January 2014: On My Shelves + Recap

Jan 31, 2014

Sarah Hearts
I'm sure that I sound like a broken record, but January went by so quickly! I was itching to get all of my review books off my plate this past month, so I decided to just go for it! I powered through and read every review book that I had from NetGalley (aside from two much older titles), and I'm feeling so much better about the state of my bookshelf. I'm taking a break from NetGalley for the time being, and I couldn't be more excited about it.

2014 also got off to a great start with two five-star reads, and two that came sooo close to five. There were a number of other books that I really enjoyed reading, but the following four truly stole the show!

My Four Favorite Reads in January: The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon, The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski and Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid (reviews coming soon!)

On My Shelves

Bought for Shelves: Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi, The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner, Into the Still Blue by Veronica Ross and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

For Review: North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo, The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson and Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney

From Friends: The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando (Thanks Estelle!), The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski  (Thanks Kelly!) and A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller (Thanks Cassie!)

Bought for Kindle: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis, Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson and You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

Free For Kindle: Jesus, One and Only by Beth Moore, Believing God by Beth Moore, The Beloved Disciple by Beth Moore, A Heart Like His by Beth Moore and To Live Is Christ by Beth Moore

Books Read

01. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress - Ariel Lawhon
02. Wake - Anna Hope
03. The Sea of Tranquility - Katja Millay
04. We Were Liars - E. Lockhart
05. My Life in Middlemarch - Rebecca Mead
06. North of Boston - Elisabeth Elo
07. Never Have I Ever - Katie Heaney
08. The Tyrant's Daughter - J.C. Carleson
09. The Here and Now - Ann Brashares
10. The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski
11. Kate: The Future Queen - Katie Nicholl
12. A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents - Liza Palmer
13. The Outcast - Jolina Petersheim
14. Forever, Interrupted - Taylor Jenkins Reid
15. Divergent - Veronica Roth
16. Insurgent - Veronica Roth
17. Allegiant - Veronica Roth

On The Blog

I reviewed: Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies, Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan, Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney, North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo, My Life In Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, Wake by Anna Hope

Recommendations: Love or Hate?

Jan 30, 2014

Y'all, I have to admit something that's been weighing on my mind lately... I have issues with recommendations! WHAT?! A book blogger who has some issues with book recommendations? That's me!

I've seen plenty of posts about book recommendations before, but I don't feel like I've ever seen anyone express the way I secretly feel about this aspect of loving books. There's two different aspects to recommendations - giving them and receiving them. My issue? Receiving specific, personal book recommendations. Many readers love when someone says, "This is such a YOU book!" or "Hey, YOU really need to read this book right this second!"

While I used to love recommendations, I feel like my feelings for them have gotten more complicated over time. It's not that I want people to stop telling me about books that make them think of me or quit bringing books to my attention that might be a good fit. It's just that sometimes recommendations stress me out!

A general, positive review recommending a book to other readers? LOVE IT. I'm all over that because I can sit and read for myself what someone liked/disliked. The best part? At the end of reading the review, I can decide for myself if it's something that feels like a fit for me.

But a specific, targeted recommendation? It's like my brain turns into a deer in headlights! It happens most often with people I know in real life (since finding out I like to read can often prompt someone to offer their own recommendation), but I have felt it at times due to blogging. Here's just a sample of the complex feelings I have when someone specifically recommends a book to me.

Things I Might Think When You Recommend A Book Specifically To Me:
  1. "Why do you think this book would be a good fit for me?"
  2. "How do you know if it's a me book if you're not actually me?"
  3. "DANG IT! Now I have to add it on Goodreads so you don't think I'm rude."
  4. "Crap! This book really doesn't sound like anything I'd ever want to read, but I can't say that to this person!"
  5. "What if I read it and don't like it? How will I tell them?! Will they be disappointed or sad that I didn't?"
  6. "Time to do more research on this book." *downloads sample* *reads other reviews* 
  7. "I don't want to know what I ought to be reading! I want to just read what I find and explore from there. I've already got too much on my TBR."
  8. "Oh this does sound good, but I'm really not looking for new books to read right now."
  9. "How much do I trust this person? Do we have similar taste in books?"
  10. "YES! This book really sounds like something right up my alley!"
I can absolutely adore everything about a book, but I likely won't push it on anyone unless they specifically ask for a recommendation or ask for my opinion on that particular book. And I think that's at the root of my recommendation issues these days. I'm not a big book pusher, so sometimes I struggle with people pushing books on me.

There is always going to be a level personal attachment and emotional investment involved in reading and recommending. Recommending a book to someone isn't the same as recommending a restaurant or a product. It's what makes reading great, but I think it's also why I sometimes have issues when people push books they love onto me. What if I don't like it... or even if I don't want to read it at all? 

Usually, my issue with recommendations is that the book being pushed doesn't interest me. At the end of the day, I know that I'm under no obligation to read anything that someone recommends to me. However, I usually feel like I should at least give it a shot.  I don't want anyone to stop telling me about good books, and yet I have to admit my feelings for it can be complicated!

What do you think when someone tells you that you've just GOT to read a certain book? 
Do you have a love/hate relationship with personalized book recommendations?

No Man's Land

Jan 29, 2014

Wake by Anna Hope

Release Date: February 11, 2014
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep
2) Ritual for the dead
3) Consequence or aftermath

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the way. One night, at work, she meets a wealth, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach... Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front... Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed - she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock" - and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

Thoughts on Wake
I first discovered Wake when browsing Goodreads one day, and I fell in love with the cover and description. Although I love historical fiction, it's only recently that I've read a number of books set during World War I.

Wake is unique because it is set in 1919, one year after the war ended, but the aftermath of the war is very present in the lives of the characters. It focuses on three different women during a five-day span of time leading up to the very first Armistice Day, which is commemorated on November 11. While it coincides with Veterans Day in the U.S., Armistice Day is meant to honor those who were killed during WWI and is celebrated by many of the allied nations that fought in it.

The book focuses on three women - Hettie, Evelyn and Ada - and their relationships with the men in their lives over a five-day period of time. For Hettie, it's a mysterious and attractive man she meets a club and her brother, mute and withdrawn ever since returning from war. For Evelyn, it's the man she loved and lost, the brother who isn't the same, and the solider who comes into her office and may hold the key to one buried secret. And for Ada, it's the son that died and the husband that she cannot see through her grief. Wake highlights a short period in their lives and reveals how the are bound together in unexpected ways. Their stories are also interspersed with portions from the Unknown Solider - the one that was to be buried and commemorated on November 11 (the final day in the book).

I had so much hope for Wake, but it ended up being a bit flat for me overall. It's a book where the characters define the story more than the action. There really isn't very much that happens, which gives the book a really slow, meandering pace. That doesn't usually bother me since slow books can sometimes pack a big emotional punch, but I never really connected with this one. The story feels a bit lethargic and listless, which did reflect the feelings of the women in the book. They're all a bit stuck in a rut - left behind to carry on and now unsure of where they fit in this new and unfamiliar world now that men have returned from war. While I can appreciate the way the tone reflected the inner lives of the women, it didn't really make for an enjoyable read. There are three definitions given for the word "wake" in the summary, and I think the tone very much matches the one that defines it as: "emerge or cause to emerge from sleep." They are three women who have been (in some form or fashion) sleepwalking through their lives lately, and they are finally waking up to the reality around them.

For a book where characters are supposed to be the focal point, I had a very hard time keeping the three women straight at first. I kept flipping to the back cover because I couldn't remember the difference between Hettie and Evelyn in particular. Ada was the most memorable, but I think that's because her story was a bit different. In addition, the portion with the Unknown Solider felt a bit out-of-place and jarring. I liked that perspective, but it just didn't fit with the rest of the story being told. I'm always a bit wary of multiple narrators, and this was an example of the way it can be problematic for me as a reader.

Portions of the book were touching, but it was never as moving or memorable as I'd hoped. The ending could have tied the threads together in a way that elevated the story, but instead it ended abruptly and in a way that was mostly frustrating. Wake never really captured my attention or my emotion. Ultimately, it was just an okay read for me. I certainly didn't hate it, but it felt lackluster overall. I likely won't find myself returning to it again or recommending it first if someone asks for fiction related to WWI.

So Quotable
"And whatever anyone thinks or says, England didn't win this war. And Germany wouldn't have won it, either."
"What do you mean?"
"War wins." He says. "And it keeps winning, over and over again."
*I received a copy of this book from Random House in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

Every Reader Has That ONE Book

Jan 27, 2014

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Release Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Random House | Crown
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people," offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not.

In this wise and revealing work of biography, reporting, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece -- the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure -- and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of Eliot herself, My Life in Middlemarch is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.

Thoughts on My Life in Middlemarch
From the moment I spotted this book on NetGalley, I knew that I just had to read it. The cover, the title, the summary… all of it seemed like it was right up my alley! I really love books about books, especially memoirs that focus on the author's reading journey. My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead seemed unique in that it focused on Mead's love for a single book. But I have a confession first: I've never actually read Middlemarch before. Yes, I wanted to read a book about a person's love for a classic I'd never read myself.

My Life in Middlemarch was well written, well researched and really engaging. But it's not exactly the memoir I was expecting. As the summary states, this book is a "work of biography, reporting, and memoir." I think I must have missed that little phrase the first time I read it, so I went into the book expecting it to focus mostly on the memoir aspect. I think only a quarter of the book would really count as a memoir - the majority was biography and literary analysis. I liked that element of the book, but I think I would have loved it if I'd read Middlemarch before. You can certainly still appreciate and enjoy My Life in Middlemarch without having read Middlemarch, but I think it will be most loved by readers already familiar with the characters and the story of Eliot's classic novel.

This book follows the structure of Middlemarch - separated into eight sections titled the same as they are in Eliot's novel. Each chapter is truly a blend of memoir, reporting and biography. Mead's passion for Middlemarch is evident, as is her journalism background. I loved how Mead explored Eliot's life and the way it may have influenced the characters and themes of Middlemarch. In doing so, Mead also draws connections to how this classic reveals different things to her at each stage of her life when she re-reads it. As a lover of re-reading, I really appreciated the way Mead highlighted the way a book can change meaning based on where you're at in life and the new experiences you bring to it each time you read it.

Once I realized how much information Mead was covering, I wondered if it would get bogged down or lose my interest. Thankfully, it remained interesting and informative over the course of the whole book. There was so much to learn from this book - a little bit about Mead herself, her experience with this classic novel, the life and love of George Eliot, the time in which Eliot lived and wrote, the psychology and influences behind Eliot's characters, and what others had to say about this famous (but unconventional) author. I may have appreciated it a bit more if I'd read Middlemarch, but I still found it easy to follow and a pleasure to read.

If you've read Middlemarch, I highly recommend that you pick up My Life in Middlemarch. And if you haven't? You should still read this book if you're a fan of this kind of non-fiction, but I think you'll appreciate it more if you take the time to read Middlemarch first. I closed this book excited about the thought of tackling Middlemarch this year - and then revisiting this book so I can pick up on even more of the nuances and thoughtful connections that Mead draws between herself, Eliot and the characters of Middlemarch.

So Quotable
"Most serious readers can point to one book that has a place in their life like the one that Middlemarch has in mine. I chose Middlemarch -- or Middlemarch chose me -- and I cannot imagine life without it."
*I received a copy of this book from Crown Publishing in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

Introducing Series Speed Date!

Jan 24, 2014

In my post about what I wanted more and less of this year, I admitted that I wanted to work on being more creative on the blog. And in my Top Ten Tuesday post about about resolutions for 2014, I added an item that fit in perfectly with my goal for the year: Create one new blog feature. Well, I was positively giddy when I thought of something that was a perfect fit! 

I adore series, especially when I get to binge read them all at one time. Although I typically review each book individually, I've wished before that I could highlight a series overall. And Series Speed Date was born! Hopefully, this quick look at a series can help you decide if it's a fit for you!
This section will cover all the key details about the book.

Books In Series: The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom
Released: 2011 | 2012 | 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins | Greenwillow Books
Pages: 423 pages | 410 pages | 448 pages
What do the covers say about the series?

I think these covers seem pretty typical for a fantasy series. I'm not crazy about them - mostly because I'm slightly creeped out by the faces in the jewels. I do think the covers are prettier in person, but I still wouldn't want to read this series if I saw the covers alone.

Based on the summary, what can you expect going into this series?

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect based on the summary for The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The main character, Elisa, is secretly married to a handsome king and goes to live in a country that's in turmoil. The blurb promises savage enemies, dark magic, and a heroine whose heart and life is at stake. Does it deliver? Absolutely! You'll also discover a girl battling insecurity, the bloom of first love, and the power that comes from finding the courage to take a huge risk.

What are some of the highlights of the series? 

A complex, layered and compelling heroine.
A handsome, strong and incredible hero.
An adventure that takes you into far-off lands in search of the fulfillment of a prophecy.
A world filled with people who want nothing more than to be in power.
A dark, threatening magic at work that brings the underlying tension to a head.
A dangerous calling, religious devotion and a precarious place on a country's throne.
A band of unlikely leaders who will do everything they can to find peace for their nation.
A swoonworthy, heart-wrenching and epic love story.

How will you feel closing the last page?

This series ends even stronger than it begins! While I think the second book might be my favorite, I was still incredibly impressed by the way Carson wrapped up the adventures of her heroine. The ending is hopeful, believable and the perfect way to say goodbye to the characters you've come to know and love.

Summing up this series in just three words?

Heroic. Romantic. Epic.

Is this series worth your time? 

I heartily recommend that you read this series, whether or not you're a fan of fantasy. Relationships between characters play a huge role in the series, and the plot itself will leave you rushing through the pages to discover what's going to happen next. A complex, incredible heroine is surrounded by secondary characters that are just as intriguing. And the love interest? Meeting him is reason enough to dive into these books.  

Q&A With Elisabeth Elo + Giveaway!

Jan 23, 2014

Yesterday I reviewed North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo, a literary thriller that had me turning pages late into the night. I've never read anything quite like it before! Elo took several different threads - survival story, murder mystery, the perfume industry, environmental ethics, marine life protection - and wove them into a larger tale that was engaging and exciting. So, I'm really excited to post this Q&A with Elo. Whether or not you've read the book, I think you'll be really intrigued by her answers. The line about her heroine, Pirio Kasparov, being "the kind of person who needed a big adventure to find herself" was what sold me on reading North of Boston in the first place. I'm also thrilled to be able to host a giveaway of one copy of North of Boston! Thanks to Penguin/Pamela Dorman Books for the opportunity.

First, here's a little background on Elo:

Elisabeth Elo grew up in Boston and went to Brown University. She worked as an editor, an advertising copywriter, a high-tech project manager, and a halfway house counselor before getting a PhD in American Literature at Brandeis University. Since then, she's taught writing in the Boston area. She lived next to the ocean for many years and now resides in Brookline, Massachusetts.

1. Where did the idea of North of Boston come from?

Some years ago, I ran across a book about ambergris (i.e. whale shit) – a substance that was once believed to have all kinds of magical, curative, and aphrodisiac properties, and is still used today as a fixative in some perfumes. The story of ambergris opens all kinds of windows into the human psyche – our fears and desires, our quests for beauty and adventure, and the lengths we will go to fulfill a dream, even when that dream is actually a delusion.

How a fascination with ambergris led to writing North of Boston involved many tiny steps that I could not possibly reconstruct. But the path went something like this: ambergris, ocean, sense of smell, marine mammals, boats, perfume, the floorplans of boats, northern lands, cold. In fact, the path was more like a maze, the kind where you often end up right back where you started. Eventually, I had a whole lot of paper on my office floor. (This was back in the days before apps like Evernote, when people still printed things out.) Looking at the stacks of paper, I occasionally wondered whether I might be just a bit crazy, but I had somehow managed to develop a trust in the creative process – which is to say, in myself – so I plodded along.

At the same time, in a sort of parallel universe, I was dealing with a difficult protagonist who had a clear, compelling voice. She had been on my mind for a long time, and there was a sense of urgency in bringing her to life. I knew that part of her story took place on a boat, and that it included near-drowning. Meanwhile, she was enmeshed in various relationships – with a friend, a godson, a father. Each posed a significant challenge. She also was dealing with her failure at the age of thirty to have found anything resembling love. She wanted to connect with people, but her aloof, independent personality got in her way. Yet she had a certain integrity. I knew she was the kind of person who needed a big adventure to find herself.

The research and preliminary drafts went along side-by-side for awhile, not connecting with each other very well. Eventually, I had about fifty pages of a novel, but every time I tried to get beyond that point, the whole thing fell apart. Finally, with relief and dismay, I abandoned the project. But Pirio didn’t go away. She seemed to be living right on my shoulder. So several years later, when things in my life opened up a bit, I took up her story once again.

I think writers often feel as if they’re in the dark, out on a limb, on thin ice – pick your cliché. We’ve got to be OK with being perpetually off-balance. I’ve come to realize that if I’m not feeling a bit anxious about whatever I’m working on and a bit unsure of my ability to do it, I’m probably not risking enough.

2. Why did you choose to write a thriller?

Because I love the strong protagonists. It’s ironic: people tend to think of thrillers and mysteries as being “plot-driven” instead of “character-driven.” But nothing could be further from the truth. In thrillers there tend to be a lot of secondary characters, settings, and plot points – the protagonist is the one who holds everything together and drives the action. She or he has to be tenacious, observant, and morally centered (with humanizing flaws thrown in) because a weak character could not ride the bucking plotline with any success. In the best thrillers the protagonist doesn’t simply follow the clues as they emerge; she bends the plot to her will. It’s her creative and powerful impact on the book’s events that makes the mystery come out right in the end.

I think the real contribution of the thriller (in addition to its entertainment value) is that it brings this kind of character to the forefront. In so doing, it encodes a crucial hope: That we can conquer our fears and face down the worst of what the world has to offer. That we can have an impact, make a difference. That is very strong, important stuff.

3. Why first-person?

In first-person narration, readers are in the protagonist’s mind the entire time: there’s no place else to be. They see what she sees, know what she knows, and think what she thinks. They are as limited as she is by her blind spots and foibles.

As an author, I find first-person narration constraining and dream about the wide open vistas of the omniscient third. But I also know that one of the great powers of the novel (as opposed to film, for example) lies in the way it can describe the inner workings of a mind. The first-person narration is the ultimate in this kind of psychological exploration. I think it comes closer than any other art form to portraying what it really feels like to be a human being. Because we are all, always, in first-person mode – able with diligence to change ourselves but never to escape ourselves. So while we may be quite different from the protagonist superficially, on the existential level, our experience is the same. We are trying to develop our strengths and talents and overcome our weaknesses and biases, while simultaneously trying to figure out which is which. Witnessing the struggles of a first-person narrator teaches us about our own.

4. Any plans for another book?

This summer I spent a few weeks in Yakutsk, a city of approximately 200,000 in the Sakha Republic of northeastern Siberia. It has a ballet, an opera, and a university. In the winter the average temperature is -40 degrees F. I traveled from Yakutsk to a small village called Cherkeh, on the other side of the Lena River, about a five-hour drive on deeply rutted, sparsely populated roads. The Siberian meadows are very green in summer, dotted with clear glassy lakes and tumbling streams, and the shaggy Sakha horses roam and graze where they will, without fences, and return to their homes of their own accord. The people in Siberia greeted me warmly and gave me a glimpse into their lives. My next novel will be set in Boston and this region. It will involve ballet dancers, political intrigue, and diamond mines. Stay tuned.

Be sure to enter the giveaway for North of Boston!
Giveaway hosted by So Obsessed With in partnership with The Penguin Group. Open to U.S. residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Drop in the Ocean

Jan 22, 2014

North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo

Release Date: January 23, 2014
Publisher: Penguin | Pamela Dorman Books
Pages: 400 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Elisabeth Elo's debut novel introduces Pirio Kasparov, a Boston-bred tough-talking girl with an acerbic wit and a moral compass that points due north.

When the fishing boat Pirio is on is rammed by a freighter, she finds herself abandoned in the North Atlantic. Somehow, she survives nearly four hours in the water before being rescued by the Coast Guard. But the boat's owner and her professional fisherman friend, Ned, is not so lucky.

Compelled to look after Noah, the son of the late Ned and her alcoholic prep school friend, Thomasina, Pirio can't shake the lurking suspicion that the boat's sinking -- and Ned's death -- was no accident. It's a suspicion seconded by her deeply cynical, autocratic Russian father, who tells her that nothing is ever what it seems. Then the navy reaches out to her to participate in research on human survival in dangerously cold temperatures.

With the help of a curious journalist named Russell Parnell, Pirio begins unraveling a lethal plot involving the glacial whaling grounds off Baffin Island. In a narrow inlet in the arctic tundra, Pirio confronts her ultimate challenge: to trust herself.

A gripping literary thriller, North of Boston combines the atmospheric chills of Jussi Adler-Olsen with the gritty mystery of Laura Lippman. And Pirio Kasparov is a gutsy, compellingly damaged heroine with many adventures ahead.

Thoughts on North of Boston
While I've previously read and enjoyed a number of literary thrillers, I don't tend to gravitate toward the genre. In fact, when I spy an interesting-sounding thriller, I usually pass along the details to Cassie. Then, I read a Q&A with author Elisabeth Elo about the inspiration for North of Boston that left me really intrigued and excited about reading this book. I'm posting a portion of that Q&A tomorrow - along with a giveaway - so be sure to check back in. But first, let's get down to business and talk about this book!

Pirio Kasparov is on a fishing boat with her friend, Ned, when they are rammed by a freighter. Their fishing boat sinks, and Pirio is left floating alone in the North Atlantic. She spends four hours in the freezing water before she's finally rescued, and her survival makes her a medical marvel. Ned didn't survive the accident - leaving behind a son, Noah. Pirio can't even grieve for her lost friend or deal with her own personal feelings about the accident because she's too busy trying take care of her alcoholic best friend (who also happens to be Noah's mom).

The accident is ruled just that - an accident. But something doesn't sit quite right with Pirio. Why hasn't the freighter been found or the captain stepped forward? She's willing to just let the whole thing go until her father challenges her on it. He believes that she owes it to herself and her friend to find out what really happened that night and why. Suddenly, Pirio starts pursuing a plot that is more complicated and bigger than she'd ever imagined.

I loved the complexity of the many threads in the mystery that Pirio begins unraveling. There is a lot of depth to this story, and I was so impressed by the way Elo weaves all of the elements together. I could tell how much research went into this book because of the number of subjects that played a huge role in the story - survival stories, the perfume industry, environmental ethics, marine life protection, and big business corruption. The book gets off to a slow start, but the suspense builds as Pirio falls deeper and deeper into the events leading up to Ned's death.

One thing I found really interesting about Pirio from the start is that she's just a normal person. She's thrown into unraveling this mystery because of her personal connection to it - not because it's her job to do so. Pirio works for her late mother's perfume company, which plays an important role in the person she has become. And who is Pirio? She's a bit of a complex mystery herself. A good character has depth and is layered, and Pirio definitely fits the bill there. She's intelligent and courageous, but she's also aloof and reckless. I found her really fascinating!

Pirio is a great main character, but North of Boston is also populated with equally fascinating secondary characters. Although it's a thriller, the book is really grounded by the relationships within its pages. Pirio's relationship with her father, her friendship with Noah's mother, and her protective love for Noah were some of my favorite things about this story. I think the relational aspect of the book was one of its strongest points!

Given that those secondary characters were so well-rounded, I found it a bit disappointing that the villains of the story seemed more one-dimensional. The "bad guys" lacked some of the depth that Elo gave to her other characters, and that was a letdown. There were also a few things about the mystery that felt a little too convenient or unrealistic, but it didn't detract too much from my overall enjoyment of the book.

North of Boston was definitely a literary thriller. The writing was gorgeous and descriptive, but it's also a lot slower than a conventional thriller/mystery. There are so many elements at work here that make this a really strong debut - complex characters, a vivid setting, dramatic events and a mystery that kept me hooked the entire time I was reading. I'd definitely recommend it if you're looking for a unique and compelling read that will engage your mind and your heart. And don't forget to check back tomorrow for a chance to win a copy of North of Boston!

So Quotable
"At some point during these summers of my childhood, L'Amour du Nord was born. A fragrance is difficult to describe. In colors, it would be deep blues and whites, with traces of magenta and neon green. In experience, it would be setting off across snow in a warm fur coat in a musty twilight, toward the bronze light of a distant cabin. In chemicals, it is B-selinene, trans-p-mentha-1(7), 8-dien-2-ol, and other substances whose spellings are as complicated as the molecular structures they represent. In dressing, it's a woman's lace slip and her red leather glove. In love, it's Mmmm until it ceases to be."
*I received this book from Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for a honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

Pretty, Pretty Please?

Jan 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

Top Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist
The Places

1. Life In College.
I am dying for more books set at college, even though I've already graduated. It's such a pivotal time in your life with so many changes and new relationships. I want more of the relatable stuff: freshman orientation, joining a sorority, skipping classes, trying to decide on a major, living in the dorms, etc.

2. Being Near Water.
There's just something about books set near the water. Whether it's the beach or the lake, I love when water plays some kind of a role in the story. It doesn't have to be the focal point by any means, but I want some more of this setting in my stories.

3. Growing Up After Graduation.
Can we please have some books set after college? Living far away from your college friends, joining the workforce, trying to do something you love that also pays the bills, realizing what it means to be a responsible adult... I don't want books that just to skip straight to marriage and kids. Let's have some of the in between!

Source | Source | Source
The People

4. Supportive Best Friends.
Can we please get some more shout outs for all the best friends in the world? I feel like a lot of books I read focus more on girl drama, friendships that are falling apart, or just best friends barely deserve the title. I would love for books to focus on the awesome side of friendship!

5. Complex Leading Ladies.
So many great heroines are touted as strong, an admirable quality to be sure, but that not the only kind of girl I want to find on the pages of my books. I want to see more characters that feel real with depth, layers and complexity. Girls are people, and people are a mix of characteristics - not just one defining thing.

6. Slow Burn Romance.
Goodness, let's talk about falling in love. It's not always this instantaneous, immediate attraction that leaves you both head over heels for one another. Some of my favorites couples are ones from TV because there is so much build up to them finally getting together. I need more relationships like that in my books!

Source | Source | Source
The Pastimes 

7. Cute, Creative Dates.
I love doing something as simple as dinner and a movie, but I also adore those special, fun dates where you the date is different. Along with slow burn romances, I want couples to do random, silly and sweet things together. Moments like that leave me grinning at my book... and passing on ideas to my husband!

8.  Hop On A Horse.
Yep, I was totally a horse girl growing up. I'm still secretly obsessed with them, but nothing like I was back in the day. But I'm definitely still a sucker for books that involve horses. There are so many good ones for young girls - and I wish I got to see more of my favorite animal in books for grown ups (or young adults).

9. Exploration and Adventures.
Road trips, going abroad, sightseeing in your own city... I would absolutely love for authors to sprinkle a little more whimsy and a lot more exploration into their characters lives! I know teens don't always have that freedom, but wouldn't it fit perfectly into stories involving slightly older characters?

Source | Source | Source
The Pinnacle

10. The South.
All things Southern is at the very top of my reading wishlist - the food, the people, the activities, the places, the traditions... Are you getting the idea? But I don't want to see the stereotypical version. I want more of the world I know and love! There's something special about being born and raised below the Mason-Dixon Line.

All the Single Ladies

Jan 20, 2014

Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney

Release Date: January 14, 2014
Publisher: Hachette | Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 272 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
"I've been single for my entire life. Not one boyfriend. Not one short-term dating situation. Not one person with whom I regularly hung and kissed on the face."

So begins Katie Heaney's memoir of her years spent looking for love, but never quite finding it. By age 25, equipped with a college degree, a load of friends, and a happy family life, she still has never had a boyfriend... and she's barely even been on a second date.

Throughout this laugh-out-loud funny book, you will meet Katie's loyal group of girlfriends, including flirtatious and outgoing Rylee, the wild child to Katie's shrinking violet, as well as a whole roster of Katie's ill-fated crushes. And you will get to know Katie herself - a smart, modern heroine relaying truths about everything from the subtleties of a Facebook message exchange to the fact that "Everybody who works in a coffee shop is a least a little bit hot."

Funny, relatable, and inspiring, this is a memoir for anyone who has ever struggled to find love, but has also had a lot of fun in the process.

Thoughts on Never Have I Ever
I loved the cover and premise of this memoir when I spotted it on NetGalley, but I convinced myself not to request it because I already had too many review books on my plate. Not long after, an article on The Huffington Post titled "I've Been Single My Entire Life" caught my eye. It was an excerpt from Katie's book, and all of my resolve weakened. Katie's writing had me laughing and nodding. I found myself relating a lot to what she wrote, and I knew then that I had to read Never Have I Ever.

While I don't quite have Katie's history, there are definitely similarities in our stories. My husband is the only person I've ever seriously dated. We met the summer after my freshman year of college, so it's not like we were high school sweethearts either. I remember so many of the feelings that Katie describes in her book - ones both positive and negative. By the time I met my now-husband, I remember feeling like I was so far behind most of my peers when it came to romantic relationships! And like Katie, I had very little to contribute in games like "Never Have I Ever." So, all of that to say, I was excited to spend a little time with her and listen to her story!

Never Have I Ever is divided into sections that correspond to where Katie is at in school: Elementary/Middle, High School, College, and Grad School. Finally, there's an Epilogue wrapping everything up. Personally, I really loved that it was structured this way. I found it fitting that the parts would be grouped by academic time periods since I remember my interactions and perceptions regarding boys changing or shifting at each of these different stages.

Whether or not you have Katie's history, there are things she talks about that I think everyone will be able to relate to. It's a book that will trigger so many memories: childhood crushes, unrequited love, someone liking you more than you like them, school dances, awkward first dates, etc. I think there are definitely things Heaney describes that some will relate to better than others, but it's still a really fun and enjoyable read. I found myself laughing out loud quite often! Katie has a quirky sense of humor, and she's not afraid to poke fun at herself.

My minor complaint about the book? I found Katie a bit hard to understand overall. Never Have I Ever is billed as Katie's journey "looking for love," but I never really got the impression that's what she was doing. It was more a series of stories that you would sit down and tell your friend over a cup of coffee - funny but also rambling and without focus at times. I think it was missing a bit more of the reflection element for it to really tell the full story. And it seemed like Katie cared more about living with her best friends (as long as they remained single) for the rest of her days than she did about actually finding love. Maybe that's just how it seemed to me, but it did leave me feeling a bit confused as to what Katie really wanted in her life.

I really enjoyed Never Have I Ever, and I'll be recommending this to so many of my friends whether they're married, dating, or single. Katie's book isn't just directed to girls like her - it's a funny and honest look at one girl's dating history (or lack thereof). If you love sitting down with your friend and chatting about boys, you'll probably find lots to enjoy in Katie's memoir since it reads like a long, hilarious conversation with one of your good friends!

So Quotable
"The problem with being neither adventurous nor reclusive, as I was then, and on some days continue to be, is that you want friends, but you don't want them to do anything you wouldn't do. But you wouldn't do anything."
*I received a copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way.

The Favorite Factor: The Wife, The Maid & The Mistress

Jan 17, 2014

The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

Release Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Random House | Doubleday
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
They say behind every great man, there's a woman. In this case, there are three. Stella Crater, the judge's wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge's bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband's recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city's most notorious gangster, Owney "The Killer" Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge's involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge's favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks - one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale - of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.
Cassie and I were chatting about our love for adult fiction, and we wanted to figure out a way to really highlight that love with a new feature. So, we're bringing you adult fiction reviews where we highlight five factors: The Frame (Setting), The Flow (Plot), The Faces (Characters), The Function (Writing Overall) and The Feelings (Relationships).

Each of our posts will highlight our own thoughts on each of the five factors, so you can see side-by-side how our opinions stack up. Then, it all culminates in The Finale where we jointly share our overall feelings on the book with a rating that helps you find out how this book factors into our favorites pile.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is set in New York, and most of the book takes place during 1930 and 1931. The book opens in 1969 with Stella, the wife in the title, sitting down at Club Abbey and ordering two whiskeys on the rocks. It's become her yearly tradition - returning to the bar that played such a prominent role in their lives at one time. The book is divided in several parts, and each part opens with a scene from 1969. However, the majority of the takes place in the 1930s. 

I absolutely loved this time period for the setting, and Lawhon makes it come alive. Gangsters, government corruption, showgirls, nightclubs, alcohol, murder... and mysterious disappearances. This is a book where I felt like the setting was absolutely crucial to the story, and it worked so well. I really loved how Lawhon focuses on the mystery and characters but still makes the setting shine!

Real-life Judge Joseph Crater hopped into a cab one day, and he was never seen or heard from again. It's a case that has always remained a mystery, and Lawhon's debut tells the story of what might have happened. Instead of telling the judge's story, she turns her gaze to three important women in his life: his wife (Stella), his maid (Maria) and his mistress (Ritzi). The book pieces together what is going on in their lives - slowly revealing what they know about the missing man and the events that led up to his disappearance. 

I love this kind of mystery! It's was interesting and engaging, and I love that it just keeps building on itself as more and more is revealed. I also liked that each woman is facing her own dilemmas and struggles - smaller stories that are being told and contribute to the larger mystery at hand. The plot kept me guessing, but I was still able to enjoy what was going on instead of solely wanting the mystery to be resolved.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress focuses on the three women mentioned in the title, and each woman's story is told over the course of the book. I definitely had my favorite and least favorite of the women, but I was equally interested in each of their roles and knowledge about the disappearance. I loved how they kept surprising me! They were layered and complex, and they never behaved exactly like I expected them to. I had a hard time distinguishing them right at the very beginning, but it soon became really easy to tell them apart and fall into their stories. I appreciated that they weren't stereotypes or tropes. They seemed like realistic, flawed women.

If you can't already tell, I thought this book was really well-written. With well-developed characters, a distinct and compelling setting, and a fast-paced and intriguing mystery, there was so much to love about The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress! The book reveals the dark side behind a glamorous exterior, and I thought the book was realistic and gritty without being depressing or too dark. I never felt like the book became very gruesome, which is something worth mentioning if you typically avoid books involving murder. It was fast-faced and fun, despite being sad at times, and reminded me of my favorite black-and-white movies from the 30s and 40s.

It's a time period where women aren't always treated well, especially by men in power. There are things in their lives that they seem powerless against, so it was really interesting to see the different ways they tried to show agency in their own lives. It would have been easy to make the women seem like flat, stock characters in the ways that they responded and reacted to their position in society and their relationships. Instead, they each make questionable decisions throughout the book that show they are all flawed human beings. This is important because the a lot of attention is paid to their relationships with the men in their lives. It's something that can be difficult to read about at times, but it was still really fascinating.

Cass: Okay, so Hannah! The Wife, the Maid and The Mistress - can you believe this was a debut?

Me: Not at all! This definitely seemed like it was written by a pro. It makes me all the more excited to see what Lawhon will write in the future!

Cass: I totally agree! I loved the three different POV's, each was so different from the others, AND kinda reminded me of our FIRST Favorite Factor book, The Husband's Secret, in that respect!

Me: I thought the same thing. I had a hard time distinguishing between the three right at first, but that soon went away. The women were so distinct and memorable in their own way.

Cass: Agreed. I'm gonna ask - did you have a FAVORITE?

Me: I did! I think I loved Maria the most - but I'm not really sure why. I did love her relationship with her husband, too, so that probably contributed. You?

Cass: Same! Though, by the end, I had a different kind of respect for each woman.

Me: Exactly! That's something I said in my comments about the characters and relationships. It would have been really easy for these characters to become stereotypes, but they really never did!

Cass: ALSO! What did you think of the setting/time period? I LOVEEE NYC in the 30s! It seemed so vivid in Ariel's writing!

Me: I thought the time period came alive! I loved that you saw the darkness behind the fancy facade without the book ever becoming depressing.

Cass: YES. Entirely agree. Anything you'd like to add to our talk?!

Me: I think this will really appeal to people who don't read a lot of historical fiction. It's fast-paced and has that mystery at the heart that really sucks you into the story. I love this genre, but I know it's not everyone's favorite. This is definitely one I'd recommend to people who are new to it! Don't you think?

Cass: YES. I think it's a WONDERFUL starting point for historical fiction and the mystery was such a lovely addition to the story! I know in the end we didn't agree on our consensus, BUT! What was yours?!

Me: This was "Almost A Favorite" for me, but it was SO close! I think the only reason I'm not bumping it up is because I don't really see myself re-reading it. That's usually the mark for me of an "Absolute Favorite." You?

Cass: It's definitely an ABSOLUTE FAVORITE for me! Between the combination of multi-POV's, mystery and historical, Lawhon did a stellar job and I loveeddd it! :)

Me: Points to me for picking this one and putting it on your radar!

Cass: :) THANK YOU -- YET again.
Don't forget to check out Cassie's thoughts!
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