Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: March 31, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton AbbeyAfter embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love."

A married couple, Ellis and Maddie, live a very privileged life in Philadelphia during the year of 1942. Basically they are socialites and a whole lot of nothing other than spend nights attending parties, drinking too much, and hanging out with their best friend, Hank, and his flavor of the month.  On New Year's Eve at a high society Philadelphia party, they embarrasses themselves by drinking too much and causing a scene. Of course, this gets back to Ellis' father who has had enough with his son and uses this as the catalyst to throw him out along with his wife, Maddie. Hank and Ellis should be serving in WWII; however, both, conveniently have been exempt for medical reasons.  Ellis is color blind and Hank is flat footed. This, again, embarrasses Ellis' father, a former Colonel, to no end.  Ellis realizes that in order to gain back his father's trust, he has to do the one thing that his father failed at years ago: capture a picture of the infamous Loch Ness monster.  He feels this will restore his family's honor as well.  Hank, Ellis and Maddie travel to Scotland in the middle of WWII and what occurs will change all three of their lives forever. Sara Gruen's At the Water's Edge is an atmospheric historical tale that examines love, friendship, and the sacrifices people make during wartime.

I truly felt for Maddie in At the Water's Edge. She is stuck in a heartless marriage to a very spoiled little man-boy. Ellis is manipulative, condescending and an all-around monster. I truly couldn't stand him. I wanted Maddie to get as far away from him as possible. I was even wondering why she even bothered marrying him in the first place? I was hoping the Loch Ness monster would consume him in one swift bite. To make matters worse, he is an alcoholic and addicted to Maddie's pills for her nerves, which she doesn't even take. His parents as well as Ellis feel she had a "nervous condition," which is why she has them. 

But Maddie, although a rich and sheltered woman, grows so much on her trip to Scotland. She experiences first hand the effects of war, how the other half lives and even befriends the women at the inn they are staying at. She grows for the better on this trip and realizes that her marriage to Ellis ins't going to work. What she is feeling isn't even love. This is all because someone has caught her eye and makes her feel things she didn't know were possible.

Ellis and Hank had this weird bromance going on in At the Water's Edge. Hank could see how harsh Ellis is, but always made excuses for him or helped him smooth things over with Maddie. Hank was truly blind to Ellis' problems, but wasn't as crazy as him, because he was sympathetic and nicer to Maddie. Nonetheless, I couldn't quite figure out their toxic friendship that I thought might be something more.

The setting of Scotland is very vivid in At the Water's Edge. I loved the village and the people as well as the bustling pub life.  To see how life was impacted by WWII was also interesting. The air raids, rationing, the many people fighting that never came back all added to the atmosphere of this story. Gruen did a great job bringing it to life.

What was most surprising about At the Water's Edge was the new life that Maddie creates for herself and the budding romance that ensues. She went to Scotland not being able to even make a bed and by the end of the book, she could do that and much, much more. She starts to care for the people at the inn and even a certain person who is running the inn.

While I felt things were wrapped up a little too nicely in At the Water's Edge, I still enjoyed the book and being transported to Scotland in the 1940s.  For those who enjoy a little history in their romance, I encourage you to check this one out.

I have an ARC of this book that I am giving away to one lucky US reader.  Please refer to my giveaway rules and the deadline is April 10th.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Stacking the Shelves and Giveaway Winners (73)

Love, Lucy by April Lindner- Thanks to Michelle at Michelle's Minions for a signed copy
The Lake Season by Hannah Roberts McKinnon- Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler - Thanks to Simon Pulse and Edelweiss
Last Year's Mistake by Gina Ciocca - Thanks to Simon Pulse and Edelweiss

Congrats to the giveaway winners! I hope you enjoy your books!
Tabitha -  3 YA ARCs
Linda - 2 Adult Historical Fiction ARCs

So what do you guys think? Have you read any of these books or are they on your TBR list? Let me know! This meme is hosted by Tynga at Tynga's Reviews.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Five (14)

Happy Friday! Sometimes I like to talk about what I am currently into that is not necessarily book related. Here's what I have been up to/thinking about/enjoying lately. Let me know what you think! 

1.  My Birthday - That's right! Today is my birthday. I hope it involves some wine, some cake and some quality time with my favorite people. I've been going through some health stuff lately and it has really put a damper on my birthday, but whenever I am down, I always turn to books. Are you surprised? ha. I find solace in reading about the Kennedys, specifically Jackie, because is there a more resilient person out there? If you think you have bad luck, then you should read what this family has been through.  I also love to refer back to my favorite Mary Oliver poems. She just gets me. 

(This is last year's image - new one coming soon!)
2.  Summer Kickoff - Guys, this is my THING. I live for this. I can't wait.  What books are you excited to put in your beach bag this year? Can you believe it will be my 5th year doing this?

3. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee - The cover came out! Do you guys like it? I happen to love it.

4.  Mr. Selfridge - Season three starts this Sunday. Yay! Anyone else going to be watching? 

5. Mad Men - Get your Vodka Gimlets ready, because Mad Men returns April 5th. This is another one of my favorite shows. I can't believe this is the last season. I hope that the ending works...I have high hopes, so fingers crossed! 

Happy Friday and thanks for visiting!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review: A Fireproof Home for the Bride by Amy Scheibe

Pages: 384
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: March 10, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Emmaline Nelson and her sister Birdie grow up in the hard, cold rural Lutheran world of strict parents, strict milking times, and strict morals. Marriage is preordained, the groom practically predestined. Though it’s 1958, southern Minnesota did not see changing roles for women on the horizon. Caught in a time bubble between a world war and the ferment of the 1960’s, Emmy doesn’t see that she has any say in her life, any choices at all. Only when Emmy’s fiancĂ© shows his true colors and forces himself on her does she find the courage to act—falling instead for a forbidden Catholic boy, a boy whose family seems warm and encouraging after the sere Nelson farm life. Not only moving to town and breaking free from her engagement but getting a job on the local newspaper begins to open Emmy’s eyes. She discovers that the KKK is not only active in the Midwest but that her family is involved, and her sense of the firm rules she grew up under—and their effect—changes completely.  Amy Scheibe's A Fireproof Home for the Bride has the charm of detail that will drop readers into its time and place: the home economics class lecture on cuts of meat, the group date to the diner, the small-town movie theater popcorn for a penny. It also has a love story—the wrong love giving way to the right—and most of all the pull of a great main character whose self-discovery sweeps the plot forward."
Emmy Nelson, an eighteen year old girl from Minnesota, has her life planned out by her parents and she has no say in her own life. It's 1958, and her parents rule her world; in fact, they have plans to marry her off to Ambrose Brann, a family friend, whom she has known her whole life.  This would be all well and good, except Emmy's family has recently moved to a town and she realizes there is so much more to life than being a farmer's wife.  One teacher in particular has inspired her to reach higher and she realizes that not everyone lives the way she does with smothering parents and oppressive rules. As Emmy's horizons expand, she is able to go on her first date, go to a party and even get her first job at the switchboard for her local newspaper.  Also, as Emmy's learns more about herself and life, she then remembers at the end of this she is to marry Ambrose. Ambrose was an ok guy when they were kids, but now he is a much older man that has strange notions. Not only is he extremely conservative, he is sexist, racist, and violent at times. Emmy wants more for her life, more than Ambrose and his farm, but what can she do? How will she get out of this cage her parents created? A Fireproof Home for the Bride by Amy Scheibe is an entertaining glimpse into rural conservative life in the late 1950s as well as a captivating coming of age tale.  I was on the edge of my seat with worry for Emmy and was desperate for her to spread her wings and fly far away from it all.

I really loved Emmy in A Fireproof Home for the Bride. She was sweet girl who worked hard and was academically very smart, so in turn, she started to realize there was more to life than what her parents initially presented to her. She lived in a very, very religious world, so she rarely got to experience what teenagers should experience. It was really kind of sad, but once she started to branch out more, I was really happy for her. In fact, she meets someone new that catches her eye to the point where she realizes she has absolutely no future with Ambrose.

Speaking of Ambrose, he was such a villain in A Fireproof Home for the Bride. Ugh. I couldn't stand him. I had enough of his sexism, racism, his comments about Catholics, his violence and his inappropriate behavior towards women. I don't want to give too much away, but he made my blood run cold.   I wanted Emmy to get away from him and fast.

The time period is really portrayed well in A Fireproof Home for the Bride. Scheibe did a great job showing how sheltered Emmy's existence was with her parents and juxtaposed it to life outside of her parent's grasp. It's 1958, so there's a lot of racial tension, issues with women's rights, and much more. Even the KKK plays a role in this story, so it's much more than a story of a girl who wants to get out of an engagement.  Emmy had high hopes for herself and wants to work at the newspaper. She doesn't want to be someone's puppet, including her parents.

My one issue with this book is all the various plot points. Sometimes it was tough to tie them all together. The beginning was a tad slow, but then the second half moves at lightning speed. There's even a murder mystery plot line in the last half of the book, but nonetheless, I found Emmy's story entertaining.

What is great about A Fireproof Home for the Bride is the fact that it has great cross-over appeal since the main character is eighteen years old and it is essentially a coming-of-age story.  Even though Emmy deals with very adult issues, I think older teenagers could appreciate this glimpse into what life might have been like in a rural and religious neighborhood in the fifties. It would no doubt make them appreciate the life they have now. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Romancing the Dark in the City of Light

This is a weekly meme hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine.  "Waiting on Wednesday" spotlights upcoming releases that I'm eagerly anticipating.

Romancing the Dark in the City of Light by Ann Jacobus
Pub. Date: October 6, 2015

Goodreads says, "A troubled teen, living in Paris, is torn between two boys, one of whom encourages her to embrace life, while the other—dark, dangerous, and attractive—urges her to embrace her fatal flaws. Haunting and beautifully written, with a sharp and distinctive voice that could belong only to this character, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unforgettable young adult novel. Summer Barnes just moved to Paris to repeat her senior year of high school. After being kicked out of four boarding schools, she has to get on the right track or she risks losing her hefty inheritance. Summer is convinced that meeting the right guy will solve everything. She meets two. Moony, a classmate, is recovering against all odds from a serious car accident, and he encourages Summer to embrace life despite how hard it can be to make it through even one day. But when Summer meets Kurt, a hot, mysterious older man who she just can't shake, he leads her through the creepy underbelly of the city-and way out of her depth. When Summer's behavior manage to alienate everyone, even Moony, she's forced to decide if a life so difficult is worth living. With an ending that'll surprise even the most seasoned reader, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unputdownable and utterly compelling novel. "
Ok, so I know this one sounds like another young adult read with a love triangle, but seriously. Paris. I can't say no. Also, it sounds a little bit darker than what I was expecting. What do you guys think? 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books From My Childhood That I Want to Revisit

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, focuses on books from childhood. Here are some of my favorites that I wouldn't mind revisiting. 

1. The Babysitter's Club by Ann M. Martin - I think this was the first contemporary series that I became hooked on, like every other girl growing up in the 80s/90s.  

2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - I fell in love with this series hard. I then became obsessed with the TV show. Two words for you: Gilbert Blythe. YES! I also still hate Josie Pye. 

3. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Clearly - Who doesn't love Ramona Quimby?

4. Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal - I went through a Sweet Valley High phase. I was obsessed with the books and I even had the board game (no one every wanted to be Enid!)

5. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen - This is the first survial story that I loved. 

6. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney - This is the first mystery that really hooked me.  

7. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein- I still have my copy! This is the first book of poetry that didn't make me roll my eyes.

8. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander - Lloyd Alexander is the reason why I still love fantasy today. 

9.  Where's Waldo by Martin Handford - I still have my copy of this book. My son now likes to find Waldo!

10.  Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish - I remember loving these books when I first learned to read. 

What books would you love to revisit from your childhood? Have you read any of my favorites? Let me know what you think. This meme is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: First Time in Forever by Sarah Morgan

Pages: 384
Genre: Adult Fiction/Romance
Pub. Date: February 24, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "It's been a summer of firsts for Emily Donovan. From becoming a stand-in mom to her niece Lizzie to arriving on Puffin Island, her life has become virtually unrecognizable. Between desperately safeguarding Lizzie and her overwhelming fear of the ocean—which surrounds her everywhere she goes!—Emily has lost count of the number of "just breathe" pep talks she's given herself. And that's before charismatic local yacht club owner Ryan Cooper kisses her…  Ryan knows all about secrets. And it's clear that newcomer Emily—with her haunted eyes and the little girl she won't let out of her sight—is hiding from something besides the crazy chemistry between them. So Ryan decides he's going to make it his personal mission to help her unwind and enjoy the sparks! But can Puffin Island work its magic on Emily and get her to take the biggest leap of trust of all—putting her heart in someone else's hands?"
Emily Donovan seems to have it all. She's got an amazing job in Manhattan, she has a boyfriend, and two very good girlfriends. This all changes though when she finds out her estranged half sister, who happens to be a movie star, died in a tragic accident. She has left her six-year old daughter, Juliet, to her, which absolutely doesn't make sense since they haven't spoken in years. But there's nothing Emily can do about it now.  The paparazzi are ruthless and Emily realizes she needs to take Juliet somewhere off the beaten path and with the help of her best friend, Brittany, she stays at her inherited house on Puffin Island, where they used to summer as college friends. This sounds like a perfect solution, except for the fact that Emily has a serious fear of the water.  To make matters worse, everyone on Puffin Island is curious as to why she is staying at Castaway Cottage and who exactly they are.  Brittany sends over her friend, Ryan, to check on them, but it's unsettling to Emily as he is asking too many questions; plus, there's the fact that she is attracted to him. One thing is for sure, Emily and Juliet's stay on Puffin Island will change them both for the better. First Time in Forever by Sarah Morgan is a happy romance with a gorgeous beachside setting; this book is essential spring break reading.

Emily is pretty down and out when she arrives on Puffin Island. She lost her boyfriend, her job, and her life in Manhattan, all to take care of Juliet. They are constantly on the watch for paparazzi and journalists to the point where Emily has Juliet go by her middle name Elizabeth or Lizzy.  They are sort of living undercover, until Ryan, a local guy and Brittany's friend, sort of breaks them both out of their shells. At first he is just doing Brittany a favor by checking in on Emily, but the more he gets to know Emily, the more he is intrigued by her, even if she is a single mom, which is something that used to be an deal breaker for him. 

Emily definitely needs some help in First Time in Forever. Her childhood experiences have made her pretty much an ice-queen and she doesn't trust easily. To top it off, she doesn't want to raise Lizzy because she feels she isn't a fit mother. So she is constantly nervous around the child and unsure.  She won't even let them go play on the beach due to her major fear of the water.  The only person that can sort of get her out of this funk is actually Ryan. He helps her start living again and healing many of the emotional scars and baggage that she has been carrying around for years.  But don't get me wrong, Ryan has some secrets as well.

I thought there were some many cliche moments in First Time in Forever. You know the ones. The ones that always show up in romance novels, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the book. Also, I felt the story was very predictable; however, sometimes we need a book that's rainbows and butterflies, right? 

First Time in Forever is like a luxurious long day at the beach with nothing to do but relax, drink a tropical concoction and catch some rays. Plus, the setting of Puffin Island will have you longing for a weekend at your favorite beach town. If you are looking for something light, indulgent and happy to read while on spring break, look no further.  

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