Friday, July 3, 2015

Review | A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R.R. Martin {website}
Publication Date: August 1996
Publisher: Bantam Books
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire {Book 1}
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

I am normally a huge fan of reading the book before watching the TV show/movie. I have waited to watch major motion pictures until I could get my hands on the book. Generally, in my experience, the books have so much more detail that brings them to life than their movie counterparts. 

That being said, I really struggled with this book - the only way I finished it was relating back to the characters. Looking back over my GoodReads updates, I realized I started this book back in 2012. The only reason I didn't give up completely on this book was something an old coworker said to me. "They're a slow start," he admitted, "but once you're in, you're hooked."

Boy, was he right.

I did watch the first season of Game of Thrones when it first came out. Mike and I grabbed the DVDs and settled in with a giant bowl of popcorn. However, and if you've been reading the blog for a while you might have expected this, I couldn't stand the violence. He kept watching (currently on season 3, I think) and fell in love with the story. So, when I was called for standby jury duty last month, I took this massive book along with me. Having the actors' faces in mind as I followed the many characters throughout their journey helped solidify them in my mind and fall in love with them all the more. 

The worldbuilding in A Game of Thrones is simply extraordinary. From the Red Keep to the Wall, Martin uses the perfect amount of sensory detail, allowing the reader to see the scene in their mind but not overwhelming. This amount of detail carries over into his characters: even now, long after I've finished the story, I can imagine the battle Catelyn watched from atop the hill, Daenerys as she makes that heartbreaking decision... It's addictive.

To put it simply, I'm hooked. I don't know if I'll watch the rest of the seasons, but the books are definitely going on my TBR. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review | Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Title: Heroes Are My Weakness
Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips {website}
Publication Date: August 2014
Publisher: Harper Collins
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
He's a reclusive writer whose imagination creates chilling horror novels. She's a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids' puppet shows.

Annie Hewitt has arrived on Peregrine Island in the middle of a snowstorm and at the end of her resources. She's broke, dispirited, but not quite ready to give up. Her red suitcases hold the puppets she uses to make her living, the romantic novels she loves, and a little bit of courage--all she has left.

Annie couldn't be more ill prepared for what she finds when she reaches Moonraker Cottage or for the man who dwells in Harp House, the mysterious mansion that hovers above the cottage from a windblown cliff. When she was a teenager, he betrayed her in a way she can never forget or forgive. Now they're trapped together on a frozen island along with a lonely widow, a mute little girl, and townspeople who don't know how to mind their own business. Is he the villain she remembers or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes. It's going to be a long, hot winter.

SEP has always been one of my favorite romance authors. From Lady Be Good, SEP's books are my go-to comfort reads. I expected a strong romance, a little silliness in the plot, and an overall fun read from Heroes Are My Weakness and, skipping the slow start to the novel, I got exactly that.

What I didn't expect were the powerful gothic elements in Heroes Are My Weakness. Most of the SEP books I have read tend to be a little lighter, even with dealing with dark issues. I didn't expect the Heathcliff or Edgar Allan Poe references, or the powerful scenery of the large looming mansion atop the hill.

The story didn't take off right away, unfortunately. The first third was oddly slow, even the first few pages. I considered dropping this book back into my library return bag, but SEP's books have been so good to me in the past years, I hung on. Thank goodness I did. 

Theo is, initially, a creepy character. I actually had to check the back of the book to make sure that yes, he is indeed the romantic hero. As the story progressed, I loved his character despite myself. The wry humor, brief sarcasm, and hidden secrets was a combo I couldn't resist. On the other hand, Annie is an open book: there's very little that's surprising about her, but considering the vast emotions of Theo, the story would have been overwhelmed otherwise.

The emotional baggage held by both Annie and Theo creates some amazing tension. Theo's dark history touched Annie in the past, but the true story behind it isn't quite what she expected. Both characters' struggle with their intertwined past bumps the romance up a few notches. To be honest, I didn't expect to love the romance so much. Theo and Annie weren't just fighting against outside forces: they were fighting against themselves and their attraction to each other. The plot held up beautifully to such complex emotions, and definitely delivered in the end.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Monthly Rewind | June 2015

Sarah Hearts
I usually don't say this, but I'm so glad this month is over. June started out pretty fabulous (I went to my first work conference!), but became really rough personally as it went on. Thankfully, it looks like everything will turn out okay, so it's just time to hold on. 

Read for an hour every day, even in increments. Ah. I managed at least a half hour! 

Return library books by the due date (not the day after). YES!

Plan and schedule posts ahead of time. Planned, yes. Schedule? No...

If I really don't like a book, it's okay to DNF. Surprisingly, achieved.


Only request books I really want to read, whether it's on Netgalley or the library. 

Schedule posts ahead of time.

Read one book that terrifies me. 




Monday, June 29, 2015

Mini Monday | "Backup" by Jim Butcher

Title: "Backup"
Author: Jim Butcher {website}
Publication Date: October 2010
Publisher: Roc

Series: The Dresden Files {10.4}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Let's get something clear right up front. I'm not Harry Dresden. Harry's a wizard. A genuine, honest-to-goodness wizard. He's Gandalf on crack and an IV of Red Bull, with a big leather coat and a .44 revolver in his pocket. He'll spit in the eye of gods and demons alike if he thinks it needs to be done, and to hell with the consequences--and yet somehow my little brother manages to remain a decent human being. I'll be damned if I know how. But then, I'll be damned regardless. My name is Thomas Raith, and I'm a monster. So begins "Backup" a twelve thousand word novelette set in Jim Butcher's ultra-popular Dresden Files series. This time Harry's in trouble he knows nothing about, and it's up to his big brother Thomas to track him down and solve those little life-threatening difficulties without his little brother even noticing.

I was pretty excited when I came across a novelette written in Thomas' perspective. Thomas, a fascinating supporting character to The Dresden Files, has always been one of the best of the series, so I was curious to see how his story would turn out.

The writing seemed off somehow: there were a lot of repetitive phases in the story. Surprisingly, Thomas's narration wasn't as exciting as Harry's typically is. Normally, the narration draws me in, sinks me into the paranormal world of Chicago, and doesn't let go until long after I've finished. The connection to Harry's vibrant character always makes The Dresden Files such an incredible read, but without it, "Backup" just didn't do it.

Thomas is one of my favorite characters in the series, but he wasn't strong enough to be a main character. He lacked that same vibrancy and sarcasm that I've come to love from him as a supporting character. Combined with a somewhat weak plot (saving Harry from unknown monsters was a good idea, but the execution was poor), "Backup" wasn't the best example of his character nor The Dresden Files.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

5 Books You Need to Know in July

A Paris AffairTitle: A Paris Affair
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
Blurb: "Before she goes, she removes her wedding ring, and places it delicately on the hood of the car, without a word."

Does a fruit taste its sweetest when it is forbidden? Is that which is prohibited always the most pleasurable? In this passionate and perceptive collection, Tatiana de Rosnay paints a portrait of the most forbidden of loves, in many different shades—sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, sometimes heartfelt, always with a dry wit and an unflinching authenticity. A PARIS AFFAIR is an enjoyable "undressing" of intimate delights, where laughter mingles with compassion and the heartbeats of illicit desire.

NeverwhereTitle: Nevermore
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
Blurb: Published in 1997, Neil Gaiman’s darkly hypnotic first novel, Neverwhere, heralded the arrival of this major talent and became a touchstone of urban fantasy. Over the years, a number of versions were produced both in the U.S. and the U.K. Now, this author’s preferred edition of his classic novel reconciles these versions and reinstates a number of scenes cut from the original published books.

Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, a young London businessman with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he is plunged through the cracks of reality into a world of shadows and darkness—the Neverwhere. If he is ever to return to the London Above, Richard must join the battle to save this strange underworld kingdom from the malevolence that means to destroy it.

Author: Harper Lee
Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Blurb: Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.

Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.

Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.

Author: Lauren Willig
Publication Date: July 21, 2015
Blurb: Raised in a poor yet genteel household, Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she receives news that her mother has died, suddenly. Grief-stricken, she returns to the small town in England where she was raised to clear out the cottage...and finds a cutting from a London society magazine, with a photograph of her supposedly deceased father dated all of three month before. He's an earl, respected and influential, and he is standing with another daughter-his legitimate daughter. Which makes Rachel...not legitimate. Everything she thought she knew about herself and her past-even her very name-is a lie.

Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity. There she insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father's perfidy and bring his-and her half-sister's-charmed world crashing down. Very soon, however, Rachel faces two unexpected snags: she finds she genuinely likes her half-sister, Olivia, whose situation isn't as simple it appears; and she might just be falling for her sister's fiancé...

Publication Date: July 21, 2015
Blurb: In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancĂ©…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?