24 November 2020

The Ten Thousand Doors of January - Book Review


The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Publication date: September 10, 2019
Pages: 374 pages
Genre: Literary fiction, Fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars ☆☆☆☆☆
Strengths: Beautiful prose, unique story, complex characters
Weaknesses: Hard to 'rush'

I really loved this book. After a brief intro to what is January Scaller's current life, the story breaks off into another 'book' about the same Doors that January has mysteriously experienced. The stories eventually converge to a beautiful, multi-dimensional adventure.

It's hard to say too much about this book without spoiling what evolves. Essentially the whole book is about January's life and history. While the Doors do lead to other worlds with different creatures in some cases, the fantasy aspect of the book doesn't usually extend to realities much different from those we know. While it's definitely a fantasy novel, I think readers who are not usually fans of fantasy can find it enjoyable as well.

Overall, I am so happy my book club picked this as our book to read together and discuss. I gave it 5/5 stars and would definitly list it as one of my favorite books and recommend it to a wide variety of adult readers. 

19 November 2020

A Wild Winter Swan - Book Review


A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire
Publication date: October 6, 2020
Pages: 256 pages
Genre: Literary fiction, fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Strengths: Beautifully told, interesting adaptation of The Wild Swans
Weaknesses: Lack of urgency

Laura lives with her paternal grandparents in New York City. Her father died before she was born, and then when her brother died a few years after that, her mom became unable to care for her. Her grandparents are old-school Italians who own a grocery store they've built to be more successful over the years. 

As they approach Christmas, Laura's grandparents are trying to give the impression of even more success so they can get her grandma's rich brother-in-law to invest in the store and help them keep going. In the midst of all this, Laura gets expelled from her private school for lashing out at the girls who have bullied her for years. To further complicate matters, the day after Laura reads Hans Christian Anderson's story of The Wild Swans to the first graders she reads to after school, a boy with one swan arm lands on the roof outside her window.

Most of the story comes together as Laura tries to help her grandmother and their housekeeper put on an impressive Christmas dinner while hiding and trying to figure out how to help the swan/boy. The story of the immigrants life in the city in the early 1960s is charming and engaging. I enjoyed watching Laura try to meet all the expectations made of her for her behavior and responsibilities, while she tried to write her own story and decide what she really wanted. 

Overall, I liked the story more in retrospect than I did as I read it, if that makes sense. While the half swan boy was probably just a fantasy, all of the story was easy to imagine as Laura's real life, and that of her grandparents. I'd give the book 4 out of 5 stories and recommend it as a pleasant, non-traditional Christmas read.

13 November 2020

Five Things for Friday

Well, there have been positive COVID test results reported in our school district every day in November except one. Yesterday, there were SEVEN positive results from four different buildings, one of which only opened to students this week. I don't feel safe, honestly. I think I went from staying home with the kids to doing two school jobs, and may have never updated here. 

I am a crossing guard at one of the middle schools (all outside, and just started back this week), and I serve lunch at one of the elementary schools (with one quarantined classroom currently). While I think my student contact is pretty minimal (less than a minute with each kid who has ordered a lunch, and we're both masked), it still just feels like bad odds overall. A lot of districts around us have gone back to full remote, and I hope our district does too. I did opt to keep my kids virtual, so they are at home all the time.

Anyway, can something this year NOT be about COVID please? On with my Friday Five!

  1. I am so excited to watch Netflix's new holiday movie Jingle Jangle tonight!! Friday is always pizza-and-a-movie night around here. Usually we get Hungry Howie's, with wings for Maggie and I. Tonight Jack asked for Jet's. We'll skip the wings because we like Howie's the best.
  2. Today was a perfect day to have something I'm excited for. The director of my department came into our kitchen today and rearranged all the prep tables. She insisted she wasn't micro-managing, but I've worked in that kitchen successfully for almost four years with things where they were. She insisted it didn't make sense how it was, so she 'fixed' it. Thanks?
  3. We've decided to have Thanksgiving at home with just the four of us. I asked the kids for their suggestions. Jack wants turkey, or chicken. Maggie wants us all to dress either in a theme, or dress up. She also requested mac and cheese, so I told her to find an awesome looking homemade recipe and we can make it special.
  4. My other fun project for this weekend is starting my holiday wish list! I usually post my own personal '12 days of Christmas' with stuff I want from December 1 - 12. Then I can share the link with people like hubs who may get me gifts at the holidays. I also signed up for a gift exchange through my favorite book-lovers Facebook page. I think partners are assigned for that one on Monday, so this is my big wishing weekend.
  5. What an emotionally trying time! I am nothing short of thrilled with the election results. As an election worker of 30 years, I'm a bit annoyed at the people crying foul. So many people would need to work together to produce fraudulent election results. It ain't a thing. Counting down the days til Biden/Harris take their rightful places as leaders of our great country. And then to temper my joy, COVID. Yes, this post just came full circle.

Hope you and yours are doing well. Maybe we're in a new normal, or maybe things actually evolve all the time without labels. I'll be cozy in my family room, curled up with a relaxing drink and a good book (well, when I'm not at work, anyway!)

10 November 2020

Show Us Your Books - October 2020

I started last month talking about my spreadsheet that lists the books I've promised to review. I've finally added another page to that spreadsheet. The additional page just lists my (so far) 39 books I have saved up to read whenever. Most of them are Amazon First Reads. If you have Amazon Prime, you have to take advantage of First Reads!

This month I'm only featuring eight books in my post for Show Us Your Books (hosted by Life According to Steph and Jana Says). I did finish 12 books in October, but the first four ended up in last months post. All eight of the books I'm talking about today link to full reviews at Books I Think You Should Read, where I'm a frequent guest reviewer. All titles link to Goodreads.

My reading is slowing down now, especially this last week. I have worked elections on and off for 30 years or so, and last week was no exception. But I also agreed to be a lunch lady at my son's school starting last Monday. Apparently sanity and realistic obligations were not on my priority list last week. This weekend has been a total re-charge, and I finished a book earlier today that will make it to next month's post. Hopefully I can slide back into my five-hours/day work schedule and get some reading done too going forward. 

Since I know everyone is comparing, our elementary schools currently offer either in-person or virtual for the rest of the year, and you can no longer change your course. My son is virtual, but I serve lunch at the school. To the best of my knowledge, we have three positive current COVID tests of elementary students, which has resulted in three quarantined classes, plus those near the students on the bus. We have six total elementary schools in our district, and our cases are in three separate schools. Our middle school and high school have students choosing in-person learning starting back tomorrow. Those in virtual (like my daughter) can choose to switch to in-person at the semester break in late January. 

On to the books!

Finished Reading:

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past by Gabrielle Robinson - This was a unique WWII story. While compiling letters, journals, and correspondences from her grandfather's life, the author discovered that he was actually a member of the Nazi party. The book looks at his real life as a German citizen, none of whom had it easy during the war. Read along as she attempts to reconcile the man she knew as caring and nurturing with the party membership that she was so disappointed to discover. My full 3.5 out of 5 star review is here. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Unspoken (Ashe Cayne #1) by Ian K. Smith - Ashe Cayne used to be a Chicago police detective, but by standing up for what was right, he was forced out of the department. Now he's a private investigator instead. Being his own boss works out much better for him, and lets him satisfy his thirst for justice. He was a likable hero, and I gave the book 3.5 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐

Interference by Brad Parks - I really liked this one. At first, I was worried that I didn't understand enough about the quantum physics angle to 'get' the progression of the main plot, but that evolved in a different direction before the book ended. Yeah - hard to tell you about without spoiling it! I definitely liked the characters. The main quantum physicist was married to a woman with hearing loss, who narrated much of the story for us. The police detective looking into it all as part of his new position in missing persons was also a character with more depth than expected. Overall, I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars in my review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Prospects of a Woman: A Novel by Wendy Voorsanger - Oh, Elisabeth Parker. The main character of this story did what she needed to do. Growing up with her friend Louisa May Alcott, they dreamed of what it would be like to be married women, supporting their men and keeping a happy home. But Elisabeth ends up out west, with a husband who isn't really interested in her, and frequently the only woman for miles around. She isn't very likable, but neither is her situation. The book was quite interesting though. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars as a unique historical fiction in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Matrimony, Inc: From Personal Ads to Swiping Right, a Story of America Looking for Love by Francesca Beauman - Not something I've ever given a lot of thought to, personal ads have been around nearly as long as newspapers! While the ads themselves were interesting, even more telling was the way the qualities we've looked for in a mate have changed - or stayed the same. The author had a perfect snarky voice for pointing out what some of the ads really wanted to find, which never would have been appealing in print. My favorite part was about the crimes committed when victims were lured by personal ads. That could have been expanded into a book of its own, in my opinion. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to those interested in social history, as I mentioned in my full review here. ⭐⭐⭐

You Can Go Home Now by Michael Elias - I think this was my favorite read from my post today. I do love me some good vigilante justice. Nina Karim became a cop to avenge her father's death at the hands of pro-life fanatics. Now she has access to lots of information that will help her track her father's killer. In the meantime, she's ended up under cover at a women's shelter trying to unravel the death of a former cop who was also an abusive husband. Is it all linked together? You'll have to read it to know for sure! I gave this one 3.5 out of 5 stars when I reviewed it here, but I've only liked it more the longer I think about it. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

60 Stories About 30 Seconds: How I Got Away With Becoming a Pretty Big Commercial Director Without Losing My Soul (Or Maybe Just Part of It) by Bruce Van Dusen - While the title obviously implies a lot of info about Van Dusen's career, most of the essays seemed to me to be a lot about human nature, and a bit about being a director of commercials. Essays can tell plenty about a person, in not a lot of words. In this book, they were an enjoyable way to pass a bit of time. Overall, I'd give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. Check out my full review and a giveaway until 11/11/20 here. ⭐⭐⭐

The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter - Humans and robots have been living in segregated communities in this book, but when a cyborg (considered mostly human) is found murdered and a possible link to bad robot software is discovered, the robots threaten to take over the human preserve again. Chief Laughton and his previous robot partner Kir have very little time to unravel the crime and bring the right parties to justice, while trying to keep the rest of the robots from overrunning the human community. As a regular commentor mentioned on my full review, this would make a great movie! I gave the book 3.5 out of 5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Currently Reading: 

I'll be wrapping up the newest Stephanie Plum novel, Fortune and Glory by Janet Evanovich very soon, then starting on my library copy of A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire.

Reading Next:

I usually read a kindle book and a print book at the same time, so I'll be cracking the spine on either The Boiling Season by Christopher Hebert or The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner. Also to be started soon is my book club's selection: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow.

Wishing you and yours lots of health, happiness, and engrossing books. 

Heard anything good/bad about my recent or upcoming reads? I'd love to know!

23 October 2020

Five Things for Friday / Book Beginnings for Friday / #Friday56

Let's kick off this lovely (just kidding, looking super dreary and thunderstorms planned) Friday with five random things. If you're here for some bookish involvement, scroll on down.

  1. Today was the last day for our elementary school's remote learning. Starting Monday, most (approximately 80%) of the elementary students will switch to in-person learning, and a few (including my third grade son) will 'switch' to virtual learning. They will remain either in-person or virtual through the end of the school year. While I think virtual is pretty similar to the remote learning they've been doing since Labor Day, he will have a new teacher for the rest of the year, since his first teacher will be teaching in-person kids. I'm a bit stressed, but also happy to have the rest of the school year resolved, more or less.
  2. I am so excited that I was able to purchase a Bookmas box from Peanut Butter Taco Etsy shop!! I somehow ended up on her book planner page on Facebook, and found out about it. She puts together a package with 12 gifts - for the 12 days of Christmas - that are book and/or planner related. They sold out in seven minutes!! I'm super excited to get my package in early December with 12 fantastic gifts for me!
  3. Last night I had a blast at a Yelp Murder Mystery Party (on zoom) that was themed around a 1980s Prom. I dug out one of my dresses from either my junior or senior year of high school. Yay for stretch! LOL  Then I asked my 13-year-old daughter to fix me up with some 80s make-up  - heavy on the blue eye-shadow, please. She did a fabulous job, and the party was a lot of fun. Edited to add: I just found out I won one of the costume contest prizes! Once I finish up this post, I need to go choose which of my local coffee shops, breweries, or wineries I want a credit for!
  4. When I kept my computer at the kitchen table, I set up some shelves next to me and set up my old boom box with an assortment of CDs for my listening pleasure. Now that I'm redoing my actual office upstairs, hubby found an abandoned 90s stereo in our basement and set it up in the kitchen so I could bring my boom box up to my office.  I've been thrilled to be listening to my old CDs again. I'd like to take a moment to thank Columbia House and BMG for my extensive collection of old CDs. If you're old like me, you'll understand this reference.
  5. Tomorrow I've got a long to-do list around the house. I need to pack up my planters and hummingbird feeders til spring, replace the toilet seat in the kids' bathroom, get and apply those frosted window-cling things to the master bathroom, and work on purging or reorganizing a lot of my office clutter. I'm tired just considering it all, but I keep reminding myself how great it will feel to have it all done. Ugh.

Would you like to hear about what I'm reading (well, one of the books I'm reading now anyway)? Welcome to Friday, when I like to post with Book Beginnings on Friday and #Friday56. Today I've chosen to post about 60 Stories about 30 Seconds: How I Got Away With Becoming a Pretty Big Commercial Director Without Losing My Soul (Or Maybe Just Part of It) by Bruce Van Dusen. Thank you to the publisher for my copy of this book for review. 

For Book Beginnings on Friday with Rose City Reader, I share the beginning of the book. 
Crazy Eddie was the first person to hire me to direct a commercial. Crazy Eddie himself. He didn't actually say, "You're hired," because his jaw was broken, and he was attached to some life-support machines. His ad manager translated his grunts. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For #Friday56 with Freda's Voice, I share a bit from page 56 (since this is a physical book for me - if you're reading using your kindle, please feel free to share from around 56%).
That's my opinion. And it's as harsh as it is because I have come into directing from nowhere. And at the bottom. Most commercial directors start out as agency art directors or copywriters. So they're used to all the bullshit. They must have been the cream of the crop because they had enough oomph to get the fuck out of the agency side and start shooting. But, if you come in as I have, via film school, and a little production work but no agency experience, workign with these people is crazy-making.
So that's what we're into for this weekend. Still wrapping up Matrimony, Inc from last week, and starting 60 Stories. Also need to break up this non-fiction run, so I think I've got You Can Go Home Now by Michael Elias keyed up and ready to read on my kindle. 

Tonight is our regularly scheduled pizza and a movie, so I'm stepping away from the computer to pick up Hungry Howie's and watch Halloweentown!

Thanks for checking in - I love to read your comments, and I'll check in on all the other participating blogs over the weekend and early next week. Hope you have a happy, healthy weekend and week :)

16 October 2020

Five Things for Friday / #Friday56 / Book Beginnings for Friday

Hello, peeps! Weeks feel like they're getting busier and busier lately. I'm starting off this post with my Book Beginning with Rose City Reader and #Friday56 with Freda's Voice. Scroll down if you'd like to see my Five Things for Friday :)

This week's book I'm looking at is Matrimony, Inc: From Personal Ads to Swiping Right, a Story of America Looking for Love by Francesca Beauman. Thank you to the publisher for my copy of this book for review. Receiving the book for free of course doesn't influence my review.

Book Beginnings:
On February 23, 1759, the front page of Friday's Boston Evening Post greeted readers with an account of the latest skirmishes in the Severn Years' War. The owner of a brown leather purse lost last Friday offered a reward for its return and there was an announcement that a brig named the Hannah had just docked, bringing with is supplies of cutlery, shoes, and raisins, all now for sale on Third Street.

from page 56 (okay, page 55. page 56 is entirely blank):

The year 1860 was a leap year, and Kate Darsie was in the mood for love: "As it has become fashionable in the Eastern as well as the Western cities for young ladies as well as gentlemen to make known their wants through the columns of a public journal, and as this is the year when ladies can make free to do so," Kate explained, she had decided to place a marriage ad in one of Philadelphia's biggest newspapers.

 So far it's an interesting and amusing read. I'm looking forward to finishing it this weekend.

13 October 2020

Show Us Your Books - September 2020

 I sure do love some accountability. LOL 

My reading life truly starts with my nice online spreadsheet (what I agree to read for review, with due dates where applicable, and highlights for what I plan to read in the current month), and then each month wraps up with this delightful linky sponsored by Jana Says and Life According to Steph

I love having an excuse to compile the books I've read in the last month or so and my reviews for them (from either my blog, SweetlyBSquared, or the blog I frequently review for, Books I Think You Should Read). 

Many of the books I review are received from the publisher and/or Netgalley - thank you!! Receiving a book for free never influences my review. My book title links are to the book on Goodreads. And now without further ado, it's time to Show Us Your Books!

Finished Reading:

The Guest List by Lucy Foley - A fancy destination wedding on a spooky island? Sounds like fun to me! While I would have loved even more about the spooky island, this book was solidly about the characters. A shallow but well-meaning bride, a groom with no history of being nice (and his matching groomsmen), a guest who finds out she may have known other key players before, and the mysterious innkeepers - what could go wrong. Well, maybe a little murder! Check out my full 3/5 star review on my blog. ⭐⭐⭐

The White Coat Diaries by Madi Sinha - Norah Kapadia has spent her whole life working toward her dream job, and filling her father's shoes. She's the perfect Indian daughter, except that her mother expects her to be married, too. Luckily in her first year of residency, she thinks she may be finding true love at the same time as she's proving what a great doctor she will be. But sometimes things don't turn out as planned. Read my full 3/5 star review at Books I Think You Should Read. ⭐⭐⭐

The Forgotten Kingdom (The Lost Queen Trilogy #2) by Signe Pike - While I try not to read books out of order in a series, this one slipped past me - and I'm glad it did! I didn't feel lost for having not read the first book in this trilogy. This compelling story of ancient royalty, battles and ongoing rivalries had me engaged right away, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next! The Scottish history around 500 AD was definitely nothing I was familiar with, but now I daresay I'd love to read more. My full review of 4/5 stars is available here. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez - I really, really liked this book. I believe I read that while it was written first, it actually occurs after The Friend Zone. The Friend Zone was about Kristen and Josh, and The Happy Ever After Playlist was about Kristen's best friend Sloan and her romance with Jason. I enjoyed them both, and I really liked the Spotify playlist that compiles the songs mentioned at the beginning of each chapter of the playlist book. Check out my full 4.5/5 star review on my blog here. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Family in Six Tones: A Refugee Mother, an American Daughter by Lan Cao and Harlan Margaret Van Cao - Told in turn by the mother and her nearly adult daughter, this book illustrates not only how hard it is to try and fit in while also maintaining your own traditions, but how hard it may be to fit in without a role model to show you how it's done. Lan came to the U.S. in 1975. Her daughter was born in the U.S., but her mother could never quite decide how much she wanted Lan to know about her Vietnamese culture, and how much she wanted her to be a 'typical American teen.' It made it all a little blurry for both of them. My full 3/5 star review can be read here. ⭐⭐⭐

The President Factor, the Reality Show That Rocked a Nation by Pat Obermeier - I enjoyed this book more than expected. Politics is not usually much of an interest of mine, but this put the perfect spin on everything that was happening. A senator make a comment partially in jest that ends up putting him in the hot seat. As a presidential candidate, he's competing against the candidate from the other major political party to see how they handle real potential conflicts. Hilarity, and risk of the wrong people misinterpreting the show, ensues. I reviewed this one for Books I Think You Should Read and gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Strange Fire (Anchor and Sophia #1) by Tommy Wallach - Thousands of years after civilization as we know it has been wiped out, the Descendancy has built a new community, Anchor. Life within their walled society is predictable and safe. They preach the message that knowledge is what destroyed the first world, and they encourage loyalty to the creator and his Daughter. The missionaries for the Descendancy are the only ones who realize there may be other civilizations out there as well. I liked this book and may check on the follow-ups. I gave this one 4 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

One Perfect Summer by Brenda Novak - When a book I mostly expect to be fluff ends up with a bit deeper story, I'm pleasantly surprised. In this book, three half-sisters find out they're related only through a mail-in DNA test. They commit to spending a few weeks together at a vacation cottage while they attempt to solve the mystery. At the time their meeting begins, they've all got some pretty complex issues in their own lives, but enjoy facing their problems together. They genuinely like each other and are committed to being the sisters they never had before. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars in my review here. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A Perfect 10: The Truth About Things I'm Not and Never Will Be by Heather Land - First, if you haven't seen any of Heather Land's 'I ain't doin it,' videos, go watch one now. They're so funny! Unfortunately I don't think her humor translated quite as well to this book. Maybe it would have been better in the audio version read by her? In reading her book, I didn't feel like her target audience. She talked about a brand of clothes for retail therapy that I hadn't heard of, and she was touring with another famous person whose name I've already forgotten. I think I'm just older than who she was writing for, and I'm sure a lot of other readers will really enjoy this and her other book. My full 2.5 out of 5 star review is here. ⭐⭐⭐

The Girl Beneath the Sea (Underwater Investigation Unit #1) by Andrew Mayne - This book is the first in a series that's like a police procedural, but with a twist! Sloan McPherson is a part-time police diver, because the water and discovering what's in it is really her first love. The water can be dangerous, but in this book, the people she's dealing with are way more dangerous. By the end, she's come to trust a man she previously thought was an adversary, and she and George Solar have together started the Underwater Investigation Unit. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars in my full review and look forward to more in the series. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Long Bright River by Liz Moore - I finally borrowed this one from the library after reading about it on lots of other book blogs. I loved this touching story of two sisters - one an opioid addict, the other a police officer. Mickey definitely thinks she has always held, and always will hold, moral superiority over her younger sister Kacey. But drugs don't use any characteristics to pick their victims, and maybe everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. When Kacey is missing for a month or more, Mickey feels responsible for not caring better for both a woman on her police beat, and of course her own sister, even if they haven't spoken in years. Mickey tries to unravel the mystery, and realizes she may have shut out most other adults and left herself to work alone. I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle - Somehow I really carved out some time to read what I wanted to lately - this is another library book I checked out based on other reviews. When Dannie aces an interview for her dream job and then accepts her boyfriend's marriage proposal the same day, she's sure she's on the right track. Til after dinner, when she falls asleep back at their apartment for just an hour, and has a vivid dream of her life in another apartment, with another man, five years in the future! Based on the premise, I was hoping for a bit more magical realism, but this book still told of a beautiful relationship between two female best friends. Sometimes what you see is forced to fit in the framework of what you expect, even if that isn't the case. In my full review, I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. It was definitely unique and emotionally engaging. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

What were your best/worst reads in the last month or so? Despite reading several books I'd been waiting for (instead of all review books), I still just turned out three more from the library so I can read what I've promised to first. On the other hand, between my bookcase and my kindle, I could probably read  for a year without having to seek out another book. Social distancing one book at a time!