My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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I Owe You One
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Love, Hate & Other Filters
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The Belles
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

ARC Review: If You Want To Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
In a squatter camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, seventeen-year-old Zodwa lives in desperate poverty, under the shadowy threat of a civil war and a growing AIDS epidemic. Eight months pregnant, Zodwa carefully guards secrets that jeopardize her life.

Across the country, wealthy socialite Ruth appears to have everything her heart desires, but it's what she can't have that leads to her breakdown. Meanwhile, in Zaire, a disgraced former nun, Delilah, grapples with a past that refuses to stay buried. When these personal crises send both middle-aged women back to their rural hometown to lick their wounds, the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby upends everything, challenging their lifelong beliefs about race, motherhood, and the power of the past.

As the mystery surrounding the infant grows, the complicated lives of Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah become inextricably linked. What follows is a mesmerizing look at family and identity that asks: How far will the human heart go to protect itself and the ones it loves?

I first became aware of Bianca Marais's writing from the novel, Hum If You Don't Know The Words.  It was our month's book club selection.  I liked the characters and finding out more about South Africa.  But I must say, I enjoyed the story of If You Want To Make God Laugh, even more.  It was full of unique settings, unforgettable characters, and heart-breaking plots.  I loved it!

What I Liked:
This book is set in South Africa in the 1990's.  With the ending of Apartheid, the country is rapidly changing. Blacks are votingfor the first time, and the population is coming to grips with the atrocities of the oppressive regime of the past.  Nelson Mandela is elected, and the AIDS epidemic is lurking in the background.  

I appreciated the contrasts between the various communities of Blacks and Whites.  Zodwa lived in a squatters camp, while just a few miles away sisters Ruth and Delilah basked in relative ease in their gated home.  And later in the book, the differences between health care that Blacks and Whites received became a major plot point.  These kinds of details created a sense of how the people of South Africa really lived during this tumultuous time.

The sisters, Delilah and Ruth, couldn't be more different.  Delilah, a former nun, has just retired from a life as an aid worker.  She's led a seemingly saintly life, but she carries huge secrets from her past.  Delilah, is wild!  She's an infamous former stripper who has gone through husbands like tissue paper.  Her addictive personality makes her sister highly skeptical when she suddenly wants to adopt a black baby.

I loved these characters.  Both sisters have hidden scars that are slowly revealed over the course of the novel.  I grew to truly care about these women, and rooted for them to repair their broken relationship.

Zodwa, the pregnant black teen, represents the untapped potential of the new South Africa, and the heart-breaking tragedy of how the AIDS epidemic will soon ravage that country.  She works so hard to do all the right things, but is still a captive of traditional prejudices and thinking.  Her fierce determination to find her baby is inspirational.

Dream Cast:
If there is a movie version of this, I hope these women are the stars:
Julianne Moore as Ruth

Laura Linney as Delilah

Lupita Nyong'o as Zodwa

The story follows the sisters, Ruth and Delilah, as they find a black baby literally on their doorstep.  This forces them to confront the jealousy, loss, and prejudices that haunt them.  Can Ruth fully appreciate the implications of adopting a black baby when Apartheid has so recently been abolished?  Will Delilah open her heart and support Ruth's journey?

Throughout the novel, Zodwa is on a journey to look for her baby.  Along the way she must make hard choices in order to survive.  This includes hiding her feelings for women by dating men, and taking menial jobs.  She dreams of finishing high school and going to college.  But her primary goal is searching for those she's lost, her brother, and her son.  One thing I did not know previously about South Africa is that thousands of people went missing during Apartheid.  Her search for answers was something that many families were doing.

Trigger Warning for Sexual Violence


Release Date:  July 16th, 2019

Author: Bianca Marais

Publisher:  G.P. Putman's Sons

Page Length:  432 Pages

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  An emotional journey amidst the beginnings of a free South Africa.  Full of wonderful characters with a complex story.  This would be a great book club selection.  

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

Stacking The Shelves #155 & Sunday Post #119

I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back!

Last Week On The Blog:
I reviewed two books last week, both of which I really enjoyed.


In "Real Life":
It's been my second week on the job.  Very slowly, I am starting to get what I'm supposed to do.  I am so grateful for my co-workers who have been extremely patient with me.

I've been able to still wake early and do some small workouts.  So I'm trying to create healthy habits. 

New Books:
Public Library:


For Review:


 That's it for this week.  What books did you get that you're excited about?  Let me know in the comments.
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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Audio ARC Review: Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir, Illustrated by Sarah Andersen

Please note:  I received an advance copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
From the #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Martian and Artemis, and illustrated by webcomics creator Sarah Andersen, this graphic novel brings together the heroines of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wizard of Oz in a charming fantasy mash-up as they join forces to defend their worlds from villainous threats.

Pulled from the pages of beloved children's fantasy stories, Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy meet at a supernatural boarding school where they're meant to learn how to use and control their special, superheroic powers. When villains like the Wicked Witch and Captain Hook form an evil alliance to conquer the worlds of Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland, the girls must work together to save not only these fantastical lands but also the Earth itself. This "storybook meets superheroes" graphic novel features the original magical girls of fantasy embarking on exciting supernatural adventures in a tale that could only come from the imagination of Andy Weir and the illustrative sorcery of Sarah Andersen.

When I heard that two of my favorite creative people, Andy Weir and Sarah Andersen, were teaming up to create a graphic novel, I was immediately excited!  Cheshire Crossing is a fun, wild spin on several classic fantasy tales, including Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and even Mary Poppins.  I received the audiobook version of this story.  But even without the artwork, I found this story to be quite entertaining.

What I Liked:
This audiobook production has a full cast, so it is kind of like listening to an old-time radio show.  I enjoyed all the performances, but a particular stand out was Rebecca Soler as Miss Poole.  As performed, the listener is  definitely meant to connect Miss Poole to Mary Poppins.  It really put a smile on my face when I would get the subtle references to Mary Poppins.

The main narrator, performed by Pete Bradbury, sounded rather like a Rod Searling from The Twilight Zone.  It made for an eerie tone, emphasizing that something was amiss in each of the classic tales.

What would happen to any young girl at the turn of the twentieth century who claimed they visited another world?  They would be sent straight to an asylum, of course!  And that's exactly what happens to Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy.  I loved this.  Later, when they start visiting each others fantasy worlds, we see that each place (Oz, Wonderland, and Neverland) has its charms and its difficulties.  

The three main female characters, Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy, are affected by their stories.  Alice is bitter and seems traumatized by her experience in Wonderland.  Wendy takes her feelings of helplessness and it empowers her.  She learns to fight!  Dorothy is bewildered and has little self-worth.  After all, it was the shoes that were magical, not her.  Or was it?  I really liked that the author did try to show what would happen to these characters in a realistic way.  But he did so without ruining the spirit of those beloved stories.

This is a story of empowerment.  All three of the girls have others making decisions over what happens in their lives.  This story has them taking back control of their lives.  Awesome!!!

A note about the illustrations:
While this was an audiobook and I did not have a chance to experience the illustrations, I will say that Sarah Andersen is one of my favorite illustrators.  The cover, which I did see, is drawn in a lovely style.   I have no doubt that the rest of the graphic novel will be equally delightful. 


Release Date:  July 16th, 2019

Genre:  YA Fantasy Graphic Novel

Author:  Andy Weir

Illustrator:  Sarah Andersen

Publisher:  Ten Speed Press

Page Length:  128 Pages

Audiobook Publisher:  Penguin Random House Audio

Audio Length: 1 Hour, 38 Minutes

Audiobook Cast:

Sophie Amoss as Alice
Brittany Pressley as Wendy
Kristen DiMercurio as Dorothy
Rebecca Soler as Miss Poole
Lisa Flanagan as the Wicked Witch
James Monroe Iglehart as Captain Hook
Neil Hellegers as Rutherford and Smee
Sean Patrick Hopkins as Lem and the Jack of Knaves
Peter Coleman as Peter Pan
and Pete Bradbury as the Narrator

Source:  Penguin Random House Audio

Format:  Audiobook

Recommendation:  A fun, quick audiobook that I think will be a wonderful graphic novel, as well.  Read this if you love all those classic fantasy novels of old.


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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

ARC Review: Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia, Illustrated by Gabriel Picolo

Please note:  I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth's foster mom—and Raven's memory—she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school.

Starting over isn't easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can't remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before.

But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she's ready to face what's buried in the past... and the darkness building inside her.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia and first-time graphic novel artist Gabriel Picolo comes this riveting tale of finding the strength to face who you are and learning to trust others—and yourself.

I have long enjoyed Kami Garcia's Beautiful Creatures books.  She created such a moody atmosphere in that Southern Gothic genre.  Now, along with illustrator Gabriel Picolo, she has taken a stab at graphic novels.  What a wonderful start to what I hope will be a series (please, please, please).


What I Liked:
Sticking to a color palette of blacks and purples, illustrator Gabriel Picolo creates an angsty atmosphere.  His use of giant raven shadows was eerie and created a sense of foreboding.  He was also able to play with ways to show thoughts and inner dialogue that was fresh and original.  

The story is set in New Orleans.  Even though some of the scenes take place at a voodoo shop and a cemetery, it doesn't feel clich├ęd.   Much of the action happens either at Raven's high school.  Given how diverse New Orleans is, I like how lots of different kinds of teens are shown, including students with disabilities.

Raven is a person going through a terrible trauma.  Her foster mother was killed in a car accident right in front of her, leaving her with amnesia.  Even though she can't really feel sad for a person she can't remember, she does harbor feelings of intense guilt for surviving the crash.  Is the evil voice she hears in her head hinting that she was a terrible person before the accident?  Or is something trying to lead her astray?  People can have a variety of thoughts, both good and bad.  This is what make people complicated.  Realizing this is a step towards adulthood.  What a subtle, sophisticated subtext!

I also liked the use of headphones to help Raven deal with noise.  Lots of people are really sensitive about noise in public spaces.  Aside from having better sound quality for music, perhaps people are using them more for shutting out all the noise around them.

This was a great start to a graphic novel series.  The mood, setting, and story set the stage for us to get to know Raven, her aunt, and her cousin.  I really hope this book does well, so we will get more of this series in the future.


Release Date:  July 2nd, 2019

Author:  Kami Garcia

Illustrator:  Gabriel. Picolo

Publisher:  DC Ink

Genre:  YA Fantasy Graphic Novel

Page Length:  192 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book (PDF)

Recommendation:  Read it!  A great introduction to a complicated character.

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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Stacking The Shelves #154 & Sunday Post #118

I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back!

On The Blog:
Last week, I reviewed two books.  The Wedding Date was a fun (and very adult) light rom-com.  Hot Dog Girl was a delightful YA book about a girl working at an amusement park.  Both would make for some entertaining summer reading.

In "Real Life":
I started my new job at my school district!  I really love the people, but I have SO MUCH TO LEARN!  I know I can do this, but it is hard to go from a job I was really good at to one where I'm a complete beginner.  But I am just so happy to have this job.  

We also had an awesome time in Sonoma, California visiting my brother-in-law on the Fourth of July.  After a relaxing visit, we went to watch the fireworks in downtown Sonoma.  What a gem of a celebration!  We sat in a field, wrapped in blankets, sipping vodka tonics as the sun set.  When it was dark enough, the fireworks began.  They were spectacular and lasted 45 minutes!   This is an area that was devastated by wildfires just eighteen months ago.  I love how the community has bonded together to celebrate life.
What a huge show for such a small community.

New Books:
Public Library:

For Review:


 I've already read Teen Titans: Raven, by Kami Garcia, and Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir.  They were both quick and fun reads.  I am very excited to read Aaron Sanchez's book, Where I Come From.  I am also a Sanchez, so I always perked up when he shows up on cooking shows like Master Chef.  I am really excited to learn about his story.

That's it for this week.  If you live in the U.S., I hope you had a great Independence Day celebration. 
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Thursday, July 4, 2019

Book Review: Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:

* She's landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog.
* Her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou's never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after.
* Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who's always been up for anything, suddenly isn't when it comes to Lou's quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou's scheme to get close to Nick.
* And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland--ever--unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.

Jennifer Dugan's sparkling debut coming-of-age queer romance stars a princess, a pirate, a hot dog, and a carousel operator who find love--and themselves--in unexpected people and unforgettable places.

It's summer, and that means hot weather and, for many, fun at amusement parks.  Hot Dog Girl, by Jennifer Dugan, delivers a fun reading experience with its setting, characters, and story.  While I sometimes found the main character annoying, and the "best friends who actually are in love" premise a bit worn,  there were some genuinely romantic moments that made this book worth picking up.

What I Liked:
I have great memories of summer days and nights at amusement parks.  The author definitely plays on our nostalgia for those times in this book.  Besides all the iconic amusement park rides, there are all the summer treats we have at amusement parks including popcorn, french fries, and (of course) hot dogs.  Smaller amusement parks have the added bonus of being more community-based than the big mega resorts such as Disneyland. 

Although I found Elle to be annoying, I did really like her father, and her co-workers from the Magic Castle.  Elle's father is always kind and accepting.  He recognizes when Elle is upset about her missing mother, or when she is fighting with her friend Seeley.   I like that the fun of working at an amusement park is shown, as well as the pitfalls.  Special off hours access to the attractions, bonding over the sometimes ridiculous jobs they have, and enjoying all those french fries all contributed to the sense of the special nature of summer jobs.  But there are also challenges for young summer workers such as heatstroke for workers, cleaning up vomit, and dealing with screaming children in the unrelenting heat.

The main story is how when one yearns for a crush, they might miss what's right in front of them.  I have mixed feelings about using the "secretly in love with my best friend" scenario.  It's been done too often.  But the underlying message is still a good one.  I also like how the story of the park closing plays out.  I like that Elle starts to see beyond her own interests and thinks about the needs of others.  

There is a lot of sweet romance in this book between Elle and two different characters.  Elle can't be sure if Nick likes her, but it sure seems so.  He is constantly touching her, and finding excuses to hang out with her.  She also has lots of romantic moments with a certain girl (Elle is bisexual).  She goes swimming at midnight with one character, helps another character in a rainstorm, and shares a movie screen worthy kiss with someone during a fireworks display.  Most of the romance happens at night.  And what is more magical than a warm summer night?  It is enchanting.

What I Was Mixed About:
I found Elle (or is it Lou or Eloise.  It kept switching), to be a difficult character to like.  She was often really mean to her father, seeming to blame him for her mother abandoning her.  Elle seems eager to have any connection with her mother.  When her mother simply sends a postcard to her every few months, instead of being angry at the mom, she takes it out on the dad.  The father also doesn't seem angry with his ex-wife for leaving.

It was also rude of Elle to insist that she and Seeley be a pretend couple in order to hang out more with her crush, Nick.  Was she hoping that Nick would cheat on his own girlfriend to be with Elle?  What does that say about what she thinks is Nick's moral compass?  Who would want to date a cheater like that?  

Tired Trope:
I know that the "best friends who become more" trope is a popular one, but I find this really tiresome.  I have NEVER seen this happen in real life.  I have seen friends where one clearly would like to take it to the next level, but it never happens.  Please tell me if you have ever seen this happen.  I would love to be proven wrong, but I think a person knows who they are attracted to almost immediately.  No one says, "Wow, I never realized I was attracted to ...". 


Release Date:  April 30th, 2019

Author:  Jennifer Dugan

Publisher:  Putnam

Genre:  YA Fiction

Pages Length:  320 Pages

Source:  Public Library

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation: A quick, fun summer reading experience.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Please Note:  I received a free copy of this audio book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads): 
A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn't normally do. But there's something about Drew Nichols that's too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex's wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend...

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she's the mayor's chief of staff. Too bad they can't stop thinking about the other...

They're just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century--or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want...

The Wedding Date has been a much hyped book over the last year.  I was able to obtain a free audio book copy from the publisher, so I thought I would give it a listen.  Despite the rather predictable plot and obligatory sex scenes, I enjoyed this book.  The two main characters, Alexa and Drew, are very likable.  Their banter is cute and you could see why they would like each other.  This was a fun, quick listen.

What I Liked:
The novel is set in both the San Francisco bay area, and Los Angeles.  I loved the details of both cities.  San Francisco comes away as the romantic city it is.  The scenes in Los Angeles are more about Drew's work as a doctor.  Both characters need to travel back and forth between the two cities.  I would have liked the author to add some flight delays (fog is a serious problem in San Francisco) to make it more realistic.

The two main characters both have full lives when they meet as they get stuck in an elevator.  The book has lots of each character's inner dialogue as they feel such an immediate connection.  This was really fun, as the reader hears each character's insecurities and worries.

Alexa is a very driven professional who works for the mayor of Berkeley.  I love that she has a full life without Drew.  He adds to her life, but is she is not waiting for a guy to complete her existence.

Alexa is also an African-American.  She does a great job of bringing up the disparity between how white and black people are treated.  This is quite an education for Drew.

Drew is a doctor, really focused on his career.  Relationships with women aren't a priority.  He is purely into casual encounters, so he has a difficult time with his growing feelings towards Alexa.

Janina Edwards does a wonderful job of narrating this novel.  With her expressive voice, she only has to make subtle changes to convey various characters.  I look forward to listening to more audio books from this performer. 

What I Was Mixed About:
I found the plot to be rather predictable.  Why is it always the guy who has commitment issues?  It would have been more fun if Alexa was the one who left a trail of men behind her, or if she was hesitant to commit because of her high powered job.

What I Didn't Like:
Sex On The Page:
I am not a fan of super steamy sex scenes in books.  While I know that this genre usually has this, it is not my thing.  If you enjoy hot sex scenes, you will really enjoy this novel.


Release Date:  January 30th, 2018

Author:  Jasmine Guillory

Genre:  Romance Fiction

Print Publisher:  Berkley

Page Length:  320 Pages

Audio Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio

Audio Length:  8 Hours, 28 Minutes

Narrator:  Janina Edwards

Source:  Publisher

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation: A fun Rom/Com to listen to.  Not a "clean" romance, so don't listen if you don't want to hear detailed descriptions of sex.
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2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 10 books toward her goal of 120 books.


80% 80% 100 Book Reviews 2016 NetGalley Challenge
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