Tuesday, May 23, 2017

12 Books Perfect For Your Beach Bag

Memorial Day weekend -- and the unofficial start of summer -- is just days away! Appropriately, this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is a summer reading-related freebie. I decided to go with 12 books I've read in the last year or so that'd make good beach reads.

Living in Hawaii, I do a lot of beach reading -- and I take whatever I'm currently immersed in to the beach with me. But I can tell you, the best books for the beach are easy, absorbing, fast-paced reads that don't require tons of concentration and can handle frequent distractions and interruptions. A beach (or pool or lakeside) day is not the time to finally haul out "War and Peace"!

Below are 12 decent (or fantastic!) books in a variety of genres perfect for your beach bag.

books for the beach

In no particular order:

1. Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This is a women's fiction take on the parallel universe theme and I absolutely loved it! The protagonist's life splits off into two versions -- told in alternating chapters -- following a seemingly innocuous decision. It was thought-provoking and touching and fun -- and the epitome of good beach reading! (4.5 stars, review)

2. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: This genre-bending sci-fi thriller (which also deals with the idea of parallel universes) had me on the edge of my seat, and I blew through it in two days. One of my favorite reads of 2016. (4.5 stars, review)

3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik: I devoured this delightful fantasy novel it in record time and loved every minute! Also one of my favorite reads of 2016. (5 stars! No review, but just read it!!!!)

4. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh: I'm pretty disillusioned with the psychological thriller genre, but this fast-paced read is worth (some of) the hype. (3.5 stars, review)

5. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel: This sci-fi novel, the first in a trilogy, deals with ancient aliens and is written in an easy-to-devour epistolary format, in journal entries and transcripts. A totally accessible book for non-sci-fi enthusiasts. Bonus: the second book just came out, so you don't have to wait a year to find out what happens next! (4 stars, review)

6. November 9 by Colleen Hoover: A fun, well-written contemporary romance with plenty of bookish references! I don't read much in this genre, but I did enjoy this one. (4 stars, review)

7. A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn: This is is the first book in Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series. The second book came out this year, and Veronica is now cemented as one of my favorite heroines! She's a charming butterfly scientist/badass amateur sleuth, and the books are so much fun to read! A friend described the series as "comfort food" and I couldn't agree more. (4.5 stars, review)

8. The Royal We by Heather Cock and Jessica Morgan: You will be totally wrapped up in the romance and tribulations of regular-girl Bex and prince Nick -- loosely based on Kate and Will, complete with roguish brother Freddie/Harry. I'm hardly a "royal watcher," but I couldn't put this book down! (4.5 stars, review)

9. The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth: One half of this story is about two patients with early-onset Alzheimer's falling in love in their care facility, and the other half is told from the perspective of the facility's chef, who has problems all her own. Endearing, heartwarming, sad and poignant. (4 stars, review)

10. Written in Red by Anne Bishop: This is a fantastic entree into the world of urban fantasy (think shapeshifters and vampires)  -- and it comes with this delightful sense of cozy atmosphere and great worldbuilding. It's fun, it's addicting, you'll love it! (4.5 stars, review)

11. June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore: Gotta have some historical fiction on the list -- and this book is set during summer! It's a past/present dual narrative set in a small Ohio town in the '50s (when a movie set comes to town) and in present day when down-on-her-luck Cassie inherits her grandmother's crumbling mansion. (4.5 stars, review

12. You by Caroline Kepnes: Joe Goldberg, stalker extraordinaire and star of Kepnes' entrancing thriller, will keep you fascinated amidst any and all beach distractions (though it also may make you want to hold off posting those beach selfies to Facebook...). (4 stars, review)

Bonus: The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel: I just started this last night but I wanted to tack it into the list in case you're craving some non-fiction! It's a fast-paced, short and totally interesting read!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Musings


My week: A bit of a crazy week here... Jarrod's work has been doing an exercise (military speak for practice disaster) and he worked some insane hours that got progressively worse over the week (i.e. 13 1/2-hour shifts for several days straight, including the weekend). Today should be the last day, thank goodness! It's not been great for Alohi; she had to spend 6 1/2 hours in her crate without a break Thursday, Friday and likely today, the longest she's ever been in there. And not fabulous for our waistlines either -- we picked up dinner three nights last week!

I've been busy at my work getting things around for my next display on the big wall in the kids' section. Our summer reading program starts in just under two weeks and the theme this year is STEM, so I'm making a giant volcano with books spewing out the top. It's science-y, plus Hawaii-related. I've also been doing some research for my little "In the mood for..." book display, which currently features memoirs. The next theme will be recent and upcoming book-to-movie-and-TV-show adaptations. (In the mood for... reading before you watch?)

Reading: I finished and "The Lost City of Z" (review) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I really need to make a point to read more non-fiction!

Then I read book 2 in Sylvain Neuvel's popular sci-fi series. I liked last year's "Sleeping Giants," and "Waking Gods" was a page-turner as well. I really like the epistolary format the author uses. And now I'm a little over halfway into "American War" by Omar El Akkad, which envisions America's second civil war a few decades from now, the catalyst for which was the prohibition of fossil fuels. The protagonist is one of the most interesting I've encountered lately and I'm definitely liking the book so far.

Next up will either be another non-fiction book, "The Stranger in the Woods," or the new Paula Hawkins, "Into the Water." Sadly, I haven't read any glowing reviews of her second effort. I knew it was too much to wish for another "The Girl on the Train," but I was still kinda hoping...

Resolving: To not request any more new releases from the library for the rest of May, so in June I can focus solely on reading backlist and my own books! I have a no-shit addiction to that library "request" button, so this might be a little hard for me. (I'll just have to go on a backlist-requesting spree!)

Knitting: The absolutely beautiful yarn from Tanis Fiber Arts for my So Faded sweater arrived this week -- I was so excited to see the package in my mailbox! -- but that project will just have to wait a bit. Right now I'm working on a surprise hat for my work BFF who's moving away (the joys of military life!) in the purply-pinkish Malabrigo in the picture below.


Watching: I watched and totally loved "The Edge of Seventeen," which stars Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson. I probably wouldn't have picked it up if it hadn't been recommended to me, but it was just a pleasure to watch -- by turns funny and serious and nostalgic. We also watched "The Free State of Jones," the new-ish Matthew McConaughey Civil War movie (it was kinda weird to be reading a book about the imagined second civil war while watching a movie about the first!) and I liked it better than I expected. I also watched a few episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" and we finished out this season's "Designated Survivor."

Eating: I had a chocolate craving so I whipped up my favorite brownie recipe (Best Cocoa Brownies from Smitten Kitchen). Mmmmm... so rich and delectable!

Still loving: My Roomba! That thing has been a lifesaver the past couple of weeks! We still need to figure out the perfect name for it.

Monday Musings
Book Review: The Lost City of Z
I Judge Books By Their Covers: The Wages of Sin
Book Review: Unmentionable: A Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners

Looking forward to: Three-day weekend! And Jarrod will be home! I'm really hoping we can finally go see "Guardians of the Galaxy 2," and I would love to go to the beach. I've only been once in the last three and half months -- craziness!

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Book Review: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

"Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners" by Therese Oneill
First published in 2016
307 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5

The Short Of It:

An interesting book, but the writing style got a bit grating.

The Long Of It:
Like most fans of historical fiction and period dramas, I've occasionally wished I could travel back to the 1800s. Oh no, not permanently, just for a couple days; I know enough about history to realize things were pretty shitty for women back then. And I've got a particular affinity for long, hot showers, flush toilets, and the ability to speak my mind.

And that's pretty much what Oneill is getting at with her book: real, actual life in Victorian times was not quite the rosy, romanticized version we see in "Pride and Prejudice" or read about in a woman-as-amateur-sleuth novel. Instead, it was filled with filth, neverending boredom or neverending hard work depending on your social class, and lots and lots of men who thought they knew everything there was to know about women.

The book, which is divided into chapters about such topics as wardrobe and the wedding night, is written in a very sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek tone as if to a time traveler from the 21st century heading back to the 19th. It's also got lots of lots of pictures that were of varying degrees of interest to me, all complete with snarky captions. I kind of liked the tone for the first couple dozen pages, but it never let up, and before long it became a bit irritating.

Oneill also frequently uses extreme examples, and I suspect she picked the most polarizing quotes from primary sources she could find to illustrate her points. "Unmentionable" was an enjoyable read at times, and I did learn a few things, but I suspect there are better books along the same lines -- minus the snark. (One that's been recommended to me is "How to Be a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman.) 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I Judge Books By Their Covers: The Wages of Sin

I haven't read "The Wages of Sin" by Kaite Welsh -- it's on my maybe-to-read list -- but I couldn't help noticing how vastly different the cover versions are! Here's an abbreviated version of the synopsis on Goodreads:
Sarah Gilchrist has fled London and a troubled past to join the University of Edinburgh's medical school in 1892, the first year it admits women. She is determined to become a doctor despite the misgivings of her family and society, but Sarah quickly finds plenty of barriers at school itself. Desperate for a proper education, Sarah turns to one of the city’s ramshackle charitable hospitals for additional training. The St Giles’ Infirmary for Women ministers to the downtrodden and drunk, the thieves and whores with nowhere else to go. In this environment, Sarah gets quite an education. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers.
Definitely sounds interesting, and I love reading books set in Scotland!

U.S. // U.K.

Well, this cover battle is easy-peasy for me -- I almost always go in for the illustrated, artsy covers and the U.K. cover is lovely! I like it all -- the colors, the blood spatter, the font, the graphics. The pretty artwork combined with the bottle of laudanum and the skull and crossbones definitely pique my interest. The only thing I'm not totally sure about is that phrase: "For Sarah Gilchrist, even medicine can be deadly." I don't like sentences that start out with "For so-and-so," and it doesn't really make sense either. Of course medicine -- or practicing medicine in a historical mystery novel -- can be deadly. I wish the tagline had been left off altogether -- I think the cover is eye-catching enough that it's not necessary to have one.

The U.S. cover isn't horrible, and I do like the cityscape at he bottom. But I'm not a fan of the silhouetted woman or the plain-Jane white font. Booooring. It also doesn't give prospective readers much idea what kind of book it is.

Do tell: which cover do you prefer?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

"The Lost City of Z" by David Grann
First published in 2009
321 pages (plus bibliography, etc.)
My rating: 4 out of 5

"The Lost City of Z" is a fascinating reads-like-a-novel non-fiction book about an ill-fated Amazon expedition in the 1920s.

The book centers on well-known British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett, who had made several successful trips to the Amazon -- a place where pretty much everything is out to kill you -- in the early 1900s. He became convinced of the existence of a place he identified only as Z, ruins of a large, sophisticated ancient civilization. If he was right, the discovery would turn everything scientists thought about the Amazon (like that the natives were hopelessly primitive, and that the harsh environment couldn't sustain a large population) on its head.

In 1925 he mounted a small expedition with his son, his son's best friend and a few guides to search for Z, but he vanished in the forest with barely a trace. His disappearance has been a source of fascination, speculation, and many deadly treks into the Amazon to search for answers over the decades since.

I enjoy reading books like this because it's fun to be transported back to a time when parts of our planet were still undiscovered, still a mystery. And, for the same reason I like books set in cold, rugged, miserable climates, I like books set in the jungle. I sure wouldn't want to BE Percy Harrison Fawcett -- or even the author, David Grann, as he made his own trek just a decade ago -- but it's exciting to live vicariously thorough them as they battle starvation, deadly mosquitoes, hostile natives, piranhas, poison dart frogs, elephantiatis and plenty more on their adventures.

In addition, Grann gives readers a brief history of Amazonian exploration, mapmaking, archaeology and anthropology, especially around Fawcett's time. "The Lost City of Z" was just the kind of non-fiction book I love: informative and educational while also fast-paced and captivating.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday Musings


My week: We had a pretty good week here. It included a yummy dinner out, macarons, bubble tea, Starbucks, a rainy afternoon, puppy playtime and puppy snuggles and a puppy bath, nice clean floors, a rainbow, ribs from Jarrod's smoker, and happy mail. It also included the single worst poop disaster in Alohi's crate I've come home to yet, but we won't get into that.

Reading: I finished both "Maisie Dobbs" (review) and "Umentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners." Both were decent reads, though I wasn't quite as impressed with "Unmentionable" as I'd hoped; the constant sarcastic tone got a bit grating. "Maisie" was good -- though a bit more historical fiction and less mystery than I expected -- and I'll be continuing the series.

Now I'm reading "The Lost City of Z" by David Grann and I'm really enjoying it. It's non-fiction that reads like a novel, which is always a plus in my book, and it's about an ill-fated expedition to the Amazon in the 1920s, something that always fascinates me. I can't imagine living in a time when parts of the world were still a mystery. I wouldn't want to be one of the explorers (it seems they died more often than not!) but I sure do like reading about them.

Watching: I finished "This Is Us" and, ohmygod, what a phenomenal show!!! We also watched a movie from the '90s, "Primal Fear," which my boss at the library recommended. It stars Richard Gere as a defense attorney, a very young Edward Norton as his client, and a very young Laura Linney as the prosecutor (and Richard's character's former lover and protegee). All is not as it seems, of course, and I was glued to the TV! THIS is the kind of thing I hope for every time I open up one of the ubiquitous (and inevitably formulaic and predictable) psychological thriller novels. Do you have any favorite '80s and '90s movies? I'd love your recommendations!

Listening to: "Crazy" by Seal. I heard this song for the first time in ages on TV last week and just had to pull it up on Spotify!

Buying: Yarn! I totally splurged and ordered a kit of five skeins of gorgeous hand-dyed yarn from Tanis Fiber Arts to make the So Faded sweater. I can hardly believe I spent so much money on yarn, but we all deserve to treat ourselves once in a while, right?

(Picture from Tanis's Etsy shop.)

Loving: My Roomba! It arrived last Tuesday and I'm pretty sure it'll go down as one of the best purchases I've ever made. The floors are SO CLEAN! And I have done ZERO WORK to make them that way!

Also loving: The absolutely gorgeous orchid my grandma sent me for Mother's Day! (I'm only mom to people with four paws, so it was so very sweet of her to think of me on Mother's Day.) I've always wanted an orchid but I'm really super great at killing plants and they're kind of pricey and not very hardy, so I've never gotten one. Any advice on orchid care would be appreciated!


Looking forward to: Memorial Day weekend! I could use an extra day off!

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Book Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

"Maisie Dobbs" by Jacqueline Winspear
First published in 2003
294 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

Favorite Quote:
"The feeling inside that she experienced when she saw the books was akin to the hunger she felt as food was put on the table at the end of the working day. And she knew that she needed this sustenance as surely as her body needed is fuel."

The Long Of It:
I'd been meaning to start the Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series for years, and I finally read the first book after a friend mentioned she was reading the newest installment and we got to chatting about the series. It was not as heavy on the mystery as I expected, nor was it as cozy and lighthearted, but I enjoyed it nonetheless and I'll definitely be reading book two of the now 13-book series.

There is indeed a bit of a mystery to solve, but the focus is on introducing the reader to Maisie, a private investigator with an endearing rags-to-riches story. Much of the backstory focuses on Maisie's enlisting as a nurse in WWI -- something that does eventually tie into the case she's working on.

I felt like I was reading historical fiction more than historical mystery quite a bit of the time, but I didn't mind; I appreciated all the background on Maisie and I imagine the future books will be more mystery-oriented. Maisie's led a fascinating, tragic and wonderful life in her first three decades and I enjoyed getting to know her. Some reviewers complained that Maisie was "too perfect," making her feel cold and difficult to connect with, but to each her own... I prefer protagonists who are strong, smart, independent and brave -- basically, women I wish I were more like. And I sure wouldn't mind being like Maisie (she's pretty, too)!

I also enjoyed the historical British atmosphere, both in the 1910s and in 1929 when Maisie is working as an investigator. I look forward to traveling through the '30s and into the start of WWII with her. Another plus was the lovable supporting characters, from Maisie's costermonger (vegetable seller) father to her brilliant mentor to her exuberant university roommate.

One gripe I had was that the writing felt a bit uneven at times. The first section of the book takes place in 1929 and some things were referenced that didn't really make sense until reading the middle portion -- Maisie's backstory. I didn't really love the book's construction either -- I think I may have preferred just diving into Maisie's childhood and WWI experience right off the bat instead of starting with the mystery, then abandoning it entirely for 150 pages, then suddenly picking it back up. Or perhaps this would've been an appropriate time for alternating chapters, so both the past and present stories unfold simultaneously. I was also a little irritated by inconsistent use of capitalization and quote marks around certain phrases. But this was the author's first book, so I expect these small issues to disappear by later installments.

And I will most definitely be reading those later installments; I think Maisie is a character I can get behind for the duration of a series, and I'm looking forward to more adventures with her.
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