May 2018 Blots & Brews

So it’s May, and it definitely feels like we skipped spring and went straight into summer, with these ridiculous days of 95 degree weather with 90% humidity. Along with hot weather comes the desire to just relax – for me, at least. I’m not sure about you.

Similar to my last post (in December… man, I need to get better at writing more frequently! I certainly still read enough), I’m going to be posting a list of recommended books and drinks. I’d like to try to do this more regularly – would that be enjoyable for y’all? Leave me your thoughts in the comments! It’s like a combination book review & drink review, and it’s oddly enjoyable for me to write.

Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake
My Thoughts: OMG. I love fantasy but this book took the cake. Absolute adoration for this one! I loved the three queens, I loved the characterization… the world building was complex and honestly, because of this, the first 50% of the book was slow going. But Blake created an amazing world here, and I’m so excited to read the second book in the series that I checked the e-copy out from the library immediately after I finished the first one!
One Word Description: Stunning.
Drink Pairing: a lavender white mocha… complex, rich, but with a light herbal flavor.
My Blot & Brew rating: 5/5.

Incarceron – Catherine Fisher.
My Thoughts: The world… wow! To me, it was a unique setting – a prison that’s alive and sentient – but also indescribably creepy. There were a lot of details that were somewhat scattered, and I do feel like there were ways to tighten up the plot. I also didn’t fall in love with any of the characters… but I still loved the story, and I also checked out the e-copy of the sequel immediately after finishing this book!
One Word Description: Intriguing.
Drink Pairing: Bubly Grapefruit sparkling water… light, tangy, refreshing.
My Blot & Brew rating: 3.5/5.

The Deception Of The Emerald Ring – Lauren Willig.
My Thoughts: Currently reading. However, I adore Lauren Willig’s writing – a combination of swashbuckling adventure and chick lit – and so far Emerald Ring is not disappointing me! I’ve been a fan of her Pink Carnation series since I discovered the first book in the early 2000s. I adore the court intrigue, humor, and light romance. Willig’s characters are also quirky and don’t take themselves too seriously, which is appreciated given how seriously most characters in historical fiction take themselves.
One Word Description: Lighthearted.
Drink Pairing: Steel Reserve Blue Razz beer… fruity, sweet with a fizz of alcohol, but very smooth.
My Blot & Brew rating: Thus far, 4/5.

So there you have it! My May 2018 Blots & Brews. Hopefully I will be able to continue this at least once a month. Life is busy but this year I’ve been trying to keep up with reading, so I may as well continue posting my thoughts and recs! (Though I am noting here – I have not been active at all on Netgalley for over 2 years at this point, and I am woefully behind in reading provided ARCs. Only in the past few months have I been able to amp my reading back up, and we’re still getting settled in a new house… but hopefully once we’re settled here, I’ll be able to start catching up on the ARCs I’ve received. Apologies for my impossibly slow pace…!)

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Holiday Words & Sips

It seems as though this year sprinted from start to close. So much has happened over the past 12 months, and I am beyond grateful for where I find myself in life during this holiday season.

I haven’t had as much time to read as I would have hoped (but isn’t that always the case?). But for this post – as a holiday special, if you will – I decided to share some of the books that I’ve been reading over the past month, and the drinks that I have paired with them. Note: I am still in the process of reading the books listed below, so my opinion may change as I read further.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
My Thoughts: The writing is incredibly beautiful and although the sorrows shared are poignant, the language makes them feel a little less harsh. Even if you don’t typically indulge in YA fiction, I would highly recommend this novel just for enjoyment as an art form.
One Word Description: haunting.
Drink Pairing: Twinings Herbal Unwind (chamomile & green apple), served hot with honey to taste.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated to be 5/5.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My Thoughts: In my mind, characterization is Doerr’s main strong point, at least thus far. I love all things WWII, and seeing how the two main characters are coming to life thanks to Doerr’s word magic makes this book a treat to read. The pacing is a little slow at times, which is a downside, but it’s more of a “cozy” slow pace than it is a “oh my gosh when will we get anywhere in this story” kind of slow.
One Word Description: Engaging.
Drink Pairing: Leinenkugel’s Pomegranate Shandy.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 4/5.

Christmas In London by Anita Hughes
My Thoughts: I’m trying really hard to let myself just be engaged in the story, but I am getting somewhat frustrated with some quirks in Hughes’ writing style. Since it is a romance, there are plenty of times where characters kiss; however, the kisses are always described in terms of how they taste. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, not every kiss tastes like something specific like “champagne and berries” (direct quote). Also, characters never just run into each other; it’s always something like “Louisa sees a young woman coming toward her in a plaid Burberry coat and recognizes Kate” (not a direct quote). Like… does it really take someone that long to recognize another person that they are very familiar with? NO, it does not! So please stop. I do love all of the imagery though. Describing scenes and food is definitely one of Hughes’ strong points.
One Word Description: I don’t just have one word, I have two. Infuriating & entertaining.
Drink Pairing: Tazo peppermint hot chocolate.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 3/5.

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
My Thoughts: I really am enjoying this book. I’m not typically one who reads a lot of humor, but over the past year I’ve discovered that I enjoy humor as long as I read it in small doses. Schumer’s book is no exception. If I read too much of it at one time, the humor does grate on me, but in small doses I love it.
One Word Description: Relatable.
Drink Pairing: Mike’s (Hard) Mango Lemonade.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 4/5.

Memory – Madison E. Grey

 

4/5 stars.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy this book. The blurb sounds similar to a lot of YA fantasy that I’ve read, but after the disastrous attempt at reading (and enjoying) The Cabin (see my review here), reading Memory was a relief.

Ms. Grey did an excellent job of reeling the reader into the story. There were parts of the story that were less gripping than others, but overall, I wanted to find out what happened, and nothing got in the way of that throughout the story. There were a few slips in the editing throughout the book, but compared to many other YA authors that I’ve read (again, see my review on The Cabin as a direct comparison), Grey’s writing was a joy to read.

The only thing that caused me to rate this a 4/5 instead of a 5/5 was that the pacing in the last 40% of the book or so was a little rushed, and there were parts that were a little unclear. There was also a lot of action packed into the latter 40% or so, that seemed to serve little purpose but to move the story along. But again, these were not enough to be a detriment to the book overall or to decrease my enjoyment of the story.

Here is a list of what makes Memory work well for me:
* No insta-love and the romances are not the main focus of the story
* Main characters that are actually likable
* Humorous but realistic view of life/the world/the situations in which the characters find themselves
* Compassionate characters
* Not a lot of telling, but a lot of showing (YES!!!!!)
* Prose that is not clunky and a story arc that flows well

The only other issue that I have is that Memory ended on a kind-of cliffhanger that points to reading the sequel… but I can’t complain too much about that, since some of my favorite YA authors do the same.

Definitely would recommend to anyone who loves a quick, action-filled fantasy tale. Also for those who are burnt out on the typical YA protagonists and love triangles – this was a welcome breath of fresh air. I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye out for more books by Ms. Grey!

I’m still around, I promise.

Life has been super busy, you guys. In January, my husband and I and our cat and parrot moved about 600 miles away from the county where I had lived since I was in preschool. We got a gorgeous new apartment, I started working a crazy-but-amazing new job, my husband got a new job, and we adopted a dog. All within the span of two months. Things are just settling down now to the point where I’m making myself take some time to read.

(Oh, and did I mention that I’ve been pretty much constantly sick since we moved? My lungs do not agree with the new climate, even though it’s not THAT much different from where I used to live. Cough drops, cough medicine, my inhaler, tissues, Vicks VapoRub and Sudafed have become my best friends.)

Anyway, so I am getting back into reading. Slowly. Very slowly. So I’m still around, I’ll still be posting (hopefully a little less intermittently!), and I will do my best to read the books I have lined up to review! You know who you are. 🙂

One of the perks of moving from a rural area to a much more urban area is that the library here is amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the small town library where the librarians knew who I was… but I am much more pleased with the collection of (physical) books that the library here has! Also, they have a reading room with comfy chairs and big windows. I don’t think there are words to describe how happy this makes me! I love being able to go there on a weekend and curl up with a big stack of books with my iPod playing, and just lose myself in a world that someone else has created. It’s one of the most soothing things I can do.

Another interesting “change” since we moved is that I’ve become more interested in nonfiction. I’ve started reading various humor authors – from Dave Barry (I like him but he is a bit repetitive) to Joan Rivers (don’t like her, too offensive on all levels) – as well as true crime (not right before bed though) and just various other books (for example, right now I’m reading Unmentionable: A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners – it’s pretty interesting! although I already knew some of the things written about in it). I’m also reading a variety of fiction – on my Kindle app on my phone, I’m STILL working toward finishing Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (I didn’t like Gone Girl – I think because I took too long to finish it so I lost threads of the plot – but I decided to give Flynn another shot). From the library, I’m reading Let’s Get Lost by Ali Alsaid, Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume (classic! I’d never read any Judy Blume prior to earlier this year, when I finished Forever…), and Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake. And here at home, I have Fahreinheit 451 by Ray Bradbury waiting for me as well as The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, which I’m buddy-reading with my mom. 🙂

So all is (fairly) well here. I’m happy to be posting an update; I’ve missed being more active on here.

xx April.

They Mostly Come Out At Night – Benedict Patrick

Many thanks to the author for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

5/5 stars.

I am just going to make a note at the beginning of my review: this is an honest review. I’m not giving this 5/5 stars as a favor or anything like that. I don’t do that stuff.

But… Wow. Just wow. When I initially received a copy of this book, I read 70% of it in about 2 days. I knew I would probably give it a 5/5 rating, but I wanted to give myself some time/space away from it just in case I was a little too excited about it to be fair.

So I set it aside. The week or two that I meant to set it aside for, turned into about four or five months (or 6 months…). I picked it up again today, and finished it.

Why am I telling you this? Well, so you know that my 5/5 stars was not just the starstruck “Oh my gosh this book was amazing” high that I sometimes get after reading a novel that gripped me. This is a starstruck “Oh my gosh this book was amazing AND I WANT MORE” high that has lasted for months.

As a voracious reader as well as a writer myself, I have a very vivid imagination. As such, I don’t watch TV – I read instead. Seeing things like book adaptations on TV/in movies can be somewhat frustrating since they’re not always portrayed as I’d like to see them portrayed. I know for some people, TV is relaxing and more distracting.

Again – why am I telling you this? Because reading They Mostly Come Out At Night is like watching the action-driven portion of a movie, except you get to fill in what the characters and places look like yourself. I could completely envision myself there, with Lonan, with Artemis, with the Magpie King… fighting in the forests, running through the halls of the Eyrie, seeing the destruction in the Eyrie, seeing the darkness that overtook the forest. I could also very vividly see the more gory scenes even though they were not extremely gorily written (so the enchantment of “seeing” what I read, especially evident in this book, was not always a blessing).

I don’t entirely know how Benedict Patrick managed to write They Mostly Come Out At Night the way he did. I don’t know how this book, above all others that I’ve read in recent years, plays out in my brain like a movie, with none of the issues that watching movies/TV comes with for me. I don’t know what it was about his writing that pulled me in, but whatever it was, I want more.

I loved how myths and legends were the backbone of this book. It was not a unique idea, but the way that it was carried out was, in my opinion, unique and wonderful. I definitely recommend this to anyone, but especially those who love fantasy combined with myths/legends.

Warning, though: They Mostly Come Out At Night does have portions that are dark and sad. So be ready to be pulled into the world that Benedict Patrick has created, and be ready to feel All The Things™.

This Is Where It Ends – Marieke Nijkamp

Many thanks to SOURCEBOOKS Fire, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

3.5/5 stars

This is the first book of this nature that I’ve read – a YA novel that deals with a school shooting, told by 4 different POVs over the course of only 54 minutes. It was interesting, and I enjoyed it to a degree, but I never really felt a deep connection with any of the characters.

* Autumn – She was the character I felt the closest to. The dancer. She wanted to escape Opportunity, Alabama, and had been accepted to Juilliard for ballet. The sections of the book that involved her seemed to be the most emotionally laden, because of her abusive father and how he discouraged her dancing once her mother died…

* Sylv – Autumn’s girlfriend (but this was kept a secret until the shooting occurred, due to worries about what people would think – including Sylv’s family, who had very traditional values. And again, this takes place in Alabama, which is Bible Belt territory). I didn’t really ever feel connected to Sylv – it was clear that she cared for Autumn, but aside from that I found her to be a fairly forgettable character.

* Tomas – Sylv’s brother. Not forgettable at all, due to the fact that (view spoiler)

* Claire – the only one of the four who was not in the school when the shooting began. The one who went to get help. Yet she also was not terribly memorable nor did I feel any sort of emotional connection from her.

Perhaps that was intentional – the lack of emotional connection to the characters. Because of the horrific nature of the shooting, the disengagement might serve a purpose… because if it were too real, too emotionally-laden, then the readers might… oh, I don’t know. I’m really just bullshitting here.

And Ty. It was never really clear why he went on the rampage. He felt like no one was there for him… he was bullied and then dropped out of school, but it wasn’t clear what he was bullied about, since he seemed to be fairly popular when he was at school. He and Claire had dated for a time. I… really don’t understand. I mean, from what was shared in the book, the bullying had been fairly bad, but the point of it (him being awkward, a social outcast, a geek – any “reason” that kids bully other kids) was not really ever stated clearly. Then again, kids don’t always need a reason for bullying others…

Also, Sylv stated near the end of the book that Ty had hurt her in some way. It was alluding – I think? maybe? – to sexual assault (I’m thinking this due to a few other passages earlier in the book) but I don’t know and this was also never made clear.

Overall, it was the lack of emotional connection and lack of clarity about several key points that knocked this book down from a 4/5 or higher to a 3.5/5. It was interesting enough but the blurb pretty much tells the story… there wasn’t really anything hidden or any surprises throughout the book.

A Cure for Madness – Jodi McIsaac

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer, via NetGalley, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

5/5 stars.

Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile know that I love to dissect books about mental illness, especially when the author has done a terrible job at the research involved in the book (for examples, see this review of The Asylum Prophecies or this review of Switching Time).

There was none of that nonsense in A Cure for Madness.
(Can I tell you how much I adore authors who present a realistic picture of mental illness??)

Anyway. I think what really caught me up in A Cure for Madness was not so much the fact that there was a pathogen that created an extremely contagious and incurable disease that was very similar to schizophrenia… but was more the relationships. I loved seeing how Clare slowly realized that her brother, Wes, was right in a lot of what he said, regarding her running away from Clarkeston. I loved seeing her character growth throughout the novel. And I loved Wes’ brotherly jabs at her (“my friends aren’t dickheads… unlike yours”).

I would’ve liked to see more romance between her and Kenneth, but given the hectic and tense situations that they continuously faced, it makes sense why there wasn’t (and honestly, given the setting of this book, it would’ve been more of a distraction had there been more of a spark between them). That being said, the book ended on such an amazing cliffhanger-but-not-quite-cliffhanger so if there is a follow-up/sequel to A Cure for Madness, I definitely want to see more Clare-and-Kenneth interaction in there (even if it’s not super romantic).

My honest opinion – Jodi McIsaac has a lot of talent. And I’m very interested to see where she will go from here. I’m definitely going to be putting some of her others books on my TBR pile (which is about the size of Mt. Everest now… and growing!).