Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

About American Godsamericangods

Hardcover: 635 pages
Audio: 19 hours
Published: June 2011 by Harper Audio
Source: Purchased

Buy it on Amazon

Goodreads DescriptionFirst published in 2001, American Gods became an instant classic, an intellectual and artistic benchmark from the multiple-award-winning master of innovative fiction, Neil Gaiman. Now, discover the mystery and magic of American Gods in this 10th anniversary edition. Newly updated and expanded with the author’s preferred text, this commemorative volume is a true celebration of a modern masterpiece by the one, the only, Neil Gaiman.

A storm is coming….

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life. But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined. It is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own.

Along the way, Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life, a storm is brewing – an epic war for the very soul of America – and that he is standing squarely in its path.

Relevant and prescient, American Gods has been lauded for its brilliant synthesis of “mystery, satire, sex, horror, and poetic prose.”

My Review

I finally finished!!!! Whew, that was long.

I’m really, really torn about American Gods. I really liked some of it, and I really hated some of it. I’ve heard that you either love the book or hate it, but that’s not really true for me. I just sort of…read it.

No doubt, that statement just lost me serious street cred from some of you.

But seriously, I understand why so many people love American Gods. And why so many hate it. For me, all the fantasy God-related stuff was…boring. Hard to follow. Hard to care about. And yes, I realize that’s the whole point of the book.

But it isn’t, really. Sure, in some ways American Gods is a fantasy novel, a metaphor for American culture. But it’s also a travelogue, an ode to America. That’s the part that I loved – Shadow’s time spent traversing the country, the people he met, and the circumstances he found himself in. I didn’t care about Laura, I didn’t care about most of the Gods, but I did care about the people of Lakeside. I also cared about Wednesday, about Jackal and Ibis, and about Czernobog, oddly enough.

This review is all over the place, but that’s kinda how I felt reading it. A lot of the “talkable” stuff was lost on me, simply because I couldn’t focus on half the story.

Jimmie read American Gods right before I did, and he enjoyed it but also didn’t care much for the Gods. I told him that I was somewhat sad American Gods was his first taste of Gaiman, and perhaps that’s the best thing for me to say. The book isn’t terrible, by any means, but I don’t think it’s the kind of book that everyone will love. To me, The Graveyard Book is a lot more accessible, and Norse Mythology is a much better look at mythology.

If you’ve read American Gods, where did you come down on the love it/hate it spectrum?

This post contains affiliate links. 

Book Bites: What I’m Reading Right Now (August 21, 2017)

bookbitesreadingrightnowWelcome to Book Bites, where you get a glimpse into my reading life! Here I chronicle what I’ve finished (and what you can expect reviews on soon!), what I’m reading right now, and what I’m reading next.

This time last week, I was in Mexico! How can the trip already be over?! We had a lovely time, with absolutely gorgeous weather. Expect a handful of vacation-related posts in the coming weeks. I’ll go ahead and spoil it though, and admit I didn’t take pictures of everything I ate and drank…so my “drinks to order” post might be a little smaller than originally planned!

Oh, and anyone else excited about today’s eclipse?

I read two books on the trip, which was pretty good considering. I also finally finished American Gods before I left – that review will be up later this week. Not sure what my next audiobook will be yet. Any suggestions?

Last Week’s Posts:

Sneak Peak: Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun (2nd Trip!)

6 Books in My Beach Bag this Summer

Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I Just Finished:

   darkmatter

What I’m Reading Right Now:

  little beach street bakery cafebythesea

Soon I’ll Be Reading:

ensnared  truthwitch       

What are you reading right now? Any must-read books I should add to my list soon?

Missed what I read last week

Linkups

bookdatesundaypoststackingtheshelvesKathryn over at the Book Date hosts It’s Monday! What are you reading! It’s a way to share what you’ve just read, are currently reading, and are reading next.

Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly meme, The Sunday Post. It’s a chance to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog.

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual.

Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

About Exit Westexitwest

Hardcover: 231 pages
Published: March 2017 by Riverhead
Source: Library via Overdrive

Buy it on Amazon

Goodreads DescriptionIn a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

My Review

We are all migrants through time.

Those six words perfectly sum up not just Exit West, but humanity today. What are we, but migrants through time?

I don’t even really know what to tell you about Exit West . It’s hard to describe. In some ways, it’s a love story. In others, a social commentary. In yet other ways still it’s a travelogue. But I think that’s the point – Exit West is one of those rare stories that doesn’t have to fit in a box, that shouldn’t fit in a box. It’s a powerful and heartbreaking novel about the power of love and loss and identity.

Exit West follows a young couple, Nadia and Saeed, as they flee their home country in search of a better life. They’re lovers, and friends, and family. The country they flee is never identified, but that isn’t important – what’s important is their home has become a place where it is no longer safe to live. And so they run, through a metaphorical door, to another country and another life. Their journey takes them first to Greece, then to London, and then to the United States. Along the way they grow and change, and their relationship does as well. In their migration, they become truer versions of themselves.

I’ll be flat out honest and admit Exit West is not the sort of book I typically enjoy. Immigrant fiction just hasn’t been something that speaks to me. I talked about this some in my review of Behold the Dreamers, but it generally comes down to the fact that I just can’t relate to the characters. And for me, not being able to relate to the characters is a huge problem. I’m a character reader.

But Exit West grabbed me, and wouldn’t let me go. There’s something incredibly powerful in Nadia and Saeed, and in Hamid’s writing. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I’ve never left my home for a better life, that I’ve never felt oppressed or threatened or unsafe. I was right there with them, going through those doors, carving out a new way of life. I hurt for them, and I hurt for the millions of people around the world experiencing their story every day. I mourned their losses, and celebrated their victories. And so Mohsin Hamid has done what I thought was impossible – he has made me care about a population I have absolutely nothing in common with. And I thank him for it.

Exit West is short, but don’t mistake it for quick. It took me a week to read, and it’s only a little over 200 pages. The writing isn’t intense, but the story is, and Hamid is the kind of writer who gets the most out of the words he uses. Exit West has been Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize (alongside Lincoln in the Bardo and The Underground Railroad, among others). Will it win? We’ll see, but in my mind, it definitely deserves to be shortlisted.

This post contains affiliate links. 

6 Books in My Beach Bag this Summer

My beach bag is full of books. 

I’m in sunny Riviera Maya, Mexico, at the Royalton Riviera Cancun resort, and I’ve stuffed my beach bag full of (hopefully) engaging, thrilling, and fun books. Will I get through them all? Probably not, but I’m sure going to try.

I like to take a mix of both print and ebook books with me on vacation. I can’t deny the convenience of having a couple dozen books available on my Kindle, but there’s also just something about reading an actual book on the beach. So I’ll admit, I have many more books with me than are on this list. But, let’s just roll with it. So which books made it into the beach bag?

Young Adult

If you’ve read any of my Book Bites posts for the last….oh, I don’t know, 3 months?, you’ve no doubt seen Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch has been on it for the entire time. I unearthed it from the tower on my nightstand, and threw it in the suitcase, so we’ll see if I get to it!

 

 

 

 

daughterofthepirateking

I’ve debated and debated about picking up Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King for months now, simply because I was waiting for more reviews to come in. I’m always skeptical of brand new books with super high reviews – a lot of reviewers tend to throw out 4s and 5s left and right. That’s ok, but doesn’t always reflect how I’m going to feel about a book. The premise interested me from Day 1, but I’ve read a lot of really lackluster YA lately (I’m looking at you, Caraval.) However, with 6500+ reviews and a solid 4.0 on Goodreads, I’ve got high hopes.

 

 

Chick Lit

little beach street bakeryI loved Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner so much that I knew I wanted to read as many of hers as I could. It’s no surprise, then, that I grabbed and ran with The Little Beach Street Bakery the moment I saw it in my local used bookstore. (And it was $2.50 – score!) It’s been torture saving it for Mexico, and it’s probably the one I’ll have already finished by the time you read my post. If I’m honest, I’ll probably finish it on the plane before we even get to the resort, but who cares. You can read my full review of The Bookshop on the Corner here.

 

 

 

 

Thriller

darkmatter

Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter has been on my list since before it came out, and I finally decided to just take the plunge and buy it. I used to read thrillers all the time, but in the last few years, pretty much only ever read them at the beach. They’re engaging and it’s hard to feel terrified when you’re sipping cocktails under palm trees. (Remember that time I read The Woman in Cabin 10 while putting back mimosas? I’m looking to recreate the moment.)

 

 

 

 

Nonfiction

I’ve had it on hold long enough. It’s time to finally read a Roxanne Gay book, considering how well regarded they are. I’ve got the ebook of Difficult Womenand I think I can at least get through a couple of the essays in between margaritas.

 

 

 

 

 

Classic

I debated long and hard about whether or not to bring the brick that is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. In the end, I decided the extra weight wasn’t worth it, but I used a Scrib’d credit on the ebook. Will I make any progress on it? We’ll see, but something tells me Scarlett O’Hara is a perfect beach companion.

 

 

 

 

You might notice I don’t have any cozy mysteries in my beach bag. I’ll agree, cozies are probably some of the ultimate beach books. However, I have about 40 of them on my shelves, and since they take me roughly 2 hours to read, are not a good use of baggage allowance! I do have a few on my Kindle, though, so if I get desperate I’ve always got them for backup!

What kinds of books do you take on vacation? Should I have put anything different in my beach bag?

This post contains affiliate links. 

Sneak Peak: Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun (2nd Trip!)

What can I say? We loved the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun so much we just had to go back.

We actually planned to do a Mountain trip this summer, since we were in Mexico in February. But when I started looking at prices, we realized we could do a return Royalton trip for about $200 more. Tough decision, no?

So we’re off this week to sunny Mexico for our second trip to the most luxurious resort ever. Or maybe not ever, but that we’ve been to. I’ve got lots of ideas planned for this trip, including a list of “Drinks to Order at an All-Inclusive Resort,” so feel free to throw out some ideas for me. Just make them quick, since I’ll only have a few days to snap relevant pictures!

In the meantime, check out my first review of Royalton Riviera Cancun, my comparison of two of the Mexico resorts we’ve been to (I’m still slacking on the updated comparison!), and the best part, all the foooood. I’m making a beeline for that Pad Thai when we get there. Seriously, my priorities are to take pictures of everything I drink, eat all the Pad Thai I can stomach, and order room service every single night.

I’d thought about leaving the resort for once, but….nah. I like reading and relaxing too much. Speaking of reading, later this week I’ll share what’s in my beach bag. If you want you can place bets on what I’ll actually read.

We’re going with friends for the first time since 2014, so that’ll be a fun and slightly different experience! We booked a swim-up room again, and our fingers are crossed it’s the same one we had last time. I’m looking forward to seeing if Karina is still serving drinks in Hideaway!

As for drinks, any suggestions?

Blog Tour: The Sworn Virgin by Kristopher Dukes

About The Sworn Virginswornvirgin

Hardcover: 352 pages
Published: August 2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Dukes’s gripping historical novel tells the tale of a desperate Albanian woman who will do whatever it takes to keep her independence and seize control of her future…even if it means swearing to remain a virgin for her entire life.

When eighteen-year-old Eleanora’s father is shot dead on the cobblestone streets of 1910 Albania, Eleanora must abandon her dream of studying art in Italy as she struggles to survive in a remote mountain village with her stepmother Meria.

Nearing starvation, Meria secretly sells Eleanora into marriage with the cruel heir of a powerful clan. Intent on keeping her freedom, Eleanora takes an oath to remain a virgin for the rest of her life—a tradition that gives her the right to live as a man: she is now head of her household and can work for a living as well as carry a gun. Eleanora can also participate in the vengeful blood feuds that consume the mountain tribes, but she may not be killed—unless she forsakes her vow, which she has no intention of ever doing.

But when an injured stranger stumbles into her life, Eleanora nurses him back to health, saving his life—yet risking her own as she falls in love with him…

“It’s hard to believe that the culture Dukes describes was ever real, but the amount of research she put into this book definitely shines through. The story remains fascinating throughout; readers will definitely find it difficult to put this novel down.”—San Francisco Book Review

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Kristopher Dukes

Kristopher Dukes was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She has been a nationally published writer since she was in high school. Her work has been featured in the bestselling book series Written in the Dirt and fashion bible WWD. She has been profiled in Vogue.fr, NY Times.com, Fast Company, Forbes.com, and WWD. The Sworn Virgin is her debut novel. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with her husband, Matt, and Doberman, Xena.

Connect with her on Facebook.

My Thoughts

Eleanora meant for each day to be an adventure, whether she traveled on foot or merely in her mind.

I just love that quote from the beginning of the book. It shows the person Eleanora could have been, should have been, and maybe would have been if her life had been different.

I’ve been really excited to read The Sworn Virgin ever since signing up for the blog tour a few months ago. I haven’t read a good historical fiction in a while, but it’s a genre I typically enjoy quite a bit. The idea of Eleanora’s story was right up my alley – a woman who swears herself a virgin in order to escape a terrible marriage, who then (of course) falls in love. But, I was also a little skeptical. It’s easy for that kind of story to go horribly wrong. And while I won’t go that far, though I enjoyed it, ultimately The Sworn Virgin left me wanting more.

My biggest beef was the pacing. The first 50 or so pages dragged so slowly for me. There’s a lot of exposition that’s important, but there’s also a lot that isn’t. That said, once the story finally got going, staying engaged was easy.

I didn’t like Eleanora, exactly, but I rooted for her. She struck me as sort of an unlikeable Cinderella at first – spoiled by her father, then has her whole life turned upside down by his death. (Without the singing animals, of course!) In fact, let’s talk about Eleanora for a minute. She’s only 18 years old in the story, but it’s really easy to forget that and think she’s older. Often I caught myself rolling my eyes at her or thinking she was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time she WAS being ridiculous, but that’s a lot easier to accept – and forgive – when you remind yourself she’s 18.

Back to the pacing, I thought Eleanora’s interactions with Cheremi were entirely too rushed. Dukes spent a lot of time building up Eleanora as this semi-self-reliant, strong-willed sworn virgin, only to rush through her transition into “woman/wife.” For me, that created a distinct lack of tension that felt at odds with the rest of the story. I also struggled to see Cheremi as a love interest, and never truly cared about their relationship. The conflict resolved hastily, and in my mind, left a lot of loose ends (what happened to Meria!?). I do have to give Dukes credit for her ending though – while in a way it felt like the book just sorta stopped, I also think the ending worked.

I’m glad I read The Sworn Virgin. I enjoyed getting back into the historical fiction realm!

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour stops, and show your fellow readers some love!

 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Harper Wave for the chance to participate in this tour! 

Travel: DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards in Baxter, TN

All the best people were born in July.

I can say that, since both Jimmie and I are July babies. We also happen to have a dozen or so friends who were also born in July. It’s a good month for a birthday.

A few weeks ago, a couple of our July-birthday friends invited us to take a wine tour for a joint birthday celebration. Turns out there’s a wine trail not too far from us (two, actually), so we loaded up the car and headed west to DelMonaco Winery and Vineyards in Baxter, TN.

We had a great day with friends new and old!

For those not familiar with the area, Baxter is one exit past Cookeville on the way to Nashville. Remember Cookeville from my Crawdaddy’s post? Anyway, I’m not sure there’s much in Baxter, though apparently there is a really good restaurant that we didn’t get to. Next time. (For those interested, DelMonaco is part of the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail.)

DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards

DelMonaco is one of the few wineries in Tennessee that grows their own grapes. In addition to the wine, they’ve also got an incredible event space. It’s genius, really, since as our tour guide told us, they make just as much money from their events as they do from their wine. If you live in Middle or East Tennessee and need a wedding venue, definitely check them out.

We paid $15 each for the tour and tasting, which got us a 45 minute tour and samples of all 14 wines. Yes, that’s a lot of wine. Most of DelMonaco’s wines are sweet wines, typical for the area. I learned that for the most part, the grapes we’re familiar with (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.) don’t survive in the U.S. Only the West Coast and a few places in New England have any real luck with them. Bad soil, pests, fungi, and inhospitable climates cause problems everywhere else.

But, that just means American winemakers have had to get creative. Some wineries purchase those more elusive grapes. Others grow America-friendly grapes like Muscadine and Concord. Still others make wines out of fruits, such as strawberries, blackberries, and peaches.

Needless to say, this wine drinker learned a lot on the tour.

The Tour

First of all, it was hot as blazes. Our tour guide took us through the venue first, showing us their different event spaces. I loved the Grand Bella, the main room. It’s got these gorgeous glass doors all around. You’ll have to take my word for it, since I failed to turn around and take a picture.

The Grand Bella at DelMonaco Winery

The outdoor areas are very nice too, and have killer views of the vineyard.

I absolutely adore this picture of us in front of the vineyards.

Next we walked down to the vineyard, where we learned a little more about the history of the place and some of the fun events they host. There’s a wine train – the train tracks run right by the winery – that brings people in from Nashville. You ride a train (drink wine), tour the winery (drink wine), and have a party (drink wine). It sounds like it might be one of the best things ever.

Concord Grapes at the DelMonaco Winery

We didn’t wander the vineyard (we were all melting), but we did snap lots of photos.

Another good one!

And some of us might have tried the grapes.

I’m thinking about framing this one and hanging it in my kitchen. That’d work, right?

Concord grapes are divine, friends.

Where the magic happens!

After the grapes, we went into the blessedly cool air-conditioned wine-making room (I can’t remember the proper term, sorry). There we got to hear about how they make the wine, how they bottle the wine, how they label the wine, and how they store the wine. All I remember was that it’s very similar to making beer, and that they do only about 4,000 cases of wine a year. I should have taken better notes, but I’ll just go back for the wine train and update you then.

On a side note – I was very disappointed to know that they don’t actually crush grapes in a giant vat with their bare feet. I’ve wanted to do that ever since watching the (albeit terrible) movie, A Walk in the Clouds. Anyone with me??

The Tasting

We actually did the tasting before the tour, since we were waiting on another couple to meet us there. Fourteen wines is a lot, and since you taste from dry to sweet, it quickly becomes A LOT.

DelMonaco Winery Wine Tasting List….side A.

Jimmie and I are dry-wine drinkers, so for the most part, we had a hard time with the wines. We could appreciate the flavors, and there were a few that we would have been able to drink a glass of if we’d needed to. There were a couple that I’d have added carbonation to, and a handful that I simply could not finish my taster of. But, we also liked some – the Chardonnay was quite good, and I typically don’t like Chardonnay. It’s got apricot and fig flavors, and oddly enough, you can actually taste the fig. The Merlot and Noiret were also good, though slightly too fruity.

Don’t let our experience put you off though – our sweet-wine loving friends bought like 8 bottles. They loved the wines.

I took like 8 pictures before I’d let anyone drink it. I’m that person.

After our tasting, we bought a bottle of Chardonnay and took it to the patio for a picnic lunch of cheeses, fruits, veggies, and meats. It was a wonderful meal, despite the heat, and the wine paired perfectly with the food.

Our glorious picnic

It was a fun-filled (HOT) day, and despite not loving all the sweet wines, wine is wine, so we left happy. It’s nice to know we have such a beautiful, relaxing place here in Tennessee, and I can see myself going back with a group of girlfriends to spend some lazy Saturday.

I believe you can order DelMonaco’s wines from their website, or if you’re local, it’s a quick day trip. And if anyone does that train, I want to tag along.

Book Bites: What I’m Reading Right Now (August 7, 2017)

bookbitesreadingrightnowWelcome to Book Bites, where you get a glimpse into my reading life! Here I chronicle what I’ve finished (and what you can expect reviews on soon!), what I’m reading right now, and what I’m reading next.

I know, I know. I’ve been slacking on the blogging front. Work has been absolutely nuts (which is a good thing!) and I’ve been absolutely exhausted. I haven’t read much, so there weren’t too many posts to update. And honestly, I just couldn’t bring myself to get on the computer at home after staring at it all day at work!

That’s all about to change though, since this time next week we’ll be back in Mexico! We are both so incredibly excited. The pups, not so much.

I’ve still got a bunch of travel-related posts I’m working on, as well as a few book reviews and blog tours. Slowly but surely, you’ll start seeing more posts! Thanks for hanging in with me even though I’ve been a little spotty lately!

On the What I’m Reading Right Now front, I’m STILL working through American Gods. It’s like 19 hours long, and I think I’m about 3/4 of the way through it. It’s definitely a commitment I should have saved for a long car ride, but I’m enjoying it.

Last Week’s Posts:

Review: Ten Birthdays by Kerry Wilkinson

I Just Finished:

 

What I’m Reading Right Now:

  

 

Soon I’ll Be Reading:

ensnared  truthwitch       

What are you reading right now? Any must-read books I should add to my list soon?

Missed what I read last week

Linkups

bookdatesundaypoststackingtheshelvesKathryn over at the Book Date hosts It’s Monday! What are you reading! It’s a way to share what you’ve just read, are currently reading, and are reading next.

Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly meme, The Sunday Post. It’s a chance to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog.

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual.

Review: Ten Birthdays by Kerry Wilkinson

Ten Birthdays isn’t quite the book I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. A charming summer read. 

About Ten Birthdaystenbirthdays

Paperback: 226 pages
Published: April 2017 by Bookouture
Source: Netgalley

Buy it on Amazon

Goodreads Description: “There are going to be so many things I wish I could’ve told you in person, Poppy. I won’t get the chance to do that, so perhaps this is my only way…”

It’s Poppy Kinsey’s birthday. She should be blowing out candles and opening presents – but hers falls on the type of heart-wrenching, agonising anniversary she would far rather forget. The worst day of them all. The day her mother died.

But this year is special because the person she misses most in the world has left her a set of letters, one for each of her next ten birthdays. As Poppy opens them year by year, she discovers that no matter how tough life gets, her mum will always be by her side, guiding her along the way.

My Review

I picked up Ten Birthdays expecting to read a sappy story about a girl and her mom. I had the tissues ready and felt like I was emotionally prepared for a John Green-style roller coaster. Turned out I didn’t need any of that. Ten Birthdays isn’t a tear-jerker. Honestly, it’s not even all that emotional.

We meet Poppy on her 16th birthday. She’s doing her best to ignore it, since her birthday also happens to be the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death. Poppy and her friends go shopping, and Poppy realizes something’s up about the same time she walks into a room full of people throwing her a surprise party. Oops. Once she calms down, Poppy’s dad hands her a letter from her mom, written before her death. The letter is a way for her mom to stay in her daughter’s life, and share things with her. The remaining chapters of the book tell us what happens on Poppy’s birthdays, ending with her 25th.

I liked the premise of Ten Birthdays, because it kinda reminded me of P.S., I Love You. The two books are nothing alike, however. Poppy’s letters serve as backdrops for the events, and I admired the way Wilkinson fit them together. Her mom’s letters are relatively short, and strike a fine balance between amusing and “mom wisdom.” I appreciated the lightness of them, but in a way, they often felt unneccessary.

And I think that’s my biggest complaint with the book. The letters from Poppy’s mom simply didn’t add anything to the story. I think I’d have gotten just as much out of the book if it’d been billed as a “day in time” style, similar to David Nicholls’ One Day. I didn’t hate the birthday letters, but they lacked any real emotional connection to the story.

Despite that, or maybe because of it, I did enjoy Ten Birthdays quite a bit. It was a light, cute read, somewhat predictable, but with a well-crafted ending. This would be a good beach read, honestly.

This post contains affiliate links. 

Travel: Crawdaddy’s Restaurant in Cookeville, TN

Last week, I shared our lunch date at Sammy B’s in Lebanon, TN, on our way home from Nashville. The type A personalities will be annoyed to know that we also had lunch on the way to Nashville – but I wrote the posts out of order, so you’re just now seeing it. *Grin*

The drive from Knoxville to Nashville doesn’t have a whole lot of large towns with food choices that aren’t chain restaurants, but so far, we’ve managed. On the drive out, we stopped in Cookeville with the intention of eating at The Cooke House. We’d tried to make it there on a previous trip, but the restaurant was closed for a private event. Wouldn’t you know – it was closed this trip too.

Cookeville is roughly halfway between Knoxville and Nashville, and it’s probably the biggest city you’ll pass on the drive. It’s home to Tennessee Technological University, and has an adorable downtown area. Since the Cooke House was closed, we turned to Crawdaddy’s.

Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill

Crawdaddy’s is a Creole-American restaurant in Downtown Cookeville. It’s housed in a 100-year-old building with a spacious patio.

Crawdaddy's Entrance Cookeville

Entrance to Crawdaddy’s in Cookeville, TN

Crawdaddy's Patio Cookeville

Patio at Crawdaddy’s in Cookeville, TN

In the 1930s and 40s, that patio was home to the Fox Cafe. A fire destroyed the building in the 1960s, and the space stayed vacant until Crawdaddy’s incorporated it into their restaurant.

History Crawdaddy's

History of Crawdaddy’s Patio

Crawdaddy’s prides themselves on being a friendly, welcoming establishment. Our service was adequate, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it exceptional. Staff were courteous, and our food was delivered quickly.

The Food

I wanted everything with goat cheese, but eventually settled on the Mango Mahi Wrap with seasoned fries. Jimmie had the Citrus Glazed Salmon, which came with mashed potatoes and fried green beans.

Mango Mahi Wrap with seasoned fries at Crawdaddy’s

The wrap was stuffed full of grilled mahi mahi. So much so, in fact, that I couldn’t finish it. The mango added a nice flavor. The wrap was your standard wrap, though it ended up getting a little soggy. I’m not sure how that could be avoided unless they grilled it. The fries were good, and reminded me of Arby’s curly fries.

I forgot to get a picture of Jimmie’s salmon. The portion was a little on the small size – 4 ounces, which is great for lunch. Not sure if it’d be enough for dinner. The citrus glaze was reminiscent of an Asian marinade, but the goat cheese threw it off a little. Here’s where I have to admit that goat cheese does not, in fact, go with everything. His mashed potatoes were cold, and the fried green beans were actually roasted. Despite all this, he enjoyed it quite immensely.

Tree at Crawdaddy’s

My favorite thing about Crawdaddy’s was the atmosphere. I loved the patio’s New Orleans vibe. The downside was the number of flies relentlessly attacking our food, but I suppose that happens when you dine al fresco.

I’d like to go back and try more of the menu, but there are a couple other Cookeville restaurants I might try first. But, if you’re a fan of Creole or Cajun food, definitely add Crawdaddy’s to the list of restaurants to consider when making the drive between Knoxville and Nashville!