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Book Review! The Maggie Hope Series by Susan Elia MacNeal

So I know I just posted my new favorite series list oh, 2 weeks ago, but I already have another one for you. The Maggie Hope books by Susan Elia MacNeal.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary (Maggie Hope Series #1)

Princess Elizabeth's Spy (Maggie Hope Series #2)

His Majesty's Hope (Maggie Hope Series #3)The Prime Minister's Secret Agent (Maggie Hope Series #4)

 

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed the Royal Spyness books by Rhys Bowen, then you need to check out Maggie Hope a.s.a.p.! *In full disclosure, I received an advance copy of book #4 in this series, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, to review through NetGalley (at the publisher’s request, I’m waiting to post the full review here and on Goodreads until the book hits stores on July 1st.)* I liked it so much that I immediately went to good old Barnes&Noble.com on my Nook and bought e-book copies of the first three novels in the series. I absolutely flew through those three books, and I hope MacNeal continues to write this character for a long time!

Set in the early days of WWII, Maggie Hope – a British citizen raised in America – suddenly finds herself at the center of the British war effort. Throughout the series she takes on many different roles, each with a particular purpose in mind, that tax both her mental and physical abilities. Surrounded by interesting characters (some of whom are friends, some of whom are famous, and a few who aren’t what they seem to be) Maggie navigates her way through wartime life and discovers some very surprising family secrets. There’s a little bit of romance, a lot of mystery, and tons of historical detail in each book. While you don’t necessarily need to read the books in numerical order to enjoy them, the plot and character’s relationships makes much more sense if you do (reading the not-yet-released fourth book first actually presented me with a few spoilers from the earlier books, but I still really enjoyed going back and starting the series from the beginning, even though I had an idea of where things were going.)

Fun fact: Barnes and Noble’s list for “people who bought [Mr. Churchill's Secretary] also enjoyed…” includes House of Silk and Death Comes to Pemberley, both of which I read and loved. It also suggests a book called Sydney Chambers and The Shadow of Death, which I think looks great and is now on my to-read list :-)

P.S. I just saw that there’s a new Royal Spyness book up for pre-order – now that’s on my list too!

Have you had any great book recommendations lately? Did you read anything I’ve recommended/reviewed? I’d love to hear your thoughts, my lovely readers :-)

 

 

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Watercolor Apps = Instant Decor

Friends, have any of your used a watercolor app like Waterlogue? They’re amazing! I’m slowly gathering art to put on our walls, and Waterlogue has helped me create two of my favorites! (This post is in no way sponsored, I just really love the results I got with this app.)

 

House Watercolor

We have this photo in a white frame next to our front door, and it was the first thing my in-laws noticed when they came to visit!

Hound Watercolor

I think Abe looks especially distinguished in watercolors, don’t you?

The one bummer is that the Waterlogue App is only compatible with iPhone, not Android, and their website says they have no intention of coding an Android version :-( I have – and love! – and Android phone, so I had to have the hubs download the app for me on his iPhone5c. I take the photos with my phone and then the ones I want to turn into watercolors, I’ll send to him via text or email. This is definitely the best watercolor app I’ve ever seen though, and it’s totally worth the $2.99 if you have access to an iPhone!

What do you have framed in your house? Any suggestions for other fun art to put on our walls? Have you tried Waterlogue or another watercolor app?

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Bloggers Who Get Me

Have you ever read a blog post by someone else and immediately thought, “Yeah! That’s exactly what I needed/wanted!”? I’ve had several of those moments lately, and they’ve left me really inspired to do some things that I normally wouldn’t.  I thought I’d share some of my recent “ah-ha!” moments with you all :-)

1. This locket DIY at The Sweetest Digs. I’ve had a similar locket from Beklina on my wishlist for a while now, but I haven’t pulled the trigger because when I have the extra money, they always seem to be out of the color I want, so I use the funds for other closet-related items (like this awesome anorak). Now I think I’ll just find an old locket at a flea market or on Etsy and do the enameling part myself. The biggest perk is that I’ll be able to totally customize the color, and I might even be able to make more than one!

2. The decorating formula at The Happy Homebodies. As we buy more furniture, linens, and art for our new house, I’ve been trying to make everything cohesive without being too matchy-matchy. This “formula” is actually exactly what I’ve been doing (colors and all!) except that I didn’t really plan it, I’ve just been grabbing stuff I like! I’m hoping this formula will make it easier to identify what finishing touches we’re missing. It should also come in handy when we’re planning the overall design for our kitchen reno!

2. The cookbook challenge at Carrots N Cake. I feel like I’ve been making the same 4-5 things on repeat for the last two months, and I’m ready to get out of that rut! I have plenty of cookbooks with lots of tabbed meals that I want to try, so this will be a good motivation to actually make them. Also, the hubs isn’t really a cooked-fish fan or a salad guy (two of my favorite things!) but his doc just told him he needs more “roughage” (a.k.a. rabbit food/salads/veggies) and omega-3′s in his diet, so now I have the perfect excuse to cook some of the recipes I’ve been holding off on. My plan is to do a loose weekly meal plan around a few of these recipes and grocery shop based on that. Hopefully there will be a few blog-worthy meals from this little project :-) I actually made a new recipe last night (this parmesan spinach orzo)  I just added some halved cherry tomatoes to it. It’s not technically from one of my cookbooks, but it was delish! I baked 2 pieces of salmon to go along with the orzo and then I wolfed it down before I remembered to take a photo … my bad.

4. Young House Love in general, but specifically their showhouse for Habitat for Humanity. I’m hoping to go see this in person, but just the photos they’re posting have already given me so much design inspiration! Plus, I met them at their D.C. book signing, and they really are the quirky sweethearts they seem like online :-)

Do you have any favorite posts from a blogger who just gets you? Feel free to mention one of my posts ;-)

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DIY Anthropologie-esque Garden Tools

These amazingly cute garden tools caught my eye at Anthro a while back, and I Pinned them to my Gardening board.

Ash Wood Garden Tools  #anthropologie

But $40? For something that’s going to get covered with dirt? I knew I could do better, plus I was planning to pick up some craft paint in a similar color for another project. So I snagged a trowel and a hand-rake at my local ACE Hardware and gave them a little paint job! (I love ACE – they have everything! And no, I am not being paid or perked, I’m not a cool enough blogger for that… yet.)

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Here are my supplies: Fine grit sanding block, GooGone, a wide-width craft brush, and 2 bottles of Martha Stewart craft paint that I found at Michaels (in Beach Glass and Champagne). First I removed the price labels and used the GooGone to get rid of any remaining residue, and I wiped the handles down with a paper towel and a bit of water. Once they were dry again, I sanded the handles a little bit so the paint would adhere, then I used the Champagne craft paint to fill in the “ACE” red logo, which wasn’t really going to match my vision (sorry, ACE.) It took two light coats to make the red less noticeable, but I wasn’t going for complete coverage because I knew I’d have to do at least 2 coats of the blue paint to cover the wood.

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I took some scissors to a plastic egg carton to make props so that the handles wouldn’t touch the newspaper as they dried. To get the look of the Anthro tools, I used painter’s tape (not pictured) to mark a line about 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the metal part of the tools, and I painted everything below that line in 4 thin coats of Beach Glass, until I had the desired coverage. After peeling off the painter’s tape, I thought they could use just a bit more bling, so I added a small band of the Champagne color where the blue paint met the wooden part of the handle (it took about 4 thin coats for this color too.)

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Voila! My own super-cute garden tools! I love that you can still see the embossed ACE logo, but none of the red remains :-) I already had everything on hand except for the tools themselves and the craft paints, so this little project cost around $21 ($7.50 each for the tools, and around $3 each for the paints.) Not too shabby, huh? I’m planning to add a clear-coat to the top (a clear spray enamel from Rustoleum that I also picked up at ACE) to protect them from my dirt-filled gardening activity, but that will have to wait until it’s nice enough outside for spray paint. It could happen this weekend, but more likely will have to wait until mid-April. I’m so ready for spring, and goodness knows our house needs a spring cleaning!

 

So, what do you guys think of my first Anthro hack? Is anyone else seriously ready to get started with their spring activities?!

 

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Books – My New Favorites

A while back I gave you a run-down of my favorite authors of all time. Now that I’m firmly ensconced in the 9-to-5 world, with around an hour of commuting time each day, I’ve been getting through more and more books. That means I’m spending a lot more time looking for new authors and interesting plot lines. I figure I’m not the only one in this situation, so today I thought I’d share some of my newer favorites – in case you don’t want to sift through the massive list of all the books I’ve already read on Goodreads (499 and counting!) just to get a recommendation.

Full Dark House (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #1) The Water Room (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #2) Seventy-Seven Clocks (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #3)

Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May Series – Witty detective mysteries, with a ton of madcap adventures and lots of random odd facts thrown in. I was drawn in by the wonderful, colorful cover art of the paperbacks and decided to buy the first three after skimming through them in Barnes and Noble. It wasn’t long before I went back for the rest of the series. In fact, although I bought the most recent book in Nook format, I’ll probably go back for the paperback version as well. The cover art is just so cool, and I love how they look on my bookshelves :-)

Part of what I love about these books is that neither Mr. Fowler nor his characters take themselves too seriously. Although the plots at times shift from standard-mystery into the thriller category, there is also a sense of fun to the books and they contain a ton of historical tidbits about London and its environs (if you’re not familiar with the city, do yourself a favor a grab a map or two, it really helps draw you into the stories!) as well as a grab-bag of other topics.

The Meaning of Night: A Confession

 The Glass of Time

The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time, by Michael Cox – The Meaning of Night is one of those books that I automatically recommend whenever someone is looking for a new book in the historical fiction or mystery genres. Cox does a fabulous job of setting the stage in these Victorian mysteries, and I found myself very much on the side of the protagonist, even though you discover that he murders someone in the very first sentence of the book – a great first line that still gives me a little chill when I read it - “After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”  I was absolutely sucked in by the end of the first chapter, and I loved the the sequel just as much as the original. If you like these books, I highly recommend checking out The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, below.

The Alienist The Angel of Darkness

The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, by Caleb Carr - These are a little darker than my usual mystery read, but they’re downright thrilling and the impeccable writing of Mr. Carr will suck you right into New York in the early 1900′s. Set in a time where psychology is still an emerging field, Dr. Lazlo Kreizler and his friends must divine the motives of two very different killers in order to capture them and keep them from killing again. These books reminded me of the movie Gangs of New York, but without most of the graphic violence. I enjoy that while Kreizler is the main character as far as the psychology is concerned, each of the others gets time in the spotlight and has their own unique contribution to the plot, taking them beyond superficial side-kicks.

The Flavia de Luce Series 4-Book Bundle: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce Series – Mysteries featuring a precocious pre-teen heroine in 1940s England. I enjoyed the main character of this series so much that I went looking for similar novels and found Peter Abraham’s Echo Falls series, which in my opinion is good, but not quite as amazing as Flavia. The photo above links to Barnes and Noble where you can get a NookBook Bundle of the first 4 novels for $38 (which I’d highly recommend! I’m not being paid or perked by B&N or anyone else, I just think that’s good deal!)

Her Royal Spyness (Royal Spyness Series #1)

Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness Series – These are my favorite go-to for a light, fun mystery read. Lady Georgiana Rannock, 35th in line for the British throne, is determined to make her own way in the world, and she really has no other choice. While bouncing from place to place and trying to figure out how to support herself, Georgiana becomes involved in all sorts of mysterious deaths. She’s a bit naïve, but has a quick wit and a charmingly elusive suitor.

Of course, if you’re interested, you can see the full listing of what I’ve read and how I’ve rated it on Goodreads (Helpful hint: A small sampling of my Goodreads lists are on the widgets on my right sidebar!)

*A quick note, all of the pictures above are linked to the book’s listing on Barnes & Noble’s website. I have no affiliation with them, but B&N is my favorite place to buy books, so that’s where the links go!

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Checking In

Hi there, my lovely readers! (Oh, there’s only one of you… OK. You know you’re the coolest, right? Excellent. Moving on.)

It’s been a long time, but let me assure you that several draft posts are in the works and you can look forward to:

1) A tutorial on making roman shades. I’m too cheap for what stores like Target or West Elm charge for window dressings and we have a whole house full of windows to cover! It hasn’t been an issue thus far, as we already had (temporary) curtains for our bedroom, and nicer ones for the main living room, but the hubs’ family are coming to stay in 2 days and they’ll be actually using the guest room and my office as bedrooms. So, curtains! I like the idea of roman shades because of the shape of our windows (wider than they are tall) and I can make them a bit sheer while still giving privacy and the option to let lots of daylight in. I’ll get more into specifics once I have some of these bad boys hung up and working (hopefully…)

2) We built a kegerator and we’ve brewed 3 batches of homemade beer so far. I need the hubs’ engineering expertise to help me with this post, but it’s coming! We love beer, and a kegerator is way more economical than all the bottles we’ve been going through, especially at the rate that we’ve been hosting game nights.

3) Book reviews galore coming up. I’ve won a couple of Goodreads First Reads giveaways (free books, y’all!) and I also signed up for NetGalley the other day when I was home sick from work. I already have 9 books to read from NetGalley! Someone please explain to me why I didn’t start blogging for free books, like, 10 years ago? I love it. I’ve always thought that the book buyers for places like Barnes & Noble had the coolest job, and now I’m getting access to all the ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) and promo copies just like they do, and ITS SO COOL!!! Not going to lie, I got an advance copy of Rita Mae Brown’s new Mrs. Murphy mystery and it made me feel like a legit publishing exec. Review a brand new book from one of my favorite authors, for free? Don’t mind if I do :-)

Abe is totally going to help me review all these books.

4) We had an appointment with a kitchen designer at Home Depot. Combined with the playing around I did in IKEA’s planner, I think we now have a good idea of where our kitchen is headed, we just need to find all the money for it! There will be a few different posts coming as we really start to dig in to this project.

5) I’ve perfected my hazelnut scone recipe, and I have waaaaaay better pictures than the last time I wrote about them. Yum.

6) If the weather cooperates, there may also be a post on putting together some raised garden beds. I’ve started my seeds indoors already, but the very next day we got another 4-6in. of snow, so who knows how long it will be before I can move them outside :-/

What did you all get up to this February? Does anyone have any good homemade roman-shade advice for me?

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Book Review! The Diviners by Libba Bray

This book was creepy and thrilling in the best kind of way. I love a good mystery thriller.

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The book was far better than I originally anticipated and tremendously suspenseful for a YA novel. I’ve read the first two books of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series (A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels) so I’m familiar with her writing style and the publisher’s blurb of this book really drew me in. While I like her previous books, I never read the last book of the Gemma Doyle series (The Sweet Far Thing) because I just lost interest over the course of the second book.

The Diviners was Bray’s haunting writing style turned up to 11 (80′s reference – if you don’t get it, you’re probably in the target demographic for this book :-) ) If you’re into all things YA-paranormal, spooky, or novels about the Roaring 20′s, this is the book for you. I’d also recommend it as a lighter read for fans of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. There were several times while reading when I was struck by how very similar the tone of the books felt, although Bray’s version is clearly for a YA audience, while Carr’s is not.

I checked out a few reviews before I purchased the ebook for my Nook, and many of the reviewers were disappointed that the “diviners” part of the plot was not more prominent. Without getting into spoilers, I will say that it was a smaller part of the plot than I expected, but I don’t think that it made the story any less enjoyable. This book is intended as the first in a new series (there was a small sneak peek of book 2 at the back of my copy) so while most of the plot is spent on the specific mystery of an occult serial killer, there is a lot of background being established at the same time. Bray’s descriptions of the killer and his house had me breaking out in goosebumps and really set the tone for the book as a whole. Some of the 1920′s slang was a little overdone (any of the words using -ski should have been nixed, in my opinion) while other times it added to the feel of the novel. I didn’t hate it, but it could certainly be refined in the coming books.

Bray chose to introduce several different characters with special “divining” abilities and the book gives you a good grasp of each of them, setting the stage for future adventures. Evie, the main character, is by turns a typical teenager and someone with a surprising gravitas, stemming from her brother’s death overseas in WWI, her rocky relationship with her parents, and the responsibility and negative consequences of her “divining” powers. My favorite characters, though, are Memphis – whose attachment to his brother is both endearing and ultimately pivotal for him – and Theta, who I think is the most realistic character in the novel – a good time girl trying to hide from her past. I’ll be very interested to see how Bray works with Sam’s story in the next book, and I hope that she includes more information about Henry (he is the only character whose backstory I think it still incomplete – other than Uncle Will, but that mystery seems to be part of the larger story arc for the series.)

Slight Spoilers Below!

I did think that the hints of “romance” at the end of the novel between Evie and Jericho were unnecessary and detracted from the story. Actually, I enjoyed the fact that Evie doesn’t just fall for Sam, and I was hoping that I could get through the whole book without and of the typical YA-romance, but it didn’t quite happen. I hope that Bray has a good idea of where she’s going with this in the second novel, because frankly I just don’t see how these sudden “feelings” fit into Evie’s character. It’s not a big enough deal that it kept me from liking the book, but it’s definitely the difference between a 4 star and a 5 star review from me.

I’ll definitely check out the next installment in this series. Does anyone else have a favorite spooky/creepy thriller novel?

Also, on Friday I got the copy of Moth and Spark from the Goodreads First Reads giveaway that I won – super fast shipping! I’ll try to post a review in the next week or so!

* You may notice that the links in this post are all to Goodreads. I purchase my books through Barnes and Noble, but I’ve been using Goodreads a lot lately to check reviews and enter the First Reads giveaways, so I thought it was appropriate to use those links here. Of course, I’m not being compensated by either company, I just like them!