Book Review: The American Heiress

Hello!  Today I am here with the last of April's book reviews to talk about a book that I kinda didn't really like.  Honestly, though, I don't feel too bad doing a negative review since I never do them.  Anyway, let's get to the book.  Hopefully I won't get too rant-y.

Title: The American Heiress

Author: Daisy Goodwin

Publisher/Price: St. Martin's Griffin / $9.53 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Historical Romance

Number of pages: 496

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Overview: Be careful what you wish for. Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts’, suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage. 

My thoughts: So, I don't read much from the historical romance genre.  I tend to go for more historical fiction with a tiny bit of romance type stuff, and this book reminded me why.  My thoughts can be quite easily summed up: ugh.  I don't regret buying it – it was like 50 cents at a library book sale – and I don't really regret reading it, if only because it took so little time and reminded me why I don't read historical romance.  But I did read it, and I promised to review it, so prepare yourselves for a slightly rant-y, mostly negative review.  

I wasn't expecting much at all going into this, but I wasn't expecting to dislike it as much as I did.  However, before I go into all of that, I will say that this book is a page-turner, and was kind of hard to put down, and I finished it pretty quickly (which did not surprise me).  But it did keep me interested and hooked (albeit annoyed) through the end – I will give it that.  Now we'd better just dive in, or this will take forever.

First of all, I will admit that I enjoyed this book kind of a lot right up until she met the duke guy.  He was a jerk – but I'm getting ahead of myself.  I enjoyed the main character, Cora, and thought she was pretty cool.  She was in America, waiting for the rest of her life to unfold (which hinged on her getting hitched to a rich dude with a title), and she was a bit sassy and fairly unconventional for her time and place in history – though she retained her ridiculous obsession with vast amounts of ridiculous-sounding clothing.  She was filthy rich throughout the book – like the richest girl in New York City, and that's saying a lot for turn of the twentieth century NYC high society – and I got a little tired of hearing about her clothes.  Like come on, already!  But I enjoyed her character up until she met the duke and actually kind of liked her.  But now I don't because of what happened after she met the duke.  (FYI, he ruined everything)  Also, before we move on, I want to make the point that I wouldn't have and still wouldn't like to read a book all about Cora only – she was far too annoying and spoiled (even when I did like her) – to endure an entire novel solely about her.

And then, because I was destined not to like this book, we meet the duke.  From the outset, this guy just sends off so many bells and whistles and alarms and red lights and all of that.  He's that weird/creepy/totally untrustworthy combination of mysterious and moody and secretive and rich and sensitive and intriguing and he also has a title, so of course our "not totally awful" heroine has to go and fall in love with him because yeah.  And then he proceeds to ruin the rest of the book.  Basically.  But seriously, any sensible girl without a mother who wants nothing more in life than for her daughter to become the richest girl ever with a title so she can live vicariously through her, would turn and run.  But alas, our heroine is not sensible and her mom doesn't actually care about Cora at all, but about what Cora could be and how that would make her mother look.  If you haven't figured it out already, Cora has a very messed up family situation.  But that doesn't excuse her lack of sensibility.  

Okay, so let's move onto the duke and why he ruined everything.  Well, if all the attributes of him I mentioned earlier don't convince you of that, I will proceed to talk you through all of the ways.

First of all, he is the most hormonal man I have ever met in fiction or in real life.  Ever.  Like, what is even happening?  He has mood swings like a woman and he is ridiculously sensitive.  Whenever Cora tried to do something nice for him, he would inevitably be crazy offended because she overlooked or didn't know about some British tradition or something.  That got suuuuuper old.  Dude, she is a rich American girl who is just trying to be kind and doesn't know the first thing about British tradition – give her a break.  He would be all moody and distant and cold for a few days after each incident and then come back and be all like in love with Cora and brush it off before she offended him again.  He reminded me of a whiny two-year-old.  Second, right from the beginning of their relationship, there was such a heavy hinting that he had some "dark secret" that you end up expecting it to be a huge thing that totally makes sense of his total awfulness – except that it doesn't.  The ending was kind of a sad reward for dealing with him the entire book.  I wanted it to redeem him somehow, but it didn't really.  It just made him seem more pathetic.  

Problem #3 that the duke caused has to be the ruining of Cora's character, because he did that too.  Very soon after their marriage, she starts catering to him like I couldn't believe.  She is in love with him, even if he's not in love with her (he totally married her for money, even though he claimed he didn't – we aren't dumb), and so she gives up her independence and her happiness because she feels like she's not making him happy or that he has these dark secrets and because he always seems to be angry with her.  And eventually, the Cora we met in New York fades away and she becomes super uninteresting and pathetic and we kind of stop caring about her because we can't pity her or empathize with her.  By the end of the book, I no longer cared what happened to her.  And so the duke ruins the one character I actually cared about.  Which is a shame, because if she had retained her strong personality and individuality, I would have disliked this book less.  

Also, I already talked about their relationship a little bit, but by halfway through the book, I was so tired of the back and forth between them.  The totally in love parts, and then a lot of selfishness, pride, and non-openness.  And I'm sorry, but not only will those things ruin a marriage, but no one wants to read about that.  Sorry.  

Finally, I want to touch on the writing.  I felt like the writing was appropriate for the book.  It wasn't anything special or noteworthy, but it wasn't bad and I even noticed some really nice phrases and descriptions and metaphors here and there.  Don't read this book for the writing, but it wasn't bad at all.  

And one more thing.  If you are a fan of historical romance, and enjoy this time period (there are quite a few period bits in here if you care to look) and don't mind guys who are annoying, then this might just be the book for you.  It's a crazy-easy read: really light and fluffy (which is not my thing at all), but if that's your thing or you're on the hunt for a fluffy book, then you might just like this one.  It would probably make a good beach read because it's a page-turner and because it takes minimal brain power.

And I could say a lot more about this book, but I won't because this is very long and I have already ranted a lot.

Overall, this book wasn't horrible, I just didn't enjoy the characters and they got pretty annoying.  But hey, it might just be the book for you.  And I totally think this author knows how to write historical romance – I don't doubt that – but this just wasn't the book (or the genre) for me.  

And that concludes this month's reviews!  Stay tuned for a slightly different posting routine for May and thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See

So first, let me just apologize for not posting last week when I said I thought I'd be able to.  As I said earlier, we performed our play last week and so I was busy every evening last week and worked, and there was just no time for blogging.  And over the weekend, I did stuff too, and I just kind of took a break from writing!  But I am back with my review of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE – or the most hyped historical novel of last year.  I kind of have mixed feelings about it, but I'll talk about that in the review.

Title: All The Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Publisher/Price: Scribner / $15.26 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Historical Fiction

Number of pages: 531

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overview: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.  (via Amazon)

My thoughts: I picked this book up in Barnes & Noble last year due to all the hype and because the beautiful cover was staring me in the face and begging me to buy it, and so I did.  It took me a while to read this book, or maybe I should say longer than usual, which is funny because lots of people said that it went pretty quickly for them due to the short chapters.  Probably about a quarter of the way through it, I started doubting the hype – yeah, the writing was good, but I didn't see what ALL of the fuss was about, because there was a lot of it.  But I continued reading it and I gradually fell more in love with the characters and the writing and the setting.  Let's talk about some of those things.

First of all, the characters.  I really enjoyed Marie-Laure's character.  By the end of the book, I felt like I could relate to her in a way I never thought I could relate to a blind girl.  But reading about her helped me understand how she felt and what it must have been like not to see, and I really applaud the author for that.  I definitely respect a book when I can connect with the characters.  I definitely enjoyed Marie-Laure's character more than Werner, and that is probably due to the fact that she is a girl and I could relate better, but also, Werner's part of the narrative was just really painful and hopeless.  The Hitler Youth was an absolutely awful thing, the way they basically turned the boys into animals, their only goal to become strong enough to fight.  I still really connected with him, though, and understood his personality by the end of the book.  Overall, I am very impressed by the characters and enjoyed them.  They will stick with me for a long time.  

Okay, now let's talk setting.  I loved the setting in this book.  I love that we were right in the thick of it – wartime France and Germany.  Those places, and more specifically, the specific cities where the characters were placed seemed very real and tangible.  I really enjoyed that.  Also, I love that Mari-Laure's father made her models of the cities they were in – that was so so cool.  I totally enjoyed her relationship with her father and basically enjoyed everything from her perspective.  

Before we move onto the writing, I want to mention a couple other things.  First of all, I really liked the subplot of the stone that was supposedly cursed and the German dude searching for it throughout the book.  I loved that and found it very interesting.  

Let's talk about the writing now.  I would say that was the most remarkable part about this book for me.  The writing was really unique and beautiful.  I loved how the chapters were so short – I don't think that detracted from the book in any way, and I think it allowed the writing to shine.  The writing was poetic and full of metaphors, but not too poetic or metaphorical so that it made the story seem surreal.  I feel like sometimes that sort of writing makes the story seem unrealistic or surreal – in fact I just read a book like that – but in this case, the writing was absolutely perfect for the story.  Poetic enough to be memorable and enhance the story, but not to detract from it.  Doerr has an amazing command of language and metaphors and that really came out in this book.  

Okay, so I've talked about the reasons I liked this book, but I also want to talk about the reason it didn't get 5 stars from me.  I honestly couldn't quite decide why I didn't absolutely love it, but I'll attempt to explain my (somewhat fuzzy) thoughts.  First, this book was so hyped that I was expecting something amazing.  But I forget that my reading preferences and my opinions of what is good are not going to line up with all the other readers out there.  Duh, I guess, but I was definitely expecting so much going into this book, and it didn't quite live up to it and I'm not exactly sure why or in what way I was disappointed.  Dunno.  Second, I was expecting the story to speak to me more than it did.  I appreciated the theme of the goodness and kindness of people even during really awful circumstances, but no big theme really stuck out to me or touched me.  And I was hoping for that, expecting that.  So honestly, when it comes to the "message" of the book or how it spoke to me, I'm kinda just like "meh."  And I know that's totally not a popular opinion, but it's how I really feel.  I was expecting to feel more with this book, other than really sad most of the way through.  When I think about it now, I could probably pull a lot more from it – maybe?  As in the title kind of makes sense if I think about it real hard, but I wanted this book to speak to me – I wanted to connect with the characters and with the story more deeply than I did.  And I'm not saying that the books I read have to have super heavy or obvious themes that you can't possibly miss – I'm not saying that.  But this book, at the time I read it just didn't even make me want to think about it or reread it for hopes of getting more out of it.  

With that said, I don't mean to say that I didn't enjoy this book or that I regret buying it or reading it, or that I won't ever read it again.  I can see myself rereading it in a year or so, and I would recommend it if someone is looking for a good historical fiction book set in WWII.  It had super interesting and new-to-me perspectives and the writing was absolutely perfect.  I enjoyed the characters and really came to empathize with them.  It was even a moving book – it was tragic and depressing and a hard look at war and its effects on young people.  But in my case, it just didn't speak to me or move me like I was hoping it would.  

Overall, a good book with exceptional writing and characters, a really good look at the history of the time, but I would probably recommend other historical novels before I recommended this one.  The writing blew me away though, and I will definitely try to pick up more of Anthony Doerr's work in the future.

And that is all for my review of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr!  Some mixed feelings, but I'm glad I read it.  Thanks for reading and I be back later this week with my last review of the month.  xo, Ella 


This Girl Likes #13

There are seriously, so many things that have made me happy this week.  So many.  We'd better get started.

First off, I read a poetry collection this week!  A girl I've been following on Instagram for a while, Gaby Compr├ęs, recently released her first collection of poems – A Song of Bravery – as an ebook on Amazon.  And let me just say, it may have made me tear up while reading it at work this week.  Her words are so good.  So true.  So full of hope and love and bravery.  And they beat with God's heart.  I am such a fan of people making art and doing awesome things for the glory of God, and Gaby is such a beautiful example of that.  She just has a beautiful heart.  Through this week, she has her collection on Amazon for free!  There are 73 poems, and they are all just beautiful.  You need to check it out.  Also check out Gaby's blog here and her Instagram account is beautiful!

Second, if you didn't notice from the many references I made to her blog in my book haul post earlier this week, I've been really enjoying Anne's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy.  I appreciate the blend of interesting topics she talks about on her blog, and I'm a big fan of the kinds of books she reads.   There have been a couple books I've bought either on her recommendation, or she simply gave me more reasons to check a book out, and I'm excited to see if I like them as much as she did.   Definitely go check her blog out.  

Two movie trailers came out this week that made me suuuuper happy.  The first one was the trailer for Ant-Man, another Marvel movie coming out this year.  The trailer looks awesome and I was thrilled to see that Evangeline Lily (who played Tauriel in The Hobbit) is going to be starring.  I am really excited to see that movie.  It looks so cool.  

And then, today, Thursday, the second teaser trailer for the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens came out!  AHHHHH!!! *Cue fangirling* I am so excited.  Once again, it looks so awesome, and I am really hoping, along with all the other female Star Wars nerds, that that girl is a kick-butt Jedi.  I want that really bad.  My Twitter feed completely blew up today over that thing, and for a good reason.  I cannot wait for The Incomparable podcast to do like a 3-hour episode on the teaser.  Here's the trailer, if for some crazy reason you have not seen it, or would like to re-watch it.  That last bit with Han and Chewie got me all like: *Aww* *Sniff, sniff* *I missed them so much* *Harrison Ford!!!!* All the heart eyes to that dude.  He's so cool.  Okay, I'm done now.

I seriously want to read ALL the books right now.  There are so many I want to read.  Not to mention the piles on my desk I just bought that I have to read.  Ugh, I think I need to just pause real life right now.  Hopefully summer will slow down and I can get some serious reading done.  Hopefully?

Finally, to wrap this up, I wanted to say that I will do my absolute best to get a book review up next week, but I am participating in a play, and we have tons of practices and three rehearsals next week, and so I might not be able to squeeze blogging in.  I will try to write a review up this weekend, but I wanted to apologize ahead in case I don't.

Thanks for reading, and I will (hopefully) be back next week with a review of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE.  xo, Ella


April 2015 Book Haul

So I bought some books this month.  Yup.  I don't usually buy a bunch of books all at once, but this month I had my eye on some classic editions I wanted to start collecting, and then I went to Cincinnati and bought some books, and it just happened.  Anyway, I thought it would be kind of fun to do a post in which I show the books I've gotten recently and what made me pick each one up.  It should be fun.  I'm not sharing these in order of how I purchased them, btw.  Click on title to purchase.
Emma: A Modern Retelling – I had my eye on this book for a few days before we headed to Cincinnati, so when I spotted it in Barnes & Noble, I knew it had to be mine.  I'm wanting to read a wider variety of books right now, and since I've never read a retelling of a classic, I decided to get this one.  And this time I just went for it, basically because it's cute.  Also, this post by Anne over at Modern Mrs. Darcy makes me even more excited to read it. 

The Girl You Left Behind – The Nightingale has been super hyped recently, and I wanted to check it out, mostly because I'd heard lots about it and because it's set during a world war, but then I read this, and it changed my mind.  Based on Anne's recommendation, I decided to pick up Jojo Moyes's book set in WWI.  It's super pretty and I'm excited to read it.  I've heard a lot of good stuff about her.

Fahrenheit 451 – I've been wanting to pick up this classic ever since I heard it described as being something similar to George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984.  I am a big fan of dystopian novels with a profound message, and this one involves book censorship or book burning or something like that.  And I am really super interested in that stuff.  I can't wait to read it.  Also, nice cover!

Persuasion – I ordered this one from Amazon because I found an edition of Austen's books that I absolutely love – it's the Vintage Classics edition from Random House, I think – and since I hadn't read this one, I decided to try it out.  And guys, I am such a fan.  I officially have a really favorite favorite Austen novel.  I plan to do a mini review of it when I get a chance, so I won't say anything else.  Also, this edition is beautiful and I want to get them ALL. 
Bringing Narnia Home – This was the last book I got from Barnes & Noble.  I had heard about this book, and two factors made me pick it up without hesitation.  First of all, it's by Devin Brown, who I absolutely love.  He wrote Hobbit Lessons, which I reviewed last year on the blog and really enjoyed.  Second, it's about Narnia, so duh.  I will read any and every book that takes a deeper look into one of my favorite series of all time.  There is so much to learn from Lewis's series and I have no doubt that Brown will do an excellent job.  Excited to read this one.
And finally, the Penguin English Library Classics I ordered from The Book Depository.  Ever since I laid eyes on this beautiful edition I wanted to get some of them.  Hopefully I'll get around to reviewing these sometime.

Hard Times – When I ordered these classics, I was on the hunt for shorter books, and since it's my goal to get over my Dickens intimidation thing, I thought I'd pick up Hard Times.  It's rather short for a Dickens novel, and it sounds pretty interesting.

North and South – I am the biggest fan of the BBC miniseries based on this book.  I watched it before I knew it was a book, and absolutely adored it.  Definitely among my top period dramas ever.  Anyway, I love the story and have heard a lot of great things about the book, so I am excited to read this one.

A Room With a View – This is a pretty short book, and I've heard awesome things about it, and it's a romance, which I don't read a ton of, and so I'm excited about this one too!

The Moonstone – I haven't read a lot of classic mysteries, except for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (all the heart-eyes) and this one is supposed to be the precursor to the mystery novel, and so how could I not?  It sounds absolutely fascinating and right up my street. 

Here are some cover shots because why not?  Click on the collage to enlarge. 
And that wraps my book haul!  Don't expect these every month or anything like that – now I'm kinda stressed out by all the books I want to read!  Seriously, though, I want to read ALL the books.  Like, can I pause real life for a while?  No?  Oh well.  Anyway, I am super excited to get to these in the near future and hopefully I will be able to do reviews or mini reviews of most of them. 

Thanks so much for reading and I will be back tomorrow to talk stuff I've been loving!  xo, Ella

P.S. – Let's all just sit back and marvel at the fact that except for that classic mystery, there are no mysteries in this haul!  What is happening to me? 


Book Buying Habits – (Or How I Don't Blow My Paycheck on Books)

Hello and happy Tuesday!  I am here to talk about buying books.  Which is funny because I am planning on sharing the books I've purchased recently sometime this week.  But I thought I would talk about how I decide which books to buy and how I manage to leave money for other important stuff – like clothes.  

  • I use my library a ton.  If I want new stuff to read, I go to the library before anything else.  A good chunk of the stuff I read is from the library.  Now if I read a book and it blows me away or read a series that is really good, I will then go and buy it/them from Barnes & Noble or put it on my wishlist.  I think this is a really awesome way to ensure that I don't either spend waaaay too much money or buy stuff I don't end up liking.
  • When I do go book shopping or spend time in Barnes & Noble, I give myself rather flexible restraints.  Basically, I tell myself that if I have read a book and love it and know that I'll read it again, or if it is a classic, or if I have heard lots of good things about it, I'll buy it, no questions asked.  Also, I will always buy nonfiction if it interests me.  If it sounds the least bit interesting or I have heard any good things about it, I always buy it.  A couple nonfiction books have made it to my favorite books list because I bought them on a whim.  These basic guidelines help keep me in check, but I also feel free to stretch them sometimes.
  • On that note, I have bought fiction books from the bookstore without reading them first or hearing much about them and been disappointed.  Last year, I picked up a mystery from the bookstore that was part of a fairly well-liked series and regretted it.  It wasn't terrible, but had I read it first, I wouldn't have picked it up.  There are similar instances that inspired me to set myself guidelines.  
  • But as I said, I will always buy classics and books I've heard a lot about.  I bought All The Light We Cannot See without having read it and I was really glad I did it.  I've bought lots of fiction books that I bought because I heard good things about them and loved them.  
  • So while I do break my own rules pretty frequently when it comes to buying books, I mostly try to stick to those guidelines and I've maintained a pretty good relationship with book buying in general of late.  
And those are some of my guidelines when it comes to buying books!  I didn't mention that I prefer to buy books in bookstores, but you can check my Twitter account on that, as I went on a bit of a rant on that topic last week.  Thanks for reading, and I will be back to share some books I've purchased recently later this week.  xo, Ella

*Background artwork by Stanford Kay.


This Girl Likes #12

It feels like I haven't done one of these posts in a long time, and so I am excited today to share some of the things I've been enjoying over the last couple weeks!

Lately I have been in full-on obsession with book editions, specifically anything Penguin.  I plan on doing a post devoted to editions I want to collect, but for now, I'll just share the one I hope to get a few books from this week.
This edition is the Penguin English Library and it is beautiful.  The books are paperback and they have decorated end papers and French flaps.  I love the spines and the covers, and I have ordered a few – hopefully they'll get here this week.

I really enjoyed this post about branching out when reading.  It's one of my goals reading-wise this year, and I'm going to try some of these suggestions out.

I love this comic about apostrophe usage!  It's exaggerated, of course, but that's exactly how I feel about it!

This is a fairly short post this week, as I'm short on time, but I will be back next week to show the books I bought, hopefully!  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


Classics TBR (Or Books I'm Embarassed I Haven't Read Yet)

I have been super into classics lately – like, it's an obsession at the moment, and I thought I would share the ones I want to get to next (the ones I'll read after all the books residing in piles in my room right now).  But hey, it's called a TBR* for a reason.
I've always been intimidated by Charles Dickens' books.  I love A Tale of Two Cities, which you will know if you've been around here for a while, but I tried reading David Copperfield in middle school, and I don't recall the experience fondly.  This year, though, I want to change that and read Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.  Oliver Twist because it's not too long and Great Expectations because I've heard so much about it.

Okay, so this is the book I'm super embarrassed I have not read.  The Hobbit.  I've seen the movies, but the book has never appealed to me because it is a children's story and because it's about a treasure hunt, which sounds kind of dumb compared to the epic tale of The Lord of the Rings – like, they're saving the world!  But I definitely do want to read it, just because I think it's essential reading for a book lover/Tolkien fan.  Obvs.
Confession: I really don't want to read Moby Dick.  I absolutely abhor anything that has to do with deep-sea, the ocean, fish, or generally large bodies of water.  But I feel like I need to read this one, just because it is such a classic.  Face your fears, Ella.

I don't know much about The Catcher in the Rye, but again, another book I feel like I should probably read because it's a classic.  So yeah...

I haven't read anything by John Steinbeck, but this week I went to the library and picked up Cannery Row by him.  I was looking for shorter books, especially classics, that I could whip out in very little time and that one was less than two hundred pages.  Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath are pretty big books, but I'm excited to read Cannery Row, and I'll hopefully get to those longer ones later this year. 
Les Mis is one of those super daunting humongous books that I'm afraid I'll start and never finish.  I'm hoping it might be something similar (maybe) to A Tale of Two Cities, but we shall see.  I would like to get to that one this year.

I am a huge fan of George Orwell's dystopian books: Animal Farm and 1984, and I've heard that Fahrenheit 451 is also a dystopian book about a future in which something happens with books (like, they are destroyed maybe?) and I love those kinds of books, so hopefully I'll get to read this one.

And finally, another chunker of a book.  Vanity Fair is gigantic, but I want to read it because it sounds really interesting and also because the cover.  It's too pretty.

And those are the classics on my TBR for this year!  I have no idea if I'll be able to get to all of these in the coming months, but I'd like to try.  Thanks so much for reading and I will be back on Friday to talk about stuff I've been enjoying around the web.  xo, Ella

Also, as a sidenote, if you are wondering, the covers of Great Expectations, Moby Dick, Les Mis, and Vanity Fair I found are from the Penguin Hardcover Classics edition, and they are beautiful.  Here is the link to the page on the Penguin site.  I know you can get quite a few of them through Amazon, and I'm sure the Book Depository would have them, too. 

*For those of you who don't know, TBR stands for to-be-read.  So when someone talks about their TBR, they are talking about the books they have not read yet (both owned and not owned).  


Mini Book Reviews // March Library Reads

Happy Monday!  I hope you had a great Easter weekend – I sure did!  It feels like I just did one of these posts, but as it's really been a whole 'nother month since I did it last, I guess it's time again!

I am here today to do mini reviews on the books I picked up from the library last month for the Snagged @ The Library Challenge.  Reading three library books a month keeps me on track for my target number of 36.  I am talking about two today because one of the books I reviewed in full last month counted towards the three since it was a library book.  In case you missed it, that review is here.  You can read last month's mini reviews here.  Let's get into the books!
A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King – Another month, another Mary Russell book.  This one was so good.  I absolutely loved it.  I think it's my second favorite one so far in the series, right after A Monstrous Regiment of Women.  I don't have a single complaint about it.  This book comes directly after A Monstrous Regiment, so Holmes and Russell are getting used to being married, and it is delightful.  This series is laced with very subtle romantic bits, and I don't think I would want a romance involving Sherlock Holmes any different.

I don't usually love the mysteries in King's books – I am more in for the relationships and characters, but I absolutely loved the mystery in this one.  It requires Holmes and Russell wearing disguises and infiltrating households as people they aren't, and that was so much fun.  We also get to see Russell's seriously awesome detecting skills in this one.  She is brilliant.  And hilarious.  There was one point when I was reading this at work on a slow day, and I just died laughing.  A particular young man was attempting to make advances with Russell, and she "accidentally"  puts him out of commission.  It was the best thing ever.  I kept busting up every time I thought of it the rest of the day.  I wrote down while reading this that I was absolutely relishing this book.  It was so good.  But seriously, the mystery in this book was so good and I loved the way it wrapped up.  Ugh, I can't even.  It was so great.

A Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – Now, I read most of this book on the way down to Arkansas in a bus filled with a ton of noise, listening to music to block some of it out, wedged between my dad and brother all the way in the back, and so I didn't take a lot of notes, and basically just "experienced" the book, if that makes sense.  That said, this might not be that long and detailed, but I'll do my best.  When I started this book, I wasn't sure I would like it as much as The Secret Keeper (which I talked about here), because I didn't connect with the main character, Cassandra, who was the grandaughter in present day, but I was kind of wrong.  This book was amazing.  Kind of blew-my-mind-amazing.  It had a very magical property that The Secret Keeper didn't have.  The plot was complex and intricate, and I would have to stop every other chapter or so and untangle what was going on, which just added to the enchanted feeling.

I'll attempt to explain the plot... which may just end up being suuuper confusing.  The main character is named Cassandra, and she is the granddaughter of a woman named Nell.  Now Nell has a secret, but unlike in The Secret Keeper, she died before she can tell Cassandra.  Nell is an orphan.  Her "parents" weren't her biological family – they found her at a ship dock as a little girl, with just a suitcase all alone – and brought her home and raised her as their own.  When Nell was nearly twenty, her father told her the truth, and it shattered her life.  She grew distant from her sisters and parents, and began to try untangle the truth of her origins and real family.  She has distant memories of The Authoress, a mysterious woman who played games with her, but on the ship that brought her to that dock where she was forsaken, she had suffered from an illness that wiped her memory.  When Cassandra learns that her grandmother had purchased an old cottage in England, she travels there after Nell's death to try and uncover more clues to her grandmother's secret.  She learns that her grandmother descended from an old Tudor family.  She learns of The Authoress, the strange woman who was tied inextricably into Nell's life and who wrote fairy tales inspired by her own messy life and the lives of others.  Cassandra discovers not only uncovers her grandmother's past and secret, but she finds the purpose she desires for her own life in that old cottage down by the sea encircled by the garden that had played such a big part in the story of her grandmother.  Also, I won't give anything away, but there is a wonderful spoiler-y bit that I totally guessed ahead of the book, but that in no way made me like it less.  It's so good.

This book was amazing.  It was beautiful, but some really hard, painful things happened to the people in this story.  The story was twisted and complex and brilliant.  The complexity only added to the magic of the story.  The format was similar to The Secret Keeper, but different as well.  Once again, there are three different story lines going – the story line of Nell's mother and Eliza, The Authoress, best-of-friends turned enemies.  It follows the storyline of Nell all grown up, trying to make out where she came from – why she was left at the dock all alone – who her parents were.  And it follows Cassandra's story – her journey to the Cornish coastline to her grandmother's cottage and the old tangled garden, and her journey to her true home.  Morton also includes several of Eliza's fairy tales, beautiful stories of loss and magic and love.  Those were beautiful and one of my favorite parts.

Once again, Morton shows her talents as a brilliant storyteller – weaving stories and lives and emotions together into one beautiful sweeping tale.  I absolutely loved this book – it was not a fun read at parts and there were lots of horrible things that happened, but there was also lots of love and hope and redemption.  If you are a fan of family sagas and mysteries, then I encourage you to pick this up!  It is an absolutely beautiful story.

And those are the books I read from the library last month!  I read some awesome ones, and can't wait to continue reading from these authors.  Thanks for reading and I will be back on Wednesday for a really fun post.  xo, Ella


What I Learned Over Spring Break

I am here today to do a very unusual post for This Girl Writes.  I'm not usually one to share somewhat personal thoughts on stuff that doesn't have to do with books or the things I normally talk about in this space, but this is an exception, so I thought I'd switch it up for this Friday's post.  I was planning on just doing my typical This Girl Likes post, but I don't have a lot of material for that since I was absent from the interwebs last week, and I have a lot to say on my trip, so here you go.

This is primarily a post about what I learned from my trip to Arkansas, not really about the trip itself, but that should become more apparent.  To give a little background, I took this trip with about 60 people from my church (high schoolers, a few junior high schoolers, and parents of said kids).  We went down to Vilonia, Arkansas for a week over Bluffton's Spring Break to help with tornado relief for victims of last spring's tornado.  My church's organization (World Relief) worked closely with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those whose homes had been destroyed.  My team went on the last week of the project (World Relief is pulling out this week), and there were still lots of little things to finish up – cleaning, porches to build, some major stuff – and there have been teams down there for the past 11 weeks.  Many of the homes we worked on had been built from the ground up.  I was in a group of girls that worked on cleaning most of the week – a couple days we did several odd jobs – and it was a blast.  It was awesome getting to know everyone better and make new friendships.  I was reluctant to go on the trip because of my hectic schedule right now and other stuff, but I am beyond thrilled I went and I did not want to leave.  I love working like I did that week, and I easily could have stayed a couple more weeks.  But now that we have some background, I want to get into the other stuff, because this could get long.  This is all stuff I'm pulling from my phone, where I wrote like crazy both while down there and on the way back.
God is so big.  There are little pieces of Him everywhere.  In so many hearts, in so many places.  And it's beautiful how big He is, how lavish He is with His love.  He pours it out but it never runs out.  It never needs replenished or redistributed.  It comes and comes without end, from an eternal supply that exists like God Himself because God Himself is love.  And God won't ever end.  And I love it that God's love isn't just there in the nice, pretty places, but it's in the ugly, messy parts, too, because it is there where it is needed most.  And if there is anything that has struck me more recently, it is that idea – the idea of God's love in the mess that is our world, that is our lives.  And the fact that that love will ultimately save us.  That love will ultimately make all the ugly beautiful, make all the darkness light, turn all the pain into healing.  Because God, Who is love, loved our pain and our mess, and our darkness first.  He experienced it all.  He weeps with us in our pain.  And when we don't understand why kids don't have dads, why their lives can be so messed up by the people who are supposed to cherish them, why lives are ruined and homes are destroyed and chidren are killed by the wind, we can, we have to hold on to the fact that God is still God and God is still good.  And we don't understand why all the stuff happens, how good could ever come out of such awful situations, but one day, whether in this life or not, we will know why, and we will see the beauty that comes out of the messy, the way God has been redeeming all of out mistakes from the very beginning, how He's making it all into a masterpiece – taking all the ugly and feeling-forsaken bits and all the beautiful bits and creating beauty.  And that's beautiful.  That is what I can't wait to see.  That's what's struck me this week and the last couple months – the idea of beauty in the broken and God's love making it all right in the end.  Because God is good all the time.  When we don't believe it, don't see how anything couple work out for good.  He is there and He is good.  Because that is Who He is.  All the time.  
Sitting here on the bus, on the way back to real life, work, and cooler temperatures, my heart is full.  God filled me up this week, filled me up to overflowing.  I was once again overcome by His beauty, His love, His sovereignty.  It was awesome.  I met so many great people, got to know so many people a little better, saw a little bit of how God works through pain to accomplish good.  I saw so many people who had to become broken before they could be healed.  I got to see so many exemplary people who inspired me by their patience, their love, their humility, their willingness to help others, and their care for those around them.  Because God shows up and He shows out when His people are willing to follow Him and move for Him.  And God's presence is just as strong among people who say y'all, and have stuff in their yards, who have lost everything, who have lived in a shack for decades, and whose act of worship is as outward as it is inward as it is among good people who have jobs and houses and who go to church and use proper grammar.  Because those people who have nothing left – who realized that when they had nothing but God, He was more than enough – they have more to give than those who have everything.  And they trust God and love people because they have to trust God and they love so hard because they know in the most tangible ways how much God loves them.  Among the simple people, God can show His complexity and mystery, among the people who have nothing, God can show that He is everything.  Among the people who have suffered loss, God can show His provision.  Among the messy lives, God reveals His restoring hand.  For those whose homes were shattered into heaps of despair, God shows that He can be the only shelter they will ever need.  
Father, this week I have seen a lot of pain, a lot of destruction, a lot of hurt.  And it's ugly and it breaks my heart the loss that so many people have suffered.  But Father, there are little strands of beauty woven through the hurt.  Little specks of Your light showing through the darkness.  Bits of You.  Bits of Your love.  And there's beauty in the pain.  Light in the darkness.  Goodness in the ugly.  Because You, Father, are always good.  When the world around falls to pieces.  When the wind blows too hard and blows down lives, when there is death and abuse and loss, You. Are. Still. Good.  You are still there.  And You're weaving silently.  Weaving all the darkness and the pain and the tears with all the light.  And we don't see it now, perhaps we won't see it until we get to heaven, but more than anything else I can't wait to see the beauty You bring out of the pain and darkness in the world.  Because that is Who You are.  You are good.  All the time.  No matter what happens or how much pain fills the earth.  Because You are God.  And You are a God of redemption.  You are the God who triumphs over evil and pain and suffering.  You are the God Who will redeem all of that for Your glory and our good.  When we don't see it, when we question Your name and doubt that You could be a loving God.  You are the God of redemption Who uses a tornado for His glory.  When we can't see how, You are still God.  You are still there.    
And that isn't even all of it!  Whenever I experience something that really touches me, I cannot help but write about it – it just comes flowing out and I can't really turn it off, and I have a feeling I'm not done yet.  *Sigh* (#problemsofawriter)  Anyway, good for you if you read all of that or at least some, and now I'm going to wrap this up, because it is long enough.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


My Changing Thoughts on E-Books

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about something I have very strong thoughts on.  I used to really hate e-books.  I used to be totally opposed to the idea of them, the idea of reading a book on a device, etc.  I used to think the only right way to read a book was by holding the physical copy and flipping the pages and smelling the paper and ink.

But lately, I've kind of experienced a change of heart.  Like, e-books are so convenient!  I am often struck by the idea of how nice it would be to just continue reading a book on my phone without lugging books around wherever I go.  My phone is always with me, and the convenience of it all just really sounds appealing.  So here I am, turning over a new leaf, and considering getting into e-books.  It's spring, ya know, and I'm ready for some change.  If you have any tips, I am open to app suggestions to get me started.  I'm really excited for this new phase in my reading life!

APRIL FOOLS!!  If you know me well, you would not have fallen for that – at all.  I hope you guys had a great day and didn't get too badly pranked!  I will be back on Friday to talk about my trip to Arkansas over Spring Break, so keep an eye out for that!  xo, Ella

On the Stack // April

I know I probably say this every month, but how is it already April?  This year is going by so fast!  I had an amazing Spring Break week last week – a big group of us high schoolers from my church went down to Arkansas to work on some homes for tornado victims and it was such a great time.  I have a lot to say about it, and I may decide to write a little bit on the blog about my thoughts during and after the trip because the words just keep coming!  I literally have so much stuff written on my phone about the trip – it's crazy (#problemsofawriter).

Anyway, I am here today to share the books I plan to review and read this month.  I am super excited about these two, and can't wait to dive into them!

First up, the historical nonfiction book that has been talked about absolutely everywhere in the last several months.  ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is set during World War II, a time in history I am always interested in reading more about.  Since I had heard so much about it, I impulse-purchased it at Barnes & Noble a couple months ago, and I am not regretting it at all.  Anyway, though, I am excited to read it this month!  It's a fairly long book for me at 531 pages (my schedule is not so good with books of that length), but I've heard that it's a pretty quick read due to the short length of the chapters and the changing points of view.  I'm looking forward to it!  Look for a review during the second half of the month.  Amazon

The second book I plan to read this month came out a few years ago and when I found it at my library's book sale in brand-new condition for dirt-cheap, I picked it up, knowing next to nothing about it.  It's supposed to be good for fans of Downton Abbey, though, and so hopefully I'll like it.  I don't usually read this type of coming-of-age, marriage-for-money type stuff – especially after Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (hated that book) – but I'm trying to get out of my reading rut this year, and this one's a start.  Another longer book, but due to the subject material, I think it should go pretty quick.  Again, review up near the end of the month.  Amazon

And those are the books I hope to read and do a complete review of this month!  As usual, I will also do mini reviews of the library books I read last month, and those will be up next week.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella