Monday, April 28, 2014

Quick Pick: The Engagements, by J. Courtney Sullivan

    The Engagements review J. Courtney Sullivan
  • Opening line: "Frances poured the last bitter remains of the coffeepot into her cup."
  • Reason I picked up the book: We chose to read this book for my book club recently, but I had a hand in choosing it - I've read Maine and also Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan, and enjoyed both.
  • And what's this book about?
  • From the New York Times best-selling author of Commencement and Maine comes a gorgeous, sprawling novel about marriage—about those who marry in a white heat of passion, those who marry for partnership and comfort, and those who live together, love each other, and have absolutely no intention of ruining it all with a wedding.

    Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own.

    As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

    A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years,
    The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America, and the way—for better or for worse—these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love.
  • Favorite paragraph: 
Frances ran a finger over one of her new honeymoon ads. Other women never seemed to think about what came next. They were so eager to be paired up, as if marriage was known to be full of splendor. Frances was the opposite; she could never stop thinking about it. She might go to dinner or out dancing with someone new, and have a fine time. But when she got home and climbed into bed afterward, her heart would race with fear. If she went out with him again, then they might go out again after that. Eventually, she would have to take him home to be evaluated by her parents, and vice versa. Then he would propose. And she, like all the other working girls who had married before her, would simply disappear into a life of motherhood and isolation.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who likes a good story.
  • Something to know: The book is fiction EXCEPT for Frances Gerety's parts - the events have been taken liberties with by the author, but they all occurred in real life.
  • What I would have changed: Nothing! This was a fantastic book. There's five stories in total, and four of them interconnect; at the beginning of the novel, I was thinking the author should have put each of the stories together, but then they connect in a surprising and genius way near the end of the novel - so have patience. 
  • Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

GIVEAWAY: Sherpani Presta Large Commuter Messenger Bag ($90 value!), ends 5/9

Sherpani Giveaway ImageMother's Day Sherpani bag giveaway

Check out this contest and enter via the form below - wouldn't this be a great bag in which to tote around all your books?! It even looks big enough for a laptop - Amy says in her review that a standard-sized laptop would fit. 

Good luck!

Welcome to this fun giveaway where one lucky reader will receive this beautiful Sherpani Presta Large Commuter Messenger Bag (value $90).  Amy was fortunate enough to have to the opportunity to review several bags from Sherpani, including the one featured in today's giveaway.  You can read her thoughts on this bag here or if you want to get to the giveaway, simply continue down to the giveaway.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book Review: The Ring and the Crown, by Melissa de la Cruz

One is pale and thin, her eyes a waterless blue, their color fading.

One is merry and bright, her eyes a vibrant hue, their color blinding.

After a moment they turn back to their play, ignoring me.

Except now there is no more singing - only the darkness of the room as the curtains close against the light, and the dream fades.

Two girls.
One beautiful and strong.
One plain and powerless.
Only one shall be queen ...
And the other shall serve her.
But as I awake from sleep, I still do not know - 
Which one of them is my daughter?
And which one is the traitor?

I'm a big fan of Melissa de la Cruz's work - I also got to interview her in October 2012 - and this is her newest - bringing us to the early 20th century during the "London Season," where royalty and rich commoners mingle in order to propose marriage. The novel focuses on four girls, two of whom desperately want to marry a rich lord and two of whom couldn't really care less; Princess Marie-Victoria, who has just been engaged to Prince Leopold, whom she dislikes, and Aelwyn, a sorceress who is also Marie-Victoria's childhood friend.

Official synopsis:
Melissa de la Cruz The Ring and the CrownPrincess Marie-Victoria, heir to the Lily Throne, and Aelwyn Myrddn, bastard daughter of the Mage of England, grew up together. But who will rule, and who will serve?

Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second, Supreme Ruler of the Franco-British Empire. With the help of her Head Merlin, Emrys, Eleanor has maintained her stranglehold on the world's only source of magic. She rules the most powerful empire the world has ever seen.

But even with the aid of Emrys' magic, Eleanor's extended lifespan is nearing its end. The princess must marry and produce an heir or the Empire will be vulnerable to its greatest enemy, Prussia. The two kingdoms must unite to end the war, and the only solution is a match between Marie and Prince Leopold VII, heir to the Prussian throne. But Marie has always loved Gill, her childhood friend and soldier of the Queen's Guard.

Together, Marie and Aelwyn, a powerful magician in her own right, come up with a plan. Aelwyn will take on Marie's face, allowing the princess to escape with Gill and live the quiet life she's always wanted. And Aelwyn will get what she's always dreamed of--the chance to rule. But the court intrigue and hunger for power in Lenoran England run deeper than anyone could imagine. In the end, there is only rule that matters in Eleanor's court: trust no one.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Love Like the Movies, by Victoria Van Tiem, ends 4/21

It's been seven years.

He's like Connor Mead ... and I'm like Jennifer Garner's character, Jenny Perotti. What was his line? I quickly Google Ghosts of Girlfriends Past to find it. Here, yes ... The power in all relationships lies with whoever cares less. It's true. If I'm still muddled up in old feelings, Shane still holds this power over me.

He always did. And not just over me. Over all the girls. It wasn't that I didn't care that every female in college thought they had this special connection with him. I just got used to it. Although at Fossie's, the flirty Mary didn't seem to get his normal attention. His attention was solely on me.

Either way, I need a ghost buster.

This book was very cute, but you need to be a rom-com movie lover in order to appreciate it. The author has her main character, Kensington (Kenzi, for short), obsessed with them, and she throws out references from all of these films willy-nilly throughout the novel.

Love Like the Movies book reviewOfficial synopsis:
In this irresistible romantic romp, movie fanatic Kensington Shaw is thrown into love—Hollywood-style—when her gorgeous ex presents a series of big screen challenges to win back her heart.

What girl wouldn’t want to experience the Pretty Woman shopping scene? It’s number two on the list. Or, try the lift from Dirty Dancing? It’s number five. One list, ten romantic movie moments, and a handful of shenanigans later, Kenzi has to wonder . . . should she marry the man her family loves, or risk everything for a love like the movies?

Kensington's problem is that she's engaged to Bradley, but her ex-boyfriend, Shane, is back in town. Kensington also always feels like she's "competing" with her sister-in-law, who just announced she's pregnant (overshadowing Kensington's engagement news), and has that to contend with, too.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

GIVEAWAY: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Blu-ray + tumbler + James Thurber book, ends 4/25

I reviewed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty last year and also recently did a post comparing and contrasting the film version to the short story.

Now I have the opportunity for you to win a Walter Mitty prize pack, including the Blu-ray, a tumbler, and a James Thurber collection of short stories, which includes the original Walter Mitty story.

Win a Walter Mitty prize pack

The movie was one of the more unique films I saw in 2013 and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy or adventure stories.

The rules: enter via the Rafflecopter form below. Contest will end on Friday, April 24th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email on April 25th, and has 24 hours to respond or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S./Canada residents only, please.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway: S.E.C.R.E.T., S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared and S.E.C.R.E.T. Revealed, by L. Marie Adeline - ends 4/20

Back in October, I reviewed both S.E.C.R.E.T. and S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared, and gave away copies of both books. The third book in the trilogy, S.E.C.R.E.T. Revealed, will be out on May 6th, and to celebrate I have paperback copies of the entire trilogy to giveaway!

SECRET revealed, L. Marie Adeline, book giveaway
SECRET revealed, L. Marie Adeline, book giveaway

Official synopsis of S.E.C.R.E.T. Revealed:
The only thing that Cassie Robichaud has ever really wanted is Will Foret, the love of her life. But when Will discovers that Cassie is part of S.E.C.R.E.T., an underground group devoted to helping women experience their deepest sexual fantasies, Will breaks it off. Heartbroken, Cassie dries her tears and devotes herself to helping the latest S.E.C.R.E.T. recruit, Solange Faraday. Cassie also reignites her relationship with sexy bad-boy Jesse, even if he can never love her as deeply as Will did.

Meanwhile, beautiful, brilliant Solange, a local news anchor and divorced mom, has a great career but a wilting love life. She rekindles long-lost passions, going deeper and hotter than any other S.E.C.R.E.T. candidate before her. Will she find what her heart most desires? And when Will realizes he's made a tragic mistake, will Cassie be able to forgive him? In the end, as both women blossom as sexual beings, they also discover that ecstasy and true love are closer than they ever imagined.

SECRET Revealed is the explosive, sensual and sexually-charged finale to the bestselling S.E.C.R.E.T. trilogy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Above, by Isla Morley, ends 4/18

Don't panic. The electricity's gone out; give it a minute.

If this were home, Mama would be feeling her way to the pantry for the lantern and the matches she keeps on top shelf. Gerhard would have the flashlight under his chin, his bottom teeth thrust outward and his eyes crossed and buggy, and Suzie would be getting all hysterical, and if he really were the bogeyman. And Daddy would be chiding Gerhard, but only halfheartedly, because there's nothing better than spooking girls.

But this is not home. This is not any kind of place you'd put a person. What kind of things to people put in a place like this? How far underground am I? There were a lot of stairs and a long passage that kept making sharp left and right turns. And too many doors to keep track of. Locks.

Just think of home. Just give it a minute. Just wait.

I received this book off of NetGalley to review, and then was fortunate enough to receive a hard-copy from the publisher as well. I thought for sure the novel was going to be similar to Room, by Emma Donaghue, but although the very core of the premise is the same, many things are different, down to the personality of Blythe's captor to what happens when she gets out of her prison.

Official synopsis:
Above, by Isla Morley, book reviewI am a secret no one is able to tell.

Blythe Hallowell is sixteen when she is abducted by a survivalist and locked away in an aban­doned missile silo in Eudora, Kansas. At first, she focuses frantically on finding a way out, until the harrowing truth of her new existence settles in—the crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of a captor who believes he is saving her from the end of the world, and the persistent temptation to give up. But nothing prepares Blythe for the burden of raising a child in confinement. Deter­mined to give the boy everything she has lost, she pushes aside the truth about a world he may never see for a myth that just might give mean­ing to their lives below ground. Years later, their lives are ambushed by an event at once promis­ing and devastating. As Blythe’s dream of going home hangs in the balance, she faces the ultimate choice—between survival and freedom.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Quick Pick: Paper Towns, by John Green

    Paper Towns book review, John Green
  • Opening line: "The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle."
  • Reason I picked up the book: I read and loved The Fault in Our Stars by the same author (which premieres in theaters soon) and heard that Paper Towns will be a movie soon as well, with one of the same cast members (Nat Wolff) from TFIOS.
  • And what's this book about?
  • Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows.

    After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.
  • Favorite paragraph: 
"Here's what's not beautiful about it: from here, you can't see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town. I mean look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I've lived here for eighteen years and I have never in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.
"I'll try to not take that personally," I said.
  • Recommended for: fans of Young Adult books or adventure stories. Or anyone who is a fan of fiction, really - it was a fantastic book.
  • Something to know: John Green will be a producer on the movie version of Paper Towns.
  • What I would have changed: That's a hard question with this book. I may have changed the ending a little bit, but overall it did fit the novel and its themes.
  • Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: movie vs. short story

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty movie vs. short story
Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
*Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary Google Play download of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to facilitate this post. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

I was able to see the film version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty back in December 2013 (click here for review) and I still remember how great the cinematography was and how it was such a breath of fresh air - a very original movie. The movie is actually based on a short story of the same name, by James Thurber, which was published on March 18, 1939. I was able to read the short story recently and was surprised by how different it was from the movie.

The general theme of the story is the same as the movie: Walter tends to daydream - okay, he daydreams a LOT - and it helps him cope with his mundane life.
Some major differences are:
  • In the story, he is married, and it revolves around a day of him accompanying and dropping of his wife for errands; in the film, he has a major crush on a coworker (Kristen Wiig), and even goes as far as to join eHarmony just to talk to her.
  • The story was published in 1939 and has the feel of that time period - "overshoes," brandy, etc. is referenced throughout. The film takes place in present-day.
  • The story seems to take place in the suburbs, and Walter Mitty lives in NYC in the movie.
  • And, the most major difference: Walter Mitty decides to have a real-life adventure in the movie, for the purpose of finding a lost photo negative of which he was in charge. The story's character doesn't do this at the end of the story.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book Review: Now and Forever

Now and Forever, by Susane Colasanti.

We must look like typical teens to anyone watching us. Girlfriend sitting on the porch. Boyfriend bouncing a basketball. The sun dipping behind the trees, throwing orange streaks of light across them. Just your average American high school sweethearts on a fall afternoon.

It's amazing how what we assume about other people can be so different from the truth.

I'll admit that I'm a huge fan of Susane Colasanti's books, always about teens falling (or already in) love, but I haven't had a chance to read the past few - so I was psyched when I was able to score an ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) from the publisher for this one. As usual, Colasanti does a great job of bringing us in to the world of these characters, and this world is something a little different: the world of fame and stardom.

Official synopsis:
Now and Forever by Susane Colasanti book reviewWhat if your boyfriend was the world's biggest rockstar?

Sterling is crazy in love with Ethan. Not only is he the sweetest boy she's ever met, but he's an incredibly talented guitarist, singer, and songwriter. And since forever, he's believed he has what it takes to be a star.

When Ethan becomes an overnight sensation, he's thrown head-first into the glam world of celebrity-and so is Sterling. Before she knows it, she's attending red-carpet premieres, getting free designer clothes, and flying around the country to attend Ethan's monumental sold-out concerts.

It's a dream come true ... but whose dream is Sterling living? And what do you do when "forever" comes to an end?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Review: Allegiant (Divergent #3)

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (Divergent series, #3).

I used to think that when people fell in love, they just landed where they landed, and they had no choice in the matter afterward. And maybe that's true of beginnings, but it's not true of this, now. 

I fell in love with him. But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me. 

I was going to make Allegiant a "Quick Pick" review, but I just can't ... there's too much I want to say about it. I read Divergent back in 2011 (review here) and reviewed Insurgent, book #2 in the series, last week, after I had seen Divergent the movie as a refresher, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on Allegiant. I had unfortunately stumbled across some spoilers online before reading it, so I knew part of the ending, but I wanted to know how things played out the way they did.

Official synopsis:
Allegiant book review, Veronica RothThe faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Book Thief (based on the book by Markus Zusak)

*Disclosure: I received a copy of The Book Thief on Blu-ray to facilitate this review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

I reviewed The Book Thief back on my film blog in November 2013, and I enjoyed it a lot. I read the book of the same name a while back, as well, and remembered liking it.

Now the movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and it has a few special features that might make it worth your while.

First, a little about the movie if you're unfamiliar with it:

Based on the beloved best-selling book comes an “extremely moving” (Leonard Maltin, Indiewire) story of a girl who transforms the lives of those around her during World War II, Germany. When her mother can no longer care for her, Liesel (Sophie NĂ©lisse) is adopted by a German couple (OSCAR® Winner Geoffrey Rush* and OSCAR® Nominee Emily Watson). Although she arrives illiterate, Liesel is encouraged to learn to read by her adoptive father. When the couple then takes in Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jew hiding from Hitler’s army, Liesel befriends him. Ultimately, words and imagination provide the friends with an escape from the events unfolding around them in this extraordinary, acclaimed film directed by Brian Percival (Downton Abbey).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review: A Gate of Night (A Shade of Vampire #6)

A Gate of Night, by Bella Forrest.

"Just do it. All you need to know is that this time tomorrow, the real vampires take over." Fear flashed in her expression. "They will want food and drinks. Or their version of it. And, of course, plenty of entertainment."

My heart fell. All hope I had of creating a new vision for our home melted away. Her words were clear enough.

The Elders were coming to take over The Shade and the horrifying reality sank into me, as well as my companions.

We were their food.

We were their drink.

We were their entertainment.

This novel (#6 in the Shade of Vampire series) was written from many characters' POVs, and the above is from Vivienne, Derek's sister. On Goodreads, someone mentioned something like "this novel is the most tense in the series," and I would agree with that; all of the characters are in peril, and none more than Sofia, who has been imprisoned at The Blood Keep (evil vampires' lair, basically) and is also pregnant with twins.

Official synopsis:
Welcome back to The Shade ...

Derek and Sofia are finally enjoying a well-deserved break. Staying at a resort with good food, sun and sea, Sofia is thrilled to witness Derek’s re-introduction to the human world.

They would almost be mistaken for a normal young couple, if it were not for the red-eyed monster lurking in the shadows and watching their every move, waiting for his signal to pounce ...

Bella ForrestThere is definitely a reason that Bella Forrest has 50,000+ followers on her Facebook page, and that's because this series is fantastic. I've been fortunate enough to review all of the books in the series so far (see below for full set of links), and this was maybe the best as of yet, although we don't get a lot of Derek and Sofia time since they are separated.

The Shade has been taken over by bad vampires, who have still left Vivenne, the Shade's Queen, in charge, but she basically has to do what they tell her to do. Meanwhile, the Elders (who run The Blood Keep, where Sofia is), are planning on crashing the party as well. Derek is kinda being held captive at the Ageless's compound (a woman who seems to like yoga and meditation) - he's eventually able to leave but not for a while. He also doesn't know that Sofia is pregnant, but the Ageless and everyone in contact with her knows.

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