Series Speed Date: Round #4

Aug 29, 2014

This section will cover any key details about the series.

Katie Parker Production Series
Books In Series: In Between, On the Loose and The Big Picture
Released: 2007 | 2007 | 2008
Publisher: Sweet Pea Productions
Pages: 349 pages | 333 pages | 347 pages
What do these covers say about this series?

I bought the first book quite a while ago because it was on sale for Kindle. I'd enjoyed Jones' two adult books but had loved her young adult standalone, There You'll Find Me. It was so wonderful and moving, so I was partially drawn to the series because of my familiarity with the author. Now, when I bought the first book, they had totally different covers. The ones pictured above are the recently released redesigns, and they're much better than the originals. I don't necessarily love them, but they are an improvement and fit the story inside.

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

Based on my previous experience reading Jones, I knew that I could expect warmth, humor and a thoughtful approach to a tough subject. Writing about everything from fear to grief, Jones approaches potentially heavy topics with grace and a smile. In this series, you'll meet Katie Parker. Her mother is in prison, her father is nowhere to be found, and she's about to be placed with a foster family that's nothing like her. Katie doesn't know where she fits in or what defines her - her family's screwed up past or this new opportunity for her future? Since the series is Christian fiction, I also knew to expect faith to play a role in Katie's journey to discover where she truly belongs.

What are some highlights of the series?

A sarcastic, brave and hurt young woman.
A responsible, smart and kind best friend.
A realistic, nice but somewhat frustrating love interest.
A caring, intentional and well-meaning set of foster parents.
A sassy, hilarious and crazy "grandmother."
A painful past and a heartbreaking mother.
A struggle to figure out who you are and that you're valued.
A few sweet, silly adventures.
An attempt to push the boundaries and find out who cares.
A story of family, faith and belonging.

How will you feel closing the last page?

I thought the ending was satisfying! Most of the major questions in Katie's life are resolved, and the book leaves you with lots of hope for her future. I thought a few things were wrapped up a little too neatly, but it's a pretty minor complaint. There is one thread of the story that remained open, and I think readers have been so vocal about wanting to find out how it ended that Jones is writing another book (or maybe a novella?) set several years later to show how it's all played out. Either way, this was a sweet series that remained consistent throughout all three books.

Summing up this series is just three words?

Sassy. Sincere. Sweet.

Is this series worth your time?

Hmm... So, I had mixed feelings on these books. I read all three books on vacation at the beach, which was the perfect place to devour the series. They were sweet and fun, but I felt like they were ultimately a bit unfulfilling. I wanted a bit more - they never really felt like emotional reads, even though all the elements were there. It also got a little cheesy or over-the-top at times. And, honestly, I suspect I might have liked them more when I was an actual teenager. So, I ended up feeling mostly disconnected from them overall. Jones writes with warmth and humor, and I don't regret reading the series. But I think they were a bit forgettable for me, so I don't see myself really pushing them on anyone in the future.

aka - If intrigued, do more research to see if they're right for you!

So Obsessed With: Summer 2014 Edition

Aug 27, 2014

Some of my favorite posts are ones where bloggers highlight the products they're loving lately or the things they're currently coveting. Posts like that always put new products on my radar and give me great ideas for gifts. I love this kind of content so much that I decided to start incorporating it into my blog by highlighting my loves and lusts and each season. Rather than give it a creative name, I thought my blog name was more fitting. Although the season is coming to a close, here's what I've been obsessed with this summer:
1. Living Proof Flex Shaping Hairspray ($24) - I got a sample of this hairspray as a Sephora reward, and I'm in love with it! You can even use it on wet hair, which I think is cool. Since I've got some natural wave to my hair, a good hairspray is a must during the humid summer months.

2. Living Proof Prime Style Extender ($20) - This was another sample that I ended up loving. I run it through my hair when it's damp if I plan on straightening or curling it so that it will hold the style longer.

3. Laura Geller Bronze-n-Brighten ($33) - I'm really fair, so I never get very tan in the summer. I've tried a number of bronzers, and I always come back to this one. The color is perfect!

4. SpaRitual Nail Polish in Dreamsicle ($12) - I can't resist a bright, bold color on my fingers and toes in the summer! This is a recent favorite brand, and this color is great. It makes a statement without being too loud.

5. Strawberry Lip Balm ($7) - As the temperatures rise, I have to keep lip balm on hand. I grabbed this at Sephora one day, and I've been pleased with it.

6. Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer ($32) - I decided to try this daily moisturizer after falling in love with Josie's Argan Oil. It's pretty thick, but I still love it. With SPF 47, I feel better about protecting my skin while I'm outside. I'll probably love this one more in the winter, but it's still a hit with me!

7. Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil ($48) - I don't use this every single night, but I love a few drops of this when I feel my skin getting dry. I grabbed this limited edition, too, because I'm crazy about the scent.

8. Juxtapose Maxi Dress ($89.95) - Maxi dresses are seriously perfect in the summer! I love that it's basically a complete outfit, and I don't have to do any work to look put together. This one is on sale right now, and I'm so tempted to grab it! These are all of my favorite colors, too.

9. Chaco ZX/2 Yampa Sandal ($100) - I hate how Chaco's look, but I finally caved and bought a pair. While I'm still not crazy about the look, I'm so glad I got them. I wear these so much on the weekends!

10. Marc by Marc Jacobs Oversized Sunglasses ($110) - I love the look of oversized sunglasses, especially when I'm at the pool or the beach. I'm always drawn to tortoiseshell, so these definitely meet my approval.

11. Cara Paint Me Pretty Head Wrap ($25) - I bought a head wrap similar to this one while I was at the beach, and now I want a million of them. I always burn my scalp, so this was perfect for keeping that protected. Not to mention it's so much cuter than a baseball cap! I've also been wearing mine a lot when I run errands on the weekend so I don't have to worry about anyone noticing my unwashed hair.

12. Kate Spade Cobble Hill Mini Carson ($198) - I definitely don't need any more purses, but I love a good crossbody bag in the summer. Who wants to lug around a huge bag when it's already so hot?! Most of my purses are in neutral colors, but summer is a great time to experiment with color.

13. Bitter Greens, Isla and the Happily Ever After and Heir of Fire ($18-26) - I crave a little bit of everything in the summer! I found myself reading such a variety of books these last few months, and Isla and the Happily Ever After and Heir of Fire were definitely two of my favorites. I haven't read Bitter Greens yet, but I think it will be the perfect read to say goodbye to the summer.

14. Ed Sheeran's X ($12.99) and Sam Hunt's X2C ($4.26) - I've had Ed Sheeran's album on repeat ever since it was released. So many great tracks on it! And I fell in love with Sam Hunt when I downloaded his free acoustic album months ago, and this EP made me all the more excited for his album to come out in October. These songs are perfect for driving with the windows down!

15. If I Stay Movie - I have already seen this movie in theaters, and I'm dying to go see it again. It was such a great adaptation! The book is better (of course), but I was so happy with the way this was brought to life on screen. I thought the casting was spot on, and I actually felt more emotional watching it than I had when I was reading it. Crazy, right?!

16. Tostitos Garlic & Black Bean Tortilla Chips and Aladdin Mason Jar Tumbler ($10) - These chips sound weird, but they are incredible. Seriously. I could eat a whole bag in one sitting! And I try to be better about drinking water in the summer, and these mason jar tumblers make it easier to trick myself into (kind of) enjoying it.

17. Emma Approved - This YouTube series has been out for a while, but some of my favorite episodes were released this summer. I'm sad it's all over! It hasn't been a perfect series, but I can't deny that Emma and Knightley have made me fall in love with this story all over again. Now I have to re-read the book!

Why Did I Give These Away?

Aug 26, 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 Books I Want to Re-Read But Don't Own (Anymore)

Although I always have books on my wishlist, I was struggling with this week's topic! For the most part, the books I really want to read are a) ones I already own, b) ones in a series that I want to binge or c) ones that aren't released yet. So, I decided to twist the topic a little bit. 

I really love to re-read, and I usually have the books that I want to read on-hand. But when I was a teenager, I gave away SO MANY books from my childhood. I'm still mad at myself for purging so many! So, with that in mind, here are ten books I really want to re-read but don't own... anymore.

1. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry - Oh yes, my love for historical fiction started early.
2. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell - Was this one amazing? My memory thinks it was.
3. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt - Ah, I've been CRAVING this one recently. 
4. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor - This is one of my favorite books on this list!
5. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls - The tears - I think I remember them. 

6. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson - I loved so many books by Paterson, but this was a favorite.
7. Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry - Yes, I was 100% a hardcore horse girl through and through.
8. Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt - All I remember: a) kids abandoned by their mom and b) SO GOOD.
9. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren - Pippi is THE BOMB. Who didn't want her adventures?!
10. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - I don't even remember what this one is about... Oops!

The Ones You Don't Suspect

Aug 25, 2014

Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy by Karen Abbott

Release Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper
Pages: 544 pages
Source & Format: Publisher at BEA; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it. 

Thoughts on Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
I've always enjoyed reading books set during the Civil War, but my love for Erin Lindsey McCabe's I Shall Be Near to You only made it stronger. I read the book earlier this year, and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since. It's the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight alongside her husband during the war, and it was so fascinating! Although the story itself is fictional, it was based on real women who fought as men during the Civil War.

After finishing it, I began searching for other books about the Civil War. Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy immediately caught my eye, especially because it focuses four women undercover during the Civil War. I was thrilled at the thought of learning more about the real women that had inspired McCabe. You can imagine my delight when I then discovered that Karen Abbott was going to be signing copies of the book during BEA. Seriously, y'all, I was the first person in line!

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is my favorite kind of non-fiction because it covers a significant time period but describes it through a smaller lens by focusing on the lives of four women during those years. The four women you'll meet in its pages are:
  • Belle Boyd: Southern spitfire who spied for the Confederate army and acted as a courier
  • Emma Edmonds: Disguised herself as a man and fought for the Union
  • Rose O'Neale Greenhow: Seduced valuable information out of politicians in order to help the South
  • Elizabeth Van Lew: Wealthy abolitionist who created an espionage ring
The book is divided into parts based on the years of the war, and each chapter focuses on a single woman (for the most part). It rotates between all their different stories, and I loved that two were on the Union's side and two were for the Confederacy. The women were not connected, but Abbott does a great job weaving their stories into a cohesive and compelling book.

One of the themes, and the common thread between the women, is captured by this quote early in the book:
"Their gender provided them with both a psychological and physical disguise; while hiding behind social mores about women's proper roles, they could hide evidence of their treason on their very person, tucked beneath hoop skirts or tied up in their hair. Women, it seemed, were capable not only of significant acts of treason, but of executing them more deftly than men."
The book doesn't really delve into all the intricacies of the war, but I felt like I saw a completely new side of it because of these women. Abbott's writing makes this read like a novel for the most part, which I loved. If you're looking for a more scholarly examination of the Civil War, this might not be right for you. But I think most readers will really appreciate the way Abbott makes history come alive!

I made myself read this one a little more slowly so that I could fully appreciate all the details, but it's overall a fast-paced read. I was so caught up in it and was glad Abbott included an epilogue that provided more information about what happened to the women once life went back to "normal." I learned so much while reading this book, but it was also so entertaining. I was shocked at some of the things that took place - and what these women accomplished and endured.

If you're interested in the Civil War or in women in history, I definitely recommend this book. And I think this is the kind of non-fiction that would be perfect for readers who primarily read fiction. Abbott has written an engaging and informative book that was right up my alley, and I'm so glad I got to read it!

So Quotable
"War, like politics, was men's work, and women were supposed to be among its victims, not its perpetrators. Women's loyalty was assumed, regarded as a prime attribute of femininity itself, but now there was a question - one that would persist throughout the war - of what do with what a Lincoln official called 'fashionable women spies.'"
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

A Series of Breaths Held

Aug 22, 2014

The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper
Pages: 256 pages
Source & Format: Publisher at BEA; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, this incandescent debut novel follows three generations of family—fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave, characters who yearn for redemption amidst a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love.

Drawn to the ocean, ten-year-old Tabitha wanders the marshes of her small coastal village and listens to her father’s stories about his pirate voyages and the mother she never knew. Since the loss of his wife Helen, John has remained land-bound for their daughter, but when Tab contracts yellow fever, he turns to the sea once more. Desperate to save his daughter, he takes her aboard a sloop bound for Bermuda, hoping the salt air will heal her.

Years before, Helen herself was raised by a widowed father. Asa, the devout owner of a small plantation, gives his daughter a young slave named Moll for her tenth birthday. Left largely on their own, Helen and Moll develop a close but uneasy companionship. Helen gradually takes over the running of the plantation as the girls grow up, but when she meets John, the pirate turned Continental soldier, she flouts convention and her father’s wishes by falling in love. Moll, meanwhile, is forced into marriage with a stranger. Her only solace is her son, Davy, whom she will protect with a passion that defies the bounds of slavery.

In this elegant, evocative, and haunting debut, Katy Simpson Smith captures the singular love between parent and child, the devastation of love lost, and the lonely paths we travel in the name of renewal.

Thoughts on The Story of Land and Sea
I started The Story of Land and Sea with the highest of hopes. The summary sounded like it would be right up my alley - set in North Carolina in the waning years of the American Revolution. Y'all, I love reading anything during the American Revolution and the Southern setting was just an added bonus. I was excited when I grabbed this one at BEA - the ARC has a textured cover, gold lettering and deckle edge pages. It was almost too pretty to be an advance review copy!

The Story of Land and Sea is divided into three parts and is the story of a small circle of connected people. The first part focuses on John and his daughter, Tabitha, as he raises her alone after the death of her mother, Helen. When Tabitha contracts yellow fever, John hopes that taking her out to sea will restore her health. The second part jumps back in time and focuses on Helen's relationship with her own father and her growing love for John. Finally, the last part turns its gaze on four people: John, Helen's father, Helen's slave Moll and Moll's son after the events in the first part have occurred. I only mention the focus of the different parts because it affected my feelings for the book overall.

The first part of this book was absolutely gorgeous. The writing style is so unique - Simpson Smith writes in such an evocative way. The language swept me away, and I found myself falling in love with little Tabitha and her father. Their love for one another, and John's care and desire to do the best for his daughter just captured my attention. I underlined so many sentences, and finished the first part expecting to give this book five stars.

Then, the jump back in time. I didn't love the second part as much as the first, but there were glimmers of hope. Helen was such an interesting character, but I wish there had been a little more development of her relationship with John. The changes and decisions she makes as a result of meeting him felt so out of character! I think that's partially because the story never really dug into her character enough for me. At times, it felt like the writing mattered more to the author than the actual story or characters.

Finally, part three. From that point on, the story seemed to lose focus. This section was actually difficult for me to get through. There was none the spark that had been in that first part, and it focused mostly on characters that didn't interest me.  I love slow books, but the third part of the book just dragged on. I kept telling myself to just keep reading because I was almost done. And it's a short book to be having that thought!

The writing was lovely throughout, but I felt the book wasn't very cohesive. I think that contributed to my problems with the pacing and my disinterest in the end of the story. Perhaps it was just me, but I didn't think the book built up to anything. There was no climactic moment or defining scene that helped me identify the overall purpose or central conflict.

The Story of Land and Sea examines faith, family, loss and disappointment in a way that was promising but ultimately left me wanting so much more. This was a different experience for me - having the book start in such an amazing way and then go so downhill. I'm giving it a positive rating, despite the fact that I would probably recommend it with reservations, because I really did adore the first part and the poetic writing style.

So Quotable
"Since losing Helen ten years ago, his life has been a series of breaths held. He only lives to wait for loss."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

Consider This Classic: Judith Recommends

Aug 21, 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.

I was so excited when I saw that Judith from Paper Riot was going to recommend a classic for this feature. Judith is so insanely talented. Y'all, I'm constantly in awe of her design skills. Even more important, she's sweet, thoughtful and such a delight to know. She's a rockstar whose personality shines through in everything she posts - whether it's on Twitter or her blog - and I'm so excited to highlight her classic pick today!

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Publication Date: 1973
Originally Published In: United States
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
A tale of true love and high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts - The Princess Bride is a modern storytelling classic. 

As Florin and Guilder teeter on the verge of war, the reluctant Princess Buttercup is devastated by the loss of her true love, kidnapped by a mercenary and his henchmen, rescued by a pirate, forced to marry Prince Humperdinck, and rescued once again by the very crew who absconded with her in the first place. In the course of this dazzling adventure, she'll meet Vizzini - the criminal philosopher who'll do anything for a bag of gold; Fezzik - the gentle giant; Inigo - the Spaniard whose steel thirsts for revenge; and Count Rugen - the evil mastermind behind it all. Foiling all their plans and jumping into their stories is Westley, Princess Buttercup's one true love and a very good friend of a very dangerous pirate.

This is the only story I remember seeing before reading. The Princess Bride is a movie my dad made me watch first when I was sick as a kid, just like the little boy in the story first hears the story when he is sick. The story is crazy over the top, and if you're not open for it, I don't think you will love it. But I fell in love with it at the first "as you wish" and my love didn't end with the "best kiss ever". It's still one of my favorite stories, and I could never get enough of Westley and Buttercup (and my favorite: Inigo Montoya). Admittedly, I like the movie better than the book, which never happens for me. Maybe because I read the book later in life, but probably because the movie is just the most perfect adaptation. But I love both.

"Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, True Love, miracles", The Princess Bride has it all. It's all very dramatic and over the top, but this story just has a special place in my heart and I can't remember not loving it. I think The Princess Bride is the ultimate fairy tale, with princes and princesses, kidnapping, monsters, etc. For me, it's also something I share with my dad, which adds a personal aspect to this story. And of course, it's also just so amazingly quotable: 

"My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die." 

"He didn’t fall?! Inconceivable!"
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." 

"Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." 

"We’ll never survive!" 
"Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has." 

"I've been saying it so long to you, you just wouldn't listen. Every time you said "Farm Boy do this", you thought I was answering "As you wish" but that's only because you were hearing wrong. "I love you" was what it was, but you never heard."

This is actually difficult, because I think The Princess Bride is such a unique story. There really is nothing like it. One story it reminds me of is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, which also deals with true love, monsters and epic journeys. I can't say for sure, though, because I've only ever seen the movie. (I'm planning on fixing this, I promise!) I have heard it also compares to the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce and Stardust by Neil Gaiman, but I don't know for sure.

The Little Pieces of a Life

Aug 20, 2014

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Ecco
Pages: 416 pages
Source & Format: Publisher at BEA; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways...

Johannes' gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation... or the architect of their destruction?

Thoughts on The Miniaturist
When I was looking into what books would be available at BEA, I came across The Miniaturist. It was a BEA Buzz book - an adult title chosen by a panel as a featured book for the event. There seemed to be a pretty limited quantity of the book at BEA, and I actually missed the drop for it because it conflicted with something else on my schedule. But, in a twist that turned into one of my favorite moments from BEA, a lovely publicist from HarperCollins grabbed a copy for me on Saturday after we commiserated over the craziness of the crowd.

As a historical fiction lover, I was immediately intrigued by the summary and gorgeous cover. Then, I realized how much hype it was getting. That only made me more excited for this read! I took it with me on my beach vacation, and it was a nice change of pace from some of the other reads I'd brought with me. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if my expectations were too high or I'd just heard too much hype, but I wasn't totally in love with The Miniaturist. I'd read something that compared it to Burial Rites - one of my all-time favorite reads from last year - so I was really hoping I'd have that kind of connection to the characters and story.

As with Burial Rites, the setting in The Miniaturist ended up being one of my favorite parts of the book. Set in Amsterdam in 1686, this book focused on a time period and place that I've never really read about before. Sure, I've read a few books with scenes taking place in Amsterdam - but nothing in this time where God and gold are worshipped above all else. The setting is almost like a character in this book, which I definitely loved. It made me crave more of this city's rich history!

The writing was also lovely. I loved Burton's way with words and phrasing of certain things. It's very descriptive, which I thought added to the setting and spirit of the place. For me, the setting and writing itself were the two strongest parts of this book.

However, I really struggled to connect with or understand the characters. The characters never felt real to me - and their actions and motivations didn't always seem to align. Nella, the protagonist, swings from unsure and shy to confident and authoritative. As a big fan of historical fiction, I found Nella way too modern at times! I found it hard to believe that she would think and behave the way that she did in this book once she uncovers some of the household's secrets. Her relationship with the other characters also felt very undefined to me. I didn't understand why she cared about the strangers she was now living with because there wasn't enough development there. It seemed like there was no emotion behind the characters and their relationships with one another.

The plot was interesting - I did want to keep reading - but it was also pretty predictable. I wasn't surprised by any of the revelations, but the book overall was engaging enough that I wanted to finished and find out how it would end. However, this might be nitpicky but I found the title frustrating in light of the miniaturist's actual role in the novel. It was so intriguing at first, but almost none of the questions surrounding the miniaturist are answered by the end of the book. Talk about promising storyline that was ultimately very unfulfilling!

Overall, The Miniaturist was a bit of a mixed bag for me: the setting was so unique and writing style was lovely, but the characters were undeveloped and plot was too predictable. It didn't live up to the hype for me, but I did like it while I was reading it. Parts of it were so impressive, but I was left wanting more in the end. I don't regret reading The Miniaturist and I'll be curious about what Burton writes next, but I won't be revisiting this book in the future.

So Quotable
"The surface of Amsterdam thrives on these mutual acts of surveillance, the neighborly smothering of a person's spirit."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

It's Totally a "You" Book!

Aug 19, 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 Books People Have Been Telling Me I Must Read

1. The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando | Recommended by: Estelle from Rather Be Reading
2. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum | Recommended By: Jamie from The Perpetual Page-Turner
3. Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald | Recommended By: Melissa from Writer Grrl Reads
4. City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn | Recommended By: April from Good Books and Good Wine
5. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch | Recommended By: Judith from Paper Riot
6. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr | Recommended By: Leah from The Pretty Good Gatsby

7. Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain | Recommended By: Cassie from Books With Cass
8. Take Me On by Katie McGarry | Recommended By: Betty from Book Rock Betty
9. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon | Recommended By: Kelly from Belle of the Literati
10. Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson | Recommended By: Alexa from Alexa Loves Books

A Call to Courage

Aug 18, 2014

Let's All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

Release Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Zondervan
Pages: 208 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle e-book
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Annie Downs admits she’s not exactly the bravest girl in the world. She still cries sometimes when she leaves her parents’ home in Georgia, she’s never jumped out of a plane, and she only rides roller coasters to impress boys. But Annie knows that courage resides inside each and every one of us, and she’s on a mission to triumph over her own fears while encouraging the reader to do the same.

As a single young woman, writer, speaker, and blogger, Annie Downs shares her journey toward bravery with honesty and humor. Using wonderful stories from her own life, contemporary real-life examples, and fascinating historical and biblical references, Annie encourages readers to grab hold of the brave life that they desperately desire.

How often does fear hold us back from the very things we most want to taste, touch, and experience? The call to be brave isn’t just for one person—it’s for everyone. Let’s All Be Brave is more than a book, it’s a battle cry. Annie challenges us to live boldly, she calls us to step into those places that require courage, and she gives us the help to take the next step forward—even when it’s scary.

This non-fiction, essay-driven book opens the door to many different views of courage—nudging, encouraging, and inspiring readers to be brave whenever given the chance.

Brief Thoughts on Let's All Be Brave
One of my friends from college moved to Nashville after graduation, which is how I first heard about author and speaker Annie Downs (who is active in the Nashville creative community). My friend mentioned Annie's blog (or maybe it was one of her previous books?), and I was intrigued. Annie was on my radar after that, and I knew I was going to read Let's All Be Brave when I saw this post on She Reads Truth.

In the interview, Annie responded to a question with this answer:
"I think it's important to remember that there is no shame in being full of hope. There are times when we feel shame for hoping - for believing that God could do something and move in an area of our lives that we haven't seen movement in so far... It takes guts to hope in the face of disappointment. It takes guts to hope until doors close and THEN go face to face with God about hope unfulfilled. It's easy to give up. Don't do it. Hold on to hope."
Something about her words just resonated with me so deeply. I love the way she frames bravery - that it can be as simple holding on to hope. So, I picked up Let's All Be Brave and dove right in. Annie has written a book that is both challenging and encouraging. Reading it reminded me of sitting down with a close friend, one who knows the real you, and discussing our dreams over coffee. But instead of just idly daydreaming, this friend speaks truth into your life. It's an honest moment, a scary and intimidating thing, to take a hard look at the areas where you need to be brave.

Annie talks about holding on, letting go, saying yes, and saying no. She shares how the people around you, the words and talents inside you and the places you find yourself can help you make the next move. Whether it's identifying the dreams you've buried or finally moving toward that dream, there's bravery in every single step along the way.

I loved how Annie weaves in Scripture and biblical truth. It's not about doing things in your own strength, and she absolutely makes that clear throughout Let's All Be Brave. My favorite aspect was the way Annie highlights that courage can cause a chain reaction and that "the bravest among us do not stand alone." What an encouraging reminder!

Let's All Be Brave was exactly what I needed - a bright spot of truth and joy. It's written in a memoir style and filled with stories from Annie's personal life. This aspect of the book made it occasionally choppy, and some stories resonated more than others, but I really did enjoy the book overall. If you're looking for some encouragement to chase your dreams, this might be just the thing!

So Quotable
"Maybe today is a good day to figure out who loves you. Their love will give you courage. Maybe today is a good day to tell the ones you love that you love them. Your love will give them courage, like a deposit in the bank of the heart. I don't know how it works, the science and math of it all, but I know that love given is courage gained."

The Facts About Non-Fiction

Aug 15, 2014

As I was reading Kelly's post, I found myself nodding along in agreement as she described how she loves to learn, to be challenged and to have new experiences. I love all those same things - and it's a huge reason I love reading! I was the nerd who genuinely enjoyed school (although I certainly didn't love every subject). So, it probably comes as no surprise that I really enjoy reading non-fiction. 

Fiction will always hold the first place in my heart, but I like to explore the whole bookstore or library... I rarely limit myself to just one section! When I wrote my post about cultivating a curiosity for stories, I was partly motivated by the fact that categories can be helpful - but they can also be limiting. And I think that happens sometimes with non-fiction.

There's one "fact" about fiction that just so happens to be true with non-fiction, too: it's so enjoyable if you find the right books for you. It's totally okay if non-fiction is just not for you, but I thought I'd highlight how I choose what non-fiction I want to read. My goal is to help you find the non-fiction that's perfect for you!

You could: Read books about things that you're obsessed with.
Listen, I cannot resist anything about Jane Austen or L.M. Montgomery. I won't lie: a huge part of my non-fiction library is dedicated to these two authors. It's probably fitting since Austen and Montgomery are also the authors I own the most books from (hello, gazillion editions!). I'll read anything I can get my hands on about their lives, their books, the world they lived in... 

A great place to start when choosing a non-fiction read is to start with whatever it is that you already love. It's probably a no-brainer, but it's way easier to become invested in a non-fiction book if it's about something that you are naturally interested in. Those books may overlap with the other things I describe below, but it's still the first thing I would consider if you're new to non-fiction - or even just rediscovering it.

You could: Read books about time periods that fascinate you.
I'll admit that I've always been a history nerd. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and I'd watch a costume drama over any other kind of movie. If you really dislike history, this may not be the category for you. But if there is a certain time period that intrigues you? See if there are any books about it that appeal to you.

When I'm looking for books about a certain time period, Goodreads can be really helpful. Using their Listopia section, I can usually find at least one list dedicated to the time period I'm searching for and can then narrow it down to a few books that look promising. From there, I use average ratings and reviews to help me make a (somewhat) informed decision about what book I'll read.

You could: Read books about things that entertain you.
Yes, I'm totally the person who buys books about movies and TV shows. You can laugh at me if you want, but I love getting a behind-the-scenes look at the things I watch onscreen. For you, it might be sports, comedians, music... just to name a few examples. When I find something entertaining, I tend to be curious about the details involved in it. So, what is it that you find entertaining? 

You could: Read books that can teach you a skill you want to learn
I remember when I was in elementary school and had to teach the class how to do something as a presentation/project. Since I was totally obsessed with horses, I taught the class how to clean tack and the steps involved in taking care of a horse before and after riding. Yep, I was that girl. All that to say - learning a new skill can be cool!

For me, one of those skills is cooking. I'm not totally hopeless at it if I try, but I don't often find the energy to really commit to it. Even still, I really love buying and flipping through cookbooks. I also enjoy reading books about writing, so I'll pick up books about the craft so I can hopefully get better at it.

You can't learn about most skills just by reading about them, since there is also typically "doing" involved, but reading can help you take the first step! There are so many skills that you can begin to learn by reading about them, including crafting, gardening or a even a new language.

You could: Read books about your life and/or what you believe.
Although I don't talk about it much on my blog, my faith is so important to me. I frequently read books that encourage me, convict me and make me take another look at my beliefs and my daily choices. Sometimes I choose them based on the topic and other times it's based on the author (typically because I've read something by them before).

For other people, this may be a place where you look into books that will help you examine your eating habits, your personal relationships, your mindset or your habits. There are so many business and self-help books out there with great insight into behavior and what it takes to make changes that matter.

You could: Read books that can inspire you creatively.
I'm not great at decorating, but I love to look at beautiful homes and the rooms inside them. Decorating books inspire me! I don't have the ability to envision a complete look for a room, but I can certainly appreciate the effort and creativity that goes into designing one.

I want my home to be a place that reflects my taste, feels inviting and yet still inspires me. I can't create it on my own, so I love books that can help me see what it takes to get it to that place. It might not be decorating for you, but there are lots of gorgeous books out there that can inspire you creatively!

You could: Read books about people that you that intrigue you.
The majority of my non-fiction reading is devoted to biographies and memoirs. Even when I'm reading a book about a certain time period or topic, I prefer to view it through the lens of a person or group of people. My favorite kind of non-fiction is when it almost reads like fiction - an individual's compelling story.

So, think about the people that inspire or fascinate you. It could be a historical figure, a celebrity, a politician, a public figure... but it helps to start somewhere! Sometimes, reading a non-fiction book about a specific person will introduce me to another person that I want to find out more about.

And don't forget to just explore! Find the stories that intrigue you. Since books about people (whether memoir or biography) can read the most like fiction, don't be afraid to branch out a little bit. Some of my favorite non-fiction reads have been about previously unknown-to-me people with incredible stories to tell.

You could: Read books about places you've been or want to go.
Finally, you can read books that make you feel like the world is at your fingertips. While nothing can compare to visiting the places themselves, it doesn't mean you can't take a little trip from the comfort of your home. I really enjoy paging through travel books or travel memoirs. I'll never be able to explore every little corner of this Earth, but I love to be reminded of just how big it is and how diverse the people are who inhabit it.

Five Tips to Get Started

1. Make an "I want to know more about..." list. Use the prompts above to brainstorm some non-fiction topics you might enjoy. Once you've got an idea of what you might like, you can start trying to actually find it.

2. Explore online first. Personally, I think it can be easier to find non-fiction online. Bookstores rarely have the best non-fiction selection, but only because there is just so much out there. Exploring a store is great if you know you love non-fiction and are open to new experiences, but start out by researching books online if you want a safer bet. You're more likely to find the book that's just right for you!

3. Take note of the rating / reviews. While reading will always be subjective, I find that I pay more attention to the ratings and reviews for non-fiction books. I think it's because what people dislike in non-fiction usually focuses more on stylistic issues (writing style, accuracy, etc.) than subject matter (themes, characters, etc.).

4. Experiment by visiting the library. It's probably a given, but the library is a great way to try something new. There's no big deal if you don't like a book - you'll just return it and try again!

5. If possible, see it in person before you buy it. This is random, but I like trying to see most non-fiction books in person before I buy it. In some cases, it's because I'm considering reading it on my Kindle and want to see if the hard copy includes photo pages or other cool design details. And other times it has more to do with the content. Do I like the decorating style pictured? Do the recipes contain ingredients I actually like? Are there footnotes that I'll need to be able to reference? There have been numerous occasions where I was really glad I got to see the book before I bought it.
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