Friday, August 18, 2017

Blog Break + What I'll Be Reading

Hi everyone, just wanted to let you know I'll be taking a brief break from the blog next week as I spend some time with family, relax, and (hopefully) do some reading!

I typically stick to rereads when I'm on vacation, because I'm never sure how much actual reading time I'll get in and there are always lots of distractions, so I don't really want to start something new.  Here's what I'll be bringing with me next week:

What do you like to read when you're on vacation?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Waiting on/Can't Wait Wednesday: Origin

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings - both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Origin (Robert Langdon #5)
Dan Brown
Expected publication date: October 3, 2017
Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself . . . and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery . . . and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us. - from Goodreads
So yeah, some people might scoff at Dan Brown's books, but I've always loved his stories and their mix of suspense, history, and art!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer TBR Wipeout 2017: Wrap-Up

I can't believe it's already time to wrap up the Summer TBR Wipeout, hosted by The Candid Cover!


After my last update, I had three more books to go from my challenge TBR of 10 books.  Things You Won't Say is a timely story about a police shooting.  Sarah Pekkanen's novels are a bit hit-or-miss for me; this one was an okay read.  I could have used less of the supporting characters and more of the police officer that the story is actually about.

I devoured The Best Kind of Magic by Crystal Cestari in just two days.  This book was so adorable - a matchmaker, large sprinkles of magic, and touches of adventure.  I absolutely loved it!

Finally, I read The Girl Before by JP Delaney, a thriller about an unusual home, its mysterious architect, and the women who have lived in this unique place.  Although things got a bit odd at the end, I loved the twists and turns in this fast-paced story.

I really enjoyed this summer reading challenge.  I thought it was the perfect length of time to be able to read a good number of books without feeling like I needed to rush through them or spend all my time reading (as much as I would love to, I do need to do other things sometimes!).  And it helped me finally get to some unread books on my shelf and clear out some titles from my TBR from earlier in the year. 

Hope you all had a great summer of reading!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Dividing Eden

Dividing Eden (Dividing Eden #1)
Joelle Charbonneau
Published June 6, 2017
Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option: to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal? - from Goodreads
I love books about royalty, and with the added twist of twins and the fantasy element I've been craving lately, I dove right into Dividing Eden.  However, while it started out strong, the story and characters lost their way and I ended up disappointed.

Princess Carys is strong and stoic.  She has spent her life protecting her brother and helping him hide his secret from the rest of the kingdom, but she's also facing her own struggles, namely an addiction to a painkilling medicine.  Prince Andreus is a womanizer but he also has a big heart for those who are suffering.

After the king and crown prince are killed and the queen renounces the throne, the Council of Elders of Eden is ready to name a new king, even though two heirs remain.  Apparently, no one knows which twin was born first; therefore, neither can be crowned.  Until someone points out that the law says the heirs can battle each other in a series of trials, with the winner receiving the crown.  At this point I was super excited - I couldn't wait to see what trials the twins would have to go through and how they would retain their strong relationship while battling each other.  Some of the trials turn out to be kind of lame and seem to have little to do with ruling a kingdom.  They also move through them so quickly that it was hard to get invested.

Unfortunately, the issues kept coming.  The whole beginning of the story leads us to believe the twins are so close, yet Andreus is swayed by another character during the trials and turns on Carys so quickly, it's really unbelievable.  It totally contradicted what we know about Andreus.  Many of the secondary characters are shady but interchangeable.  Honestly, I kept getting a lot of them confused.  There is a twist of magic at the end that to me seemed to come out of nowhere and isn't supported by anything else in the book (the author gives an explanation, but I wasn't buying it).  Plus, I kept getting a Game of Thrones vibe, with winter approaching and creatures that come out of the woods with the cold.  The writing is also very repetitive - how many times in a chapter can we be told that Andreus has a secret?

Overall, I wanted to love this story - the idea is unique but it also has so many elements that I normally like.  And while I want to see Carys and Andreus find the strong bond they once had, I'm not sure I'll continue with the series.

2.5 stars

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens is a 1,000+-acre botanical garden located in Kennett Square, PA.  We originally tried going in January for their Christmas light show, but of course, there was a snowstorm that weekend.  We finally made our way down there a couple weeks ago, and it was so beautiful!

For more information about Longwood Gardens, visit their website here.  On non-peak days, there is a $23 charge to enter the gardens, and the tickets are for timed entry. 

The Main Fountain Garden has reopened after renovations, so we made our way there first; like the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Longwood Gardens puts on a show with their fountains, set to music (and lights at night).  We caught the show a couple times that day - for a good view, definitely get there early; people start lining up well in advance!

Next, we went through the Conservatory, a massive building with so many different themed rooms filled with plants and flowers.  I probably could have spent hours just in there!

One of my favorite parts was actually just outside the Conservatory, where they had several pools of lily pads - it was so pretty!

Then we did some exploring outside - we walked past the Meadow and made our way down to the Italian Water Garden.

There are several fun structures located around the grounds, including two treehouses and this beautiful gazebo:

The last place we walked through was the Flower Garden Walk - it had so many different types of flowers, arranged by color - such a cool rainbow effect!

We spent a few hours walking around here and probably could have stayed for longer, there was just so much to see.  It was a really great place for kids - our niece had a blast running around and looking at everything.  We can't wait to go back in the winter to see the holiday decorations!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Waiting On/Can't Wait Wednesday: Wish You Were Here

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings - both help us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Renee Carlino
Expected publication date: August 15, 2017
Charlotte has spent her twenties adrift, floating from interest to interest, job to job, and guy to guy, searching for a spark but never quite finding it. All she knows is that she won’t discover it working as a waitress at a pies-and-fries joint in Los Angeles or living with her fun but aimless best friend in a tiny apartment in the Arts District.

Then Charlotte collides with Adam, a gorgeous and soulful painter who seems just as lost as she feels. Their instant connection turns into a midnight drink… and a whirlwind night of champagne, Chinese food, and the kind of conversation that only happens in romantic comedies. But the next morning, Adam gives Charlotte the cold shoulder, leaving her confused and hurt—and wondering if the few odd moments between them the night before were red flags in disguise.

Months later, Charlotte hasn’t been able to shake Adam, so she decides to find out what happened the morning after their magical night together. This fateful decision rewrites their wild love story, but what Charlotte doesn’t know yet is that the ending has already been written. - from Goodreads
For all those girls who just want answers - I can't wait to read this one!

Monday, August 7, 2017

6 Ways to Support Your Favorite Charity Without Writing a Check

Donating money to a charity is, without a doubt, an awesome way to support your favorite causes - they can use the cash in the areas that need it most and often they can get better deals (like food banks buying in bulk) than individuals can.  But there are lots of other ways to help out, so today I wanted to list some ways you can support your favorite charities that go beyond writing a check (although, TBH, some of these things may involve some cash layout)!

  • Donate your used books.  Places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or your local library will accept your used books.  These organizations will most likely sell them and use the profits for support.  There are also some charities that will distribute your used books or help match you with a new reader; check out this list of charities that accept and distribute used books.  I love the idea of putting books back out into the world for others to enjoy.
  • If you're hosting a baby shower, ask guests to bring extra packs of wipes or diapers.  We did this at my sister's baby shower.  The guests were so generous and we were able to donate the items to Children's Home Society of New Jersey, an organization that helps at-risk children and families.
  • At your next barbeque, when your guests ask if they can bring anything, request non-perishable items that can be donated to your local food bank.  Instead of having your guests bring an extra side dish, ask if they'd be willing to bring some canned vegetables or boxes of cereal.
  • Participate in a walk for charity.  There may be a registration fee, but sometimes there isn't.  Ask your friends and family to sponsor you or join you!  Charity walks are a great way to support a cause while getting outdoors at the same time.
  • Organize a get-together with friends and family to put together dinner bags/snack bags/hygiene bags for your local soup kitchen.  Check with your local soup kitchen and see what items they accept.  Some in our area look for bagged non-perishable dinners or snacks they can hand out; they often also accept hygiene products.
  • Host a Make-A-Blanket Day for Project Linus.  My sister and I love making no-sew blankets for Project Linus, so we hosted a Make-A-Blanket Day and invited family and friends.  It was so great to see the huge stack of blankets we had made at the end of the day.

What are some of your favorite charities?  What kind of volunteer work do you do?