Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Sunday Mix (11)

Macky decided to spring for a pre-birthday weekend getaway, so as you're reading this, I'm probably enjoying the beauty of Cape Cod. I'm excited to be able to visit it again this year, since I fell in love with it when we went in May. I'm also excited because it's August, and that means my birthday month is finally here! Can't wait to celebrate with all my family and friends; I'm sure it'll be spectacular!

WHAT I READ
  • Brittany has created a list of reading suggestions for adults who enjoyed Harry Potter. I certainly approve of many of these choices, particularly Throne of Glass, Cinder and Seraphina! And I definitely see a few titles I'd like to give a shot too.
  • Chachic has come up with a handy list of Filipino titles to check out. I'm always on the lookout for new books by my own countrymen or featuring my own culture to try reading, and I can't wait to get my hands on some of these!
  • The team at Quirk Books share a few tips for bookstagram! I'm always striving to improve my photos and up my Instagram game, so I'll definitely be considering a few new ideas to spice things up.
  • Brittany writes about going into books blind. I'm actually a lot like her in that respect! I do have a vague idea of what a book is about or what genre it belongs to, but I generally don't read a synopsis before I pick one up to read - and it usually serves me well.
  • Kelly shares her thoughts on how to manage your TBR. I seriously need to learn from her, as my TBR pile is constantly growing... even when I'm trying to whittle it down. I'm hoping that her questions and my Picky Pledge lessons will help me get better!
  • Brittany shares her thoughts on instalove. Personally, as I said in my own comment, I do believe in an instant connection with someone, as well as instant attraction. Love, on the other hand, can happen, but it takes time to grow.

WHAT I ACQUIRED


from publishers (Thanks Penguin Random House, Disney-Hyperion & St. Martin's Press)
physical: How to Write a Novel by Melanie Sumner / The Scorch Trials by James Dashner / Rome in Love by Anita Hughes / Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko
e-book: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

gifted/won (Thanks Hannah & Lena!)
physical: The Assassin and the Pirate Lord (Polish ed.) by Sarah J. Maas / Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout / Crown of Midnight (Italian ed.) by Sarah J. Maas

bought (I'm so pleased that I stuck to my guns and only bought books at signings!)
physical: The Shattered Court by M.J. Scott / Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare / Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally / The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

Friday, July 31, 2015

July 2015

I really enjoy the summertime, y'all. It's not a secret, given that I've expressed my deep love for the season over and over on various forms of social media. I'm a sucker for sunshine that lasts for hours, breezy days and blue skies, trips to the beach or out of town; I'm definitely much more active in the summer than I am in the winter. July has been no exception to the rule! I'm a little sad to bid July goodbye but I'm super excited that tomorrow is my birthday month (my birthday is on August 5). I can't wait for the adventures I have coming up, including a trip up to Cape Cod to kick off the birthday festivities!

WHAT I DID

After a very chill Fourth of July weekend spent with Macky, I've been doing fun things like going to see Taylor Swift (my first time catching her concert!), attending a couple of signings (a massive RWA signing + a signing at Books of Wonder), hanging out with friends (ice cream dates and Target runs and hanging out at each other's apartments) and just spending as much time as I can keeping busy with life and projects and chores.



WHAT I READ


WHAT I POSTED


I have to admit that it's been a slow reading month for me when it comes to fantasy. I've only read three fantasy novels - The Assassin's Blade, Throne of Glass (PS - You should participate in the re-read that Bloomsbury is currently hosting! #ReadThroneofGlass) and Court of Fives. I'm reading Legacy of Kings this week though!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Come Away with Me - Karma Brown

Come Away with Me book cover
Come Away with Me by Karma Brown
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Source/Format: BEA 2015 || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my review.]

One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Tegan is consumed by grief, not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she's hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.

From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it. 

Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

It is a very rare occurrence to have a novel you choose to read based solely on its summary turn out to be one of the best novels you’ve read in a long, long while. Come Away with Me is one such novel, a debut that impressed me with its honest, emotional portrayal of one woman’s struggle with grief. It balances perfectly introspection and reaction, unafraid to show readers the true face of Tegan Lawson’s heartbreaking story; it succeeds in eliciting a strong emotional response from readers by inviting us in to share Tegan’s journey. 

Tegan Lawson comes to life off the page, mostly because she experiences such intense bouts of emotion, whether sadness or joy. It was so easy to quietly slip into her brain and come along for the ride, allowing her narration to be our guide into who she is, what she’s gone through and what she needs to do. It’s not easy to read about someone suffering from such terrible heartbreak; it also isn’t easy to see how she pushes away the people in her life – Gabe, her best friend Anna, her family. And yet, all these things are true habits of someone suffering depression, and Tegan certainly is. 

Brown does an excellent job chronicling Tegan Lawson’s journey, both the physical and the emotional. Physically, readers visit Thailand, Italy and Hawaii with Tegan, and let me tell you, Brown really knows how to describe these places with such vivid, vibrant details. I was there with Tegan when she tried Thai iced coffee, climbed endless stairs off the coast in Italy and learned to surf in Hawaii, among other things. Each place came alive beautifully, and that’s testament to Brown’s knack for description. Emotionally, Brown doesn’t hold back, allowing readers to experience the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re witness to all the parts of Tegan as she tries to navigate her way from grief to acceptance, a journey filled with moments that will break your heart, make you angry and coax out a smile or two. It’s written so well that you just get swept up in it all, and what a glorious, moving experience it is. 

While I’m bursting to gush more about Come Away with Me, I believe it is best summed up just like this: you need to read this story. Brown’s incredible debut will transport you away from the everyday into fantastic new locales, even as it makes your heart break and patches it up till it is whole again. I was thoroughly impressed by this debut novel from Karma Brown, and definitely look forward to seeing what she will be writing about next.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Screens & Scenes: June-July 2015

It wasn't my intention to wait more than a month to do another round, but I actually think it works out well! I've seen quite a few movies over the last eight weeks, which means there's a greater variety of films to be shared in this post. While I haven't gotten to see Broadway shows or ballets, I have managed to finish the first seasons of two really great TV shows (which isn't something I normally manage to do). Check out everything I've seen below!

FAVORITES
Inside Out / Song of the Sea / Daredevil

MOVIES
Jurassic World (trailer) - I really enjoyed this film! There were certainly arcs, and even characters, that I could do without, and I found parts of the story quite predictable. But there's something that really appeals to me when it comes to dinosaurs. And it helps that I adore Chris Pratt, and thought he was an excellent lead for this blockbuster.

Inside Out (trailer) - Pass me the tissues! I seriously fell in love with this latest release from Pixar, because it's a story that combines whimsy + reality so, so well. I got incredibly emotional just seeing Riley's mind at work (literally), and it was such a fascinating take on what difficult experiences might be like for younger people. Funny and witty and emotional, it was certainly a hit for me!

Spirited Away (trailer) - If anyone has the ability to combine imagination and emotion down to a science, it would be Hayao Miyazaki. I was swept up in this fanciful tale, borne happily on the ideas drawn from Japanese culture and folklore. Viewing a Miyazaki film is always a transforming experience; it was no different with this one.

Roman Holiday (trailer) - I finally got a chance to sit down with this film one Saturday morning, and I really liked it! It's such a sweet romantic comedy, and setting it against the backdrop of Rome just made it all the more wonderful. I just love the way Hepburn owns her role (and all her outfits too), and totally wanted to emulate her style (even more) after seeing this.

Stargate (trailer) - This is one of Macky's childhood favorites, and I certainly wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did! It's science fiction, combined with Egyptian culture, and it also tackles humanity and relationships to boot. Even though it's an older film (most obvious in the execution of special effects), it definitely was an enjoyable viewing experience overall.

Looper (trailer) - Joseph-Gordon Levitt is a favorite for me, and I'm always amused by the variety of films he tackles. I'm not much for action, violence or gore, but I did like the concept of this film. I think the time travel, in tandem with power plays and questions of morality, made this simple story so much more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

Song of the Sea (trailer) - Pass me more tissues! I had no clue what this story was about when we chose to watch it, but I think that just made the experience all the sweeter. It's about magic; it incorporates a lot of folklore and magical creatures. It's about family; the strain of losing a mother and wife, the strength of a familial relationships, the ups and downs of that sibling bond. It was such a lovely film, with adorable animation and a great soundtrack.

Ant-Man (trailer) - This film was really enjoyable, equal parts funny, snarky and heartfelt. I harbor a lot of love for Paul Rudd, but his role in this film added fuel to that fire. I loved the execution of this story, special effects and insects included. I liked seeing the relationships, learning the backstory of this particular Ant-Man and all the nods to other superheroes and films. It's definitely a surprise, but a good one! (PS - Stay for both end credit scenes. You won't regret it.)

TV SHOWS
Charmed (S1) (promo) - It's been years since I've seen Charmed, and I felt like it was time to revisit my favorite witchy sisters. Though there's a formulaic feel to the plot of each episode, and even though their magic and history feels a bit thin, I still enjoyed the heck out of seeing Prue, Piper and Phoebe learn to accept, wield and love their powers - and each other. I definitely enjoyed revisiting the early days, and can't wait to keep on going with the rest of the remaining seasons.

Daredevil (S1) (trailer) - I've already mentioned I'm not one for violence and gore. But I am a sucker for a great superhero story, and that's essentially what fascinates me about this show. I wasn't too familiar with Matt Murdock and his story before I started watching, so everything about it - the flashbacks, the characterization, the plot - feels so fresh. The show runners did an excellent job casting the various characters (I seriously like them all, good and bad); the story is well-paced, lines well-written and direction well-done. I'm so invested in discovering what will happen next for Matt and company and cannot wait for S2!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Window Opens - Elisabeth Egan

A Window Opens book cover
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Source/Format: BEA 2015 || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my review.]

Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?

Elisabeth Egan is a fresh voice in the world of adult fiction, though she's best known as the books editor at Glamour magazine. Her savvy with words certainly helps make A Window Opens incredibly readable in spite of its length. But it is the simplicity of her story and how it has the potential to strike a chord with a variety of readers that really make it remarkable. In spite of a sluggish beginning, A Window Opens wound up grabbing my attention and holding it until I turned the very last page.

It might sound like an unassuming tale, but I certainly found myself inspired to do some reflection post-read. A Window Opens tackles the story of Alice Pearse, a mother, wife and part-time book reviewer, who finds herself on the hunt for a new full-time job when her husband decides to leave the law firm he was working for. When she snags a well-paying job with Scroll, a new start-up company that aims to be the future of reading, it seems like it is all going to be okay.

A Window Opens reveals that, while there are indeed some very triumphant, sweet moments, there are also a lot of difficult moments and tough choices that she faces. Readers get a glimpse of both what is and isn’t ideal about being in her position via Egan’s realistic portrayal of Alice’s life after she starts working with Scroll. Personally, I found it riveting. I couldn’t stop turning the pages, even though there were moments where I felt my hackles rising, my heart breaking or my hope faltering, emotions shifting as the situation called for it.

Once I’d hit the end, I found myself thinking about my own life and considering my options, inspired by the way Alice had no choice but to face her circumstances and figure out her own path in life. There were three things in particular that stood out to me about her story:
  • Sometimes, life throws you curveballs. Or you might make bad choices. You need to be willing to face the problems head-on in order to figure out a solution, and willing to accept that fact that you might make mistakes along the way.
  •  It is important to decide what your priorities are in life, and let that dictate how you live it. If you know what you value the most, the decision-making process tends to become a whole lot simpler and easier.
  •  When a door closes, a window opens. Just because you don’t see it yet, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a silver lining hiding in there somewhere.
Life lessons and my personal connection aside, A Window Opens really does happen to be a well-written contemporary novel. It is a fairly simple plot, but Egan sure manages to throw you a curveball of her own with some unexpectedly emotional twists. If you’re on the lookout for a new author to try, or a thoughtfully written adult contemporary, then this might just be the book for you.

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