Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Top Five Memoirs

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell | Julia Child has always intrigued me and when I heard that the movie was based on a book, I couldn't wait to read it. I loved Julie's slightly whimsical narration based in reality, her misfit adventures in cooking, and the slow realization as she finds herself.

Yoga Bitch by Susanne Morrison | I love reading others' yoga memoirs: it's such a personal, somewhat mystical journey for each individual person that each story is so unique. Morrison's cover figure, hovering in up dog with a cigarette smoking in her mouth, is an exact replication of the hilarity and wry observational narrative hidden inside the covers. 

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica | After waiting tables for eight years, restaurant books are some of my favorites. The older Waiter Rant blog posts were my go-to feel goods after a rough day at work. Dublanica's first memoir opens the world of restaurants to the world and reminds us nice to the waiter. 

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs | Jacob's work is always one of my favorites - how many people would undertake living by the Bible...verbatim? 

Getting Rooted in New Zealand by Jamie Baywood | One girl's search to find herself lands her in New Zealand. Baywood's fantastic diary-style memoir grabbed me from the beginning. It's so easy for people of all ages and areas of life to identify with Baywood's search for her place in the world that makes her book a must read. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Review | This Shattered World by Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman

Title: This Shattered World
Author: Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman
Publication Date: December 2014
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Series: Starbound {Book 2}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

A honored solider falls in love with the leader of the rebellion. Enemy versus enemy and heart versus heart. 

Lee Chase is a hardened captain, a woman more defined by her work than anything else. She lives and breathes the military life, never relaxing This defining characteristic leads her platoon to look the other way as she leaves with Flynn - unbeknownst to them, she's being kidnapped. Lee follows the rules to the letter - Jubilee follows her heart. This opening scene sets up Jubilee's character: right off the bat, she's a stickler and a warrior. It makes the transition to Jubilee all the more sweet.

I didn't have the same fascination with Flynn: he was a good, solid character, but I felt like I should feel sorry for him instead of actually feeling emotions. The kind nature that was inherent to his character (few of the rebels would have even considered treating Jubilee's wounds, let alone hiding her) and his anti-violence stance was admirable. I kept (unfairly) comparing him to Tarver, who returns briefly to This Shattered World, and that might have been the downfall: Flynn was interesting, but he didn't have the same spark as Tarver. 

Initially, I had hoped for the same heart-pounding, vastly seductive romance of These Broken Stars and was a little disappointed when the adventure/mystery elements took over the story. Then I became so enveloped in the adventure that the romance's smaller role didn't bother me. I loved the mystery of the Fury, the sneaky, guerrilla-warfare style of the battles, and how the Whispers were involved in Avon. Avon's battle-torn world became mine.

Somehow, I had forgotten how immersive Spooner's and Kaufman's writing is. Reading brought me into the dark, misty world of Avon, the silence of the marshes broken by the spurt of gunfire. The military base, muddy and solemn, lit up by technology, defended by soldiers in fully body armor. 

It was the last battle scene that utterly changed my opinion. After the book's halfway point, the pacing picked up for me, but I tore through that last battle scene like I was running out of time. I wasn't reading; I was there, standing in the mud, watching Flynn scale the tower. Even now, I get goosebumps.

It was truly the writing that made this book stand out for me. Few other authors have grabbed my attention the way that Kaufman and Spooner do. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

True Blood | The Canon Talks

Beware...there are major spoilers in this post.

Seriously. I'm talking about it all. The entire show, including finale.

You've been warned! 

I found the last season of TrueBlood on the new shelf at the library (that shelf is amazing!) last weekend. We immediately popped it in, and oh my.

I hate to say it, but the first few episodes were too reminiscent of The Walking Dead, and to be honest, I wasn't too keen on that. I loved TrueBlood for its small town setting and wacky inhabitants - when those were threatened, it lost some of the appeal. It felt like they were going for the gore/shock factor instead of the what I loved about the show: the characters. 

That being said, Sookie quickly got on my nerves. Her plan to catch the diseased vamps by using herself as bait and Bill as her defense was just silly - what on her did she think would happen? From there, her character started to shut down. Considering all she'd been through at that point, it's understandable, but wasn't much fun to watch. I stopped identifying with her - instead, she became a cold, hard woman, so unlike the warm, bubbly fairy from the beginning. Maybe I was done with her when she treated Niall so badly when asking him to help to treat Bill.

I'd been iffy on Bill for the past few seasons (hello, Billith), but I fell back in love with his character in the last season. There was a tenderness, a kindness in him that we hadn't seen for a while...well, until his ego grows so massive that he decides suicide is the best way to go. What the hell? Sure, the flashbacks provided some great background and motive - I couldn't even begin to understand what he felt when he thought about his family - but when he drags Sookie's fairy nature into it, it was too much for me. When he spoke with Eric, asking him to speak to Sookie, Bill's main motives for this choice are all for the wrong reason: Sookie might be overly dependent on him, but asking her to kill him with her magic fairy light ball (whatever it is), is just too much. 

Jessica has always been one of my favorite characters. She has mastered the perfect cat eye, goes through the worst growing pains as a vampire, and is just adorable. Watching her evolution throughout the show has been so much fun, especially her romantic relationships. And, hello, who expected Hoyt to come back? (Not this girl.) I loved the change in their relationship in the last season - Hoyt was a bit of a pushover in the first few seasons, but I loved how he returned to the show.

Do you remember the scene where Jason and Bridget (Hoyt's new ex) are talking about Hoyt and Jessica's past relationship? What Jason says gives me goosebumps. That's how love should be.

The evolution of the minor characters was stellar. Jason and Lettie Mae are on the top of my list (but Jason's always on the top of my list!).

Although Pam and Eric have the least amount of development in the last season, I love their characters. We finally learn the birth of Fangtasia, and their sidekick, Ginger. Pretty much any scene with Pam and Eric, I'm on board.

I loved the last season, but I was really disappointed in Bill's character and the last scene. I felt like the last scene portrayed Bill as the cause of all the troubles the people of Bon Temps faced and that didn't feel quite right. I loved seeing the characters happy and paired off, but that one plot resolution has stuck out as iffy to me.

Did you watch the last season? What did you think of the series?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Favorites of 2014 | Top Ten Tuesday

Cress by Marissa Meyer | Simply, love this series. If you haven't checked out Meyer's stuff, add it to your TBR!

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin | Perfect for the Nora Ephron lover.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel | Historical fiction at its best. The narrative of this novel is a little unusual, but it grabbed me.

The Serpent's Fate by J.K. Hogan | Paranormal romance must.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Gailbraith | One of my favorite mysteries of the year, Rowling's Strike became my favorite protagonists of the year.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell | If you read one classic this year, you must read this one.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black | YA paranormal with twists of horror and personal growth and vampires? Yes, please!

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima | Perfect for someone looking for an epic fantasy.

Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips | Must read romance. Honestly. Must read. 

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig | Willig's first installment one of the highlights of the Pink Carnation series. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review | Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

Title: Romancing the Duke
Author: Tessa Dare

Publication Date: January 2014
Publisher: Avon Paperbacks
Series: Castles Ever After {Book 1}
Source & Format: Library; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?
Abducted by handsome highwayman?
Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

I'm always on the hunt for a good Regency romance - there are so many elements I look for! A relatable protagonist, stunning romance, hints of fairy tale magic, and makes me feel good. Tessa Dare's Romancing the Duke simply made me feel happy. 

From the first moment I was introduced to the main character, I knew Isolde Ophelia Goodnight and I would get along just fine. Her name alone brings forth ideas of romance and optimism. Izzy didn't buckle under the stress of her life - losing her family, her home, her money would destroy any other person. Instead, Izzy digs deep and grabs for that inner strength to keep her going forward. I loved her persistence, her optimism even when everything looked like it was falling apart. 

The romance itself was glorious. Ransom's dark nature and hidden past created a mystique about him that intrigued Izzy and I alike. Set against Izzy's nature, it created a spark that lit up the entire novel. Their own pasts added tension, but it was their personalities that made romance of Romancing the Duke so fascinating.

I loved Dare's writing. It was so easy to fall into her world and live with her characters. The third person limited kept the pace moving quickly and helped me fall in love with the characters so much faster. There were moments her narrative simply gave me shivers, and that was the moment I marked the rest of Dare's novels Want To Read on my GoodReads shelves.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Review | Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Title: Cold Days
Author: Jim Butcher
Publication Date: November 2012
Publisher: Penguin
Series: The Dresden Files {Book 14}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard.

He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill.

Guess which Mab wants first?

Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday.

Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…

His soul.

I discovered Jim Butcher's work about four years ago from a friend of mine. She has the library I've dreamed of: an entire room devoted to books. After looking around, she pulled a battered paperback copy of the first installment of The Dresden Files and I fell in love. 

I've missed the last few installments of Butcher's work, but snagged up Cold Days when I saw it on the shelf. There's a different tone to Butcher's work now; instead of the snappy, quick dialogue and set mystery to solve, Dresden faces a mix of threatening emotions, dangerous family dysfunction, sneaky faeries and a mortal world in peril. It took me a bit to adjust to this darker, more emotionally-driven storytelling, but as Harry's position in Mab's Winter faerie world grew more unstable, it suited the story more and more. 

Don't get me wrong: there's still that snappy dialogue, the fast-paced fight scenes and the heavy sarcasm in Harry's voice, but they don't feature as prominently in Cold Days as they have in the past. Healing in Mab's Arctis Tor has changed Harry's perspective dramatically. 

I enjoyed the creativity of Cold Days, especially the creation of the Redcap; characters like him added a little extra comedy and flair to lighten up moments of a dark story. I loved the exploration of the Faerie Queens' family, the dysfunction, the roles they play, and the true nature they hide beneath. Butcher explores past characters and bring Harry's own actions back to haunt him, making the plot come alive as well as connect back to the past books. 

However, there were times that I felt the pacing drop off. Granted, in 515 pages, there's bound to be a few slow spots, and I felt my eyes drooping down as I read this at night. I missed the quick pace of the previous books, but with all that Harry's been through, a slowdown might have been necessary. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fairy Tale Reading Challenge | Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

The Daily Prophecy
Title: Princess of Glass
Author: Jessica Day George {website}
Publication Date: May 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Series: Princess {Book 2}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Hoping to escape the troubles in her kingdom, Princess Poppy reluctantly agrees to take part in a royal exchange program, whereby young princes and princesses travel to each other's countries in the name of better political alliances--and potential marriages. It's got the makings of a fairy tale--until a hapless servant named Eleanor is tricked by a vengeful fairy godmother into competing with Poppy for the eligible prince. Ballgowns, cinders, and enchanted glass slippers fly in this romantic and action-packed happily-ever-after quest from an author with a flair for embroidering tales in her own delightful way.

Fairy tale retellings are high on my favorite genres. There's a layer of magic and mystery that surronds the perfect fairy tale retelling, letting me slip from reality into the world of fantasy. Jessica Day George's Princess of Glass made this world for me, but there were a few missteps.

First, simply, I loved the premise. A beautiful young princess, scarred by her past, trying to make her life in the new world walks into a new Cinderella story. I liked how the story picked up as Poppy's trying to rebuild her new life instead of following the typical story of a princess saved by the man. It made a unique starting point, and provided a strong background for each of the characters.

Poppy's sarcasm immediately identified with me - she cracked me up. I loved how each conversation was strong, keeping the pace of the story moving at a rapid pace. Poppy and Ellen (our Cinderella of sorts) were the most powerful, memorable characters in the novel, especially Ellen (so strange to write my name and mean someone else...). Both girls had vibrant passions and motives, elements that made them stand out among the other characters in the book.

Christian, our prince Charming of Princess of Glass, didn't do a lot for me. He was sweet, kind to servants, and utterly forgettable. The powerful nature of the two girls overwhelmed his weaker character and diminished his role to that of the Disney story. With Christian's weaker role, the romantic plot of the story lost all of its thunder. 

However, the fairy tale element was fantastic. I loved the retelling - I was completely blown away by the changes George made (in a good way)! Her story came alive in an entirely different way, the focus shifting away from romantic love to the power of forgiveness and kindness. I loved the overriding themes of caution and the old adage of "if it looks too good to be true..."

George's Princess of Glass was unique and fun to read. For me, the twist on the classic Cinderella tale warmed my heart, but the romance fell flat.