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2021 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska (1)
- Arizona (4)
- Arkansas (1)
- California (11)
- Colorado (2)
- Connecticut (1)
- Delaware (1)
- Florida (2)
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii (2)
- Idaho (1)
- Illinois (6)
- Indiana (1)
- Iowa (1)
- Kansas (1)
- Kentucky (1)
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine (1)
- Maryland (2)
- Massachusetts (2)
- Michigan (1)
- Minnesota (1)
- Mississippi (1)
- Missouri (1)
- Montana (3)
- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada (3)
- New Hampshire (1)
- New Jersey (1)
- New Mexico
- New York (11)
- North Carolina (2)
- North Dakota (1)
- Ohio (7)
- Oklahoma (1)
- Oregon (3)
- Pennsylvania (5)
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina (1)
- South Dakota (1)
- Tennessee (3)
- Texas (6)
- Utah (2)
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (3)
- Washington (6)
- West Virginia (1)
- Wisconsin (2)
- Wyoming (2)
- *Washington, D.C. (1)

International:
Australia (3)
Canada (8)
China (2)
England (16)
France (2)
Ireland (2)
Italy (1)
Japan (1)
Norway (1)
Scotland (1)
Spain (1)
Switzerland (1)
The Philippines (1)
Wales (1)

My Progress:


51 / 51 states. 100% done!

2021 Fall Into Reading Challenge

My Progress:


21 / 24 books. 88% done!

2021 Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

2021 Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
(Hosted by Yours Truly!)

My Progress:


20 / 25 books. 80% done!

2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge

My Progress:


38 / 52 books. 73% done!

Booklist Queen's 2021 Reading Challenge

My Progress:


41 / 52 books. 79% done!

2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

2021 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

The 52 Club's 2021 Reading Challenge

My Progress:


47 / 52 books. 90% done!
Friday, October 29, 2021

Shiver An Addicting, Thrill-a-Minute Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"Snowboarding does something to me. It turns me into this demon who doesn't care about anyone else" (271).

Ten years ago, 33-year-old Milla Anderson was a pro snowboarder at the top of her game. Along with a crowd of other young athletes, she came to Le Rocher, a ski resort in the French Alps, to train while pitting herself against the best of the best. Amidst the tense, sometimes vicious, competition, friendships were formed, rivalries heightened, and enemies created. The season ended with Saskia Sparks—the most beautiful and conniving snowboarder among them—missing, presumed dead.

A decade later, Milla receives an invitation from a former Le Rocher friend to reunite at the resort. Although reluctant to return to the site and revisit the trauma she experienced there, she can't help but be intrigued. She hasn't seen or spoken to anyone from that fateful season on the mountain in the intervening years. Is it finally time to put the past behind her? Time to renew friendships, even rekindle a past flame? Despite her misgivings, Milla goes, only realizing too late that nothing about this mysterious reunion is quite what it seems. The resort is deserted, save for her and four others; their cell phones have disappeared; an innocent-seeming icebreaker game turns sinister; and everything is going bump in the night. With the threat of an oncoming snowstorm looming over the uneasy group, it's becoming quickly apparent that none of them is safe. Someone wants the truth about what happened ten years ago—and they'll stop at nothing to get it.

Shiver, a debut novel by Allie Reynolds, is my favorite kind of thriller. I mean, an atmospheric locked-room type mystery set in a remote location that features dangerous old secrets coming to the fore as nasty weather threatens to trap all the victims together in one place? Yes, please! Those kinds of stories always get my imagination whirling and my heart pumping. Although there are many things Shiver is not, it is a page turner. The story is a crazy, addicting thrill ride that kept me racing through the pages. Even though I figured out who was behind the reunion setup about halfway through the book, I still wanted to know what was going to happen next. While Shiver's plot kept me engaged, its characters are not a likable lot. They're admirable for their athleticism and determination, but not for their fickleness, petty jealousies, cruelty, and cold-hearted competitiveness. A good deal of the story, in fact, revolves around who slept with whom ten years ago, which I absolutely could have done without. Although we do see some growth in a couple of the characters, overall they're just a very messed up group. That, plus the fact that the story's a mite predictable, made Shiver less enjoyable for me. Still, for pure entertainment value, it's not a bad read as far as thrillers go. It definitely kept me engrossed.  


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Body-Positive MG Novel Empathy-Inducing and Empowering

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ellie Montgomery-Hofstein is used to people gawking at her—and not in a good way.  She's always been bigger than her peers, which has made her the recipient of relentless bullying.  Even her mother is constantly haranguing her for being fat.  Now that Ellie's best friend has moved away, she's facing sixth grade alone, making her even more of a target than usual.  The only place she finds peace is in her backyard swimming pool where she feels weightless and free.

When bubbly Catalina Rodriguez moves in next to Ellie and welcomes her into her boisterous Mexican-American family, Ellie discovers another safe place.  With the help of her new friend and a caring therapist, she starts learning to stand up for herself.  Will these new skills help her face the biggest bully in her life?  Can Ellie help her mother understand that Ellie deserves to be loved just as she is?  Can Ellie finally free herself from the Fat Girl Rules and embrace her big, beautiful self? 

Starfish—a debut novel by Lisa Fipps—is a quick read, but one that sticks with you.  Written in free verse, it's raw and honest.  Anyone who's struggled with their weight, or been bullied for any reason, will empathize with Ellie's pain.  Hopefully, those who bully will also be moved by her story.  Starfish really is impactful as it teaches lessons about the impact that words have, for both good and ill, on other people; how bullying, whether done by children or adults, affects people; the importance of kindness and acceptance; and the empowering magic of learning to stand up for one's self.  This is an important, touching read that I hope kids will take to heart.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Wonder by R.J. Palacio)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for difficult subject matter (body shaming, bullying, and verbal and emotional abuse)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Happy Haunting!


If you can't tell, I'm a bit of a party pooper/stick-in-the-mud (I rock at Never Have I Ever).  And I've always been that way!  Case in point: I really don't like Halloween.  It's not for any religious or moral reasons—I've just never been much for dressing up.  Even as a little kid.  As a mom, I've dreaded the expense and stress of Halloween costumes, the over-consumption of candy (rest assured, though, that I've always been stoic about doing my mom duty by picking the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Twix bars out of my kids' buckets after they go to sleep), and the whole tromping through the neighborhood to take kids trick-or-treating thing.  It's just not me, you know?  

All that being said, I do still enjoy a spooky story now and again.  The older I get, the wimpier I get, so I've set aside the Stephen King books I consumed as a teen in favor of tales that are more Gothic and subtly scary—the kind that send a delicious tingle down my spine but don't give me nightmares.  I much prefer ghosts haunting creepy old houses to brain-slurping zombies, blood-sucking vampires, soul-stealing demons, and other freak-me-out ghouls.  Haunting is the vibe I usually veer toward instead of scary.  So, which authors are my go-to for shivery stories?  I thought you'd never ask!  I've listed ten of my favorites below for today's Halloween Freebie Top Ten Tuesday list.

Do you want to join the spooky TTT party?  Of course you do!  Flit on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the details.  Bonus:  Jana's list today is super fun.

My Top Ten Favorite Go-To Authors for Haunting Halloween-ish Reads
-in no particular order-



Favorite of hers:  The Secret Keeper   



Favorite of his:  Lock Every Door



Favorite of hers:  The Sun-Down Motel



Favorite of hers:  The Widow's House



Favorite of hers:  The Invited



Favorite of hers:  What She Knew



Favorite of hers:  Until the Day I Die



Favorite of his:  Dark Matter






Favorite of hers:  The Shades of London series 

There you have it, ten of of my favorite writers of haunting stories.  What about you?  Are you into scary stories?  Who are your go-to authors for haunting/creepy books?  Are you a Halloween lover, hater, or something in between?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!  

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Chinese Perspective on Titanic Disaster Makes New YA Novel Unique, Intriguing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As well-heeled nobs queue up to enter their luxurious cabins on the famed Titanic, the unlikeliest of first-class passengers lines up with them.  Valora Luck, a 17-year-old British-Chinese acrobat, should be accompanying her wealthy employer on the trip across the sea.  The old woman's surprise demise has left Valora with two unexpected gifts—a ritzy room all to herself and the freedom to do whatever she pleases during the voyage.  The young woman intends to use her time to find her twin brother, Jamie, a sailor whom she hasn't seen in two years; persuade him to join her once again as a dynamic acrobatic duo; and convince an influential American circus owner onboard to hire them.  No small task, she knows.

When Valora is turned away on the gangplank because of her ethnicity, she's devastated but determined.  She will get on Titanic, no matter what it takes.  With a little assistance, some sneaky acrobatic moves, and a lot of pluck, she does just that.  In order to do what she needs to while on the ship, Valora has to dodge ship security by keeping a low profile, disguising her true identity, and not drawing any attention to herself.  She needs to be able to move throughout the entire ship without arousing suspicion.  Just as she's finding success, pulling all her goals within reach, disaster strikes.  As Valora struggles to save herself and those she loves from an icy death, her future seems to be sinking right along with them.  Will she and Jamie live to find acrobatic success in New York City?  Or will they, like so many others, go down with the great, "unsinkable" Titanic?

I find the Titanic disaster endlessly fascinating, so when I heard that Stacey Lee—one of my favorite YA historical fiction writers—was penning a novel about the disaster, I was stoked.  Especially since the story was to pay homage to the ocean liner's real Chinese passengers.  Although there were eight Chinese men aboard Titanic, six of whom survived, their stories have never been told.  Unlike other of the ship's refugees, these men were not welcomed warmly in America.  Instead, they were shipped off within 24 hours of arriving in the U.S., all but ensuring their plights would be forgotten.  Luck of the Titanic is not directly about these men, but it addresses issues of racism, classism, and other challenges Chinese people faced in Europe and America during that period.  These elements add intriguing layers to the story, which is also packed with plenty of action and conflict to keep readers turning pages (which I did, finishing the book in a day).  Valora is the best kind of storybook heroine.  She's daring, determined, kind, loyal, and brave.  It's easy to root for her as well as the other very likable characters in the book.  While I loved all of these things and more, there's one thing about Luck of the Titanic that I despised: the ending.  It took me by surprise, but not in a good way.  In fact, the finale made the novel feel unfinished and dissatisfying.  I didn't exactly throw Luck of the Titanic at the wall (I bought an expensive hardcover, so I had to be careful) in frustration, but I wanted to, darn it!  The ending soured the read for me, which—up until that point—I had been enjoying most thoroughly.  Grrr.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other Titanic novels I've read, which you can see by selecting "R.M.S. Titanic" from the drop-down menu under the "Labels" tab on the left sidebar of my blog)

Grade:

If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Luck of the Titanic with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Settings That Float My Boat


I'm a little tardy to the TTT party today, but better late than never, right?  Since I'm not a big app user or podcast listener, I'm not really feeling today's topic—Top Ten Online Resources for Book Lovers.  I'm going to skip it in favor of last week's—Favorite Book Settings—which I missed due to being in Europe.  I know I've done topics like this before, so my selections may sound a *little* familiar... 

If you want to join in the TTT fun, click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the details.

Top Ten Favorite Book Settings 


1.  Scotland—I've long loved me a moody, broody Scottish setting.  Now that I've been there, I'm even more interested in reading about this lovely land, the ancestral home of my paternal ancestors.  


2.  Creepy old buildings—Be it a house, a hospital, a hotel, a school, whatever...as long as a book features a spooky edifice (preferably teeming with ghosts), I'm in.


3.  The American South—I enjoy a good Southern yarn, especially when it's filled with quirky characters and Down Home warmth.  There's just something about the South, y'all.


4.  World War II—Although I've stepped back from WWII novels a bit this year, I still find it an endlessly fascinating setting.  


5.  Dystopian/post-apocalyptic—I'm not reading as much in this genre as I have in the past, but I still dig a good end-of-the-world tale.


6.  Small towns—Quaint little villages make the perfect setting for cozy mysteries, psychological thrillers, rom-coms, horror stories, and more.  I especially love a good small-town-with-big-secrets yarn.


7.  Extreme situations/climates—Even though I'm a huge wimp, I enjoy immersing myself in engrossing survival stories, especially when they're set in places with chaotic, unpredictable weather that's going to act up at just the wrong moment.  


8.  Islands—I'm also all about tales set on islands.  The isolation ups the ante for any kind of story, be it a mystery, a psychological thriller, a rom-com, or whatever.


9.  At sea/maritime disasters—While I'm not afraid of water, I still don't love the idea of floating along in the sea with all kinds of dangers—real and imagined—lurking below me.  Because of this, books set at sea, especially survival stories, mysteries, thrillers, and action/adventure tales, always give me a shivery thrill.  Titanic books will 100% always get my attention.


10.  American West/pioneer/homesteading—I've mentioned before that I'm the descendant of both Mormon pioneers and Oregon Trail adventurers.  I grew up hearing their stories, so I've always been fascinated with this time period and setting. 

If you read this blog with any regularity, you're not going to be surprised by any of my answers.  You've seen what I like to read—do you have any suggestions for books I haven't read yet that fit in these categories?  What are your favorite book settings?  I'd love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on yours.

Happy TTT!                 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Despite Intriguing Premise, Historical Novel is a Slllooowww, Forced-Myself-to-Finish-It Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Propriety is important in Victorian England.  Just not to eccentric surgeon Dr. Horace Croft.  Ever since he took in Nora Beady—an 8-year-old orphan—he's been teaching and training her.  Now 21, she's an invaluable medical assistant as well as a gifted surgeon in her own right.  Capable as she is, even Dr. Croft realizes that Nora's interest in medicine would be seen by outsiders as shocking, manly, and unnatural.  It must be kept secret at all costs.  When Croft brings a young doctor into his practice, Nora fears she will be found out.  Forced to act like a proper lady, hiding her ability in the surgery, she feels like she's going mad.  When she makes an important discovery, one that could change medicine forever, Nora is torn between offending society by revealing her true self and boldly claiming her own discovery instead of letting the men around her take credit.  Is she brave enough to risk everything by finally stepping out of the shadows into the spotlight?

With its striking cover and intriguing premise, how could I not be drawn to The Girl in His Shadow, a debut novel by Audrey Blake (a pseudonym for writing duo Regina Sirois and Jaima Fixsen)?  I've seen rave reviews as well, so I was eager to read it.  Its subject—the role of women in early medicine—is certainly fascinating.  Though gory, the book's depictions of 19th Century efforts to learn about disease and how to treat it makes for interesting reading.  As for the story, though?  It's sllooowwww.  Without a structured plot to keep it focused and forward-moving, the tale drags, making it very putdownable.  The characters are likable, but not super complex or memorable, which contributes to the meh-ness of the novel.  While Nora is sympathetic and kind, she lacks the vulnerability that makes me really root for a character.  I felt like she would be fine no matter what and that, while the back cover copy touts how much risk she takes in the story, in actuality she never really risks or loses very much.  That made it tough for me to care about what happened to her, meaning I just never got all that invested in her or this book.  I did plow through The Girl in His Shadow, but that's exactly what the reading experience felt like: work.  I wanted to really like this one; unfortunately, I had to force myself to finish it. Bummer.

(Readalikes:  The premise reminds me of the Lady Darby series by Anna Lee Huber, The Madman's Daughter series by Megan Shepherd, and Mistress in the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Girl in His Shadow from the generous folks at Sourcebooks via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

My Fun, Fabulous, Unforgettable European Family Vacation

After a whirlwind two weeks in Europe, I'm back!  I'm jet lagged and exhausted, but I'm home and full of gratitude for the wonderful time I had seeing beautiful sights, connecting with my ancestral past, and bonding with my family.  Naturally, not everything went according to plan (who knew our adventures would be disrupted by city-wide marathons in two different cities in two separate countries?); still, it was an amazing trip.  We saw and did so many incredible things that I can't even remember them all.  Here's a quick rundown:

England


  • Experienced a traditional High Tea in York
  • Saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
  • Drove through the lush, beautiful countryside
  • Passed a Da Vinci Code-like test to visit the oldest chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the world
  • Stood on the Liverpool docks from which many of our ancestors departed in order to travel to the United States in the 1800's

The statue we're standing next to honors all the Mormon immigrants who sailed from Liverpool to join the Saints in Utah.  It's called "Legacy" and you can read all about it here.
  • Supped on fish and chips with a close college friend I hadn't seen in 25 years
  • Dined on yummy lunches at pubs all over England
  • Went to opening night of the new James Bond movie in London, a week before the film debuted in the U.S.
Wales
  • Explored Conwy Castle, which showed off its beautiful views and delighted us with multiple rainbows

  • Ate haggis (which is not as revolting as it sounds)!
  • Found the old, isolated parish church where my husband's ancestor was baptized long ago
  • Traveled through lush, lovely countryside
  • Visited the National Slate Museum in NW Wales
Scotland
  • Visited Ayr, the homeland of my Kennedy ancestors, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring "my" castle (Culzean Castle)
  • Braved the driving rain and icy wind to check out Edinburgh and its lovely castle (not as charming as mine, of course)
  • Served the most untraditional "traditional" club sandwich I've ever encountered at an "authentic" American restaurant in Edinburgh.
  • Stopped by the impressive Forth Bridge, where one of my husband's great-grandparents died while helping to build it
  • Drove (well, rode in in my case) an 8-passenger van through lots of teensy tiny streets to see beautiful countryside and charming villages
France
  • Traveled through the Chunnel from London to Paris
  • Were thwarted in our efforts to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower (dang marathon!), but got many pictures of it from many different angles
  • Ate escargot (not that bad) and lots of crepes and croissants (delicious)!
  • Survived our climb to the dome of Sacré-Cœur and were rewarded with magnificent views of Paris
  • Enjoyed a romantic evening river cruise down the Seine
  • Had a family caricature portrait drawn by a Parisian street artist
  • Passed Shakespeare and Company while headed to our Metro station—I was pleased to see a line out front, even if it meant I didn't have time to go inside
  • Met up with another college friend I hadn't seen in 25 years who just happened to be visiting Paris at the same time as us
It really was an awesome trip.  I'm glad to be home sleeping in my own bed again, but I'm also so thankful for the experiences we had in Europe and the memories we made.

Friday, October 01, 2021

New YA Post-Apocalyptic Novel Not Super Memorable, But Still Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Once upon a time, Paige Miller had big plans for her life.  She was going to rock her last year of high school basketball, accept a full-ride athletic scholarship to UConn, then aim for a career in the WNBA.  That was before everyone got sick, before she herself fell ill.  When she wakes up in her bedroom attached to an IV, Paige realizes she's been in a coma and that everything—not just her world, but the entire world—has changed completely.  Not only has her family been wiped out by the lethal flu, but there are few, if any, other people still alive.  Life is no longer about basketball.  Now it's about survival.

When Paige decides to venture out into the empty world, she's ecstatic to encounter another teenager.  Trey Dawson is also an athlete, also alone.  Although he has more answers than Paige, neither knows exactly what's going on.  As they navigate their way through their strange new reality, they make some shocking discoveries about what's happening and why.  Armed with this knowledge, they have a slim chance to save what's left of humanity.  Can they succeed against a threat that's much, much worse than a deadly virus?

I enjoyed Rae Carson's Gold Seer trilogy, so I was excited when I learned she had a new book coming out.  And a YA post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel at that.  Yes, please!  Although as it turns out, there's nothing super original or memorable about Any Sign of Life (available October 12, 2021), I still enjoyed the read.  It's tense, fast-paced, and exciting.  The characters are likable despite not being very complex or fleshed-out.  I definitely wanted them to be victorious, even if they didn't quite feel like real live people.  While I generally prefer realistic doomsday scenarios, this more sci-fi version still appeals.  I assume Any Sign of Life is the beginning of a series and, while I can't say I'm chomping at the bit for the next installment, I'm always here for an entertaining end-of-the-world novel.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Alone by Meghan E. Freeman and of the Partials series by Dan Wells)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a half dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Any Sign of Life from the generous folks at Greenwillow Books (a division of HarperCollins) via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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How to Get Away with Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce



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