2.13.2018

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller (A Netgalley Review)

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 13, 2018)
Description from the publisher:

Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is a practitioner of empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured, and even fly. Though he dreams of fighting in the Great War as the first male in the elite US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service—a team of flying medics—Robert is resigned to mixing batches of philosophical chemicals and keeping the books for the family business in rural Montana, where his mother, a former soldier and vigilante, aids the locals.

When a deadly accident puts his philosophical abilities to the test, Robert rises to the occasion and wins a scholarship to study at Radcliffe College, an all-women’s school. At Radcliffe, Robert hones his skills and strives to win the respect of his classmates, a host of formidable, unruly women. 
Robert falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a disillusioned young war hero turned political radical. However, Danielle’s activism and Robert’s recklessness attract the attention of the same fanatical anti-philosophical group that Robert’s mother fought years before. With their lives in mounting danger, Robert and Danielle band together with a team of unlikely heroes to fight for Robert’s place among the next generation of empirical philosophers—and for philosophy’s very survival against the men who would destroy it.


First, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised to see this as a Book of the Month pick for February, as it's a little different and a lot of fun! I was on a streak of books that were dark in tone recently, and the description of this story sounded like the perfect reprieve. 
Robert's character quickly wormed his way into my heart and is an underdog worth rooting for - in a world of magic dominated by women, this sole male prodigy is humble and quite obviously in a situation that would apply mainly to women or minorities in the real world. Miller holds a mirror to many familiar situations and really made me think about how things might be different if it were a 'woman's world.' Much of the book reads like a campus novel, where Robert has to manage ridicule, derision and perform twice as well as the women to get half the credit. Imagine! 
I was also won over by the world building and the amount of detail that the author imbues into this story. The way society is impacted by 'empirical philosophers' affects how we approach medicine, war, travel, the economy, and of course, politics: there is a thinly veiled comparison to white nationalists in the so called 'trenchers' who are radically against this practice dominated by women. And although it touches on many layered and heavy subjects (sexism, racism, class, civil rights), the tone is very light and it's a quick read with something for everyone: humor, action and adventure, family and friendship, and romance. 
If I had one complaint, I think that Miller tried to pack in a bit too much. There are so many sub plots and I would have liked him to pay closer attention to one, rather than a little bit to several. Since it's the beginning of a series, however, I think it sets the stage nicely for more in depth narratives.
I've seen this novel compared to The Magicians, which I didn't love - so, if that's holding you back, I'd still give this novel a try. I think they are similar in that it's a year at a magical school, mainly setting the stage for future stories. Yet the tone of The Philosopher's Flight is so much brighter and it also appeals to those who enjoy historical fiction.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!
And, if you use my referral link for Book of the Month, you can get this book, or another of your choosing for FREE when you sign up!

2.08.2018

Books I Read in January

What Happened by Hillary Clinton
Even though I purchased the book and got to shake Hillary's hand as I picked up my signed copy (!!!), I listened to this one on audio, which was enjoyable. Well, as much as re-living the 2016 election can be enjoyable. It adds more to the text, I think, when read by the author. Most of the accounts and facts are things I remember reading in the news (by actual journalists) so it felt slightly rehashed. I am glad I took it all in, and listening to her read what would have been her acceptance speech was so lovely and gut wrenching at the same time. Which, pretty much sums it up.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Well this was a rather melancholy read. I burned through it in nearly a day, as the main character's stint of staying alone in her dorm over Christmas break is a simultaneously alluring adventure and terrifyingly isolated situation. Why she isn't actually able to go home is vaguely laid out, but not entirely clear - she had no other family after her grandfather died. At first, it kept me turning the pages. Then it became kind of frustrating that there is CLEARLY something keeping this poor girl from returning home, even with her closest friend to stay with her family. It should have been revealed much earlier, and honestly, I didn't think it made a lot of sense to be that level of distraught over THE BIG SECRET SHE IS KEEPING. Alas, YA novels are about big melodramatic moments, and overall I thought it was a sweet and well written book.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I thought that I read Anne when I was young, maybe around age 10, but all that is left in my memory are images of the amazing TV adaptation starring Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla. This is one that I have been meaning to read/re-read for ages, and as part of my goals for the year, I'm making more of an effort to get to these books. And oh my goodness, I loved every minute of it! We all know Anne stands the test of time, and now I think it's not just because of the wonderful storytelling, but because the viewpoints of the adults are just as easy to connect with as the children's. Laughing and crying with Anne is just as much fun, maybe more fun, as an adult than it was to swoon with her as a child. 

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

I am heading off to Nashville next week and I thought it would be the perfect time to get in a new Patchett book, especially a collection of personal essays. State of Wonder is an all time favorite, I loved Commonwealth, and she has become one of my favorite authors. This was another excellent read, full of her pitch perfect writing on subjects close to her heart. My favorites were 'The Getaway Car' about becoming a writer, 'The Wall' which is her story about trying out for the LA Police Academy and scaling said wall. It is less about her physical prowess, although impressive, and more about her father - a longtime LAPD officer. And, the title story about the relationship with her husband and getting married after 11 years of dating. Oh, and, 'The Right to Read' - her convocation speech at Clemson University is a MUST. I just love her.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
I received a complimentary review copy of this book as part of the Little, Brown and Company ambassador program, and was dubious at first, despite loving Ivey's debut novel The Snow Child. It's a fictitious account of a late 1800s exploration into Alaska, told through letters and journal entries of Colonel Forrester and his pregnant wife left behind in Washington state, as well as present day letters between the great nephew who inherited these journals and the museum curator to whom he sent them. Before I knew it, I was entranced by the story in the same way the men in the present have become. It is stark, visceral and mysterious, while also being lyrical and otherworldly - much like The Snow Child. I highly recommend it, and give it a good 100 pages to get your bearings among the many pieces of the narrative.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
I was certainly taken in by the creepy atmosphere and mystery of this novel. I do have a soft spot for a good sci-fi yarn. But, usually, they are very plot driven stories. Once I finished, I still don't know what really even happened in this book! I honestly can't describe it, other than a band of scientists go into a secret government program to explore Area X (or do they?) to find out more about it? Maybe? I am VERY curious about how it will translate to the big screen later this month. On one hand, I wanted more plot and resolution in my reading experience. On the other, I think I'd be annoyed if they add it to the film and prefer integrity of the book in my viewing experience! It's not a novel I'll recommend widely, but it does make for great dinner table conversation with my husband - it'd be a great book club or buddy read pick, for sure. There is a lot to contemplate, and it will stay with me for a long time.


2.01.2018

January Monthly Meal Wrap Up

This month was ALL ABOUT the Half Baked Harvest Cookbook by Teghan Gerard, of the excellent blog with the same name. This is the most appealing and most flagged recipes of any cookbook I've had in recent memory. 

We've tackled two dinner recipes this month, since I tend to only have the gumption to introduce a new recipe into rotation every week or two. Both were quite tasty and I have at least two more that we will try soon - her mac n' cheese recipe and a pasta sauce that calls for a CUP of olive oil. Yes, please.
First up, we made the Caprese Quinoa Bake.
This dish was super simple and a great make-ahead meal, of which I am a fan. I would reduce the amount of quinoa by about a half cup in the future, to give it a little more creaminess.
Most recently, we tried the Slow Cooker Butter Chicken - yet another easy and make-ahead meal.
I have a 'thing' about attempting Indian food at home. It's just never the same. Now, I'm not saying this was quite at restaurant quality, but it was delicious and definitely going into the regular rotation.
I also put together one of her refrigerated overnight oats recipes, the Pecan Banana Bread, which I'd also give a thumbs up!
We also tried a new General Tso's chicken stir fry recipe, via Delish, which was indeed delicious.
Also worth noting, the new slaw/salad kits at Trader Joe's are SO GOOD. 
An easy lunch option, and a good way to eat your veggies.
Next month, I will be eating my way through NASHVILLE and oversharing everything I eat there, and hopefully some equally delicious new at-home recipes!

1.25.2018

New Year, New Goals 2018

I find myself realizing, like last year, that I didn't refer back to my goals very often. But, writing something down is still fun. It's kind of like opening a letter that a wrote to myself one year ago: Ooooh! What'd I say? Did these goals linger in my subconscious throughout the year? For the most part, yes. That I succeeded in all of them, no...
2017 GOALS
Read 65 Books. 72! I had another successful year on meeting the book goal. Thinking I need to change this up going forward, though. *foreshadowing*
Get back to regular Mom's Demand Action Meetings.  Sadly, this was a pretty big fail. They tend to conflict with my school PTA and kids extra curricular commitments, so I may try to shuffle things around in the future since this is something rather important to me.
Get plantar fasciitis under control.  Thank goodness I took care of this early in the year. I did a pretty crazy treatment, but it WORKED.
Run three races. Even though I fixed the foot, I have still been wary of racing. I was still injured during Hot Chocolate season. But I did run the inaugural Tenacious Ten 10K! So, one third complete. (My 5th grader's math has me thinking in fractions a lot lately.)
Eat more fruit.  Yeah, I didn't really do this - it would seem I'm just a veggie person. In related news, the new salad kits at Trader Joe's are SCRUMPTIOUS. I could devour the slaw with orange tahini dressing by the boatload.
Get six new meals into regular rotation. I'm pretty sure I can check this one off, I got into a good cookbook kick in the second half of the year.
Plan the summer road trip and perhaps a girls trip. Check on an awesome Rainier trip and I'm getting in a last minute meetup with girlfriends next month in Nashville! 
Do the 52 Lists project. Alas, I think this book is more well suited for someone who doesn't make enough lists in her life. As it is, I make plenty of lists - so this fell off the radar. I may have a little fun with it this year, but I'm not holding myself to it.
I'm realizing that my goals truly are aspirations that I carry with me all the time, because they mostly revolve around the same things year after year: running, travel, cooking, and number of books. So I'm doing away with all of that and only focusing on bookish goals, with something random thrown in - like the year I made makeup a goal, which was DEFINITELY fun.
It's also fun to look back at my book stats for the year (here's last year's) when making goals. 

Of the 72 books: 11 were POC authors (15%), 55 written by women (76%), 8 ARCs and 8 audio books each (11%). But, I don't want to dwell too much on the numbers this year. Even though I set a goal for 75 books on Goodreads, I won't be scrambling at the end of the year to meet it - I either will, or I won't. I would like to read more intentionally, and spend time on allll those books I've been 'meaning' to read. 
2018 Goals
Read one book a month from my unread shelf. Yep, those are all of my unread Book of the Month books. I don't think I'm alone in having this pile, and I take comfort in the fact that the 'read' pile is bigger. Alas, I would like to get through them so I feel less guilty about choosing new ones, as well as an assortment of complimentary copies or gifts I have languishing on my shelves.
Read at least six books "I've been meaning to read." You know the ones. The ones that get pushed back because they've waited this long and that lucky day shelf keeps calling, or that hot new release everyone's talking about or that ARC gets approved. One a month seemed lofty, so at least one every two months should be doable. I just recently got around to Anne of Green Gables, and side note: OMG! I'm pretty sure I read it as a kid, but it was a total re-discovery and just about the most perfect book. I'm seriously considering getting the complete set to read...
Read War and Peace. Speaking of reading some classics, I'm joining the bandwagon and just ordered my chosen translation to read one chapter a day (after I get caught up) this year. Definitely check out The Ardent Biblio's post on choosing a translation (I went with the same one they chose).
Non bookish/food/running related goal: improve handwriting and have more fun with art! As a lefty, this is a lofty goal, but I think I'm up for the challenge. I also had a lot of fun doing art with my kids over the summer with the subscription box we received. Now I might try and use our own creative juices to have fun with art! Wish me luck...






1.18.2018

Books I Read in December (and Kids Winter Break Favorites)

Yep, it's January 18th and I'm just getting around to writing up December reviews! I thought I'd jazz it up a bit with what the kids enjoyed reading over the holiday break, as it's been awhile since I touched upon what they've been reading. 
In addition to alllll the National Geographic Kids Chapters books and Magic Tree House adventures, my seven year old has now been introduced to Neil Gaiman and she thought Fortunately, the Milk was ridiculously silly and fun, just like her brother did when he read it a few years ago. And we decided that this Christmas was the perfect time to introduce her to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: a rousing success, not surprisingly. And, yes, that is my copy of the book from my well preserved childhood Narnia set!
I read The Mysterious Benedict Society along with my ten year old and he really enjoyed it. It starts out fantastic, with great imagination and humor with these misfit kids all coming together to be tested into a secret sleuthing society. The second half dragged a bit for me, but I'm sure it would enthrall the middle grade reader in your house! He's also been enjoying alllll the James Patterson silliness: all the I Funny and Middle School books.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
This seemed like a good winter read, and it was, if a smidge harrowing! I was curious about Benioff's story telling, as a fan of HBO's Game of Thrones, which he co-created.  A young Russian is thrown together with an army deserter during the Nazi seige of Leningrad, supposedly based on a story told by his grandfather, had a similarly visceral feel to Thrones - scenes that were downright horrible, now burned in my brain. The pair's questionable mission (to obtain a dozen eggs for a Soviet colonel who wants them for his daughter's wedding cake) had shades of Saving Private Ryan. It was a sad and sincere read that made really want to know how much of it was embellishment, and how much was true the story of Benioff's grandfather.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
I finally started the Shades of Magic series, and it's one I think I will continue! It's been awhile since I read a fantasy novel that really grabbed me. The premise of the novels feels original and rife with possibilities: our protagonist, Kell, is only one of two surviving 'Antari' that can travel between the Londons (yes, plural) that exist in four separate universes. The world building is vivid and immersive,  while the plot moves quickly and had me turning the pages. I do love the characters, but would love to get more backstory. I felt like I got a good handle on their motivations, but only snippets of their past when I really wanted MORE. Lila is awesome and looks to be on the cover of book two, so I have hope.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Practical Magic is one of those novels in which I barely remember the plot, but do remember loving it unconditionally some twenty years ago. Needless to say, I had high hopes, especially with the added hype over this 'prequel.' I'd say that in the first three quarters of the book, I was feeling as if my expectations were not being met. It's a slow burn, to say the least. But, the writing is lovely and creates an equally lovely, albeit somber, atmosphere in which I enjoyed lingering. "Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality." My heart swelled at the conclusion and made the journey worthwhile.

Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
I mean... What more can I say about this series that I haven't said already? Words that are on repeat for my reviews of Winter Street, Winter Stroll, Winter Storms and now Solstice: humor, heart, immersive Nantucket, lovable characters, fun, and perfect light fare. It was fun to learn the origins of the Quinn family books from Hilderbrand's author note, and I look forward to a new winter series with a new family set in the Virgin Islands!

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
You can read my review here!


1.09.2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (NetGalley Review)

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (January 9, 2018)
Description from the publisher:


If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

If you follow book social media, this novel has probably popped up on your radar as one of THE essential books to read this year. It certainly drew me in with the obviously intriguing premise of knowing the date of your death. The description gives off a sort of fantastical or whimsical vibe: what WOULD you do? Would you go crazy feeling invincible? Would you check off your bucket list as soon as possible if your day was sooner than you thought? Would you spiral into despair? Far from fantastical, Benjamin weaves this compelling family story with a surprisingly gritty and melancholy tone. 

Since I'm a fan of dysfunctional family drama, I got wrapped up in the journey of each Gold sibling and especially Klara the Vegas magician. Yes, I'm a big fan of Vegas, especially during the period of time in which Klara inhabits Sin City. But, I felt that this part of the book was the most wrenching collaboration of magic, spirituality and motherhood:

"She understands, too, the loneliness of parenting, which is the loneliness of memory - to know that she connects a funture unknowable to her parents with a past unknowable to her child."
"Always it's like this: the family that created her and the family that she created, pulling her in opposite directions."

The book holds up a mirror, sometimes harshly, to the ways in which we fail to fully live and embrace our lives. There is hopefulness, but it is rather on the depressing side. It would be an excellent pick for a book group with many big themes to dissect on God, fate, family bonds, faith and destiny, to name a few. If for no other reason, it would be fun to discuss the central question of whether you would want to know the date of you own death and why. As for me, that'd be a big fat nope! And if you read the book, you would probably understand why - Benjamin articulates these themes beautifully.

Thank you to Putnam and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!






1.04.2018

My Favorite Books of 2017!

I am a firm believer in waiting until the absolute last minute to pull together my yearly favorite reads. You never know what gem might be waiting for the final week of December and it's a time for me to take it easy, not time for composing posts or lists! This year I've read more than any year I can remember with 72 books total, averaging 320 pages each. I'll probably delve into my stats and goals at a later date. For now, here are the books I enjoyed the most this year and that I would HEARTILY recommend. This is also my longest list to date, which stands to reason given the long list of books I read. For funsies, I shall list them in high school superlative style. It is in no particular order, with one exception which I shall list first and should come as no surprise if you read my November reviews or follow me on social media.

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne is "Most likely to become a classic." It is full of humor, heart, serendipitous/gut wrenching plot and great characters - one of the greatest. I love this book SO SO MUCH. (reviewed in November)

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig is "Most likely to make your heart race." I turned the pages of this story about a girl with autism, and a big secret, with more fervor than any thriller. It's really intense, but so worthwhile. (reviewed in November)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is "Most likely open your eyes to the 'rules' of society and embrace nonconformity." Alternate superlative: "Most likely to make Celeste Ng your go-to author." This is her second novel  and second one that has landed on my best of the year lists (Everything I Never Told You being her debut that was on my 2015 list). (reviewed in October)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is "Most likely to make you fascinated by old Hollywood and cry big fat tears." Reid is yet another author I will always pick up, and I love that she delved into some historical fiction for her latest thought provoking novel. (ARC reviewed in June)

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is "Most likely to put you in the shoes of what seems like an extraordinary family circumstance, but is beautifully ordinary." I feel so lucky to have heard local author Frankel talk about this amazing book and it's one that I wish every person would read to learn more about gender dysphoria, as well as enjoy an engaging family story. (ARC reviewed in January

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is "Most likely to make you rethink your reservations about magical realism." I highlighted so many beautiful passages from this book that felt so gritty and real, while also dreamlike and magical. (reviewed in April)

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin is "Most likely to be on the 'me, too' reading list." I flew through this refreshingly witty and wry 'Monica Lewinsky-esque' tale with an excellent feminist point of view. I've said this before, but if you haven't listened to Lewinsky's TED Talk, you definitely should. Incidentally, this is another author that has twice made my best of the year lists, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry being an all time favorite book I read in 2014. (ARC reviewed in August)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah is "Most likely to experience laughter through tears." Additional superlative: "Best audiobook EVER." This is close to being up there with The Heart's Invisible Furies in my favorite books of all time category - a must read, but listen if you can. (reviewed in November)

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is "Most likely to encourage adults to engage in middle grade reading." In attempting to read one Newbery honor book per month, I re-read a number of classics as well as more contemporary work like Bradley's. It takes the cake, no question. Yes, I know the sequel is available, and I will read it this year for sure! (reviewed in February)

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is "Most likely to make you feel good about humanity." If you haven't already read this very short nonfiction classic, now might be a good time for a dose of love and light. I can't believe I discovered it just last year! (reviewed in January)

Previous years lists!
Favorite Books of 2016 

Favorite Books of 2015

Favorite Books of 2014


Favorite Books of 2013 


Favorite Books of 2012