My Year in Books

Hello All,

Every year I participate in the Goodreads reading challenge. I thought it would be fun to share “My Year in Books”. Here are some statistics:

Total Books Read: 27

Total Pages Read: 10,134

Average Length: 375 pages

Shortest Book: 211 pages: A Wrinkle in Time (my first time reading this classic!)

Longest Book: 626 pages: A Court of Mist and Fury (who else is seriously excited for ACOWAR? I can’t contain myself.)

Most Popular Book Read: Eleanor & Park

Average Rating: 4 stars. What can I say? I read a lot of great books this year.

Overall, it was a great year. I read my first Gaiman (The Graveyard Book), I got into VE Schwab, who I adore, Sarah J Maas and Jennifer Niven. I would say my favorite books were All the Bright Places which was incredibly written, heart-wrenching and honest, as well as A Court of Mist and Fury and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. If you’re someone like me and strong characters are the most important part of a book to you, I recommend all of the above.

What were some of your favorites, or least favorite books you read in 2016? Did you hit your goal? I missed mine by 3 books! What books are you looking forward to in 2017?

Happy reading!

Review of “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

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Rating: 3/5 Stars

Pub: May 19th 2015 by Del Rey

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.” -Summary from Goodreads.com

This book has a few instances of violence against women. Dragon grabs her arms and quite literally drags her, to the point of bruising, and early on a prince tries to rape her. Dragon calls her useless among many other things. These things didn’t sit well with me. The Dragon was almost too mean in the beginning. That being said I am a romantic, and I still liked the buildup of them getting to know each other. I won’t spoil it but I loved loved learning his real name and the magic she felt with it.

I am aware that this book draws quite a bit from Eastern European folklore of which I’m not too familiar with (except vampires) so I don’t feel a great authority to speak on that. I’d also be interested to learn more about the language used for the magic spells!

Dragon and Agnieszka spend a good chunk of the story apart, rendering it not really/completely about them, as the sorely lacking synopsis alludes to. (Seriously that synopsis is bad). There was also a lot of uninteresting court politics in this book. It was very long and had a few different pieces to it, I think this whole world and story could have been told in more than one book (and I am not usually the person to say this).

I did like the ending, even if it did feel a little abrupt. The best part of it for me was what Agnieszka was doing, that felt real to her character. It wasn’t all about the love story and she didn’t just blindly follow Dragon, she did what she knew was true to her. I liked that.

With all that said I don’t think this is exactly my type of fairy tale retelling, there was a good amount of pieces I didn’t really enjoy. But the story is there and quite detailed, so still 3 stars for me.

Review of “Doodling For…”

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Can be Purchased Here

Doodling for Dog People is designed to appeal to seasoned artists and doodle enthusiasts alike. Packed with more than 50 fun and inspirational prompts, doodling exercises, and canine-related factoids, professional illustrator Gemma Correll sparks the imagination and spurs canine lovers to explore, experiment, and brainstorm ways to draw and doodle their favorite furry friends with her cute and clever art style. The artist’s simple, unique, and whimsical approach is sure to inspire, entertain, and guide artists of any skill level. Doodlers will find inspiration for drawing different types of dogs, dogs in outfits, dogs in action, and even doggie accessories. An interactive book, Doodling for Dog People demonstrates how to draw whimsical doggie doodles, while encouraging artists and doodle enthusiasts to develop their own style and techniques. With its portable format and plenty of open doodling pages, this quirky doodle book is perfect for on-the-go creative types.” -Goodreads

I received these books from a peer at Quarto Knows in exchange for an honest review. These books are super cute and I love the style of the artist, Gemma Correll. (I especially liked the anthropomorphic fruits). I attached some more photos and sneak peeks below.

The Doodling For books are marketed towards on-the-go artists and people that love to doodle. In my opinion, it would do a lot better marketed for kids and gift books. There are plenty of informative quizzes and facts that would be great for kids and all the drawing prompts would provide great entertainment on long car rides or flights. Kind of like an activity book. I also think they’d be great to give as gifts. Have a cat lover friend? A foodie? Everyone does. The Tree Hugger one was especially funny. Also at $16.95 it’s pretty reasonably priced. Would recommend!

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Review “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic” by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Emily Croy Barker

Pub: Aug 2013, Pamela Dorman/Penguin

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Rating 3.5/5

“Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.” -Goodreads.com

I had a lot of trouble rating this book, due to various reasons. I picked this up at a random trip to Barnes & Noble; it hadn’t been on my reading list but it sounded interesting and the fact that Deborah Harkness’ review was on the front definitely hooked me. (I always questioned whether those worked and apparently they do). If this was to be anything like All Souls Trilogy I knew that I’d love it. I also liked the quote on the back of my edition that said: “If Hermione Granger had been an American who never received an invitation to Hogwarts, this might have been her story.” (People).

I will say that the title is absolutely horrible, I don’t know how that got past editing. I continuously forgot it when I tried to talk about it with other people: “The Practical Woman’s Guide to Magic? No that’s not right. The Smart Woman’s Guide to Practical Magic? No that’s not right either.” was my constant inner dialogue until I took out my phone and looked it up.  Short and sweet is always better. I was also surprised that a lot of this book didn’t get cut out of editing (although I’m sure it did, but more on that later). It’s rare to see a dense ~550 page book with lots of details and information that aren’t completely pertinent cut out. I didn’t mind too much though. Her prose was dense but accessible, well-done and beautifully detailed. World-building prowess? Hell yes.  If you’re looking for lots of action and plot, this isn’t it. The beauty is in the details and slow buildup.

The characters are great. Mostly Aruendiel (how do you pronounce that correctly anyway?). He was crotchety and grumpy but pretty funny. Barker is great at capturing little nuances. I will say that I was very disappointed in the ending. I was only slightly placated by the promise of a sequel and also a book three, which you can find more about here. I had to look this up immediately, thinking it just can’t end here. I get pretty annoyed when author’s set up a book for a sequel and leave things unresolved. Pro tip: if your writing is good enough I WILL come back for more, no need for tricks. She does say in that article that it was originally 1,000 pages long and her agent told her to save it for a sequel. I get it, but it could have ended in a better place to appease fans. People seem pretty angry about it on Goodreads. As a writer myself, I don’t feel the need for quite that level of hostility, but on some level I get it.

There were so many what ifs, unanswered questions and plot lines in this book. It’s akin to real life but not completely entertaining for fiction. Maybe I just needed a little bit more to happen or a little bit more from Nora. With that said I am still looking forward to the sequel. This book was long and took a bit to get through but I enjoyed it and it never felt exhausting to me. I give props to the author for still making it exciting and for her world-building. Like Deborah Harkness, she comes from the world of academia and it shows.
Any thoughts?

PS: This Goodreads summary is really quite the spoiler about a passage home opening. Not pleased about that.

Review of “Dark Wine” by Beth Tashery Shannon

Dark Wine Beth Tashery Shannon

Pub March 1st, 2015 BearCat Press

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Rating 4.5/5 Stars

“Catherine has left her career and friends to accompany her artist husband to Egypt, but his work engrosses him, leaving her rootless and lonely in the mystifying city of Cairo. A chance encounter with a stranger plunges her into a dangerous affair. Passion wars with terror when the man who loves her intensely and tenderly claims his love will kill her.” Summary, Goodreads.com

I was given a copy of this book from NetGalley. I know this sounds terrible, but I didn’t expect much going into it. The cover and the title weren’t great and it was a little known press/author (I know, I prejudged). But, it was a vampire love story and as you have all gathered by now my year goal is to read ALL the vampire books. Well anyway, I LOVED it. Here’s why:

This book was well written. The author, Beth Tashery Shannon, has clearly traveled to Egypt and done her research. There was Arabic language and nuances of culture thrown in. My husband is Iranian and I’ve traveled there before so I certainly appreciated the nods to an Islamic culture. Most notably I was intrigued by the tension between the old vs. new generation, sociopolitical issues dealing with imperialism and the Western influence in Egypt. Lastly, her language is very poetic, I’ve read that Shannon has published some poetry and it shows. On the other side of that coin I will say that sometimes it was a little bit over the top.

I also liked her little characterizations within the details of their language and actions. It was obvious that she really loved creating Geoffrey. I often found myself rereading his dialogue, it was intelligent and usually held a double meaning. I was certainly envious of her skill here. However, I felt that Terry got a little less love (literally and figuratively…). In terms of character, he was a bit flat and just seemed like a background piece, something to create tension. Even if they technically had an open relationship.

It was refreshing that the characters were older. They were in their 30s, so this was no angsty vampire book (not that I have a problem with those). This was certainly a book for adults. A big reason why this wasn’t five stars for me, besides the small things mentioned above, was the sex scenes. There is never a reason to use the word cock, nor do I need a lengthy description of balls. We know what balls look like, and they certainly are not deserving of the description given in this novel. There were a few grammatical issues with quotations, but I think the version I had was a Kindle ARC so I won’t hold that against her.

This book was an exciting, wild ride until the end. It builds like a mystery and I loved it for that. I had to force myself to put it down some nights to go to bed. It’s a good exploration of passion and giving in to it and what possess you. Emotionally and physically. I also had a blast watching these two characters fall in love and the lust that held between them from the beginning. That’s always my favorite part. I definitely recommend!

Any thoughts?

Review of “Everybody Rise” by Stephanie Clifford

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford
Pub: St. Martin’s Press, Aug. 18th 2015

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Rating: 4/5 Stars

“An extraordinary debut novel by New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford—a Bonfire of the Vanities for the 21st century mixed with Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep and Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility.

It’s 2006 in the Manhattan of the young and privileged, and a new generation of heirs and strivers are jockeying for social power and discovering that class, especially on the Upper East Side, still holds sway.

At 26, Evelyn Beegan is the product of new money, propelled by her social-climbing mother through an elite prep school, a posh college, and into Manhattan. Evelyn has always managed to stay just on the periphery of this world her mother so desperately wants her to become a part of. But when she takes a job at a new social networking site aimed at her very elite peers, she’s forced to leverage her few connections to work her way to the front of the pack. With the help of her prep school friends, Evelyn goes from lush “camps” in the Adirondacks and “cottages” in Newport, to Southampton weekends and clubs thick with socialites and Wall Street types, eventually befriending target #1, Camilla Rutherford—a young woman who is a regular on the front page of every society blog.

In order to be accepted by this rarefied set, Evelyn must be seen as someone with established old money. Her lies start small, but quickly grow, and as she relentlessly elbows her way up the social ladder, the ground underneath her begins to give way.” –Summary provided by Goodreads

I saw this book advertised on Shelf Awareness and immediately added it to my to-read pile. You can imagine my excitement when it popped up on NetGalley and I was immediately approved. Going into this I pictured it to be like a “Gossip Girl” for adults and the description looked like something I would definitely be interested in. I predict that it’s going to be a very successful release.

Growing up in New England helped give me a bit of context for this novel. I do feel as though it is aimed to a very specific audience. But, it is a well-written, well-researched novel and I recommend it. It starts out slow but picks up speed as things start to spiral out of control. I won’t say much more about that, but that’s where the book really gets interesting. I think it was a little bit harder for me to get into in the beginning because I’ve been reading mostly YA which is very plot based and fast paced. (Side note, I apologize for not posting in a long time, after the first House of Night I got sucked into ALL of them and well, nobody wants reviews on every book in a series, because that’s just pointless.) Plus, the beginning is mostly learning about characters and their back stories. Don’t give up though, I promise it gets better.

Clifford really hits the nail on the head with little character intricacies and how all of these people fulfill certain roles, and know their place in society. This is definitely a character based story. One of my favorite topics is when authors delve into the complicated mother-daughter relationship and struggles. At the heart of this book is really a girl who is still trying to impress her mother, who never quite made it into the old-money, social climbing, aristocratic world. Her mother groomed her for the life she always wanted to live.

Evelyn is not really somebody that you feel bad for, it’s kind of a “you made your bed, now sleep in it” situation. But, watching how the society around her and her drive to fit into it changes her is quite intriguing and masterfully done. You can see how she got to where she is and throughout the book I found myself thinking, ohh no honey no. She is a little bit reckless and can be naïve, often losing touch with reality. She would rather escape from her problems than deal with them. Clifford did a good job creating three-dimensional characters.

Something I really liked was that the ending wasn’t perfectly tied up into a nice bow, it’s a little open-ended, which really fits for the book.

I want to leave you with a quote that I think sums up this world of East Coast social elite that’s pretty early on in the book: “Without any actual aristocracy in America, the best those who wanted to be upper class could do was create systems of exclusivity and codes of conduct.”

Any thoughts?

“Relative Strangers” Review (Good Tales Book Tours)

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Relative Strangers by Helen Treharne

August 2014, Smashwords

Rating 2.5/5 Stars

I got approached by Good Tales Book Tours to help them promote books on my blog. They’re doing virtual tours with a selection of books on different blogs on various days. It is very cool and I am so excited for the opportunity. Here is their website: http://goodtalesbooktours.com/

Anyway, Friday is my date to promote this book. So you’ll see information on the book, the author, an excerpt and other cool things. I wanted to post my review first to kind of keep it separate.

As you guys know I have an affinity for vampires so not only did I sign up to promote the book, I asked to review it too!

It’s marketed as a modern vampire story, which is cool because it’s not your typical vampire narrative. If you’re the type of person who can’t figure out why everyone is in love with the romanticized vampire and not trying to run away, then this book is for you. These vampires are murderers and they’re the enemy. It’s kind of a European Buffy with a crime novel flair. I’m into the sexy vampires, but I’ll read it all!

My main problem with this book was that it was very very slow. The start was slow, the middle was slow, the epilogue was awesome and things finally clicked into place. I know this is going to be a series, based off its GoodReads page, but the first book could have been more exciting. The problem wasn’t necessarily a lack of action. There was murder and fights for sure. But, we spent way too much time in the main character, Sophie’s, head. Too  much inner monologue, not enough dialogue. It also may have helped if we were introduced to the vampire’s perspective earlier, which doesn’t really happen until 2/3 into the book. Those were definitely more interesting parts.

Another big problem was that this book really needs another round of edits. There were tons of grammar mistakes.

Lastly, I wasn’t that attached to Sophie. She had this self-satisfied attitude that people should just listen to her because she said so. Without giving anything away, there’s a part when she tells someone to move…and we hear her thoughts such as well he should have left by now. I wasn’t too happy about that part. Just because she told him to get out, doesn’t mean he should or is going to. But, in all fairness she can be pretty badass and isn’t scared to bust some vampire skull.

If you like a non-traditional vampire narrative and want to see them killed then you will like this. It also has a strong European voice and if you’re more familiar with that you may like the book for it. The author’s voice certainly shines through.

Any thoughts?