July 31, 2014

Series Speed Date: Round #3

This section will cover any key details about the series.

Released: 2012 | 2013 | 2014
Publisher: Macmillan | Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Pages: 356 pages | 432 pages | 417 pages
What do these covers say about this series?

I'm not usually crazy about fantasy covers (I think it's one reason I used to avoid the genre), but I love the covers for this series. They are just gorgeous! I love how you can tell that they're fantasy, but they also have that Old World look to them with the unique lettering. They definitely hint at the story's Russian setting with the castle, and I love that it's repeated on all three books. I didn't understand the significance of the antlers, sea creature or bird until I read the book, but I can now say they pair perfectly with the stories inside. Check out this article on designing these covers if you love them, too!

Based on the summary, what can you expect going into this series?

I have to laugh at the fact that all three of the series I've now featured in "Series Speed Date" are fantasy series. I'm pretty sure I'm going to sound like a broken record in this section because I'll admit that I wasn't really drawn to the summary of Shadow and Bone. The whole darkness + "crawling with monsters" definitely put me off these books! But, as I kept reading, I could tell there was going to be a powerful heroine and a coming-of-age story... and I do love those aspects. Plus, two boys mentioned meant I was probably guaranteed some romance. YES! Honestly, the summary really does tell you exactly what to expect: a dark and threatening setting, a girl trying to understand her own power and some verrrry intriguing boys.

What are some highlights of the series?

A brave, fierce and occasionally frustrating heroine.
A loyal, talented and kind best friend. 
A dark, powerful and vicious leader. 
A charming, surprising and smart privateer.
An intriguing and delightful cast of secondary characters.
A battle for control that's been years in the making.
A world torn apart by war, driven to desperation and grasping at any hope.
A controlled, useful magic... and a darker, more sinister power.
A nation's fate resting with one girl searching for the tools she needs to defeat the darkness.  
A romance that leaves you guessing and swooning.

How will you feel closing the last page?

Oh man, Ruin and Rising was intense! I didn't see half of it coming, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent reading it. There were so many twists and turns, and my emotions were all over the place. I was cheering one minute and then anxiously gripping the pages the next. Personally, I loved the way it ended! It wasn't necessarily the ending I expected, but I thought it was so fitting. I closed the book feeling both satisfied and exhausted. The book is consistent with the rest of the series, so the only thing that may cause mixed reactions is how the romance is resolved.

Summing up this series in just three words?

Romance. Risk. Revolution. 

Is this series worth your time?

I really loved this series! If I was rating these on my normal scale, they would all get a So Loved It rating. They weren't perfect reads, but I absolutely couldn't put them down. I binge read them all within a few days, and I'm so glad I didn't have to wait to find out what would happen. Bardugo excels at action, setting and tone. All three elements were just spot on in these books! The only thing that kept these from being perfection for me? I wasn't totally invested in the characters or their emotional journeys the whole time I was reading, but it was a minor complaint overall and doesn't seem to be the case for most readers.

July 30, 2014

What Kind of Life Will You Build?

Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

Release Date:
 1950
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Perennial
Pages: 336 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Series: Deep Valley (companion to Betsy-Tacy series)
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Emily Webster, an orphan living with her grandfather, is not like the other girls her age in Deep Valley, Minnesota. After graduation, she longs to join the Crowd and go off to college - but she can't leave her grandfather alone at home. Resigning herself to a "lost winter," Emily nonetheless throws herself into a new program of study and a growing interest in the local Syrian community. And when she meets a handsome new teacher at the high school, Emily gains more than she ever dreamed possible.

Maud Hart Lovelace's only young adult stand-alone novel, Emily of Deep Valley is considered by fans of her beloved Betsy-Tacy series to be one of the author's finest works.

Thoughts on Emily of Deep Valley
I've talked before about my love for Maud Hart Lovelace. I re-read the Betsy-Tacy series last summer, and I forgot just how much I loved these characters and the town of Deep Valley, Minnesota. There's something special about returning to childhood favorites and finding that they've gotten even better with age. I felt like I was able to appreciate the books in a new way because I was looking at them through the lens of all I've experienced since I first read them.

While I'd previously read the Betsy-Tacy books, I had not read any of the three companions: Winona and the Pony Cart, Carney and the House Party and Emily of Deep Valley. I reviewed the first two earlier this year, but I didn't really feel like either one captured the magic of the Betsy-Tacy books. And then I met Emily! Carney and Winona were secondary characters in the Betsy-Tacy books, but I don't ever remember meeting Emily before.

Emily is an orphan being raised by her grandfather, and she's not really like the other girls her age. She doesn't belong to any group the way that the other girls do, and she exists a little on the fringes. Her life isn't as carefree as theirs - she doesn't have the time or money to join in on their fun. Emily may not belong to the Crowd, but she loves school. She longs to go off to college, but she knows that she can't leave her grandfather alone. He's cared for her for years, and it's her turn to do the same for him.

I can't even tell you how much I loved Emily. There's something so admirable about her - willing to be different and aware and accepting of her responsibility. She finds herself growing a bit depressed, and it's sad watching her struggle to find her place. Despite feeling that she doesn't fit in, Emily starts to find friends that understand her and a community that presents her with a new opportunity. I don't want to say much about what happens because I think it's better left for readers to discover on their own.

Either way, I loved Emily's story. She finds her purpose and a love interest, and I love how Lovelace introduces a few romantic possibilities. You're not really sure who Emily will end up with for a while! I loved how Betsy did come into the story and in the most perfect way. Ultimately, this is my favorite of the three companion books. I related to Emily at times, and I was rooting for her to find her way in the world. Watching her growth was such a joy! This was a great addition to the Deep Valley books, and I know I'll re-read this book again and again. And I hope to one day have a daughter to share these stories with - they seem like books that would be wonderful read aloud and discussed.

So Quotable
"You've discovered, I see, that we have to build our lives out of what materials we have. It's as though we were given a heap of blocks and told to build a house..."

July 29, 2014

Am I Collecting Copies?

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 Authors I Own the Most Books From

A few weeks ago, I confessed to the fact that "I own multiple copies of many of my favorite books." You probably thought that I meant maybe one or two authors with multiple copies of their books. You're about to see that my problem is so much worse...

I've listed the author, the number of books I own by them and the breakdown by format (physical, Kindle, audiobook). If you're curious, I've also listed each individual book, linked to it on Goodreads and noted if I own more than one copy of it. All you see pictured are the physical copies, obviously.


1. L.M. Montgomery (45) | All Physical Copies


2. Jane Austen (36) | 35 Physical Copies + 1 Audiobook


3. Robin Jones Gunn (34) | All Physical Copies


4. J.K. Rowling (31) | 17 Physical Copies, 7 Kindle Copies and 7 Audiobooks


5. Melina Marchetta (17) | 7 Physical Copies, 6 Kindle Copies and 4 Audiobooks


6. Dee Henderson (16) | All Physical Copies
7. Maud Hart Lovelace (13) | All Physical Copies

8. Laini Taylor (12) | 6 Physical Copies, 3 Audiobooks and 3 Kindle Copies
9. Denise Hildreth Jones (9) | All Physical Copies

10. Sarah J. Maas (9) | 5 Physical Copies, 3 Kindle Copies and 1 Audiobook

July 28, 2014

Through the Ancient Stone

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Release Date: January 1991
Publisher: Random House | Dell
Pages: 896 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle e-book
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the way and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon - when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach - an "outlander" - in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord... 1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intriuges and dangers that may threaten her life... and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire... and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Thoughts on Outlander
Oh, Outlander. The book that has a thousand fans and that sparks a thousand opinions. I started this book with Kelly from Belle of the Literati because we've decided to tackle some chunky books together after reading our experience with Paullina Simon's books earlier this year. I ended up devouring this book in two days, and I think Kelly had to set it down for a while. So, alas, we didn't get to have ALL THE EPIC DISCUSSIONS.

There were things I loved about this book, and a few things that I absolutely loathed. It's not often that a book inspires such intense feelings for me on complete opposite ends of the spectrum.

Let's start with what I loved:

The Premise / Plot
It's 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is going on her second honeymoon with her husband, Frank. And then, the unexplainable happens. Claire touches one of the ancient stones circles found throughout the British Isles, and she's transported back in time to 1743. Believing at first that she's stumbled upon a movie set, Claire is in for a rude awakening when she finally realizes just what's going on. She's come to Scotland at a terrible time - the country is torn by war and fraught with danger.

I've only read a few time travel books, and I really enjoyed the idea that a woman from 1945 could suddenly find herself in 1743. As a huge historical fiction lover, it was fun to imagine what it might be like if I was able to actually visit the past. Claire has to make a lot of adjustments and learn quickly how to disguise herself so that it's not obvious she's from the future.

The Characters
While Claire can occasionally make some really stupid decisions, I did really enjoy her. She's not the most emotional character, which I thought was nice. I sometimes like the stubborn, stoic ones! That being said, she certainly has her moments. I wanted her to stop getting herself into trouble, but I found her sass refreshing.

JAMIE. I would read this book over and over again for Jamie alone. Everyone talks about him, but I had no idea just how great of a character he was going to turn out to be! He's strong but sensitive, and he was such a great hero in the book. I loved his humor and fierce loyalty, as well as the way he protected Claire (sometimes from her own stupidity).

Then, what I liked (for the most part):

The Romance
This is obviously a love story, and I was certainly rooting for these characters. I loved the way their relationship really started out of necessity and then blossomed into something more as they got to know one another. That aspect was really enjoyable! As for what I didn't like, there were too many sex scenes in here for me. I wanted it to be more historical fiction and less romance at times, but that's my personal preference. I assume most readers liked that component, but I'm not a fan of lots of sex in my reading.

Finally, what I loathed:

The Beating
I won't say what sparks this or who it involves, but I was definitely frustrated by this scene. I tried to tell myself that it was probably historically accurate, but this was one element that's hard to stomach from a modern perspective. I particularly hated it because I liked the character who was doing it, so it was something I had to mentally "get over" in order to continue to enjoy said character.

The Rape
Oh my gosh. This absolutely ruined the ending of the book for me. I was really loving it up to this point, and then everything kind of fell apart. It would have been right at 4.5 stars if not for this storyline. I honest to goodness did not need the amount of detail that was shared, and I totally skimmed quite a few pages. The aftermath of this storyline was also so frustrating and just ended the book on a downer. I understand that seeing someone brought to their lowest point can make for an interesting character study, but this felt gratuitous. It wasn't just the fact that it happened - it was more the amount of detail shared about it.

In summary:

Outlander really was an epic read! From the time travel to the love story, I was hooked and couldn't put it down. The first 75% of the book would probably get a So Loved It rating from me, but the last 25% really dropped it to more of a So Over It. I really hate that the ending soured the rest of the book for me! That being said, I'm giving it a rating that's about a 4 since the majority of the book worked for me. I am unsure, however, if I want to continue the series. Gabaldon kind of worries me, y'all!

So Quotable
"For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough."

July 25, 2014

My Life Would Suck Without You


Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 449 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Amazon)
Before Sloane, Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, and she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—someone who yanks you out of your shell.

But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list with thirteen bizarre tasks that Emily would never try. But what if they can lead her to Sloane?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Wait... what?

Getting through Sloane’s list will mean a lot of firsts, and with a whole summer ahead of her—and with the unexpected help of the handsome Frank Porter—who knows what she’ll find.

Go skinny dipping? Um...

Thoughts on Since You've Been Gone
I was excited about this book from the moment I saw it because I love friendship stories, especially in YA. I feel like there's often more stories about mean girls, girls without any solid female friends, or girls who are currently fighting or having issues with their best friend. Those are all fine because goodness knows that's realistic, but I often long for stories where best friends have each other's backs. So, I was pumped about the release of this book!

Sloane and Emily are inseparable. They're always together, and Emily wouldn't want it any other way. Before Sloane, she didn't really fit in: no parties, no boyfriends, no crazy adventures. But Sloane is the complete opposite, and she pulls Emily into her whirlwind of activity and that's just fine with Emily. Then, Sloane disappears without a trace.

She's not answering her phone, and no one is at the house. Where did she go, and why did she leave without saying a word? The girls were supposed to have an epic summer, but now Emily feels lost and abandoned. The only word from Sloane is a note with thirteen tasks for Emily to complete, and task lists had been one of their traditions whenever Emily traveled. Something is different about this one, but Emily is convinced that the key to finding Sloane is completing the list.

I really loved this book, even though it wasn't quite what I expected. I didn't realize that Sloane was going absent throughout the book, aside from some flashbacks. I'd read the summary, but I thought for sure she'd make an appearance early on. So, Since You've Been Gone is a friendship story, yes, but it's not really Emily and Sloane's story. Emily begins to make new friends in Sloane's absence, and I loved seeing that happen. Emily doesn't really know who she is without Sloane, and the list becomes a way of pushing her into new things. I may have gone into the book wanting to fall in love with Sloane and Emily's friendship, but I ended up being completely charmed by the other secondary characters who fill in the gaps.

Since You've Been Gone really was a delight to read. I could relate to Emily in some ways - I'm not the most adventurous person and have always been scared to try new things. I love when I find friends who force me to break out a bit and live more boldly. Is it weird to say I love a book because I felt like I understand the main character so perfectly? I mean, Matson's writing is always wonderful and her characters always have complexity and depth to them... but what really made me love this book was Emily. I have felt like her more times than I care to admit - letting fear and insecurity hold me back. Seeing Emily's growth as she completed the tasks reminded me of those moments in my life when I had the courage to do the things that scared me.

I love also how fully Matson immerses you in this story. I mean, there are even playlists included in these pages! There were so many other moments where the dialogue just made me stop and laugh or characters referenced these little things that just made the world seem so real. I don't know how to explain it, but Matson really excels at the small details.

Since You've Been Gone was my third Morgan Matson, and she's now firmly on my list of favorite authors. From road trips to illness to friendship, she's proven that she can get me hooked on any of her stories. If you can't tell already, I obviously recommend this book!

So Quotable
“I don’t think you have to do something so big to be brave. And it’s the little things that are harder anyway.”

July 24, 2014

Shout or Secret?


Before I started blogging, I'd never heard the word "book pushing" and certainly wouldn't have done it. My friends and family have always known that I love to read, so it wasn't uncommon for them to ask me for book recommendations. While I was happy to offer suggestions, I rarely considered pushing the people in my life to read a book that I'd loved. 

I've written recently about how reading is an experience where your story merges with the one that you are reading - making it incredibly personal when you become invested in a book. I've read a few wonderful posts over the last few months about how difficult it can be to express how you felt about a book that you just enjoyed or simply liked... but what about those books that you loved?

As I've become more immersed in the world of blogging, I've realized that there's a little war that goes on inside me when I really love a book. I've looked for other readers to confess to this same feeling, but I haven't seen anyone articulate quite what goes through my mind when I find a book that works so perfectly for me.

Do I want to SHOUT about a book or keep it a SECRET?

I debate this question when I fall in love with a book. I don't always want to do one over the other. Sometimes, I'll immediately know which way I'm leaning. Other times, I want to do a little of both. Let me explain...

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical 
zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

Typically, I want to shout about books that I love when they feel refreshing and new - offering a different perspective on something, containing something that's been "missing" in a genre, representing the best of something that's become popular... And, most importantly, when I think it'll appeal to a range of readers.

As someone who reads a lot of adult fiction, I often lean toward shouting about an adult fiction book when I think will appeal to people who predominantly read YA. Furthermore, I'm more likely to shout when I think something deserves more attention or seems to have missed out on the hype machine.

If I think people may not hear about a book unless I shout about it, I try to make sure that I'm using my "voice" as effectively as possible. I'll begin suggesting it when asked for recommendations. I'll keep an eye out for opportunities to tell people about it. I'll write fangirl-y reviews or compose tweets meant to shine a light on the book that's stolen my heart. Sometimes, I just can't help myself!

A few examples of books I've "shouted" about: 
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent | Review
Open Road Summer by Emery Lord | Review
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsey McCabe | Review

"And then there are [...] books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal."
John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

But oh, how I want to keep beloved books a secret. I know, of course, that they aren't really a secret. Other readers will discover the worlds and characters that I've fallen in love with - and in some cases, I only found the book because of other readers shouting about it. I know that a book will find its way into thousands of hearts and homes, but some books become so special to me that I don't want to discuss them with anyone.

Typically, I want to keep a book a secret when I feel personally connected to it - a theme speaks to something that I've learned (or am currently learning) in my own life, a character (or several of them) feels so real to me, or it reminds me that I'm not alone in the way that I feel, think or see the world. When my story has become intertwined with the one in a book, I cannot separate the two enough to shout about it.

The more emotionally invested I am in a book, the less I want to tell anyone else about it. Because, in a way, it feels a bit too much like exposing a part of my heart. I'm never far from the awareness that it's fiction, but I do like to have a little spot inside where my feelings for certain books are untouched by the opinions of others.

However, as a blogger, I desperately want the books that I love to find their way into the hands of the right readers. It's the reason I still push myself to write about the books that feel more "secret" - because there's the chance that the book will affect someone else the way it did me. 

So, instead of shouting to the masses, I will start quietly suggesting the book to my closest friends and the bloggers I know with similar taste. My hope is that it will create a snowball effect: lots of people talking at a normal volume can get really loud, really fast. It lets me keep whispering about it to certain people and, if it strikes a chord with other readers, many of them will take up the shouting for me.

A few examples of books I've wanted to keep "secret:"
The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay | Review
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta | Review
Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer | Review
After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid | Review

Do you shout about the books you love or keep them a secret?
As a blogger, what do you do when you feel more secretive about a book?

July 23, 2014

"Well done, sister suffragette!"

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Release Date: January 23, 2014
Publisher: Penguin | Viking Juvenile
Pages: 448 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist - a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse - or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

Thoughts on A Mad, Wicked Folly
I love historical fiction, but I don't feel like I've read much of it in the young adult genre. So, I was really excited when A Mad, Wicked Folly got on my radar. It sounded exactly like the kind of book I would love! From art history to the suffragette movement, I had a good feeling about this book.

Victoria Darling is seventeen years old, and she wants nothing more than to be an artist. Unfortunately, it's an impossible dream for a girl - especially one from a wealthy family like hers. She's told to aspire to be nothing more than a wife and mother. Then, Vicky poses nude for an illicit art class. The daring act sends shock waves through her family and their friends when they find out what she's done. Her parents decide it's time for her to get married, but Vicky has other things in mind. Secretly, she applies to the Royal College of Art, starts participating in the suffragette movement... and finds that a working-class boy just might be her muse.

First of all, Vicky is my favorite kind of heroine. She's strong, sassy independent and so unconventional for the time period. Seeing the world through her eyes was such a delight! I love that she wanted to forge her own path but was also held back a little by her desire to remain in her parents' good graces. I thought her complicated relationship with her family was so realistic, and I really enjoyed that part of the book. It was interesting to compare her place in the family with that of her brother, and I thought Waller did a great job with that aspect.

I've never really been interested in art history personally, but I have read a number of books that involve the topic. When it's done right, it can be so fascinating! Thankfully, I felt like the role of art in A Mad, Wicked Folly was just perfect. I could feel Vicky's passion for it, and I was rooting for her to be able to follow her dreams. And her artistic muse? Helloooooooo, Will. I was a huge fan of him! He's adorable and charming - the perfect counterpoint to Vicky's brand-new fiancĂ©, Edmund.

The romance really isn't the focus in this book, which I appreciated. I'm glad there was one, especially with a boy as wonderful as Will, but I liked that Vicky's story was about a lot more than just falling in love. Selfishly, I did want just a little more of the love story angle, but that's only because Waller made me fall so in love with these two characters. Y'all, it's a slow-burn romance, and we all know those are pretty much my favorite kind ever. It also helped that Will exemplified my favorite "type" of book boy, but I'll make you read it to find out out for yourself which one (or more) he was!

Aside from the art and romance, the suffragette movement was the other big aspect in this book. I could tell throughout the story just how much research went into A Mad, Wicked Folly, but I think this part is where I saw it most. My knowledge of the suffragette movement in London is basically limited to the "Sister Suffragette" song in the Mary Poppins movie, which my siblings and I love to belt at the top of our lungs. But seriously, can we take a moment to appreciate this line: "Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they're rather stupid." Ha!

Anyway, I loved learning more about the suffragette movement! It made me want to read even more about it, and I always consider it a success when historical fiction sends me scurrying off to learn more about something discussed in its pages. There is a section at the end that includes additional background and highlights some of the research Waller did, and I loved that it was in there! It was so fascinating to read about these brave and courageous women and what they went through in their fight for their voice to be heard.

Basically, I loved this book! It made my list of favorite books so far in 2014, and I suspect it will still be on there at the end of the year. A Mad, Wicked Folly had everything I love in a book: fabulous characters, an intriguing story and great writing. Honestly, I cannot wait for more from Waller. I did some snooping online and found that she's got an as-yet untitled book slated for publication in Winter 2016. AHHHH! HOW WILL I WAIT THAT LONG? Guess I'll just have to re-read this one to hold me over until then.

So Quotable
"No one had ever given me such a kind and thoughtful gift before. I pictured Will going into the shop, looking over the books, and then discovering the very one he knew I would love. I even pictured him watching as the clerk wrapped the volume in brown paper. I wondered if the clerk had tied the green bow on it or if Will had gone into a notion shop and chosen it himself. These were all small things, but kindness was built of small things."

July 21, 2014

When to Hold On & When to Let Go

What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Release Date: April 15, 2014
Publisher: Penguin | Dial
Pages: 416 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
From the author of My Life Next Door comes a swoony summertime romance full of expectation and regret, humor and hard questions.

Gwen Castle's Biggest Mistake Ever, Cassidy Somers, is slumming it as a yard boy on her Nantucket-esque island this summer. He's a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners who keep the island's summer people happy. Gwen worries a life of cleaning houses will be her fate too, but just when it looks like she'll never escape her past—or the island—Gwen's dad gives her some shocking advice. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a gorgeous, restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true—about the place she lives, the people she loves, and even herself—with what really is.

Brief Thoughts on What I Thought Was True
Hmm... I read My Life Next Door last year, and I had somewhat mixed feelings about it. I loved the romance, and I adored the Garrett family dynamics. Things were going great for the first 3/4 of the book, and then there's this BIG EVENT that just threw me off. Everything was ultimately resolved, but it made the pacing uneven (leisurely for the better part of the book and then suddenly racing to resolution at the end).

So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I picked up What I Thought Was True. I'd seen some really amazing reviews for it, as well as some lukewarm ones (just like I'd noticed with My Life Next Door). The writing was just what I would expect from Fitzpatrick - there's something so special about the way she tells a story. I loved the descriptions of the setting, and I felt that she set the mood really well. Family plays a big role in this story, too, which I loved. I often feel like family relationships are way too absent from YA, so I'm always pleased to find a great example of a character whose family plays an active role in their life.

Unfortunately, however, I had some big issues with the actual story. I felt like nothing happened for a majority of the book. Some of the drama with Gwen and Cass takes a while to be revealed, so it's not entirely clear why they have a complicated history. And again, the last quarter or so of the book just really frustrated me. So much finally happens, and a lot of it felt like unnecessary drama to me that ended up being resolved rather quickly. It is a character-driven story, which I do appreciate since I pay particular attention to characters when I'm reading, but I had a hard time really connecting to anything that was happening. I don't know if there were too many storylines or if certain elements just weren't quite developed enough for me. I 'm not really sure, and I certainly didn't hate this book. Fitzpatrick had me hooked because I enjoy her writing style, but I the story fell flat for me overall.

So Quotable
“That what you’ve always had doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll always get. That what you’ve always wanted isn’t what you’ll always want.”

July 18, 2014

Turn Their Mourning Into Joy

In the Field of Grace by Tessa Afshar

Release Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Moody | River North
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: Publisher @ BEA; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Ruth leaves her home with a barren womb and an empty future, after losing her husband. She forsakes her abusive parents and follows the woman she has grown to love as a true parent, her husband's mother, Naomi.

Ruth arrives in Israel with nothing to recommend her but Naomi's, love. She is destitute, grief-stricken, and unwanted by the people of God. Her loftiest hope is to provide enough food to save Naomi and herself from starvation. She is reduced to gathering leftovers once the harvesters have finished collecting grain from the field. A job only for the lowest of the low.

But God has other plans for her life.

While everyone considers Ruth an unworthy outsider, Ruth is shocked to find the owner of the field-one of the wealthiest and most honored men of Judah-is showing her favor.  Long since a widower and determined to stay that way, Boaz finds himself irresistibly drawn to the foreign woman with the dark, haunted eyes. He tells himself he is only being kind to his Cousin Naomi's chosen daughter when he goes out of his way to protect her from harm, but his heart knows better.

Thoughts on In the Field of Grace
I spotted In the Field of Grace on Goodreads a few months ago, and I immediately wanted to read it based on the summary. So, I was really excited when I was able to pick up this book at BEA! I'd read another book by Afshar before, but my real interest in this book came from my love for the story of Ruth in the Bible.

Growing up, Ruth was always one of my favorite Biblical women, but her story took on new meaning for me after going through a Ruth Bible Study in college. It was one of those moments where the timing was just perfect. There was so much to learn from Ruth's story that I'd never noticed before, and the lessons were so applicable to my life at that point in time. Ever since then, it's been had a special place in my heart.

I wasn't sure what to expect with In the Field of Grace. It's not a retelling - it expands upon the story introduced in the Bible and "fills in the gaps." It's obviously fiction, and the author takes creative license with the characters and their conversations, but the main details of the story match up to what happens in Ruth.

If you haven't read Ruth, it starts with a woman (Naomi), her husband and their two sons moving to the country of Moab because there's a famine in Bethlehem. While there, her husband dies and her sons both marry Moabite women (Ruth and Orpah). Then, sadly, the sons die. Having lost everyone she loves, Naomi decides to return to Israel after she hears that the harvest is plenty. Ruth and Orpah plan to go with her, but Orpah turns back. Out of love for her mother-in-law, Ruth continues on. She is a foreigner in a strange land with no husband and no children, but there are big things in store for her.

For the most part, I really enjoyed In the Field of Grace. The conversations felt a bit modern at times, but I imagine it's hard to strike a balance when you're telling a story like this one. Because it's based on a book of the Bible, most readers will likely have some familiarity with the story but the author likely wants to breathe more life and detail into the world. I appreciated that Afshar didn't really change any of the important details of the story, and I found most of the scenes she created to be enjoyable.

Afshar also portrays Ruth's impact on King David and his son, Solomon, in the book's epilogue. I thought it was a really interesting idea! She makes it clear in the notes at the end that the details she added there were purely from her own imagination, but I liked the thought behind that story.

My favorite thing about books like this one is that they often make the Bible come alive for me in a whole new way. It becomes easier to picture Ruth's grief at the death of her husband, her loneliness when she's rejected by people in Israel, her loyalty and love for her mother-in-law... Afshar certainly made me connect to the story in a new way in that regard!

If I had one main complaint about the book, it's just that Ruth and Boaz seem a little too perfect. One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it clearly depicts that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). I don't mean in a depressing way. It's just that there is something so comforting about reading about the people God uses to fulfill His purposes and seeing that they don't always do the right thing.

While In the Field of Grace highlights how God often works through the most seemingly unlikely people, it paints Ruth and Boaz in a near-perfect light. Ruth never thinks or says a negative thing, even when she's brought to her lowest. She seems to have an endless supply of patience, love and humility.I don't doubt that those characteristics are true, but I would have liked if I was able to relate to her more. Boaz, too, is depicted as though he's almost perfect. I think it made me a little less invested in them because I didn't feel they were quite complex enough.

Overall, I really liked this book! It wasn't necessarily the favorite I hoped it would become, but I appreciated the way it brought the book of Ruth to life. It was a quick read, and it reminded me of why this is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I think it remained true to the message of the book it's based upon while adding creative details that expanded upon the story and offered a new perspective on it. If you like this type of read, I would recommend it!

So Quotable
"So what shall I do? Drown in my longing for what I cannot have or anchor my feet to the joy that I do have?"
*I received a copy of this book from Moody in exchange for review consideration. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

July 17, 2014

2014 Resolutions Check-In

1. Read 125 books.
I'm definitely going to accomplish this resolution! I've already read 107 books this year. I've been on a reading binge, and I keep expecting a slump to hit. So far, it doesn't seem like I'll be slowing down anytime soon!

2. Read one non-fiction book per month.
I've actually read 12 non-fiction books so far this year, so I've technically accomplished this goal completely. Regardless, I'm going to continue to aim for one a month because I still own so many that are unread.

3. Finish seven series.
YAY! I've actually completed this resolution, too. Five were series that I started prior to 2014, and two were series that I read in their entirety this year. I love series, so I'm not really surprised that I've already finished seven. But I'll be continuing on with this resolution there are so many other series I want to read.

4. Request no more than two review books per month.
I'm doing pretty good with this one. There have been three months where I've requested just one book, and there were three months where I've requested 3-5 books. I have requested 14 books in total from NetGalley in the last six months - so only two books more than I should have if I'd totally stuck to this goal. Not too bad! 

However, I have accepted additional books for review and went to BEA. Both of those have left me feeling more than a little overwhelmed by books, so I don't see myself requesting books over the next few months. 

5. Read at least five debut novels.
I definitely should have shot a little higher on this goal because I'd actually completed this one by the end of January. One thing I learned? I read a lot more debuts than I ever realized. I'm so happy that I've found so many new authors to love! A few of these books have been my favorites of the year, too.
6. Participate in one reading challenge.
FAIL. So, I signed up for the 2014 Prequel & Sequel Challenge, but I haven't been participating at all. I've read a lot of books in a series, so I am technically accomplishing some of those reading goals. But I haven't linked anything up or followed along with the challenge! This is the one big "Incomplete" on my report card.

7. Write one discussion post per month.
I'm so glad that I decided to make this a priority last year and continue it this year. Without fail, these are my favorite posts to write and get the comments that are the most fun to read. So far this year, I've written:
8. Leave 5 comments per week on other blogs.
I've done okay with this resolution. There are some weeks I don't leave any comments, but there are other weeks where I'll leave a ton of comments on the blogs I follow. Overall, I think it probably averages out. I haven't felt stressed at all about commenting though, so I count that as a success since that was really the purpose of this resolution.

9. Respond to comments that ask a question or provoke a discussion within one week.
Womp, womp. There were one or two months where I actually replied to every comment, and then there's all the other times... where I barely reply to any. I do frequently turn to email or Twitter when I want to respond to a comment, so it's not like I'm totally ignoring conversations that people start. This is one area I'd love to improve but really struggle to prioritize. 

10. Start a new feature on my blog.
Check! Not long after writing my resolutions post, I got the idea for my Series Speed Date feature. I've only posted two so far (and have a third scheduled to publish), but it's turned into one of my favorite features to write. When I binge read a series, it's a nice way to "review" them all and take a high-level look at the series.

July 16, 2014

Adrift But Not Alone

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Release Date: December 10, 2013
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 374 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: Starbound #1
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other's arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder — would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won't be the same people who landed on it.

Thoughts on These Broken Stars
I fell in love with this cover before I even knew what the book was about! Isn't it so gorgeous? I don't always love covers with real people on them where you can clearly see the "characters," this is an example of how it can be done really well. So, I rarely read science fiction or anything set in space, but I was definitely intrigued by the summary. The positive reviews started rolling in, and I knew I was going to give this one a shot.

These Broken Stars opens with a disaster: a "massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet." Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen, two people from opposite social classes. Lilac is wealthy and famous, but Tarver has just started to make a name for himself. When the two survive the crash, they have only each other to rely on.

Oh man, I loved this book! Lilac and Tarver are complicated and frustrating characters in the very best way. They argue and bicker, getting on one another's nerves constantly, which is basically the premise of every single one of my favorite love stories. SOLD. Despite their flaws, I really did enjoy getting to know both of them.

I loved that this was really more of a survival story than anything else. While I get the science fiction aspect, it wasn't an intimidating aspect. There's a romance that I loved, and lots of action/adventure as these two try to find their way back to civilization. The science fiction element does come into play at one point, and it contributes to one of the big reveals in the book. Some people may not love that part, but I liked it because it was so different. There's a sort of creepy feeling because they're stranded in a place filled with so many unknowns, and it set the tone perfectly for some of what was to come.

Each chapter opens with a portion of dialogue between Tarver and an unknown character, which I thought was a nice touch. You see Tarver's attitude, and it was really just perfect. There is a lot of humor in this book, even in the moments where it's dark or things are tense. Additionally, the pacing worked really well for me. Plus, there's a great moment where your jaw drops and the story suddenly ramps up to a whole different level. It really was just such a fun read, even when it was putting my emotions through the ringer!

This was such a fabulous read, and I was so glad I gave it a chance. I love that the story was completely resolved by the end of the book and that it's a series of companion novels. I had some lingering questions about the world, and that was probably my only complaint about the book. I couldn't fully picture everything that was described and there were a few things that didn't really make sense to me. I have a feeling that those will be likely be addressed in the books to come, and I can't wait to meet new characters and spend more time in this world!

So Quotable
"For a moment the image before us is frozen: our world, our lives, reduced to a handful of broken stars half lost in uncharted space. Then it’s gone, the view swallowed by the hyperspace winds streaming past, blue-green auroras wiping the afterimages away. Until all that’s left is us."
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