Friday, April 29, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - April 30

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.

Well, this is the last post with pictures from our Arizona day trips.  These pictures were taken at Saguaro National Park - East (there is also a Saguaro National Park - West, but none of my pictures from that location were very good).

I told you he loved that selfie stick....

This was taken on the Homestead Trail.  We did a couple very short hikes with the kids--hopefully we can do more of this on future trips.

My daughter stole the selfie stick!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: "Second Chance at the Sugar Shack" (Sugar Shack #1) by Candis Terry

Second Chance at the Sugar Shack (Sugar Shack #1) Candis Terry
Published: July 19, 2011
ISBN: 9780062105226
Genre: Romance (Contemporary)
Source: Personal Copy

You might enjoy this book if you like: Books with a touch of the supernatural, humorous stories, "coming home" and "second chance" romances

Kate Silver’s back in town, and her dead mother just won’t leave her alone.

Kate usually spends her days dressing Hollywood A-listers, but after her estranged mother dies she finds herself elbow-deep in flour in her parents’ bakery . . . in Deer Lick, Montana. She thought she’d left small-town life far, far behind, but it seems there are a few loose ends.

The boy she once loved, Deputy Matt Ryan, is single and sexy and still has a thing for her . . . and handcuffs.

Her mother, who won’t follow the white light,is determined to give maternal advice from beyond the grave.

And somehow Kate’s three-day stay has, well . . . extended. She never planned to fill her mother’s pie-baking shoes—she prefers her Choos, thank you very much. But with the help of a certain man in uniform,Kate quickly learns that sometimes second chances are all the more sweet. 

My Thoughts:
I first heard of Candis Terry from the Dear Bitches, Smart Authors podcast.  I knew nothing about her, but I was so taken by her personality, life story, and advice to aspiring writers that I decided to give her a try.  I opted to start with this title as it was the first one she published.  I loaded it onto my kindle, read about 20%, set the book aside, purchased all of her other books, and then came back to this one.

This was the perfect fun read for me.  It does have a touch of the paranormal, which I realize is not for everyone. In fact, it usually isn't even for me, but it worked here.  (At the risk of revealing how weird I really am, I'll just say that I get the whole dead mother's ghost in the backseat thing).  I think the one thing that would keep me from recommending this wider would be the paranormal aspect.

I really enjoyed Kate and I found her to be a very believable character.  She has struggled with not only how she sees herself, but how she thinks her family sees her.  Most of this is wrapped around her feelings about her relationship with her mother, but I definitely felt a wave of anger wash over me when I read how her siblings just assumed that her life was less important than theirs and she would have to put everything on hold to help their father.

Matt is a pleasant, but not exactly notable, leading man.  I did feel that there were too many "knight in shining armor" elements of his back story, but he did work well with Kate and I found their relationship--both in the past and in the present--to be interesting and realistic.

Deer Lick is definitely a place I could live.  I know that "small town romances" are becoming a bit of a genre of their own, but this one is different from other such books.  The town isn't some picturesque little hamlet away (but not too far away) from the big city.  This is a tough little town that isn't always pretty, but still has a strong community and I'm glad that Terry will be bringing us back there in future books.

If you are looking for a fun, romantic read--and you are okay with a bit of the supernatural--this is an excellent choice.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by Candis Terry (because it's all right there...on my kindle....)

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Book Review: "Rare Objects" by Kathleen Tessaro

Rare Objects Kathleen Tessaro
Published: April 12, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction (Depression Era United States)
Source: TLC Book Tours

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about the upper crust of society, Stories about Irish Immigrants, Novels set in Boston

Maeve Fanning is a first generation Irish immigrant, born and raised among the poor, industrious Italian families of Boston’s North End by her widowed mother. Clever, capable, and as headstrong as her red hair suggests, she’s determined to better herself despite the overwhelming hardships of the Great Depression.

However, Maeve also has a dangerous fondness for strange men and bootleg gin—a rebellious appetite that soon finds her spiraling downward, leading a double life. When the strain proves too much, Maeve becomes an unwilling patient in a psychiatric hospital, where she strikes up a friendship with an enigmatic young woman, who, like Maeve, is unable or unwilling to control her un-lady-like desire for freedom.

Once out, Maeve faces starting over again. Armed with a bottle of bleach and a few white lies, she lands a job at an eccentric antiques shop catering to Boston’s wealthiest and most peculiar collectors. Run by an elusive English archeologist, the shop is a haven of the obscure and incredible, providing rare artifacts as well as unique access to the world of America’s social elite. While delivering a purchase to the wealthy Van der Laar family, Maeve is introduced to beautiful socialite Diana Van der Laar—only to discover she’s the young woman from the hospital.

Reunited with the charming but increasingly unstable Diana and pursued by her attractive brother James, Mae becomes more and more entwined with the Van der Laar family—a connection that pulls her into a world of moral ambiguity and deceit, and ultimately betrayal. Bewitched by their wealth and desperate to leave her past behind, Maeve is forced to unearth her true values and discover how far she’ll to go to reinvent herself.

My Thoughts:
There are books that I can only describe as being literary Chinese food,  I enjoy the book while I read it--at times I can't even put it down--but, once I'm done, I just don't feel satisfied.  There is a lot in Rare Objects to recommend it,  but I just didn't feel that it came together at the end.

The novel has a promising start--our heroine finds herself in a mental hospital, where she meets Diana, a mysterious but fragile woman.  We are quickly brought back to 1930's Boston, where the bulk of the action takes place.  I liked Maeve as a character.  She definitely has her flaws and, in her quest to find her way in the world, she makes some bad choices,  However, I felt betrayed by the narrative right off--there really was no reason for Maeve to find herself in a mental hospital, other than to meet Diana.  What brought her there was not a major point in the book and almost forgotten about within pages.

Diana could have been more interesting than she was.  I found her to be a little flat and the "twists" in her character were either not really supported or entirely predictable.  I found most of the secondary characters, like Diana, to be one-dimensional.  I also felt that there were just too many of them.  I found both Diana's society set and Maeve's North End friends to be promising, but there just weren't enough pages to give either their due.

I found Maeve's employers, Mr. Kessler and Mr. Winshaw to be the two most intriguing characters.  I do think that Tessaro succeeded with Kessler, but she never seemed to be able to fully realize Winshaw, which I found frustrating as a reader.

There is plenty of action to keep the story going--as I said, the story kept me going and, at times, I couldn't put it down.  However, I didn't feel that Maeve had really transformed from where she was at the beginning of the book to where she was at the end.  In fact, I wasn't even sure the book was about her--at times, I felt this book was about Diana instead.

While the experience of this book was an entertaining one, it did leave a strange aftertaste.  I wouldn't say that I wouldn't recommend this book, but I think I would be careful about who I recommended it to.  If you tend to really dig into your reading, this one is probably not for you.

About the Author
Kathleen Tessaro is the author of Elegance, Innocence, The Flirt, and The Debutante. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband and son.

Find out more about Kathleen at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

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

If you would like to read more about this book, please visit some of the other stops on the tour! (Link goes to the blog, not the specific review)

Tuesday, April 12th: BookNAround
Wednesday, April 13th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, April 14th: Kritters Ramblings
Friday, April 15th: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, April 18th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, April 19th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, April 20th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Thursday, April 21st: Curling Up by the Fire
Friday, April 22nd: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, April 25th: Always With a Book
Thursday, April 28th:
Friday, April 29th: For the Love of Words
Monday, May 2nd: Puddletown Reviews
Tuesday, May 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, May 4th: The many thoughts of a reader
Thursday, May 5th: Time 2 Read
Friday, May 6th: A Literary Vacation

Sunday, April 24, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - April 25, 2016

Welcome back once again!  I have to admit, this post almost didn't happen.  I've had a crazy week and I am bone tired and I seriously considered skipping this post this week, but I'm doing it anyway. Because I'm a good blogger that way....

I do have a couple of housekeeping things before we jump into things.  I am not including a #FitReaders check in this week...let's just say I missed all my goals by a long shot.  As I said, it was a crazy week.

Also, I wanted to let you know that I am giving Periscope a try (I'm @westmetromommy over there).  I love reading the Mailbox Mondays posts, but I didn't want to add anything else to this post.  Instead, I'm doing it as a Periscope broadcast at some point on Mondays.  If you can't catch me live, the broadcast stays up for 24 hours, so you can watch it later.  Who knows, maybe I'll become a pro Periscope user...or maybe I'll move it over to YouTube and become a BookTuber...only time will tell.  But feel free to check it out!

Okay, onto the business at hand:

Right Now, I'm reading:
The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner
I've mostly been reading this in bed, and I've been worn out, so I haven't make much progress this week.  However, I'm really enjoying what I have been able to read...and, when I told my mother about it, she demanded that I hold this book for her!

The Change Up by Elley Arden
This is the first time I've read anything by Arden and, honestly, I'm not far enough into it yet to have any opinions about it.  It is a baseball story, which I like--even though my love for the actual game has been waning (thanks to the Mariners for that....)

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett
What can I say?  I'm still chipping away at it...slowly...oh, so slowly....

Right Now, I'm listening to:
As You Wish by Cary Elwes
This one is just so much fun!  I think I'll be sad when it is over!

Last week, I read:
Danger, Sweetheart by MaryJanice Davidson (finished 4/21, review 5/10)
So, this was a very interesting read...but you'll have to wait until May 10th before I tell you if it was interesting in a good or bad way...

Last week, I listened to:
Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart (finished 4/19, review 6/14?)
Another fun read for me! I'm not yet entirely sure if I'm going to review it or not...we'll see....

Friday, April 22, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - April 23

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.

Another Saturday, another post about our Arizona vacation!

This next day trip was actually a new one to us.  Every year, we've talked about going up to Kitt Peak Observatory but this was the first year we actually made the trip.  Of course, after the drive up to the observatory, my husband informed me that it would be the ONLY time we would come.  Let's just say the road up is...harrowing.  Still, it was a fascinating stop for us.

I'm not even exactly sure what you would call this, but it is impressive...and a great place for a picture.

Just so you all can check to see if your alma mater uses the observatory (mine does not...)

Ooooh, science!  

In the background is the world's largest Solar Telescope.  Unfortunately, we missed the viewing by only a few minutes, but we were still able to visit the telescope.

One of the views from Kitt Peak

My husband really, really loves that selfie stick!  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Review: "The Stepford Wives" by Ira Levin

The Stepford Wives Ira Levin
Published: 1972
ISBN: 9780060080846
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Source: Postal Book Club

You might enjoy this book if you enjoy: books about women's rights, satire, creepy stuff, not ever having seen the movie version of this book.

For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town's idyllic facade lies a terrible secret -- a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.

At once a masterpiece of psychological suspense and a savage commentary on a media-driven society that values the pursuit of youth and beauty at all costs, The Stepford Wives is a novel so frightening in its final implications that the title itself has earned a place in the American lexicon.

My Thoughts:
I kind of want to scream instead of write this review.  I'm in a hard position here...I have issues and problems, but they aren't with this book--the book itself is quite good.  The problem is that, several years ago, I saw a movie version of this book (the one with Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick) which greatly and negatively impacted my experience reading this book.

The story itself is well-known, at least in a broad sense (I think the 45 and younger crowd may only be familiar with the general slang term of "Stepford Wife" as a seemingly perfect trophy wife).  Levin does an excellent multitasking job of providing satire and creepiness. The story begins with an air of normality, but it isn't long before things start to tun, and Levin handles that beautifully as well.  There is no big "a-ha" moment, just little details that begin to add up.

Joanna is a great character, and one I think many can relate to.  She wasn't so sure about moving to Stepford in the first place, but tries to make the best of least until things start turning south.  She is also struggling with her role--while she loves her family, she isn't so sure about the "traditional" role Her husband, Walter, seems nice enough....but Levin doesn't develop him as much. This, though, I think is more a device of the story.

So, now here are my not-really-the-book's-problems.  Part of what is so creepy about this book is that there are things that no one talks about and there is an element of mystery.  But I've seen the movie.  The movie, by the way, was a special kind of horrible and, if you haven't seen it, just don't.  Still, the movie explained things that Levin consciously did not--and because of that, the foundation of this book was blown for me before I even started the first page.

In short, if you have not seen the movie, this is a fabulous read.  It's fairly short, so it shouldn't be daunting to anyone.  And I think it will creep you out.  However, if you've seen the movie...well, I'm sorry.  Not only did you have 2 hours of your life taken from you, but a great book was ruined for you before you ever had a chance to read it.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book Review: "Will You Won't You Want Me" by Nora Zelevansky

Will You Won't You Want Me? Nora Zelevansky
Published: April 19, 2016
Genre: Romance
Source: Netgalley
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Books with a touch of whimsy, books about struggling to adult, books set in New York City

Marjorie Plum never meant to peak in high school. She was Queen Bee. Now, 10 years later, she's lost her sparkle. At her bleakest moment, she’s surprised by renewed interest from a questionable childhood crush, and the bickering with her cranky boss—at a potentially game-changing new job—grows increasingly like flirtatious banter. Suddenly, she’s faced with a choice between the life she always dreamed of and one she never thought to imagine. With the help of a precocious 11-year-old tutee, who unknowingly becomes the Ghost of Marjorie Past, and a musician roommate, who looks like a pixie and talks like the Dalai Lama, Marjorie struggles with the ultimate question: Who does she want to be? Nora Zelevansky’s Will You Won’t You Want Me? is a funny, often surprising, novel about growing up when you are already supposed to be grown. 

My Thoughts:
Every once in a while I come across a book that is just a delight, one that is both comforting and unexpected.  Will You Won't You Want Me is one of those books.

This is classified as a romance, and it is a romance.  But it is also something else.  It chronicles the struggles of adulting (and, as we all know, the struggle is real!) Marjorie is that person--one I think many can relate to--who believes she "peaked" in high school.  Now, ten years later, she feels that her life has no direction.  Zelevansky skillfully shows, instead of tells, us all exactly how unfulfilling Marjorie's life has become and how she knows what the problem is, but not how to solve it.

And there is a love triangle, which is sometimes a turn-off for me.  Either it is set up with one person trying to decide between a "good" option and a "bad" option, or it just becomes a muddled mess of emotional angst.  Here, however, it works.  Partly because the Marjorie's two romances are kept separate and the one that fails, fails on its own merits--just as the one that succeeds, succeeds not because Majorie chose that option over the other option, but because she made a decision to pursue that relationship.

I loved Zelevansky's writing style--I'm not sure if this is her first book or not (oops...a check just showed that she has one other novel, which I will most likely be reading soon), but she is definitely an author to follow.  The first thing that really pulled me in is the perspective,  It is told in the 3rd person omniscient voice, but that is usually as some disembodied voice who just seems to know everything.  Here, however, it is like someone (not any of the characters in the book) sits down with you and gossips out a whole juicy story about Majorie and her friends and family.  I felt like I was in on the story, not just a reader on the outside.

Another area where Zelevansky shines is her ability to write place.  Most of the book is set in New York City--which is where many writers would stop.  Instead, Zelevansky creates the world of Manhattan and the world of Brooklyn and she brings the reader along with her into those worlds.  When the action moves to the world of the wanna-be-but-not-yet Rich and Famous of Los Angeles, Zelevansky succeeds again.  Admittedly, she might be relying a bit more on cliches here, but it is still entertaining and believable.

If I had to choose one word to summarize this novel, it would have to be "charming."  Reading it was a delightful experience and this is a book I would recommend to anyone looking for a love story with a heroine who will win your heart.

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? / #FitReaders Check In - April 18, 2016

Hey, guess what!  Taxes are done!  The fact that we have them done with more than 24 hours before the deadline is just a flat out miracle.  But, hey, it's done and now I don't have to think about it for another 11 months or so!  I will admit that I've been lax in being a good blog reader lately, but I'm hoping to remedy that now that my laptop has been freed from TurboTax....

April Goals:
1 - At least 81,000 steps/week
Sunday, 4/10 - 14,418 steps (6.48 miles)
Monday, 4/11 - 11,294 steps (5.07 miles)
Tuesday, 4/12 - 10,671 steps (4.79 miles)
Wednesday, 4/13 - 10,120 steps (4.55 miles)
Thursday, 4/14 - 8363 steps (3.76 miles)
Friday, 4/15 - 6625 steps (2.98 miles)
Saturday, 4/16 - 12,067 steps (5.42 miles)
TOTAL: 73,558 steps (33.05 miles)
I still haven't hit this goal and I'm thinking of lowering it for May.

2 - 4 days of yoga
Yes!  I did this one!

3 - Complete the #FitReaders Virtual 5k at some point this month
Completed on April 6!

Right Now, I'm reading:
The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner
So far, I've read the prologue of this one--and I'm already pretty sure that I'm going to love it!  My mother was a "bridge lady" (past tense because she no longer, as far as I know, plays bridge.  She is still very much alive--in fact, today is her 80th birthday!) and I clearly remember her bridge afternoons and trying to sneak away with the bridge mix she always had on the table.

Danger, Sweetheart by MaryJanice Davidson
Again, I'm not far into this one yet, but it is definitely going to be an interesting read.  It is actually a romance novel that is an ode to the romance novel genre--and where Davidson, as she explains in the forward, tries to employ as many tropes possible.  I have high hopes for it in that view, but we'll see how the actual romance works out.

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett
The goal is still 12/31/2016....

Right Now, I'm listening to:
Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart
I thought I'd be done with this one by now, but I've still got less than an hour to go.  Perhaps I should try and get another gym workout in to finish it off?

As You Wish by Cary Elwes
My husband and I are really enjoying this one!  I think part of my husband's procrastination in replacing our second car is that he wants to finish this book up first!

Last week, I finished reading:
Wish Upon a Wedding by LuAnn McLane (finished 4/13, review 5/5/16)
Have you ever read a book and, once you were finished, wondered why you hadn't DNF'd it?  Well....

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (finished 4/16, review 4/21/16)
The review for this one is coming up this week, so I'm not going to say much except...DO NOT SEE THE MOVIE (especially the newer one with Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman).

Friday, April 15, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - April 16

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.

We're back in Arizona for this post!  Another place we make sure we hit every year is the Reid Park Zoo.  It's not as big as the Oregon Zoo, but because the Arizona climate is so different, they have a number of animals that are not featured at the Oregon Zoo.  Plus, our Oregon Zoo membership gets us into this zoo as well, so it would be crazy to skip this one!

At the Reid Park Zoo, you can feed the giraffes, which my kids love!

They've added camel rides since the last time we visited--and the kids loved it!

I don't know what it is about this rock but every.single.time. we come, the kids have to climb all over it!

One of my favorite exhibits is the Desert Tortoise enclosures.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Book Review: "The Rain Sparrow" by Linda Goodnight

The Rain Sparrow Linda Goodnight
Published: February 23, 2016
ISBN: 9780373789146
Genre: Romance (contemporary and historical)

Source: TLC Book Tours

This book was to be a part of a blog tour in March but, due to a mix up, I did not receive it in time.  You can read my spotlight of the book here.

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about damaged people, small town romances, hints of the supernatural

Famous yet anonymous, thriller writer Hayden Winters lives a life colored by lies. Deeply ashamed of his past, his hunger for an honest relationship and dreams of starting a family remain unsatisfied, and he can trust no one with his secrets. He's determined to outrun his personal demons, but the charming old Peach Orchard Inn and a woman whose presence is as gentle as a sparrow's song stops him in his tracks. 

Carrie Riley is afraid of everything from flying to thunderstorms, and pretty much of life itself. But meeting the enigmatic writer staying at the inn emboldens her to learn everything about him. When they discover a fragile boy hiding at the inn, Hayden is honor-bound to help Carrie protect him. Soon they're led to a centuries-old mystery that haunts Hayden's sleep, and his only safe haven is Carrie. As the secrets of the past and present force their lives to become entwined, all that's left to come to light is love—if the grim truth doesn't tear them apart first.

My Thoughts:
This was one of those books that sold me on the summary--it's a contemporary AND a historical romance, we have wounded characters, and there was the promise of a plucky child character.  The combination may sound strange, but it actually worked quite well.

To be fair, Carrie is not quite as meek as she seems in the summary.  She is a woman who was hurt in the past and still dealing with those wounds.  I felt that Goodnight's depiction of her was believable and I was able to relate to her.  Hayden was more complex, but usually just as realistic.  I wasn't convinced of his fear of mental illness, only because I didn't feel like Goodnight had really woven that detail fully into the fabric of the narrative.

Carrie's and Hayden's relationship develops at a steady pace, which is sometimes a hard thing for a romance novel to achieve.  Because people usually ask me, I will say that this is a clean romance, although it does deal with some other difficult topics, such as substance abuse and child abuse.

The secondary story was a "dream" that Hayden had about people living in the area shortly after the Civil War.   I found this plot to be incredibly interesting, enough so that I sometimes wish it had been its own book.  It did take me a while to see how this plot fit in with the contemporary story but, eventually, it all came together.

I enjoyed Goodnight's writing style, which is clear but still captures the different personalities of the characters.  I do wish that she would have taken a bit more care to fully integrate some of the details, such as Hayden's fear of mental illness or Carrie's past heartbreak. But, I found that to only be a minor annoyance..

In the end, this was a sweet love story and one that I would recommend to anyone looking for such a book.

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