Farewell, 2012: End of the Year Book Survey

Dec 31, 2012

Hosted by Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner.
1. Best book you read in 2012?
OMG HOW DID I FORGET THAT I FINISHED HARRY POTTER THIS YEAR?! Major oversight on my part. Sorry, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows takes the favorite read crown.

2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn't?
The first book that came to mind, and the one that was most disappointing, would absolutely be The Forgotten Garden. I'd read two books by Kate Morton previously, so I thought I knew what to expect with this one. Instead, the book ended up being one of my least favorite reads of the year.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?
I was really surprised by Along for the Ride. It was my first Sarah Dessen, and I honestly expected it to be just a fluffy book. I knew people loved her books, but I didn't expect too much. Imagine my surprise when I fell in love!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was also a really surprising read. I thought it would be boring and very science-y. Despite its bestseller status, I was sure that I wouldn't enjoy it. It was so well written and engaging that I ended up reading it in a little over a day. I was swept up in the story, and the science part was just a nice bonus. I was learning while being entertained. Score!

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
I think my most recommended book this year has been Unbroken. I just loved it so much! I never thought a non-fiction book would be something that I'd be pimping out to anyone and everyone I know, but I've been begging people to read it! 

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
I loved Grave Mercy and The Raven Boys. Both are first books in a series, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how both series develop in the future! These are such promising first books, and I really hope the next books live up to my expectations.

As for series that I started this year, immediately read both books, and NEED the third book... well, that would be the Divergent series. I tore through Divergent/Insurgent, and I cannot wait to see what happens in the third and final book in the trilogy. 

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
Such an easy question! Melina Marchetta, Maggie Stiefvater, Veronica Roth and Kristin Cashore definitely top the list. Check out my recent Top Ten Tuesday post to see more of the new-to-me authors I read in 2012.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
I'm absolutely going to say Graceling. I honestly don't think I'd ever read anything quite like this before. I had this expectation that I was going to hate it - that it was going to be too weird or too much of stretch for my imagination. And in the end I ADORED it! This was definitely one of my favorite reads of 2012, and I loved that it was so out of my reading comfort zone.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
I read a lot of books really quickly this year, but no other book had me on the edge of my seat like Gone Girl did. I started it on a flight from Atlanta to San Francisco, and I was reading it in baggage claim because I was so close to finishing it and HAD TO KNOW what happened. It was a totally psycho book, but it was by far the most thrilling thing I read this year.

9. Book you read in 2012 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
I'm likely to re-read books next year for one of two reasons. One reason is if it's part of a series where there is a new book coming out next year. Those re-reads may include: Pandemonium, Insurgent, For Darkness Shows the Stars, Grave Mercy and The Raven BoysThe other reason I'll re-read is if the book is calling my name to re-read it. Those might include: Jellicoe Road, The Scorpio Races, Graceling and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

I adored this book cover! I love the black and white image, the way the image is focused on the couple with the motion blurred around them, and the adorable text elements. Even better? The story inside is a cute as the cover.

11. Most memorable character in 2012? 
I read a bunch of books with some bad-ass heroines this year, so I'd definitely say it was the year of memorable leading ladies: Puck from The Scorpio Races, Ismae from Grave Mercy, Tris from Divergent & Insurgent, Katsa from Graceling and Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Each of these ladies are absolutely memorable for their awesomeness and strength.

But the first characters that came to mind were Francesca from Saving Francesca and Tom from The Piper's Son. These Melina Marchetta characters are so memorable, so alive, that I can hardly believe they aren't real. Francesca and Tom are some of the most well-developed, realistic characters I've ever read about, and I will absolutely revisit them in the future.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
So many of the books I've read this year were so beautifully written, but I'm going to try to refrain from rehashing some of the ones I've already named. Just assume that if it was on my favorites list, it was probably pretty dang beautiful. But I absolutely think that The Sky is Everywhere, The House at Tyneford and The Night Circus were three of the most beautiful books I've read this year. They were all so quotable, and I wanted to underline whole sections of each of them. For me, that's the sign of a dang good book.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?
This is so hard! I think I'll go with Unbroken because it was the book that has stayed on my mind and in my heart ever since I read it. It's the kind of book that breaks your heart, makes you question humanity, but also restores your faith in the human spirit and exemplifies amazing grace and forgiveness.

I'd also say Second Chance Summer because it's one of the few books I've read that has had me in major tears by the end. It just felt that touching and that personal. 

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read? 
There are books published way before 2012 that I didn't read until this year, but I'm not counting them because many of them I didn't even know about until recently. For example, I can't believe I just read Jellicoe Road, but I also didn't really know anything about it until recently.

So, I'm going to give the award to I Capture the Castle. Published in 1948, I'd heard enough about this to be intrigued but never got around to reading it. Then, I happened upon a copy while traveling and decided the time was right. I'm glad I finally read it because I loved it! It was one of my favorite books of the year - why didn't I read it sooner?

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2012?
"Maybe she'd always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them." • Melina Marchetta, The Piper's Son

"She craved a presence beside her, solid. Fingertips light at the nape of her neck and a voice meeting hers in the dark. Someone who would wait with an umbrella to walk her home in the rain, and smile like sunshine when he saw her coming. Who would dance with her on her balcony, keep his promises and know her secrets, and make a tiny world wherever he was, with just her and his arms and his whisper and her trust." • Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

"It is the storyteller's prerogative to try to write, every now and then, the ending she might wish for. Even if it exists only on the white page." • Natasha Solomons, The House at Tyneford

"I'm drawn to him and tied to him with the cords of a thousand different memories." • Allie Condie, Matched

"He was giving her the most important thing he could, the only way he knew how. He was a professor, a lover of stories, and he was building her a library in the same way other men might build their daughters houses." • Jennifer E. Smith, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend." • Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

"When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it - or rather, it is like living it. It makes reading so much more exciting, but I don't suppose many people try to do it." • Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

16. Shortest and longest book you read in 2012?
The Great Gatsby was my shortest read at 180 pages. The Pillars of the Earth was my longest at 973 pages, but Bleak House was a close second at 866 pages. 

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it?
The ending of Pandemonium. The everything of Gone Girl. The tears in Code Name Verity. The swoon in Jellicoe Road. The intensity in The Scorpio Races. The feels in Graceling. The people in Saving Francesca.

I seriously need some more bookish people as friends in real life so that I can talk to them because OMG who the heck am I supposed to share all the feels with?!

18. Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2012?

Puck & Sean. Lola & Cricket. Katsa & Po. Tris & Four. Taylor & Jonah. Verity & Maddie. And if you aren't familiar with these relationships yet, you need to get on that this instant.

19. Favorite book you read in 2012 from an author you read previously?
I think my favorite book by an author I've previously read would be Lola and the Boy Next Door. Stephanie Perkins sure does know to write some swoony boys and awesome stories. I can't wait for more from her! 

20. Best book you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else?
Without a doubt, I have to give this to Code Name Verity. After seeing Elena and April rave about it over and over again, I knew I had to pick it up. I like historical fiction, but I'm not sure I would have picked this one up because the cover and description didn't pull me in. Needless to say, I am SO glad I trusted their amazing judgment because this was one of my favorite reads this year!

21. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2012?
Since I started blogging last November, I can't really remember who I discovered before 2012. So, some of my favorite book blogs whose recommendations are rock solid include: April from Good Books & Good Wine, Magan & Estelle from Rather Be Reading, Jamie from The Perpetual Page-Turner, Asheley from Into the Hall of Books, Elena from Novel Sounds, Lisa from Lisa is Busy Nerding and Lorren from The Story Girl

22. Favorite review that you wrote in 2012? 
I'm not sure if I really have a favorite review! Maybe my review of Along for the Ride? I think that was one of my better reviews - I was able to mention everything I loved about the book and hopefully did it justice.

23. Best discussion you had on your blog?
I don't know if it was necessarily the best discussion, but I think my favorite discussion were the comments on my post about re-reading L.M. Montgomery over the summer. It was so reassuring seeing everyone agree that there's just so much pressure to read new books and that sometimes it's nice to just return to old favorites.

24. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else’s blog?
Anna's post about Why Adults Read YA
SO many of Asheley's posts, but top of the list includes: Why She Loves to Re-Read, Her Favorite Things In Books and Print Books vs. Ebooks
Elena's post about The Art of Reviewing
Sarah's post Why I E-Read

25. Best event that you participated in?

I didn't really participate in many "events" this year, but I loved going to the Emily Giffin signing in Atlanta for her new book, Where We Belong. I went by myself, but I spent the whole time talking to the sweetest girl sitting near me. I think it was my favorite because it was such an example of how books can bring two people together and immediately make you feel like friends. Getting my book signed was just an added bonus.

26. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?
Is it totally cheesy to say making new friends? Meeting new people and talking books has absolutely been one of the best things about blogging this year!

27. Most popular post this year on your blog?
My most popular post, in views and comments, is my Top Ten Tuesday post with my favorite quotes. I love that it's one of my most popular posts because it's one of my favorites. I just love quotes so much - and it makes me happy that other people do, too.

An honorable mention goes to my post about my love for Peeta. It's one of my more popular posts, but it also gets an honorable mention because I think it was one of my first posts where people really commented and shared. Plus it totally helped me make some new blog friends!

The post with the most search traffic is the post about Society6 iPhone cases. I'm assuming people are looking for a review of the case before buying. Sorry, Internet. I just wrote about how they were pretty.

28. Post you wished got a little more love?
I think there are always review that you wish got a little more love or feedback, but I think the post I wish got more love is the one where I mentioned Juliette Tang's bookish photographs. I don't wish it got more love for my sake - I just wanted more people to see and fall in love with her awesome still life vignettes inspired by books.

29. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
While it's probably not new for most people, I was really excited about discovering Audible. I was lukewarm on the idea of audiobooks for a long time, but I've fallen in love with it now that I'm spending at least an hour in the car every day going to and from work. So yay audio for helping me be nerdy even when I'm driving!

I was also really excited to discover that my library system had a way to check out Kindle books. While the selection is still growing, I've been pleasantly surprised with how many books I can find in their catalog that I actually want to read. Score for libraries making it possible to read books for free!

30. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
I originally set my Goodreads Challenge goal at 75 books. I read 127 books last year, but I thought I wouldn't be able to read as many now that I was working and not in college. Once I made the 75 books goal (in June!), I upped it to 125. I'm happy to say that I met that goal in November, and I've read 1421 books this year. Yay!

31. One book you didn't get to in 2012 but will be your number 1 priority in 2013?
Finnikin of the Rock, Seraphina, Reached and Days of Blood and Starlight. The first two because I bought them in July and still haven't read them, and the second two because I got them both like two weeks ago and was dying tos start them but never did. WHY HAVEN'T I READ ALL THESE YET?!

32. Book you are most anticipating for 2013?
So many good books are coming out in 2013! I can't wait for Isla and the Happily Ever After (this better happen in 2013), RequiemJust One DayDark Triumph and Secrets Over Sweet Tea.

33. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging in 2013?
I think my biggest goal for 2013 is to not put pressure on myself, to just relax and to enjoy reading and not stress out about blogging. I got so burned out this year that I took a long blog break. It was much needed, but I don't want to do something like that next year. I want to be able to just enjoy blogging and write consistently.

I've also made it my goal to write more posts that will hopefully inspire more discussion. Some of my favorite bloggers are the ones that don't just write reviews - they write rants, opinions, thoughts on their bookish lives. I want to do more of that, so I've made that one of my goals for 2013.

Best of Beauty 2012

Dec 30, 2012

Inspired by Jamie at Perpetual Page-Turner's post on the "Best of 2012: All Things Not Books," I thought I'd do a little end of the year round-up of my own. I could spend so much time in Sephora and Ulta - browsing, smelling, testing and dreaming of taking all the pretty home with me. But I'm also a creature of habit. I find the products I love, and then I get in a routine that I like. Regardless of whether or not you're a product lover, here are my 2012 beauty obsessions.

1. Kenra Volume Spray 25 ($24/16oz) - This hairspray smells great, and one quick shot really does help with all those frizzies and flyaways. I also love a little extra on my bangs so they'll stay in place and not drive me crazy all day! If this isn't sold at a salon near you, you can also pick it up at Ulta stores (just not online).

2. Bb Texture Hair (Un)Dressing Creme ($27/5oz) - In my dreams, I have Blake Lively's hair on Gossip Girl. You know how it's all textured and messy without actually being wavy or curly? That's what I want. With this product, I've actually been able to come close to that look. I don't use this product everyday - just when I'm feeling lazy and want messy hair that still looks like I tried. 

3. Rootful 06 Root Lifting Spray ($16/8.5oz) - Volumizers work differently on everyone, so my favorite may not be yours. That being said, I adore this root lifter! Creme and mousse volumizers tend to make my hair sticky and gross, so I love that this is just a liquid spray. Even when my hair is wet, I can see added volume at my roots as soon as I spray it on.

4. Morrocanoil Treatment ($39/3.4oz) - This is seriously liquid gold. I adore this because it makes my frizzy hair smooth, shiny and smell divine. If I could only have one product on this list, it would definitely be this one.

5. Remington Studio Pearl Ceramic Hair Dryer ($49.99) - My favorite hair dryer ever! 
1. NARS Sheer Glow Foundation ($42/1oz) - This is one of the only foundations I've been able to find that has a color that works well with my skin tone. My skin also tends to be dry, so the sheer glow texture makes my skin look more dewy.

2. MAC Paint Pot in Painterly ($18.50) - I use this on my eyelid as a primer before eyeshadow, and it's made such a difference. It evens the color of my eyelid and makes my eyeshadow look good all day long!

3. Dermablend Smooth Indulgence SPF 20 Concealer ($22/0.3oz) - My go-to concealer when I need to cover up acne. There are videos on this company's website showing them using the concealer and foundation to cover huge tattoos. So yeah, it works pretty dang good.

4. Urban Decay Naked2 Eyeshadow Palette ($50) - I adore this palette! All of the colors are gorgeous, which is rare because there is usually a few weird ones in palettes. The colors in this are deeply pigmented, perfect for daily wear and look gorgeous on. 

5. NARS Bronzer in Laguna ($34) - I'm very fair, so I thought this would be too dark on me even though it's their lightest bronzer shade. However, as long as I use a very light touch with my brush, it's perfect. Gives you that "I just spent a little time in sun" glow, even in the dead of winter.

6. NARS Blush in Orgasm ($28) - I'm sorry, but this is a bestseller for a reason. It's gorgeous! And from what I can tell, it works on so many skin tones.

7. Maybelline The Colossal Volum' Express ($6.99) - I may like mostly expensive makeup, but I'll always use cheap mascara. There's nothing better! I like to try new mascaras all the time, but this is the one I keep coming back to. 

8. Chanel Rouge Coco Shine in Boy ($32.50) - My mom is always trying to get me to wear lipstick because I need some color on my lips, and this is the first one I've owned where I'll constantly put more on. It's a lovely color, but I'm an even bigger fan of the way the lipstick looks and feels. It's hydrating, sheer and has a beautiful shine on your lips. OBSESSED.

9. Milani Liquid Eye Eyeliner in 05-Brown ($5.97) - Of all the eyeliners I've tried, this one is my absolute favorite. It glides on, stays all day and is so affordable! 

10. Essie Nail Polish in Lollipop ($8) - I'm a nail polish addict. Or, rather, an Essie addict. I just can't stop buying them! Of all the colors I own, I wear this one the most often. Red nails just look so glamourous and automatically make you feel prettier!

1. LUSH Catastrophe Cosmetic Fresh Face Mask ($6.95/2.1oz) - I'm in love with this face mask! It's made fresh, so it actually has an expiration date. It has little blueberry pieces in it, which kind of freaked me out the first time I put it on. I don't buy this all the time - it's more of a treat to get it - but I love how it makes my skin look and feel. 

2. DERMAdoctor Ain't Misbehavin' Acne Control Serum ($45/1oz) - My skin and acne breakouts have gotten so much better with the use of this acne serum and the cleanser below. I only use this when I'm starting to breakout, and it heals my skin so much faster than anything else I've tried!

3. DERMAdoctor Ain't Misbehavin' Acne Cleanser ($25/7oz) - Oh hello, cleanser I now can't live without. I know the packaging is cheesy, but this has been a lifesaver. You use this while your skin is dry, and I only apply it to areas where I'm breaking out. I've tried so many acne treatments, and this is the only thing I've used that's made it better. It hasn't made my skin perfect, but it's significantly better. Hallelujah!

4. Korres Wild Rosse + Vitamin C Advanced Brightening Sleeping Facial ($48/1.35oz) - I put this on at night before bed and am absolutely in love with the smell. It's divine, and I just love how it moisturizes my dry skin while I'm sleeping.

5. Burt's Bees Replenishing Lip Balm with Pomegranate Oil ($3) - My favorite chapstick! It smells good and has a really pretty, sheer tint to it. It helps soften my lips and adds a little color at the same time. Success!

6. Clarisonic Mia in Turquoise ($119) - I LOVEEEEEE my Clarisonic! I previously used a washcloth, but not anymore. My skin has never felt cleaner! I also love that it sloughs off all the dead and dry skin, which also makes my makeup look better on.

7. LUSH The Comforter Bubble Bar ($10.95/7oz) - I'm addicted to taking a bath - as in, I would take one every single night if I could. I love breaking off a piece of a LUSH bubble bar and crumbling it in the bath. The bath smells good and the water turns pink, and then I'm in heaven.

8. Kiehl's Ultra Facial Moisturizer SPF 15 ($31/4.2oz) - I'm not moisturizer loyal, but I love this one. It's light, works well under my makeup and protects against the sun. It's also not making me break out or anything, so that's always good!

9. TOCCA Eau de Parfum in Brigitte ($68/1.7oz) - I'd read about people having a signature scent and not understand the idea of falling in love and being loyal to one perfume. Until I found this one. I love everything about it! It smells wonderful, and the bottle is gorgeous. 

10. Korres Wild Rose Daily Brightening and Refining Buff Cleanser ($24/5.07oz) - I switch cleansers all the time, but I'm really loving this one lately. It smells good, and I love that it has a little bit of a buffing quality. Used with my Clarisonic, it's wonderful!

Do you use any of these products or have any recommendations of your own? Please share - I'm always on the lookout for another beauty buy!

A Tasmanian Adventure

Dec 29, 2012

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

Release Date: August 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Touchstone
Pages: 544 pages
Source & Format: Gift; Paperback
Goodreads | Amazon

Summary (from Amazon)
Emma, a prima ballerina in London, is at a crossroads after an injured knee ruins her career. Forced to rest and take stock of her life, she finds that she’s mistaken fame and achievement for love and fulfillment. Returning home to Australia, she learns of her grandmother Beattie’s death and a strange inheritance: a sheep station in isolated rural Australia. Certain she has been saddled with an irritating burden, Emma prepares to leave for Wildflower Hill to sell the estate.

Beattie also found herself at a crossroads as a young woman, but she was pregnant and unwed. She eventually found success—but only after following an unconventional path that was often dangerous and heartbreaking. Beattie knew the lessons she learned in life would be important to Emma one day, and she wanted to make sure Emma’s heart remained open to love, no matter what life brought. She knew the magic of the Australian wilderness would show Emma the way.

Thoughts on Wildflower Hill
Wildflower Hill gets off to a slow start, but I was completely hooked once I get in to the story. The novel ties together the stories of a young woman and her grandmother. Neither woman seems like they'd be very sympathetic - both are flawed and selfish. But they quickly grew on me, and I just had to know the outcome of both of their stories.

Emma, the granddaughter, is a world-renowned ballerina. It's her passion, her entire life, until a fall down the stairs ruins her dreams for the future. She'll never again be able to dance. Add to that a breakup with her boyfriend and very few real friends outside of dancing. When she returns home to her parents, she finds out that she's inherited a sheep ranch in Tasmania from her late grandmother. She decides a break - time away - is just what she needs.

While clearing out the contents of the house, she starts to piece together the puzzle of her grandmother's life. That's when the story begins flashing back to Beattie, her grandmother. Young, pregnant, and unwed, she must make a new life for herself when she's thrown out of her parent's home.

I don't want to say anything about what happens next because so much of the tension in this book comes from the way the story unravels and the puzzle pieces fall in to place. Beattie's heartbreak and Emma's discovery of it made me fall in love with this family saga.

These are flawed characters, but I grew to love them. I also was crazy about the Tasmanian countryside. Freeman did a wonderful job on the setting - it played such a huge role in the book. Wildflower Hill was a compulsive read, even at over 500 pages. I will definitely be picking up this book again - just to relive the Australian magic.

So Quotable
“There are two types of women in the world, Beattie, those who do things and those who have things done to them.” 

Falling for Fantasy?

Dec 28, 2012

Release Date: October 1, 2008; October 5, 2009
Publisher: Harcourt Houghton Mifflin / Penguin Books
Pages: 471 pages; 461 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook / Library; Hardcover
Series: Graceling Realm #1 & #2

Sum It Up (from Goodreads)
GracelingKatsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

FireIt is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her. 

Thoughts on Graceling & Fire
I was convinced that I was going to hate these books. Based on the cover alone, I'd already put it on my "no way" shelf. I think if you are already a fantasy lover, these covers probably aren't a turnoff. In fact, you might actually like them. But, if you're like me and a little bit afraid of the fantasy genre, these are not the most appealing covers.

However, I kept seeing review after review that raved about Graceling. People loved Katsa and Po, they loved Kristin Cashore's world... and who am I to question popular opinion? So, I decided to go against my "better judgment" and read Graceling. A few hours later, and I understood why everyone raved about the book.

There are just so many things to love about this book - a kick-ass heroine, world building that's developed and has real depth, a romance that builds slowly but packs a huge punch, fast-paced action, political intrigue and characters that come alive.

There's adventure, humor, romance... I can't even begin to tell you how invested I was in this book! If I had one complaint, it's that a few of Katsa's opinions felt a little heavy-handed. I have no problem reading about a character who doesn't like the idea of marriage or children, but there a few times that the opinions didn't seem genuine. I don't really know how to explain it - it just felt a little off a few times.

I know I'm not really saying much about the plot, but it's only because there is so much that's already been said about Graceling. I'm just here to tell you that I was really skeptical, but I fell hard for this book.

I immediately picked up Fire from the library because I just had to know what happened next. I was really surprised to find that it's more of a companion novel - I expected a traditional series where the second book published follows the first. On one hand, I was a little disappointed because I was dying for more Katsa & Po. But, at the same time, I appreciated the next characters and the way Cashore showed her readers a different side of the world she created in the first book.

This is essentially a prequel to Graceling. While there were some things I enjoyed about this book, I found it kind of frustrating. The pacing wasn't nearly as gripping as it was in Graceling - I easily set the book down and came back later.

More than anything, I didn't really connect with Fire, the main character. She just seemed like a more whiny and less likable version of Katsa. The characters and story as a whole just felt like a shadow of the awesomeness that was Graceling. Don't get me wrong - there were moments of awesome and I could see some more in there.

It was still a good book - it just didn't live up to my expectations. I'm going to re-read this soon, without reading Graceling first, to see if I appreciate it more without the comparisons to Graceling just floating around in my head.

So Quotable
“When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?” 

“Are you determined to leave me in this world to live without my heart?” 

The Moon Princess

Dec 22, 2012

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

Release Date: July 2010
Publisher: Random House | Broadway Books
Pages: 464 pages
Source & Format: Gift; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Amazon)
After the death of their parents, twins Alexander and Selene and younger brother Ptolemy are in a dangerous position, left to the mercy of their father's greatest rival, Octavian Caesar. However, Caesar does not kill them as expected, but takes the trio to Rome to be paraded as part of his triumphant return and to demonstrate his solidified power. As the twins adapt to life in Rome in the inner circle of Caesar's family, they grow into adulthood ensconced in a web of secrecy, intrigue and constant danger. Told from Selene's perspective, the tale draws readers into the fascinating world of ancient Rome and into the court of Rome's first and most famous emperor.

Thoughts on Cleopatra's Daughter
There were some things I really enjoyed about Cleopatra's Daughter, but there were some elements that really didn't work for me. It was kind of a mixed bag, in my opinion, but I may just not have been in the right frame of mind when I read it.

It took me a long time to get in to this book. I'm not very familiar with Egyptian or Roman history, so I was really confused at a lot of the name-dropping. There are so many characters - and so many conversations where they refer to people while also trying to subtly explain who they are. It was all a little too much for me.

There were also some moments that seemed really unrealistic too me. The twins get settled in to their new life and city awfully fast, especially having such a heartbreaking and traumatic past. It made them seem less like real characters because they often didn't react in a way that made sense.

Some of the historical element didn't fit in organically. For example, details were added in to conversations for the sake of the reader and felt sort of clunky. That made the reading experience a little less enjoyable for me. Don't get me wrong - I was obviously interested enough to finish the story. But as someone who typically loves historical fiction, this wasn't quite as nuanced as I expected it to be.

Having said that, I did enjoy the Red Eagle storyline and the mystery surrounding his/her identity. If you approach this book just expecting an interesting story, I think you'll enjoy it. If you're looking for fiction that is really rooted in history and seems accurate, this probably isn't for you.

So Quotable 
“Even in the most wretched life, there’s hope.” 

She Runs Wild & Free

Dec 20, 2012

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Release Date: January 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Scribner
Pages: 272 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback

Summary (from Amazon)
Lily Casey Smith, this novel's feisty Texas protagonist, is a frontier teacher, a rancher, a rodeo rider, a poker player, and bootlegger. In Half Broke Horses, she survives droughts, tornados, floods, poverty, and whatever else fate can throw against her. Based on author Jeannette Walls's grandmother, Lily is a plausible character because she has a voice that synchronizes with her history. This novel lives up to the still-gathering acclaim for Walls's novel The Glass Castle.

Thoughts on Half Broke Horses
After reading The Glass Castle, I was excited to dive in to Half Broke Horses. While The Glass Castle was a memoir, this book is billed as "a true-life novel" because of the way Jeanette Walls approached the book. Rather than tell her grandmother Lily's history in third person, she decided to write it in the first person. Lily is the narrator of the book - her stories so legendary within the family that Jeanette felt it was a stronger book when written in Lily's voice.

I still can't decide if I liked that aspect of the book. I felt like The Glass Castle packed such a punch, but Half Broke Horses just wasn't quite all there for me.

Lily is absolutely a force of nature. So much happens to her and she makes so much happen, it's almost hard to believe it all really happened. She's a larger than life woman, and it was really interesting to read about all that she accomplished in her life. It also provides more context for The Glass Castle because you get to know the woman that raised Jeanette's mom. The contrast between Lily and her daughter is quite interesting.

I didn't find it nearly as compelling as Jeanette's memoir, but it was still an interesting read. Because it's written like a novel, I just felt like I didn't buy into it all. I questioned how much was true, what was embellished and what Lily's feelings really were (rather than her granddaughter's interpretation of what her grandmother's feelings might have been). I think it fell short for me because I spent so much time questioning everything. If I'd be able to get past that, I probably would have liked this a lot more.

So Quotable
"Sometimes after I finished a particularly good book, I had the urge to get the library card, find out who else had read the book, and track them down to talk about it."

Love When You Least Expect It

Dec 19, 2012

Love Walked In & Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

Release Date: November 2006; April 2008
Publisher: Penguin; HarperCollins
Pages: 307 pages; 400 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback

Sum It Up (from Amazon)
Love Walked In: When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. But little does she know that her newfound love is only the harbinger of greater changes to come. Meanwhile, across town, Clare Hobbs—eleven years old and abandoned by her erratic mother—goes looking for her lost father. She crosses paths with Cornelia while meeting with him at the café, and the two women form an improbable friendship that carries them through the unpredictable currents of love and life.

Belong to Me: Cornelia Brown surprised herself when she was gripped by the sudden, inescapable desire to move to the suburbs with her husband. Her mettle is quickly tested by her impeccably dressed, overly judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt—the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she'd find in suburbia. With Lake, another recent arrival, Cornelia shares a love of literature and old movies—as she forms an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman and her perceptive, brilliant young son Dev.

Thoughts on Love Walked In & Belong to Me
I read Love Walked In last year, and I actually included it on my list of favorite reads from 2011. After finishing it, I immediately went out and bought Belong to Me since I knew that it was a sort-of sequel. But I never quite got around to reading it.

When I was finally ready to pick it up, the first book wasn't as clear in my mind as I would have liked so I did a little re-read.

My favorite thing about Marisa de los Santos is her lyrical writing. She was a poet long before she was writing novels, and I think that's so evident in her books. The words just flow off the page, and there were so many things I wanted to underline and save to roll around in my mind later.

Love Walked In revolves around the unlikely relationship between its two narrators, Cornelia and Clare. Cornelia is a cafe manger in her thirties who meets Clare, the 11-year-old daughter of her boyfriend, one day in the cafe. What happens next is a sweet love story - between a grown woman and a lost and scared little girl.

I adored these two ladies, especially for the movie and literary references that are so intrinsic to their characters. They absolutely sold me on this book!

In Belong to Me, Cornelia has the urge to move to the suburbs with her husband (I won't share his name because it would spoil part of the first book). Once she's finally moved in, she struggles to make friends and adjust to her new way of life. From her judgmental neighbor to a possible friend with lots of secrets, Cornelia is about to learn that things aren't always what they seem.

You don't have to read the first book to understand the second, but I don't think you'll love the characters nearly enough without the history of the first book.

This is a quiet book that focuses on character development and gorgeous prose. If you're interested a book with lots of heart, this is certainly one you should check out!

So Quotable
"We talked and talked and talked. Maybe love comes in at the eyes, but not nearly as much as it comes in at the ears, at least in my experience. As we talked, lights flicked on inside my head; by the end of the night I was a planetarium."

"Certain people are like that, I guess. They're together no matter where they are. They just belong to each other."

Favorite Reads of 2012

Dec 17, 2012

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!

Top Ten (Fourteen) Books I Read in 2012

1. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - From so confusing to so amazing, this was one hell of a ride. I loved every minute of this book, and it was so worth all the confusion in the beginning.

2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - I'm still thinking about those horses and that romance. Still. And I totally just bought a hardcover copy because I absolutely had to have a copy in my house.

3. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund - I didn't know this was an Austen re-imagining, so I wasn't really interested in it at first. Then, I started seeing a bunch of great reviews AND realized it was inspired by Persuasion. I'm so glad I did because it's wonderful!

4. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta - A simple story told brilliantly. This is one of those quiet books that sneaks up on you and just worms its way in to your heart. Funny, touching and relatable - I adored Saving Francesca.

5. Graceling by Kristin Cashore - A book that proved me wrong. I thought for sure that I would hate this book and hate fantasy, but I was so wrong. I was totally wrapped up in this story and these characters. Who knew that I'd love fantasy?!

6. Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor - Because who comes up with this world?! I mean, seriously. After my high from Graceling, I knew I had to dive in to this one. It was so different - unlike anything I'd ever read. And I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!

7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - A true testament to the power of friendship. "Kiss me, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!" Be right back, I need to go cry...

8. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett - Who knew the Middle Ages were so exciting? This is like a soap opera in a book, but I totally understand why it's so popular. It's engaging, exciting and actually informative. It's intimidating, but it's definitely worth it.

9. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins - Cricket, please make me a crazy machine! Seriously. As Mr. Rogers would say, won't you be my neighbor? Please. I'm asking nicely. One of my favorite book boys this year.

10. Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson - It made me cry. The real, can't stop these tears from falling kind of cry. Do I need to say more?

11. Divergent by Veronica Roth - Tris and Four totally lived up to the hype. I also read Insurgent this year and loved it, but I had to give the award to Divergent since it obviously got me hooked on the series in the first place. It was so good!

12. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers - Assassin nuns have never been so fun. Is it fantasy or historical fiction? It's like it can't quite decide! And I still really liked it. So much so that I read the 500+ pages in a day. Just say on my couch and couldn't get up until I was done.

13. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - One of the books I've recommended most this year. It was one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, and I've been telling people that they have to read it left and right.

14. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - I am so in love with Cassandra Mortmain's voice. I'm calling it a classic, even though it might not be considered that by everyone, and I loved the English countryside and crumbling castles.

Middle Ages: Masons, Monks & Monarchs

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Release Date: February 2002
Publisher: Penguin | Signet
Pages: 976 pages
Series: The Pillars of the Earth #1
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook & Audiobook

Summary (from Goodreads)
This book tells the tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time - the twelfth century; the place - feudal England; and the subject - the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-crated the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters - into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life."

Thoughts on The Pillars of the Earth
This is one intimidating book. Clocking in at almost 1,000 pages, you practically hurt your wrist just picking it up. And it's about monks and the building of a cathedral. Doesn't that just sound kind of boring? Good thing it's not!

This has more drama and action than I ever imagined! Set during the twelfth century, it spans more than 50 years and takes you across three countries. At the center of the book is Prior Philip, a monk who wants to restore the community's faith by building a cathedral for the ages. 

I had no idea what it took to build a cathedral. I knew it was a big undertaking, but I really didn't fully understand how much work was involved. It definitely gives you a deep appreciation for the architecture of the Middle Ages.

If the cathedral is the star of the book, the characters are its backbone. There were so many characters, but they were all so developed. They had personalities, desires, motivations, fears... And they really made the book such an addicting read!

For example, I got felt physically sick at one point because of William Hamleigh. He was selfish and evil, and it made my blood boil whenever he'd enter the page. I don't think I've ever hated a villain so much, but you have to admire an author you makes so invested in his characters. 

It's certainly long, but it's the kind of novel that makes you want to read one more chapter before you put it down. Is it kind of soap opera-y? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a compelling read!

I also need to praise the audiobook. I actually alternated between the audio and print. I loved the narrator, and I just wanted to keep listening to his voice. There were a few times that I took the longer way home or ran just one more errand so that I didn't have to stop. He made the story come alive, and I'm so glad I got to experience the audio version instead of just reading. I did still read it - mostly because I wanted to keep reading, even when I wasn't in the car.

Despite its length, I was swept away by this book. It was a good reminder that I should never put off reading a book that's calling my name - even if it's a whopper of a read.

So Quotable
"He was the worst kind of Christian, Philip realized: he embraced all of the negatives, enforced every proscription, insisted on all forms of denial, and demanded strict punishment for every offense; yet he ignored all the compassion of Christianity, denied its mercy, flagrantly disobeyed its ethic of love, and openly flouted the gentle laws of Jesus. That's what the Pharisees were like, Philip thought; no wonder the Lord preferred to eat with publicans and sinners."
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