Friday, April 29, 2016

Favorite Reads | January-March 2016

In the past I've compiled a list of my favorite books at the end of the year. This year I've decided to do something different. Since I tend to have more thoughts on things after I've had some time to consider them more deeply (meaning that books read in November/December either get too much attention or not enough on that list), I will be doing these little quarterly favorites.

Out of the 23 or 24 books I've read between January 1st and March 31st, here are my favorites and a little bit about why. Note: These are in no particular order.

Mara Dabrishus became a favorite last year when I read Stay the Distance and so of course I read Finding Daylight as soon as I could. And I was not disappointed. It's set in the world of horse racing, but there is so much more going on than just a girl trying to make it as a jockey. There are ruined families, twisted friendships, a complicated romance, and every type of real drama you can think of. It's a great read whether you like horses or just want a good contemporary romance/drama.


The most recent book in the world of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson left me in love, as usual. The Bands of Mourning was everything that I hoped it would be. There were great action scenes. The characters really grew individually and together. Some sweet touches of romance were thrown in and the ending was insane! I think this is my favorite of the year so far. 

If you've read the original Mistborn trilogy and the Wax and Wayne books by Brandon Sanderson, then Secret History is something you need to check out. It can't be talked about without too much being given away. It doesn't really stand on its own. It's this odd little hybrid book that works perfectly to fill in pieces of the Mistborn world as well as the Cosmere in general.

It's been a while since I've read either Steelheart or Firefight, but I'm pretty sure that Calamity takes the prize for my favorite in the Reckoners trilogy. David as hilarious, as usual. Megan was awesome. Prof was...well. There was a lot going on where that is concerned. A lot of crazy stuff happened and I loved every word of it. This is possibly the only book I've read this year that I just literally could not put down.

All the Light We Cannot See is a great piece of historical fiction that weaves together fairy tales, mystery, and the devastation of war beautifully. It's told through several perspectives, jumping forward and backward in time to weave the story into a whole. There was so much about this that I loved. I still think about it often.

This collection of poetry for children from Dean Koontz is brilliant. And the illustrations by Phil Parks were perfect. The Paper Doorway is going to be a collection that I read over and over again. And when I have kids in the future, I'll read this with them. There are so many great poems. Some are just humorous, but others carry deeper messages that I loved. It's just great. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Dragon Hunter and the Mage~V R Cardoso | ARC Review

Title: The Dragon Hunter and the Mage (Wounds in the Sky #1)
Author: V R Cardoso
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 500 Pages (Approximately)
Release: April 2016
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

For me it's the characters, more than anything else, that make or break a story. And this had an excellent cast of characters. I also love strong sibling relationships, and while that wasn't the entire focus of the story, the relationship between Aric and Fadan was very important and very beautiful.

The beginning of this novel was somewhat slow and I feel that it could have been tightened a bit, giving the reader more of a connection to the central characters without feeling like they were thrown at you, but that only lasted a few chapters. Once it moved past the initial introductions and general world building, the story and characters really took shape.

The story follows to main paths, as indicated in the title. Part of the narrative focuses on dragon hunting while the other focuses on magic. These two blended really well together. Aric had to learn a lot as he was thrust into this new world and it was nice to see him in a new element. I also really enjoyed his friendship with Leth and Clea. And Geric, of course. While he was learning to hunt dragons and getting tangled in the webs of ancient gods and mages, Fadan was learning to control his magical abilities. The side characters here were just as interesting, though never as big a part, really, as those with Aric.

Magic had a nice place in this world. It was explained well, had an interesting feel, and was dangerous. World building can be hard to balance within a story, but it was done very well here. The political agendas, cities, dragon hunters, mages. So much swirled together that you would think it might overwhelm it (as happens in some fantasy novels), but it doesn't.

There was friendship, love, loyalty, and family. All of these were tested at some point in this novel and it was a beautiful journey to see what would happen. The ending was very satisfactory, but leaves plenty open for a sequel. There are plenty of questions still to be answered, people to be reunited, and fun to be had. I am very much looking forward to the next installment.

Also, take a minute to appreciate that cover. Because it's amazing. Had I not already known this author, one look at that cover would have convinced me to give it a try.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

This Lullaby~Sarah Dessen | Review

Title: This Lullaby
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA Contemporary
Length: 345 Pages (Paperback)
Release: May 2002
My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

So here's the thing. Certain things about this book I love and other things just drove me completely insane. Let me just give you some highlights of what I thought.

Remy, our main character, was frustrating and not a very easy character to sympathize with. Her problems were realistic and I understood why she was the way she was in a lot of ways, but she just wasn't easy to like.

I adored Dexter, our main guy. He had his own set of problems, but he was so fun. I loved it. He just made me smile whenever he showed up in the book. I've liked most of Dessen's guys in the past, but I don't remember one making me smile like Dexter. He was sweet, crazy, and just fun to have around. And he made Remy a better person, in a lot of ways. She learned a lot from being around him. 

Chris, Remy's older brother, was another selling point for the book. I love good sibling relationships and I thought this one was great. It was nice to see how they had grown apart and see them coming back together. Again, Chris had some issues that he was working through, but he was overall a really good guy. And he loved Remy, even when she was a total jerk. 

Remy's friendships were less likable, but still, I did enjoy her friends in some ways. They each had some major issues, but I could see why they would all have come together. I also did not really enjoy Remy's mother. But then, when is there ever a great parent in a Dessen novel? 

The ending was not completely satisfactory for me. It wrapped up too nicely without enough explanation. I would have liked a little more work on Remy's part. It was overall an enjoyable read, but not my favorite from this author.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Monthly Recommendations | Survival Stories

Each month the group Monthly Recommendations, which was created by booktubers Kayla (from Kayla Rayne) and Trina (from Between Chapters), has a new topic for everyone to use to recommend books. There is no set number of books, no set genre, just a general topic that's mostly up to your interpretation.

April: Survival Stories
Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, a WWII veteran who was declared dead while imprisoned in Japanese POW camps. He was an Olympian, a troublemaker, and unbreakable. This is a remarkable story, as I'm sure many other true WWII accounts are. It can be difficult to read as it depicts the horrors of war, but it was done very well here and was never overly graphic where it wasn't needed. That's one thing I love about Laura Hillenbrand's writing. Highly recommended it you enjoy nonfiction and want to learn more about some of the men and women who fought in this war.

This novel follows two characters during WWII. Werner, a German orphan with a gift for radios. And Marie Laure, a blind French girl driven from her Paris home at the onslaught of WWII. The story switches between time frames, weaving the story together through past and present situations. And it's beautiful. There is so much horror, but also greatness in the people subjected to the war. A great read for those interested in WWII historical fiction.

This is about the survival of a horse and his owner. Snowman was sold for $80 and considered worthless. He was gentle though and a good lesson horse. He also had an amazing talent for jumping that was previously undiscovered. He won several jumping awards and contests. It also shows how is owner was surviving after immigrating to the US and becoming a horseback riding instructor. Another great nonfiction read for those who love horses.

These are my three survival recommendations. I've read many others, I'm sure, but these three really stood out to me. They show so many different sides of survival for both humans and animals. And they are each beautiful in their own way. I would love any of your recommendations if you have some, so please comment and let me know what your favorite survival stories are!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Shadow Rising~Robert Jordan | Review

Title: The Shadow Rising (The Wheel of Time #4)
Author: Robert Jordan
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 704 Pages (Hardback)
Release: September 1992
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

This has been my favorite book of the series so far. But I still have to ask, did it really need to be this long? And by that I mean the series. Don't get me wrong, I love series. And I love long books. These just feel like there are a lot of words used to say very little. Nevertheless, they are strangely addictive.

This book picks up right after book three and has our heroes juggling some new forms of crazy in their lives. Can't give too many details without being spoilery, but there were definitely some things I called from previous installments. Some old characters returned and in different ways.

I still haven't been able to really love any of these characters, aside from Perrin. Faile was interesting when first introduced, but throughout this installment she became very bothersome. Still, Perrin overrode her annoyingness enough to make their parts my favorite. The wolf dreams continue to be interesting and some new things were introduced there.

Egwene remains my most unliked character. I just really can't stand her. Mat isn't a whole lot better, and Rand is frustrating but interesting (particularly when he seems like he's lost it). Nynaeve and Elayne are enjoyable enough. I do really enjoy Thom as well. Lan, the little he's in here, is also a nice addition to the story.

The Dark One is stiring and things start to get crazy for our cast of characters. Paths diverge, converge, and just stamp on each other. Some questions regarding the Aeil and Traveling People were answered and I found that part, while confusing, very interesting.

If you enjoyed the first three books in the series, you'll probably really like this one. If they weren't your favorite, well then, why are you still reading? Just kidding. The series seems to have some ups and downs but this is definitely an up. It leaves us right on the brink of some crazy new developments, making me excited to pick up book five The Fires of Heaven, very soon.   

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tuesday Talks | Novellas in Series

You can join the Tuesday Talks discussions by visiting the goodreads group. There is a new topic each week and we get to discuss fun bookish things.

If there are Novellas in a Series do you read them?
There are many series (particularly if you read YA series) that have novellas between books or as prequels. To be honest, I rarely ever read these. I've read a few, but most of the time I don't really see a point unless I can find a copy really easily. Some of my favorite series have novellas that I have still yet to read. Most of the time I don't find them that informative or necessary. Sometimes they link certain pieces of information together to help you better understand the stories or characters, but I still just don't usually read them. Sometimes a novella will be like its own little novel, explaining a certain side character or story line that wasn't finished or explored. These can be interesting and are the ones that I am more likely to pick up. 

So this was a short post, but it was an easy answer. I don't do much with novellas that are part of a series in general. Do you read them? If so, do you think they had something to the story or do you read them just to read them?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Keeping the Moon~Sarah Dessen | Review

Title: Keeping the Moon
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA Contemporary/Coming of Age
Length: 225 Pages
Release: September 1999
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I started reading Sarah Dessen's novels about a year ago and have really enjoyed them. Her first novels, however were a bit iffy for me. So when I picked this book up to buddy read with my sister I was a little wary because it's one of her older ones. I shouldn't have worried though, because I liked it a lot. 

Colie is our main character here and suffers under extreme bullying. She used to be overweight until her mom became a fitness guru, but she has never fit in. So when her mom ships her off to stay with her overweight, eccentric aunt on the coast of North Carolina while she's traveling, Colie doesn't have high expectations. 

There is a lot to love about this book. Colie is an insecure fifteen year old (as most of us were at that age) and easy to relate with. Her issues with bullying are also relatable, because rarely do bullies actually have a reason to bully the people they do. 

Colie meets Morgan and Isabel, two best friends who are very different. Morgan is friendly and kind, while Isabel is stuffy and abrasive. The relationship that Colie develops with these two, particularly Isabel, throughout is one of my favorite things about the book. First impressions can be very misleading. 

There are also Norman and Mira. Mira is Colie's aunt and Norman is the artist who lives in her little apartment because he has family problems of his own. These two were not a big enough part for my liking. They were both so interesting, but rarely showed up for more than a couple of pages. Particularly Mira. It would have been nice to see more of Colie's relationship with these two over the summer.

There is a touch of romance in this novel (obviously, it's Sarah Dessen), but I wasn't completely satisfied with it. I did like that it left a lot up to interpretation and that there were some deeper lessons implied, but there just wasn't enough development. Colie didn't seem interested until suddenly she was. Part of that I think was supposed to be her twisted outlook on certain things and people, her realizing that she was just as bad as all those other bullies, if in a different way. So while it was cute and I expected it, I would have liked some more development throughout. 

The book could have been longer and delved more deeply into certain issues. I do appreciate the fact that it's rather short though. Things didn't ever get overly drama infused and it was a fun read. I would definitely recommend it. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tuesday Talks | Reading & Watching Reviews

Tuesday Talks is a weekly discussion started by Janie and Janelle. To find out more information and participate in discussions, visit the goodreads group.

Reading & Watching Reviews: Before or After You Read the Book?
Maybe I'm the odd one out, I don't know, but I rarely read or watch reviews before I've read the book. I might skim through a few, but I won't actually go and read them in general. Of course, this isn't always the case; there are some exceptions. 

Why don't I read or watch reviews before reading? Good question. I don't want my thoughts to be swayed too much either for good or bad. I've read books before and finished them only to realize that I didn't have any concrete thoughts of my own about it. I had other peoples thoughts from having read/seen their reviews. And I don't like that. I also like to go into a book knowing very little about it, so reading reviews wouldn't make much sense in that case because even if they don't have spoilers, they still talk about the book and usually give a general idea about the book. That's why they're reviews. 

So I usually steer clear of them until I've read the book. In some cases I'll read/watch if it's a book I'm on the fence about and I seem to have similar tastes to the person doing the review. That way it can influence me to either pick it up or not. 

Do you like to read and watch reviews? If so, do you do it before or after you've read the book?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Chime~Franny Billingsley | Review

Title: Chime
Author: Franny Billingsley
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 361 Pages (Paperback)
Release: March 2011
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

When I first finished this book I think I rated it a 3 star and since then it's gradually moved up to 4. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much I enjoyed this book.

The style and story are very odd, but in a good way. It works. At first I was a little hesitant, but once I got going I really enjoyed it. The main character, Briony, believes herself to be a witch and has to hide this or be hanged. She's been taught to hate herself and her narrative can be somewhat depressing because of how much she bashes herself.

While some people may find Briony hard to relate to and difficult to connect with, the opposite was true for me. Her depression and self hate, while not entirely what I do, are things that I see in myself. Being in her head was a lot like being in my own, at times. When I first started reading, that was difficult for me because my head was in a dark place. Once I put it aside and developed a new mindset, I was able to enjoy it much more thoroughly.

So the story basically follows Briony as she tries to hide her witchiness and protect the people close to her. She uncovers things about herself, things she suppressed, along the way, so there is an air of mystery as well. She believes herself incapable of love. Both loving and being loved.

The characters in this book are so wonderfully crafted. Briony has her own issues and sparkles (in my opinion) as the narrator. Eldric, the new "bad boy" who wants to break away the ice around Briony was amazing. He could be annoying at times, but these two together was perfect. There was plenty of witty banter. The other character that really stood out to me was Rose, Briony's identical twin sister. She was so different from Briony and I learned to love her as the story progressed.

If you're looking for something odd, give this book a try. It has darkness, humor, romance, and weirdness. And it's strangely addictive. So be prepared to not want to put this down.