Book Review: ‘City Mouse’ by Stacey Lender

I was recently sent Stacey Lender’s debut women’s fiction novel, City Mouse, free for review and I found it an easy read that’s perfect for summer. It’s a love letter to the big city, but I did feel that maybe the author was a bit too judgmental about those who live outside its borders. Only at the end did anyone appear in the suburbs who had any value to the protagonist.

Jessica is a city girl, but her husband, Aaron, has become enamored with suburbia with its ‘his and hers’ bathroom sinks and backyards bigger than a postage stamp. She finally agrees to buy a house outside of Manhattan, dreaming of dinner parties and a place for her daughters to ride their bikes. Before she has a chance to be lonely, she’s swept up into a clique of moms who like to party and do weekly brunches. Being the only one who works, Jessica starts to feel a bit left out, so she’s excited when they invite her to a moms-only weekend, even though she feels their friendships don’t have much substance. Unfortunately, the weekend gets crazy and goes haywire, leaving Jessica to decide whether keeping up with the cool moms is worth the price of her family.

As I said above, this book was an easy, breezy read. It would make the ideal beach book, especially for busy moms. I finished the novel in two sittings. While I found it enjoyable, I was dismayed that most of the book made the suburbs sound like they’re packed full of party people who look out only for themselves. The few characters that didn’t fit that mold were thrown in at the end like an afterthought. Being someone who prefers living in a large city, I can appreciate Jessica’s love of New York, but selfish people live everywhere, as do their more courteous kin.

Other than that, the story moved at a steady pace and I liked Jessica and Aaron’s characters. They weren’t perfect, but they loved each other and their kids with abandon. Like all couples, they had their issues, but the strength of their relationship is what saved them during trying times.

This book was almost a 4-star read for me, but I feel like it fell a little short, so I’ll give it a 3.75. If you enjoy mom fiction with a sexy feel and a bit of a wild streak, this should be on your summer reading list. If you’re easily shocked, you may want to pass it up.

3.75 out of 5 stars

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

Book Blitz: ‘Gate of Air’ by Resa Nelson with Giveaway

Today’s book excerpt and giveaway are from Gate of Air by Resa Nelson, the first book in her Dragon Gods series. I’m really excited about this one because the author used to write for a magazine I subscribed to for many years, Realms of Fantasy. It was full of the best fantasy and sci-fi short stories, reviews and articles on movies and books in the same genres. I was sad when they closed down in 2011. I will be adding Nelson’s book to my TBR list and I hope you take a minute to check it out and possibly enter the contest for a full set of another of her series.

Gate of Air
Resa Nelson
(Dragon Gods, #1)
Publication date: June 19th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Frayka must find and convince the dragon gods of the Far East to appease the gods of her Northland heritage. If she fails, her own Northlander gods will destroy all the mortals who once promised to worship them.

The Far East is a mysterious place of legend to Northlanders like Frayka. Only an old map can show her how to get there. Once she arrives, all of Frayka’s sensibilities put her in danger. And every dangerous turn delays her from finding the dragon gods whose help she so desperately needs.

Although Frayka looks like a Far Easterner, she is a powerful Northlander warrior who is quick to voice her thoughts. She is trained to fight and won’t hesitate to do so.

But everything about Frayka puts her in deadly peril in the Far East, where the laws are strict and the punishment cruel.

Especially when the one being punished is a woman.

Goodreads / Amazon

CHAPTER 1:

How did my life become so turbulent?

As the pale blue and pink light foretold the dawn of a new day, Frayka walked the narrow length of the Northlander ship, a long and sleek vessel that looked like a sea dragon slicing through the choppy ocean waves. The oars piled on the center of the deck rattled against each other. The scent of fish and brine permeated the air. The taste of salt in the air gave her a thirst that seemed impossible to quench. Frayka focused on the horizon instead.

She approached the rail and leaned on it, barely noticing the sound of her sweetheart Njall grunting while he adjusted the sail. After several days at sea, Frayka recognized the coast of her homeland, the Land of Ice, in the distance ahead. But instead of filling her heart with happiness or even meager content, the sight made her stomach twist into knots.

All her life, Frayka had given no thought to the fact that she looked like no other Northlander. Everyone in her homeland—including her own family—stood tall with long blond hair and blue eyes. While Frayka stood as tall as any Northlander woman, she inherited her looks from her father’s grandmother, a woman from the Far East who must have died many years ago.

Although Frayka’s skin looked similar to everyone else’s during the winter months, too much exposure to the sun simply turned Frayka’s skin a golden brown while the skin of all other Northlanders burned bright red. And her long black hair, straight as rain, made her stand out, as well as her dark brown eyes.

Njall joined her side and draped an arm across her shoulders. “Home at last.”

Exhausted from the journey and lost in worry about the days ahead, Frayka didn’t respond.

Njall squeezed her shoulder. “Why so glum?”

“No one told me I’d be meeting a Northlander god,” Frayka said. “I’m still reeling from what the All-Father told me.”

Weeks ago, a shaman led Frayka to the ethereal world of the gods. The god of all Northlander gods—the All-Father—singled out Frayka because she dared to live as a Northlander despite her Far Eastern looks.

To appease the anger of all Northlander gods, the All-Father tasked Frayka with the duty of finding the dragon gods of the Far East. The All-Father told Frayka she then must figure out how to make peace between those dragon gods and the Northlander gods. If Frayka failed, the Northlander gods would kill her.

Why did all gods have to act so foolish and petty?

Why should it be her problem that Northlanders had once worshipped the dragon gods instead of their own gods?

Why should the Northlander gods involve her just because they felt angry and rejected by the mortals who adopted the dragon gods in their absence?

Frayka knew the dragon gods destroyed the Northlands and surrounding countries, even though she’d been an infant at the time. The full blame for that destruction fell on the true Northlander gods, who were enraged first for being ignored and then for being faulted for something they didn’t do.

Why should I care that mortals blame the Northlander gods for the sins of the dragon gods?

The task given to Frayka by the Northlander gods overwhelmed her. Frayka wished she could crawl below deck, curl up in a corner, and sleep until her life felt normal again.

But Northlanders never talked of such feelings. If Frayka admitted to any of them, she would appear weak in Njall’s eyes. He loved her because of her strength and courage. And right now, only Njall knew about the task she’d been given. If no one else believed her, she’d still have Njall by her side.

I can’t afford to lose him, too.

Njall laughed. “You’re spoiled by your own portents. Welcome to the ordinary world that the rest of us live in.”

Frayka knew Njall was right. Since birth, her portents gave her regular glimpses into the future, something no other Northlander could do. She’d known for years that Njall would someday marry her, and her faith never waived. Years ago, he teased Frayka about her portents. Thinking about those days, she said, “Remember when you used to call me Frayka the Freak?”

“Be fair,” Njall said, failing to hide his shame. “I don’t call you that anymore.” He ran his rough hand against her silky black hair. “Not since I saw you become a brave warrior. Not since you saved my life. Once I tell everyone what you’ve done, everyone will love you as much as I do.” Njall hesitated. “Wait. That’s a terrible idea. Someone might try to marry you before I can.”

“If anyone tries to get between you and me, I’ll kick him in the shins.” Frayka laughed briefly before worry overtook her again. “But it’s not my portents I’m worried about. It’s what the gods want me to do. What I have to do.”

“This isn’t like you. You never worry.”

Frayka cleared her throat, knowing the time to keep secrets had to end. “I had a portent last night after you fell asleep. A portent about the gods.”

His arm tensed. “What kind of portent?”

Frayka looked at the sea. “I saw what will happen if I fail. If I don’t do what the gods ask.” When Njall stayed silent, she continued. “They will kill every Northlander who still survives. They will kill you and me and our families and everyone in the Land of Ice.”

“But your portents,” Njall said. “Sometimes they give you an idea of the future. They’re not always exact.”

“This one was,” Frayka said. “Very exact and very clear. I have to find the dragon gods and figure out how to make peace between them and the Northlander gods. Otherwise, we all die.”

Njall shifted his weight when the ship tilted. “Then let’s fight the Northlander gods. Let’s kill them before they can kill us.”

Frayka shook her head. “You don’t understand. All the stories we heard about gods are lies. Northlanders thought the dragon gods were their gods, but it’s not true. Mortals thought the Northlander gods forced the dragon gods to destroy our homeland, but that’s not true either.” She frowned. “Not entirely. Even if we could find the Northlander gods—which is impossible—it wouldn’t solve anything. The All-Father told me what I have to do, and nothing else will satisfy him.”

Njall wrapped his arms around Frayka and held her close. “You’re not alone, you know,” he said. “You’ve got me, and I’ll walk by your side every step of the way.”

His words comforted Frayka. For a moment she found hope and felt excited about the chance to make a difference in the world. She felt no fear of the danger she might face.

Njall pointed at the coastline, now close enough that Frayka saw its black sandy beaches glitter and sparkle in the sunlight. “We’re home,” Njall said. “Look how beautiful it is.”

Taking his advice, Frayka stared at the waterfalls falling from the high cliffs standing behind the beaches. Pointing, she said, “There’s Blackstone.” The settlement of small stone houses rested a short distance from the shore, and grassy hills stretched behind it. In the far distance, a mountain of ice glinted. “What are we going to tell them about why we left?” Frayka said.

“The truth always strikes me as a good idea,” Njall said.

But the truth would involve stories about Frayka’s portents and gods and strange lands.

“What if they don’t believe me?”

“Be yourself!” Njall said. “This is your home! Your family knows you. Everyone in Blackstone knows you. And I know you, too.”

But I befriended someone who suffered because she looked different. Because she came from a different world than the people she lived with. Because she walked with one foot in each world: the one she came from and the one she lived in.

And if I do what the gods ask me to do, won’t I have to do the same?

“Frayka?” Njall said. “Did you hear me?”

“Of course.” Frayka straightened her spine and drew again on her new-found hope. “Let’s go home.”

Author Bio:

Resa Nelson is the author of the 4-book Dragonslayer series: The Dragonslayer’s Sword (nominated for the Nebula Award, finalist for the EPPIE Award), The Iron Maiden , The Stone of Darkness , and The Dragon’s Egg . Her 4-book Dragonfly series takes place after the Dragonslayer series.

Her standalone novels include the mystery/thrillers All Of Us Were Sophie and Our Lady of the Absolute .

Resa has been selling short stories professionally since 1988. She is a longtime member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), and she is a graduate of the Clarion SF Workshop. Resa was the TV/Movie Columnist for Realms of Fantasy magazine for 13 years as well as a regular contributor to SCI FI magazine. She has sold over 200 articles to magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Website / Goodreads / Twitter


GIVEAWAY!

Click below to enter this giveaway for the complete set of Dragonslayer books in e-book format on Rafflecopter! Contest ends June 29.

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House of Furies by Madeleine Roux

Book Review: ‘House of Furies’ by Madeleine Roux

HarperTeen recently published Madeleine Roux’s newest novel, House of Furies. This gothic story is an ideal read for those who enjoy historical tales of paranormal horror.

Looking for a better way of life, seventeen-year-old Louisa is drawn to become a scullery maid at a boarding house. She assumes it will be hard work in exchange for honest pay and a roof over her head. What she doesn’t suspect is that it’s the last stop for evil men and women before they leave this life for good. Coldthistle House’s proprietor, the enigmatic Mr. Morningside, brings death to those who opt to stay in the manor with the help of his workers, who are not what they appear to be. When Louisa finds an innocent young man has come along with his cruel uncle, can she save him from certain death? And at what cost to her?

This story was good and spooky and I loved that Louisa was an innocent without necessarily being what one would call a good girl. She’s had a hardscrabble life and doesn’t apologize for what she’s had to do to survive. However, she has a good heart and in the end, she tries to put others before herself.

While the book doesn’t have you on edge the whole way through, it’s not for the faint of heart. Certain scenes are filled with gore and others give a good scare. It’s an excellent addition to the YA horror genre.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I haven’t yet read the Asylum series, so this was my first introduction to Roux. I will gladly pick up more of her work in the future. If you’re a fan of YA horror and you enjoy a gothic tone, you’ll want to grab this one as well.

4 out of 5 stars

Book Blitz: ‘Something Beautiful’ by Amanda Gernentz Hanson and Giveaway!

Hello. I’m going to be trying something new on this blog by hosting book tours, cover reveals and giveaways for a variety of indie reads. I promise to always stick to books I would be willing to read myself. I won’t push anything I don’t believe in. My first attempt at this is with Something Beautiful by Amanda Gernentz Hanson. As someone with a history of mental illness in her family, I am a big advocate for getting help when you need it and relying on the love and friendship of others to get you through your day. Something Beautiful deals with teenage depression and it looks like an amazing read. I personally will be adding it to my TBR pile. If you’re interested in seeing what it has to offer, look below for an excerpt and a giveaway for paperback copies and book swag. You’ll also find links to buy the novel.

Something Beautiful
Amanda Gernentz Hanson
Published by: Pen Name Publishing
Publication date: June 27th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Cordelia and Declan have been best friends since they were three years old. By the time they hit middle school, Cordelia—Cord, to Declan—is already feeling the blackness in her life as depression takes hold. Their mutual attraction to each other leads to a serious high school relationship, one with their foundation of friendship at the forefront. Cordelia seems to have her mental health under control. All appears to be well.

However, when Declan starts to accept his own fluid sexuality, it sets something in motion in their lives that is both beautiful and tragic as they learn to love each other for who they are.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

EXCERPT:

Chapter 1—Now
October 2014

“Fresh off of her book tour, I have here an advocate who is actively involved in fighting inequality in her daily life. I give you, Cordelia Quinn!” The rally organizer steps aside, and I can finally see the crowd. I wave, and the rally organizer gives me a dazzling smile before she continues. “Cordelia Quinn is the bestselling author of The Yellow Wood, a coming-of-age story about a boy and a girl who are best friends as children but choose different paths as adults and then come together later in life. She is also an award-winning screenwriter and one of the most outspoken LGBTQ allies in publishing. Please join me in welcoming her to the podium!” The crowd breaks into thunderous applause that echoes through the cold air, and a smile pulls at the corners of my mouth.

I can’t lie—I’m nervous. I’m not good at hiding my emotions, so I’m afraid that people might be able to tell. I hate crowds, and I hate public speaking. I’ve managed to avoid it ever since I spoke at high school graduation.

“Hello, Topeka,” I begin. My voice is shaking. God, I hope no one notices.

The crowd is rumbling below me, waiting for me to say something good. I’m not even sure I have anything good to say. I’m so bad at this. But I’ve learned that being honest is usually the best way to go, so I decide to veer away from my prepared speech and try for candor.

“I’m going to admit something to you,” I say, gripping the sides of the podium to keep my hands from trembling. I can’t be trusted to hold papers or they’ll be shaking so much that I can’t read them. “I’m not a fan of public speaking, and I don’t usually speak at rallies like this one. But this issue… it’s really important to me. Those of you who have read my book know that. So, when my publicist asked me to come here and talk to you, I couldn’t really turn her down.”

The crowd cheers, and I smile and take a deep breath. With each breath, I feel more at ease, more comfortable speaking up here in front of everyone. I close my eyes for a second, trying to center myself. I see my children’s faces, and my grin widens.

“Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say,” I continue, gaining confidence. “I believe in equality. I believe in love. And I believe that the government should not tell us who we are allowed to love and marry.” At this, all I can think about are the people I left at home—the people who I love, the person I married. I’m lucky. I’ve never had to fight for those rights. “The politicians who are fighting against marriage equality are all active in their conservative churches—well, ladies and gentlemen, I find two issues with that. First, this country was founded on the separation of church and state—it’s in the First Amendment of the Constitution. What ever happened to that?”

I’m on a roll now. My hands have stopped shaking and everything.

“And second, marriage isn’t just about love. Anyone who has made that kind of commitment to someone can tell you that. There are legal rights that come with marriage that should be available to everyone, no matter who they love!”

I can’t help it. I start looking for him. He’s here. I can feel it.

And then I see him, and my face breaks open into the giddy sort of smile I wish I could contain. I knew he’d come. We’ve been apart for weeks now while I’ve been on my book tour, and I’ve missed him so much. Almost as much as I’ve missed the kids. God, I wish they were here with me.

As I make eye contact with him, an idea strikes. I decide to roll with it. “I’m very pleased to tell you that the person who inspired my book is with us tonight. I’d like to call him up here, so that you can meet the first man I ever loved—Declan MacLeod. Come up here, Dec!”

People turn to look at him as he shakes his head and starts moving toward me. I can nearly feel my body vibrating. I can’t wait to be next to him again, to feel his warm hand in mine. My smile is so big it feels like it’s going to split my face in two.

“I’m going to kill you,” he whispers in my ear as he wraps his arms around me. I want him to hold me forever, to never let go of me, to keep me safe and warm wrapped in his strong arms. But we’re in front of all of these people. He has to let go.

“No, you’re not,” I murmur back. “You’re better at this stuff than I am. Tell them something. Anything.” He starts chewing on his bottom lip as he thinks, and I throw him a sharp look. I’ve been on him about that since high school, but he always slips back into the old habit when we’re apart.

He makes his way to the podium and clears his throat. “Hello,” he starts as he waves at the crowd. “I had no idea that I was going to be speaking here tonight, so I apologize if what I say doesn’t make any sense.” He takes a deep breath and glances back at me. “As Cordelia mentioned, I’m Declan MacLeod. I grew up across the street from her in Hamden, Connecticut. Now, I spend most of my time in New York, performing on Broadway.”
The crowd is hypnotized, and I don’t blame them. I’ve been told that, together, Dec and I are hypnotic. We have an energy. I’m not sure I agree—I think he’s the one who radiates energy and charisma, whose skin feels electrifying, no matter how many times I touch it.

As I watch him look out into the crowd, I know one thing—he’s everything. He’s my reason, my why. He’s it for me. I’d be nothing without him.

Author Bio:

Amanda Gernentz Hanson has been writing stories since the third grade, when she entered a five-page story about talking dogs into a local youth arts contest. She is an instructional designer by day and an everything else by night. Amanda is a proud Latina who earned her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Hope College and her Master’s degree in Technical Communication from Minnesota State University. You can find her on the internet at browneyedtwentysomething.com, diverseladybookproject.tumblr.com, and on Twitter and Instagram @amandamariegh. If you see her in the wild, she probably has a book in her purse.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter


GIVEAWAY!

There are three copies of Something Beautiful up for grabs as well as some awesome book swag. Click below to enter with Rafflecopter! Contest ends June 29.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Secrets in the Snow by Michaela MacColl

Book Review: ‘Secrets in the Snow’ by Michaela MacColl

I love a good historical novel with romance or mystery thrown into the mix, so I thought Secrets in the Snow by Michaela MacColl would be an ideal read for me. While the first 80% of the novel was wonderful, throwing too much in at the end of the book ruined it for me.

This book uses Jane Austen as a fictional character, exploring her family and love life. Her mother wants to find her a husband, but Jane refuses to lower her standards. She wants a man who will love her for all of her traits including her strong mind and need to write. When she meets Mr. Tom Lefroy, he’s arrogant and rude. However, as they get to know one another, they come to appreciate each other’s quirks. Could this possibly be love? When someone is murdered on the parsonage grounds, will the resolution push Jane and Tom apart?

I found Jane to be an interesting and intelligent character for most of the novel. Her love story with Tom wasn’t instantaneous which made it believable. I was thoroughly enjoying myself up until the author threw in the dead body. Why she waited until the last 15-20% of the book is a mystery to me. It made the investigation move way too quickly and predictably. The two people who were suspected were actually the perpetrators – no red herrings. Also, the way that Jane reacted to the murderers was ridiculous. It immediately made me dislike the character I had been enjoying throughout most of the book. The murder absolutely ruined the story for me.

If you’re a historical fiction fan and you think you can overlook the poorly done mystery at the end of this novel, give it a try. Otherwise, I suggest trying a historical mystery such as the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. They’re much more complex and entertaining.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Unboxing: Woman Up Box June 2017 ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ subscription box and coupon!

Even in today’s modern society, women are judged daily. Whether it’s their fashion choices or hairstyle, decisions they make as a mom or as a corporate climber, there’s always someone there to shoot them down and diminish their happiness. Why do we let this happen? What’s worse is when the condescension comes from other women. We should know better. That’s why I was ecstatic to find a subscription box that caters to lifting women’s spirits – both your own and those around you. I sent them a proposal and they mailed me a box for review. They even included a highly generous coupon!

Woman Up Box sends items to soothe stress and inspire happiness. They have two levels of boxes you can choose from – their regular subscription with 6-8 products and their petite box with 3-4. The products range from edibles to beauty items and jewelry. Everything is made by women artisans or women-owned businesses. Along with the goodies, they include a card that encourages you to lift up other women in surprising ways. This month’s theme was ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy!’

Their shipping box is shown above. It’s very girl power and I love that they steered away from the more traditional pink. Not all women appreciate pink. Instead, they used a vibrant red on the white background, from their logo to their slogan.

Woman Up Box June 2017 Don't Worry Be Happy packaging

Upon opening the box, I was amazed at the lengths they went to in making sure everything arrived whole. Everything was wrapped in tissue paper or bubble wrap and the bottom of the box was lined with extra bubble padding. The wrap did its job and everything got here in one piece.

The inventory card and monthly lift up card were placed on top. They were very bright and cheerful, as well as easy to access. The lift up card included tips for inspiring young girls, teens, co-workers, other women you come across, as well as yourself. It had some great ideas and was one of my favorite parts of the whole box.

Woman Up Box June 2017 Don't Worry Be Happy edibles

The first items I grabbed from the box were this month’s edibles and a pocket mirror. There was a tea tin with 6 lemon mint mate teabags. The inventory card suggested trying it iced which I did. You could taste the mint and mate with a hint of lemon. Very refreshing. Also included were two lollipops. I gave the pomegranate tangerine flavor to Mike who said it was very fruity and extremely sweet. I ate the strawberry mojito flavor. To me it tasted mostly like sugar, but with a slightly fruity base. They were good, but I don’t think we’ll be using the coupon they threw in to order more.

The pocket mirror reads “Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic – Rosalind Russell.” There were a few different designs you could receive. Mine had a red diamond background. The mirror is enclosed in a plastic sleeve to keep it safe since it doesn’t close up. I love the quote and I’ll be keeping mine in my purse.

Woman Up Box June 2017 Don't Worry Be Happy necklace

The big ticket item in this box was a mandala beaded necklace made with wood and shells. According to the inventory card, it has a value of $24. It’s not my usual style, so I’m going to pass the love along to someone who can enjoy it more.

Also included were a worry stone in green parrot stone and a set of mandala coloring cards with a small box of colored pencils. The worry stone is smooth and cool. I used to carry one with me everywhere when I was a teenager. It’s a habit I’ll be glad to start again. They help to focus your mind in stressful situations.

The coloring cards were stamped on cardstock from a hand carved stamp. The design is intricate and pretty. I colored one and used it as a Father’s Day card today. Even with adult children, my parents appreciate handmade touches, so it was perfect.

Woman Up Box June 2017 Don't Worry Be Happy beauty items

Last in the package were some spa items. One is a full-size container of strawberry mint gelato foaming sugar scrub which came with a cute little wooden ice cream spoon. It smells delicious and is made with 99% natural ingredients. I used it in the tub last night and it had enough sugar to exfoliate without being scratchy. The lip tint is natural as well and smells wonderful. It will be easy to put on when I want a touch of color without a fully made up look.

Based on the inventory card, the full value of everything in the Woman Up Box adds up to almost $78. That’s excellent considering the full-size box only costs $49.95 with free US shipping. If you’re looking to cut costs even further, try using coupon code SUBLOVE10OFF in checkout for $10 off your first full-sized box. Or go with the petite box for $34.95. Click here to find their website.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Unboxing: DateBox Club May 2017 Puzzle War subscription box

With all the packing going on, my fiancé and I haven’t had much time for dates, so when DateBox Club sent me their May 2017 box to be reviewed, it was greatly appreciated. Mike and I have been together 8 years this month. We wanted to be able to celebrate without the hassle of going out and this gave us a way to do so. Mike was happy to see it had a puzzle theme as he enjoys jigsaw puzzles. Ready to see what was inside? Here we go.

Above, you’ll get a look at what I saw when I opened the box. DateBox Club always includes an envelope on top that has a list of instructions and goodies for the date.

DateBox Club May 2017 Puzzle War packaging

Under the envelope, everything was padded with pretty pastel blue tissue paper. There wasn’t anything breakable this month, but I’ve never known anything from this company to arrive broken.

DateBox Club May 2017 Puzzle War Instructions

Here, you’ll see what was inside the envelope. The instructions included a link to a Spotify playlist for the date which added to the romantic atmosphere. There were also two cards for an acronym game you could play with each other’s names. We ended up not playing with these yet. We’re saving them for another night.

DateBox Club May 2017 Puzzle War goodies

Here are the three main items from the box. They include a bag of gourmet caramel corn, a Simply Vanilla scented candle from Bella Lucis Soy Candles, and two jigsaw puzzles with a love theme. The caramel corn was made with sea salt that gave it the perfect mix of sweet and savory. Mike’s not big on salted sweets, so I ate this bag over several sittings by myself. We pulled out a bag of chips for him instead. The candle burns brightly and has just enough odor to scent the room without being overpowering.

DateBox Club May 2017 Puzzle War completed puzzle

The instructions gave us a choice of either racing each other by making our own individual puzzles or to complete one together. We’re not a competitive couple, so we enjoyed the slow process of cooperating to put one together. It was a lot of fun just munching and finding pieces with music and a candle going in the background. It made for a very peaceful date which is what we both needed right now. You’ll see our finished masterpiece above.

While the goodies inside might not fully add up to the cost of the box, everything included is high quality. I find that having someone else plan a monthly date night for us is worth the extra money. It also costs less than a night out and if you have kids, you don’t have to pay for a sitter. How’s that for value?

If you’re ready to sign up or are looking for more information, click here to check out their website. The subscription costs $35 plus $1.99 shipping in the USA.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Book Review: ‘Talking as Fast as I Can’ by Lauren Graham

I discovered Gilmore Girls when it was in reruns. I’ve never really been one to watch television on an appropriate timeline. So, I’ve seen a lot of episodes, enough to know I love the show, but I’ve watched them out of order. I’m currently working my way through chronologically on Netflix so I can get to the new movie length reboots.

Lauren Graham has always seemed to be a down-to-earth celebrity with a good sense of humor, so when I saw she wrote a Gilmore Girls based memoir, I thought it could be a lot of fun. However, while Lauren’s personality definitely shined through, I was disappointed to find that it didn’t really dive into her life or the show with any depth.

Lauren touches on a lot of subjects in her book. She lightly covers her rise to stardom, her seemingly old-fashioned views on life, her relationship with Peter Krause, and of course both versions of the hit show. However, she seems to whitewash everything. We don’t get anything more than surface deep. When reviewing the ‘90s run of the show, she sticks with hairstyles and technology differences rather than stories about the making of the episodes or meaningful relationships with cast members. Even the reboot, where she pulls out journal entries, are more about who stopped by and were added to the extras than to anything that might add to our love of the show.

If you love Lauren, this might be worth a read. Her quirky personality and ability to make you laugh are there. However, if you were looking for more of a history of the show or her personal life, this isn’t it.

3 out of 5 stars

Dead Souls by J. Lincoln Fenn

Book Review: ‘Dead Souls’ by J. Lincoln Fenn

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a horror novel. I love them but have to be in the right mood to read them. I was given a copy of J. Lincoln Fenn’s Dead Souls for review and I found it spine-tingling and twisted.

Fiona suspects her long-time boyfriend is cheating on her. While nursing her wounds in a bar, she’s approached by a man who claims to be the devil. He offers her a wish in exchange for her soul. Not taking him seriously, she wishes for invisibility to spy on her lover. When she wakes up the next morning owing the devil a favor to be fulfilled whenever he sees fit, she knows she’s in trouble. She joins a support group of other dead souls and watches in horror as their favors are called in. Can Fiona find a way out of the deal before it’s too late?

While Fiona wasn’t the most likable of characters, the story was engaging and fun to read. It was full of twists and turns from start to disturbing finish, and I never saw them coming. Certain scenes were ghoulishly macabre and the whole story had dark undertones. I had an absolute need to keep reading and find out what happened next. The story was believable which made it horrifying.

If you like your supernatural horror novels with a down to earth feel, this is the read for you. Fenn has a way of creating a world that fits so well inside our own that we believe it to be true.

4 out of 5 stars

The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

Book Review: ‘The Sandcastle Empire’ by Kayla Olson

Last week, HarperTeen Publishing released their new dystopian thriller, The Sandcastle Empire, by Kayla Olson. The book’s realistic premise is haunting and the plot always stays one step ahead of the reader.

Eden is a member of the privileged class, but the world has changed. The lower class has risen and taken over, placing rich members of society in gulag camps under firm and tyrannical rule. Escaping a massacre, Eden and three other girls escape and take a boat in search of a rumored sanctuary island. When they find it, nothing is as it seems. When one of her friends goes missing, Eden discovers this island holds secrets that may be more deadly than what they left behind.

I enjoy a good dystopian story, but I often find myself disappointed by new additions to the genre. Not so with this book. It kept me reading. I had to know what would happen next. It’s mix of romance, thrills and betrayal made for an excellent read. You didn’t know who you could trust and who was going to turn on their friends. While I figured out Eden’s father’s fate from the beginning, the rest of the book had me guessing.

If you love dystopian reads or quests across dangerous seemingly-deserted islands, this book should be your next summer read. This standalone story is rich and complex, leaving me stunned that this is simply Olson’s debut. I expect to see even greater tales from her in the future.

4.5 out of 5 stars