March 31, 2014

Decisions Shape Our Destiny

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Release Date: February 2013
Publisher: Penguin | Philomel
Pages: 346 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
It's 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmer with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

Thoughts on Out of the Easy
I'd previously read and enjoyed Ruta Sepetys' first novel, Between Shades of Gray, so I was intrigued by Out of the Easy when it first came out. I didn't rush to buy it or read it, and I'm not sure exactly. But I owe some major thanks to Cassie because it was her love for this book that finally put it on my radar. I asked for it for Christmas, and I'm really so glad that I did!

One of the things I loved most about Out of the Easy is that it was so different from Between Shades of Gray! Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the latter book. But it's so nice when you find an author who writes consistently well-researched books, even when they're in totally different places and time periods. Some historical fiction authors tend to focus on specific time periods or places in their books, and I liked the Sepetys is clearly showing her range with the two stories she's written thus far.

Out of the Easy is set in New Orleans in 1950, which made it a really fun read. It was so unique! I don't think I've read much set in New Orleans, and I can't think of anything I've read set there during this particular time period. The setting just came alive for me! I loved that it was a backdrop for the larger story, but it also played a part in what was going on. The vibrant city and its culture were crucial to this book, and I felt like I could tell that Sepetys had really done her homework in that area. I loved all the small details about the place and time period because those are the things that make a book feel special.

Josie Moraine in the seventeen-year-old heroine, and I just loved her so much. She's the daughter of a prostitute and lives in the French Quarter, and she knows that she's got to make her own way in life. All she really wants is to go to college, but she fears that she'll never be able to escape her mother and the life she currently leads. She loves learning and books (yay!), and she dreams of a better future for herself. I love a heroine with a little pluck and a whole lot of ambition.

I've noted before that I'm a huge character reader, so I particularly loved that the characters really stood out in Out of the Easy. The people surrounding Josie were just as interesting and exciting as she was, and that made for excellent reading. The French Quarter and its inhabitants had such depth in this book, and I loved that it wasn't always clear who was "bad" and who was "good." The characters could be both at times, which is true in life, too. I'm always so impressed when secondary characters are complex, and it instantly makes me a fan when an author when is able to create a large cast of characters who all feel well developed.

There's a bit of a mystery in this book, but it's really the story of Josie growing up and finding her own voice. This is the kind of coming-of-age story that I really love, and it's even better that it was historical fiction! The characters and setting truly stole the show for me, but I did enjoy the plot, too. I liked the sweet romance and the fact that it was such a minor element. It was fitting for it to be included but also important that it was secondary to Josie's growth as a character.

I raced through Out of the Easy, and I really loved every minute I spent in its pages. I'm so impressed with Sepetys' talent for writing well-researched stories with complex, engaging characters and memorable settings. Talk about everything you want in a book! I loved the way Sepetys wrote certain sentences - little phrases and things just jumped out at me and made me really love the story. I didn't have a huge emotional connection to the book, and that's the only element that was missing for me that would have made this book a favorite. But I still highly recommend it, and I look forward to more from Sepetys in the future!

So Quotable
"I leapt eagerly into books. The characters' lives were so much more interesting than the lonely heartbeat of my own."

March 26, 2014

Stories & Myths

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Release Date: March 25, 2014
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava - in all other ways a normal girl - is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year-old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naive to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pips Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava's quest and her family's saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

Thoughts on The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
I haven't had a lot of experience with magical realism aside from my love for Sarah Addison Allen and the movie Amélie. I've fallen head over heels for that movie and those books, but that's about the extent of my background with this concept. However, I was intrigued when I read the summary for The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender because it seemed reminiscent of those two things.

I'm not sure if my expectations influenced how I felt for this book, but I suspect that they did. I went into this book looking for whimsical magical elements and lyrical prose. The writing was definitely gorgeous at times, but the magical parts of this story were very different from what I was anticipating. The magical infusions weren't whimsical or delightful. Instead, they often felt dark and ominous.

Here's the main problem I have with this book - the writing is absolutely gorgeous, but it also seems to go nowhere. There were so many lines and phrases I wanted to turn over in my mind, and I found myself highlighting or noting little things I really enjoyed. It's the same way I feel watching to Amélie or reading Addison Allen's books. There's a poetry to the story that comes from the magic that infuses it, and I really love that aspect. But I also really struggled with The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender because much of it felt really pointless.

The first half of the book, at least, aren't even about Ava Lavender. It's actually her family history, which is somewhat interesting but didn't flow very well. I felt like some minor characters or back stories were too fleshed out and had no real relevance on the heroine or her story. It seemed like it was meandering aimlessly at times... no real forward momentum propelling me forward in the story.

It read very much like an adult novel, and I can actually say I was really shocked by the violence in this book. There is a brutal, devastating scene towards the end of the novel that felt very unresolved for the amount of havoc it wreaked on the characters' lives. It's such a tragic, sad story, which I guess I should have known from the "sorrows" in the title. But I honestly thought it would be more hopeful and not quite so devastating!

The other thing that bothered me is that I really didn't feel the story was realistic at all. It's also a "historical" novel if take the time period into account. I understand that magical elements will never be realistic, but (in my experience) magical realism tends to have very realistic story lines with added layers of magic that makes you ponder the little things in life that could be more than meets the eye. With Addison Allen, for example, it's wallpaper that changes to reflect someone's mood or food that can affect anyone who eats it. It's small, simple things that add texture and color to an otherwise realistic world. In The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I felt the magic overwhelmed the story to the point that it read more like fantasy than anything else. That's just me, and it could be because I don't have a lot of experience with this genre.

As much as I wanted to like The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I couldn't get past how bizarre the story and characters were for most of the book. I felt the story lacked direction, and I was never entirely sure where it was headed or, more importantly, why it was headed that way. I think it's likely to appeal to a very small group of readers who will absolutely love it, but I sadly wasn't one of them. I enjoyed Walton's poetic writing, but I struggled with the rest of it.

So Quotable
"She would feel her heart unclench and stretch its tightly coiled legs, preparing to leap into the path of yet another love. She'd think, This time could be different. This time it could last. Maybe it would be a longer, deeper love: a real and solid entity that lived in the house, used the bathroom, ate their food, mussed up the linens in sleep. A love that pulled her close when she cried, that slept with its chest pressed against her back."
*I received a copy of this book from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

March 25, 2014

Before I Kick the Bucket...

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!

Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List

{SEE}

Source
L.M. Montgomery. Do I really need to say more?

Source
I've been to London and studied abroad in Oxford.
Now, I just need to make it to the countryside.

Source
I live in Georgia for crying out loud.
Why haven't I been here already?

{MEET}

Source
I was late to this party, but I still managed to show up. 
Can you blame me for wanting to get my books signed?

Source
This wasn't on my wishlist until I discovered the joy of blog friends.
Now, I just want to meet them in real life. Free books are just a bonus!


I've never emailed an author before. But I want to do it!
If I'm so obsessed with their book, why not pass along some love?

{READ}

Source
I've only read Harry Potter once, so I'm itching for a re-read.
The audiobooks seem like a lovely way to revisit these favorites! 

Source
I love classics, but I do find some of them intimidating!
War and Peace and Middlemarch are two are the top of my list.


I keep buying Harvard's Jane Austen Annotated Editions.
I just need to actually read them, particularly the annotations.

Source
Did this make you laugh? Am I living in a dream world?
I hope to one day get control of my TBR and read everything I own!

March 24, 2014

Something Wicked This Way Comes

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

Release Date: February 20 2014
Publisher: Penguin | Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Pages: 432 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
AmazonGoodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
A beautiful princess lies in a sleep so deep it is close to death. Was Sleeping Beauty revived by a prince's kiss? What really happened in that tower so long ago?

While Beauty Slept re-imagines the legend through the lens of historical fiction, telling the story as if it really happened. A Gothic tale of suspense and ambition, love and loss, it interweaves the story of a royal family and the servants who see behind the glamorous facade, following the journey of a young woman as she lives out a destiny that leads her to the brink of death.

Thoughts on While Beauty Slept
I'm not exactly sure where I first heard about While Beauty Slept, but I remember being drawn to the cover when I saw it on NetGalley. Yes, I'm that reader. I was trying to be good about not requesting too many books, so I told myself that I'd hold off. When I was still thinking about it days later, I decided to just cave and request it. I was never a huge fan of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, and it was probably my least-watched Disney movie growing up. But I was still really curious! I loved the sound of this book, especially since it was categorized as historical fiction and written as if the story had really happened.

There were a few things I enjoyed about While Beauty Slept, but it mostly ended up being a somewhat forgettable read for me. The book opens with an elderly woman, Elise, overhearing her great-granddaughter telling the story of Sleeping Beauty to her siblings. It's a fanciful version of the tale - the one you likely heard growing up. But Elise knows what really happened all those years ago, and she decides it's finally time to tell her story.

Unfortunately, this method of storytelling doesn't really work for me. I have a hard time with books that involve a person reflecting on the past and telling an entire story with the benefit of hindsight. There's usually a lot of distance between the "present" and the past, and I often find it unbelievable that anyone would remember this many details about every little moment in their life, particularly when the narrator is elderly. Listen, I can't even remember when I've told my husband the same thing within a week's span of time... forget trying to remember enough to recount my entire history. So, stories structured this way always throw me off a little bit right from the start.

A narrator telling a story from the past can be particular challenging in a story that hinges on a feeling of mystery, foreboding or suspense (as this one does). It can create an emotional distance in the story - a disconnect - because the events don't have an immediacy or urgency. Unfortunately, that's what happened for me in this one. The narrator frequently interjected these little "if only I had known then that..." type comments, and it felt very heavy-handed. I'm all for a little foreshadowing, but it's not enjoyable when there's no opportunity for curiosity because the narrator is basically giving everything away.

The pace is also really slow, and I suspect the things I mentioned above contributed to that feeling. Sometimes a slower book really works for me, but I just found myself mostly bored with this story. I cared enough to keep reading to find out what happened, but there wasn't that feeling of "oh, I can't put this down!" that I'd usually find in something billed as "a Gothic tale of suspense." With all of this slow build up, I actually found the ending anti-climactic.

I liked that the author made this story something that could have really happened in history, but I also couldn't help feeling that it wandered a bit too much in the telling. And as a huge historical fiction reader, I will say that this still felt like an imaginary world. There weren't any historical details to connect it to an real period in time, which isn't a big deal but was slightly disappointing.

Honestly, very little of this story actually concerns Princess Rose (Sleeping Beauty). It is Elise's story, and she was the real protagonist. All of that would be fine if Elise was really engaging, but she was a very flat narrator. I didn't get a good sense of the emotional connection to the events and people she was describing, which is why I ended up disconnected from the story overall. It's just a bit of a misleading title and description to imply this is Sleeping Beauty's story or that it really spends much time at all on the events in the tower. That was such a minor part of the book!

Things felt a bit too convenient at times and made no sense at all in others. It wasn't a bad book by any means, but I didn't find a lot that I really enjoyed. Overall, it was just okay. It wouldn't be the first book I'd recommend if you asked about fairy tale retellings, but I think it could work better for other readers. I wish I'd liked While Beauty Slept more, but I found the story only somewhat interesting and not very engaging.
*I received a copy of this book from Putnam in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

March 20, 2014

Have We Met Before?

I recently decided to revamp my "Hey Y'all" page. It's probably only been edited once since I started this blog, and I thought it needed a little love and attention! To be honest, I'd never given much thought to the "About Me" details. It's pretty standard to have that information on a blog, but I realized recently it's one of the first places I go when I'm blog browsing.

With that in mind, I thought it was time to make a few changes on my own page. I wanted it to really reflect who I am and what I enjoy! Rather than just update it, I decided to post it because duhhhhh I don't want you to miss out on all this excitement. So, allow me to re-introduce myself:
Hey y'all! Thanks for stopping by So Obsessed With. Grab a sweet tea, pull up a chair and come sit a spell with me. I'm Hannah - a Southern sass with some book nerd thrown in for good measure.

To tell you the truth, I've been a book lover ever since I was born. My mama tells me that I couldn't fall asleep unless I had at least one book in my crib, and I had Madeline memorized at a very early age. The stories that follow me around in my family? Oh, you know, the time I ate a word off the spine of a book and one of my parents later found it in my diaper. Or when I stayed up late reading in the bathroom and tried telling my parents "I had a stomachache" when they finally discovered me. Both of my grandmothers love to read, so I think I come by it honestly. I grew up loving words, and it's an obsession that's never waned.

I attended the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) and majored in Public Relations. I graduated a few years ago, and I still can't believe I'm a real, live grown up. Although, for the most part, I've always been a little old lady inside. There's nothing I love more than being at home, in my pajamas, hanging out with my husband and our dog. I've got a dash of wanderlust inside, but there's still no place like home for me.

My mister and I met while on a trip to South Africa through UGA, but we grew up only fifteen minutes away from each other. I went halfway around the world and fell for someone right down the road! South Africa has had a special place in my heart since then, but I'm still a Georgia girl through and through. I love all things Southern: the people, the weather, the food, the places and the traditions.

Back in November 2011, I figured there was no better way to chronicle the books that grabbed my heart than in this little corner of the world. It's my hope you'll be so obsessed with books right alongside me! So, hello wide world, it's nice to meet you. Drop me a line at soobsessedwith [at] gmail [dot] com.
When I decided to start blogging, I knew how important it was to come up with a name that I loved and meant something to me. Something bookish seemed best, but many of the ones I thought of were already taken... And what if I didn't always want to talk about books? Then, it hit me!

So Obsessed With

For years, the mister has teasingly told me that I suffer from a serious case of obsession. When something strikes my fancy, it hits me hard. This sparks a furious need for me to read/find/make/buy whatever it is that's crossed my mind. But when the wind blows something else my way, I'm off on another adventure. My obsessions can last anywhere from a few days (DIY bracelets before I remembered that I hate the actual DIY part) to a few months (stalking eBay for copies of Domino magazine). 

Since my lifelong obsession has always been reading, I figured writing about it was the best bet I had of sticking with this whole blogging thing. That's turned out to be true, and I've got a lot of words here to prove it! My obsessions can sometimes influence what I read, too. Whether it's books set in specific places or particular topics, I'm often reading books based on what's currently captured my mind. Now that I've told you the story of my blog name, it's time to finally answer...
Rather than continue talking your ear off, here's an "About the Blogger" bingo board that I created to highlight a few of my favorite things. Hope you spot some things we've got in common!
Y'all come back now, ya hear?

March 19, 2014

You Can Always Change the End

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Release Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Press
Pages: 296 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.

That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby's past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that's left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.

It's a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.

Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she's all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer... and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.

One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren't sure they needed in the first place: love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended. Can they find what they need before it's too late?

Thoughts on Lost Lake
Sarah Addison Allen's books are like the definition of comfort read for me. Her books are always different - it's not the same story over and over again - but they always feel familiar. I feel like I know what to expect when I dive into one of her stories.

Here are four things that are very characteristic of Allen's books:

1. Enchanting Story
There's something about her stories that always leaves me feeling so comforted, so happy, when I close that final page. Even when they deal with sadness or grief, there's this overwhelming undercurrent of hopefulness. What I really appreciate about Allen is that the plots of her books always seem very her, but that doesn't mean they are predictable.

Lost Lake deals with Kate, a widowed mother who has spent the last year in a fog of grief. She's barely able to stay afloat - let alone take care of her seven-year-old daughter, Devin. Going through the motions, Kate has let her mother-in-law take charge. And it takes just a moment for Kate to see that handing over the reins of her life to someone else isn't going to do her daughter any good. Finding a long-lost postcard from an old family member leads her to the lake cottage community in Suley, Georgia. It's a place she hasn't been for years, but the memory of the happy summer she spent there just beckons her back.

What happens next is enchanting! I won't spoil the plot, but I will say I really loved this story and its themes. Although the ending was a bit predictable, I didn't mind at all. I don't read these books to be shocked or surprised. These are the books I turn to when I want a bit of whimsy sprinkled in with the painful realities of life. For me, being able to guess where this book was headed didn't take away an ounce of my enjoyment of it. This book was more melancholy and a bit slower than her previous work, but I still adored it.

2. Lovely Writing
These books are technically magical realism, and I'm obsessed with the little hints of fantasy and magic sprinkled on her pages. The stories feel so whimsical because of it, and I always tell people that there is something about Allen's books that seems so lovely. I love the Dictionary.com definition of lovely: "having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye." It works for perfectly for these stories!

The writing itself is something to be admired. I don't know how to describe it, but it's my favorite thing about reading Allen's books. I think it partly has to do with the infusion of magic into her stories because it adds this dash of the unexpected. As odd as it may sound, there is something about Allen's writing that fills me with what I can only describe as childlike wonder. In her pages, I start to believe the impossible.

Also, I love books that are really quotable (the reason I almost always include a quote in my reviews), and Lost Lake definitely qualifies. There were so many phrases and lines that I wanted to remember!

3. Charming Setting
One of my favorite things about Allen's books are the Southern elements. Although there are magical parts to all of her stories, the settings still feel so realistic and real. I've noted before in books set in the South that I hate when its culture is portrayed as stereotypical or cliche. The South certainly has aspects that make it unique, but I hate when it seems obvious that an author isn't writing from personal knowledge or experience.

Thankfully, it's evident that Allen knows the world she's depicting in her books. It's recognizable! She captures certain things about Southern charm that leave me just delighted while I'm reading her books. Lost Lake is set in Suley, Georgia, which is a fictional city in my home state. And while I know this place doesn't exist, it definitely feels like it could!

4. Colorful Characters
Finally, the characters! Lost Lake had a large cast of characters who were important to the story. Compared to her previous books, there may not have been as much depth to the characters because of the sheer number of them… but it really didn't bother me. Even though you only briefly get to know some of the characters, I thought they were all distinguishable from one another. They had distinct personalities, and I was never confused about who they were while I was reading.

One thing I love about Allen's characters is that you may only barely get to know them, and yet they feel as though they could star in their own book if Allen ever chose to flesh them out more. They all have their own history that you may not learn in the book, but you are still able to see hints of it throughout. They are so quirky and colorful, but it's not the kind of quirky where a character is just defined by one random trait.

In short, I think it's pretty easy to see that I highly recommend Lost Lake - as well as all of Sarah Addison Allen's previous books. I found this one completely charming, and it was the perfect pick-me-up in the middle of a winter that feels like it's never going to end.

So Quotable
"After you finish a book, the story still goes on in your mind. You can never change the beginning. But you can always change the end."

"If we measured life in the things that almost happened, we wouldn't get anywhere."

March 18, 2014

Books Blossoming This Spring

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!

Y'all, for the first time in the history of all of these seasonal to read lists, I read every single book that was on my winter TBR. That's right: all ten books. I couldn't wait for the spring list to roll around because I was itching to give myself a new goal. I hope I'm just as successful with this list!

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR


1. One Plus One by Jojo Moyes - Listen, it's Jojo Moyes. You better believe I'm going to read it and soak up every word! I've loved the two books I've read by Moyes so far, and I can't wait to spend some more time with her backlist. Until then, I'm sure I'll be fangirling over this upcoming release!

2. The Girls of the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine - This book caught my eye on NetGalley, and I finally caved and requested it! This is both historical fiction and a re-telling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale. I really adore this cover, so I hope I enjoy the story inside, too.


3. Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall - I put this book on Cassie's radar, and then I ended up asking for a copy for Christmas. I love the cover and description, and the sample I read seems so good, too. Cassie kept holding off on reading it until warmer weather, so I ended up just following suit. Now is the time! 

4. Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson - Despite being from the South, I've actually never read anything by Joshilyn Jackson! I'm excited to finally experience her work with this one, which I picked up in a Kindle sale not that long ago. I think Cass and I will be reading this one for Favorite Factor, so this one is almost guaranteed to get crossed off my list!

5. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd - I had no intention of buying this book, but I sat down at Barnes & Noble with it one day and couldn't leave without. There was something about the narrator's voice that just sucked me in, and I knew the book had to go home with me. It hasn't sat on my shelf for that long, but it still keeps calling to me to pick it up!

6. The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan - My mom bought me this book last summer while on vacation, and I don't know why I didn't read it right away. I haven't read anything by Sullivan, but something about this book just really appealed to me. Maybe it was the cover?! I can't wait to find out how I'll feel about it!


7. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers - I've been on a re-reading kick lately, which is just perfect because I really need to re-read Grave Mercy before picking up this book. I totally loved the historical fantasy combination, and I pre-ordered Dark Triumph and then never got around to reading it. Why?!

8. The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas - I am totally in love with this series, and I bought the e-novellas. I just didn't prioritize them, and there's something about this gorgeous hardcover that has me itching to dive in. I'm so excited to find out what happened prior to Throne of Glass... and I have a feeling I'm going to end up wanting to continue on after this one and re-read the next two!

9. Across the Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund - I really loved For Darkness Shows the Stars, and ended up pre-ordering this one because I couldn't wait for its release. And again... it's just sitting on my shelf. It's kind of embarrassing how many books fall into that category! Either way, I'm looking forward to revisiting this world.

10. A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller - As a historical fiction lover, I've always got an eye out for new titles that strike my fancy. This one seems like something I'm going to love, and I really hope it lives up to my expectations. I've heard great things so far, so that's promising!

March 17, 2014

We Started This Thing Together

Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

Release Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Teen
Pages: 400 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: Under the Never Sky #3
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Their love and their leadership have been tested. Now it's time for Perry and Aria to unite the Dwellers and the Outsiders in one last desperate attempt to bring balance to their world.

The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe-haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do - and they are just as determined to stay together.

Meanwhile, time is running out to rescue Cinder, who was abducted by Hess and Sable for his unique abilities. And when Roar returns to camp, he is so furious with Perry that he won't even look at him, and Perry begins to feel like they have already lost.

Out of options, Perry and Aria assemble a team to mount an impossible rescue mission - because Cinder isn't just the key to unlocking the Still Blue and their only hope for survival, he's also their friend. And in a dying world, the bonds between people are what matter most.

Thoughts on Into the Still Blue
I think this is one of the first series conclusions where I truly felt like I was able to confidently say that I think most fans of this series will be pleased by the ending Rossi has written. That's not to say it isn't an emotional or heart-breaking journey getting there, but I do feel like Rossi delivers an ending that's true to everything she wrote up this point. While there will always be readers who are disappointed in a series finale, I think this is one of the stronger endings I've read recently.

It had been almost a year since I read Under the Never Sky and Through the Ever Night, so I decided to re-read the first two books before diving into this one. I'm really glad that I did because it totally got me invested in these characters and their journey. Sometimes I forget how much I loved the previous books in a series when a lot of time has passed before I read the final book. If possible, I enjoy re-reading leading up to the series ending - not because I can't remember what happened but because I'm more invested in the story when I do.

There have been so many polarizing series endings in YA lately, and it was refreshing to read a complete series that felt so strong, so consistent and so readable. I can see so many readers falling in love with these books! Into the Still Blue picks up where Through the Ever Night ends, and you're immediately thrown into the high-stakes race to find the Still Blue. What I really appreciate about these books is the way the plot had a lot of action but there was still so much emotion in the story. Rossi doesn't sacrifice one for the other, and I was so pleased that she managed to use the plot to highlight the characters' growth and their emotional ties. It's not just about the what because the who matters, too.

One of the strengths in this series are the well-developed characters and their relationships with one another. These characters felt so believable and realistic, even in this science fiction-y setting. I loved Aria and Perry's relationship, as well as her friendship with Roar. There is a lot of pain, grief and heartache in this book, but I also felt so hopeful reading it because I felt like these three would always be there for one another. Even when the characters are fighting or distanced, there's still that feeling that they have such solid relationships.

There were a few things about this plot that dragged just a bit for me, but I still felt like it was an enjoyable read. It didn't blow me away, but I was pleased by how it all wrapped up. Into the Still Blue was a fitting goodbye to these characters I'd come to love, and I felt like Rossi had an overall vision for her story the entire time she was writing. I think that's one reason I really appreciate this series - it's so consistent across all three books (a difficult thing to accomplish). If you loved the first two books, I think you'll enjoy this bittersweet conclusion! It's not my favorite YA series ever, but I can see myself recommending this so many readers.

So Quotable
"What I was trying to say," he whispered, "is that I see you in everything. There isn't a word for you that means enough, because you're everything to me."

March 13, 2014

Across the Divide

The Housemaid's Daughter by Barbara Mutch

Release Date: December 2013
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Press
Pages: 416 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
When Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa, she knows that she does not love the man she is to marry there - her fiancé Edward, whom she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in the small town in the harsh Karoo desert, her only real companions are her diary and her housemaid, and later the housemaid's daughter, Ada. When Ada is born, Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own family. Under Cathleen's tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide. As they grow closer, Ada sees new possibilities in front of her - a new horizon. But in one night, everything changes, and Cathleen comes home from a trip to find that Ada has disappeared, scorned by her own community. Cathleen must make a choice: should she conform to society, or search for the girl who has become closer to her than her own daughter?

Set against the backdrop of a beautiful, yet divided land, The Housemaid's Daughter is a startling and thought-provoking novel that intricately portrays the drama and heartbreak of two women who rise above cruelty to find love, hope, and redemption.

Thoughts on The Housemaid's Daughter
Cassie gifted me a copy of The Housemaid's Daughter for Christmas, and I was thrilled because it sounded right up my alley! I mean, first of all, the cover is gorgeous. And then that summary! It sounded like it was written just for me: early 1900s, woman leaving her home, South Africa, a secret diary, a relationship with mother-daughter qualities...

Here's my biggest issue with The Housemaid's Daughter - the cover and summary are really misleading. I kept wondering if the cover designer and copywriter had even read the book in question! It's not that I didn't like what the book was actually about, but it was so not what I was expecting that I had a hard time overcoming my confusion and frustration about that fact.

For example, I have no idea who that white woman on the cover is supposed to be. Possibly Cathleen - the woman who sounds like the novel's heroine based on the description? Maybe. But, to be honest, she plays such a minor, almost inconsequential role in the book. This isn't Cathleen's story at all. Instead, the story is narrated by and focuses on the daughter of Cathleen's housemaid. The Housemaid's Daughter is a fitting title, so it's a shame the book wasn't marketed in a way that accurately conveyed its contents.

The young black girl, named Ada, gains an education and becomes an accomplished musician through her place in the household, which leaves her caught in a precarious place in South African society. She isn't white, but she doesn't really fit in the black community either. This conflict is important because the majority of the book takes place during apartheid, which was a system of legalized racial segregation that took place in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Again, the cover implies it's going to be a different time period and story completely. I actually enjoyed reading about this time period, but I felt like there was one weakness in the book that I just couldn't get past enough to fall in love with it:

Everything in the book - from the characters to the plot - felt very surface level to me. There wasn't a lot of emotional depth or heart in what I was reading, if that makes sense. I'm not sure if it's because the book covers such a long span of time (resulting in the book just skimming the surface of some events) or if it was just because I, personally, was finding it hard to connect to the characters or the story. There are some really difficult, painful things that are mentioned in this book, but it never really felt like it was fully fleshed out.

Ada wasn't a memorable character, despite the number of memorable things that occur in her life. She seemed so naive, so unconnected from reality, that it made it hard for me to get really invested in her story. And I'm not really sure that it accurately reflects what a black woman would have thought and felt during this time period. I don't think an author has to look like their characters in order to write them. Plenty of women write amazing male characters and vice versa. But have you ever read a book where a man is writing from a female perspective and something just seems a bit off? Like you're too aware of the fact that you're reading a man's take on a woman? I felt like that at times during The Housemaid's Daughter - that it was a white woman's version of the black perspective during this time period.

For me, this book was best when it was describing the setting. I thought Mutch really made South Africa come alive. I loved the descriptive way she wrote about the places, and I could picture it all so well! This was definitely my favorite thing about The Housemaid's Daughter.

Overall, I liked the book but don't think it really lived up to its potential. There are some beautiful things about the writing, but the one-dimensional characters and lack of depth kept me from really connecting to the story. I liked the themes it set out to explore, but it needed an infusion of emotion and more complexity in the characters to really elevate the story and sweep me away.

So Quotable
"And I remind myself that wherever one finds oneself, home and love is lent to each of us only for a while. We must care for it while it's ours, and cherish its memory once it's gone."

March 12, 2014

Love In A Hopeless Place


The Bronze HorsemanTatiana and Alexander and The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons

Release Date: 
September 2009 (orig. 2000) | July 2010 (orig. January 2003) | June 2011 (orig. 2006)
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 810 pages | 559 pages | 752 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Series: The Bronze Horseman #1-3
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary of The Bronze Horseman (from Goodreads)
The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their bother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler's armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.

Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander's impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects, a secret as devastating as the war itself, as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.

Thoughts on The Bronze Horseman (Spoiler Free!)
I've already written a bit on my love for The Bronze Horseman in my The Favorite Factor: Giveaway Edition post. I first heard about this book when Lorren reviewed it and later bought the Kindle copy when it was on sale. For some reason, I just let it sit around unread. When Kelly started book pushing it, I figured it was time that I finally give this book a shot. I started it on a day when I didn't have work because of snow... and finished it that evening. Yep, I read all 810 pages in one day. It was EPIC!

I'm planning on talking about this book (and the series overall) in a new review feature that I'm working on with Kelly, but I thought it was still worth writing up my brief thoughts on this series. As a huge fan of historical fiction, I was already predisposed to like this book. I haven't read much set in Russia, and I really loved learning about what the country experienced during WWII. Most of the fiction I've read during that time period is set in countries like Germany / England / France, so it was nice to read about it from a new setting.

There was so much I loved about this book - the characters who are unlikeable and selfish at times but also loyal and loving, the harsh reality of the setting, the constant struggle to survive, the descriptiveness of the writing, and the emotions this story evoked. But it's also not the book for everyone. Simons revels in descriptions, in angst, in painful barriers that keep the couple apart. I actually think you'll be able to tell early on in the story if this book will work for you. If you're bored in the beginning, you're probably not going to love the rest of it. 

All that being said, I truly debated on how to rate this one. I'd expected to give it my highest rating, but I've really it's not actually going to fall into that category. I read this book while texting Kelly the whole time, and I think I would have been more critical of certain things in it if I was reading it on my own. For example, there's a section of this book that I basically skipped over because of its sexual content. I don't personally like when that is a large part of a book, and it's the one thing I felt took up way too many pages without contributing much at all to the actual plot in this book. 

However, I did fall in love with this story while I was reading it! There's a lot of drama, but I was totally hooked the entire time. It was the perfect read to pass a snowy day.
Thoughts on Tatiana and Alexander (Spoiler Free!)
Once you've finished The Bronze Horseman, you'll be racing to read book two as soon as possible! Well, you will if you loved the first book. And you'll be pleased to know that this is a wonderful companion that I do recommend!

This book picks up after the ending of The Bronze Horseman, which I promise not to spoil for you. So, what do you need to know about book two? Well, Tatiana and Alexandra is more Alexander's story than Tatiana's (although she does have her own part). There are flashbacks to his life growing up, which I annoyed me at first (I just wanted to get back to the story at hand) but ultimately added depth to his character. I liked being able to learn more about him and find out who he was, what mattered to him, etc. It was nice to see him on his own - and not just through Tatiana's eyes!

There was a lot less drama and angst in this book, and more of a focus on the historical fiction elements. It felt more focused and less indulgent, which I appreciated since there were a few too many moments in the first book that just didn't contribute to the overall story or plot. The only thing that annoyed me in this one? There was a part of this book that just re-hashed the events of the first book. In something this long, that felt out-of-place and frustrating since I'd just finished The Bronze Horseman. As much as I loved it, I didn't need to read about it all over again.

The ending to Tatiana and Alexander was perfect! It was resolved and hopeful, which is a great after how much heartache takes place in its pages. I recommend concluding this series with this book because I don't recommend the final book at all. It was a terrible ending for a series I really loved up to that point, so I'm happy to say that you can happily end here without any cliffhangers or unresolved story lines.
Thoughts on The Summer Garden (Spoiler Free!)
Okay, I've got to be completely honest: I absolutely hated this book. And I mean passionately hated. I cannot think of a worse series ending, and I would not have continued reading this book if I hadn't been reading it with Kelly. Y'all, it was bad... like possibly one of the worst books I've ever read levels of horrible.

After researching a little online, Kelly and I discovered that Simons originally intended for the series to be two books and included an epilogue in Tatiana and Alexandra (which was previously titled The Bridge to Holy Cross). I'm not sure why Simons decided to continue with the series, but I think it's so unfortunate that she did choose to do so with this book as her ending.

The Summer Garden takes everything you've come to know and love about the characters... and abolishes it. The characters become the worst versions of themselves: selfish, hateful, mean, cold, abusive and completely disconnected from one another. I am, truthfully, astonished at the number of five-star reviews this book has received. I wasn't rooting for these characters at any point in time because I was too busy being completely disgusted by them. I think you can have beloved characters make mistakes if you're then able to redeem them, but that didn't happen in this book. Actions were justified, excuses made, things overlooked... it was almost painful for me to read this book because I was so angry about what was happening. I realize I haven't written anything about what does happen, but that's because I don't even want to revisit it or try to explain how miserable this was to read.

This book glorifies a relationship that is the complete opposite of loving or healthy. There is not a single part of me that would hand someone this book and call it a love story. A train wreck? Sure. But a love story? HELL NO. I could rant FOR DAYS about all the things I disliked in this book and how confused I am by how it's rated as favorably as the first two books. Frankly, I'm pissed that it even says "A Love Story" on the cover.

Let me rant for a second: love is not just an emotion but an action, too. Feelings can change, shift and sway... they aren't the basis for real love. Real, true love that deserves to be celebrated is seen in actions. And there is a reason people say actions speak louder than words. The kind of love that I want to celebrate is when it's sacrificial and willing to put someone else's needs first. This book made me so mad because I hate that anyone would read this and would call it "love." What an insult to that word!

All of that being said, I do not recommend this book. Not even a little bit. Stop after book two!

March 11, 2014

And Though She Be But Little

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!

Sometimes, topics like this week's are a real challenge for me. They are so open - with so many choices available - that it's hard for me to choose something that I can easily narrow down to just ten books and not seem completely repetitive from week to week. So, I thought it would be fun to focus my list a little more instead of just choosing a genre. And that's how I ended up with:

Top Ten Favorite (Childhood) Classics With Young Heroines


1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 
Orphaned, spoiled, prickly little Mary Lennox. She's the kind of heroine that you just want to shake but also just really love. She moves to Misselthwaite Manor after the death of her parents, and who could expect the change she'll bring to the place? The garden Mary discovers slowly becomes a place of beauty - a transformation that takes place in the hearts of the characters, too.

2. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I like Mary Lennox, but I love Sara Crewe. I have to be honest and tell you that part of it is probably because I adore the movie version of this book. Just like with books, I rarely cry when watching movies. But something about this movie makes me cry every single time I watch, even though I know the tearjerker moment is coming. So, I think that's made me love this book just a little bit more. Either way, I love this story about a girl who becomes destitute after the death of her father but manages to retain her cheerful spirit despite her loss. 

3. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Does this one count? I think it does because Fern is important in the story, even if Wilbur and Charlotte kind of steal the show. Only a book like this could make me love three things I'm inclined to dislike in real life: spiders, pigs and rats. I love this story of friendship! This was a favorite growing up, and I keep meaning to sit down for a long overdue re-read.

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I first read this book in high school, and I absolutely fell in love with Francie Nolan. She felt real to me! This coming-of-age tale just worked its way into my heart, and I've had a soft spot for it ever since. I love how it can be both utterly heartbreaking and absolutely delightful. And I can't even tell you how many things I highlighted in it! Seeing Francie discover the world around her and face the harsh reality of it just felt so honest and relatable. Even though my childhood was nothing like hers, there was something about this book that makes you feel like you understand Francie. I love the hope that infuses this book!

5. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I read this book for the first time in 2012, and I was completely amazed by the fact that I hadn't read it before. It was so up my alley - how did I miss this growing up?! Written as Cassandra Mortmain's journal, I fell in love with her voice and the way she described the world and people around her. As I wrote in my review: "She charms you and disarms you with her thoughtful (and often comical reflections)." It's a book that I wasn't sure whether I should be happy I finally discovered it or mad that it took me so long to find it! Either way, I can't get enough of I Capture the Castle and see myself re-reading for years to come.

6. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This was never my favorite of the Little House books, but I think you've got to start with the first in the series for a list like this one. What little girl didn't grow up reading about Pa, Ma, Laura, her sisters, and Almonzo? Okay, I know plenty of people didn't read these as a child, but they definitely seem like rite of passage reads. I loved how aspects of history came alive through the pages of these books! Homesteading seemed so adventurous but also so dangerous, and I loved this little family so much for the way they faced all the challenges that came their way.

7. The Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace 
I didn't remember this series as clearly as the Little House and Anne books, so I decided to re-read them all again last year. To say that I fell in love would be a total understatement! This is a ten-book series, and I actually like the later books (when Betsy is in high school and beyond) better than the first four. But I figured I should highlight the series beginning in this post! Anyway, Betsy Ray is one of the best heroines - flawed but admirable - surrounded by an amazing family and incredibly friends. Also, Joe Willard. DUH.

8. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Listen, you should have expected to see Anne Shirley on this list. I cannot get enough of this character! This is one of the books (and series) that made me reader growing up, and I love returning to this feisty heroine again and again. I know so many people who only read the first book, but I really love the entire series. It's so wonderful to watch Anne grow up! I think this is probably my favorite series ever, so you should definitely check them out if you haven't already fallen for this red-headed snippet!

9. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery 
Okay, I'm totally cheating with this book! Majorly. Valancy Stirling is 29, and her "old age" is one of the things that precipitates the novel's action. So, she's not a young heroine, but this is my list and I wanted to push this book... so you'll have to get over it. Aside from the Anne books, this is probably my favorite book by Montgomery. It's such an excellent read, and I wish it got more attention! This has long been one of my favorite books from Montgomery, and I can't recommend it enough.

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I think this is the perfect book to wrap up this list! I'm never sure if I read the book or saw the movie first. Sometimes, I think I must have seen the movie first because I remember being surprised by some of the things that happen in this classic novel. It's not because the movie changed stuff, but I just remember reading it and thinking that things are fleshed out so much more over the many pages in this book. These four sisters were some of my very favorites, and I know it's one of the reasons I love reading stories involving sisters even today. There's such a richness in that relationship!

March 10, 2014

Sweetness at the Supermarket

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Release Date: December 2012 (originally January 2010)
Publisher: Random House | Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 243 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
"Miss Amelia Hayes, welcome to The Land of Dreams. I am the staff trainer. I will call you grasshopper and you will call me sensei and I will give you the good oil. Right? And just so you know, I'm open to all kinds of bribery."

From the moment 15-year-old Amelia begins work on the checkout at Woolworths she is sunk, gone, lost... head-over-heels in love with Chris. Chris is the funny, charming, man-about-Woolies, but he's 21, and the 6-year difference in their ages may as well be 100. Chris and Amelia talk about everything from Second Wave Feminism to Great Expectations and Alien but will he ever look at her in the way she wants him to? And if he does, will it be everything she hopes?

Brief Thoughts on Love and Other Perishable Items
Unlike a lot of U.S. readers, I actually read Buzo's novel Holier Than Thou long before this one. I did a book swap with the kind and lovely Mandee, which is how I was able to read it since it hasn't been published in the U.S. yet. Anyway, I liked Love and Other Perishable Items (published as Good Oil in Australia) but didn't enjoy it the way I did Holier Than Thou. I never reviewed Holier Than Thou for some reason, which is too bad because I can't even tell you what I liked better about it!

I really enjoyed the main character, Amelia Hayes, and liked spending time with her. She's got a lot of growing up left to do but is also mature for her age in other respects. I liked that about her! There's an intensity to her that felt unique, and I appreciated that she seemed like a realistic teenager while also being a bit different from her peers. Chris, on the other hand, kind of frustrated me. But, at the same time, I liked that Amelia sees on side of him and there's another side that's revealed through his journal entries. Both characters had depth and complexity.

I found myself smiling at the way the book depicted having a crush on someone who is unattainable for some reason. In this case, it's due to age. There is just something about those hopeless crushes, and I felt Buzo really captured the emotion well. Those aspects to the story - the wanting someone you can't have, the feelings you can develop without really knowing someone that well - totally worked for me. And I liked the ending being open-ended. Buzo did something similar in Holier Than Thou, which I definitely remembered when I finished this one.

So why is it just okay for me? I can't quite put my finger on it. It was fun and cute, but it also seemed like nothing really happened. It's a very dialogue-heavy book, and I think I needed just a bit more to really fall in love with the book. It seemed like there wasn't anything really driving the story. I kept thinking about how I felt about Holier Than Thou while I reading this one, and it just came up a bit short in comparison.

So Quotable
"She even takes the goings-on of fictitious characters personally."
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