Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that highlights a soon to be released book that we can't wait to get our hands on.

This week's pick: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Due out: September 6, 2016

Product Information taken from Amazon:

With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, “Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”

A Gentleman in Moscow
 immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Enchanted Island

Allison Amend's novels spans the lifetime of one woman, Frances Frankowitz, who was born in Duluth but who has a life full of adventure that she could only imagine as she was growing up. 

As the novel begins, Frances and her best friend, Rosalie, are living in a retirement home. Frances has always been envious of Rosalie's life, and when Rosalie is honored for her work during the war, Frances is especially bothered by the fact that her own wartime contribution must remain a secret.

When I first read about Enchanted Islands I was intrigued by the Galapagos Island setting.  However, the novel begins with both girls' childhoods in Duluth and their experiences as they set out on their own.  It isn't until much later in Frances' life that she gets an opportunity to work as a spy for the United States government by agreeing to marry Ainslie Conway.  

Her marriage to Conway is friendly, but not romantic, and the two set off for the Galapagos Islands.  There are only a few others who inhabit the island, and it is revealed that perhaps they have reasons for being there that are not altogether innocent.

I loved the description of this time and place.  I loved that Frances and Ainslie are real people and that Allison Amend developed a work of fiction around their supposed work as spies.  I loved the fact that my imagination is piqued and I now want to know more about these people and their impact on the world during World War II. 

This is a fantastic work of historical fiction. I'm looking forward to seeing more from Amend in the future.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Curious Beginning

I've barely recovered from vacation (today when my alarm went off at 4:45 AM, I certainly didn't feel like getting up), and despite the fact that I read a lot in the car on our trip, I didn't get all the reviews done that I intended to (this should surprise no one since we were with friends nearly the entire time).

I had great intentions of having A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn finished up. Instead, I am still reading.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that I am happily reading this book and quite enjoying it.

Although historical fiction is my genre of choice, I don't read many books set in the late 1800s in London.  I definitely like American historical fiction novels better than those set elsewhere.

At least that's what I have always thought.  But this novel has been delightful.  I thoroughly enjoy Veronica Speedwell who is a unique character.  She's a lepidopterist (thank goodness I can dredge up my high school Advanced Biology bug collecting vocabulary when I need it), not at all interested in getting married.

After the death of the two aunts who raised her, Veronica finds herself relocating after a burglar breaks in to her home.  The Baron von Stauffenbach takes her with him, which does save her the cost of a train ticket, and deposits her with Stoker, also a unique character.

Stoker preserves animals (taxidermy is just part of his skill set) and vows to ensure  Veronica's safety. When the Baron is found murdered the two decide they must remain together and search for the truth themselves.

There is a bit of something for everyone in this novel: romance, suspense, a well-created setting and time period, and interesting and witty characters.

I'm enjoying every page of this novel and am excited to see that there are others in the series already published and a new installment set to be published in January 2017.

Fans of the Maisie Dobbs series may want to check this one out, and Raybourn also authors the Lady Julia Gray series if you finish up the Veronica Speedwell mysteries.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Salon: Vacation 2016

We've been gone the past week on vacation which was both busy and fun.  

Since a picture's worth a thousand words, I'm sharing vacation pictures of the highlights of our trip.

We started out in St. Louis, Missouri, taking a trip to the top of the Arch

Next up: City Museum in St. Louis, a hot 1.2 mile walk in 95 degree weather from our hotel.

And if we weren't hot enough already, we had seats facing the sun at a Cardinals game that evening.

Anheuser-Busch Tour on Tuesday morning:

After time on the road, we met up with our friends in the house we rented together in Nashville.  Their four kids and our three picked up right where they left off last summer in North Carolina, with board games.

Breakfast the next morning at Pancake Pantry was definitely worth waking up early for.

When in Nashville.... our visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. There isn't a country music fan in the bunch of us, but we do know more country music than we thought....

with Taylor Swift's outfits

A stop at the Parthenon and a game of Ultimate Frisbee

Ann Patchett's book store, Parnassus, where we spent part of an afternoon.

Andrew Jackson's house The Hermitage. All the kids are listening to the audio tour and trying to keep cool

Ice cream at Jeni's....I wish we had one close to us.

Reese Witherspoon's store, Draper James.  Sarah and I made quick trip while the kids were swimming with the husbands

And there was even time to relax for a while

Our last night in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry.

We spent much of yesterday in the van driving home (I got in some quality reading time), and tomorrow it is back to reality.

We're already planning on meeting up next summer for a vacation.  We had a great week with lots of memories being made.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Five

We're in Nashville this week with friends on vacation and having a great time.  I found a few things online to share before we left.

1.  Bold Top - I ordered this shirt for my first day back to school.  After spending my life in education, I still want something new to wear on my first day back.

2.  Girls on the Go Wrap It Up Top - this top from Eddie Bauer is another one I'm wanting for fall. I'm waiting until it goes on sale.

3.  Gap Women Long Sleeve Eyelet Top - I have always loved eyelet, but don't have any in my wardrobe currently.

4.  1969 Denim Western Shirt - I ordered the short sleeve version of this in the spring, and love it. I'm almost certain that I need this.

5.  Chaco Sandals - I've been wearing the same pair of Tevas for years now and they are truly worn out. These would be a nice upgrade.

6.  A Happy Third Birthday to Prince George! Four birthday photos were released and he is just getting cuter, it seems.

What's caught your eye this week?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

TLC Blog Tour: Lift:

TLC Book Tours has been generous in providing me so many great books to read.  I am always excited to get a package in the mail, and Lift: Fitness Culture, from Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors is fantastic look at the history of exercise and fitness that brings us through history to the present day.

Lift brings back memories of the time in my life before I became a teacher. My bachelor's degree is in Fitness Management, a degree that combined science classes like kinesiology and cardiophysiology with business classes so that students would be able to run a corporate fitness program. As companies faced hard times financially, those corporate fitness programs dried up - right about the same time I was graduating and looking for a job.  

Obviously  I chose a different path to pursue, but my interest in exercise and fitness has endured (even when I find myself not very excited about my own work-out). 

Nowhere in my classes did I learn about the history of exercise, so Lift was especially interesting.  I don't have a great interest in Greek history, but the background that is given in this book isn't overwhelming and explains how athletes were perceived and how they trained.  

The portion of Lift that deals more with our recent history is of more interest to me than the first part of the book. However, I appreciate that first portion and the research done about the Greeks because it does give a better overall picture of this culture.

I can better appreciate the different rationales behind exercising. Weight loss? Performance?  Longevity of life?  Each plays a part in why people exercise.  

In just my lifetime alone we have seen a shift in exercise. Women can now lift heavy weights where it was once discouraged.  Exercise machines were popular, but are now less encouraged since a machine restricts movement, and cross fit has become the go-to workout.

These time periods are explained and recalled in Lift which really was a fantastic look at the reasons we exercise - and proved a very interesting book to read while running on the treadmill.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing a copy of this book. All opinions expressed are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Three Blond Mice

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that highlights soon to be released titles we can't wait to read.

This week's pick:  Three Blond Mice by Jane Green
Due out: August 2, 2016

In bestselling author Jane Heller’s wild and hilarious novel of romantic comedy and suspense, three friends go on a cooking excursion with a famous chef, only to discover one of their classmates is very keen on practicing knife technique. The long-awaited sequel to Heller’s much-loved novel Princess Charming

Elaine Zimmerman and her best friends Jackie Gault and Pat Kovecky venture to a farm in Litchfield, Connecticut. It’s been over a year since their last trip together, a Caribbean cruise aboard the Princess Charming, and after dealing with a murderous ex and his hit man, they’re yearning for a no-drama vacation this time. During their Cultivate Our Bounty Week, they and eight other guests will learn how to cook farm-to-table meals with Whitley’s artisan-in-residence, a renowned TV/restaurant chef named Jason Hill. Elaine, the jaded, neurotic narrator, is less than thrilled—especially because the program wasn’t supposed to include a surprise appearance by her former boyfriend Simon, who’s still the love of her life but can’t commit to her. What’s more, after milking a cow and making cheese, she stumbles on evidence that one of her fellow agritourists is out to murder Chef Hill at the resort’s Bounty Fest finale. 

Is the killer among the freakishly fit Manhattan couple who takes their devotion to organic, hormone-free, non-GMO food to the point of obsession? The grandmother from Wisconsin who’s a groupie of the celebrity chef and follows him to every event? The mother and son from Palm Beach who bicker over whether he should give up his law practice to open his own restaurant? Three Blonde Mice serves up a crackling romance between Elaine and Simon, a twisty whodunit involving a screwball cast of suspects and a satire of current food fads and the farm-to-table chefs who perpetuate them. 

TLC: The Runaway Wife

The Runaway Wife is a fun read - fast and although it could be deemed realistic fiction, there is enough unbelievability in this novel to make it seem not quite realistic.

Jim and a friend go hiking in the Swiss Alps. At dinner one night the men meet three sisters who ask for their help in rescuing their mother, who has run away from her "real life" as her husband seeks the presidency in France and it is revealed that he has had an affair.

Jim agrees to help out, although their mother may not want to be rescued.

This is a slim novel that is easily read in one sitting.  Although I'm not a fan of the cover, I loved the Swiss Alps setting and the description that is given for this place.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are, as always, my own.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It's Time For A Jane Green Novel

There are some authors that publish very regularly.  As a person who doesn't like surprises, I can appreciate that.  Jane Green is an author I can count on to release a book every spring/summer that satisfies the women's fiction reader in me.

Some books are more enjoyable than others, but Green is an author I can count on and enjoy.

In Falling, Emma has relocated once from England to New York to pursue a career. Now Emma realizes that a life filled with work isn't exactly what she wants, either.  She moves once again to a small town in Connecticut with no firm plans but a few ideas.

She rents a house from Dominic, a single dad who happens to live right next door.  

At this point you can probably see where this is going. and you wouldn't be wrong.  If you are hoping for a novel with lots of twists and turns and surprises, Falling is not for you.  

However, the path to happiness does not go in a straight line, and Green throws many challenges at Dominic and Emma, some of which they can overcome. 

I enjoyed Falling, and I enjoy the familiarity of an author I read often and whose work I am familiar with.

I'll keep reading Jane Green as long as she keeps writing.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Family Of Readers: A Book Club Is Born

A few weeks ago I shared here what my family was reading.  We've had a pretty good summer of reading so far -and I'm hoping it continues.

Everyone has finished up what they were reading before and moved on to other things.

But the most exciting thing on the reading front is the start of Little Sister's book club with some friends.

A few weeks ago another mother contacted me wanting some help on starting a book club.  Her oldest daughter and my youngest daughter will both be starting fourth grade in the fall, and before the summer slips away from us we met to get a few things organized.

The book club met twice so far, and we are off to a good start.  Before we actually saw the girls and discussed anything, there were a few things we lined up.

First, we (and by this I mean the other mother, Mandy), had to get a few things organized.  

I gathered a stack of books together that might be possible selections for the girls to read.

We looked over our options, made our selections, and tried to pick from a variety of genres.

Mandy created fliers to send to a group of girls. Both our daughters picked four friends we thought might enjoy participating and we spent time delivering the invitations.

Since the books were listed on the fliers, each girl was responsible for finding their own book and having it read before we met to discuss.

Mandy is hosting the book club each week and preparing an art/craft activity for the girls to do related to the book.

Our first week we read The Candy Touch and the girls used candy molds and melted chocolates to create their own candy.

Last week we discussed I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937. The activity was painting using a watercolors and salt which created a chemical reaction.

I am in charge of the discussion.  As the girls work on their activity, I ask questions that I hope are open enough and lend themselves to discussion.  Some girls are taking turns making quiz questions for the books, with each girl to answer correctly getting a sucker as a treat.  

I'm loving this little group. My older daughters have each come once and beg to get to come along.  This makes me feel incredibly guilty that I didn't start something like this when they were this age, and I probably missed the boat on a book club for them. 

Although we only have two more book club selections planned (The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker and So B. It by Sarah Weeks), I am hoping that the girls enjoy it enough that this is something we continue once school resumes.