What she doesn’t know is how many will stop at nothing to keep her burgeoning organization out of the record books—and who she can actually trust along the way.

As Beth fights for her beloved Beta Xi Beta to be recognized, she will uncover deep secrets about the college and those who surround her, and will have to put both love and friendship on the line so that history can be made.

Lilli De Jong by Janet Benton (release date: May 16th)
One of my absolute favorites that I've read of this list, Lilli De Jong is the story of a mother who will do nothing to stop herself from being with her baby. But the story doesn't stop there- Lilli must fight against the restrictions society has placed on women during the late 1800's in regards to single motherhood. She also fights against arrogant males, poverty and the expectations of those around her as well as the religion she was raised in. Told in a diary format from Lilli's point of view, this story kept me enthralled from the first page. There is so much that rang true as a mother myself (who has far less struggles but loves her child just as deeply) and I couldn't put it down. 

Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a charity for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overpowers her heart. Mothers in her position have no sensible alternative to giving up their children, but Lilli can't bear such an outcome. Determined to chart a path toward an independent life, Lilli braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family's home to the perilous streets of a burgeoning American city. Lilli de Jong is at once a historical saga, an intimate romance, and a lasting testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood."

I enjoyed this book immensely, a beautifully written account of a Jewish family in Austria at the start of WWII and simultaneously a story of present day Katie who's personal struggles send her on a quest to solve the mystery of a unique postage stamp. I couldn't put this down once I started, a quiet and unassuming story of a single family in Austria and the art of postage stamp design. The darkness of WWII, while shadowing the story of the characters, didn't take away from the love and hope that was found in this book. Truly a remarkable story! You can read my full review here. 


Austria, 1938.
Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher's fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself. 

Los Angeles, 1989
Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad's collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall. 

Did you read the Little House on the Prairie series when you were younger too? Some of my favorite childhood books are from that series and when I saw Sarah Miller was releasing this book, Caroline, I couldn't wait to pick it up! Sarah Miller has recreated the life of pioneer Caroline Ingalls (or 'Ma') and   I am so looking forward to getting lost in pioneer life once again. 


In this novel authorized by the Little House estate, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, "Ma" in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.

In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.

The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses.

By far one of my FAVORITE reads of 2017, Christina Baker Kline has written a beautiful story of the woman in Andrew Wyeth's famous painting Christina's World. This story captured my heart and reminded me why I love historical fiction, especially stories centered around art and artists. I loved getting to know this fictionalized version of Christina and what kept her in that farmhouse her whole life. Moving beyond and outside of the painting, Christina became a very real person and a character I won't soon forget! You can read my full review here

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.

Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

Another five star read for me this year, The Women in the Castle was truly a captivating and thought provoking story that I am still thinking about! Told from the viewpoints of three different women and carrying into present day, The Women in the Castle shares the stories that I feel aren't often told in historical fiction. The stories of German women left behind to raise their children and live their lives in a world that isn't what it seemed, a war that wasn't what they were told it was and husbands gone fighting for what they can't let themselves believe in. How do you continue on after it's all over? How do you welcome those men home or look yourself in the mirror when the atrocities of WWII are finally reveled and you were living inside of it? I couldn't stop thinking of this book after I finished it! Truly historical fiction at its finest and a beautifully written story that really sticks long after its over. You can read my full review here. 

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resistor murdered in the failed July, 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows. 

First, Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naïve Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resistor’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war. 

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges. 

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

All summaries are from Goodreads. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

One of the things I loved best about J. Courtney Sullivan's Saints for All Occasions was how quietly and unassuming this story snuck up on me. I found myself about halfway through, reading along and realizing that I didn't want to put it down. I was thinking about Nora and Theresa in the car on the way to the grocery store and contemplating what it means to raise a family and have your children grow up and into themselves while I was stirring the spaghetti sauce on the stove. 

"Taken together, the small choices anyone made added up to a life."

This quote, for me, is meaningful personally and alongside this beautifully written story. As Nora looked back over her life, as Theresa looked to the past wondering what she might have done was the realization that those small decisions along the way are what created the lives they led. And the lives of their children. I sometimes wonder where my own "small" choices are going to take our family. Something as simple as accepting a part time teaching position perhaps, or a decision to keep a friend in your life. 

I enjoyed the sections that took place in Nora and Theresa's past immensely! One of my favorite things about a well written family saga is seeing the sequence of events, those "small choices", build upon themselves. Some parts of the story seemed familiar to me from other books. The Irish American experience, the dance halls, the girls making their way across the Atlantic. The stifled fifties housewife who is questioning her marriage and husband. But altogether, in this book, Sullivan writes a unique story all her own. One I couldn't put down! 

My favorite character was Nora, who wasn't able to see or understand the affect of her choices on herself until much later but still handled herself with grace. Her constant role as the family matriarch, her protective mothering and her avoidance of things she didn't understand was incredibly endearing. As a mother myself I often wonder what I'm going to do with my grown adult children, when they start making their own decisions and have their own opinions different from mine. Their own life experiences. I can't imagine being able to understand everything they choose, but hope for the grace to handle them well. 

 I would suggest this book to anyone who is loves a good family saga, one filled with secrets and regret and the love of family that perseveres throughout mistakes and misfortune. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the sections that took place in Nora and Theresa's past as well as the present day themes that were more relatable. I rated this book 4 stars on Goodreads and am thankful to Knopf for the copy! 

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
335 pages
Published by Knopf

Let's Read Together!

I have quite a list of books to read on my nightstand and shelves...there are just too many good ones this summer! I don't know how Ill ever make time for them all. I wanted to share a few I'm looking forward to here (and of course I'll share reviews of each once I get to them!)
 The Dream Keeper's Daughter by Emily Colin: Love story and time travel, what more could you ask for? I cannot wait to start this book! I love a good mystery/romance and the reviews for this have been so good. Thank you to JKS Communications for sending this copy to me!

SUMMARY: Eight years after the unsolved disappearance of her boyfriend Max Adair, archaeologist Isabel Griffin has managed to move on and rebuild her life with her young daughter, Finn, her last tie to Max. But after a series of strange incidents, Isabel begins to wonder if Max might still be alive somewhere, trying to communicate with her. She has no idea that the where isn’t the problem—it’s the when. Max has slipped through time and place, landing on his ancestral family plantation in 1816 Barbados, on the eve of a historic slave uprising. As Isabel searches for answers, Max must figure out not only how to survive the violence to come, but how to get back to his own century, the woman he loves, and the daughter he has only ever met in his dreams.
Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge: I was so excited when Dane Huckelbridge reached out to my about his book a few weeks ago. I hadn't heard of it but when I read the summary I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed! Stranded on a deserted island, two strangers.....just the perfect recipe for a hard to put down story right?! 

SUMMARY: Two very different people, one very small island.

For Sophie Ducel, her honeymoon in French Polynesia was intended as a celebration of life. The proud owner of a thriving Parisian architecture firm, co-founded with her brilliant new husband, Sophie had much to look forward to—including a visit to the island home of her favorite singer, Jacques Brel.

For Barry Bleecker, the same trip was meant to mark a new beginning. Turning away from his dreary existence in Manhattan finance, Barry had set his sights on fine art, seeking creative inspiration on the other side of the world—just like his idol, Paul Gauguin.

But when their small plane is downed in the middle of the South Pacific, the sole survivors of the wreck are left with one common goal: to survive. Stranded hundreds of miles from civilization, on an island the size of a large city block, the two castaways must reconcile their differences and learn to draw on one another's strengths if they are to have any hope of making it home.

Told in mesmerizing prose, with charm and rhythm entirely its own, Castle of Water is more than just a reimagining of the classic castaway story. It is a stirring reflection on love’s restorative potential, as well as a poignant reminder that home—be it a flat in Paris, a New York apartment, or a desolate atoll a world away—is where the heart is.
Something Like Happy by Eva Woods: I am SO EXCITED about this book! Following along with the internet hashtag #100happydays, this story takes two women on a quest to find happiness in each and every day (told in days, instead of chapters, which I LOVE). Hopeful, uplifting and probably also in need of a box of kleenex while you read it....but who doesn't need a thought provoking book now and then? I feel like I came across this one at the perfect time. Thank you to Little Bird Publicity for the copy! 

SUMMARY: With wry wit and boundless heart, Eva Woods delivers an unforgettable tale of celebrating triumphs great and small, seizing the day, and always remembering to live in the moment.

“It's simple, really. You're just meant to do one thing every day that makes you happy. Could be little things. Could be big. In fact, we're doing one right now…”

Annie Hebden is stuck. Stuck in her boring job, with her irritating roommate, in a life no thirty-five-year-old would want. But deep down, Annie is still mourning the terrible loss that tore a hole through the perfect existence she'd once taken for granted—and hiding away is safer than remembering what used to be. Until she meets the eccentric Polly Leonard.

Bright, bubbly, intrusive Polly is everything Annie doesn't want in a friend. But Polly is determined to finally wake Annie up to life. Because if recent events have taught Polly anything, it's that your time is too short to waste a single day—which is why she wants Annie to join her on a mission…

One hundred days. One hundred new ways to be happy. Annie's convinced it's impossible, but so is saying no to Polly. And on an unforgettable journey that will force her to open herself to new experiences—and perhaps even new love with the unlikeliest of men—Annie will slowly begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, there's still joy to be found in the world. But then it becomes clear that Polly's about to need her new friend more than ever…and Annie will have to decide once and for all whether letting others in is a risk worth taking.
When the Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke: I had this book and Chin Yoke's first book, The Woman who Breathed Two Worlds, on my Amazon book wish list forever so I was REALLY excited when JKS Communications contacted me about reading When the Future Comes Too Soon. Set in Malaya, a place I haven't seen much of in any of the books I've read, I'm really interested to see where Mei Foong's story takes us during Japan's occupation. Historical fiction, especially during a time period or setting I'm unfamiliar with, is one of my favorite things to read! 

SUMMARY: In Japanese-occupied Malaya, lives are shattered and a woman discovers her inner strength in a world ravaged by war.

Following the death of their matriarch, the lives of Chye Hoon’s family turned upside down. Now that the British have fled and the Japanese have conquered, their once-benign world changes overnight.

Amid the turmoil, Chye Hoon’s daughter-in-law, Mei Foong, must fend for her family as her husband, Weng Yu, becomes increasingly embittered. Challenged in ways she never could have imagined and forced into hiding, Mei Foong finds a deep reservoir of resilience she did not know she had and soon draws the attentions of another man.

Is Mei Foong’s resolve enough to save herself, her marriage, and her family? Only when peace returns to Malaya will she learn the full price she must pay for survival.

All summaries are from Goodreads! Happy Reading! 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this short book so I grabbed it off my stacks on a whim last night and took it upstairs with me to read before bed. At 134 pages, Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner may seem like a harmless read but trust me, it is not. In those short 134 pages, Weiner is able to pull you into the present day of a family of three while also giving you enough character backstory and development at the beginning to feel like you do really care what happens to Heather and her parents. With four characters total and the streets of NYC as the setting, HTT pulls you in and doesn't let go until the final page. I am wary of saying too much (even the synopsis of this is rather short and vague, for good reason) but I will say that living alongside Mark and Karen and their daughter Heather for an hour last night had me turning each page wondering what was going to happen, where Matthew Weiner was taking all of us.

Matthew Weiner was the director of Mad Men (one of my favorite shows) so I was also curious as to what we would see of NYC as well as character development in this book. His vision and unique ability to create a seeming indifference in his characters while in actuality they may be a mess inside their heads is something that translated through to the screen during my years of watching Mad Men and in reading this, did so for the characters of HTT as well.

"...she had come to understand that you could never see yourself the way others did, and it was okay to appear isolated as long as you remember that you are not the way you are seen."

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, suspenseful read with a lot of interesting character development.

I gave this a rating of 3.5 stars on Goodreads and am thankful to Little Brown for the opportunity to read this in advance! It will be available for purchase October 31, 2017!

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner 
134 pages
Published by Little Brown

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

I was so excited to receive a copy of The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman from Berkley Publishing! I've seen this adorable cover here and there, online and at the store, without knowing much about it at all. I have a tendency to gravitate towards heavier stories or historical fiction generally. I am SO thankful for the copy Berkely Publishing sent me because I DEVOURED this book. Like in two days.

The Garden of Small Beginnings follows the story of single mom Lili (recently widowed....well mostly recently, three years) and her two children, her quirky sister Rachel and a slew of other characters that make this story just all around enjoyable and entertaining. Lili is an illustrator (mostly computer based) for a publishing company who is asked to illustrate (by hand! with actual watercolors!) a gardening book. To do so, her company signs her up for a six week gardening class taught by the expert writing the book! ((There are SUPER adorable little gardening tips between each chapter too! I love when books add little things like that, recipes or clips from the newspaper in the town, etc.))

I literally was laughing out loud by chapter two, as we drove to a family function, so much so that my husband asked what was so funny. I don't laugh out loud while reading books often, even if they are funny. I also don't usually laugh out loud at funny movies or things in general (I know, its a weird quirk). So usually when I do, its something REALLY funny. Ill direct you to pages 8 and 9. That was my first laugh out loud moment.

There is so much in this book to praise! The story, while in another context could have been melancholy, brings the grief of widowhood along for the ride of everyday life and life with two kids, a dog, a crazy sister, a full time job. I appreciated Lili's honesty about missing her husband, missing his boxers on the ground and the constant fighting over money (true life). I also appreciated her honesty with the kids, with chicken nuggets for dinner and how getting older means less make-up because wrinkles. So many little truths found in this story!

Overall the symbolism of Lili's six week gardening class, spending time under the sun growing things alongside her own life moving forward and growing is pretty easy to see but still well done and makes for an enjoyable story. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a funny female character who is living life and trying her best, who enjoys a few wacky truly laughable moments and wants to read something enjoyable! You won't regret it.

Thank you Berkley Publishing for this copy!

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
347 pages
Published by Berkley

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

One of my favorite things about finding an author you love is that you're usually not disappointed when they release another book. You know what to expect as far as writing and content (usually) and its much less of a gamble than randomly picking a book off the shelf!

I've been reading Anita Shreve's books since high school, about fifteen years ago? maybe ten...haha. The first book of hers that I read and fell in love with was Fortune's Rocks. My friend and I have reread that particular book multiple times since high school, as it has become somewhat of an old friend by now. I won't say I've read every single one (I haven't) or that I've loved every one that I have read (I haven't) but overall, I haven't been disappointed either. My favorite stories of Shreve's are those that take place in the past...particularly the stories that center around the house on the coast (it comes into play multiple times over a few different books, which is just such a neat element).

In The Stars Are Fire, Shreve takes an event from the past (the largest fire in Maine, which happened in 1947) and makes it a riveting back story to the main character Grace and her family. Grace is struggling to find happiness in her marriage, finding herself pregnant again (with two toddlers already) and constantly comparing herself to the neighbor across the street. As the fire burns through the Maine coast, Grace flees and finds herself no longer at the mercy of her husband and their old life. In a metaphorical way, the fire burns just as Grace's desire to live and enjoy beauty burns within her, until it has no where else to go but out.

I really enjoyed The Stars are Fire, Grace's struggles were not too far from ones I could easily put myself into and wonder what I would have done in the same situation. Being a mother is ridiculously hard sometimes and watching Grace struggle with her role as wife and mother in a time period when simply having her own money and car were cause for a husband to take them away, made me feel so grateful for where society is today. Grace's character is one that I will remember for a while, one of Anita Shreve's good ones.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a little historical fiction, a strong female character who is working to overcome the odds set against her by time and gender roles and who most of all, is looking to be seen by someone, looking to be loved. If that all sounds great to you, then this should be your next read!

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve
241 pages
Published by Knopf

It's July! Let's read together!

Do you ever have one of those moments where you stop and look at the books on your shelf and just feel really melancholy about it all? Like, you start thinking about all the books you have and want to read and how many years that may take and that doesn't even begin to include the ones that haven't even been written yet!!?? Oh gosh. It's enough to make a true book lover just die of anxiety. 

July is no exception to this, there are SO many great books being released this summer. I've put together a list of what I'm looking forward to reading and I'm sure there will be more that I sneak in. June was a great month when it comes to how many books I was able to finish (thank you pregnancy insomnia!) and I'm looking forward to reading the ones pictured this month! 
1. The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Grinder: Because there are SO many weddings in the summer and sometimes its good to just be a little grumpy about it all.

2. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt: A historical fiction account of the Lizzie Borden mystery!

3. A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe: Already finished this one! See review in previous post!

4. The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman: Perfect summer read, about a woman finding her way back to herself through a garden. Cannot wait to read this one!

5. The Salt House by Lisa Duffy: A bit heavier, I may save this one for when I'm ready to deal with some harder topics.

6. The Goddesses by Swan Huntley: Halfway through this one, already can promise you its worth reading. And moving to Hawaii!

7. Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: Ive been SO excited for this one! A story of two sisters over the span of J. Courtney Sullivan's writing.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor is by far one of my favorite reads this year. As an avid lover of historical fiction and specifically stories set during WWI and WWII, I was incredibly interested in this book right from the start.

Cantor weaves together a story that takes place at the beginning of WWII and also during the late 80's and early 90's (during the fall of the Berlin Wall), all the while keeping you intrigued with the mystery behind a certain postage stamp and falling in love with the characters. Beautifully written, I enjoyed this story immensely. My favorite parts (as with all books that do a back and forth between time periods) were those parts that took place during WWII. The Faber family in Austria captured me, as I read more and more about the process of creating a single postage stamp design. As an art teacher, I found this part of the story really interesting, a form of art that hadn't occurred to me previous

I found it a bit harder to fall in love with Katie and her personal struggles in the "present day" sections, although I think that had more to do with my own interest in the "past" sections as I found myself reading through her parts of the story quickly so I could get back to Kristoff and the Faber family.

I enjoyed how unassuming this story was. There wasn't a lot of action or reference to WWII atrocities, other than a few mentions of things happening in the "world". So much of the story, at least the past sections, takes place at the Faber home where their own tragedies and desires are at the heart of the story. One of the things I enjoy most about historical fiction is putting myself in the lives of people living during time periods or events that were by textbook standards, simply terrible. Reading a book like Jillian Cantor's The Lost Letter reminds you that there were real people in those towns, in the villages across Europe, trying to survive and love each other.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction, a good love story that stretches across time and the world or if you are in need of a great book club selection! I think there is a lot in this story that could make for good discussion material and I am definitely keeping it in mind for a future book club pick.

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor 
316 pages
Published by Riverbed Books

Monday, July 3, 2017

A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe

I just finished A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnifclife, today actually! I had to hop on here and post my review while I was still lost in the French town dreaming of warm bread and cheeses.

A French Wedding is the story of a group of friends who come together for a friends 40th birthday, bringing with them their life struggles and accomplishments as well as some baggage from the past. At the same time, this story is about Juliette, a Parisian chef who loses both parents within a year from each other and moves back into her childhood home in a small French village as she tries to cope with her loss. In doing so, she finds herself working for Max as housekeeper/personal chef and the leader of that group of friends.

Taking place over the course of a weekend, A French Wedding is one of those books that make you feel like you got to know everyone just enough in the book to maybe want to keep reading more about them after its over. I'm not sure if this was Hannah Tunnicliffe's intention or not, but I felt like I got to know each character only briefly, even Juliette. I would've like to know her better and in doing so, feel like I was really rooting for her in the end (and in the final chapter that takes place one year later).

I loved the descriptions of the small French village, of the food Juliette was cooking and of the relationships between the friends. The flashbacks definitely helped fill in some details. All in all, this was a fairly low key story that left me feeling mostly satisfied when it was finished. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a story set in a beautiful foreign place, where good food abounds (so many wonderful descriptions!) and friendships are at the heart of the story.

I rated this 3.5 stars on Goodreads.

A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe
320 pages
Published by Doubleday

Friday, June 30, 2017

June Reads

The month of June FLEW by and I can't even believe it. Part of why it went so fast is obviously because I was a very busy bee, reading every chance I had! And I read some GOOD books this month. So grateful to the publishers who sent me copies of a few of these and for authors who write such moving and wonderful stories. I'm still working on getting reviews up of each, but here's the rundown as far as Goodreads ratings go!

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo: 4 Stars
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: 5 Stars
The History of Bees by Maja Lunde: 4 Stars
White Bodies by Jane Robins: 4 Stars
The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve: 4 Stars
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: 5 Stars
All Over the Place by Geraldine DeRuiter: 5 Stars
The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor: 4 Stars
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons: 4 Stars
Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini: 3.5 Stars
GONE by Min Kym: 4 Stars
The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter: 4 Stars
The Grip of It by Jac Jemc: 4 Stars

And there you have it! So many good ones. The History of Bees, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Homegoing, All Over the Place...just a few of my favorites! Its hard to pick just one.

Check out my Goodreads profile for more reviews and summaries of each book.

Happy weekend!

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

Are you in the mood for a spooky story? About a haunted house and a couple who starts to question who they are, to each other and themselves? THEN THIS IS YOUR BOOK.

I picked up this smallish sized book after FSG Originals sent me a copy thinking "Oh, this will be such a quick read! Look at those short chapters! And I can toss it in my small purse!" Bewared. Short chapters or not, each page was filled with creepy, unsettling psychological or physical paranormal stuff. The first night I read it before bed gave me nightmares and I quickly finished it the next day, with all of the lights on.

Told in alternating chapters between James and Julie, a married couple who move to the suburbs to escape the big city and all of its vices, they realize quickly that they may have gotten more than they bargained for with their new home.

What I loved the most about this book, besides the fact that the supernatural side of things was SO WELL DONE (not cheesy or unbelievable, but just subtle enough that I could almost see it happening) was the deterioration of James' and Julie's relationship. Psychologically they both start to unwind a bit and by the end are questioning everything (rightly so) and everything about each other. Motives, actions, EVERYTHING. Talk about paranoia! But when the other option is a haunted house, maybe that makes sense.

"I take more photos. I say "This is only one way it might be." thinking of all the other ways. I'm either telling a lie or there are so many truths."

A long time ago, during a summer break in high school, I sat by the window in my bedroom and read The Amityville Horror in its entirety. It was so creepy! I still remember thinking about a house having a presence, how it controlled the people inside of it and how I didn't understand why after the very first suspicion, they didn't high tail it out of there. There are hotels! Move away! You can see what is coming.

I felt this way a little bit while reading The Grip of It, but the excellent portrayal of both character's mental states really made me feel as if I was there too. And no, I wouldn't jump to it being a ghost drawing on the wall but more obviously my husband who was home all day. And obviously he's lying about it. And other things too. See what I mean?! Oh goodness. This book really got under my skin!!

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a creepy haunting, who loves the paranormal. I really enjoyed it when all was said and done (and am thankful we are not still living in our century old home).

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
273 pages (ARC edition)
Published by FSG Originals

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Library sales, friends and a few good books

I love frequenting the bookstore, local shops and the used book stores in my area but nothing is more exciting than a library sale in my opinion! I have a good friend who works at a local library and always reminds me when their sale is coming up. She understands fully the importance of planning ahead for a library sale- and not missing it! I am lucky to have so many book loving friends in my life, ones who appreciate a good book or book discussion and love the thrill of walking into a room filled with boxes of books, not knowing what you may find! 

I think I did pretty well Monday night (we all did) and I thought I would share my finds! (See Above!)
One of the best things about a good library sale is that (usually) the books are pretty cheap and you can be a bit ambitious with titles you've maybe heard of before but weren't sure you'd like. Or in my case, you can grab a book you know you've wanted to read for fifty cents and then go home and find out its already on your shelf. What can you do?! And for fifty cents, its not the end of the world. 
Sometimes I find books by authors I love or have heard of before but didn't realize they had written other books! That's always fun! And while I usually check the Goodreads ratings before I buy anything, if I've loved the author in the past Ill just grab it (like Amy Tan!!). 
The other great thing is when you find that one elusive book you've been waiting to find for YEARS. And then you grab it kinda like a crazy person and put it in your bag and then look around to see if anyone was going to grab it before you. I've been searching for The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah ever since I read it two years ago and while I could have just splurged and bought it on Amazon, I felt like part of the fun was waiting to see if I could find one. Success! Happy dance. 
And last but not least, is finding pretty colorful books you've seen posted on Instagram that you've wondered about. All three of these I've seen shared by other readers but haven't made time to add to my TBR or wanted to buy myself. Finding them for a few dollars was really exciting and Im looking forward to giving them each a chance! They are each a collection of short stories too, which I've been enjoying reading from other authors. And I do love Helen Oyeyemi! I've read two of her other novels in the last year, so I am sure this one won't disappoint. 

And thats it! I've shared other library hauls in the past on my Instagram feed but I felt my trip Monday night was worth a few extra photos! 

xo, R. 

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