Netflix Picks – What I’ve been watching

Hi everyone! I feel as though December was rather light on book publications but remarkable for things to watch. At this point, its (late) January so I won’t list all of the holiday programming that I watched but there are a couple that I want to mention. So without further ado, here are just some highlights of what I watched last month:

TV or streaming service series:

Screen Shot witcherThe Witcher (Netflix) – If you haven’t heard about this fantasy drama starring smoking hot Henry Cavill, then I don’t know where you’ve been. If you like magic and monsters and journeys through fantasy worlds, then this show alone is worth a Netflix subscription.
Merry Happy Whatever (Netflix) – A sitcom-feeling series that I wanted to mention because my husband particularly enjoyed this one (he may also be biased because it was set in Philadelphia and the characters root for the Eagles). Regardless, its a feel-good family com with the grown-up children bringing home their married spouses or soon-to-be spouses to celebrate the holidays and we all know how that can go with “tough” and sarcastic fathers like Dennis Quaid.
Perfect Harmony (NBC/Hulu) – This. Show. Is. Hilarious.!!!!! I don’t hear almost anyone talking about it and I don’t want it to go away so please go watch it and rave. A Harvard (or Yale?) music professor breaks down in front of the tiny church in the small town he lives in after his wife has just passed. The church members bring him inside for the night and he wakes up (of course) during choir practice and they are trying to win a regional championship to save their program. Of course, they are a bunch of misfits and Mr. Director is hilarious and overly scrooge-y and needs to be taught a lesson of his own. Its just an all-around great show. And the music ends up being pretty Glee also. Its so fun! If you like that sort of thing, I definitely recommend!

Movies:

Klaus (Netflix) – I had to really mull this movie over because it presents a different origin of Santa. The concepts fit though–a postman and a toymaker together.
The Irishman (Netflix) – This movie was a husband’s choice. I didn’t really know what it was and I didn’t have much interest in it but the longer it was on, the more invested I became. I didn’t even know very much about Jimmy Hoffa but its very well done.
The Ritual (Netflix) – Ohhhhhkay. The preview got us here. This looked like a super-spooky horror/thriller and ended up being…weird and confusing. Pro’s=camera views of the hiking trails were beautiful. Con’s=plot. “The Ritual.” This was one I had to talk out with a friend and look up to really figure out to fully fill in the blanks to figure out. So really….meh.

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Artwork by Taevyn Astra

The Rise of Skywalker (IMAX) – Ohhhhh, I loved it! Yes, it had its cheesy moments. Sure, some things could have been done better. But man, I don’t care. The movie is made and I was overall blown away and am so satisfied! I can’t wait to watch it again!

So that was my month. Did you see any of these? Have you watched anything recently that you recommend? I’d love to know about it, so please tell me in the comments!

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The Sunday Review: Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler

39893648Title: Christmas Camp
Author: Karen Schaler
Page Count: 336 pages – ebook edition
Release Date: September 3, 2019

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I thought this looked and sounded (from the synopsis) like a cute holiday book that I would skate through quickly and enjoy immensely. Plus with the word “Camp” in the title, I had to read it! I’m a sucker for camps and retreats! Apparently though, Hallmark/Lifetime/Netflix mushy writers should stick to their screenplays. At least for me. Reading the author’s bio, “Christmas Karen” Schaler has also written screenplays for Netflix’s THE CHRISTMAS PRINCE (which I did enjoy!), Hallmark Channel’s Christmas Camp (I haven’t seen this), and Lifetime’s Every Day is Christmas (also never heart of it). While the idea of this book was classic holiday family and romance cozy, it fell a little short for me. Here is why:

In this book, Haley Hansen’s Christmas is booked–in the Caribbean. And that’s the way she likes it. She prefers to take her laptop, her work and her parents and avoid the holiday hustle and just relax on the warm beach. This year is different because her advertising company is trying to land a deal with a huge toy company. Big problem though. The theme of the ad campaign? Christmas spirit, and Haley has none. What’s more is that landing this campaign could earn her a spot as partner in the company. She would do anything–even head to Christmas Camp–to get this deal.

brooke-cagle-czbB0aPh_V0-unsplashMeanwhile Jeff is the oh-so-handsome, successful architect in Boston and son of the owner of Christmas Camp. He recently lost his mother and his aging father, Ben, is now running Christmas Camp basically on his own. I’ll let the rest of the details here unfold themselves for you all.

Christmas Camp is, I think, just about the first book ever where I didn’t find the male love interest charming or very interesting. He almost seemed sort of villainous for most of the book. I guess that’s what made it even more refreshing for Haley to be a hard-working girl (woman) throughout the book. She really did have some good growth and that really was heart-warming. From the very beginning I didn’t think she was a bad character…so what if she didn’t love Christmas?? I mean, everyone can choose to celebrate, or not, in their own way. Isn’t it kind of bogus (illegal?) for a company to basically require her to have Christmas Spirit?? I guess that’s a whole different debate. But anyway. The book was decent. Obviously several different ways to look at things so if you’re into that, go for it!! One last thing I will add is that there are a couple of good side characters, but the dog is probably the best character in the book.

Book soundtrack: The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole

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Review: Girls With Sharp Sticks

36442895Title: Girls With Sharp Sticks
Author: Suzanne Young
Published: March 19, 2019
Pages: 400
Publisher: Simon Pulse

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Oh my gosh, Suzanne Young (author), what goes on in that mind of yours to make you write things like this??!!?? First The Treatment and now this! Just…wow. I kind of knew what I was getting myself into because both of these books were by the same author but then again, their premises are pretty different. I couldn’t have predicted something like this!! Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

ai-nhan-WPM1dxsjK0I-unsplashReal talk: the title of the book comes from a poem found under the bed of one of the girls at Innovations Academy who is taken away one day. Lennon Rose, they are told, has been having “money problems” back home and can no longer attend the school but after secretly stopping taking her prescribed “vitamins” at bedtime each night, our main character begins to think there may be something bigger going on. Mena shares Girls With Sharp Sticks with the other girls and the idea of men wanting power and girls/women as pretty objects…however, some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns. 

I found the book to be a little slow in the beginning. I wasn’t fully engaged until a little ways in but once things picked up, I couldn’t put the book down. I love the boarding school setting, the bond between the girls, the near future/dystopian setting, and the echoes of familiarity to certain pop culture stories like Handmaid’s Tale, West World, etc. Plus, I would be lax if I didn’t mention the men and how perverse they are in this book. I can’t go into the full depths of their awfulness without spoiling certain events. Content/trigger warnings for misogyny, body shaming, assault, PTSD, talk of infertility, murder.

What I will say though, is that I find certain dystopians like this to be more terrifying than most horror books and movies. Just the vague possibility that someday the human race could potentially end up in some scenario like this is so unbelievably scary, and at the same time it offers food for thought and a lesson in how to act and how to treat others around us.

The ending I liked (after I picked my jaw up off the floor because I was completely shocked and…just…whoa) and I was satisfied with but apparently there is going to be a second book! I have no idea where Suzanne will be going with it so we’ll see what happens! I’m there for it though!

Book Soundtrack: “Youth” by Daughter

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Game of Thrones – the first two episodes (no spoilers)

Hi everyone! I just want to give a couple thoughts on the final (*sob*) season of Game of Thrones thus far.

We are now through two out of only seven episodes of the last of seven seasons. Past seasons have had ten episodes so its kind of heartbreaking that a) we are losing out on three episodes that we usually get. and b) we had to wait extra as well.

So far this season, I feel that there has just been so much fluff. There are so many reunions and relationships and worlds colliding that could have happened along the way. Now, don’t get me wrong. There have been some good moments and they have been enjoyable–magic carpet rides, trapeses in dungeons, singalongs in the Great Hall…

All of that being said though, I know things are going to escalate. And quickly. Too quickly? Probably. But we’ll see. Afterall, “In the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

Oh, and just for fun, I have to post this selection of emojis that you can play around with if you use the proper hashtag on Twitter. I love them!

Do you watch GoT at all? Who is your favorite character?

Listening to: Jenny of Oldstones by Florence + the Machine

ARC Review: Miraculum by Steph Post

41037463From Goodreads: The year is 1922. The carnival is Pontilliar’s Spectactular Star Light Miraculum, set up on the Texas-Louisiana border. One blazing summer night, a mysterious stranger steps out onto the midway, lights a cigarette and forever changes the world around him. Tattooed snake charmer Ruby has traveled with her father’s carnival for most of her life and, jaded though she is, can’t help but be drawn to the tall man in the immaculate black suit who has joined the carnival as a geek, a man who bites the heads off live chickens. Mercurial and charismatic, Daniel charms everyone he encounters but his manipulation of Ruby becomes complicated when it no longer becomes clear who is holding all the cards. For all of Daniel’s secrets, Ruby has a few of her own. When one tragedy after another strikes the carnival, and it becomes clear that Daniel is somehow at the center of calamity, Ruby takes it upon herself to discover the mystery of the shadowy man pulling all the strings. Joined by Hayden, a roughneck-turned-mural-painter who has recently reentered her life, Ruby enters into a dangerous, eye-opening game with Daniel in which nothing and no one is as it seems and yet everything is at stake.

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Miraculum was quite the magical ride! Really, it was more than that. There was magic, mythology, mysticism, and so much mystery! The setting of the carnival isn’t quite as central to the book as I expected. Our main character, Ruby, is a snake charmer. Basically a second-rate tattoo’d lady/snake charmer act who is cast aside for the most part. From the time Daniel, a stranger in upscale black suits, joins the cast, strange and terrible things begin happening. There really wasn’t much splendor or marvel to the Star Light Miraculum to begin with, however. I found it to be a little disappointing unfortunately. A little bit more American Horror Story than The Greatest Show. Moving on though….

american-horror-story-freak-show-circoWhat I did like, was the ancient history and mythology woven into the story. Samuel’s books and the hoodoo magic of the bayou held an immense amount of intrigue. I loved those story lines. Plus the interjections from throughout time every few chapters. These I found so fascinating, I looked forward to reading them every time they came around. They fueled the story in a vital way I felt. I wish that the characters were as fiery. I felt no connection to them, unfortunately. Not a one.

My final thoughts on this book: it was certainly a slow burn. The book is only 320 pages long but it felt like 500. I didn’t mind in the beginning because I thought things were interesting and I wanted to know where the story would go. Then the fiery interjections would come in a move things along a bit. I was so determined to do my duties as an ARC reader so I stuck with the slow reading. The ending was very good I thought. It wasn’t quite the battle I expected it to be, but of course, good pretty much won out so I was ultimately satisfied. If you like settings in the 1920’s, carnivals, magic, mythology, mystery, and don’t mind a slow burn read, then this book will be good for you. Miraculum releases on February 1st so keep an eye out!

I was provided with a free copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions are my own.

Book soundtrack: Devil’s Hands by Truth

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Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

What better way to start off the new year than by not giving a f*ck, am I right? I thought this would be the perfect book to start off 2019 and while it was pretty funny at times, and surprisingly smart (if not fully supportive of itself), I wouldn’t really call it profound or life-changing, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

28259130In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be “positive” all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. “F**k positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.” In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—”not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

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not-a-single-fuck-was-given-memeThroughout the book, author Mark Manson quotes various psychologists, philosophers, and pop culture experts from the Buddha to Homer Simpson himself. Of course, Manson draws from personal experience as well, and he has quite a bit to share including illegal substances, the tragic loss of a close friend, and more. Just to leave you with a morsel of the book’s wisdom: “In my life, I have given a fuck about many people and many things. I have also not given a fuck about many people and many things. And like the road not taken, it was the fucks not given that made all the difference.” You’re welcome.

Book Soundtrack : “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic” by Paramore

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Blogmas 27: Review – The Witch of the North Pole

40625309The Witch of the North Pole was one of the most delightful Amazon Prime surprises I have encountered so far! Our main character, Cinnamon Mercy, is fighting for her independence working a dull accounting job on the West Coast. Then one day her eccentric grandmother rolls up and whisks her away for the holidays…to the North Pole. Turns out Grandma is Mrs. Claus herself, and she is feeling under-appreciated for all the hard work she does 364 days a year, and she’s had ENOUGH! The next witch–yes, witch–in the family line who can possibly do all the work is Cinnamon, and she’s on her own to figure out how to save “the naughties” and develop Santa’s flight plan, all before Christmas Eve. As much as she wants to use logic and numbers, Cinnamon has to listen to her heart and cast a spell of intuition to really connect with others to determine how to throw the best Winter Solstice gathering, bring Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus together, and save Christmas for the entire world.

This book was so fun and easy to read, I enjoyed it so much! The descriptions of the North Pole were so fun, and I loved how all of the events played out. There was a huge crisis, but for once, the issue was not a murder or an affair. Just a Christmas crunch where people lost sight of their joy and priorities. Two ‘towns’ living basically together without interacting. Years of traditions being taken for granted and becoming just work rather than love and magic. Everything was written out very nicely with charming characters and good pacing. An absolutely charming holiday read! If you have Prime, check this one out!

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October Reads: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

alex-geerts-424409-unsplashOctober is absolutely my favorite month (and tends to be my most motivated month) to read in. I gather the biggest TBR–whether by accident or design–and read as much as I possibly can. I also sign up for as many challenges as I can find….and it seems like there are more challenges around as well. There are spooky challenges, trick-or-treating challenges, movie-themed challenges, classic book challenges, just everything under the sun. And I LOVE IT!!!! So as of now, we’re not even halfway through the month and already I have completely finished two books and I am halfway through another, and more than 100 pages into a monster of a horror novel (Stephen King’s “It”), which I probably won’t finish until next Halloween. Ugh. However, now that I’m decompressed post-wedding for the most part, I am going to be posting more with reviews and what I am getting myself into this fall (there is so much to DO!) and whatever else needs to go into the blog. So without further ado: my first review of the month!

October read number 1 was City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. I’ve had my copy since it released in late August but I was waiting for October to read it (that, and…uh….wedding). This book was spectacular! City of Ghosts is about a girl named Cassidy, whose beachy summer vacation plans are going out the window because her parents are about to start shooting a ghost hunting show abroad in SCOTLAND!!! Add on top of that the fact that Cassidy can not only see ghosts, but her best friend IS a ghost, and we have the makings of an amazingly fun story!

I am always wary of reading middle grade books for fear that they will be too slow (yes, I realize that I am an adult and I acknowledge that this is a risk that I take…that’s exactly my point here). The book has its moments of defining ‘vocab’ words that a MG reader may not know, but those moments are few and far between. Ultimately, I wasn’t bothered.

43951950_2159170047735147_2880454404434034688_nProbably my favorite part was how Schwab seamlessly wove history into the story as well. In no way does it feel like we’re reading a history novel, but there is so much history all around the characters in Edinburgh and its fascinating to hear about it and even see it! And creepy at times too. I am SO glad I read this book in October. It was the perfect spooky read to kick off the month.

Which leads to my next perk: the spook effect! There definitely was some creep factor in this book! References to hangings, shootings, drownings, etc. I mean, it wasn’t all out gory or violent, but it wasn’t exactly a bedtime story either. The family and camera crew travels to graveyards and what used to be execution grounds and an old prison. I don’t say this to be spoiler-ey, but it these truly freak you out, be warned! Most of it is narrated in a pretty historical way and our ghost friend is always there to coach that its okay to be afraid of things (he’s the scaredy cat in these scenarios).

Ultimately, I can’t recommend this book enough. This is going to be one of those books that I re-read at least once or twice in Octobers to come, and I recommend that you do too. I am so glad to see that this is book #1 of more to come because I can see Schwab setting Cassidy and Jacob and her parents with their show in other historical/ghostly locations and I absolutely cannot wait!!

Book soundtrack: Mordred’s Lullaby by Heather Dale

Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton + GIVEAWAY

35720690Heart of Thorns (Heart of Thorns #1)
Publisher: Katherine Teagan Books
Release Date: July 31, 2018
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 464

Synopsis: In the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.

Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia’s father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.

Goodreads   |   B&N   |   Amazon   |   iBooks   |   Book Depository

The first thing I need to say about Heart of Thorns is that this book is 446 pages long (which I was a little intimidated by at first) but it absolutely flew by! The chapters are relatively short and there is so much action and movement happening from the very beginning. I never felt bored by the characters or the plot, and things never felt rushed. I instantly liked Mia…but then again, any characters who are speaking anatomy and are trained huntresses are pretty awesome in my book. I was a bit concerned about cliche plot-to-escape-marraige-to-the-prince trope, but the bigger picture really is vengence for her mother’s death.

My hat is off to the author, Bree Barton, for doing an excellent job diversifying a medieval fantasy world! I am in awe of your skills! I mean, its relatively subtle, but its there. There are references to different skin colors on the people, different abilities, and different sexualities. Read closely, its there. Thank you, Bree!

So how about the reason we’re all here….the magic. So in this trilogy only women can possess magic and every woman is suspected of having it. The men, of course, view them as demons and teach the children to view this ability as such as well. The overall magic system in this book (without delving too much into things and spoiling everything) is actually tied to a deeper mythology, and boy do we get information about it! Mia, you’re in for an education! Ironically, the magic is also how she ends up meeting (and injuring/healing) the love interest, Quin and then its all downhill from there. Their relationship is honestly one of the most dynamic that I have read in a while. I very much enjoyed it.

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CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY VIA RAFFLECOPTER

  • Hardcover copy of HEART OF THORNS
  • US Only
  • Please read the rules in the Rafflecopter before entering
  • Go to any stop on the tour to enter!!

14112802Bree Barton is a writer in Los Angeles. When she’s not lost in whimsy, she works as a ghostwriter and dance teacher to teen girls. She is on Instagram and YouTube as Speak Breely, where she posts funny videos of her melancholy dog.

On those parting words, I will leave you to decide whether you think this book is worthy of your time. I know I will be picking up book #2 when it comes out. Happy reading!

Book Soundtrack: “Queendom” by AURORA

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Amid Stars and Darkness by Chani Lynn Feener

30063453Imagine this: you are partying at a club with your best friend just like any other Friday night in a world where humans and aliens (who look just like humans, albeit super-hot humans) co-exist peacefully. You are ready to leave, but your best friend is hitting it off with some otherworldly guy, so you let her know and head for the door. On your way out, you brush against this tall, leggy girl who turns and smiles at you with this strange look in her eye. But whatever, you’re done for the night. Outside of the club on your way home, you are ambushed by an alien guy who insists that your name is Olena and that you must return to your home planet to marry the Zane (Prince) of a different planet. He kidnaps you, knocks you out, and you wake up on his ship three days later soon to arrive on this new planet. Come to find out that girl who bumped into in the bar was the princess and by bumping into you, she used a device to transform you into her. You now have no choice but to impersonate her to avoid war between two alien races and all humankind.

So this is how the book starts off. Delany is a teenager who finds herself in an impossible situation and has to make the best of it. She has the help of her bodyguard, Ruckus, to coach her through. She is to be wed to rival Zane Trystan, but her personality is so different from the real Lissa (Princess) Olena that even Trystan softens to her.

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I felt that the author did a good job of world building. Space worlds and alien kingdoms cannot be easy to build up. The only thing that didn’t sit with me was that there were so many new words developed for royalty (Lissa, Zane, Captain, Scientist, etc.) but yet, there was no word for ‘alien.’ For whatever reason, I hear alien and I think little green men but obviously the author is describing these aliens as tall, ideal, beautiful versions of humans basically. I almost wish they  had their own word for themselves, but no. They’re just aliens. Ok. Whatever.

alienSecondly, the writing was all pretty flat. Fortunately, I felt like most of the characters had some dimension to them. Delaney and Trystan definitely did. Ruckus was a little flat. And the writing overall was pretty simplisitic. There were just times when I thought a seventh grader could have been writing it. The ideas? Good. The format? Eh.

Finally, I loved the plot and the quick pacing. I was very entertained by the whole story and the concept. I thought that Delaney was a strong, witty character. I thought her relationship with Ruck was a little too easy so I’m not convinced it will last. Maybe I’m wrong, we’ll see. And that cliffhanger!! So overall I had to get over the writing and just let myself enjoy the story and once I did that, it was a quick and enjoyable book. I’m looking forward to reading book 2 soon for a book tour. Stay tuned!

Soundtrack: “The Sky is Broken” by Moby

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