Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Pages: 368
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: October 14, 2014
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "When Julia Buchanan enrolls at St. Anne’s at the beginning of junior year, Charlotte Ryder already knows all about the former senator’s daughter. Most people do... or think they do. Charlotte certainly never expects she’ll be Julia’s friend. But almost immediately, she is drawn into the larger than-life-new girl’s world—a world of midnight rendezvous, dazzling parties, palatial vacation homes, and fizzy champagne cocktails. And then Charlotte meets, and begins falling for, Julia’s handsome older brother, Sebastian. But behind her self-assured smiles and toasts to the future, Charlotte soon realizes that Julia is still suffering from a tragedy. A tragedy that the Buchanan family has kept hidden … until now."
St. Anne's boarding school is filled with teenagers from wealthy and prominent American families, unless you are a scholarship student. And that is the case for Charlotte Ryder, an aspiring artist and sort of social wallflower.  Everything changes for Charlotte one night when she helps out intoxicated Julia Buchanan, a popular and wealthy girl at school.  Julia appreciates Charlotte's help and takes her under her wing, even renaming her Charlie.  Julia bringing her into her fast-pace world of money, parities, and mansions   The two become attached at the hip and Charlotte even spends time with the Buchanan family at their summer home.  Except there are many layers to the Buchanan family that Charlie must peel back slowly in order to figure out the truth as their family history has been paved in secrets and tragedy.  Plus, Charlie is starting to have feelings for Julia's brother, Sabastian, and finds herself intertwined into their family even more than before.  Chelsey Philpot's debut, Even in Paradise, is a sad sort of novel and one that reminded me of The Great Gatsby meets Gossip Girl.  Readers who like stories about privileged families and secrets will enjoy this deep novel.

Once Charlotte met Julia her world changed immensely in Even in Paradise. She started sneaking out of her dorm, going by the name Charlie and living a bit more dangerously. She would even visit the Buchanans at their summer house on Nantucket, which is very much different than the world she is accustomed to as a scholarship student.  She learns that the Buchanan family has some secrets, especially surrounding the untimely death of Julia's sister.  Julia and Charlie's relationship becomes a little too close to the point where I felt it was unhealthy. She was too immersed into the family, even dating Sebastian, Julia's brother.  I sort of knew where this was going.

Julia had that Jay Gatsby vibe in Even in Paradise. She was charismatic, rich, and sometimes unreliable. She threw caution to the wind on many occasions, drank too much and harbors many secrets. Ultimately, she wasn't over the death of her sister, Gus, and there was definitely a cloud of sadness that followed her.  I could definitely pick up on the Gatsby vibe regarding the character of Julia.  But the problem with Even in Paradise is I didn't care enough about the characters; I was merely along for the ride.  


I liked the whole aspect of a Kennedy-esque family taking in a working class girl and Charlie sort of becoming one of them, but I could see where this was headed in Even in Paradise.  Even though the twist was a tad predictable, I found the writing and the overall story to be somewhat compelling.  It didn't "wow" me and wasn't my favorite debut, but I could appreciate this quiet story focusing on families, power, love, and secrets.

 


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stacking the Shelves and Giveaway Winner (58)





This Shattered World (Broken Stars #2) by Amie Kaufmann and Meagan Spooner - Thanks to Disney and Netgalley
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray - Thanks to Harper Teen
The Look of Love by Sarah Jio - Thanks to Plume and Netgalley


Penguin Christmas Classics - including A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann, A Merry Christmas by Louisa May Alcott, Christmas at Thompson Hall by Anthony Trollope and The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol



The winner of The Darkest Minds series and the book light is …..Gabriela A.   Congrats! I hope you enjoy all the books and your book light!

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

That Time I Drank Champagne at Downton Abbey

My husband told me nonchalantly that we would be having cocktail hour and a private tour at Highclere Castle (a.k.a. the film location for Downton Abbey) one night on during our trip to England. He knew that this would be the highlight of the trip for me. To say that I am a fan of Downton Abbey is a huge understatement.  I LOVE, love this show and own all of the seasons.  So, here's my recap of the evening.


We pull up to Highclere Castle and it was seriously right out of the TV show. You could easily have cued the music and the opening credits, because I felt like I was on the TV show. It was surreal. I half expected Carson to open the front door for me.  After I took pictures of the outside and fell over in disbelief, I entered the first room, The Saloon, and was overwhelmed with its vaulted ceilings and gorgeousness. It looked exactly like the Downton Abbey. Pinch me.  I even pointed out a familiar lamp that is always on the TV show. Even my husband recognized it!

There were butlers passing around appetizers and glasses of champagne.  My first thought: this is super fancy. I had no idea what to expect. I normally spend the day changing diapers.  I immediately convinced my husband to follow me to the library.  It was set up exactly like the TV show, except that it had family pictures throughout and certain pieces of furniture were roped off.  I wandered around the library (still in shock) and admired all.the.books. Seriously. SO many books and they all looked like valuable antiques. As a book lover, I was in awe. In the corner there were musicians playing various instruments and photographers wandering around taking photos.  I'm pretty sure I was the girl in the room with her jaw hanging to the floor.


We were able to tour some of the other rooms on the first floor (The Drawing Room, The Saloon, and The Smoking Room) and many of the rooms on the second floor. The staircase in itself is a sight to behold. What was so great about this private tour was the fact you could meander through the hallways and rooms at your own pace. There was no official tour guide, but instead workers placed throughout and you could ask them questions if you had any. It was incredible, especially to see the red room and Sybil's room. 

The tour continued in the cellar and we were able to check out all the Egyptian artifacts. In case you don't know the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered King Tut's tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. I seriously did not expect Highclere to house that many artifacts. It was really atmospheric in the basement and a nice surprise addition to the tour.

After a stop at the gift shop (I refrained from buying all the things), we headed back upstairs for more drinks and appetizers.  Then in walks Lady Fiona Carnarvon.   I am not sure many people recognized her, but since I have watched the PBS Downtown Abbey special many times and have read her book, Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey, I nearly fell over. She was dressed casually and seemed so approachable. Also, George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon, entered the room as well and started conversation with his guests. I listened to Lady Carnarvon speak a little bit about things and her favorite sights in London, but once people realized who she was, she had a permanent audience hanging following her every move.  

I went back into the library, naturally, and saw people were sitting on certain pieces of furniture. I eyed the red sofa. You know, the one that The Countess of Grantham sits on all.the.time.  Just as I had hoped, people got up from the red sofa and I made a beeline for it. I sat down and looked around for Lady Mary. But no seriously, it was incredible. My husband walks in and asks me what I am up to. I reply, "Oh, you know….just hanging out in Highclere Castle's library sipping champagne and listening to music. The usual."  Umm. No. Never in a million years would I have expected to visit Highclere. It exceeded my expectations. I will be watching season five of Downton Abbey differently this year and that night will go down as one of the most memorable nights of my life, although I am still in shock that it actually happened. 

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Later that night when we got back to our hotel room, there was a copy of Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey signed by the author sitting on the bed.  I squealed. The perfect ending to the perfect night.


So, are you guys Downton Abbey fans? Are you looking forward to season five? If you ever have the chance to tour Highclere Castle, I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think of my night at Highclere. 

P.S. I would have taken photos of the interior of Highclere, but photography was strictly prohibited unless you were the hired photographer. People didn't necessarily follow this rule, but I am a rule follower by nature and respected the family's wishes.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Pages: 339
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: August 14, 2014
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.  Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, √Čtienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series."
Isla Martin is a student at the School of America in Paris and has crushed on artist, Josh, from afar since her freshman year.  One summer in Manhattan, she is sitting in a cafe after undergoing wisdom tooth surgery, so she's a bit drugged. She sees Josh and starts a conversation with him, which ends up with her having some blurry memories as to what exactly happened and him escorting her home, thanks to the pain killers.  She doesn't see him again until they return to their senior year at school in Paris and they reconnect.  Romance blossoms between the two of them, but things get complicated quickly.  Josh's father is a senator and that definitely complicates things, because he finds himself breaking the rules quite often and when it comes to Isla, she lacks confidence. She's always second guessing herself and self-sabotaging the good things in her life. The ever looming question in Isla's mind is can they survive senior year with so many obstacles confronting them? Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins captures the euphoria of first love. The fights, the romance, the drama, the all-consuming thoughts…it's all here and Perkins portrays it so very well. Fans of contemporary romance will thoroughly enjoy this tale of young love.

Isla sort of drove me nuts, but Perkins is such a good writer that I had no problem understanding why she made the decisions she did in Isla and the Happily Ever After.  She was always filled with self-doubt and I sort of wanted her to be more confident and grow a pair.  She does as the story unfolds, but she was always self-sabotaging things.  Everything would be going well and then, BAM, she would drop a bomb. But that's what is so awesome about Perkins, because this stuff happens. I know as a young girl I acted the same way and Perkins truly captures the angst of teenage love….which leads me to Josh.

Guys, I am just going to say it. I didn't love Josh as much as St. Clair (from Anna and the French Kiss), but I could still see why Isla was so smitten with him.  He's an artist, he's very smart, he's romantic, and he is emotional in Isla and the Happily Ever After. He also knows how to display the formal senator's son act as well as the tortured artist vibe; so, he's definitely a multi-faceted character.

One of the best parts of Isla and the Happily Ever After were the cameos from my favorite characters Anna and St. Clair as well as Cricket and Lola. I love how Perkins incorporated characters from her previous books; it definitely tied everything nicely together in a big bow.  Also, the secondary character of Kurt, her best friend with high functioning autism, was a fantastic character. LOVED him! We need more of this in young adult literature.   

I must say what irked me a bit about Isla and the Happily Ever After was the fact that Isla was mapping out her life around Josh's after only being with him for a little while. She really had no direction, which is fine, but I'm not sure she should be making important life decisions based on Josh's college location. Yes, while I know all teenagers act this way when it comes to first love, it still bothered me, because I wanted so much for her.   

But when all is said and done, Isla and the Happily After made me smile.  I love that about Stephanie Perkins. Her books make me feel good.  Tahereh Mafi called her the "Jane Austen our generation" and I definitely agree. Her stories are real, the characters feel genuine and the setting is always to-die-for.  I can't wait to read her future work; she's obviously one of my favorite authors and my go-to writer when I need a smile plastered on my face. 

While I didn't love this book as much as Anna and the French Kiss, it was still very enjoyable and easily one of my favorite books of the year.




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday - Lois Lane: Fallout

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

Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond
Pub. Date: May 2015


Goodreads says, "Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy."
Guys, there's something you should know about me. Back in the day, I was super obsessed with the TV show, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.  I had a huge crush on Dean Cain and may or may not have had a poster of him as Superman on my wall for years in the 90s.  I also have been a huge fan of Lois Lane for years. I mean who doesn't love a determined journalist? So, I love the sound of this one; plus, SmallvilleGuy?! Dying here!  What do you guys think?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Places Books Have Made Me Want To Visit

This week Top Ten Tuesday focuses on places books have made me want to visit. I'm pretty sure that I could extend this week's list to about my top twenty, but I'll try to narrow it down. I love traveling and I love books, so this particular list is a favorite of mine!

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1. Prince Edward Island - Ever since I first read the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, I have made it a goal to visit one day. Even in the old-school Anne of Green Gables TV show, PEI looks absolutely breathtaking.

2.  Paris - Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins has inspired my interest in Paris.  I don't really want to spend an extended period of time there, but I would love to visit for the day and then check out the French countryside.  

3.  Scotland - Outlander by Diana Gabaldon makes Scotland come to life, especially after watching the Outlander TV show. At this point you are probably begging I don't talk about the TV show again. The beautiful cinematography has me drooling over Scotland weekly.  

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4.  Nantucket - Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland is one of my favorite beach reads and Howland does a great job of bringing Nantucket to life. I mean what more could a beach bum want? 

5.   Highclere Castle - Guys, I am obsessed with Downton Abbey. I absolutely love it and after I read Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon, I became even more interested. I am hoping by the time this post goes live, I will have visited! (More to come on that later!)

6.  Charleston - I've always been interested in Charleston, especially when people say they like it more than Savannah. Blasphemy! Anyway, I love how The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank makes Charleston seem like such a fun town filled with history, fantastic restaurants and bars; plus, it's near the coast!

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7.  New Orleans - Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite young adult historical reads and I love how she captured New Orleans/French Quarter in the 1950s. 

8.  Amsterdam - The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank stayed with me as a child. It's so profound and then when I taught the diary for so many years, I learned to appreciate it even more. I have never been to Amsterdam, but when I go, I definitely plan on visiting the Anne Frank House. It's on my bucket list.

9.  Key West - Key West is one of my favorite places in the world. I have been there twice and I long to go again. The pace of life, the people, the scenery, and the history are all fantastic. Key West gets me and when I read Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm, I knew I had to visit immediately.

10.  Rome - I have always wanted to visit Rome and was glad I did a few years back. I read Angels & Demons by Dan Brown first and then saw the movie which captured many of the awesome Roman landmarks. 

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Runner Up:
*Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt - I read this book and saw the movie before I visited Savannah.  Man, I loved it! The Southern gothic vibe, the crazy people, the beautiful historic town…all right up my alley.  I'm a huge fan of Savannah!

So, what books made you want to pick up your bags and take the next plane out so you could see the setting for yourself? Let me know!  This meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Brief Blog Break

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I am so excited to share that I am taking a short blog break, because I'll be traveling with my husband on his work rewards trip.  We have the opportunity to go to England (for free!!!), so I am taking it! Thankfully, my little guy will be with my family, so I am not too worried; plus, it's a relatively short trip.

I hear I may be spending an evening at this fabulous place pictured below.  Cue my excitement and I may or may not faint upon arrival. 


Highclere Castle (a.k.a. Downton Abbey)  Source 

Any other must-see locations in London while I am away? We are seeing all the major sights, but anything off the beaten path I shouldn't miss? Let me know. It's my first time visiting England.

More importantly, here are the books I am bringing for the flight/trip. I like to have a lot of options! Being the mom of a very, VERY active toddler, the idea of sitting for 6+ hours on a flight and possibly reading a book (even if it's on a red-eye) sounds very appealing.


 

I'll be sure to share pictures and my experiences when I come back.  If interested, check out my Instagram and Twitter while I am away. I'll be updating as much as possible and sharing my adventures.  I hope you guys have a great week and thanks for visiting!

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