Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Challenge Wrap-Up Post

2018 Books I Already Own Challenge
Well, today is the last day of February and while I fell off the wagon once, I still feel proud that primarily I have stuck to my 2018 Books I Already Own Challenge.

I didn't quite get to everything on my reading plan for February (you can check back on that here), BUT I didn't do too terribly. I'll be posting my March reading plan either later today or tomorrow and you'll see some repeat books, as I really am trying to finish up some of the series that I've owned forever!!

Here's what I read in February 2018:
Audio Books I Own
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Physical Books I Own
Talon by Julie Kagawa (review post)
Rebel Heart by Moira Young
Raging Star by Moira Young (review post)

eBooks I Own
Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal (review post)
Rogue by Julie Kagawa

CHEAT BOOK(s): Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh...and Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody (review post

Required Reading: (Work) Assaulted Caramel by Amanda Flower
(For Professional Review) Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds (audio book)
(For Professional Review) Lost Legio IX by Marc Alan Edelheit (audio book)

February Feels? 
So, as much as I am working to stick to my's, well, challenging! LOL. Especially now that I'm getting involved with #bookstagram on social media, it is HARD not to covet all the new and shiny books coming out.  However, I really, truly am striving to explore my own bookshelves. 

You may have noticed, and even read my post, that I "fell off the wagon" and read a second (mostly) cheat book in February. It was one that I technically used to own, but if I was being really honest, I'd gotten rid of it and so it was no longer on my bookshelves and shouldn't have counted, thus being cheat book #2.  However, by allowing myself to have this second book, I was then able to dive back in and read three more off of my own bookshelves, so I am feeling like if the hankering hits me and I can't ignore it, it's perhaps better to get it out of my system and get back to my challenge than to get frustrated and then scrap the whole thing for the rest of the year... 

So. I'm still aiming to maintain my challenge next month. Let's all keep our fingers crossed for more success in March! 

Monday, February 26, 2018

How an Author's Writing Style Can Affect a Reader's Experience

I know that at least for myself as a reader, the author's writing style can be just as important to my reading experience as the story itself.  I'm sure it has to be the same for other readers out there. 

Sometimes an author's writing is lush and technically beautiful, but the story just can't pull you in. For me, an example of this was Kendare Blake's Antigoddess. While I've loved her Anna duology and the first book in the Three Dark Crowns series, I just could not get into Antigoddess and ended up DNFing (Did Not Finish) it, which is rare for me. 

Another book that I DNFed was Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, the first book in the Witchlands series. While the concept of this book sounded amazing and I wanted desperately to love it, and the story itself was pulling me in, I struggled so hard with her actual writing that I couldn't finish it.  Now as I see other readers online raving over the newest book in the series coming out, I find myself tempted to go back and try Truthwitch again, but I don't really have the time right now.

Don't hate me, but another author I struggle to actually read is Jane Austen. I *LOVE* adaptations of her work... in film, on television, and retellings by all types of authors because the story is there, but I cannot read her actual words easily.  Some of her novels, like Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey are somewhat easier, but I tried both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and just struggled the entire way through.

I'm actually hoping at some point to try out the books in The Austen Project series, starting with Sense and Sensibility re-envisioned by Joanna Trollope.  Here's how the project is described (from Goodreads): The Austen Project pairs six bestselling contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works: Sense & Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion and Mansfield Park. Taking these well-loved stories as their base, each author will write their own unique take on Jane Austen’s novels. With some stellar contemporary authors on board, I'm sure I'd enjoy these when I have time to pick them up. 

So what prompted me thinking so hard about writing styles?  Well, last week I read books two and three in the Dustlands trilogy by Moira Young. I had read the first book, Blood Red Road, back in February 2012 not long after it first came out.  As you may or may not know, I love dystopian fiction and this book hit me just right. I absolutely loved it and raved about it, in fact here's an excerpt from my blog reviewI loved the written style of this book. It reads like a movie. The prose is sparse and thus, even more compelling. The author purposely refrains from using quotation marks around the speech, indicating yet a further breakdown of society, but also forcing the reader to truly read every word on the page. The world is well-built, with realistic issues, and a cool futuristic cowboy vibe. I loved it so much that I bought books two and three in hardcover as they each come out. 

Now, six years later (and six years older) I dove back into the Dustlands world, expecting to love it as much as I did originally.  When I cracked open
Rebel Heart I was astounded how much I did not have a problem jumping back into the story, but how jarring I found the writing style to took me at least a third of the book to decide that, yes, I was going to finish it.  What I'd once found stand-out and compelling, was not off-putting and hard to read.  I found myself longing for the quotation marks to signal me into dialogue.  I had to slow my reading down an incredible amount through this second book until I sort of got the hang of recognizing what pieces were action and what was dialogue. 

By the time I read book three (and I'm happy I did so immediately after the second), Raging Star, I had hit a somewhat uneasy stride again, and found myself so compelled to finish Saba's story that I was happy to chug my way through it.  I do not think, though that I would be looking for any books written this way purposely, though.  I remember when the first book came out it was read by the Nutmeg Award nomination committee of which I was a member, and many other readers HATED it because the lack of punctuation was so frustrating.  NOW I absolutely get what they were distressed by and have to at least partially agree. While I'd love to say that this series could have found a wider readership with a different writing style, I also have to go back to the critique I gave the first book and recognize that the style was chosen with a purpose.  It makes the trilogy unique in a sea of YA dystopian fiction and emphasizes both the lack of education of the main character's society and the desperation that they all feel in a broken down society. 

All in all, I'm very glad I read the trilogy and enjoyed the story, but struggled with the way it was written and will most likely be donating these books to my Library, rather than keeping them for myself. I don't think I'll ever reread them. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
Harlequin Teen, 2017
*second cheat book for February 2018, received in Once Upon a Book Club YA August 2017 box*

First off a confession - this is technically the SECOND cheat book for me for February. I'm so ashamed. *hangs head* I had an ARC from the 2017 Book Expo, but I got rid of it and never read it while I technically owned it.  So....when I decided I really wanted to try out the Once Upon a Book Club book boxes, one of the ways I justified it was that I had technically already had this book once upon a time, but realistically this is a second cheat book for me....

Now that I've made my confession, let me tell you my thoughts on the book itself! Aside from a super pretty cover - it's purple and rich and dark and twisty (which always appeals to me), it has a wicked premise. I kind of want to jump into Foody's head to see the world from which she plucked this story and its characters.

In this book, when the fabled ancient city of Gomorrah burned, it did not disappear.  Rather through a series of powerful enchantments it turned into a forever burning, moving city, now the most decadent, wicked city festival in the world. The daughter of the city's proprietor, Sorina, is an illusionist who runs the festival's freak show... populated, aside from herself, entirely with entertainers who also happen to be illusions that she has created.  A half-man, half tree, a girl with no bones, a man who is covered with fingernails rather than hair, a hark-girl who soars above the audience, a man who breathes through gills and wears a water helmet when not in his tank, a baby who spits fire, a two-headed boy, and a manager who (sometimes) has the strength of ten men.

When they travel to the contentious Northern mountains region they face hostility from the local government run on religious principles. Shortly after arrival in their first Northern city region, one of Sorina's illusions is murdered; a feat that should have been impossible.  As she and her family grieve, she also begins to investigate and her discoveries illuminate not only a traitor in their midst, but facets of herself that she never knew existed. 

The festival atmosphere coupled with the danger to Sorina and her illusions drew me in from the very start.  It was easy to visualize Gomorrah and its inhabitants, to see the festival workers and what they offered to the public.  Then the idea that Sorina could bring her imaginings to life is so amazing.  I wish I could show others the things I see in my head sometimes!  So often I mourn my lack of true artistic talent because what I see in my mind's eye and what appears on paper are two disappointingly different things.  *sigh*

The story unfolds well and I was on the hook right until the revelation at the very end. I liked how even the illusion characters had their own fully-faceted personalities, just as if they were real family members to Sorina.  I mourned along with her when each murder occurred.  The topics of grief and family dynamics are both well explored here. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading more from Amanda Foody!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Once Upon a Book Club - My First Unboxing!

So, something I discovered in the last few years that I've always found fascinating but never got a chance before to try are book subscription boxes.  They have all different varieties at different price points and some offer single box purchases as well as monthly, quarterly, or annual subscriptions. 

So what are they?  Well many of them offer a signed or exclusive first edition hardcover of a newly released book with five to six themed bookish goodies included in the box with the book.  If you want to check them out online, some of the biggest are Owlcrate, LitJoy, or the one I'm going to discuss today, Once Upon a Book Club.

Once Upon a Book Club is an amazing interactive reading experience.  They have two boxes each month.  One that features an adult fiction book, and one that features a young adult fiction book. Then, here's how they differ from other book boxes, they include wrapped "presents" that are items you unwrap as you reach marked pages while you read the book! They are curated to match the important pieces of text and it really brings the book to life.  Plus, Once Upon a Book Club now does discussion questions for their readers and arranges for a Q&A with the author of the featured book.  Very, very cool.

I really wanted to try this box out, but I was nervous to try the newest box (they do not tell you the book title ahead of time, only give hints) so I purchased an older box from their website that featured a book I was dying to read anyway, Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody. It was their August 2017 YA box.

Spoilers ahead!!! 

So as I read the book which is about a girl who runs the freak show, full of her own living, breathing illusions, in the moving carnival-city of Gomorrah, there were four places where there were sticky notes that prompted me to open one of the gifts in the box. 

As Sorina gets frustrated with her new friend Luca, she storms outside his tent and kicks over the wooden sign he has outside proclaiming his talent.  Included in the box was a version of this wooden sign! Very cute.

Next, I was prompted to open a gift when Sorina finds a bag of fifteen gold coins that she didn't realize she had collected from someone and lo and behold, there was a bag of "gold" coins included in the box!

The third prompt was to open a small box when Sorina takes Luca's pocket watch for close inspection after he's been arrested.  The box contained a replica of the watch described... including the damning inscription that alerts Sorina that something about Luca is not what it seems...and it works in real life. So cool!

The last prompt came right at the end of the book so I don't want to spoil things in case you choose to read the book (and I would recommend it; I enjoyed it!) but I will say that the gift was a red sequined mask which was very fitting.  Sorina wears a variety of masks throughout the book.

So, here's my full unboxing (revealing what the box contained):

Daughter of the Burning City
Hardcover copy and poster
Wooden sign reading "Gossip-Worker" 
Bag of 15 "gold" coins
Pocket watch (that actually works!)
Red sequined mask

All in all, this was a GREAT box with a fun to read book, made even more special because of the interactive method used to read the book.  I kind of wish I had gotten the box when it first came out and other people who had gotten the box did the readalong, etc, as that would have been even more fun, but I enjoyed it all on my own!

I will definitely be trying this box again sometime in the future. I may even be asking for a gift subscription when my birthday comes around this year. 

Full disclosure: book box purchased, I did not receive this for review or endorsement, all opinions are firmly my own.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Coveting the New and Shiny

While I'm sticking to my guns and working within the confines of my self-imposed 2018 Books I Already Own Challenge, I have to admit I am COVETING all the new and shiny books I see all over social media...and in my own Library.  *sigh*
My January Cheat Book
My February Cheat Book

I am allowing myself one new book a month as my "cheat book," and while that's helping, it's very much also forcing me to be VERY, very choosy.  I have a list of potential cheat books already and as more books get published this year, I'm sure it will be added to, and I cannot see how I'm possibly going to survive having to parcel them out one per month without dying of jealousy when I cannot get to the whole list I'm dying to read, LOL!!

Just for the first three months of the year alone, I have a list of another six books I'm making grabby hands at... definitely not going to work out for the one per month rate I'd been hoping would just be a nice and easy way to satisfy my urge for the new and shiny. 😂

Anyway, I haven't yet decided what my cheat book will be for March, and there aren't any I'm desperately coveting in April yet, so I may be able to read two of these at least without going outside my challenge:

Released in January
Released in January
Released in February

Released in February
Released in February
Releasing in March

It's so hard sometimes to put off reading the shiny, new, gorgeous and awesome sounding books that everyone else is reading and enjoying, but I did challenge myself this year and it's meant to be tough and I want to try to keep with it for as long as possible.  So... I guess a couple of these will be going onto my list to read in 2019.  Now, how to decide???? *wails*

Any other books you're coveting this spring?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal
The Ever-Expanding Universe, book one
Simon Schuster books for Young Readers, 2012
ebook owned in personal collection

This book made me snort out loud so many times!  I'm so glad I finally read it.  It is the perfect blend of zany teen angst-y high school bullsh!t and science fiction (light). 

 Poor Elvie gives in to her teenage hormones ONE time with the hottie she doesn't really like but can't resist and ends up pregnant.  Unable to keep it from her Dad forever, she ends up being shipped off to an orbiting school for expectant mothers.  YES, you read that correctly.... a school for pregnant teens floating in outer space.  But, equipped with all the latest stuff and perfect for adding in things like underwater prenatal yoga to their days in the old cruise ships olympic size pool! All this would be fine... if Elvie wasn't also going to school with her arch-nemesis from her old high school... who happens to be pregnant too...and you guessed it - from the same guy!

Oh, and then their school gets attacked by aliens.  So, there's that! *snorts*

As I said, this book had me laughing the ENTIRE way through.  There was a great cast of characters, including a best friend who was so supportive in the best possible way that I wanted to adopt him for my own (Ducky, I love you!) and a hunky boy who turns out to be pretty decent, actually.  A Father who really cared and some other adults who end up seeing how smart Elvie is and working to be on
her side as sh!t goes South. 
Book two

Book two, A Stranger Thing is definitely on my list of things to read soon! If you like science fiction that's not too strenuous, and full of humor, more like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, I'd recommend giving this one a shot!

(Oh, and I just wanted to mention how much I love ALL of the various covers for this book... there are three shown above and I find them all funny and perfectly suited to the book in their own way! I kind of wish I could have posters of them all.)


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Talon by Julie Kagawa

Talon by Julie Kagawa
Talon series, book one
Harlequin Teen, 2014
owned in personal collection

Here there be dragons.

Why did I wait so long to read this book? I love dragons.  My earliest book memories are of reading McCaffrey's Harper Hall trilogy (starting with Dragonsong) so reading about dragons is pretty much in my blood.  Plus I love Kagawa's writing style so this was a major win. 

Dragons hiding in plain sight - disguised as humans.  A secret organization of dragons plotting world domination. An even more secret organization of human dragon hunters.  What?! What a great premise for a book series.  Plus, you add teenage hormones into the mix?  Win. 

I was fascinated by the way that the members of Talon (the dragon organization) integrated dragon sleepers into human society.  As the book unfolded, you also got to learn more about the different factions of dragons they created, chameleons, vipers, etc... and I'm dying to learn more about them. I'm hoping that Kagawa delves deeper into that as the series continues.  I'm equally as curious to learn more about how St. George (the dragon hunter organization) raises and trains its operatives. 

This book sucked me right in and I'm happily now working my way through book two, Rogue. I'll let you all know if book two lives up to the first!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray
The Diviners, book three
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017
Audio book owned in personal collection

Oh man, do I dig the Roaring Twenties! What a fabulous time to set a story.  Not only does it have the glitz and glamour of the flappers, jazz culture, and the growing movie industry, but it is RIPE with controversial societal topics that can play into a storyline. Libba Bray is a master at weaving all of these elements together with a dash of the paranormal to create one heck of a brilliant series.

Starting with The Diviners, which I highly recommend you go back and start with if you haven't already read the earlier books in the series, we follow a group of people who come together because they all have special gifts and become a family facing down the world's evils. Bray's gang of intrepid Diviners come from all walks of life. We as readers get to glimpse theater life, flapper parties and nightclubs, as well as Chinatown and the streets of Harlem.  Evie becomes a famous radio star, while Theta's a dancer in the Follies, and Ling's genius lets her meet the famous inventor, Marlowe.  There's excitement and innovation...and murderous ghosts around every corner. 

By the time this third book begins, the Diviners have already been tested twice.  Now, they must use their various gifts to band together to fight the biggest threat yet.  A paranormal entity that could threaten the existence of their entire world.  It's hard to give any more plot than that without spoiling things for other readers, so I'm going to leave it there. 

I will say that the stakes have most definitely gone up in this installment.  I can feel the tension in the overall story arc rising to almost the crescendo, as we prepare for the final book in the series.  As threats build all around the Diviners and they learn that they face very real threats from our world, not just the paranormal one, sadly it's becoming more and more clear that perhaps some may not see the end of this war.  I am EAGERLY awaiting the ending of this series.

A final note - I have listened to this entire series as audio books from the beginning and it is a WONDERFUL experience.  The books are fabulous in and of themselves, but narrator January LaVoy not only does amazing voices for all of the characters, but in parts she even sings... and they splice in some great '20s jazz music, too.  I highly recommend the audio versions!