Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: "Can't Stop Loving You" by Miranda Liasson

Can't Stop Loving You Miranda Liasson
Published: December 6, 2016
ISBN: 9781503941533
Genre: Romance
Source: Goodreads Giveaway

You might enjoy this book if you like: Second chance romances, small town romances, big Italian family dynamics

When it comes to her heart, Arabella D’Angelo has moved on—even though she still lives in Mirror Lake, Connecticut, a little tourist town with a long memory for mistakes. Ever the dutiful daughter of a cantankerous widower who holds grudges, Bella has spent the past twelve years raising her younger brother and making a name for herself as a successful psychologist. Now, when she isn’t counseling a lonely-hearts club for senior women, she’s humoring her matchmaking girlfriends. Bella resists the romancing of their blind dates, yet her friends hope she’ll fall for a local and scrap plans for a fresh start in Chicago.

Then, just before Bella’s thirtieth birthday, her first love, Roman Spikonos, returns to Mirror Lake. When he moves next door to her family’s garden-center business to run his grandparents’ orchard, it stirs up gossip—and a tempest of passions—just in time for pumpkin harvest. As Roman and Bella once again get caught up in a swirl of desire and heartache, not to mention her overprotective father’s fury, Mirror Lake will soon find out whether the Italian hometown beauty and her unforgettable Greek god can stand a second chance.

My Thoughts:
Of all the romance tropes, the "second chance" romance is the one that hooks me in the fastest and the most completely.  If I know nothing about a romance other than it fits into this trope, I am there for it. Because of that, this book was a no-brainer for me.  Not only does it fall into the second-chance bucket, but it also has elements of the small town romance (another trope that is growing on me).

Bella immediately pulled me into this story.  I think I could relate to her slight air of desperation, her need to escape the shackles of her small-town life, and her undeniable adorkableness.  I will admit that her character isn't even throughout the book--she has a few personality shifts here and there that don't quite fit in with the general fabric of her presence in the book.  However, these tended to happen in more emotional scenes and, while I do think it could have been rewritten more seamlessly, it didn't bother me too much.

Roman is a pleasant enough, albeit stereotypical romantic lead.  He's very good looking (of course), has an undying love for Bella (of course), and is willing to fight for her (of course).  I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with all that--it is, after all, exactly what I would expect from a romance.  However, Liasson missed more than a few opportunities to make him a bit more nuanced and a bit more human--both of which would have made him a more memorable romantic hero.

Liasson's voice is clear and light.  While she does do a bit more than just dabble in cliches, the overall tone of the book allowed me to forgive that.  There are some very amusing, RomCom-like scenes in the book, which I quite enjoyed.  Even the darker scenes had the requisite amount of emotion to keep me reading.

Here is what confused me about this book.  Looking at this title's entry in both Goodreads and Amazon, as well as on the author's website, there is no indication that this is not a standalone novel. Yet, at several points while reading it, I felt like I was reading a latter title in a series.  There was a lot of explanation of the backstories of secondary characters--something you see quite often in latter books in a series (and something that drives me crazy!  It really breaks up the momentum of the narrative and I wish authors would just do away with it completely).  When I looked online, I saw that Liasson has a series, the Mirror Lake novels, that are set in this same world with the same characters---so I'm not sure why this book is not considered to be part of that series.  Personally, I think the ideas that books in a series can be read out of order or standalone novels existing within a series is almost always a myth and authors should just tell readers to start at the beginning.  If I had known that I was reading a 4th or 5th book in a series, I might not have been quite as irritated when these things happened (or I would have taken the time to read the previous books).  Instead, I was left feeling a little hoodwinked over this one.

All in all, I enjoyed this book, but it had its issues.  However, this book was at least strong enough to prompt me to possibly go back and read the earlier books in this series that this book is supposedly not a part of.  If you are like me and need to read things in order, I'd recommend doing the same. But if you are one of those readers who can just jump into a series, I would suggest giving this one a try.

I won an electronic copy of this book from Goodreads.  I was encouraged, but not required, to write an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - January 16 #IMWAYR

Greetings from the snowy tundra!  You know all that snow that fell on us earlier in the week?  Well, it is still here.  We are supposed to warm up very quickly starting on Tuesday, but right now the roads are still pretty icy.  We were able to get out of the house today for church and then down to Salem for a family event (which was great fun), but my kids have been out of school since Wednesday and they aren't going back until Tuesday and we are all getting really sick of looking at each other!

The other bad side effect of all this is that I didn't get much reading time in this week.  My kids have this innate ability to know what I'm settling in with a book and then choose that time to demand my attention.  Sigh...  I know that I will miss this when they are older but, well, right now....  I was able to finish 2 books this weekend, but I was actually fairly close to finishing them earlier in the week, so I'm not sure I can call that a win.

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.  Please visit her blog to link up and join the fun!

Last week on the blog:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - January 14

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

So...I've been complaining in the past about some winter storms we've had.  I have to say that, well, I've learned my lesson.  This week, we've been hit by an actual winter storm--enough that my kids have only had 1 day of school this week.  We had record-breaking snowfall on Tuesday night and Wednesday (here, we had about 8 inches, but some places were in excess of a foot)--and then things got cold and the temperature is gong to stay below freezing until Monday.  Then, the temperatures rise quickly and we get heavy rain--which means next week I might be posting flood pictures (we get catastrophic floods about every 20-30 years, and our last one was in 1996--so we're in the window!)

Anyway, before we float away, here are some snow pictures!

One of our neighbors lost a tree....

Alice is not a fan of snow....it puts a serious damper on her escape plans!

Music Review: "Junie B. Jones: The Musical" Cast Album

Junie B. Jones, the Musical Cast Album
Music: Zina Goldrich: Book and Lyrics: Marcy Helsler
Released: January 13, 2017
Genre: Children's Music / Musicals

I have to admit that the music on this CD is not new to me.  In the fall of 2015, I took my daughter to see a production of this musical put on by the Oregon Children's Theater.  Before seeing this show, I was not a fan of the Junie B. Jones books.  Any adult who has read these books to kids knows the author Barbara Park is very good at writing in the voice of Kindergartner/1st grader--and that is very hard for an adult to read.  My daughter, of course, loved the books--which motivated me even more to help her become an independent reader.

Because my daughter loved the books so much, I knew that this would be a perfect choice for her first theater visit...and it was!  I even found myself becoming a Junie B. Fan!  So, when I found out a cast album was coming out, I jumped at the chance to get it.

This isn't a very long CD.  I haven't timed it, but I would guess that it is about 30 minutes.  This isn't surprising, because the run time for the show is only 60 minutes without an intermission.  This album does contain all the songs in the show, so you aren't missing anything.  The music is very catchy and my kids love dancing to it.  I can guarantee that you'll have "My Own Personal Beeswax" going through your head after listening to this.

The performances are strong across the board and the energy is high.  I will say that my only quibble is that the performers sound like they are at least older teenagers, if not adults.  I probably would not have even batted an eye at this, except that the young performers in the production I saw were so wonderful that I was nostalgic for the younger voices when I was listening to this.

If you are looking for something that younger listeners will enjoy, I highly recommend this album.  My kids love it and, as I said, it is responsible for more than a few of my ear worms.  And, if you have the chance, definitely take advantage of the opportunity to see Junie B. Jones, the Musical in person!

I received a copy of this CD in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book Review: "A Change of Heart" by Sonali Dev

A Change of Heart Sonali Dev
Published: September 27, 2016
ISBN: 9781496705747
Genre: Romance
Source: Personal Copy
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Multicultural novels, Romantic suspense, Sad but sweet stories

Dr. Nikhil 'Nic' Joshi had it all—marriage, career, purpose. Until, while working for Doctors Without Borders in a Mumbai slum, his wife, Jen, discovered a black market organ transplant ring. Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.

Two years after the tragedy, Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze. On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim: she received Jen’s heart in a transplant and has a message for him. Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala’s story as absurd, but there’s something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.

Jess has spent years working her way out of a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters—her young son, Joy.  She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication.

Delving beyond the surface of modern Indian-American life, acclaimed author Sonali Dev’s page-turning novel is both riveting and emotionally rewarding—an extraordinary story of human connection, bravery, and hope.

My Thoughts:
I think I just need to admit that I'm a total fangirl for Sonali Dev.  She has become one of the select few authors whose books I'll pre-order as soon as they show up on Amazon (although I think, from here on out, I'm going to opt for the print instead of electronic version.  There is nothing wrong with the eBooks, but I'd really love to have these keepers on my shelf and not archived in my Amazon account).

I will say that I had a little trouble getting into this one at first.  Part of that is that this particular book tends to veer a bit towards the Romantic Thriller subgenre, which isn't really a go-to of mine, but that is just a preference issue.  It also isn't something that happened in her first two Bollywood books, so I was caught a little off guard.  Once I got used to it, though, I was sucked right in.

Dev does such a wonderful job when she ties her characters into knots.  Both Jess and Nic have great backstories, although we did get a taste of Nic's in The Bolllywood Bride.  I also felt that Dev did an admirable job of giving out just enough information to keep the story going, but not so much that the reader doesn't need to wonder what is going to happen.

I loved the development of Nic and Jess's relationship.  Honestly, I wasn't sure that Dev could get them "there," given from where they started at the beginning of the book..  Yet, nothing between them felt rushed or forced.  Their own stories were also completely genuine and I found myself aching for both of them.

My only complaint about this book is a minor one--I felt the ending and the tying up of plots to be a bit rushed.  As I said, Romantic Thrillers aren't really something I read much of  and, ironically, I think that is why this wasn't a big deal for me.  Readers who are much more into that subgenre might not enjoy the ending as much.

There are two other things about this book that I feel I should put out--these aren't criticisms...they re just things to be aware of.  First of all, this book isn't exactly a standalone.  I do think that you need to read The Bollywood Bride first, as it not only introduces Nic and Jen, but also gives us Viky and Ria's story, which does come up in this book.

Secondly, a trigger warning: there is a scene in which a rape is somewhat graphically described.  I did feel that there was enough lead up to it that, if this is an issue for you, you would now it is coming and could skip it.

All in all, though, this was a wonderful love story and one I'm so glad Sonali Dev has given us.  Now I just need to wait for her next book.....

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017 Goals and 2016 in Review

Raise your hand if you are glad that 2016 is over....

**Raising hand**

I can't say that I don't have some serious worries about 2017 and beyond, but 2016 nearly did me in.  Okay, I have to admit that I'm starting this post on 12/30/16, so there is about 36 more hours for 2016 to actually do me in, but I hope it doesn't come to that.

As it is a new year, it is time for my goals and review!

2017 Goals

I can't say that my goals for this year are particularly groundbreaking, but here we go:

  1. I will set my Goodreads goal for 100 again.  This seems to be a good number for me--it is doable, but still challenging enough to keep me going.  I don't really feel a need to increase my reading, so I think that sticking with 100 is my best bet.
  2. I will re-do my indexing on the blog.  If you check out my index tabs (Highly Recommended Titles, Reviews by Genre, and Novels by State), you can see that they are very out of date.  Obviously, I need to fix this--but I'm not sure if I just need to take the time to update them or if I should re-do them.
  3. I will improve on responding to comments.  I realize that is a pretty vague goal, but I haven't been the greatest about following up on comments--which is dumb.  It is in the comments that I really get to know you all.  So, I'm going to try to be better about that in the future.
  4. I will decrease my TBR by 10%.  That means, if I do not add any books to my TBR this year (which, let's face it, is a joke! I'll be adding LOTS of books), I will need to get rid of about 80 books (My goal is to be down to 725 or less).  Now, I'm not saying that I need to read 80 books.  I am actually really overdue for a purge of my TBR shelves and DNF's will count!
  5. I will do more non-review posts.  Again, another vague post.  I succeeded in fits and starts with this in 2016, but I'm hoping to be more consistent with it in 2017.
I think those are all reasonable goals and, with the exception of #4, I think they'll be pretty easy to meet.

Again, here is my schedule for the year:
Monday (Sunday Night) - It's Monday, What Are You Reading?
Tuesday - Book Review
Wednesday - Non-review or Non-book review post
Thursday - Book Review
Friday - Non-review or Non-book review post
Saturday (Friday Night) - Saturday Snapshot

I will also be taking May and December off from posting reviews.  Not only are those months crazier than most for me, but it gives me some time to build up my review reserve!

2016 in Review

Let's start with the STATS:

Total books: 101
Average star rating (on Goodreads): 3.43

My Review Rate:
I reviewed 80.2% of the books that I read this year (81 total).  That's up from 50% last year, which I'm quite happy with!

My Format Breakdown:
Ebook: 50 (49.5%, up from 46.4% in 2015)
Print: 44 (43.6%, the same as last year)
Audio: 7 (6.9%, down from 10% in 2015)

Books Read by Gender of Author:
Female: 83 (82.2%, up from 77.3% in 2015)
Male: 18 (17.8%, down from 22.7% in 2015)
Well, last year I said I wanted to get it to 75%/25% and THAT obviously didn't happen

Genre Breakdown:
Contemporary Fiction: 37 (36.6%)
Essays: 3 (3.0%)
Fantasy: 2 (2.0%)
Historical Fiction: 11 (10.9%)
History: 2 (2.0%)
Horror: 1 (1.0%)
Memoir: 5 (5.0%)
Non-Fiction: 1 (1.0%)
Romance: 28 (27.7%)
Short Stories: 2 (2.0%)
Speculative Fiction: 3 (3.0%)
Thriller: 3 (3.0%)
Young Adult Fiction:3 (3.0%)

I didn't track genres last year, so I'm not sure how this compares...but I don't see any surprises here.

And now, onto the books:

January (9 books):
The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye (no review)

February (6 books):
Bluebonnets for Elly by Sandra Nachlinger (no review)

March (10 books):
Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala (no review)

April (10 books):
Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart (no review)
Pontoon by Garrison Keillor (no review)

May (7 books):
Klickitat by Peter Rock (no review)
A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett (no review)

June (7 books):
Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by H. P. Wood (no review)
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (no review)

July (13 books):

August (10 books):
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by J. K. Rowling (et. al.) (no review)
The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (no review)

September (3 books):
Somebody Like You by Candis Terry (no review)

October (9 books):
Six Stories by J. D. Salinger (no review)

November (7 books):
How Not to Fall by Emily Foster (no review)
The Miracle Girl by Michael Roe (no review)
A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev (review 1/12/2017)
Served Hot by Annabeth Albert (no review)
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (no review)

December (10 books):
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich 
Baked Fresh  by Annabeth Albert (no review)
Delivered Fast by Annabeth Albert (no review)
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies by Chris Kluwe (review 1/20/2017)
Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star 
One Snowy Night by Jill Shalvis (no review)
Can't Stop Loving You by Miranda Liasson (review 1/17/2017)
Swim by Jennifer Weiner (no review)
Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson (review 1/24/2017)
Dumplin' by Julie Murphy (review 1/26/2017)

So, there you go...my 2016 reading year!  Let's see how 2017 turns out!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book Review: "The Making of Us" by Lisa Jewell

The Making of Us Lisa Jewell
Published: August 14, 2012
ISBN: 9781451609110
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about siblings, multi-narrator novels

Lydia, Dean, and Robyn don’t know one another. Yet. Each is facing difficult challenges. Lydia is still wearing the scars from her traumatic childhood. Wealthy and successful, she leads a lonely and disjointed existence. Dean is a young, unemployed, single dad whose life is going nowhere. Robyn is eighteen. Gorgeous, popular, and intelligent, she entered her first year of college confident of her dream to become a pediatrician. Now she’s failing her classes. Now she’s falling in love for the first time.

Lydia, Dean, and Robyn live very different lives, but each of them, independently, has always felt that something was missing. What they don’t know is that a letter is about to arrive that will turn their lives upside down. It is a letter containing a secret—one that will bind them together and show them what love and family and friendship really mean.

My Thoughts:
Lisa Jewell is an author that started reading a couple of years ago.  I enjoyed her latest 2 books and felt it was time to dive into her back list. I'm not exactly sure where this falls in the order of her books, but I do think that Jewell is an author who improves with each books.

Which, I guess is a nice way of saying that this isn't her best work.  There is much I like about it, but I can't say it was a wholly successful book.

There was much I liked about it.  It was the premise that drew me into this book--a group of people who are brought together because their biological fathers were all the same sperm donor.  For some reason, the maternal tie always seem to be celebrated in books (and movies...and TV...) while the paternal one is sometimes forgotten. Plus, the idea of a sperm donor seems so much less personal than, say, a mother who gave up her children for adoption or a woman who donated her eggs.  I applaud Jewell for taking the road less traveled, so to say, on this topic.

One thing that has always impressed me about Jewell is her ability to create characters.  Lydia is especially fascinating, probably because we get the most backstory for her.  I also found the convention of telling Daniel's story--Daniel is the father--through the eyes of another person.  I think that was an important facet of this story and added a necessary wall between the siblings and the parent.

Now, here is the flaw that kept me from thoroughly enjoying this book.  I'll admit that this is something that might not bother other readers, but was an obstacle that I could not overcome.  This story seemed very unbalanced.  Much time was spent on Lydia and almost as much on Dean, but significantly less was spent on Robyn.  In fact, there were times that I forgot she was even part of the story.  There is also a 4th sibling who is dealt with a bit too casually for my taste and, as much as I enjoyed Daniel's story through Maggie's eyes, I felt Maggie's arc was wrapped up too easily.

While this wasn't Lisa Jewell's best book in my opinion, it did keep my interest enough that I would still read more of her back list, as well as her new books as they are released.  I would still recommend this book and I'm sure that what I found lacking would not bother many other readers.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - January 9 #IMWAYR

Well, it looks like I survived the first full week of 2017!  I have to admit that it as a bit of a struggle to get back into the routine of getting up early and getting everyone ready to get out of the house in the morning.  Then, this weekend, we were hit with another winter storm--it was bad enough that our church canceled services.  When I found that out on Saturday, I calmly (but very, very clearly) explained to the kids that I was going to sleep in this (Sunday) morning and they were not to wake me up!  Luckily, I think everyone decided to take advantage of the extra sleep-in day...so hopefully we are all now ready to take on another week!

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.  Please visit her blog to link up and join the fun!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - January 7

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Happy 2017!  We've been getting back into the swing of things, although it looks like we're in for yet another winter storm this weekend (you might see it in next week's post!).  Here are few pics from our week.

I found my husband reading to my son like this....

This was just a couple of evenings ago.  I was in the other room and my son came in, grabbed my hand, and said "Mommy!  Mommy!  Come see how pretty it is out the window!"

And this is what my windshield looked like this morning when I went to take my kids to school.  I really need to get an ice scraper.....

Thanks to the snow days before the break, my son FINALLY had his class Christmas party today!  This is the sock snowman he made....

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Book Review: "Shadow Tag" by Louise Erdrich

Shadow Tag Louise Erdrich
Published: February 2, 2010
ISBN: 9780061536090
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Family dramas, stories about Native Americans, Gone Girl

When Irene America discovers that her husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, she begins a secret Blue Notebook, stashed securely in a safe-deposit box. There she records the truth about her life and her marriage, while turning her Red Diary—hidden where Gil will find it—into a manipulative farce. Alternating between these two records, complemented by unflinching third-person narration, Shadow Tag is an eerily gripping read.

When the novel opens, Irene is resuming work on her doctoral thesis about George Catlin, the nineteenth-century painter whose Native American subjects often regarded his portraits with suspicious wonder. Gil, who gained notoriety as an artist through his emotionally revealing portraits of his wife—work that is adoring, sensual, and humiliating, even shocking—realizes that his fear of losing Irene may force him to create the defining work of his career.

Meanwhile, Irene and Gil fight to keep up appearances for their three children: fourteen-year-old genius Florian, who escapes his family's unraveling with joints and a stolen bottle of wine; Riel, their only daughter, an eleven-year-old feverishly planning to preserve her family, no matter what disaster strikes; and sweet kindergartener Stoney, who was born, his parents come to realize, at the beginning of the end.

As her home increasingly becomes a place of violence and secrets, and she drifts into alcoholism, Irene moves to end her marriage. But her attachment to Gil is filled with shadowy need and delicious ironies. In brilliantly controlled prose, Shadow Tag fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and one family's struggle for survival and redemption. 

My Thoughts:
This is a book that is, in some ways, ahead of its time.  A few years, Gone Girl hit the shelves and the country was captivated (I, personally, couldn't finish it, but whatever). This book, however, came out a few years previously and it tells the story of a couple wracked by distrust far more effectively.

Make no mistake, this is not a "thriller."  Instead, it is a nuanced family drama with well-rounded, but flawed characters.  It is also a testament that this particular story can be told in a non-sensational way and be as, if not more, effective.

I found both Irene and Gil to be realistic, relatable, and deplorable--all at the same time.  Every marriage is different, so this isn't a case of just "a married couple getting to that point."  Erdrich expertly shows how a once happy couple could get to the point where neither trusts the other. There isn't one thing that led Irene and Gil to their current state, but a series of little things--things that could happen to any couple and things that are not especially notable, except for the way that they are handled.

I went in to this book knowing that it was a troubled marriage, but I wasn't prepared for how troubled it was.  I can't say that I could take either side in this relationship.  I was also never sure how the story would end--in fact, I was flabbergasted when I got to the last page.  It is always a good thing when a book keeps me guessing (it happens so infrequently these days).

As is the norm with Erdrich's book, the Native American experience runs through the narrative.  I find this to be one of my favorite aspects of Erdrich's writing and definitely a highlight of this book.  When we talk about different ethnic groups in America, I always feel that the Native American population is underrepresented, so I'm grateful for Erdrich and her work.

This was not what I would call an enjoyable book. It was frequently stressful, but it was also nearly impossible for me to put down.  And it was a refreshing change to see an author tell a gripping tale simply by telling a story, and not blowing it up with unneeded thriller-y details.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.