Where has 2016 gone?

I can’t believe how quickly this year has flown by.

I can’t believe how many books I haven’t read this year.

I wanted to read 52 (at minimum!) but only managed to read 30.

It’s a been a source of anxiety and stress for me — I run a book review blog, for heaven’s sake. Shouldn’t I be voraciously reading??

I suppose that’s the point of this blog, though. Sometimes the life that happens between reads, well, sometimes it’s a lot. Sometimes it doesn’t leave much room for reading at all. And you know what? That’s okay.

This year has been an amazing year of huge life changes. In the last twelve months, I got a divorce, did a lot of soul searching, sold my house, turned 25, moved in with my fantastic boyfriend, and found out I’m going to police academy in a week (I currently do PR; this is a HUGE career change, y’all). It was up and it was down. But mostly up, and forward, forward, forward. I am so thankful for this year, despite the low points and major life lessons I’ve learned. In fact, I’m grateful for them, too — they’ve gotten me to where I am. I am so excited for what this new year will bring.

Instead of looking at my book count as a failure this year, I’d like to accept it as a challenge for next year. I’ll continue reading, but enjoy the life in between, too.

 

 

 

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

22840421The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England. – Goodreads

I just finished this and had to log-on ASAP to write a review — this is by far one of my top five favorite books of the year (so naturally I had to write it before 2016 timed out).

I’m not sure what initially drew me to this book — I think it came through as a Kindle deal or something. When I saw that Cynthia Hand lives in my town, I figured, eh, I like historical fiction, I suppose I’ll drop a couple of bucks for a fellow Idahoan.

Could not put down, to a point of the boyfriend complaining about how I look at my Kindle more than him (ironic, because he got it for me for Christmas). It IS a 500+ page book, though, so it took a small chunk of time to read (not complaining — I loved the book, and thus loved the length).

First things first (and our dear narrators let us know from the get-go) – this is not an entirely accurate depiction of history. In fact, it’s a bit more of a historical/fantasy mashup, with the Tudors, shapeshifters, and the like thrown in.

The story is told from three points-of-view — Jane, Edward and Gifford. Jane is a firey redheaded bookworm. Edward is the king, who is quite immature and has no idea how to run a kingdom (he’s also dying). Gifford is a lord’s son, who happens to turn into a horse.

Edward, who is dying, names Jane the next in line for the throne and mandates her marriage to Gifford (at the suggestion of his royal advisor, who is Gifford’s dad). Now, Jane and Gifford know of each other, but know nothing about each other — needless to say, they’re not pleased with their marriage.

The humor in this book — that’s what hooked me and what made it so enjoyable. I loved how occasionally the narrators would butt in with a quip or comment — it always fit, and was used sparingly.

I really enjoyed the character development — the three POVs worked well and I enjoyed all three characters. They had dimension and their chemistry was fantastic.

I also enjoyed the worldbuilding. Though set in old England, the fantasy elements with the Verities and Edians worked well.

The writing was also fabulous — in fact, I completely forgot the book was written by three different people.

5/5 for sure!

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Walk on Earth a Stranger (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1) by Rae Carson

17564519Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift. – Goodreads

This. THIS.

It’s no secret, I’ve been a terrible reader lately — and by that I mean I haven’t been reading a whole lot. Partly due to life, partly due to having a hard time finding a book that really drew me in. This one did it. I downloaded the free Kindle sample and was hooked before the sample was over.

I wasn’t entirely sure about it when I started reading it — the old time-y dialogue and phrases kept making me shudder — it felt forced at first. After I settled in and became comfortable with the time period and main character, I began reading it in her accent and it became comfortable.

Before I delve into this review, let me warn you: I am obsessed with three historical time periods and/or events. Ancient Egypt, the sinking of the Titanic, and the Oregon Trail. Now, I grew up on the Oregon Trail — Bonneville Point (an Oregon Trail Historical Preserve) is literally down the street from my house. I used to be terrified of digging in the dirt because I thought I’d happen upon a skeleton or something. I never found anything, but I studied the Oregon Trail extensively during my homeschooled years. I also loved the hell out of the PC game.

Once Lee was on her way (after her parents are brutally murdered and she’s forced to flee — after all, if you have the ability to sense gold and people find out, they want to use you) and posing as a boy, I was sucked in and couldn’t put the book down. I loved that the whole posing-as-a-boy was done differently than other stories I’ve read. She was still proud to be a woman, but extremely upset at the fact that in that time period women were bartered back and forth and essentially owned by men. After her secret is out, she freely wears a skirt, shoots a rifle, and rides a horse.

On that note, Lee is a strong female MC — though she has her trials, she works through them realistically and believably. I really enjoyed her character, as well as the supporting characters. Even the ones who began as folks I disliked grew on me after a while.

The worldbuilding was decent, but I did find myself getting lost at where they were at in the journey. I would have liked some more orientation as to where they were in points — some familiar names would pop up — Fort Laramie, Fort Hall, etc. and I would know where they were, but that’s only because I know them.

Anyway, I’m obsessed. It’s fine. I’m definitely starting the second book ASAP. Added to my favorites and rated a 5/5.

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

18584855Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans. – Goodreads

I devoured this one. Kind of like the characters in the book who were obsessed with Catherine’s baking.

Can I just say that Marissa Meyer is a badass as retelling fairytales? Seriously! I’m not a Queen of Hearts kind of girl (hated the ones in the movies, didn’t like the one in the book). This book is the only telling of the Queen of Hearts that I’m down with. It’s basically a prequel to Alice in Wonderland — after all, we never really learn why the Queen of Hearts is so horrible.

Catherine is not your typical strong heroine. She doesn’t fight people, she’s not out on quests. She wants to open her own bakery, not marry the freakin’ king. But she doesn’t want to disappoint her parents. Then Jest comes and everything changes.

It’s instalove. It’s totally instalove. And I didn’t really care at all. Once it happens, their romance develops slowly and though it’s the overarching storyline, it wasn’t obnoxious. It worked really well.

I need to reign this in because I’m just gushing at this point.

The story is dark and twisted. The worldbuilding is fantastic — there are so many characters, beasts, and elements from Alice in Wonderland. The Cheshire Cat, the Looking Glass, the Mad Hatter…the list goes on. They all fit in flawlessly.

I can’t really go into too much more detail without ruining the plot — the ending was painful, though. I set the book down feeling the most intense form of book sadness ever.

I loved this book. I rated it 5/5!

Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

28114396Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force. – Goodreads

When I first started reading this, I was like, awww yeah. I love me some YA fantasy.

And then I found myself getting progressively more and more annoyed. At first I thought Brita was a badass (don’t get me wrong, she is — she can definitely handle her own) but one moony-eyed look from the dude she loved and she’s twitterpated and dumb. I also felt that as a reader, I wasn’t really shown that Britta was as strong of a heroine as I was told.

So yeah, I was annoyed.

The book started fairly slow — I was into it, but it took a while for the storyline to really get moving. Britta is trying to find her father’s murderer, which involves some adventuring, getting captured multiple times, running from her jailers, etc.

I don’t know. I just thought it was predictable and the romance was dull. The worldbuilding was okay, but I never really felt pulled in. I rated this a 2/5 on Goodreads.

I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Nourishing Meals: Healthy Gluten-Free Meals for the Whole family by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre

16240550A whole foods cookbook and guide to raising healthy children including over 300 nourishing gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free recipes. – Goodreads

This one is tough. On one hand, it’s definitely chock-full of allergy-friendly recipes; the recipes I tried were delicious, easy to make, and the ingredients were easy to find (IE, no special trips to any specialty stores). It’s organized well and there are plenty of recipes to choose from.

However, the book is simply overwhelming. I have no doubt that there are more than 300 recipes; I haven’t counted, but the sheer size of the book is intense and took me several times to go through and bookmark.

The other downside is the lack of photography; I like to be able to see what I’m going to be making, and the sparse few pages of photos in this volume do not do it justice.

I rated it a 3/5; the recipes are great and there are plenty to choose from, but the overwhelming amount of recipes and lack of photos lost it two points.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Brace Yourself: NaNoWriMo Is Coming

First — how the hell is it November already? This year has flown by. They say it only gets worse as you get older — and I believe it. This year has been a crazy year — full of major life changes, challenges and risks. LBR has definitely suffered as a result, but I’m looking forward to getting it back on track.

Speaking of LBR suffering — I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo again this year, meaning reviews will be rather slow this month. I anticipate some cookbook reviews (because I need writing fuel, obviously) but I’m trying to limit my novel consumption so I can focus on production.

If you’re unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s essentially a month from hell where you write a 50,000 word novel…in a month. That’s about 1,667 words a day. This is (I believe) my sixth year participating, and I’ve only ever finished once. I usually peter out at the 20,000-30,000 word point because I fall behind. I’m hoping this time will be different, but I’ve also lost the shiny eyed, bright, optimistic attitude about it 😉

Wish me luck! Who else is participating?

Friday Favorites

8f74b74832a9ae4d749d40cb5a82a050I’m really loving this list of 50 Powerful Brené Brown Quotes That Will Lift You Up When You’re Shame Spiraling by Heidi Priebe. I’m still halfway through Daring Greatly and love Brown’s work; sometimes you just need a little snippet of pick-me-up when you’re beating yourself up — something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

Epic Reads just released their list of The 17 Most Anticipated YA Books To Read in November 2016. So many books, not enough time! Heartless, Of Fire & Stars, The Diabolic…and so many more. Bye, money.

I’ve been drinking a cup of Yogi Bedtime tea before bed with my before-bed reading material. I’m definitely a habit person, and this immediately puts me in a sleepy, relaxed mood.

I’m digging this article from The Everygirl about Why Lifelong Learning Is Key To Becoming Your Best Self. I love to learn and often find that I’m happiest when learning new things on a regular basis. How do you continue to learn even when you’re not in school? I enjoy watching TED Talks, listening to podcasts and reading various blogs on subject matter I’m interested in (law enforcement, public relations, current events, lifestyle).

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The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton

15808671Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth-century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds and rose from common theater tart to empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. The woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told….

After her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation and a life on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a backdoor entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and, by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the emperor’s nephew. She thrives as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it? – Goodreads

I ate this up in an all-consuming-couldn’t-put-it-down kind of way. I was on vacation when I read this, so I was able to binge read the hell out of it while the graveshift boyfriend slept until noon.

To put it simply, Theodora’s life kind of sucks for, well, most of her life. The suffering was almost too much (rape, prostitution, poverty, abuse, etc.) — but her resiliency and strength was what kept me reading. Rather than accepting her fate, she took matters into her own hands and made it work.

Thornton navigates these topics expertly and in a non-exploitative manner — these events are what shaped this woman and drove her to take her future into her own hands, to refuse to be a pawn.

The book is in first-person through Theodora’s eyes — this gives the reader a firsthand account of her emotions, thought process and world. She is a multi-dimensional character, and I came to really care about her and her future by the end of the book. I hurt when she hurt. I was upset when she was upset.

If you’re looking for a fabulous historical read on a woman who rose from the bottom — this is it. It’s powerful, it’s well written. I rated it a 5/5.

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Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

25574782#1 internationally bestselling author Karin Slaughter returns with a sophisticated and chilling psychological thriller of dangerous secrets, cold vengeance, and unexpected absolution, in which two estranged sisters must come together to find truth about two harrowing tragedies, twenty years apart, that devastate their lives.

Sisters. Strangers. Survivors.

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it. – Goodreads

Damn it, I’m so torn on this one. On one hand, yes, I finished the massive 688 pages of this. On the other, I was horrified and only kept reading because I paid $10 for the damn thing.

The story is told from three points of view: third-person POV from Claire (wealthy, wife of dude who is killed in the beginning), third-person POV from Lydia (Claire’s estranged sister) and first-person POV from their father, who committed suicide many years prior. His POV is told through letters to their dead sister, Julia.

Claire is the stereotypical trophy wife — thin, wears expensive clothes, plays tennis, lives in a big house, super gorgeous, etc., etc. I found her to be a little unbelievable most of the time — she came from humble beginnings yet seemed to forget literally everything about that and has zero regard the wealth around her.

Lydia is also an annoying stereotype. Single mom, dating an ex-con, she’s an ex-drug addict, all she does is complain about her weight.

Lydia and Claire haven’t spoken in years (as in — Claire doesn’t even know Lydia has a teenage daughter). But after Claire’s husband is murdered, they run into each other, some crazy ish goes down and they *sort of* become friends again. For the sake of not ruining the plot, we won’t go into that much more.

Anyway, the characters were okay. Some were flatter than others. I really hated the extreme corrupt cop vibe throughout the entire book. That also wasn’t believable to me.

I don’t mind thrillers. I don’t mind blood and gore. But the blood, gore and sexual violence in this book was over the freakin’ top. There is torture, murder, rape…usually in that order. Slaughter’s descriptions in these passages are very detailed and definitely paint a picture — though graphic — for the reader, so I can’t really fault her writing there.

I will give her credit — there were some twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting. The second half of the book definitely made it difficult for me to put it down — I think I was desensitized to the graphic material by that point (though every time I thought that, something else would happen and I’d be all surprised again).

My personal rating of this book? 3/5. However, if you like graphic violence in your psychological thrillers, you might enjoy this one. I will definitely be checking out other Karin Slaughter books.

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