July 25, 2017

Bestie Beatriz Binge // Five Reasons to Read Beatriz Williams

It all started back in 2013. I was on a beach vacation with my family and made sure to visit my favorite independent bookstore, Sundog Books, while I was there. I spotted a gorgeous hardcover on the New Releases table - A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams - and knew that I had to buy it. I couldn't resist! I didn't read it right away, and it ended up just sitting on my bookshelf back at home... as did each subsequent Beatriz Williams book. Yes, you read that correctly. I kept acquiring each new release - in hardcover, no less! - even though I hadn't read any of them yet. At least I can admit that I have a problem?

I just had this feeling in my gut that she'd become a new favorite author! I finally picked up A Hundred Summers last year and fell in love. But I never reviewed it, which I blame on my postpartum forgetfulness. Then Kelly came to visit earlier this year, and it changed everything. She was browsing my shelves and noticed all the Beatriz Williams. She was curious, too, and added them to her TBR. She knows how to manage her TBR like a boss and started her first Beatriz book almost immediately. I could tell from her texts that I was missing out. I finally had the motivation I needed to get started: we could binge them together!

We spent a few weeks in June reading through all of Beatriz Williams' books, and it was honestly one of the best reading experiences of my life. I loved the books, just as I'd expected. But even more than that - I loved reading them with my friend! We texted constantly while reading (with no spoilers, of course!) and then had lengthy phone conversations after we finished each one to chat about our reactions to all the twists and turns. We wanted to celebrate the power of books to bring friends together, and so Bestie Beatriz Binge was born. To kick it off, here are five reasons to read Beatriz Williams:

When I started making my list of reasons to read Beatriz Williams, I knew that the characters had to come first. There's something so magical about the way she writes about these people that live in her imagination - you start to believe they might be real! I've always been a huge fan of movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the dialogue in these books totally captures those same special patterns of speech. I could almost hear it all in my head while reading! The characters are all well-developed, vibrant and compelling, and they don't feel repetitive. They have their own histories, desires and fears. I may have favorites, but I loved them all.

In general, I'm not a fan of dual timelines in books. While it's something that makes Kelly more likely to pick up a book, I'm usually the opposite. I don't know why exactly, but I have this internal bias against them. And I tell you that because all of Beatriz's books have dual timelines, and I loved them. Y'all, I had to put this on my list because it was so shocking for me! There wasn't a single book where I preferred one timeline over another or wished one timeline didn't exist. In every case, they both drew me in, made me more invested in the book and felt absolutely necessary to the story being told. Plus, the format heightened the tension and drama!

If I had to describe Beatriz's books in just a few words, romantic and dramatic would definitely make the short list! These sweeping sagas are packed with love stories that survive time, distance, and numerous obstacles (both internal and external). And here's the thing: most of the romances fall into "instalove" territory, but Beatriz somehow makes me believe in all of them. I set my skepticism aside while reading and just enjoy the dramatic twists and turns - rooting for the hero and heroine to find happiness and for love to prevail. And the path it takes to get there is almost never what I expect. Beatriz constantly surprised me, in the very best way. 

I love historical fiction, and I'm so happy that I've found a new favorite author in this genre. And you know what makes it even better? Beatriz Williams often focuses on a unique time period or aspect of history. For example, she writes about the 1938 New England hurricane, Manhattan socialites in the 1960s, and Florida in the 1920s. And even when she tackles more well-known time periods, like the two World Wars, there's an interesting lens, such as a female ambulance driver on the Western Front and a female physicist in prewar Germany. Of course, I can't forget about the Jazz Age with its bootleggers, prohibition agents and speakeasies. So fun!

And finally, I've got to take a moment to praise the writing. These books are so readable and engaging! You'll find high-stakes drama, whip-smart dialogue, all-consuming love, life-like characters and well-developed settings on every page of these books. But they contain important questions and themes, too, like defying societal expectations for women. These books are fun and a little soapy with all their intrigue, but I love that they've also got depth, intelligence and complexity. And to me, that comes down to the writing. I became so invested in what I was reading and found it endlessly discussable with Kelly. What more do I need to say?

Beatriz Williams is so talented and creative - something that was highlighted by the fact that I binged all of her books in like two weeks. I honestly never got tired of reading them and sincerely wish there were more! I hope my post today has helped put her on your radar if she wasn't already there... but I've still got three days left to convince you if you're still on the fence. We've got some fun things planned, y'all.

Check back tomorrow for more from the Bestie Beatriz Binge,
and be sure to look at Kelly's five reasons, too!

July 21, 2017

Quick Lit: June 2017

This is going to be a shorter Quick Lit post because I've only got one book to review... though I did write more about it than normal! June was one of the best reading months EVER, and I discovered so many new favorites. However, I ended up writing full reviews for almost all of them... and have something special planned for the others. Check out Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy to see what other bloggers have been reading lately.

In case you missed it, in June I reviewed The Mothers by Brit Bennett, The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn, the Haven Point series by RaeAnne Thayne, The Memory Book by Lara Avery, The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall, and Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin.

I'll be talking about two other June favorites in a Picky Pledge post later this year, and I also binge read all of Beatriz Williams' novels and have a fun event coming up to celebrate this new favorite author!

ON SECOND THOUGHT BY KRISTAN HIGGINS | I hadn't read anything by Kristan Higgins before, but Estelle specifically recommended this book to me after she finished it earlier this year. I think she suggested it because she knows that I'm drawn to books about sisters, and she was definitely spot on with this recommendation! On Second Thought is about two sisters and the losses that bring them together. Ainsley O'Leary is expecting her boyfriend to propose - not to break up with her and write about it in a blog post that goes viral! She turns to her older half sister, Kate, who is facing the unimaginable: she became a newlywed - and then a widow - in the space of four months. Complicated family dynamics have always kept the sisters distant, but their shared heartache begins to bring them together. 

Y'all, I absolutely loved this book! Higgins writes with such warmth and humor, even when aspects of the story are heavy. I was worried that the book would be too sad, but it really wasn't. The complex family situation was so interesting, and the emerging romantic relationships were swoony in all the right ways. I loved that the book alternated between Kate and Ainsley's point of view because it helped me get to know them on a deeper level. Higgins blends just the right amount of action and introspection! I recently read a similar(ish) book about sisters, First Comes Love by Emily Giffin, and it was enjoyable but without enough spark to make it a favorite. On Second Thought delivered everything that I was looking for - characters I was rooting for, excellent pacing, an emotional premise and writing that brought it all to life. I So Loved It and hope you'll check it out if you're a fan of contemporary romance or women's fiction. It's the perfect blend of the two genres!

What have you been reading lately?

July 20, 2017

So Obsessed With: The Baby Edition #3

Last year, I talked about how overwhelmed I was the first time I walked into a baby store. I'd imagined it being fun, but I spent way too much time researching everything. After my baby was born, I decided to make my own list of favorite baby products. The result was So Obsessed With: The Baby Edition #1 and So Obsessed With: The Baby Edition #2, and now I'm back with the third installment of my favorite baby products!

My first two lists were more generic and geared towards expectant mamas who were creating a registry. I featured fifty favorite items and tried to highlight "need" vs "nice to have" in my description for each. Today's list is a little different because you won't need/want these items right away, so they're all optional in a way. But here are a few things I've found useful and the stuff my boy is so obsessed with lately.

I didn't include any books because that post is coming up soon. I'm so excited about it!

1. Neat Solutions Neat-Ware Table Topper ($10) - I took my boy to Chick-Fil-A one day, and the high chair had a little plastic thing folded in the seat. It took me a minute to figure out it was a disposable place mat. It was a gamechanger! I ordered a big pack on Amazon, and now we always keep some in the diaper bag.

2. NumNum Pre-Spoon GOOtensils ($10) - I read about these on a blog and randomly added them to my registry. Now, I'm so glad I did! These little spoons are great to teach self-feeding because babies don't have to hold them a certain way. You read more about them on their website, but our boy loves holding them himself.

3. Re-Play Bowls ($5) - I have no idea how I found the Re-Play brand, but I love their stuff! Their products are made out of recycled milk jugs, so the plastic is nice and sturdy. We've mostly used the bowls and divided plates so far, but we have the flats plates and utensils, too. They sell individual colors and cute mixed sets.

4. Ubbi Tweat Snack Container ($10) - We like to keep some food in the diaper bag, and I randomly found this snack container while browsing at the baby store one day. I love the little handles, the flip top and the spill guard. It's nice that Cheerios don't go stale even if they've been in there a few days. Plus, it's cute!

5. Fisher-Price SpaceSaver High Chair ($50) - We ended up getting this SpaceSaver when our boy was six months old because he was too small for the more traditional high chair that we had. I was excited to find a high chair with a fabric pattern that I actually liked, and this chair has been exactly what we needed.

6. Playtex Sipsters Straw Cups ($8) - I exclusively breastfed for the first six months and hated pumping, so our boy never ended up using bottles. We started introducing sippy cups around six months, and it took a few tries before we found some he loved. He definitely prefers drinking out of a straw, so we stocked up on these cups! 

7. Munchkin Soft-Tip Infant Spoons ($3) - When we introduced solids, we used these spoons a ton! Our boy has moved on to finger foods now, but they're still great for a bowl of oatmeal and such. (Also, I made my own baby food initially and The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book was a great reference.)

8. Bella Tunno Wonder Bib ($14) - I found these Bella Tunno bibs in a children's boutique while shopping with my mom one day and fell in love. They're so cutre, waterproof, dishwater safe, have an adjustable neck and a nice pocket to catch dropped food. We've got one for home and one for the diaper bag!

9. VTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker ($35) - I can't remember how old our boy was when we bought this walker. Maybe nine months? It could have been earlier because I know he used to just sit and play with the front. Regardless, this was a great toy to help him practice walking! And now he doesn't need it... *tears*

10. Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Around the Town Learning Table ($40) - This is another toy that he doesn't use anymore but loved for a long time. When we first got it, we left the legs off and he'd sit and play with it. Once he started pulling up, we put the legs on and he'd have fun pressing the buttons, flipping the switch, etc.

11. Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Crawl-Around Learning Center ($50) - My parents got this for our boy for Christmas, and he ended up loving it. The shape sorter thing on the side was a big favorite, as was the little window that you could slide up and down. My only complaint? It takes up too much room. Haha!

12. Round Kiddie Pool 20 Gallon ($10) - We had our backyard fenced in last summer, and I figured the only benefit was not taking the dog out on a leash anymore. Well, I was wrong! This year I discovered an additional benefit: reading outside in my swimsuit in private. And, of course, setting up the baby pool for my boy. 

13. Bubble-N-Go Toy Mower ($22) - Although our boy is a great walker, he still finds it a little difficult to push this with enough momentum to create bubbles. However, he LOVES when we help him and the bubbles come out in a steady stream. It's so cute to see his fascination and delight with something so small!

14. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Puzzle ($10) - I love wooden puzzles, but it can be hard to find ones for our boy's age range. Thankfully, Melissa & Doug have a few cute ones! I love the big wooden handle. He likes taking the puzzle pieces out more than putting them in, but it's still an entertaining activity!

15. Green Tones Llama Shaker ($10) - At a boutique, I discovered a few really cute wooden teethers and shakers. They're a different brand than this one, but I can't find the ones we have. But this one is pretty close and equally adorable! He liked the wooden teether better than any of the other ones we bought.

16. Chewbeads Baby Gramercy Stroller Toy Attachment ($15) - Although he liked the wooden teether a little more, I still had to include this one! I loved that it could attach to his stroller or car seat so he wouldn't drop it, and the bright colors definitely caught his eye. The silicone is soft and flexible and perfect for chewing.

17. Fisher-Price Baby's First Blocks ($11) - This seemed like a dumb toy to me, but he loves it. Just goes to show that some things are simple and classic for a reason! At first, he just liked dumping the shapes out. Then, he moved on to filling up the bucket. And now, he's starting to figure out the shape sorting aspect.

18. Mega Bloks Big Building Bag ($14) - He got these blocks for his birthday, and it's fun to watch him dump out the bag and start to put one or two blocks together. It's so cool to watch him figure things out! These are like the baby version of Legos, and I know my husband can't wait for the day he's old enough for those.

19. Little People 'Lil Movers School Bus ($15) - We love anything and everything from Fisher-Price's Little People line! This school bus is one of his favorites, but we have almost everything - the camper, farm, tractor, Noah's Ark, nativity, fire truck, etc. He loves the songs they play and all the different characters!

20. Radio Flyer 4-in-1 Stroll 'N Trike ($110) - A Radio Flyer trike was one of our boy's birthday gifts, and he loves it! We got a slightly different one with a place on the back for a second child to stand, but it's the same in every other respect. He always wants to go for a walk in it and tries to steer himself!

21. Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat ($350) - We had a Chicco infant seat and can technically still use it because he's under the weight limit. But we could tell he wanted to sit up more! We decided on the Britax for a variety of reasons, but the biggest was ease of installation with the ClickTight technology.

22. Maclaren Triumph Stroller ($225) - This was a random thing we splurged on that is definitely not a necessity, though I love it. Rather than get a cheap umbrella stroller, I really wanted something that would last longer, could recline, had a huge umbrella and was still super light/portable. And this was what I decided on!

July 10, 2017

June 2017: On My Shelves + Recap

I mentioned previously that I was hoping my fantastic May was a sign of good things to come for the rest of the summer. And it seems like it was because June was equally wonderful! I made so many great memories.

1. Culling My TBR + Book Buying Ban - Kelly is in complete control of her TBR, and I've always been envious of her for it. She was my life coach in June and helped me take a long, hard look at my shelves and majorly cull them. In addition to the cull, I instituted a book buying ban for June. I successfully completed it - my only purchase was a book I'd already read and pre-ordered prior to June. Honestly, I think I'll continue the ban!

2. Celebrating My Sweet Friend - One of my best friends from college is having a baby in August, and I'm just so excited for her! I was thrilled to be able to celebrate her by attending a baby shower for her in June. An added bonus? My mama kept my boy for the day, and I got lots of alone time. I had to drive pretty far and got to use that time listening to an amazing audiobook! It felt like such a treat to have so much time to myself.

3. Best Bookish Surprise - Nick was traveling all of June for work, which was a bummer. We miss him so much when he's gone! His longest trip was to Japan, and I asked him to bring me back a Japanese edition of Anne of Green Gables if possible. He was able to find an adorable copy and came home with another incredible surprise: Japanese editions of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I was on cloud nine!

4. Outdoor Reading + New Sunglasses - I've been taking my boy to the pool a lot this summer, and I've noticed one major life change since having a baby: I don't take any reading material to the pool anymore. Ha! However, we come home for his afternoon nap and I realized that I can read and sunbathe in the backyard now that it's fenced in. I've been in absolute heaven! Plus, I got some new sunglasses that I'm so obsessed with.

Read 11 Books | Favorites:
On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins
Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

Honorable Mentions:
Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin
Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
“It’s funny how time is measured after you’ve lost someone.
Everything relates back to that second your life swerved.
The calendar isn’t measured by the names of the months or seasons anymore,
but by those significant dates. The day we met. The first time we kissed.
The first dinner with his family. The anniversary of his death. The date of his funeral.”
On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

 “Her heart kept splitting inside her. Growing and breaking, rended and rendered,
reminding her that she was so, so sick of death. All it carried. All it buried.”
Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

 “She had been so stubborn, thinking that she had to learn to count on her own strength.
She did. But leaning on a man - when he was the right man,
when he was good and kind and decent - didn't make her weak. It made her strong.”
Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne

“You have me. Until ever last star in the galaxy dies. You have me.”
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

 “It’s not about what I say, right? It’s what I do that matters here.”
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

 “I knew exactly where he existed in my heart; I had no idea where he existed in the universe.”
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
In June, I started off the month with my May 2017 recap. Then, I talked about judging a book by its cover and how I almost missed out on The Mothers by Britt Bennet because of it. I shared ten reasons people should read The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn, a recent favorite read for me. I wrote about my love for The Haven Point Series by RaeAnne Thayne with another list-y review. Next, Alexa and I caught up on our Picky Pledge Reading Challenge! I posted my reviews for a book I bought because it was on sale (The Memory Book by Lara Avery), a book I bought because it was the next in a series (The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall) and a book I bought on audio (Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin). And finally, I wrapped up the month with my Quick Lit: May 2017 post, where I recapped what I read in May.
1. Reading with Kid: A Work in Progress by Christine at Buckling Bookshelves - This was definitely one of my favorite posts in June, and not just because I could completely relate to it! I loved Christine's look at how her reading habits have changed since her son was born, and it inspired me to ask myself the same question.

2. My Anne of Green Gables Collection by Rachel at Hello, Chelly - As a lifelong lover of Anne Shirley, I collect copies of Anne of Green Gables because it's meant so much to me as a reader. I love that Rachel collects it too, and I loved the updated look at her collection. She's a kindred spirit! Now, I've got some shopping to do...

3. Your Most Boringly Useful Websites by Jessica at Go Fug Yourself - I love Afternoon Chats at GFY, especially when it's about something I didn't know I needed in my life. There were so many great (and useful!) website recommendations in the comments that I saved the whole post for future reference. 

Favorite Song #1: "Strip That Down" by Liam Payne feat. Quavo
I think Twitter made me look up this song, and I was hooked from my first listen.
I can't even tell you how many times I played this song during the month!

Favorite Song #2: "Slow Hands" by Niall Horan
After loving Harry Styles' album in May and then Liam's single, I looked up Niall's song.
And what do you know? I couldn't stop listening to that one either! 

Beauty and the Beast (2017) starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens - I initially put off seeing Beauty and the Beast in theaters because I didn't want to deal with the crowds. Then days turned to weeks, and I realized that I'd missed my chance. Of course, I bought the Blu-Ray on release day. Although it was gorgeous, I didn't love it as much as I expected. I wasn't feeling the chemistry between Dan and Emma, among a few other things.

Life Unexpected, Seasons 1-2, starring Shiri Appleby, Kristoffer Polaha and Britt Robertson - I think I saw someone mention this show on Twitter, which made me look it up on Netflix. I watched the first episode because I like Shiri Appleby and Britt Robertson, and that was all it took for me to binge watch it in June. The relationship drama got repetitive by the end, but I still loved this sweet and funny show. I'm sad it was canceled back in the day!

Pre-Ordered Prior to My Buying Ban: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Used Existing Audible Credits: Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin and Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

June 30, 2017

Quick Lit: May 2017

One of my worst blogging habits is my inability to write about what I've read in a timely manner. So, I'm trying something new: recapping what I read at the end of each month and linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy. I feel like "traditional" reviews have declined in popularity, although I'll still be writing some every month, so I'm hoping this will be a fun way to share what I'm reading. The exception will be review books that I can't discuss yet! 

Yes, you read the post's title correctly. I am finally posting my May Quick Lit. To be honest, I had most of these mini reviews written at the beginning of June but kept forgetting to take photos of the books. Oh well! 

If you missed it, in May I reviewed The Bone Season, The Mime Order and The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon, Disruption and Corruption by Jessica Shirvington and The Mothers by Brit Bennett. I reviewed a number of other books in June, but I'll link to those in my June Quick Lit post.

THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID | I don't want to begrudge an author the opportunity to write in a new genre or try something completely different. But if I'd read this without the author's name attached, I'd never have guessed the truth in a million years. This didn't have any the trademark TJR qualities I've come to love, and it breaks my heart to say it. Every character in this book was incredibly unlikeable, a number of aspects of the plot were just too convenient, the ending was awful and the theme/message was done in such a heavy-handed way. I'm so very sad to say that I So Disliked It.*

A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN BY SARAH J. MAAS | If I had to choose my "most anticipated book of 2017," it would be this one. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and re-reading the first two books in April just increased my excitement tenfold. Thankfully, it completely lived up to my expectations! The action was intense, the emotion was palpable, and I loved exploring more of the Courts in this world. But it was the characters who truly brought this book to life and have made this series an all-time favorite. I adore the Inner Circle - individually and as a group! While ACOMAF is the best in the series, ACOWAR was amazing and I'm So Obsessed With It.  

HUNTED BY MEAGAN SPOONER | This is a book that ended up on my radar because I kept seeing other bloggers talk about it. In this Beauty and the Beast retelling, Yeva (Beauty) must track down her father after he disappears while hunting a mysterious creature. Her search leads her to a ruined castle, a strange Beast and a curse. While I enjoyed the descriptive writing and the wintery fairy tale vibe, the pace was just so slow. It felt like nothing was happening! And I wasn't very invested in the characters, which was a bummer. I was So Okay With It overall, but I'm definitely in the minority with that opinion so it's probably worth a try for fans of retellings!

GOODNIGHT FROM LONDON BY JENNIFER ROBSON | Goodnight from London is set during WWII and is the story of an American journalist, Ruby Sutton, who is given the chance to move to London to report on the war. I thought the story had a lot of potential, the time period was well researched, and the focus on a war reporter felt unique among most of the WWII fiction I've read. However, it was just lacking that bit of oomph for me. I found most of the characters forgettable, the plot a bit too predictable (possibly because I've read a lot of this time period) and wasn't emotionally invested what was happening. I was So Okay With It for those reasons.*

THE ROYAL WE BY HEATHER COCKS & JESSICA MORGAN | This book is one of my all-time favorites - and not just because I love Go Fug Yourself and modern royalty! Bex Porter is an American who falls in love with Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. It's loosely inspired by William and Kate, but it definitely stands on its own merits. You can read my original review for more in-depth thoughts on why I love the book so much, but I can now recommend the audiobook version, too! Narrator Christine Lakin was such a delight to listen to, and she somehow managed to make me love the book more - even though I was already So Obsessed With It

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

June 29, 2017

“You and I are not monsters. If anything, we’re miracles.”

Although it came out in 2015, Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin was never really on my radar. I wasn't crazy about the cover, and I zoned out the few times I scanned the summary. There's something about the words "motorcycle race" that just made me mentally dismiss the book. However, I felt like I kept seeing people talk about it earlier this year - which surprised me since it's not a new book. When I spotted it in Audible's "First in Series" sale in February, I loved the narrator's voice in the sample and decided to buy it. So, it immediately came to mind for June's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt: "A Book You Bought on Audio."

Wolf by Wolf is historical fiction... except it's not. It's an alternative history: set in 1956 and in a world where the Axis powers won World War II. Yael, a former death camp prisoner, is tasked with one mission by the resistance: assassinate Hitler. The reclusive Hitler always attends the Victor's Ball at the end of an annual motorcycle race, and last year he allowed the winner of the race to dance with him. Yael is uniquely qualified for the mission because she possesses the ability to skinshift (due to human experimentation in the camp). So, she's able to impersonate the previous winner, Adele Wolfe, in this year's race. But she doesn't count on Adele's twin brother, Felix, entering too... or the watchful eyes of Luka, another rider.

There are two main timelines in the story: Then and Now. Now is 1956 and follows Yael through the motorcycle race. It introduces treacherous characters who'll stop at nothing to win, surprising moments of kindness, the harsh reality of spending that much time on a motorcycle, the fear of being discovered, the complication of a twin brother tagging along, and the threat of a secret connection between Adele and a boy. 

Then is the story of Yael before - of how she became. It is the train journey, the camp, the Doctor, the needles, the loss, the escape, the resistance... It's all the moments in Yael's life that have led to this one. She has five wolves tattooed on her arm that cover the numbers marking her as a death camp prisoner and serve as a tribute to the loved ones she has lost. They are the reason she fights. And in Then, you get to hear their stories. 

I'm not always a fan of dual timeline, but I absolutely loved it in this book. I was swept up in the action of the motorcycle race - and in the fear that someone would uncover Yael's secret. In the portions in the past, I was moved by the suffering Yael experienced and all that had been taken from her. It allowed me to see so many sides to her: the fighter, the survivor, the victim. And through it all, I admired her strength of will.

I enjoyed the pacing of the book. The portions leading up the race and during it are exciting and nerve wracking. There's so much on the line and so many ways it could go wrong. But I liked the shift to the past, too, and how those portions were a bit slower. I never felt like the Then sections interrupted the flow of Now. Instead, they added depth by fleshing out all the reasons Yael must not fail at her task.

Listening to Wolf by Wolf on audio exemplified why I love this format so much. Narrator Christa Lewis brought so much to the story - everything from accents to a richness of emotions. I honestly think I loved the book more because I was listening to it than I might have if I'd picked up the hardcover. I was completely immersed in the story! And as soon as the book ended, I hopped on Audible and bought the sequel, Blood for Blood, so I could continue. The audio made it such a wonderful reading experience.

I can't tell you anything about the plot of Blood for Blood because it might spoil the ending to the first book. I'll just say that it increased the tension and the stakes tenfold. I loved the way it shifts to focus primarily on three characters. While Yael still anchors the book, it was wonderful to have her story juxtaposed with two others that were quite different. There were twists that I didn't see coming, and Graudin made several choices that surprised me. I was racing to find out how it would end, and I honestly didn't expect to be so emotional. 

In case you can't tell, I loved reading Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood! If I've convinced you to give them a try, I hope you'll strongly consider listening to them on audio. I just can't say enough about how much I loved the way Christa Lewis narrated! But no matter what format you choose, these books are worth reading. The writing, characters, and plot were all on my mind long after the books were over.

PS: Pretend that I took a photo highlighting the audio editions instead of the hardcovers. #struggle
Narrated by: Christa Lewis
Release Date: October 2015; November 2016 | Publisher: Hachette; Little Brown BFYR
Pages: 400 pages; 481 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Audiobook 

This was my sixth read for The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge that Alexa and I are doing in 2017! It's the perfect motivation to read books from my TBR and adds an extra dose of accountability, too. In addition to reading and reviewing one challenge book per month, we're answering three questions about each one!

1. How long has this book been on your TBR?
Not long - only since February of this year! I had older, unfinished audiobooks in my account, but they're all be re-reads. I figured I'd choose something new-to-me, even though it hasn't been on my TBR very long!

2. Why did you choose to buy it in audiobook format? 
Although Wolf by Wolf came out in 2015, it wasn't on my radar until earlier this year. I kept seeing people talk about, and then I noticed it in Audible's "First in Series" sale. I couldn't resist because I loved the sample.

3. Would you listen to more audiobooks with this narrator?
I would! Christa Lewis added so much to the reading experience that I feel like I probably loved the books more than I might have if I'd just read the hardcover myself. She exemplified why I love this format!

June 28, 2017

"For a long time we didn't know what we wanted."

There was something about the shift from spring to summer that made me think of The Penderwicks. I'm sure it's partly the fact that the novel takes place over the course of one exciting summer. But there was something else to it - I was longing for the charm of the story and the feeling of nostalgia that I got when I first read it. It was released in 2005, but I remember thinking that it read like a classic and could easily find a home next to my well-worn (and very loved) copies of books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.

It's not historical fiction, though there are moments where I find myself imagining that it's all happening in the past. But Birdsall's lovely writing, the charming characters and the sweet (and funny) plot give it a timeless quality that I just adore. The first book in the series is the story of the four Penderwick sisters and their father, a widower, who spend their summer in a rental cottage on a large Berkshire estate. I loved it the first time around and decided to re-read it recently when I couldn't get the book off my brain.

One of my goals with The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge was to tackle books on my TBR that I had purchased prior to this year. They didn't necessarily have to be older books, but I wanted to feel like I was making a dent in stuff that was already sitting on my shelves. I've done pretty well so far, but I cheated a little bit with the "A Book You Bought Because It's the Next in a Series" prompt. 

In one way, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street has been on my TBR for five years. I finished The Penderwicks back in 2012 and always meant to continue the series. However, I technically just bought a copy of this book for myself last month. That's why I said I kind of cheated with this one. But when I decided to re-read the first book, I figured this prompt was the perfect excuse to dive into the second! I'm glad I did, even though I probably should have read one of the "next in series" books that I've owned for ages.

I finished my re-read of the first book in a day - and loved it even more than I had originally! I started the next book a few days later, and for some reason it took me a week to finish it. This is a Middle Grade novel, so it's technically something that would be pretty easy to finish in a day. I love the writing, but it's definitely accessible and not difficult to get through. The plot is adorable, but it's not too complex. Truthfully, I think I just wanted to savor the reading experience. I didn't want to rush through it and on to the next book.

In The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, the sisters and their father are back at home for the fall. Adventure follows them wherever they go, but this time it's one they all desperately want to avoid: Mr. Penderwick's sister has decided it's time for him to start dating again. The girls come up with the Save Daddy Plan to make sure they don't end up with a stepmother. It's hilarious and heartwarming!

If I had to choose, I think I liked the story in the first book a bit better. There's something magical about the summer and all the mishaps the sisters get into in their little rental cottage. The second book, by contrast, is a bit more serious. There's still a lot of humor and hijinks, but the prospect of Mr. Penderwick dating (and how each sister reacts to it) casts a more serious shadow on the novel. That being said - I loved how it all turned out!

But it's the sisters that brought me into this series and will have me reading it again and again in the future. I'm always drawn to stories about sisters, and these are two of the best sister stories that I've read. The girls have so much depth! I love the different storylines they each have and how they all converge for the main conflict of their father's decision to date (four years after the death of their mother). I find myself smiling and laughing the whole time I'm reading. Take, for example, this conversation between Jane and Skye:
“Jane,” she said, climbing down from the chair. “Remember last year when I built that model wind tower for you and you wrote those poems for me?”
“And you said you'd never switch homework assignments with me again.”
“For good reason. My teacher had a hard time believing I wrote Tra-la the joy of tulips blooming, Ha-ha the thrill of bumblebees zooming. I'm alive and I dance, I'm alive though death is always looming. When I finally convinced her that I had, she asked me if I needed to talk to the school counselor.”
That moment cracked me up! I just find these books so charming. They're a little on the slow side, but they aren't boring at all. While I was reading, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I'd like to listen to these on audio. I bet they're wonderful read aloud! I feel like I haven't talked that much about what happens in the books or exactly why I love them, but the truth is that it's hard for me to explain it. There are so many reasons I could recommend it, but the biggest one is the way I feel when I'm reading them. It's like returning to my childhood and to the books that made me a reader. And what more needs to be said beyond that?
Release Date: April 2008 | Publisher: Random House; Knopf BFYR
Pages: 320 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover

This was my fifth read for The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge that Alexa and I are doing in 2017! It's the perfect motivation to read books from my TBR and adds an extra dose of accountability, too. In addition to reading and reviewing one challenge book per month, we're answering three questions about each one!

1. How long has this book been on your TBR?
I finished the first book in 2012 and planned to continue the series. So, in that respect, this book has been on my TBR for five years. However, I didn't actually buy the book until last month. 

2. What made you want to keep reading the series? 
I loved the first book because it reminded me so many of my favorite childhood classics, and at the time it was immediately something that I could picture myself reading aloud to future children. There is a timelessness to it that I just love. Thankfully, that feeling continued with the second book!

3. Will you continue reading this series?
Absolutely! I'd planned to read all four back-to-back, but then I got sidetracked. I'm hoping to finish the other two books by the end of the year (and then the fifth and final book whenever it's released). 
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