Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Review: The Queen and Di by Ingrid Seward

 


Goodreads Overview:

As the editor of Majesty magazine, author Ingrid Seward developed professional and personal relationships with the royal family. In "The Queen & DI," we discover a surprising portrait of the British monarch and the princess, contradicting what the press has previously reported: a fragile Diana battling an unfeeling mother-in-law. And we glimpse much more of the inner workings of the extended royal family.Entertaining and factual, "The Queen & DI" stands apart and above the countless, often inaccurate, accounts published to date about Diana. Ingrid Seward reveals for the first time the true relationship between two important women of the 20th century.

Review:

I am a fan of the royal family and have followed all of the pomp and circumstance for decades. I have read several books about Diana, but this may be the only one that I have read that provides an honest portrayal of some of the relationships and events that took place behind the palace walls. In the Charles and Diana drama, I was Team Diana. After her tell all interview about how there were three people in the marriage from the very start, you couldn't help but feel sorry for her. 

This book explores how Diana was very accommodating and went above and beyond to fit into the royal family up until she was actually engaged to Charles. Once they were engaged, she shut down completely and would lock herself in her rooms. She had depression, an eating disorder, and an insatiable appetite for attention and approval. This did not sit well with Charles who was brought up as the heir to throne. He did not appreciate being constantly upstaged by his wife and could not figure out how to communicate with her. They did not have any of the same interests or hobbies, so the marriage appeared to be doomed from the start.

The Queen is often portrayed as cold and set in her ways, but this books shows how she was one of the last members of the family to support Diana. She was well aware of the drama that was taking place. She tried to provide guidance and emotional support to her daughter-in-law, but even she grew tired of the outburst and arguments. 

After reading this book, I actually have an appreciation for Charles. I now believe they were equally responsible for the demise of their marriage and can see things from both points of view. Charles isn't the villain the tabloids made him out to be and Diana wasn't a saint. They were rushed into a marriage neither was prepared for and they simply weren't compatible. If they had been given more time to date, perhaps they could have avoided the years of pain and anguish.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 


Goodreads Overview:

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. First published in 1925, this quintessential novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

Review:

This was one of my favorite books that I read in high school, so I was happy to reread it with my son when it was assigned for his sophomore English class. It had been almost 30 years since I read the book and it is amazing how much I had forgotten. In addition, he had to study the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I did not remember how closely his writing mirrored his own life experiences, so this was just as educational for me as it was for him.

The narrator of the story is Nick Carraway. He rented a small house on "West Egg" next-door to Jay Gatsby. Daisy and her husband Tom live on East Egg where all of the families with old money live. You can see their house and the green light at the end of their dock from Gatsby's house, which is a significant symbol throughout the novel. The proximity to Daisy is the only reason he purchased the mansion. Ever since he was a poor soldier in the army and fell in love with Daisy, it was his dream to earn enough money to marry Daisy and provide the type of lifestyle she was used to. He throws lavish parties with the hope that Daisy will eventually show up and they can reconnect, but she never does.

When Gatsby discovers that his neighbor Nick is Daisy's cousin, he is able to set his plan in motion. This novel depicts the party lifestyle of the roaring 20s and shows how bootlegging, drinking, jazz and the pursuit of the American Dream played an important role in this era. While Gatsby certainly wasn't a saint in terms of how he earned his wealth, he was a likable man that Nick came to respect. 

Once we finished reading the book, Preston and I watched the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. This was the first time I had watched this version of the movie and I loved it. DiCaprio was an excellent Gatsby and they stuck very closely to the original storyline. 

This is a book that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives. It is an excellent story and I appreciated it even more the second time around. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Review: Boyfriend Material by Alex Hall

 


Goodreads Overview:

Luc O'Donnell is tangentially--and reluctantly--famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he's never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad's making a comeback, Luc's back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship...and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He's a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he's never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that's when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don't ever want to let them go.

Review:

This was an addicting story that I didn't want to put down. Luc and Oliver have A LOT of drama in their fake dating lives. They don't always make the best decisions and I really wanted to shake them at times so they could see what was obvious to any reader. They literally had nothing in common and were polar opposites, but they have undeniable chemistry. You couldn't help but root for them when they seemed to do everything imaginable to destroy the one good thing in their lives, which was their relationship.

Oliver comes from a wealthy family with extremely high standards and expectations for him. He is a successful attorney and loves his job, but nothing is ever enough for his parents. Luc helps him see that it is okay to be his own person and to make decisions that make him happy instead of his parents. Being perfect isn't everything it is cracked up to be. 

Luc has a long history of drama. His ex boyfriend sold out to the tabloids, so Luc is constantly paranoid about the next thing that will appear on the front cover. He has a close group of friends, who make several appearances in the book, but he doesn't trust people. He is afraid to get too close to someone again because they will probably leave like his father did or use him to make a fast buck at his expense. 

The decision to "fake date" was a win win since Luc needed to clean up his reputation and Oliver was in need of a date to a family function. They just needed to stick things out until the dust settled. What they didn't count on was the fact that their mutual crush would lead to the most normal friendship and relationship either had experienced in a long time. They could see each others flaws and insecurities and weren't afraid to call each other out. They brought out the best in each other and their relationship began to flourish, but neither was really sure where they stood in this "fake relationship."

There were a number of laugh out loud quotes and scenes and I loved the British slang. I gave this book 5 stars and voted for it in every round of the Goodreads choice awards for best new romance of 2020. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Review: Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter

 


Goodreads Overview:

Bestselling author Ally Carter returns with an exciting stand-alone novel, about a girl stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with the boy who wronged her . . . as an assassin moves in.

Maddie and Logan were torn apart by a kidnapping attempt when they were young. They were only kids -- Logan's dad was POTUS and Maddie's father was the Secret Service agent meant to guard him. The kidnappers were stopped -- but Maddie was whisked off to Alaska with her father, for satety. Maddie and Logan had been inseparable . . . but then she never heard from him again.

Now it's a few years later. Maggie's a teenager, used to living a solitary life with her father. It's quiet -- until Logan is sent to join them. After all this time without word, Maddie has nothing to say to him -- until their outpost is attacked, and Logan is taken. They won't be out of the woods until they're . . . out of the woods, and Maddie's managed to thwart the foes and reconcile with Logan.

Review:

I am a huge fan of Ally Carter and have read all of the books in her Gallagher Girls, Heist Society and Embassy Row series. I really enjoyed the fact that this was a stand alone. I could enjoy the story without a cliffhanger or lengthy wait for the next installment.

Maddie is the daughter of the President's primary secret service officer and is Logan's best friend. Logan is the First Son of the United States and has lived a pretty sheltered life. He is extremely smart, but never seems to meet his parents' unrealistic expectations.

When Maddie and her father moved to Alaska, she assumed it was due to her father's injuries in the line of duty. She was forced to give up her Washington D.C. lifestyle with her fancy clothes, luxurious accommodations, and most importantly...her best friend Logan. Her father took her to a remote cabin where she had to learn to live off the land. Chop wood, carry water, catch fish, etc. To help pass the time, since there was no internet or cell service, she read a ton of books and wrote letters to Logan. She waited every day for his reply, which never came.

One day, Logan arrives in Alaska and the two are completely awkward. Maddie is furious with him for never writing her back, but he insists he never received the letters. When the two are kidnapped by men they believe could be from the same organization that tried to kidnap his mother years earlier, they must work together to survive until help arrives.  Maddie is familiar with the area and has years of survival skills. Logan speaks Russian and can understand what their captors are saying. He also has a near photographic memory and is able to use his skills to their advantage.

This was a fast paced, action packed adventure. I absolutely loved Maddie and Logan and enjoyed seeing them reconnect. There were a number of flash backs to letters Maddie wrote Logan over the years, which added some insight into their lives prior to her leaving DC and her life in Alaska before his arrival. They both want to regain what they lost, but neither wants to get hurt again in the process. 

This is one of my favorite Ally Carter books so far and I gave it a solid 5 stars. I would definitely recommend it to any younger teen. I have a hard time finding books for my teenage son, since he doesn't really enjoy fiction, but this is a book I believe even he would enjoy.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Review: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

 


Goodreads Overview:

Liz Lighty has always believed she's too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it's okay -- Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz's plans come crashing down . . . until she's reminded of her school's scholarship for prom king and queen. There's nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she's willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She's smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Review:

I chose this book because Reese Witherspoon selected it for her first YA book club selection. I love Reese, but I don't read a lot of adult books besides mysteries and thrillers, so her adult book club selections never really appealed to me. Her first YA selection on the other hand was AWESOME.

Liz Lighty is valedictorian material. Book Nerds aren't typically in the running for prom queen, but at her school it isn't all about looks and popularity. Grades and charity work are also part of the equation. These categories may get her into the competition, but she is really going to have to up her game if she is going to win the popular vote. 

She has never considered herself popular. She is a minority and doesn't come from a wealthy family. She doesn't have the fancy clothes and works a part-time job to help save money for college. She never would have considered running for prom queen if the ultimate prize weren't a college scholarship, which she desperately needs to attend Pennington College and fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor.

Liz makes the initial cut, but she has a lot of work to do if she is going to be crowned queen. She does a lot of soul searching and realizes what is really important to her. She is true to herself and allows her personality to shine throughout the process. Once she stops hiding the truth and trying to be someone she isn't, everything begins to change for her. 

This was a highly entertaining and inspiring book. High school can be hard for anyone, but for those who don't fit the cookie cutter mold, it can be especially difficult. Liz did not allow anything to hold her back and used her differences to her advantage. Her small town may not have been ready to embrace these radical ideas, but it was time for a change.

I absolutely loved Reese's first YA book selection and look forward to reading the others.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Review: Library of Souls by RansomRiggs

 


Goodreads Overview:

The adventure that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls. As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all. Like its predecessors, Library of Souls blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.
 

Review:

The original overview for this book implies this is the final book in a trilogy. The story picks up pretty much where the previous book left off. Miss. Peregrine and the other Ymbrynes have been captured by Wights along with some of the peculiar children.  Jacob, Emma, and a few others who managed to escape must now rescue them before life as they know it is lost forever. Without Ymbrynes to manage the loops, peculiars are not safe from their enemies. In addition, if they remain outside of a loop for too long, they will begin to age. Most of the peculiars were friends of Jacob's grandfather, but still look like children because of the loop's ability to freeze time. They are immortal as long as they remain inside of a loop. Even a couple of consecutive days in the "real world" could cause them to age and die.

While I did enjoy the pictures that drive the plot of this stories, I did not feel like this book was as fast paced and as engaging as the previous two. There were a lot of detailed descriptions of the setting, which is dreary and bleak most of the time. The lengthy battles were overdone and often caused me to lose interest. I did enjoy the premise behind the Library of Souls and how Jacob's ability made him the "librarian". I was happy with how everything played out and felt like there was a definitive ending to the series. The struggles the peculiar have endured for years appeared to be behind them and we are left with as close to a happily ever after as I thought we could get. But now there are 3 more books in the series!!!

It looks like the next book is set in America instead of England and the peculiars are going to give life in Jacob's world a try. I'm not sure I am up for an additional 3 books, but the 4th book is actually getting pretty good review and is averaging over 4 stars on Goodreads. I think I will take a break from the series, but will probably give the fourth book a try just to see how things play out. I do enjoy the characters and if the story line has a faster pace, I will likely enjoy it more than I did book 3.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Review: Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell

 


Review:

Unnatural Exposure is the eighth book in the Kay Scarpetta series. There are currently 25 books in the series, so it is a major undertaking if you plan on reading them all.  I started this series several years ago along with the Stephanie Plum and Women's Murder Club series because I can't resist a good murder mystery, but I have never felt compelled to sit down and read them all straight through. You can read one or two books a year from these series and easily pick up where you left off. There is some character development and personal relationships evolve, but each case or story is independent. I read them in order, but I don't think it is completely necessary.

In this installment Kay, Virginia's Chief Medical Examiner, is investigating some cases that appear to be connected to five serial murders that took place in Ireland several years ago. When an additional body turns up with similar, but several strikingly different characteristics, she believes they are now dealing with a copycat. 

In addition, the most recent body is covered with what appears to be a smallpox like infection. After further investigation, it isn't quite smallpox, but a variation of the disease that we do not have a vaccination for. When the copycat killer stats contacting Kay directly via email and eventually in a chat room, Kay is determined to lure the perpetrator into making a mistake that allows the FBI to trace the connection and find the killer.

Kay's niece Lucy, who works as an IT expert for the FBI, is once again instrumental in solving the case. I always find these books amusing because of the archaic computer technology, which was state of the art at the time. In this case the book was published in 1997, which isn't THAT long ago in my opinion, but light years away in terms of technological advancements. AOL with a dial up connection, pagers, and car phones, are just a few of the high tech gadgets mentioned in this book. I remember when these things were a big deal, but kids today wouldn't have the first clue as to what she is talking about. My son even refers to when I was growing up as "the olden days," because in his eyes we lived in the stone age compared to kids today.

Overall, this was another excellent addition to the series. If you enjoy murder mysteries, I would recommend giving this series a try. Just be aware that they are somewhat graphic and may not be for everyone.