Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving and a Blogging Break

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you have a wonderful holiday. I will be spending my Thanksgiving with my parents and on Saturday my sister and her husband will be there for a Thanksgiving meal Sri Lankan style :)

I'm taking a much needed blogging break before the Christmas holidays this year so I'll see you in a couple of weeks if not before then!

In the meantime, here's some holiday cheer, courtesy of my library (that's my boss playing Santa!):

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: First & Then

First & Then
By Emma Mills
Published: October 13, 2015

Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive jock, Ezra, right where she doesn't want them--first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.
With wit, heart, and humor to spare, First & Then is a contemporary novel about falling in love--with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.

My review:

I wanted to read this book because it was described as "Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights". While I am not a football fan, I am a fan of Jane Austen's novels as is the protagonist Devon. She often thinks of how the characters would behave in her situation or what they would say. Throughout the novel she is reading Jane Austen books. Although First & Then isn't a  retelling of any of Jane Austen's novels, it pays homage to them in spirit.

Devon is a senior in high school and facing the decision of what school she wants to go to but she hasn't put much effort into the process. Instead she's been busy enjoying high school life and spending time with her best friend Cas. Then Devon's family takes in her cousin Foster when his mother abandons him. She is initially resentful of this and thinks of Foster as a nerd she wants to distance herself from. That's kind of hard to do when they are in the same P.E. class. Football star Ezra Lynley is also in her P.E. class and he doesn't make the best impression on Devon though Foster thinks the world of him. When Foster shows promise as a kicker, he is asked to try out for the JV football team and Ezra agrees to help him to Devon's surprise.

Devon is a fun protagonist though her attitude towards Foster isn't that great at first. She loves literature, particularly Jane Austen which made me like her more. I felt sorry for her a little too as Cas seemed to be her whole world and he didn't return her feelings for him. Thankfully even though she didn't go looking for friendship, she does make some other friends. She also grows to care about Foster and she starts to see him as her little brother. Her relationship with Ezra improves too as she gets to know him though his secretive nature is certainly challenging. 

Football is an important part of the novel but to my relief it didn't get too technical. Ezra, Cas and Foster all play on the team. Devon even starts covering the football games as an assistant to the sports photographer (she gets to hold the camera bag). I actually enjoyed reading about the team and how Foster and Ezra bonded over football. Poor Foster has had a rough life so it was nice to see him make a new friend and find someone to look up to.

The romance between Ezra and Devon reminded me of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice a little bit (as it is supposed to) but I was glad that it wasn't a retelling. Especially with Cas. He could have been a jerk but he was a nice guy (albeit with flaws). The romance was also not in-your-face. The novel allows for more personal growth of the characters and friendships and family relationships as well.

Overall I thought this was a fantastic book that I think would appeal to readers who like contemporary fiction by authors like Sarah Dessen, Jessi Kirby, Jenny Han and Emery Lord. I definitely plan to keep an eye out for the author's next book.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Post (30) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I can't believe Thanksgiving week is here already! I need to start going through my recipes for some ideas. My mom and I like to try out new recipes every year. Sometimes this goes well and sometimes not so much (like the time we made parsnips). Last year I made pomegranate and dark chocolate cups. It will be just the three of us this year so we are going to have a beef roast instead of dealing with a turkey. Honestly I like turkey sandwiches but I hate leftover turkey. Smoked turkey is pretty good but also pretty expensive!

My year is winding down at the library. I have just one more program left. We are having a Star Wars marathon next Saturday, showing the original trilogy. Hopefully it will be a success. If the weather is nice we'll even make popcorn to go with the pizza (the popcorn machine smokes so it has to be used outside at a distance from the building). I also have to pick a book to read for our children's storyline (dial a story). I usually go with a Christmas/winter themed picture book since I take my turn every December. Last year I read a Little House on the Prairie picture book (about the time Mr. Edwards played Santa Claus and brought Laura and Mary presents from "Santa" because the creek was too high for him to cross). Not sure what I'll be reading this year. Any recommendations?

I will be going to see Mockingjay Part 2 with a friend and her husband today (Sunday). I'm glad the reviews are very positive so far. I only watched the first one in theater and the rest on DVD. I'm pretty picky about what I'll spend my money to go see. I will definitely be watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, hopefully several times while it's in theater. Can't wait!

#Fit Readers Weekly Check In

#Fitreaders is hosted by Felicia at The Geeky Blogger and Jen at That's What I'm Talking About 

Monday--walked 1 mile
Tuesday--walked 1 mile
Thursday--walked 1 mile

Last week on my blog:

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly (review)

Books read:

Winter by Marissa Meyer

I really liked this final novel in the Lunar Chronicles. I thought it wrapped things up nicely and it was definitely action packed.

Ana of California by Andi Teran

I really enjoyed this modern adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. Ana may not have Anne's charm but she is a likable character and there are fun similar scenes. I look forward to finding out what my book group thought of it on Tuesday.

What I might read next:

The Lies About Truth by Courtney C. Stevens

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves
By Jennifer Donnelly
Published: October 27, 2015

From Jennifer Donnelly, the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of A Northern Light and Revolution, comes a mystery about dark secrets, dirty truths, and the lengths to which people will go for love and revenge. For fans of Elizabeth George and Libba Bray, These Shallow Graves is the story of how much a young woman is willing to risk and lose in order to find the truth.

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort shot himself while cleaning his pistol. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was a partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun. 

The more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. Suicide is the only logical explanation, and of course people have started talking, but Jo’s father would never have resorted to that. And then she meets Eddie—a young, smart, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. But now it might be too late to stop. 

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

My review:

Jo is not unlike Josephine March, another more well known literary Jo who also wanted to write but for Jo Montfort her privileged background makes achieving her dreams even harder. Jo has been working on her school paper and trying to get more serious articles published but it only gets her in trouble. Then her life comes crashing down around her when she receives news that her father has died. The fishy circumstances of his death make Jo start to question what happened especially after a trip to his newspaper office where she overhears some reporters saying it was suicide. That doesn't really sound like her dad either but now Jo has to find out the truth. How did her dad really die? Was he murdered?

Jo is reluctantly aided in her search by Eddie Gallagher. Eddie doesn't have the highest opinion of people like Jo but at the same time he also doesn't want her to get hurt if she investigates on her own so he agrees to help her do some digging. This leads them both into deeper trouble than they could have imagined.

Jo reminded me of Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey, someone from a privileged background who wanted to help people and do more with her life than host dinner parties for her husband and pay calls. While Jo is bright and shows a good deal of courage and determination she is also a little naive. This was frustrating but understandable given the sheltered way she grew up. It also leads to some humorous moments as Jo is mistaken for a lady of the evening and given a job offer by a madam (she thinks someone is just being nice to her and offering her help). Jo inadvertently puts herself in danger time and time again because she doesn't understand the way the world works but fortunately for her, people like Eddie and the pickpocket Fairy Fay are looking out for her. I liked how Jo grew and let her views expand.

These Shallow Graves is a historical mystery that I found entertaining. Although the mystery was pretty easy to figure out (the identity of the killer seemed obvious to me), the cast of characters kept my interest and I wanted to know why Jo's dad was killed. I also enjoyed the setting and the way the author incorporated early forensic science into the story. The romance could have been better developed but Eddie was likable as a hero and for me the romance wasn't the point of the story. I think readers who like historical mysteries like Y.S. Lee's Agency series or even historical fiction set in the Gilded Age would enjoy this novel. I certainly wouldn't mind if the author decided to continue Jo's adventures with another book.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Post (29) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I had a great time with my mom and sister watching Moscow Ballet perform the Great Russian Nutcracker. We had fantastic seats and best of all was seeing how much my mom enjoyed it. After the show we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant which was also really nice.

The rest of the week had its ups and downs. The windy weather caused a minor injury when my car door decided to try to shut on my leg. I am bruised and pretty sore when I put any weight on it. On the positive side, our holiday open house at the library was a big success. Our only issue was that the event attendance declined after the turkey bowling and Santa and the reindeer left. Still everyone had a good time and we learned some things to put into practice next year. It turns out that people don't want to stick around the library for four hours! Next time we will condense our events and have indoor and outdoor things going on at the same time while there is a crowd.

Turkey bowling practice toss

A 7 month old baby reindeer and her mom (I got to pet them both! So cute!)

#Fitreaders Weekly Check In 

#Fitreaders is hosted by Felicia at The Geeky Blogger and Jen at That's What I'm Talking About

Not a good workout week and it didn't help that I gave in to temptation and ate cookies, apple pie and other treats! My leg injury kind of sidelined me for the rest of the week so I didn't get much walking in. Hopefully it will feel better soon and I'll be able to get back to exercising.

Last Sunday--walked at least a mile between the parking garage, the ballet venue and restaurant
Wednesday--walked 1 mile
Friday--nothing (injured leg)
Saturday--nothing (though I was on my feet taking pictures at the open house till my leg bothered me)

Last week on my blog:

Soundless by Richelle Mead (review)

Books read:

Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal

Liked this one though the mystery was anticlimactic. I don't like it when the killer is revealed at the beginning and there isn't much more to figure out.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I thought this was good till the protagonist behaved in ways I didn't agree with (towards the end of the book) and the story seemed to end abruptly. I still plan to see the movie though.

Currently reading:

Winter by Marissa Meyer

So far it's pretty good. I am hopeful that I will like it as much as the rest of the series. 

What I plan to read next:

See Me by Nicholas Sparks

Ana of California by Andi Teran

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: Soundless

By Richelle Mead
Published: November 10, 2015

From Richelle Mead, the #1 internationally bestselling author of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, comes a breathtaking new fantasy steeped in Chinese folklore. 
For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom. 
When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink and many go hungry. Fei’s home, the people she loves, and her entire existence is plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.
But soon Fei is awoken in the night by a searing noise, and sound becomes her weapon.
Richelle Mead takes readers on a triumphant journey from the peak of Fei’s jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth and an unlikely romance will change her life forever....

My review:

Fei is a talented artist in her village where people are ranked by occupation. Fei's parents were miners, a much lower rank but Fei's abilities allowed herself and her sister Zhang Jing to improve their lot in life. Still things are hard in the village where they have to depend on food provided in return for the metals they mine. While people have been unable to hear for generations, now some are starting to lose their sight including Fei's sister. Everything changes when Fei has a strange dream and wakes up with the ability to hear. She decides to accompany her childhood friend Li Wei when he breaks the rules and tries to climb down the mountain to save their people.

Soundless is very different from Richelle Mead's other YA novels. Both Vampire Academy and Bloodlines feature teen characters who are brave (and in Rose's case, brash) and behave older than typical teens most of the time because of their circumstances. The books also feature snarky humor and mildly steamy romance. Soundless however is bland in comparison. It's like expecting pancakes for breakfast and getting oatmeal instead. 

While I felt bad for Fei, I couldn't really connect with her as a heroine. I liked her loyalty to her sister and her courage in climbing down the mountain and trying to help her people. She just isn't a vivid character. Her romantic relationship with Li Wei isn't inspiring either. I did think it was an interesting choice to portray a main character who couldn't hear and what it would be like to suddenly experience sound after a lifetime of silence. She doesn't even have the words to describe it and she obviously can't make sense of things when people talk.

The setting is interesting and has potential. Since people in the village can't hear they record everything by observing and painting what they see. Their way of life is hard but they still survive.  The book has a historical fiction feel though there are some elements of fantasy. Fei's people have myths about creatures called pixiu that used to live on the mountain and according to legend the missing pixiu had something to do with the hearing loss.

I liked this book but it didn't wow me as a fantasy novel. Even without comparing it to Richelle Mead's other works the story doesn't stand out in the genre. Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix is a much better written fantasy based on Chinese mythology. Still I appreciate that Mead wrote something different and I think young teens who like fairy tales and light fantasy might enjoy it.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Amazon Vine

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Post (28) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

#Fitreaders Weekly Check In (for the first time in months)

#Fitreaders is hosted by Felicia at The Geeky Blogger and Jen at That's What I'm Talking About

Is anyone else struggling with the time change? This should be the easier one since we set our clocks back but I wake up early and feel so tired. Hope I adjust soon! In the meantime I'm taking advantage of my extra time in the morning to work out. I've been walking with one of Leslie Sansone's workouts (3 mile walk). Usually I do one mile but occasionally challenge myself to two or all three when I have the time. I haven't noticed a difference yet but it is still early and I'm glad to just be exercising again.

Last Sunday-walked 1 mile
Monday-walked 3 miles
Tuesday-walked 1 mile
Wednesday-walked 1 mile
Thursday-walked 1 mile
Friday-nothing (though I took the stairs at work and the doctor's office)
Saturday-walked 2 miles

On Friday I went to see a gastroenterologist and it looks like I'll need to have an endoscopy later this month to figure out what's going on with my acid reflux stuff. I have been having symptoms since January 2014 without much relief and have been on all kinds of acid reflux medicine. I've made some diet and lifestyle changes (no acidic food or caffeine and no eating after 9 p.m.) which have helped a little. Hopefully the test will shed some light on what is wrong and if there is anything else that could help.

Today is the day I'm going to see the Moscow Ballet performing the Nutcracker. My sister and mom will be going with me. It'll be nice to do something special with just the three of us. We haven't done that in a few years. On Monday before I return home I'll be going out for brunch with my dad so I get to spend some time with just him too. I felt bad about not inviting him to the ballet but the tickets were pricey and he isn't into that kind of thing :)

Last week on my blog:

Lord Fenton's Folly by Josi S. Kilpack (review)

Books read:

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (reread)

I've had the audio version of this for a few years and finally decided to listen to it. Once I got used to the narrators (not a fan of Katherine Kellgren here-she was very whiny as Sadie) I was drawn into the story.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

I liked this mystery though I did figure out who the killer was early on. Jo is at times naive and at other times really forward thinking. I appreciated the inclusion of forensic science with the crime solving. I didn't care for Donnelly's mermaid series but here she returns to historical fiction which I think is what she does best.

Currently reading:

Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal

I really like this series and it is nice to see Maggie returning to form after the trauma she's been through. It was interesting to see the Roosevelt administration from a different perspective too. 

What I plan to read next:

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Winter by Marissa Meyer

I can't wait to read this one! I am sad it is the final book in the series but I need to know how it all ends!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: Lord Fenton's Folly

Lord Fenton's Folly
By Josi S. Kilpack
Published: October 6, 2015

Lord Fenton is a gambler, a dandy, and a flirt—and he must marry or else he will be disinherited, stripped of his wealth and his position. He chooses Alice Stanbridge for two simple reasons: he once knew her as a young girl, and she is the least objectionable option available to him.

However, Alice has harbored feelings for Fenton since their first meeting ten years ago, and she believes his proposal is real. When she discovers it is not, she is embarrassed and hurt. However, a match with the most-eligible bachelor in London would secure not only her future but that of her family as well.

Determined to protect herself from making a fool of herself a second time, Alice matches Lord Fenton wit for wit and insult for insult as they move toward a marriage of convenience that is anything but a happy union. Only when faced with family secrets that have shaped Fenton’s life does he let down his guard enough to find room in his heart for Alice. But can Alice risk her heart a second time?

My review:

Lord Fenton (Charles) is known for being a "macaroni", a frivolous person who spends too much time on his appearance. He dresses like Beau Brummel but it isn't his bold clothing that lands him in hot water but his outlandish behavior. He and his friends like to make bets and challenge each other to do silly things in public. For Charles, this gives him the opportunity to thumb his nose at his cruel father. Unfortunately he finally breaks the last straw and is threatened with disinheritance. Luckily for him, his mother intercedes and gets his father to relent on the condition that he makes some serious changes in his life including getting married. 

Charles selects Alice Stanbridge as his future wife. She is initially thrilled since she's developed a crush on him from childhood when he helped bring her dream of a garden of her own to fruition (in payment for her silence in his involvement in a prank). Unfortunately for Alice she discovers that he didn't propose out of any kind of romantic feeling but for more practical reasons. She has always felt overlooked and unwanted in her family and this pushes her over the edge. The once sweet Alice lashes out and she and Charles begin a contentious "courtship" in the public eye. 

Both Alice and Charles have some growing to do if they are to save their marriage and make a go at a real relationship. Fortunately for both of them Charles's mother, Lady Chariton, is an ally and she treats Alice as her own daughter (she and Alice's late mother were best friends). When Lady Chariton decides to retreat to her country home for health reasons, Alice volunteers to go along. It is there that Alice begins to find healing in Lady Chariton's company and in the garden on the estate. She also discovers more about her husband's family and their secrets. As Charles arrives to visit his mother, Alice sees the change in both of them but they can only mend their broken relationship if she can trust him and he can let go of the pain of his past.

I liked this romance because of the character growth. Initially Lord Fenton is really annoying but I started to feel sorry for him as the truth of his past became known. He has a great deal of anger towards his father who has always been demanding but the true reason for Charles's animosity is his father's treatment of his mother. Unfortunately in attempting to get back at his dad all these years, he has only hurt himself and his mother through his childish behavior. Alice is a sympathetic character from the beginning. Although she comes from a good family she has never known her birth mother and with her older sisters both married she is sort of out of place in her father's new life with her stepmother. She feels like a burden to her family. When she finds out that Lord Fenton proposed out of duty, it is devastating. Gradually Alice comes to realize that her feelings for him were more of an infatuation and only after their marriage does she really start to love him.

It was nice to see how their relationship developed after marriage. Often romances end with "I do" and the challenges of merging two lives together are never explored. Lord Fenton's Folly is a companion novel to A Heart Revealed (Lord Fenton plays a secondary character in that novel) but it can definitely be read as a standalone novel. I think readers who enjoy Regency romance will like this story of forgiveness and second chances. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Top Ten Sophomore Novels

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new subject each week and this week's topic is "Top Ten Sophomore Novels I Can't Wait to Read" and "Top Ten Sophomore Novels as Good as the Author's Debut".

Debut authors that I can't wait to read more of:

Edward Kelsey Moore, The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat

I loved this book and its quirky and funny characters and if he writes another novel I will definitely be picking it up. 

Iona Gray, Letters to the Lost

I thought this historical fiction novel was fantastic. The story is set in England in the 1940s and present day. 

Becky Wallace, The Story Spinner

This YA fantasy debut was really good and I can't wait to read the sequel, The Skylighter.

Renee Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn

I love the idea of classics retold. Sometimes it works and sometimes not so much. I was really pleased with this take on A Thousand and One Nights and look forward to the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger.

Amy E. Reichert, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

I've never wanted to eat a book cover so badly. That cake! I loved this contemporary romance and all the food descriptions. I can't wait to see what she writes next. In the meantime maybe I'll try her recipe for coconut cake!

Sophomore novels I liked as much as the author's debut:

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

This sequel really built upon the first book and we got to see even more character growth for Elissa. 

The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

I loved this sequel. It upped the stakes for the characters and had excellent pacing. I was pleasantly surprised that it was as good as if not better than The Burning Sky.

The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

While there was less romance with the hero and heroine being kept apart, it was an excellent follow up novel to The Winner's Curse.

Flame Tree Road by Shona Patel

For the most part I liked Flame Tree Road more than Teatime for the Firefly. This is actually a prequel novel (the main character is a grandfather in the author's debut and here we see him as a young man) and I encourage people to read Flame Tree Road before picking up Teatime for the Firefly.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Talk about a fantastic sophomore novel. In some ways this resonated more deeply with me than The Kite Runner though both were moving novels.