Wednesday, July 23, 2014

If We Were Having Coffee, Vol. III

These posts have become some of my favorite to write! I hope you all don't mind. It really feels like I'm sitting down with you and having coffee, although mine is iced...it's so HOT in Northern California this summer. 

If we were having coffee, I would tell you about the kittens we adopted. A few months ago, the neighborhood cat had kittens and moved them into our (postage-stamp) backyard. M and I had a horrible time finding homes for them - I think I drove everyone at work nuts showing photos of them - but we finally found homes for three with our neighbors. We're keeping two: Hobbs (a little black kitten) and Einstein (a long-haired grey). Einstein is for M's parents when they move into their new house, but I've kinda, sorta fallen in love with him. He sits with me when I write and tries to eat my books when I read. It's kismet. I would ask you if you want to see pictures because, yes, I've become that girl. I'd ask how your pets are, and if you don't have any, I'd ask if you want a kitten.

I would tell you my latest customer service scare story. If the blog was anonymous, I would LOVE to tell you guys (some are downright terrifying), but since my name is on the blog and my bosses are aware The Canon exists, I...can't. Let's just say be nice to your server. Or we make fun of you to our family and friends.
I would ask you how your work is going, if you still like your job or if you want to look for a new one. We would talk about the state of the job search. 

If we were having coffee, I would tell you how I've decided to try freelance writing. To be honest, I'm afraid, but I've always wanted to write. After a talk with a friend early this month, I've decided to take the plunge. Nothing to lose, all to gain. I'm in! 

I'm also thinking about launching a website for freelance editing. I love helping people say what they want to say; this would be an amazing way to make a living!
I would ask you for your advice, your thoughts. I have some article ideas that I would run by you to see what you think

Thanks for having coffee with me. 


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If I Were On a Desert Island | Top Ten Characters


The first episode of Lost made me terrified of being stranded on a desert island. Before, it had always been a bit romantic, like a Doris Day movie, but the scenes from Lost scares the bananas out of me. 

1. Harry Potter - When in doubt, you want the underdog by your side. His magic might also come in handy...

2. Hermione Granger - Hermione's book smarts and logic would really come in handy, like they did in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Some of the tricks she had up her sleeve saved their lives!

3. Katniss Everdeen - Kickass hunter, archer, and a girl who can keep a cool head in a crisis? You bet I want her on my team!

4. Eric Northman - He can fly! *cue Peter Pan theme song* 
Sorry. Couldn't help it.
Eric was a Viking. As long as there is plenty of TrueBlood, there shouldn't be a problem...right?

5. Sherlock Holmes and 6. John Watson - The detective tag team of emotion and logic would be a major asset in surviving as well as finding food and water on this desert island. 

7. Alina Starkov - She's one badass Sun Summoner. Her fighting skills in the end of Shadow and Bone would just make me feel better.

8. Tris Prior - Like Alina and Katniss, Tris isn't afraid to face her fears and has some mad fighting powers. 

9. Stephanie Plum - So there would be someone to worry and act ridiculous with me.

10. Cinder - Her determination and will would be some great motivation. Maybe her mechanical skills could fix the boat/plane/whatever that stranded us in the first place...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review | The Anonymous Blog of Mrs.Jones by Ellen Harger

Title: The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones
Author: Ellen Harger {website}
Publication Date: July 2014
Publisher: Ellen Harger
Source & Format: Provided by author; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon 
An apartment fire costs everything, including the illusion of a tolerable marriage.
Gillian is depressed, her moods shifting like earthquakes raising deep, roiling anger. Convinced her friends and family won’t understand, she turns to strangers through a blog she writes as Mrs. Jones, a nondescript anyone.
Despite exposing herself on the internet, she assumes no one will notice her among millions of voices. Cathartic writing helps her to transform as she makes new friends, seeks help from a non-traditional therapist, and considers divorce.
Then Mr. Write answers. A strange man who asks questions, who peels away the layers. Gillian finds love, but life is absurdly stubborn. She must confront her husband, Evan, before she can move on.


Gillian is struggling with grief and uncertanity. After her life is demolished in flames, she finds it hard to find the will to rebuild it with her husband, Evan. Gillian's story, The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones, is the story of being terrified but finding a way to cope and pull through. 

The character development of both Gillian and Evan was extraordinary. Two opposing forces, unsure of which way to turn, cause each other to grow in the most unusual ways. As they struggled through the vast amounts of FEELS in this book, their different coping mechanisms kicked in as they faced one of the worst periods of their lives.

Gillian builds a support system around herself that finally allows her the freedom to be free. She begins it herself, blogging to what she believes is the empty Internet, spilling her feelings out in vague blog posts. Reading the texts of her posts were especially rough; more often than not, they are simply raw emotion, spilling from her heart to her fingertips. Reading Gillian's struggles in her own written word instantly endeared her to me. 

I thought I had the plot pegged in the first few chapters. Harger completely surprised me. When Mrs. Jones's anonymous blog finds an admirer, there's no going back for Gillian. Writing back to the flirty Mr. Write becomes her savior, her light at the end of a hard discussion with her husband about separation, a rough day at work. She finds solace in the world of online blogging and the surprising romance that begins to blossom. 


Harger isn't afraid to push her characters into rough spots, to find and exploit their weaknesses, which makes her an author to read. There is so much to find in The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones, especially with the major plot twists that Harger throws Gillian. Near the end, I had experienced shock, sadness, relief, joy, and a little bit of skepticism. Gillian's narration was so easy to follow, and the mixture of her point-of-view and her online interactions with Mr. Write made for a poignant story. 

THE RATING:
WHY:
- Loved the strong female character 
- SO. MUCH. EMOTION.
- Surprising plot twists that kept the story moving and me second-guessing.

RECOMMENDED FOR:
Women's and chick lit, romance...any woman will find a piece of herself in this book. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Series Summary | The Pink Carnation Series by Lauren Willig






Series: The Pink Carnation
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Publisher: New American Library


THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION SUMMARY:

Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise Kelly, an intelligent American who always manages to wear her Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it rains, leaves Harvard's Widener Library bound for England to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: a secret history that begins with a letter dated 1803. Eloise has found the secret history of the Pink Carnation the most elusive spy of all time, the spy who single-handedly saved England from Napoleon's invasion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, a wildly imaginative and highly adventurous debut, opens with the story of a modern-day heroine but soon becomes a book within a book. Eloise Kelly settles in to read the secret history hoping to unmask the Pink Carnation's identity, but before she can make this discovery, she uncovers a passionate romance within the pages of the secret history that almost threw off the course of world events. How did the Pink Carnation save England? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?

THE COVERS

Honestly, these covers are simply gorgeous. The use of artwork to match the novel's plot and color themes (you'll see what I mean in a moment) always catch my eye and intrigue me about the contents of the story.

WHAT I LIKE

- Strong female characters
- Amazingly vibrant historical settings and scenes
- Great romances
- Love the interconnecting plots between stories.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
- Some might not enjoy the occasional cookie-cutter plot

DO I RECOMMEND?
Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. YES!

FAVORITE BOOK?
Amy and Richard will forever be my favorite. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is definitely the best.

BOOKLIST

1. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (2004)
2. The Masque of the Black Tulip (2005)
3. The Deception of the Emerald Ring (2006)
4. The Seduction of the Crimson Rose (2008)
5. The Temptation of the Night Jasmine (2009)
6. The Betrayal of the Blood Lily (2010)
7. The Mischief of Mistletoe (2010)
8. The Orchid Affair (2011)
9. The Garden Intrigue (2012)
10. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (2013)
11. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla (expected publication August 2014)


Want more? Try one of Willig's playlists

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Summer of Sookie | Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris


Title: Dead to the World
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publication Date: May 2004
Publisher: Ace Books
Source & Format: Owned; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana. She has only a few close friends, because not everyone appreciates Sookie’s gift: she can read minds. That’s not exactly every man’s idea of date bait – unless they’re undead; vampires and the like can be tough to read. And that’s just the kind of guy Sookie’s been looking for. Maybe that’s why, when she comes across a naked vampire, she doesn’t just drive on by. He hasn’t got a clue who he is, but Sookie has: Eric looks just as scary and sexy – and dead – as ever. But now he has amnesia, he’s sweet, vulnerable, and in need of Sookie’s help – because whoever took his memory now wants his life.

Dead to the World quickly became one of my favorite installments of the Sookie series because of shifts in power. Eric, a vampire who simply breathes power, suddenly can't remember who he is, what happened to him, or where he came from. The change in his status brings out a change in his personality, revealing what might be his true nature underneath all that arrogance that I've come to associate with him. It was downright cute. 

When Eric's memory goes, the responsibility (and power) goes to Sookie. Sookie is a girl who has never really had to take care of anything: at first, her grandmother cared for her, and then she fell under Bill's protection. On her own, Sookie now has a big Viking vampire who has undergone a major personality under her fragile protection. This abrupt change in the balance forces Sookie to grow and develop as a character quickly, especially in her telepathic abilities.

I admit it; I cheered when the romance between she and Eric developed. The sexual tension stemming from the first few books finally emerged and made a play. Eric's love for Sookie made her into a stronger character, one that was truly fun to root for. 

Harris introduces new story lines in Dead to the World that I loved. The addition of the werecreatures further developed the paranormal world that runs alongside the quiet human one that we live in every day. The werecreatures felt like a different type of paranormal nightmare: if the vampires are the elite, the werecreatures are the motorcycle gang. The different mentality created a tension in the plot and Sookie herself that kept the pace moving quickly. 

The witches and their plotline are a completely different (and volatile) cup of tea. Their sudden appearance in the plot completely changes the force of the story. The maliciousness and greed of their leader is a turning point for Sookie. For the most part, the vampires have been good to her; sure, there's been some evil, but they have treated her with respect. The witches represent the first darkness Sookie must face. I have a feeling they won't be the last.

THE RATING:
WHY:
- Loved the character transformation in Sookie.
- Well-written plot
- Great action scenes!
- Harris still won't quite let Sookie be as strong as she can. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review | Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo {website}
Publication Date: June 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Series: The Grisha Trilogy {Book 1}
Source & Format: Owned; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?


I must be the last person in the world to read this book.

It's been sitting on my Kindle since 2012, when I bought it randomly on Amazon (those Daily Deals get me every time...), but I never opened it. I went through a phase when I wanted to read only physical books (that didn't last long). When I made my Great TBR Pileup of 2014 list in January, I noticed that Bardugos - ahem - wildly famous book was still sitting on my Kindle, I added it. I knew Shadow and Bone's reputation, but still, I held back.

I can't believe what I've been missing. Alina is the ultimate underdog, a girl thrust from her life as a military mapmaker to the favorite of the Darkling's, a high position in the world of the powerful Grisha. Her nature is a questioning yet naive one, making me at once sympathetic and protective of her. Her relationship with Mal, the steady rock from her childhood, was one of the most endearing elements of the novel. I couldn't help but wonder what the beginning of the story would have been like if we could have seen the world through Mal's eyes...

Speaking of the world, I fell in love with Bardugo's worldbuilding. The elements of Russian history mixed into her fantasy world, creating an entrance to Alina's world. There was the perfect amount of detail, allowing me to paint Alina's surroundings in my mind with ease. Truly, it made it so hard to put this book down. 

The plot itself was so intricate that I didn't see its twists and turns coming. (Although I'm sure I really am the last person in the world to read this book, I don't want to go into too much detail about the plot, just in case!) The multi-dimensional plot, built in the realms of fantasy, romance and adventure, showcased the character development to a tee. Alina was the star of the character development; the girl I met in the beginning of the novel in a military camp is completely different than the one I leave on the last page.  

THE RATING:
WHY:
- amazing world 
- strong characters 
- great character development with Alina 
- surprising plot twists
- I WANT MORE!

RECOMMENDED FOR:
Everyone. Seriously.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review | A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Title: A Mad, Wicked Folly
Author: Sharon Biggs Waller {website}
Publication Date: January 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
            
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?


It isn't too often that I find YA historical novels that focus more on the main character instead of the romance. Don't get me wrong; I love romance novels, but sometimes ones in YA just miss the mark for me. I fell head over heels for Sharon Biggs Waller's A Mad, Wicked Folly for so many different reasons (including the romance!). 

To put it simply, Vicky inspired me. She is a vibrant, passionate character that dreams of one day showing her work in public and making her own way in the world. Any character that is so passionate about something stands out to me, but Vicky's circumstances made her all the more sympathetic. Her battles against her father, her mother's expectations, society's rules and her own self-doubt made her one of the most fantastic characters I have read all year. Her character development was phenomenal and a pleasure to read. 

In fact, the entire cast of characters demonstrated amazing character development, even ones who sat - for the most part - on the sideline (like Vicky's sister-in-law, Rose). Each character was memorable with a set of qualities that come to mind when I think of them. I particularly liked Lily, Vicky's friend in the nobility, Lucy the American suffragette, and Waller's portrayal of King Edward VII. One character appears twice in the story and one only once; however, they were portrayed so vividly I can't help but smile when I remember Vicky's interactions with them (especially Lucy). 

The dynamics of the relationships in A Mad, Wicked Folly are the glue that cemented the plot. Vicky's slow-burn romance with Police Constable William Fletcher was simply fun to read. It's the familiar story of class differences, but their story goes so much deeper. I adored Will from the get-go, especially in the scene he is introduced. It was wonderful to find a love interest that is purely good. Will epitomized the gentleman that other male characters in the novel claimed to be. He saw Vicky for who she was, not her dowry or her name. The relationship with her brother, a man who had stood up to their strong-willed father (very much a man of the household) was one of the more endearing sibling relationships. 

Their romance, while a strong part of the plot, didn't make up the whole story. A Mad, Wicked Folly had much stronger themes than I originally expected. Vicky searches for her path, her way, whatever you want to call it. Her identity. Yeah, I like that. A Mad, Wicked Folly was Vicky's search for her identity in Edwardian England, among the suffragettes and her family's disapproval. 

Typically, I'm not a huge fan of love triangles. To put it simply, I think they are overused as a plot device. The love triangle in A Mad, Wicked Folly didn't exactly go outside of the box, but I liked how it was used to further the plot instead of stalling it. 

Waller's writing created this wonderful atmosphere that put Edwardian England in the spotlight. The suffragettes' struggle to earn the vote, the political atmosphere, and the change toward modern technology were all put to good use in fabricating Vicky's world. I felt like I watched her story on a movie screen instead of in a book; the world-building made it all feel so real. 

My only comment about the writing is that there were points near the middle of the book when the narration dragged a little. At a few points, Vicky's narration began to repeat and I felt the urge to skim. However, the pacing jumped right back for the last section of the novel.

THE RATING
WHY:
- strong, vivid characterizations
- great world-building
- loved the romance and themes
- at times, the pacing was off.
- so-so on the love triangle aspect

RECOMMENDED FOR:
Historical romance fans...actually, everyone should read this book.