Be More Than Poor and Pained

May 28, 2014

'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

Release Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Macmillan | Henry Holt
Pages: 400 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
A glorious and moving multi-generational, multicultural saga that begins in the 1940s and sweeps through the 1960’s in Trinidad and the United States.

Lauren Francis-Sharma's 'Til the Well Runs Dry opens in a seaside village in the north of Trinidad where young Marcia Garcia, a gifted and smart-mouthed 16-year-old seamstress, lives alone, raising two small boys and guarding a family secret. When she meets Farouk Karam, an ambitious young policeman (so taken with Marcia that he elicits the help of a tea-brewing obeah woman to guarantee her ardor), the risks and rewards in Marcia’s life amplify forever.

On an island rich with laughter, Calypso, Carnival, cricket, beaches and salty air, sweet fruits and spicy stews, the novel follows Marcia and Farouk from their amusing and passionate courtship through personal and historical events that threaten Marcia’s secret, entangle the couple and their children in a scandal, and endanger the future for all of them.

'Til the Well Runs Dry tells the twinned stories of a spirited woman’s love for one man and her bottomless devotion to her children. For readers who cherish the previously untold stories of women’s lives, here is a story of grit and imperfection and love that has not been told before.

Thoughts on 'Til the Well Runs Dry
'Til the Well Runs Dry first caught my eye because of the striking and colorful image on the cover, but it was the summary that had me convinced I needed to read it. I haven't read anything set in Trinidad, and I love discovering new places through the pages of a book. The setting combined with the words multi-generational saga had me intrigued!

I love reading historical fiction, particularly stories that follow a single family over a period of time. I watched a video where the author, Lauren Francis-Sharma, introduced her book. She described how she felt a sense of loss when her grandmother had a stroke because she realized that she'd never asked her grandmother about her story -- her journey to the US from Trinidad and the reasons why she left. So, Francis-Sharma wrote 'Til the Well Runs Dry as a way of "filling the void." Hearing her describe it that way in the video really touched me. It's a sobering and sad moment when you realize you haven't just lost the person you love, but also the opportunity to ever learn anything more from them.

There's a moving line in the book where one character says, "You never miss the water 'til the well runs dry. Plenty of people t'ink they'll be fine until the person they need does be gone." And isn't that the truth? You take something for granted and never realize just how much you need someone until they're gone. That idea and line was one of my favorite aspects of the story. And, in some ways, what I loved most about this book was Francis-Sharma's reason for writing it.

'Til the Well Runs Dry tells the story of Marcia Garcia, a talented, 16-year-old seamstress who is living alone and raising two small boys when the novel opens. She soon meets Farouk Karam, a young policeman who begins to try to win her love. When he enlists the help of a woman who is practiced in the art of obeah (folk magic), he never imagines the consequences that will follow. The book follows these people over the course of 20 years in both Trinidad and the United States.

While I liked the book, I didn't completely connect to it. I felt like I was observing the characters from a distance - the story never immersed me into their thoughts and feelings. Many of the important moments in the book didn't seem to have as much emotional resonance with me because of that fact. The characters speak in dialect, which I found occasionally distracting or awkwardly used. There is a lot that happens in the book, but it was a slow read for me overall. At times, I wished the book had a bit more focus -- it sometimes seemed like too much was happening too quickly.

However, there were two things I really did enjoy about 'Til the Well Runs Dry - the setting and the way Francis-Sharma depicted how difficult it was to be a woman in Trinidad. I felt like Trinidad came alive through her descriptions, and I particularly enjoyed getting a sense of this country that I know so little about. I loved learning about this culture through the eyes of her characters, and it certainly left me wanting to find more books set in this place.

Also, the struggle for a woman to get an education and do something different with her life was really evident in this story. I found those portions of the book really moving, and it helped me understand the characters in a new way. For example, a male teacher remarks to the older sister of one of his pupils, "I see your mammy does have Yvonne reading Wuthering Heights. Ambitious for a nine-year-old, eh?"

This was her reply, which was one of my favorite passages in the book:
If I could have, I probably would've told Mr. Aldous that Catherine and Heathcliff were easy for Yvonne -- a story about love could hold almost any girl's interest. I would've told him that the real challenge was teaching Yvonne about life, about history, about her country... I would've told him that what they didn't teach Yvonne in school was that without proper schooling, girls had no future in Trinidad, other than factory work, kitchen work, and babies. I would've said a girl had to fight to be a teacher, had to fight to be a policewoman, had to fight for work almost always against a more favored boy from Trinidad and from a half-dozen poorer islands. I would've told Mr. Aldous that I didn't want it to be too late by the time Yvonne understand Trinidad, like it had been for me.
It may not be a new favorite, but I was still glad I read 'Til the Well Runs Dry. I wish I had been more invested in the characters, but I loved discovering more about a place that I wasn't really familiar with before. I'd be most likely to recommend this to readers who are looking to learn more about a different culture or people who love a fascinating setting since I felt those were the two strongest elements of this book!

So Quotable
"I wanted to be somewhere my children could be more than a failed exam and the offspring of shame and I could be more than poor and pained. Because I had been running, because I hadn't given myself a moment, I lost things I didn't know I wanted until wanting them was all I had left."
*I received a copy of this book from Henry Holt in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

It's BEA or Bust

May 27, 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 BEA List

|| Books Listed ||

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Neverhome by Laird Hunt 
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith 

I Can't Wait to BEA There

May 26, 2014

I shared the news on Twitter a few weeks ago, but I realized that I hadn't said anything here on the blog: I AM GOING TO BEA! Yes, you read that right. I honestly thought there was no way it'd work out for me to attend, and then everything just fell into place. When I was putting together my Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List post, I never imagined that I'd be able to check one item off my list within a few months.

Y'all, I'm ecstatic about attending, meeting some of my lovely blogging friends in real life and making memories I know I'll never forget. Because I only recently figured out that I was going to be able to go, I feel like I'm so behind. However, I had to talk about BEA on the blog after seeing this awesome post by Alexa from Alexa Loves Books. That was the inspiration for this post, so thanks Alexa!

Three Notes to Self
  1. I'm in New York City - if I accidentally leave something at home, it can probably be purchased.
  2. If I'm not sure what to talk about with someone, books are a safe bet.
  3. Scope out my source for Diet Coke long before I'm actually in need of one. 
Three Faces of Hannah

Last year, I remember loving this "many faces of Jamie" post - such a creative and hilarious way to "introduce" herself to anyone attending BEA. When I saw that Alexa's recent BEA post included adorable baby pictures, I realized that the three looks you're likely to see on my face have been there since childhood. Here's your go-to guide if you're trying to guess what I'm thinking:

  • I'm so happy! I'm giving my mom a thumbs up as I meet my brand-new brother and sister at the hospital, but you'll see a similar grin for variety of reasons: I snagged that book I really wanted, I talked to one of my favorite authors, I'm so excited to meet you or I'm still pinching myself that I'm at BEA.
  • Hmm... I'm so unsure right now. Here I'm posing for some professional photos in a pretty white dress with a giant bow in my hair. I'm smiling because I'm supposed to, of course, but you might see this look if I'm a little overwhelmed by everything going on, if I'm excited but feeling kind of shy or, you know, if I'm secretly thinking sassy things I won't say out loud.
  • I'm so over this nonsense. The curlers in my hair ought to give you a clue that fancy things were about to happen, and I think my face makes it pretty clear how I felt about it. Hopefully, you don't see this look, but if you do, it's probably the end of the day, I've gone too long without food, spent a little too much time in a line or missed out on a book I really wanted.
But honestly, here's a more accurate idea of what you'll see:

Three Places I Know I'll Be During BEA
  • BEA Editors' Buzz Adult Panel - Most of the blogs I read focus more on YA than adult, but I'll mostly have eyes for adult books during BEA. I'm so curious about all seven of the BEA Editors' Buzz picks this year, so I know I've got to attend this panel on Thursday!
  • Karen Abbott signing for Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy - I can't remember how this book first caught my eye, but it's one that I'm most hoping will come home with me. It's non-fiction about four women undercover during the Civil War, and you better believe I'm dying to read it.
  • Sarah J. Maas signing for Heir of Fire - This is probably the line where I'll get to meet the most bloggers, am I right?! Seriously, I feel like everything is hoping to walk away with this book. I am definitely in that group - and, you know, I will be also trying to get one of those totes.
Three Places You'll Find Me After Hours
  • Teen Author Carnival on Wednesday: I'll be book rocking with Betty at BEA, and she attended this event last year and loved it. Have you seen all the incredible authors who will be there?! Obviously we have to go! I'm not sure which panel I want to attend each hour... at least I have a little more time to decide.
  • Rocky on Broadway on Thursday: Whattttt whattttt?! Betty and I knew we wanted to see something on Broadway (also: sit on our butts and be entertained!). Betty scoped out the shows for us, and I seriously can't wait to see this with her. Should I watch the movie again to prepare?
  • Book Blogger Picnic on Friday: You better believe I want to attend something co-hosted by the lovely, adorable and oh-so-kind Alexa! Of course, I also want to meet any of the amazing bloggers in attendance, too. This seems like such a nice way to relax and just unwind after navigating around BEA.
More Than Three Things We Can Talk About

See me at BEA? Say hello! I'm going to try to put myself out there and start conversations, but don't hesitate to chat with me if you spot me out in the wild.

Here are some things I'm always prepared to talk about:
  • Authors: Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, J.K. Rowling, Melina Marchetta, Jojo Moyes, Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman, Emery Lord, Sarah J. Maas, Morgan Matson, Katja Millay, Hannah Kent, Maud Hart Lovelace, Tahereh Mafi, Emily Giffin... I could go on!
  • Books: You can probably guess based on my blog and the authors listed above, but I'm always up for a chat about classics, adult fiction (historical or contemporary, particularly), and young adult fiction (contemporary and fantasy, lately).
  • TV Shows: The Vampire Diaries (that finale!), The Originals (those brothers!), Grey's Anatomy (yes, I'm still watching), The Mindy Project (I love her so), Veronica Mars (+ Logan), Friday Night Lights (clear eyes, full hearts FOREVER), Felicity (Ben, obviously), Friends (duh!), Gossip Girl (xoxo), Downton Abbey (*sob* Sybil!), Alias (my first show obsession, ever) and Gilmore Girls (Stars Hollow, FTW).
  • Music: I've had John Mark McMillan, Johnnyswim, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Golding and Sam Hunt on heavy rotation lately. Also, The CW playlists on Spotify. Yes, I take my music cues from TV shows for teens. 
  • Magazines: I love getting magazines in the mail almost as much as I love getting books. I always sit down with the latest Entertainment Weekly, am currently obsessed with the quarterly Darling Magazine, still can't help flipping through Southern Weddings, obviously inherited a love for Southern Living, am pumped about Domino coming back and have recently fallen for Garden & Gun.
  • Movies: Honestly, I love almost anything set in the past and involving costumes. Give me a good British period piece or an adaptation of a classic, and I'm content. I also like films from the Golden Age of Hollywood (Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Cary Grant in particular) or romantic comedies. I haven't seen basically anything from the 80s, so let's not go there.
And a few extra random facts about me if we're sitting in a really long line:
  • I am absolutely addicted to Diet Coke and have to frequently remind myself to drink more water.
  • I'm Southern and yes, I totally say y'all a lot. Whether you're from here or never been south of the Mason Dixon line, I'm always up for a chat about this place I call home.
  • I'm an introvert, but I'm not shy. I can be really talkative, but I definitely don't thrive off being social so you may see me quietly observing things sometimes.
  • I can pretend like I know something about SEC football, but it's just an illusion.
  • Nail polish and beauty products are two things I often splurge on -- when not buying books, of course.
  • While I'm mostly a homebody, I also have a bit of wanderlust inside. I've been able to travel to some incredible places - including extended trips to Oxford, England, and Durban, South Africa. 
  • I don't have kids yet, but I'll totally show you cute pictures of my dog... or my sister's new puppy! 
I mean, do you see the cuteness?!
Whew! I should have posts scheduled through the end of the week, so it will almost be like I haven't even left. I'm going to wait to recap BEA until after I'm home, but you can follow me on Twitter for daily updates!

We Used to Be Friends

May 23, 2014

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

Release Date: March 25, 2014
Publisher: Random House | Vintage
Pages: 324 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Series: Veronica Mars Mystery #1
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She's traded in her law degree from her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it's spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the breaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person's case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica's past, the cast hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

In Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas has created a groundbreaking female detective who's part Phillip Marlowe, part Nancy Drew, and all snark. With its sharp plot and clever twists, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Thoughts on The Thousand Dollar Tan Line
Hello, marshmallows. If you're thinking about reading this book, I'm assuming you've watched all three seasons of Veronica Mars and the fabulous fan-funded movie that came out earlier this year. I mention this fact because The Thousand Dollar Tan Line picks up after the events that take place in the movie.

Veronica Mars is returning to Neptune, California, ten years after graduating from high school. To be honest, not much has changed in this town. A few of the faces might be new, but it's still the same old corruption and class division. Veronica earned her law degree, but she just can't quit the rush that comes from private investigating. After being pulled back in, it seems she's here to stay, but you can't keep an office open on small-time cases alone. Veronica needs to score a big case, but that may be easier said than done. Even Keith Mars thinks Veronica should have gotten out while she had the chance...

Finally, Veronica gets her opportunity. College students have descended on Neptune for spring break, turning the beach town into pure chaos. A girl goes missing from a party, and Veronica gets called to take the case. But things are way more complicated and dangerous than they first appeared, and the stakes are high when Veronica suspects drugs and organized crime are involved.

If I remember correctly, this is actually the mystery that creator Rob Thomas initially envisioned for the movie. I think they ultimately went in a different direction so that the movie could spend more time bringing back the characters you came to know and love throughout the TV series, which is why the mystery element was a little more on the back burner. Don't get me wrong, I loved everything about the movie, but it was definitely more of a Where Are They Now? story than a real reflection of the type of episodes you'd see on the show. There are also some threads introduced in the movie that aren't fully wrapped up by the end, and it appears that Thomas plans to play those out in this spin-off book series.

The mystery in Thousand Dollar Tan Line felt so much like something from show, except a little more mature. Since the crime is the mysterious disappearance of a young college girl, the book feels a little darker or more serious than some of the mysteries Veronica solved as a high school student. Personally, I found that fitting. I was hooked the entire time I was reading! I thought the pacing was just right, and I loved that Veronica brings her trademark sass to everything she does. I read a paperback copy, but I'll have to buy the audiobook at some point because Kristen Bell narrates. I mean, hello!

I think most fans will really love this addition to the Neptune world! The main supporting characters make appearances, although some are pretty brief, and there's one character who didn't make it into the movie but makes a shocking appearance in the book. I really wanted more with one character in particular (LOGAN!), so his presence will hopefully be amped up in the future books in this series.

There are nice little references thrown in for fans of the show, just like there were in the movie. While the book is enjoyable regardless, I don't think that it would nearly as fun to read if you had no prior experience with Veronica Mars. It's really meant as extra for fans - not an introduction to the characters or show. You wouldn't be completely lost, but it's best if you're familiar with Neptune before visiting it in these pages.

I ended up being so nostalgic for Neptune after reading this that I binge re-watched the entire series all over again... and finished right as the movie was released on Blu Ray and DVD. So, I count this a success! It retained so much of what I loved about the show, and it got me excited about what Veronica will do in the future. I still think the show is better, but I'm not one to refuse any opportunity to spend more time with characters I love.

The only somewhat bittersweet thing to revisiting these characters? It is a little sad to think about the fact that the gang is mostly all still there... I mean, I love that we're seeing them all together again, but there's also a stagnancy to it. I want more for these characters than for them to just exist basically as they were ten years ago. I guess we'll see as the books continue, but it is the one thing I pondered while reading - that Keith Mars has a point when he argues with Veronica to do more than just spend the rest of her life in Neptune.

So Quotable
"There weren't many people in this world who would let you be vulnerable and still believe you were strong."

Consider This Classic: Rachel Recommends

May 22, 2014

Consider This Classic is a monthly feature where bloggers highlight and recommend their favorite classic. They'll tell you when they first read it, why they love it and where to go from there. If you'd like to participate in Consider This Classic, click here to sign up.

A few months ago, I was looking for more people to participate in Consider This Classic and the lovely Rachel from Beauty and the Bookshelf volunteered! I had so much perusing her blog - how awesome is her blog name?! According to her blog, she loves "animals, reading, and Disney" and her Twitter bio says she's a "future author and zookeeper extraordinaire" (basically one of my favorite bio descriptions to date). I'm so thrilled she's sharing her recommendation today! When I read it in high school, I remember half the class loving it and the other half loathing it. Those kind of classics make for the best discussions!

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Publication Date: 1954
Originally Published In: United Kingdom
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
William Golding's compelling story about a group of very ordinary small boys marooned on a coral island has become a modern classic. At first it seems as though it is all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious and life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic and death. As ordinary standards of behaviour collapse, the whole world the boys know collapses with them—the world of cricket and homework and adventure stories—and another world is revealed beneath, primitive and terrible. Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was first published in 1954, igniting passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. Though critically acclaimed, it was largely ignored upon its initial publication. Yet soon it became a cult favorite among both students and literary critics who compared it to J.D. Salinger' The Catcher in the Rye in its influence on modern thought and literature. 

Labeled a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse, Lord of the Flies has established itself as a true classic. 

Lord of the Flies is one of those books I was forced to read for high school -- my sophomore year, to be exact. At the time, it's not something I would've ever picked up on my own. I mean, a book about a bunch of young boys being stranded on an island? And what was with that title? I mean, how good could it really be? Well, if I remember correctly (I read this book five or so years ago), it could be pretty darn good. In fact, it's one of those required school readings that I'm actually happy to have read.

This is not Gilligan's Island. (Not that I'd know, since I haven't really seen the show.) This is the Island Where Bad Things Happen. There's no government or parental guidance telling the kids what to do here; it's all them, unsupervised -- well, except for the stick with a pig's head on it. Lord of the Flies has it all: kids picking sides -- and fights -- death, the need to survive, messed up-ness, and a character named Piggy, who blames things "on account of [his] ass-mar." And part of what makes Lord of the Flies such a classic (I mean, you've heard about this book, right?) is that it still fits easily into today's literature. It's been popular, discussed, and read for sixty years, and it will continue that way for sixty more. But who is the Lord of the Flies? Well, you'll just have to read this fine book and find out for yourself.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: Before kids fought each other to live in arenas in The Hunger Games, they were fighting each other (not televised and without Gamemaker interference!) on an island in Lord of the Flies.

The Gone Series by Michael Grant: These kids aren't stuck on an island, but they're all stuck in this dome-like thing called the FAYZ (Fallout Youth Alley Zone). And instead of a pig's head on a stick, they have the Gaiaphage (also known as the Darkness). Plus, a bunch of these kids have mutant powers. Without adults, what could be possibly go wrong? EVERYTHING.

A Return to Deep Valley

May 21, 2014

Carney's House Party and Winona's Pony Cart by Maud Hart Lovelace

Release Date: 1949 and 1953
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Perennial
Pages: 448 pages
Series: Deep Valley (companions to Betsy-Tacy series)
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Carney's House Party: In the summer of 1911, Caroline "Carney" Sibley is home from college and looking forward to hosting a monthlong house party - catching up with the old Crowd, including her friend Betsy Ray, and introducing them to her Vassar classmate Isobel Porteous. Romance is in the air with the return of Carney's high school sweetheart, Larry Humphreys, for whom she's pined all these years. Will she like him as well as she once did? Or will the exasperating Sam Hutchinson turn her head?

Winona's Pony Cart: More than anything in the world, Winona Root wants a pony for her eighth birthday. Despite her father's insistence that it's out of the question, she's wishing so hard that she's sure she'll get one - at least, that's what she tells her friends Betsy, Tacy, and Tib…

Thoughts on Carney's House Party 
Last summer, I binge re-read The Betsy-Tacy series after I discovered they had been reissued with adorable vintage-style covers. Around the same time, I bought the bind-up of Carney's House Party and Winona's Pony Cart. These books are basically companion novels - both are set in Deep Valley and involve secondary characters from the Betsy-Tacy books. I didn't read these when I was younger, so I was excited to read each for the first time!

In Carney's House Party, Caroline "Carney" Sibley comes home from college and hosts a month-long house party so she can see what the Crowd has been up to since they graduated high school. But it's 1911, so this is not the kind of house party that probably first came to mind. She brings a college friend home with her, and she suddenly starts thinking about what it will mean to blend her new friend with her old ones. But it's not just fun and games this summer! Romance is stirring, too, and Carney must look at her feelings for her old high school sweetheart and the new boy that's recently come to town. Has either one truly captured her heart?

I really enjoyed Carney's story. The later Betsy-Tacy books are my favorite, and this is written in a very similar vein. Despite the fact that the story is set more than 100 years ago, I still related to so many of the emotions and anxieties Carney experienced. One of my favorite things about Lovelace is how the time period is integral to her stories and yet they still feel so timeless. This is almost like the original New Adult! Seeing Carney come home from college made me reminisce on my first summer back at home after going away to school. Becoming so independent at college and then coming home to your family and the people who've known you for years can be such an adjustment.

There was also something so enjoyable about the way Lovelace portrayed the idea of whether you can outgrow your first love. Carney and Larry were sweethearts in the Betsy-Tacy books until he moved away during their sophomore year. They've maintained a close friendship over the years by exchanging letters... but the "what if" always hangs in the balance. What if they weren't so far apart? And how do you say goodbye if that person you loved isn't right for you anymore? Seriously, I loved the way Lovelace illustrated this in Carney's story. She's is a feisty and fun heroine in her own right, and it was fun to see the focus on her instead of Betsy Ray.

This story was so sweet, and I really enjoyed reading it! I still love the Betsy-Tacy series the most, but this was an excellent addition to the Deep Valley books. I'm glad Lovelace fleshed out Carney even more in this book, and the notes at the back (about how much of this story was inspired by Lovelace's real-life friends) was one of my favorite parts of the book.
Brief Thoughts on Winona's Pony Cart
So, Winona's Pony Cart follows Carney's House Party in this edition, even though it actually takes place when the girls are young. Winona Root is also a part of Betsy's Crowd in that series, and this book takes place when the girls are seven and eight. The earlier Betsy-Tacy books are my least favorite (mostly because they're more childish stories), but they're still really charming.

I'm not really sure why this edition chose to put Winona's Pony Cart second. I think it would have made so much more sense to have it precede Carney's House Party. It was a little off-putting to go from the older, more mature book to this little story that's pretty simple at its heart.

The book focuses on Winona's upcoming eighth birthday party because all she wants is a pony. In fact, she's confident that her dreams will come true that she begins telling her friends that's what she'll get at her party.

While this book was fun, it lacked the charm of the earlier Betsy-Tacy books. It was a sweet, quick read, but it didn't really leave a lasting impression on me. It's a fun addition to the younger Betsy-Tacy books, and I could truly see myself appreciating it more if I was reading it aloud to a daughter. As it was, however, this one is probably my least favorite of everything I've read by Lovelace. But hey, this bind-up is totally worth it for Carney's House Party alone, so just think of Winona's Pony Cart as a little bonus story!

Exchanging Friendship Bracelets

May 20, 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!
from left to right:

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
The Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn 
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Series Speed Date: Round #2

May 19, 2014

This section will cover any key details about the series.

Books In Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Novellas In Series: Night of Cake and Puppets
Released: 2011 | 2012 | 2014
Publisher: Hachette | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 418 page | 517 pages | 613 pages
What do these covers say about this series?

So, I've always been a little torn on these covers. They are really eye-catching, and I love how much they stand out from other fantasy novels. I like the consistency of the face and an object, as well as the different color for each book. However, I adore the UK covers of this series. They have only a beautiful representation of an object on each without the random face, and that makes me so much happier. I would pick up the books immediately if I saw those covers in store!

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

To be completely honest, I was a little put off by the summary for the first book. They sounded so strange and unlike anything I'd ever read before! I'm still pretty new to fantasy, but even these sounded a little out there for me. Winged strangers, human teeth, otherwordly war, monsters, mysterious errands... I mean, what? But there was also a promise of star-crossed love, and that captured my attention. This book really is strange and otherworldly, but it's also brilliantly imagined and gorgeously depicted. You'll get to read about the battle between good and evil seen through the eyes of a girl who discovers just how powerful she is and how hope, and the courage to see it through, can change everything.

What are some highlights of the series?

A smart, courageous and admirable heroine.
A gorgeous, powerful and kind hero.
A battle that takes you into other worlds that you could only dream of discovering.
A world filled with people who are fighting someone else's battle for dominance.
A dark, mysterious magic that upsets the world's delicate balance.
A seemingly hopeless situation, the fear of the unknown and the power of believing the impossible.
A fearsome group of monsters and their fiery adversaries who each swear never to surrender.
An impossible, star-crossed story of love, destiny and hope.

How will you feel closing the last page?

Reactions to the final book has been a bit mixed. The writing and characters remain true to the first two books, and the story is resolved a way that I, personally, found very satisfying. However, some new threads are introduced that are integral to the story, and they throw off the pacing a bit. If you loved the first two books, you'll probably still really enjoy the final book in the series. You may have a few complaints about the conclusion, but you won't regret taking this incredible journey with these memorable characters!

Summing up this series in just three words?

Imaginative. Lyrical. Hopeful.

Is this series worth your time?

Oh my goodness, I absolutely recommend this series! I am still pretty new to fantasy, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these books to so many readers. With evocative writing, a richly imagined world and epic characters, there's so much to fall in love with in these pages. Seriously, I can't even do Taylor's writing justice - it's so gorgeous! Be prepared to lose yourself in this world and fall head over heels in love with these characters as the battle between good and evil divides friends and foes.

Beneath A Picture Perfect Surface

May 16, 2014

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Release Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Random House | Crown Publishing
Pages: 400 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Suspenseful and cinematic, Bittersweet exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty, and an outsider's hunger to belong.

On scholarship at a prestigious East Coast college, ordinary Mabel Dagmar is surprised to befriend her roommate, the beautiful blue-blooded Genevra Winslow. Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at Bittersweet, her cottage on the Vermont estate where her family has been holding court for more than a century; it's the kind of place where swimming boldly is required and the children twirl sparklers across the lawn during cocktail hour. Mabel falls in love with the midnight skinny-dips, the wet dog smell lingering in the air, the moneyed laughter carrying across the still lake, and before she knows it, she has everything she's ever wanted: wealth, friendship, a boyfriend, and, most of all, the sense, for the first time in her life, that she belongs.

But as Mabel becomes an insider, she makes a terrible discovery, which leads to shocking violence and the revelation of the true source of the Winslows' fortune. Mabel must choose: either expose the ugliness surrounding her and face expulsion from paradise, or keep the family's dark secrets and redefine what is good and what is evil, in the interest of what can be hers.

Thoughts on Bittersweet
Y'all, this book shocked me. I know that's a weird place to start a review, but I can't think of how else to begin. I finished this book over the weekend and needed a few days to let it settle in my mind before I could really write anything about it. And I'm honestly still struggling to think about how to put my feelings into words... and to wrap my mind around what I just read.

Since there is that gothic mystery element to the book, I don't want to spoil a single thing for you. Here's what you need to know: Mabel Dagmar is a little in awe of her roommate, Genevra Winslow. Ev is gorgeous and wealthy, two things that Mabel is not and will probably never be. All Mabel wants is to belong to the Winslows, so she's thrilled when Ev invites her to spend the summer at their Vermont estate. It's a place where the family's Old Money is apparent around every corner. But there is an ugliness  below the surface that Mabel's presence may soon expose...

I've never done this before, but I feel the first line of this book's summary just perfectly encapsulates what you need to know about the book: Suspenseful and cinematic, Bittersweet exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty, and an outsider's hunger to belong. Seriously, that description is absolutely spot on. So, I'm going to break my review down into those four elements.

1. "suspenseful"
Suspenseful is definitely the right word to describe Bittersweet! There are hints that things are amiss from early on in the novel, and Beverly-Whittemore begins dropping little details that give the story an air of mystery. You know that everything isn't as it appears, but you can never fully put your finger on what's going on. In a novel like this, it's almost impossible to talk about the plot without spoiling anything, but I can absolutely say that the tone that is evoked is so right for this story.

It took me a few chapters to really begin to lose myself in the story, but there was definitely a point at which I was totally hooked. I had to know what was going on! The best thing about a book being suspenseful is that you're excited but also tense from the unpredictability of it all. It's not something that's scary necessarily - just that feeling of nervous anticipation that can make for such great reading.

2. "cinematic"
Let me just say - Miranda Beverly-Whittemore knows how to paint a scene and a setting! As many secrets as this place holds (and as dark and twisted as those secrets are), I still wanted to visit this Vermont estate, Winloch. The place absolutely comes alive on the page, and I could totally picture it in my mind. It seems like this idyllic retreat - a place separate from the world and untouched by all its horror.

The setting was like a character all on its own. The lake, the battered cottages, the incredible dinners... There's something about this setting that just captures your attention and won't let you go! As much as you're aware of something beneath the surface, it's still so easy to lose yourself in the picturesque qualities of this place. In fact, as crazy as this sounds, I kept being surprised that this book was set in the present day. Everything about Winloch seemed so removed from the modern world that I was taken aback when reality intruded.

3. "exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty"
Oh goodness. I can say the least about this point, but it's still important to note. The Old Money feel and the idea of an American dynasty permeates this book, so it's fascinating to find out that this picture perfect family may not be all that they seem. Mabel's invitation to summer there is precipitated by one of Ev's cousins committing suicide, which is one of the first hints that things are amiss with the Winslows. As you meet the extensive family, you'll see even more that there are always things going on behind-the-scenes that you can't see from the outside looking in. Mabel's tentative but persistent attempts to uncover this family's secrets will have you frantically turning the page!

4. "and an outsider's hunger to belong."
Finally, there's the relationship dynamics between the characters. Mabel is truly an outsider here, but she begins to feel like maybe she could belong. She wants, desperately, for it to be true. Watching her conflicted emotions - trying to fit in while constantly being reminded that she never will - made for such interesting reading. And just when you start feeling sympathy for her (or for any of the characters), things happens that make you reevaluate all those thoughts. Is anyone reliable or trustworthy? You'll have to read and find out!

Listen, this isn't a happy read. One secret in particular is quite disturbing, but the sense of foreboding creates a darker tone from the very beginning of the book. And yet I still really enjoyed reading this story! As unenjoyable as aspects were, Bittersweet was written in a way that had me riveted. I think this book would be perfect for fans of gothic mysteries or people who enjoy suspenseful stories, unreliable narrators or secrets lurking beneath a picture perfect surface.

So Quotable
"The truth is a noble grail to seek. But if you're after it, you must imagine, first, what it will mean to get it. The truth is neither good nor bad. It is above evil. Above morality. It doesn't offer anything besides itself."
*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.

Almost Missed Out on Awesome

May 13, 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!

So, I struggled with this week's topic - Top Ten Books I Almost But Down But Didn't. If I'm not enjoying a book, I don't usually have a hard time putting it down. It's rare that I get to the point where I almost put a book down and then change my mind. So, I put a little twist on it, but my first four picks do still fit the original topic.

Top Ten Books I Almost Didn't Read
1. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi - I ended up falling in love with this series, but it was rough going for me at first. I actually picked it up a few times before I was able to really immerse myself in the story and enjoy the writing. It seemed so weird and over-the-top with all the strikethroughs and flowery language!

2. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - I truly almost put this book down, despite having heard so much praise for it. This story is really complex and expertly crafted, but it's hard to see that in the beginning. However, the end result was totally worth the confusion I felt for the first 100 pages!

3. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi - This series immediately throws you into this new, unknown world. With a lot of unfamiliar terms and very little description of the way the world works, I had a hard time getting into the story until I started falling in love with the characters. From then, I was hooked!

4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - I love historical fiction and stories set during WWII, but this one was a real challenge for me. The research is incredible, but it feels so dry for a long time. And then everything finally starts coming together and forms a beautiful and moving story with one of the best examples of friendship!
5. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson - This was one of those books I always heard bloggers talking about, but the summary just sounded so weird to me! Combined with the strange cover, I wasn't sure I'd connect with this book. When I finally read the series, it ended up being one of my very favorites!

6. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead - I read the Twilight books when they were at the height of their popularity, and I kind of judged these books based on my feelings on that series. I'm so glad I got past my distrust of vampires and finally gave these a shot. They were totally addicting and just really fun reads!

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling - I know, I know. I've talked before about how I avoided the Pottermania and didn't read this series until a few years ago. I had no interest in reading about magic and wizards, but I had no idea what I was missing out on. These books are amazing, but you probably know that.

8. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - I'm so glad I got past my initial skepticism when it came to this series. I don't really like books with strange creatures or monsters, and the whole angels versus demons thing made me nervous. But wow, this series completely won me over!
9. All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry - While this cover really does work for the story once you've read it, it scared me when I first saw it. I thought this was going to be a horror story! It ended up one of my absolute favorite reads in 2013. The book is so moving, which I definitely didn't know to expect based on the cover.

10. Heist Society by Ally Carter - I don't hate this cover, but I thought it seemed kind of juvenile. After a few positive reviews around the blogosphere, I took the plunge and had so much fun with this series! They're so much smarter than the covers led me to believe.

11. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller - I feel like this cover does this book such a disservice! The story is so much more than the romance, and I hate how the cover doesn't communicate the depth and complexity of what's inside. Plus, this story would appeal to guys, but I think the cover might make them shy away.

12. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins - Bless this book's heart. The story, writing and characters are all amazing! But the cover makes it seem cheesy, and I had no interest in reading it for a long time. I'm glad I didn't trust my initial impression because it's such a great read. I was happy when these covers got redesigned.

The Edge of the World

May 12, 2014

Snow in May by Kseniya Melnik

Release Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Macmillan | Henry Holt
Pages: 288 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
A remote Siberian town with a darkly fascinating history teems with life in this luminous linked debut collection.

Kseniya Melnik's Snow in May introduces a cast of characters bound by their relationship to the port town of Magadan in Russia's Far East, a former gateway for prisoners assigned to Stalin's forced-labor camps. Comprised of a surprising mix of newly minted professionals, ex-prisoners, intellectuals, musicians, and faithful Party workers, the community is vibrant and resilient and life in Magadan thrives even under the cover of near-perpetual snow. By blending history and fable, each of Melnik's stories transports us somewhere completely new: a married Magadan woman considers a proposition from an Italian footballer in '70s Moscow; an ailing young girl visits a witch doctor's house where nothing is as it seems; a middle-aged dance teacher is entranced by a new student's raw talents; a former Soviet boss tells his granddaughter the story of a thorny friendships; and a woman in 1958 jumps into a marriage with an army officer far too soon.

Weaving in and out of the last half of the twentieth century, Snow in May is an inventive, gorgeously rendered, and touching portrait of lives lived on the periphery where, despite their isolation - and perhaps because of it - the most seemingly insignificant moments can be beautiful, haunting and effervescent.

Thoughts on Snow in May
Two things attracted me to Snow in May when I first heard about it: the absolutely gorgeous cover and the fact that it's set in Russia. Earlier this year, I read and loved The Bronze Horseman and Tatiana and Alexander, which are set in Russia during WWII. I realized while reading them that I didn't know very much about Russia. I'm often drawn to novels set in places like England or France, so I'm not that knowledgeable about this country's troubled history.

As nerdy as it sounds, I truly enjoy learning. School may not always have been fun, but I love the process of discovering more about the world, about other people, about certain topics, etc. The combination of those two Russian reads and the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi left me craving more books set in Russia. So, you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered Snow in May!

I'll be honest - I'm not sure if I've ever read a collection of short stories before. I know I've read individual short stories, but I don't think I've sat down and read through an entire collection of them. The coolest part of Snow in May, particularly as my introduction to short story collections, is that all of the stories are linked together. They are set during a wide range of years, not arranged in chronological order, and focus on different characters in every story. But some of those characters are connected to each other - in large and small ways - and it was so delightful to read and keep an eye out for those ties.

The largest connection between all of the stories is the setting: Magadan. This port city in Russia has a complicated, bleak history. Magadan "served as a major transit center for prisoners sent to Stalin's labor camp," and those labor camps "exploited more than 2 million prisoners and exiles" (RT News, 11/09). I'd never heard of the city before, but I think the sense of place is Snow in May's greatest strength. The writing is lovely and the stories are intriguing, but the setting itself just comes to life through Melnik's words. The harsh weather, the bleak past, and the complexity of its residents are captured expertly by this debut author.

While the characters themselves weren't a defining quality of the book for me, I felt like Melnik captured the truth of the human condition. She portrays the sorrow, the joy, the anxiety, the fear, the dissatisfaction, the disappointment, the hope... The tone itself is pretty somber, but I felt that it was fitting. It's not really a happy read, but I was still able to enjoy the experience of reading these stories.

Melnik was born and raised in Magadan until she immigrated to Alaska at age fifteen, and her familiarity with the place and subject made these stories seem uniquely Russian. "I think this whole book is a way of reconciling my happy childhood memories with a more complex reality," Melnik said in an interview with NPR. As a reader, I could absolutely sense this tension in her stories! Focusing on the small, every moments in a life, Melnik is able to show how a place can influence the significance and meaning of those moments. For me, it made for fascinating reading.

I haven't read anything quite like Snow in May before, and I don't know that anyone else would be able to replicate what Melnik has done in these stories. I didn't love every single story, but I was still glad to have read about this complicated place and glimpsed the struggles of these fictional people who represented the reality of life in Magadan.

So Quotable
"She stood, pelting the backs of fellow line standers with all the anger and frustration accumulated in her line-standing life... She understood that bananas would have a relatively small impact on the bright future she hoped for her sons. Yet, their future would begin when she returned home, and she had the power to make it a little sweeter. Gradually, the romantic kite of her soul descended back to her body. She felt tired and overdressed. Like herself."
*I received a copy of this book from Henry Holt in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.
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