May 22, 2017

"I know that you know."

I first read Disruption by Jessica Shirvington at the end of 2016 and loved it. I got a little burnt out on dystopian fiction a few years ago, but something about this premise made me want to pick it up. In this world, smartphone technology evolves into something called M-Bands, bracelets that promised to make like easier but have instead begun to control it. Some of its functions will sound familiar - it can monitor your heart rate, allow you to pay for purchases, track your location, and so on. But it can also rate your relationships with other people, and everyone fears negative ratings because getting too many has dangerous consequences. 

Two years ago, Maggie Stevens watched her family fall apart. Now, she's determined to make things right... and Quentin Mercer, heir to the M-Corp empire, is crucial to her plan. I really loved the fast pace, the relatable world highlighting the scary potential impact of technology, and the romance that used one of my favorite tropes. I went it with low expectations and finished anxious to find out what would happen next. Since the sequel came out this year, I re-read the first book and loved it just as much as I did the first time around. That's one of the best moments with a book!

Maggie is a totally kickass heroine, and she won't let anything (or anyone) stand in her way. That means she isn't afraid to make decisions that hurt people, but I liked her single-minded focus on her goal. However, I loved the way Quentin disrupted it. He's the symbol of everything she hates - heir to the company that ruined her life and destroyed her family. So, she initially feels very little guilt about using him for her own purposes. But the more time she spends with him, the more she realizes she may have misjudged him. It's an eye-opening journey for both characters: Maggie as she gets to know the boy behind the name and Quentin as he discovers the reality behind the façade. This was definitely one of my favorite aspects of the book.

I was a huge fan of the plot, too. It took me a few chapters to get into at first, but I was hooked before long. Following Maggie on every step of her journey was an adrenaline rush, especially when I got to the end! There were some twists and turns I never expected. The first time I read it, I was so mad that I couldn't immediately start the next book. But thankfully, you won't have that experience since Corruption came out earlier this year!

I started it as soon as I finished my re-read of Disruption, and I was so pleased with the way everything happened. These books are a duology, which is actually perfect for this story. While I would have loved more time with these characters, I think the pace and plot benefited from the fact that it was just two books. I hadn't seen certain things coming in the first book, and it's always exciting when a book really surprises me. I won't say a word about the plot of this one - but I'm happy to report that it was intense, thrilling and still surprising! The romance was even better (SWOON), the stakes were higher and the ending was really satisfying.

If I wasn't afraid to spoil anything, I'd tell you more about Corruption. But I'd hate to ruin the experience, so you'll just have to trust me when I tell you it's a worthy follow-up to a fantastic beginning and an excellent conclusion in its own right! I love that these books surprised me - both with the content and with the way I felt about them. It's a joy to discover a favorite in an unexpected place! I'd definitely recommend this duology.

So Quotable
“But people should have the right to become whatever they’re going to be before they are judged and sentenced.”
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.
Released: October 2016; March 2017 (US) | Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 416 pages; 448 pages | Source & Format: Publisher; Paperback

May 11, 2017

A Moment. A Choice. A Revolution.

Can you think of one book that you just had to buy as soon as it came and yet still haven't read? And I'm not talking about a few months passing... more like years. If you're a blogger, there's a good chance you can think of a lot of books that fall into that category. For me, The Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon would be one of the first that came to mind if someone asked me that question.

I bought it around the time it was released - in hardcover, on Kindle when it was $1.99 and then added the audio edition for a couple extra dollars. Y'all, I basically owned three copies of a book I hadn't even read yet. And yes, I know how that makes me sound. I never said self-control was my strong suit! There was so much hype when it was released with news of Shannon's seven-book deal drawing comparisons to J.K. Rowling,  and I didn't want a repeat of my "I didn't read them until they were all published" experience with the Harry Potter books. I wanted to be in the know!

But every time I started it, I set it aside for later. I'd read a few pages, decide it wasn't what I was in the mood for and promise myself that I'd come back to it soon. The next thing I knew, the third book was being released. Kelly and Alexa had been begging me to finally read it, and I figured there was a good chance I'd enjoy it since they both did. But I kept putting it off until I got an email from Little Shop of Stories saying that Samantha Shannon would be in town for a book signing. At that point, I realized I had to finally start this series. Shannon is from England, which meant this event would probably be my only chance to meet her. If I ended up loving the series, I didn't want to kick myself for having missed her! Within a week, I'd finished The Bone Season, The Mime Order and The Song Rising and was desperate to learn what would happen next.

For the first 55% of The Bone Season, I was liking it but slightly mystified by all the love it had received. It was creative and interesting, sure, but it was also overwhelming and confusing. The terminology alone made me feel like I was reading a book written in another language. I just kept moving forward, turning the pages and wondering if any of it would ever make sense to me. And then, there was a shift. The pace picked up, the plot became more engaging and the characters took center stage. Suddenly, I was hooked.

Then, I immediately picked up The Mime Order. Paige returns with a vengeance in the second book. The world and terminology were still a little confusing for me at times, but I found myself so much more immersed in the story. I couldn't wait to find out if - and how - Paige would accomplish her goal. Plus, of course, WHO might help her (and I think we all know who I was hoping to see...). This series seemed to just keep getting better and better! The pace is sometimes uneven, but I didn't have a problem with it. There's a lot of character development in this installment - for Paige and for several secondary characters - and even more world building. I loved it, but the plot does occasionally slow down because of it.

And finally, I raced through The Song Rising. There are things I love about each book in the series, but I think this one is my favorite so far! At her signing, Shannon talked about how she'd always wondered about the larger world in most dystopian fiction. For example, how did the rest of the world react to the Hunger Games in Panem? And this is the book where you see that question explored. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about going beyond London before I started reading, but now I'm sold. The idea of a global dystopia is so fascinating, and I have no doubt Shannon will continue to surprise me! I love the scope of this world, the higher stakes, the fast pace, the complex characters and the dilemmas they face.

Shannon also talked about how books 1-4 in the series have their own arc vs. books 5-7, which makes me both nervous and excited (nervocited?). It reminds me a lot of the shift in tone in the Harry Potter series after the fourth book. But oh goodness, I don't know if my heart can take the "jawdropping ending" she's got planned. Regardless, I look forward to finding out where she takes Paige next. I was a little late to the series, but I definitely consider myself a fan now! If you like the idea of a dystopian fantasy with a global perspective, this is definitely a series you should consider. It's confusing at first, but it's worth it in the end!

So Quotable
“Knowledge is dangerous. Once you know something, you can't get rid of it. You have to carry it. Always.” — The Bone Season

“Words are everything. Words give wings even to those who have been stamped upon, broken beyond all hope of repair.” — The Mime Order

“Never allow yourself to believe you should be silent.” — The Song Rising
Released: August 2013; January 2015; March 2017 | Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Pages: 466 pages; 510 pages; 363 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover

May 9, 2017

April 2017: Recap + On My Shelves

April was a really lovely month in Georgia, especially because a special visitor came to stay with me! I love the return of spring weather - the sunshine, the new blooms, the compulsion to just go outside and soak it all in.

1. Gorgeous New Bible - I've known about She Reads Truth for a while now, but I hadn't kept up with them in recent years. So it was a total surprise to learn they'd come out with the She Reads Truth Bible in April. Their tagline is Inherently Beautiful, Intentionally Designed,” which is very fitting. The details in this Bible are just stunning: artwork for key verses, reading plans, and new maps, charts and timelines. 

2. Happy Easter - Easter is one of my favorite holidays because of what it symbolizes and means to me personally, but there was an added joy to it this year! I loved putting together a little Easter basket for my boy, dressing him up in a sweet smocked Jon Jon for church and walking him around to find eggs afterward. It's crazy how much a child can make you look at things with new eyes!

3. Planner Heaven - This is old news to anyone who knows me or regularly reads my blog, but I'm a huge planner nerd! I've written about Lilly Pulitzer agendas and discovering the world of traveler's notebooks - two things I still love. But I purchased a Happy Planner in April (partly because of Lindsey from Bring My Books) and now I'm OBSESSED. I have one for planning and one for memories, and they're amazing!

4. Kelly Comes to Visit - This was the highlight of April! Kelly from Belle of the Literati is one of the best friends I've made through blogging, but we'd never gotten the chance to meet in person. When the timing and details worked out, Kelly finally booked a trip to Atlanta! I loved having her here for a few days because I got to show her a bit of Georgia, spend all day chatting and bring her into the planner obsession. PLEASE COME BACK.

Read 8 Books | Favorites:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (re-read)
 “Like most girls, she'd already learned that pretty exposes you and pretty hides you
and like most girls, she hadn't yet learned how to navigate the difference.”
The Mothers by Brit Bennett

 “We would’ve told her that all together, we got centuries on her.
If we laid all our lives toes to heel, we were born before the Depression, the Civil War,
even America itself. In all that living, we have known men. Oh girl, we have known littlebit love.
That littlebit of honey left in an empty jar that traps the sweetness in your mouth
long enough to mask your hunger. We have run tongues over teeth to savor that last littlebit
as long as we could, and in all our living, nothing has starved us more.”
The Mothers by Brit Bennett

 “A daughter grows older and draws nearer to her mother, until she gradually overlaps her
like a sewing pattern. But a son becomes some irreparably separate thing.”
The Mothers by Brit Bennett

 “Could you be nostalgic for a friendship that wasn't over yet
or did the fact that you were nostalgic mean that it already was?”
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
In April, I shared my March 2017 recap, which is always fun. Alexa from Alexa Loves Books and I got caught up on sharing The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge reviews. For me, that included Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu and She Reads Truth by Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams. I talked a bit about how I found Alanna by Tamora Pierce a little disappointing but found a new favorite in Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. And finally, I recapped what I read in March with my Quick Lit: March 2017 post. 
1. Mug Life {1} by Kelly from Belle of the Literati - I'm so excited about Kelly's new feature... and not just because I helped her come up with a few categories! I think this is such a fun way to share a peek at what she's up to currently + feature a cute photo. And bonus: I had a great time contributing to her most recent Mug Life!

2. The Other Side of Anne of Green Gables by Willa Paskin - Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite books and a huge reason I'm the reader that I am today. I loved the 1980s mini-series for TV, too, so I'm both eager and nervous about the upcoming adaptation (on Netflix May 12!). This article gave me so much insight into it!

Favorite Song: "Now or Never" by Halsey
I became so obsessed with a few of Halsey's songs a few years ago, 
and I've been looking forward to new music from her since. This song didn't disappoint.

Favorite Album: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them by James Newton Howard
I used to love movie scores, but I haven't spent as much time listening to them in recent years.
But I had this one on repeat in April, and it provided the perfect background for blogging and crafting. 

Prison Break: Resurrection (2017) starring Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller - The summer after my freshman year of college, I became completely obsessed with Prison Break. You can ask my family about it - I have no doubt they'll remember. I was super annoying about it! So, I was more than a little excited when I heard about the nine-episode revival. It started in April, and I've been enjoying it so far!

Book Depository: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

For Review: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams and Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast by Matteo Bussola

Kindle Deals: The Course of Love by Alain de Botton, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, The Best Man by Kristin Higgins and Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy

Audible Credit + Sale: My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella and The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

April 17, 2017

Quick Lit: March 2017

One of my worst blogging habits is my inability to write about what I've read in a timely manner. So, I'm trying something new: recapping what I read at the end of each month and linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy. I feel like "traditional" reviews have declined in popularity, although I'll still be writing some every month, so I'm hoping this will be a fun way to share what I'm reading. The exception will be review books that I can't discuss yet! 

If you missed it, I recently read and reviewed Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley, Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu, Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and She Reads Truth by Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams. Three of them were new favorites!

I'll have reviews for more March reads soon - The Bone Season, The Mime Order and The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon, Disruption and Corruption by Jessica Shirvington and First Comes Love by Emily Giffin.

THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER | This book wasn't on my radar at all until I kept seeing it on "Best of 2016" at several blogs I follow. And when I investigated further, I discovered so much praise for it on Goodreads that I couldn't resist snagging it for my Kindle when the price dropped to $1.99. Set in rural Tennessee, this book follows three friends (Dill, Travis and Lydia) at the start of their senior year of high school. The writing immediately captured my interest, the Southern gothic vibe was unique and I liked the small town setting. But... I didn't really care about the characters. I was skeptical about the romance, felt no emotion at a pretty critical moment in the plot, and just struggled with the bleakness. So, I was So Okay With It in the end.

A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING BY DEANNA RAYBOURN | Earlier this year, I loved A Curious Beginning, the first book in the Veronica Speedwell series. I knew I wanted to read this follow up while the first book was still fresh in my mind, so I started the audiobook at the beginning of the month. Once again, I loved the narrator, Angele Masters. She brought so much to the characters! It was fun to spend more time with Veronica and Stoker, to savor the witty dialogue and to follow along with another adventure. But it took me a lot longer to finish this book than I expected, and I think it's because the mystery was a little dull and the pacing was uneven. Plus, the sexual innuendo got old quickly. I So Liked It, but I truly hope the third book will recapture the magic of the first.

GEEKERELLA BY ASHLEY POSTON | I was so excited to read this book for review because I'd heard such good things about it! This cute and charming contemporary retelling of Cinderella is a love letter to all things nerdy. I loved the nods to its inspiration, the geeky references to current pop culture, and the way the fictional sci-fi series at the heart of the book felt completely real. If you've ever been a part of a fandom, this is a must read for those aspects alone. I was hoping for more from the characters and the romance, but both aspects fell a little flat for me. The chemistry was lacking, and the "evil" characters were too one-dimensional. But I still I So Liked It and would recommend it to anyone who wants to celebrate the joy of fandom. *

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

What have you been reading lately?

April 14, 2017

"Just as He was faithful then, He will be faithful now."

I first heard about She Reads Truth a few years ago. It was something that originally "started as a small group of strangers on the internet who wanted to be more intentional about reading God's Word." That small group become an entire online community in pursuit of one goal: to spend time reading the Bible every day. You can explore their website to find out about their current study (and browse through past plans). 

Although I was familiar with their website and app, I had no idea the founders, Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams, were coming out with a book. When I was browsing in Barnes & Noble one night, I spotted the title and picked it up out of curiosity. I was thrilled to learn it was written by the woman behind the website. I sat down with a copy in the café and read a few pages... and ended up buying it that night.

I had every intention of reading it right away, and yet it still ended up joining the pile of books on my shelves. So, I thought it was the perfect choice for March's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt - “A Book You Had to Buy, But Still Haven't Read.” And as soon as I started it, I remembered why I'd felt like I had to buy it that day. She Reads Truth is about two women with different stories but discovering the same unchanging God:
“It's okay to study God's hand in our present circumstances. It's good and appropriate to move that telescope around to see what other people are dealing with too. But opening God's Word and studying His character is like lifting our eyes from the viewfinder long enough to remember that the God who calls us His people has been hanging the stars in the heavens since time began. Just as He was faithful then, He will be faithful now.”
It's essentially a dual memoir - some chapters are written by Raechel and others by Amanda. They share the struggles they've faced and what they've learned about God (and His Word) during those times. As the summary says, “Sometimes it takes telling two very different stories to notice how the Truth was exactly the same in both of them.” And that's exactly what happened in these pages.

This isn't a book about how to study the Bible - though it does illustrate why you should. And it isn't a book about She Reads Truth, the ministry. If you're interested in what led them to create it, how they launched it, etc., you won't find that here. It's truly a book encouraging you to spend time in God's Word and to remember His faithfulness. The book felt a little bit repetitive at times, but I liked that their theme was pointing you to the permanence of God and His Word.
The good news of the gospel is that our internal paradox of faith and faithlessness does not disqualify or dismiss us from the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Lately, I think I've treated reading the Bible like it's a duty and not a privilege. I'd misplaced that sense of awe and reverence, so She Reads Truth was a perfectly timed reminder and encouragement. I loved reading it, even though I did bawl my eyes out at one point, and I'm so glad this challenge was the catalyst. This vulnerable, relatable memoir (and call to action!) was just what I needed in this season of my life.
Release Date: October 2016 | Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Pages: 224 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover 

This was my third read for The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge that Alexa and I are doing in 2017! It's the perfect motivation to read books from my TBR and adds an extra dose of accountability, too. In addition to reading and reviewing one challenge book per month, we're answering three questions about each one!

1. How long has this book been on your TBR? 
I bought this book in October 2016, so not too long!

2. What about this book made you want to read it immediately?
I'm a big fan of She Reads Truth, but I had no idea that the women who started it were writing a book. While wandering around Barnes & Noble one night, the title and bright yellow on the cover caught my eye. I read a few pages and decided like I had to take it home to read immediately. Better late than never?

3. Why did you end up waiting to read this book?
Probably because it's non-fiction. Although I love reading non-fiction, I find that I'm more hesitant to pick it up. I think it's because it typically takes me longer to read because I don't "binge" it the way I would a fiction book. I kept it by my bedside for a few weeks before moving it to my bookcase when I realized I still hadn't started it.

April 12, 2017

"Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done."

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Release Date: October 2014
Publisher: Random House; Spiegel & Grau
Pages: 336 pages
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
Add on Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. 

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Thoughts on Just Mercy
Although it's a New York Times bestseller, I don't think I would have discovered Just Mercy if it wasn't for Facebook. It ended up on my radar after I saw it repeatedly mentioned (and highly recommended!) in the comments on a post about empathy. And this book wrecked m, so I would have missing out if I'd never read it!

Just Mercy is written by a lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most in need. In the US, those are the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children. By sharing the stories of the people he has defended, Stevenson paints a profound and moving picture of our shared brokenness and the power of mercy:
We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.
I'm slow to read non-fiction, and a book about prison and the justice system is not something that would typically pique my interest. But I requested a copy from the library, assuming I'd try it and likely return it. Y'all, I was immediately gripped by what I was reading and couldn't put it down. I read passages aloud to my husband, highlighted numerous quotes, and could not stop talking about what I was learning. I had no idea our justice system was so flawed, so harsh for the poor or people of color, and so easily abused.

Although it's well written and full of compelling stories, it's a difficult read because it's so shocking and depressing. A significant portion of the book focuses on Walter McMillian, a man who was sentenced to die for a murder that he insisted he didn't commit. Reading about Stevenson taking on his case - and learning what he uncovered in the process - left me flabbergasted. That case anchors Stevenson's book, but there are so many other stories interspersed throughout. And truthfully, they left me speechless.

Stevenson writes, "The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned." And he makes a compelling case for truth of these words in his book. It was eye-opening and heartbreaking, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I finished. And honestly, I wish it was required reading for everyone. Stevenson writes with passion, and I loved his conviction that we all need mercy, justice and unmerited grace.

So Quotable
I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

April 11, 2017

“I believe in deeds, not words.”

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Release Date: December 2010 (originally 1983)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atheneum BFYR
Pages: 260 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Series: Song of the Lioness #1

Summary (from Goodreads)
Alanna of Trebond is no ordinary girl: her dream is to become a knight. So she disguises herself as a boy and begins training at the palace of King Roald. Alanna quickly finds out that the road to knighthood is not an easy one, but her skills and stubbornness help her become friends with Prince Jonathan and his followers. At the same time, Alanna makes an enemy of the prince's uncle, the overly charming Duke Roger. 

Here begins Alanna's first adventure, one that will lead not only to fulfillment of her dreams but to a magical destiny that will make her a legend. 

Brief Thoughts on Alanna
I bought a set of all four books in the Song of the Lioness series after seeing so many readers rave about them. I felt like I saw so many readers point them as one of the ways they were introduced to the fantasy genre as a child. Then, Gillian's Literary PSA: So You Want to Read Tamora Pierce sold me on them. I'm probably going to break a few hearts, but I wasn't a huge fan of this book. There are probably a few factors at play, but here are the top four:
  1. What I'd heard about it. So many readers have called this series an all-time favorite, which means I had really high expectations. While I will keep reading to see if my feelings grow as the story progresses and the characters mature, I probably wouldn't continue the series if I didn't know how much people love it.

  2. When I read it. You can't turn back time, obviously, but I think I might have liked this book more if I read it when I was the target audience. It just seemed so young to me! The writing didn't stand out, and the book was over right as the story was getting interesting. But I did like the characters!

  3. What I read before it. I've seen a lot of people talk about how this series contributed to their love of the fantasy genre. It seems like this book paved the way for a lot of today's YA fantasy. But I couldn't help comparing it to what I've already read and loved, and it just didn't measure up!

  4. How I read it. I ended up checking out the audiobook from the library, and I thought the narrator was just okay. I listened to most of the book on 2x speed, and I probably missed some details because of it. Or, at the very least, didn't connect to the characters like I might have if I'd read it myself.
I wish I'd lowered my expectations a little before going into this book, but I'll be curious to see how my feelings change (or stay the same?) as I continue the series.

So Quotable
“Alan, you seem to think we won't like you unless you do things just like everyone else. Have you ever thought we might like you because you're different?”

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