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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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Stacking The Shelves & Sunday Post 2020 #3

I am combining two great weekly blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves by Team Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post by Caffeinated Reviewer.  I hope to read as many of the blogs from these two hops as possible because I love to see what everyone is reading!

If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me at Bloglovin, Goodreads, or Twitter.  Let me know you're a new follower so I can follow you back!

Oh how I wish I was more motivated this past week.  I found it hard to read and stay on track with my health goals!  I am blaming it on the weather here in Northern California.


It's been dark, cold, and rainy, which makes me want to just snuggle in bed and not get moving.  Yes, I am a wimp!  But I'll take warm weather over cold, any day of the week!

I did get myself to my book club meeting at my favorite Indy Bookstore, A Great Good Place For Books.  What a fabulous little gem in the Oakland Hills!  We discussed our latest read, Fever, by Mary Beth Keane.


This historical fiction deals with Irish immigrant, Mary Mallon, better known as "Typhoid Mary".  It was so vivid in its descriptions of New York City at the beginnings of the twentieth-century, and had a complex cast of characters.  I really enjoyed it.

Our next pick is The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys.  This is a YA historical fiction set in Spain in the 1950's.  It looks really compelling.


Read This Week:



I enjoyed all of these books!  Both Blood Heir and The Conference of The Birds were audio books.  I finally finished Tweet Cute, and actually liked it.  I say actually because I was finding it hard to get through, at times.  I think this was because it often wandered close to several Rom-com clichés (which made me put the book down a few times), but then it would take a different route.  Ultimately, it was quite entertaining and fun.

New Books:


I enjoyed the audio book of The Conference of The Birds, by Ransom Riggs.  But you really need the pictures that he includes in his books to really get the full, eerie, effect.  So I went ahead and bought it!  I also bought One of Us Is Lying be Karen M. McManus.  Since I need to read it before reading One of Us is Next, I luckily found it on sale on my Kindle!

For Review:


The Last Train to Key West was a download on Edelweiss.  I was so happy to see this book, as Chanel Cleeton has been a solid historical fiction writer.  I have really enjoyed her other books, which usually deal with Cuba in the 1950's and 60's.  I can't wait to read this one.

I was able to get an advance audio copy of One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus, from the good people at Penguin Random House Audio!  I've heard a lot about this series, so I hope it lives up to the hype.

That's it for this week.  How are all of you doing on your goals?

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Audio ARC Review: Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao

Please Note:  I received an advance audio copy of this 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):
In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.

I had been rather tapped out with YA fantasy books about rebel princesses.  The tropes for this genre (a royal wrongly accused of something, a criminal who is just misunderstood) have been overused of late.  But Blood Heir, by Amelie Wen Zhao, takes these tropes and gives them such depth, that the result is a  compelling read.  With fantastic world-building, fun characters, an action-packed story, and riveting narration, this is a wonderful book.

What I Liked:

Emily Woo Zeller does a wonderful job with the narration for this book.  I love how she was able to make each character unique.  While Anna was all haughty and anxious, Ramson was pure charm.   Her interpretations of the male characters were really compelling.  I would really like to hear her other works, now that I've listened to this audio book.

The author slowly adds more and more details as to what affinites are, what they can do, and why they are so feared my non-affinites.  

I also liked that there were other nations that held affinites in high esteem.  This showed me that it was really the Cyrilian Empire that was the problem, not people with special abilities.

There were also lots of details about clothing and how people lived in various areas of the empire.  One could clearly see the differences between rich and poor, and how affinites were essentially slaves.

The two main characters, Anna and Ramson, are immediately at odds with each other.  They see each other as untrustworthy.  But they also each need the other in order to get what they want in the story.

I loved how they got to know each other.  This was not an "insta-love" situation because they were both really focused on their ultimate goals:  Anna wanted to clear her name, and Ramson straight up wants revenge!  But they do eventually come to value each other's traits.

The other thing I really enjoyed about the characters is that they were quite complex.  Anna, even though she is a princess, is just as flawed as Ramson, the criminal.  Sometimes they make terrible decisions, but they work to do better.

One of the major themes in the book is that we are defined by the choices we make.  And even though we do make some bad choices, we can still start over and choose the right way.  Again and again there are examples of characters who stray down the wrong path by supporting the slave trade.  But most have a moment when they can choose to do better.  Their poor choices still remain, but they are not forever tainted by what they did.

The story was action-packed with lots of captures, and daring escapes.  There were friendships, and betrayals.  And what royal fantasy would be complete without the staple of a masquerade ball!  Yes, that was such a cliché, but it was also lots of fun.

Overall, this was a really fun book and start to a trilogy.  I liked that the main plot points were resolved, but that there were plenty of cliff-hangers to make me want to read book two.


Release Date:  November 19, 2019

Author:  Amelie Wen Zhoa

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Audio Publisher:  Listening Library

Audio Length:  13 Hrs, 57 Min.

Audiobook Narrator:  Emily Woo Zeller

Print Publisher:  Delacorte Press

Print Book Length:  464 Pages

Format I Reviewed:  Audio Book

Source:  Penguin Random House Press

Recommendation:  A wonderful, action-packed YA fantasy.  If you like this genre, you will enjoy this book.


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Friday, January 10, 2020

Stacking The Shelves & Sunday Post #2 2020

I am combining two great weekly blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves by Team Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post by Caffeinated Reviewer.  I hope to read as many of the blogs from these two hops as possible because I love to see what everyone is reading!

If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me at Bloglovin, Goodreads, or Twitter.  Let me know you're a new follower so I can follow you back!

This week was all about getting back into the routines of work, exercise, and daily reading. 


I found it hard to get moving in the morning, partly because it was so cold, but also because I was attempting to cut down on coffee...

Needless to say, that was not great.  I did exercise in the afternoons, and tried to eat better.  It's a matter of trying to keep moving forward, even if I don't meet my goal all of the time.

Reading was tough this week.  I am reading two review books on my Kindle that are...Meh.  I hope to finish them soon so I can move on to books I really like.

I am listening to a wonderful audio book called Blood Heir, by Amelie Wen Zhao.  It's a YA fantasy with wonderful world-building, intriguing characters, and lots of action.  I hope to be finished with it this weekend.

New Books:
For Review:
*Audio Book

What I'm reading this week:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13513481-the-eye-of-the-world https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45045129-tweet-cute

That's it for this week.  Have a pleasant week ahead.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

ARC Review: The Girls With No Names by Serena Burdick


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):
Not far from Luella and Effie Tildon’s large family mansion in Inwood looms the House of Mercy, a work house for wayward girls. The sisters grow up under its shadow with the understanding that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. But when the sisters accidentally discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen older sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases.

But her rebellion comes with consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone. Effie suspects her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. But she made a miscalculation, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s escape from the House of Mercy seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to survive.

The Home for Unwanted Girls meets The Dollhouse in this atmospheric, heartwarming story that explores not only the historical House of Mercy, but the lives—and secrets—of the girls who stayed there.

I feel very conflicted about this book.  On the one hand, this is an historical fiction novel that is rich with details.  Many of the characters are quite compelling.   And the subject matter, the House of Mercy (which was a prison for women and children disguised as a place to help these people), is a part of history we should all know about.  

But there were a few aspects of the storytelling that I found difficult to overlook. The author seems to use a particular minority group simply to further someone else's storyline.  And another character's horrible behavior was excused because she had a difficult life.  I think the bad outweighs the good, so unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book.

What I Liked:
New York city in the Gilded Age was a time filled with contrasts.  This was a moment in history where a select few had unprecedented wealth and prosperity.  Their mansions were just blocks away from the crushing poverty seen in the infamous tenement building occupied by recent immigrants.

The author does do a credible job of showing how both groups of people lived.  She shows the details of food, clothing, housing, and occupations that separated the lucky from the unfortunate.

This book focuses mainly on three female characters, Effie (a young teen), her mother Jeanne, and a tough as nails older teen named Mabel.  While all three characters were well written, I really enjoyed Jeanne.  

Married to a wealthy businessman, Jeanne has been pampered most of her life.  But her privilege comes at a price.  She has to endure her husband's womanizing, her mother-in-law's criticism, and the disdain of her children.  But as the new century unfolds, times are changing.  Women are marching to demand the right to vote.  I liked how Jeanne comes into her own power and doesn't let her husband (or her children) define her.

What I Didn't Like:
Use of the Romani people:
I really was uncomfortable with the use of the word, "Gypsy" throughout this book.  While I did appreciate that the author addressed this in an afterword at the end of the novel, I still couldn't understand why she used that word again and again.  She defended it by saying that she researched this group extensively and  wanted to be "historically accurate".  But, it struck me that the author only had the Romani people in the book as a way for one of the wealthy characters to rebel, and not to shed any light on who they really were or what their plight was. 

While I am by no means an expert on this group of people, every tired cliche was used during scenes where the sisters visit the Romani.  The clothes were described as colorful, and the people loud.  There was exciting violin music and (of course) fortune-telling.  I felt like these were stereotypes from old black and white movies from the 1940's.

What I would have loved to have seen was any acknowledgment of why they were living in wagons and constantly on the move, or how hard their life was.  Instead of showing how they were harassed and pushed out of towns, the author seems to suggest the Romani were "free" compared  to Effie and her wealthy sister.  But freedom implies one has choices.  I doubt that if the Romani wanted to settle in one place they would have been accepted.

Emotional Manipulation:
The other aspect of the book that I hated was how the author worked hard to make the reader feel sorry for Mabel, while making excuses for her horrible behavior.  Yes, Mabel stood for all the abused and disadvantaged women of the time.  She was born into extreme poverty.  When she and her mother moved to New York there was one horror after another for Mabel.  I did have deep empathy for this character.  

But Mabel also did many terrible things (some truly unforgivable), and I was baffled that she didn't change much over the course of the book.  While she did do some good, she never showed remorse or took any responsibility for her actions.  One of the characters actually said Mabel shouldn't be blamed for what she did because of her unfortunate circumstances!  So she shouldn't have to try to be a good person because she went through tough times?

Trigger Warning:  This book contains scenes of sexual violence.  It is not suitable for young readers.


Release Date:  January 7th, 2020

Author:  Serena Burdick

Publisher:  Park Row

Genre:  Historical Fiction 

Page Length:  336 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-book

Recommendation:  While the subject manner is worthy and the historical details rich, I cannot recommend this book.

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Saturday, January 4, 2020

Stacking The Shelves: 2020 Edition

I am combining two great weekly blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves by Team Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post by Caffeinated Reviewer.  I hope to read as many of the blogs from these two hops as possible because I love to see what everyone is reading!

If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me at Bloglovin, Goodreads, or Twitter.  Let me know you're a new follower so I can follow you back!

Personal Update:
It's been a time of great change in my house since school started.  I changed jobs, and my youngest child went off to college VERY far away!  And while all these changes are very good things, they've been huge adjustments for me and my family.  Plus, it has forced me to face the fact that I am getting older and need to be thoughtful prioritizing how I spend my limited free time. 


With all this reflection, I am naturally rethinking how much energy I want to spend on books and blogging.  I really love books and sharing my thoughts with others on what I've read.  But I want to be deliberate in what I do.  I don't want to just read anything, just because I can get an ARC for free.

I write this as I look over at my overflowing bookshelves!  So my intention for this year is to actually read what I already own!  

With a goal of reading 10 books a month (normal for me), here is my game plan:

ARC's:  2 to 3 per month
Library Books:  2 to 3 per month
Books I own:  at least 4 per month

I do still plan on buying one book a month to participate in a local book club, but I will TRY to limit myself to just the one book.

Can I do this?

What are some of your bookish goals?

What I've Been Reading:
Click on the image to read my review!

Book Club:



Wishing each of you a new year filled with Peace and Contentment...
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Friday, January 3, 2020

Book Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abby Waxman


Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They're all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It's a disaster! And as if that wasn't enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn't he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It's going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

Decompressing from all the holiday madness, I finally was able to read The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman.  It is a Contemporary Fiction book filled with great observations on Millennials,  Los Angeles culture, and bookish people.  Throw in some family mayhem and a lovely romance, and this book was a quick, enjoyable read.

What I Liked:

Emily Rankin does a wonderful job of narrating this book.  She distinguishes between characters with subtle vocal changes that make listening easy to follow.  Her timing and delivery work well with the humor of the book.

I grew up in Southern California and really appreciate all the little touches that the author put in to show how well-to-do Millenials live in L.A..  Everyone is obsessed with consumerism, but also with making sure that each product they buy is responsibly-sourced, fair-trade, and cruelty-free.  It's a given that you know someone in the film industry, whether it's an actress, a producer, or a screenwriter.  And nearly everyone drives a car.  Everyone, except the main character, Nina Hill.

Nina is a very typical Angelino (with the glaring exception that she doesn't drive).  But she is also an introvert who has panic attacks, particularly when unscheduled things happen.  With the constant bombardment of social media, pop-culture, and just dealing with people, it's no wonder Nina treasures her time to herself.  But despite her challenges, Nina is a busy person, scheduling in all sorts of activities from yoga to competitive trivia nights.  I admired her willingness to be so active which, at times, put her in uncomfortable situations.

There are also a number of wonderful secondary characters, such as the bookstore owner, Liz, a small business owner who is having trouble staying afloat, and the numerous relatives of Nina who are suddenly part of her life.  Even Nina's cat, Phil, is a fun character!  I love how she imagines him speaking to her in a sophisticated British accent.

The story has several threads, but the two main ones are the discovery of Nina's father's relatives (she hadn't known her father at all!), and Nina's attraction to Tom, a fellow Trivia competitor.

When Nina finds out that her father was a wealthy lawyer who has passed away, a dozen relatives are thrust upon her.  Many are surprised and curious about who she is.  A few people question if she is some kind of con-artist out to steal their inheritance!  Nina, who doesn't handle change well, is ambivalent.  On the one hand, she is thrilled to have siblings.  But she is also nervous about what kind of obligations will go along with all these new connections.

The same can be said about her feelings for Tom.  While she enjoys getting to know him, she is wary of having a steady boyfriend.  Can she fit yet another person into her busy schedule?  While this may seem silly at first, I understood it was a way for Nina to find excuses for avoiding true intimacy, and possibly getting hurt.

I love the romance in this book.  I found it refreshing that the characters took time to get to know each other.  They didn't go rushing into sex the moment they see each other.  And, when the sexy stuff finally does happen, it was fun and not smutty.


Release Date:  July 9th, 2019

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Author:  Abbi Waxman

Print Publisher:  Berkley Press

Page Length:  352 pages

Audio Book Publisher:  Penguin Random House Audio

Narrator:  Emily Rankin

Audio Book Length:  9 Hrs, 3 Min

Source:  Public Library

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation:  This was a very enjoyable book with lots of humor and romance.  A quick, fun read.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Audio ARC Review: The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Please Note:  I received an advance audio copy of this 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 thrilling tale of secretaries turned spies, of love and duty, and of sacrifice—inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago.

At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetime. Their mission: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR, where no one dare publish it, and help Pasternak's magnum opus make its way into print around the world. Glamorous and sophisticated Sally Forrester is a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit all over the world--using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men. Irina is a complete novice, and under Sally's tutelage quickly learns how to blend in, make drops, and invisibly ferry classified documents.

The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story—the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who was sent to the Gulag and inspired Zhivago's heroine, Lara—with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk. From Pasternak's country estate outside Moscow to the brutalities of the Gulag, from Washington, D.C. to Paris and Milan, The Secrets We Kept captures a watershed moment in the history of literature—told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail. And at the center of this unforgettable debut is the powerful belief that a piece of art can change the world.

Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres.  I love how people's lives are affected by world events.  The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott, takes place during the Cold War among spies, paranoia in America, and the brutal suppression of dissent in the Soviet Union.  Add to that the backstory of the great literary classic, Doctor Zhivago, and you have the makings of an intensely riveting novel.

What I Liked:
The book alternates between the lives of Poet Boris Pasternak in the Soviet Union, and CIA headquarters in Washington D.C.  Both places are full of intrigue.  In the USSR, even being associated with Pasternak gets people thrown in prison.  The brutality of the Communist government makes the point of how dangerous it is to challenge the system.  The novel details the great lengths to which the Soviet government went to suppress even the hint of dissent.

In Washington D.C., the end of WWII is a time of transition for those involved in espionage.  Women are "retired" to the typing pool, while the men get to continue their spy games.  But a few of the women are still used as couriers.  Even those low-level activities are filled with danger.  America in the 1950's comes alive with all the male chauvinism of the era.  It is infuriating to read what these women had to endure.

Most of the action is told through the eyes of the women of the story.  In Washington, Irina (a Russian-American) joins the secretarial pool at the CIA.  Her beauty, and Russian language skills, are put to good use as she is recruited into being a spy.  I loved Irina and her fierce determination to lead a better life.

Sally is a more experienced spy who trains Irina.  As they become closer, it's clear that both Sally and Irina have other secrets that are just as dangerous as espionage.  Their affair is both lovely and heart-breaking.

In Russia, we follow Olga, Pasternak's fellow poet and mistress.  Olga pays a high price for her relationship with Boris when she is torn from her children and thrown in prison.  I liked Olga's determination to protect her children, but still support Boris.  But she was far from a love-struck woman.  As the years progress, Olga begins to notice how Boris has little regard for the danger he has put her in.  He chooses to be oblivious about how brutal Olga's prison experience was.  And this has an effect on her love for Boris.

In both worlds, women seem to pay a steeper price for their choices.

The novel is performed by a full cast.  This makes for a very enjoyable and easy listening experience. 

The story is based on actual events and people, following the creation and publication of Boris Pasternak's novel, Doctor Zhivago.  If not for a few brave people, the world may never have heard of this book, which sharply criticizes the Soviet revolution.  This was also a golden opportunity for the U.S. to broadcast the fact that not all Soviet citizens were enthusiastic about communism.  Not surprisingly, the Americans don't seem too concerned if Pasternak and his family are persecuted for the book.

In Washington D.C., we get a glimpse of female office workers who moonlight as spies.  While the women do get to lead dangerous and exciting lives, they are primarily used for their youth and beauty.  When those things fade, their usefulness evaporates and the women are thrown aside.  It's amazing (and sad) to read how oppressed these patriotic women were.


Release Date:  September 17th, 2019

Author:  Lara Prescott

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Audio Publisher:  Random House Audio

Audio Length:  10 Hours, 56 Minutes

Print Publisher:  Knopf

Page Length:  368 Pages 
Source:  Random House Audio

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation:  A compelling historical fiction filled with spies at the height of the Cold War.  Very enjoyable.
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2020 Reading Challenge

2020 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 2 books toward her goal of 120 books.


80% 80% 100 Book Reviews 2016 NetGalley Challenge
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