So Obsessed With: The Spring 2015 Edition

Apr 30, 2015

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 spring:
1. Smashbox Full Exposure Palette ($52) - My sister bought me this eyeshadow palette for my birthday, and I keep reaching for it every morning! I use every single color in it, which almost never happens. While the pigmentation is a little lacking on one or two colors, I love the mix of matte and shimmer shadows.

2. Maybelline Baby Lips in Peach Kiss ($4.49) - I've purchased this lip balm before in Cherry Me, but it ended up being just a little too much color. When I saw Kelly recommend the Peach Kiss color on Rachel's blog, I immediately put it on my shopping list. It's such a flattering nude with just a hint of color!

3. Kenra Professional Volume Spray 25 ($17) - My hair keeps getting longer and longer, so I've been curling it more lately. It's always been thicker, but it's finally got some length and volume. I've never been a big hairspray user, but I definitely need it to help hold the curl. This is my favorite kind!

4. Nars The Multiple in Riviera ($39) - I've had this sitting in my makeup drawer for almost a year because I haven't been taking advantage of its usefulness! This cream-to-power multipurpose makeup stick doesn't belong in a drawer. It's perfect tossed in my purse for when my cheeks or lips need a pop of color.

5. LUSH Ocean Salt Cleanser ($21.95/$35.05) - The sea salt scrubs away dirt and dead skin, the avocado and coconut hydrate, and the lime and vodka are (according to the jar) ideal for blocked pores and blemishes. All I know is that I love this product! I only use it once a week, but I wish I could use it more. It smells so good!

6. Essie Nail Polish in Bikini So Teeny and Nice is Nice ($8.50) - It's finally time to break out the pastels. I wear them all year, but they're perfect for the change in season. Bikini So Teeny is one of my favorite Essie polishes - a cornflower blue that always gets lots of compliments. And Nice is Nice (a light lavender) is on my wishlist!

7. Caslon Roll Sleeve V-Neck Maxi Dress ($68) - I gravitate toward striped and patterned maxi dresses, but I want to get a few solid colors so I can wear them more ways. I need more dresses that I can wear to work and on the weekends - this definitely fits the bill! Plus, I can enjoy the weather without showing my pasty legs.

8. Steve Madden Rillie Two Strap Sandal ($59.95) - I have long feet, but they're very narrow. So I sometimes have a hard time finding sandals that fit correctly. I don't want a huge gap between the straps and my feet! I don't know if these will work for me, but I'm hoping they do. I just love how they look!

9. Ray-Ban New Small Wayfarer Sunglasses ($130) - While I love the look of oversize sunglasses, I end up wearing my pair of small wayfarers most often. You can't go wrong with this classic shape, and I love them in dark tortoise. It's finally sunny and nice outside (stupid April showers), so these will finally be put to use.

10. Kate Spade Cedar Street - Maise Satchel ($298) - I tend to only buy purses in classic, neutral colors - especially if I'm investing in a pricey one! But there's something about this satchel in this gorgeous, bright color that I just can't resist. I'm not sure if I'll be adding this one to my closet, but I definitely want to find it there.

11.  Melinda Maria Pod Eternity Band ($68) - I'm obsessed with eternity bands, and I dream of one day having a huge stack on them. Is that an insane dream? Possibly. I spotted this one while browsing online and fell in love. I love how it manages to look both funky and classic all at the same time. WANT.
12. The Age of Adaline - On a scale of one to ten, my desire to see this movie is BEYOND TEN. Seriously! I love Blake Lively from her Gossip Girl days, so that was an immediate win for the movie. But it's the story itself that has me intrigued! The trailer looks so promising, and I'm hoping it lives up to my expectations.

13. Parenthood: The Complete Series ($79.85) - I mentioned this in my March recap, but I quit Parenthood for a while during the fifth season. Why?! Epic fail on my part. I finally got back into it, and I totally cried during the series finale. I've pre-ordered the complete series because this is one I'll watch again and again.

14. P.S. I Still Love You and It's Not Me, It's You ($12-$14) P.S. I Still Love You is one of my most anticipated spring release, so I've got to re-read the first book in preparation. It's Not Me, It's You is a recent favorite. I've fallen in love with all of Mhairi McFarlane's books, and they all make perfect spring reads!

15. Sriracha Popcorn and Joia Grapefruit, Chamomile & Cardamom Soda - My sister made me try the Sriracha Popcorn, and pretty soon we were both hooked. It's so addicting! I'm pretty sure we ate the entire bag in the car driving home. And I love this soda! It seems like an odd combination of flavors, but somehow it works.

16. Chaos and the Calm from James Bay ($9.99) and Queen of the Clouds from Tove Lo ($9.99) - I've had James Bay's album on repeat for all of April, and it's fantastic. I wish I could see him in concert! When I want something a little faster, I've been turning on Tove Lo's album. I don't love every song on it, but it's quite fun.

Through the Mist, Through the Woods...

Apr 29, 2015

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Release Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury | Bloomsbury Children's
Pages: 432 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; ARC
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
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Summary (from Goodreads)
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it... or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Thoughts on A Court of Thorns and Roses
When A Court of Thorns and Roses was first announced, I was ecstatic. More from Maas? YES, PLEASE AND THANK YOU. I almost had a heart attack when I opened the mail one day to find a package from Bloomsbury. And then I carried the book around in my purse for a week (despite not reading it for at least two more months) just because I wanted it nearby. So, it seems like an understatement to say that I was looking forward to reading this book. Everything I heard about it sounded promising - a blend of Beauty and the Beast and faerie lore? I haven't been on the fantasy train for long, but I'm fully committed now.

In A Court of Thorns and Roses, huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods... but it's not just any wolf. She's killed a creature far more powerful than she ever could have imagined, and she'll have to pay with her life. She's dragged to a world she's only heard about in whispers and finds herself a prisoner in the home of a lethal, immortal and incredibly powerful fae, Tamlin. But all is not as it seems in his world. As a threat from afar grows ever closer, Feyre finds herself caught up in deadly battle for power - and love.

In a way, this book will feel familiar to Throne of Glass fans. Sarah's writing is gorgeous and gripping, as usual. And yet, you're entering an entirely different world. When Feyre arrives in Prythian, I wasn't sure what to think. There's so much darkness surrounding her, and there's danger in every corner. You can tell something isn't right, but you can't quite put your finger on why. From the frozen masks to the horrible creatures that lurk on the permieter, the Spring Court has retained only a glimmer of its former glory. The book opens with a bang, but then the pacing slows down when Feyre arrives at Tamlin's home. Seeing this place through her eyes made me wary and on edge, but I started to fall for its beauty at the same time she did.

While Maas creates intricate and otherworldly settings, it's her characters who take center stage. I think what I love so much about them is their complexity. No one is every truly good or bad. They embody the contradictions inherent in having both a head and a heart. Feyre is resourceful and willing to do anything for the people she loves, but she can also be reckless and blind to what's around her. Tamlin is powerful and fierce, but he's also been broken and burdened by the weight of his responsibilities. Lucien is sharp and distrustful, but there is humor and warmth underneath the surface. Rhysand is cocky and cunning, but he proves there's so much more to him than meets the eye. Then there's Amarantha and Feyre's sisters and everyone else who populates this world. You can't dismiss anyone because you never know what's going on beneath the surface. Characters can be both victim and victor, hero and helpless, and it makes for a fascinating read.

And it's their relationships with each other that drive the action of the book. The romance was the most memorable relationship for me in A Court of Thorns and Roses. Hello, swoon! It's worth nothing that this book is probably best for more mature readers. It's got more heat than I anticipated, especially for Young Adult. But while the romance is at the heart of the book, it's certainly not the only relationship that's explored. I loved Tamlin and Lucien's friendship, and Feyre's complicated feelings for her family. I'm really looking forward to seeing how all of these relationships develop.

I won't tell you what happens to mark a shift in the novel, but I can say that it ramps up the tension and leaves you breathless by the time you're done. If you think the beginning is slow, just wait until it's time to go Under the Mountain. It's a place you'll never forget! The ending was more resolved than I expected, which makes me even more excited to see what's in store for the rest of this series. A Court of Thorns and Roses wasn't a perfect read, but I loved almost everything about this twist on a tale as old as time!

So Quotable
“Be glad of your human heart, Feyre. Pity those who don’t feel anything at all.”
*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.

Tune in Tonight: Belle

Apr 28, 2015

I've always loved talking about movies and TV shows on my blog, but it wasn't until I guest posted for Book People Talk Movies (created by Lindsey from Bring My Books) that I even thought about making it a regular thing. But now I can't wait to share my absolute favorite movies - both old and new - with you every month! 

The Stats

Belle (2013)
Rating: PG
Length: 104 Minutes
Genre: Drama
Director: Amma Asante
Writer: Misan Sagay
Buy on Amazon | Buy on iTunes

The Story 

Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizebeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle's lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar's son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield's role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England. +

The Stars

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Belle Lindsay
Sam Reid as John Davinier
Tom Wilkinson as Lord Mansfield
Emily Watson as Lady Mansfield

Sarah Gadon as Elizabeth Murray
James Norton as Oliver Ashford
Tom Felton as James Ashford
Matthew Goode as Captain Sir John Lindsay

The Sneak Peek

The Sell

Belle is one of my favorite movies, and I'm going to give you six reasons you need to watch it!
1. THE STORY / SCRIPT - Belle is aptly named after the woman at the center of the story: Dido Belle Lindsay. She was the daughter of an enslaved African woman in the West Indies and a British career naval officer stationed there. When Lindsay returned to England, he brought Dido with him to be raised by his uncle and aunt with their other niece. This movie was inspired by a true story, and she was a real woman.

While very little is known of her life, the movie explores her unique (and difficult) position in society. She is an position of fortune, but she is also of mixed race. She is, as she says in the movie, "too high of rank to dine with the servants, but too low of rank to dine with my own family." Belle examines Dido's insecurity and anger over her position. She cannot enjoy her wealth and privilege the more she learns of slavery and sees the injustice around her. And outside her family (and even sometimes within it) she is dismissed because of her color. This movie would be worth watching for its representation of racism and social inequality alone.

2. THE HEROINE - I absolutely loved Dido! While I have no idea what the real woman was like, her movie counterpart is fascinating and admirable. She is intelligent and driven to know more of the world around her. She has a sharp tongue - calling attention to injustice, putting people in their place and proving that she knows her own mind. She stands up for herself and for her own heart. I ached for her pain, admired her fire and cheered her on every second of this movie. If you love strong heroines, you need to meet Dido.

3. THE COSTUMES - I'm a huge fan of costume dramas, and that's the main reason I wanted to watch this movie in the first place. The story moved me, and the costumes delighted me. It surpassed my highest expectations! Costume designer Anushia Nieradzik has made this movie a feast for the eyes. There was so much to look at in every scene, but I couldn't take my eyes off the gowns. In fact, I had to watch this twice in two days just to take it all in. If you love period pieces, add this one to your list immediately.

4. THE ROMANCE - Despite its weighty subject matter, there's still a love story in Belle... and it's one of my favorites. Dido believes she must marry, but who will choose her for a bride and will it be for the right reasons? Watching her find someone who treats her as an equal and loves every part of her is so incredibly romantic. I was scared that she would end up with someone who didn't deserve her, but the love interest is seriously swoonworthy. I don't want to tell you all the reasons you'll love him, so just trust me. The scene where he declares his love is so good that I watched it at least five times, and the ending is even better. *sigh*

5. THE SETS - Sometimes I love watching costume dramas just so I can admire the sets, and Belle definitely gave me house envy. There were times I wanted to pause the movie and just look at all the details in the room. From the paintings on the walls to the rugs on the floors, I was in decorating heaven.

6. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY - This movie, as a whole, is just gorgeous! I don't even have much to say about this item on the list, but I felt like it had to be included. If you can't tell from this picture alone, I don't know what else to say to convince you! Belle is a delight to watch and embodies why I love this type of movie.

The Snippets

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Dido: "You feel my circumstances are unfortunate, though I cannot claim even a portion of the misfortune of those whom I most closely resemble. My greatest misfortune would be to marry into a family who would carry me as their shame, as I have been required to carry my own mother. Her apparent crime to be born Negro, and mine to be the evidence. Since I wish to deny her no more than I wish to deny myself, you will pardon me for wanting a husband who feels forgiveness of my bloodline is both unnecessary and without grace."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

John Davinier: "Laws that allow us to diminish the humanity of anybody are not laws. They are frameworks for crime. And quite frankly, I really do not care if you as an individual are without character or conscience. But a land whose laws sanction, not control, the barbarous among its citizens, that is a country whose hope is lost."

The Score

I am in love with the score for Belle. Composer Rachel Portman has absolutely captured the spirit of the film!

Reading Binges & Reading Blahs

Apr 27, 2015

I've mentioned this in a few of my monthly recaps, but I've been in a very weird reading mood this year. I kept thinking the feeling would pass quickly and have been surprised by just how long it's stayed with me. I just want it to go away! It felt so noticeable to me a few weeks ago that I tweeted:

I wasn't expecting much of a response... I just needed to get it out there, and I hadn't quite decided if I wanted to write a post about it yet. Within minutes, I was chatting with a number of other bloggers who were telling me they were experiencing the same thing or reminding me that taking a break from words can be a good thing! But when one person asked me if "blahs" meant not as many book or not very good books, it got me thinking.

The Year of the Reading Binge
2014 truly was The Year of the Reading Binge. I was tearing through books - finishing more in a year than I ever have before! I started blogging at the end of 2011, but I was on Goodreads for months before. In 2011, I read 127 books. In 2012, I read 142 books. In 2013, it was up slightly at 153. But in 2014? In 2014, I read 202 books - a 32% increase from the previous year. It went from steady year-over-year growth to a huge jump!

I spent a lot of time last year shocked by my own reading speed. The minute I finished a book, I had something else ready to go. And I wasn't even neglecting real life! That's not to say I couldn't have been doing other things during the time I spent reading. I just mean that I wasn't altering my typical daily schedule or habits to achieve those results. I was naturally binging that many books, which was exciting (though slightly confusing).

The lull never set in. If you're a reader, you'll know what I mean. Reading binges are often followed by reading slumps. In a normal year, I have a natural pattern of reading highs and lows. I typically find myself reading more in summer and winter and less in spring and fall. There are exceptions, of course, but it's definitely been the trend when I look back at my reading progress since 2011. But 2014 is the outlier. It doesn't quite fit because I never really slowed down. A few months may have been lower on average than others, but they were often still higher than my normal reading pace.

The Year of the Reading Blahs
Despite knowing that things wouldn't stay that way forever, I found myself slightly adrift and sad when I noticed how apathetic I was about reading at the start of 2015. Blogging still appealed to me, but I had no desire to read. When I had free time, I wanted to watch movies or binge TV shows. Part of that, as I noted in that Twitter discussion about my mood, was the weather. It felt like such a long winter, and it's been a pretty rainy spring so far. All I've wanted to do is turn off my brain and watch stories come to life on the screen. But why have I felt so weird about reading? What's been at the root of my reading funk? 

Jamie from The Perpetual Page-Turner has been writing about her own reading mood in a three-part series - inspired by the discussion that started on Twitter. In the first part, she talked about her desire to rebel against her compulsive need to always have a current read. I can relate to that aspect, but I don't think that's my issue this year. In part two, she wrote about the feeling of wanting to read things that nobody else is talking about at all. Again, I can identify with that feeling. With the amount of hype that happens in the book blogging world, it can be really satisfying to pick up a book without any pre-conceived ideas. Plus, sometimes it's just fun to feel like you discovered a book! But again, that's not what's been going on with me. 

When I looked at my Goodreads progress for the year, I realized the source of my mood almost immediately. And while I can't wait to read the third part of Jamie's series, I can almost guarantee our current reading moods aren't rooted in the same thing. There are four things that have been affecting mine and identifying them has already helped me get more excited about reading! First, take a look at my current progress: 

Here are the four things that immediately jumped out at me - and totally explain my reading funk!

1. Returning to Normal
The first thing I noticed about my Goodreads stats for 2015 was the number of books I've finished this year. While my first response has been to call my current mood a reading slump, I realized it's more accurate to call it a reading funk. While I'm reading less than I did last year, it's technically still on track with my normal, pre-2014 reading pace. If I keep going at my current speed, I should have no problem finishing 150 books this year. It's the end of April, and I've read 48 books. That's quite high for me and for many readers.

In all honestly, I'm returning to normal. I had an unusually high reading year in 2014, but now I'm settling back in to my typical pace. I think part of why I've been in a funk is simply the fact that I've felt like I'm reading so much less, even though I wouldn't have thought twice about this prior to last year. It's been weird not to feel the urge to read all the time - just like it felt weird last year when I realized all I wanted to do was read. Balance is a good thing, and my feelings of being in a funk have all but disappeared as I've reminded myself of this fact. 

2. Re-Reading Old Favorites
The second thing I noticed in the Goodreads graphic was the number of re-reads. Kelly from Belle of the Literati and I are co-hosting The 2015 Re-Read Challenge. She approached me about the idea last year, and I was immediately on board. I used to re-read a ton, and I've only fallen out of the habit since I started blogging. My goal is to re-read 36 books, which would account for almost 25% of my reading if I read 150 books this year.

I kicked off the year with a re-reading bang - remembering just how much I love re-reading and why I used to do it all the time. All I've wanted to do since then is re-read, but I've been fighting the urge. I've continued to re-read a little bit each month, but I haven't let myself turn my back on my TBR. I don't necessarily feel like I can't spend all month re-reading, but I don't want to get burned out on it either. I want balance here, too! Either way, I needed to acknowledge that part of my problem has been that I haven't let myself pull old favorites from my shelves in the way that I've wanted. But I think that's about to change.

3. Relishing Great Books
The other huge thing that jumped out at me when I looked at my reading stats? The number of four- and five-star reads! At the beginning of the post, I mentioned that someone asked me if my reading blahs meant I wasn't reading as much or wasn't reading great stuff. I responded that it was about the quantity, not quality, and this graphic proves it. I don't think that I give out five stars easily, but look at them all!

Now, part of that is because I do count re-reads. If I'm re-reading, it's generally because it's one of my all-time favorites. Another part of it is the lack of half stars on Goodreads. I'll frequently round up if I'm in between ratings but was emotionally invested in a book (even if it had some flaws). However, even taking both of those things into account, this was very eye-opening for me to see! I didn't realize just how much I've loved the books I've read this year. I think I've slowed down some because I've been savoring what I read and giving books a few days to linger in my mind. That's a good thing! I'll take quality over quantity any day.

4. Revolutionizing My Habits
Finally, I took a moment to look at what books I've actually read this year. At the beginning of the year, Alexa from Alexa Loves Books and I kicked off The Picky Pledge. We reviewed our reading stats from 2014 and noticed some troubling trends. We wanted to be more intentional about our reading choices this year and decided to team up to hold each other accountable.

I needed a push to read fewer review books and stop acquiring so many books in general. There's nothing wrong with review books or adding stuff to my shelves, but there still needs to be some balance. Alexa and I checked in on our progress after the first quarter, and I was excited to see how much I'd improved. And while the pledge hasn't necessarily contributed to my reading funk, it has made me more thoughtful about what I read. It's probably a reason I've enjoyed so much of what I've read, but it's also why I've slowed down a bit this year. I'm making a concentrated effort to think about what I read!

From Blahs to Balance
Identifying the four things contributing to my feeling of being in a reading funk has helped me tremendously! I'm not back to my binging ways, but I already feel better about reading. In a way, I think it would probably make more sense to call 2015 something else entirely: The Year of the Reading Balance.

Who cares if I don't want to read all the time? That's normal! As much as I love reading, I don't want to spend all my time doing it. If I love what I'm reading, that's more important than the number of books I finish. I'd rather look back and think "Wow! I read some amazing books this year" than "Woah! I read a lot of books this year." After all, the way I felt about what I read in 2014 is what motivated to do The Picky Pledge in the first place.

I've read a lot of advice about how to deal with a reading slump. Some of the most-repeated tips really are helpful: 1) just go with it, 2) do something other than reading, 3) revisit an old favorite and 4) pick up something fast paced and/or light. But you know what helped me the most? Pinpointing exactly what I was feeling and then figuring out why I felt that way. It hasn't necessarily changed my reading pace, but I feel more positive about reading. Balance is normal - the blahs and binges are just phases!

Have you experienced reading blahs or binges?
What do you do if you're in a reading funk?

Favorite Factor: April 2015

Apr 24, 2015

Cassie and I are still talking about our love for adult fiction, but in a new way! Every other month, we will be sharing four books with you: two recent favorites (and the factors that made us love them) and two upcoming reads (and the factors that have us interested). We hope you'll find the perfect adult fiction for you!
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Release Date: April 7, 2015
Genre: Contemporary
Factor I Loved: Characters

Reason You Should Read:
The Royal We is inspired by the relationship between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Written by the talented bloggers behind Go Fug Yourself, I absolutely loved this familiar (but somewhat fictional) world. When American Rebecca Porter decides to study abroad at Oxford, she has no idea that she'll end up living right down the hall from Prince Nicholas. And so begins a friendship that will change her life forever.... I had a hard time choosing a favorite factor because I genuinely loved every aspect of this book: the setting, the plot, the writing, the relationships and the characters. But since it's a character-driven book at its heart, I went with that element. It's inspired by real people, but this book also stands on its own merit. It made me think about life in the spotlight and the sacrifice it requires - proof a book can be entertaining and thought provoking! If you love books about royalty, I recommend this one.

It's Not Me, It's You by Mhairi McFarlane

Release Date: November 6, 2014 (UK)
Genre: Contemporary
Factor I Loved: Characters

Reason You Should Read:
What a delightful read! I loved McFarlane's previous book, You Had Me at Hello, but it doesn't even compare to her most recent release. It's Not Me, It's You isn't a short read - it clocks in at 531 pages - but I started it after work one night and didn't go to bed until I was done. It's only been published in the UK at this point, but this book is worth tracking down on Book Depository. Delia Moss isn't sure where it all went wrong in her life, but she's determined to fix it. I was cheering her on every step of the way! McFarlane's writing style and sense of humor stood out to me, but her charming characters stole my heart. I connected to Delia's fears, and I found myself swept up in her story. I'm not the most emotional reader, but I definitely shed some tears and laughed out loud while reading this book. If you like complicated and relatable heroines and relationships with bickering (and banter, of course), this one is for you!
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

Release Date: June 4, 2013
Genre: Historical
Factor of Interest: Setting

Reasons I Want to Read:
Historial fiction set on a pirate's ship? Sign me up! A renowned chef is a kidnapped by a ruthless pirate named MAD HANNAH MABBOT, and I clearly feel a kinship with this heroine based on her name alone. This is a twist on the tale of Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights, and it apparently combines adventure and romance. I'll confess that the cover is what first attracted me to this book, but the summary and unique setting is what earned it a spot on my TBR. I hope it lives up to my expectations! I'm planning to read this one over the summer, so I guess we'll soon see if judging a book by its cover worked in my favor... and if not, there won't be just one Mad Hannah anymore.

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Release Date: June 6, 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Factor of Interest: Plot

Reasons I Want to Read:
Despite seeing mixed reactions to The Queen of the Tearling last year, I decided to give the first book in this series a chance. And I ended up falling in love with it! While it wasn't a perfect read, I found the characters and setting were intriguing. However, it was the social and political storylines that set it apart. I finished the first book and felt like there was still so much left for Johansen to explore in future books, so I'm eagerly anticipating this release. I have no idea if I'll love the second book as much as I loved the first, but I look forward to diving back into this complex and layered world. But is it too much to ask to have a little romance in this installment? I don't have to have it, but it wouldn't hurt either.

Want more? Check out Cassie's post!

Buy the Book / No. 2

Apr 23, 2015

Buy the Book is a monthly feature where I share a gift guide inspired by something I've read. It's a little play on "by the book" since all of the gifts come directly from quotes or scenes in the book featured and, you know, since it's all stuff you can buy. I'm including a snippet from the book for each item so you'll know why I picked it!

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

"... the official picture of Nick and me. I love that picture, which is lucky, because it's for sale the world over on thimbles, wastebaskets, tea towels, paper dolls..."

1. Prince William and Kate Royal Wedding Mug ($7.95) - You've got to love the million items commemorating the royal wedding! I can't imagine how weird it would be to see your picture on so many random items.

"Its mystery, its age, its textures... Oxford is in all ways the opposite of Muscatine, my rural Iowa hometown (or even the bucolic North Atlantic beauty of Cornell), and for me it was perfect. I didn't come to England to fall in love with anything but England."

2. Oxford Radcliffe Camera Print ($25) - Rebecca's decision to study at Oxford changes the course of her entire life. The Radcliffe Camera is an iconic landmark, so it seems only fitting to include a print of it!

"Besides, I couldn't have guessed you'd show up without an umbrella. That's like going to the Bahamas without a bathing suit."

3. Kate Spade New York "Rain Check?" Umbrella ($38) - I absolutely loved Bex and Nick's first meeting! It sets the tone for their entire relationship, and it's easy to see why Nick falls for her - and she for him.

"Night Nick and Night Bex were equal parts compatible and self-destructive. One Devour episode led to another, and one shipment of Twinkies became three (Nick liked to stick his fingers in them and eat them like corn dogs, and also prod me in the face)."

4. Hostess Twinkies ($11.95) - Watching Nick and Bex's friendship develop was absolutely adorable. I enjoyed seeing the person behind the prince, and this scene was one of the most memorable examples.

"Nick fished around in his pockets and pulled out two small enameled pins, each one depicting an American and a British flag on poles that crossed at the bottom."

5. USA Flag and UK Flag Lapel Pin ($5.70) - This pin more significant to Nick and Bex than I'm letting on, but it would spoil it if I used that quote! Instead, I'm highlighting this moment - where Nick meets Bex's twin, Lacey.

"It was a new baseball season, and Dad and I were picking one Cubs game each week and video chatting right after, when, as he put it, the agony or ecstasy was still fresh."

6. Chicago Cubs Short Sleeve Practice T-Shirt ($25.99) - Bex's family plays a big role in the book, but her relationship with her father is particularly significant. It even affects what happens in her relationship with Nick!

"So your secret perversions are crosswords and coffee," I said, settling in beside him and taking the steaming cup. "Truly depraved."

7. The Times Cryptic Crossword ($7.18) - When Bex stumbles upon Nick working on a cryptic crossword alone one morning, it marks a turning point for them. He opens up to her, and it's the beginning of their friendship.

"Nick still claims I stole the wheelbarrow by announcing, 'No fence is bigger than I am,' before hurtling over one and then running out two seconds later screaming, 'Your chariot, my lord.' But I swear that the wheelbarrow found us, proffering itself in the middle of a random driveway, practically begging us to let it cradle the Royal Carcass."

8. The Walsall Wheelbarrow Company Barrow in a Box (£47.75) - I know this seems like a random choice for my gift guide, but this moment cracked me up. Plus, something important happens on this night!

"... there's Sir John Soane's Museum, my professional home and my refuge."

9. Sir John Soane's Museum Canvas Tote Bag (£9.95) - I really enjoyed seeing Bex succeed at work, and I felt sorry for her when I realized just how much she would have to sacrifice if she wanted to be with Nick.

"In my time, a woman never wore a tiara before her wedding day, because it represented the crowning moment of committing oneself to another," she said. "Traditionally, the bride wears one from her own family that day and then one from her husband's thereafter, to signify her transition. But..." She twitched her hands slightly, as if to say, No such luck here. "It is also custom for the Queen to provide something borrowed, so without an ancestral diadem of your own, that is what I shall offer."

10. Kate Middleton Royal Wedding Tiara ($139.95) - Of course I had to include a replica of the royal wedding tiara! I loved learning about this tradition and imagining the real-life version of this moment.

What Could Have Been

Apr 22, 2015

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Release Date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins | HarperTeen
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: Edelweiss; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn't want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they're connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

Thoughts on Things We Know by Heart
I read my first Jessi Kirby book two years ago and enjoyed it. While I didn't love everything about the story, I connected to the main character and loved the way the book explored the concept of choices. I wasn't rushing to read Kirby's backlist, but I was intrigued when I heard about Things We Know by Heart. I love the movie Return to Me, which has a very similar (though not identical) premise. So, I had high hopes for this book!

Based on the summary, I was expecting an emotional read. Quinn Sullivan loses her boyfriend in an accident their junior year. In her grief, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs. However, the person who received his heart never answers her... so she makes it her mission to track him down. But when she meets Colton Thomas, she feels guilty for the secret she keeps - and surprised by the connection she experiences.

While I was expecting a heavy and moving book, I felt incredibly disconnected from everything happening in Things We Know by Heart. I'm not quite sure where it all went wrong for me, but I know that a huge disconnect came in the form of Quinn. When a story is told in first person, it can often heighten my connection to the narrator. In this case, I felt completely detached from everything that was happening in the story.

Quinn was such a bland and unmemorable character. I honestly can't say much about her beyond the fact that she enjoys running and is mired in her grief. Quinn has completely shut down after losing her boyfriend, and she's cut herself off from the world. Although she's finally started to return to the land of the living, it comes in the form this personal mission to find the recipient of her boyfriend's heart. I knew this was the premise going into the book, but I didn't expect to have quite such a "OH HELL NO" reaction to it. Patient privacy laws exist for a reason, and Quinn crosses so many boundaries in her pursuit of Colton. And while I might be able to look past her frantic research, I couldn't get over her continued deception.

Their relationship progresses so quickly, but I was unable to really determine why they liked each other. The plot became so predictable and so boring that I was mentally checked out by the time I finished the book. The writing is pretty but shallow. The setting is nicely described, but it only serves as a reminder of the book's unfulfilled potential. I wish there'd been something - anything - that grabbed my attention and set it apart. In particular, I was hoping for more depth and character development!

When I made it to 90% and was still waiting for an important conversation between Quinn and Colton, I knew that even the ending was going to be unsatisfying. I think Things We Know by Heart will be more memorable for what it could have been than what it actually was. But it was a quick read and other readers have enjoyed it, so there's no reason not to try it if you've loved Kirby's past books and find the summary intriguing!

The Right Writers for Me

Apr 21, 2015

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 Favorite Authors

This seemed like an impossible task, so I set some parameters to narrow it down. My two requirements:

(1) I've read more than one book/series by the author
(2) I would generally recommend every book I've read by the author 

This was surprisingly effective in helping me determine my list! I debated narrowing it down further, but I was pretty pleased with the results. There are so many authors I could have included, especially ones that have written some of my favorite series. But I wanted to try to highlight authors who have written a number of books I've loved rather than ones where I've only read a series by them or find their backlist hit or miss.

Favorite: Open Road Summer

Favorite: Heir of Fire

Favorite: Saving Francesca

Favorite: Me Before You

Favorite: Nowhere but Home

Favorite: After I Do

Consider This Classic: Kim Recommends

Apr 20, 2015

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!

I was so excited when I saw what Kim from What Kim Read Next was recommending! Like her, I fell in love with the BBC mini-series version of this book long before I actually read it. After being reminded of how much I loved it, I re-watched the show and am planning to re-read the book soon! I love that she's an Austen fan too and have so loved exploring her blog.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Publication Year: 1855
Originally Published In: England
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

I may have my status as a classic literature lover revoked for saying this, but I originally found out about North & South after watching the 2004 BBC adaptation starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe a few years ago. After falling in love with the adaptation, I just had to read the book!

Margaret and Thornton are two people very set in their ways and firm in their beliefs, and watching them both come to accept their shortcomings and gain an appreciation for the other's way of life is so lovely to read. Gaskell was also a woman way ahead of her time, and the way she is able to weave social and political commentary throughout the story is masterful.

I've seen North and South described as an industrial Pride and Prejudice, which I think is an apt description. It also reminds me a little of Charlotte Bronte's Shirley.

"Real or not real?"

Apr 17, 2015

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Release Date: January 2008 | January 2009 | August 2010
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 374 pages | 405 pages | 400 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
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Summary of The Hunger Games (from Goodreads)
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, the shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

WHEN I First Read It

I started The Hunger Games in December 2011 and raced through all three books. I started blogging around the same time, but I never ended up reviewing them. I then re-read the series in March 2012. I was already craving them and wanted to re-read before seeing the first movie. When I was updating Goodreads this time around, I noticed that I finished my first Mockingjay re-read in 2012 on the same day that I finished it this year.

WHAT I Remember

"REAL OR NOT REAL?" Lots and lots of feelings. This was my third time reading the series, so I did remember a significant amount of stuff that happens. Of course, I've also watched the movies a million times! I remembered all of the big plot points and reveals, but I forgot about the emotional depth and nuance of the story. My love for Peeta Mellark is second only to my love for Gilbert Blythe, which sometimes leads me to forget just how smart and thought-provoking the themes are in this book. I'm sorry, but they get lost in the haze of the boy with the bread. I consider this one of my favorite series, so it holds a special place in my heart!

WHY I Wanted to Re-Read

I wanted to re-read for two reasons: 1) it had been three years since the last time I read it, so I was overdue for a re-read and 2) I'd planned to re-read before watching Mockingjay: Part 1 but never got around to it. Since the movie came out on Blu-Ray in early March, I figured I could finally re-read and them binge all three movies! Goodness, I'm so glad I did. And I'm thankful The Re-Read Challenge helped motivate me!

HOW I Felt After Re-Reading

As Anne Shirley would say, I was in the depths of despair. These books make me feel like an emotional wreck, but in the best way. I'm always so sad when I get to the last page of Mockingjay. I know some people have issues with it, but I love it. From start to finish, these are books I want to read again and again. I want to highlight entire passages, dogear the pages that make me think, discuss the themes with bookish friends, and just feel for the characters. I'm a character reader, and that's what first made me fall for this series.

I become very fangirl-y whenever I read these books. The first time I read them, I begged my husband to name our future dog Peeta. He put his foot down on that one, but it didn't stop me from naming my Kindle Peeta. I'm not even embarrassed about it. In my March recap, I also admitted to spending hours watching videos about these characters. (Since then, I've also purchased two paperback boxed sets of these books - in addition to the hardcovers and Kindle copies I already owned. HUSH.) I've also possibly spent more hours than I care to admit reading fan fiction for this series. This series literally exemplifies "so obsessed with" for me.

I've always meant to properly review these books, but I could never bring myself to do it. I think I'd rather discuss them over coffee - tuning out the world and excitedly bonding over a shared nerdiness -  than try to explain all the reasons I love these books. This was one of my first introductions to the Young Adult genre, and it was such a promising beginning. I read mostly adult fiction in high school, and I don't feel like YA was as defined as it is now (though I could be wrong). Either way, I read this series right around the time I started blogging, and it's remained an all-time favorite for me. I adore these characters so much. Are they perfect books? Probably not. BUT THEY ARE PERFECT TO ME. There are so many things I love in these pages - the characters, the writing, the plot, the setting, the social commentary, the emotions... Basically, everything about it.

WOULD I Re-Read Again

ABSOLUTELY! In fact, I wanted to pick up the first book and start all over again the minute I finished Mockingjay. This series is one of my all-time favorites, and I honestly don't think I'll ever get tired of it. I loved the series just as much (if not more) than I did when I first read it four years ago. I'm so glad my love has grown!
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