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My name is Chelsey and I am the creator of Charming Chelsey's! I read and review anything and everything that I find to be "charming." I accept ARCs or already released books for review, and I'm also available to participate in any blog tours or book reveals too. If anything, please don't hesitate to email me any time for any reason at: charmingchelseys(at)gmail(dot)com

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Book Review: Pieces of Happiness

Pieces of Happiness: A Novel of Friendship, Hope and ChocolateAuthor: Anne Ostby
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Doubleday


A novel of five lifelong friends who, in their sixties, decide to live together on a cocoa farm in Fiji, where they not only start a chocolate business but strengthen their friendships and rediscover themselves. 

"I've planted my feet on Fijian earth and I intend to stay here until the last sunset. Why don't you join me? Leave behind everything that didn't work out!" 

When Sina, Maya, Ingrid, and Lisbeth each receive a letter in the mail posing the same question, the answer is obvious. Their old high school friend Kat--Kat the adventurer, Kat who ran away to the South Pacific as soon as they graduated--has extended the invitation of a lifetime: Come live with me on my cocoa farm in Fiji. Come spend the days eating chocolate and gabbing like teenagers once again, free from men, worries, and cold. Come grow old in paradise, together, as sisters. Who could say no?

Now in their sixties, the friends have all but resigned themselves to the cards they've been dealt. There's Sina, a single mom with financial woes; gentle Maya who feels the world slipping away from her; Ingrid, the perennial loner; Lisbeth, a woman with a seemingly picture-perfect life; and then Kat, who is recently widowed. As they adjust to their new lives together, the friends are watched over by Ateca, Kat's longtime housekeeper, who oftentimes knows the women better than they know themselves and recognizes them for what they are: like "a necklace made of shells: from the same beach but all of them different." Surrounded by an azure-blue ocean, cocoa trees, and a local culture that is fascinatingly, joyfully alien, the friends find a new purpose in starting a business making chocolate: bittersweet, succulent pieces of happiness. 

A story of love, hope, and chocolate, Pieces Of Happiness will reaffirm your faith in friendship, second chances, and the importance of indulging one's sweet tooth.

“I’ve planted my feet on Fijian earth and I intend to stay here until the last sunset. Why don’t you join me? Leave behind everything that didn’t work out!” 

“So I’m going to send this now, stroking my fingers across the stamps once more for luck, and hoping the wind will send you to me.”

The enthusiasm in his words, but most of all, this is what I saw: This is for me. He loves me. The sweet, heavy pleasure it takes months to cultivate, a long and laborious process: the love in the glistening fat brown cocoa bean. It’s all for me.

“Can you taste the flavor of papaya and coconut? Can you hear the wind whistling through the palm trees on the beach? Can you see the arc of the horizon, where the Pacific Ocean meets the sky?”


A lovely story about five elderly women who have taken up residence on a cocoa farm in beautiful Fiji. I love books about friendship and the binding powers of the relationships we hold most near and dear – these five women are stages in their lives where they are experiencing heartbreak, loss, the effects of old age, and regret. The leader of the pack, Kat, decides to invite them all to her farm in Fiji where she hopes they will forget the worries of their past lives and maybe live out their last days together building a chocolate empire. The book starts out a little fluffy and readers might think they will get tales of happiness, charm, and sparkle, but I was surprised by how many secrets these women have buried and are still trying to hide from each other all of these years. I think the book sends a great message about finding what is important to you and tuning out all the rest. The story focuses around living your days with no regrets, secrets, or people that weigh you down.

The novel is written between alternating viewpoints of each of these women and a maid/hired help that lives close by and helps take care of Kat and her property. After reading each of the backstories of these women, I can genuinely say that I felt sorry for some and felt anguish for others because they lived for others or let others dictate their lives. Each women has something that I would say she regrets or some way that she wishes her life were different, but the greatest part was watching them evolve as they learned to adapt to living on the cocoa farm and working together as a unit. Each of them finds some piece of solace in their new lives and it was all so magical to read about – such an amazing and riveting read!

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Doubleday in exchange for my honest review***



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Review: The Witches of New York

The Witches of New YorkAuthor: Ami McKay
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Harper Perennial


In the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, comes a new novel from historical fiction maven Ami McKay that transports readers to the heart of Victorian New York, where three witches practice their craft—to the delight of some—but at their own peril.

Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply. 

New York in the spring of 1880 is a place alive with wonder and curiosity. Determined to learn the truth about the world, its residents enthusiastically engage in both scientific experimentation and spiritualist pursuits. Séances are the entertainment of choice in exclusive social circles, and many enterprising women—some possessed of true intuitive powers, and some gifted with the art of performance—find work as mediums.

Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions. But the profile of Tea and Sympathy is about to change with the fortuitous arrival of Beatrice Dunn.

When seventeen-year-old Beatrice leaves the safety of her village to answer an ad that reads "Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply," she has little inclination of what the job will demand of her. Beatrice doesn't know it yet, but she is no ordinary small-town girl; she has great spiritual gifts—ones that will serve as her greatest asset and also place her in grave danger. Under the tutelage of Adelaide and Eleanor, Beatrice comes to harness many of her powers, but not even they can prepare her for the evils lurking in the darkest corners of the city or the courage it will take to face them.

Her cards: Deceit. Ruin. Death.

Stepping off the stool, she gave herself over to God to do the rest.

“What if I’m too scared?” “All the more reason to speak your mind.”


I love anything “witchy” so I knew this book would be right up my alley. Honestly, I got serious Practical Magic vibes when I was reading. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite books of all-time. This book is filled with three strong, independent, and confident women who are living in a time when witchcraft is shunned and your actions involving witchcraft will make you a pariah. They are brave, resourceful, and not afraid to be stand outs in a time when women were expected to blend in. The story opens with a little background about Eleanor and Adelaide as they bring on Beatrice for extra help in their apothecary shop. Beatrice is just a young girl trying to find her way and is surprised to learn that finding her way might include unraveling her “spiritual” gifts.

This is a whopper of a book coming in at over 5oo pages, and the only reason that this book did not receive a five star rating from me was because there were quite a few storylines going on simultaneously and it was at times hard to follow for me, even though I never have trouble with this. I was much more intrigued with Beatrice’s story, but I completely understood the need for everything that went on in this book. The writing was outstanding and completely historically relevant which I greatly appreciated. Everything felt so real and intense, especially when ghosts were introduced and talked about. I loved this author’s writing and even though this was my first book by Ami McKay – it will not be my last.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Harper Perennial in exchange for my honest review***


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: Goodbye, Vitamin

Goodbye, VitaminAuthor: Rachel Khong
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Henry Holt


A young woman returns home to care for her failing father in this fine, funny, and inescapably touching debut, from an affecting and wonderfully original new literary voice.

A few days after Christmas in a small suburb outside of L.A., pairs of a man's pants hang from the trees. The pants belong to Howard Young, a prominent history professor, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Howard's wife, Annie, summons their daughter, Ruth. Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and still broken up about it, feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job and arrives home to find her parents' situation worse than she'd realized. Her father is erratically lucid and her mother, a devoted and creative cook, sees the sources of memory loss in every pot and pan. But as Howard's condition intensifies, the comedy in Ruth's situation takes hold, gently transforming her grief. She throws herself into caretaking: cooking dementia-fighting meals (a feast of jellyfish!), researching supplements, anything to reignite her father's once-notable memory. And when the university finally lets Howard go, Ruth and one of her father's handsome former students take their efforts to help Howard one step too far.

Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one's footing in this life.

"What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person—what we felt about that person."

“…all of a sudden it didn’t matter what you remembered or didn’t, and the remembering - it occurred to me – was irrelevant. All that mattered was that the day was nice – was what it was.”

Today you were so readily impressed by me.


How can a book that is so short and so simple be packed with so much beauty, realism, and powerful themes surrounding life, family, friendship, and understanding. Ruth, the main character, has journeyed home at the request of her mother in order to help care for her father who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ruth is recently untethered from her fiancé and is struggling to “restart” herself without the man she thought would never betray her. She agrees to stay for the year and in that year learns more about herself than she ever intended to. There are moments of humor, reflection, frustration, and beautiful emotion; there are moments where I found myself having to pause to reflect on my own life and my own thoughts on the findings and revelations of Ruth and her family and friends.

The best thing about this book is that it is essentially about a family’s journey through good times as well as difficult ones. Anyone who has suffered from the loss of a family member with an illness similar to Alzheimer’s may have a hard time reading this novel, but it is so worth it in the end. I am very close with my parents, so this book pulled on all my heartstrings. Ruth has a hard time watching her father’s memories slip away and it is powerful and completely mesmerizing to watch Ruth learn to cope with all that is crumbling around her. This book is short and sweet and full of some pretty powerful themes and just downright real life feelings.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Henry Holt in exchange for my honest review***


Monday, July 31, 2017

Book Review: The Wildling Sisters

The Wildling SistersAuthor: Eve Chase
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons


An evocative novel in the vein of Kate Morton and Daphne Du Maurier, in which the thrill of first love clashes with the bonds of sisterhood, and all will be tested by the dark secret at the heart of Applecote Manor.

Four sisters. One summer. A lifetime of secrets.

When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.

Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband's previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor.

Rich with the heat and angst of love both young and old, The Wildling Sisters is a gorgeous and breathtaking journey into the bonds that unite a family and the darkest secrets of the human heart.

“Houses are never just houses; I’m quite sure of this now. We leave particles behind, dust and dreams, fingerprints on buried wallpapers, our tread in the wear of the stairs. And we take bits of the houses with us. In my case, a love of the smell of wax polish on sun-warmed oak, late summer sunlight filtering through stained glass. We grow up. We stay the same. We move away, but we live forever where we were most alive.”

…our aunt and uncle step around each other like awkwardly placed furniture or guests at a party with a long-running feud… All our lives we’ve been brought up to want what Sybil has: a marriage to a firstborn son, a big house, a loyal maid, the clawed silver sugar tongs, a gold carriage clock ticking down to the next wedding anniversary. And yet Sybil grinds pepper over her boiled egg in the morning as if she’d like to wring the neck of the chicken who laid it.

There’s a thrill that comes with being awake when everyone else is lost in sleep. I don’t feel rushed. Or watched. Time even passes differently, molding itself around me like a kid glove on warm skin.


A page turner of a story set around a slightly dilapidated manor that holds secrets, sinister acts, and second chances. The story goes back and forth between the 1950’s and present day. Readers follow the stories of the past family and all of the tragedy sustained while they lived in the house as well as the present day family who has recently moved to the country to escape the their past lives. The house is full of intrigue right from the beginning. Each chapter feels more and more eerie and the house seems to take on the persona of an actual character in the story. The story that follows the original family who lived in Applecote Manor surrounds the disappearance of their young daughter, Audrey. While the story of the present day family revolves around Jessie, the new wife of Will and stepmom of Bella, a girl who refuses to forget her deceased mother or allow Jessie to take her place. Bella quickly tells her stepmother that she feels uneasy in the home like it holds trapped spirits. I was hooked from there!

The writing was descriptive and completely mesmerizing. I must say that I loved the story that took place in the 1950’s way more than I liked the present day one. I was so intrigued by the lives of the Wilde sisters and their missing cousin Audrey. I loved the comparisons of the manor – I got to experience the manor when it was in its prime with manicured lawns and beautiful entryways and then again in a more antique form when repairs and tender love and care was needed. I loved the descriptions of the manor. As I said before, the manor feels like another character in the novel – absolutely enchanting. I also loved the detail paid to the sisterhood and relationships between many of the characters. This book would be a perfect read for Halloween/Fall time!

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in exchange in for my honest review***



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Review: The Leaf Reader

The Leaf ReaderAuthor: Emily Arsenault
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Soho Teen

Maybe, occasionally, some of the pictures I saw in teacups were not for the tea drinkers. Maybe some of them were for me.

Marnie Wells knows that she creeps people out. It’s not really her fault; her brother is always in trouble, and her grandmother, who’s been their guardian since Mom took off is…eccentric. So no one even bats an eye when Marnie finds an old book about reading tea leaves and starts telling fortunes. The ceremony and symbols are weirdly soothing, but she knows—and hopes everyone else does too—that none of it’s real.

Then basketball star Matt Cotrell asks for a reading. He’s been getting emails from someone claiming to be his best friend, Andrea Quinley, who disappeared and is presumed dead. And while they’d always denied they were romantically involved, a cloud of suspicion now hangs over Matt. But Marnie sees a kindred spirit: someone who, like her, is damaged by association.

Suddenly the readings seem real. And, despite the fact that they’re telling Marnie things about Matt that make him seem increasingly dangerous, she can’t shake her initial attraction to him. In fact, it’s getting stronger. And that could turn out to be deadly.



“The art of tea-leaf reading—or tasseomancy—is an ancient one. The practice spread from the Orient to Europe with the trade and consumption of tea. Of course, it borrows much from other ancient forms of divination.”


“The image was really fuzzy and could’ve been anything, but I was desperate to steer the reading away from anything that could be interpreted as relating to Andrea.”


“I remembered the wording of the tea-leaf guide on this symbol because it was so stark and offered only a single interpretation. Dragon: Self-delusion. A dragon appears powerful, but breathes smoke and fire into its path, clouding its own vision and judgment.”


 
I have been crazy twisty, mind boggling mystery/thrillers this summer and while this one was all that I hoped it would be, it still kept me intrigued and gave me a taste of suspense. Marnie, our main character, takes up a new hobby of reading tea leaves and soon everyone in town wants her to tell them what’s in their near future. Marnie thinks it’s all fun and games until one of the best friends to the girl who went missing not too many months prior. Marnie is freaked out when Matt’s tea leaves start to reveal suspicious things, and therefore agrees to accompany him in learning the truth about what really happened to Andrea Quinley. This book is super short at only 240 pages and kept me occupied on a four hour plane ride to California. Halfway through the book, I felt sure I was going to rate the book with 5 stars. However, once I got to the final parts where the mystery was actually solved, it all felt very anti-climactic. I hated how the mystery ended and what essentially turns out happening to the missing character, but that is solely my opinion.
 
With that being said, I absolutely loved the main character, Marnie. She was eccentric and not your typical teenage girl by any means, but I think this is what helped her shine as the lead of this novel. The book had a cozy feeling to it what with Marnie’s “gift” to read and interpret tea leaves. I love anything that gives me what I call the “Harry Potter” vibe. This book was whimsical and suspenseful and definitely a great way to spend an afternoon. As I mentioned before, I did not like the ending of the book, but I loved the ending of the book for Marnie and her family. Family is a strong theme in this book with a lot of emphasis placed on Marnie and her deranged brother, but I loved how their relationship dynamic changed and how he became a strong secondary character and help to Marnie.
 
***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Soho Teen in exchange for my honest review***
 
 
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreAuthor: Matthew Sullivan
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Scribner

When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.



The clerk was right about one thing, she thought: it really does help to know what you want.

 
“Joey wasn’t stealing books,” she said. “He was cutting them up.”


Lydia’s skills as a bookseller came mainly, she believed, from her ability to listen.


When I first picked this book up I expected a cutesy, cozy story that takes place in an adorable bookshop filled with loveable people – I only got the loveable people part! In the opening pages our protagonist stumbles upon a suicide (this is not a spoiler!) and the story/mystery ensues from there. The story follows Lydia as she unravels the clues and mystery behind Joey’s suicide. The book alternates between past and present narratives because a HUGE part of the story focuses on Lydia’s childhood/backstory, which she tries so desperately to keep hidden. This book carries so many feelings and themes within its pages. It has moments of great sadness and other moments filled with joy and hopefulness. Some of the characters bring wit and humor to the story and others lead readers down a darker path. Suicides usually give me an uneasy feeling simply because of the darkness that I associate with that type of death, but I feel like the author did an excellent making the story about something other than a morbid, sinister death.

 
I was fully invested in Lydia’s story and loved how it was slowly unraveled as I read. I am such a fan of books that present a secret or some mystery that needs solving at the very beginning and only leaves me hanging on every word, unable to put it down until I have all of the answers. I felt that this was one of those books. The story is full of many colorful characters and I greatly enjoyed the multi-level storyline. I really did not know much about the story going in and I suggest that for everyone. This story is so much more than just a mystery, but focuses a lot of identity as well. I loved Sullivan’s writing and I felt that he really developed his character beyond my expectations. The entire novel was extremely well-paced and he is definitely an author I would pick up again.

 
***A free copy of this book was sent to me by the publishers at Scribner in exchange for my honest review***

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review: We Crossed A Bridge And It Trembled

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from SyriaAuthor: Wendy Pearlman
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Custom House

Reminiscent of the work of Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, an astonishing collection of intimate wartime testimonies and poetic fragments from a cross-section of Syrians whose lives have been transformed by revolution, war, and flight.

Against the backdrop of the wave of demonstrations known as the Arab Spring, in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights. The government’s ferocious response, and the refusal of the demonstrators to back down, sparked a brutal civil war that over the past five years has escalated into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our times.

Yet despite all the reporting, the video, and the wrenching photography, the stories of ordinary Syrians remain unheard, while the stories told about them have been distorted by broad brush dread and political expediency. This fierce and poignant collection changes that. Based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East and Europe, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is a breathtaking mosaic of first-hand testimonials from the frontlines. Some of the testimonies are several pages long, eloquent narratives that could stand alone as short stories; others are only a few sentences, poetic and aphoristic. Together, they cohere into an unforgettable chronicle that is not only a testament to the power of storytelling but to the strength of those who face darkness with hope, courage, and moral conviction.


 
It reached the point that corruption was in everything – everything. There was corruption before, but not to that extent. Everything was getting worse. Things just added up. The glass of water overflowed. There were so many problems that it was ridiculous. Someone had to go out and just say, “No!”


For them, it was better that we do nothing than do something that would make us think or dream. Their goal was to make sure that people’s only interest was eating, drinking, and making sure their kids were safe.


The young man said to himself, “If this old man is braver than me, I’m going to kill myself.” So he went out. He started shouting. And then everyone else went out, too. Imagine you have a deck of cards and all the cards go flying everywhere. That’s what it was like.


 
As a high school English teacher, I get the pleasure of seeing and educating hundreds of new students every school year. Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and educating my first Syrian student. He was an extremely smart, gifted young man who taught me the ways of life in Syria and gave me an appreciation for my own freedom and homeland – America. He and I spent hours over the course of a semester talking about life in Syria and the challenges and obstacles that these people faced – I was enamored by his conversation and felt privileged to know him. Because of this, I knew that I wanted to read this book. This book is such an easy read and one could fly through it in about a day; however, I chose to take my time while reading and mark up the pages with sticky notes and my comments and reactions towards what I was reading. Every couple of pages or so a new Syrian citizen is introduced by name, occupation, and location. They share their account of the demonstrations that took place in Syria in 2011. They are real, raw, emotional, and some are just downright heart wrenching.
 
Some of the entries are so short that you might wonder how any type of message could be conveyed in such a short period, but trust me when I tell you that some of the shortest entries were some of the most poignant in my mind and were the ones that I was finding myself going back and reading over four and five different times. It was so interesting to me to see people from all different walks of life, who live in different areas, and work in extremely different careers all experiencing the same terrible happenings and feeling much the same way about it. I was inspired to do more research on the demonstrations after reading this book. I plan to place this book atop my “favorites” shelf. I was so moved upon reading and will likely share snippets with my student this coming fall semester.
 
***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Custom House in exchange for my honest review***
 
Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: The Underground River

The Underground RiverAuthor: Martha Conway
Publication: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Touchstone


Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress who is blackmailed into saving runaways on the Underground Railroad, jeopardizing her freedom, her livelihood, and a new love.

It’s 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue—until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist, Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena’s Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states.

May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her new-found friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of Dr. Early who captures runaways and sells them back to their southern masters.

As May’s secrets become more tangled and harder to keep, the Floating Theatre readies for its biggest performance yet. May’s predicament could mean doom for all her friends on board, including her beloved Hugo, unless she can figure out a way to trap those who know her best.
Sometimes now I wonder whether, like swimming, when you first submerge yourself in a new environment you lose some of the power of your senses – your ears clog, you shut your eyes – as you try to get used to it.

When a man gives me money and I give him a ticket, we’ve made ourselves a deal: I will try to make him believe something that is not true, and he will try to believe it.

I loved to swim. I liked feeling the slight pressure of the water like an eggshell around me, and I liked being at a distance from everyone else.
The Ohio River was the literal, physical separation line that divided free and slave states in the United States. The author, Martha Conway, takes readers back to the 1830’s when slavery was prominent in the Southern states and many slaves were trying to escape to the free North. Through the main character May, readers are taken on a traveling steamboat theater called The Floating Theatre where May serves as a seamstress among other things and eventually gets swept into an intriguing and dangerous life of transporting slaves to freedom. May is a timid girl who finds herself, so to speak, during her time on the traveling theater. She develops as the story progresses, which I absolutely love. I adored seeing her go from a girl who could not or would not speak up for herself, to a girl who was bold and brave and did daring, courageous things that no one would even consider doing.

My issue with this novel is that the meat, or the actual adventure of May traveling down the Ohio River transporting slaves, does not happen until more than halfway through the book. I kept looking at the page numbers and wondering when we were going to get to the angst and danger. I really wanted the story to be more action-packed because the topic is so interesting and needs to be written about, but I was often bored at certain points during the book. The author spent a lot of time building the world and May’s time meeting all of the people who would be important in her upcoming “adventures”, but I don’t think all of it was absolutely necessary. I also wanted the journeys she took transporting slaves to be more exciting, but they fell flat for me as well. However, as I stated earlier, May’s character was phenomenal and I loved seeing her become so invested in something so important.

***A free copy of this novel was provided to me by the publishers at Touchstone in exchange for my honest review***



Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Review: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly WomanAuthor: Anne Helen Petersen
Publication Date: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Plume Books

From celebrity gossip expert and BuzzFeed culture writer Anne Helen Petersen comes an accessible, analytical look at how female celebrities are pushing boundaries of what it means to be an acceptable woman.

You know the type: the woman who won't shut up, who's too brazen, too opinionated, too much. She's the unruly woman, and she embodies one of the most provocative and powerful forms of womanhood today. In Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of unruliness to explore the ascension of pop culture powerhouses like Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian, exploring why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures. With its brisk, incisive analysis, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud will be a conversation-starting book on what makes and breaks celebrity today.

It would have to rattle the presumptions of patriarchy, challenge the norms of femininity, occupy the heart of unruliness. It would have to be the sort of gesture, argument, and gut punch that’s historically come from an incredibly rare, and all the more valuable, sort of female celebrity. A woman, in other words, like Madonna.

I spent the bulk of my adolescent life internalizing the fact that girls who crossed that invisible line would become pariahs: excised from their communities and families, unable to find work or companionship.

It’s one thing to admire such abrasiveness and disrespect for the status quo in someone else; it’s quite another to take that risk in one’s own life.

My views on this book are very conflicting and opinionated, so I am stating that up front. This book is essentially about a handful of women that are defying what it means to be “accepted” and “adored” as the model woman in society. Each chapter promotes a different woman who is “too” something – too fat, too slutty, too strong, etc. While I love the way that the chapters are setup, I do not love every woman that this book promotes. Some of the women mentioned, like Melissa McCarthy, who is often criticized for being “too fat”, are women I can really hang my hat on. I love what she stands for and how she has defied all odds and made herself a successful movie star despite her body type. However, some of the women promoted in this book are not women that I want to follow in the quest to defy societal standards set for women. Women like Kim Kardashian are not women I want to see leading the battlefront in a fight for women’s rights.
 
However, that is solely my opinion and everyone is entitled to one. The book is expertly written and the research Petersen conducted in evident in each chapter as she catalogs each of these women and their lives. Each chapter has a vibrant spirit about it and the author’s voice absolutely shines through. The only issue that I had with the author was the fact that she labeled herself as the typical red-blooded American woman: white, straight, college educated, etc. It was hard for me to get behind someone who was pushing so harshly for a change in the way women are viewed, but it didn’t seem to me that she was adding to the fight – just writing about it. Again, this is just my view on the matter. Her writing was superb and very easy to follow and I would love to read more from this author.
 
***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Plume in exchange for my honest review***
 

 
 
Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoAuthor: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Atria Books


From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Filled with emotional insight and written with Reid’s signature talent, this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.


“I’m under absolutely no obligation to make sense to you.” 

“Relationships are complex,” Evelyn says. “People are messy, and love can be ugly. I'm included to always err on the side of compassion.” 

“What's that saying? Behind every gorgeous woman, there's a man sick of screwing her? Well, it works both ways. No one mentions that part.” 


“You have to find a job that makes your heart feel big instead of one that makes it feel small.”

The book is my favorite so far of 2017! Yes, it is that good! I loved everything about this story and am a new fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid. The story follows the famous movie star, Evelyn Hugo. I loved her character – she was ruthless, unapologetically abrasive, and the envy of all of Hollywood. Evelyn Hugo is ready to share her life story with the world and hires none other than Monique Grant to interview her and publish her autobiography. You don’t find out until later in the book why she wants Monique, who is a low level journalist and not well-known at all. When you find out, you will be utterly shocked! Most of the story is focused on Evelyn telling her stories and the book is sectioned off by each of her seven husbands and how they all came about. Evelyn’s character is all that readers would expect her to be and so much more.

The details of this book were so intricate that there were times I could not stop reading. I had a hard time stopping to do menial tasks like answer the phone or cook dinner. It was that good and I wanted to finish it that badly. Each of Evelyn’s husbands came as a shock to me because she married them all for different reasons and through different seasons of her life. Finding out/realizing her BIG secret helped me make sense of everything and also made me wonder if this is what Hollywood is really like? Full of secrets and scandal and looking around every corner and over your shoulder because someone is always looking out for their next big story. Taylor Jenkins Reid does a phenomenal job of allowing readers to get to know Evelyn and to become heavily invested in her life and story! Hands down the best book I have read this year!


***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Atria Books in exchange for my honest review***


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book Review: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes

The Daughter of Sherlock HolmesAuthor: Leonard Goldberg
Publication Date: 6, 2017
Publisher: Minotaur Books


1910. Joanna Blalock unknowingly is the product of a sole assignation between the late Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. After the nurse and her ten-year-old son see a man fall to his death in an apparent suicide, elderly Dr. John Watson and his charming handsome son Dr. John Watson Jr. invite her to join their detective team. From hidden treasure to the Second Afghan War of 1878-1880, the group devise an ingenious plan to catch a murderer in the act while dodging Scotland Yard the British aristocracy.




“There is no need to be brief or delicate with Joanna. My daughter-in-law is looking forward to your interview, for she is fascinated by such events. As a matter of fact, she has delved deeply into the subject of suicide for the past several days and has read every book, text, and monograph she could find that deals with this unpleasant act.”

“Reading about a mangled body and looking at one are two different things, Sir Henry.”


“But the enchanting charm and beauty of Irene Adler was inherited by Joanna.”

I AM SHERLOCKED – only true fans will understand! I am always looking for anything from novels to T.V. shows that take me to Sherlock’s world. I have loved everything I have ever read or watched that revolves around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character. This book was definitely a twist on the character that I have never read before – yes, Sherlock has a daughter. In this book, Sherlock Holmes has since passed, but his faithful friend, Dr. John Watson is still around as is his son Dr. Watson Jr. These two vibrant, intelligent men team up and join forces with Mrs. Joanna Blalock while they solve a murder that is more than a little bit fishy. It is no secret that Mrs. Blalock is the offspring of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, as this is divulged to readers almost from the very start of the novel. Her character is fleshed out entirely and she is nothing short of a Sherlock clone. She is fantastic!

I loved Joanna’s voice and her character in general. She is just as witty and as hyper-analytical as Sherlock Holmes and I commend the author, Leonard Goldberg, for attempting and succeeding to write someone as brilliant as Sherlock. The portrayal of Dr. Watson and his son is something that I am sure true Sherlock fans will appreciate as well. I was filled with nostalgia as all the characters were being introduced and proceeded to enter in conversation and investigation with one another.  Their relationships are contagious and will have you smiling and laughing as you read. The mystery itself is easy to solve and really comes as no shock, but reading about the characters as they find clues and make discoveries is really the pleasure that comes in reading this novel!


***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Minotaur Books in exchange for my honest review***



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Make Your Mind Up

Make Your Mind Up: My Guide to Finding Your Own Style, Life, and Motavation!Author: Bethany Mota
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Gallery Books

From tips on life, love, and everything in between; to original DIYs, recipes, and style hacks; to the incredible story of a girl next door turned Internet sensation, Make Your Mind Up is the ultimate guide to rocking your look and ruling your world—from inspirational YouTuber, designer, entrepreneur, and digital influencer, Bethany Mota.

When Bethany first propped her camera on a stack of books and pressed record on her family’s handheld camera in 2009, she didn't realize her life was about to change—forever. After uploading her first video to YouTube at just thirteen years old, Bethany quickly became one of the Internet’s go-to beauty, style, and lifestyle vloggers. Since then, she has filmed countless room tours and tutorials, traveled the world, experimented with hundreds of DIYs, designed her own clothing line, gone on an international tour, competed on Dancing with the Stars, and created health, beauty, and wellness content for multiple platforms.

But before Bethany found her #MotaFam online, life wasn’t looking so great: After being intensely bullied in school, the already shy Bethany retreated further into her shell, suffering from crippling anxiety and a lack of self-confidence she just couldn’t shake. From growing up on a dairy farm in small-town Los Banos, California, to figuring out how to overcome anxiety and find her voice, to finally breaking out of her shell and learning to forge her own positive path, Make Your Mind Up is more than just a heartwarming memoir or lifestyle guide—this is a portrait of Bethany’s life, exactly how she lives it.


Each time we bravely express a new side of ourselves, we reach a whole new level of confidence.

You can face what’s freezing you, push past it, and create something great.

I’m embracing the body I have, and it feels so good.

I have a theory now: If you include activities in your life that work your whole body – whether it’s yoga, aerial, rock climbing, or dancing – you’ll feel gratitude for what your body is capable of – and when you realize how much you need all your muscles for everything you do, you will be proud of the strong body you have.

This lifestyle guide absolutely blew me off my feet. From the amazing graphics, recipes, graphics and all the way to the organization of it all, this memoir was so well-written and so inspiring. Bethany is so transparent as she shares her fears, her most nervous moments, and how she has learned to stay so confident. Reading this memoir took me no time at all because of the sheer pace and flow of her words – reading this is just like having a conversation with your best friend. This book is filled with healthy, clean eating recipes, fitness tips and routines, style tips, and several amazing beauty looks from hair to makeup. I loved the headings of each section in her book – things like “We’re the boss of our emotions” and “Trends are for setting.” She put so much of her personality in this memoir and that is what makes it worth the 5 star, or cupcake, rating!

What I loved most about reading this book was the fact that in the midst of giving advice on several different topics, Bethany also shares her own funny, practical life stories as well. She even shares a few embarrassing stories which I really loved because it allowed me to see all sides of her. I hate when celebrities want people to think they live the perfect lives and never have an off day. She really approaches this as a down to earth person and not some famous person who is better than her readers. She is so realistic with all of her tips and really tries to relate to readers. The book itself is very neatly organized and the graphics and color schemes used are very appealing to the eye. I loved every single thing about this!

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Gallery Books in exchange for my honest review***


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