June 30, 2015

Finding New Favorites in 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic and invite everyone to share their answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so I obviously love this feature!

Top Ten Books in 2015 (So Far)


ADULT

1. Here's Looking at You by Mhairi McFarlane
"As with every Mhairi McFarlane book, I was laughing and tearing up while reading! I love that her books are "light but not shallow" - a phrase coined by Sarah from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves that's truly the perfect description... Here's Looking at You stands on its own and is a new favorite for me!" | My Thoughts
2. It's Not Me, It's You by Mhairi McFarlane
"I picked this up when I was in a reading funk, and it was just what I needed! It was a breath of fresh air - a book that gave me that "I just found a new favorite" feeling. I started this 531-page beauty after work and finished it that evening. I didn't leave my room until I was done because it was too good to put down! I would happily recommend this book to readers who love adult fiction with humor, heart and a dose of happiness." | My Thoughts
3. These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
I found this book at the used bookstore a year or so ago and purchased it on a whim because it had great ratings on Goodreads. I stuck it on my shelf with the intention of reading at some point, but I wasn't in a rush. It came to my attention again when I read this post, and I decided to move it up my TBR. I took it with me on vacation, read it in a day and fell in love. I want to read it again right now! Sarah Agnes Prine is an incredible heroine, and I discovered a new all-time favorite love story. | Thoughts to Come
4. Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
"Happiness for Beginners exceeded all of my expectations, and it's earned a spot on my forever favorites shelf. I started flipping back through to find a quote for my review, and ended up reading it again. If I love a book enough to read it twice in one month, it's definitely earned my highest rating! BUY IT, AND I'M NOT SAYING PLEASE." | My Thoughts
5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
"There's a storyline about a precious gem in this book, so it seems fitting to tell you that I didn't realize I had a jewel sitting on my bookshelves unread. The cover may be gorgeous, but the story inside is even better. I read to discover books like All the Light We Cannot See! I'd highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to fans of historical fiction. Doerr will transport you with his words, and you'll be all the better for the journey." | My Thoughts
6. The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
"This is the kind of adult fiction I crave! It's a book I'd love to read on the beach but would be equally comfortable discussing with a book club. It's proof that a book can be entertaining and thought provoking. I'll be pushing this one on my reading friends and my non-reader but royalty-loving friends. I had a feeling I'd enjoy this one, but I'm happy to say that I absolutely loved it. It's one that I want on my shelves and plan to re-read!" | My Thoughts
"I can't tell you the last time I laughed so hard and got so choked up - and in the same book too. It's eccentric, imaginative, insightful and touching. I'm buying a copy for my shelves, plus a few extras for some good old-fashioned book pushing. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry will be on all of my "Best of 2015" lists and will have a spot of my favorites shelf for life." | My Thoughts
YOUNG ADULT

8. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
"If you think the beginning is slow, just wait until it's time to go Under the Mountain. It's a place you'll never forget! The ending was more resolved than I expected, which makes me even more excited to see what's in store for the rest of this series. A Court of Thorns and Roses wasn't a perfect read, but I loved almost everything about this twist on a tale as old as time!" | My Thoughts
9. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
"I've started taking notes on a book as soon as I finish reading it (a habit I should have developed long ago), and my initial reaction to Under a Painted Sky was - HOLY. COW. I was hoping I'd enjoy this book, but I had no idea that it was going to become a forever favorite for me. This was such an incredible read - and so deserving of all the praise it's received so far! Honestly, I'm just excited I get to join the chorus telling you to READ IT." | My Thoughts
10. The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas
"From amazing characters to an action-packed plot, Thomas has written a book that has cemented this series as an all-time favorite for me. I cannot wait to see what happens next, even if I'm scared of what Thomas has in store! If you haven't picked up these books, IT'S TIME TO REMEDY THAT PROBLEM. If you have read them, can we just agree they're FANTASTIC?" | My Thoughts

June 29, 2015

Picky Pledge Check-In #2

What is The Picky Pledge? Well, it's a partnership between me and Alexa from Alexa Loves Books where we hold each other accountable for the books we've acquired in 2015. For more details on The Picky Pledge, be sure to visit the introduction post. We're excited about making more intentional reading choices this year! 

Alexa and I decided to post quarterly check-ins analyzing what we've learned so far and where we have room to grow. But I've also created a page to track my progress, which you can check out if you want a more in-depth look at what I've bought and read for review. With six months down, here's how 2015 is shaping up...
For this section, we were inspired by our original stats post from earlier this year. Since our Picky Pledge keeps us on track with review books and buying, our check-ins will highlight the two charts relevant to those areas!
SOURCE BREAKDOWN

I was in a bit of a reading slump for the first quarter of 2015, but I've completely broken out of it now. I've read 94 books so far in 2015, and the craziest part is that 32 were in the first quarter and 62 have been in the second quarter. I'm really pleased with this breakdown: 17 were books read for review, 11 were books I bought in 2015, 11 were borrowed books (library and friends), and 55 were books that I owned (TBR and re-reads). The catalyst for Picky Pledge was the desire to read more of what I owned and fewer review books, and I'm doing both!
BOOKS BOUGHT BREAKDOWN

My progress hasn't been awful here, but it's still not excellent. I've purchased 49 books in 2015: 6 with gift cards (from my birthday) and 43 on my own. The breakdown above only takes into account books I bought on my own, since that's really what I'm tracking with the Picky Pledge. Of those 43 books, I've read 8 since I bought them, 13 are on my TBR, and and 22 were books I read prior to buying them (read for review, buying a different edition, etc.). I think I'm doing much better than last year, but there's still room to grow!
1. Adding books I want to re-read to my TBR shelf has changed my whole attitude towards my shelves. There's a bookshelf in my bedroom that I use to keep everything that's on my TBR. It's been that way for at least a year, and I've enjoyed that system for the most part. But I realized that I sometimes struggled to pick a book because nothing felt new. Adding in books I wanted to re-read gave it a much-needed refresh!

2. If I'm in the mood to buy a book, I can purchase one for someone else! You know that feeling where you just want to buy something? That's often what gets me in trouble when I'm shopping online. I don't need any more books, but one catches my eye and it's all downhill from there. It occurred to me recently that I don't always have to buy something for myself. I could use that feeling as an opportunity to buy someone a random gift.

3. The library is great when I get a sudden craving for a certain type of book. While I can go overboard with library requests, I can't deny that it's perfect for those moments when I want to read something super specific that's not on my shelves. I don't need to buy something just because the mood strikes, but that doesn't mean I can't read what I'm craving! I've been turning to the library in those moments, and it's been just what I needed.
1. Don't let being at home during BEA lead to a requesting binge. I didn't do too bad with book buying this quarter, but I totally failed with review books. Thankfully, I was so good in the first quarter that I'm not necessarily failing this portion of the Picky Pledge. But I definitely got a little book crazy during BEA! I requested way too much books and was approved for more than I anticipated. At least I'm really excited about all of them!

2. When in doubt, don't. This applies to review books and book buying. If I'm hesitating to get something, for any reason, I need to learn to just walk away. Usually, the books I regret reading are the ones I'd been unsure of in the first place. If I'm still thinking about the book days later, it will still be there for me to read - and then I'll know I want to read it and won't be getting it on a whim. I'm definitely guilty of buying/requesting when I should wait.

3. A reading binge can work for your progress or against it. I spent the first part of 2015 in a bit of a slump, and I was falling behind my typical yearly progress. Since the start of the second quarter, I've been in a reading binge. I recently realized that a reading binge can be good and bad for the Picky Pledge. It can help me work through my TBR, but it can also propel me to request way more review books and do a lot more book buying.

June 26, 2015

Little House Lit

Illustration by Garth Williams
When I was little, I remember wishing I could find more books like The Little House series. I wanted covered wagons, prairie adventures, sleigh rides, sweet courtships, loving families, awesome sisters... If it bore a passing resemblance to this series, I was interested. And that's why I'm so excited about this final installment of our Little House celebration! Today, Alexa is sharing fiction to check out after Little House and I'm highlighting non-fiction. If you're someone who finishes a book you love thinking "I want more like that," this post is for you.

LAURA & LITTLE HOUSE


Laura Ingalls Wilder Country by William Anderson - Laura Ingalls Wilder Country takes readers on a tour of the real world of the beloved author by visiting the people and places that inspired her books.

The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Wallace - If you're a fan of the Little House series, you know that food is frequently mentioned! This cookbook includes more than 100 recipes introducing the food of her childhood.

A Little House Traveler by Laura Ingalls Wilder - Laura crossed the country by covered wagon, by train, and by car. This book compiles her journal entries and letters from three of her most memorable journeys.

Laura's Album by Laura Ingalls Wilder & William Anderson - Throughout her life, Laura saved mementos from her past, including letters, drawings and photographs. This book gathers it all into one volume!

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder - Laura's autobiography is now annotated with valuable context from additional manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers and other sources.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life by Pamela Smith Hill - If you're looking for a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, this appears to be your best bet! Hill provides the context for Wilder's incredible writing career.

LAURA TODAY


Confessions of Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrin - The actress who played the infamous Nellie Oleson on the Little House on the Prairie TV show has written a memoir about portraying Nellie and what she learned from the experience.

My Life as Laura by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson - Wanting to know more about herself and her favorite heroine, Ferguson retraced Laura's journey. Part travelogue, part memoir and part social commentary.

Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert - If you're going to read a memoir from the villain of the TV show, you've got to read one from the actress who played Laura Ingalls! This doesn't focus solely on Little House, but it is included.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure - McClure retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family, immerses herself in all things Little House, and pursues "the Laura experience." A tribute to the impact of childhood obsessions!

LIFE IN LAURA'S TIME


The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck - Buck traveled the 2,000-mile length of the Oregon Trail in a wagon with a team of mules and shares the rich history of the trail, the people who used it, and its significant to the country.

Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller - Using journal entries, letters home, and song lyrics, this book lets the women of the West speak for themselves in 16 tales of "homesteaders, entrepreneurs and rabble-rousers."

Lions of the West by Robert Morgan - From Thomas Jefferson's birth in 1743 to the California Gold Rush in 1849, Morgan shares the story of ten Americans who pushed the westward boundaries.

Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides - This book brings the history of the American conquest of the West to life. It's a story of "how the West was really won - a sweeping tale of shame and glory."

Have you read any non-fiction about Laura Ingalls Wilder?
What about about westward expansion in the US?

June 25, 2015

Let's Discuss Little House

Illustration by Garth Williams
Alexa from Alexa Love Books and I have teamed up for Looking Back at Little House, a three-day blog event celebrating our love for this favorite childhood series. Yesterday, we shared some Little House memories, but it's all about our re-read today! We've got thoughts on the series overall, answers to questions that popped up while we were reading and our favorite things about this series. Be sure to check out Alexa's post too!

THE RE-READ
When I opened the first page of Little House in the Big Woods, it was like stepping back in time. Everything from the illustrations to the narration took me back to my childhood. I was nervous before starting my re-read that these wouldn't live up to my memories, but I'm so pleased to say that they were still quite enjoyable. The simple and direct writing style made these an easy series binge. I finished all nine in just three days!

As much as I enjoyed my re-read, I don't think I loved them as much as an adult as I did when I was younger. I'm not sure that I'd read them again in the future, unless I was reading them with my future children. I think there's a sense of magic and wonder in reading them when you're young, especially realizing how different life was during Laura's time, that I didn't necessarily feel this time around. But these books will remain on my favorites shelf, and I hope I get the chance to read them with a child experiencing them for the first time!

I think my favorite part about re-reading this series was the way I saw everything in a new light. As a kid, I appreciated the adventure, the danger, the simplicity and the history. I romanticized everything in the books and saw all of their experiences through a rosy, positive glow. As an adult, I think my reaction has more depth to it. I can see the racial prejudices, the best and worst in the characters, the difficulty of this life and the challenges of being a woman during this time... but I also have a deeper appreciation for the resiliency of pioneers, the incredible love between the Ingalls family and the simple joy in unselfishness and gratitude.


THE REACTION

Was there anything that stood out to you as an adult that you missed as a child? 
I think the biggest thing that stood out to me this time was how selfish Pa could be. Laura idolizes her father, and I think I felt the same way she did when I read it as a child. As an adult, I couldn't help seeing him through new eyes. He's constantly uprooting his family, rarely in a good financial situation and makes decisions on a whim. He clearly loves his wife and children, but I realized he's not without flaws.

How did you feel about the portrayal of historical details and events? 
I was on Tumblr the other day, and I saw a screenshot of a message from Warner Brothers studio that read:
The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today's society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. x
Honestly, I can't think of a better way to describe my reaction to the portrayal of historical details and events in this book. There is so much value in the Little House series, including what it teaches children about this time period and life in the West. It shows the best part of the pioneering spirit, but it also shines a sad light on the way Native Americans, African Americans and immigrants were treated. Either way, I'm glad this series gives readers a peek into the past. It's a fascinating portrayal that made me want to learn even more.

What’s the most memorable moment of the series for you? 
I couldn't remember any specific moments prior to re-reading, but I know exactly what I'll imagine when I think of the Little House series now: Almanzo driving his sleigh miles and miles in the dead of winter every weekend to bring Laura home to her family because she's miserable and homesick at her first teaching job. HEART EYES.

What character trait best represents this series? 
Sacrifice. While there are exceptions, I was shocked by how unselfish and sacrificial people are in these books. Almanzo risked his life to get wheat for the town when they were starving. Laura gave up the money she earned as a teacher to make sure Mary could stay in school. Ma left behind her home and family because her husband wanted to go West. I could give example after example of the sacrifices made by the characters.

What did you notice about roles within the family and within society? 
I definitely noticed that Pa was the authority figure in the family, and it was a big deal for Ma to say anything contradicting him. Ma was responsible for the chores like cleaning, cooking and keeping house and Pa farmed and went hunting. The children were expected to be seen and not heard, as well as to obey their parents in all things. But Laura told Almanzo she didn't want to include the word "obey" in their vows - and he agreed!

What would be the hardest aspect of living the way they did? 
For me, it's a tie between the amount of hard work they performed and the isolation of living where they did. There is so much effort that goes into everything from cooking to cleaning during that time. I take the comforts of my life today for granted! I can't imagine having to work that much to merely survive. But I also think it would be incredibly difficult to live in a place that's so removed from everyone else. There's a beauty in the open country, but there is also loneliness and additional hardship simply in being all on your own.

If you moved as often as the Ingalls family, what would you choose to bring with you? 
Well, I certainly wouldn't make my dog, Jackson, walk behind the wagon! But as far as objects go, I'd probably bring a family Bible, a few special books and some important photographs. I love the furniture and decorations in my home, but none of them are as significant as the stuff that reminds me of the people I love.

What lessons did you learn from reading Laura’s life story? 
One of the biggest things I learned was the idea that you control your attitude no matter the circumstance. Whether you're living in a home of dirt or a place with walls and windows, you can still find joy in your life and love for the people around you. You may be angry or sad at times, but there's something powerful and beautiful about choosing to be positive in the face of adversity.

If you wrote a book based on your life, how would it compare to Laura’s story? 
There are a lot of aspects that would be quite different. I got to have a lot more fun and work a lot less as a child than Laura did! I've lived in Georgia my whole life, so you'd see a lot less of the country in my story. But the one thing I think would be the same is the love between family and the bittersweet nature of growing up. 

Would you read these books again - on your own or with future children? 
I don't know if I would read these again on my own, but I'd definitely read them with my children! I'd love to be able to share it with them and experience the whole series through their eyes. I think it would be so cool to see how they react to certain things! I think it would spark some important discussions about the past, too.

THE RECAP

Favorite Book: Without question, it's These Happy Golden Years (#8). There's just so much swooning!

Favorite Illustration: See right!

Favorite Quote: “She thought to herself, 'This is now.' She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.” - Little House in the Big Woods

Favorite Place They Live: I'm partial to their cabin in the woods of Wisconsin. It's so cozy and close to family!

Favorite Character: While Laura will always be my first favorite, my second is Almanzo. It's practically a given since These Happy Golden Years and Farmer Boy are my favorites books of the series. 

Favorite Animal: I've always been a horse nerd, so I fell in love with Prince and Lady (Almanzo's horses).

Favorite Food: I'd happily devour Mrs. Wilder's stack of pancakes with maple syrup and butter!

Favorite Chore: I loved Almanzo breaking his oxen, Bright and Star, in Farmer Boy.

Favorite Craft/Activity: There are so many options, but I'm quite fond of when they play in Plum Creek.

Favorite Moments:
  • Scary Moment: There are many scarier moments, but the most memorable for me was when the Ingalls cross the river and Jack gets lost because Pa wouldn't let him ride in the wagon.
  • Sweet Moment: It's an obvious choice, but I love when Almanzo proposes. I like how Laura's family asks her about the engagement, and she's very insistent that she's not just marrying him for his horses.
  • Silly Moment: When two men in town got drunk and walked down the street singing loudly, Laura found it quite funny. Everyone else in the family was horrified, but Pa totally understood her reaction.
  • Surprising Moment: I was shocked when Pa knew that Almanzo was hiding seeds in the walls during the winter, took out the plug and got some to help feed his family.
  • Sad Moment: While everything in The First Four Years is sad, I can't call any of it a favorite moment. So, my favorite sad moment is probably when Mary goes off to college. Such a bittersweet thing!
  • Sassy Moment: Nellie joins Laura and Almanzo's carriage ride, so Laura purposely scares the horses so Nellie won't ride with them again. It made me laugh so hard, especially because Almanzo saw her do it.
How would you answer these questions?
What are your Little House favorites?

June 24, 2015

Looking Back Little House

Illustration by Garth Williams
Whether or not you've always been a reader, chances are good that you've got at least a few favorite books from childhood. But if you were a total bookworm as a kid? A few probably doesn't even begin to cover it! There's something so significant about the books that impact you as a kid and stay with you through adulthood. For me, that's been the case with The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I started talking about the series one day with Alexa from Alexa Loves Books - enjoying the walk down memory lane and our shared love and respect for these books. While we both considered it a childhood favorite, it had been years since either one of us had re-read it. And since I'm co-hosting The Re-Read Challenge this year, it seemed like the perfect motivation and opportunity to revisit this beloved series. So, Looking Back at Little House was born! During the next few days, we'll share our thoughts on the books after re-reading, some of our favorite moments and what to read after you're done. But today, it's all about our memories!

EXPERIENCES
There are a few series that will always be linked to my childhood memories, and this is one of them. As a kid, I was obsessed with historical fiction. I still love it today, but nothing compares to my all-consuming love for this genre when I was growing up. I wanted to learn everything I possibly could about the past, and these books were a huge milestone on that journey. I can't even remember how I discovered them, though I suspect it was either in school or from my mother, but I was hooked from the first page! 

I loved the Ingalls family and the way they loved each other. I adored looking at the detailed illustrations and seeing my favorite moments depicted. Of course, my favorite aspect was the history! I learned so much about this time period, and it's one reason I think I've always been drawn to American history. When I was in third grade, my class read a book about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Once we finished, we got to celebrate by dressing up like pioneers. I WAS ALL OVER THAT BUSINESS (as you can see in the photo on the right). And then there was sixth grade... I can't remember all the details of the project, but I know we chose a partner and had to build something based on a book. My friend and I ended up building (with a lot of help from her dad) the Little House cabin. IT WAS AMAZING! I was a little too old to play with dollhouses at that point in time, but I totally wanted to keep it forever.

What did I remember about the series before our re-read? Not much, I'll admit! Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura and Carrie loomed large in my mind, though I completely forgot Grace. I remembered the cabin in the woods and the sod home by Plum Creek, but none of the many other places they lived. I vaguely recalled them traveling by covered wagon and the long winter without food. As far as the plot, the only things that stood out were Mary going blind and Laura marrying Almanzo. Like Alexa, I just saw the big picture without many details.

EXPECTATIONS
I was pretty nervous to re-read The Little House series as an adult! There are some books from childhood that have retained their magic for me, even as an adult reader, but there are others that have lost some of their charm. What if this series turned out to be the latter? I'd so forgotten the details, too, that I wondered if nostalgia had affected the way I thought of the series as a whole. However, I had hope that this would prove just as thrilling and lovely as it was when I was little! At the very least, I knew I was in for an adventure and a great discussion with Alexa. Check back tomorrow to find out if it lived up to my expectations...

Did you read the Little House series as a kid? 
Have you revisited any of the books as an adult?

June 22, 2015

The Dark Before the Dawn

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Release Date: June 2, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper
Pages: 480 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #2
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Summary (from Goodreads)
With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion. 

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling — and that of Kelsea’s own soul —may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

Thoughts on The Invasion of the Tearling
I fell in love with The Queen of the Tearling last year and couldn't wait to see what would happen next. During the wait between books, some of my excitement died down. I still wanted to read The Invasion of the Tearling, but I didn't feel like I had to read it as soon as I got my hands on it. So, I decided to re-read the first book. I'd basically forgotten most of the plot and hoped it would refresh my memory and rekindle my enthusiasm for the series. Thankfully, that's exactly what it did!

Re-reading The Queen of the Tearling reminded me of all the reasons I loved it in the first place, and then I was so happy to find out where The Invasion of the Tearling took these characters and this world. Queen Kelsea Raleigh Glynn must finally face the repercussions of that defining moment where she ended the shipment of slaves to Mortmesne. The Red Queen will make all of the Tearling pay for their defiance. But as time runs out and the threat draws nearer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a woman named Lily, who lived before the Crossing. Why is Kelsea seeing into her life? And how can it help her now?

The Invasion of the Tearling gets off to a bit of a slow start, but I was hooked by the end of the first section. One thing I noted about the first book was that the world felt a bit odd - it reads like historical fiction but is set in the future. I'd been hoping to better understand what the world was like before the Crossing, what caused it and why the world existed in its current state. As Kelsea establishes a connection with the woman from the past, you'll have many of these questions answered. The flashbacks were a bit jarring at first, but I soon found myself looking forward to them. I previously wished that the world was just historical fantasy, but I take it all back now. It's a creative and complicated world, and I love that it feels so different!

In the first book, Kelsea's actions set in motion of series of events that will change the course of history and usher in a new era for her kingdom. And that carries over into this book! All of the changes she makes have consequences - for both herself and her people. While she knew she was destined for this life, nothing could truly prepare her for the position. She's smart, decisive, brave and strong-willed. These qualities make her strong in a way her mother and uncle never were, but it can also be her weakness. She can be stubborn and reckless, and you see a whole new side of her in this book.

With power comes responsibility, and there's a darkness in Kelsea as she navigates this new territory. She becomes an even more complex character in this book, which fascinated me. She makes a lot of mistakes and questionable choices, but it felt so realistic for her character. In a way, she's very isolated and isn't surrounded by a great support system. Her Guards are fantastic, of course, but there aren't any great role models or advisors who can walk beside her in this journey. It hurts to see her pain and doubt, but it felt like a natural progression for her character. Even when she frustrated me, I was rooting for her to succeed.

I continued to love the secondary characters, and I love the storyline that seems to coming in the third book. The Invasion of the Tearling leaves its characters in a difficult place, and it will be so exciting to see how they resolve everything. As I mentioned, I love Kelsea's Guard in this book! I was so glad that I re-read the first book, however, because it gave me a deeper appreciation for their role in her life. And it reminded me of many of the other minor characters that I'd forgotten but are significant to the story.

The Invasion of the Tearling went in a direction I never expected, and I have honestly no idea what will happen next. The book tackles tough issues, places its characters in impossible situations and raises the stakes even higher. There's so much depth in this world and in this story - leaving Johansen room to explore and readers much to discuss. I loved this one just as much as the first, and now I'm so invested in this series!

So Quotable
"I have business with your mistress. Let me pass."
"She will not negotiate," he gasped. "Even I won't defy her. She is terrible."
"Let me tell you a secret, General. I am worse."

June 19, 2015

"You were all her second chances."

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Atria
Pages: 384 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother's stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. 

When Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa's greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother's letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other. 

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman's internationally bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and an ode to one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.

Thoughts on My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
Y'ALL. This book wasn't on my radar until a publicist pitched it to me, and I decided to give it a shot. She mentioned that Backman's debut, A Man Called Ove, was her favorite book of 2014 and that made me curious. Now that I've read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, I'm so glad I picked it up! It is, as I wrote immediately after finishing, a favorite, favorite, favorite. Let me tell you why...

I had a good feeling about this book as soon as I started reading it. And in this case, I think you need to see it for yourself to understand just how utterly charming and captivating it is from the very first page:
from Amazon's "Look Inside" feature
DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN? Okay, maybe you're not utterly in love yet (though you should be). I'll continue to sell you on this book. As you may have read, Elsa is seven years old and different. For all of Elsa's life, she's had her grandmother by her side and telling her stories about the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. Because there, everybody is different. When Granny dies, it's those stories that prepare Elsa for her grandest - and most important - adventure: delivering a series of letters Granny has written apologizing to the people she's wronged. The letters lead her on a journey through Granny's past, reveal the truth behind all those fairy tales, and help her see the world and the people around her with new eyes.

Honestly, it freaks me out to think that I might have missed on on reading this book! It was absolutely FANTASTIC, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I laughed so hard I had to read passages out loud to my husband because he felt left out. I teared up so many times I had to put the book down until I could see clearly. I highlighted whole pages, and I could I read the whole thing over again right this minute. I fell madly in love with these characters, this story, and Backman's writing. There is so much heart and humor in these pages.

Backman is Swedish, so My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is translated into English. It's so easy for things to be lost in translation, but I cannot speak highly enough of the writing in this book. There's wit:
"Granny then said that the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the not-a-shit side as one can."
And moments that made me tear up: 
"Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild's ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact. A grandmother is both a sword and a shield."
I fell in love with these characters. I adored Elsa's spirit and intelligence, Granny's wisdom and irreverence, and the quirkiness of the people who lived in their building. It's a book that reminded me that everyone has a story, that you never know what people carry inside and that there's something special about marching to the beat of your own drum. It was a picture of fierce love, family bonds, second chances and powerful stories.

Granny's Land of Almost-Awake is creative and crazy, but there's more to it than meets the eye. She told Elsa that "the best stories are never completely realistic and never entirely made-up," and it was a delight to see how true that was about the world she built for her granddaughter. I didn't immediately see how the fairy tales fit into the story, but I had so much fun unraveling the mystery. The writing and the characters stole the show for me, but the plot is imaginative and thrilling, too. I just can't tell you anything more about it because it's best you discover it all for yourself. I need y'all to read it RIGHT NOW so we can flail over it together!

When it was time to write this review, I dragged my feet. It's hard to talk about the books I love this much! I'm so thankful a pitch for this showed up in my inbox because I might not have taken a chance on it otherwise. And I would have been missing out on something truly special! I can't tell you the last time I laughed so hard and got so choked up - and in the same book too. It's eccentric, imaginative, insightful and touching. I'm buying a copy for my shelves, plus a few extras for some good old-fashioned book pushing. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry will be on all of my "Best of 2015" lists and will have a spot of my favorites shelf for life.

So Quotable
"He just needs time."
"I think he needs help."
"It's hard to help those who don't want to help themselves."
"Someone who wants to help himself is possibly not the one who most needs help from others," Elsa objects.
*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 18, 2015

So Obsessed With: The Mini Edition #2

Some of my favorite posts are ones where bloggers highlight the products they're loving lately or the things they're currently coveting. I love this kind of content so much that I decided to start incorporating it into my blog by highlighting my loves and lusts and each season. I've enjoyed it so much that I wanted to turn it into a monthly thing. I'm going to continue doing a larger seasonal post each quarter, but in the "off" months I'm going to do themed mini editions. So, here are five computer wallpapers I'm so obsessed with:


Back in college, I followed so many different types of blogs: decorating, fashion, lifestyle, design and more. After joining the book blogging community, I pared down my blog subscriptions... I couldn't keep up with bookish posts and everything else! But there's one blog that's always stayed on my radar: designlovefest. It's a place "where type & images totally make out," and I absolutely love it. 

There's one feature in particular that's my favorite:


Every week, they share beautiful, free downloads for your desktop, iPhone, and/or iPad. Designs are created and submitted by incredibly talented individuals, which means you've got lots of options. If you like motivational words, you'll find those. Prefer modern, abstract art? Those are available too! Whether you love typography or photography, I have no doubt you'll find something that perfectly fits your style and your device.

Designs are shared every Thursday, and there are three years worth of images for you to browse. There have been 99 editions of this feature so far, and most posts include 3+ wallpaper options. I have a whole folder of favorites saved on my computer! If I was forced to choose just five, I'd go with the ones I've highlighted above:


But y'all, there are so many more I could have included! I usually gravitate towards words, but I love browsing the eye-catching patterns - both simple and whimsical. I've always got an eye out for wallpapers, but my favorite selection can be found here. Since I recently introduced a few work friends to the designlovefest blog, I thought it would be the perfect fit for this mini edition! Now, go dress your tech is something gorgeous.

Are obsessed with desktop wallpapers, too?
Where do you find your favorites?

June 17, 2015

From the Kitchen of Audrey Hepburn

Audrey at Home by Luca Dotti

Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Design
Pages: 256 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; Hardcover
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Summary (from Amazon)
Enter Audrey Hepburn’s private world in this unique biography compiled by her son that combines recollections, anecdotes, excerpts from her personal correspondence, drawings, and recipes for her favorite dishes written in her own hand, and more than 250 previously unpublished personal family photographs. 

Audrey at Home offers fans an unprecedented look at the legendary star, bringing together the varied aspects of her life through the food she loved—from her childhood in Holland during World War II, to her time in Hollywood as an actress and in Rome as a wife and mother, to her final years as a philanthropist traveling the world for UNICEF.

Audrey at Home is a personal scrapbook of Audrey’s world and the things she loved best—her children, her friends, her pets. It is a life that unfolds through food, photographs, and intimate vignettes in a sophisticated and lovely book that is a must for Audrey Hepburn fans and food lovers.

Thoughts on Audrey at Home
If you're a regular reader of my blog, you may know that I'm a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn. I even co-hosted an All About Audrey event last month with Rachel from Hello, Chelly! When a publicist reached out to me about reviewing Audrey at Home, I was thrilled. I have a lot of non-fiction books about Audrey, and I was excited to add another one to my collection.


Audrey at Home is something really special and unique. Compiled by her son, Luca Dotti, it looks at her life through the lens of the food she loved. It shares fifty recipes in the context of specific periods in Audrey's life. For example, there's Gazpacho Andaluz and Tortilla for Luca's first time on set with his mom and Baked Potato with Salmon for New Year's Eve. As with a typical cookbook, the recipes include step-by-step instructions and preparation tips. But what makes this book feel so special are the brief essays on each time in her life, the personal anecdotes preceding each recipe, and the 250 previously unpublished family photographs.

In the Introduction, Luca writes:
"The idea for this book, what I think of as a 'kitchen table biography,' emerged from the discovery of a frayed notebook. I was in my kitchen with my friend Alessia when she spotted a dusty binder. She took it off the shelf and a few pages fell out, some densely handwritten, with clippings and notes. Many described impressive and ambitious dishes, with complicated instructions, but these never made their way to our dining table. For, in the kitchen, as in life, my mother gradually freed herself from everything that was superfluous to keep only what truly mattered to her. These are the recipes you will find in the pages that follow — and the stories that go with them."

If you're a foodie and Audrey Hepburn fan, I have no doubt you'll love this book! I don't spend a lot of time cooking, but I enjoyed the angle of this biography. There's something personal about gathering in the kitchen and eating together. If the living room is where you entertain people, the kitchen is where you serve them.

Author Shauna Niequiest writes in Bread & Wine, "The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment." In Audrey at Home, I got to see this side of Audrey. I've always admired her humanitarian efforts and talent on screen, but it was lovely to see her as a hostess and mother through Luca's eyes. It seems that no matter where she lived and how long she was there, she made the people in her life feel loved and cherished.


I've read a lot of Audrey Hepburn biographies, and this one certainly felt unique. It covers some of the same information, but in a totally new way. The book briefly touches on Audrey's childhood in Holland and time in Hollywood, but it focuses mostly on the later part of her life by sharing Luca's memories and time he spent with her. The writing occasionally felt a bit choppy, but it didn't impact my overall enjoyment of the book. It's give you a more intimate look at her while still keeping the important things private. It's a celebration of the things that mattered most to her and a tribute to an incredible women from someone who knew her best.


Without a doubt, my favorite parts of this book are the never-before-seen photographs. Photo shoots, promotional images and movie stills are one thing... but it's so much cooler to see Audrey in her daily life. It takes her from an icon and actress to a human that's a mother, a wife and a hostess. I don't know if I'll ever cook any of the recipes shared in these pages, but I wouldn't hesitate to buy this book for an Audrey Hepburn fan. It's a book that's equally at home on coffee tables or in kitchen pantries. With a beautiful design and thoughtful look at its subject, Audrey at Home has certainly accomplished its purpose!

So Quotable
"... the notes in the margins of her favorite recipes matter as much as those in her scripts."
*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 16, 2015

Summer Sun & Sweet Treats

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic and invite everyone to share their answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so I obviously love this feature!

I have so much fun picking books for my seasonal TBR list, especially when I finish everything on my previous list. I recently read the last book on my spring TBR (aside from one DNF), so I'm headed into summer feeling quite accomplished. I had no problem coming up with today's list. I'm so excited to dive into these books! 

Top Twelve Books on My Summer TBR


It's Series-ously Time 

1 - 3. The Summer Trilogy by Jenny Han - I'd previously written these books off, but I've been dying to read more from Han after falling in love with To All the Boys I've Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You. These seem made to be read at the beach! I loved Han's writing and characters, and I'm hoping it's true for these too.

Call Me, Contemporary

4. Come Away with Me by Karma Brown - This wasn't on my radar, but Alexa found out about it at BEA and grabbed a copy for me. The ARC is blurbed by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which immediately gave it a million bonus points for me. I love the cover and summary and had to make myself stop reading when I was "sampling" it.

5.  Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid - One of my most anticipated 2015 releases! I fell in love with Taylor Jenkins Reid last year, and I push After I Do on everyone. I've been holding on to this one for the right time, even though I'm already dreading the moment it's over. I want an unlimited supply of books from Taylor!

6. Nowhere but Here by Katie McGarry - I still haven't read Take Me On (and McGarry's books can be a little hit or miss for me), but I'm excited about giving this one a shot. Some of my most trusted friends love it, which makes me think it will work for me. I can't wait to find out for sure, even if the summary makes me nervous.

We've Got History

7. These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly - Listen, I may have hyperventilated when I saw this cover and read this summary. I absolutely love Jennifer Donnelly, and I've been anxiously waiting for more historical fiction from her. Alexa got this signed for me at BEA, and I just want to sleep with it under my pillow and love it forever.

8. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain - I really enjoyed McLain's debut, The Paris Wife, and have been looking forward to reading more by her. Thankfully, this summary sounds like it's right up my alley! In fact, I think this one might work even better for me than her first book. Either way, I love historical fiction based on real people.

9. These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner - I've had this book sitting on my shelves for quite a while, and it's probably the oldest book on my summer TBR. Reading Nicole's post about the heroine convinced me that it was finally time to pick this one up. It sounds like an unforgettable read, and it's got amazing ratings.

What the Fantasy?!

10. The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas - Oh my goodness, I can't tell you how much I love this series! I read the first two books earlier this year, and I freaked out when I got approved for the third on Edelweiss. I won't be able to wait to read this book because I NEED TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS. I hope it's just as epic and romantic!

11. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken - I bought this book at Yallfest last year, and it's just been sitting on my bookshelf ever since. With all the BEA excitement over Passenger, I figured this read is long overdue. If I love it, I'm hoping to binge the whole series this summer. I've heard great things about it!

12. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir - I was already planning to read this book, but the news that there will be a sequel has made me even more determined to explore this world. I've heard somewhat mixed things, but I think it seems like it will be a fit for me based on the friends I have who've loved it. I'll soon find out for sure...

June 15, 2015

Postmarked by My Heart

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Release Date: May 26, 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Simon & Schuster BFYR
Pages: 337 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before #2
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I've Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Thoughts on P.S. I Still Love You
Last year, I picked up To All the Boys I Loved Before while at Barnes & Noble. I'd seen the cover online (because, hello, it's adorable) but had never read anything by Jenny Han. Do you ever think you know what a book is about or how an author writes without ever actually trying it? That's what happened to me with this author. I'm not sure why, but I just didn't think Han's books would work for me. But something about seeing the book in person convinced me that I could at least read a few pages... and then I ended up buying it a few minutes later. From those first sentences, I knew I'd found a favorite.

I decided to re-read it before diving into P.S. I Still Love You, which was such a good decision for me! I fell back in love with Lara Jean, wanted to hug and high five Kitty every time she appeared, and smiled the whole way through the book. While Lara Jean and I are very different, I could relate to her on so many levels. There are things about her personality and her story that just speak to me. But more than anything else, I fell in love with Han's writing. She perfectly captures this character. Lara Jean is innocent, but she's not naive. She's sweet and a little shy, but she's also bold and silly. She felt so real to me - I'm sad that I can't actually bake with her!

Based on the ending of To All the Boys I've Loved Before, I wasn't sure what to expect from P.S. I Still Love You. I'd loved her friendship with Peter and the way it was transforming into something more, but I was also a little nervous. Some of my thoughts on this book are slightly spoiler-y, so I'm going to share the general thoughts first and will then indicate when I'm going to go a little more in-depth. I loved all the same things in this book that I did in the first: the characters, the relationships (especially the family dynamics), the emotions, the writing... While there's a more serious tone in this book, it's still a charming and adorable read. 

Lara Jean goes through some tough stuff, but she handles it all so admirably. I think what I most appreciate about these books is that the characters seem like actual teenagers. While I can swoon over YA book boys with the best of them, there's a part of me that feels they're often unrealistic. I love YA for the way it portrays female characters in all their complexity, but I don't always feel the same way about the guys. I went to high school with some great guys, but they definitely weren't perfect. And so, I have to respect and admire the fact that Peter seemed like such a realistic teenage boy - even when he frustrated me. He's got a lot to learn about how to treat the people you love, but who doesn't at that age?

And I adored this passage so much:
"There’s a Korean word my grandma taught me. It’s called jung. It’s the connection between two people that can’t be severed, even when love turns to hate. You still have those old feelings for them; you can’t ever completely shake them loose of you; you will always have tenderness in your heart for them."
When I read this paragraph, it made me sit up and say "YES! THIS!" I've written a little bit about my crappy friendship experience on the blog, but I've been able to put this feeling into words before. I was trying to explain it to someone recently, and now I just want to give them this quote. Han writes with such honesty and clarity, and I think this reflects why I've grown to love these books so much. There are also some great conversations about feminism and double standards, though I did think they felt a bit heavy-handed. However, I liked the point that was being made, even if it felt a little too "message-y" to me.

** Spoilers Start **

Without going into too many details, I want to talk about one final thing. I mentioned that I loved that Peter felt real, but the flip side of that coin is that he screws up. He makes some mistakes in this book that are frustrating. I respected Lara Jean so much for the way she stood up for herself, but it still hurt to watch someone treat her poorly. I think his actions stem from the fact that he never really got closure on his relationship with Genevieve, but that doesn't absolve him either. And yet, I was still rooting for him. People make mistakes. I think Lara Jean was right to hold him accountable for putting Genevieve first, but I also loved that she gave him another shot. 

Is John Ambrose a better match for Lara Jean? Maybe. Would I have understood if Lara Jean had wanted to be with him in the end? Absolutely. At the end of the day, I'm Team Lara Jean. I would even have been happy if she hadn't ended up with anyone! But it felt like a bigger deal to me that she did end up with a relationship. In the first book, Peter tells Lara Jean that she only knows how to love people from a distance. She writes these love letters to boys, but she doesn't really know them. She knows the version in her head, but not the flesh-and-blood reality. I love characters in books, but it's a very different thing than loving the man I married.

Forgiving Peter isn't excusing him, but it does give him the chance to try again. Forgiveness doesn't make you weak, and it doesn't mean you don't know your own worth. Lara Jean would be fine with or without Peter, but I was just glad that she was happy in the end. Will they stay together? Who knows. But I'm proud of Lara Jean for trying again. I'm not sure that the Lara Jean from the first book would have been able to, and it felt like character growth for her to be willing to take the risk. And I certainly hope Peter proves himself worthy!

** Spoilers End **

Overall, I loved P.S. I Still Love You! I'm glad I got to spend more time with Lara Jean, Peter, Kitty and the rest of her sweet family. While I had a few minor issues, I'm still happy with this story and where it ends. As much as I loved the book, however, I don't think it was necessary. To All the Boys I've Loved Before has an ambiguous ending, but it works as a standalone. It didn't really need to be continued, and I think that's why certain things in P.S. I Still Love You just don't feel quite right. But I can never get enough Lara Jean, so I'm not complaining!

So Quotable
“I know now that I don’t want to love or be loved in half measures. I want it all, and to have it all, you have to risk it all.”
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