March 31, 2015

Reads On My Radar

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 Books I Recently Added to My TBR


I've actually read a majority of the books I've purchased in 2015, so I decided to highlight the books recently added to my TBR by focusing on a few different categories!

BOUGHT
1. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
2. A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab
3. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
4. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

REVIEW
5. Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
6. The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

WISHLIST
7. Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
8. Ana of California by Andi Teran

CONSIDERING
9. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
10. The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

GIFTED
11. Charlie's Glass Slippers by Holly McQueen
12. Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

March 30, 2015

Picky Pledge Check-In #1

What is The Picky Pledge? Well, it's a partnership between me and Alexa from Alexa Loves Books where we hold each other accountable for the books we've acquired in 2015. For more details on The Picky Pledge, be sure to visit the introduction post. We're excited about making more intentional reading choices this year! 

We're tracking our book acquisition stats throughout the year - focusing specifically on the books we buy and the books we read for review. I've created a page to track my progress, and it's definitely helping to hold me accountable. There's nothing like posting something for everyone to see to shame you into staying on track! Alexa and I were chatting recently and decided to post quarterly check-ins analyzing what we've learned so far and where we have room to grow. With three months down, here's how 2015 is shaping up...
For this section, we were inspired by our original stats post from earlier this year. Since our Picky Pledge keeps us on track with review books and buying, our check-ins will highlight the two charts relevant to those areas!

SOURCE BREAKDOWN

At the time I'm writing this post, I've read 32 books in 2015. I've been in a bit of a reading slump this year, and I just haven't felt the pull to pick up a book. I spent almost all of 2014 on a major reading binge, so I'm really not surprised that a slump finally hit. I have a feeling my pace will pick up as the seasons change, but we'll see! Either way, I'm quite pleased with this breakdown: 3 borrowed, 5 bought this year, 6 review and 18 owned (TBR and re-reads). My goal is to read no more than 36 review books this year, and I'm definitely on track!
        
        
BOOKS BOUGHT BREAKDOWN

I'm conflicted on my progress with this one! My birthday was in February, and I definitely received some books and gift cards. I didn't include the books that I was gifted, but I did count the ones I bought with gift cards. I've purchased 24 books: 7 with gift cards and 17 on my own. Of those 24, I've read 7 since I bought them, 7 are still on my TBR and 10 were books that I read prior to 2015 (either didn't own or owned a different edition). It's not awful, but I know I can do better. Either way, it's still an improvement over 2014 - and that's worth celebrating!
1. Having an accountability partner can make a huge difference. I knew teaming up with Alexa was a great idea, but I had no clue how much it was going to help! Whether it's offering my advice to her or seeking her input on a decision, it's so amazing to have a sounding board. She's helped me decide if I really wanted to request a book... and whether or not a book was worth buying. And the best part? We both have realistic and reasonable goals that gives us some needed structure but still has some flexibility.

2. It's easier to evaluate review books if I ask myself, "Why?" Prior to this year, I didn't really think about why I wanted to read a book for review. Now, I'm forcing myself to ask that question with every book I request or accept. And it's totally changed my perspective! If my reason for requesting/accepting it is anything other than "I am dying to read this book!" then I don't let myself do it. Being intrigued by a book or wanting to build a relationship with a publisher/publicist aren't good enough reasons to add a book to my TBR!

3. Shopping my shelves can be so much fun! I think I'm most proud of the fact that I've gotten better about choosing books from my shelves. If I want to make a dent in my TBR, I have to focus on actually reading what I own. I've also been re-reading a lot this year, which has been so delightful. Even though my reading pace is a bit slower, I'm way happier with what I've been reading! The reading choices I've made so far (fewer review books, more re-reading, grabbing from the TBR) are all in line with my Picky Pledge goals.
1. Avoid boredom browsing on NetGalley and Edelweiss. I've only read six books for review in 2015 and currently only have nine on my TBR, which is a significant improvement from last year. However, I'm definitely still guilty of boredom browsing on NetGalley and Edelweiss! Whether or not I even request anything, it just puts more books on my radar - and that's the last thing I need right now. I need to be better about avoiding these two websites unless I'm specifically looking for something!

2. Online shopping (and free two-day shipping) is not my wallet's friend. I've discovered that I'm actually the opposite of Alexa in this area! It's way easier for my to walk away from a book in a store than it is for me to stop myself from online shopping. I don't know why, but I find it hard to resist buying something once I let myself explore a retailer's website. I think I might need to ban myself from even looking in the first place! Because putting stuff in my cart and noticing that I could have it all in just two days is really not working for my wallet.

3. Stop justifying acquiring more copies of books I've already read. I frequently buy copies of books that I've already read. It usually happens when I'm getting a finished copy of a book I read for review and absolutely must own... but I've noticed another trend lately. I'm basically collecting copies of books I've already read and already own. I'm most guilty of it with my favorite classics (there are way too many gorgeous editions out there), but I've been known to do it with multiple formats, too. It's time to crack down on this bad habit!

March 27, 2015

"Barely even friends, then somebody bends..."

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

Release Date: July 23, 2013
Publisher: Random House | Delacorte
Pages: 389 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
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Summary (from Goodreads)
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.

Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.

As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.

Thoughts on Of Beast and Beauty
Racquel and Carrie both raved about Of Beast and Beauty, so I decided to grab it in one of the big Book Outlet sales last year. While I don't necessarily seek out fairytale retellings, I generally really enjoy reading them. I love twists on familiar tales! For some reason, however, I wasn't racing to read this book. But I found myself in a bit of a slump a few weeks ago - nothing was grabbing my attention. Randomly, I decided to read a few pages... and the next thing I knew, I'd read almost half the book.

Of Beast and Beauty tells the story of Isra and Gem. Isra is a Smooth Skin living enclosed within the dome that surrounds the city of Yuan. She's royalty - a Princess raised to be a human sacrifice. Her death will bring prosperity to her people. Outside the city, Gem faces starvation and fights for his life. He's a mutant - one of the Monstrous. Isra and Gem are from two very different worlds, and they want to achieve different ends. Isra wants to help the city's Banished people, and Gem wants to save his starving people by stealing Yuan's enchanted roses. When Gem is captured and becomes Isra's prisoner, everything will come to a head. Secrets will be revealed, and a choice between duty and love must be made.

While I had high hopes for Of Beast and Beauty, I didn't expect to love it as much as I did! This was such a fantastic read. As I said, I'd been in a bit of a reading funk when I started it, but this had me hooked almost immediately! The writing, especially in the beginning, is absolutely gorgeous. This was my first experience with Stacey Jay, and I'll absolutely be reading more from her in the future. There is a lyrical quality to her writing that just immediately captured my attention. I can't do it justice, so let me just highlight the opening:
"In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret. The secret was as old as the cracked cobblestone streets of Yuan, as peculiar as the roses that bloom eternally within the domed city's walls, as poisonous as forgotten history and the stories told in its place.  
By the time the girl was born, the secret was all but lost. The stories had become scripture, and only the very brave - or very mad - dared to doubt them. The girl was raised on the stories, and never questioned their truth, until the day her mother took her walking beyond the city walls. 
In the wilds outside, a voice as fathomless as the ocean spoke to her of a time before the domed cities, before wholes became halves and bargains were made in blood. It told of a terrible choice and even more terrible consequences. It begged her to listen, to live..."
It helped that the book started in such a memorable way because the summary for this book had always thrown me off. Smooth Skins? Monstrous? HUH? Thankfully, it wasn't difficult to imagine the settings and the characters inhabiting it once I was actually reading. Jay brings this world to life! While the city of Yuan and the desert beyond it could have been a little more fleshed out, the characters completely made up for it. All of the characters had so much depth, including the villains. People are complicated, and Jay depicted that perfectly. Just when I was determined to hate someone, they'd have a moment that made me reconsider!

Another bonus? This book has one of my favorite tropes - a hate-to-love romance. I can't get enough of this kind of love story! The plot had me on the edge of my seat, and the pacing was just spot on. It was such a creative retelling - the perfect twist on a story I've always loved. Whether you're a fan of Beauty and the Beast or just interested in fantasy, you can't go wrong with Of Beast and Beauty. It was better than I ever imagined it would be, and I'm so glad I took a chance on it! I just had to look past the beastly summary to see the beauty inside. Ha! I'm sorry, but I had to do it.

So Quotable
“Beauty is wherever you find it, and Beast is there when you need to defend it.”

March 26, 2015

Buy the Book / No. 1

Back in December, Cassie and I posted our Favorite Factor Gift Guide. I had so much fun finding gifts inspired by books that I'd loved, and I knew I wanted to do it again! After creating a gift guide for The Liza Palmer Party and a gift guide for The Orphan Queen blog tour, I realized that I wanted to make this a regular feature.

I'm calling it Buy the Book - a little play on "by the book" since all of my gifts will come directly from quotes or scenes in the book featured and, you know, since it's all stuff you can buy. I'm also going to include a snippet from the book for each item so you'll know exactly why I picked it! I'm hoping to share at least one per month, but we'll see how it goes. And if you like book-inspired gift guides, the lovely ladies at Rather Be Reading have also shared some in the past (this Nantucket Blue one is my favorite!).


"The script occupied the small, secret spaces of my days, though I'd never planned to do anything with it. At least I hadn't until I discovered a summer screen-writing program at New York University."

1. Final Draft 9 ($169) - Paige wants to be a screenwriter, so I picked this software to help her pursue her passion! While it's not a huge aspect of the book, it's a central part of Paige's dreams for her future.

"It was my grandmother who taught me that TV shows start with writing. We were watching I Love Lucy when I was eleven, and I said, 'Lucy is the funniest lady ever.'"

2. I Love Lucy: The Complete Series ($142) - Paige's relationship with her grandmother is a huge part of the book. I love books that deal with family, but it was extra special to see Paige's love for her grandma!

"My parents just liked the name Paige, I think, but Elizabeth is because my mom is a huge Pride and Prejudice fan." I thought for a second. "I don't think I've ever told anyone that, actually."
His head jerked toward me. "Really?"
"Yeah. Guess it never came up. Elizabeth is a pretty standard middle name."
"No," he said. "I mean really 'Elizabeth?' You seem much more like a Jane Bennet."
My jaw dropped in offense. "That's kind of mean!"
"No, it's not! Jane is deeply underappreciated." 

3. Pride and Prejudice "Bingley" and "Jane" Earrings ($9) - When I saw the Pride and Prejudice reference, I knew Paige and Max were my kind of people. And I particularly loved Max's defense of Jane and Bingley!

"There were at least fifty paper airplanes that I could see, made from all different patterns of paper. They were attached to a string, suspended around the room, as if flying in neat lines. I thought of the note Max had passed me earlier in the week, folded into a tiny plane." 

4. Sterling Silver Paper Airplane Necklace ($70) - Max's love for paper airplanes is quirky and nerdy! I love that he proudly displayed them, and I can just imagine Paige wearing a paper airplane necklace for him.

"Why not Paris? My world had crumbled around me. Like your friend Mr. Chase, I found a place to dance."

5. Paris Is Always a Good Idea Audrey Hepburn Quote Printable ($9) - Paige's grandmother helps her to move forward from her grieving, and she's also the inspiration for several items on Paige's plan to begin again.

"Whatever happened next with my parents, my friends and I would still be here trading stories and sips of our lattes. Together, we made four walls, holding each other up even as the world around us shifted."

6. Starbucks Double Wall Traveler Gold Dot ($19.95) - I absolutely love the friendships in this book! Paige, Tessa, Kayleigh and Morgan are always there for one another, and it's so refreshing to read about friends like these.

"Morgan insisted on painting my nails every weekend while we marathoned TV shows. It seemed so silly, so pointless. Until I looked down at my mint-green or petal-pink nails in class: one beautiful, glossy thing in my life. My friends added the first colors to my black-and-white world."

7. Butter London Nail Lacquer in Fiver, Fruit Machine & Molly Coddled ($15) - I had to pick one more thing to represent Paige's friends. They add so much to the book and made me wish I had a group like this of my own!

"Although, when I was little, I thought I was named after Max from Where the Wild Things Are."

8. Where the Wild Things Are Bow Tie ($13.99) - While Max is not named after this character, I couldn't help but include something related to this classic children's book! I mean, maybe he could wear it to prom?

"When Tessa bought me the planner a few Christmases back, I knew she was kind of teasing me about what she called 'type A tendencies.' But I didn't care. It was love at first sight: lavender leather with my initials embossed in the corner and pages of clean white paper, segmented into weeks and months."

9. Filofax Metropol Lavender Personal Organizer ($34.95) - Although this is Paige's actual planner, I thought this one still worked. As a huge planner nerd myself, I just had to include this item!

"'Sure,' I said, snapping out of my tactless staring, and we stood there in the foyer for a moment as I glanced at his shirt - a black tee with some sort of spacecraft and the word 'FIREFLY' across the top."

10. Firefly Serenity Diagram Black T-Shirt ($15.79) - This isn't exactly the shirt Max wears, but it's close enough. I loved the nerdy references throughout the book - and the way Max and Paige tease each other about them!

March 25, 2015

How to Begin Again

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Release Date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 384 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for a year, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school... and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

Thoughts on The Start of Me and You
Emery Lord has done it again! I fell head over heels in love with Open Road Summer last year, as you probably know if you read my review. It wasn't just one of my favorite reads of 2014 - it's an all-time favorite for me. So, I jumped at the chance to read The Start of Me and You for review. Let's be honest: I was going to read it either way.

When I love an author's debut, I sometimes worry that their subsequent books won't live up to my expectations. With Emery, that thought never crossed my mind. I knew this was going to be an unforgettable read, and I was right. I first read it in September, but I put off writing about it. I like to let my favorites sit with me for a while! But then, I decided to re-read so I could do this book justice with my review. Since I listed reasons I loved Open Road Summer, I thought I'd do the same with The Start of Me and You. Let's begin!

1. Best Friends.
I have to start with this first because I have so much love for the friendships in Emery Lord's books. It was one of the most memorable aspects of Open Road Summer, and the same is true for The Start of Me and You. So many of my favorite quotes in the book revolved around Paige and her best friends (Tessa, Kayleigh and Morgan).
"Whatever happened with my parents, my friends and I would still be here trading stories and sips of our lattes. Together, we made four walls, holding each other up even as the world around us shifted."
I feel like I don't often see female friendships portrayed in such an admirable way (especially in YA). And what made it even better? The Start of Me and You focused on a group of four friends. I loved watching them all interact with one another! If you asked me to describe the female relationships in this book, I'd use words like loyal, supportive, protective... and then add in teasing, familiar and comfortable. Though they may not always agree, they're always there for one another. And it's such a beautiful thing!

2. Max Watson.
Sweet, darling Max Watson. I wasn't sure how he'd compare to the talented and gorgeous Matt Finch, but Emery certainly knows how to write some swoonworthy boys. In a way, he reminded me of Cricket Bell (from Lola and the Boy Next Door). His quirky goodness is just irresistible!
"Max was the human equivalent of a cult-classic TV show. Most people didn't get it. But the people who did? They loved it for all of its quirks."
Max is adorable, kind, smart and more than a little nerdy. He's such a great fit for Paige, and I couldn't wait for them to realize how perfect they could be together. I loved that he is wise beyond his years and isn't ashamed of his passions (even if other people don't get them). And it's probably not surprising that I'm a sucker for a boy who knows a thing or two about Pride and Prejudice, too!

3. The Perfect Plan.
Paige is a planner to the core! She's definitely Type A, which I related to a lot. It's been a year since her first boyfriend died in a tragic accident, and she's just now returning to the world around her. Grief has changed her, but she wants to feel normal again. So, she develops A Plan.
"There, I thought. A plan. At the top, I wrote: How to Begin Again."
I'll let you read the book to find out what happens next, but I definitely felt Paige was a kindred spirit. From a shared love of planners to the need to turn plans into lists, she's my kind of heroine. I loved seeing her growth in the book - and was just waiting to see how she's react when things didn't work out the way she planned.

4. Nerdy References.
Paige and Max are both totally nerdy, and I adored them for it! I can't even begin to tell you how many fun things they referenced - including two of my all-time favorite things (Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice). I kept catching myself wishing I could hang out with them and just talk!
"Sorry to break it to you on your birthday," I said, "but you're not my type." 
"Oh?" He grinned, raising his eyebrow. "You have a type now?" 
I shrugged. "Possibly."
"Yeah." He thought for a moment. "Your type is nerd." 
"Maybe your type is nerd." 
"Oh, it absolutely is."
And though the book is filled with fun nods to popular culture, it never feels forced or too dated. It fits these characters and makes them feel so realistic! I wish they were real because I'd totally work my way into their little friend group if they were. These are my people.

5. The Real Thing. 
Sometimes when I read YA, I get swept up in the relationships... and later question whether or not it's something that would last in the real world. After all, you don't often end up with the boy you fall in love with in high school! But sometimes you do. The romantic relationship in this book just seems like the real thing.
"But Max was the first bite of grilled cheese on a snowy day, the easy fit of my favorite jeans, that one old song that made it onto every playlist. Peanut-butter Girl Scout cookies instead of an ornate cake. Not glamorous or idealized or complicated. Just me."
I could explain all the reasons I love Max and Paige, but Estelle already said it best. She absolutely nailed all the reasons I loved the romance in this book, and why I related to it so much. While I didn't meet Nick in high school, this love story reminded me of my own. I adored the way this book portrayed falling in love - and how, as Paige says, "It was also a choice." So true!

6. Introspection & Reflection.
Even more than Open Road Summer, The Start of Me and You is a character-driven book. There isn't a lot that happens with the plot. Sure, there's a little conflict and a climax, but it's ultimately focused on the people in it (especially Paige). I absolutely love character-driven books, so this worked perfectly for me.
"I had changed... It was a new group of friends, it was freedom, learning, failing, grieving. It was getting back to my old self and defining a new self at the same time."
Paige is an introspective character, and there's a lot of reflection in these pages. A lot of the conflict is internal - Paige's desire to face her fears and her slow realization that what she thought she wanted might not be right for her after all. So, the pace is a little slower and it doesn't always feel like a lot is happening, but it was a strength of the book for me. Bonus: I was highlighting away because I loved Paige's thoughts!

7. Just Pick It Up.
Do I really need to keep rambling about my love for this book? Just read it already! When I reviewed Open Road Summer, I wrote "Emery Lord has written a story about loyalty, love and loss... and all the complicated things in between." And honestly, that's true for The Start of Me and You, too. Emery's debut blew me away, but this release proves she's here to stay. And I, for one, can't wait for more!

So Quotable
"But knowing what happens isn't the same as knowing how it happens. Getting there is the best part."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

March 24, 2015

Never Too Old for Childhood Favorites

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 Books From Childhood I Want to Revisit


I struggled a little bit with this topic, but only because I posted about books I wanted to re-read (but didn't own) and books I read before blogging that I want to re-read. Not to mention my 2015 Re-Read Challenge sign-up post! I tried not to repeat a bunch of the same books, but I couldn't help it with four of these books.

1. Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix - This is one of a very small number of books I saved from elementary school. I read it so many times that the pages are practically falling out. Definitely time to revisit it!

2. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor - This was one of my favorite books growing up, and I actually had the entire Taylor family series. Hmm... now I kind of want to track them all down and do a series binge.

3. The Coal Miner's Bride by Susan Campbell Bartoletti - I loved the entire Dear America and Royal Diaries series (and still have most of them), but this one always had a special place in my heart. But I can't remember why!

4. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White - I can't remember the first time I read this book, but it's considered a classic for a reason. It's been so long since I read it, and I think I need to re-read and then follow up with the movie.

5. The Felicity Series by Valerie Tripp - Felicity was always my favorite American Girl. I shared her love of horses and admired her independent spirit. And she's the reason I've always been interested in the Revolutionary War.

6. Hannah and the Best Father on Route 9W by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky - My grandmother bought this for me when I was a kid because my name is in the title, and I loved it! I'm glad I've held on to it all these years.

7. Rachel's Journal by Marissa Moss - I used to own a ton of books by Marissa Moss, but I think gave away all but two. Reading these books was always such an experience because of all the illustrations and details.

8. Eloise by Kay Thompson - Oh, Eloise. She's a total brat - but such a fun one! I think I was in middle or high school when I discovered the book, and I might have purchased it solely because it made me laugh.

9. The Lost Princess by George MacDonald - I was thinking of this book recently, and I've been craving a re-read ever since. My third grade teacher read this aloud to our class, and it's still such a vivid memory for me.

10. Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales by Ludwig Memelmans - Madeline was my childhood love. I had the entire first book memorized as a little girl, and I can still recite a lot of it. I was destined to be a book nerd!

March 23, 2015

Leave the Blueprints Behind

The One That Got Away by Bethany Chase

Release Date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Random House | Ballantine
Pages: 465 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Sarina Mahler thinks she has her life all nailed down: a growing architecture practice in Austin, Texas, and an any-day-now proposal from her loving boyfriend, Noah. She’s well on her way to having the family she’s hoped for since her mother’s death ten years ago. But with Noah on a temporary assignment abroad and retired Olympic swimmer — and former flame — Eamon Roy back in town asking her to renovate his new fixer-upper, Sarina’s life takes an unexpected turn.

Eamon proves to be Sarina’s dream client, someone who instinctively trusts every one of her choices — and Sarina is reminded of all the reasons she was first drawn to him back in the day. Suddenly her carefully planned future with Noah seems a little less than perfect. And when tragedy strikes, Sarina is left reeling. With her world completely upended, she is forced to question what she truly wants in life — and in love.

Full of both humor and heartbreak, The One That Got Away is the story of one woman’s discovery that, sometimes, life is what happens when you leave the blueprints behind.

Thoughts on The One That Got Away
Author Bethany Chase tweeted me one day about my love for Gilbert Blythe, and I knew immediately that I wanted to read her debut, The One That Got Away. And when I read this post about how Gilbert Blythe kicks the ass of Mr. Darcy any day of the week, I had a feeling I'd found a kindred spirit. Chase emailed me soon after about sending me a copy of her book for review consideration, and I was ecstatic. I'm in love with the cover and had loved chatting with her, so I couldn't wait to get a copy in my hands.

Sarina Mahler has finally found security. She lives in Austin, Texas, loves her growing architecture practice and has found love with her wonderful boyfriend, Noah. Sure, he's out of the country for a year for his job, but they'll make it work. Then, Eamon Roy enters the picture - the one that got away all those years ago. He wants Sarina to renovate his new home, and he turns out to be her dream client. But is he also the one that she wants?

3 Things I Loved:
  • Writing - While the story in The One That Got Away is a little predictable, Chase's writing made the book a refreshing read. From little details to more emotional scenes, Chase had me hooked on this story and these characters. The dialogue was witty, and the characters felt realistic. I'm excited about Chase's future and definitely plan on reading her next book!
  • Sarina's Job - Sarina is an architect, and this was probably my favorite part of the book. Chase is an experienced interior designer, and her knowledge is evident. I loved reading about Sarina's projects, her vision for the spaces, her desire for her own firm and her passion for her career. As a huge fan of the show Fixer Upper, The One That Got Away reminded me of all the reasons I love watching HGTV. And I think the reason I loved it so much is because I could tell Chase was writing about what she knew!
  • Secondary Storylines - Of all the threads in The One That Got Away, I actually loved some of the secondary storylines the most. My heart broke when Sarina talked about losing her mom. I was grinning - and then nearly in tears - when the book highlighted Sarina's relationship with her stepfather John. And as I've already said, I loved when Sarina's job was the focus. From pitching new clients to joking around with her roommate, these were the moments I knew Chase was an author to watch!
2 Things I Enjoyed:
  • Characters - In some ways, reading The One That Got Away reminded me of how I feel when I read Emily Giffin's books. Giffin writes complicated, messy, selfish and often unlikable characters - but I kind of love that about her. Similarly, Sarina and Eamon were both characters that I was rooting for but was completely frustrated with at times. I loved that they weren't perfect, but I also wanted to shake the book because of the things they were doing or saying. Either way, I was clearly invested in them!
  • Setting - The One That Got Away is set in Austin, Texas, and I had so much fun visiting the Lone Star State in its pages. I felt like Chase captured the quirky vibe of the city, and it made me want to pack my bags for a long weekend away. I explored her Pinterest boards after I finished the book, and I had so much fun seeing the inspiration for the book. The setting really comes alive, and it perfectly fit the tone of the book. I also loved the glimpse of Sarina's hometown, especially since it was a huge part of who she was.
1 Thing I Disliked:
  • Relationship - Based on the summary, I was a little nervous about one aspect of the book: the relationships. Depending on how it's handled, I can either love or hate the "Do I want to be with the person who is perfect on paper, even if the relationship is a little more boring, or do I want to be with the person who might just be perfect for me, even if that kind of passion scares me?" romantic trope. While I understood Sarina's conflicted feelings, I didn't like the way she handled them. There were moments I loved Eamon, but there were also other moments when I hated him. And because the romance rubbed me the wrong way, I was never able to fully love this book. I came so close to loving it for all the other elements, but I could never get past my issues with this one thing. 
The One That Got Away introduced me to an author with a bright future! I really enjoyed the quirky setting, the smart writing, the complicated characters, the touching moments with Sarina's family and her passion for her career. While there was one aspect I couldn't get past, I can't wait to read more from Chase!

So Quotable
"It's funny how, when you only get to spend a very finite amount of time with someone you wanted to know better, you find that certain details have cut deeper tracks in your memory than others — something about the way they looked, or one particular comment that made you laugh, out of hundreds of sentences."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

March 20, 2015

"Fortune favors the brave."

The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

Release Date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Balzer + Bray
Pages: 425 pages
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Series: Elemental Trilogy #2
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Summary from Goodreads
After spending the summer away from each other, Titus and Iolanthe (still disguised as Archer Fairfax) are eager to return to Eton College to resume their training to fight the Bane. Although no longer bound to Titus by a blood oath, Iolanthe is more committed than ever to fulfilling her destiny—especially with the agents of Atlantis quickly closing in.

Soon after arriving at school, though, Titus makes a shocking discovery, one that makes him question everything he previously believed about their mission. Faced with this devastating realization, Iolanthe is forced to come to terms with her new role, while Titus must choose between following his mother's prophecies—and forging a divergent path to an unknowable future.

Thoughts on The Perilous Sea
What can I even say about The Perilous Sea? Well, I can start with what I wrote in my notebook when I finished it: "Loved, loved, LOVED!" While The Burning Sky was awesome, this was definitely a case where the second book was even better. However, I still can't understand why more people aren't raving about this series! IT IS SO GOOD.

The Perilous Sea continues the story of Iolanthe, the greatest elemental mage of her time, and Titus, the boy who has sworn to help her fulfill her destiny. They've spent all summer apart, and it's finally time for them to reunite at Eton College. A few things have changed since they last saw one another, but they're still united in their desire to take down the Bane. However, a shocking discovery forces them to question the idea of destiny versus choice. Their reaction could change everything - from their relationship to the fate of the Realm.

This book uses an unconventional structure, which I loved. Portions are set in the Sahara desert, and the rest is set seven months prior in England. Rather than starting in England and working its way forward, The Perilous Sea uses a non-linear narrative. It shifts between the two time periods, which provides so much intrigue to the story. For me, it ramped up the tension to another level. I wanted to know why they were in the desert, how they'd gotten there, what had changed between the two of them, etc. So, it was actually a lot of fun to get a little look at the future and then be sent back to the events that led up to it.

I love Titus and Iolanthe's relationship in The Burning Sky, but it just gets better in the second book. I was so glad that Thomas found a way to create conflict in their relationship - but in a way that felt so fresh and not annoying at all. I wish I could tell you how, but you'll have to read it to find out for yourself! But I cannot say enough great things about the way these two work together and challenge one another. I love that they're strong on their own, but each becomes more powerful when they partner together.

In keeping with that idea, I was glad to see them take more people into their confidence in this book. They've been a bit isolated from others by nature of the danger of their mission and the requirement for absolute secrecy. However, things start to shift in The Perilous Sea, and they have no choice but to put their faith in others. And I absolutely loved it! I think it made for a more compelling story, and I was excited to see some of the secondary characters take on a more prominent role in the book.

There were so many twists I didn't see coming! I was on the edge of my seat while reading, and I have no doubt the conclusion to this trilogy will be EPIC. I'm in love with this story, and I know that I'll be re-reading it in the future. While I still find the world a little confusing, I don't even care. It didn't dampen my love for the book, but I do look forward to finding out more in the conclusion.

From amazing characters to an action-packed plot, Thomas has written a book that has cemented this series as an all-time favorite for me. I cannot wait to see what happens next, even if I'm scared of what Thomas has in store! If you haven't picked up these books, IT'S TIME TO REMEDY THAT PROBLEM. If you have read them, can we just agree they're FANTASTIC? I'm freaking out just thinking about it!

So Quotable
"I never listen to you when I know enough to make up my own mind.”

March 19, 2015

4 Tips to Channel Your Creativity

See my favorite planning tools post for more info about what's pictured here.
While there are plenty of bloggers who are way more creative than I am, I wanted to write a little bit about the four things that have helped me become more creative. Each one might not be anything that new, but I think the combination of all four is what's helped me the most. Before I share my tips, however, I wanted to start with three things I think it's important to remember when you're trying to channel your creativity.

First: If someone inspires you, ask permission and/or give credit where credit is due. This is probably the most important thing to remember! It's not creative if it's copying someone else, but some ideas are more generic than others. Either way, I always err on the side of caution. Second: It's okay to scrap something that's not working – or make changes to it until it does. I can't tell you how much it will drain your creativity if you don't allow yourself to abandon something that's not working. We've all had ideas that seem promising and then fizzle out. And that's totally okay! I'd rather try something and move on (or make changes to improve it) than remain tied to an idea that didn't pan out the way I planned.

And third: Create something for a reason. I’m not great at being creative just because. I can’t just decide that I want to write a new discussion post or create a new feature. I wish my brain worked that way, but it usually doesn’t! I typically only feel inspired when something serves a purpose. I want a post to meet a need or start a conversation – not just take up space. I like things that develop organically more than things that are forced! And sometimes that requires patience on my part. For me, that often means being okay with not having a discussion post every week or sitting on an idea until it’s just right.

Now that we've got that out of the way, here are my four tips to channel your creativity!



1. Keep a notebook (or note-taking app) nearby. 
For me, the first step is to keep a notebook nearby – whether it’s in my bag, next to my bed or on my desk at work. I like one that's blank inside, and its purpose is solely for me to jot down ideas, outline posts, and take notes on the go. I have something else for scheduling posts because I like to keep them separate. I don’t want to think about my calendar when I’m trying to be creative!

If you prefer being paperless, an app on your phone can work just as well. I just use Notes and/or Wunderlist on my iPhone when I’m on the go, but I know lots of people love Evernote or OneNote. What I love most about my phone, however, is that I can take pictures of things that inspire me. I can take photos of ads I love, fonts that catch my eye, magazine features or columns posing an interesting question… you name it!


2. Just write down everything! 
I write down way more ideas than I actually end up implementing. Part of the creative process is exploring every idea, even if you don’t end up doing anything with it. If you flipped through my notebook, you’d see lots of phrases and unfinished thoughts. I don’t wait until I have an idea completely figured out before I write it down. If I have time, I’ll start fleshing it out. If I don’t have time, at least it’s written down so I won't forget.

And the great thing about having all those ideas compiled in one notebook? Sometimes you’ll think of something that’s close but not quite there. Weeks later, you might realize exactly what’s missing for it to be a great new feature or a thoughtful discussion post. Or maybe you’ll flip back through your past ideas and realize that if you just combine this one with that one you’ve got something great!


3. Look for inspiration in unlikely places. 
I think this one of the hardest things to train your mind to do – at first. But once you start to do it, it’s like you can’t stop! I feel like my brain is constantly on alert now. You can find inspiration anyway, including places you’d never expect! Here are some of the ways I get inspiration:
  • Things I’ve done before – Sometimes I get new ideas from things I’ve already done. For example, I once wrote a post about how I wanted to see more people reading classics. A lot of commenters mentioned that they didn’t know which classics were worth reading, so I started Consider This Classic for bloggers to recommend their favorite classic. The idea for that came straight from the post I’d already written!

  • Things other people have done – Assuming you’re not stealing someone else’s idea (see the very beginning of this post), other blogs can be a great source of inspiration! For example, I looked at other blogs when I wanted to add ratings to my reviews. I needed to figure out what I liked in a rating system, and I used what I saw other people doing to help create my own. 

  • Things I’m reading or seeing – I’ve actually thought of blog-related ideas when I’ve been reading a book or magazine. For example, I wrote a post about loving a book and still being able to recognize its flaws after I finished a beloved book that contains problematic stereotypes. Even watching TV or surfing the web can spark an idea, like when I created a book blogging printable after browsing Pinterest.

  • Things I’m talking about – One of my favorite sources of inspiration is looking at and being involved in conversations on social media. I decided to write a post about whether or not BEA was worth it after discussing that question on Twitter, and I talked about getting organized on Goodreads when friends told me they didn’t know where to start. And this leads in perfectly to my next point… 

4. Get other people involved. 
Finally, I love getting other people involved in the creative process. It’s like a virtual brainstorming session, and those are the best! Whether you bring other people in at the beginning to get it started or at the very end to get their thoughts on the finished product, this can be a great way to take an idea to the next level.

Some of my favorite things I’ve done while blogging have been in partnership with other bloggers. Cassie and I kept discussing our love for adult fiction, so we decided to highlight it together in Favorite Factor. That's a feature that proves my point about re-working an idea if you're not loving it anyway - as we just revamped it last month! Alexa and I talked about our love for fantasy, so we hosted a three-week event to celebrate it. Teaming up with other people not only helps you build relationships with them, but it boosts your creativity.

One Idea – From Start to Finish
About a year or so ago, I knew I wanted to do something related to series on my blog. I’d participated in (and loved) a series challenge the summer before, and I kept trying to think of a way to turn my love for series into a recurring feature.
  • Write Stuff Down – I wrote down “series feature” in my notebook… but what to do next?

  • Look for Inspiration  While reading another blog, I realized that I hated how I couldn’t read a review for the second book in a series because I hadn’t started the first book yet. I wanted to be able to see what they thought of the book, but I was scared of spoilers for the first book. A few days later, I read an entire series. I was too lazy to write a review for every single book, so I sat down to write a series review. Then, I had an idea… What if I put a fun twist on that idea? I spent a while figuring out what format I wanted to use and ended up with the Series Speed Date.

  • Get Others Involved – I ran the idea past one of my blogging friends, and she felt like it needed a little something else. She was the person who suggested adding a rating at the very end!
Well, there you have it – my four tips to help you channel your creativity! I've always loved blogging, but I felt like I really hit my stride this past year. It's been a challenging creative outlet, but in the best way possible.

How do YOU channel your creativity?

March 18, 2015

"Expect magic."

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins | Balzer + Bray
Pages: 465 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: Elemental Trilogy #1
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Summary from Goodreads
It all began with a ruined elixir and a bolt of lightning. 

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's been told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.

Guided by his mother's visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life.

Thoughts on The Burning Sky
I bought this book after Kelly and Alexa raved about it, but I kept putting off reading it. I don't know why it didn't appeal to me that much - maybe it's the combination of the cover and the focus on elementals. I trusted both ladies enough to buy it, but I didn't prioritize reading it. And then I found myself in a bit of a reading slump, and this seemed like it was worth a shot. Now that I've finished I want to know WHY ISN'T EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT THIS BOOK?

The Burning Sky totally caught me by surprise. It begins with an elixir and a bolt of lightning - that's all it takes for Iolanthe Seabourne to learn she's the greatest elemental mage of her generation. The prophecy says she'll be the savior of The Realm, but she's unsure of her own ability and unprepared for the tasks to come. Prince Titus, guided by his mother's visions, has sworn to protect and train Iolanthe to face off against the Bane.

I should have known Kelly and Alexa wouldn't lead me astray, but I was unprepared for just how much I was going to love this book. I loved the opening - it immediately made me curious about what was inside. But would it live up to the promising start? The first 50 pages or so were a little confusing, I'll admit. From the world to the terminology, it was a lot to wrap my mind around. And Thomas has done something really clever by including a "Notes" section at the end with excerpts from (fictional) texts related to this world. It's insanely creative, but it's also a little overwhelming right at first.

Once I'd read a few chapters, however, I found my stride. I was devouring The Burning Sky! Because here's what I didn't know before I started this book: it combines my two favorite genres, historical fiction and fantasy. The book opens in the fantasy world, but it soon shifts to the historical setting. And at that point, I knew it was going to become a new favorite. I'm obsessed with the way Thomas has combined the two worlds, and I have to applaud her imagination for the way she was able to do it. When I finished the book, there were still some things about the setting that I felt needed a little more development of explanation... but since I've already read The Perilous Sea, I'll go ahead and tell you that Thomas totally delivers in the next installment of this series.

So, that's the setting. But what about the plot, characters, and writing? I can't say enough great things about each of these aspects! I loved Thomas's writing - it's clever, smart and so engaging. The plot is fast-paced and creative with just enough conflict and complications to keep me hooked. I wanted to know more about the prophecy regarding Iolanthe. I was dying to know how they'd challenge the Bane, what he was doing to stay in power and what it would take to save The Realm. I was grinning as Iolanthe and Titus protected themselves in the historical world, and I was so pleased with the way they were hidden in plain sight.

Speaking of the characters, Iolanthe and Titus are new favorites for me. Individually and together, they're two of the best protagonists I've read about this year (if not in the last few years). I loved their bickering, their banter, and their butting heads. It's everything I adore in a relationship! Iolanthe is amazing. I loved that she's unaware of her own talent, that she speaks her mind, that she's able to disguise herself as a boy (this was one of my favorite parts of the book!) and that she doesn't just do what Titus tells her. And Titus is equally wonderful! He's smart, dedicated to the cause, single-minded in his commitment to protect Iolanthe and fulfill his mother's visions. I could't have imagined two people better equipped to bring down the villain!

Seriously, y'all, I can't say enough great things about The Burning Sky. I had no idea that it would win me over with all of my favorite things, and I still can't figure out why I don't hear more people talking about this series. Or maybe I've just somehow missed it? Either way, make sure you've read this book! It's epic, and you can - as the opening will tell you - expect magic.

So Quotable
"This is the story of a girl who fooled a thousand boys, a boy who fooled an entire country, a partnership that would change the fate of the realms, and a power to challenge the greatest tyrant the world had ever known. Expect magic."

March 17, 2015

Spring Into Action

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!

I always look forward to the season changing because it means I get to pick the books for this list. I finished all of the books on my Winter TBR so quickly, and I'm hoping to do the same thing this time. Since I'm participating in so many challenges this year, six of my choices will help me make progress on those! 

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR


1. The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen / FANTASY / I loved The Queen of the Tearling, so I've been dying for this release. I can't wait to return to this world, but I'm most excited about more time with Kelsea!

2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas / FANTASY / NEW SARAH J. MAAS GOODNESS? Of course I'm ecstatic! I'm dying for more Throne of Glass, but this will definitely hold me over until then.

3. The Scarlet Trilogy by A.C. Gaughen / SERIES / I've heard such amazing things about this series, but I've been holding off until the last book releases so that I can binge it. It's finally time, and I can't wait!

4. The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder / SERIES + RE-READ / I re-read the first book in this series a while ago, but it's time for me to finally continue and binge them all again. Talk about memories.

5. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell  / RE-READ + DIVERSITY / This was one of my childhood favorites, and I can't wait to re-read it with Estelle for our You Make Me Feel So Young feature.

6. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee / DIVERSITY / HELLO. This is one of my most anticipated 2015 debuts! From the cover to the summary, everything about this book sounds like it's going to be a winner for me.


7. The Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby / The summary for this book reminds me of the movie Return to Me, which I've always loved. I'm not sure what to expect, but I always love contemporaries in the spring.

8. The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy / I love Civil War fiction, so it was a given that I'd want to read this book. But add in a gorgeous cover and a summary that promises an Underground Railroad mapmaker - YES.

9. It's Not Me, It's You by Mhairi McFarlane / I fell for McFarlane's You Had Me at Hello last year, and I've heard even better things about her most recent release. Plus, it helps that the cover is absolutely adorable.

10. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein / Yes, I still haven't read this book. With Wein's newest book coming out soon, I won't let myself buy it until I take this one off my TBR. I don't know why I've been dragging my feet!

March 16, 2015

Closer Than You Think

The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel

Release Date: July 2001
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 274 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback 
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Summary from Goodreads
Olivia Dunne, a studious minister's daughter who dreams of being an archaeologist, never thought that the drama of World War II would affect her quiet life in Denver. An exhilarating flirtation reshapes her life, though, and she finds herself banished to a rural Colorado outpost, married to a man she hardly knows. Overwhelmed by loneliness, Olivia tentatively tries to establish a new life, finding much-needed friendship and solace in two Japanese American sisters who are living at a nearby internment camp. When Olivia unwittingly becomes an accomplice to a crime and is faced with betrayal, she finally confronts her own desires. Beautifully written and filled with memorable characters, Creel's novel is a powerful exploration of the nature of trust and love.

Thoughts on The Magic of Ordinary Days
I watched the Hallmark movie The Magic of Ordinary Days long before I ever knew it was based on a book. It came out in 2005, and I somehow stumbled upon it. I wasn't a big Hallmark movie fan, but I absolutely loved Keri Russell. I recently decided to re-watch it, which is when I finally realized that there was a book by the same name. Since I already knew I loved the story, I couldn't wait to see if the book was even better. After all, that's usually the case! So, was that true with The Magic of Ordinary Days?

It's the last year of World War II, and Olivia Dunne is a minister's daughter who dreams of being an archaeologist. But a moment of passion changes of her life forever. Suddenly, she's leaving Denver for a rural Colorado outpost... and about to marry a man she's never met before. Overwhelmed by loneliness, Olivia becomes friends with two Japanese American sisters who are living a a nearby internment camp. She's stumbling through the awkwardness of her marriage and battling loneliness until she unwittingly becomes an accomplice to a crime. Now, she's finally forced to decide what she wants out of her life - and her marriage.

I love marriage of convenience stories, so that was already a point in this book's favor when I started. As soon as I started, I could already tell that I liked Creel's writing style. I highlighted a number of passages while I was reading! Olivia, who goes by Livvy, narrates the book. There were things I loved about her character, such as her love of history. But she was also difficult to connect to because of her grief. She's put up a wall around herself, and she really only thinks about herself for a long time. While that's not a flaw of the book, it is something I found frustrating at times. Furthermore, her love of history occasionally turned into info dumps that felt largely unnecessary - though I believe they were meant more as a character quirk.

Because of the first person point of view, you only see the other characters through Livvy's eyes. This is particularly important when it comes to Ray, the man Livvy marries. As the reader, you can tell that Livvy is wary of Ray. He does numerous kind things for her to make her feel welcome and to ease her into life on his farm. But for all his outreach to Livvy, she remains distant and closed off.

My biggest issue with the book was the development of their relationship. It felt so realistic and understandable to me for so long - until there's a change. In the movie, you get to see them interact and watch the progression of their feelings. In the book, you're only seeing through Livvy. So, you don't really understand why Ray cares for her as much as he does, or why she finally makes the decisions she does regarding their relationship. Because of that, I never loved the book as much as I'd hoped. I was rooting for the Ray and Livvy of the movie much more than I was for the couple in this book.

What about what I did love about this book? I think my favorite aspect was the inclusion of Rose and Lorelei - the two Japanese American sisters living in an internment camp. The Japanese internment camps are such a sad part of our nation's history, and I feel like it's something I never see depicted or discussed in books. I enjoyed seeing Livvy's friendship with them blossom, and my heart broke for what they were experiencing. The biggest difference between the movie and the book is the way their storyline ends. I did not expect it to end where it did and that broke my heart even more.

The Magic of Ordinary Days was an enjoyable read. I lost myself in the story, and I loved what I learned about history. There are so many stories from the past - layers and layers of people who experienced so many unimaginable things. I'm so glad this book made me think more about the stories of Japanese Americans in internment camps. As for the main story of the book - Livvy and Ray's marriage - I enjoyed watching it grow. While I ultimately loved the movie more, the book was still worth reading!

So Quotable
"As we grew up, my sisters played with dollhouses and dreamed of futures beside successful husbands, whereas I became gripped by the past. The stories and struggles of olden days worked their way from the crepe paper pages of old books and under the seal of my skin."
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