October Wrap-Up



October was a fairly decent reading month for me, despite the crazy busyness going on now at the end of the month.

Number of books I read this month: 6


  • A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – Review here.
  • Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty – Review here.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – Review here.


  • Leave Me by Gayle Forman – Review here.
  • Gilded Cage by Vic James – ARC review here.
  • Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades by Michelle Anthony. I did not review this one, and I probably won’t. Little Girls Can Be Mean appears on som many parenting reading lists. More than anything, it shows how little is actually out there for parents on the topic of female social conflicts and bullying in the elementary years. Rating: 2/5 stars.



I was not able to read any more books beyond my progress update from last week, so I will use that as my wrap-up post as well. You can find my update on the Halloween Read-a-thon here. Thank you to Lauren at @Wonderless Reviews for hosting this fun challenge!


I participate in this challenge over at LibraryThing, but I thought it would be nice to move my list onto my blog as well.

Completed: 14/24. I always aim for 12, with anything extra an added bonus!


1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald FINISHED 22 February 2016

2. Roots by Alex Haley – Review here.  FINISHED 21 September 2016

3. Native Son by Richard Wright

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – Review here.  FINISHED 30 August 2016

5. War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa

6. A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes FINISHED 21 April 2016

7. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – Review hereFINISHED 11 Oct 2016

8. My Antonia by Willa Cather FINISHED 6 June 2016

9. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri FINISHED 27 January 2016

10. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri FINISHED 17 January 2016

11. John Adams by David McCullough

12. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami FINISHED 16 May 2016


1. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan FINISHED 25 April 2016

2. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler FINISHED 13 June 2016

3. Dawn by Octavia Butler

4. Autobiography: Story of My Experiments With Truth by Mahatma Gandhi

5. Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk

6. The Algebra of Infinite Justice by Arundhati Roy

7. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle FINISHED 7 July 2016

8. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd

9. Standing Alone by Asra Nomani FINISHED 6 January 2016

10. Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell FINISHED 15 April 2016

11. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad – Reading now.

12. Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai

What was the best book that you read in October? How do your reading plans look for November? Happy Halloween!



Read Watch Play #5

October has been an incredibly busy month, and it has been a few weeks since I last did a Read, Watch, Play post, which is my version of the Sunday Salon. Read, Watch, Play is a round-up of bookish and non-bookish entertainment going on in my home this week. Feel free to join in and let me know what fun you have had recently!


What I’m Watching:

  • Stranger Things (Netflix)- I finally finished the first season! It is rare that I watch anything classified as horror, but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. The actress who plays Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown, is brilliant. I can’t wait to see where they take the show next.
  • Just Add Magic (Amazon) – An original series by Amazon, and a much better than I thought it would be. M started watching this about two weeks ago, and after walking by a few times while she had it on, I got sucked in to the series as well. Just Add Magic is targeted to tweens – the show is based on a middle-grade book of the same name by Cindy Callaghan – but there must be some magic involved, because adults seem to enjoy it equally as much!


What I’m Playing:

My first triathlon is officially in the books, y’all!!

I’m done, done, done!!! Joy, joy, joy!! I dismounted from my bike into a happy dance yesterday when I polished off the last mile for the Jimmie Johnson Virtual Triathlon!!

The JJF runs from October 1 – October 31, and is a 140.6 mile virtual race that involves a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles cycling, and a 26.2 mile run/walk/jog. It is not completed at once, but broken up into however many workouts you need to get it done.

As of October 29, I completed:

  • 2.4/2.4 mile swim
  • 114.53/112 mile bike
  • 26.31/26.2 mile run

For a grand total of 143.24 miles! For me, this is a MAJOR accomplishment!


What I’m Reading:


One of the best things that I read this week was not in a book, but at M’s elementary school. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and on Thursday her school participated in Unity Day. Students – dressed in orange to make a statement against bullying – took to the sidewalks around the school with messages of hope, positivity, and encouragement, to show their support for one other.

I happened to be helping at the school book fair the morning the kids went out to dress up the sidewalks with chalk messages, and it was POWERFUL. I was a victim of bullying during my middle school years, and it melts my heart to no end to have my daughter enrolled in such a safe and supportive school. Messages of hope and solidarity were literally spread from corner to corner of the school property.

Below is a small selection of messages written by M and her fellow students. I’m telling you, these kids are pretty amazing.

  • “Together we can change the world. Speak up to stop bullying.”
  • “The truth may hurt for a while, but a lie hurts forever.”
  • “Fly away from the Haters!”
  • “Never give up on life.”
  • “There are so many kind, though some are blind, there are so many kind!”
  • “The world is full of nice people. If you can’t find one, be one!!”

I think Mr. Browne from Wonder could find a few more precepts from this crew to add to his collection.

What are you up to this week? Let me know in the comments!


Book Review – Gilded Cage by Vic James


Title: Gilded Cage

Author: Vic James

Publisher: Del Ray Books

Release Date: February 14, 2017 (a lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day book, this is not!)

Genre: YA Fantasy, dystopia, alternate history






Book Blurb:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Wow. What Gilded Cage turned out to be when I started reading is not what I expected! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I truly enjoyed this novel.

Gilded Cage takes place in an alternate England. A world in which power is often determined by whether or not you possess Skill (i.e. Magic). In this slightly dystopian England, the aristocrats are not descended from royalty, but gifted with Skill, and are known as Equals. Everyone else is deemed commoners, and must submit themselves to a decade-long period of slavery at some point during their lives.

The story primarily follows the young-adult aged children in two families. Luke and Abi, whose whole family has just started serving their slavedays. And the Equals: Heir Gavar, his unskilled brother Jenner, and mysterious Silyen. Gavar, Silyen and Jenner are part of the Parva-Jardine family. The Jardines are one of the most powerful families in England, and most of Abi’s family has been sent to their estate, Kyneston, to serve as slaves in the household.

All except Luke. Luke is separated from his parents and sisters at the beginning of the novel to serve his slavedays in Millmoor, one of the slavetowns. Millmoor is absolutely horrendous, with deplorable conditions, inadequate shelter and food, and excruciatingly long workdays.

Chapters alternate between the POV of Abi, Luke, Gavar, Silyen, and Bouda Matravers – Gavar’s fiancée.

What I liked:

  • It’s dark and mysterious. Chattel slavery in a modern setting? Pulling ten-year olds and teenagers out of school to do their slave days? A sprawling estate in the British countryside with a mysterious son who wields extraordinary magical powers? Yep…Gilded Cage definitely set the right tone for a dark and delicious storyline.
  • Silyen. Silyen, the youngest Jardine son and wielder of extraordinary powers. The extent of his powers remain unknown throughout much of the novel, and I loved the suspense of finding out just what he can do, and what his motives truly are.
  • Nuance. Thank you, thank you, Vic James for giving your characters nuance and subtlety. There is unflinching cruelty, and lovely acts of kindness…and sometimes the cruelty and kindness come from the same person. Morality, and doing something kind for the wrong reasons (or vice-versa), is definitely a theme in Gilded Cage worthy of analysis.
  • Millmoor’s version of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. Parts of the novel feel as if it takes place in the 19th century. And then you have the Millmoor revolutionaries: hackers and tech geniuses. Awesome-sauce!
  • Multiple points of view. The best parts of the novel, in my opinion, were the POV from Abi, Luke and Silyen.

What I didn’t like:

  • Multiple points of view. Yes, I have this in both categories. It worked really well in some ways, and not so much in others. There were too many, and I felt like Bouda’s especially, was too much.
  • The only time swearing was used was when a guy was calling a strong, powerful woman a bitch. This really bothered me. I don’t mind when there is a lot of swearing in novels, in fact, I have a bit of a sailor’s mouth myself. And the majority of the “bitching” came from Gavar, who could definitely be a sexist jerk on a regular basis. Many of the women in the novel: Bouda, Hypatia, the Overseer of Millmoor, are not very likable characters. And here are some of the words used to describe them: Overbitch, bitch-queen fiancée, harpy like Bouda, and sanctimonious old biddy. That last one is in reference to Armeria Tresco, one of the few Equals with abolitionist tendencies. Okay, Gavar is a sexist jerk, as are some of the other men. But why isn’t it called out by any of the other characters? Or even acknowledged, anywhere? Did Vic James realize how this can sound to a reader? It really did not sit well with me at all, and is one of the main reasons why the novel does not get a 4-star review from me.
  • In the same vein, only two characters were people of color, and one of them was actually referred to as looking like a thug at one point. The poor guy is beat up to the point that he is unrecognizable, yet he is described as having a “thuggish aspect”. Seriously? In a novel about slavery and oppression? Not cool.

Would I recommend Gilded Cage? Yes, especially if you are a fan of dystopias and alternate histories. However, the above negatives make this a hesitant recommendation, instead of a “go out and read this now!!” review.

Rating: 3/5 stars

TTT Tuesday: Halloween Freebie – Witches


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week is a Halloween freebie, and I’m choosing to focus on books and movies about witches.

America is gearing up for Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, and many of my Wiccan friends are getting ready to celebrate Samhain. As many of you probably already know, there are very little similarities between those who are Wiccan, and the stereotypical ways that witches are often portrayed in books, television and movies. They may be downright funny, and sometimes a cult classic, but often Hollywood portrays a witch in one of three ways:

  1. An evil hag.
  2. Sexy evil.
  3. Suck the life out of children evil (can anyone say Hocus Pocus).

When witches appear in supernatural or fantasy fiction alongside vampires, werewolves, and other fantastical creatures, it may be easy to forget that unlike the other characters in the story that are purely fictional, so many real women have suffered over the centuries under the label of witchcraft. And to this day, loads of stereotypes abound in regards to those who follow pagan religions, especially Wicca.

“What a culture has to say about witchcraft, whether in jest or in earnest, has a lot to do with its views of sexuality and power, and especially with the apportioning of powers between the sexes. The witches were burned not because they were pitied but because they were feared.”  ~ Margaret Atwood, in her review of John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.

None of this is to say it is wrong to enjoy books and movies about witches! As you will see in the list below, books and movies involving witchcraft is one of my favorite sub-genres. I do, however, believe it is wise to read critically, with an awareness of when a story is pulling out all the stops on witchy stereotypes and turning a witch into a caricature.

Top Five Books with a Witchcraft Theme

Books based on historical fiction and witch trials:

  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • The Witch of Cologne – by Tobsha Learner

Books based on supernatural or fantasy elements

  • Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness
  • Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
  • The Witching Hour (Mayfair Witches series) by Anne Rice

Top Five TV/Movies with Witchy Elements

  • Just Add Magic – Reminds me of Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch. An Amazon original series, this is currently M’s favorite TV show.
  • Charmed – I loved this series when I was younger!
  • Hocus Pocus – a completely ridiculous, yet hilarious cult classic, that pulls out all the tropes on witchy caricatures.
  • Practical Magic – so much better than I thought it would be when I watched for the first time. Of course, Nicole Kidman can do no wrong in my eyes.
  • The Craft – another cult classic I adore.

Are you ready for Halloween? A read-a-thon update.

I happen to live in a country that celebrates Halloween, and it is one week away!! I love Halloween, and all of its creeptastic, spooky accompaniments. Halloween…and all the side dishes at a Thanksgiving feast, were the things I missed most when I have lived outside of America (sorry to my family and yes, I missed Halloween more than I missed you, LOL), and I embrace it wholeheartedly every year!

When I say we love Halloween, what I mean is we go so overboard on our Halloween decorations that our neighbors think it is freaking amazing. Or…they think we’re freaks but are too nice to say so. Either way, it’s a fun time.

Just take a look at my reading companion this morning…


I can tell him all about my reading adventures of the moment and he listens so sweetly. He’s a pro at the whole active listening thing. It’s just too bad that his brain found its way outside of his cranium…

With one week to go until the end of the month, I thought it would be a great time to update my progress on the Halloween Read-a-thon, hosted by Lauren @ Wonderless Reviews!

Update Time!


I am right about where I thought I would be for this challenge. I picked out six books, but I would be amazed if I finished six that fit into the theme. You can find my original challenge post right about here.

Costume Party: Read a Book with a Creepy Cover

  • Original selection: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. While I have read a few selections from Scary Stories during read-aloud time with M, I have decided to substitute…
  •  What I read: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. It was spooky and mysterious, and I will never look at forests around Asheville the same way again.

You can find my review here.

Haunted House: Read A Supernatural or Paranormal Book

  • Original selection: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • What I read: Nothing yet. But Neil Gaiman’s graveyard mystery is up  next on my reading list, just as soon as I finish my ARC of The Gilded Cage by Vic James. Which I will hopefully wrap up today!


Urban Legends: Read a Horror or Thriller Book

  • Original selection: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 
  • What I read: I finally, finally got around to reading Jekyll and Hyde! This book has been on my TBR shelf for years. Dark secrets in the Victorian era? Yes, please!

You can find my review here.

Witching Hour: Read a Book After Sunset

  • Original selection: Nothing, really. I was lazy. In my complete defense, lots of reading happens after sunset, anyway. Especially in the fall and winter!
  • What I read: I am going to plug-in The Gilded Cage for this category. Mysterious, brooding aristocratic brothers with deep, dark family secrets? Alternate history and fantasy rolled into one? Yes, this fits the category!

You can find my review up on Wednesday or Thursday. And if you don’t read it, I will cast a spell on you! Mmmwwwwahahahahahaha!


Trick or Treat: Scary Book You’ve Been Putting Off or Treat: Free Choice of Any Genre

  • Original selection: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It’s just not going to happen. I failed utterly and miserably. Back to the procrastination pile it goes. Till next October!
  • What I read: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. I read this on October 6, and I declare it a perfect match for this category. Woohoo for free choice!

You can find my review here.

All Hallow’s Eve: Read Six Books

  • Original selection: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • What I read: Yeah, this isn’t happening, either. It was tough to squeeze in six books with delicious, tantalizing, chilling fare. I did finish watching the first season of Stranger Things, which definitely fits all of the above adjectives. Does that count? Because the woman below…


Only Eleven could mess with her.

Are you reading any Halloween themed books this month? What books would you recommend for a spooky October read?





OwlCrate – October 2016 Review

My first OwlCrate arrived this week! I was so excited to find it sitting sweetly on my front porch two days ago.


OwlCrate is a YA monthly book subscription box that sends newly published YA novels and assorted goodies tied in to each month’s theme. Past themes include Diversity, Steampunk, and Dystopia. The October 2016 theme was ONCE UPON A DREAM, and it was certainly filled with dreamy, wonderful things!

Do not read any further if you don’t want to be spoiled as to the contents in October’s box!


The first thing you see when you open the box is this cute postcard that gives you a hint as to which fairy tales will be referenced this month. The once upon a time theme comes to life with items that reference Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, and The Wizard of Oz.

There are so many wonderful items in this box, so I have absolutely no remorse whatsoever over splurging on a subscription box! The folks behind Owlcrate did an excellent job of curating quality items that fit in well with the monthly theme.


Here’s what this box contained:

  • The first thing I picked up was an adorable beanie from Whosits & Whatsits, inspired by the Lost Boys of Neverland! I have a small head, so it is a tiny bit too big, but not so much that I won’t wear it. The Neverland beanie is super, super cute, and would make the perfect accessory for the daily walks to and from M’s school. Added bonus: every time I look at it, the Lost Boys song by Ruth B pops into my head. I am a lost boy from Neverland, usually hanging out with Peter Pan….
  • A gorgeous bracelet by The Geeky Cauldron, exclusive to Owlcrate! Inspired by Sleeping Beauty, it has a small spinning wheel charm, and a pendant that says Once Upon A Dream.
  • Wizard of Oz passport notebook from The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild. There are lots of cute details, including a passport photo page on the front inside cover, and a little footnote in the back, “Click your heels together to go home. Only valid when wearing ruby slippers.” How adorable is that? It’s the perfect size to jot down book recommendations – or a grocery list – when you are out and about.
  • A fabric button bookmark from My Heart My Tribe. Different fabrics and styles were sent out, unfortunately I received a pastel pink that is probably my least-favorite color, ever. Oh, well, you can’t win them all! I can never have too many bookmarks, so it will still be used!
  • Fun odds and ends: A button inspired by this month’s theme – it shows the spinning wheel from the postcard – and a bookmark advertising The New World Series by Jennifer WIlson.



  • Finally, but most importantly, is the book included in this month’s box! Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter came with a signed bookplate, note from the author, and temporary tattoo. An urban-fantasy take on the Russian folk tale “Vassilissa the Beautiful”, it sounds like a very interesting read!

Vassa in The Night by Sarah Porter

Published by Tor Teen

Genre: YA fantasy

Release date: September 20, 2016

Book Blurb:

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair… 

Next month’s OwlCrate…has a Wonderland theme! I am biting my nails in excitement, as it happens to coincide with the release of Heartless by Marissa Meyer!! I don’t know if that is the book or not, but whatever book is included is going to have an EXCLUSIVE Limited Edition cover!! Oh, please, please be Heartless!!

If you would like to give OwlCrate a try, please use my Referral link here!

Have you ever tried OwlCrate, or another book subscription service? What did you think? Have you read Vassa in the Night?

Book Review – Leave Me by Gayle Forman


This review was a wee bit delayed, I was hoping to have it up earlier this week. My life is on overload at the moment, and it’s hard to catch my breath! We are undergoing a major bathroom renovation right now. It’s wonderful, and I hate to complain about having the ability to voluntarily spend money on beautifying our…ahem…potty room. But, it has also torn our home upside down! You see the Evil Queen above? I will freely admit there have been moments this week that I felt as if I was channeling the Evil Queen!

This introvert is not used to lovely, friendly contractors politely and cleanly traipsing in and out of my home All.Day.Long. I love them, I really do. Brian and Joe, the two workers here this week, are so nice and fun to chat with; and they are as minimally invasive as they can be while tearing down walls and re-situating HVAC venting and tearing up floors with a super-duper, incredibly loud drill of some type.

know you love sledge hammers and pulsing drills echoing through your brain all day, just as much as I do!

Today is also the first day of Early Voting here in North Carolina. Hip hip hooray, the end of election season is in sight! I only bring this up, because I volunteer as a poll watcher during elections, and this year I’m worried it will be…delightful. No, really, I mean that. Truly.

I enjoy being a poll watcher. I strongly believe in exercising our civic duty by voting, and I always like to share information with others, especially in a state which has yo-yo’d back and forth this past year with Early Voting locations, re-districting and gerrymandering, fluctuating days and times, and the whole debacle of whether or not you need an ID to vote (Supreme Court ruled – no ID needed!). So, people out there have questions, and I am happy to answer those questions, to make the process as easy as possible. I always meet such amazing, fascinating people while helping out at the polls. I just ask the crazies to stay away while I’m on duty. Pretty please?

All this is to say that currently, until November 8, my spare time is in very short supply. Therefore, my reviews may be a little shorter or more spread out than I would prefer!


Book: Leave Me

Author: Gayle Forman

Genre: Contemporary fiction

First of all, the cover! The colors are so bright and cheerful…and not reflective of Maribeth’s mood at all. But it does make me think of the two Pittsburgh roommates, Sunita and Todd, probably my two favorite characters in the whole story.

Book blurb:

For every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, for every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention–meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack.

Afterward, surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: She packs a bag and leaves. But, as is so often the case, once we get to where we’re going, we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is finally able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from those she loves and from herself.

With big-hearted characters who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing our fears. Gayle Forman, a dazzling observer of human nature, has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head-on.

Maribeth and I have a few things in common. We both have had surgery while parenting young children (in my case, only one child). Earlier this year, I had laparoscopic surgery to diagnose and treat endometriosis. Let me tell you, endometriosis is not fun, and it is something that I have been dealing with since my teenage years,  but that is a subject for another day.

Like Maribeth, I had an unhelpful parent. In my situation, my mother was conveniently unable to come help in the days following my surgery. Maribeth’s mom: WOW! Surprising, yet completely relatable. I understood her pain and frustration completely. I know all too well how annoying it can be to have a family member come to “help”, when in reality you end up with more work, while they are “helping”. Totally get that.

Like Maribeth, I was also adopted in Pennsylvania – a closed adoption just like hers, so I know a fair bit about the adoption laws and how they have changed in PA in recent years. Ironically, I went to college in Pittsburgh, at the University of Pittsburgh. I know and love Pittsburgh dearly, even though I haven’t lived there in quite a few years.

Unlike Maribeth, I had an incredibly supportive husband who always helps out around the house and with raising M, and went above and beyond during my surgery and recovery period, despite a grueling and time-consuming job as a general surgeon. He is fully present in the day-to-day of raising a child, as things should be in this day and age, and I love him dearly for it.

So, I have a lot of connections to the main character. This should have been a book that I adored. I did not adore it, although I will place it in the “like” category. Mainly, Maribeth annoyed me, from pretty early on in the novel. Yes, Jason – and her mother – should absolutely have taken on some of the responsibility. However, in her husband’s defense, Maribeth never says what she is really thinking, not even once. Yes, the burden is unfair to her, but speak up and tell him! As M @ A Blog of One’s Own says in her review, it is frustrating and childish. I completely agree. The intention of her impulsive escape to Pittsburgh is to fully recover from heart surgery, which is understandable, but it also feels like this is in part an untalked about mid-life crisis.

I appreciate this novel tackling the subject of a mother packing up and spontaneously leaving her family for personal reasons, and not painting her as a villain for it. Maribeth absolutely views herself as the villain at one point, but the story does not:

Sure, she’s written letters. But those letters would never appear in her movie. They would not be submitted as evidence to her defense, proof of her love, flawed though it might be right now.

In Maribeth’s made-for-TV movie, she was the villain.

The difficulties that she experience are real, and often left unsaid in today’s society. I appreciated Gayle Forman’s approach, as Maribeth is neither picture-perfect, nor perfectly evil. She is imperfect and true to life. However, I expected more depth to the story, to the pressures of working moms, and mothers with health issues, and the unrealistic and unhealthy expectations that are more-often that not placed upon them.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Fictional names that will have teachers scratching their heads on how to spell or pronounce.


Happy Tuesday!  Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we’re talking about fictional character names that you would like to name a child, pet, or car. 

We like to name our family members after authors. One of our cats is named for Isabel Allende – when we’re mad at her it turns into Isabella, a la Queen Isabella of Castile. Our daughter is named after one of my favorite authors. It is a short, four-letter name that we always thought was easy to spell and pronounce. Little did I realize how many variations could be made of her supposedly simple name!

If we ever had any more children (we won’t), here are ten names that will be equally hard for future generations of teachers to work out during the first week of school. I find them all beautiful and unique! One name on the list is actually from a book I haven’t read yet, but I have heard about it so much, and I love the name, so onto the list it goes!


From The Bone People by Keri Hulme (1984 Booker Prize winner).


From Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. Technically, this is the main character’s last name, but I think it sounds beautiful as a first name!


From the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. I haven’t read the series, but I love the name. Sounds a bit like Selena, which reminds me of Zelena, which is another name I happen to like.


From A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. I always love one-syllable guy names.


From A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.


From The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I have thought often about naming a cat Katniss, and if it wasn’t so popular I would attach it to a child, too!


From The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.


From The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.


From Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. I adore this name.


From the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I wouldn’t name a child or pet Jamie or Claire, but I love the clan name Fraser.

I also have a few runners-up that almost made the Top Ten: Hermione from Harry Potter; Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, Olanna from Half of A Yellow Sun, and Alina from Shadow and Bone.

Are any of these names on your list as well? Which one is your favorite? 

Book Review – Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Asheville is one of my favorites cities in the American South. It kind of defies the odds, and is unlike anywhere else here in the South. Its mix of worldliness and mountain charm renders it quaint, hippy, metropolitan, and rustic…all rolled into one. It’s truly incredible, really, how Asheville pulls it off.


The Biltmore Estate is one of the most well-known destinations in Asheville, a place we have visited in the past, and when Disney-Hyperion first released the book trailer for Serafina and the Black Cloak, it spread like lightning across Charlotte and the rest of North Carolina (well, across the whole country, to be honest!). Like many others, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.

Then it was published, and I asked M, 7 years old at the time, if she wanted to read it. NOPE! No interest whatsoever. This kid is not swayed by marketing efforts at all…a trait I admire, until it conflicts with my own opinion. Ha!

So, I held off. Until last week, when M asked the children’s librarian at our public library for a book recommendation. She was in a reading rut, and was looking for a new mystery or fantasy book, something that would appeal to a kid who loves stories like Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series. A book with a strong female lead, and not too scary. The librarian led her too…Serafina and the Black Cloak. And her eyes lit up at the cover! Hooray!!

This is why I stopped suggesting books to her. Coming from mom, it never works.

So we checked it out, and both of us read it independently of the other.


Title: Serafina and the Black Cloak

Author: Robert Beatty

Genre: Middle-grade, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction

Serafina secretly lives in the basement of the Biltmore Estate with her Pa, a maintenance worker for the Vanderbilt family. She roams at night, although she always listens to her Pa’s warning to never venture into the forest that surrounds the estate, and to never be seen by the other staff or the Vanderbilt family and their guests.

Then one night, children start disappearing, and Serafina is the only one who has seen the culprit, a man in a black cloak. She sets out to uncover the identity of the Man in the Black Cloak, with the help of a few friends along the way.

In the beginning, I was quite annoyed with Serafina’s Pa, and couldn’t understand why he treated her the way he did. His perspective and outlook on things starts to make more sense when you learn the back story of their family and why they live in the basement. I also had to put aside a pretty large dose of skepticism at the idea that Serafina could live for years in the basement of the estate and not once, even as a baby and toddler, ever be seen by other workers.

Serafina and Braeden’s relationship forms a large part of the story, and Braeden is interesting in his own right, but it is Serafina that truly makes this story sing. She is curious and solitary, charming and awkward, eccentric for a child so young. Both her and Braeden are unique in their own way, and I am happy to see an author of children’s literature explore and honor the uniqueness of children, and how that uniqueness is what makes a person special.

It’s a fast read, even for kids (or at least for my kid). Serafina and the Black Cloak is aimed towards 8-12 year olds, but I definitely enjoyed it as much as my 8-year-old did. M and I both loved Serafina, and I’ll leave you to guess which one of us figured out her secret first. It would make an excellent selection for a mother/daughter or parent/child book club. Having been to the Biltmore, and frequently hike in the mountains and forests surrounding Asheville, I may never look at those hiking trips the same way again.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars


Book Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson


Title: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Genre: Classics, Gothic horror

Our house has been a flurry of activity lately. Hurricane Matthew evacuees (my parents), triathlon training, and today, the beginning of a major master bathroom renovation. Demolition is happening as I write, our cats are freaking out, and I am trying my best to avoid the noise, calm the cats, and get a book review posted!


Poor kitty. I feel bad for both of our fur-babies today, who have no idea why there are strange men and so many loud noises happening in their precious home. They are keeping me company in the home office today, which is as far away from the renovation area as you can get.

I feel so sorry for them.

Okay, on to the book review.

“With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”

Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic horror novel has been adapted so many times that I honestly had no idea what to expect from the original. So many books and movies have been influenced by this short novella: The League of Extraordinary GentlemenThe Incredible Hulk, Van Helsing, the many movie adaptations, and even an appearance in Looney Tunes, just to name a few. Was it going to be as timeless as its characters? Or will the frequent appearances in pop culture take away from the original storyline to this modern-day reader?

We start with Mr. Utterson – a sensible lawyer – listening to his friend Enfield tell a somewhat sinister tale about a mysterious Mr. Hyde. Mr. Utterson has heard Hyde’s name before, connected to his boyhood friend Dr. Jekyll, and sets out to find the relationship between the two.

I feel as if I have been familiar with the “good” Jekyll and “evil” Hyde my entire life, but I haven’t. Not really. And the first thing I realized was that despite appearances, Stevenson does not make the good versus evil divide that clear-cut. No…just like real life, there are multiple shades of grey in between. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Dr. Jekyll.

Dr. Jekyll is deeply conflicted about hidden vices that stem back to his young adulthood, but the precise nature of these vices are never named. The Victorian era is known for its social constraint, so one has to wonder if these “vices” were truly immoral acts, or just an alternate lifestyle condemned by Victorian sensitivities. This inner turmoil influences his scientific work, as he seeks to develop a potion that will separate the evil side of himself from the good part.

When he successfully creates this potion, the split did not happen as he thought it would:

Hence, although I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll, that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had already learned to despair. The movement was thus wholly toward the worse.

Stevenson’s prose is engaging, but I am generally not a fan of much of the plot happening in the form of a written letter, as it does in the latter part of the novella. I probably will not rank Jekyll and Hyde at the top of my list of favorite classics, but it is certainly an interesting, thought-provoking book to read. What is the nature of good and evil? Is human nature inherently a duality, as Stevenson suggests in this novel? Were Jekyll’s scientific experiments ethical? How did the expectations of Victorian society influence Jekyll’s decisions?

What I liked best about the The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  was the questions that it raised for the reader.