Liza Palmer Party: The Favors (Giveaway)

Jan 30, 2015

Every party has to end, and I'm sad to see this celebration of Girl Before a Mirror come to close. For this final day, Cassie's talking about the sweet treat we're serving at our party. And I figured that that I ought to be a good hostess, so I won't send you home empty-handed... I've prepared the favors! Once you read Girl Before a Mirror, chances are you'll be craving more. So, here are fifteen books I recommend after you're done:
If you liked the WRITING, try...
If you like the writing style, your next step is to read more books from Liza herself! DUH. She's got a great backlist, which I've been slowly working my way through. I don't want to devour them all and have nothing left! Here are the three I've read so far - all of which I thoroughly enjoyed and definitely recommend.

Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer (Review)

If you liked FAMILY dynamics, try...
Family plays a huge role in every Liza Palmer book I've read so far, and the relationship between siblings Anna and Ferdie was one of my favorite storylines in Girl Before a Mirror. You'll find an interesting sibling relationship Garden Spells and unforgettable family dynamics overall in Saving Francesca

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (Review)
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (Review)

If you liked the FRIENDSHIP, try...
Anna has a small group of close friends in Girl Before a Mirror, but I think I loved the friendship that develops between her and Sasha even more! The friendship in Open Road Summer was one of my favorite elements of that book, and the "work friendship" in Attachments is what made it a favorite read.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord (Review)
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (Review)

If you liked the ROMANCE, try...
You know I can't resist a good love story! I loved the romance in Girl Before a Mirror, and I won't soon forget this couple. Here are three "I never saw you coming" romances, but each depicts that in completely different ways. You'll definitely swoon, but you might cry a little, too. Don't say I didn't warn you!

The First Husband by Laura Dave (Review)
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Review)

If you liked the PERSONAL GROWTH, try...
My absolute favorite part of Girl Before a Mirror was watching Anna come into her own. Seeing her bring ideas to life and take charge of her story was amazing! The heroines in all three of these books have a lot to learn about life, love and themselves. It's probably why they're three of my all-time favorite books...

The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum
Just One Day by Gayle Forman (Review)
After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Review)

If you liked the WAR backstory, try...
Although it's a small element of Girl Before a Mirror, one character's story made me wish he had his own book. There's a lot of pain and heartbreak there, and it reminded me of these two books. I'll Meet You There and Something Like Normal depict the aftermath of war on a solider in an unforgettable way.

I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Win a signed copy of Girl Before a Mirror! (3 Winners)
Open to US only. | All entrants must be 13 or older to enter.

Liza Palmer Party: The Music

Jan 29, 2015

The Liza Palmer Party in honor of the release of Girl Before a Mirror continues today with an important part of any celebration: the music! One of my favorite moments in this book is a scene where Anna talks about music. She prides herself on listening to a certain kind of music and sneaks "guilty pleasure" songs into her respectable playlists. I'll let you read the book to find out how another character reacts to that little secret... 

This book was just calling for its own soundtrack, so Cassie and I got to work. Girl Before a Mirror opens with the lyrics from the song below, so we obviously had to highlight this beauty first. And below that you'll find a playlist of twenty songs we felt represented emotions or scenes in this book. The playlist follows the order of the book, but I'm sharing the lyrics for the last ten songs and Cassie has the lyrics for the first ten songs.

I got a ways to go / And I'm carrying a heavy load
But baby I want you to know / But baby I want you to know
That I never been so sure / And I never wanted nothing more
That you were who my love is for / You were who my love is for
Jill Andrews  My Love Is For

I've thrown away, I've thrown away again / The pills that make me
 I've thrown away, I've thrown away again / The chance, the want to change
TRACK 11: Edgewater – Eyes Wired Shut

There may come a time / You just can't seem to find your place 
For every door you open / It feels like two get slammed in your face 
That's when you need someone / Someone that you can call 
And when all your faith is gone / It Feels like you can't go on / Let it be me 
TRACK 12: Ray LaMontagne – Let It Be Me

Looking up, at last I found / You're never loved if you protect yourself 
Lay down, lay down your weapons boy / Right now, right now 
Under it all, you're not so tough / Everyone, everyone just wants to fall, to fall in love
TRACK 13: The Daylights  Weapons

If you were here beside me / instead of in New York / If the curve of you was curved on me 
I’d tell you that I loved you / before I ever knew you / 'Cause I love the simple thought of you 
TRACK 14: Snow Patrol – New York

I got ten fingers to the sky, / My back to the wall, my white flag high...
Put the gun down, put the gun down / Or I'mma set fire to the whole damn house
TRACK 15: ZZ Ward – Put the Gun Down

So many times it happens too fast / You trade your passion for glory 
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past / You must fight just to keep them alive 
TRACK 16: Survivor – Eye of the Tiger

Oh you got a fire and it's burning in the rain / Thought that it went out, but it's burning just the same 
And you don't look back, not for anything / 'Cause if you love someone, you love them all the same
TRACK 17: The Fray  Heartbeat

Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough / And things go wrong no matter what I do 
Now and then it seems that life is just too much / But you've got the love I need to see me through
TRACK 18: Florence + The Machine – You've Got the Love

With your eyes on my secrets, / God knows what you'll see
There's so much to my story, / But you're the perfect ending 
TRACK 19: Matthew Mayfield – Better

All of these lines across my face / Tell you the story of who I am 
So many stories of where I've been / And how I got to where I am 
But these stories don't mean anything / When you've got no one to tell them to 
It's true... I was made for you 
TRACK 20: Brandi Carlile – The Story

Check out Cassie's post to see lyrics for the first ten songs!

Liza Palmer Party: The Gifts

Jan 28, 2015

This week, Cassie and I are celebrating the release of Girl Before a Mirror by hosting a Liza Palmer party! We both loved this book so much and wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. We sent the invites out yesterday by sharing ten reasons your book club should read this book, and today I'm talking about the gifts and she's covering the decor with some awesome wallpapers. I've been dying to create another book-inspired gift guide after doing it for a few books last month, and this was the perfect opportunity!
1. Michael Aram Black Orchid Cheese Board ($129) - While Girl Before a Mirror is an emotional read, there are also a number of hilarious scenes in it. One of my favorites is early in the book when Anna first arrives at RomanceCon and makes an awkward comment about cheese. It told me so much about her character.

2. Fortnum & Mason Royal Blend Tea ($15.95) - Anna drinks tea like I drink Diet Coke. She's definitely addicted! I was originally going to pick my favorite tea, but I ended up with this one after Anna specifically mentions it in the book. Is it bad that I want to order it just because I love the tin it's in?

3. Azure Blue Teapot Set ($59.95) - I've had my eye teapot set for ages. I don't really need it, but it's got all of my favorite colors in it. While I don't know if this is Anna's style, that's too bad. This is the teapot that I wanted to feature! Plus, it matches the Fortnum & Mason tea tin so perfectly... It's meant to be!

4. Funko POP Wonder Woman ($11.98) and Princess Leia ($16.40) - There's a wonderful (and hilarious) scene in Girl Before a Mirror where Anna and Sasha attend a work costume party. Anna dresses up like Princess Leia and Sasha dresses up like Wonder Woman, so I had to commemorate it with these figurines!

5. Minimergency Kit for Brides ($16) - Anna is the account executive on a campaign for a shower gel. I almost included one in my gift guide, but I think this emergency kit made more sense. Anna is in need of one on several occasions, and she intends to tell the shower gel company that they ought to make one.

6. I'll Eat You Up I Love You So Canvas ($29.99) - This quote from Where the Wild Things Are has special meaning for Anna and her brother Ferdie. Their relationship was one of my favorite things in Girl Before a Mirror, and it's the storyline that actually made me cry the most. And I'd totally hang this canvas in my house.

7. The Most of Nora Ephron ($22.96) and The Complete Miss Marple Stories (Similar) - Anna and Sasha are inspired by a book that has ties to a famous quote from Nora Ephron, which is why I chose this book. And Anna's Marple Theory was genius, so this was an obvious gift (though this Folio edition isn't available anymore).

8. Ladyhawke ($9.99) and Sixteen Candles ($5) - Anna is critical of romance novels, but Sasha uses an example involving Anna's favorite movie (Ladyhawke) to prove a point. It was a great moment, and I loved Anna's enthusiasm for the movie. Sixteen Candles also gets a shoutout in the book, so I had to include it here, too.

9. Trafalgar Stretch Suspenders ($49.50) and Cutter & Buck V-Neck Sweater ($78) - I had to have something on here as a nod to Lincoln! While I bet he has expensive taste, these reminded me of him. The suspenders are for a scene where he takes them off and the sweater because he loans one to Anna in the book.

10. Frette Hotal Shawl Collar Robe ($220) - Anna spends a lot of time in the hotel... I'd say she spends time in her room, but that's not quite true. And if you're hanging out in a hotel room, you better put on the hotel robe (if it's a good one). While this is more than I'd pay for a robe, I bet the Arizona Biltmore has fancy robes.

11. Apolis Chelsea Market Bag ($68) - At one point, Anna goes to see Lincoln in New York. She lets Sasha talk her into a grand scene involving a romantic picnic - the works! While you'll have to read the book to find out what happens after she visits Chelsea Market, I loved imagining Anna carrying this cool bag

Liza Palmer Party: The Invite

Jan 27, 2015

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 Reasons Your Book Club Should Read 
Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

This week's topic is technically "Ten Books I'd Love to Read with My Book Club." However, today is also the release of Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer, which I raved about last week. To celebrate, Cassie and I have some fun posts planned for the next few days. Our first post is a twist on today's topic - so, here are ten reasons to make this your next book club pick!

1. Because everyone can relate to something in Anna Wyatt's story.

2. Because Lincoln Mallory is hot, British and loves dessert.

3. Because Sasha Merchant will surprise you.

4. Because Ferdie will make you laugh and cry.

5. Because Helen Brubaker is a total badass.

6. Because RomanceCon is a hilarious setting.

7. Because the entire book is so quotable.

8. Because there are so many themes you can discuss.

9. Because this story will make you emotional.

10. Because this book will Marple* you.

*Once you read it, you'll understand.

About the Book:

Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

Release Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 384 pages
Add on Goodreads | Buy It Now

Summary (from Goodreads)
An account executive in a Mad Men world, Anna Wyatt is at a crossroads. Recently divorced, she’s done a lot of emotional housecleaning, including a self-imposed dating sabbatical. But now that she’s turned forty, she’s struggling to figure out what her life needs. Brainstorming to win over an important new client, she discovers a self-help book—Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero—that offers her unexpected insights and leads her to a most unlikely place: a romance writers’ conference. If she can sign the Romance Cover Model of the Year Pageant winner for her campaign—and meet the author who has inspired her to take control of her life—she’ll win the account.

For Anna, taking control means taking chances, including getting to know Sasha, her pretty young colleague on the project, and indulging in a steamy elevator ride with Lincoln Mallory, a dashing financial consultant she meets in the hotel. When the conference ends, Anna and Lincoln must decide if their intense connection is strong enough to survive outside the romantic fantasy they’ve created. Yet Lincoln is only one of Anna’s dilemmas. Now that her campaign is off the ground, others in the office want to steal her success, and her alcoholic brother, Ferdie, is spiraling out of control.

To have the life she wants-to be happy without guilt, to be accepted for herself, to love and to be loved, to just be—she has to put herself first, accept her imperfections, embrace her passions, and finally be the heroine of her own story.

Think Your Own Thoughts

Jan 26, 2015

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Release Date: First Published 1908
Publisher: Random House | Vintage
Pages: 368 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
"But you do," he went on, not waiting for contradiction. "You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expresses it..." 

Lucy has her rigid, middle-class life mapped out for her until she visits Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte, and finds her neatly ordered existence thrown off balance. Her eyes are opened by the unconventional characters she meets at the Pension Bertolini: flamboyant romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the Cockney Signora, curious Mr Emerson and, most of all, his passionate son George.

Lucy finds herself torn between the intensity of life in Italy and the repressed morals of Edwardian England, personified in her terminally dull fiancé Cecil Vyse. Will she ever learn to follow her own heart?

WHEN I First Read It

I think that I first read A Room with a View when I was in college, but it may have been high school. All I know is that I didn't read it for class, and I checked it out from the library on a whim. I didn't buy a copy for my shelves until recently, which is another reason I can't remember exactly how long it has been since I first picked it up.

WHAT I Remember

Honestly, I barely remembered anything about A Room with a View! I knew that I loved Forster's writing because there were at least two quotes that I wrote down after finishing it the first time that I still love today. I also remembered a portion of the storyline - that Lucy Honeychurch is traveling abroad with her cousin, Charlotte, and meets quite a few characters when they spend time in Florence. As for the rest of the story, I barely remembered any other details. That's one reason I was excited to re-read! 

WHY I Wanted to Re-Read

A few months ago, Danielle highlighted A Room with a View for Consider This Classic. While I'd already read it, she made me want to read it all over again! I started reminiscing on all the reasons I'd enjoyed it the first time I read it - and I knew there was more I couldn't remember. Then, I saw that there was a YA retelling coming out this January - Love, Lucy by April Lindner. It seemed like one more reason to re-read it! And when I had a costume drama movie binge, I realized that I wanted to re-read this book before I watched the movie adaptation of it. All those reasons made it seem like the perfect first re-read for The Re-Read Challenge!

HOW I Felt After Re-Reading

Dang, I loved this book even more than I remembered! A Room with a View is the story of Lucy Honeychurch. The first part follows her as she explores Florence with her cousin Charlotte. They're nearing the end of their trip abroad, and they are about to meet a number of people who will alter their lives in unforeseen ways - including a Mr. Emerson and his son George. The second part catches up with Lucy once she has returned home to her mother and brother. While the plot is intriguing, that's not why I love it.

First, the writing is just stunning. There are moments where it's a bit slower, but it's often romantic and spirited. I underlined so many quotes in this book. One of my favorites from my first read, which stood out to me again upon re-reading, is this speech Mr. Emerson gives to Lucy soon after meeting her:
"You are inclined to get muddled, if I may judge from last night. Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them. By understanding George you may learn to understand yourself."
It's better in context, of course, but it stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it. I remember speaking the words aloud and letting them roll off my tongue. Something about the idea of pulling out your thoughts and examining them in the sunlight to know the meaning of them - I couldn't get the picture out of my mind.

So, the writing is the first reason I love A Room with a View. But the main reason - the reason I think everyone ought to read this book - is for the themes. After listening to Lucy play the piano, one person remarks: "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting - both for us and for her." This idea becomes repeated throughout the novel. Lucy lives during a time when women are restricted by what is proper and decorous. She must be good mannered and well behaved - a lady. But what if that's not what she wants?

Being in Italy changes her. When she returns, she becomes engaged to a man named Cecil Vyse. And Forster writes this about Cecil's understanding of Lucy:
"A rebel she was, but not of the kind he understood - a rebel who desired, not a wider dwelling-room, but equality beside the man she loved. For Italy was offering her the most priceless of all possessions - her own soul."
HELLO. Tell me you don't want to read the book based on those two sentences alone! I love A Room with a View because it's the story of Lucy finding her own voice and learning to trust her own heart. It's the story of a girl who is becoming a woman and is faced with a choice: to do what's expected of her or to cast it all off for something more. And my goodness, there are some romantic moments in this one. My favorites:

One gentleman says to Lucy, "Every moment of his life he's forming you, telling you what's charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of your own."

When Lucy then argues that he's doing the same thing - telling her what to think and feel - he responds, "Yes, I have. I'm the same kind of brute at the bottom. This desire to govern a woman - it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together before they shall enter the garden. But I do love you - surely in a better way than he does. Yes - really in a better way. I want you to think your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms."

DEAD. DONE. Stop reading this review, and go read this classic already. Don't you want to know what Lucy decides? Will she defy convention and choose a life of passion? READ IT AND FIND OUT.

WOULD I Re-Read Again

Absolutely! This classic is on the shorter side, which makes it perfect for those days when I need a quick reminder of why I love classics so much. In some ways, I think I loved A Room with a View even more the second time reading it. I love when that happens, and I highly recommend this book!

Why Did You Say Goodbye?

Jan 23, 2015

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Release Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Penguin | Viking Juvenile
Pages: 288 pages
Source & Format: Edelweiss; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Cody and Meg were inseparable. 
Two peas in a pod. 
Until... they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

Thoughts on I Was Here
When I first read the summary for I Was Here, I wasn't interested in reading it. And I probably would never have picked it up if it wasn't written by Forman. However, since I've loved her writing in the past, I believed this one would surprise me. And it did surprise me... but not in the way I'd hoped. Immediately after finishing, I gave it 3 stars and noted that it might be closer to 3.5 stars. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I can't say I liked it.

When her best friend Meg commits suicide, Cody is devastated. She never saw it coming. Meg's parents ask Cody if she'll pack up Meg's room at college, so Cody takes a road trip and learns there's so much she never knew about her friend. From her roommates to the boy who broke her heart, Cody starts to see a new side of Meg. And when she discovers an encrypted computer file, Cody won't stop until she finds out Meg's last secret.

As I said, the summary didn't appeal to me, but I believed that Forman could do it justice. Sadly, there's really nothing about this book that worked me. I can appreciate Forman's writing - and still want to read more from her in the future - but that's really the only good thing I can say about I Was Here.

I couldn't connect to the characters, and the story was so bleak and depressing. This wasn't an emotional read for me. Instead, I spent my time feeling sick inside. I can handle tough reads sometimes, but I just had way too many issues with this story. Cody seems like a terrible friend, and it felt like she made everything about her at times. I don't want to hold a teen to an adult standard, but I was so frustrated by her. I also had a lot of issues with the romance element, especially because it was so undeveloped and relied way too heavily on the stereotypical "bad boy who is reformed by love" trope. If you're going to go there, you've got to make me believe it. Instead, it felt like a distraction and was so contrived. I have zero idea why either of these characters cared about each other.

Then, there's the mystery that Cody is chasing: the secret Meg tried so hard to hide. I don't want to spoil this aspect of the book, but I will say that I found it very troubling. I didn't know communities like this existed online (though I'm not surprised), but it's not something I'd ever want to introduce a teenage reader to - especially since it wasn't handled with care. The fact that Cody is having these scary and serious conversations with someone online AND THEN GOES AFTER HIM, IN PERSON, BY HERSELF just terrified me. If I'd been invested in the story before, that was the moment a switch flipped. I realized I would probably never hand this book to a teen. Ever. Everyone tells Cody it was so dangerous... and yet they understand she needed closure. NO. It seemed like Cody cared more about Meg's reasons for killing herself than she ever did about Meg herself.

I wanted to love this book, and I'm sad that I didn't. I wish I'd at least liked it! Instead, I just feel disappointed. It's just kind of sad and hopeless. I don't mind reading about tough topics, but this just wasn't the right book for me. And it definitely doesn't compare to everything else I've read by Forman so far.
*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.

So Obsessed With: The Winter 2015 Edition

Jan 22, 2015

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. So, here's what I'm so obsessed with this winter:
1. Butter London Hardwear P.D. Quick Top Coat ($19) and Nail Lacquer in Big Smoke ($15) - I've featured Butter London nail polishes in these posts before, but I realized recently that I'd never highlighted the top coat. It's seriously my favorite EVER! And this gorgeous, dark blue polish has been my go-to color this winter.

2. Urban Decay Naked Ultra Nourishing Lipgloss ($20) - I haven't tried this lipgloss before, but I've had my eye on it recently. The colors all seem so lovely - subtle but still noticeable. I love Urban Decay's Naked line, and I expect this would be no different. I typically use lipstick, but I do love the look of a lipgloss.

3. Bb. Texture Hair (Un)Dressing Creme ($30) - Of all the hair products I own, this is at the top of my list. I have some natural wave in my hair, and I'm addicted to this creme. It creates that "tousled on purpose" look - almost like using a sea salt sprays to work. Just a little bit in my hair, and then I let it air dry. I use it all the time!

4. Not Your Mother's Clean Freak Dry Shampoo ($5.99) - The product above is my favorite, but dry shampoo is probably my most-used hair product! I used to wash my hair every day, but I finally broke that habit last year. Before bed, I'll spray some dry shampoo on my roots. And when I wake up, my hair ready to go!

5. Lush Cosmetics Sea Vegetable Soap ($7.95) - I loved pretty much anything from Lush Cosmetics, but I've been using this soap a lot recently. It just looks so nice in the soap dish next to my bathtub! Of course, it also smells great - lime, lavender and seaweed. It sounds like a weird combination, but it works.

6. TOCCA "Meet The Girls" Fragrance Collection ($62) - I rarely wear perfume, but my go-to perfume is a scent from TOCCA. I have mini bottles of three other fragrances from TOCCA, but I've been dying to try their entire line. This seems like a great way to sample each one without committing to a whole bottle. And it's just pretty!

7. Penfield Kasson Parka Jacket in Navy ($198) - I don't need this jacket, but I do love it. For some reason, I'm always drawn to jackets that have this look. And navy is one of my favorite colors, so it would look great with so many things already in my closet. It seems like it would work for winter and spring, so that's a bonus too!

8. Kate Spade "Heart of Gold" Bangle ($32) - I received this bracelet for Christmas, and I love it! It's just a simple gold bangle, but I love how thin it is and how great it looks layered with other bracelets. And I love the cute little idiom engraved on the inside! It also comes in silver and rose gold, so you can get a whole stack.

9. Michael Kors Chronograph Leather Strap Watch ($149.98) - I've been wearing my dad's old leather strap watch almost every day, and I'm obsessed. I certainly don't need another one for myself, but Michael Kors always makes my favorite watches. They're usually bigger, which I love because I don't like dainty watches!

10. Maeve Woodland Walk Buttondown ($78) - I'm obsessed with this shirt. The print - OWLS AND BUTTERFLIES AND LEAFY THINGS - is the best. Blues and greens are my favorite colors to wear and decorate with, so this shirt caught my eye as soon as I saw it! I don't need it because I probably wouldn't wear it a lot, but I want it.

11. J.Crew Dannie Pant ($89.50) - I have two pairs of J.Crew pants that I wear all the time to work, but they don't make that style anymore (SAD). My sister bought this style recently, and she keeps telling me to buy them. She says they fit perfectly! I love that they are skinny and stretchy. These need to get in my closet NOW.

12. The Theory of Everything Movie - I looooove Eddie Redmayne. So much. He's been my favorite ever since I saw him in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and I've loved Felicity Jones ever since I saw her in Northanger Abbey. I wanted to see this movie even before all the Oscar buzz, but even more so now! It looks so great.

13. Downton Abbey Season 5 ($29.99) - I love how each season releases on DVD/Blu-ray before it even finishes airing on TV in the US! While this season has been a little slower, I still can't resist this gorgeous series. As soon as I have this in my hands, I plan on binge-watching Downton Abbey from the very first season.

14. Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies and Book Lovers Mug ($16) - I've always loved drinking tea, but I've been addicted to it this winter! I don't have this mug, but I want it. Isn't it so hilarious?! I'd make a cup of my favorite tea from Teavana, grab some Lorna Doone cookies (yum!) and settle in with a good book.

15. A Room with a View, Before I Go and All the Light We Cannot See ($10-$27) - I just re-read A Room with a View, and it will make you long for the warmth of Italy! I fell in love with recent release and 2015 debut Before I Go - so much so that I already read it twice. And I can't wait to finally read All the Light We Cannot See!

16. Brutal Romantic from Brook Fraser ($9.99) and Evergreen from Broods ($7.99) - I already highlighted Brooke Fraser's album in my December recap, but I still had to include it here. I feel like it fits the season somehow, if that makes sense. And thanks to Jamie's Best of 2014: All Things Not Books post, I can't stop listening to Broods!

'Broken people make the best heroes.'

Jan 21, 2015

Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

Release Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 384 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; ARC
Add on Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
An account executive in a Mad Men world, Anna Wyatt is at a crossroads. Recently divorced, she’s done a lot of emotional housecleaning, including a self-imposed dating sabbatical. But now that she’s turned forty, she’s struggling to figure out what her life needs. Brainstorming to win over an important new client, she discovers a self-help book—Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero—that offers her unexpected insights and leads her to a most unlikely place: a romance writers’ conference. If she can sign the Romance Cover Model of the Year Pageant winner for her campaign—and meet the author who has inspired her to take control of her life—she’ll win the account.

For Anna, taking control means taking chances, including getting to know Sasha, her pretty young colleague on the project, and indulging in a steamy elevator ride with Lincoln Mallory, a dashing financial consultant she meets in the hotel. When the conference ends, Anna and Lincoln must decide if their intense connection is strong enough to survive outside the romantic fantasy they’ve created. Yet Lincoln is only one of Anna’s dilemmas. Now that her campaign is off the ground, others in the office want to steal her success, and her alcoholic brother, Ferdie, is spiraling out of control.

To have the life she wants-to be happy without guilt, to be accepted for herself, to love and to be loved, to just be—she has to put herself first, accept her imperfections, embrace her passions, and finally be the heroine of her own story.

Thoughts on Girl Before a Mirror
I have to thank Target for introducing me to Liza Palmer. Of all the money I've spent in that store, Nowhere but Home will forever be the best thing I've ever bought there. I may complain about all the times I go in to buy one thing and leave with five, but that is what led me to this incredible author.

When I finished Nowhere but Home, it took me almost two months to write my review. My draft just sat there staring at me... How could I even put into words all the reasons I'd loved the book? Well, Girl Before a Mirror made me do it again. I read this book the second it showed up at my door - all the way back in September. When I finished, I wrote these words on Goodreads: "WOW. Liza has ruined me for all other books for the foreseeable future. I needed this, was moved by it and am so obsessed with it." Four months later and that was still all I had written about it. So, I decided to re-read it a few days ago.

What can you say about a book that's even better the second time you read it? A book that makes you FEEL pretty much every emotion? A book that crawls inside your heart and takes up residence? Yeah, I don't know either. That's why I'm asking a bunch of questions and putting off actually telling you why I loved Girl Before a Mirror. Because if you name a reason to love a book, chances are it's a reason I love this one.

Account executive Anna Wyatt is recently divorced, just turned 40 and has a plan in place to score a potentially career-changing client. They like her initial ideas, so now she's headed to RomanceCon to meet Helen Brubaker, author of bestselling self-help book Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero. If she can sign the Romance Cover Model of the Year winner for her campaign and get Helen onboard, there's a good chance she'll win the account. But she doesn't plan on Sasha, her pretty young colleague assigned to the project, or Lincoln Mallory, the gorgeous financial consultant she meets in the hotel. Plus, her brother Ferdie is spinning out of control and her bosses at work are trying to take credit for her ideas. For someone who thrives on control, what will happen if Anna finally lets down her guard and takes a risk?

If you took the name Liza Palmer off the cover of this book, I'm not sure I would pick it up. Well, I do judge a book by its cover... so okay, I'd totally grab this off the shelf and flip it over to read the back. But once I did, I think it might be something I'd typically set right back down. I can sometimes dismiss "divorced forty-year-old woman finds herself" stories pretty quickly. However, since it was Liza Palmer, I wasn't worried. She can take something that seems cliché and make it speak to you on every level.

Liza's writing is - as alway - incredible. She writes with so much depth, passion and intention. Every moment feels purposeful. Each character is multidimensional. Honestly, practically every word seems quotable. As Anna ponders the campaign she's working on, she notes that this one feels different. And I have to wonder if Liza felt that way while writing Girl Before a Mirror. There's something about this book that feels personal - not just to Liza, but to every woman who picks it up and reads her words.
"I want to be happy and not feel guilty about it. I want to be curious without being called indulgent. I want to be accepted regardless of what I look like, what I do for a living, my marital status, whether I have kids, or whether you think I was nice enough, hospitable enough, or humble enough to measure up your impossible standards. I want purpose. I want contentment. I want to be loved and give love unreservedly in return. I want to be seen. I want to matter. I want freedom."
I love pretty much every element of this book, and I don't feel I can do them justice. The romance isn't the focus of the book, but it's so memorable. From their chemistry to their conversations, I was rooting for Anna and Lincoln. Family relationships are a significant part of Anna's story, too. While I could talk about her parents, it's her interactions with her brother Ferdie that wrecked me. I rarely cry when reading, but this book got to me.

And then there's Sasha - one of my new favorite secondary characters. I loved her so much! I ached for her and cheered for her. I loved the wonder she had for life and the way she was able to retain that aspect of herself, even when recognizing that she needed to make other changes. In a book about Anna learning to be the heroine of her own story, I loved the way that every secondary character clearly had their own story. They all felt real and relatable in their own ways, and it's probably one of the biggest reasons I love anything Liza writes. I'm a character reader, and she knows and understands people. They're complicated, messy, and full of contradictions - and Liza expertly captures that truth.

I also can't forget to mention the themes explored in these pages. You'll find:

Surrendering control, taking risks, and finding freedom.
Celebrating your strengths, recognizing your weaknesses, and embracing it all.
Loving someone else, being vulnerable, and working through the mess.
Letting go of perfection, recognizing your worth and learning to just be.

Girl Before a Mirror reminds me why I love reading. I almost never write in books, but I had to take out my highlighter with this one. This book moved me and entertained me. Liza Palmer writes stories that resonate with me and creates characters that feel real. I know these women - whether it's at work, down the street, in my family or the person I see when I look in the mirror. I cannot recommend A Girl Before a Mirror highly enough. Make room on your shelves and in your heart for this unforgettable book.

So Quotable
"Over the past year, I've chipped away at the mythology of my beliefs to discover that love is not reasonable or measured. It undoes you. It's in the imperfections in each other, in ourselves, where we find our humanity. It's in our dents and scars where the deepest connections are made. Real love resides in the parts of me I think no one wants to see."
*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.

Time for These Classics

Jan 20, 2015

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 Classics on My TBR

After discovering Jane Austen in middle school, I knew I'd found one of my passions: classic literature! In high school and college, I read a lot of them - and enjoyed it! Well, I will admit that there were clunkers along the way. Lately, however, I rarely find myself picking up these books I used to love so much. I did start my Consider This Classic feature after I wrote a post about the classics conundrum - so I have found some ways to keep my love for classics alive. But there are so many classics still on my TBR! Here are the top ten:

1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
2. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
3. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
4. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
5. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
6. Middlemarch by George Eliot
7. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
8. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
9. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
10. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Have you read any of these classics?
If so, where should I start?

The West, Damascus & Down Under

Jan 19, 2015

The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas

Release Date: June 1997
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 229 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
No one is more surprised than Mattie Spenser herself when Luke Spenser, considered the great catch of their small Iowa town, asks her to marry him. Less than a month later, they are off in a covered wagon to build a home on the Colorado frontier. Mattie's only company is a slightly mysterious husband and her private journal, where she records the joys and frustrations not just of frontier life, but also of a new marriage to a handsome but distant stranger. As she and Luke make life together on the harsh and beautiful plains, Mattie learns some bitter truths about her husband and the girl he left behind and finds love where she least expects it. Dramatic and suspenseful, this is an unforgettable story of hardship, friendship and survival.

Thoughts on The Diary of Mattie Spenser
After reading The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund, I became obsessed with books set in the early days of the West. Traveling by covered wagon, claiming up your land, setting up your homestead... I was craving stories from this time period! This desire was solidified after I re-watched The Magic of Ordinary Days. It's not set during this time period, but it has a similar feeling to it. And during this re-watch, I realized why I have such a fondness for this setting: it reminds me of my love for the Little House series!

In researching books set during this time period, I came across The Diary of Mattie Spenser. I hadn't heard of this book before, but I was intrigued by the summary and excited by the high Goodreads rating. When I spotted it on Book Outlet not long after, I automatically added it to my cart. The Diary of Mattie Spenser opens with a character discovering the journal hidden in a trunk in their attic. Interestingly, the prologue and epilogue were the big things that annoyed me about the book. The prologue felt unnecessary - these characters only reappear at the very end of the book (in the epilogue). I would have much preferred it start off immediately with the diary entries. And the ending is quite abrupt, and I didn't care for the way it jumped forward in time.

But once I got past that random beginning, I was hooked. Mattie is shocked when Luke Spenser asks her to marry him. She says yes to his proposal, which also means she's also agreeing to build a home on the Colorado frontier with him. She starts a journal to record the joys and sorrows of her life - her only real company in her new life, as her husband is like a stranger to her. The rest of the book chronicles their life together. I'll admit - this is often a sad, somber read. There are so many difficult, serious things mentioned in these pages. A few didn't sit right with me, including the portrayal of Native Americans, though I can't argue that the attitudes expressed are likely historically accurate. It's a problematic portrayal, but I think most readers will recognize that fact.

The writing style wasn't my favorite, but I'm glad I read The Diary of Mattie Spenser. I honestly don't know if I would have been able to survive this kind of life! It's a hard, lonely existence. I admired Mattie's resilience, and I lost myself in her story. I disliked the way the story was sometimes too sensational - the plot drives the book more than the characters. But overall, I won't soon forget this read. In fact, I went back and read the last 20 or so pages (before the stupid epilogue) a few hours after I finishing. I just needed a bit more time to say goodbye.
City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 354 pages
Source & Format:
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Famed aviatrix Evangeline Starke never expected to see her husband, adventurer Gabriel Starke, ever again. They had been a golden couple, enjoying a whirlwind courtship amid the backdrop of a glittering social set in prewar London until his sudden death with the sinking of the Lusitania. Five years later, beginning to embrace life again, Evie embarks upon a flight around the world, collecting fame and admirers along the way. In the midst of her triumphant tour, she is shocked to receive a mysterious—and recent—photograph of Gabriel, which brings her ambitious stunt to a screeching halt.

With her eccentric aunt Dove in tow, Evie tracks the source of the photo to the ancient City of Jasmine, Damascus. There she discovers that nothing is as it seems. Danger lurks at every turn, and at stake is a priceless relic, an artifact once lost to time and so valuable that criminals will stop at nothing to acquire it—even murder. Leaving the jewelled city behind, Evie sets off across the punishing sands of the desert to unearth the truth of Gabriel's disappearance and retrieve a relic straight from the pages of history.

Thoughts on City of Jasmine
A while ago, April from Good Books and Good Wine recommend this book to me. I hadn't read anything by Deanna Raybourn before, but she totally sold me when she described the type of romance I'd find in this book. So, when I spotted City of Jasmine at the library recently, I knew I had to give it a shot. The heroine, Evangeline Stark, is an aviatrix. Her husband died years ago when the Lusitania sank... so why does she receive a recent photo of him in the mail?

Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, Evangeline sets off for Damascus. This setting was entirely new to me, which I loved. I haven't read many books about life in the British colonies in the 1920s - but now I want more! Evangeline is such a delight - she's the got that spark that makes her jump off the page. I was hooked on her adventures and couldn't wait to see how they'd turn out. Would she find Gabriel? How is he still alive? And what has he been doing these last five years? The result makes for such fun! Danger is lurking around every corner, and I spent much of the book anxiously waiting to see how it'd all turn out.

The only thing that annoyed me a bit is that the writing is a little detail heavy. There are a few too many info dumps, which made the pace a little inconsistent for me. However, overall, this was an enjoyable escape! The unique setting and plucky characters won me over! I'm glad this was my introduction to Deanna Raybourn, and I'm interested in reading more from her in the future.

Release Date: April 9, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Touchstone
Pages: 416 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Paperback

Summary (from Goodreads)
In 1901, a ship sinks off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The only survivor is Isabella Winterbourne, who clutches a priceless gift meant for the Australian Parliament. This gift could be her ticket to a new life, free from the bonds of her husband and his overbearing family. But whom can she trust in Lighthouse Bay? 

Fast-forward to 2011: after losing her lover, Libby Slater leaves her life in Paris to return to her hometown of Lighthouse Bay, hoping to gain some perspective and grieve her recent loss. Libby also attempts to reconcile with her sister, Juliet, to whom she hasn’t spoken in twenty years. Libby did something so unforgivable, Juliet is unsure if she can ever trust her sister again.

Thoughts on Lighthouse Bay
I absolutely loved Kimberley Freeman's Wildflower Hill, so I had high hopes for Lighthouse Bay. Once again, she combines contemporary and historical time periods into one book and connects them in interesting ways. While this didn't live up to its predecessor for me, I still liked it!

Now, I'll be honest: I started this book before and always ended up setting it down after the first chapter or two. The contemporary portion focuses on Libby Slater who has just lost, as it's revealed in the first chapter, the man she's loved for a decade. The only problem? She's his mistress. Because of the secretive nature of their relationship, she doesn't even know how to grieve him. No one even knows what he meant to her and she to him. So, I could never quite get into this book because I so disliked what she was involved in.

I told myself I'd give it one last shot, and this time I pushed through. I made it to the historical portion, and then I was hooked. Set in 1901, the heroine is Isabella Winterbourne: the only survivor is a terrible shipwreck. She's escaped with not just her life, but also a priceless gift meant for the Australian Parliament. Will she deliver it to the intended recipient - or will she use it as her means to escape the life that has her trapped? I was dying to find out what she would do!

Honestly, I wish this had just been historical fiction. I never liked the contemporary portion or connected to Libby - it felt like it was "getting in the way" of what I really wanted to read. I struggled a bit with Isabella at times, but I could at least understand because she was a bit lost and broken. Libby just made me irritated, and I didn't respect for the way she'd run from her problems. Because I never loved either character (and many of the secondary characters seemed a bit too caricature-ish), this wasn't a favorite for me. I hope my next read from Freeman works better for me! I wouldn't dissuade anyone from reading this book, but I'd be more likely to push them to read the underrated gem that is Wildflower Hill.

Food, Family & Finding Your Home

Jan 16, 2015

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Release Date: January 2007
Publisher: Random House | Bantam Dell
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: Garden Spells #1
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Summary (from Goodreads)
The women of the Waverley family are heirs to an unusual legacy, one that grows in a fenced plot behind their Queen Anne home on Pendland Street in Bascom, North Carolina. There, an apple tree bearing fruit of magical properties looms over a garden filled with herbs and edible flowers that possess the power to affect in curious ways anyone who eats them.

For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother's unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town's constraints. Using her grandmother's mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business - and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life - upon the family's peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire's routine existence upside down. With Sydney's homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire's own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways.

As the sisters reconnect and learn to support one another, each finds romance where she least expects it, while Sydney's child, Bay, discovers both the safe home she has longed for and her own surprising gifts. With the help of their elderly cousin Evanelle, endowed with her own uncanny skills, the Waverley women redeem the past, embrace the present, and take a joyful leap into the future.

(Re-Read) Thoughts on Garden Spells
I discovered Sarah Addison Allen in May 2011 when I read The Girl Who Chased the Moon. I fell in love with the magical quality of her writing, and I immediately wanted to read everything else she'd published. So, in June, I picked up Garden Spells. Then, I read The Sugar Queen and The Peach Keeper. It was a Sarah Addison Allen binge - I'd discovered a new favorite author! She has yet to write a book that I haven't thoroughly enjoyed.

Of all of Allen's books, I've always considered Garden Spells to be my least favorite. It's still an enjoyable read and I have no real complaint with it, but I remember that I wasn't as invested in it as much as I was her other stories. It is her debut novel, so I do know that I was impressed by the fact that she already showed so much talent and creativity. But as far as the plot, I only remembered that it involved sisters and some magical food. 

When I saw that Allen was releasing a sequel to Garden Spells, I knew that I had to re-read it before I read the new one. It had been so long since I read this one, and I felt like I needed to refresh my memory on the different characters. Although First Frost (the sequel) jumps forward in time, it seemed like the events and backstory in Garden Spells would be important. I wanted to make sure I was able to truly appreciate First Frost!

As soon as I stepped back into this world, I remembered all the reasons I love this author. When I reviewed Lost Lake last year, I identified four things I loved about it that I felt were characteristic of Allen's work overall. And it's true for Garden Spells, too: enchanting story, lovely writing, charming setting and colorful characters. You'll find them all in this delightful book! I think my favorite aspect is the relationship between sisters Claire and Sydney. From the tension that keeps them apart to the magic that ties them together, family and finding your home are central to this story. I'm glad I re-read Garden Spells - it was like wrapping myself up in my favorite blanket and feeling warm all over. Allen has magic in her pen, and I realize it more and more with every book she writes.

While I'd likely revisit her other books first, there's still room on my shelves for Garden Spells! No one writes quite like Allen, and I recommend her over and over again. Her books, even when they have sad moments, are just so hopeful and uplifting. I'm always smiling when I close the last page and walk away determined to look for the magical in the every day. There's something to be said for a book that makes you feel so dang happy!

So Quotable
“She was so Southern that she cried tears that came straight from the Mississippi, and she always smelled faintly of cottonwood and peaches.”
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Release Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Press
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Series: Garden Spells #2
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Summary (from Goodreads)
It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to… if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke? When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Thoughts on First Frost
Once I finished Garden Spells, I immediately picked up First Frost. I was excited to prolong my stay in Bascom, North Carolina, and see what was happening with the Waverlys. To be honest, Garden Spells didn't really seem like it needed a sequel. I was actually surprised when I heard it was getting one! So, I was curious about what this new book would add to the story... and I was a little bit worried, too.

Picking up ten years after Garden Spells, the Waverly sisters are experiencing different problems in their lives. For Claire, it's frustration with her new business and doubting her gift. For Sydney, it's the desire for another child. And for Bay, Sydney's daughter, it's unrequited love. When a mysterious man shows up in their town, he presents a threat to the heart of their family. If only the first frost would arrive, then everything would be better...

There was a part of me that was a little sad to check in with this family and to see them struggling. I knew there had to be conflict for there to be a reason for the book, but there were moments I thought I might have preferred never knowing more about the Waverlys. Or, perhaps, I might have loved it more if Bay had been the sole focus of First Frost. There were times when I didn't feel like the threads of this story came together to create a cohesive story. The threatening stranger never really seemed like a threat, which meant the story lacked a lot of the tension it needed to drive the plot forward. I didn't understand his motives, and I was never really worried about the ultimate outcome.

I still love Allen's writing and these characters she's created, but the story in First Frost just didn't hold up for me. I enjoyed reading it, but I walked away feeling like it didn't really serve much of a purpose. I have no doubt that Allen's fans will read First Frost, and I don't blame them. Heck, I'd still buy a copy of this one! But I'd be least likely to recommend this of all of her books. I was happy to be reading more from Allen - and still felt like the setting, characters and writing truly did stand out. It's just the story that felt so lackluster, and I hate that I didn't love it more. I didn't dislike it, of course, but I wasn't entranced by it and dying to see it through. It was sweet to see the characters again, but I didn't need to read this story.

Do I recommend it? Honestly, if you like Allen, you'll want to read it. But I'm not sure you'll walk away thinking, "Oh, I'm so glad she decided to revisit the Waverlys!" Because truthfully, they were fine right where she left them last time. I had fun reading First Frost, but it was a little forgettable for me overall. I'm ready for something new!

So Quotable
"They always got restless before first frost, giving away their hearts too easily, wanting things they couldn't have, getting distracted and clumsy and too easily influenced by the opinions of others. First frost meant letting go, so it was always a reason to celebrate. Everything was okay after that."
*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.  
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