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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Is it spring yet?

I went on a walk this afternoon. It felt good to stretch my legs and I saw pretty things I couldn't help but take a photo of.


New recipe today: brownie cheesecake with raspberry. The amount of sugar I ate today is way over the daily limit. Way over! No regrets, though, because it's good!


 This happy looking car was the first pop of colour on my walk today! I like to look at it + photograph it every time I see it.

 

 

 I am not normally one to notice cars, but for some reason today these made me stop and snap a photo. I think it's the color and the I-can't-wait-for-spring mood.


 This dog with its too long bangs was on a leash waiting. 

And now, pretty buildings:



 
Look at the cute dog!



 The last five are taken on the street where the University is. There are some old buildings that have all sorts of knick-knacks in the windows or on the balconies. I've always liked these houses, they seem houses with strong personalities.


 It's interesting to see that I took photos of a lot of yellow things. That's my least favourite color! But I think I was in need of colour and warmth because of the longing for spring and I unconsciously snapped the photos of these.

And now, nature:

 Look at that bulrush!




It was a beautiful day, around 10 degrees C, and I am so glad I got out of the house.

As I walked around, I listened to two episodes, this and this, of the What Should I Read Next hosted by Anne Bogel, and one episode of 10 things to tell you hosted by Laura Tremaine. Walking is one of my favourite ways to catch up on podcasts. The other one is doing the cleaning around the house. Oh, and on my way to & from work.

These are from this week at the bus stop while waiting for the bus. Thursday was a very very meh day and I was eager to get home. I am a look down kind of person, and on that day I was glad of that because otherwise I wouldn't have seen these cuties. Snowdrops are a sure sign we're in the last stretch of winter. Hallelujah!

Monday, February 17, 2020

For All Who Wander - by Robin Dance: Book Review

Title: For All Who Wander. Why Knowing God Is Better Than Knowing It All
Author: Robin Dance
Pages: 352
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Release Date: 14th January 2020
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian
Format: Kindle

I enjoyed this book a lot. I always approach Christian nonfiction books with low expectations. However, because I knew of Robin Dance from the early days of (in)courage, I was curious to learn more about her. I was happy to see that this book is mostly a memoir dripping with Bible verses. Having grown up in a Christian family and environment myself, I saw a lot of myself in it. This truly is for every Christian.

I liked how she followed her life from the early years to the her (almost) present day life. It's refreshing to see an author, especially a Christian author, admit fault and flaws. This is what Robin Dance does - she sees her shortcomings, but is ready to put them on display because that's how she got to know God better and learn more about Him, as well as about herself. 

It reads quickly, especially the first half. I highlighted A LOT because there are a lot of good passages. If you read it in one seating, or in large portions, you might notice the change of tone as the book progresses. There might be that "preachy" tone towards the end, but by that point I was invested and I was nodding my head and highlighting away that I didn't mind it. As I mentioned, there are a lot of Bible verses used. This book is not watered down theology or feel good Christian book. It may sound a bit too dramatic from the title, but what I discovered is that the author lived what many people of faith over the years and centuries experienced: a need to have their faith tested and proven the right choice. It can appeal to every Christian who wants to have a deeper relationship with God that goes beyond the shallow surface.

4*

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

What I've Been Reading Lately #16

These are books read since January 1st to February 15th 2020.


Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk - Kathleen Rooney
Witty, language and characters, especially the main character. However, I felt something lacking. I couldn't wait to finish it, despite enjoying the story. I liked the past to present day ping-pong and the historical bits. Sadly, I didn't enjoy it as much as I was expecting to.
 2*












It's a sad story, but not devastating. It's not a tear-jerker as I feared. It's nice to see a YA dealing with serious illness where no main character dies. But there is dying! I was expecting something more, to be honest. (I see a theme here with Lillian...), but I am glad I finally read it. All the cool kids at my school saw the movie, but I upped them because now I know the original version, ha! #TeacherLife
3*










I am trying to keep up with the series because I feel it keeps me more in tune with the world of middle aged boys, despite the cultural differences.
It's a cute story, but I don't like the main character that much. Honestly, I have a hard time remembering the plot of this one... I don't know if I'll keep up with the whole series. 
 2*










The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey
I loved this one! It was rather slow-paced but I liked reading it in small bits. It's a slow start as the you get familiar with the setting and the characters, but everything is important to get comfortable with the place and people. There's a mysterious and melancholic atmosphere throughout the novel and it kept me interested. The references to fairy tales make you hope the ending will be different, and I hoped that to the very end. The ending is sad, I have to admit, but also appropriate. So glad I read it in a winter month! This got me out of a meh reads lately. 
This was also part of Anne Bogel's #mmchallenge for 2020: read a debut novel
5*






This made me miss Jane Austen's novels. By the half point of the novel I finally figured out that the characters respected the Jane Austen novels typology and the couples were references to her novels, but also modern and with a twist. 
It was a sweet read that made me miss the classics and the British settings of the novels I enjoyed over the years. 
This was an advanced Net Galley file I received for review.
4*










A Good Neighborhood - Therese Anne Fowler
The topics this novel approaches are hot ones! Environmental issues, race, class - it's all in there. The plot enraged me, let me say that! However, for a novel tacking so much, it delivered. Don't expect nice characters and a happy ending tied with a bow - it's not there.
Despite the heavy themes and the way things unfolded, the novel is engrossing and entertaining. Not in a feel good way, obviously, but in a keep-you-interested-and-wanting-to-read-one-more-chapter way. I am glad I read this, and even gladder that it made me see things outside my comfort zone.

This is a Net Galley book, here's the review for it
5*

Sunday, February 2, 2020

A Good Neighborhood - by Therese Anne Fowler: Book Review

Title: A Good Neighborhood
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Pages: 352
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: 4th February 2020
Genre: General Fiction Adults
Format: Kindle

Good Reads Synopsis of A Good Neighborhood:
In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door―an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he's made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn't want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie's yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don't see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

My Review of A Good Neighborhood:
The topics this novel approaches are hot ones! Environmental issues, race, class - it's all in there. The plot enraged me, let me say that! However, for a novel tacking so much, it delivered. Don't expect nice characters and a happy ending tied with a bow - it's not there.

The GoodReads synopsis says the story is told from multiple points of view. I disagree. There is one narrator always making observations as "we". The multiple points of view are in fact the chapters told focusing on various characters, not all at once. The narrator's unreliable, but at the same time it has a lot of intel on characters' thoughts and feelings. It makes little sense, but the constant references to "we" and "us" and things that happened later on helped create the mystery and suspense. I liked this We narrator, despite the far-fetched omniscience it tried to show off.

The build-up of the plot is not boring, although it's lengthy. When you think things unfold calmly and quite naturally for a small town America, that's when the narrator makes an allusion to what's coming next. In the very first few pages there's a mention of a funeral and things the neighborhood would find out about only later. That's suspenseful build-up in my book. But! The ending is rushed. I keep saying this about many books, but this one was RUSHED! Looking back on it, two days post having read the novel, I think this was the point: you start out normal, nothing you don't see in real life or hear on the news, but then everything speeds up! In the last 25%/ quarter of the book everything moves so quickly. I could barely keep up. Advice: don't read this part in pieces, but read it all at once so you can fully experience the shock of it all. Because shock I felt.

The characters are true to their nature. I can't say I have favorites; they are normal, every day people, you just accept them as they are. Julia is the weakest, in my opinion, because she seems more preoccupied with keeping a small, meak life, enjoying the finally found good, carefree life. By the time she wakes up to what's been happening around her, it's too late. I need to say here that the angle with Brad having sexual thoughts towards his step daughter is the sickest thing, no matter how I look at it. I am aware this could/ did happen in real life, but I wish this wasn't the direction it took. Then again, if this hadn't happened, the novel wouldn't have existed because this is the whole catalysis.

As for the themes, as I mentioned, there's everything. It's almost laughable to see so many threads woven together: environmental issues and a problematic tree; class issues; rape and paedophilia tendencies; racism and bias. That in the end the bad guy "wins" is infuriating and at the same time you see it coming. This didn't stop me from hoping for a different, better ending. Although I read "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas, this is the first novel that made me mad! Mad at the injustice, at the poor handiling of things, at the unfair treatment of full-rights citizens of a country that brags on its fairness and liberty, at the white supremacy that's still high and mighty. As a white woman in the XXIst century, I'm mad. Unfortunately, I don't think my feelings make a difference in the lives of real people. Although this is a novel, everything it tells could very well be the reality of somene in US. And isn't that maddening?!

Despite the heavy themes and the way things unfolded, the novel is engrossing and entertaining. Not in a feel good way, obviously, but in a keep-you-interested-and-wanting-to-read-one-more-chapter way. I am glad I read this, and even gladder that it made me see things outside my comfort zone.

I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Characters List (contains spoilers!):
Oak Knoll - the quiet, small town North Carolina neighborhood.
Brad Whitman - White man. HVAC company. Married to Julia Whitman, with whom he has a daughter Julie, and they also raise his step-daughter, Juniper, for whom he develops inappropriate thoughts as she becomes a teenager.
Julia Whitman - White woman. had Jupiner young as a rape result. When Juniper's 9 y/o, she marries Brad. Loves her new good life with nothing lacking.
Juniper Whitman - White young woman. 17 y/o. Made a purity pledge at the age of 14, at her parents' suggestion, to protect her of bad things&men. Falls in love with the boy next door, Xavier Alton-Holt. Wants to graduate earlier so that she can leave home and move to San Francisco where Xavier was accepted into college.
Lily Whitman - 10 y/o, Brad and Julia's daughter
Valerie Holt-Alston - Black woman. Michigan native. College professor of forestry and ecology, and into all things environment. Cares about the centuries old tree in her yard very much, so much that she sues the builder of the house next door and Brad Whitman because the construction of the house affected the tree's health. Drops the charges when there's a chance Xavier will not be accussed of rape and assault.
Xavier Holdt-Alston - Valerie's only son. 19 y/o. Music is his passion. Plays classic guitar, accepted into college in San Francisco with a partial scholarship. Falls in love with Juniper. Accused of rape and assault by Brad Whitman when the latter discovers the two young people having sex. As a consequence of the accusations, he's attacked by white men who hit him over the left hand, thus ruining it and making him unable to play the guitar. 
Tom Holt-Alston - White man. Valerie's husband. Was a sociology professor. Died when Xavier was very young, a few months-one year. He had an altercation with a family member, stumbled as he exited the room, hit is head, and as a result in less than a week he died.
Chris Johnson - Valerie's long-distance boyfriend. Also a university professor.
Dashawn and Joseph - Xavier's best friends.
Pepper - Juniper's best friend
Reverend Matthew of New Hope - the Whitman's pastor
Kelli Hanes; Belinda Johnson; Ellen Davies; Esther - Oak Knoll neighbors.
Wilson Everly - lawyer Valerie hires to sue the builder and Brad; white, conservative, Southern man.
Lottie Corbertt - Julia's mother.
Jimmy Jamison - Brad's friend.
Sheila Jamison - Jimmy's wife.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Jane Austen Society - by Natalie Jenner: Book Review

Title: The Jane Austen Society. A Novel
Author: Natalie Jenner
Pages: 320
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: May 26th 2020
Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format: Kindle



This novel made me miss Jane Austen's novels. By the half point of the novel I finally figured out that the characters respected the Jane Austen novels typology: the man who looks down on women; the man who is afraid of his feelings; the woman who denies herself the chance at love. The couples that form as the novel progresses were references to her novels, but also modern and with a twist. Every main character was a darling, and the villains were to be expected and had their part in the story. You knew whom to love and whom to dislike.

And speaking of couples, just like in Austen's novels, there's a rush of declaration of love and weddings at the end. A lot of time was spent dealing with the financial and inheritance aspects, and just hints and snippets of romance. The characters circle one another, but don't say their piece directly.

The plot was not far fetched for a historical novel, but when the characters started talking about Jane Austen's novels they sounded scholarly. It was a bit too much, although they were educated people (Dr. Benjamin Gray and teacher Miss Adeline Lewis). I liked the choice of setting the action in post World War II and not during the War. This way the attention was on the importance of the books and Jane Austen's legacy. For a reader who enjoys books about books, this is a good choice, especially if you're an austenite.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner was a sweet read that made me miss the classics and the British settings of the novels I enjoyed over the years.

I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

#MyYearInBooks2019

One of the things I like about Good Reads is the end of the year graphic statistics. Here's mine for 2019.
Compared to 2018 (not that I'm into comparing myself!), I read way more books. In 2018 I read 48 books, and in 2019 77. 

The shortest book was also my last book of 2019, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. It's a darling Christmas book. I got it from the library and it was the perfect read on a chilly morning in December. For some reason, the plot was so familiar, but my GooReads stats don't show it in read shelf. Maybe I had heard it before somewhere.
The longest book was a Harry Potter, the fourth in the series - The Goblet of Fire. For this one I needed some time to get into the plot, but it was worth it. I enjoy the Harry Potter series, especially because I read them in English, but they are doorstoppers and I need some pep talk to start reading.

I think I was a bit stingy with my ratings this year. They avarage at 3.6, which is not bad, but not ideal either. I hope I'll read books that are more interesting to me and impact me more. 

My first review of the year was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. I enjoyed reading this one, and I am glad I read it because it introduced me to Lois Lowry and so I discovered the The Giver series by her and it was one of my favourite series. I loved them all!

Every December I create a list of Christmas themed books that I want to read from. The Nutcracker was on the list this year because I wanted to finally see what the deal is with this one. I didn't like this that much as my 2* rating shows. I am glad I finally read it, though, because now I know the plot and the whole thing. I didn't know it will be a story within a story, and I had missed reading one of those. However, why this is a Christmas book and we celebrate that Nutcracker is beyond my power of understanding...


And on to 2020! I haven't set a reading challenge since 2011, as the above printscreen shows. I saw some bookstagramers on Instagram saying that they liked the statistics shown by GoodReads even if you have one book set as your reading goal. Well, I wouldn't be me if I didn't have a serious number. Considering that in 2018 I read 48 and last year 77, but this year I want more quality and personal interest in books, I thought 40 would be nice number, and it's connected to 2020, and it has a nice ring to it. 

Here's to a good reading year to come! I have some reading resolutions and plans, but first I'd like to look over my books read last year, and organise my reading a bit. What a joy reading and planning to read is!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

12 Days at Bleakly Manor - by Michelle Griep: Book Review

Title: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor
Author: Michelle Griep
Series: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas
Pages: 192
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Release Date: September 1st 2017
Genre: Christmas, Fantasy
Format: Kindle


Goodreads Synopsis:
When Clara Chapman receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of one thousand pounds. That’s enough money to bring her brother back from America and reinstate their stolen family fortune. But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar.

Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they've been striving for isn't what ultimately matters. What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love
.

This is a Christian Christmastime romance. If any of these three words is not what you want your novel to be about, move on, this is not for you.
This is the love story of a man who's apparently Christian because at the very end he prays to God for help after throughout the events of the novel he didn't even mention God. I need to add that this man is handsome and broadshouldered, despite coming from middle/upper class, and therefore hasn't worked that much physically in his life. His name is Benjamin Lane, but we'll call him Ben. It's also the story of a woman who's lost her status because the men in her life are unwise and she's the victim. This woman is rather short, but beautiful, and her height makes is so that she perfectly fits into the man's embrace. Her name is Clara Chapman. Of course the two share a history, and they will end up patching this back together and declaring their love for one another. But how will they get there?

Despite my salty tone, this is a sweet story, perfect for a lazy winter afternoon or a train ride, as it was the case for me. It read like a mystery novel that reminded me of Agatha Christie. I enjoyed the glimpses in the past and the not too preachy Christian tone, as some novels of this type tend to have. The collection of characters gathered at the Manor is interesting, and I had the impression that there was something ominous looming over the house. 

The plot is rather simple, but it creates enough mystery and suspence to keep you reading. I must admit there are still moments when I think about this novel, probably because I don't read a lot of Christian novels, and this one is different from what I've read so far.

It's the perfect read for those looking for a novel set around Christmas time, and told from a Christian point of view. Of course the cheesyness specific to this genre is there, but if this doesn't bother you, you might give it a try. 

2.5*

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.