February 27, 2014

Get to Work, B----!

Around this same time last year, I wrote a post on my commenting habits that I said was "a confession, a discussion and a serious cry for help." I got great feedback on the post, but it almost stressed me out more. Why? Because I learned that everyone has different expectations and there's really no way to make everyone happy when it comes to commenting. After being stressed about it and letting it negatively affect how I felt about blogging, I knew it was time to make a change. 

Source
I started implementing this system prior to the New Year, but I haven't really talked about it. I framed my blogging goals differently for this year and focused on what I wanted more and less of in 2014. Commenting made the list, but probably not in the way you imagine. I noted that I wanted less guilt, and commenting was something I specifically mentioned in that section: "And when it comes to pressure, I feel guilty about about not commenting enough or replying to comments quickly." 

A few days ago, I was reading Judith's discussion post - Why I'm Bad at Commenting - and I loved it! It definitely reminded me of where I was at a year ago when I first wrote about my commenting habits. After commenting on her post, I realized I hadn't talked about my system on my blog or shared why commenting was already so much less stressful for me in 2014. So, I decided to turn my comment on Judith's post into a follow-up post here! So thanks, Judith, for inspiring me to write this post.

Let's start with the most important thing:


It seems really simple and dumb to write that sentence, but it was the first step for me. I had to get to the place where I realized that the pressure and guilt came from my own brain and the way I thought about everything. Real life comes first, as does my mental state, so I'm not letting the shoulds dictate how I feel about commenting or blogging. This is a hobby, not an obligation. If commenting doesn't happen, then it just doesn't. It was a total "um, duh!" moment for me when I started thinking of it that way.

Source
The other big change I've made?

I have almost completely stopped responding to comments on my own blog because it was either a) respond to comments on my blog or b) leave comments on other blogs. I know how important replies are to some people, but I figured most people, when it comes down to it, want a comment on their posts more than a response indicating that I read and appreciated what they said about mine. I don't refuse to reply to comments - it's just not my priority anymore. I do try to make sure I reply to any questions OR continue the conversation on Twitter or via email if there's more discussion to be had.

Whew! I haven't even talked about my system yet. I'd apologize, but I think it's important for me to note that a big part of why my system works for me is that I changed my attitude about commenting. Comments are amazing, but I have to remind myself they aren't the point of blogging. Quality over quantity, y'all. 

Source
My Five-Step Commenting System

1. Set a goal.
I made it a goal to leave a certain number of comments per week based on what I felt like a) I had the time for and b) I would have the energy to do. The number is completely up to you! For me, it was five comments. If I leave more, that's awesome. But all I really shoot for is leaving five thoughtful comments per week. And, as previously discussed, I don't beat myself up if I don't leave any some weeks. It's a goal, not a rule. 

2. Categorize!
I divide all the blogs I follow into different folders: two have "names" and three are "numbers."

The Name Folders:

There is Read Only for blogs I love to read but almost never comment on. For me, that's something like Forever Young Adult, author blogs, and a few niche topic-focused blogs (like ones focused on Jane Austen) that I like checking but don't feel like I need to comment on.

Next, I have Trial for new blogs that I've just found. Since I'm not sure yet how they'll fit into my numerical folders, I stick them in their own category. Once they've hung out there for a bit, I'll move them to whatever numbered folder they fit into for me.

The Number Folders:

I have three other folders that are simply numbered 1, 2 and 3. The folders, and how blogs go into them, are based on two things: how many of the posts I typically read and how much I usually have to say about what is posted. 

1 is for blogs where I read almost all of the posts and/or want to practically comment on everything.

2 is for blogs that fall into the middle - I read most but not all of what is posted and usually have at least two or three things I could comment on.

3 is for blogs I enjoy enough to subscribe to but don't often read a lot of what is posted (like if we have very different reading taste) and thus don't usually have a ton to say in response to the posts.  

3. Work backwards.
Throughout the week, I work my way backwards based on these categories. Whenever I log into Feedly I always check Read Only first, since I can read through them pretty quickly and am rarely leaving comments. I then move to the Trial folder, then folder 3, and finally folder 2. I work backwards because I like to start with what I can conquer quickest and easiest. 

I'll go to a folder, mark everything as read that I doesn't interest me, and then go back to read what's left. From there, I'll pick around five-ish posts to comment on. It's often five posts between folders 2 and 3, but I do sometimes choose five from each. I don't comment a ton on the Trial folder until I finally move it to a numerical one (or remove it if I never read anything).

4. Save posts.
The posts in the 1 folder stay there the longest. It's the smallest number of blogs in a folder, BUT it accounts for the majority of what's in my Feedly at any given time. I'll save a ton of posts in there for giant comment dumps whenever I have extra time and/or energy. The stuff in 1 can sit there for two weeks or even more than a month. One weekend I may pick one blog from to shower with comment love, and the next weekend I may work through them all. This is the main place where my "system" is totally up in the air. 

I realized that there was always a handful of blogs that I spent more time on, and it was harder for me to not leave my five comments on those each week. So, I separated them out. I want to mix up where I leave my five comments, which is why I try to scatter my weekly five comments among blogs in my 2 and 3 folders. I needed a system that could accommodate both my desire for variety in where I commented and my need to spend a little extra time on certain blogs.

5. Return the love, if possible.
I've already explained how I handle replying to comments on my own blog, but I do also have a step in my system for "returning" comments. First of all, I don't really do it. Well, not exactly. I won't immediately go leave a comment on a blog just because one was left here. I have an aversion to obligation. But I will go check out blogs that have commented on mine, especially if they are leaving really thoughtful comments or keep returning to my blog. If I'm intrigued, I add them to the Trial folder and proceed from there as I've described above. I do try to "return comments" - just in my own way.

Source
This system works for me because I needed:
  • A lot less pressure on myself
  • A specific, manageable goal
  • A folder system to help me meet my goal quickly and easily
  • A way to still go on longer comment dumps when I had time
Have you found a commenting system that works for you?
And any thoughts on the crazy way I make it work?

Source

February 26, 2014

The Favorite Factor: Giveaway Edition

How It Normally Works
Cassie and I were chatting about our love for adult fiction, and we wanted to figure out a way to really highlight that love with a new feature. So, we're bringing you adult fiction reviews where we highlight five factors: The Frame (Setting), The Flow (Plot), The Faces (Characters), The Function (Writing Overall) and The Feelings (Relationships). 

Each of our posts will highlight our own thoughts on each of the five factors, so you can see side-by-side how our opinions stack up. Then, it all culminates in The Finale where we jointly share our overall feelings on the book with a rating that helps you find out how this book factors into our favorites pile.

How It Works In FABULOUS FEBRUARY
In honor of our February birthdays, Cassie and I decided to do a little something different with The Favorite Factor this month. It's a SPECIAL GIVEAWAY EDITION of this little feature! We've both chosen one of our favorite adult fiction that exemplifies each of the five categories, including a bonus book that includes all of the factors that go into making a book a favorite. Two people have a chance to win a book - it's double the fun! You get to pick from any of the 14 books highlighted in our posts. 

My Disclaimer
I didn't include Me Before You by Jojo Moyes or Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer (two excellent books) because Cassie covered them in her list. I absolutely second both of those recommendations.


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Why?
Burial Rites is set in Iceland in 1829. It's inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman, Agnes, accused of murder and sent to an isolated farm to await her own execution. As I wrote in my review: "The setting is bleak, isolated, lonely and desolate... much like Agnes' future. Kent has painted a picture of Iceland that makes you feel as though you're there. The setting is the perfect reflection of Agnes' desperation. But there's also this quiet hope, this yearning for truth, and this desire to be understood. To be known."

See for Yourself:
"The name is everything that went wrong. Illugastadir, the farm by the sea, where the soft air rings with the clang of the smithy, and gulls caw, and seals roll over in their fat. Illugastadir, where the night is lit by fire, where smoke turns in the early morning to engulf the stars, and in ruins, always Illugastadir, cradling dead bodies in its cage of burnt beams."


The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Why?
The Poisonwood Bible "is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.... What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in post-colonial Africa." This novel was an option on one of my high school English summer reading lists, and I was intrigued enough by the summary to give it a shot. I absolutely fell in love with this story, and I almost made it the overall winner because the setting, the characters, the story, the writing and the relationships are also really strong in this one. It's one of my favorite adult fiction novels, and I'm excited to feature it! I don't want to say too much about the plot, and it's hard to provide a quote that showcases the plot, just know that it's such an interesting read!

See for Yourself: 
"Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. In perfect stillness, frankly, I've only found sorrow."


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Why?
The Help is set in Mississippi in 1962 and is narrated by three complex, incredible women: Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny. Skeeter a twenty-two-year-old white woman who has just graduated from college, and Aibileen and Minny are two black maids. The three women are all different, but they come together for a secret and risky project. If I were to guess, this is probably the book on my list that most people have read. But I still had to pick it! I remember reading this and falling in love with all the characters - not just the narrators. Even the secondary characters are memorable.

See for Yourself:
"She's got so many azalea bushes, her yard's going to look like Gone with the Wind come spring. I don't like azaleas and I sure didn't like that movie, the way they made slavery look like a bit happy tea party. If I'd played Mammy, I'd of told Scarlett to stick those green draperies up her white little pooper. Make her own damn man-catching dress."


Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Why?

I think everyone knows that Rainbow Rowell is an amazing writer because 2013 was basically the year she won everyone's hearts with two incredible YA books. But before they existed, she wrote this adorable and amazing adult fiction book. In my review, I wrote: "As soon as I started reading it, I absolutely couldn't put it down. I was flying through, flipping pages frantically, and alternating between smiling and sighing over it. I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing this book was for me!" Trust me when I tell you that Rainbow Rowell rules at writing. There's so much warmth and humor in this book. I'm already hankering for a re-read of it!

See for Yourself:
"He knew why he wanted to kiss her. Because she was beautiful. And before that, because she was kind. And before that, because she was smart and funny. Because she was exactly the right kind of smart and funny. Because he could imagine taking a long trip with her without ever getting bored. Because whenever he saw something new and interesting, or new and ridiculous, he always wondered what she'd have to say about it - how many stars she'd give it and why."

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Why?

Cassie and I allowed ourselves only one runner up in a single category, and this is mine. Forever, Interrupted is a debut novel that I just read recently and loved. Based on the summary, it sounded like a sad book: Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething who falls head over heels for Ben Ross. They elope after dating for just a few months… and nine days later, Ben is killed in an accident. Well, this book completely surprised me. I loved the way it was written: flipping between flashbacks telling Ben and Elsie's story and Elsie's present-day life without Ben. Reid's writing really made me fall in love with the characters and connect emotionally to the story. This is one of my more recent favorite adult fiction favorites, and I'm looking forward to more from Reid in the future.

See for Yourself:
"I didn't even notice Ben sitting there. I was far too involved with the minutiae of trying to buy a pizza. Once the cashier told me it would be another ten minutes, I retired to the small bench in the front of the store, and it was then that I noticed there was another person in the same predicament. My heart didn't skip a beat. I had no idea he was 'it'; it was 'he.' He was the man I'd dreamed about as a child, wondering what my husband would look like. I was seeing this face I had wondered about my whole life and it was right here in front of me and I didn't recognize it. All I thought was, He'll probably get his pizza before I get mine."


The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

Why?
You know those books that are just so perfect for you in that moment when you read them? That was The Opposite of Love for me. I wasn't even at the same stage of life as the heroine (or even in the same state emotionally), but I just connected so much to her story. This is the book I love so much that I almost never push it on anyone because it's too special to me. It won't be right for everyone, but it was the right book for me.

The feelings in this book aren't really romantic ones, although it does have one of my all-time favorite passages about missing someone that you love. So, I didn't pick it because it's my favorite love story. There's loneliness, depression, loss, apathy, and heartache in this book... but it's not really a sad story. It's hopeful - you see Emily struggle and stall out, but you also get to see her grow and come into her own. There isn't a lot that happens because it's more about the character and her emotional journey than anything else. I knew in the very first chapter that I was going to love this book, and I was right. I've read already read this book at least four times.

See for Yourself:
"Maybe the aftermath of loss - the crumbs of memory - has, in some ways, scarred me more than the loss itself. The truth is I've never learned to ride a bicycle, because, among other reasons, it is something you can never forget. This is who I am: someone who simultaneously longs for and fears the commitment of remembering. There is the forgetting, the disintegration of memory, morsel by morsel; and there is the impossibility of forgetting, the scar tissue, with its insulated layers of padding. Both haunt me in their own way."


The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Why?
This 810-page novel is set in Russia at the start of World War II and is the first book in a trilogy. It's historical fiction and is, above all, an epic love story. I read this because Kelly kept pushing it so hard, and I'm a total sucker for reads like this one. And then I read it in a day. The second and third book are just as long, and I read both within a week of finishing this one. To say I'm so obsessed with The Bronze Horseman right now is an understatement.

There are so many things packed into these pages: intense feelings, gripping plot, complex and flawed characters, an unique setting, and writing that made everything come alive for me while I read!

Objectively, I know this book isn't for everyone. Judging by the book's Goodreads page, it seems like people either love it or hate it. There were a few things I didn't love about this book, but it's still overall one of my very favorite reads. I had to pick it for the overall winner because I'm still on a high after finishing it!

See for Yourself:
"Alexander, were you looking for me?"
"All my life."
 - The Consensus - 
Don't forget to check out Cassie's picks!

*Giveaway is U.S. Only*
a Rafflecopter giveaway

February 25, 2014

Read It AGAIN?!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

This week's topic is "Rewind," which means that bloggers get to choose any past Top Ten Tuesday topic. I read through the list and laughed at what jumped out at me… because it's exactly what I chose to do last time we got to choose an old topic. But I did the topic a little bit differently when I first wrote it, so I'm going to do it again today. Also, I adore re-reading so I couldn't limit myself to just ten.

Top Ten Twenty Books I Want to Re-Read

{Adult Fiction}
  1. The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen | First Read: May 2011
  2. After You by Julie Buxbaum | First Read: December 2010
  3. The First Husband by Laura Dave | First Read: December 2011
  4. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham | First Read: March 2013
  5. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent | First Read: September 2013
  6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver | First Read: 2006?
  7. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes | First Read: January 2013
  8. Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer | First Read: June 2013
  9. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell | First Read: February 2013
  10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett | First Read: 2010?
{Young Adult Fiction}
  1. All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry | First Read: October 2013
  2. There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones | First Read: December 2011
  3. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers | First Read: November 2012
  4. Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas | First Read: October 2013
  5. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta | First Read: November 2012
  6. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta | First Read: July 2012
  7. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay | First Read: January 2014
  8. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson | First Read: April 2012
  9. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins | First Read: December 2011
  10. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell | First Read: October 2013

February 24, 2014

A Study in Perception

Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Release Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Teen
Pages: 416 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: Shatter Me #3
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she'll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew - about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam - was wrong.

In Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi created a captivating and original story that combined the best of dystopian and paranormal and was praised by Publishers Weekly as "a gripping read from an author who's not afraid to take risks." The sequel, Unravel Me, blew readers away with the heart-racing twists and turns, and New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia said it was "dangerous, sexy, romantic, and intense." Now this final book brings the series to a shocking and climactic end.

Thoughts on Ignite Me
I have a lot to say in this review, but I ask that you stick with me. In particular: if you loved the series but hated Ignite Me, I ask that you hear me out on a few things I've got to say. I want to have a discussion! Now, part of that discussion involves some spoilers, but I've clearly marked them if you haven't read this yet and are scared of that sort of thing. Let's proceed.

A Brief History of My Relationship With This Series

I picked up Shatter Me several times before I was able to get into it. I kept hearing everyone talk about it, but the strikethroughs and metaphors were just way too much for me at first! I decided to try again, sat down with the book, and ended up falling in love. At the end of my initial read of Shatter Me I was totally crazy about Adam, hated Warner, was intrigued by Kenji and just wanted Juliette to find her own inner strength.

Next, I read Destroy Me and Unravel Me. How did I feel at the end? I still wanted nothing to do with Warner, but I did develop a crush on Kenji. Adam and Juliette? Both were annoying me, but I read the two books and the e-novella so closely together that my heart was still firmly attached to their relationship. I wanted them to get past their problems and get back to what made them so exciting. I actually wrote letters to the characters in my Unravel Me review because I felt so emotionally attached to them all. 

Almost a year passed, and then I read Fracture Me. I didn't hate it, even though I loved Adam. Why does that need to be said? Because you see a new side to Adam, and it's a little disconcerting for anyone that was holding out for this hero in the final book.

So, I decided a complete series re-read was in order before I dove into Ignite Me. I went back to the first book and started everything over again. I tried to approach the series from a new mindset - reminding myself to look for clues and signs that might help me see the series as a whole instead of boiling it down to just the love triangle. Suddenly, I felt like I was noticing new things. It helped that I started Ignite Me from that place, which is what I want to share today. I finished the re-read with four small realizations and one rather huge one, which is absolutely critical to the way I ultimately felt about this series.

My Four Small Series Realizations After Re-Reading

1. It was never about the world.
One thing I realized as I re-read the books is that the world is very vague in this series. The books are marketed as dystopian and/or science fiction, but I'm not sure it really should be categorized that way. If you're looking for answers about how the new government was formed or why certain people have special powers, you're not going to get it. Because it's ultimately not really the point of the story Mafi has chosen to tell.

My re-read of the first books reminded me that the world was never that developed. So, I didn't go into the third book expecting more there. This is important because the last book won't give you much more information, which could be disappointing if that's your expectation. I can understand being frustrated with the final book if you think everything about the world will finally make sense. I've gone into a book before expecting one thing and not having it deliver. It definitely doesn't make for a great reading experience. So, remind yourself before Ignite Me that it was never about the world.

2. The plot was never that complicated either.
Just like the world building aspect, the plot for each book has always been a little loose. Ultimately, this series has always been about the writing, the emotion and the characters. There hasn't been a lot happening in any of the books. In each one, there was a huge focus on emotions, conversations and relationships. It is, at the end of the day, a story about Juliette's growth as a character. While it was somewhat noticeable in Shatter Me, it really struck me in Unravel Me. There isn't a whole lot happening action-wise in that book, and yet there is a ton going on in with the characters internally.

So, I didn't go into Ignite Me suddenly expecting there to be a complicated or incredibly developed plot. What you'll find in the last book plot-wise is exactly what existed in the previous books: a plot that exists to highlight the characters, primarily Juliette, and their emotional response and connection to the world and people around them. If you loved that aspect of the first two books, you'll probably still enjoy everything that takes place in this one.

3. The writing is something to be savored.
It took some getting used to, but I am addicted to Mafi's writing now. I'll be curious to see how it changes in her future books since I assume part of this style is specific to Juliette and her mental state. There have always been so many quotable moments in this series, and that was true for me in the third book, too.

Re-reading these books was such a wonderful experience because I found new lines, phrases and moments that caught my attention. The focus of my review (in point #5) is something that I noticed only upon re-reading and as I had time to really digest these books. I love books that seem new and fresh every time I read them while still feeling comforting and familiar. It's the best combination!

4. Prepare for the emotions.
Oh, the emotions. I could say a million things here, but I think they've probably been said by everyone else. Whether you love it or hate it, these books absolutely deliver on the emotional front. There's pain, passion, heartache, fear, anger, joy... I could go on. Mafi is at her very best when she's communicating feelings!

I am choosing not to write much else here because I feel like a lot has already been said about this, and I have WAY more to say about the next point because it's something I don't feel like has been talked about yet:

My One Huge Series Realization After Re-Reading

5. All you know is what Juliette tells you. 
This was a really critical thing for me to realize as I read. All you know about the world and the other characters is what Juliette thinks about them. And, I hate to say it, but she's an unreliable narrator. It's pretty clear from the beginning that Juliette is a little unstable. She has lived in a world without any real human connection, so she's not exactly an expert in relationships or communication. Right or wrong, it's something to keep in mind.

While re-reading, I realized: I loved Adam because of what Juliette saw and told me about him, and I hated Warner for the exact same reasons. The second book feels so confusing because you suddenly start seeing people in a new light. I resisted it and ranted about it at the time, but I now think it's meant to leave you feeling a bit flustered. That's how Juliette feels, too! You see new sides to BOTH boys in Unravel Me, and in the e-novellas (note: the first time you hear from them yourself instead of about them from Juliette), which I feel is important to mention because of what I've seen said about this book.

Before I proceed, I want to have a little disclaimer and side note:
No one reads the same way, and no reader will get exactly the same thing from a book. You bring your own background, reading preferences, history, etc. to every book you read. That's why reading is so personal and inspires such passionate discussions. I'm about to offer my opinion on a huge part of the final book (spoilers will be noted), and I'm not implying anyone read the final book wrong if they feel the way I describe below or disagree with what I have to say about it.
However, I do want to respond to something I've seen in a number of reviews. I'm going to pretend we're all in book club together where I would freely share this opinion and would expect to have a discussion about it. A huge, defining characteristic of good bookish conversations is the back-and-forth. It requires being able to offer an opinion, hear a response, and then continue to talk about it. I don't want everyone to agree with me about a book, and I never think that someone should or will feel the same way I do.
I don't want to just talk to myself or to people who share the same opinions as me. That doesn't bring anything fresh to the conversation! One way I see new things in a book is by talking to people who felt differently about it than I did. So, if you hated Ignite Me for the reason I'm about to discuss, I ask that you hear me out:
There has been a lot of discussion about the feeling that Adam and Warner, in many ways, completely change in the third book. After re-reading the rest of the series before this one, I don't really feel that way. Again, that's not to say I'm right and everyone else is wrong - it's just what stood out to me as I read. But I think you begin to see another side to both boys in the second book - as Juliette starts to interact more with the world around her. The more she's around other people and forced to find her own way in the world, the more you see nuances in the portrayal of the other characters.

This series is about Juliette's growth as a character, and one of the biggest ways you see it is in how she expresses herself in each of the books. For example, there is a decreased use of strikethroughs in Unravel Me, and they are almost completely absent in Ignite Me. But the other place you see it (aside from just in the writing) is that you no longer take characters at face value. Someone isn't wonderful or evil just because Juliette believes or says they are OR because she is told they are. She has to learn to see for herself instead of relying on everyone else in her life to tell her how she ought to feel, who she ought to trust, etc. And you, as the reader, learn those things right alongside her. Is it painful? HELL YES. But I think it's meant to be that way. Isn't it painful in real life when you see a new, unpleasant side to a friend or romantic interest?

For example, Adam is a complete pain at times during Unravel Me. I loved Adam when I wrote my review a year ago, but even I said to him: "I swooned and sighed when you charmed crazy Juliette in Shatter Me... So what happened? I needed you to be in control. Instead, you were just as much of a pill as Juliette." Adam has always been a flawed character - as are Juliette and Warner are, too. All three characters reveal and learn new things about themselves as the series progresses.

Juliette doesn't know who she is, so how she is supposed to know who other people are? And remember, you only know as much or as little as she does. I think this series in one huge, interesting study in perception. How do you perceive yourself? How do you perceive others? And how do others perceive you?

Applying this, in a simplistic form, to Juliette:
  • Juliette sees herself as a murderer.
  • Juliette see others as untrustworthy. 
  • People see Juliette as dangerous.
But is any of that true?

You can have this conversation about all of the main characters in these book, and I actually think it's one of the overarching themes of the series: How are your actions and/or emotions influenced by 1) how you see yourself, 2) how you believe others see you, 3) how you want others to see you or 4) how you see others/the world around you?

Since this conversation involves the boys, I will focus for a second on the part about how you perceive others. There is a huge difference between who you imagine/believe someone to be and who they actually are. It's something that characters find out - in frustrating and painful ways - in this series. Sometimes you think someone is something they've either a) never been or b) aren't anymore. You aren't a bad person when that happens! Do you know how easy it is to make a snap judgment (positive or negative) about another person? Everyone has expectations for other people, whether you realize them or not, and sometimes your first impression isn't correct. Sorry, y'all, but Pride and Prejudice taught me that lesson.

So, I repeat: you only know what Juliette does at each stage of this series, and she isn't really to be trusted. I don't think the characters completely change - I think Juliette's perception and understanding of them does.

*Spoiler-y Thoughts Below, So Proceed With Caution*

As someone who loved Adam originally, I don't feel like he was completely vilified in Ignite Me. Do I think we saw an unflattering, frustrating side to him? Yes. And I get that it hurts, especially if you really love him. You want him to be the version of himself that wooed you (and Juliette) in the first book! But I noticed in re-reading: he's just as lonely, lost and scared as Juliette in the beginning. He struggles with the powerful, confident Juliette - not because he's evil or the bad guy - but because it's not how he imagined his life with her. He spent so long wanting to find that sweet, kind little girl he knew as a boy and didn't know what to do when that wasn't who she wanted to be anymore. But he was reacting poorly to tension with her in every book, not just in Ignite Me.

The only love triangles I truly hate are the ones where the girl is completely wishy-washy. After re-reading, I never felt that Juliette screwed him over. You can tell she is torn between them, and I think it's out of loyalty to the fact that Adam saved her in so many ways. She wasn't completely up front with him in Unravel Me (that annoyed me!), but she never lies or leads him on in Ignite Me. So, I can't really complain on that aspect of the relationship. She owed him honesty, which I felt she gave him. His reaction to it isn't her responsibility.

I've got one more thought that will probably sound shocking. Aside from the far-fetched setting and higher-than-normal stakes, I felt that the romance's resolution and dissolution was believable. I'm not saying the actual triangle was completely realistic in the modern world, but stick with me for one last second.

Think about real-life dating relationships. My friends and I used to joke that the first year of dating someone is the honeymoon period, and you start to really see their true colors after that period of time has passed. Not that people alter drastically after the first year of dating, but things do change a bit as you grow more comfortable and relaxed in your relationship. It's when cracks often start to show, and it can be a time where you re-evaluate whether someone is right for you. You may not be as quick to forgive or overlook their flaws.

I felt like that's something this book portrayed. Adam didn't become evil... but it did become clear that Adam wasn't the right guy for her. The relationship fell apart because they weren't the people the other one needed. And it can be painful when a relationship ends for that reason. It doesn't invalidate your initial feelings for the other person (or theirs for you) or mean that the relationship wasn't worthwhile. It just means it didn't last, and I think that's pretty realistic. It's not often that you end up with the first person you love. And relationships have to end for a reason, right? I think a common one is because either your or the other person changed.

*Spoiler-y Thoughts End Here*

Why did I write all that in response to some of the main complaints I've seen to Ignite Me? Is it because I think I'm so right and clearly have more insight into this book or series? Ha! Not a chance. I just noticed things as I re-read the books/novellas that affected how I ultimately felt about the series as a whole - things that felt were worth sharing, particularly as someone who really loved Adam and hated Warner at first.

There's been one statement in some of the negative reviews of this book that has made me sad: the implication that this series is either no longer worth reading or not worth continuing. I'm not saying it's not a valid feeling - I've definitely hated series finales before. So, why does it bother me that people have said it about this series in particular? I think it's because hype, anticipation and expectations played a lot into the disappointment I've seen expressed. And almost all of those things depend on each individual reader. I don't expect the same things someone else does. And I may not hear the same hype or anticipate the same ending as someone else. It all goes back to what I said in my side note - everyone reads and reacts differently.

If you hate Shatter Me, you'll probably hate the whole series. Nothing wrong with stopping after book one. But if you enjoyed or loved Shatter Me and Unravel Me, I think you should find out for yourself how you feel about the ending. I binge read the series from beginning to end in just a few days, and I felt that the final book fit right in with how the series started.

The series is consistent overall: world-building and plot take second stage to characters, writing and emotion. To be completely honest, there isn't a huge change or shift in the final book when it comes to those aspects of the books. Ignite Me picks up right where Unravel Me (or Fracture Me) leaves off and ends in a way that remains true to the story Mafi started telling in the first place. It might not be the story everyone wanted, but I think it's a story worth reading and a discussion worth having.

Perception is a huge deal in this series. Do the characters change or is it your perception of them that does? Either way, it happens with flesh and blood people, too. It's one reason relationships are so complicated! Most people aren't completely evil or completely perfect… That's a huge reason I care so much about character development in every book that I read. In real life, you're constantly navigating and re-evaluating people as you get to know them better.

People aren't just static or predictable. You can be brave enough to defend someone against bullies and yet scared of mice. You can be kind enough to give up your seat for someone else and yet still scream when a car cuts you off in traffic. People are walking contradictions, which is why I absolutely love this series. The characters aren't one dimensional! The way Mafi portrayed the people in this book worked for me, and I don't think you have to adore one boy and hate the other to enjoy Ignite Me. But I did have to be able to step back, look at the story that was being told, and let go of my own expectations for the series.

I don't think I've ever had so much to say about a book, and I have worked on this post for hours. I absolutely adored this series, and it will be an all-time favorite for me. There's nothing wrong if it's not a favorite for someone else! I've been disappointed in a series ending before when others loved it, but I still liked talking about the ending. In some cases, I was able to see a side to the story that I hadn't noticed before. It didn't necessarily change my overall feelings, but it did give me additional perspective. I think that's what I wanted to do here. Have a conversation, a bookish discussion, about a series ending that has been somewhat divisive. So, let's talk.

So Quotable
One character said this but it's pretty true for them all: "And if you insist on continuing to make assumptions about my character, I'll advise you only this: assume you will always be wrong."

February 21, 2014

The Price of Winning

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Macmillan | Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Pages: 368 pages
Source & Format: Borrowed from Kelly; ARC
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

As a general's daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin's eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him - with unexpected consequences. It's not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Thoughts on The Winner's Curse
I almost didn't write a review for The Winner's Curse because it's already gotten so much buzz, and I'm not sure if I can even do it justice. But I do want to put my two cents in and tell you something very important: for me, this book absolutely surpassed all of my expectations for it.

This is a book that is getting a lot of hype in the blog world. I remember the first time I saw the cover and thought, "Oh, that's a beautiful book!" But it wasn't really on my radar - even after that moment of cover love. I'm not sure if it's because I don't gravitate towards fantasy or because I didn't really take the time to read the summary. What I do know is that within a short period of time, four bloggers whose opinions I really value gave this book FIVE STARS. Here's a sample of what they had to say and how they sold me on reading it:
  • Lauren from Love is Not a Triangle: "When I started reading, I was worried the story wouldn't be as compelling as its set up. Instead, it exceeded my expectations. If you love fantasy, intrigue, political maneuvering, romance, or good books in general, this one is for you." (Review)
  • Asheley from Into the Hall of Books: "Best book I've read in a very long time? OH YES. OH YES, ABSOLUTELY. Without a doubt. I am absolutely, firmly against the hype machine but I believe that this book will deserve whatever hype it receives. And I don't say that lightly, people." (Review)
  • Jen from The Flyleaf Review: "You have heard all the hype about this book, right? And we all know what a dangerous thing that hype machine can be. But in this case? TOTALLY legitimate. Just wait until you guys get the chance to read this book. Just you wait." (Teaser)
  • Kelly from Belle of the Literati: "The Winner's Curse is a book that didn't let me move, get up, drink, or eat for the roughly 5 hours it took me to read it. I could NOT put it down. It is a fantastic world of high fantasy that is written beautifully and will have your emotions wound around its finger almost instantly. This book has amazing juxtaposition of love and brutality, pride and compassion, loyalty to family and the morality of doing the right thing. It is a plot that will have your heart racing, swooning, and stopping at multiple points." (Teaser)
YOU'RE BASICALLY DYING TO HAVE YOUR HANDS ON THIS BOOK NOW, RIGHT? I know, I know. I'm sorry to get you all hot and bothered in anticipation for The Winner's Curse. Maybe you're thinking that I still haven't really told you what I thought about this book. Well, let me try to give it a shot.

5 Reasons I'm So Obsessed With This Book

1. The Place.
Y'all, this world is amazing. I sometimes struggle with fantasy novels because I feel disconnected from the world. As a reader, I don't want to spend pages and pages on world building, which often seems to happen in fantasy... but I also don't want to feel like I'm struggling to understand the setting. It's so frustrating when you aren't able to at least somewhat picture where a book is taking place. Thankfully, I didn't have that problem at all in The Winner's Curse. It's a fantasy novel, but I still found the world to be really recognizable. At times, it reminded me of Greek or Roman culture - there's a historical flair to the way this society is set up that immediately made it easer for me to get immersed in the novel.

2. The People.
I'm a major character reader. It's often one of the most important things for me while I'm reading. I don't have to like the characters, but I do need to feel invested in their story. And holy cow, I was completely head over heels for the characters in this book. There are two POVs in The Winner's Curse - Kestrel (female) and Arin (male). Each character's voice was so distinct from the other that I never struggled to place who was speaking. Both captured my heart and my attention, and I found myself completely in love with these two people. Even better? There are also some secondary characters that I suspect will get even more fleshed out in the rest of the series.

3. The Plot. 
Ok, so we've established that this book has a fantastic world and some incredible characters. That's already going to make a ton of readers really happy with this story. But what about the people who really need a good plot? Oh, never fear. This book totally delivers on the action and adventure. Kestrel is a general's daughter and has two choices in front of her: join the military or get married. Truthfully, neither option really appeals to her. And then she buys a young slave, Arin, in an auction. Something about his spirit prompts her to make this rash decision... and you won't see the consequences coming. SO MUCH HAPPENS IN THIS STORY. That set up I just described? Those are the first few chapters, and it just sets everything else in motion. I think my stomach was in knots the entire time I was reading, and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!

4. The Politics.
This ties into the plot and the place, but I still felt like it was worth mentioning as its own point. The political atmosphere plays a really big role in The Winner's Curse. There is a hierarchy within this society, and the two main characters on from the opposite ends of it. The positions they hold in the world influences their perceptions and actions. And those differences contribute to so much of the intrigue and events that take place. I felt like this aspect was really unique and felt like something I don't often see in books. I love when a book feels new and fresh!

5. The Passion.
Oh, the slow burn... It's at the top of my reading wishlist, but it can also make for such heart-wrenching and painful reading. I absolutely adore when two people slowly get to know one another - never imagining it could lead to something more. When friendship blossoms into romance, I turn into the happiest of all readers. I think that there is sometimes more passion in restraint, in going slow, in that careful dance around feelings and emotion. There's a reason some of my very favorite romantic relationships are from Jane Austen's novels! In The Winner's Curse, I found the romance to be even more intense and emotional because of everything standing in the way of it. I just can't even find the words to tell you how much I loved that aspect of this book. Hint: it's a whole lot.

THE END.

Actually, no, one more thing: I'm sure there will be some readers who don't fall in love with The Winner's Curse. A book cannot be universally loved. But for this reader? I can't wait to get this beauty into my hands for keeps... where it will be cherished and re-read until the end of all time.

So Quotable
"The Winner's Curse is when you come out of top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price."

"He knew the law of such things: people in brightly lit places cannot see into the dark."

February 20, 2014

Admiring & Acquiring

Last week, Kelly debuted a new feature on her blog called Book Pushin'. She was sharing her love for a historical fiction novel called The Bronze Horseman, a book that I'd purchased months ago in a Kindle sale. The more she talked about the book, the more excited I got about finally reading it. The summary had always interested me, but I was put off by the fact that it was 810 pages.

The weather here was crazy last week, and I ended up not having work due to ice and snow. Suddenly, I was faced with several days of total freedom - and the inability to actually go anywhere. It seemed like the perfect time to finally meet these characters that Kelly kept raving about… and then I finished the book in one day. I've got another post in the works about long books that was inspired by that chunky novel, but I kept thinking about something else after I'd finished reading it:

This book had been sitting on my Kindle for exactly one year.

For some people, one year isn't really that long for a book to be sitting on their shelves, waiting to be read, because they have an ever-growing TBR pile. For others, like most of my real life friends who are readers, it's almost unheard of to buy a book and then not read it almost immediately.

I had purchased this book, on sale, and then didn't think twice about when I was going to read it. If you'd asked, the best you would have gotten would be a vague response along the lines of "hopefully soon."

But after I finally read it, I knew that I immediately wanted to read the rest of the series. I made a trip to Barnes & Noble, and maybe spent ten minutes in there total. That's like a record for me! I raced to the fiction area, excitedly found the "S" last name section, grabbed my two purchases and made my way to the register. I couldn't wait to get home so that I could immediately continue reading. And then I thought:

When did I last buy a book and plan to immediately start reading it?

I forgot what it was like to buy a book right when I wanted to read it. I lost that love of racing to the bookstore because I just had to continue a series, find more from an author, start that book I saw in a magazine… My book buying habits have completely changed since I started blogging. I have a spreadsheet of all the books I own that are unread, and one of the columns is for the month/year it was purchased by me or gifted to me. Y'all, almost every single book in the list of 100+ has been added to my shelves since 2011.

There are so many posts about being a book hoarder - I've even written one before! I'm not really writing about buying too many books or implementing a book buying bans because those never really work for me. If it's necessary due to budget, that's a different story. But a complete ban just because? It never lasts because books are on the few things I love spending money on. I don't care that much about clothes, shoes, accessories, hobbies, etc. Shopping for books is something I really enjoy. While there's nothing wrong with book shopping, I am troubled by one thing. I think it's easy to get in this mindset, especially because of the nature of blogging, where it seems like:

Loving Books = Acquiring Books

But that equation isn't really right, is it? Truthfully, I think it should look more like this:

Loving Books = Reading Books

When did I start focusing on the wrong thing? I'm not saying that I don't still read a ton. Of course I do! It's just that I've noticed this obsession (for lack of a better word) with buying books. I'm always scoping out new reads, constantly adding books to my Goodreads wishlist, browsing NetGalley and Edelweiss to see if there's anything that should be on my radar.

It's fun, but it's also a little nuts! I realized that my book buying habits reveal that all I'm really doing is:

Admiring & Acquiring

Yep, I said it. I'm rapidly adding books to my shelves for various reasons: they were recommended to me, they were on sale, I have heard good things about them, I just read something else by that author, the summary sounds interesting and the Goodreads rating is high... You name it. There's such a focus on acquiring books - something that doesn't seem that odd when I look at the book blogging world at large. So many bloggers love getting new books just as much as I do! 

Shopping for books isn't the problem for me though. It's the fact that the book sits on my shelves, and I glance at it. I talk about how pretty it is, how great it sounds, how I plan on reading it at some point. Maybe I'll pick it up one day, but chances are high that it will languish for a few months at least before that actually happens. It's a book that I'm admiring when I could be doing something better: 

Absorbing & Adoring

They're sad little books just waiting to take me on an adventure. I'll see the pretty spines and remember the reasons I bought them, but that's not always enough to make me read them (absorbing!) and hopefully fall in love with them (adoring!). I wrote earlier this year about framing my goals and resolutions in terms of what I want more and less of in 2014. One of those was shopping, and this post is just an extension of that goal. 

I want to simplify things. Go back to the basics. And part of that involves reminding myself:

Just because I can buy it, doesn't mean I should.

Just because I want to buy it, doesn't mean I need to.

There's nothing wrong with buying books, but I do want to be conscious of how I'm spending my money and where I'm directing my focus. My focus shouldn't be on acquisition and the thrill of the purchase. It should be on the part where I take the time to read the books I've bought and remember all the reasons I wanted it in the first place. 

This has been a long post, and I'm impressed if you made it this far. Truthfully, I wrote this mostly for myself - a reflection on the fact that there's something to be said for self-control and delayed gratification. Two things I want to cultivate more of in myself this year.

February 19, 2014

Secrets Buried & Stories Untold

The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim

Release Date: June 2013
Publisher: Tyndale House
Pages: 400 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle e-book
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Raised in an Old Order Mennonite community, Rachel Stoltzfus is a strong-willed single woman, content living apart from mainstream society until whispers stir the moment her belly swells with new life. Refusing to repent and name the partner in her sin, Rachel feels the wrath of the religious sect as she is shunned by those she loves most. She is eventually coerced into leaving by her brother-in-law, the bishop. But secrets run deep in this cloistered community, and the bishop is hiding some of his own, threatening his conscience and his very soul. When the life of Rachel's baby is at stake, however, choices must be made that will bring the darkness to light, forever changing the lives of those who call Copper Creek home.

Thoughts on The Outcast
I have to start by confessing that I thought this was historical fiction when I first started it. I knew that it was a retelling of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, but I somehow didn't read the description closely enough and assumed it was historical. So, you can imagine my confusion when modern-day things were mentioned. Anyway, I soon figured out that my expectations were off and was able to really dive in to The Outcast!

I first heard about The Outcast when Juju from Tales of Whimsy wrote a love letter to the book. She concluded it by writing: "You are a masterfully crafted tale that stands tall above the rest. I will recommend you again and again." I was immediately intrigued, especially since she mentioned that it had very complex characters. Not long after Juju's post, The Outcast was a Kindle Daily Deal. You better believe I snagged it! But it wasn't until I saw another review by Brenna from I Have Lived a Thousand Lives that I realized I needed to stop wasting time and just read it already.

Rachel Stoltzfus was raised in an Old Order Mennonite community, but she never quite fit in. But things are worse after Rachel becomes pregnant out of wedlock. She refuses to name the father of her child, and her decision places her in a precarious position within the community. Rachel is trying to take care of her sick twin sister, but her brother-in-law (the bishop) finally forces her to leave. The religious leaders cannot allow her to continue to "flaunt" her sin before the congregation... and that sets everything in motion in this quiet, emotional tale.

Although I do enjoy reading Christian fiction, I almost never read any Amish fiction. It's a popular genre within Christian fiction, but I don't typically gravitate towards it when I'm choosing books. However, I loved The Scarlet Letter so that connection (in addition to the two positive recommendations I've already mentioned) really put this book on my radar. I think the setting and community worked perfectly for this story. Petersheim and her husband both have an Amish and Mennonite heritage, which is evident in this story. She's writing about a world that she's very familiar with, and that became clear to me while I was reading. The strict, religious society was the perfect backdrop for the themes tackled in The Outcast.

The characters absolutely shine in this story. They have such depth! Jealousy, shame, hypocrisy, judgment, forgiveness, pride, repentance... all of these complex emotions are on display. I really love how Petersheim wrote characters that felt so real in their humanity. The religious community (and issues/questions that are common in it) is integral in The Outcast, which is fitting since it was also so important to The Scarlet Letter. 

One of my favorite quotes from The Scarlet Letter is when Hawthorne writes:
"No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."
It's one of the central issues in both books - who you are versus how the world sees you. For some, it's being seen as a blameless but hiding your sin in shame. And for others, it is being judged for your mistakes by the world when you've already repented and been forgiven by God. This is one thing I loved in The Scarlet Letter, and it's portrayed so emotionally in this retelling, too.

There are two narrators in The Outcast - Rachel and a man named Amos. Now, Amos was the one part of this book that didn't work for me. He is actually deceased when the story opens and is narrating as more of an omniscient observer. To be honest, that was the one thing about this book that I frustrated me at times. I could see why Petersheim chose to share his point of view, but it was the one element that broke up the flow of the story for me.

I think the question of the baby's father is pretty evident early on in the novel, but I didn't feel like it was meant to be a huge surprise when it was revealed. Truly, this is a book where the journey is more important than the revelation. This exploration of sin, guilt, and redemption kept me captivated. If you're a reader who is drawn to really well-developed and complex characters, this is a book that you need to consider. I really look forward to more from Petersheim in the future!

So Quotable
"Judah and I had our own secret language, and sheathed in its safety, he would often confide how desperately he wanted to leave this world for the larger one beyond it. A world he had explored only through the books he would purchase at Root's Market when his father wasn't looking and read until the pages were sticky with the sweat of a thousand secret turnings."
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