Take A Peek Book Review: Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins by Katarina Bivald

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Title: Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins
Author: Katarina Bivald
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: January 7, 2020
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐

Synopsis:

From New York Times bestselling author Katarina Bivald comes a charming tale of a ramshackle roadside motel: a heartwarming story of love, friendship, community, and the art of living, even when it’s already too late.

The Pine Creek Motel has seen better days. Henny would call it charming, but she’s always seen the best in things. Like now, when she’s just met an untimely end crossing the road. She’s not going to let a tiny thing like death stop her from living fully—not when her friends and family need her the most.

After the funeral is over, her body is buried, and the last casserole dish is empty, Henny is still around. She’s not sure why, but she realizes she has one last opportunity to help her friends discover the happiness they once knew before they lose the motel and cabins they’ve cherished for years.

My Thoughts:

Katarina Bivald’s 2016 novel about small-town life, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, completely charmed me, and I picked up Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins expecting a similar reading experience. Sadly, it didn’t really work out that way for me.

In this new novel, we see the town of Pine Creek, Oregon through the eyes of Henny Broek, who’s dead as of page one, having been hit by a truck on a day when she was feeling particularly happy. Henny doesn’t really understand how she can be dead yet still stick around, but she decides to embrace the opportunity to spend more time with her friends and loved ones, hoping to make sure that they all end up happy. And happiness for this group of misfits centers on the motel, where Henny has worked ever since her teens, a place that has always felt like her true home.

The story is long and rambles quite a bit. We’re supposed to be getting to know Henny through her friends’ experiences and memories, but she and the rest of the characters remain somewhat unknowable. There are hints of personalities, but I didn’t feel that I got a grasp on most of them. The love story here is confusing, and Henny’s purpose is as well. The book makes it seem as though Henny herself is bringing about changes in people’s lives, but as we see throughout the book, Henny is a ghost who can only tag along and observe. I know it’s meant to be charming to see the town and these quirky characters through Henny’s eyes, but honestly, it only made sense to me about half the time.

There’s a subplot about a conservative Christian group’s protests against the motel on grounds of immorality, which mirrors a campaign against gay rights that occurred in the state during Henny and her friends’ high school years. Why a local group would suddenly decide to protest the motel seems pretty arbitrary, and the deus ex machina resolution to the protests is fairly random too.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. If I hadn’t been reading a review copy, I might not have stuck around to the end. I did find moments that made me smile and liked some elements, but overall, this book is messy and too long and lacks a strong focus. What a disappointment.

The Monday Check-In ~ 1/6/2020

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

The holidays are over, and now it’s back to the usual routine. I can’t complain too much — it was nice to have a couple of slower, quieter weeks to regroup, relax, and read!

What did I read during the last week?

Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan: Fascinating non-fiction. My review is here. (And no, I will never ever ever want to climb a mountain!)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: My first 5-star read for 2020! I loved this book so much. My review is here.

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman: I finished my audiobook re-read! The audio version is really suspenseful and enjoyable, and now I’d dying to dive into the 3rd book in the trilogy… but I know I should finish up a few ARCs first so I don’t fall behind so early in the year. Must. Control. My. Impulses.

Pop culture:

My son and I binged season 4 of The Expanse this week. Wow – fabulous season. It’s kind of funny watching it now that it’s moved to Amazon Prime, freed from TV restrictions, and hearing all the characters suddenly dropping f-bombs. I’m so grateful to Amazon for picking the show up after it was cancelled on Syfy. It’s an excellent adaptation, and I can’t wait for the next season!

Fresh Catch:

No new physical books this week… although I did take advantage of all sorts of year-end price drops to add yet more books to my Kindle!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins by Katarina Bivald: This small town slice-of-life isn’t quite catching my attention yet, but since I enjoyed the author’s previous book, I’m sticking with it and giving it a shot.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Book of Dust (La Belle Sauvage) by Philip Pullman: Time for another re-read! I’ve forgotten most of the detail already from this book, so I need a refresher before starting The Secret Commonwealth.

Ongoing reads:

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck: My book group’s classic read! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. I think I’m enjoying this book more than most of my book group friends are — it’s just so funny!

So many books, so little time…

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Reading goals: Series to read in 2020

I always see a new year as a clean slate for my bookish dreams.

I tend not to set specific reading goals, other than keeping up with the books I buy and the never-ending ARCs waiting to be read.

But where I do like to plan ahead at the start of a year is with my series reading. A new year represents a chance to tackle a series that I’ve been wanting to get to. For me, series are most enjoyable when I can read all (or at least, a bunch) of the books in a row, or at least within a few months of each other.

Bearing in mind that none of this is written in stone, since my reading plans change with my changing moods…

In 2020, my priority series to read will be:

The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal – a completed five-book series:

The Interdependency Series by John Scalzi – the 3rd book in the trilogy will be released in April, so this might be a good time to get started!

The Expanse by James S. A. Corey: I’ve read books 1 – 3 already, and need to get back into the story! Watching season 4 of the TV series is helping a lot with my motivation! Next up for me is:

And who knows, maybe I’ll keep going. There are 8 full novels in the series so far, all over 500 pages, so I have my work cut out for me.

Poldark by Winston Graham – 12 books in all, and I’ve read 7. My understanding is that book #8 jumps ahead quite a bit and takes place after the events of the complete TV series, so I’ve been less eager to move forward with this one. Still, I really should see how it all works out!

Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black – I just bought myself a copy of The Cruel Prince, and assuming I like it (and why wouldn’t I?), I’ll want to read all three books!

 

That’s it for my 2020 priority list… but wait, there’s more!

I still have my eye on a bunch of series/trilogies/what-have-you that I intend to read… eventually. Maybe 2020 will finally be the year… and maybe not. My will-get-to-at-some-point list of series includes:

  • Kitty Norville urban fantasy series by Carrie Vaughn
  • Parasitology trilogy by Mira Grant (because even though the subject is totally icky, I think these are her only books that I haven’t read yet, which is unacceptable!)
  • Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness
  • The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters
  • Wayward Pines books by Blake Crouch
  • Inheritance trilogy and/or Broken Earth series by N. K. Jemisin

Are you planning to start any new series this year? If you’ve read any of the series on my “priority” list, let me know what you thought!

Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkins [a spoiler-free review!]

Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: June 13, 2017
Length: 389 pages
Genre: Contemporary/historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means–and what it costs–to face the truth. 

My first 5-star read of 2020! The only question is, why did it take me until now to read this excellent book?

I’ve been a fan of author Taylor Jenkins Reid for several years now. I first read her book Maybe in Another Life when it was released in 2015, then went back and read everything else she’s written. I loved, loved, loved last year’s Daisy Jones and the Six. But for whatever reason, despite having a copy on my shelf since 2017, I just didn’t get around to Evelyn Hugo. Now I finally see what all the buzz was about — and let me tell you, it’s all completely justified!

By now, most people have probably read this amazing book — but here’s the thing: I went into The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo remarkably unspoiled. I’d read the blurb, and knew it was about a former Hollywood icon who’d been married seven times. And that’s it.

(And thinking about it, perhaps that’s why I didn’t feel especially compelled to pick up the book, despite all the glowing reviews. Hollywood stars and scandals isn’t usually a topic that draws me.)

Now, having read the book, I know just how much more there is to Evelyn’s story. And I am so appreciative of the fact that I read it with no expectations and no advance knowledge of the true depths waiting to be discovered.

So, for the sake of anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo yet, I’m not going to give anything away!

Taylor Jenkins Reid introduces us to star Evelyn Hugo at age 79, as she’s finally ready to share her true story to a relatively unknown writer. Why does she choose Monique? Why tell her story now, after so many years outside of the spotlight? All will be revealed by the end!

Evelyn is a marvelous character, a girl who came from nothing and reached the pinnacle of Hollywood stardom. The public came to know her through her movies and awards, but she became equally (if not more) famous for her series of marriages and their scandals.

But each marriage is a key to understanding the puzzle that is Evelyn. Each reveals yet another chapter of her history and her control of her own narrative and destiny.

As I said, I simply refuse to give anything away, because I love the fact that all of Evelyn’s secrets ended up surprising me as I read the book. But here’s what I can share:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is filled with:

  • Complex, fascinating characters
  • Powerful emotional connections
  • Deep, abiding friendship
  • True, passionate love
  • A reverence for families of all sorts
  • Unflinchingly honest reflections on sacrifice, power, manipulation, scandal, and fame

… and so much more.

I just loved this book, plain and simple. I think it would make a fantastic book group choice, as there’s so much to mull over and think about. I’m pushing this book on a few key bookish friends so I can talk about it with them!

As if I were in any doubt, this book absolutely confirms the talent of Taylor Jenkins Reid. I can’t wait to see what she writes next! Whatever it is, I’ll be first in line to read it.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of:

Forever, Interrupted (2013)
After I Do (2014)
Maybe In Another Life (2015)
One True Loves (2016)
Daisy Jones & The Six (2019)


Outlander season 5!

Question: Who needs a little Outlander in their lives today?

Answer: We ALL do!

Or anyway, I do, and probably lots of others do too. So, yay for Starz and these pretty sneak peeks:

First off, the official key art for season 5:

And the new trailer:

And the new opening credits:

Can it PLEASE be February 16th already???

Book Review: Buried in the Sky by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan

Title: Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day
Author: Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Publication date: June 11, 2012
Length: 286 pages
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Gift
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

When Edmund Hillary first conquered Mt. Everest, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was at his side. Indeed, for as long as Westerners have been climbing the Himalaya, Sherpas have been the unsung heroes in the background. In August 2008, when eleven climbers lost their lives on K2, the world’s most dangerous peak, two Sherpas survived. They had emerged from poverty and political turmoil to become two of the most skillful mountaineers on earth. Based on unprecedented access and interviews, Buried in the Sky reveals their astonishing story for the first time.

Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan explore the intersecting lives of Chhiring Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Lama, following them from their villages high in the Himalaya to the slums of Kathmandu, across the glaciers of Pakistan to K2 Base Camp. When disaster strikes in the Death Zone, Chhiring finds Pasang stranded on an ice wall, without an axe, waiting to die. The rescue that follows has become the stuff of mountaineering legend.

At once a gripping, white-knuckled adventure and a rich exploration of Sherpa customs and culture, Buried in the Sky re-creates one of the most dramatic catastrophes in alpine history from a fascinating new perspective.
 

Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day really is, well, an extraordinary story.

If you’re at all like me, the idea of climbing huge mountains seems utterly ridiculous. What drives people to need to reach the summit of these forbidding peaks, risking their lives and making enormous investment of time and money to do so?

Many mountaineering adventure books follow the climbers, their backgrounds, and their experiences. Buried in the Sky focuses instead on the Sherpas, the people who make other people’s climbs possible. The wealthy foreigners with their corporate sponsors and fancy equipment may get the spotlight, but what about the indigenous people who ascend on climb after climb, lugging gear, setting ropes, and enabling foreign climbers to pursue their dreams?

I learned so much from reading Buried in the Sky. “Sherpa” is commonly used as a word to describe the people who work on climbs and carry equipment, but the word Sherpa actually denotes an ethnicity. Among the people of Tibet, Nepal, and Pakistan, there is fierce competition and resentment among the different ethnic groups who seek the lucrative jobs that come with high altitude climbing support. 

The book clearly illustrates how attractive these jobs are, providing an income that exceeds by far anything the local villagers can expect to earn in their lifetimes, enabling the high altitude porters to support their families to such an extent that the extreme risks seems worthwhile.

The story of the 2008 K2 climb is harrowing, as we get to know the Sherpa climbers and their backstories, as well as the paying climbers who hire them. There are so many factors working against a successful climb. It’s really mind-boggling to me that anyone would even attempt this or see this type of climb as a goal, but hey, I’ve never claimed to be an outdoor adventurer!

I do wish the book had provided more details on K2 itself. While there are some photos of the sherpas and climbers from the expedition, there are only a handful of maps scattered throughout the book. Even though the focus of the books is on the sherpas and their lives, more information on the mountain itself would have been helpful. It was hard for me to fully visualize the various challenges and dangers of each step of the climb.

There seems almost to be an assumption of basic familiarity with K2 on the part of the authors, so I often felt that I was thrown in the middle and expected to understand.

This is a case where a book should perhaps have been longer. While Buried in the Sky is a relatively quick read, I feel it would have benefited by going more in-depth on the mountain itself and the climbing process.

Still, Buried in the Sky is a fascinating story, showing the mistakes and miscommunications that contributed to the 2008 disaster — and yet, even a perfectly executed climb could likely end in death. It’s a scary, interesting, engrossing read — I just wish there had been a bit more.

Shelf Control #198: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Welcome to my first Shelf Control post for 2020! And yes, I realize that today is Thursday, not Wednesday, but I thought I’d hold off on this week’s post until the day after New Year’s Day.

Here’s one that I’ve been wanting to read for years — I can’t believe I haven’t already done a Shelf Control about this one…

Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison
Published: 2014
Length: 446 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne–or his life.

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor is an exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen book bloggers whose opinions I value recommend this book, or list it as an all-time favorite! It does sound perfect for me, so I have no excuse for not reading it yet, except that — as always — my shelves are overflowing with books I’ve yet to read.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

2019: My year in books

Another reading year has come and gone! Here’s a look back at the highlights of my year in books:

Thank you, Goodreads, for letting me know that I’m probably good at other things besides reading! Funny, last year, I read 202 out of 170 books… so I’m slowly increasing? Or probably just throwing in a lot more shorter works into my reading mix.  

Goodreads stats as of 12/31/2019:

The Picture of Dorian Gray is the most popular book I read this year? Color me shocked! Who would have thought that a book from 1890 would have close to a million readers in 2019?

According to my average rating, I’ve been pretty successful this year when it comes to choosing book that appeal to me. Kind of crazy, but for the second year in a row, my average rating was 4.1 stars.

Star rating used most often: 4 stars (87 total)
Star rating used least often: 2 stars (6 total — and I didn’t give any books only 1-star. I think if I thought that little of a book, I just DNFd.)
DNFs: 4 – Between not getting into a book or just not being the right book at the right time, I officially put aside 4 books that I’d started… although I know there are several more that I put down within a page or two, and just didn’t even count.

Highest rated on Goodreads:

Apparently everyone loved this book!

First and Last:

Neither my first nor my last reviews of the year were for books I’d consider favorites… but then again, I didn’t get around (yet) to writing up reviews for the two books I just finished… so I guess they’ll have to just wait to be the first for 2020!

Reading highlights:

Complete series: I read three series start-to-finish this year:

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (8 books)
  • Beka Cooper by Tamora Pierce (3 books)
  • The Beauty graphic novels by Jeremy Haun (5 books)

New sequels or books in ongoing (or finished) series:

So many great new additions to stories I love! Including…

Stellar historical fiction:

Enthralling re-reads: Books that stand up superbly to a 2nd (or 3rd…) reading:

Great graphic novels:

Fun and light contemporary fiction:

Weird, creepy, disturbing, otherworldly:

Fantastic fantasy:

Story/essay collections:

A quartet of classics:

Aaaaaaand… I’m stopping now before I end up including every single book I read in 2019!

Eye-candy covers:

Let me just take a minute to appreciate some of the most beautiful and/or eye-catching covers from my reading this year… because who doesn’t love a great looking book?

 

Goodbye, 2019!

It’s been a blast… and now it’s time to look forward to all the wonderful books I’ve yet to read.

Wishing everyone a very happy 2020, full of good cheer, good health, and great reading!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books I Read In 2019

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Favorite Books I Read In 2019.

According to my Goodreads records for 2019, I gave a five-star rating to 63 books in 2019! So how am I supposed to narrow my list down to just ten?

Quick answer: I can’t. So, for this week’s Top 10 Tuesday, I’m sharing my 15 favorite books for 2019! (Review links are included where available — click through if you want to know more about any of these EXCELLENT books…)

  1. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Reid Jenkins (review)
  2. Circe by Madeline Miller (review)
  3. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher (review)
  4. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (review)
  5. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal — a re-read, but I loved it all over again, so it belongs on this list! (review)
  6. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (review)
  7. Our War by Craig DiLouie (review)
  8. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (review)
  9. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne — my final 5-star read of the year! No review yet, but I loved this book!!
  10. The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (review)
  11. Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes (review)
  12. The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman (review)
  13. Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (review)
  14. Recursion by Blake Crouch (review)
  15. The Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce (review)

And wait, there’s more! After posting, I realized that I left off another book that was definitely a favorite book of 2019, and I just couldn’t let it go!

16. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (review) — I’m not sure how I missed this amazing book when I put my list together! Whew, I feel better now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What were your favorite books of 2019? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!