Tuesday, December 31, 2013

War and Peace: the Conclusion

I am so thrilled to be linking up to this carnival, celebrating the fact that I read this monster book! Unfortunately I don't feel like I have much to say. I was pleased to peek in at these characters some years after Napoleon has been defeated and to not struggle through any of the dull war scenes. Good things seem to have happened to our two main couples and since I liked them, I was able to enjoy that. However I still don't have that emotional connection to anyone that I feel when I read my favorite books. The onslaught of people and plot was just too much. I think back to the very first posts I read for War and Peace and the mention of just letting every bit wash over me instead of stressing over getting all the character names and relationships. I think that is a very helpful conception and I would encourage any other potential readers to consider the book in that light. Saying that, I did mostly get the character names and everything by the end just because they were repeated enough.

And then there's the second epilogue, which had its interesting moments especially to me who studied history in college but was overall way too much from Tolstoy about his opinions regarding history and the way it is studied and written about during his era. He argues against the idea that great men made things happen, which is not really part of mainstream historical study anymore so his rant against it felt very old-fashioned to me.

Would I recommend this? I am mixed on that. On the one hand, I feel so satisfied to have completed this and really proud of myself for sticking with it for this whole year. On the other hand, I didn't think it was that great. I can think of so many more classics I've read and liked more, possibly because they more closely hew to the format of a traditional novel (one of the reasons I want to give Anna Karenina another try and hopefully finish in 2014.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

ARC Review: Heartbeat

by Elizabeth Scott
5/5 stars
Harlequin Teen, 2014
233 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled to release January 28, 2014

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I have read and loved every Elizabeth Scott novel that has been released so far so it was hard for me that this book was pushed back from an earlier 2013 release. Luckily I managed to score an early copy and sneak it in to my reading schedule before the official release.

Going in, I didn't really know what to expect other than that it is a contemporary. I had decided to treat myself by reading just a few pages as a teaser but soon myself through 20% of the book. I had to charge my e-reader then but quickly returned to finish this book. It was a struggle because despite this book's brevity, it packs quite an emotional punch.

Main character Emma visits her mother every day in the hospital accompanying her stepfather Dan in these tragic circumstances. These are made more so by the fact that her mother is essentially dead and is being kept alive in order to preserve the life of the baby inside her, a decision that Emma believes Dan made solely to beget his progeny and in complete defiance of what Emma's mother would have wanted. The loss of her mother has sent Emma deep into herself; the girl formerly on track for valedictorian is now failing all of her classes, speaks just to her best friend Olivia, and cannot fathom forgiving Dan for his egregious betrayal. However bad boy Caleb starts to catch her eye as she realizes that he is also sinking in grief. Together these two broken people may be able to continue to face the day.

Sadly I don't really have the words to sum up the experience of reading this other than to start with "intense." Emma is so sad and so angry and it is painful to read much of the time. I've been very blessed in this arena and don't have any experiences to compare but just reading about her pain was emotionally difficult. I thought Scott did an excellent job of varying the descriptors and bringing out all the facets of Emma's emotions-she's never just sad or angry or regretful but all of these and so much more over the course of the book.

One element that made me especially happy was Emma's commitment to being a good friend to Olivia and to celebrate her normality like when the boy Olivia likes likes her back! This is explicitly represented in the book and it made me happy as I've read in the blogosphere and observed myself in books how sometimes the main character just completely shuts out her best friend or doesn't even have them before being brought into a supernatural world by the hero. This book defies that stereotype.

Though there is a dreamy boy (Caleb is definitely a ten!), his emotional presence plays the biggest role for Emma here. He has also experienced death and the pall grief casts over a family so he is able to fully empathize with Emma here and be a suitable partner. Though I prefer Will in Perfect You, Caleb is a perfect match for Emma.

Overall: A heartwrenching novel about an incredibly difficult period in one's life; beautifully written.

Be sure to come back in January as I will be hosting a giveaway to coincide with the release date!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ramblings and the Week to Come 29DEC13

Honestly all I want to read is The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013 Man Booker Prize Winner) but it is a massive book that will slow me down so I'm saving it for my trip. I've already loaded up my Nook to bring several dozen reading possibilities on the trip (also charger because it would be very unfortunate to forget that component!)

I am so close to my 2013 goal of 300 books. After some good reading time yesterday, I just need to finish two more. I'm going through my e-ARCs to see which is shortest and may be making my decision based on that. In a mixed blessing, I'm not going to have much time to read today but that is because I'm seeing my oldest friend today (I haven't been with her in person in about 7 years and she's finally visiting the Best Coast :) It's definitely worth it!

I continue to adore my job. It's getting so busy and will only ramp up throughout the first quarter, which is exciting but it does mean that 2014 will be off to a slow start for me in terms of blogging. I am comfortable with that though because I also have my holiday where I hope to catch up on commenting but also focusing on enjoying being with my family and our location.

Less than a week away!
Manchester United pulled off another win so they get to end the year strong. My beloved Eagles have a chance to trounce the Dallas Cowboys tonight so I'm going to be a nervous Nellie until that's over (ideally with the result I want!)

Week to Come:
  • Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott as I'm a long-time fangirl of Scott; in short, she did not disappoint!
  • Final War and Peace entry!
  • 2013 Wrap-Up-will I make my goal of 300 books read?
  • I have some other titles to consider but these are the priority!
  • I'm also working on a post about 2014 plans though I've already shared that my main one is to write less because I'm just drained.
How is your year-end looking? What are you reading? Is anyone else's brain just going to jelly? I feel like I really lived up to the "ramblings" part of my post title today!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

ARC Review: Avalon

by Mindee Arnett
3.5/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2014
432 pages
YA Science-Fiction
Scheduled to release January 21, 2014

Source: Received an e-ARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

This book caught my attention after being featured on multiple Waiting on Wednesdays posts and seeing notices that it bore some resemblance to cult classic "Firefly," a show that I personally adore. As a diehard contemporary fan, I don't tend to read much science-fiction so I also thought it would be fun to broaden my reading horizons a bit.

Right away I caught the "Firefly" vibe because our main characters are involved in a bit of thievery with the captain's beloved spaceship laying claim to a huge piece of his heart. This group of teenagers reports to a criminal mastermind and are sent to track down a weapon on a missing ship with the tantalizing promise of being released from service to live in freedom aboard the ship Avalon. But of course nothing so simple can occur for our characters as they discover something far more at stake than any mere weapon with three mysterious survivors hiding their own pieces of the puzzle and complicating the choices available to the crew.

I didn't want to go too in-depth on the plot but it all seemed sufficiently spacey to me. Almost the entire book takes place on board a few ships and travel through space is a critical component. As you get deeper in to the book, questions about who is human and behavioral modifications are further probed, which also meets my criteria for a satisfying science-fiction novel. Unfortunately the plot went a bit further and I found myself increasingly disengaged as it progressed. I think others will roll with the punches better than me though.

Unfortunately I never completely clicked with the characters, meaning that my emotional side was neglected. I did like main character Jeth upon whom the burdens of choice seem to lay on the heaviest. He's the eldest of the group and had to grow up to fast under the care of a drunken uncle after being orphaned; he protects those around him especially his younger sister Lizzie who seems to be growing up all too fast. But the book isn't in first person so while I felt we were getting valuable insight into his mind, it just didn't click the way a first person narrative more often does for me. The secondary characters weren't of much interest to me beyond the psychotic criminal mastermind Hammer and Uncle Milton who seemed to have a much more interesting past than Jeth necessarily knew.

Overall: A novel full of space and lightning fast acts of betrayal that amps up tension skillfully. Though this book wasn't quite for me, I have every confidence that readers more excited by science-fiction will find plenty to love.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

ARC Review: No One Else Can Have You

by Kathleen Hale
4/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2014
380 pages
YA Contemporary Thriller
Scheduled to release January 7, 2014

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

Before reading this book, I had seen a few reviews that mentioned its quirkiness and how that would impact people's enjoyment of the book. Though several of my blogger friends were not able to get through it, I was pleased to realize I did like it and found it to be an intriguing read.

Kippy Bushman's best friend Ruth is found murdered in a most gruesome fashion. Though a culprit is quickly identified, Kippy ends up unconvinced of his guilt and starts investigating uncovering a host of suspects all of whose out there personalities left me confused about who might have done it. As Kippy came closer to unraveling the mystery, I found myself on the edge of my seat hoping it wasn't who I was starting to suspect only to discover in fact that it was.

So let's talk about that quirkiness. It's set in the small town of Friendship, Wisconsin where everyone pretty much knows everyone and greets them by saying their full name; additionally Kippy's father has all sorts of special nicknames for her like "Pickle." I mostly blipped past these but did notice them. Kippy also has a bit of an obsession with Diane Sawyer, which some people found weird but which makes complete sense to me. I'm more of a Brian Williams girl but if Diane aired at 5, I'd totally watch her first. Taxidermy and hunting also get a lot of page time as popular pastimes in the town with a support group for violent people making several humorous appearances especially as the book continues.

I think it helped that I approached this book expecting some level of quirkiness. If I had anticipated a straight read, I might have been upset but because I knew some of what was to come, I was able to prepare myself and hopefully help to prepare you if you decide to pick up this book!

Cover: I love the sweater-like texture of the front while the hanged moose is appropriate if super creepy to me on a personal aesthetic level.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

ARC Review: Cruel Beauty

by Rosamund Hodge
4/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2014
352 pages
YA Mythical Fantastical Fairy-Tale Romance
Scheduled to release January 28, 2014

Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

I read and am reviewing this book a bit earlier than I usually would because I was just so in the mood for a fairy tale and was richly rewarded in choosing this one with a complex main character and a story I found richly romantic though I can definitely see people being turned off by some aspects. For me, this is a winner though and one you'll want on your radar as its release date in January approaches.

Like many people, I fawned over this cover in many a "Waiting on Wednesday" post with the spiraling rose/staircase and powerful red capturing my imagination. Learning that it was based on "Beauty and the Beast" only further sealed the deal. I still feel like B&B is an underutilized fairy tale for retellings so I was ready for one to sweep me away.

And that's what happened here. Nyx has grown up knowing that her mother died birthing her and her twin sister Astraia; the price for even conceiving the girls was that one would grow up to marry the Gentle Lord who rules over their isolated kingdom. Nyx was chosen and trained for this duty while her sister was petted and cosseted. Upon arriving at the castle for her marriage, Nyx is drawn into a tangled love triangle with the Lord Ignifex and his shadow Shade while also unraveling the secrets of her kingdom's very foundation.

I know, I know that I referenced a love triangle above but it's so much more complicated than that and I can't go more in depth without spoiling things and I really don't want to do that to you. Let's just say that I've been very exasperated with triangles in my YA reading but this one didn't provoke those feelings at all. Also this appears to be a standalone so you can rest assured that there's resolution about the relationships and the main plot.

As for the characters, Nyx is a tough nut. She both loves and resents her sister, feeling respect for that familial relationship and how much Astraia smiles and seems to depend on her but also loathing the precious sister who will always be loved more by their father as the splitting image of their mother. For the most part, she is aware of what is right and what is wrong but actually implementing those ideals is a struggle that the reader will journey. I had topsy-turvy feelings about Ignifex (whose name I hate) and Shade, sometimes feeling very positive and other times just anger on behalf of Nyx. When the romance deepens though, I was able to go along for the ride.

Another idea wrestled with is the nature of bargains. Nyx is in this position because of a bargain her father struck and we learn about so many other people who offer certain sacrifices for what they want, so rarely fathoming how far the tricky bargainers will stretch their word. While one thing is promised, there are always unforeseen consequences.

I'm not really someone who tends to notice writing other than identifying a distinct preference for more commercial rather than literary writing. I feel like this one leans more toward the latter but still maintains a good pace with a lot of wonder as everything unravels toward the end. I consider it a bit more literary because of the difficult names and allusions to mythology and history. I was fortunate to be familiar with some of the myths referenced, which I think helped me understand the book better upon first read. This book could definitely still be enjoyed even without that knowledge though.

Overall: An enchanting tale that keeps the "Beauty and the Beast" tale intact while also altering and greatly expanding for a satisfying novel of magic and consequence.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ramblings and the Week to Come 22DEC 13

A Mini-Rant about Goodreads:
I received an email from the site this week, inviting me to look back at what I've read for 2013, announcing that I had read 286 books. I was outraged that they were declaring my total even though I had almost two more weeks to read more (I'm shooting for 300 and have been putting in a lot of reading time trying to meet that; at 290 as of this morning and trying to complete two more today.) That made me kind of mad!

Irving Berlin's White Christmas:
Yesterday, as part of my mom's birthday gift, we took her to see Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" based on the classic and beloved film. It deletes some songs and adds in others from the same composer for what could very well become a holiday classic. The Bob Wallace character is more shy and less cranky while Phil is more of a ladies man. We were utterly charmed and found this to be an excellent addition to our holidays!

Blogging Goals for 2014:
I don't really have any big blogging goals for the new year other than trying not to be so intense about posting. As you may have noticed, I've fallen behind on posting as 2013 comes to an end but I've mostly erased my guilt (I know, I shouldn't feel guilty but I do.) For the new year, I've already reduced my reading goal to 200 books, which will result in posting less but hopefully it will allow me more time to comment and to feel more revitalized by being in the blogosphere instead of enervated.


New Year's Resolutions:
As I think back on 2013, I don't think I really kept up with them but I still had a great year by being open to trying new things. For example, in the active realm, I completed 3 5Ks, joined my company's softball team, and faithfully committed to an exercise regime. I'm not sure what I might try this year; maybe Toastmasters to improve my extemporaneous skills though I anticipate pursuing several activities. What are you thinking about for the new year? Give me inspiration!

Week to Come:
I have loads of great e-ARCs to read (like Cruel Beauty, Avalon, The Afterparty, Uninvited, and No One Else Can Have You among others) but I have no idea what I want to read this week. You might see some of these; you might see completely different titles that I need to review for Amazon Vine. You might not see anything though I'm hoping to get up at least two.

Happy Holidays:
Below is my favorite Christmas song; Darlene Love performs it annually for David Letterman.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

by Allison Rushby
3.5/5 stars
Allison Rushby, 2013
138 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I have enjoyed some other books by Rushby so I was intrigued to discover that she had written a book about a heroine obsessed with Marilyn Monroe. Though I'm not a big Monroe fan, I do enjoy many of her films and I understand the magnetism that continues to draw people to her even half a century after her death.

In this book, thirteen year-old Nessa Joanne Mulholland is boarding a cruise ship with her sociologist father for him to conduct interviews and further his research. This setting reminds her of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and miraculously movie star Holly Isles catches on to her quoting of the film, leading to Nessa thinking that they have a connection. To strengthen that relationship, Nessa starts giving Holly relationship advice to aid in finding the Perfect Man and meddles to an extraordinary degree with more than a few lies thrown on to the fire.

So many of Nessa's actions left me cringing! Since she is the narrator, I could see how she acted from a place of good intentions. But she was manipulative and lying (in particular about her age, giving it as sixteen; I can't imagine being mistaken for sixteen when I was thirteen, I still tend to get seventeen/eighteen as a twenty-four year old) and I knew nothing good comes of that for book characters. Luckily this is played as a comedy and everything turns toward a happily ever after with two more books to come, allowing Nessa to fully relish her Marilyn indulgence. It's pretty predictable; as Nessa tries to script a similar outcome as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the reader is likely to notice a love story blossoming that she overlooks.

However the characters are sweet and endearing. If you're looking for a cute contemporary, this might fit the bill especially if you're a Marilyn fan as well!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

ARC Review: The Promise of Amazing

by Robin Constantine
3/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2013
384 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled to release December 31

Source: Received an e-ARC through the publisher at Edelweiss.

Warning: Blogger is cranky!

As I've shared, I've been having trouble focusing on reading and blogging. I hoped though that a cute YA contemporary would bring me back, perhaps this one. Unfortunately it was not to be. Though this book has promise, it fell far short of amazing to me.

My overwhelming impression was that I just. did. not. care. I didn't care about Wren and her averageness, I didn't care about Grayson's expulsion from his fancy prep school, I didn't care about his schemes with his friends, I didn't care about their relationship. Wren is so dull and for the most part we only see her interest in Grayson, not any other interests she might have (and her friends are sorely underdeveloped so we don't get much of a sense of her personality from hanging out with them.) Grayson has slightly more spark though it's of the bad boy sort, which isn't what I like.

So the characters were a bust. What about the plot? The big conflict revolves around some seriously sketchy stuff Grayson has done that he wants to hide from Wren. This leads to all sorts of drama with his best friend and Wren's ex-best friend in addition to a lot of crying and inability to communicate. I found Grayson's situation pushed the bounds of believability (he has done a lot of terrible things but with skill and panache). The plot didn't capture me either. To sum up, no-go on the characters as well as the plot. What does this mean? Perhaps still something to check out for YA contemporary fans but I would suggest you skip.

Cover: Points for accuracy: Grayson does wear a blazer with the suede patches (and I fully agree with Wren about how cute this is) and they seem to be in their own private world as they lean in for the kiss.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

by Gary Vaynerchuk
4/5 stars
HarperBusiness, 2013
188 pages
Non-Fiction Business Marketing

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

I made a bit of a mistake when picking out this book for review. I saw the subtitle and thought it was related to telling a personal professional story, to working on an elevator pitch of your skills and pluses, and ways to get hired or at least get your foot in the door. Instead this book is more focused on how brands/businesses can use social media to their fullest advantage. While I think some of these techniques can be adapted on a more personal scale (choosing the right message on the right platform at the right time comes to mind), for the most part it was not as personally applicable as I had hoped.

However it did become incredibly fascinating as Vaynerchuk presented case studies of what he considered successful and unsuccessful uses of different media. For example, who told a good story on Facebook? Who confused quantity with quality on Twitter? Deconstructing these examples along with Vaynerchuk was definitely my favorite part of the book and helped me get through what I considered less interesting sections of just text. These bits are loaded with personality and I zipped through them.

I've mostly stayed off most social media, excepting a personal facebook account and linkedin profile, blog twitter, and a mixed Pinterest account. I just don't have the time and energy to properly devote to each channel (and quite frankly I haven't had much interest.) However this book has me seriously considering getting a tumblr and/or instagram account; just because. I also feel like it has opened my eyes to all the marketing that is done to me. I hope to be able to more critically evaluate future efforts because of reading this book.

Something that is applicable I feel are his emphasis on putting forth to understand what you can accomplish with the media and putting your own personal touch on this. Those are good attitudes to take across many arenas and I will certainly be evaluating how I can implement them in my own (non-marketing) career.

Recommended for marketers of products of all sizes; may be less interesting on a personal level.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Shouldn't Be Telling You This

by Kate White
4/5 stars
HarperBusiness, 2013
345 pages
Non-Fiction Business Women

Source: Library

I found myself intrigued by White's previous title Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead...But Gutsy Girls Do but my library didn't have a copy of that so I settled for her newer release, assuming that it would also feature interesting information that was still applicable for a young woman at the beginning of career.

That it does as the writing is very chatty and personal. White used to be editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan magazine and loved writing the copy for the cover. The chapters are short and snappy, reflecting this background. I think some women will not click with this kind of writing but I found it easily digestible and even though I told myself I would just read one more chapter, I inevitably found myself reading several until I finished.

The book is divided into three sections: Getting Success, Going Big with Success, and Savoring Success. I found the last one the least relevant as it assumes a level of success that I have not yet attained though it does hammer home that the success won't be worth it if I'm burned out and unable to enjoy myself. I preferred the first two, finding more that related to me where I am now.

One of the things I valued most about this book was White sharing about her successes. Initially it annoyed me as I found it braggy. That might be the point though as I've read that women aren't necessarily very good at sharing their accomplishments even though they have accomplished amazing things. This led to me reflecting on what my major achievements were this year and how I could frame them in more casual atmospheres outside of my formal performance review. I want people to know how fantastic I am at my job and I don't want to automatically bristle when I hear about other people's excellent work. Another point I valued was shared early on, being "Go big or go home." Certainly I've heard this before, as have you I'm sure, but this time it really struck me. I think of myself as a generally pretty passionate person; when I'm in, I'm all in and I want to reflect that at work.

Overall: A fun conversational read that left me feeling very cheered on and all fired up to tackle big projects and do awesome work as I scale the career ladder!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ramblings and the Week to Come 15DEC13

So yesterday was my 24th birthday and I celebrated by stuffing myself. I had bacon and chocolate chip pancakes to start and had lunch and dinner out at restaurants. Upon informing the waiter we were celebrating my birthday, I got desserts at the end of both meals. Plus my mom made a funfetti cake with white frosting. So I had three desserts plus regular food. It was all delicious but now I need to buckle down and focus on eating my veggies. It was just a lot.

As for presents...I received some amazing goodies. Of bookish interest might be a kit for my personal library to stamp and track my collection as well as two books and bookmarks designed by my friend. Those bookmarks include author portraits with quotes as well as one incorporating my blog design. My jaw literally dropped when I saw them and how gorgeous they are.

In holiday news, I am so far ahead of the game! I dropped off my coworker presents (I went with fudge and Special K bars) and mailed presents. I still have five presents to wrap and give as well as family but we'll be distributing those on Christmas Eve/Day. Basically I'm done!

My goal is really to reach 300 books read this year, whether or not I write about all on my blog so posting and commenting will probably continue to be sketchy through the end of the year and probably also through February as my work gets busy. March 2 will represent a big break though so I hope to come back that week. Note, I am not planning to stop blogging. I am merely trying to maintain my enthusiasm and create something I can be proud of.

I saw this delightful quote on Pinterest and have been thinking about it for my life. I want to be passionate about reading and blogging and since I'm not very, I am taking a bit of a break.

Week to Come:
No idea really-I hope to maybe post something for "Waiting on Wednesday" and I have a few other possible review books (like early copies of Cruel Beauty and The Promise of Amazing.)

What's up with you? Has anyone else felt a bit tired from blogging lately?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Women Who Don't Wait in Line

by Reshma Saujani
4/5 stars
New Harvest, 2013
123 pages
Non-Fiction Women's Business

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

As I've repeatedly mentioned on my blog, I have found myself drawn to books about women in business, seeking guidance on my fledgling career. The title for this book immediately caught my eye as I've read about women being more likely to hold back and not go after what they want in comparison to bolder men. I thought it would be an interesting read as I aspire to dare and take big strides in my career progression.

In general I found this a pretty absorbing albeit light read. The specifics of Saujani's path were fascinating (she ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2010) and I appreciated the enthusiasm she has about women aspiring to ever higher levels in their career. However I'm not sure how much I can concretely apply to my own career and most of the ideas provided are ones I've read about elsewhere. Also this book is quite short so it does not allow Saujani to flesh out everything that she might at a longer length.

Of most interest to me was her pushing women to pursue STEM careers. I kind of wish I had taken the opportunity to explore that path especially if I had taken a computer science class. I will certainly encourage the young women in my life to consider such work and hope that others will be encouraged, whether through encountering this book or possibly through the Girls Who Code foundation begun by Saujani. I love the idea of people being supported as they try something new that could end up being a lifelong passion.

Overall: Not a must-read but if you like the genre, worth reading.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Smarter Than You Think

by Clive Thompson
4/5 stars
The Penguin Press, 2013
288 pages
Non-Fiction, Technology

Source: Library

Though my heart lies in YA fiction, I am interested in a wide variety of other topics including this book I've seen buzz about that examines how technology is impacting us. I have certainly read articles warning about dire outcomes from technology and I've witnessed what I consider sad consequences (for example at a restaurant I've seen parents thoroughly engrossed in their phones while their children beg for attention). This book however takes a more optimistic view about how we can and do use technology in extremely beneficial ways.

For example using newer platforms online like change.org has allowed people to find similar-minded people and organize at a scale not seen before.  Twitter allows for quick spreading of news. If I hear about an earthquake for example, I always turn to Twitter to find out more quickly and turn to traditional news once there has been time for more thorough information to be gathered. These technologies work best when they have a single clear purpose and desired outcome. Broadening it too much tends to muddy its effect. He also takes about utilizing a computer's strengths (memory and brute-force processing of data) to complement a human's mind and discretion.

Two of the most striking points for me involved historical examples. He shared about Ernest Duchesne who performed research on penicillin but was unable to get his work published and died without his findings shared with the world. Thirty-two years later Alexander Fleming shared penicillin. Think of how many lives could have been saved if Duchesne had had a platform to share his work outside of the formalized channels that rejected him or if he had found colleagues to disseminate his information.

The other point that struck me relates to our tendency to romanticize the past. For example Thompson writes about how we idealize the great letter-writing culture of the past. He says that the average was still only 5.15 letters per year at that time. So not a lot. In comparison, online has greatly sparked our writing including especially us bloggers :) And it has allowed us to connect with so many more people than we would have in the past. I really enjoyed reading about how much more writing we're producing and was struck by two examples he shared of bloggers whose years of posts added up to 2+ books. It made me wonder how long my blog would be in book format...

Overall: A very interesting and accessible work of non-fiction with some great endnotes and index.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book Tour: Shadows of Asphodel

This tour was organized by CBB Book Promotions. The full tour schedule can be seen at this link.

Shadows of Asphodel by Karen Kincy
Createspace, 2013
350 pages
Adult Dieselpunk Alternative History

Source: Received a copy to review through tour.

When Ardis discovers a man bleeding to death on the battlefield, she knows she has to walk away.
1913. In her work as a mercenary for Austria-Hungary, Ardis has killed many men without hesitation. One more man shouldn’t matter, even if he manages to be a charming bastard while he stands dying in the snow.
But when he raises the dead to fight for him, she realizes she must save his life.
If a necromancer like Wendel dies, he will return as a monster—or so the rumors say. Ardis decides to play it safe and rescues him. What she doesn’t expect is Wendel falling to one knee and swearing fealty. Ardis never asked for the undying loyalty of a necromancer, but it’s too late now.
Ardis and Wendel forge an uneasy alliance underscored with sexual tension. Together, they confront rebels, assassins, and a conspiracy involving a military secret: robotically-enhanced soldiers for a world on the brink of war. But as Ardis starts to fall for Wendel, she realizes the scars from his past run more deeply than she ever imagined. Can Ardis stop Wendel before his thirst for revenge destroys him and everyone else around him?
Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

I read approximately half of this book, closed it for the night, and then could not get it open again. So these are just some thoughts based on that promising start. Because I did not finish, I did not provide a rating but I will share that I was enjoying myself. For example I was very caught up in the romance though it moved a bit fast for my taste-I prefer a more drawn out courtship and yet it seems fitting for these passionate decisive characters. They're not going to wait around when they could reach out and touch each other right away.

As for the world-building, we're getting rumbles of the events that are going to lead up to World War I. The part I read didn't really cover these political underpinnings but I suspect that the latter half will fill in those gaps. There are a lot of hints about tension with Germany and multiple competing agendas. I am also wondering about the fantastical side as we see the abilities of Ardis and the necromancy of Wendel. I don't think I've ever read a book with a necromancer in such a prominent position and it's a horrifying albeit fascinating ability. How does he manage to accomplish this? What kind of training did he receive? I'm so curious!

Thank you to Candace and Karen for the chance to sample this book!

About the Author:
Karen Kincy (Redmond, Washington) can be found lurking in her writing cave, though sunshine will lure her outside. When not writing, she stays busy gardening, tinkering with aquariums, or running just one more mile. Karen has a BA in Linguistics and Literature from The Evergreen State College. 

Find the author: Website | Twitter | Facebook

$25 Amazon Gift Card (INT)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 9, 2013


by Lauren DeStefano
4/5 stars
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013
371 pages
YA Dystopia Conclusion

Source: Library

I fell hard for the cover of first book Wither and while neither it nor sequel Fever completely earned my love, I was engaged enough to follow the series through to its conclusion. I think my main my problems are that I have never fully felt engaged with Rhine who has seemed very removed, that my favorite parts are the interaction with the other sister wives which was most prominent in book one, and that I like husband Linden over servant Gabriel even if she had freedom only in choosing the latter.

My main feeling from this book is that it made me feel like I was in a drugged-out haze too following Rhine around as she tries to find her twin brother Rowan and escape the machinations of Vaughn. She just seems so personality free to me. On an intellectual level, I understand not wanting to be forced into marriage, wanting to find a cure so that you don't die at age 20, and wanting to be reunited with your sole living relative. But I never felt those in the character of Rhine. When I connect with a book, I feel the main character's pain and struggles no matter how much they vary from my own life experiences. Never the case here.

Remember how I mentioned potential love interests Linden and Gabriel? Both get pretty shabby treatment here. If you were invested in romance between Rhine and either guy, I think you will be pretty disappointed. Neither boy's life wrapped up in a satisfying fashion. Vaughn's ultimate fate is the more pleasing one though still strangely anticlimatic to me.

Another disappointment to me is the reference to Chemical Gardens. That is the title for the trilogy and yet I feel like it's only in this book that we start exploring what that means and not even in full detail. I have read all three books and I'm still not sure I could explain what they are. (I think they are where Rhine's parents experimented to come up with a cure.)

As I wrote this review, I realize I pretty much only had complaints and yet I gave it 4 stars. My rating system is obviously a bit bonkers but 4 is really the rating I felt in my gut when I completed the book. While I had hoped for an ending to completely blow me away, I do accept the ending in this book and I am very aware that I've read more disappointing conclusions. Hope is a big theme in the novel and that is what ultimately redeems it for me. I want to live in a world with hope and I like that this book allows for this even if other areas were less than for me.

Other Opinions:
Into the Hall of Books
Katie's Book Blog 
Simply Books

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ramblings and the Week to Come 08DEC13

Work has been exhilarating but exhausting. I'm being trained to add on another responsibility in addition to trying to stuff as much as I can in to this very busy month before my vacation at the beginning of January. Have I talked about that yet? We're finally going to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal and make our first trip to Disney World in 8 years. As big Disney fans, this is incredibly exciting (yes, we've been to Disneyland a bunch of times in those eight years but it's not the same.)
Related to my work excitement, I haven't felt much like reading, blogging, or commenting. I'm so sapped sometimes when I sit down before my personal computer. I still want to read because I have so many cool looking books but actually focusing has been a struggle. Hence...

The Week to Come:
I have a couple of options. I'd like to read and review Fever by Lauren DeStefano to finish the Wither trilogy and I am participating in a blog tour for Karen Kincy's Shadows of Asphodel on Tuesday. I also have a stack of Amazon Vine books to review but I might just write about them at the site instead of here since they're business non-fiction rather than YA. It might end up being a pretty quiet week depending on how motivated I end up getting but almost certainly two reviews.

Thanks for the support readers...and as always, happy reading!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria

by Lauren Willig
4/5 stars
New American Library, 2013
457 pages
Adult Historical Romance Mystery

Source: Library

Just a quick review today as I check in with Eloise and her historical research for the tenth book in the Pink Carnation series. Though I have not reviewed every book in the series for my blog (see the Lauren Willig tag for those I have reviewed), I have read every book and found myself especially enjoying the most recent ones. Sixth book The Betrayal of the Blood Lily was an especial favorite and I knew this book featured characters related to ones in that book though as they took place roughly concurrently, there was not an overlap in appearance.

Our main characters are Miss Gwen Meadows who has served as a second in command to the Pink Carnation but who I don't really remember. As an older unmarried woman, she serves as a chaperone and has cultivated a brash domineering persona that helps her to organize everything while covering up some of the softer parts of herself that have been heart. Her unlikely hero is Colonel William Reid, father to the hero of Blood Lily, whose unconventional past has led him on a crazy road to Miss Meadows.

The adventure in this book keeps them in England while they track down Gwen's charge's younger sister and Reid's daughter, both of whom have disappeared possibly under nefarious (French-related) circumstances as the English still war with Napoleon and the French. They go on a merry and slightly danger-filled journey to track the pair down. I enjoyed the banter between the couple but was never fully engaged with the plot.

Meanwhile in the present day Eloise and Colin are rapidly facing her return to America and must decide how their relationship will progress. They are also still in conflict with Colin's cousin/stepfather Jeremy and his greed. I am very invested in the Eloise/Colin relationship by now and like how this appears to be going. This was actually an instance where I wanted to focus on their story even more than the historical bits.

An added delight in my edition were interviews at the end between Miss Gwen and the author-a meta treat!

Overall: If you've read the previous books, of course you're going to want to continue! If you haven't started yet, I'd advise you to go back to the beginning so you can dive in with fresh knowledge about the Pink Carnation.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Blog Tour: Ink is Thicker Than Water + Giveaway

I am so pleased to be a stop for Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding as arranged by Rockstar Book Tours. This tour runs from November 25th through December 6th so be sure to check out the other sites (and enter the giveaway!)

Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding
4/5 stars
Entangled Teen, 2013
320 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Received a copy through tour and also through Netgalley.
Publisher Description: For Kellie Brooks, family has always been a tough word to define. Combine her hippie mom and tattooist stepdad, her adopted overachieving sister, her younger half brother, and her tough-love dad, and average Kellie’s the one stuck in the middle, overlooked and impermanent. When Kellie’s sister finally meets her birth mother and her best friend starts hanging with a cooler crowd, the feeling only grows stronger.

But then she reconnects with Oliver, the sweet and sensitive college guy she had a near hookup with last year. Oliver is intense and attractive, and she’s sure he’s totally out of her league. But as she discovers that maybe intensity isn’t always a good thing, it’s yet another relationship she feels is spiraling out of her control.

It’ll take a new role on the school newspaper and a new job at her mom’s tattoo shop for Kellie to realize that defining herself both outside and within her family is what can finally allow her to feel permanent, just like a tattoo.
Find it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads

After enjoying Spalding's debut The Reece Malcolm List, I knew I'd want to read more especially if they were going to be similarly comedic. I was pleased that I was able to connect so easily with both heroines as family plays an important role for each just as it always has for me. That was definitely my favorite aspect. Kellie as a young person is still very much struggling to find her place and to define her talents especially in comparison to her seemingly perfect older sister and her super adorable younger brother. In her mind, she doesn't seem to fit in or stand out in any discernible fashion but over the course of the novel, she discovers more about her own unique talents and place in the family.

Of special interest to me was the relationship with her sister. I've mentioned countless times that I'm a sucker for sister-sister stories being an older sister myself. This one is on the more complicated side as older sister Sara is adopted and, having turned 18, is connecting with her adoptive mother and exploring other facets of herself in a way that leaves behind Kellie. I found this distance heartbreaking to read about and it just made me want to go hug my sister (though I get that feeling a lot like when I saw Frozen for example :)

I felt a bit disappointed with the other relationships mentioned in the synopsis though. Best friend Kaitlyn just seems to drift away from Kellie in an inexplicable fashion and I thought Oliver was going to be much crazier (a la Oliver Trask from "The O.C." perhaps?) or maybe he would become an abusive boyfriend. Nothing so dramatic, fitting for this more quiet contemporary but a bit of a letdown to me when I wanted something bigger and more explosive. Instead it is very realistic and for that reason, probably more relatable to a wider range of readers.

Overall: A contemporary deeply focused on relationships and finding your place that should appeal to many readers.

About Amy:

Amy Spalding grew up in St. Louis, but now lives in the better weather of Los Angeles. She received a B.A. in Advertising & Marketing Communications from Webster University, and currently works as the Digital Media Planner for an independent film advertising agency. Amy studied longform improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and can be seen performing around L.A.

Photo by Jessie Weinberg.

For more about Amy be sure to read the F.A.Q.


Other Tour Stops:
Week One:
11/25/2013- The Bookmark Blog
11/26/2013- Donnie Darko Girl
11/27/2013- Reading the Best of the Best
11/28/2013- She Dreams in Fiction
11/29/2013- My Reading Room

Week Two:
12/2/2013- YA Story Teller
12/3/2013- LeAnn's Book Reviews
12/4/2013- Bookish Things & More
12/5/2013- Bookworm1858
12/6/2013- The Irish Banana Review

Two winners will receive a copy of Ink is Thicker Than Water (US only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


by Gennifer Albin
3.5/5 stars
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2013
387 pages
YA Dystopia

Source: Won from Heather at The Flyleaf Review

Yay-how fortunate am I to win a copy of this (and first book with the redesigned cover so at least I have matching copies). I was absolutely astonished at how Crewel ended, leaving me with the best cliffhanger I've read in recent memory.

My memory of the first book's ending meant that I expected we'd pick up right where Crewel concluded. However lacking the time to reread, I'm not quite sure if that happened. What I do know is that this book takes place in a brand new setting (leaving Arras behind) with a lot of new characters excepting our heroine and her two traveling comrades.  Because of this change, there is a lot of new information thrown at Adelice and the reader in regards to the creation of Arras and how it operates as well as the actual strands that can be weaved. I feel like almost everything that was shared was completely brand-new to add on to what we already knew from book one so there was no repetition but rather always moving forward. Consequently this book had a very different vibe from other second books because so much new information was shared but it also means that fans of book one might be disappointed. The overall vibe is less fantasy and more post-apocalyptic. Personally I was not always on board with the plot but...

What really surprised me about this book was my changing perspective on the romantic love triangle between Adelice and brothers Erik and Jost. I normally hate brother love triangles though I can tolerate the ordinary kind. Overwhelmingly my initial impression was that both boys were dull and Adelice needed to find some new companions. However my feelings rapidly shifted in this book and all of a sudden, I am Team ERIK :) Did anyone else come to share my appreciation whether or not you began the book that way?

Returning to the plot, though this book's cliffhanger is not as killer as its predecessor, the stakes are certainly raised and I am anxious about what will happen. Particularly the difficulties of communicating between Arras and Earth have me concerned about what will occur for Adelice especially as time continues to pass.

Cover: Groan-I am so unenthusiastic about this change. Crewel had one of my favorite covers (to my surprise as you know I'm a sucker for a girl in a pretty dress) and I find this so much blander. I think I would have liked this design more if I hadn't had the chance to fall for the original.

Other Opinions:
Great Imaginations
I Swim for Oceans
Princess Bookie
The Best Books Ever
The Flyleaf Review

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

ARC Review: These Broken Stars

by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
4/5 stars
Hyperion, 2013
374 pages
YA Science-Fiction Romance
Scheduled to release December 10

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I picked up this book, not having much knowledge about its contents but having seen a lot of hype around it. Most of my blogging friends have been very impressed with the story and this left me optimistic about my experience reading it.

For the most part, that was an accurate assessment. The beginning chapter gave me such a strong Titanic vibe in the best way possible as I have quite the weak spot for rich girl/poor boy fighting against circumstances. Tarver Merendsen has made good, rising from an average background to become a major at the young age of 18. He has endured brutal trainings and postings to make it this far. Lilac LaRoux is the spoiled beloved daughter and only living relation of the richest man in the universe. The two have nothing in common but must learn to work together when they are stranded with only each other for resource.

I guess I've been in a romantic mood lately because the relationship between the two characters is what really resonated for me. Tarver and Lilac have an immediate attraction but it seems destined not to be. Lilac nurses the knowledge that her father sent her first love off to be killed and has resolved not to let anyone get close again. She purposefully pushes Tarver with her acid tongue. Meanwhile he felt something with her but soon assesses her as just a spoiled princess until their time together shows hidden depths for both and allows their love to flourish. Basically I just relaxed in the feels from this couple especially when their relationship gets intense though I can't provide more detail without spoilers.

A surprise for me was how much I enjoyed their trek. I don't think I tend to like books where they fight for survival but either I do or this is an exception. Tarver is the trained soldier so for the most part he handles their survival but Lilac is stubborn, a fast learner, and a mechanical genius so together their skills are complementary and bring out each other's best.

Something I love is that this is the first in a series of companion novels with the characters united against a common enemy. I believe that enemy is introduced in this book and given his relationship to our characters here, it gives me hope that they will pop up in future installments.

In the end, I'm not quite as enthusiastic about this book as others because it seemed to lack that extra spark for me. I thought the writing moved apace and was easy to follow. I especially appreciated the dual narration, one of my favorite techniques, with Tarver and Lilac each having a distinct voice. But there wasn't enough danger early on (beyond a giant cat attacking Lilac) and then the ending didn't feel very concrete and final. Though it's not the end of the series, it is the end of focusing on Lilac and Tarver (to my understanding) and I wanted a bigger bang.

Cover: Love it-pretty dress and fairly accurate though I imagined Lilac's dress slightly less voluminous plus the stars are so gorgeous.

Other Opinions:
Beauty and the Bookshelf
In Bed With Books
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Love is not a triangle
The Flyleaf Review
The Midnight Garden

Monday, December 2, 2013

In the Age of Love and Chocolate

by Gabrielle Zevin
5/5 stars
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013
286 pages
YA Speculative Fiction

Source: Library

No surprise that I highly anticipated this novel. First book All These Things I've Done and sequel Because It Is My Blood have been among my favorite books I've read for the blog. I know not everyone has clicked with the writing style which is done in the style of a memoir with an older Anya narrating her life; however that tends to remind me of my beloved epistolary style so I clicked easily. I also admire Anya's steadfast devotion to family and protective nature as well as having a huge crush on her (ex-)boyfriend Win. When I picked up this book, I figured that my enjoyment would hinge largely on whether or not the pair reconciled.

But it is not as if romance is the only or even the primary focus of this novel. Anya has many concerns such as her younger sister's newly rebellious self, her best friend Scarlet and her child, and most importantly her ambition to go legit with a cacao nightclub that skirts the edge of the law but will finally allow Anya out of the illegal chocolate game when it proves a success. So much happens over the rest of the book (despite its relatively short length) and we cover several years bringing Anya out of her teenage years as she continues her push to overturn the ban on chocolate.

It's pretty hard to talk about this book in too much detail without getting in to spoilers (so I do have a spoiler section below) but suffice it to say that I loved it. Well, I guess you knew that because you saw the five star rating I bestowed on it but I wanted to say that again. I love the writing style, I love prickly Anya and all who surround her, I love the way this ended. I feel like this is especially a trilogy to value and reread. I can't wait to pick up my own copy to complete my collection!

So what about Win? At one point, he says the cruelest things to Anya, making me despair that the two could ever return to their partnership. Anya is of a despondent nature anyway often choosing the pessimistic view so she certainly thinks their high school romance can't last. But dang if Zevin didn't treat us to some beautifully romantic moments before bringing the two back together. Win is one loyal boy and he gets to say some great things that I just want to read over and over again.

Other Opinions:
Good Books and Good Wine
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Lisa Loves Literature

Sunday, December 1, 2013

War and Peace: Volume IV, Parts Three and Four

See My Friend Amy and Iris on Books' posts for this month.

This was a tough section for me-it's really not that long but there was a lot about war as well as history (as Amy reminded me at the last section "HE WANTS TO MAKE SURE WE GET IT.") Gosh it was so boring. I wanted wrap-ups on the characters, not more of Tolstoy's ponderous proclamations.

So let's talk about what I liked the most. It seems as if Pierre and Natasha will get married-yay! I've been rooting for them for quite a while now. Natasha's brother dies and for a while I thought he was the one who loved Princess Marya but apparently not. Nikolai lives but I'm not really sure what he's up to.

I also liked the portrayal of Kutuzov and his clear eyed view of what the Russian army ought to do; that is, they should not pursue the French out of Russia but should merely encourage them to leave as fast as possible. If a historian decides that the aim of the Russian army is to destroy the French, then he might conclude that the Russian side failed. If, however, the historian evaluates against the criteria Kutuzov held for them, he would see victory because the French were got out of Russia and with minimal loss of Russian life through battle wherever Kutuzov could prevent it. Bummer to read about his death, I tell you what!

But I felt like the bulk of the story was Tolstoy sharing his philosophical thoughts about history and war and the human spirit, etc. It's a lot of what we've already heard, er read and it's dull.

What I've heard about the next part aka our last section (!) is that there are two epilogues. One is a more traditional one sharing more about the future fate of our characters while the other is more of Tolstoy's ramblings. I expect it will try my patience to finish that section but it will be *SO* worth it to say that I've read War and Peace!
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