Mini-reviews – catching up

Relish: My Life in the KitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

This is an adorable food-themed graphic memoir that was super enjoyable to read. Lucy Knisley basically takes the most pivotal moments in her life and relates them to what she was eating, cooking, or learning to make at that time. I really loved the experience of reading this book – not only is it a heartwarming memoir, but the illustrations are great and Knisley includes several of her tried-and-true and family recipes, as well. Overall I just really enjoyed it and will definitely be looking for more from this author.

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Published by Flatiron Books

The basic gist of this one is three couples, of varying degrees of friendship, get together one night for a barbecue and something disastrous happens. The book details the personalities and relationships of the characters before the big event, and then goes into depth on how it has a ripple effect on each one of the characters for quite some time after. I have really loved all of Moriarty’s novels and this one was no exception. The way she is able to create tension amongst a group of people and the way she is able to make even the most vile of characters sympathetic and relatable are two talents that she has that very few authors share with her to this degree. I was definitely kept on the edge of my seat throughout this novel and continue to be impressed with her writing and ability to craft a well-paced, unputdownable story.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Feyre is nineteen years old and her life revolves around finding food for her family and staying safe from the faeries that once ruled the world she lives in. When she kills a wolf in the woods, who turns out to not be a wolf but a faerie, she is collected by Tamlin, another faerie, to give her life in exchange for the one she killed. Once she gets to his estate, she finds herself falling in love with him and subsequently doing everything in her power to protect Tamlin and his world from the dark power that threatens to overtake it.

That was a cliffnotes version of a summary of this book – a book that I liked a LOT. I don’t read a ton of fantasy (almost none, actually) but this one really worked for me. The main element of the book that I loved was getting to know the characters – Maas did an excellent job making Feyre an incredibly believable character that I could really relate to. And Tamlin drew me in with his fiery, dark personality – I loved the two of them together. Plus, their chemistry was seriously hot. This is NOT a book for young teens – there were some pretty intense sexy times happening here. Anyway – I really liked this book and definitely will get to the sequel.

Sweet Disorder (Lively St. Lemeston, #1)Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
Published by Samhain Publishing

Romance is a genre that I’m just getting into and Rose Lerner is an author recommended to me by the lovely and brilliant Jenny at Reading the End. I am happy to say that I did like this one and it is a good example of feminist romance – the type of romance that I would like to read more of, for sure. Something I appreciated about the plot of this one is that both main characters’ actions were motivated by helping their families, and there was a lot of character development of not only the main love interests but their family members as well. Both Nick and Phoebe were drawn to each other, but both knew that their being together would go against everything they needed to do to take care of their families. In the end, obviously, it’s a romance novel – there’s a happily ever after. But the getting there was quite enjoyable and I really liked the journey these characters took.

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma

Why We Came to the CityWhy We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma
Published by Viking

From the publisher:

December, 2008. A heavy snowstorm is blowing through Manhattan and the economy is on the brink of collapse, but none of that matters to a handful of guests at a posh holiday party. Five years after their college graduation, the fiercely devoted friends at the heart of this richly absorbing novel remain as inseparable as ever: editor and social butterfly Sara Sherman, her troubled astronomer boyfriend George Murphy, loudmouth poet Jacob Blaumann, classics major turned investment banker William Cho, and Irene Richmond, an enchanting artist with an inscrutable past.

Amid cheerful revelry and free-flowing champagne, the friends toast themselves and the new year ahead—a year that holds many surprises in store. They must navigate ever-shifting relationships with the city and with one another, determined to push onward in pursuit of their precarious dreams. And when a devastating blow brings their momentum to a halt, the group is forced to reexamine their aspirations and chart new paths through unexpected losses.

It’s been quite a while since I finished Why We Came to the City but I have to tell you, this is one novel that has truly stuck with me. While on the surface it’s a novel about a group of friends experiencing life post-college, halfway through the book it turns into something completely different, something that I won’t spoil for you because it took me by complete surprise and changed the entire feel of the novel for me.

The characters are the center of the novel and they were so bright and shiny, each in their own way. I loved getting to know them as individuals and within the context of their various relationships with each other. Their friendships were complicated and through their interactions with each other, Jansma really got at the intricacies and variances within their personalities. I definitely can say that Irene stuck out to me as the brightest star, the one around whom everyone else revolved, but each character was certainly unique and unforgettable.

As I said, it has been a few months since I finished this book but the emotional impact it made on me has really stayed with me. The fact that it’s been a while since I read the book and I can still feel the way this novel made me feel at the time should say a lot about how much it affected me emotionally – let’s just say, a LOT.

I would definitely recommend Why We Came to the City. Yes, it’s a book about a group of friends living their post-college lives, a genre I’ve recently discovered I like and want more of, but it’s truly so much more than that. Even if this niche genre isn’t your thing, I definitely think there’s a lot within this novel to digest and discuss. Highly recommended.

I’ve been MIA for over a month?

Wow, sorry guys. I did not intentionally disappear for over a month, but even before my sudden departure it was pretty clear that writing reviews had taken a backseat to something – okay, everything – else in my life. Typically I wouldn’t like to just go MIA without at least saying that I’d like to take a little break but that’s what happened.

I’m here. I’m back. I don’t know how much writing I’ll be doing but I am around, and I’ve been periodically checking in with some of you and leaving sporadic comments here and there.

But to be honest, there’s some personal stuff I’m going through right now that is really hard and really not stuff I want to talk about. And it’s such a huge distraction from the things I would like to be doing – reading, writing, etc. – that the blog and even reading in general has really gone by the wayside over the past couple of months. I WANT to read. I WANT to write about books. But my brain is all over the place these days and it’s been really hard for me to focus. I’m trying to get back into the mental headspace where things are a little more calm and I will be able to focus on reading and other things in my life that truly bring joy, but I’m not sure I’m quite there yet. Working on it.

So please forgive me if I post sporadically or not at all. There are several books I want to tell you guys about, and a few other posts I’ve been drafting in my head, but we’ll see if I can get myself together enough to make it happen.

I am here, though. Send good thoughts and peaceful vibes my way because right now, I need all the positive feelings and love I can get.

Thanks, friends.

A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White

A Soft Place to LandA Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White
Published by Touchstone

From the publisher:

For more than ten years, Naomi and Phil Harrison enjoyed a marriage of heady romance, tempered only by the needs of their children. But on a vacation alone, the couple perishes in a flight over the Grand Canyon. After the funeral, their daughters, Ruthie and Julia, are shocked by the provisions in their will…not the least of which is that they are to be separated.

Spanning nearly two decades, the sisters’ journeys take them from their familiar home in Atlanta to sophisticated bohemian San Francisco, a mountain town in Virginia, the campus of Berkeley, and lofts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As they heal from loss, search for love, and begin careers, their sisterhood, once an oasis, becomes complicated by resentment, anger, and jealousy. It seems as though the echoes of their parents’ deaths will never stop reverberating—until another shocking accident changes everything once again.

I’ve had this book on my TBR since falling in love with Susan Rebecca White’s gorgeous novel, A Place at the Table. When you love a book as much as I loved that one, it’s hard not to set exceedingly high expectations for the rest of the author’s work, which is kind of what happened here. I liked A Soft Place to Land. It was good. It was fine. It was sweet. It had emotions. It had pretty good characters. But the book didn’t come anywhere close to what I was hoping it would be.

I think the book started out problematic for me because I couldn’t buy the central premise. Basically, Naomi and Phil’s daughters are separated and raised by two different families after their parents die. The reason for this is complicated – Julia (the older daughter) has a biological father who is not Phil, so even though Naomi has full custody of her, upon her death, her will states that Julia is to live with her biological father and stepmother. And in the will, Ruthie is to live with she and Julia’s aunt and uncle. I get that Julia has to live with her biological parent, but would loving parents really put in a will that if they were to both die, their daughters – who now only have one another – be split up and have to live across the country from each other? And would the people charged with raising them after such a catastrophic event REALLY want to go along with this plan and allow the girls to be raised separately? I get it, but I don’t. There’s a point where the option to be raised together is presented, but various adults decide to be selfish and not do this, and I just couldn’t. Adults should want the best for children – this was NOT the best, and so outside the realm of what I thought was believable that I think it colored the entire book for me.

Besides all of that nonsense, I did like the book. Julia and Ruthie were believable – they each acted out in sometimes horrible ways, as grieving people do. Not only did they grieve for their parents, but their entire lives were turned upside-down because of the whole moving to different states, living with different families thing. Julia didn’t get along with her stepmother, Ruthie didn’t understand or identify with Julia’s rebellious ways, it was just a lot of these girls growing up and figuring things out, without parents and mostly without each other. I definitely feel that Susan Rebecca White can do complicated family dynamics really, REALLY well. And that she understands characters who act terrible and do awful things because of not knowing how else to react to a terrible situation.

I think the moral of the story of this review is that I liked A Soft Place to Land but had issues with it, and if I were going to recommend a book to you, I’d encourage you to pick up A Place at the Table first, as I felt that to be a far stronger novel. But I do plan to read more of the author’s books, because I really enjoy her writing and the way she develops her characters.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

Tiny Little ThingTiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

From the publisher:

In the summer of 1966, Christina Hardcastle—“Tiny” to her illustrious family—stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Of the three Schuyler sisters, she’s the one raised to marry a man destined for leadership, and with her elegance and impeccable style, she presents a perfect camera-ready image in the dawning age of television politics. Together she and her husband, Frank, make the ultimate power couple: intelligent, rich, and impossibly attractive. It seems nothing can stop Frank from rising to national office, and he’s got his sights set on a senate seat in November.

But as the season gets underway at the family estate on Cape Cod, three unwelcome visitors appear in Tiny’s perfect life: her volatile sister Pepper, an envelope containing incriminating photograph, and the intimidating figure of Frank’s cousin Vietnam-war hero Caspian, who knows more about Tiny’s rich inner life than anyone else. As she struggles to maintain the glossy façade on which the Hardcastle family’s ambitions are built, Tiny begins to suspect that Frank is hiding a reckless entanglement of his own…one that may unravel both her own ordered life and her husband’s promising career.

Beatriz Williams hasn’t disappointed me yet, and I can say that even though I didn’t love this novel as much as I did her previous ones. I’ve come to expect a kind of formula with her books that includes dual storylines – one “present” and one “past”, with two different main characters. Tiny Little Thing sort of has two storylines, but they are only set two years apart, and they both feature the same main character – Tiny. That being said, I liked Tiny a lot, so while I missed the historical element that most of her other books had, I didn’t mind as much because I enjoyed reading about Tiny throughout the entire book.

As always, Williams does a great job with her characters and the relationships between them. There are some really great scenes between Tiny and someone who must not be named for fear of a spoiler, some hilarious scenes between Tiny and her sister Pepper, and the dialogue around this insanely privileged, rich family is laughable but weirdly compelling (the sexism and misogyny, while annoying, is probably historically and demographically accurate). I liked the going back and forth between the two time periods, even though they were only a few years apart, because it gave some depth to this story that might have otherwise been sort of good but not great. Tiny went from a blah character to an very complex one before my eyes, and I liked that Williams kept up the dual narrative thing going with this book.

Tiny Little Thing does suffer a bit from being the second book in a trilogy – it’s not as exciting as the first book, and while I haven’t read the third yet, I’ve heard only amazing things about it – but I did enjoy it quite a bit. Even an okay book by Williams is great compared to lots of other novels, and I really loved getting to know Tiny. By the end of the book, I can truly say that I was rooting for her to find the love and happiness that I felt she deserved. Again, not my favorite Beatriz Williams of all time, but still a solid novel that I liked a lot.

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life

For the second year now, Trish is hosting this super fun event called A Day in the Life – encouraging bloggers to share the details from an ordinary (or not so ordinary!) day in our lives. I totally spaced and didn’t prioritize recording one of my days this time around, but as I’m reading all the other posts it is making me SO sad that I didn’t participate this year. As I type this, it’s 5 pm on Thursday and I have a decent memory of what happened yesterday. So here is my best recollection of Wednesday, March 23rd. Times are my best guesses.

Oh and – refresher on me, I am a branch manager at a well-known financial institution. 😉

6:40 – alarm goes off. I am not a snooze person so I get up right away, drink some water, brush teeth, and get in the shower. Spend the next 30-40 minutes getting dressed, etc.

7:30 – begin drive to work. It usually takes me about 45 minutes but today’s commute is great because spring break means fewer cars on the road, and NO school buses! Throughout the drive, I think about what I want to eat for breakfast – I’ll probably go with the yogurt I have in the fridge at work – and listen to my current audiobook (Troublemaker by Leah Remini).

8:05 – arrive at work 10 minutes early due to said great commute. Wait around for second employee, when she gets there at 8:15 we go in.

8:20 – do morning pre-opening things like making coffee, getting the branch ready for the day, and other bank/money stuff that is not interesting at all. I make my coffee in the Kuerig we all share and decide that the yogurt does not sound appetizing. Luckily, one of my employees has breakfast burritos that she made and froze in the freezer and offers me one. It’s delicious!

8:50 – unlock the doors and get ready to start the day. A few more employees are here by now.

9:05 – boss shows up unannounced. This is completely fine because I enjoy my boss a lot and don’t feel that I have to prepare for his visit or act any certain way when he’s there. He goes around talking to all of my employees while I sit down with a customer who has an issue with something, and resolve said issue.

9:30ish – 11:30ish – sit down with boss and discuss banking things and come up with a plan for a few things I need to work with my team on.

11:30ish – boss leaves. I start employee lunches, and today I have a very slim staff so I’m covering for people as they take lunch. I spend the next 3 hours helping customers, in person and on the phone, and bouncing back and forth between the teller side and the customer service/banker side.

3ish – sit down to eat my own lunch, the second half of my Chipotle burrito bowl from the day before.

3:20ish – 6:10 – this part of the day is mostly a blur to me. I know we were pretty busy so I helped a lot more customers and dealt with a few issues. Also, at some point during this time another branch manager friend of mine stopped by on his way home because he had to be in the area for something else. We chatted for about 10 minutes and he left.

6:10 – lock branch doors. There are no customers left in the building so my team might actually get to leave on time today! Very excited about that.

6:20 – tellers are done with everything for the day, I let them out and they go home. The bankers and I are staying late tonight to do some phone calls. Ask me more about this if you care, otherwise it’s pretty boring.

7:05 – phone calls done, everyone gets to go home. I start driving home, thinking about what I’ll eat for dinner almost the whole way home. Hubby is working late tonight (until 1 am!) so I know I’m on my own and don’t want to make anything elaborate or that takes up too much time.

7:45ish – get home. Take the dog out, clean up cat litter boxes, unload the clean dishwasher and re-load with dirty dishes in the sink from last night. Change into yoga pants and tank top and continue thinking about what to eat.

8:00ish – pour glass of wine. Stand in front of fridge for approximately 5 minutes before settling on a frozen turkey burger I find. Scrounge up bacon, cheese, and an egg and decide to add all that stuff to my turkey burger. Can’t find any buns so I settle for regular bread.

8:00-8:30ish – while I’m making dinner and while eating, I listen to my current podcast. When I finish eating, clean up the kitchen and put dishes in dishwasher.

8:30ish – time for the dog’s nightly walk. I start the walk with my earbuds in, listening to my podcast, but I abandon that quickly when I realize it’s REALLY dark in my neighborhood and I should probably be able to hear what’s going on around me. We take a quick walk, just around two blocks and back. I’m back home about 15 minutes later.

8:45ish – head upstairs to read for a little while. I finish Night Watch by Sarah Waters and move on to The Art of Fielding. I read for about an hour, while my dog sits by my side, munching on her “cookie” (she gets a rawhide treat thing most nights).

9:45ish – 11:30ish – despite being really tired, I want to watch some TV before bed. We have a TON of shows that we record on the DVR and are always falling way, way behind. This particular night, I pick Madame Secretary. The first episode is so good that I end up watching two and at this point, I’m beyond tired.

11:30ish – not sure exactly when I turned the TV off and went to bed, but I think it was shortly before midnight.

At some point between 1 am and 2 am my husband comes home, but he is really quiet so luckily I didn’t hear him and wake up.

On nights when hubby doesn’t work late, which is most nights, we cook and eat dinner together, talking about our days, and watch one or two TV shows after. He is always the dog walker at night and I sometimes go on the walk, sometimes not. I usually read after TV/walk and he does stuff on his computer. I almost always watch TV before bed, usually while playing on facebook or instagram or some other time suck. I want to get better about what I know is a bad habit, but truthfully, I love terrible reality shows like all the Real Housewives, and right before bed is my favorite time to watch them. So I probably won’t ever stop this habit, at least not anytime soon.

So that’s it! A regular Wednesday for me. Did you record your own day? Head over to Trish’s post to read about how others spend their days!

 

Happy New Year and rules for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks

Happy New Year, friends! This time of year always seems so full of hope, does it not? No matter what my year has been like, I always look to January first as a fresh start of sorts. Whether I’ve been conditioned by society to think that way or not, that’s how my brain works at this point. So I’m looking forward to 2016 with hope and excitement.

How was your holiday season? Mine was wonderful – I got to spend time with family and friends, enjoyed a TON of quality time with my nieces and nephew, and really just took time to enjoy my loved ones. I did, however, get an awful sinus infection that I’m still recovering from. And I also got stuck in Chicago for two extra days due to the horrific sleeting, snowing mess that happened on Monday. But I only had to spend one of those two days in the airport for fifteen hours. 😉 Could have been worse – could have been both days!

Anyway. I’m here to officially post my personal rules for Andi’s Read My Own Damn Books 2016.

As a sidenote, audiobooks don’t count towards any of those rules because due to a longer commute for work this year, I want to listen to more audios, and I get almost all of them from the library and currently have no unread audios that I own. So that’s separate from the challenge.

  1. For every library book read I need to read at LEAST one book from my TBR shelves.
  2. I am allowed to purchase as many books as I want for my permanent collection that I’ve already read, loved, and want to own, but every book purchased for my TBR shelves needs to be matched by either reading or culling/DNFing an existing book from the TBR shelves.
  3. I will read at least 6 chunksters from my TBR shelves this year – I’ll define chunksters as any book having 450 pages or more.
  4. I will read at least 6 books from my nonfiction TBR shelves this year.

Just four rules. I can handle that, right? RIGHT? Help me out here, guys. Anyone else planning to read your own books? What rules did you come up with to help yourself succeed?