Novel Destinations Book Review

If I wasn’t already traveling this week, Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt would give me some serious wanderlust. That being said, I might have to plan a literary-themed trip around this book anyway.

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt
I was given a free copy of Novel Destinations in exchange for this honest review. You can get your own copy at National Geographic!

I was an English major so I feel like I’ve lived in all of the places Novel Destinations explores. From Dickens’ London to Joyce’s Dublin to Lee’s Alabama, I’ve traveled the world through the eyes of different characters. But Schmidt’s book delves even deeper into the worlds the authors immortalized. And since it comes from National Geographic, you know it’s going to be really good.

Part one of Novel Destinations is “Read ‘Em and See: Author Houses and Museums.” You can travel the world and use this as a guide book to all of your favorite literary locales. There are also chapters on literary festivals and tours and places you can stay among the similarly literary minded.

Part two is “Journeys Between the Pages.” You can explore in real life the iconic places you’ve explored only in the pages of your favorite novels. I, for one, loved delving into Jane Austen’s Bath and Franz Kafka’s Prague (side note: a Kafka discussion is the thing that started my relationship with my boyfriend of 4.5 years!).

Bottom line: if you love classic literature and travel, you’re going to want this book on your shelf.

What’s your favorite classic novel?

About Novel Destinations

• Hardcover: 392 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic; 2 edition (May 2, 2017)

Follow in the footsteps of much-loved authors, including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Jane Austen, and many more. For vacationers who crave meaningful trips and unusual locales, cue National Geographic’s Novel Destinations—a guide for bibliophiles to more than 500 literary sites across the United States and Europe. Check into Hemingway’s favorite hotel in Sun Valley, or stroll about Bath’s Royal Crescent while entertaining fantasies of Lizzie Bennett and her Mr. Darcy. The fully revised second edition includes all of the previous sites—with updated locations—plus color images and an expanded section on all things Brontë. The book begins with thematic chapters covering author houses and museums, literary festivals and walking tours. Then, in-depth explorations of authors and places take readers roaming Franz Kafka’s Prague, James Joyce’s Dublin, Louisa May Alcott’s New England, and other locales. Peppered with great reading suggestions and little-known tales of literary gossip, Novel Destinations is a unique travel guide, an attractive gift book, and the ultimate bibliophile’s delight.

Purchase Links

National Geographic Store | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Shannon McKenna Schmidt is also the co-author with Joni Rendon of Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads. After traveling full-time in the U.S. and abroad for seven years, she is once again living in Hoboken, New Jersey. For literary travel news and tales from the road, visit www.NovelDestinations.com.

Bai Tide Book Review

Bai Tide was a welcome and pleasant surprise. I love TV shows like Quantico and Criminal Minds. I’m just a sucker for a good crime or spy story. I’m also a sucker for stories that feature people who aren’t white dudes.

The main character in Bai Tide is a man with Chinese ancestry and most of the other important characters are Asian too. It was honestly a breath of fresh air to read, especially since I recently tried to watch Iron Fist on Netflix and was disgusted by it (it was just yet another story about a white dude who learned kung-fu).

Bai Tide by Erika Mitchell

Back to Bai Tide, which I received from TLC Book Tours and the author for this review. Here’s the description of the book from the publisher:

An espionage thriller for people who like explosions and sarcasm.

CIA case officer Bai Hsu is stationed in San Diego, where his job is to safeguard the valuable emotional collateral of some of the world’s most powerful people (read: their kids). Just when he thinks he’s landed the easiest assignment of all time, an operative starts targeting the school and it’s up to Bai to figure out who the operative is after, and why. This fast-paced story will take you from the picturesque beaches of San Diego to a deadly blizzard in Pyongyang and make Bai question everything he thought he knew about working in the field, and about himself.”

Sounds good, right? I didn’t a chance to read that description before I read the book, so it took me completely by surprise when they went to North Korea. But I didn’t need the description to get me hooked. Erika Mitchell writes Bai with such a clear voice that I felt like I knew him instantly and I was drawn in by his personality and the intrigue of his job.

My favorite part of the book is that the people Bai teams up with on his missions are women. They’re both great fighters and spies and I just love it when women get to kick butt too.

I also loved how Mitchell handled writing the section of the book that takes place in North Korea. It’s so easy to make fun of North Korea or to make light of the situation over there, but I think she painted a real picture of it. There was nothing to suggest that she was making fun of the country; on the contrary, it seemed like she was trying to do the country justice.

Bai Tide is a quick read at under 300 pages and it’s perfect if you love crime TV and movies like I do.

I can’t wait for the sequel Take the Bai Road comes out July 3rd, 2017! Keep scrolling to read more praise for Bai Tide and find out where you can buy your own copy.

 

About Bai Tide

• Paperback: 244 pages
• Publisher: Champagne Books; First Edition edition (April 5, 2015)

Praise for Bai Tide

Bai Tide is a classic spy tale with blisteringly original characters set against the up-tempo backdrop of North Korean-American relations. Erika Mitchell turns the Asian theater of operations into her personal literary playground for fashioning a no-holds-barred thriller that reads like a post-modern combination of Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carre with just enough Len Deighton sprinkled in for good measure. A thinking man’s, or woman’s, page turner that revs in the red from artful beginning to crafty climax.” –Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author of Strong Darkness

“High octane action combined with the slow burn of great, unforgettable characters. The kind of book that demands to be read in a single long burst. Almost impossible to put down. This one will be on your mind long after you’ve finished it.” –Ted Kosmatka, 2010 Asimov’s Readers’ Choice Award-winning author of Prophet of Bones.

“Recommended for those who enjoy a fast-paced thriller, and especially for anyone who read and enjoyed Blood Money. Mitchell does a wonderful job of balancing the humanity of the story with exactly the right pacing to keep the reader’s interest.” —Dwell in Possibility

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

erika-mitchell-author-photoAbout Erika Mitchell

Erika Mitchell is the author of Blood Money, a standalone novel about one accountant’s efforts to take down a terrorism financier, and Bai Tide, the first book in her Bai Hsu series. Erika uses her lifelong passion for espionage to infuse her stories with the fun and intrigue of the James Bond movies she grew up watching, and sets those stories in ripped-from-the-headlines locations around the globe. When she’s not writing, she’s raising two tiny spies-in-training with her husband in Seattle, WA.

Find out more about Erika at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also read her blog at parsingnonsense.com.

TLC Book Tours

Signs & Seasons Review

Hey girl, what’s your sign?

I’m a Libra. I’m not sure I believe all astrology things. To be honest, when I got my copy of Signs & Seasons from TLC Book Tours, I laughed at the title. I like the idea of the Zodiac and I definitely identify with Libra qualities and I think reading my horoscope is fun. But I don’t think I would’ve bought this book if I saw it in the store.

Signs & Seasons

However, this book did fall into my lap at the right time. I’ve been trying to cook more so it’s perfect timing to review a cookbook.

The book is organized by season and each recipe is labeled by sign. There’s also a chapter called “How Each Sign Eats, Cooks, and Entertains.” Since I’m a Libra, I was most interested in those sections and recipes.

Duplicity Book Review

It’s really hard to review a book that I don’t have a lot of feelings for. In my opinion, Duplicity by Jane Haseldine was just…okay. I was disappointed by it because it sounded like something I’d love. I love crime TV shows and I’m always down to read a good mystery.

Duplicity by Jane Haseldine

I should note that I was sent a free copy of Duplicity in exchange for an honest review. You can get your own copy from Kensington Publishing Corporation, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

Loyal Book Review

In the current political climate, I’ve been very stressed out. The only thing that truly makes me feel better is watching animal videos on Youtube and Loyal: 38 Inspiring Tales of Bravery, Heroism, and the Devotion of Dogs by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh. If you can’t already tell from the title, it’s full of stories about how amazing dogs are. If you’re like me and you get really emotional about dogs, you’ll probably cry and then tell everyone you know about the amazing stories in this book. Also, please comment on this page and tell me all about the animals you’ve loved. I need more than 38 animal stories to keep me going.

Loyal: 38 Inspiring Tales of Bravery, Heroism, and the Devotion of Dogs
Loyal only convinced me further that dogs are the purest beings on the planet.

Before I wax poetic on how amazing the dogs are in this book and why it’s the perfect book to have around when you need a pick-me-up, I need to say that I was sent a free copy of Loyal in return for an honest review for a TLC book tour. You can pick up your own copy here at National Geographic!

The Case for Kindles

For the longest time, I only had disdain for Kindles and other eReaders. “Nothing can ever replace books,” I said, “Books are the best and reading on a screen is dumb.”

Well crap, I was kind of wrong. Don’t misunderstand me – I love paper books and my bookshelf is my favorite thing in my apartment. In Nov. 2015, I was scrolling through Amazon on Cyber Monday and I noticed there was a great deal for Kindles. I knew that I wanted to travel sometime soon and that I’d want to travel as light as possible. You just can’t do that when you’re carrying a bunch of books. So, I grit my teeth and bought it.

And you know what happened? I ended up loving it. I got one that is only 6″ tall, glare free, and there’s no backlight, so it looks as if you’re actually reading a paper page. I needed it to be easy on the eyes because I like to read at night before I go to sleep and I already spend all day looking at a computer. The battery lasts for a whopping three weeks, so unless you’re traveling for very long periods of time, you don’t even need to bring a charging cable with you.

It’s small enough to fit in most purses or large coat pockets, so it’s perfect for traveling light. If you’re laying in bed, you’ll never drop the book and lose your place. Even if you’re reading a 600 page book, it’s as light as a feather, which makes it perfect for elderly people who can’t lift a lot (bonus: you can make any book large print), and you’ll never get a paper cut.

My sister and I went to the Netherlands last year and we only took a backpack each as our luggage (honestly, it’s the best way to travel – the airline can’t lose your carry-on). I was so glad I brought my Kindle with me on the trip. I downloaded several books before we left, so even though I finished a book on the flight back, I didn’t even have to pause before I started the next one. I carried the Kindle around just about everywhere we went. It fit perfectly in my purse and I even carried in my rain jacket pocket sometimes.

I don’t just use it for traveling though. I took it to work and I’d read it during lunch. None of my coworkers knew that I was reading romantic trash novels if they couldn’t see a cover. That’s actually one of the best things about the Kindle. You can read whatever trash you love most without fear of judgment from other people, because for all they know, you’re actually reading Anna Karenina or some other tome instead of the latest Lisa Kleypas novel.

The Kindle versions are also cheaper than the hard copies. I bought all eight Outlander books because I wanted to have my own collection (my mom owns the hard copies) and be able to carry them around with me whenever I want. They’re excellent travel books because they’re long and engrossing – perfect for long flights – so I was able to save money by downloading the Kindle versions.

There are also a ton of free Kindle books on Amazon. They’re not all great, in fact, most of them are self-published and not good, but you might be able to find some free gems. Amazon also has this new thing called Prime Reading, where if you have a Kindle device (or the app) and Amazon Prime, you can “borrow” books indefinitely on your Kindle and then you just “return” them when you’re done.

I’m a big fan of my Kindle. It’s light, small, and does exactly what I need it to do, which is let me read, not hurt my eyes, and travel well. So far, it’s been perfect!

Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery Book Review

If you love stories of personal growth, goat puns, and adventure, then why haven’t you read Unbound by Steph Jagger yet? Answer: because it just came out this year, so you probably haven’t heard of it yet. Let me just tell you that it’s the next Wild and Eat, Pray, Love. That’s right, people! It’s another story about a woman going on an adventure around the world and she’s gonna learn stuff about herself and emerge a whole new person! And you’re going to love it.

Unbound by Steph Jagger
Read this book just for the goat metaphors and random puns.

Before I get into my thoughts on the book, let me just say that the book was sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review by TLC Book Tours. You can get your own copy from HarperCollins here and read more reviews here, here, and here! Below you’ll find a full synopsis of the book and you can learn more about Steph Jagger.

Ok, now that we’ve got some of that business out of the way. Let’s talk adventure!

Harry Potter Books Ranked from Best to Worst

It’s about to get real. So many people have strong feelings about the Harry Potter series, myself included. One of my favorite discussions is finding out which of the Harry Potter books is someone’s favorite and which is their least favorite. Harry Potter was such a huge part of my childhood. I went to three midnight book releases and four midnight movie releases. I dressed up as Hermione for countless Halloweens and was extremely disappointed the year I turned eleven because an owl didn’t show up with a handwritten letter from Professor Dumbledore.

I lost the dust jackets for 4-6. Also the first three paperbacks are falling apart. But I can’t bring myself to buy new copies because it feels disloyal.

You’re not going to want to read this if you haven’t read the books. Also, if you haven’t read the books, what the fuck are you doing with your life? Get to it.

So, here’s my definitive ranking of the Harry Potter series. Prepare for babbling.

No Brainer: Don’t Date People Who Don’t Read Books

There’s nothing more alarming to me than someone who doesn’t have a favorite book. If you can’t name one even from your childhood, then I don’t think we’re going to get along.

Don’t get me wrong – movies and TV are great ways to consume stories and our culture (I especially appreciate television because hello, Character Development!), but there’s something extra special about books. You get to almost literally (literarily!) step into someone else’s mind and possibly see the world a little differently. Even if you don’t travel very often, you’ll still get to see the world and other worlds that are only in someone’s imagination.

 

People who don’t read books just baffle me. They always seem to have a limited world view and can’t understand how to step into someone else’s shoes or see the other side of any argument except their own. One of the things that scares me most about Donald Trump is that he doesn’t read anything (not even his own executive orders). And it frightens me when people say the humanities don’t matter in school, but in reality, they teach us about our own humanity and about seeing the humanity in others.

The Things We Wish Were True Book Review

This book was a slow burn. If you prefer something that is really fast paced that will keep you on the edge of your seat, The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen might not be for you.

However, if you don’t mind waiting to find out what the real intrigue of the story is going to be because you spend most of the book learning about the neighborhood and the cast of characters who live there, then definitely grab a copy of Whalen’s book for free from Prime Reading. Personally, I don’t mind a slow burn because character development is my favorite thing about stories.

The Things We Wish Were True

The Things We Wish Were True is set in a North Carolinan neighborhood during summer. From the outside, the neighborhood looks completely normal and probably even a really boring place. In some ways, it reminded me of my own small hometown where people tend to settle down and have kids or they go away for a while and come back to buy a house. There are several characters through which you see the neighborhood and you discover the problems that lie beneath the seemingly-idyllic surface.

It’s mentioned briefly and not a lot of weight is put on it, but the almost perfect neighborhood has suffered a loss. A little girl was kidnapped recently but people seem to just want to look away from the “Have You Seen Me?” posters and billboards. It’s too terrible a thing to happen in their town and they are too caught up in their own problems to really put a lot of thought into it (at least, that’s how I saw it). The few brief mentions of the girl weren’t enough for me to truly worry about her and I was surprised when the discovery of the girl was a huge moment for one of the characters. Though, perhaps I just got sucked into the other characters’ hesitation in even thinking about it too much.

Interestingly, it’s not the kidnapped girl who brings people in the neighborhood together. It’s the near drowning of a little boy named Cutter at the local pool where everyone spends the hot summer days. He’s saved by a man named Lance whose wife had abruptly left him and his children in order to assess if she wanted to continue the marriage. Cutter’s older sister, Cailey, goes to stay with a lady in the neighborhood named Zell because her single mom wasn’t going to be able to stay at the hospital with Cutter who was in a coma and work her multiple jobs. Lance starts a romance with Jencey who came back to town with her daughters after leaving as a teenager because of a stalker. Her husband was recently arrested for fraud and she had nowhere else to go but home. Jencey had a romantic relationship with Everett in high school, but he’s now married to Bryte who loved him in high school, but was best friends with Jencey. Those are all of the characters through which the book is written (each chapter is a different POV). Everything is connected and yet they all have their own specific problems and secrets that contribute to the suspense of the novel.

If this ever gets made into a movie, I can see Hollywood execs turning it into a creepy suspense thriller where “everything is not as it seems” and “can you even trust your neighbors anymore?” When in reality, it’s more like a love letter to small towns and the people in them and the secrets they harbor. It shows how a community comes together when one of their own is threatened and how the secrets they keep might tear them apart.

The Things We Wish Were True made me miss my small hometown with its quiet neighborhoods and people who say hi to you on the street even if you don’t know them (a habit that continually baffled me as a child because I was taught not to talk to strangers but there goes my mother saying “hi how are you?” to a random old lady walking her dog).

TL;DR: this book isn’t a thriller, but it is an interesting study of small town life and how kept secrets might keep that neighborhood together or how it might tear them apart. It’s definitely worth it to download it for free off Prime Reading on your Kindle like I did!