Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review: A Season for Fireflies by Rebecca Maizel

Pages: 256
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: June 28, 2016
Publisher: Harper Teen
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Between Us and the Moon
and Infinite Days
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "A year ago, Penny Berne was the star of her high school’s theater department, surrounded by a group of misfit friends and falling in love for the first time. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, her new best friend is the most popular girl in school, and her first love, Wes, ignores her. Penny is revered and hated. Then, in a flash, a near-fatal lightning strike leaves Penny with no memory of the past year—or how she went from drama nerd to queen bee.   As a record number of fireflies light up her town and her life, Penny realizes she may be able to make things right again—and that even if she can’t change the past, she can learn to see the magic where she never could before.  This captivating new novel about first love, second chances, and the power of memory is perfect for fans of Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall and Katie Cotugno’s How to Love."

Penny is obsessed with the theater and so are her best friends.  They live for it and have been preparing for their next show non-stop.  After dealing with her mother's alcoholism and her wicked words, Penny decides to bail on her important role in the play as she can't handle the spotlight anymore.  To make matters worse, she pushes her friends away. Obviously, this is completely out of character, especially when Penny starts getting vibes that her best friend, Wes, harbors feelings for her.  This should make her ecstatic, but instead, she self-sabotages everything she once loved.   Instead of being the star of the play, she takes a back seat as a supporting character and finds friendship elsewhere.  It just so happens that the friend she finds is one of the most popular girls at school. Things are definitely different for Penny now.  That is until a lightning strike removes her memories of the past year and in turn, Penny finds out where she truly belongs.  Rebecca Maizel's A Season for Fireflies is a cute summertime story that has an edge of sadness to it.

I couldn't really connect with Penny in A Season for Fireflies, but I did feel for her. How her mother behaves and what she has to deal with on a daily basis no teenager should have to, yet we know many do.  Her mother's harsh words impact Penny greatly and send her spirling.  It broke my heart to see her walk away from role in the play along with her best friends.  She was trying to cover up her mother's disease and hide her feelings from her friends despite the fact that they knew something was up. I desperately wanted Penny to talk about it with them, but it's much harder than that for her. 

When Penny finds herself a new niche at school, along with a new best friend, this also tugged on my heartstrings as I know this happens a lot in high school.  I didn't like drama with her former friends, but I think its an accurate portrayal of high school life.

Wes, her former best friend who has feelings for her (and she has feelings for him too!), is a perfect guy in A Season for Fireflies. He was almost too perfect. He was devoted to Penny and sometimes I wanted him to stand up for himself as she didn't always treat him the way she ought to.

I'm sort of over the amnesia story lines in YA literature mostly because I find them unbelievable. I really had to suspend my disbelief in A Season for Fireflies and although the amnesia plot was entertaining, sometimes it just felt too good to be true regarding what Penny remembered versus what she forgot.

I did like the incorporation of fireflies in A Season for Fireflies and Maizel's repeated use of them in the story. It definitely set the stage and added a little something magical to this summertime story.  Although A Season for Fireflies wasn't my favorite YA beach read of the summer, I could still appreciate Penny's journey of self-discovery. Give this one a try if you like YA contemporary fiction with a twist.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Letters to the Lost

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

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Pub. Date: April 4, 2017

Goodreads says, "Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.  Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.  When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they're not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet."
I love the synopsis for this one. There's something about letter writing that seems so romantic now since it's almost like a lost art form. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Inspire Me to Learn More

This week's Top Ten Tuesday focuses on topics that books inspired us to learn more about.  Here are some of my favorites:

1.  Henry VIII - Philippa Gregory's Tudor series - When I first read this series many years ago, I couldn't believe some of the events that occurred. I was so captivated by the Tudor court, I read many non-fiction accounts of Henry's many wives and the drama that ensued.

2.  Princes in the Tower - Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series also inspired me to learn more about the events surrounding the disappearance of the princes.  When I visited the Tower of London a few years ago, I loved learning even more about this and the various theories surrounding their disappearance. 

3.  Yellow Fever - Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson inspired me to learn a bit more about this disease that swept through Philadelphia. Since I live outside Philadelphia, I was really intrigued by this and loved sharing this book with my students. Even the most reluctant of readers enjoyed this novel.

4.  Labor Day Hurricane of 1935Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck first introduced me to this tragedy. I love all things Hemingway as well as the Florida Keys, so when I read about this hurricane, I was captivated. What a horrific natural disaster! It was the strongest and most intense hurricane in history and what happened to the veterans is such a tragedy. 

5.  The Lost GenerationThe Sun Also Rises and A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway inspired me to learn more about the Lost Generation after WWI.  I took a class on this very topic in college and I found it to be really interesting.  It's always fascinating to read about the American "exiles" and their adventures in Paris.

6.  Jacobite Uprising - Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabladon sparked my interest in this topic. I had no clue about it before and after reading this book (and watching the show on Starz), I was definitely intrigued. In fact, I wish I read more about the Jacobite Uprising before I read Dragonfly. That would have cleared up any misunderstandings on my part! 

7.  Wilhelm Gustloff - Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys really blew me away this year. I had no idea about this tragedy and that this ship was carrying mostly civilians when it sunk.  I was stunned. After finishing the novel, I immediately read many articles about it; it's truly heartbreaking.  

8.  The Kennedys - The Kennedy Wives by Amber Hunt and David Batcher and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis by Donald Spoto both contributed to my love of the Kennedy family. For years, I have been interested in the Kennedys. I find their lives to be utterly fascinating as well as devastating  It's almost unbelievable what they went through. These two books definitely added to my interest in the Kennedys, especially the women. 

Me at Highclere Castle in England
9.  Highclere Castle - I have always been a fan of Downton Abbey and was even lucky enough to visit Highclere Castle a few years ago, but after reading Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon, I came to realize that the real life residents as well as their ancestors are just as interesting as the fictional inhabitants. After reading this book, I immediately wanted to learn more about the history of Highclere.

10.  Austrian-Hungarian Empire - The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki really sparked my interest in this empire, which I initially knew very little about. At the time I was reading this book, I was also studying my genealogy and one of my ancestors and his family lived in Austria during this time. 

So, have you read any novels that really inspired you to learn more about a time period or new-to-you topic? Let me know in the comments.  This meme is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review and Giveaway: The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

Pages: 320
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date:  July 12, 2016
Publisher: Putnam
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Madeleine is trapped—by her family's expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.  In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in caf├ęs, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist. Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart. Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be."
Madeleine is stuck in a loveless marriage with a controlling husband. She finds herself to be not only unhappy, but she no longer paints, which is the thing that she loves the most in life.  Her husband controls every aspect of her life and the worst part about it is the fact that she lets him.  She escapes for a few days to her hometown to visit her mother and she comes across her grandmother's old journals.  Her grandmother was a very elegant woman, the very opposite of Madeleine, but that wasn't always the case.  As Madeleine reads more of her grandmother's journals, she comes to realize that her grandmother, Margie, is an unconventional woman and spent a few months living in Paris during the 20s.  Margie ends up inspiring Madeleine to branch out and actually start living her life regardless of what her husband or judge-y mother thinks.  The Light of Paris is a multi-generational tale about two women who learn that life is too short to try to please everyone.  Margie and Madeleine learn that the time is now to start living and where better to do that than in Paris?

Madeleine's story in particular really upset me in The Light of Paris.  Her husband is insufferable. He makes her feel badly about herself and I think he's mentally abusive.  Even though women have come so far since the 20s, Madeleine had a lot in common with her grandmother, especially when looking at the various restrictions imposed on both women.  Madeleine slowly realizes that living a life where she is unhappy is not worth it and changes need to be made.  While she is spending time in her hometown, she slowly gets back to what makes her happy and reconnects with old friends as well as new friends that bring out the best in her.  She even meets someone who works at a restaurant near her mother's house and he also reminds her to live her best life and to not settle for anything less.  When she comes across her grandmother's journals, this also inspires her.  

Speaking of Margie, her story was also similar to Madeleine's in that Margie had to fit the mold of what her parents wanted for her.  Even though Margie aspired to be a writer, her parents didn't respect that decision and didn't support her dreams. Now that Margie is in her twenties and unmarried (the horror!), her parents treat her like a social piranha.  So, they sent her off to chaperone her younger cousin on a trip through Europe, but plans backfire when her cousin leaves her behind with little to no money. Margie has to start over in Paris, much to her parents' upset, and makes a new and exciting life filled with a job, writing, and new friends.  She even meets someone new and the course that she takes will change her life forever. The setting of Paris and the Lost Generation is a fascinating one that I truly loved. 

Both Madeleine and Margie's stories were equally fascinating in The Light of Paris, which I feel like never happens when there are two different points of view.  Brown wrote both stories beautifully and I loved the connection between grandmother and granddaughter.  By reading about her grandmother, Madeleine comes to understand her own life and is inspired to make bold decisions. In fact, Brown was inspired by her real-life grandmother's journals from her own time in Paris!

Also, Brown writes beautifully in The Light of Paris. There were many lines that I reread and took note of as they were so, so well done. Here are two of my favorites:

"I often looked at the women around me and wondered if any of them had dreams.  Of course they did - it wasn't fair of me to continue to assume they didn't just because of how they looked on the outside.  it's so easy for those dreams to get run over by other people's ideas about what we should do, or to be eroded, little by little, by the day-to-day drudgery of living, or to lose heart when faced with the long, hopeless struggle between where we are and who we want to be.  But I didn't want to succumb.  I wanted to not go gentle into that good night, I wanted to sound my barbaric yawp, I wanted to live deliberately. And I want to know why my grandmother, after all she had done in Paris, hadn't."
"I didn't set out to lose myself. No one does, really. No one purposely swims away from the solid, forgiving anchor of their heart. We simply make the tiniest of compromises, the smallest of decisions, not realizing the way those small changes add up to something larger until we are forced, for better or worse, to face the people we have become." 

If you are looking for a smart historical read this summer then I urge you to check out The Light of Paris. It had me wanting to pack my bags for Paris and spend my days drinking wine, exploring the city, writing, and talking with friends in cafes.  

Thanks to Putnam, I am hosting a giveaway for a hard copy of The Light of Paris along with a fabulous book club kit that includes discussion questions, a map of notable Parisian landmarks featured in the book, and a Jazz Age cocktail recipe. It's perfect for book clubs! The giveaway is open to US readers only and the deadline is August 4th. Please refer to my giveaway rules.  Good luck and thanks for visiting! 

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Post (2)

It has been a few weeks since my last "Sunday Post," so this one will include two weeks worth of posts.  This meme is hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.  

Top Ten Tuesday: Facts About Me
Waiting on Wednesday: Yesternight by Cat Winters
Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set Outside of the US
Waiting on Wednesday: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas
Book Review and Giveaway: The Singles Game by Lauren Weisenberger

I'm will be posting my review of The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown and hosting a giveaway for a copy including a really fun book club kit coming up next week. This book is perfect for discussion groups and/or fans of historical fiction. I really enjoyed it and thought the writing was fantastic. I also will be sharing my thoughts on Elin Hilderbrand's Here's to Us. It didn't work for me despite the fact that I usually enjoy her beach reads. Lastly, I'll be sharing my thoughts on a YA novel, A Season for Fireflies, which was a very quick beach read. 

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller - Thanks to Jess at Gone with the Words
The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies - Thanks to Penguin Random House and LibraryThing Early Reviewers

The Freemason's Daughter by Shelley Sackier - Thanks to HarperTeen and Edelweiss

The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) by Diana Gabaldon

Congrats to the following winners: 

Baby Doll by Hollie Overton -  Samantha

Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano -  Stephanie 

Have you read any of these books or are they on your TBR list? Let me know your thoughts! Thanks for visiting!

Friday, July 22, 2016

My Latest Obsession: Why I Loved Season Two of Outlander

As most of you know, season two of Outlander on Starz came to a close a few weeks ago.  I love the series, so it has been a great experience to watch it all come to life. Here's some of my favorite things about season two: (Avert your eyes if you don't want spoilers!)

1.  The Honeymoon is Over - I love that in season two sh*t gets real. Jamie and Claire's relationship has never really been *too* easy, but this season depicts a marriage that has to deal with some serious issues, like the loss of their daughter, getting acclimated in France, and oh, trying to stop a war. NBD.

2.  Murtagh - He wins MVP for season two. I liked him in the books, but I seriously LOVE him on this show. His witty one liners are some of my favorite parts of the show. I loved how he said HE would marry Mary Hawkins...what a good guy.  How about his bad ass scene with the Duke of Sandringham?! Then of course my favorite is his response to Jamie killing Dougal, like it's no big deal. Hilarious! Plus, his dedication to Jamie is epic.  My favorite bromance ever. #Godfathergoals

3.  Fergus - I liked young Fergus in the books, but TV Fergus is so darn cute. The scene in the finale where Jamie says goodbye to him tore me up. My heart! Cue all the tears. 

4.  The Return to Scotland - I think the setting of France was visually appealing, but I was so happy to be back in Scotland after that. I think it made me appreciate it even more than before.

5.  Faith -  This episode was spectacularly heartbreaking. It was so well acted that I never once doubted Claire's deep sadness. I think that this show captured that kind of gut wrenching grief so well. It felt very real.

6.  The Worst Dinner Party Ever - This is one of my favorite episodes of the season due to the fact that it was so darn entertaining. This episode includes the worst dinner party in the history of dinner parties! I couldn't help but laugh at the end of the episode where Murtagh and Jamie fight off the dinner guests using everything and anything lying around. Good times!

7.  Roger - I think he is a perfect Roger. Yes, I know he isn't tall enough. Yes, I know he doesn't have black hair.  But I am not one of the naysayers. I think he is a great actor and it works. Brianna, on the other hand, could use some work in the acting department.

8.  Iconic Lines - I am so glad that they didn't cut out some of my favorite swoon-worthy lines from Dragonfly in Amber. *Swoon*

 “I will find you," he whispered in my ear. "I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you - then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest."  His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me.  "Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”

9.  Costumes -  The costumes while they were in France were so glamourous and beautiful. I think the costume department, namely Terry Dresbach, hit it out of the ballpark this season and now they are Emmy nominated. Well done!

10.  Podcasts - As you guys may or may not know, I had a few surgeries last month and am trying to regain my strength so I can take care of my little ones. My new favorite thing is to listen to podcasts while exercising.  I am loving Outlander Cast and The Scot and the Sassenach. It's fun to analyze the episode and hear other people's opinions. Plus, both podcasts are run by husband and wife teams. Love that!

So what were some of your favorite Outlander moments?  Are you looking forward to season three? I really liked Voyager and seeing it come to life should be very interesting, especially since the settings are so exotic and different. Let me know your thoughts!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Review and Giveaway: The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger

Pages: 352
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "The new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Devil Wears Prada and Revenge Wears Prada—a dishy tell-all about a beautiful tennis prodigy who, after changing coaches, suddenly makes headlines on and off the court. Charlotte “Charlie” Silver has always been a good girl. She excelled at tennis early, coached by her father, a former player himself, and soon became one of the top juniors in the world. When she leaves UCLA—and breaks her boyfriend’s heart—to turn pro, Charlie joins the world’s best athletes who travel eleven months a year, competing without mercy for Grand Slam titles and Page Six headlines. After Charlie suffers a disastrous loss and injury on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, she fires her longtime coach and hires Todd Feltner, a legend of the men’s tour, who is famous for grooming champions. Charlie is his first-ever female player, and he will not let her forget it. He is determined to change her good-girl image—both on the court and off—and transform her into a ruthless competitor who will not only win matches and climb the rankings, but also score magazine covers and seven-figure endorsement deals. Her not-so-secret affair with the hottest male player in the world, sexy Spaniard Marco Vallejo, has people whispering, and it seems like only a matter of time before the tabloids and gossip blogs close in on all the juicy details. Charlie’s ascension to the social throne parallels her rising rank on the women’s tour—but at a major price. Lauren Weisberger’s novel brings us exclusive behind-the-scenes details from all the Grand Slam tournaments: the US Open, the French Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon. Charlie Silver jets around the globe, plays charity matches aboard Mediterranean megayachts, models in photo shoots on Caribbean beaches, walks the red carpet at legendary player parties, and sidesteps looming scandals—all while trying to keep her eyes on the real prize. In this sexy, unputdownable read about young tennis stars who train relentlessly to compete at the highest levels while living in a world obsessed with good looks and Instagram followers,  Charlie must discover the secret to having it all—or finally shatter the illusion for good." 
Charlotte Silver, or Charlie, is a professional tennis player who is known for her good girl ways. She wears pastels on the court, has had the same coach for years, always does the right thing, and even weaves a pretty ribbon through her trademark braid.  Essentially, she is the all-American good girl, but that doesn't translate to wins on the court. In fact, Charlie is ranked number twenty three. She wants to win a Grand Slam, but that is never going to happen. This is especially true after her debacle at Wimbledon, where she tore her Achilles tendon and broke her arm.   After her downfall, she fires her longtime coach and has her sights set on Todd Feltner.  Todd is an aggressive coach who is known to take the underdog and turn him into a champion. Charlie is the first girl he agrees to coach and he wants to do an entire revamp of her image, her diet, and even her training. If she wants to come back from her injury a winner, then she must follow his recommendations exactly.  Goodbye good girl Charlie and hello Warrior Princess. Her new image has garnered her a lot of attention from the media as well as the opposite sex, which is both good and bad.  Nonetheless, Todd's changes seem to be working.  She is dating the hottest male tennis player, rubbing elbows with celebrities, and has even started winning tournaments.  Is this everything Charlie wanted or is it coming at a huge price?  Lauren Weisberger's The Singles Game is an interesting glimpse into the world of professional tennis. I loved the drama, the scandal, the competition as well as the budding romance both on and off court.

I really liked Charlie in The Singles Game. I was worried that I would find her bratty, but I could understand where she was coming from and why she wanted to get a new coach.  I appreciated her image overhaul and even though she had to stop being "nice" Charlie, I enjoyed the fierce competitor. I wanted her to win as well!  Her casual relationship with Marco was most definitely fun, but I knew it wasn't the healthiest. I was rooting for someone else in Charlie's life and I don't want to give away anything, but I wanted her to notice the nice guy that she often overlooked.

Man, who knew professional tennis could be this dramatic? I had no idea there were so many rules surrounding Wimbledon and the dress code as well as the drug tests.  And don't get me started on the mean girls. Whoa. Pretty intense stuff!  Weisberger truly brings it all to life in The Singles Game and I was captivated.

While I liked The Devil Wears Prada a bit more, I could still appreciate The Singles Game and Charlie's journey. I pretty much was able to predict how it would end, but that didn't deter my overall enjoyment of the novel. The Singles Game has many similarities to The Devil Wears Prada in that there's someone trying to fit in and eventually the protagonist loses sight of what is most important. Plus, there's couture, rich people, and tough competition, just like in The Devil Wears Prada, so in that sense I appreciated the similarities. 

So, if you are looking for a compelling read that will thrust you into the cut-throat and compelling world of professional tennis, check out The Singles Game this summer. It was definitely entertaining! 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, I am hosting a giveaway for a hard cover copy of The Singles Game including two cocktail recipe cards featuring four  drink recipes from the book.  This giveaway is open to US readers only and the deadline is July 31st. Please refer to my giveaway rules and good luck! 

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