Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Do you #Bookstagram?

Photos by various Instagrammers
So when I took a break from book blogging in mid-2015 because of my job, book blogging was still the BIGGEST thing for book lovers.  Tumblr had started to become really popular, as well, but primarily the book blogging community remained just that...a blogging community.

Well, since I've started blogging again I've realized that while book blogs are still very popular, there is a new WILDLY popular subculture for book lovers, as well.  #bookstagram-ing.  (Wow, do I sound old talking about this LOL!) There is a whole group of SUPER creative book lovers that take GORGEOUS photos celebrating their love of books.

Photo Credits: @Xenatine
I have not been able to contain my awe looking at some of the amazing photos these readers create and share! My (friendly) envy has grown over the amazing props, reading rooms, and color-coordinated bookshelves these Instagrammers capture in their images.

Photo credit: @literallyloveliterary
I'd love to try my hand at it, but I keep looking around my house and bemoaning the fact that I don't seem to have a good place to take these kinds of photos!  I'm going to have to get (no pun intended) creative and figure out what kind of potential backdrops I have at hand.

I mean check these out! It's art.  True BOOK art.

There are book stacks, color-coordinated and ombre book stacks, candles, and funko pops, and...and...and... if you haven't gotten on Instagram and checked out the #bookstagram posts, seriously, do it now.  You won't be disappointed.

I'm so inspired and also intimidated.  Do any of you #bookstagram?  I'm planning on dabbling in the next couple of months, but I may not share if my photos are terrible. We'll have to wait and see.

Oh, I should probably mention that my Instagram account is @ireadtorelax in case you want to come and see if I do start attempting to #bookstagram! Right now it's mostly pictures of my dog and food. LOL!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

February Challenge Reading Plan

2018 Books I Already Own Challenge

Well, it's almost February, so here's the list of books I tentatively plan to read for my 2018 Books I Already Own Challenge in the month of February. I noticed in January I had trouble sticking perfectly to my plan, but I did stay within the parameters of my challenge, so I'm hoping to do the same this coming month!

My list of planned reading in February:
(Audio books)
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

(Print books)
Prudence by Gail Carriger
Imprudence by Gail Carriger
Talon by Julie Kagawa
Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier
Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier

Rogue by Julie Kagawa
Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

The audio books are all ones that I own through Audible, but have not listened to yet, the print books are all ones that I own physical copies of in my home library but have not read, and the ebooks are in my vast, and largely unread ebook collection! All links above go to descriptions on Goodreads.

My planned "cheat book" is Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh just could NOT resist buying this title.  It's physically so pretty... and right up my alley in terms of reading genre favorites. I'm really looking forward to reading this one!

I also already know that I'll be reading a copy of Assaulted Caramel by Amanda Flower for the cozy mystery book club that I lead at my Library. I also have two audio book titles, Lost Legio IX by Marc Alan Edelheit and Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds that I will be reviewing for Audiofile Magazine. Books that I read specifically for work, or ones I am assigned to review for Audiofile Magazine will not be counting towards (or against) my challenge.

So, here's to a February as successful as January was... and I'll try to post some reviews throughout the month, followed by a wrap-up post letting you know how I did for the month and what my plan is for March as we hit the end of the month.

Oh, and if you'd like in on the challenge, just let me know! We have a private group on both Facebook and Goodreads to give us a place to share, motivate each other, and bemoan having to pass up the shiny new books of 2018... at least for as long as each of us last!!

Monday, January 29, 2018

January Challenge Wrap-Up Post

2018 Books I Already Own Challenge

Well, the month of January is almost over and I feel like my 2018 Books I Already Own Challenge has been a success so far!!

I didn't complete my reading plan for the month (you can check back on that here), BUT I did almost complete it... with a few more books mixed in. I know there's two days left to the month, but I'm going to give you what I've done to this point so I can do my February reading plan post before the month officially starts.

Here's what I read in January 2018:
Audio books I own
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

Physical books I own
Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer
Bloodrose by Andrea Cremer
Winterspell by Claire Legrand
The Princess and the Stableboy by Rebecca Rynecki

eBooks I Own
Dark Descendant by Jenna Black
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Darker Days by Jus Accardo
Defiance by C.J. Redwine

CHEAT BOOK: The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

REQUIRED READING (Work): Daisies for Innocence by Bailey Cattrell

Lessons learned in January?
Well, I like having a plan as a guide, but I also couldn't completely stick to it without feeling stifled. I read to relax after all and feeling like all my reading is assigned is just not going to work long-term.  So, I am going to continue to make a plan each month, knowing that it's okay not to stick to it, AS LONG AS I keep within the limits of my challenge and try to read only books I already own...

Also, I may have to go back and reread some, as some of these books I've owned for so long I can't
remember what happened in the book that came before them...

...and I have to remind myself it IS okay if I decide that I don't want to finish a book. This is part of the purpose of this challenge, is to find out if I really DO love the books I have taking up space in my life...and clearing out the ones that no longer need to be there...

That's it for January. I'll be posting my February reading plan either tomorrow or the next day. 

Oh, and if you'd like in on the challenge, just let me know! We have a private group on both Facebook and Goodreads to give us a place to share, motivate each other, and bemoan having to pass up the shiny new books of 2018... at least for as long as each of us last!!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Reading" Audio books

As a librarian, and especially one who has worked so closely with the teen population in the past, I've spent a lot of time educating parents about the fact that studies have been done showing that listening to an unabridged audio book equates to reading the print version.  Although many listeners just think of it as a pleasant experience letting someone else tell you a story (and it IS), at the same time your brain is actually working very hard. 

Listening to an audio book builds vocabulary just as reading does.  It actually challenges your brain to comprehend words in various ways simultaneously.  Pronunciation (which is why whenever I listen to something and the narrator mispronounces a word continuously through the production I cringe SO hard) and context become very important in deciphering previously unknown words or phrases.  Depending on the speed of the narration, as well, your brain has to decipher these things more quickly than if you were physically reading and go back to verify information.

In fact, these are all reasons that educators and librarians now encourage a lot of students who are having trouble learning to read to listen to an audio book version of a story as they read along in the physical book.  It helps children (and adults learning to read English for the first time) to build their vocabulary and comprehension.  Listeners can also pick up grammar rules and preferred sentence structure without realizing.

Why am I sharing this info with you?  Just because I love audio books so much I am continuously trying to find ways to lure readers over to the "dark side." HA. But seriously, I cannot remember exactly how old I was when I really started listening to audio books - it may have been when I started reviewing them for School Library Journal 10+ years ago - but I am a total addict now.  I hate going anywhere in the car without one and I find myself continuing to listen while I fold laundry or wash the dishes now that I can load audio books onto my phone rather than relying on CDs in the car.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Written and Narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson
audio book owned in my personal collection
I wanted to share some of the audio books that I've listened to this month with you.  They are from a variety of genres, as I find that I am more willing to listen to certain genres than physically read them.  For instance, I generally have a hard time sitting down and reading a full non-fiction title, but if it's narrated well, most times I can listen to it from start to finish (maybe because I can't see how many physical pages are left?).

I had been super excited to listen to Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson, both because I actually love astronomy and because NdGT reads it himself! I love listening to him speak.  I was a little disappointed in this audiobook, though, honestly.  I think because I already knew the majority of the information provided I found myself drifting in and out listening without even realizing I'd stopped listening. Having watched the Cosmos series that he did on TV, I also found myself missing the little graphics and animations to go along with the book's narration.  Hopefully whatever non-fiction title I listen to next will hold my attention a little better.

Blackwater: the Complete Series
Written by Michael McDowell
Narrated by Matt Godfrey
Audio book sent for review
I also find that I will listen to books that fall into genres I don't normally pick up, like horror or historical fiction set during WWII because there is something different in the experience of having the story unfold audibly then me just picking up a story and reading it.  I guess I rely on the narrator to move me through the story, where the voice in my own head might have faltered or gotten stuck and I might have put the book down and not picked it up again (example - Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys).

At the beginning of January I listened to Blackwater by Michael McDowell, an audio book I never would have picked out on my own. It is a compilation of McDowell's Caskey Family Saga novels (there are six of them) set in Alabama in the early 1900s.  It is both a gothic Southern family saga and a horror story that unfolds slowly through the family's history over a period of several decades.  Though I rarely pick up straight horror stories, I found myself captivated by this one as it really focused on the Southern family dynamics with only a sprinkling of horror tossed in.  It was like watching a soap opera where suddenly a werewolf swoops in, grabs the family dog, runs off into the night and then isn't seen again for ten years (NOT what happens in the books, LOL). 

Lastly, I find sometimes that if I realize a book I want to read is narrated by a certain person I will pick up the audio version rather than the printed.  Narration can make a book come ALIVE.  The best narrators are basically actors and man, can they deliver a good storytelling experience. 

I was devastated when I learned earlier this month that one of my favorite audio book narrators, Katherine Kellgren, had passed away.  She was an EXCEPTIONAL talent and I will most definitely miss what she brought to every book she narrated.  I always knew that if she narrated the book it would be excellent, no matter the genre, intended audience, or author.  She won many awards and deserved every one of them. 

Her Royal Spyness
Written by Rhys Bowen
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
audio book owned in my personal collection
I had just started a new audio book series narrated by Kellgren (Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen) and while I'm excited to listen to the rest of the titles in the series as it was a very fun audio book, I'm going to be sad every time as I realize we get closer and closer to the end of Kellgren's career. She made the 1930's in London both glamorous and realistic.  She breathed vivacious life into the main character Georgie and her accents could not be beat.  This cozy mystery was so much fun to listen to while I was driving to and from work every day.  I will definitely be listening to the sequel at some point. 

So, that was the majority of my audio book listening in January.  Aside from two titles sent for review, I stuck to my 2018 Books I Already Own Challenge in my listening, as well. *Victory Dance*

What about any of you?  Do you love audio books as much as I do? 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Quickie Review: The Dark Descendant

The Dark Descendant by Jenna Black
Nikki Glass series, book one
Pocket Books, 2011 - ebook owned in personal collection

I've been reading a lot of adult urban fantasy and paranormal romance in the last few years and have found that they are two subgenres that I really generally enjoy.  I had read Black's Faeriewalker series years ago and really enjoyed them.  I'm pretty sure that was around the time I'd originally purchased this ebook wanting to try out one of Black's other series.

I don't know if my memory is fuzzy because it's been so long, or if because the Faeriewalker series was geared more towards a YA audience, but I was somewhat shocked by how DARK this series was in comparison to my memory of Black's other books. I’m a reader who loves fantasy, but is also a pragmatist. Meaning that while I love a HEA as much as the next reader, I also find fault if things wrap up too easily. I tend to enjoy more books that explore the not-so-happy, but realistic endings. However...I’m not sure if I’m a little more sensitive in today’s social climate (#metoo, etc) or if I just have grown out of needing threats of rape and such to move a plot along, but I felt like there was so much violence against women and weaker people in this book that it was actually hard to handle.

I found myself cringing as yet another woman was brutally threatened and attacked and then the violence was brushed off as “not being as bad as what the original Greek gods did.” It was a great concept for a book, but I just didn’t have the stomach for it apparently. Maybe someday I’ll pick up the next book and see if it’s any less cringe-worthy then, but there are so many books out there....

Recommended mythological urban fantasies: Venom and Vanilla by Shannon Mayer and Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini (YA).

Friday, January 19, 2018

Reading for Comfort

Is anyone else like me where when life gets just a little too much to handle... a little too "real,"  you just try to lose yourself in a book?  That's been my go-to escapism move for as long as I can remember. 

Last week when I found myself bemoaning the horrid weather we've been having this January in New England and work got a little extra stressful, I found myself longing to just dive into some comforting books.

So...with my 2018 Books I Already Own Challenge this threw me off my game a little bit.  I wanted to try as much as possible to stick within the parameters of my challenge and yet still have the freedom to read books I knew without a doubt would leave me feeling a little more lighthearted.  So, what did I end up reading?

The first book was an easy choice, since it wasn't really a choice at all! I may or may not have mentioned that I run the Cozy Mystery Book Bunch book club at my library.  Once a month I get to read a cozy and have a discussion with other readers about its plusses, minuses, and hilarious bits... and I get paid! LOVE. 

January's book club choice was Daisies for Innocence by Bailey Cattrell, the first book in the Enchanted Garden mystery series. It was the perfect mix of light fun, cute pets, hints of magic, and murder. The main character was someone interesting to follow and it reminded me how much I like to dabble with aromatherapy knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to read the second book in the series... in 2019. 

The other book I picked up to lighten my mood was the novella prequel to the Secret World of Alaina Downs series, The Princess and the Stableboy by Rebecca Rynecki.  Technically, I've read this one already a few years ago, so it was a re-read, but it was my first time reading it since it was officially printed.  Rebecca is one of my good friends and writing partners and I was actually a beta reader for this novella.  Such a different experience to read it again all pretty and formatted correctly!

Anyway, this series is one set in the fantasy world of Isleen, where magic abound and adventure and romance are always around the next corner.  I knew exactly what I was going to find in this re-read.  Evil wizards, a princess learning that she can survive horrifying things, and a sweet romance blossoming into true love.  *sigh*  One of my happy reading places. 

I was so happy that technically I didn't jump off my challenge path to find solace in my reading choices!  Even this morning when I looked at the next book on my list and wasn't quite feeling it, I was able to hunt for another book that I own to take it's place, so I'm still on track! 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

January's "Cheat" Book: The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
The Invisible Library series, book four
Ace Books, 2018 - Owned in personal collection

So, as I mentioned, I'm doing a 2018 Books I Already Own Reading Challenge.  However, I know myself, and if I don't allow myself at least one new, shiny book a month, I will end up quitting before March... SO, this is my January "Cheat" book.

I can't review this book in too much depth, as it is book four in the series and I'd be giving away big spoilers.  However, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and was glad that I had pre-ordered it and chosen it for my January "cheat." Cogman writes an admirable heroine who has just the right amount of smarts, style, grace, and kick-ass.  I love that while she in some ways depends on the men around her (Irene has no illusions about when her physical superiority is in question...), it is very clear that much more often, the men around her look to her for leadership and planning.

While I make a lot of jokes about Noah Wyle's The Librarian movies and the subsequent Indiana Jones style TV series, Irene Winters, in fact, lives the Librarian lifestyle that I would love to live if I were the heroine in a fantasy series.  Saving rare books for posterity.  Dealings with both dragons and fae?  Yes, please.  However, in real life, being a Librarian is not nearly so hard on one's potential health (ha!).

While you most definitely should start with book one of the series, The Invisible Library, I think so far this is my favorite addition to the series.  There is a very large moral issue, along with several smaller ethical dilemmas, being dealt with in this book, so the stakes are both physically and emotionally high.  Following Irene's choices pulled me pretty deep into her character and I found myself tearing up towards the end of the book as I thought she was going to end up being punished in the worst possible way for making the right decisions... then Cogman worked things out in just the right way for me to leave the book with a huge grin on my face! Perfect.

Now, back to reading the older books in my personal collection!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Winterspell by Claire Legrand

Winterspell by Claire Legrand
Simon Schuster books for Young Readers, 2014 
Owned in personal collection

In 2014 a Librarian friend, Kim, and I attended the Boston Teen Author Festival. It was a wonderful event that I’ve been dying to go back to and haven’t successfully managed since then... anyway, in 2014 I got to hear Claire Legrand speak about her twist on the “Nutcracker” story and I decided I was desperate to read it! I love fairy tale retellings. Generally, the darker and twistier the better. I purchased the gorgeous hardcover on he spot, then promptly buried it on my bookshelves when I got home and apparently neglected it for almost four years!

When I decided to challenge myself to read MY OWN books this was one of the first ones that sprang to mind. Plus last week it was about 10 degrees out every day (if we were lucky!) and it just felt like a good time to read this snowy, Christmas-y twisted tale.

This is a book that will be continuing to live in my personal collection.  It's beautifully written, both conceptually and practically (her word choices and the way the story flowed were stellar).  Legrand has created an intruiging new mythos where fairies utilize technology in all the worst ways.  Though Clara comes from our world in 1899, she ends up in the alternate world of Cane... a land where mechanical spies haunt the population and their Queen keeps them loyal through the introduction of a horrifically addictive drug to ALL of society.  I was fascinated through the entirety of the story and found myself unable to put this book down as Clara went from a downtrodden society debutante trying to survive in a world where she had no power, into a girl who realized that she could defy everyone and claim her own destiny.

This book is a standalone and though oftentimes I enjoy trilogies and series because I want more character development than standalone books generally provide, this book stands alone as strongly as Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races.  There was no need for a sequel, though I'd be happy to visit this world again in short story form...

Highly recommended to those that like twisted fairy tales.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Quickie Review: Bloodrose by Andrea Cremer

Bloodrose by Andrea Cremer
Nightshade series, book three
Philomel, 2012 - Owned in personal collection

I finished Bloodrose the other day. While I was happy to know how the series turned out, and relieved that book three was better then book two, Wolfsbane, I was still disappointed in the trilogy as a whole. I will be donating them to my Library in hopes that some other reader finds them and loves them the way I’d hoped I would.

So, why was I disappointed?

While I didn’t have the visceral reaction some readers did, the way that Cremer wraps up Calla’s love story was too neat. Not only does one love interest get removed from the situation so that she doesn’t have to really make a choice, but she also has the one potential obstacle to her happiness with the other fairly neatly dealt with...I think 8 years ago when I bought these books maybe I would have been happier to just embrace the HEA, but between feeling emotionally removed from the characters and now expecting far more complexity from my main characters and book plots, I almost felt cheated. Real life is way messier than that and I just wanted...more I guess.

I was happy that Calla took a little more charge of her own destiny in this final book, but for a girl who was supposedly strong enough to inspire others she still felt somewhat wishy-washy to me. I felt more strongly connected and intrigued by side characters like Adne, Connor, and Bryn. Not to mention Sabine. Honestly, Sabine was the character I wanted Calla to be...the choices she continuously made were difficult, but you never doubted her resolve. She knew what she wanted and what she was willing to do to get it. Even Calla said how she admired Sabine as their story progressed.

Final thought - An eventual mostly satisfying conclusion to the plotted storyline marred by a less than satisfying romantic plot.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Starting with a hiccup...and a disappointment

*Sigh* I suppose to go into my 2018 Books I Already Own Challenge and expect there not to be any hiccups in my reading plan would have been too optimistic, huh?

The new year started yesterday and so did my reading challenge! I was stoked.  I lined up a second book in a trilogy - one where I'd loved the first - trying to give myself a really great starting point.  Ah, best intentions...

So, I discovered that my plan to just jump right in and read all the books I own but haven't previously read has a fairly significant hiccup.  I forgot to factor in that many of the books I've bought were in fact bought YEARS ago.  I am very rarely a re-reader and I have a somewhat stellar memory for books that I've read, but even my powers of recall can be severely tested. 

For example, what I started my challenge with yesterday was the book Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer, book two in the Nightshade series.  I started reading, excited, as I remembered loving book one (hence why I own books two and three, in hardcover no less!, even though I haven't yet read them).  Sadly, as I read and realized I couldn't recall much of anything about the world, other than the main three characters' names, I looked back and saw I'd read Nightshade in 2010.  SEVEN years ago... wait, almost EIGHT now. 

Eight years of hundreds and hundreds of other books... and life experiences... to bump any recall I had about the plot of Nightshade right out of my little brain.  So, I got about a quarter of the way into Wolfsbane and then had to decide do I just forge ahead or do I go back and re-read the first book as a refresher. 

I'm a stubborn girl and re-reading was not part of my master plan so I forged ahead.  While Cremer manages to dump a lot of info onto the reader about the world in this book (seriously, it's one major info dump), she delved very little into what had actually happened in the previous book.  So, I found myself primarily focusing on where the characters were now and where they were going.  Which would be great if this was an adventure or mystery series.  But... when it's a paranormal romance based on a love triangle and one character is mainly absent for the whole of book two and you can't remember what their relationship was like in the first, it's very frustrating and hard to rekindle that connection you had with the characters. 

Add on to that a frustration that the main character does not seem as strong as you remember... and a desire to learn more about the side characters that suddenly seem more interesting than the intended trio, and you have a reader struggling to push through the bad middle book of a trilogy, just to dive into the final book and finish the series once and for all.

Sadly, as I start book three today, I have a feeling that I will be donating this pristine set of books to my Library so that someone else can enjoy them after I'm done reading them.  What had seemed at one point like a set I NEEDED to own, now is just taking up desperately needed space on my bookshelves.

And, I have to decide in the future if I want to take the time to re-read the book just prior to where I'm picking up a series as I go forward in the challenge. I think I may start looking at how long ago I read the original book and factoring that into my monthly reading plans.  So... you may not see reviews for every book that I read during this challenge (especially if I choose to reread) but I'll be trying to give you some updates and reviews on the particularly interesting books, good or bad. 

Recommended Werewolf Reads: Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, The Parasol Protectorate series, starting with Soulless by Gail Carriger, or The Immortal Empire series, starting with God Save the Queen by Kate Locke.