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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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Audio Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Please Note:  I am an Amazon Affiliate.  I will get a small fee if you buy the book through the link on the cover.  This did not influence my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
A Gentleman in Moscow
immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

I really didn't know much about this novel before I read it.  But a friend of mine recommended this book, so I checked out the audiobook from my local library.  At first, I found the tone of this book to be very stilted, and old-fashioned.  But as I listened, the story of Count Rostov enveloped me and I raced to finish the book before I had to return it.

What I Liked:
The disposed Count Rostov is ordered to stay in the Hotel Metropol for the rest of his life.  At first I thought, "Oh, poor baby!  His life will be so rough living in a five star hotel."  But, as I read the novel, the hotel does indeed become a kind of prison, as life passes by outside, and he has few ways to access it.

I enjoyed the way he eventually does find a kind of purpose in the hotel, and even gets the opportunity to find love and parenthood.  While he is very adaptable to the new Soviet atmosphere, he also upholds some old-world values of service, discretion, and loyalty amid an ever-changing world.

The hotel staff each have different relationships with the Count and they change as time marches on.  The restaurant staff first see him as a valued, important customer, later as an equally important member of the waitstaff.  Their changing relationships mirror what is going on politically in the Soviet Union.  One staff member (sorry, but I forgot his name) goes from bumbling waiter to manager of the entire hotel because he knows how to work the party system to his advantage (a little blackmail doesn't hurt either). 

The women in the Count's life, Anna the actress, the child Nina, and (later) Nina's daughter, Sophie, all come to love the Count in different ways.  But, as he is still stuck in the hotel, they flit in and out of his life, a reminder that he is still not free.

Historical details: 
As I read the book, I had no idea that the Hotel Metropol was a real place!  

 Isn't is glorious?

Now that I know this is a real place, I am even more appreciative of all the details of the hotel, and how things changed over the years.  

The book also chronicles how Russian society changed with the advent of Communism.  People who were once important were now reduced to the lowest rungs of society.  But I found it interesting that there were still levels of class in Russia, despite the best efforts of the Socialists to change things.  

Th book is narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith, and he does a fine job of portraying the Count as the fastidious gentleman he is.  He also conveys the loneliness and regret of the character throughout the novel. 

What I Didn't Like:
Some Historical Gaps:
I love historical fiction, so I was disappointed that one of the most tragic events in Russia was skipped over, entirely!   How could this book chronicle the 1920's to the 1950's without even a mention of the hardships endured by Russians during WWII?  Russia suffered over 20 million casualties, more than any other nation.  Over four million people died of starvation, alone.  Wouldn't there have been severe hardships to the people in the hotel during this time?

Despite this gap, I really enjoyed this book.  The journey of the Count is engaging, and pulls you in to make you care about the characters.



Release Date:  September 6th, 2016

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Audio

Listening Length:  17 Hours, 52 Minutes

Page Length:  700 Pages

Source:  Public Library

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation:  Although the book started slowly, I grew to love this novel. 
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Audio Book Review: Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

Please Note:  I received this audio book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.  Also I have linked the book cover with Amazon.  If you buy the book through this link, I will get a small fee.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
A new adventure about a girl who is fated to wash the bodies of the dead in this companion to Furthermore.

Our story begins on a frosty night…

Laylee can barely remember the happier times before her beloved mother died. Before her father, driven by grief, lost his wits (and his way). Before she was left as the sole remaining mordeshoor in the village of Whichwood, destined to spend her days washing the bodies of the dead and preparing their souls for the afterlife. It’s become easy to forget and easier still to ignore the way her hands are stiffening and turning silver, just like her hair, and her own ever-increasing loneliness and fear.

But soon, a pair of familiar strangers appears, and Laylee’s world is turned upside down as she rediscovers color, magic, and the healing power of friendship.

I picked up the first book in this series, Furthermore about a year ago, when I went to a book signing by Ransom Riggs.  Tahereh Mafi was there too, so glamorous!  I thought it only polite to buy her book as well, and I read it with delight.

Whichwood takes place in the world of Furthermore, but in a different magical land.  With mesmerizing narration by actor Bronson Pinchot, wonderful characters, and a colorful setting, this book illustrates what it is like for a young teen to be bullied and depressed.  It is also a beautiful book that keeps this topic accessible to young readers.

What I Liked:

This story is told through a narrator, so it is critical for the voice of this person to be right, and he is!  The narrator for this book is Bronson Pinchot.  Yes, that guy from the sitcom, Perfect Strangers, back in the 80's.  I am not familiar with any of his other work so it is wonderful to hear how expressive his voice is!   He treats the narrator as a full character (although we are never told who he is), and he leads the listener on an experience that is totally thrilling.  His work really adds to the book's listening experience.  I will definitely seek out more books with his performances in the future.

Laylee is overwhelmed by the duties of being a mordeshoor, a person who prepares the dead so they can move on.  She is only 13, yet she has these immense responsibilities, since her mother has died, and her father is consumed by grief.  She is treated terribly by the townspeople, and barely has enough food to eat, as well.  With such  burdens, it is no wonder that she is bitter, angry, and depressed.

While she did feel her job was a burden, I loved how she treated it as a sacred duty.  As the novel progresses, we see how Laylee works very hard to tenderly care for the newly dead, even if it is a thankless task.

Alice arrives with Oliver (both characters from Furthermore) to find Laylee and fulfill Alice's task from her Surrender (a ceremony from the other book).  But in her attempts to help Laylee,  she stumbles.  She offers help without really getting to the root of Laylee's problem.  Since a part of this book deals with depression, I saw this as an analogy to how some people give a depressed person lame advice such as "Have a positive attitude!", or "You should smile more!"  The person thinks they are giving great advice, while in reality it is patronizing.  But Alice does learn her lesson.  Her heart is always in the right place.  It's just that there are no quick and easy fixes to a person's problems.

The ghosts  are also wonderful characters in this book.  From Laylee's nagging mother, to the more recently deceased ghosts, each is very distinct and fun!
What is not fun is the subject of depression.  But the topic is treated in such a way as to be a very natural product of losing a parent, and having challenging circumstances.  This book is aimed, after all, at middle grade readers, so I appreciated that the author made this subject accessible to these readers.  Adolescent depression is a growing problem in our society, and I hope readers will begin to see the signs and understand when a teen needs help.

The world of Whichwood has it's own rules and it is wonderful to discover them in this book.  I also enjoyed the mouth-watering descriptions of the special foods and festivities of Yalda, the Winter Solstice holiday.  Many of the details seem inspired by Persian foods, and traditions.  Laylee even wears an Hijab!

Much of the book centers on Laylee's job as a Mordeshoor, what it is, and how this fits into the world of Whichwood.  These were details show how important Laylee's task is to the town, and how underappreciated she is.



Release Date:  November 14th, 2017

Publisher:  Listening Library

Genre:  Middle-grade Fantasy

Narrator:  Bronson Pinchot

Listening Length:  7 hours, 5 minutes

Page Length:  368 pages

Source:  Publisher

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation:  This was a charming book that has serious undertones concerning things that affect young teens such as bullying, poverty, and depression.  I loved it.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Bay Area Book Events #74

Due to the enormous size of this list, I only show events about four weeks in advance.  There is also a master calendar that has all listings.

Bookstores in this list may include:  
A Great Good Place For Books (Oakland) 
Barnes & Noble (various Bay Area Locations)
Books Inc. (various Bay Area Locations)
Book Passage (Corte Madera & San Francisco) 
Borderlands Books (San Francisco) 
Copperfield's Books (Various Locations) 
East Bay Booksellers (Oakland)   
Green Apple Books (San Francisco) 
Hicklebee's Children's Books (San Jose) 
Kepler's Books (Menlo Park)   
Mrs. Dalloway's (Berkeley) 
Orinda Books (Orinda)   
Pegasus Books (Berkeley & Oakland)   
Point Reyes Bookstore (Point Reyes) 
Rakestraw Books (Danville)
The Booksmith (San Francisco)
Town Center Books (Pleasanton)  

I am attempting to make this a one stop place to find book signings in the San Francisco Bay Area! I will mostly focus on YA books, but I will also include some general fiction if I think it will be of interest.  I do not list non-fiction books (There are simply too many events of those to list).  I think this is an extensive list, but there is always the possibility that I missed an event (Hey, I'm human). If you think there is an event that I should include, please leave me a note in the comments section. Thanks.

All  book graphics have links to GoodReads so you can check them out.

As always, it is a good idea to call the store a day or two before to confirm that the scheduled event is still on.  I have learned that these events change constantly.

If this list seems sparse, it's because bookstores don't seem to schedule many book events during the holidays (I'm guessing authors don't often go on book tours at this time of year).

Tuesday, November 28th, at 7:00pm


Book:  Light Of The Northern Dancers
Author:  Robin Gainey
Location:  Book Passage
Address:  51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
Tel:  (415)  927-0960

Wednesday, November 29th, at 6:00pm

Book:  Asarotica
Author:  Asa Akira
Location:  Book Passage (San Francisco)
Address:  1 Ferry Building, San Francisco
Tel: (415) 835-1020

Saturday, December 2nd, at 1:00pm

Book:  The Jaguar and the Cacao Tree
Author:  Brigitte Rasine
Location:  Book Passage
Address:  51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
Tel:  (415)  927-0960 

Saturday, December 2nd, at 2:00pm

Book:  Oracle of The Song
Author:  Gail Strickland
Book:  The Overneath
Author:  Peter S. Beagle

Location:  Barnes & Noble (Fairfield)
Address:  1600 Gateway Blvd., Fairfield
Tel:  (707) 435-0484

Saturday, December 2nd, at 7:00pm 
Nomadic Press Author Reading:

Books: Purepero Stories (Rebekah Eppley & Maria del Carmen Cortez), The Flower's in My Mother's Name ( Phillip Harris), The First Church of What's Happening (Miah Jeffra), The Horse Eaters (Ayodele Nzinga), Home Remedy (Norma Smith), So Far Afield (Frederick Spears), The Planet of the Dead ( Rene Vaz)

Location:  Laurel Book Store
Address:  1423 Broadway, Oakland
Tel:  (510) 452-9232

Sunday, December 3rd, at 1:00pm


Book:  Blood Truth
Author:  Matt Coyle
Book:  Outside The Wire
Author:  Patricia Smiley
Location:  Book Passage
Address:  51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
Tel:  (415) 927-0960

Sunday, December 3rd, at 3:00pm


Book:  When It's Over
Author:  Barbara Ridley
Location:  Laurel Book Store
Address:  1423 Broadway, Oakland
Tel:  (510) 452-9232

Monday, December 4th, at 7:00pm


Book:  Unaccompanied
Author:  Javier Zamora 
Location:  Book Passage (Corte Madera)
Address:  51 Tamal Vista Blvd., 
Tel:  (415) 927-0960 

Tuesday, December 5th, at 6:30pm

Book:  An Enchantment of Ravens
Author:  Margaret Rogerson
Location:  Hicklebee's Children's Books
Adress:  1378 Lincoln Avenue, San Jose
Tel:  (408) 292-8880

Tuesday, December 5th, at 7:00pm


Book:  The Rebels of Gold
Author:  Elise Kova
Location:  Barnes & Noble (San Mateo)
Address:  11 West Hillsdale Blvd
Tel:  (650) 341-5560

Tuesday, December 5th, at 7:00pm

Book:  New York: Stories
Author:  Terence Clarke
Location:  Books Inc., (Opera Plaza)
Address:  601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Tel:  (415) 776-1111 

Tuesday, December 5th, at 7:30pm


Book:  Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing
Author:  Charif Shannon 
Book:  Madness
Author:  Sam Sax
Location:  Green Apple Books on the Park
Address:  1231 9th Avenue, San Francisco
Tel: (415) 742-5833

Wednesday, December 6th, at 7:30pm


Book:  Free The Bear!
Author:  CD Spensley
Location:  Green Apple Books
Address:  506 Clement Street, San Francisco
Tel:  (415) 387-2272

Friday, December 8th, at 7:30pm


Book:  Kiss Me Someone
Author:  Karen Shepard
Book:  The Tunnel At The End Of The Light
Author:  Jim Shepard
Location:  Green Apple Books on the Park
Address:  1231 9th Avenue, San Francisco
Tel: (415) 742-5833

Saturday, December 9th, at 12:00pm
Silicon Valley Romance Writers of America

Authors:  Jenny Andersen, Heatherly Bell, Ava Bradley, Linda S. Gunther, Claire McEwen, and Kate Allure
Location:  Barnes & Noble (San Jose)
Address:  3600 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose
Tel:  (408) 984-3495
Saturday, December 9th, at 7:00pm

Book:  Oracle of The Song
Author:  Gail Strickland
Book:  The Overneath
Author:  Peter S. Beagle

Location:  Book Passage (Corte Madera)
Address:  51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera)
Tel:  (415) 927-0960

Sunday, December 10th, at 2:00pm


Book:  Dark Winds Rising
Author:  Mark Noce

Location:  Burlingame Library
Address:  480 Primrose Road, Burlingame
Tel: (650) 558-7400 

Sunday, December 10th, at 6:30pm
Borderlands Books Presents
SF in SF:


Book:  Tales of Falling and Flying
Author:  Ben Loory
Book: Hymm
Author:  Ken Scholes 
Location:  The American Bookbinders Museum
Address:  355 Clementina Street, San Francisco
Tel: (415) 572-1015

Tuesday, December 12th, at 7:00pm
in Conversation with Dr. Pascal Lee


This event is SOLD OUT, but tune in on Facebook Live to catch the talk between Andy Weir and Pascal Lee streaming! Click here to Like us on Facebook and get a notification as soon as we go live at the event.
Book:  Artemis
Author: Andy Weir
Location:  Books Inc., Mountain View
Address:  317 Castro Street, Mountain View
Tel: (650) 428-1247 

Saturday, December 16th, at 9:30am

Local Authors Day!  Come support our local authors all day!  Please call the store for more details.
Location:  Barnes & Noble (Fairfield)
Address:   1600 Gateway Blvd., Fairfield
Tel:  (707) 435-0484

Monday, January 8th, at 7:00pm

Book:  Batman:  Nightwalker (D.C. Icons #2)
Author:  Marie Lu
Location:  A Great Good Place For Books
Address:  6120 LaSalle Avenue, Oakland
Tel:  (510) 339-8210
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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Stacking The Shelves #105 & Sunday Post # 69

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 see everyone's version of these features! 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! 

I have begun to participate in the Amazon affiliate program, so if you click on any of the book covers it will take you to Amazon if you want to buy the book.  I will be getting a small fee for each purchase.  

On The Blog:
In Real Life:
I have had the week off, so I have been cooking, and reading/listening to some wonderful books!  My favorite book that I read this week was Whichwood, by Tahereh Mafi.  It is narrated by Bronson Pinchot,  and is wonderful.  Check out my review this coming Tuesday.

New Books: 
Public Library:
I read the second book in this series already (Paper Hearts), so I thought I would try the first one.  It looks like a sweet romance.

Bought (Kindle):

This book is a prequel to Stolen Songbird, and was on sale for $0.99 on Kindle.

That's it for this week. I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving (if you live in the U.S.). 

Now, onto the Winter Holidays!!!
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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Book Review: The One & Only by Emily Giffin

Please Note:  I am in the Amazon Affiliate program. If you click on the book cover, and buy the book through that link, I will get a small fee.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.

Thoughtful, funny, and brilliantly observed, The One & Only is a luminous novel about finding your passion, following your heart, and, most of all, believing in something bigger than yourself . . . the one and only thing that truly makes life worth living.

While I was looking for a fun romance to delve into a friend graciously let me borrow this book.  This was just the ticket. The characters were compelling, and unique, and the setting (college football) was new to me. And it was very romantic, as well.

What I Liked:
Shea Rigsby is a fun-loving woman who is not desperate to find a husband and start a family.  I found this to be so refreshing!  She does have relationships with men, but she is just enjoying her life.  I love how smart and strong Shea is, as she questions some of her safe life choices.  But she does have her faults.  For a woman in her thirties, she seems to behave more like a college student, getting drunk several times in the book.  This leads to some situations that I feel are far-fetched, given how mature Shea is.

I found the Coach to be more than a stereotypical man's man.  He works hard and has many people looking up to him.  But being stuck standing on that pedestal is lonely.  He sees in Shea an opportunity to relax and be himself.  He is also not perfect.  As the head coach of a major college football program, he may have looked the other way when some of his players have done unethical things.  But why?  And does that automatically make him a terrible person?

Domestic Abuse:
I thought the author handled this difficult issue very well.  She showed how easily the victim (and even bystanders) makes excuses for the abuser.  If the person is someone well regarded in the community, most people will choose not to see the obvious.  She also shows the aftermath of how the victim blames herself, and how the abuser promises and promises to change.  

At first, I was put off by where I thought the book was going in the romance department.  But I think my discomfort was actually beneficial to my reading experience!  What happens when you are attracted to someone you know all of your friends and family will object to?  Do you have the courage to follow your heart?  Does that person also have the guts to let the chips fall where they may, and stand up for love?  That uncomfortable dread I felt was what the character felt, and it made me empathize with her.

Shea is the ultimate football fan.  She memorizes stats, playbooks, and even all the Heisman trophy winners!  Reading about her obsession is contagious, and makes me want to pay attention to college football in the future! 

What I Didn't Like:
I am not a fan of explicit sex scenes in books, and  there are one or two of these in this novel.  I didn't find them too offensive, but I think if you are looking for a "clean" romance book, you should look elsewhere.  Which is a shame.  I don't think these scenes added much to the story.  Thankfully, they were not a frequent aspect of the book, so that is why I am only subtracting half a star from my rating.



Release Date:  May 20th, 2014

Genre:  General Fiction

Trigger Warning:  This book does have scenes of domestic abuse.

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Length:  432 Pages

Source:  Borrowed from a friend

Format:  Paperback

Recommendation:  This is a fun romance that will keep you entertained, especially if you enjoy football!
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2020 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 2 books toward her goal of 120 books.


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