Review: Eight Hundred Grapes

Eight Hundred Grapes, Laura Dave

Published June 2nd 2015 by Simon & Schuster

Hardcover, 260 pages

Source- e-ARC from NetGalley


There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide…

Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands.

But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.

Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancé is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets…

A book about wine?  Yes please!

Georgia walks out of her wedding dress fitting and goes home to her parents’ vineyard looking for comfort. Instead she is confronted not only with her soon to be wedding venue and with the fact that all of her family members are keeping secrets.  Her parents have secrets from her, her twin brothers have secrets from each other – secrets are being discovered nearly until the end of the book!  I won’t ruin the secrets for you but there were some big ones!  I enjoyed the family dynamics and of course I totally enjoyed the wine.  I thought the descriptions of Sonoma and of the winemaking process was really interesting- maybe not for everyone though I could see that being a bit dry for some.

Who will still be in love in the end and which family members will still be speaking I won’t tell you -but I enjoyed the fighting and the dramatics and of course the making-up.  I enjoyed the romance, even if it was a bit predictable in the end.

Georgia tries to “fix” all her family members more than than working on her own life at times which got a bit frustrating for me.  I wanted her to kind of suck it up and make decisions – and clearly the decisions that I felt were right.  But she did come around and I appreciated that she made decisions for herself- not just for her fiance or her parents.

If you’re in the mood for chick lit this was a fun book to read with a glass or two of wine.

Thank you Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

2015 TBR Challenge Review: Swamplandia!

Swamplandia!, Karen Russell

Hardcover, 316 pages

Published February 1st 2011 by Knopf

Source: I don’t even remember!


From Goodreads…

The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline — think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades — and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness.

Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

Another 2015 TBR Challenge book off my list!  I’m sad that saying I finished is the most exciting thing I can say about Swamplandia!  I thought I was sure to love this book – and I don’t even know why I was so sure.  I’m not a swamp person, I’m not a reptile person – but who doesn’t love a good coming of age story?  I tried Swamplandia! when it first came out but wasn’t in the mood, this time I made it my book club selection for the month so I’d be sure to get through (My apologies to anyone not at book club this month).

Ava Bigtree comes from a family of alligator wrestlers.  Her goal in life is to become as accomplished a wrestler as her late mother and in doing so to save her family’s theme park -Swamplandia!  Ava lives with her father Chief Bigtree, her brother Kiwi and her sister Osceola and all the “Seth’s” which is the family name for the gators.  Clearly this book was always going to be a bit different, I just didn’t expect it to be quite so bizarre.

Was this book really magical realism?  Was it just that I didn’t believe in the ghosts that Osceola was talking about that I missed the magic?   Ava’s teenage brother Kiwi runs away to work at a competing theme park- the World of Darkness.  The World of Darkness features such things as a blood red swimming pool and an entrance through the Hellmouth.  WTF.  Maybe that was why I couldn’t get into this book- who wants to swim in a blood red pool? Ewww.

I don’t want to say exactly what happened that finally totally turned me off the book, but I can say it was about page 268 and IT WAS JUST WRONG.  I had convinced myself you weren’t going there Swamplandia! and you kind of crushed me.  And then there was no resolution! The book just wrapped up too quickly for all the trudging through the swamp and through the freaking Hellmouth that you put me through.  Maybe I’ll enjoy Karen Russell more in short stories?  Her other books are still on my TBR!

Now what do I try to check off my list next?!  I’ll take any suggestions!

2 Mini Reviews!

Because I honestly don’t know when I would have discovered author Stacey Ballis without her bestie Jen Lancaster I decided it was appropriate to group these reviews together!

I Regret Nothing, Jen Lancaster

Published May 5th 2015 by NAL

Hardcover, 320 pages

Source: ARC won in Goodreads giveaway


Sure Jen has made mistakes. She spent all her money from a high-paying job on shoes, clothes, and spa treatments. She then carried a Prada bag to the unemployment office. She wrote a whole memoir about dieting…but didn’t lose weight. She embarked on a quest for cultural enlightenment that only cemented her love for John Hughes movies and Kraft American Singles. She tried to embrace everything Martha Stewart, while living with a menagerie of rescue cats and dogs. (Glitter…everywhere.)

Mistakes are one thing; regrets are another.

After a girls’ weekend in Savannah makes her realize that she is—yikes!—middle-aged (binge watching is so the new binge drinking), Jen decides to make a bucket list and seize the day, even if that means having her tattoo removed at one hundred times the cost of putting it on.

From attempting a juice cleanse to studying Italian, from learning to ride a bike to starting a new business, and from sampling pasta in Rome to training for a 5K, Jen is turning a mid-life crisis into a mid-life opportunity, sharing her sometimes bumpy—but always hilarious—attempts to better her life…again.

I admit I will probably read anything Jen Lancaster writes due to my deep love for Bitter is the New Black.  I laughed until I cried more than once reading her debut.  Bright Lights, Big Ass I even laughed until I cried while reading in public.   After BL, BA her books started to feel a bit more familiar.  Sometimes still enjoyable, but they didn’t make me cry from laughing anymore.

I Regret Nothing felt like a step back towards the Jen I fell for years ago.  Yes, her problems can basically all be defined as “First World” but she’s honest about it and about her efforts to improve herself.   She was much more relatable than in Jeneration X.  I had quite a mental image of her riding an adult tricycle around Lake Forest and falling into a tourist trap in Italy.  I love her descriptions of her outings with her girlfriends- I want to go on trips like that!  So while this wasn’t cry from laughing funny for me I’d say pick it up if you need a Jen Lancaster fix!

Also, sidebars are the new footnotes  – and these always crack me up!  I would miss them if they weren’t part of her books!

Thank you NAL and Goodreads First Reads for this advance copy!


Recipe for Disaster, Stacey Ballis

Paperback, 480 pages

Published March 3rd 2015 by Berkley

Source: ARC from ALA Midwinter Meeting

To an outside observer, Anneke Stroudt is a mess—her shirts are stained, her fingernails stubby, her language colorful. But, despite her flaws, Anneke’s life is close to perfect. She has a beautiful historic house to restore and a loving fiancé who cooks like a dream.

Until Anneke’s charmed existence falls apart when she loses both her job and her future husband in one terrible day. In need of a new start, she packs up her disgruntled schnauzer and moves into her half-finished home, where she throws her pent-up frustration—and what little savings she has—into finishing the renovation.

But at the first step into the house’s overhaul, Anneke is sidetracked when she discovers a mysterious leather-bound book, long hidden away, filled with tempting recipes and steamy secrets from Gemma Ditmore-Smythe, the cook for the house’s original owners. Slowly, with the help of some delicious food and Gemma’s life lessons, Anneke begins to realize that, just like a flawless recipe, she’s been waiting for the right ingredients to cook up a perfect life all along…

I am such a sucker for books set in Chicago so aside from the Jen Lancaster connection I really wanted to read Recipe for Disaster.  I love the feeling of familiarity that I get while reading about different neighborhoods in my city.  I really liked Anneke!  She’s not perfect in body or in temperament so she felt like a real person to me.  I definitely loved her friends and wanted them for myself!  I saw a Goodreads review that called this the perfect mix of HGTV and the Food Network and I love that description!  The house renovations gave me serious envy and I am definitely going to try one or two of the recipes included in the book.  I also liked the romantic drama even though it wasn’t at all what I was expecting in the end.

I did find Gemma’s journal to be a cheesey and probably unnecessary addition – but I did love how Anneke taught herself to cook from the recipes and how that helped her regain her self-confidence after her personal and professional lives were falling apart.   This book felt a lot longer than it needed to be and I wonder if without the journal it could have been a better length.  Or maybe the house details – as amazing as they were – could have been a bit shorter?

Overall a cute summer read.  Good friends, romance and yummy food!  I really need to put the rest of Ballis’ books onto my TBR.

Thank you Berkley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: The Bookseller

The Bookseller, Cynthia Swanson

Hardcover, 338 pages

Published March 3rd 2015 by Harper

Source: e-ARC from edelweiss


From Goodreads.

Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .

Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.

Then the dreams begin.

Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?

I really wanted to love The Bookseller.  I was so curious!  Would it be magical realism?  Was the Bookseller going to be living two lives only in her own head?  I love books about books – so would this be an amazing guide to books like The Storied Life of AJ Fikry?

I really can’t find the right words for this book.  Kitty had such potential as an independent woman, a bit ahead of her time in the ‘60s – and then she’d wake up as Katharyn.  A housewife and mother who was completely a product of her times and did not show as much spine as she had before she met her husband. Kitty kind of wanted to be Katharyn and at the same time Katharyn kind of wanted to go back to being Kitty. Honestly, I just wanted to know what the heck was happening.

I just didn’t click with Kitty/Katharyn as a character enough to feel really drawn into her story either way. Maybe it was because she wasn’t ever settled in either life?  I could have likely walked away from The Bookseller without an answer of what was real and not really suffered for a lack of resolution.  In the end, while the explanation made sense for the story – it wasn’t what I wanted for her which always makes me grumpy.

I will say Swanson wrote her time period well – I was uncomfortable reading her mentions of race and class throughout and with the discussions of autism and the blame placed on mothers.  So in that regard I felt like I was right there in another time.  I loved the description of Denver in the ‘60s!  That was really fun to read.  I liked how Kitty/Katharyn used the books that were best sellers to track where she was in time. Really this wasn’t a bad book, just not an Amanda book in the end. This was Swanson’s debut novel, I’d for sure be curious to see what she writes in the future.

2 stars

Thank you Harper and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Have you read The Bookseller?  Did you get drawn into this story?  Or can you recommend another book about books for me?

Top Ten Tuesday: The Last 10 Books That Came Into My House

Its Tuesday again! Here are the last 10 books I’ve received and how I came across them.  Check out the Broke and the Bookish for more! 24033005

  1. The Royal We – Thanks Chicago Public Library!
  2. Crazy Rich Asians – Library
  3. The Kitchen House  – Library for bookclub
  4. The Book of Lost and Found – review copy
  5. The Library at Mount Char – review copy (My next read maybe? I cannot wait!)
  6. Good Mourning e- ARC for review
  7. Wherever There is Light e- ARC for review
  8. Supervillians Anonymous e-ARC (Review to come – super cute!)
  9. The Diviners – Library
  10. Creaturepedia – for Babycakes but I’m going to have to review it because she LOVES it so much

What’s on your list?  What new books should I be looking for?  Is Go Set a Watchman on your list?  I just don’t think I can do it which makes me sad.

Review: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World, Rachel Swaby

Published April 7th 2015 by Random House

Paperback, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


From Goodreads…

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?      

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.


This book was totally inspiring! I almost wished I’d stuck with my original college goals in science after reading Headstrong.  Swaby chose 52 amazing women to highlight and by specifically only including women whose “life work has been completed” she really makes you think about how far women have come in the fields like medicine, physics, and chemistry.  For example, the first woman featured, Mary Putnam Jacobi who to enter medical school in Paris had to enter lectures through a separate door and maintain a buffer of empty seats around her.  Or chemist Ellen Swallow Richards who was the first woman admitted to MIT in 1870.  Richards was admitted tuition free – so that if anyone complained about her being a student the school could claim that she was not establishing a precedent for the admission of females.

These women were amazing!  They were brilliant and all around inspiring.  Virginia Apgar – besides coming up with the Apgar test to evaluate newborns – “always kept the following things on her person: a penknife, an endotrachial tube, and a laryngoscope, just in case someone needed an emergency tracheotomy.”  And its the BOY Scouts who are prepared?!  I could have pulled a quote from any chapter that was this cool!

At the same time this book made me kind of want to tear my hair out reading the stories of these geniuses that were unpaid, relegated to work in closets or not given credit for their ideas. Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel Prize for genetics, was asked if she was bitter that it took so long for the Nobel to come to her she said “When you know you’re right you don’t care.  It’s such a pleasure to carry out an experiment when you think of something.  …I’ve had such a good time, I can’t imagine having a better one.  …I’ve had a very, very satisfying and interesting life.”  I really don’t think I could be that big of a person!

This was a short book despite the lengthy list of women included and for non-fiction it was a really fast read.  TJ at My Book Strings did a great post pairing Headstrong with a children’s book: Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women.  I cannot wait until Babycakes is just a bit older so we can read this one together!  She’s a “mathmagician” she tells me so I cannot wait to show her what amazing women can do.


I loved that Swaby points out that if she wrote this book 5 years from now that her book would be much more diverse- I hope she comes out with another book then!  It’s going to take me 5 years to read all I can about the women that particularly intrigued me in Headstrong.

Headstrong was kind of like an excellent meal at a tapas restaurant.  Lots of pleasing small courses- sometimes you’re just left wanting more but you still leave totally satisfied!

4 stars!

Thank you Random House and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes taken from an unfinished advanced readers copy.

OMG The Invasion of the Tearling

So, we’ve finished – one of us more slowly than the other – The Invasion of the Tearling.


Catch up on our first two posts here and here.

As we resumed reading, our texting returned to the previous pattern.

Amanda: I am scared for the choices Kelsea is making!  But some of them I think I love.

Really glad there is a third book coming!

10% left. I am glad we didn’t stop at each 30% because I wouldn’t have waited for you sister.

Holly: This book is crazy. I am at 65%.

Amanda: [expectantly] Crazy good?

Holly: Crazy crazy. And icky.

[Many many days later]

Amanda: Please tell me you are off today pal.

[This because working has seriously interfered with Holly’s ability to blog/read/be-a-good-sister-pal/enjoy life]

Holly: Yessss! And I finished the Tearling in bed this morning. That is a weird book.

Amanda: But did you like it?

Holly: [Avoiding] You first. Did you?

Amanda: Not as much as #1, but totally. The [removed spoiler] was genius.

Holly: I do not understand why [removed spoiler]. I am so full of confusion.

Amanda: In the end, I really like how much we got about the pre-Crossing world – just wasn’t expecting it to come through flashbacks. [Or fugues]

Holly: [borrowing my niece’s go-to expression] It’s not my favorite.

Amanda: What I like is that Kelsea isn’t all pure bravery and goodness.  She’s clearly really got a dark side. I’m scared at how dark she’s going to go and whether she’ll be able to pull herself back.

Holly: What I didn’t like was the weird cutting phenomenon, the focus on Kelsea’s level of attractiveness and how that changes her, the combination of fantasy/magic and future/dystopia, and any and all romantic impulses and relationships among these people.

Amanda: Yes, clearly the cutting creeped me out. It breaks my heart whenever I read on that topic.  I didn’t like the physical changes at all – until we understand why.  Even then, I got it, but that certainly didn’t do a lot to further the story for me.  I wonder if Kelsea could have made the decisions she did for her personal life without those changes though?  I really hope there is some mutual love in the 3rd book! No loving anyone unattainable! I’m over that.

Amanda’s bottom line: I loved this, though not quite as much as the Queen of the Tearling.  I am kind of dying to see how it ends.  How does Kelsea pull it off?  WILL she pull it off?  She has to right?

Holly’s bottom line: WTF?

Have you read The Invasion of the Tearling?  Tell us what you think!  I know I’m going to be rereading both of these books before the end of the year – and buying the Australian editions because the covers are WAY better – anyone else?

2015 TBR Challenge: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness, Emmuska Orczy


First published 1903

Source: Purchased for the 2015 Roofbeam Reader TBR Challenge


Armed with only his wits and his cunning, one man recklessly defies the French revolutionaries and rescues scores of innocent men, women, and children from the deadly guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But the ruthless French agent Chauvelin is sworn to discover his identity and to hunt him down.

Check another book off my 2015 TBR Challenge list!  When I first stumbled onto The Secret History of the Pink Carnation years ago I was raving to my mom about this new series (everyone does this right?).  Her response was “Just like the Scarlet Pimpernel,” which resulted in a blank stare from me.  She explained the similarity and of course I learned yes, these were Lauren Willig’s inspiration.  There may be spoilers here but the book is over 100 years old, so it’s not my fault if the mystery is ruined for you!

So it took me a few years to get to the The Scarlet Pimpernel, but I am so glad I finally read it!  The Pimpernel is just as full of attitude and daring as his imitator the Pink Carnation!  I loved his determination to beat the French despite the risks.  I really didn’t think the romance would come through between Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney but I was definitely feeling the love in the end.  I liked that the Scarlet Pimpernel has his own band of charming agents – just like those that I’ve fallen for in the Pink Carnation series.  I really enjoyed the adventure!  I might even keep reading the other Scarlet Pimpernel books eventually to see how similar they are.  For being a classic this was a really light and fun read.  I’m definitely in the mood to finish the Pink Carnation series now – just 3 books to go!

They seek him here, they seek him there 

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere 

Is he in heaven or is he in hell? 

That demned elusive Pimpernel.

Bottom line, does it hold up to say a book by Jane Austen?  No.  But Sir Percy was delightful and honestly pretty swoon-worthy for a character over 100 years old! Thanks Mom for telling me to read this!

Next off my TBR Challenge List – Swamplandia!

Review: Uprooted

Uprooted, Naomi Novik


Published May 19th 2015 by Del Ray Spectra

Hardcover, 448 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley


“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Oh Agnieszka.  The Dragon.  The mother-effing WOOD.  I can’t think of any other book I’ve read recently where there was such a malevolent and discomforting presence as the Wood.  

So we have another Beauty and the Beast retelling – and while it could have been hard to follow ACOTAR for a fantasy I fell completely in love with this book.  The Dragon takes one young woman every 10 years from the valley to serve him in his tower.  Let’s be clear, the Dragon is a man, a wizard in fact.  In return for service from these girls the Dragon does whatever he can to keep the Wood from encroaching on the towns beneath him.  He fights the good fight, but he doesn’t always win against the Wood.  Men are lost, livestock, whole villages are swallowed.

I admit I was more than a bit suspicious of the Dragon at first.  Why must he take a girl for 10 years?  On return they all claimed he doesn’t touch them but all the townspeople have their suspicions.  Why is he such a jerk to poor Agnieszka at first?  Agnieszka was trying so hard for a life she never thought she would have! I was actively rooting against a romance in the beginning between these two.


Then I totally fell for the Dragon.  I loved the slow pace of this book.  It took a while for Agnieszka to even like the Dragon let alone to love him – it was a fantastic slow burn.   And while the romance is there and it was important, this book is about the magic and the evil and not about the romance.  Agnieszka is a loyal friend, daughter, a student and basically all around bad ass.  There were all kinds of twists I wasn’t expecting and most of all the Wood which basically gave me nightmares.


If you want an awesome standalone fantasy with a kick-ass heroine and some sexy romance read this!  Then come back and tell me what you think.  Definitely one of my favorites I’ve read this year and one I will be rereading.

5 stars!

Thank you Del Ray Spectra and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Also if you like fairy tale retellings as much as I do Kat Kennedy at Cuddlebuggery did this awesome post all about Beauty & the Beast retellings!  I have to say I didn’t love Cruel Beauty as much as she did, but I am definitely adding the rest of these to my TBR!