Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Audio Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrente

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date:  September 25, 2012
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Source: Personal copy
My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "A modern masterpiece from one of Italy's most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense and generous hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante's inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her two protagonists."

It's Naples after WWII and the town is under a transformation.  Two young girls, Elena and Lila, find friendship amongst all the chaos of their poor neighborhood.  Lila is the smartest girl in school and pushes Elena in various ways, especially with her school work.  An education is the best way to get out of the confines of the neighborhood.  Their neighborhood is ruled by only the wealthiest while everyone else basically struggles to get by.  Lila is different though. She is not only smart, she is bold and challenges Elena to be more, to do more, and say more.  They have plans to write a novel together and leave Naples behind.  All that changes though when Elena goes onto middle school and Lila, even though she is more than capable enough to thrive at school, goes onto work as her parents don't want to spend more money on her education.  Elena's horizons instantly broaden and although Lila's have done the opposite, Elena still feels drawn to Lila.  Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend is an excellent and absorbing depiction of female friendships as well as a neighborhood and the social dynamics in Naples in the '50s.  

I loved the character of Elena in My Brilliant Friend. Following her struggles in elementary school, her friendship with Lila, and then her continuing her education was really compelling. It's not that a lot happens to Elena, but I could appreciate her coming-of-age tale.  I also appreciated Elena's struggle with adolescence. I think many young adults could relate to her feelings of being inadequate, her disgust at pimples, her weight, etc, especially in comparison to Lila, who becomes the beauty of the neighborhood. But Elena always have one thing over Lila: her schooling.

Speaking of Lila, her father owns the shoe store in town and once Lila's dreams of furthering her education go up in smoke, she makes plans with her brother for becoming successful shoemakers on their own. But they must keep this from their father initially.  During adolescence, Lila attracts attention from many of the wealthier members of her neighborhood, and Elena can't help but feel left behind and in her wake, especially when the Solaras start noticing her as they are the wealthiest family in town.

Ferrante's depiction of female friendship, the competition, and the highs and lows are all so accurate and moving in My Brilliant Friend.  I was completely absorbed in Elena and Lila's tale and was desperate to know what would happen to the girls. My Brilliant Friend also highlights the social injustice for the time period as they lived in such a sexist society.  As a woman, I found so much of it hard to swallow.  Lila, who is the most brilliant student at her school, can't even continue her education due to her father.  Her father was holding her back and it truly made it hard for Lila to leave the neighborhood and make something of herself. 

The neighborhood of Naples in the '50s was also very interesting in My Brilliant Friend. The poor versus the wealthy and the desire for power was depicted well in the novel.  The neighborhood and the different dynamics between the families was utterly captivating. Each family was trying to climb the various rungs on the ladder of success with always the Solara brothers at the top.  It didn't help that the Solaras are the bullies of the neighborhood, especially if they don't like you. 

The narrator of My Brilliant Friend is Hilary Huber and I found her to be just adequate.  I think I would have appreciated someone that had an Italian background or even someone who spoke with an Italian accent as that would have added to the atmosphere of the novel and made the story that much more vibrant.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed My Brilliant Friend. I can see why so many critics raved about and I look forward to continuing with The Neapolitan Novels to find out what happens to Elena, Lila and their neighborhood.   I am also excited to check out the show on HBO, which is based on this book. Did you see My Brilliant Friend on HBO or read this book? Let me know in the comments below. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Stacking the Shelves and Giveaway Winners (93)

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Rest of the Story
Book Review: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I'm sharing my thoughts on My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, which many people consider it a modern classic. I throughly enjoyed listening to this audio book and I can't wait to check out the HBO show based on this book.


The Binding by Bridget Collins - Thanks to William Morrow
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves - Thanks to She Speaks Up and St. Martin's


Life and Other Inconveniences by Kristan Higgins - Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy - Thanks to LibraryThing and William Morrow

Dark Tribute by Iris Johansen - Thanks to St. Martin's
The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais  - Thanks to Blink YA

Congrats to the following winners:  My Blogovesrary Giveaway Winners are Vivien and Angela.  The winner of The Girls in the Picture giveaway goes to Cassandra

Have you read any of these books? Are they on your TBR list? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks for visiting! This meme is hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Happy St. Patrick's Day,

Friday, March 15, 2019

Books Set in Ireland

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I am sharing my favorite books set in Ireland. It's definitely one of my favorite places to read about and to visit. Here are a few books that I have featured here on the blog with Irish settings.  Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Me at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Books Set in Ireland:

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

 The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore 
Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch

Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd
Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron

Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts

Other Books Set In Ireland:

The Shadows by Megan Chance
The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle
See Me by Wendy Higgins
Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill
One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

So, what are some of your favorite novels that are set in Ireland? Let me know in the comments below! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Rest of the Story

Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen
Pub. Date: June 4, 2019

Goodreads says, "Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.  Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family—her grandmother and cousins she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.  When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is divided into two people as well. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.  Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.  For Saylor, it’s like a whole new world is opening up to her. But when it’s time to go back home, which side of her will win out?"

Sarah Dessen has a new novel coming out this summer!!!!!!!!!! You guys know she is one of my favorite authors of all time and it just isn't summer without a Sarah Dessen novel. I love that this one takes place during the summer at a lake resort.  This bookworm is super happy. What do you guys think of her latest novel?

Monday, March 11, 2019

Book Review: Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: March 5, 2019
Publisher: Ballantine
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author:  After I DoMaybe in Another Life
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.  Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.  Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.  Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.  The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice."

Daisy Jones and The Six is one of the best bands in the world, but the band broke apart quickly and without much explanation. What happened?  Well, to understand it completely you have to go back to the beginning.  Billy Dunne and his brother, Graham, are in a band playing various gigs and weddings just hoping to make it big one day.  Daisy Jones has grown up in Hollywood in the lap of luxury (the opposite of the Dunnes) and her parents really don't care about her. Since they don't care, they don't really keep tabs on her. They didn't even realize she moved out, so consequently, this leads to her spending way too many nights out doing things a teenager shouldn't.  As the years go by, Daisy lands a record deal, but it isn't what she was hoping for.  So, when Daisy joins Billy's band, it takes every one's music to the next level. But this complicates things tremendously. Billy is a recovering addict and trying to stay loyal to Camilla, whereas Daisy is always up for a good time. Plus, everyone can see that she and Billy have some chemistry together; it's what makes their music so good.  Taylor Jenkins Reid takes readers through a fun romp into 1970s rock and roll culture and leave us wondering what exactly happened to the band members in Daisy Jones and The Six.

Daisy Jones and The Six isn't told in the traditional sense. Reid tries something new by telling the story in an interview format which feels like you are watching a documentary on VH1.  Readers are able to get feedback from each band member as well as Camilla and others as there isn't one narrator that really drives the story.  Readers find out at the end who is interviewing the band mates, but it's not as if this person is the narrator per se.  While I liked this approach initially as it felt fresh and downright fun, it ended up distracting me and detracting from the overall story.  I wanted to dive deeper into the characters, but due to the format, I felt like I was just brushing the surface.  I wanted so many more answers than I was getting and to truly understand the characters' motives, but we weren't allowed that.

Which leads me to Daisy.  She is definitely a character that I loved to hate in Daisy Jones and The Six.  I'm sure many people don't agree with me, but I really didn't like her. While I felt badly for her as she grew up without much love and support, I didn't agree with half of the decisions she made, especially when it came to her relationship with Billy. However, I did like how she was a feminist, but her drug abuse and poor decisions really frustrated me.

Then there's Billy. I really liked his character a bit more, because although he is flawed, he truly wants to do the right thing by Camilla and his family. He tries so very hard and it can't be easy to be on the road in the 70s as a recovering addict. Temptation was everywhere and the other band members didn't abstain from partying, so it complicated things.  Also, I loved his relationship with Camilla. She knew his weaknesses, but always supported him and in turn, he was very loyal.  She was an amazing character and probably one of my favorites.

The dynamic of the band definitely kept me flipping the pages in Daisy Jones and The Six. I sort of guessed as to why the band broke up; I mean you could see it from a mile away, but I was invested by that point and wanted to know how it all worked out.  The first half of the novel wasn't as compelling as I would have hoped for, but once the band took off and their fame skyrocketed, I was hooked.

The setting of the 1970s is problematic for me in Daisy Jones and The Six. It's definitely not a favorite time period of mine. I am not interested in reading about drug addicts, free love, and drug abuse, so this aspect of the story got old for me. Fans of the 1970s and classic rock will definitely appreciate this aspect of the novel as Reid did bring it to life.

While I didn't love Daisy Jones and The Six as much as Taylor Jenkins Reid's other novels (The Seven Husband of Evelyn Hugo!), I did appreciate Reid's writing style and character development. Despite the story being told in an interview format, I was very much invested and cared about the characters as they were fleshed out very well. If you are looking for an entertaining novel for spring break and you love the 1970s, give this one a try. I had to remind myself so many times that this band actually isn't real, because that is how real Reid made it feel. 

Do you want to read Daisy Jones and The Six? Are you a fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid? Let me know which novel of hers is your favorite in the comments below.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Children's Book Round-up (11)

It's been a few months since I last shared what I have been reading with my kids. It's been a pretty good mix of some classics as well as some newly published picture books. We tried to read some more "winter" reads these past few months and some were a hit, but others....not so much!  Here are some of the latest books that I have been enjoying with my children.

Where Birdie Lives by Elena Tsvetaeva - Thanks to Clever Publishing for sending me this adorable book with flaps, which makes it fun for little ones to read. The puppy is searching for Birdie. Where could he be? It's a perfect springtime read.

Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney - We love Anna Dewdney's books in our house and this one is fantastic for young ones that may have a tough time sharing. I love how Dewdney keeps it realistic, so kids can easily relate.

Dear Yeti by James Kwan - This wintertime read features two young hikers looking for the mystical Yeti.  This is a perfect read for kids who love an adventure.

Steve, Terror of the Seas by Megan Brewis* - This picture book is not only adorable, but really informative as well.  Why are all the fish afraid of such a little fish like Steve? Readers will learn why Steve is best friends with a shark among other information about various sea creatures.  A fantastic read, especially for little ones that love sea life.

Snow Dance by Leslie Evans - This adorable picture book captures all the fun of a snow day and all the different activities you can partake in like sledding, enjoying hot chocolate, building a snowman and more.   While this wasn't my favorite children's book featuring snow, I still thought it was a cute read to share with a child in the wintertime and in anticipation of that first snow day.

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney - As I said, we love Dewdney and this one doesn't disappoint. It goes over how to deal with a bully in your preschool class in a way that isn't overbearing.  This book is a great read with an important message.

Mighty Trucks: Muddymania by Chris Barton - The truck in this book can transform into his superhero persona, but honestly, it was really confusing to follow. The puns in the story just didn't work. There are other truck books out there that I would recommend over this one.

The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader - I love sharing Caldecott Medal books with my sons, but this one wasn't a favorite despite it being the perfect time to share a winter tale.  I think it's a tad too long for a picture book as it's jam packed with a lot of information about how animals get ready for a big snowstorm.  You need to have a focused bunch of children to truly appreciate this story despite its beautiful illustrations.

Pig the Winner by Aaron Blabby - My kids love the character of Pig the Pug, but I find him utterly annoying. I guess he is entertaining though. In this book, he has to be the winner at just about everything. I do; however, appreciate the book's lesson on playing fair and graciously winning. 

Nibbles Numbers by Emma Yarlett* - We love Nibbles the book monster in our house, so my toddler really enjoys this tale which features Nibbles nibbling his way through numbers. It's a great way to review numbers, but what makes this book special are all the cut-outs and fun holes that Nibbles chomped through.  

A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger - This cranky monster doesn't like mushy gushy Valentine's Day with all the talk of love and hearts everywhere. My boys could relate to this story and loved the twist at the end. 

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together by Mary Ann Doberman - My youngest is just learning to read, so we really enjoyed sharing these "stories" together that require two voices. 

Chapter Books:

Scurvy Dogs and the Dinosaur Boneyard* by Kevin Frank - We love this band of silly dogs that think they are pirates. In this edition, the dogs end up at a dinosaur museum on the search for the perfect bone.  This book reads like a graphic novel and had us laughing out loud. This series is perfect for kids who love silly books with a lot of imagination. 

Good Morning, Gorillas (Magic Treehouse #26)  by Mary Pope Osborne - We have been enjoying the Magic Treehouse series for quite sometime now. I have to say that after book twenty, it is sort of losing its excitement as the books are getting a bit repetitive. I can't say I liked this book as much as the others in the series. Annie and Jack "travel" to the mountains of Africa and hang out with mountain gorillas.

Winter of the Ice Wizard (Magic Treehouse #32) by Mary Pope Osborne - My son and I liked book in the series a bit more than the last few we read. Osborne does a great job of incorporating fantasy aspects into her novels. Morgan and Merlin are missing, so it's up to Jack and Annie to find them in the Land Behind the Clouds. 

Have you read any of these books? Let me know some of your favorite children's books that you recently read in the comments below.  

*This is an Usborne/Kane Miller book. If you are interested in ordering these books for yourself or learning more about them, please check out my website

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Book Review: Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron

Pages: 384
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "A storied castle. A band of rebels. And a nation chasing the centuries-old dream of freedom . . . What legacy will they leave behind?  When Laine Forrester travels to France to attend her longtime friend's vineyard wedding, she expects to find a bride on the brink of a fairy-tale life. But after a series of unforeseen setbacks--a devastating diagnosis, a castle restoration put on hold, and the emergence of deep-seated family dynamics that threaten to derail the new couple's fledgling marriage--it seems the storybook life Laine had imagined for her friend--and once, for herself--is suddenly crumbling before her eyes.  With hopes of resurrecting a happy ending for one of them, Laine throws support behind her friend and agrees to accompany the couple to the groom's family home in Ireland, where the merging of a mysterious inheritance, long-buried wounds, and a fractured family set out to upend the trip from the start. It's in the unlikely corners of a historic Dublin pub, and across the wide-open moors bordering Ireland's majestic Wicklow Mountains, that Laine is slowly drawn in by the land and the people, sparking hope for something she never imagined possible: the courage to heal. But with secrets of her own--and a heart afraid to trust again--Laine must determine how much she's willing to risk in mending the broken places within herself, and whether she believes that even through the depths of our pain, a beautiful story can emerge.  Set in three time-periods--the revolutionary era of the late eighteenth century, Ireland's turbulent Easter week of the 1916 Rising, and present day--Castle on the Rise weaves a story of legacy, conviction, and redemption against the backdrop of Dublin's storied streets, and the stretch of Ireland's stunning emerald shores. It raises the question: given the choice between the fairy tale or a life of truly anchored faith--which legacy would you choose?"

Laine travels to France to attend her best friend's vineyard wedding. She is expecting perfection. France? A vineyard? What is not to love? But she finds out some upsetting information from the bride, Ellie, and perhaps things aren't as perfect as she thought.  After the wedding, she finds herself traveling to Ireland with Ellie in tow to help her out in her time of need.  This works for Laine though as she is avoiding heading back home as she has her own issues that she is dealing.  The story also jumps to two different time periods in Ireland all surrounding the castle that Ellie's family has inherited.  The first time period featured is 1916 during the Rising and then there's also the 18th century. Kirsty Cambron's Castle on the Rise is a clean historical read for fans of Irish tales.

I really enjoyed the character of Laine and following her experience in Ireland in Castle on the Rise. She is on her own over there along with her young daughter and I loved her loyalty to her best friend.  But when it comes down to it, Ireland helped Laine deal with the many issues she was avoiding back at home.  Slowly, Cambron reveals to us more about Laine and the truth surrounding her past.  I was really drawn to this current day plot line over the others, mostly because I wasn't sure how the other plot lines were really connected to the full story.

Once the various plot points in the other narratives started to come together, I enjoyed Castle on the Rise a bit more. But you have to stick with the first half of the story (it's slow moving) and trust that Cambron will bring everything together.  Essentially, the three narratives focus on three women from different time periods, their experiences, love, and forgiveness.

The beautiful descriptions of Ireland were my favorite part of Castle on the Rise. The castle, the pubs, and the lush landscapes were all well done. It made me want to plan another trip to the beautiful Emerald Isle. The castle itself becomes an important character that ties the three narratives together beautifully.

During the month of March, I always make it a goal to read a book set in Ireland; so, if you are looking for a read that's perfect for St. Patrick's Day, check out Castle on the Rise. It is part of a series, but can be read as a standalone. 

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