Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Children's Book Roundup (12)





It's been a few months since I last shared what I have been reading with my kids. Here are some of the latest picture books that we have been enjoying.



 

We Are (Not) Friends by Anna Kang
Two friends are having a playdate and another friend joins in. This book conquers the dreaded topic of a being a third wheel. 

Leondardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
This wasn't my favorite of Willems's books, but it was cute. It's about Leonardo, a monster who feels like a failure. He can't scare anyone, but maybe he doesn't want to? Maybe he wants a friend instead?





 

Hap-Pea All Year by Keith Baker
This book covers the months of the year in such a cute way. We especially love the rhyming.

Nibbles: The Monster Hunt* by Emma Yarlett
The latest installment in the Nibbles series is a cute one, but not my favorite of the series. This picture book takes us on a fun adventure and there's even a dragon!





 

Snowmen at Night by Carolyn Buehner
This is a cute story about what snowmen do at night when everyone else is sleeping.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt
This is one of the best picture books I've read in quite sometime. I love how this book explains the legend of the game and it makes for a great read aloud. It had me smiling and laughing.





 

The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill
This picture book covers the important topic of bullying in an unexpected way. I liked how the author ended things.

Walking in a Winterwonderland by Richard B. Smith
I love this holiday song and this picture book brings it to life beautifully.




 

A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting
All the animals want to invite Turkey to their Thanksgiving party, but Turkey thinks they are tracking him down, because they want to eat him! My son was a little worried that the Turkey was going to be eaten, but, thankfully, there's a happy ending.

Because by Mo Willems
This is a beautiful picture book and one of my favorites of 2019. I love following the little girl on her journey to center stage. If you are a musician or a music lover, you will especially appreciate this picture book.





 

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander
I am not sure young ones can appreciate this picture book as much as older readers as it showcases a love for reading using poetic wording and fantastic illustrations. All of this made it such a memorable read. I did have a hard time reading certain pages that had mismatched text; I imagine it could be distracting for some children.

Beast Feast* by Emma Yarlett
Fans of Nibbles will be happy to see Yarlett has written another fun tale about a little boy who is going to be "dinner" for a Beast. But don't worry, this one is all fun and not scary! My sons especially liked the various envelopes that had to be opened while reading the story. It made it a little more interactive.

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


Monday, February 17, 2020

Book Review: Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand

Pages: 263
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: October 13, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Source: Library
Other Books By Author:  Winter Street 
Winter in Paradise,  What Happens in Paradise
Beautiful Day, The Islandand The Perfect Couple
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



Goodreads says,  "Another Christmas on Nantucket finds Winter Street Inn owner Kelley Quinn reflecting on the past year as he writes a holiday letter to friends and family. Though the year has had its share of misfortune and worry, the Quinns have much to celebrate. Kelley, now single, at least is on better terms with his first wife Margaret, who is using her celebrity to lure customers to the inn in record numbers. Their son Kevin has a beautiful new baby, Genevieve, with the Inn's French housekeeper, Isabelle; and their daughter, Ava, is finally dating a nice guy--her devoted colleague, Scott.   Now the Quinns are looking forward to celebrating Genevieve's baptism, welcoming Isabelle to the family, and enjoying the cheer of Nantucket's traditional Christmas Stroll. But just when a peaceful family gathering seems within reach, Kelley's estranged second wife, Mitzi, shows up on the island after souring on her relationship with the inn's former Santa Claus. Soon Kelley isn't the only Quinn entertaining a surprise guest from Christmases past as lovers old and new gather beneath the mistletoe. With jealousy, passion, and eggnog consumption at an all-time high, it's going to take a whole lot more than a Christmas miracle to get the Quinns--and the inn--through the holidays intact."

Kelley once thought he was going to have to sell his beloved Winter Street Inn, but Kelley's first wife, Margaret, comes to the rescue with a loan; plus, she personally endorses it, which means people come flocking. If you remember from the previous book, Margaret is a well known newscaster with a huge following, so Winter Street Inn is saved financially.  Emotionally, Kelley is on his own though as his wife Mitzi has left him for George.  Also, Bart, Mitzi and Kelley's son, is still missing in Afghanistan.  This is killing Mitzi, who is slowly realizing life with George isn't what she expected.  Then there's Patrick, Kelley and Margaret's oldest son, who is still in jail for insider trading.  Patrick's wife, Jennifer, is barely holding it together raising three sons on her own.  Ava, Margaret and Kelley's daughter, seems to have it together. She is still dating Scott, a principal at the school she works at, but she is having second thoughts when her ex-boyfriend shows up on the island.  Then there's Kevin, Kelley and Margaret's other son, who helps run the inn.  He is finally doing well and is engaged to Isabelle and just had a daughter.  He seems happy, but that is all in jeopardy when word on the street is that his ex-wife has returned to the island.  This doesn't bode well for Kevin.  Also, Kevin and Isabelle has planned a baptism for their daughter, so Margaret returns to the island with Drake, her boyfriend, in tow.  With all of these Quinns on the island dealign with their various problems, what could go wrong? Elin Hilderbrand's second installment in the Winter Street series is the perfect wintertime escape, especially for those who like domestic fiction.

In Winter Stroll, there are a lot of Quinn characters, but slowly readers are getting to know them better.  Jennifer, Patrick's wife, is really, really struggling. I truly felt for her as it's hard to solo parent three young boys.  She finds herself gravitating towards pills to get her through the day. Obviously this is a major problem.  Kevin seems to have it all together till his ex-wife, Norah, ends up on the island trying to stir things up and right before the baptism.  Kevin has always had a soft spot for Norah, despite the fact that she isn't a good influence on him, and he finds himself in a bad situation.  I wanted to reach through the pages and tell him to run the other way from Norah.  Then there's Ava who is also in a really challenging situation when Nathaniel shows up on the island and wants to get serious about her.  He is sure she is the one, but she is dating Scott.  Cue the drama.  Then of course, there's Margaret, Mitzi and Kelley. Things aren't easy for this love triangle, but it appears that Margaret has moved on to the oh-so-perfect surgeon, Drake.  Readers will be completely enthralled with the Quinn family and all their problems.

The setting of Nantucket during the holiday season is the perfect backdrop to the Quinn's problems in Winter Stroll.  Nantucket's Winter Stroll, the holiday parties, the caroling, the decorations, and the various holiday events are really brought to life by Hilderbrand. I wouldn't expect anything less!   

Winter Stroll is a quick read that's perfect to get lost in when you want something light in between more serious reads. I can't wait to read the third book, Winter Storms, which will continue the Quinn family drama. I am completely invested in these characters.

Are you a fan of Hilderbrand? Have you read her Winter Street series? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Stacking the Shelves (117)


Book Review and Giveaway: The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo
Can't Wait Wednesday: The View From Here 
Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins 






Next week, I hope to share my thoughts on book two of the Winter Street series, Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand. It's such a fun series and one that I love to get lost in.  It's perfect for unwinding between more serious reads. I'm also going to share my thoughts on the audio book of Lilac Girls. I am so glad I finally got around to this historical read.  Lastly, I hope to share my thoughts on Dutch House by Ann Patchett. So many of you said it was one of your favorite books of 2019, so I knew I had to read it! It didn't disappoint. 









 

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor - Thanks to Penguin Random House
The Life Below by Alexandria Monir - Thanks to Harper Teen



 

This Terrible Beauty by Katrin Schumann - Thanks to Lake Union
Death of an American Beauty by Mariah Fredericks - Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley




The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton - Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley


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

Friday, February 14, 2020

Book Review and Giveaway: The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

Pages: 432
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: February 11, 2020
Publisher: St. Martin's 
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "During the sweltering Roman summer of 1492, Rodrigo Borgia has risen to power as pope. Rodrigo’s eldest son Cesare, forced to follow his father into the church and newly made the Archbishop of Valencia, chafes at his ecclesiastical role and fumes with jealousy and resentment at the way that his foolish brother has been chosen for the military greatness he desired.  Maddalena Moretti comes from the countryside, where she has seen how the whims of powerful men wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary people. But now, employed as a servant in the Vatican Palace, she cannot help but be entranced by Cesare Borgia’s handsome face and manner and finds her faith and conviction crumbling in her want of him.  As war rages and shifting alliances challenge the pope’s authority, Maddalena and Cesare's lives grow inexplicably entwined. Maddalena becomes a keeper of dangerous Borgia secrets, and must decide if she is willing to be a pawn in the power games of the man she loves. And as jealousy and betrayal threaten to tear apart the Borgia family from within, Cesare is forced to reckon with his seemingly limitless ambition.  Alyssa Palombo's captivating new novel, The Borgia Confessions, is a story of passion, politics, and class, set against the rise and fall of one of Italy's most infamous families--the Borgias." 

Everyone has heard of the infamous Borgia family who held a lot of power in Italy during the 15th century and Palombo dives even deeper into their tumultuous reign by telling us a story from Cesare's viewpoint as well as Maddalena, a servant to the Borgia family.  Cesare, the Pope's son, isn't interested in becoming an Archbishop, but he knows that he has no choice as his purpose in life is to serve the Borgia family and his father.  He wishes that he was given the task of controlling the military, like his brother Juan.  This definitely is problem as not only does Cesare and Juan not get along, they also compete against each other.  Then there's the Pope's daughter, Lucrezia, who is going to be married off to strengthen the Borgia's alliances with other powerful families.  Every move that the Pope makes is calculated and for a reason: to keep the Borgia family in power.  Readers also get to know Maddalena, who is from the Italian countryside; so, her world is turned upside down as a servant to the Borgias. This is especially true when she catches the eye of Cesare.  If you thought the Tudors had a lot of drama and court intrigue, they have nothing on the Borgias.  If you like historical fiction filled with a lot of lust, drama, and family politics, you won't want to miss The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo.

All of the Borgia family members are flawed, some more than others, but I found myself drawn to Cesare's story the most. How could I not? He had zero interest in becoming a powerful member of the Catholic church, but had to because of his power hungry father.  He finds himself in dangerous affairs and difficult situations all while dealing with his brother, Juan, who is just as bad as his father.  Readers can't help but root on Cesare as Juan is an all around horrible guy, but their competition becomes too much even for Cesare.  Cesare starts making some very bad decisions, but I have to say I enjoyed going along for the ride, because it got very entertaining.  He also begins an affair with Maddalena, which is also complicated.  Let's just say nothing is easy for Cesare and these bad decisions he is making have major consequences for all.

Maddalena is a character that you can't help but feel for in The Borgia Confessions.  She is a widow and is trying to start her life over by working for the Pope. She attracts a lot of unwanted attention from Juan, so Cesare, being a nice man, moves her to work for his sister, which is a much better spot.  But in turn, she has attracted the eye of Cesare  which pleases her as she has watched him admirably from afar and wondered what it would be like to be with him.   

All of these characters in The Borgia Confessions are merely pawns for the Pope.  Everyone is at his mercy and whatever he decides is what will happen.  Cesare, Juan, and the other Borgia children don't have a say; they are merely chess pieces moving around the board in order to win a larger game. It really highlights how corrupt the church was at this time and how greedy the Borgias, as well as many other families, were.  They were all fighting for power and working daily to maintain it at whatever the cost.

If you love the intrigue and the drama of the Tudor court, you must check out The Borgia Confessions. There is a reason the Borgias are Italy's most notorious family. Comment below and tell me what you think about the Borgia family. Have you read any other novels featuring them? 

I can't think of a better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than to give away a copy of The Borgia Confessions to one lucky US reader.  Thank you to St. Martin's for hosting this fantastic giveaway.  Please refer to my giveaway rules and good luck! 



Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Can't Wait Wednesday: The View From Here

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

The View From Here by Hannah McKinnon
Pub. Date: June 2, 2020




Goodreads says, "Siblings Perry, Jack, and Phoebe Goodwin were raised on the shore of a beautiful Connecticut lake in a close-knit family. The eldest of the family, forty-two-year-old Perry has long craved order as surely as his charismatic younger brother, Jack, has avoided it. Phoebe, their baby sister, courts both. As adults the Goodwins could not be more different. Perry is as married to his career in New York as a risk analyst as Phoebe is to her college sweetheart, but both have returned to Connecticut to raise their young families. Charismatic middle child Jack, however, has spent his years living away and working odd jobs, unable to settle. The three have not spent much time together…until this summer. On the afternoon of their grandmother’s 97th nirthday party, the siblings reunite at the lake house where Jack stuns the family with a stranger on his arm and an announcement.  Olivia Cossette, daughter of a French chef, does not share the Goodwin’s traditional New England upbringing or sense of family. What she does share is parenthood, as the single mother of a little girl who does not speak. While the Goodwins struggle to welcome the newcomers over the course of the summer, a series of bad choices made by each family member finally unravels, leaving them all to question just what truly makes a family.  Can one fateful moment on a July afternoon undo a lifetime of good intentions? Only one thing is for certain—this extraordinary summer has irrevocably changed the Goodwin family and all that remains is the uncertain future."

I have enjoyed McKinnon's beach reads these past few years. I am excited to check out this one! I love the cover. What do you guys think?

Monday, February 10, 2020

Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Pages: 400
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: January 21, 2020
Publisher: Flatiron
Source: Library
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.  Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.  Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.  Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to? "

Lydia lives a happy life in Acapulco, Mexico with her husband, her son, and her extended family.  She runs a book shop that is visited by mostly tourists and her husband is a journalist.  Acapulco is changing though. It's no longer a carefree beach town as there are drug cartels whose ominous presence is a major problem for the town.  While working at her bookstore a man enters and buys a few of Lydia's favorite books, which gets them talking.  She comes to find that this man is not only educated, but he's also a good father, and becomes a good friend to Lydia.  As the story progresses, Lydia finds out that this man, Javier, runs the drug cartel in the city. How can this be? He seems so polished and he likes to write poetry for crying out loud! To complicate matters, Lydia's husband is writing a tell-all in the newspaper about Javier, which will put a major target on their backs.  After a horrific event at her niece's quincenera, Lydia finds her and her son, Luca, on a run for their lives.  Lydia and Luca end up as migrants working their way, slowly, towards the United States as they cannot fly and this journey is one that will change their lives forever.  American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a compelling novel about doing whatever it takes to save your child.  While it is a controversial novel, I took all the political comments aside from my review and address the controversy at the end of my review as this book is fiction and should be read as such.

Lydia is a character that many mothers can relate to in American Dirt.  She puts her son first and after her world is turned upside down, she goes into survival mode to save her son.  The fact that Lydia also owns a bookstore is also something I loved and when she meets Javier there, she is hoping to make a friend with similar interests, but her world is turned upside down when she realizes just who he is.

While on her journey, she is put into so many upsetting situations and meets so many interesting people also on their own journey. It opens readers' eyes to why people may flee their country and what is at stake.  This book is in no way political, so I won't even go there, but I will say it does ask readers to empathize with a migrant's plight.

American Dirt is told through flashbacks to various points in Lydia's life where we are first introduced to Javier or memories from when she first met her husband.  It's a very effective way to build the story and flesh out the characters.  While I did like the flashbacks, I wasn't overly sold on the omniscient narration. I thought it was a little strange sometimes how the narration worked throughout, but that was my only complaint.

Now, regarding the much talked about controversy--American Dirt is fiction.  While there are stereotypes in just about any novel, I didn't feel the stereotypes were any more upsetting than other historical novels I read like The Godfather, Lilac Girls, Gone with the Wind, or even a young adult novel that includes a high school jock or a cheerleader.  I think that people's issues with the book should be with the publishing industry and not necessarily the author or the story. I also think American Dirt should be used as a way to promote more "own stories" voices and memoirs about migrants' experiences, just as historical novels do when they share a reading list on a topic the book covers for those who are interested in learning more.

I know that American Dirt got me thinking and I plan on reading The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, which is a memoir about illegally emigrating from Mexico to the United States as I am inspired to learn more. Isn't that the purpose of a good story? Instead of putting people or writers into boxes or specific lanes, let's work together to raise awareness. Essentially, American Dirt has raised people's awareness, so isn't that a good thing? Read in conjunction with an "own voices" memoir or paired with a non-fiction book, would be so effective and I beg to ask.......isn't that the ultimate goal? 

What did you guys think about American Dirt? Did you read it? Please keep your comments constructive as I have received a lot of negative feedback for reading this novel, which isn't productive. Instead of book-shaming someone, shouldn't we be using this book as a platform to discuss bigger issues and also using this book as a stepping stone to talk more about "own voices" stories? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 



Thursday, February 6, 2020

Book Review: Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

Pages:  336
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: December 31, 2019
Publisher: Dutton
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "In this captivating dual narrative novel, a modern-day woman finds inspiration in hidden notes left by her home’s previous owner, a quintessential 1950s housewife. As she discovers remarkable parallels between this woman’s life and her own, it causes her to question the foundation of her own relationship with her husband–and what it means to be a wife fighting for her place in a patriarchal society.  When Alice Hale leaves a career in publicity to become a writer and follows her husband to the New York suburbs, she is unaccustomed to filling her days alone in a big, empty house. But when she finds a vintage cookbook buried in a box in the old home’s basement, she becomes captivated by the cookbook’s previous owner–1950s housewife Nellie Murdoch. As Alice cooks her way through the past, she realizes that within the cookbook’s pages Nellie left clues about her life–including a mysterious series of unsent letters penned to her mother.  Soon Alice learns that while baked Alaska and meatloaf five ways may seem harmless, Nellie’s secrets may have been anything but. When Alice uncovers a more sinister–even dangerous–side to Nellie’s marriage, and has become increasingly dissatisfied with the mounting pressures in her own relationship, she begins to take control of her life and protect herself with a few secrets of her own."


Alice and her husband are moving from NYC to a fixer-upper in the suburbs.  Alice just lost her job, so the timing seems right; after all, now she can work on writing that novel she has been meaning to write for years.  While Alice's husband goes to work, Alice stays behind fixing up the house (there's a lot to work on, including the garden that is overgrown) and while working on the various projects, she comes across an antique cookbook and letters left behind from the former owner.  The previous owner is Nellie Murdoch and she is a bit of a mystery. The letters left behind were never mailed, so obviously, this raises some questions.  Alice enjoys trying out some of the vintage recipes from the book and the more Alice learns about Nellie, the more she realizes that they have a lot more in common than she thought.  Readers also get chapters from Nellie's point of view, so we learn more about Nellie as she isn't just your typical 1950s housewife.  She is an interesting character in her own right, but she holds some dark secrets and her life isn't picture perfect.  For starters, her husband isn't a nice man, so her life isn't an episode of I Love Lucy or Leave it to Beaver.  Nellie had to not only deal with being a woman in a patriarchal society, but also with an abusive (both emotionally and physically) husband.  The more Alice learns about Nellie's plight, the more she wonders if things have really changed all that much for women? Like Nellie, Alice is hiding more than one secret from her husband, but eventually that all comes to the surface in Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown.  It's a dark and twisty page turner that made me want to smash the patriarchy.

Alice is an interesting character in Recipe for a Perfect Wife.  Readers are privy to the secrets she is keeping from her husband, but slowly things start to come to a head and it gets super complicated.  Her husband isn't perfect by any means, so once Alice is without a job and living in suburbia, their relationship becomes a bit strained. He has to work (and study) for long hours in the city and this keeps him from home; plus, his study partner is a female coworker. Cue the eye roll.  Also, he really wants to have a baby soon, but Alice, on the other hand, is not so sure.  You can see where this is going and let's just say that things aren't simple for them not to mention the fact that Alice isn't telling him why she lost her job.  

Nellie is such an entertaining character in Recipe for a Perfect Wife. I immediately felt for her and all she had to go through with such a bully of a husband.  I thought she was going to be this "perfect" 50s housewife, but I love that she wasn't. She was hiding some major secrets and she isn't someone to be trifled with.  I love that! Her story really made me want to challenge the patriarchy, because it wasn't easy for women who didn't fit the mold and it even got me thinking about how still today women are faced with many of the same problems.  Nellie's story gets pretty dark and twisty, but I was here for it and I liked the dark and winding road that Recipe for a Perfect Wife went down.

Brown includes excerpts from marriage books at the beginning of each chapter in Recipe for a Perfect Wife and OH.MAN. were they infuriating. I can't believe people printed this advice and/or actually took the advice. Scary!! But it really set the tone for the time period and set the stage for Nellie and what she's up against regarding the set conventions of society. I also loved the retro recipes  Brown included and how Alice tried out various recipes.  It was a nice touch and brought the two time periods together even more.

If you are looking for a suspenseful domestic drama and that will take you by surprise, then you will definitely want to check out Recipe for a Perfect Wife this winter. The story truly made me think and it stayed with me long after the book ended. 



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