Friday, December 26, 2014

Unravel Me and Ignite Me reviews

I FINISHED A SERIES! In case you're new here, I'm really terrible at series. I'm talking really, truly, awful. I just get distracted and end up not finishing them. But recently I made it a goal of mine to finish the Shatter Me series before the end of the year, and I did it! (If you haven't read the first one, definitely don't read any further, but maybe proceed with caution anyway if you haven't finished the entire series. I may be the only one left who hadn't finished the books though)

The second book picks up where we left off, with Juliette, Adam, and James settled in at Omega Point, and they are trying to fit in and figure out just what this underground city was built for.

I have to say, I enjoyed these two books much more than the first one, which is definitely not how I usually feel with trilogies. The first book revolved so much more around the stasis of Juliette's situation and the fact that she was stuck for so long in a solitary cell. I also loved that in the second book we were introduced to a whole host of new characters. I know they appeared in the first one, but we really got to know all the new people instead of focusing entirely on Juliette and Adam (who, by the way, I never really liked).

Unravel Me
Normally I feel like second books are kind of still. It's the planning book before you get to the real action in book three. That was not the case with Unravel Me. The plot still moved forward even though the majority of it was the planning stages for the upheaval of The Reestablishment. Between the training, the research, the character development, and the war planning stages, there was so much going on to keep me from getting bored halfway through this book. Instead, it propelled my interest for book three.
And I want to talk about Kenji for a moment. I love his relationship with Juliette and how good of friends they become. With so much going on in the book, it was still wonderful to have a focus on a pure friendship with such a wonderful character. Seriously, Kenji stole the show. He is my favorite.

Ignite Me
Again, Kenji stole the show. His character is the best and the strongest, hands down.
A lot changed for the onset of this book, including team members fighting and where their home base was. This was a huge leap to take, but I thought it was also a bit unrealistic because of who was left. It seemed too convenient. Regardless, the third installment, in my opinion, was the best. Juliette stopped (well, sort of) so whiny, which was a characteristic I really hated in book two. She matured the most of the characters (with quite a bit of pushing) and WOAH steamy scenes alert! That I was totally a fan of (you know, the person she was with). I was pretty much a fan of all the characters except Adam, whom I found extremely whiny for a person supposedly in a war and supposed to be fighting for his brother and protecting people.

I am so glad I finished this series, and now I see what all the fuss was about. It just took a little prodding because the first book was so still. But they got so much better, and they will definitely be on my keep shelf :)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Moon and More Review

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Pages: 435
Keywords: beach, graduation, family
Format Read: hardcover (owned)
Goodreads | IndieBound
Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.
Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo's sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.
Emaline's mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he's convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?
Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she's going?
Trusty Sarah Dessen is where I turn when I've had it with not enjoying books. Even if I don't like the characters or decisions, I know I can count on a good story and excellent writing from her. And that's exactly how I felt reading The Moon and More.

It's not often Dessen writes male protagonists I don't really like, but this was the case for both Theo and Luke. In fact, I wanted more of the character focus to remain on Emaline and her relationship with her best friends, Daisy and Morris, and her growing relationship with her half-brother Benji. These characters were the strongest and had the most interesting dynamic among them, and I really wanted to see more of them in the book.
Instead, much of the focus was placed on Emaline's struggle with choosing a boyfriend. Yes, there were some more things in there like discovering who she was and what she truly wanted to do upon graduating, but so many of the chapters revolved around Luke or Theo. I thought this was entirely unnecessary. Luke was quick to jump to conclusions when he failed to receive one response from Emaline about a scenario, and everything unraveled pretty quickly at the very beginning. He doesn't wait to listen or reason, so Emaline moves on. Super quickly. Which, you know, happens. But at the same time, I didn't see that much of a difference in the two. Theo, though he dressed and talked differently and was quite a bit snobbier, still never listened to Emaline and what she was saying, and he always jumped to conclusions way too quickly. It just seemed like an awful lot of the book focused on Emaline's struggle with the two when her real growth as a character was happening in all her other relationships.

The movement in the story was good, though, and the pacing was just right. The chapters focusing on Emaline, Benji, and their father were the best and most realistic. They delved into their relationship well, and I connected so well with that aspect of the book. And I know I mentioned it before, but I sincerely loved Morris and his kind-heartedness and genuine love for Emaline (like the friend kind of love). It was clear they had an important history—I just wanted to see more of them.

Even though I felt the placement was a bit off, the characters were still strong and Dessen always crafts a good story. The writing was superb, and the book itself was interesting and compelling. That's why I really enjoy Dessen's books; because even if I feel like I have issues with it, I still end up really enjoying the reading experience.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Book Drinks: Holiday Happiness

Welcome to a special holiday installment of Friday Book Drinks! This is a regular feature I created where I pair cocktails with books I'm reading because, you know, drinks are great!

I've been saving this book for a FBD feature because winter drinks are literally my favorite thing ever, and I'm 4 stories into this anthology and LOVING it.

Obviously, hot chocolate is delicious. There's no debate about that. But making grown-up hot chocolate is one of my favorite things about wintertime. Curling up with spiked hot cocoa, fuzzy socks, and a good book is what Friday nights in December were meant for.

You can always just put some peppermint schnapps into hot cocoa to make it instantly better, but this recipe is super easy to follow, and will help you up your game with HOMEMADE schnapps to add to your drinks. (I've tested and can confirm that it's 100% amazing and delicious).

It's the perfect warm and fuzzy drink to pair with warm and fuzzy stories (my favorites so far have been Midnights because DUH it's Rainbow R. and she's basically Queen of the world, and Stephanie Perkins' story with the Christmas tree farm. Mainly I think because I have a fascination with real pine trees. We've always had a fake one because my brother's allergies will nearly kill him if we bring a real tree inside.)

Have you read these stories yet? Tried some grown-up hot chocolate? What's your favorite drink when it's cold outside?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 Resolutions Reflection

This year was the first year I made resolutions for the blog, and I think it turned out surprisingly well! I'm not too great at long-term goals (I tend to forget if there's not an event or something I'm actively working toward), but I think my three goals were realistic, doable, and helped improve my blog!

Below are the resolutions I posted about way back in January, and I'm going to see how well I did!

1. Read more e-books. For those of you who read regularly, you know I'm not a fan. I have a Kindle. I don't like it. But, my ratio on NetGalley is suffering (I think, like everyone else's). I need to catch up and stop requesting so many books I don't actually have the time to read. Until I can read 5, I'm not allowing myself on NetGalley to look at any more.

How'd I do?
I really worked hard on this one. Right when I first got a Kindle, I was so click-happy and unrealistic on NetGalley. I WAY overestimated how much I'd actually read. Resulting in a 10% feedback ratio. Sheesh. I am so sad at myself. But, I have knocked SO MANY out by motivating myself to go to the gym (great for treadmill use) and telling myself I have to read these. I've gotten my percentage up to 30.5%! Which still is not great. I'd love for it to be 80% like they say. But I read 27 e-books this year, and I think that's pretty crazy.

2. VLOG! Yep, vlog. This is a thing I'll be trying (this week, actually) so any tips, other vloggers to follow, or anything at all really will be welcome. I am planning on vlogging reviews/thoughts on books. Not full-fledged reviews, but an aspect in particular that made me think about a certain topic (hint, I'll be starting with Allegiant).

How'd I do?
Pretty well! I made more than one video, and I have like 12 whole people subscribed to my channel! It's not super high on my priority list, but it was pretty fun filming them! I have a theory in my head that I want to film Friday Book Drinks in a chat-style book talk but with drink-making involved. I'm just lazy and haven't done it yet.

3. Put down books I don't like. I'm a terrible book-quitter. I try so hard to like everything, and it puts me in a book slump when I get stuck on a book I loathe. So I'm going to put down books this year I don't want to read!

How'd I do?
This is what I did the best with, I'd say. I have a feature now called Reshelved where I talk about why I didn't like what I was reading, why I ultimately put it down, and who I think would like the book. That way, instead of being entirely negative, someone can find if that book may be for them even though I personally would not recommend it. It makes me feel a little better for not finishing it. I just don't have the time to spend on books I don't like.

Did you all make goals? How did you do? Do you think I'll EVER get my NetGalley ratio back up?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

All the Bright Places: Blog Tour Kickoff!

I am happy to share with you that I am kicking off the tour for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven! To celebrate this awesome book (seriously, I loved this one. I'll be reviewing it later this week, so stay tuned), I've made another Pinterest collage of things that I thought worked well with the book!

The book is set in a small town in Indiana (yay home pride!), and the top right picture is actually from my street! The Indiana factor is a big one, and there's a particular hill Violet and Finch go to that reminded me of home, seeing as my town sits about 600 feet above and looks out over Louisville.

Post-its and small notes are a big part of Finch's world, and he uses them to document ideas about songs, words, and other things he likes, and they are a constantly changing and evolving set of notes. He introduces them to Violet, and they become a big part of their relationship.

Lastly, my favorite. One of the central focuses of the book is the school project they are working on together, exploring Indiana. My favorite scene includes them finding a Bookmobile Park, run by a couple who was sad to see Bookmobiles not going to use, so they bought a bunch and ran a little park of book stores on wheels.

And, thanks to the lovely people at Random House, I am able to give away a copy right here, right now! Just enter using the form below and commenting answering the questions provided:

I really loved this book, and make sure to stop by the other blogs on the tour! (which I will have a list of soon, stay tuned!)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Amber House Review

Amber House by Kelly Moore, Larkin Reed, Tucker Reed
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Pages: 368
Keywords: horror, magic, memories
Format Read: Hardcover
Goodreads | Indiebound
Sarah Parsons has never seen Amber House, the grand Maryland estate that's been in her family for three centuries. She's never walked its hedge maze nor found its secret chambers; she's never glimpsed the shades that haunt it, nor hunted for lost diamonds in its walls.
But all of that is about to change. After her grandmother passes away, Sarah and her friend Jackson decide to search for the diamonds--and the house comes alive. She discovers that she can see visions of the house's past, like the eighteenth-century sea captain who hid the jewels, or the glamorous great-grandmother driven mad by grief. She grows closer to both Jackson and a young man named Richard Hathaway, whose family histories are each deeply entwined with her own. But when the visions start to threaten the person she holds most dear, Sarah must do everything she can to get to the bottom of the house's secrets, and stop the course of history before it is cemented forever. 
Before I dive into the contents, I want to mention the cover. The picture doesn't do it justice. And yes, girl in fancy dress isn't anything crazy. But on the hardcover I have, the title is a shimmery mirage, and you can only see it if you turn it in the right light. Otherwise, it blends straight into the background. It's beautiful, and I think it fits extremely well with the story and the premise behind the exploration of this old family mansion.

This was a rather slow-moving book, but not in a way that made it less interesting. There was a ton of backstory for each character, and I felt like I was actually getting to know Sarah and her little brother as they got to know their past family and the secrets of Amber House. Their grandmother passes away, and they're staying at the house while their mom tries to plan events and showings to get the house sold. Of course, they begin to grow attached and do some exploring of their own and learn a whole lot more than what meets the eye.

Sarah discovers a genetic trait she, like the other women in her family, possesses, and Jackson, the boy who lives on the property, helps explain it to her. She can see "echoes," or memories, of people before her. This is how she gets more information on the house and the people who once lived there. Like I said earlier, this story wasn't super action-y or quick-moving. Instead, it relied on character-driven stories and memories and dreams, and the authors recounted tales many different ways.

This was both good and bad. In a way, I felt much closer to the characters and what was happening to them. But, at the same time, jumping from Sarah's present, where she flits around to parties with Richard, then back to the past, then to the further past, then back to present, made for a bit of a confusing plot to follow. I had many instances where I had to go back and figure out which characters lived when because there was so much overlap.

Other than being a bit confused and startled the first time I read the ending, it was a haunting and chilling tale with compelling characters and backstories. There just wasn't enough drive between events to make this a solidly awesome book, but if characters and still movement are your thing, this book is for you.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bookish Favorites #2

I find things all the time that make me drool because I want to own them, and I definitely can't afford them right now. So I wanted a place to compile all the pretty bookish things that I plan on (someday) having in my possession. Want to see the first installment?

This will be a sporadic post (aka a when I feel like it kind of thing), and I hope to share quite a few things you haven't seen before!

Even this shower curtain would make mornings tolerable (well, sort of. I really hate mornings).

How wonderful would it be to have these chairs out in the garden?

Definitely on the more luxurious side, how excellent would it be to have this monstrous tower of books by your bathtub? I don't think I'd ever leave!

And once I finally left the tub, it would be great to have this rug right next to it!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Haven Review

The Haven by Carol Lynch Williams
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 224
Keywords: dystopia, genetics, rebellion
Format Read: finished copy via publisher (thank you!)
Goodreads | Book Depository
For the teens at The Haven, the outside world, just beyond the towering stone wall that surrounds the premises, is a dangerous unknown. It has always been this way, ever since the hospital was established in the year 2020. But The Haven is more than just a hospital; it is their home. It is all they know. Everything is strictly monitored: education, exercise, food, and rest. The rules must be followed to keep the children healthy, to help control the Disease that has cast them as Terminals, the Disease that claims limbs and lungs—and memories. 
But Shiloh is different; she remembers everything. Gideon is different, too. He dreams of a cure, of rebellion against the status quo. What if everything they’ve been told is a lie? What if The Haven is not the safe place it claims to be? And what will happen if Shiloh starts asking dangerous questions?
For a dystopia, this is definitely a well-crafted, different story than those I've been reading lately, and I mean that in a definite good way.

It started out quite mysterious and doesn't try to be expository in telling its story. All we know at the beginning is that Shiloh and a bunch of other young kids are being held in this hospital-like place where they are fed, go to school, and all have medications they take. From there, things slowly start to unfold about scientists and why exactly these kids are being held here.

I was surprised by the serious nature of this book. It brought up a lot of moral questions, and it made it extremely interesting only being told from the inside of the complex — we had virtually no clue what was happening on the other side of the hospital's walls. It moved at a quick enough pace to keep me invested, but Williams revealed information slowly and at just the right time. I was pleased with the suspense.

It also, unlike many MANY dystopias out there, didn't paint one specific character as a hero, which I loved. Multiple people were involved in the story's progression and events that would eventually take place, and each character was developed and crafted carefully. It was much more realistic in its nature because of this, and the fate of the world didn't rest on one teenager's shoulders.

This was such an interesting story, and one of the best dystopias I've read this year, and I was shocked because I hadn't heard of it before it showed up on my doorstep. The science was sound, the characters were solid and believable, and it was definitely a unique concept as far as stories go. I will be on the lookout for more books from Williams, as I was definitely impressed by this one.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Orange Is The New Black Audiobook Review

A few weeks ago, I called out help to you, my fellow book nerds, to help me out choosing my first audiobook. I know, it's a little ridiculous that I, a book blogger and someone who recently drove to Florida and back on my own, have never listened to an audiobook. It wasn't for lack of trying though.

I tried to listen to one while training for the half marathon I ran in April, but I found I was too distracted and focused on running to be able to concentrate on a book. This is what I feared would happen with this one — I would zone out and have to rewind and ultimately never make it through.

On my library's website, they added new audiobooks up for borrow, and I saw Orange is the New Black, a show that I love and have been meaning to read the book for a long time. That was the tipping point.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Release Date: April 6, 2010 (audio June 11, 2012)
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Pages: 298
Keywords: prison, drugs, drama
Format Read: audiobook
Goodreads | Book Depository
With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.
Admittedly, I was shocked to find that I was enthralled listening to this book. I mean, I expected to like the book in general, but it was so easy to fall into the story while listening on my commute. I drive about 35 minutes to work, so there and back allowed me to finish the book in exactly 2 weeks. And I found myself sitting in my car once I got to work to listen as long as I possibly could.

Kerman uses an excellent voice (the writing, not the narration), and her style is very conversational, so it was easy to immerse myself into the novel, rather than feel distanced from it. It was so easy for me to visualize what was happening too because I felt like I related to her very well. White, middle class, graduated from college, and in general pretty privileged. Then suddenly all her mistakes she made when she was younger catch up to her.

The book was enlightening in a way that made me truly think about the people we have in federal prison, especially women's prisons, almost 90% of them being drug-related charges. Some are in there for 20-30 years. I don't know about you, but I'd rather reserve space and funding in prisons to hold actual dangerous people like, you know, murderers, rather than people almost forced into the drug business because they were unable to get jobs elsewhere.

Kerman's narrative was thoughtful, explorative, and had excellent pacing — it spanned her 13 months inside Danbury prison. The passages flowed smoothly, and I never felt like there was a jump that shouldn't be there. The downside to this experience, though, is now I want to see what reading the book is like because I liked the audio so much. Yet another book on my TBR shelf. It's never-ending.