Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: First Impressions by Charlie Lovett


Sophie Collingwood knows everything about Jane Austen. She has read every book and loves everything about her. Recently graduated from Oxford, she takes a job at an antiquarian bookshop where she quickly gets two requests for the same obscure book. These requests start her on a journey to learn the truth about Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett is a wonderful imagination of how Jane Austen may have been inspired to write her novels. Alternating between Sophie's story and that of Jane herself, we are given a glimpse of the beautiful countryside in which Jane wrote and the fictional relationship between young Jane and Mr. Mansfield, an elderly clergyman who encouraged her to write and inspired her stories. As Sophie works to prove that Jane did not plagiarize Pride and Prejudice, we get to see the "truth" through Jane's story.

I must confess that I don't remember ever reading Jane Austen. I may have in high school, but I don't honestly remember. But I absolutely loved this story. I loved the relationships between the characters in this novel. Jane and her sister Cassandra, Sophie and her sister Victoria, Jane and Mr. Mansfield, Sophie and her Uncle. Each relationship was well developed and felt authentic.

The mystery in the present day storyline kept me turning the pages and wanting to know who Sophie should trust and what the final truth would be. I highly recommend First Impressions to anyone who loves books as much as I do. I'm sure Jane Austen fans will get even more out of this as they'll get to relive the creation of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, as well as other novels. I'm off to read Pride and Prejudice myself now!

My Rating: 5/5

Read my review of The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett
Visit the author's website

This review is based on a copy of First Impressions that I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

5 Tips for Buying Gifts for Book Lovers

As we approach the holiday season, gifts are on my mind. I have lists of ideas for my kids, and a few items in mind for my husband and other family members, but what about me? When someone asks what I'd like for Christmas, books come to mind. But I have lots of books. Piles of books. Shelves of books. How do you buy a gift for an avid reader and know it is something they'll really love?

Here are a few tips that I'd like to share:

1. Ask. That may seem very simple, and not so fun, but if you have a book lover on your list I promise they won't be sad to see one of the books they have on their "want" list under the tree! If you don't want them to know what you're getting them, ask for a list of books and then just buy one or two. It will still be a surprise, but you'll be sure to get something they love.

2. Accessories. If you're not sure which books they've already read or would like to read, don't buy a book. Instead, buy some accessories. Bookmarks, bookends, bookshelves, reading lights, reading journals, a new case for a Kindle or Nook (if you know they have one) ... or a new Kindle or Nook if you know which one they'd want.

3. Bookish stuff to wear or display. It's amazing how many bookish things are available today. From shirts and scarves to necklaces and purses, you can get just about anything that has a quote or picture from your friend's favorite classic. There are throws and throw pillows, framed artwork and maps of book settings. Take a look at Etsy and you'll find just about every item transformed with a bookish theme. Just keep your friend's style in mind as well!

4. A special edition of a classic. It's hard to know how someone feels about certain classics. However, there are some beautiful editions of classic books that would make many book lovers quite happy. I'm not a big fan of reading classics, honestly, but I would still love a beautiful version of a classic to either read or just display.

5. A gift card. This may seem even more boring than #1, but I guarantee that most book lovers would absolutely love a gift card to a bookstore. There are many options, from local stores to national chains and Amazon.com.

You may have noticed I didn't recommend you buy the hottest new release or a book by an author your friend has read before. I strongly recommend against buying a book for a friend unless you know they want to read it and you know they haven't already gotten it for themselves. Most avid readers will buy their favorite author's book as soon as it's released, and many aren't interested in reading all of the books on the best sellers lists. Stick to the tips above, and you're guaranteed to find the perfect gift for the book lovers on your list.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Week in Review

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Happy Thanksgiving week to my friends in the U.S. I hope you have some fun and stress-free plans for Thursday. We are hosting dinner here, but only have two guests coming so it's not too stressful. Plus, my husband is the chef in our family, so I won't be doing much cooking myself! Unfortunately, C is home sick today so I'm really hoping he recovers quickly and that no one else gets whatever he has!

I'm still working through National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), and I have managed to publish a blog each day. Just one more week left!

Reviews and Blog Posts
Reading
I didn't read quite as much as I had the previous week, but I did finish The Secret Place, which was excellent. Then I took a few days off from reading and finally picked up First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett. I loved his last book, The Bookman's Tale, so I had to read this one when given the chance.

Because I'm participating in the Christmas Spirit Readathon this week, I hope to finish First Impressions and then read Just in Time for Christmas by Kim Boykin, which I found on NetGalley. I may try to get to The Maze Runner by James Dashner this week too.

Kids Reading
C finished Catching Fire and started Mockingjay but hasn't gotten very far in it, which is interesting. He did read a book we picked up at the library, Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Making Money by Tommy Greenwald. He seemed to like that a lot, so we'll probably get more in the series.

M read a couple books from the library as well. How Santa Really Works by Alan Snow is a cute picture book with tons of detail and complex pictures to look at all about Santa and his operation at the North Pole. She also read Digby O'Day in the Fast Lane by Shirley Hughes, a cute illustrated chapter book.

What are you reading this week? It's Monday! is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, so hop over there if you'd like to see what others are reading too. You can also check out the younger version of It's Monday!

Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon


This week, I'm participating in the Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon, hosted by Michelle at Seasons of Reading. The read-a-thon starts today and goes through next Sunday.

Although it's not required, I do plan to read some Christmas books this week. We have to read our Elf on the Shelf book on Thursday after Thanksgiving dinner, so our elf, Jolly, can arrive. :-) I think I'll pull out a few other Christmas picture books as well. We'll be decorating for Christmas on Friday, so I'll probably read the Christmas books toward the end of the read-a-thon.

Otherwise, I'll be finishing First Impressions by Charlie Lovett, and I might start The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

I'll use this post to update my progress throughout the week.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: Codename Zero by Chris Rylander


Carson Fender is extremely bored with his life in North Dakota. Nothing exciting ever happens in his small town, so he has taken on the role of prankster in his middle school to liven things up a bit. But in the midst of his latest prank, a strange man runs up to him, hands him a package, tells him to deliver it to Mr. Jensen and runs off. Suddenly his school pranks don't seem so exciting.

Codename Zero by Chris Rylander is a spy adventure for middle-grade readers. There's lots of action throughout the whole book. Carson ends up involved with a secret government agency that operates right in his town, and he becomes responsible for protecting a boy in his school who is in a witness protection program by helping him to fit in with the other kids.

The story is fast-paced, exciting and fun. The content is perfect for older elementary kids and should hold their attention well. My 10 year old loved it. There is some violence since they are on a spy mission and there are bad guys, but it was minimal and mostly toward the end of the book.

I really enjoyed Codename Zero and would highly recommend it for middle-grade readers looking for a bit of adventure. I would think it would appeal to reluctant readers as well, since the character of Carson is very relatable and the storyline moves quickly and includes plenty of fun as well as action.

My Rating: 5/5

Connect with Chris Rylander on his website or Twitter.

Codename Zero is currently available for just $1.99 on Kindle! And book two in the series, Countdown Zero comes out in February of 2015.

This review was written based on an uncorrected proof of Codename Zero that I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Snapshot

Today, I'm once again participating in Saturday Snapshot, which is hosted by West Metro Mommy ReadsI took the kids to the library today. Here's their stash!


And one more book I picked out for C. He's already halfway through but didn't want his picture taken!


Friday, November 21, 2014

Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2015


I didn't join any challenges in 2014, but I decided to join one for 2015. It's the Finishing the Series Reading Challenge, and I really need it! There are several series that I've started and never finished. I figure this will be the push I need to get back to them.

I'm going with Level 4 (Expert series reader) - Complete 4 or more series.

Here are the series that I plan to finish in 2015:

Chaos Walking ~ one book left
Divergent ~ two books left (including Four)
Child 44 ~ one book left
The Giver Quartet - three books left

I will update my progress here throughout the year:

Chaos Walking: Monsters of Men ~ to be read
Divergent: Allegiant ~ to be read
Divergent: Four ~ to be read
Child 44: Agent 6 ~ to be read
Gathering Blue ~ to be read
Messenger ~ to be read
The Son ~ to be read

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French


Chris Harper has been dead for a year when Holly Mackey shows up in the squad room holding a card with a photo of Chris on it with the caption I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM. Detective Stephen Moran has a history with Holly so she has brought him this card, which she found on a board at St. Kilda's boarding school. The board is called the "Secret Place" and is meant for the girls to post their secret worries and thoughts anonymously. Now it's time to figure out who put up the card so they can finally solve the case.

The Secret Place by Tana French is an amazing mystery that grabs hold of the reader and doesn't let go until the very end. I tend to be a slow reader, but I blew through this 450 page novel in just two days. I could not put it down. I sat up until 2:00 a.m. reading it until I literally couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. This was my first book by Tana French but it won't be my last, especially since I've seen several reviews by her fans saying this isn't her best work.

The book alternates chapters between the present day and the months leading up to the murder over a year ago. In the present day, Detective Moran, who works cold cases, has teamed up with Detective Antoinette Conway, who is in the murder squad. He's hoping to get a foot in the door of the murder squad, but Conway isn't looking to make friends. They head out to Kilda's to interview the students and investigate what really happened the night Chris Harper was killed.

The alternate chapters bring us into the world of Holly and her friends, who are extremely close, boarding in the same room and forming a very tight bond. Their rivals are another group of girls at the school, who also factor strongly into the storyline. One of my favorite parts of the book was the realistic way in which these girls all interacted and the relationships they formed with one another.

The mystery was also well-done. I thought I had figured out who the killer was several times before it was finally settled. French did a fabulous job keep the detectives, and the reader, on their toes trying to solve the case. The only negative thing I can say about the book is that I generally don't like when books are written in a certain dialect, and this one has tons of Irish vocabulary that I stumbled over for the first few chapters. But once I got used to it, I didn't really notice anymore and it no longer distracted me from the story.

Overall, The Secret Place is one of my favorite books of this year. If you're looking for an engaging mystery with characters that draw you into their world, I highly recommend it. It's the fifth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but it worked fine as a standalone novel.

My rating: 5/5

Connect with Tana French on her website or Facebook page.

This review was written based on a copy of The Secret Place that I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Connect with me on social media ... because I'm too tired to blog

It's getting late and I'm getting tired. It's day 19 of NaBloPoMo. I was going to write a review today of The Secret Place by Tana French. I loved the book, so I want to write a good review. And I'm just too tired at this point.

Instead, I'm writing a quick post about how you can connect with on social media. Because I really don't have anything else in my mind at the moment! And I can't give in and not post. Not after 18 days straight. I apologize. But here you go. And hopefully someone will find this helpful.

I'm on Twitter @MyBookRetreat.
I'm on Facebook too!
I'm also on Goodreads, where I post all of my reviews.

I do have a Pinterest account, but I honestly don't use it much. You'll see I have boards for gifts for a 7 year old boy and a 4 year old girl. My kids are 10 and 7 now... But you're welcome to connect with me there. And maybe I'll start pinning stuff again. On a related note, I don't have the energy to find a picture to put on this blog, but I don't think it's very "pinnable" anyway.

Thank you to all of my followers, whether you visit me here or on one of the social channels. It's nice to get to know so many people, and I hope I've led you toward some great books!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray


The story begins at the end, with BK Hartshaw at the charity ball she organized staring down a gunman. Trevor Mayhew is there too. Both have secrets to conceal. The story then returns to the past, to the story of Trevor's parents, and then to that of BK and Trevor as children. Neither had the ideal childhood. Eventually their stories cross paths, and everything comes together at the charity ball.

Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray is a mystery that unfolds over time. We get to know not only BK and Trevor, but also their family members, especially Trevor's parents and grandmother who all have a significant impact on his life. The characters are interesting and most are fairly realistic, although a few are a bit over the top. I definitely sympathized with both BK and Trevor for what they went through during their childhoods, and hoped to see them happy in the end.

Unfortunately, the structure of the book took a lot away from the story for me. Ray switches between several different time periods, and between BK's story and Trevor's. I found the changes to be a bit too disjointed in this case. Most of the chapters were about Lenny and Trevor, and then there would be one stuck in between about BK. There were dates at the top of some chapters, and this helped a bit, but not quite enough.

Dangerous Denial does tell a good, suspenseful story if you don't mind a bit of jumping around. It's a quick read that held my interest through to the end, as I was anxious to figure out what was really going on at the ball. The ending was satisfying as well.

My Rating: 3/5

Visit the author's website

This review was written based on a copy of Dangerous Denial that I received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Week in Review

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Good morning. Another week gone in this fall season. It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is next week. Although, the weather has been unusually cold here, so it does feel like fall. I'm hoping we have a warm-up by the end of next week so we aren't freezing while putting up all of our Christmas decorations on Thanksgiving weekend!

I'm still working through National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), and I have managed to publish a blog each day. Over halfway done with this challenge!

Reviews and Blog Posts
Reading
I have been reading a lot this week! I finished Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray and will be publishing my review for the tour tomorrow. I also read and reviewed The Giver by Lois Lowry. And then I started reading The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5) by Tana French, and I'm almost done! It's a very long book but I couldn't put it down this weekend. I just kept reading it and am dying to finish it when I'm done working today!

Once I finish The Secret Place, I'll be picking up First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett.

Kids Reading
I finally gave in and let C read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. He flew through it and is just about done with Catching Fire too. I'm sure by next week, he will have finished the entire trilogy. In between, he also read the last two books in the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.

What are you reading this week? It's Monday! is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, so hop over there if you'd like to see what others are reading too. You can also check out the younger version of It's Monday!