14 September 2021

Show Us Your Books - August 2021

It's the second Tuesday of the month already - time for Show Us Your Books  with Jana Says and Life According to Steph

School started last week here. While the kids only attended four days last week, we also had theater performances for the oldest - actually dress rehearsals Monday - Wednesday, and then performances Thursday - Sunday. Their high school troupe knocked Macbeth in modern English out of the park. I'm so proud, especially of my new freshman, making her way in the high school with the 'big kids.' ;)

I've only got five books to post about from last month. No excuses, that's just how it worked out. 

As always, title links go to Goodreads, and the review links to go the review either on my blog or Books I Think You Should Read. As always, thank you to Netgalley and publishers who let me read their books for free - receiving books for free never influences my review.

Finished Reading:

It's Not About the Gun: Lessons From My Career as a Female FBI Agent by Kathy Stearman - Wow! Non-fiction, as I'm sure I've said before, can be hit or miss. This was a solid hit. The author's descriptions of her job and the places where it took place were colorful and fueled my imagination. Her storytelling was wonderful at illustrating the events that occurred, as well as the surrounding circumstances that influenced it all. I will disclose that her political views toward the end of the book were definitely skewed toward reasonable humans, empathy, and equal rights. If those values aren't your thing, you may not agree with the author's viewpoints of some changes in the world around the time of her retirement. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars in my full review here. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Family Plot by Megan Collins - Dahlia Lighthouse and her three siblings were brought up in a very sheltered home where their mother insisted on homeschooling them - using serial killers and their victims as the curriculum. Somehow they all seemingly move on to lives out in the world, until their father dies and they return to the family home, where even more creepy secrets are revealed. My full review gives this book 3 out of 5 stars. It was a unique thriller. ⭐⭐⭐


Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons - This future-based story about clones and some of the moral results was intriguing. I've seen notice since that there's already a pre-sale for the next book in the series, set to publish later this year. The book starts out with Con dragging herself in for her latest update - they're required ever few months s
o your clone is never too far off from the current time. But when she wakes up, 18 months has passed. Con is dead, and now she's her clone, with just the old memories from her last update. She's on a mission to find out who killed her original, and why. This story line was something I hadn't seen before, and the speculation of what the future is like was interesting too. I gave this 4 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife by Ariel Sabar - This was a lucky month for me and non-fiction, eh? I had requested Veritas a while ago, and it took me way too long to get to, but it was fascinating! The author proved to be an incredibly detailed researcher. If a part of the con man's or the professor's story turned out untrue, instead of writing off the rest of it, the author would still research every tendril of the story - which often revealed new motivations for what or why things may have really happened. If you have any interest in the true history of religion, this book was very revealing of facts from past discoveries, and motivations behind a lot of the revelations that have come to light through the ages. While I'm not a particularly religious person, I find the business of religion fascinating. I gave this one 4 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Desolations of Devil's Acre: The Sixth Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - This was the culmination of a series I've enjoyed all the way through. I waited a bit to get this one from the library, as I had to know the ending of all of peculiardom, told mostly by Miss Peregrine's unique charges. I think only the first one so far has been made in to a film, but I hope the others eventually will as well. Hard to describe the peculiars in just a few lines, but I'd bet you've heard a bit about them since the first book published in 2011 (and its movie was released in 2016). I gave this conclusion 4 out of 5 stars in my review, but they definitely need to be read in order to understand what's happened. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Currently Reading:

I just started All These Bodies by Kendare Blake, and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (I've actually picked this one up a few times previously, but never got into it enough to finish it. This time it's for a book club on September 21 - wish me luck!).


Reading Next:

Still on my list for this month (can I get a few extra hours, please??) are No Words by Meg Cabot, and Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis. Also super excited to fit in The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman. 


Fall is my favorite season, although it does bring out my dread of cold and snow... I'm glad I've got a few reads that fit a bit darker vibe. What are your perfect books lately?

10 September 2021

The Desolations of Devil's Acre - Book Review

 

The Desolations of Devil's Acre (The Sixth Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children) by Ransom Riggs
Publication date: February 23, 2021
Pages: 528 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Strengths: Characters, continuing plot, succinct conclusion to the series
Weaknesses: Long


Of course, I could not resist reading the conclusion of this amazing story for Jacob Portman and his friends. While I've read plenty of books that stand alone okay aside from their series, this is not one of them. Please read the novels of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children in order. But do read them.

It took me a few pages to get back in the swing of things - I don't remember how long it's been since I read the previous book. As I was reminded of where we were at the beginning of the sixth book, I was able to recall the incredible cliffhanger that ended the fifth book. While I never believed the main character would be eliminated, his chances looked a little dicey before the start of this book.

The beginning of this book found a lot of the characters getting a bit predictable, but as we moved toward the end of this book - and the whole series - there were some interesting developments that I don't want to give away. Every time they think their problems are solved, there's a new wrench in their plans!

Anyway, this far into the series, I really enjoyed wrapping up the series, and I'd give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I would love to see more movies from this series; I think just the first book has been made into a film so far? I really enjoy the old photos that are shared in both the print copy and kindle editions of all the books in the series. The series has really been exactly how it's described - Miss Peregrine and her unique charges, the peculiar children, as well as the charges of other ymbrynes around the world. If the idea interests you, the writing is good and you're likely to enjoy the whole series.

06 September 2021

Veritas - Book Review

 

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife by Ariel Sabar
Publication date: August 11, 2020
Pages: 416 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Strengths: Extensive research and detailed story
Weaknesses: Kind of dry, lots of back story that couldn't be explained in one book


I've always been fond of religion as a subject, and this non-fiction definitely did not disappoint. The title really tells all the background it needs to - a con man tried to pass off what he suggested was the first copies of the Gospel of Jesus's wife, to a renowned Harvard professor. And in reading the book, it sounds like the professor decided to overlook a lot of red flags and stake her fame on this amazing discovery (the Gospel, which she tried to maintain was not a fraud). 

The author of this book went above and beyond. Even when a particular fact became glaringly not possible, the author would travel wherever needed to check every detail involved to make the verification (or lack of) even more concrete. A lot of the background in the trafficking of old religious texts and artifacts was quite interesting.

This book also makes me want to re-read Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. As suggested in Veritas, the author notes several similarities between the tale woven by the con man and the Harvard professor, and the 'facts' in the popular fiction book. The timing between the publication and controversy of The DaVinci Code and the reveal of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife was suspiciously close. 

In a nutshell, nothing about this book can be summed up in a nutshell. If religion, religious texts, and the big business behind it all is a curious topic to you, this book is definitely worth reading. I'd give this 4 out of 5 stars, and still honestly feel like there was as lot I didn't thoroughly understand without more background in religion, religious texts, The DaVinci Code, and Harvard's famous divinity school.



Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my electronic copy of this book. Receiving the book for free did not influence my review. 


10 August 2021

Show Us Your Books - July 2021

After a week off for vacation, I'm struggling to actually return at full speed, if ya know what I'm saying.

It's the second Tuesday of the month already - time for Show Us Your Books  with Jana Says and Life According to Steph. Vacation did help me get a couple more books added to the count for this month! I finished two audio books on the road trip portion of our vacation (10 hours each way, yay!).

I'm posting about 10 books for July 2021. I finished 13 in July 2020. Not bad, when you average in the 40+ hours/week I work (yeah, yeah, when not on vacation. LOL).

As always, title links go to Goodreads, and the review links to go the review either on my blog or Books I Think You Should Read. As always, thank you to Netgalley and publishers who let me read their books for free - receiving books for free never influences my review.

Finished Reading:

The Lockhart Women by Mary Camarillo - Brenda, along with her almost-adult daughters Peggy and Allison, are having a heck of a year or so. Brenda chooses the OJ Simpson trial as her distraction as her husband leaves her, and she and her daughters start trying to make their own way in the world. Admittedly, some of their choices stressed me out, but the epilogue made up for it all. I gave this modern family story 4 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Dead Certain (Broden Legal #1) by Adam Mitzner - So I just realized this was the first in a series. Sounds like the next two books in the series only loosely connect, based on the whole Broden family. In the first book, Ella and her sister Charlotte are very different. They think they tell each other everything, but are forced to admit they both have secrets. But the secrets of one sister may get them both killed. Books about writers are always amusing to me, and this was an interesting story of one of their lives possibly imitating their art. In my full review, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐


It Came From the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti - Funny side story, I read this shortly after watching The Iron Giant for the first time, so I pictured a lot of the book in a small-ish town like the movie. I enjoyed the book, a story of two brothers who decide convincing the town of an alien encounter is what they need to make their mark on the world. I gave 3 out of 5 start in my review. ⭐⭐⭐


Murder Among the Stars (Lulu Kelly Mystery #2) by Adam Shankman and Laura L. Sullivan -  I'm excited for my daughter to read this quirky young adult mystery. Set in the 1930s or 1940s, Lulu Kelly and her boyfriend Freddie are invited to an exciting casting party weekend getaway at the Hearst Castle. The descriptions of old Hollywood are so engaging! Their enjoyment is soon pushed aside when they're left with a murder or two to solve. My full review gives this charming story gives it 4 out of 5 stories. While it's the second in a series, I felt I understood the characters and everything else fine reading this as a stand-alone. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story by Peter Zheutlin - Annie Londonderry knows an adventure when she sees one. When the only opportunity cost for seeing the world on the back of a bike (which, oh yeah, she doesn't know how to ride yet) is denying her Jewish heritage and leaving her children and husband behind, she doesn't hesitate. It's certainly not a popular decision when she sets out in the 1890s, and she knows she's got to make the most of her adventure (and some imagination) to benefit the most from it all. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars in my full review. ⭐⭐⭐


The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan - This was absolutely my favorite book from this month, and I can't wait to pick up more similar stories by this author. Harriet has been quietly keeping an eye on things for years. She knows better than to interfere, until she notices Frances using dark magic to try and change Annis' future. It's only fair for Harriet and Annis, as the good witches, to fight the control Frances is trying to take. It's a great story that mostly takes place over a year or so, while also spanning back to the ancestor Harriet and Frances have in common - Bridget Bishop, a witch burned at the stake. My full review of course gave this great book 5 out of 5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Apology Project by Jeanette Escudero - Amelia Montgomery suddenly finds herself rich, and unemployed. The career as a litigator to which she's dedicated half her life is over, and she's not sure what her work-a-holic self might enjoy, given the choice. She's discovered that she's lost most of her friends over the years, and has convinced herself she's fine with just the periodic company of her sister. This utopian story of self-realization was endearing and had a rewarding ending. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars in my review. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Unthinkable by Brad Parks - Oh, my! The original premise in this one (if you're familiar with the trolly problem, it's just like this 'unthinkable' choice) was mind-blowing enough, but then the plot twists?!? I did not see the final developments of this one coming. Nate Lovejoy is perfectly happy as a stay-at-home dad raising his two little girls while his wife pursues her very successful legal career. He wouldn't want any of it to change, until he has no choice. This unique story got 4 out of 5 stars from me here. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

My last two books were audiobooks, which is out of the norm for me. Apparently I'm much more of a visual learner, as I sometimes 'forget' I'm listening, somehow. Road trips are what finds me as a captive audience. We listened to Swindle by Gordon Korman on the first leg of our road trip (driving from Michigan to New Jersey). I had this book, the first in a fun series about a 12-year-old boy, on cds from the library. I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars and talked a bit more about it in this post. ⭐⭐⭐
On the way back from New Jersey to Michigan, I chose to listen to a book that wouldn't be for the whole family. Some other book lovers recommended The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and read by Tom Hanks. I downloaded this story of Danny's life (mostly with his sister, Maeve) on Libby and listened to it just a bit faster than normal for most of the drive back. As I mentioned here, I'd give this one 4 out of 5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Currently Reading:

I have less than an hour to go in Kathy Stearman's It's Not About the Gun (Lessons from My Global Career as an FBI Agent). Non-fiction can be hit or miss for me, but this one's a hit! The author's style is very conversational and her stories are interesting. She was not only in the minority as a female FBI agent, she also earned positions around the world where her gender was meant to define even more of what she was 'supposed' to be doing.

Reading Next:

I'm hoping to get to The Family Plot by Megan Collins before it publishes next week. I don't really remember the pitch - not sure what I'm in for! The cover looks a little dark and mysterious. That will be a change from some of the fiction I've read lately.


Have you read any stand-out books lately? Do you agree or disagree with my assessments of the books I've finished last month? I find it fascinating that opinions can vary so much :)


09 August 2021

My Summer Vacation - 2021 - Part 2

In case you missed it, check out Part 1. We left off after Wednesday's trip to the American Dream mall. 

Thursday morning we headed to Six Flags Great Adventure. The kids had been googling the roller coasters for weeks! They had additionally questioned our local New Jersey friends extensively for tips about the best rides, which was amusing since they'd be meeting us there in the afternoon. Most of the rides are similar to those at Cedar Point, the amusement park closest to our house. At Six Flags, we all rode Batman (like Cedar Point's Raptor), Nitro (like Cedar Point's Millenium  Force), Bizarro, Runaway Mine Train (I still have the bruise to prove it), Dark Knight, Skull Mountain, and then after our friends arrived, we went though the fun shooter ride, The Justice League. 


Hubby and Maggie continued on to Kingda Ka. Jack wasn't quite ready, but really regretted it later, when the ride just couldn't seem to keep running. Tears were shed later when he never got to ride that one. 



Hubby and Maggie also rode Superman and Zumanjaro, while Jack and I did Batman and the Dark Knight again. Oh, and we also took a cotton candy break. Because, cotton candy. I got a super fun t-shirt that says, "I'm only here for the funnel cakes," but I didn't actually get funnel cakes til the next day. 


Thursday night Jack really wanted to eat at the Ruby Tuesday attached to our hotel, but halfway back we found out they'd be closing at 8:30pm, just a few minutes after we'd get there. So we ended up at Piazza Orsillo, where one of our friends works. While it wasn't on the menu, my friend suggested the most incredible pizza! Instead of marinara sauce, it uses their vodka sauce, with cheese and basil and whatever magic they sprinkled on it. So delicious!


Friday we started out by heading to Point Pleasant. While hubby and Jack had gone there a few years ago while Maggie and I were at a baton competition nearby, it was the first time our whole family enjoyed hanging out at the boardwalk together. Since we could stay for ten minutes, or stay forever, we discussed what everyone wanted out of the day. Jack wanted to ride the train, which he had done on his last visit. Maggie wanted to shop for souvenirs. Andy wanted to get closer to the ocean without paying the almost $40 for us to go to the beach. I wanted to eat a funnel cake.


We started walking toward the end of the boardwalk, but as we got closer we realized it ended at condos, not a canal. So we turned around and got the funnel cake (and deep fried oreos!). YUMMO! While hitting each shop along the way, we went to the train at the other end of the boardwalk. The kids both picked some souvenirs, and then Jack got his train ride (with his sister along, of course).  Hubby did a bit of research on his phone and pointed the car toward Island Beach State Park to get closer to the water. It was a scenic drive and we walked the seashore for a bit before heading back to Jack's long awaited Ruby Tuesday dinner. 


Saturday we parted ways for a bit - I headed to New Hope, PA with my best friend for lunch and some window shopping, and hubby and the kids took a ferry and saw the Statue of Liberty up close, and Ellis Island. We then met up with our friend's family and all took a Seastreak sunset cruise to see the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty. It was a beautiful night and a great, relaxing cruise. 



Sunday morning just involved getting up the first time I opened my eyes (a little past 6am) and getting in the car for the 10 hour drive home. I listened to The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, read by Tom Hanks, at the recommendation of some book-loving friends at Let's Peanut Butter Taco 'Bout Books on Facebook. It was a very enjoyable book (although I may have dozed a bit - audio books are so hard for me to focus on!). It was the story of Danny and his life surrounding the house he was born in. The book was very memoir style, recounting different memories that reminded him of other memories. It made me really want to see the house, larger than life in his young and adult mind. I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars. ☆☆☆☆


So now we're home sweet home, and ready for the last few frantic weeks until school starts. And then, just when I think I can take a breath, I'll start getting ready for my company's 'return to office' through September and October. Luckily my team is currently scheduled for mid-October. It could go later yet, but it won't happen any earlier. Glad I got a vacation in to enjoy and relax first!

08 August 2021

My Summer Vacation - 2021 - Part 1

My family and I just got back from a great week-long vacation. We had plans every day, so I'll break it into a couple posts so there's room for some pictures ;)


Vacation, of course, starts as soon as you leave work! While I originally planned on starting our road trip Saturday morning, I didn't realize when we took the time off work that we already had an afternoon wedding to attend on Sunday. Congratulations to James and Erika 💕


Sunday is also when I made my terrible error in judgment. See, it was a mid-day wedding, with a wonderful lunch. And then we headed to Two James Spirits to visit a bit longer. Even hubby will vouch for me - I really didn't drink that much! But I ate even less. Whoops! Monday morning was a little rough, and the kids gave me a hard time about it for the first half of the trip. The good news? Maggie has said she learned a valuable lesson about drinking to excess. Yay for teachable moments?


Monday morning we did hit the road, only about an hour later than originally planned. It was 10 hours to our destination (beautiful New Jersey!), so we try to make the trip efficiently in one day, then we're ready for vacation, right? Along the way, we listened to Swindle by Gordon Korman. I don't usually listen to audio books, but car trips are the perfect time for me to be a captive audience. This was an amusing book about 12-year-old Griffin, who always has a plan. This first book in the series involved Griffin getting scammed out of a fabulous baseball card he finds on another adventure. It will take a tricky plan and a bit of help to get back what's rightfully his, and help his family in the process. Hubby and I were amused by the story (the dog was really the star!). I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars. ☆☆☆

Here we are enjoying a couple rides.

We got to our hotel after a very long car trip and hadn't had dinner. Yay for the best of friends (okay, they are the real reason we visit New Jersey!) who delivered us some pizza and garlic knots. With food in our bellies, we were ready for a good nights' sleep and more adventures to come!


Tuesday morning we headed to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania (barely). While the kids may be getting a little too old/big for this theme park, we couldn't resist spending a day there for the nostalgia. We've visited a few other times during previous visits. It's a water park and regular amusement park. The day we went was overcast, so we started with the dry rides. We had funny stories about nearly every ride from visits in the past. It was our first chance to ride Oscar's Wacky Taxi though! It opened after our last visit, probably in 2019. It was a fun roller coaster, and we were first in line to ride it that day. 


Wednesday was originally supposed to have rain in the forecast, but that changed about a week before we left. It didn't matter, I'd already made a bit of a schedule and we were sticking to it! Hubby and Maggie brought their ski gear to check out Big Snow in the American Dream Mall. Jack and I never wanted to go skiing, but we knew there was plenty more fun to be had! We'd started out considering the Nickelodeon Theme Park and DreamWorks water park, but they charged way too much for just a two hour visit to either. We wandered the mall (sadly, probably half of the merchant spots are still vacant). I got an adorable Alice in Wonderland mini backpack at Hot Topic, and Jack was so excited to finally get Animal Crossing's Tom Nook at Build a Bear.


We still have good times and fun memories to recount from Thursday, Friday and Saturday before our long drive back home on Sunday - check out Part 2!


01 August 2021

The Age of Witches - Book Review

The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan
Publication date: April 7, 2020
Pages: 448 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆☆
Strengths: Excellent story and characters, with non-ridiculous representation of witches
Weaknesses: ??


This was a wonderful book! I did several searches to try and determine of there is overlap between the author's witch books, but couldn't find out for sure. Hopefully someone with more knowledge will let me know ;)

Seventeen-year-old Annis Allington suspects there may be something a little different about her, but she isn't bothered by it at all. She's more concerned that as she becomes a woman in the late 1800s, her dream career of breeding horses seem impossible for her independently. And she does not want to have to marry a man who may give her permission to pursue her dreams.

Little does Annis know, her future is a greater risk than that of becoming a bored housewife. Harriet Bishop, and Annis' stepmother Frances Allington are the last of a line of Bridget Bishop, a powerful witched burned at the stake long ago. Frances wants to make sure Annis sets them up for a comfortable future, but Harriet wants to stop Frances' black magic and help  Annis find true happiness. 

This book stood alone fantastically, and covered most of the older witches' stories, with flashbacks to include their previous interactions. The ending also went past just the main plot points to tell how things went for all those involved long-term.

I loved this book and gave it 5 out of 5 stars. While the magical aspects are part of what made me enjoy it so much, the story is also interesting with magic as just the sideline.