Friday, February 5, 2016

Reading Challenge Recap: January 2016



January is over! Can you believe it? It seems like we were just celebrating the New Year and figuring out all of our reading resolutions for 2016. The ladies of Goldilox and the Three Weres are working really hard to stay motivated so we can achieve all of our reading goals this year. In an effort to do so, we're going to do these reading challenge recaps to hold ourselves accountable. Read on to find out how well or how not well we did this last month!
 

Gretl's Recap

Coastal Magic Featured Author Challenge


I failed at this challenge in a pretty big way. The goal was to read 17 books by authors on the featured author list and I wound up with 11. That might not sound that bad, but the real reason I consider it a failure is that I never got around to reading the new-to-me authors that I wanted to try from the list. I just had too many time-sensitive review books the last few months to squeeze them in. I actually have Mercury Striking and the prequel novella by Rebecca Zanetti checked out from the library and didn't get to read them before the deadline.

Here are the authors I did read for the challenge:
Deborah Blake
Veiled MagicWickedly Dangerous (Baba Yaga, #1)Wickedly Wonderful (Baba Yaga, #2)Wickedly Ever After (Baba Yaga, #2.5)Wickedly Powerful (Baba Yaga #3)

Jennifer Estep
Dark Heart of Magic (Black Blade, #2)Bitter Bite (Elemental Assassin, #14)

Kristen Painter
The Professor Woos The Witch  (Nocturne Falls, #4)The Vampire’s Fake FiancĂ©e (Nocturne Falls, #5)The Witch's Halloween Hero (Nocturne Falls, #4.5)Hex the Halls 

#Rock My TBR

http://theyabooktraveler.com/index.php/2015/11/30/rockmytbr-introductory-post/

Again, this was not my greatest success story. I was supposed to read at least one book I already owned in the month of January. I started one so it counts, right? I have a lot of series on my TBR that I plan to binge so I hope to make up for the rough start later in the year. My January read is Steal the Sky by Megan E. O'Keefe.

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Rose Red's Recap
 

#RockMyTBR

I'm so happy to report that I made my goal of reading at least two books off my TBR in January! I read six last month! See the picture below for the ones I read. Granted, four of them were not very big books. But I'm still happy with my progress on this challenge so far! I am on track to make a good-sized dent in Mount ToBeRead!


2016 TBR Jar Challenge for January

This month's TBR Jar Challenge was Read A Book With 500+ Pages! The book that completed this challenge was The Marvels by Brian Selznick and it came in at 665 pages! I adored it so much and you all need to read it! I wrote a review on the other site I blog at if you want to know more of my thoughts on it. You can find that post here.


Read What You Buy

Okay, I'm not doing well with this challenge so far. I bought eight physical books last month. Four of these I bought for book events, two I bought new from Amazon, and the other two I bought used at my local used bookstore for less than $8 for nice hardcovers! Staked is actually still in transit to my house because my friend, Mark, got my copy signed by the author at one of the tour stops.


As for how many I read this month, the answer would be two but I'm more than half way through two more. I finished Staked and The Marvels and I'm currently reading The Bands of Mourning and Truthwitch. I'm going to be buddy reading American Gods in April with my friend, Kritika, so I'm not worried that I haven't read it yet. As for Passenger, I Am Princess X, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I'll be getting to them real soon hopefully! I'm only at 25% (33% if you count my two half read books as one) for this challenge so far but that percentage should increase a lot this next month!


How did you do on your reading challenges this month?


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Throwback Thursday Review: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley


The Blue Sword
(Damar #2)
Robin McKinley
Release: October 1, 1982
Goodreads Amazon
Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Hillfolk. Her life is quiet and ordinary-until the night she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk King, who takes her deep into the desert. She does not know the Hillfolk language; she does not know why she has been chosen. But Corlath does. Harry is to be trained in the arts of war until she is a match for any of his men. Does she have the courage to accept her true fate?

Review by Rose Red:
I recently went back and reread a bunch of the books I adored as a teen to see if I still enjoyed them to the same degree as an adult. One of those books was The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. It is hands down one of my favorite books of all time! My current copy is dog-eared and worn out from being read so often. And that’s my second copy. My first copy fell apart years ago from being read over and over again. I still love this book but Teen Me and Adult Me appreciate different things about it.

The Blue Sword is an amazing adventure story that's not about the adventure. It’s about the heroine, Harry Crewe, finding her place in the world. From the first chapter, we are informed about how she doesn’t quite fit in in the little border town of Istan. She hides her unhappiness and restlessness under a mask of polite manners and responsibility. One might suspect that once she has been kidnapped and then accepted by the Hillfolk, she would be content. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

One of the things I adored about this book as a teen and now as an adult is that Harry has some truly deep realizations about life and her place in it. It takes courage to do many of the things she has set before her and it soon becomes obvious that courage is definitely one of Harry’s defining traits. Well, that and the fact that she’s a bit stubborn too. When she is taken captive, she is determined not to show fear, even when she realizes that the Hillfolk have no intention of letting her go. Instead of moping and being depressed, she accepts it and moves on. I can’t help but love Harry and her stubbornness. I’ve been reading this book for almost twenty years now and I am still impressed with how Harry survives and adapts to living in a land where she is a stranger. And having help from her magic (aka kelar), doesn’t make it any less impressive.

Teen Me loved the romantic bits in this story, as most teen girls are wont to do, but the reason I kept coming back to reread this book was for the world of Damar and the magnificent horses. OMG! Those horses! Damar is a beautiful and enchanting place even through the eyes of a foreigner. It has always been one of those fictional places I’ve always wanted to go. I'm almost thirty years old and yet I still want to see the Laprun Trials and visit the royal city with its castle of stone built right into the mountain. I want to visit the Lake of Dreams and Luthe’s home. Heck! I even want to visit the Homelander outpost of Istan in the middle of the hot desert. AND DARN IT ALL, I JUST WANT TO RIDE A DAMARIAN HORSE!

As an adult, I'm still in love with the romance, Damar, and the horses but what I'm even more impressed with now is the diversity of the Damarian people and the richness of their culture and subcultures. They are proud, strong, loyal, and kind. Even though they don’t have ‘modern’ conveniences and seem like barbarians in the eyes of the Homelanders (who are, by the way, wonderfully British in a land with no England), they are not uncivilized in the least. One of the wonderful things about this book is that McKinley first presents the Hillfolk as they are seen by the Homelanders and then proceeds to turn everything we’ve been told about them to that point on its head. McKinley makes both cultures equal but different in significant ways. And I love that neither is presented as right or wrong. They just are the way they are.

Another thing I love about this book that I didn't appreciate as a teen is that the magic is presented as its own entity and becomes a character in the story. It’s easy to think that the story is just about Corlath and Harry. And while it mostly is, I see the kelar as a real driving force behind some of the things that happen. It is a unique presence throughout this book just as much as it pulses in the blood of our two protagonists. It bends the story to its will and arranges events to suit its needs without much care for mortal feelings or objections. Case in point, Harry's kidnapping. Corlath didn't want to steal Harry anymore than she wanted to be taken, but the kelar gave neither of them a choice. As for what happens from there... Well, I'll let you discover that on your own.

As hard as I try to, I will never be able to fully articulate how much I love this book. It’s definitely one of those hidden gem books. I wish it was more well-known. It actually makes me kind of sad that it’s not. I'll will have to be content with the fact that it was a Newbery Honor in 1983 and that its companion novel won the Newbery Medal in 1985. This book does have some cheesy parts, but overall it’s exciting and a bit romantic. I still love it as much as I did as a teenager and it is definitely a book that I will still be rereading for years to come.

**Note: Although this book is often assigned as the second book in this duology, it should be read first. It was actually published two years before its companion but it gets relegated to second because it occurs later in this series's timeline. The Hero and the Crown is a prequel novel of sorts and I think enjoyed more if read after you read The Blue Sword.

    
  5 / 5 Stars!



My Reviews of Robin McKinley's Other Books:
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday (68)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Here's this week's WOW pick:


I loved the first two books of Seanan McGuire's Incryptid series, which feature ballroom dancer/cocktail waitress/cryptozoologist Verity Price. Books three and and four starred her bother Alex and I loved them a little less. But Verity's back for book five and I couldn't happier!

She's in L.A. instead of New York this time so there should be all kinds of new monsters. And this series has the coolest creatures! There've been dragons and gorgons and cuckoos so far, just to name a few. I'm really excited to see what McGuire comes up with next!


Chaos Choreography (InCryptid, #5)Chaos Choreography
(Incryptid #5)
Seanan McGuire
Release: March 1, 2016
Goodreads Amazon
Fifth book in Seanan McGuire’s funny and fast-paced urban fantasy InCryptid series featuring ballroom dancer and monster expert Verity Price.

Verity Price is back on the West Coast and getting back into the swing of the family business: cryptozoology. She’s rescuing cryptids from bad situations, protecting them from monster-hunters, and generally risking life and limb for the greater good, with her ex-Covenant partner/husband, Dominic, by her side. Her ballroom dance career is behind her—or so she thinks. When Verity gets the call from the producers of Dance or Die, the reality show she almost won several years before, she finds the lure impossible to resist, and she and Dominic are off to L.A. for one last shot at the big time.

Of course, nothing is that simple. When two contestants turn up dead, Verity will need every ally she can find with the investigation, without blowing her cover…


What Book Are You Waiting On?




    
  


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Release Day Review: Wickedly Powerful by Deborah Blake

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Wickedly Powerful
(Baba Yaga #3)
Deborah Blake
Release: Feb. 2, 2016
Goodreads Amazon
Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

The only thing more fiery than Bella Young’s red hair is her temper. She knows that a Baba Yaga’s power without strict control can leave the people she cares about burned, so to protect her heart—and everyone around her—the only company she keeps is her dragon-turned-Norwegian-Forest-cat, Koshka.

But when Bella is tasked with discovering who’s setting magical fires throughout Wyoming’s Black Hills, she finds herself working closely with former hotshots firefighter Sam Corbett—and falling hard for his quiet strength and charm.

Sam may bear the scars of his past, but Bella can see beyond them and would do anything to help him heal. Only before she can rescue her Prince Charming, she’ll have to overcome the mysterious foe setting the forest fires—a truly wicked witch who wields as much power and even more anger than Bella… 
Review:
I’ve had a rocky relationship with the Baba Yaga series so far. Something about the prequel novella bothered me and I didn’t continue the series. But a few months ago I read Veiled Magic and enjoyed it, so I decided to give Deborah Blake another chance. There are things I would have done differently in each of the three novels, but I feel like the series is steadily improving.

One thing I really like about the series is that it deals with environmental issues in an interesting way. Each of the Baba Yagas – there are three in the U.S. – has an affinity for a different element and each faces a crisis involving that element. For example, in book two the water expert Baba dealt with toxic waste being dumped in the ocean. Bella, the heroine in Wickedly Powerful, has an affinity for fire and is called to investigate a series of forest fires.

What’s different about this book is that it focusses on the human impact of the disaster almost exclusively. The suffering of the trees and the forest creatures does play a role in the story, but not to the same extent as that of the hero. The villain even exploits his emotions to further her plot. Sam was a Hotshot firefighter who lost his entire team in a forest fire. Unable to work in the field because of his injuries, both physical and psycological, he now works as a fire spotter, alerting the firefighters from his post in the lookout tower. Knowing that Sam’s history was inspired by actual events made it even more meaningful.

While I liked both of the main characters, and individually I think they are the best-developed in the series, Sam and Bella’s romance felt a bit rushed. It’s not really an insta-love situation, but there’s a single sentence that tells me that they started spending more time together. I wanted the movie montage to show me that. I also thought the villain’s defeat came rather abruptly (blink and you’ll miss it) which diminished its impact for me. Given the history between the characters involved, I wanted it to be more.

I’m enjoying the Baba Yaga series now, even though the number of similar elements in the books makes it feel a bit formulaic. And I’m really excited about the main character for Wickedly Charming, the first book in a spin off series. I thought maybe there would only be three books in the series since there are only three Babas, but something interesting happened to my favorite supporting characters in this one. I think the chance to involve the Baba Yagas in the story, but not be constrained by their rules is really exciting.

Recommended for fans of: witchy magic and tortured heroes

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley

   1/2 
3.5  stars



My reviews of other books in this series:
Wickedly Dangerous and Wickedly Wonderful
Wickedly Ever After


Monday, February 1, 2016

A Dead Battery, Nine Authors, and Epic Amounts of Fangirling

I'm very luck to live in an area that gets some pretty awesome author events. The thing is that a lot of the book tours that come through are for young adult books. And I love that I get to meet so many YA authors but some days I wish that more adult authors would come on tour near me. Well, my wish was granted this last month!

This signing was announced a couple months ago and as soon as I saw who was going to be there I wanted to go! Victoria Schwab! Wesley Chu! Susan Dennard! Max Gladstone! Cherie Priest! Greg van Eekhout! And John freaking Scalzi! So many amazing Tor authors that I love. The only problem I had foreseen was the threat of snow. Winter is not usually a forgiving time in the Midwest. Thankfully, the weather decided to cooperate so I could drive up to Livonia from Chicago. Unfortunately, my car didn't get the same memo and decided that it needed a new battery the day of the signing. It was a close call but I was able to make it to the event before it started even with my car trouble and having a four hour drive. Big thanks to my friend, Sarah from The YA Book Traveler, who saved me a seat because I was running late!


I'm the one in the purple next to Sarah who was taking a picture of Victoria while she was taking a picture. :)

Credit for this photo goes to Sarah.
The event featured nine of Tor's science fiction and fantasy authors and ended being standing room only because so many people came. It was such an awesome event! I'm a big fan of seven of the nine authors so it was amazing hearing about how everyone made their way to publishing and the reasons why they write. There was also quite a bit of talk about worldbuilding which was fascinating to me because worldbuilding is one of my favorite parts of the books I read. The authors also answered several questions for people who want to be authors.

After the Q&A session, the signing started! Okay. I'm going to be honest here. I was that person in the line with a million books to be signed. Alright, it was only sixteen but that's still a lot of books.


The first author I got to meet was Wesley Chu! I've been a fan of his science fiction books since his first book in the Tao series! Funny story. Chu actually lives in Chicago and has had several events since I've moved here. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make any of them because of work and traveling. It was exciting to finally meet him in person! I already have signed copies of his Tao books thanks to a friend so I had him sign my copy of his most recent release, Time Salvager. You can read my review of it here.
 

I kind of embarrassed myself talking to him about how much I loved his books and how refreshing it was that his time travel book actually incorporated consequences for time traveling other than the normal paradoxes we see. I then embarrassed myself calling him Mr. Chu when asking him if he'd take a picture with me. And I'm pretty sure he overheard me fangirling to Sarah about his books while I was pumping myself up to ask for the picture. Have I ever mentioned that when it comes to my favorite authors all of my ability to speak like the almost 30 year old I am goes out the window? He was very gracious and took my awkward fangirling in stride and was super nice about it.


The next author I met was Greg van Eeekhout. I've only read the first two books in his Daniel Blackland series but I really like them! I also embarrassed myself talking to him when I totally butchered pronouncing his last name. He was really nice about it though and totally drew a picture in my book when he signed it! He was also nice enough to duck down for a picture. He's really tall and I'm really short. It was so fun meeting him! I really need to get my hands on his new book!


The next author I met was John Scalzi!!! And with what has been the pattern for this signing so far, I was a complete fangirl. Thankfully, I didn't embarrass myself this time.


I haven't read a lot Scalzi's books but I have loved everything of his I've read so far! Fuzzy Nation is my favorite! Funny story: Scalzi serialized his book, Old Man's War, on his website back in 2002 before it was published because he didn't want to jump through all of the hoops to get traditionally published. I haven't read the final published version, but I totally read the serialized version and really liked it! It was something my best friend stumbled upon and we would read each new entry in our keyboarding class in high school. Thank you, Mr. Scalzi, for saving us from one of the most boring classes I took as a teen.


The next two authors I met were Cherie Priest and Max Gladstone!


Cherie's Boneshaker series was my introduction into the wonderful world of steampunk and I really enjoyed her Lizzie Borden books! I own most of her books as ebooks so I bought her debut YA book, I Am Princess X, at the event. I'm really excited to read it! It was really fun to meet her and she was super nice!


I've been reading Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence series since Two Serpents Rise came out and it is wonderful! I'm not sure exactly how to describe it. I've had blogging friends who have described it as weird urban fantasy which is a good but it doesn't do it as accurately as I'd like. The best description I've ever heard is that the series is a set of legal thrillers set in a post-war fantasyland where black magic abounds and goods are traded for using pieces of your soul. It really is an amazing series! I completely fangirled. And then I ended up having a conversation with him about gamma ray bursts and nuclear astrophysics! It was awesome being able to talk to one of my favorite authors about the topics I'm studying for my PhD.


The next author I got to see was Susan Dennard. I fall into what she calls the Hipster Sooz Club because I've been a fan since I read her first book, Something Strange and Deadly, shortly after it came out. I actually got to see Susan the week before this event while she was on tour for Truthwitch. Susan is the nicest person ever and she's so sweet online and offline. I've loved all of her books! I'm about halfway through Truthwitch and I adore it so much! I'm reading it slowly to savor it because I don't want it to be over. Since I had seen her the previous week, I had her sign a copy of Truthwitch I had won in a trivia contest so I could send it to a friend. The signed copy below is from that previous event because I've put the other copy in the mail.


I'm going to admit that even though I was excited to meet most of these authors, the main reason I came to this event was to meet Victoria Schwab.


I've been a fan of Victoria's books ever since 2013 when I discovered The Archived on the new book shelf in my Barnes and Noble. How could I not pick it up when the first sentence describes The Archive as a library that contains all the bodies of the dead? That same trip I found her first book, The Near Witch, in the bargain section. It sounded fascinating so I bought them both the same day. I flew through them over the next two days; grad school and homework be damned. I adored them so much! Since then, I've read every book of hers that has come out. And I've loved them all! Fun fact for you: several of Victoria's books have a minor character that has the same last name as I do in them. Now every book I read of hers I watch carefully to see if I can find a character with my last name. It's become a weird sort of scavenger hunt for me and my best friend when we read each of her books for the first time. The first one to find it immediately texts it to the other. I'm dying to get my hands on The Savage Song in May because 1) it's a YA monster book with absolutely no romance in it and 2) one of the MAIN characters has my last name! It's all so exciting!

 
I love all of Victoria's books but her adult books, Vicious and A Darker Shade of Magic, speak to my soul on a whole other level than her YA books. It's like they were written just for me. It won't surprise you to find out that both of them are on my list of my most favorite books ever. I've written a review for Vicious on this blog so you all know how much I love it. So let's just say that I was fangirling so hard when I met her! Seriously. I was trying not to cry when she was signing my books because I was so excited and happy! We also fangirled a bit about the awesomeness of Neil Gaiman who had a huge influence on both of our lives in different ways. And Victoria had brought along the super shiny, tour-exclusive Rhy card with her! I was ecstatic to get one! I was hoping they'd be there but I was resigned to them not because they're an exclusive card for those who make it to her tour stops this month. I'm dying to get my hands on A Gathering of Shadows this month! I need more Kell and Lila in my life!

She talked about how she wanted to be an interrogator, a writer, or an astrophysicist but the math requirements to be an astrophysicist ended that pretty fast. I find it funny that I was the opposite. I wanted to be an librarian or a scientist and all of the writing to get a degree in English killed my dream of being a librarian. I now do astrophysical research and I think it's amazing that we both ended up being the opposites of each other in our careers. Personally, I'm really glad she ended up becoming an author. My long wait to meet Victoria in real life was totally worth it. If you have a chance to go see her on her tour this month, go! I would 10 out of 10 recommend doing so.

I probably didn't do this event justice with this wrap-up and this post ended up being a squee-fest about the authors I met but it was truly a wonderful experience. The authors were amazing and it was great to meet several of my blogging friends in real life. I was good about getting pictures with the authors but I was terrible about getting photos with the other bloggers. Next time. I'll do better next time.

Overall, I had a lot of fun and my little fangirl heart is still extremely happy! It was definitely worth the stress of getting a new battery for my car to get there!
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