Series Speed Date: Round #6

Oct 31, 2014

This section will cover any key details about the series.

Books In Series: Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart
Released: 2012 | 2013 | 2014
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 549 pages | 385 pages | 464 pages

What do these covers say about this series?

Honestly, I both love and hate these covers. I love the way the covers are similar with the heroine of the book front and center, and the way that each person seems true to the character inside. I like that each heroine is wielding a different weapon, but all wear a fierce expression. But I hate that these covers have real people! However, I do think these covers give you a good sense of what's inside: an epic historical fantasy that follows three very different, but equally amazing, characters.

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

His Fair Assassin series is set in Brittany during the late 1400s. It's historical fiction... with a fantasy twist. It follows three women who are trained at a convent to be "handmaidens of death" (or, you know, powerful assassins). It deals with actual historical events and includes many real figures, but it adds in the epic drama of missions from Death. I don't even know how to describe it, except to say that it's amazing. Each book also includes a swoonworthy romance, too. The summary promises "dangerous gifts", "a violent destiny" and "deadly games of intrigue and treason," and you'll get all of that and more in this series!

What are some highlights of the series?

Three courageous heroines who all have hurts but use them to become stronger.
Three unlikely heroes who are supportive and protective.
A plot to overcome Brittany... and a plan to thwart it.
A duchess in need of all the help and protection she can get.
A convent with a duty to serve Death.
An order to kill and administer justice, but a desire for mercy.
A dash of power, a whisper of treason and dose of political intrigue.
A well-researched and impeccably detailed world.
An incredible cast of secondary characters. 
Three love stories built on mutual respect and bursting with tension and chemistry.

How will you feel closing the last page?

Mortal Heart ends on such a great note! I will admit that it was probably my least favorite of the series, but that's just because I wasn't nearly as invested in the romance in it. The final book in the series includes more of the fantasy elements than the previous two did, and I occasionally wished it had felt a bit more historical. But honestly, it's a pretty minor complaint. I am amazed by how much research went into this series, and I'm so glad that LaFevers chose to focus on three different characters rather than use the same protagonist throughout the series. It gave me something new to look forward to with each book and expanded the world in such a fascinating way. This is such a strong series, and I doubt there will be any disappointment in the ending! It resolved the overarching conflict in the series, and left me hopeful and happy about each character's future.

Summing up this series in just three words?

Danger. Intrigue. Passion.

Is this series worth your time?

YES! I absolutely love this series, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to so many readers. It's a great introduction to historical fiction for readers who are perhaps a little unfamiliar with that genre, especially since the fantasy elements up the stakes. It's also a great chance for readers who are newer to fantasy to ease their way into that genre. And fans of both? Well, they'll likely want to cuddle up with these books and never let them go. While I had my favorite book in the series, they are all captivating stories of remarkable heroines who are filled with passion and courage!
*I received a copy of Mortal Heart from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

So Obsessed With: Fall 2014 Edition

Oct 30, 2014

Some of my favorite posts are ones where bloggers highlight the products they're loving lately or the things they're currently coveting. Posts like that always put new products on my radar and give me great ideas for gifts. I love this kind of content so much that I decided to start incorporating it into my blog by highlighting my loves and lusts and each season. Rather than give it a creative name, I thought my blog name was more fitting. So, here's what I'm so obsessed with this fall:

1. Butter London Nail Lacquer in Branwen's Feather and British Racing Green ($15) - Despite the price tag, Butter London is my absolute favorite nail polish. These are two of my favorite dark polishes from them, and they are perfect for fall! These have just enough shimmer to stand out while still being appropriate for work.

2. Josie Maran Argan Infinity Lip and Cheek Creamy Oil in Everlasting Honey ($18) - I've never tried this before, but I love the Josie Maran products I currently own. This looks gorgeous in the pictures I've seen - just the right amount of color! I don't think I'd use this for my cheeks, but I would totally try it for my lips.

3. Laura Mercier Crème Brûlée Honey Bath ($45) - This is one of my favorite things to buy as a gift. All of the scents are wonderful, but this one is delicious. I take a bath all the time, so these don't last long in my house!

4. YSL Long-Wear Cream Eyeliner in Black ($30) - I used to always use cream eyeliner, but I switched to pencils for a few years. I kept wanting something more pigmented, so I bought this one based on the reviews I read. It was the perfect choice! It looks great, lasts all day, doesn't smudge and hasn't dried out even with lots of use.

5. Nars Duo Eyeshadow in Cordura ($35) - While I love the Urban Decay Naked palettes, I find myself reaching for this eyeshadow duo most often. The colors are just perfect on, and I always kept compliments when I wear it. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the choices in bigger palettes, so this is just right!

6. Sam Edelman Penny Boot in Black ($169.60) - I need some dressier black books, and these are calling my name! I love the Sam Edelman flats that I own, so hopefully these are just as gorgeous in person. I love that they have an equestrian feel without looking costume-y.

7. Street Level Reversible Faux Leather Tote ($48) - This has great review on Nordstrom, which makes me so happy because it's a great price! I love solid metallic totes because they go with almost everything. The size looks perfect for carrying my laptop, too. 

8. Kate Spade Seriously Darling Bangle ($78) - My best friend bought me a Kate Spade bangle as a gift, and I've wanted another ever since. I'm a huge fan of wearing a big stack of bracelets, and I want to add this one to my arm. This saying is my favorite! It says "Pretty Major" on the inside, too, which I love.

9. Moon & Lola Seia Ring ($28) - I have two Moon & Lola necklaces, but I've got my eye on this ring. I love classic and simple pieces, and this bits the bill. This would look great with a statement ring on another finger!

10. Blue Floral Kantha Infinity Scarf ($19.99) - I'm obsessed with anything and everything kantha (a type of embroidery stitch), so I freaked out when I found this scarf at World Market. I love the bold color and muted floral pattern. This will look so great with a bunch of my favorite shirts!

11. Kate Spade Small Square Studs in Turquoise ($38) - While I own quite a few pairs of earrings, I always end up wearing the same few pairs. I love the simplicity and understated quality of studs, but I love that the color totally pops with these. They're bold but not too over-the-top.

12. Love, Rosie Movie - I cannot wait to see this movie! I frequently browse YouTube for new movie trailers, and I always end wanting to see ones that either won't be in theaters anytime soon or will have a limited release. I spotted this months ago, and I'm so glad it's finally time for it to release. It looks adorable!

13. Reign: The Complete First Season - When this premiered last season, I stopped in the middle of the first episode. I couldn't get past the awful costumes and hairstyles. Then, it showed up on Netflix... which gave me the perfect chance to try again. I started binge watching, and now I'm hooked!

14. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte and Reese's Pumpkins - Mmm... I love all things pumpkin in the fall! Seasonal Reese's are the best, and I go through bags of them in October. Struggle. And I'm not really a coffee fan, but I fall under the spell of pumpkin-flavored things in the fall and can't resist sipping on this drink.

15. Little Big Town's Pain Killer ($11.99) and Taylor Swift's 1989 ($12.99) - Even though I don't listen to a lot of country music, I loved Little Big Town's last album. I'm so excited for this release and hope it lives up to my expectations. As for Taylor Swift... do I even need to explain? It's my most-anticipated album of 2014.

16. Unspoken and The Boleyn King ($15-18) - I just read through the entire Lynburn Legacy series, and I'm obsessed. It's also perfect for fall - a moody and romantic Gothic mystery that made me so emotional! I've been intrigued about The Boleyn King for a while now, and I think this is the best season for historical fiction.

Secrets In the Shadows

Oct 29, 2014

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Release Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | HarperTeen
Pages: 288 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
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Summary (from Goodreads)
“I did my best to keep you from crossing paths with this world. And I shall do my best to protect you now that you have.” 

Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status…and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him.

Kiersten White captured readers’ hearts with her New York Times bestselling Paranormalcy trilogy and its effortless mix of magic and real-world teenage humor. She returns to that winning combination of wit, charm, and enchantment in Illusions of Fate, a sparkling and romantic new novel perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, The Madman’s Daughter, and Libba Bray.

Thoughts on Illusions of Fate
I'd never read anything by Kiersten White before, but I spotted this book at my local bookstore not long after its release and was drawn to the cover. It evoked a certain feeling in me, and I just couldn't resist. I loved that it had a historical fantasy feeling, and the summary was intriguing. I added to my pile of books to look at that day. I was planning on reading a sample but, before I knew it, I'd devoured three chapters. I was hooked! But I didn't buy it that day. I looked it up on Goodreads (as I almost always do now) and was dismayed to see a bunch of 3-star reviews. While that isn't a bad rating, it doesn't shout "BUY ME!" either. I debated purchasing it, but I just couldn't get those ratings out of my mind. So, I left without the book.

I was kicking myself a few days later! I so desperately wanted to know what happened next, and I was mad at myself for being swayed by others' opinions. I am a pretty eclectic reader, and I frequently pick up books that none of my friends have read. So why didn't I get the book and just see for myself? I went back and bought it, and I started reading it that night... I finished it within hours! And, y'all, I totally fell in love. It wasn't a perfect read - I could clearly see what had bothered other readers - but it was practically perfect for me, especially in that moment and for my mood.

I hated to think that I had almost missed it because I relied too heavily on what other people said about it! My experience with Illusions of Fate prompted me to write a discussion post about learning to trust your gut, and I reference my experience with this book in it. When you're really interested in a book, you've got to just try it for yourself! No matter what other people say about it or what the ratings show. The best thing about this book is what it taught me about how I choose what to read!

The cover is what caught my eye, but it was the banter in the first chapter that really sold me on Illusions of Fate. And I was not disappointed in the least! This book isn't really historical fantasy, which I originally expected. Instead, it's more of an alternate history - reminiscent of Victorian England but with magic and completely different countries/places.

Jessamin has left her home on the island of Melei to study at a school in Albion. Nothing has been what she expected, and she would love to return home to her family and all that is familiar. Then, she meets Finn, a gorgeous and charming man who introduces Jessamin to a world of secrets. Filled with power and magic, there are things tying the two together... and a dangerous villain who will stop at nothing to unearth them. Jessamin may not have magic within her grasp, but she's courageous and clever (a deadly combination).

I absolutely loved the world in this book! It was a little bit confusing at first, but I got the hang of it soon enough. I was excited that this was a standalone, but I will admit that I wish I got to spend more time in this world. Maybe I can hope for a companion book one day? The magic was a nice addition, and I liked what it added to the story. It raises the stakes, and it made everything feel just a bit darker and more deadly.

With such delightful characters, I liked the contrast of the darker aspects of the plot. The story was so intriguing! It was intense and suspenseful, and the pacing was almost perfect. Sadly, my one issue with the book was the odd pacing near the end. Everything wraps up just a bit too quickly. It was my only complaint about the book, but it didn't keep me from giving it 5 stars on Goodreads.

The characters are what absolutely won my heart! There's banter galore (HECK YES), and I want to be friends with Jessamin and Eleanor. They're both smart and independent women that will have you rooting for them even after you close the last page. Finn is also amazing! I love how Jessamin challenged him - it added such a great tension to the romance. I mean, seriously. I was grinning the entire time I was reading... It was impossible for me to resist these characters and this romance!

If I wanted to think more critically about Illusions of Fate, I might have a few more thoughts on its flaws. But this was a book that just stole my heart, so I'm rating it for the way I felt about it. Those feelings scream LOVE! A dangerous villain + a powerful secret + scene-stealing secondary characters + a fierce heroine + a charming hero = one very happy reader! I'm so glad I trusted my gut and read Illusions of Fate. It's a new favorite for me, and I can't wait to return to this story in the future.

So Quotable
“Shadows go in front of you, leading into your future, and trail behind you, leaving a part of you in the past. They are clearest when we are in the light, and disappear when we lose ourselves in darkness.”

Consider This Classic: Alexa Recommends

Oct 28, 2014

Consider This Classic is a monthly feature where bloggers highlight and recommend their favorite classic. They'll tell you when they first read it, why they love it and where to go from there. If you'd like to participate in Consider This Classic, click here to sign up.

I'm so very excited to have Alexa from Alexa Loves Books here to recommend her favorite classic. A few months, I tweeted looking for some more recommendations, and Alexa asked if children's books were allowed. OF COURSE. The best part is that she's recommending one of my all-time favorite children's books (which also has a movie adaptation that makes me cry every single time I watch it). Alexa is one of the kindest, most genuine people I've ever met, and I'm so thankful that blogging introduced me to her. From amazing events to epic comment dumps, I couldn't be happier to have her on my blog today!

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Publication Date: 1905
Originally Published In: United States
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Without her beloved father and miles from home, it is very hard for Sara Crewe to like her new life at boarding school. Luckily Sara is always dreaming up wonderful things and her power of telling stories wins her lots of friends.

When a letter arrives that brings disastrous news, the wicked headmistress Miss Minchin forces Sara to become a servant. Her lovely clothes and toys are taken away from her and she must work from dawn until midnight. How will Sara cope with her newfound poverty? Can her imagination help her overcome this horrible situation?

The first time I ever read A Little Princess, I was a little girl and I'd just gotten the book as a present! The version I have at home in the Philippines (which is now falling apart from multiple rereads) is a light pink, with a girl on the cover. I was curious about the "Princess" in the title, and so, I just had to read it right away.

I'd recommend this story because it feels timeless. Sara Crewe was a fascinating heroine, and I fell in love with her immediately (and basically wanted to be her friend). I loved the fact that she told stories and had such an amazing imagination best of all! The way Sara's story plays out is so magical, and so hopeful, and I loved that.

I'd recommend the following:

Anne of Green Gables - I personally just think Anne & Sara would get along really well! They both have big imaginations, but they're both also practical and smart.

Second Chance Summer - The father-daughter relationship in this novel definitely reminds me of Sara and her father too.

"Oh, Hello, It's You."

Oct 27, 2014

You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

Release Date: February 25, 2014 (first published 2012)
Publisher: HarperCollins | Avon
Pages: 464 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle e-book
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Summary (from Goodreads)
What happens when the one that got away comes back?

Rachel and Ben. Ben and Rachel. It was them against the world. Until it all fell apart. It’s been a decade since they last spoke, but when Rachel bumps into Ben one rainy day, the years melt away.

They’d been partners in crime and the best of friends. But life has moved on: Ben is married. Rachel is not. Yet in that split second, Rachel feels the old friendship return. And along with it, the broken heart she’s never been able to mend.

Hilarious, heartbreaking and everything in between, you’ll be hooked from their first ‘hello.’

Thoughts on You Had Me at Hello
I bought You Had Me at Hello in January, but I honestly can't remember how I found it. I think I saw it pop up somewhere on Goodreads, so I downloaded a sample. I know I loved the first chapter, so I went ahead and bought it. However, the bad thing about that is that the books on my Kindle are sometimes out of sight, out of mind. And that's exactly what happened with You Had Me at Hello.

Then, I read Sarah's review on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves. The cover initially caught my eye (it was different from what I purchased), but I soon realized this was a book I already owned. I told myself I had to read it soon and even mentioned it to my friend when it was on sale. Well, she read it before me and loved it! I'd obviously waited way too long to read it, so I happily opened this book while I was on vacation. Before I knew it, I was absolutely hooked.

You Had Me at Hello introduces readers to Rachel and Ben. They are best friends from the moment they meet in college... until the moment it all falls apart. Ten years have past since they last spoke when they randomly run into each other one rainy day. It's as if time falls away, but neither one can deny just how much has changed. The story isn't told linearly - the present day is the focus but there are a number of flashbacks highlighting their first meeting, their friendship and the things that tore them apart.

Life hasn't turned out the way Rachel imagined. She just split from her long-term boyfriend - the person she thought she'd marry - and she's completely on her own. Well, not completely. She has some of the best and most hilarious friends supporting her. Plus, she's got a good journalism job, even if it has its own set of complications. And then Ben shows up... he's handsome, successful, and married.

I was a little worried based on the summary because it asks, What happens when the one that got away comes back? Knowing Ben was married, I was concerned that this would be a cheating book. Thankfully, it wasn't. While there were a few things that gave me pause, I was pleasantly surprised by this story. Even still, I will admit that I always have a hard time rooting for a couple to be together when it would require one to get divorced. Honestly, it's probably the only thing I didn't like about the book. It made me feel so conflicted: I wanted them to talk about what had happened but also couldn't forget that Ben was married.

What I loved, however, was the writing! There were so many passages that made me chuckle, and I found myself grinning at my Kindle on more than one occasion. I was glad that I was just reading this book around my family since they already know I'm a nerd... One thing I didn't expect was the number of British sayings. I knew McFarlane is Scottish, and the book is set in Manchester, but I had so much fun pausing to look up unfamiliar slang or sayings. While it slowed down my reading a few times, it didn't bother me. Truthfully, I loved it. I want more British lit to be available in the US!

In addition to the writing, the secondary characters were so charming. Ben and Rachel may be the focus, but Rachel's friends steal the show. I would love a book about them, too! They added a nice depth to this story, and I was so glad that You Had Me at Hello was more about friendship than romance. The setting was also so lovely. This goes back to the writing in many ways, but McFarlane made Manchester come alive. It was memorable without ever overpowering the plot. I love when the setting matters!

You Had Me at Hello was more character driven than I anticipated, which was such a nice surprise. Those are often my favorite kind of books, so it probably isn't shocking that I loved this one as much as I did! Sarah wrote that she read it because she wanted "something light but not shallow," and that really does describe this book perfectly. It's a great read with relatable characters, smart writing and a wonderful setting. It's more about Rachel's growth as an individual than it is a love story, which I totally loved. I can see myself recommending this to so many readers, especially the ones I know in real life, because it's witty, charming and just so dang enjoyable. Now I can't wait to read more from McFarlane in the future!

So Quotable
“Do nothing, and nothing happens. Life is about decisions. You either make them or they're made for you, but you can't avoid them.”

Flashing Lights & Famous Faces

Oct 24, 2014

Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle

Release Date: October 21, 2014
Publisher: Hachette | Poppy
Pages: 336 pages
Source & Format: Publisher at BEA; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Meet Paige Townsen, Rainer Devon, and Jordan Wilder…

When Paige Townsen, a young unknown, gets cast in the movie adaptation of a blockbuster book series, her life changes practically overnight. Within a month, Paige has traded the quiet streets of her hometown for a crowded movie set on the shores of Maui, and is spending quality time with her co-star Rainer Devon, one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive. But when troubled star Jordan Wilder lands the role of the other point in the movie’s famous love triangle, Paige’s crazy new life gets even crazier.

In this coming-of-age romance inspired by the kind of celeb hookups that get clever nicknames and a million page views, Paige must figure out who she is – and who she wants – while the whole world watches.

Thoughts on Famous in Love
I hadn't read anything by Rebecca Serle before, so I picked up Famous in Love at BEA because I had been meaning to read one of her books. While I don't always like love triangles, I don't avoid them either. So, I wasn't scared off by the summary of this book. In fact, I was intrigued by the idea of a young girl rising to stardom and watching her whole life change overnight. With new YA book-to-movie adaptations being made every day, this book seemed particularly timely.

Famous in Love opens with a prologue, which I found so intriguing. You're hearing from the narrator as she tells you a secret that no one knows. I loved the conspiratorial tone, and I genuinely wanted to find out more. Then, you go back in time with the first chapter. Paige Townsen dreams of being an actress, and she finally gets her big break when she's cast as the lead in a movie adaptation of a bestselling series. Next thing she knows, she's filming on the shores of Maui and spending a lot of time with her co-star, Rainer Devon. When the role of the other love interest is cast, things get tense on set. Rumored bad boy Jordan Wilder brings a whole new dimension onscreen, but he's also upping the drama behind the scenes, too.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much that worked for me in Famous in Love. Paige is very immature, and she was such an annoying narrator. She constantly doubts herself, whines about the things happening around her and is just boring. I don't know how to explain it, but I spent the whole time finding it hard to believe she was such an impressive actress that she was plucked from obscurity and given the lead in such a huge franchise. That's a huge responsibility, and I think it's realistic that Paige would be nervous - but I didn't have any confidence in her or believe that she was actually talented. It never seemed like she was doing anything correctly!

I think I might have liked the story better if it was focused on Paige's rise to stardom - how she adjusted to being away from her friends, the tension in her family, what it was like on set, a peek at what it's like behind the scenes, etc. I'd totally be interested in a book about a girl whose dreams are coming true! But that's not the story being told in this book. There are hints of it, but it's never fleshed out. Alas, the love triangle is basically the entire plot. The focus of Famous in Love is almost entirely on the developing romance between Paige and Rainer... and Paige and Jordan. It wouldn't be that bad if it wasn't also one of the most underdeveloped romances I've ever read.

Famous in Love gives you instalove and asks you to connect to the love triangle. It gives you two-dimensional love interests and wants you to become invested in Paige's choice. And it expects you to believe that both of these rich and famous young actors would be so interested in Paige that they would do anything to win her attention and affection. I didn't buy it for a second. Paige is insanely attracted to both guys within seconds... Okay, I can believe that. But to be acting like she's in love with them even though you barely see her interact with either one of them? No. I'm not sure what she sees in either one of them - or even what they see in her.

Almost the entire book is telling, not showing. Paige tells you that the director screams at her - you don't see that happen. Paige tells you that she's always wanted to be an actress and this is her dream - you don't get to watch that play out. She tells you Jordan makes her a better actress and that Rainer is declaring his feelings for her in front of everyone on set. She tells you that she feels left out when her friends arrive for a visit, but there's very little showing that to be true. I just wanted to shout - "PLEASE STOP TELLING ME AND JUST GIVE ME A SCENE WITH SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN IT!"

Famous in Love is basically Paige's angsty internal monologue. She may be a great actress... but a storyteller she is not. There is very little build-up and almost no background with anything happening in the book. It's fun at first, but it gets really old, really fast. There was some possibility in certain storylines, but everything was sacrificed for the sake of the love triangle. Sadly, the romance was so flat and unemotional that I couldn't wait to be done with it. And don't even get me started on that ending. What kind of nonsense was that?! I'm sorry, but the final chapter sealed the deal for me. It didn't even make sense, except maybe as a ploy to make you read the next book. Famous in Love had potential, but it ultimately crashed and burned.

So Quotable
"People always say that there are a million ways to solve a problem, that no question has a black-and-white answer. It's not true. There are, at any moment, only two courses of action. The one that leads you toward something – stardom, love, disaster – and the one that leads you away from it. And at any moment, in any instant, you have to do your best to know which is which."
*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.

Coming Soon: The 2015 Re-Read Challenge

Oct 23, 2014

 Want to take a break from your TBR? 

Want to relive the magic of your favorite books?

Want to participate in a laid-back, no-fuss challenge in 2015?

"342/365: Books" by cefeida is licensed under CC BY 2.0 
Earlier this year, I wrote a post called In 2014: I Want More & Less. The very first thing on my "More" list? Re-reading. Growing up, I used to re-read all the time. I love the comfort of returning to an old favorite or the opportunity to give a book another shot to wow you. Whether I discover new things about myself or the book, I've never regretted re-reading. Sometimes I'll like a book less than I did the first time, but usually I end up loving it even more. There's something so special about reading a book all over again!

The only downside to blogging is that I'm constantly adding new books to my TBR and feeling like I'll never have enough time to read everything I want. And that often means I don't let myself re-read the books that are calling my name! I've done okay this year - approximately 20 of the 154 books I've read so far this year are re-reads - but I still wish that number was higher. So, I couldn't resist when Kelly approached me a few months ago with the idea of hosting a challenge together. Her idea was just too perfect!

Save the Date for The 2015 Re-Read Challenge

What: The 2015 Re-Read Challenge

When: Kicking Off January 1, 2015

Where: Our Blogs + Yours

Why: Re-Reading Rocks

More details coming soon. Stay tuned for details about the challenge 
and to find out about the fun we've got planned!

The Danger in Dreaming

Oct 22, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Release Date: October 21, 2013
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 416 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Series: The Raven Cycle #3
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Summary (from Goodreads)
There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

Thoughts on Blue Lily, Lily Blue
When I got approved for Blue Lily, Lily Blue on NetGalley, it was the kick I needed to re-read the first book and then continue the series. I'm glad that I them all in one weekend because it kept the mythology fresh in my mind. Because much as I enjoy these books, they are so confusing!

This is a character-driven series, which I felt was on display in The Dream Thieves. The summary for Blue Lily, Lily Blue made it sound as though there would be more action in this book, so I was excited... but also a little nervous. What surprises would be revealed this time?! I think there has been at least one moment in every single book where I've had to take a moment and re-read the page because all I can think is WHATTTTT?!?! In that regard, this book certainly delivers.

My one issue with The Dream Thieves was that I felt like there was almost no forward progress in the search for Glendower. It's so focused on characters that the plot kind of stalled out. Overall, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book because I know Stiefvater has a clear vision for the series. But would Blue Lily, Lily Blue be able to deliver? Thankfully, this book felt more like The Raven Boys to me in terms of pacing. It moved a little quicker, had more going on and shifted back to Gansey's quest (as well as the search for Blue's mother).

However, while I was happy that the story seemed to be picking up, it still felt confusing to me. I've got to be honest - I don't understand the point of a lot of what happened in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. It was hard for me to connect to the book when I was unsure of the relevance of what was taking place in it. I absolutely love Stiefvater's writing... and yet I feel like the story is overly complicated at times. There are so many details, characters and dimensions to this series. While that provides for excellent discussion and analysis, it sometimes makes me less invested in what I'm reading. There is SO MUCH happening that I find it hard to believe that there's only one book left to tie up all of the threads.

I love the characters in this world. Stiefvater excels at creating layered, complex people that can provoke a visceral reaction as you read about them. But there are sometimes too many of them - and some take up page space but don't seem to serve a purpose. I also really admire the writing. I wanted to highlight so many passages from this book while I was reading it! But, at the same time, I couldn't tell you much about the plot.

I'm honestly so torn. Ultimately, I think Blue Lily, Lily Blue fits within the series. It delivers on what I expect from Stiefvater as far as characters, tone and writing style. I adore those elements - so much so that I can pretty easily overlook the things about the series that bother me. But I'll admit that I feel like there is a bit of smoke and mirrors at play with this series: the mesmerizing quality of the writing masks the inconsistencies or oddities.

Listen, I may get to the last book, see that every single thing was important and realize I didn't give Stiefvater enough credit. I'm just not so sure that I will. I absolutely want to finish this series and eagerly await the final installment. It's taken so much work to get there - I truly hope it's all worth it in the end!

So Quotable
"SHE WAS ALL RIGHT," Jesse assured him.
"My head knew that," Gansey said. "But the rest of me didn't."
*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.

Time to Start These Series

Oct 21, 2014

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 New Series I Want to Start

I've written before about being a series addict and the signs and side effects of series addiction. So, I had no problem thinking of series I want to start. I limited my list to books published within the last two years (with one from 2011) or that will soon be published. But there are a lot more series I plan to read. If only I had the time!

Coming Soon
1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
3. The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

In Progress
4. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
5. Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
6. The Kiss of Deception by Mary. E. Pearson
7. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

8. The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen
9. Legend by Marie Lu
10. Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor

Which series should I start first?

Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

Oct 20, 2014

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Release Date: September 18, 2012
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 409 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: The Raven Cycle #1
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Thoughts on The Raven Boys
I fell in love with The Scorpio Races in July 2012, and I knew that I wanted to read more from Maggie Stiefvater in the future. So, I was excited to grab The Raven Boys when I spotted it at the library a few months later. I devoured the book - despite it being like nothing I'd read before or anything like something I'd typically be interested in. Around that time, I was returning to blogging after an almost six-month break. I wanted to write reviews for some of the books I'd read during those months off, but I never got around to sharing my thoughts on this book.

When The Dream Thieves came out, I knew that I wanted to re-read this one first. I'd forgotten so much about what had happened! Of course, Maggie had written the most epic summary ever for The Recaptains - but there's something so special about re-reading a book. Often, I'll find even more to love about a book than I did the first time around. And because I'm not rushing to find out what happens next, I'll spend more time savoring the book. But I kept putting it off, and so The Dream Thieves languished on my TBR. Getting approved for Blue Lily, Lily Blue was the push I needed to dive back into this world.

The Raven Boys contains exactly what I've come to expect from Stiefvater: a setting that feels like a character in its own right, poetic writing, an unhurried pace, unique mythology and incredibly well-developed characters. I feel like you could give me a bunch of different writing samples, and I'd almost immediately be able to pick out Stiefvater's from the group. She's definitely mastered the art of finding her writing voice!

You meet Blue Sargent, the clairvoyant women she lives with and the Aglionby students who will change her life in ways she never anticipated. You're introduced to Blue's curse, the promise of death, the quest for buried treasure and the strange and sinister things lurking under the surface in Henrietta, Virginia.

I think what I loved most in The Raven Boys was the writing. The actual premise is a bit confusing, and I'm truthfully not a fan of most of paranormal elements of the story. And yet, I still enjoyed reading this book. While I don't love it with the same fervor as other bloggers, I think it truly displays just how talented Stiefvater is at storytelling. Her command over her prose - and her characters - is incredible. This is a book that gets better upon re-reading because you're able to see all the details Stiefvater has woven throughout the book that lead up to the big "reveals." I closed the last page, took a deep breath, and picked up The Dream Thieves.

So Quotable
“She wasn't interested in telling other people's futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.”
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 439 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: The Raven Cycle #2
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same.

Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life.

Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...

Thoughts on The Dream Thieves
I picked up The Dream Thieves anxious to find out more about the bombshell that was revealed near the ending of The Raven Boys. I started reading, and I think I highlighted the entire first page. I knew immediately that I had nothing to worry about when it came to the writing - Stiefvater was going to deliver another story that would mesmerize me with its lyricism. Ronan is the central character in The Dream Thieves, but all of the characters get their due (and you meet a few new ones, too). This book also brings about a small shift in tone. Where The Raven Boys felt like an adventure I'd want to join, The Dream Thieves introduced me to the horrors hiding underneath the surface. It was darker, more tense and an even creepier read than the previous book. And even the first one felt a little nerve-wracking at times!

Here's the thing on The Dream Thieves - although I'd describe the entire series as character-driven, I think this is the only one that feels like it's almost solely focused on character development. There seemed to be very little forward momentum when it came to the quest, and the action that did take place was there so that certain characters could have there moment. In a way, it made the plot easier to follow because there seemed to be a little less ley line mythology. But, for me, it was a much slower read. I still finished it quickly, but it wasn't quite as engaging overall.

While I love Stiefvater's writing, I also have to admit that I often feel like it goes a little over my head. There are moments where it feels so stylized, so layered and complex, that I wonder if I'm truly grasping the meaning behind it all. I don't even know if I would say that it's a negative quality of the book - it's just one thing that keeps me from fully connecting to these characters. The characters are so multidimensional, and yet they still feel almost mythical. The blend of magic and mystery just makes it seem like I'm reading a fairy tale instead of a book set somewhere real and populated with people I might know. The paranormal elements do make it more of a fantasy, but I think the writing style contributes to that feeling, too.

Overall, I was enchanted by The Dream Thieves. I'll admit that I think it seemed just a little indulgent at times, but that might just be because I'm anxious to actually uncover the secrets of Cabeswater. I appreciate all the character development, but I'm ready to go traipsing through some caves!

So Quotable
"History was always buried deep, even when you know where to look. And it was hard to excavate it without damaging it. Brushes and cotton swabs, not chisels and pickaxes. Slow work. You had to like doing it."

The Opposite of Impressed

Oct 17, 2014

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

Release Date: October 16, 2014
Publisher: Penguin | Viking
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Charlie Lovett first delighted readers with his New York Times bestselling debut, The Bookman’s Tale. Now, Lovett weaves another brilliantly imagined mystery featuring one of English literature’s most popular and beloved authors: Jane Austen.

Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

DNF Thoughts on First Impressions

Note: I stopped reading First Impressions at 20%.
Contains spoiler-y comments on the beginning of the book. 

First Impressions was one of my most anticipated fall releases. As a HUGE Jane Austen fan, I wanted to read it as soon as I saw that it was "a novel of old books, unexpected love, and Jane Austen." It sounds like everything I love, and I was thrilled when I got a copy on NetGalley. As much as I love Austen's work, I also enjoy spin-offs and variations. I'm not an Austen purist - I'm totally open to new interpretations! So, I'm typically not bothered by an author taking some liberties. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish this book... and I think it's because I'm almost too familiar with Jane Austen and her life.

First Impressions alternates between two time periods: present day and Jane Austen's time (1790s-1817). In the portions set during Austen's time near the beginning of the book, Austen is in her twenties. She meets an older man named Mr. Mansfield (he's in his eighties), and they establish a friendship. At this point, she hasn't written a full book yet but is working on an epistolary novel that will eventually become Sense & Sensibility. Mansfield, just to note, is an entirely fictional character. He did not actually exist, so the "historical" portions are really an invented version of history (not a fictionalized version of Austen's actual life). I was expecting the Austen portions to be more realistic, which definitely threw me off from the start.

Mansfield and Austen have long conversations about books and spend lots of time together (presumably alone). During those chats, she reads him samples of her writing. She goes away at one point, and they continue their friendship by correspondence. Not only do I find it a little unbelievable that Jane would be spending that much time alone with a man (regardless of his age), but I find it even more of a stretch to believe that she would be writing him letters. Men and women could spend time alone together during that time period, but the rules for correspondence were much stricter. If letters were being exchanged by people of the opposite sex, it was typically a sign that they were engaged. And if they weren't, it was a breach of propriety (just look at Marianne and Willoughby). I have no idea if the age gap would make it less improper for Austen and Mansfield to correspond, but at that point I was questioning everything that I was reading. It just didn't feel like it fit within the time period! Then, Jane begins to discover that she loves him. But it's not as a lover or a parent? I don't even know.
It was not, she knew, the ache of a lover [...] but she found that she could no longer think of him merely as a friend or companion. (11%) 
It's well known that Jane never married, but there has been a lot of speculation as to whether or not she ever had a romantic relationship. Obviously, this book is a work of fiction. But I wanted it to at least present a version that felt a little bit plausible! But Jane falling for someone who could be her grandfather? Ugh. It's particularly annoying since, prior to that, there are a number of comments suggesting there was no possibility for romance.

However, that's not what I hated about the book. I can accept the somewhat questionable development of their friendship and the unwelcome introduction of romantic feelings. But what I could not abide were the contents of their conversations. Let me explain. As Jane begins reading her writing aloud to Mr. Mansfield, he offers her suggestions for improvement. Prior to the conversation below, he has just told her how she could improve the character of Sir John Middleton in Sense & Sensibility. Then, they have this exchange:
"It is, I think," said Mr. Mansfield, "the sign of a well-crafted novel when the minor characters are as fully realized as the hero and heroine." 
"Wisely spoken, Mr. Mansfield. And I am certainly guilty of giving less life to those whose time upon the page of my novel is but brief. It is a fault I shall endeavor to correct." (6%)
WHAT?! This was very early on in the book, and I was immediately pissed. To have Jane Austen say that she isn't good at writing secondary characters... Are you kidding me?! Jane Austen wrote extensively as a teenager - long before she wrote her first full-length novel. Many of her short stories can still be read today, and anyone who has taken two seconds to read them would see that Austen's wit and keen eye for characters was already on display. They aren't as polished as her later works, but her talent is still evident.

I found the implication that Jane Austen needed the help of an eighty-year-old man to improve and instruct her on writing to be insulting and absolutely ridiculous. Jane Austen is my homegirl, and I will not stand by and see her treated thus. At one point, Mr. Mansfield offers this oh-so-helpful advice on Willoughby:
"I only feel that when Mr. Willoughyby first comes into the lives of the Dashwoods, one already gets the sense that he is a scoundrel. The shock of Miss Marianne's rejection would be so much more powerful if we had no reason to suspect Willoughby of duplicity until his true character is revealed." 
"So Willoughby should come onto the stage as more of a hero?" 
"Exactly. That is precisely how I should put it. I do hope you do not think me impertinent to say so." (11%)
GET REAL. At that point, I was rolling my eyes and feeling stabby. There's no way I could continue to read a book that implied (even if fictionally) that Jane Austen's books were good because this old man helped her make them that way or that some of the best parts were things that he told her to do. It's a stupid premise, and I hated it! Maybe it was supposed to show that Jane finally met someone who was her intellectual match. Unfortunately, it didn't read that way to me. It basically came across like this totally annoying and fictional old man is how Jane Austen became an incredible writer. NOPE NOPE NOPE.

I'm pretty sure that, if I had continued, one of the "mysteries" concerned the authorship of one of Austen's books and the question of whether or not she had plagiarized Mr. Mansfield. I'm sorry, y'all, but I don't have the patience for that kind of nonsense. In my world, that's basically blasphemy. We DO NOT speak so of Austen.

The portions set in the present day were annoying, but a little less so because I obviously didn't care about that heroine (Sophie) outside the context of the novel. However, I did find a number of things totally ridiculous in the modern portion, too. For example, Sophie's beloved uncle dies (from falling down the stairs while reading a book?!), and she immediately recalls a conversation where he told her to never read and walk. She then becomes absolutely convinced that he was murdered. What? It was so out of nowhere that I was flipping back a few pages to see if I had missed something, anything, that would have implied there was foul play and supported Sophie's radical leap to murder. When I realized I'd read everything correctly, I knew I was done.

I never write DNF reviews because I don't want to "review" a book that I didn't finished reading. However, I typically stop reading a book because I'm not hooked on it - not because I actively dislike what I'm reading. Since I had very specific reasons for my DNF and had a lot to say about it, I decided to share my thoughts. However, I can't speak to the novel as a whole because I don't know how it ends. So, I'm not rating it on Goodreads or on my blog. However, as an Austen fan, I thought it was awful. I wanted to punch Mr. Mansfield and toss the book across the room... Maybe the book will pull a Mr. Darcy and improve upon further acquaintance. Unfortunately, I found it barely "tolerable, and not [good] enough to tempt me" to finish and find out. I'm sorry First Impressions, but "you are wasting your time with me.''

*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.
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