Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Book Review: Bonfire

33876540Author: Krysten Ritter
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Publication Date: November 7, 2017

Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town's most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?

“Some of us are out of place even when we are home.” 

“The problem is that people think in black and white. They think they can have the good without the bad. But everything that's good for one person is probably bad for someone else. Life isn't like the Bible says it is. It isn't a choice between good and evil. It's about choosing which evils you can stand.” 

“Memories are like fire, and need only a little oxygen to grow.” 

“Any self-help book in the world will tell you that you can’t just run your past away.” 

After hearing much hype about this debut novel, I was more than thrilled to pick it up. I was pleasantly surprised with the mystery/thriller that Krysten Ritter provided and I think she is often being underestimated because she is an actress. The story was very intricate and took some careful planning. Ritter’s pacing is quick and right to the point, which is an absolute must have in a thriller for me. The main character is smart, but lacked some development and often times fell flat for me when reading. She had potential, but I wanted to see her fleshed out more as the protagonist. I was most intrigued by Kaycee Mitchell, the girl who disappeared before the story ever started. I wanted to know more about her background and was pleased when I finally began to understand her purpose in the story.

The conclusion was somewhat what I expected and then not at the same time. Abby, the main character, starts piecing together parts of the puzzle a little at a time and then it all hits her like a pitcher of ice cold water. I must say that I love when a story ends this way. Abby works on discovering the clues as the plot unfolds and is then brought to this startling conclusion, giving readers enough time to make educational guesses towards the mystery as well. The ending was suspenseful and did not disappoint. I was pleased with the ending and felt that all my questions were successfully answered. I am ready for what’s next from Kryster Ritter.

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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Book Review: City of Lies

Author: Victoria Thompson
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Publisher: Berkley
Series: A Counterfeit Lady #1

An exciting new series featuring woman-on-the-run Elizabeth Miles—from the beloved national bestselling author of the Gaslight Mysteries.

Every woman plays a part—but some are more dangerous than others…

Like most women, Elizabeth Miles assumes many roles; unlike most, hers have made her a woman on the run. Living on the edge of society, Elizabeth uses her guile to relieve so-called respectable men of their ill-gotten gains. But brutal and greedy entrepreneur Oscar Thornton is out for blood. He’s lost a great deal of money and is not going to forgive a woman for outwitting him. With his thugs hot on her trail, Elizabeth seizes the moment to blend in with a group of women who have an agenda of their own.

She never expects to like or understand these privileged women, but she soon comes to respect their intentions, forming an unlikely bond with the wealthy matriarch of the group whose son, Gideon, is the rarest of species—an honest man in a dishonest world. Elizabeth knows she’s playing a risky game, and her deception could be revealed at any moment, possibly even by sharp-eyed Gideon. Nor has she been forgotten by Thornton, who’s biding his time, waiting to strike. Elizabeth must draw on her wits and every last ounce of courage she possesses to keep her new life from being cut short by this vicious shadow from her past.

She was helpless, with no one to save her but herself, and no strength to rely on except her wits. She allowed herself one moment of bitterness at the plight of females who were always at the mercy of unscrupulous men. Then she began to plan.

“And tomorrow everything will be better?” “Everything will be clearer at least.”

Tomorrow would be soon enough to start pretending affection in front of other people.

And the very worst part was all of that only made him want her more. 

After reading most of the Victoria Thompson’s “Murder” series, by this author, I was happy to hear that she was starting a new series using a slightly different time period but still focused in New York. This first third of the novel is extremely dark and often made me cringe with her depictions of life for some not so fortunate people in the 20’s. It was not an easy time for these women, and Elizabeth, our protagonist, is changed by her time spent with the suffragists as she embraces their cause. I think the book is being pitched as more of mystery, but I must say that this novel gets “thrillerish” in various parts. We all want to think of the 1920’s as a time of glitz and glam, but we often forget what women and other minorities had to endure as times were changing.

An unconventional heroine as the lead will draw me in every time. Elizabeth takes readers on a journey through the 1920’s and really allows for an in depth look into the lives of suffragists and all they were fighting for. This book was entertaining, fun, and somewhat cozy even if it had its dark moments. The main character is endearing and easy to support as a leading lady. If you love historical fiction that is based in historical fact that is suspenseful with unforgettable characters, this is will be a book for you to pick up and enjoy!

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

Book Review: Future Home of the Living God

Author: Louise Erdrich
Publication Date: November 14, 2017
Publisher: Harper

Louise Erdrich, the New York Times bestselling, National Book Award-winning author of LaRose and The Round House, paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event.

The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans.

Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.

A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.

 “The first thing that happens at the end of the world is that we don’t know what is happening.” 

“Don’t know why it is given to us to be so mortal and to feel so much. It is a cruel trick, and glorious.” 

“Exactly right—folded quietly and knitted in right along with the working DNA there is a shadow self. This won’t surprise poets. We carry our own genetic doubles, at least in part.”

Louise Erdrich’s new book is obviously compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale because of the dystopian development in the United States that leads to a government that has taken complete control of women's lives, defining them as childbearers and regulating their pregnancies and the fates of their children. However, to me, The Future Home of the Living God did not measure up to Margaret Atwood. I read a lot of Erdrich in college and I must say that I feel this book was lacking a lot of her usual lyrical writing style and quality. There were several holes in the plot and some of the characters lacked depth and development. I loved the concept of the story, but kept comparing it to Atwood’s dystopian novel, and they just did not match up.

What kept me intrigued and drew me in the most while reading was Cedar’s character and her daily journal entries to her unborn baby. They were mystifying at times and really put life into perspective for me. Cedar is seeking her own biological parents throughout the novel; I wish all of the characters were as fleshed out as Cedar. Her journey and struggle with identity is incredible and really builds a great theme for the novel as a whole. Not only do I wish that the rest of the characters held more detail, I also wish that Erdrich would have spent more time on the development of this dystopian world. I felt that not enough time was spent here, but Cedar and her unborn child are definitely enough to give this book a try if you are a lover of dystopian fiction.

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book Review: Staying Stylish

Author: Candace Cameron Bure
Publication Date: November 21, 2017
Publisher: Zondervan

Candace Cameron Bure, best known as D.J. Tanner from Full House and Fuller House and a New York Times bestselling author, whose faith and wit have delighted audiences for decades, lets you in on her best-kept secrets for Staying Stylish. This gorgeous manual for beauty, style, health, and spiritual wellness will bring all you need to live your most stylish life.

As an actress, producer, New York Times bestselling author, and inspirational speaker, Candace Cameron Bure has spent her entire life in the spotlight, and she is well aware of the pressures women face. Throughout her career, Candace has balanced her faith, family, and passion for work and found her spot as a role model to women of all ages—and as a style icon.

In her brand-new book Staying Stylish, Candace invites you behind the scenes of her day-to-day life and shares more than 100 tips and tricks for looking and feeling your best—both inside and out. Nurture your body, style, and soul as you read through this beautiful book full of photos, insider secrets, and exciting ideas to revamp your own life into its best possible version. She offers her insight into balance, spiritual growth, and looking great while doing it all.

Staying Stylish topics will include personal style, fresh hair and makeup for any age, a well-balanced diet and fitness regime, and a well-nourished spirit.

Gratitude is a practice. Life is a beautiful gift, and we all have to remind ourselves to receive that gift. Practicing gratitude is the way to do that.

Eight hours. I know people say six to eight hours, but if it’s possible, try to get all eight. Sleeping is a big part of self-care. Our bodies need time to rest and repair themselves.

Eating well doesn’t have to be time-consuming, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune!

If I want to live a long and fulfilling life with my husband and kids, then I have to focus on my health and make it a priority.

Over the past year, I have discovered Candace Cameron Bure on Instagram and have fallen in love with her and everything she stands for. This book is no different; I flew through the almost 300 page book in no time and I am already looking forward to the next time I can sit down with this book again. While reading this book, I felt like I was taking advice from a very dear friend. The writing was down-to-earth and so inviting and warm. The tips she provided were achievable things like exercise ideas, wardrobe must haves, and life advice like making sure you spend time with God and counting your blessings. If Candace Cameron Bure lived nearby, we would be best friends. I love her so much more after reading this book!

This book is so clean and stylish, just as the title implies. Candace provides small tips and tidbits that are boxed as little side notes (near the margins) on several of the pages. In these informal boxes, I found the best advice that Candace could provide about outfit choices, healthy eating options, and so much more. There are so many beautiful pictures of her throughout the books. I think she is just a stunning woman with so much natural beauty and a kind-hearted nature. It is authors like Candace that, as a book blogger, I can completely support and promote. You will not regret purchasing and immersing yourself in this easy to read self-help book.

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Book Review: Worry Less Live More

Author: Robert J. Morgan
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

How do you bury worry before it buries you? 

Worry, which is essentially a strain of fear, is a rational response to real pressures and problems. Life is harder than we expect, and even the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace Himself, admitted, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). He said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). On one occasion, He even said, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?” (John 12:27). Our souls are easily troubled. The world and its trials seem to only increase. 

In nearly forty years of pastoral counseling, Rob Morgan has seen a lot of changes in our culture. People are anxious, and everyone seems increasingly tense and taunt. We’re overextended, running on empty, and often running late. We’re worried and we’re weary. One moment we’re alarmed about global politics and the next we’re frustrated with a clogged commode or a cranky boss. Stress can have a way of keeping us on pins and needles from dawn to darkness.

In this book Pastor Morgan leads the way through the investigation of the Bible’s premier passage on the subject of anxiety. Philippians 4:4–9 is God’s most definitive word about overcoming anxiety and experiencing His overwhelming peace. Dissecting the following eight practices this vital passage promotes will help you to wage war on worry:

·         The Practice of Rejoicing
·         The Practice of Gentleness
·         The Practice of Nearness
·         The Practice of Prayer
·         The Practice of Thanksgiving
·         The Practice of Thinking
·         The Practice of Discipleship
·         The Practice of Peace

When we study and employ these practices effectively, we have the power to erase anxious thoughts and compose our minds with peace in any situation

The world offers no better antidote to worry, for there is none. This is God’s prescription for a better life.

Anxiety disorders comprise the most common mental illness in America.

Our souls are easily troubled. The world and its trials seem to be getting worse.

But medical treatment alone is incapable of reaching the hidden depths of the soul. We need a house call from the Great Physician and a good dose of his therapeutic truth.

On every occasion. In every situation. Wherever we are – a train station, an airplane seat, a hospital bed, a courtroom, a cell, the cab of your truck, or the closet of your bedroom – wherever we are can become a cathedral of prayer and praise.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

Robert Morgan has done it again! This book is a wonderful, short read that provides vital practices for life as a Christian and soldier of God. I love that each of his “practices”, which are sort of like his chapters, are loaded with tons of biblical references and passages to refer to in order to provide evidence for his reasoning and writings. There were so many uplifting passages of scripture that I found myself constantly having to pause and turn to my Bible in order to study a little deeper into the section Robert chose to speak about. Each section of this book is so inspirational and provides so many uplifting and motivational tidbits about life’s journey and how to help you conquer the small things for a better life.

I am a sucker for self-help books and devotionals; I absolutely love them! This would definitely be a book that I would recommend to someone who wants to start reading self-help books or devotionals because of the ease of access. It is a short book and is easy to follow and keep up with. I was able to take notes and annotate my copy, which is something that helps me track my thoughts and recall my readings at a later date. Morgan’s writing is almost conversational. I felt as if I were having a chat with my grandfather who was providing essential life advice, and I do mean that in the best way possible! This is not a book to be missed!

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Book Review: Artemis

Author: Andy Weir
Publication Date: November 14, 2017
Publisher: Crown

Jasmine Bashara never signed up to be a hero. She just wanted to get rich.

Not crazy, eccentric-billionaire rich, like many of the visitors to her hometown of Artemis, humanity’s first and only lunar colony. Just rich enough to move out of her coffin-sized apartment and eat something better than flavored algae. Rich enough to pay off a debt she’s owed for a long time.

So when a chance at a huge score finally comes her way, Jazz can’t say no. Sure, it requires her to graduate from small-time smuggler to full-on criminal mastermind. And it calls for a particular combination of cunning, technical skills, and large explosions—not to mention sheer brazen swagger. But Jazz has never run into a challenge her intellect can’t handle, and she figures she’s got the ‘swagger’ part down.

The trouble is, engineering the perfect crime is just the start of Jazz’s problems. Because her little heist is about to land her in the middle of a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself.

Trapped between competing forces, pursued by a killer and the law alike, even Jazz has to admit she’s in way over her head. She’ll have to hatch a truly spectacular scheme to have a chance at staying alive and saving her city.

Jazz is no hero, but she is a very good criminal.

That’ll have to do.

Propelled by its heroine’s wisecracking voice, set in a city that’s at once stunningly imagined and intimately familiar, and brimming over with clever problem-solving and heist-y fun, Artemis is another irresistible brew of science, suspense, and humor from #1 bestselling author Andy Weir.

“The city shined in the sunlight like a bunch of metallic boobs. What? I'm not a poet. They look like boobs.”

“It’s a simple idiot-proofing scheme that’s very effective. But no idiot-proofing can overcome a determined idiot.” 

“On a scale from one to ‘invade Russia in winter,’ how stupid is this plan?”

Of course, after reading Andy Weir’s The Martian and absolutely loving it, I had to read Artemis and see if the hype would continue. Let me say – it certainly did! The main similarity between The Martian and Andy Weir’s latest novel Artemis is that both take place in space and both feature a highly intelligent, sarcastic character. Jazz was my favorite part of this book. The book opens in the middle of a life or death situation, so readers automatically get to see how witty and clever Jazz is right from the start. Jazz is a thrifty character working to survive in the fast-paced world in which she lives. She is an easy character to love and root for even when she is making incredibly risky and stupid decisions. Did I mention that she lives on the moon? Yes, she lives on the moon!

I will be the first to say that I am NOT a fan of science fiction at all, but this is amazing and will work for others like me who tend to stay away from a “science-y” type of read. There is a ton of science and scientific terms discussed in the novel, but it never feels overwhelming or leaves me feeling lost or confused. Andy Weir’s writing is so easy to follow – smooth, captivating, and completely enthralling. I would love to see this book turned into a movie just like The Martian. Jazz’s character sold this story for me – it was an action-packed adventure that did not slow down from the first page to the last. If you are a person that does not like a slow-paced novel, this one is definitely for you!

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: It's All Relative

Author: A.J. Jacobs
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs undergoes a hilarious, heartfelt quest to understand what constitutes family—where it begins and how far it goes—and attempts to untangle the true meaning of the “Family of Humankind.”

A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the strangest: “You don’t know me, but I’m your eighth cousin. And we have over 80,000 relatives of yours in our database.”

That’s enough family members to fill Madison Square Garden four times over. Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them? So began Jacobs’s three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history.

Jacobs’s journey would take him to all seven continents. He drank beer with a US president, found himself singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and unearthed genetic links to Hollywood actresses and real-life scoundrels. After all, we can choose our friends, but not our family.

“Whether he’s posing as a celebrity, outsourcing his chores, or adhering strictly to the Bible, we love reading about the wacky lifestyle experiments of author A.J. Jacobs” (Entertainment Weekly). Now Jacobs upends, in ways both meaningful and hilarious, our understanding of genetics and genealogy, tradition and tribalism, identity and connection. It’s All Relative is a fascinating look at the bonds that connect us all.

Family is complicated.

“So many of the families nowadays are so bizarre and so dysfunctional or so made up, so nontraditional. Maybe that’s the best word. Nontraditional.”

I wish my brain had a bigger cerebral cortex.

My social security number has been used countless times by countless companies and government entries. It’s no secret either, I guess.

This book is really something different for me and my blog, but here I am to tell you that I was pleasantly surprised and loved every minute of A.J. Jacobs’ story and journey through his genealogy. In the past year or so, I have really gotten into learning and researching my own family tree and I think this is ultimately what led me to request this book. This book is addictive, fascinating, and will really expand your world.  If you want to read a funny, refreshing, sometimes painfully honest (yet still funny) account of families and the foibles of family history read this book. Lots of research has gone into this book, and it is appreciated by this reader.

With the combination of humor and brilliant research, do I really need to sell you more on this book? It's a fun, fast read that mixes wit and scientific research behind why humanity came into being and how we are all really related. There were so many moments while reading that I paused and considered just how much the phrase “life is a mystery” is a reality that many of us do not ponder often enough. This book will enlighten you as much as it entertains you.

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: Every Breath You Take

Author: Mary Higgins Clark
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Series: An Under Suspicion Novel

“Queen of Suspense” Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke are back with their fourth book in the New York Times bestselling Under Suspicion series; Every Breath You Take follows television producer’s Laurie Moran investigation of the unsolved Met Gala murder—in which a wealthy widow was pushed to her death from the famous museum’s rooftop.

Laurie Moran’s professional life is a success—her television show Under Suspicion is a hit, both in the ratings and its record of solving cold cases. But her romantic break from former host Alex Buckley has left her with on-air talent she can’t stand—Ryan Nichols—and a sense of loneliness, despite her loving family.

Now Ryan has suggested a new case. Three years ago, Virginia Wakeling, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one of the museum’s most generous donors, was found in the snow, after being thrown from the museum’s roof on the night of its most celebrated fundraiser, the Met Gala. The leading suspect then and now is her much younger boyfriend and personal trainer, Ivan Gray.

Ivan runs a trendy, successful boutique gym called Punch—a business funded in no small part by the late Virginia—which happens to be the gym Ryan frequents. Laurie’s skepticism about the case is upended by a tip from her father’s NYPD connection, and soon Laurie realizes there are a bevy of suspects—including Virginia’s trusted inner circle.

As the Under Suspicion crew pries into the lives of a super wealthy real estate family with secrets to hide, danger mounts for several witnesses—and for Laurie.

Virginia Wakeling had fallen – or been thrown – from the roof of the museum.

“Good luck with your show, Laurie. My biggest regret of my career is not going up to the roof with Mrs. Wakeling. I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, picturing her falling.”

“Thank you so much, Laurie, for your time and for keeping an open mind,” he said. “It means so much to me.” This time, when he shook her hand, the grip was tight enough to burn.

I have never read a Mary Higgins Clark novel that did not keep me completely satisfied from start to finish. The murder in this novel is from three years ago and finally wraps up Laurie’s personal story and even though we had to wait until this book to find it, I must say that it was worth the wait. I often feel that I have read so many murder and mystery books that it is sometimes hard to stump me, but I am not exaggerating when I say that I was guessing at the murder/killer the entire time. I am so easily captivated by books like this that make you turn the pages so quickly and hate that the book is coming to an end.

The suspense created through Laurie’s search for all the answers was the best part of this book. Laurie is one of my favorite mystery leading ladies because of her subtly “real” nature. After reading about her, I feel that we are friends and honestly, these are the best characters to follow. Her character has grown and changed, in my opinion, and over the course of a series, it rightly should. I have read several of Mary’s books and I will continue reading them as long as she keeps writing them.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for my honest review***

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: In The Midst of Winter

Author: Isabel Allende
Publication Date: October 31, 2017
Publisher: Atria Books

New York Times and worldwide bestselling “dazzling storyteller” (Associated Press) Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.

In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.

Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

In the days of when Richard lived in Rio de Janeiro, people drank as a matter of course. It was a social obligation, part of the culture, a necessity at every meeting, even business ones, a comfort on a rainy evening or at a hot noon, a stimulus for political discussion, and a cure for a cold, sadness, frustrated love, or a disappointment in soccer.

In the meantime, the streets and beaches of the erotic city of Rio de Janeiro teemed with life. In February, the hottest month, people went around almost naked. Beautiful, youthful, tanned, sweating bodies; bodies and more bodies on exuberant display.

The young woman who Richard was never to forget was not one of the most beautiful of the girls he met during those caipirinha nights, but she was lively, with an uninhibited laugh, and keen to try whatever she was offered.

No one asked her about the years she had been away, no one wanted to know where she had been or what her life had been like. That parenthesis in her existence was completely erased.

“In the Midst of Winter” is an extraordinarily enjoyable novel, beautifully written, about three people brought together for a few days due to a snowstorm. Through a compelling mix of history, mystery, romance and humor, Allende emphasizes the resilience of the human spirit, as her characters transform from their histories of tragedy to their futures of love, hope and humanity. The narrative shifts between three main characters. Richard Bowmaster is a 60 year old human rights scholar that has recruited 62 year old Lucia Maraz, a lecturer from Chile, to his university. Evelyn Ortega is an undocumented Guatamalan refugee that works as a domestic. This novel surrounds themes of love, friendship, family, and the things that bind us. Allende’s prose is lyrical, as always, and I absolutely could not put this book down.

Isabel Allende is one of my favorite authors to read because of her ability to weave multiple story lines into one beautiful tale. The book tackled topics like aging and what that means to us, immigration and the struggles that are associated with it, and lastly, our hope through it all. The story is moving and completely heart wrenching at time; each character is carrying something that wears them down and the story follows how they finally deal with it and are relieved when the burdens are lifted. This book is perfect for the upcoming winter season, as it is set during a huge snowstorm and it is also very relevant because of all the information in our news about immigrants and refugees in the past few years. I am already looking forward to re-reading this uplifting story.

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Review: Grace Kelly Hollywood Dream Girl

Author: Jay Jorgensen and Manoah Bowman
Publication Date: October 24, 2017
Publisher: Dey Street Books

The definitive visual biography of Grace Kelly’s unforgettable Hollywood career, chronicled in 400 extraordinary black-and white and color photographs, including many never-before-seen.

"Mr. Hitchcock taught me everything about cinema. It was thanks to him that I understood that murder scenes should be shot like love scenes and love scenes like murder scenes."—Grace Kelly

No movie star of the 1950s was more beautiful, sophisticated, or glamorous than Grace Kelly. The epitome of elegance, the patrician young blonde from Philadelphia conquered Hollywood and won an Academy Award for Best Actress in just six years, then married a prince in a storybook royal wedding. Today, more than thirty years after her death, Grace Kelly remains an inspiring fashion icon.

Filled with a dazzling array of photographs, many from original negatives, Grace Kelly showcases the legend’s brief yet significant acting career as never before. Blending pictures and memorabilia, this breathtaking compendium traces every step of her artistic journey, including her early television appearances, her breakout role opposite Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952), her exceptional collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock on her most indelible films—Dial M for Murder with Ray Milland (1954), Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart (1954), and To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant (1955)—and her performance in the musical High Society (1956) alongside Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

A stunning gallery of more than 400 prized and rare photographs and illustrations—precious childhood snapshots, previously unpublished Edith Head and Helen Rose wardrobe sketches, original portraits, scene stills, on-set candids, wardrobe test shots, vintage magazine covers, and rare reproductions of exhibitor’s showmanship manuals showing how film studios marketed Grace Kelly as a star—Grace Kelly captures this beloved luminary’s eternal beauty as never before, and is a fresh, celebratory look at her remarkable career and her enduring cultural influence.

“I think the thing that most people forget is that when all of this is happening to Grace, this extraordinary excitement about her career being generated and roles with the world’s most famous leading men and the world’s most respected directors, she was just a girl in her early twenties.”

“Grace had a lot of beaus and boyfriends who were actors and human beings, dress designers and this and that. But there wasn’t this one person who could fulfill this childhood image that a great many of us have about wanting that one man in our life to be special – and really to be the old prince on the white charger.”

“There was an innate aristocracy – elegance – about her. Not only in comportment and manners, but also in thinking and being. It has been a cliché to say that Grace Kelly looked like a princess. But she did.”

“Grace, without any direction, she just went over, climbed up the fire escape, climbed in one of the windows and sneaked into the door and then looked over across the way to Hitchcock and said ‘Is that what you mean?’…She seemed to know the movements before Hitchcock had anything to say about it.”

This has to be the most comprehensive book covering Grace Kelly’s life and career that I have ever read. I have read and enjoyed a few other film books written by Jay Jorgensen, so of course I had to check this one out as well. Grace Kelly was an iconic lady and rivals others like Audrey Hepburn. She had a sophisticated air and flair to her and was loved by many who followed her stardom. I must admit that I do not follow Grace Kelly’s films like I follow and admire Marilyn Monroe’s or Audrey Hepburn’s, but after reading this book I cannot wait to view more of her films. Jay Jorgensen’s work is inspirational and really does Grace Kelly justice in all aspects of her life.

The book is strategically and chronologically organized and tracks Grace throughout many momentous periods of her life. Full of incredibly rare photos, with her Hitchcock films receiving feature content, this fantastic book is a must for Hitchcock fans, movie fashion historians, and anyone who loves a high quality book on Hollywood’s glorious past. The small snippets that were written about her movies, her love life, and how she was perceived by the media were very informative and the quotes that were shared by others about her were poetic and so eloquently written. Many people had such wonderful things to say about Grace Kelly and it was so heartwarming and powerful to read.

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: The It Girls

Author: Karen Harper
Publication Date: October 24, 2017
Publisher: William Morrow

From New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper comes a novel based on the lives of two amazing sisters . . .

One sailed the Titanic and started a fashion empire . . .

The other overtook Hollywood and scandalized the world . . .

Together, they were unstoppable.

They rose from genteel poverty, two beautiful sisters, ambitious, witty, seductive. Elinor and Lucy Sutherland are at once each other’s fiercest supporters and most vicious critics.

Lucy transformed herself into Lucile, the daring fashion designer who revolutionized the industry with her flirtatious gowns and brazen self-promotion. And when she married Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon her life seemed to be a fairy tale. But success came at many costs—to her marriage and to her children . . . and then came the fateful night of April 14, 1912 and the scandal that followed.

Elinor’s novels titillate readers, and it’s even asked in polite drawing rooms if you would like to “sin with Elinor Glyn?” Her work pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable; her foray into the glittering new world of Hollywood turns her into a world-wide phenomenon. But although she writes of passion, the true love she longs for eludes her.
But despite quarrels and misunderstandings, distance and destiny, there is no bond stronger than that of the two sisters—confidants, friends, rivals and the two “It Girls” of their day.

Yes, after being abandoned by one man and losing another to death, she would be married only to her passion for design from now on.

And, for one mad, shattering moment, there was no one or no thing in the world besides this man she loved.

Elinor had cheekily claimed she felt she had “It” when she lying nearly naked on her most recent tiger skin. Today, Lucile felt she had “It,” too.

Beginning in 1875 and spanning several decades, The It Girls by Karen Harper is a fictionalized novel about real life sisters, Lucy (Lucile) & Elinor (Nellie) Sutherland. This is an intriguing novel that begins in 1875 and continues several decades into the early twentieth century, covering the Great War (WWI) and a few years beyond. The theme of this novel is very much about the idea and bond of sisterhood. Karen Harper has woven together an intricate story about these two sisters who lived lives that were very out of the ordinary for the time period. They were supporting themselves financially, were unmarried, and were breaking other gender norms. They were truly ahead of their time.

The sisters suffer through a tragedy together; Harper takes readers on an interesting journey as their lives progress after the sinking of the Titanic. The sisters are complicated, complex, and very competitive; wealth and success are very important to both of them and it often gets in between them and causing family problems. Because the sisters are so self-centered and ambitious, the drama is high and it makes for an intense reading experience. Harper paints an accurate picture of the historical times, which further adds to the extremity of the sisters and their need to defy all odds set against them. I loved the glamorous, glitzy settings and lifestyles that are portrayed, and I recommend The It Girls to anyone who loves historical fiction or reading about strong, intellectual women who break tradition and find their own place in society.

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review: Vogue Living: Country, City, Coast

Author: Hamish Bowles & Chloe Malle
Publication Date: October 24, 2017
Publisher: Knopf

A stunning new collection of beautiful houses and gardens that have appeared in the pages of Vogue over the last decade, with more than 400 full-color photographs. 

Lavishly illustrated, Vogue Living: Country, City, Coast is an irresistible look at some of the most spectacular houses and gardens whose owners come from the worlds of fashion, design, art and society to be published as a book for the first time.

Here is Tory Burch’s stylish and informal Southampton estate, Lauren and Andres Santo Domingo’s glamorous duplex in Paris, Dries Van Noten’s romantic house and garden in Belgium, Alexa and Trevor Traina’s dramatic and colorful San Francisco house, Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber’s lakeside Canadian cabin, shoe maestro Bruno Frisoni and designer Hervé Van der Straeten’s modern house in the heart of Tangier, Stella McCartney’s grand English country garden, Olya and Charles Thompson’s richly patterned Brooklyn house, and the old-world Wilshire estate of Gela Nash-Taylor and Duran Duran’s John Nash Taylor and many more. 

These breathtaking houses and gardens have been photographed by such celebrated photographers as François Halard, Oberto Gili,  Mario Testino and Bruce Weber among others; such writers as Hamish Bowles, Joan Juliet Buck, Plum Sykes, Jonathan Van Meter and Chloe Malle give you an intimate view of the owners and how they live. This book is a look at some of the world’s most iconic houses and gardens—not only rich in ideas for all readers but a resource and inspiration for designers, architects, and landscape architects as well.

As the pages of this book reveal, interior designers quote from the past just as fashion designers have – sometimes with academic reverence, other times with soaring imagination.

In their eclecticism and diversity, these lifestyle portfolios not only reflect the very different personalities of the people who created and live in these environments, but also hold a mirror to the fast-changing times and the fashion and societal trends that Vogue – and more recently its website, too – has reflected so potently across the years.

What a difference a decade makes.

Firstly, I loved the diversity of this book. Readers will get to travel from the country to the city and then to the coast, just as the title implies. The photographs showcase a vast array of beautiful homes, landscapes, and the people that populate and created them. The people’s lives that are showcased in this breathtaking book are famous and well-known for many different reasons, and a look into their worlds is sure to entice and enrapture all readers. A look into Cindy Crawford’s home and lifestyle was by far my favorite section of this book. Her home in Ontario was picturesque and inviting. There is a full page photo of her children jumping from a huge boulder near her home; the feeling communicated in these pages is cozy and completely down to earth, something one might not expect from the life of this famous supermodel.

The images are exasperating and breathtaking. There are hundreds and hundreds of images that showcase the insides of brilliant homes and their architecture and design, images of lavish and lush gardens, and images of the notably remarkable people who inhabit them. Going back to the diversity that was mentioned above, readers will feel a sense of having witnessed every design and architectural style after reading over this book. Some homes were cozy and remote, some were modern and completely ahead of their time, some were traditional, while others had a rather Victorian feel to them. I greatly enjoyed seeing the different tastes of these monumental people.  

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book Review: A Secret Sisterhood

Author: Emily Midorikawa & Emma Claire Sweeney
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Co-authors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, thanks to their discovery of a wealth of surprising collaborations: the friendship between Jane Austen and one of the family servants, playwright Anne Sharp; the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; the transatlantic friendship of the seemingly aloof George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex friendship fired by an underlying erotic charge.

Through letters and diaries that have never been published before, A Secret Sisterhood resurrects these forgotten stories of female friendships. They were sometimes scandalous and volatile, sometimes supportive and inspiring, but always—until now—tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.

As writers today, we know that we owe a great debt to the lives and works of female authors of the past.

In their friendships, these women overcame differences in worldly success and social class, as well as personal schisms and public scandal.

In piecing together the lost stories of these four trailblazing pairs, we have found alliances that were sometimes illicit, scandalous, and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical, or inspiring – but, until now, tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.

This literary treat of a book examines some of the fabulous female friendships that spurred the lives of some of the most well-known female authors like Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Virginia Woolf – just to name a few. However, do not be misled by the front cover of the book; these women did not have personal relationships with one another, as most were not even of the same time. The authors of this book focus on telling readers about the support systems these women formed while trying to make a breakthrough as a female in the writing world. I am sure that this book will excite all types of literary lovers, especially new authors.

The information in this book has been well researched and is all the more relevant because the authors are also best friends and worked together to create something to promote and display the need for friendship. It's important to see the effect of gifted women on each other through the ages, reaching out to each other and encouraging one another. In this way, Midorikawa and her co-author Emma Claire Sweeney, have made an important contribution to discussing the works of these much studied writers. The material was fascinating and a lot of the research shown here was information that I have never ran across before in my studies of some of these authors. I was totally fascinated and walked away feeling like I had learned so much!

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