Thursday, August 20, 2020

Book Review - Volume Six

As the end of August nears, I’m sharing with you some of my final reads of the summer (although I’m sure I’ll squeeze in one more in the next week and a half)! Even though summer hasn’t gone as planned, or 2020 for that matter, I’ve certainly read my share of books. 

This installment features five books, including historical fiction, a psychological thriller, and a memoir. I'm sure you'll find something that strikes your fancy. 

As before, I've included the summary of the book, as well as my rating (1 to 5). Let’s get started. 

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy―two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia―trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

Rating: 1/5. I had heard a lot of great things about this book, and to be honest, I thought it was OK at best. There were large gaps in the story line, and parts were unrealistic - the head of the cartel sparing your life because he was in love with you? I doubt it. I also thought the sporadic use of Spanish felt forced, and the story marginalized/romanticized crossing the Mexican American boarder. 

The Guest List

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner  – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

Rating: 4/5. I devoured this book, and loved all the twists and turns. Each chapter showcased different characters and seamlessly intertwined them together. I loved the premise of a "who done it" at a wedding - it kept me on my toes until the very end.  

The Only Woman in the Room

Her beauty almost certainly saved her from the rising Nazi party and led to marriage with an Austrian arms dealer. Underestimated in everything else, she overheard the Third Reich's plans while at her husband's side and understood more than anyone would guess. She devised a plan to flee in disguise from their castle, and the whirlwind escape landed her in Hollywood. She became Hedy Lamarr, screen star.

But she kept a secret more shocking than her heritage or her marriage: she was a scientist. And she had an idea that might help the country fight the Nazis and revolutionize modern communication...if anyone would listen to her.

Rating: 5/5. This book was absolutely wonderful. I was not familiar with the background of screen siren Hedy Lamarr, and how she was an absolute genius. To this day, her inventions literally are part of our everyday life. This book only skimmed the surface of this multi-faceted woman and definitely made me want to learn more. A must read for anyone that loves historical fiction, WW2, and old Hollywood. 

The Giver of Stars

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England.  But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice's greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who's never asked a man's permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. 

What happens to them--and to the men they love--becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope and epic in its storytelling. Funny, heartbreaking, enthralling, it is destined to become a modern classic--a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond. 

Rating: 5/5. This book may possibly be one of the best books I've ever read. The story was phenomenal and introduced me to the Packhorse Library, which I had never heard of before. The characters are beautiful, courageous, and had so much depth. It really showcased the strength of women during a time when women were just expected to be housewives. I recently saw that the book is going to be made into a movie, and I can't wait for it!

Open Book 

This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie. 

Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her listeners if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first. 

Now, America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality TV pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites listeners on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before.

First celebrated for her voice, she became one of the most talked-about women in the world, whether for music and fashion, her relationship struggles, or as a walking blonde joke. But now, instead of being talked about, Jessica is doing the talking. Her audiobook shares the wisdom and inspirations she’s learned and shows the real woman behind all the pop-culture clichés - "chicken or fish", "Daisy Duke", "football jinx", "mom jeans", "sexual napalm..." and more. Open Book is an opportunity to laugh and cry with a close friend, one that will inspire you to live your best, most authentic life, now that she is finally living hers.

Rating: 4/5. I just finished listening to this on audio book, and really enjoyed it. I was shocked by how vulnerable Jessica Simpson was in her memoir (she narrated), and just how much depth there is beneath the surface. She shared some of the traumas and heartaches she's been through in life, as well as opening up about her alcoholism. She discusses how she finally dealt with her demons and is now living a sober, happy life. This is the perfect book to listen to while you're taking a road trip or driving to work (it would also be a good book to read too)!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book Review - Volume Five

I'm so excited to share this book review with you. Not only have I gotten the chance to read these four books over the past few weeks, but I've thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. That doesn't happen often! 

All the books are perfect summer reads - fun, interesting, page turners that don't take long to get through. Below I've included a summary of the book, as well as my rating, 1 through 5. 

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

Rating: 4/5. This book kept me intrigued start to finish. The story line was different, and I was guessing what would happen next along the way. It's relatable in that no one ever really knows 'what goes on behind closed doors,' even when it comes to your siblings or a family member. It shows the strength of the bond you have with your family, but also your willingness to accept them for who they are. My only complaint was that the ending was a little too picture perfect, but you know me, I always complain about that! 

When Leah Stevens’ career implodes, a chance meeting with her old friend Emmy Grey offers her the perfect opportunity to start over. Emmy, just out of a bad relationship, convinces Leah to come live with her in rural Pennsylvania, where there are teaching positions available and no one knows Leah’s past.

Or Emmy’s.

When the town sees a spate of vicious crimes and Emmy Grey disappears, Leah begins to realize how very little she knows about her friend and roommate. Unable to find friends, family, a paper trail or a digital footprint, the police question whether Emmy Grey existed at all. And mark Leah as a prime suspect.

Fighting the doubts of the police and her own sanity, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Rating: 4/5. Oh my word this book kept me on the edge of my seat. My mom read it before me and each day I'd tell her how I was speculating the story would end. It was definitely a page turner. 

Two people. Ten chances. One unforgettable love story.

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.

Rating: 5/5. I know, the synopsis reads like a total Hallmark movie, but trust me, it was even better!;) This book was charming and a wonderful read. Although I'm sure many of us can guess the ending, the path to how they get there has a lot of unexpected twists and turns. A perfect summer read. It would also be a perfect book club read, as well. 

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Rating: 5/5. I guarantee most of you have heard of this book, or read it already. Truth be told, I've picked  it up and started it at least 3x and only got about 20 pages in before switching to another book. I don't know why, but the first two chapters just didn't garner my attention. I brought the book home with me to WI determined to finish it, if only to see what all the 'hype' was about. Let me tell you, I am so happy I finally sat down and read it. Like I said, I found it a bit slow/hard to get into at first, but once I did, I was completely enthralled. The author shares her memoir in such a unique way that you have to keep reminding yourself that this is true, and not just an incredible story.  Although mind blowing, it is also relatable, and interesting. An incredible story of transformation. Highly recommend! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Recent Amazon Purchases

From kitchen gadgets, to delicious snacks and of course some clothes, here's a look at some of my favorite recent Amazon buys! 

1. Tinted Eye Roller. Since March when covid/quarantine took full effect, I definitely have taken advantage of not wearing makeup. Seriously, I think I've worn makeup twice in the last four months...and I'm loving it. I've still been using my tinted SPF moisturizer daily, and recently added this tinted eye roller to my everyday routine. Not only does it soothe tired eyes, but the metal roller ball calms under eyes, and also brightens and provides coverage for dark circles.
2. Facial Cleansing Brush. I've long been a fan of the Clarisonic, but sometimes it's a pain in the but to travel since it has to be charged, and is also bulky. These facial scrubbers easily connect to your fingers, and give you the best face scrub you've ever had. It exfoliates your skin without drying it, and also penetrates the skin making your face wash more effective/targeted.
3. Taco Stands. I'm not even sure this needs an explanation! We love Mexican food and enjoy making it at home, but never liked how our tacos would just fall flat on our plates. No one likes a soggy taco, or one that has all of the ingredients spill all over. These are just what the doctor ordered! They fit both hard and soft shell tacos, too!
4. Ruffle Bathing Suit. This cute suit comes in tons of colors and is incredibly flattering. The straps can be detached too, which gives you a 2-for-1 look. I sized up to a medium.
5. Absorbent Hair Towel. This microfiber towel cuts dry time in half. It soaks up all that extra moisturizer, and easily stays in place.
6. Apple Slicer. I love apples, but hate cutting them. This fancy mechanism easily slides over your apples, and slices them easily and effortlessly.
7. Guacamole Saver. Can you see a trend with all these food gadgets I'm buying? And I'm not even done yet. I love avocados, and store bought guac, but hate seeing them overripen and go to waste. This seriously keeps avocados fresh, and is perfect for storage and serving, as well.
8. Ruffle Sleeve Sweatshirt & Matching Shorts. I wore this outfit for our road trip back to Wisconsin. It is so soft, and I love how the ruffle sleeve adds a girly touch to an otherwise basic look. I also love that the length of the shorts hits a the 'perfect' spot, and are a little on the longer side for comfy coverage. Seriously a must have look!
9. Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager. This massager is a miracle worker. It has three different speeds, and also has a heat option, which really helps soother sore muscle. It also comes with a adapter to plug it into the cigarette lighter (is that even what it's actually called) in the car, which makes it great for travel. I used it on our road trip and it was perfect for easing my stiffness/arthritis pain.
10. Foldable Visor. I literally cannot stand having the sun on my face, and this visor provides excellent coverage. It's easy to pack/travel, and is easy to store, as it takes up no room. It comes in a lot of colors, and the quality is great.
11. Smart Fries. Yummy. I LOVE french fries, and even though these don't give me the same satisfaction and curb my craving like the real deal, they are delicious. The come in several flavors (my fav is BBQ), and are an easy healthy snack.
12. Drizzilicious Snacks. These mini quaker cake deserts are sooooo good! 21 pieces are only 90 calories. Order these now, and thank me later.
13. Inflatable Pool Lounger. I've had tons of inflatable pool toys and loungers over the years, and this is by far the best ever. Not only is it practical, but it also has a cup holder which is perfect for your summer cocktails.
14. Ruffle Flounce Dress. I love the cut of this dress, and the price - only $30. It comes in a few colors, and the deep v-neck is effortlessly sexy.
15. Vegetable Slicer/Chopper. Love vegetables, but hate cutting them? This makes chopping onions, peppers, and many other veggies and absolute breeze. Beware though, it is SHARP! I cut my fingers on the blades and it looked like a crime scene. 

design + development by kiki and co. creative