November 28, 2017

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday

Spring and summer are nice, but fall and winter are prime reading seasons for me. A cup of tea (or glass of wine, depending on what kind of day it’s been), a blanket, and a good book equal heaven to me. Here are the top ten books I’m planning to curl up with this winter:

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRObsidio (The Illuminae Files, #3) by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they'll find seven months after the invasion?

Meanwhile, Kady's cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza's ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha's past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.

With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heros will fall, and hearts will be broken.

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRTower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6) by Sarah J. Maas

Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.

His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica—the stronghold of the southern continent's mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.
But what they discover in Antica will change them both—and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRCome Sundown by Nora Roberts

The Bodine ranch and resort in western Montana is a family business, an idyllic spot for vacationers. A little over thirty thousand acres and home to four generations, it’s kept running by Bodine Longbow with the help of a large staff, including new hire Callen Skinner. There was another member of the family once: Bodine’s aunt, Alice, who ran off before Bodine was born. She never returned, and the Longbows don’t talk about her much. The younger ones, who never met her, quietly presume she’s dead. But she isn’t. She is not far away, part of a new family, one she never chose—and her mind has been shattered…

When a bartender leaves the resort late one night, and Bo and Cal discover her battered body in the snow, it’s the first sign that danger lurks in the mountains that surround them. The police suspect Cal, but Bo finds herself trusting him—and turning to him as another woman is murdered and the Longbows are stunned by Alice’s sudden reappearance. The twisted story she has to tell about the past—and the threat that follows in her wake—will test the bonds of this strong family, and thrust Bodine into a darkness she could never have imagined.

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRWintersong (Wintersong, #1) by S. Jae-Jones

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRShimmer and Burn (Shimmer and Burn, #1) by Mary Taranta

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRBatman: Nightwalker (DC Icons, #2) by Marie Lu

Before he was Batman, he was Bruce Wayne. A reckless boy willing to break the rules for a girl who may be his worst enemy.

The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.

One by one, the city's elites are being executed as their mansions' security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family's fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he's forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city's most brutal criminals.

Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce's only hope.

In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRUnearthed (Unearthed, #1) by Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner

When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying's advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study... as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don't loot everything first. Mia and Jules' different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race's secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race...

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?
It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

Add to your TBR!

Top 10 Books on My Winter TBRHardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum,

Trouble comes in bunches for Stephanie Plum. First, professional grave robber and semi-professional loon, Simon Diggery, won’t let her take him in until she agrees to care for his boa constrictor, Ethel. Stephanie’s main qualification for babysitting an extremely large snake is that she owns a stun gun—whether that’s for use on the wandering serpent or the petrified neighbors remains to be seen.

Events take a dark turn when headless bodies start appearing across town. At first, it’s just corpses from a funeral home and the morgue that have had the heads removed. But when a homeless man is murdered and dumped behind a church Stephanie knows that she’s the only one with a prayer of catching this killer.
If all that’s not enough, Diesel’s back in town. The 6-foot-tall, blonde-haired hunk is a man who accepts no limits—that includes locked doors, closed windows and underwear. Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli isn’t pleased at this unexpected arrival nor is Ranger, the high-powered security consultant who has his own plans for Stephanie.

As usual Jersey’s favorite bounty hunter is stuck in the middle with more questions than answers. What’s the deal with Grandma Mazur’s latest online paramour? Who is behind the startling epidemic of mutilated corpses? And is the enigmatic Diesel’s sudden appearance a coincidence or the cause of recent deadly events?

Add to your TBR!

What’s on your winter TBR?

Posted November 28, 2017 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments

November 27, 2017

Deciphering the Outline | The Writing Files

As a four-year-old, I used to scribble nonsense into notebooks, pretending I was a writer. At ten, I wrote my first story, a Mary-Kate and Ashley fan fiction that was so close to the movie they had just released, it was…is uncanny the right word? (wink.) In high school, I covered my brown paper-wrapped books with lyrics, phrases that caught my attention, pretty sounds. I felt I was destined to write, something I knew was probably a romantic teenage notion, but I had to try. But in college…in college, I had a creative writing teacher who hated everything I wrote.

No, I’m not exaggerating. Hated. Everything. I made the mistake of writing a short nonfiction piece on a bad breakup between one of my high school boyfriends. It was a scarring experience that had happened only a few months ago, and I hoped writing it down would help me work through it. Her critique was ruthless, attacking the emotions I was still dealing with, the implausibility of the story…you name it. In retrospect, I think she was trying to shape me into a better writer, but instead, I retreated into my shell and didn’t pick up a pen to write a creative piece for a long time.

Until this summer. I had some characters bouncing around in my head, shouting to be let out, and after a few rough weeks, I needed an outlet. So for the first time since I was seventeen, I picked up the pen to write.

Writing is such a personal yet community effort, so I want to share my experience – positive or otherwise – through The Writing Files. Today, we’re talking the outline.

I write a lot in my career. In my last job, I was the primary content writer for the company, so I’m comfortable with a blank page. Usually, I could start drafting and, after a few bumps in the opening lines, I could get something written within a day or two. Creative writing? Not so much.

In researching writing methods (a favorite hobby when I am avoiding the one thing I should really be doing – writing), everyone has a different approach to outline. Each seems to fall into one of three main categories:

  • No outline
  • Light planning
  • Plan everything


I loved the idea of no outlining, à la Stephen King. He advocates starting with a general sense, but letting the writing and the characters take you where they want. It was beautiful, poetic, and did not work at all for me. My characters ended up stilted, awkward, and had no idea where they wanted to go, let alone how to get to the ending scene I had in mind. This method would be best for more experienced fiction writers or if you have fully-developed characters.

Light planning was my next experiment. I’d read Sarah J. Maas likes to have the major plot points of her story ready when she sits down to write (and let’s be real: her stories are amazing). I thought, perfect. A mix of planning and wild creativity. Let’s do it. This was more successful than my previous try, but I still felt lost, wandering down a small town main street with my protagonist giving me a “what the hell” look.

So I planned everything. Looking back, I should have done this to begin with because I am a planner at heart. My work calendar is color-coded to task. My day planner is mapped every Sunday afternoon, so I know what to expect for the next week. I even plan our dinners and my lunches for the entire week.

I started over. Again. It started to feel fruitless like this was just a waste of time, but I had to keep going. The story would pop up in my head while I was waiting at the stoplight, staring at multiple spreadsheets at work, even in my dreams. Most chapters have an outline of what I want to accomplish, setting details, even dialogue. Others are freewrites that I had to get out of my head onto paper.

Now, it’s time for the scary (scarier?) part – drafting. I think it will be the same type of learning experience as outlining, now I know to just stick with it.

Lessons learned

Whatever your personal organizational method is, go with that. If you lean more towards sitting down and seeing what comes of it, go for it. If you’re like me, try planning first, then see what happens. Experimenting is the only way to find out what works best for you.

What are your best outlining tips? Share below!

Posted November 27, 2017 by Ellen in the writing files / 0 Comments

November 22, 2017

Review | A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

Review | A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev GolinkinA Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir by Lev Golinkin
Publisher: Doubleday, November 2014
Pages: 307
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A compelling story of two intertwined journeys: a Jewish refugee family fleeing persecution and a young man seeking to reclaim a shattered past. In the twilight of the Cold War (the late 1980s), nine-year old Lev Golinkin and his family cross the Soviet border with only ten suitcases, $600, and the vague promise of help awaiting in Vienna. Years later, Lev, now an American adult, sets out to retrace his family's long trek, locate the strangers who fought for his freedom, and in the process, gain a future by understanding his past.

Lev Golinkin's memoir is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of a young boy in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union. It's also the story of Lev Golinkin, the American man who finally confronts his buried past by returning to Austria and Eastern Europe to track down the strangers who made his escape possible . . . and say thank you. Written with biting, acerbic wit and emotional honesty in the vein of Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Safran Foer, and David Bezmozgis, Golinkin's search for personal identity set against the relentless currents of history is more than a memoir—it's a portrait of a lost era. This is a thrilling tale of escape and survival, a deeply personal look at the life of a Jewish child caught in the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and a provocative investigation into the power of hatred and the search for belonging. Lev Golinkin achieves an amazing feat—and it marks the debut of a fiercely intelligent, defiant, and unforgettable new voice.

Moving is scary. The uprooting of the place called home usually strikes fear in all of us, subconsciously or otherwise. Especially kids. Especially when the home you’re leaving is in the Soviet Union.

Lev Golinkin’s A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is a poignant, unexpectedly funny at times and terrifying at others, unique take on one of the more unspoken periods of modern history: the emigration of Jews from the U.S.S.R.

I knew life in the Soviet Union couldn’t have been easy, but Golinkin’s depiction of his Jewish upbringing and the struggles he and his family endured merely because of their ethnicity was heartbreaking. Golinkin’s narration was threaded with a sort of absence that children have when speaking of hard memories in their past. Instead of slowing down the narrative, it brought an emotional touch, a sense that the author was talking to me in real time instead of words on a page.

The first difficult part (buckle your seatbelts, there’s a few in this book) came when Lev and his family finally got permission to leave the country. The catch? They could only take two suitcases and some cash. Everything else, especially items of value, belonged to the country, not them. Their personal documents, including passports, transcripts, projects, writings – they were all to be left behind. If you didn’t, the border check would find them…and you didn’t want that.

So when Lev left his homeland, all he had was a backpack with a few changes of clothes, a small turtle carving, and a bear. Oh, those eight crates of vodka? Those were used as bribery to ensure the family’s safe passage out of the Soviet Union to Vienna.

All of these elements are fascinating on their own, but what tied them all together was Golinkin’s narration. It was personal, vivid, emotional and yet detached all at once. It had an authenticity that brought his past and his present search together into one cohesive book that I couldn’t put down.

A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is a surprisingly refreshing yet emotional memoir of a harrowing escape and determined pursuit of the American dream. Golinkin’s work quickly became and still is one of my favorite nonfiction reads of the year.

4 Stars

Posted November 22, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 21, 2017

Top 10 Books I’m Grateful For

Top Ten Tuesday

It’s that time of year again. No, I don’t mean the time when Starbucks pulls out their new cups or we all tug scarves out of hiding to bundle up against the cooling temperatures. It’s the time of year when you have to tell everyone what you’re grateful for before digging into the Thanksgiving feast.

I remember doing this one year, up at a family member’s house. I didn’t realize we would have to share so when put on the spot, I looked down at my half-filled plate, then gleefully met the host’s eye and told her I was grateful for green beans.

You get what you ask for, I suppose. I got a lot of green beans that night.

We haven’t played that game since (thank goodness), but if we were, I think one of the books below would make it onto my list. Each one has shaped my life in some way, and I couldn’t be more thankful for them.

The Harry Potter series

Why I’m thankful: The ultimate underdog story helped me find courage when I went through a hard time as a child. The rise of the smarty-pants Hermione made me more comfortable in my own skin (and hair – we have the same wild brown mane).

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Why I’m thankful: While this wasn’t the first American lit classic I read, it was the first one I fell in love with. Gatsby opened the doors to so many amazing writers I would never have read otherwise.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Why I’m thankful: My mom bought me this book, one she had loved, in junior high. At first, I thought it was a homework assignment (this novel is enormous), but as I read it, I started to fall in love with the legend of Arthur and Avalon. It sparked my love of mythology, something we share.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Why I’m thankful: This novel alone sparked my fascination with Tudor history, which quickly expanded to British history, then world. Without it, I wouldn’t know half of the random Tudor facts I have in my brain (great at parties…?) or be inspired to read more. I’ve read this book so often that pages are falling out.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Why I’m thankful: To say I understood this book my sophomore year of high school would be an outright lie. I followed the story, the surface level narrative of Scout, and grasped the more intricate nature of the book once my (outstanding) English teacher pointed them out. But it wasn’t until years later that I started to grasp the complexity of this straightforward narrative and the story it told. Each time I find something new. So I’m grateful for this book for two reasons: for teaching me simplicity is best and for telling a tale that so desperately needed to be told.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Why I’m thankful: Without Much Ado, I’d still think of Shakespeare merely in terms of Hamlet and Othello. The beautiful intricate simplicity (yes, that was intentional) of his comedy and the shameless abandon with which he treats his lovelorn characters caught me instantly, and I’ve never looked back. Years later, this is still my favorite play.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Why I’m thankful: My mom comes up again and again here because she had a significant influence on my early reading. When she bought me Jane Eyre as a young teenager, I thought she was crazy. No way was I going to read this. But I did. And I loved it. While it may be a darker entrance into the British societal novels of the 1800s, it’s complicated romance, dark mysteries, and engaging narrative fascinated me right away.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Why I’m thankful: I don’t think of Jacobs’ work as nonfiction. Or even memoirs, although I suppose that’s what it is. Instead, it feels like talking with a friend, listening as they recount their latest adventure. The Year of Living Biblically is funny, engaging, and made me think of nonfiction in an entirely new light.


Why I’m thankful: I am a scaredy cat (or as M endearingly calls it, a “wimp”). I hate scary movies, stories, the whole shebang. I checked in street drains for that damn clown for weeks after the It trailer was released. Yes, that was enough to terrify me. But I wanted desperately to read some of King’s work (and still be able to sleep that night), so 11/22/63 seemed perfect. And it was – in more ways than one. King’s narrative is simple but effective. Each word is chosen with such careful clarity that I couldn’t help but admire as I was sucked into the story. Besides the fact he reinvigorated my interest in JFK, King’s 11/22/63 showed me simple is best.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Why I’m thankful: I first read The Princess Diaries heading into high school. Mia Thermopolis, with her crazy hair and ability to trip over nothing, felt like a soul sister. Opening Mia’s story was an escape, a little time where even princesses struggled to get through high school.


What books are you grateful for this year?

Posted November 21, 2017 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 1 Comment

November 20, 2017

Review | The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Review | The Duchess Deal by Tessa DareThe Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
Series: Girl Meets Duke, #1
Publisher: Avon, August 2017
Pages: 370
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When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.
His terms are simple:- They will be husband and wife by night only.- No lights, no kissing. - No questions about his battle scars.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.
But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:- They will have dinner together every evening.- With conversation.- And unlimited teasing.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

Beauty and the Beast meets Regency romance in Tessa Dare’s latest, The Duchess Deal. Dare’s characteristically clever writing brings this new spin on the classic love story to life.

After suffering traumatic injuries in the war, the Duke of Ashbury has turned into a skeletal version of the man he once was. Abandoned by his intended and feared by society, he comes a veritable recluse, skulking around his darkened home with only his staff for company. For the most part, he prefers it that way; no one stares at his disfiguration, and he can pretend, at least temporarily, that everything is fine. But like many other dukes, he needs an heir. And for that, he needs a wife.

Emma works as a seamstress after being kicked out of her father’s home, frantically working to make ends meet. When the Duke of Ashbury’s wedding is called off, the bride, Emma’s biggest client, refuses to pay for the monstrosity of a dress she’s ordered. Donning the dress, Emma strides into Ashbury’s study, intending to demand payment for her work. Instead, she finds herself face-to-face with a mysterious man who offers a tempting deal.

There’s a lighthearted loveliness in The Duchess Deal that I adored. Considering the difficult topics it tackles – self-esteem, the power and wrath of family, the strength of friendship – it’s a welcome element.

Yet while Dare probes deeper into the complex issues surrounding the Beauty and the Beast tale, I wish she’d given Emma a little more oomph. She was sweet, she was kind, she saw past Ashbury’s inner hatred to himself to reveal the real man. But more often than not, Emma felt a little one-dimensional. She gave me the vague feeling of someone I’ve met before.

She provides a sharp contrast to the dark, broken man that Ashbury has become. The difference brings a new vibrancy to the story and showcases Ashbury’s character journey in the best way. But still. I wished a little more for her.

The Duchess Deal is a sweet, unexpected take on one of my favorite fairy tales. Dare’s snappy dialogue, clever narrative and instinct for the hilarious brought all the elements together for a great trip back in time.

4 Stars

Posted November 20, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 16, 2017

Review | The Widow by Fiona Barton

Review | The Widow by Fiona BartonThe Widow by Fiona Barton
Publisher: NAL, February 16th 2016
Pages: 324
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When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen...
But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.
There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.
Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.
The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…

Caught up in the tempest of her husband’s horrific crimes, Jean Taylor plays the dutiful wife. She stays stalwart in the face of harassment, stares, and outright disgust. She remains silent against the onslaught of hatred aimed at her for standing by her husband. But after his death, Jean is free to say anything she wants…and the whole world is waiting to hear.

It’s only fair to call The Widow a book of the unexpected. The most surprising of all was the viciousness of the crimes. Barton’s novel addresses a genuine threat to today’s society: the internet and those who use it to their own nefarious ends. Although it goes without saying, the crimes of pedophilia perpetrated in The Widow were terrifying. Seeing them printed in black and white was heartbreaking.

It is these crimes that caused such a drastic shift in my perception of the characters, especially Jean. In the beginning, she’s almost a victim, portrayed as another damaged soul, collateral to her husband’s sick, twisted mind. But the story unravels, revealing more of Jean and making me wonder how innocent she actually is.

That’s the rub of The Widow. Neither main character is one to cheer for, an unusual problem in today’s popular literature. Instead of the story of the heartbroken, lost wife rebuilding her life after her monstrous husband passes away, Jean’s unreliable narration casts her own character into doubt.

Jean’s unreliable narration is what made me fall in love with this book. It made me question the truth in her mind versus truth in reality. Her outward demeanor didn’t match what was below, and the minor characters surrounding her began to show the complexity of her perspective. It cast doubt on Jean herself, but also her entire story.

While The Widow is not an emotionally easy read, it is, without a doubt, a unique one. Jean’s perspective and character development put a new spin on the typical crime/police procedural novel. Instead of looking at facts, examining clues, the story is told by a somewhat unreliable witness…if that is what you choose to call her.

Posted November 16, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 15, 2017

Review | A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Review | A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books, May 2017
Pages: 699
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Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.
Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.
As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.
In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

I was terrified to read A Court of Wings and Ruin. Why? Well, it’s relatively simple, or at least it seemed that way at the time. You see, I had fallen in love with these characters and I didn’t know if I wanted to see if anything terrible happened. After everything, they’ve gone through, fought for, dreamed of, I just couldn’t handle it if they lost it all. Which, after reading a majority of Maas’ work, felt like a genuine possibility.

But, to put it bluntly, I loved it.

I loved the complexity of the characters, the depth of their relationships, their motives. I loved the world Maas created, the legends, the lore, and its inhabitants.

Yet the crowning glory of A Court of Wings and Ruin was the grand final battle for Prythian. Built up throughout the narrative (and throughout the series), the courts’ animosity and overall dynamics were key to shaping the future of Feyre’s world. Not to mention downright fascinating. I loved the vastly different personalities and how each event forced them to move forward as a character, to develop. Even the most minor characters went through transformations that were vital to the finale.

Feyre and Rhysand’s relationship won me over long ago, but admittedly it was a hard battleA Court of Wings and Ruin solidified it. Theirs was a partnership of equals, a relationship based on not only love but a deep respect for each other. Rhys helped Feyre find who she was instead of treating her like a china doll and she pulled him out of the trauma he had lived in for so long.

That’s what I love about Maas’ work. Her heroines (because each book has more than one) are powerful, complex, passionate women. They don’t shirk responsibility or feel the need to apologize for who they are. These independent women are Maas’ legacy, one that constantly inspires me.

After finishing A Court of Wings and Ruin, I wat more. I want to read the series, again and again, to find more; the lore, the nuances I might have missed. In the end, I can’t wait to return to Prythian

4 Stars

Posted November 15, 2017 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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November 14, 2017

10 Books I’d Love to Share with My Future Kids

Top Ten Tuesday

While kids are still a bit off for M and I, I already know exactly what books I want to share with my future kids. From family traditions to new favorites, here are the top ten books I can’t wait to share.

Come to the Doctor, Harry

A longtime family favorite, Come to the Doctor, Harry is a book from my childhood and inspired the name of my parents’ big grey tabby.

Amelia Bedelia

This story of a wacky, disorganized mail was another childhood favorite. This story and its corresponding series I loved throughout grade school. When a girlfriend had a book-themed baby shower earlier this year, we were asked to bring our favorite childhood story. Amelia immediately came to mind.

“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy

One of M’s fondest childhood memories is reading this series aloud with his mom. She even did all the voices! It’s a tradition I would love to carry on.

The “Harry Potter” series

A strong female heroine, powerful underdog story, and a school of magic? You can bet this is on my list.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Judy Blume got me through a lot of pre-teen crises, especially Are You There, God?, so I know it’s a must-read for any child of mine.

The Diary of A Young Girl

While this isn’t an easy read by any means, I feel it’s an extraordinarily important one. I read this in sixth grade and it sparked my interest in history and nonfiction. Either way, this is a book that is necessary for our next generation to read.

Tuck Everlasting

Admittedly, I didn’t love this book at the time, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the lessons hidden in its pages.

The Giver

Another book that I might not have loved as a kid, but appreciate more now.

Jane Eyre

I know, I know – this isn’t exactly a kid’s book. At twelve years old, I read it and fell in love with not only Jane’s story, but the more gothic style writing, romances, and just who was in the attic…

What books are on your list?

Posted November 14, 2017 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments

November 13, 2017

Review | Till Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Review | Till Death by Jennifer L. ArmentroutTill Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: William Morrow, February 2017
Pages: 297
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

In New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout’s gripping new novel, a young woman comes home to reclaim her life—even as a murderer plots to end it. . .

It’s been ten years since Sasha Keaton left her West Virginia hometown . . . since she escaped the twisted serial killer known as the Groom. Returning to help run her family inn means being whole again, except for one missing piece. The piece that falls into place when Sasha’s threatened—and FBI agent Cole Landis vows to protect her the way he couldn’t a decade ago.
First one woman disappears; then another, and all the while, disturbing calling cards are left for the sole survivor of the Groom’s reign of terror. Cole’s never forgiven himself for not being there when Sasha was taken, but he intends to make up for it now . . . because under the quirky sexiness Cole first fell for is a steely strength that only makes him love Sasha more.
But someone is watching. Waiting. And Sasha’s first mistake could be her last.

Sasha Keaton wasn’t supposed to live.

Kidnapped and brutalized by the serial killer known only as the Groom, Sasha took a chance on escape and fled to a neighboring ranch. Clad in the wedding dress she was meant to die in, Sasha managed to thwart the Groom and save herself.

Ten years later, Sasha returns to the family inn in her hometown, hoping the emotional distance of ten years is enough to heal the trauma. But from the moment she arrives, something is wrong.

Till Death‘s Sasha gave voice to victims, to the struggle to heal and go back to normalcy. I admired the strength, understood (most of) her motives, and yet sometimes dearly wished she would pick up on the signs and stop throwing herself into the path of danger.

The real hook of Armentrout’s work lay in the dueling perspectives. While Sasha’s narration took center stage, the criminal’s occasional POV ratcheted up the tension, especially as the crimes increased. It brought the whodunit factor sky-high, creating this insatiable urge to know just who this psychopath was.

Till Death‘s romance came in a very close second. Cole’s feelings for the girl that disappeared on him ten years ago and the devotion he has for the dark-and-twisty heroine that she’s become is astonishing. It’s real, it’s intense, and it’s one of the few constants in Sasha’s life. My only complaint? I wish it were a little more drawn out – it felt like it happened entirely too easily, but then again, not much has been easy for Sasha.

Cole’s dependability and devotion, combined with his career as a local FBI agent, makes him a crucial character in Till Death and one I’m glad is standing by Sasha’s side, especially as the violence escalates.

Hidden inside this unsuspecting cover are a gripping thriller, heart-stopping romance, and powerful survivor story. Till Death is the reason  Jennifer Armentrout is at the top of my wishlist.

4 Stars

Posted November 13, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 13, 2017

The History of Fairy Tales | Beauty and the Beast

the stats

first recorded version: 1740

author: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

original title: “La Belle et la Bête”


the story

Once upon a time, a young girl lived with her wealthy merchant father and six siblings. The two oldest sisters, wicked at heart, treated book-loving Beauty like a servant instead of their sister. Soon, their father loses his ships in a storm and is forced to move his family away from their lavish lifestyle to a small home. However, years later he discovers one of the presumably-doomed ships from the missing fleet has returned, so he sets off to investigate. Before leaving, he asks each of his children what they would like for a present upon his return. Beauty merely asks for a rose.

On the way home to his children, the merchant gets lost and stumbles across a gorgeous palace. When the door opens, he takes advantage to get out of the storm and spend the night. As he is about to leave, he spots a rose garden and plucks a flower for his youngest daughter. Unfortunately, this decision comes with a price: his death or, on the condition she never knows the bargain, his daughter’s life. The merchant chooses the latter and resumes his journey home.

Beauty, learning of the bargain, heads to the castle to uphold her end of the deal. The Beast greats her as mistress of the manor and, at the conclusion of every evening, asks her to marry him. She politely declines.

Beauty spends her days with the Beast, her nights haunted by a mysterious, handsome prince who demands to know why she consistently denies the Beast’s offer of marriage. Yet she begins to long for home and asks permission to leave the castle for a visit to her family. The Beast agrees, giving her an enchanted ring that she need only turn three times to return, and a magic mirror.

Beauty’s sisters are green with envy when she returns and devise a plan to compromise her life with the Beast. They convince Beauty to stay past her original plan. When Beauty uses the mirror to check on the Beast, she discovers he is lying unconscious, hurting from a broken heart. She returns and, crying, professes her love for him. As her tears fall on him, the curse is broken, and he becomes a man again. They are married and live happily ever after.

the inspiration

While Beauty and the Beast may have been influenced by the popular 2nd-century story of “Cupid and Psyche,” it was also supposedly intended to prepare young girls in 18th century France for an arranged marriage (source). Make of that what you will.

the versions around the world

Without a doubt, this tale is as old as time…and just as varied.

  • The Pig King by Giovanni Francesco, Italy
  • The Scarlet Flower by Sergey Aksakov, Russia (1858)
  • Beauty and the Beast…The Story Retold by Laura E. Richards, England (1886)

did you know?

  • Disney’s Beast is a mashup of many different animals
  • While the story was first recorded in 1740, historians believe it originated some 400 years ago
  • Beauty and the Beast is among the first pieces of literature that reflect the changing social norm surrounding appearance


Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

Image result for beauty and the beast gif

Posted October 13, 2017 by Ellen in history of fairy tales / 0 Comments
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