Thursday, November 19, 2015

Unexpected Insanity

I love you all a lot, and it has sucked not being on here lately! A few weeks ago, I had some stomach pain and figured it was just a bug. Spent some time eating carefully and working parts of my shifts and saw a doctor who gave me something for the pain. After a couple more days, the pain was a bit worse and my legs started swelling. I've had some trouble with my kidneys in the past, and swelling quickly is often a sign of that flaring up, so my husband and I went to the E.R. Then things escalated like crazy! I had several tests done and found out I had early acute appendicitis. So, they did surgery and removed my appendix. Meanwhile, my kidney condition (called minimal change disorder) was, in fact, flaring up. Over the past two weeks, I have been healing from my surgery as well as adjusting to about five new medications for my kidneys and side effects. Right now, I'm not feeling much pain, but the swelling is still significant in my legs and feet. I'm on a new low-sodium diet, which is quite an adjustment, and my energy wanes at random times. I know this is all wild to hear, but I wanted you all to know why I've been neglecting you! This has changed quite a bit of my end-of-the-year plans as well, and I'm sure that will affect my reading habits and blog challenges. I hope to drop in from time-to-time and chat books with you, so don't give up on me!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Better Homes and Hauntings

Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper is about a gardener/landscaper who wins a bid to completely redo the grounds of a historical mansion on an island supposedly haunted by the ghosts of the woman who was murdered there long ago. Parts of the book are scary, but it's more of a light-hearted, ghostly, and cheesy friend and romance story.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: This story is really cute. The characters are fun, if a bit obvious. There isn't a lot of substance to the book, but I'm enjoying Harper's lighthearted, humorous trip into the paranormal. Although I like Nina, her character is a little confusing (supposedly from her experiences both romantic and work-related). Deacon is fantastic--a geeky girl's dream man. So far, I'm enjoying this little break between more serious reads.

Conclusion: I enjoyed this quite a bit, despite more minor expectations. The storyline was predictable, but I felt that excusable for the type of book. It was very charming, and I liked the developing relationship between Deacon and Nina, although I felt Jake and Cindy's relationship to be more appropriately paced. The ghost sub-story was a bit predictable but still well-developed and quite creepy in conclusion. The climax was really good. I don't know about the very end, though. It was forced, too cheesy, and a little weak. (Since Nina is a gardener, I felt that a more natural approach would have been more appropriate--plus, talk about fast-moving!) Also, everyone getting weepy about family and their futures was a bit much for me. I guess that's pretty typical of quick reads like this. So overall, fun but a little too sappy for me in the end.

Recommendation: If you like easy and quick reads about romance and friendship with a touch of the paranormal, this is the book for you!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Finally! I know you guys have been waiting for this review since the cover reveal and guest interview, so without further ado....

Disenchanted by Janet Ursel is a Christian Fantasy book, the first in a series titled The Coventree Chronicles. The book starts out with a group of individuals arriving in a new place by means unknown. While they are discussing how to go about starting their new civilization, a fight breaks out among them about an unnamed and dangerous book that someone brought along. But most of Ursel's story takes place hundreds of years later, when a young man named Blayn Goodwin skyrockets to the top of Coventree society as the first Wizard in a long time to have Truesight: the ability to tell the difference between truth and lies as someone says them. Blayn mostly uses his ability to try and prevent attacks and war on Coventree from the Nortlanders: people who live North of Coventree and practice Black Magic; but he soon discovers a personal connection to a higher being and a new way to understand magic.

First Impression: I find this really fascinating. Not having read much Christian fantasy, I wasn't really sure what to expect, but this book keeps surprising me. The timeline reminds me of Labyrinth by Kate Mosse--separated into "chapters" by a timeline rather than a set of events. The difference is that this one moves consistently forward in time rather than jumping back-and-forth, and it doesn't have the "mature content" that Mosse's book does. Perhaps because of the timeline, the book is moving at a fairly slow pace, but everything that happens seems to have an important role to play, so maybe it will pay off. I wish there was more about Cedric. I was fascinated by his character initially and would have liked to know more about him. Also, I wish Jane wouldn't seem so bitter as she gets older. She's an admirable character and has a lot to pass on to her son. What I'd really like more of, though, is the history of the land and how the group of people at the beginning came to be there. I know Ursel is planning to write a sequel to Disenchanted; I would love to read a prequel as well. [Side note: Shortly after writing my first impressions, Ursel posted some background information about Coventree to her blog, Gourmet Reading.) Anyway, I'm very interested to see where she goes with this story. I haven't really connected to Blayn as a main character, but I think he has promise, being so curious about the world and honest in his youth.

Conclusion: This was fantastic! There's no specific part that was my favorite, but every little piece plays into the others incredibly well. Ursel did something here that feels completely unique but also historically possible, which is very hard to do. It's interesting how Coventree and the surrounding areas were founded by a group of people who felt that Christianity was becoming synonymous with tyranny, but the people eventually start to become disillusioned with their alternate ways of life. My favorite characters were actually side characters: Cedric (Blayn's father, a wizard), Jane (Blayn's mother, an herbalist witch), Alan (Blayn's wizarding mentor), Professor Wotton (a university professor in the Southlands), and Owen (Captain of the Wizards of the Coventree Military). They each provided great balance for the story in his or her own way--keeping the evil from getting too evil and the good from seeming too bland. I also liked the parts when Blayn let himself become absorbed in an ancient manuscript. It's a multi-sensory experience: the touch, smell, and sight--all beautiful. It's the same way I feel approaching a meaningful book. The ending was a bit crazy with things happening all at once. I was going, "Wait! What magic?! What just happened?!" but in a good way. I did feel like things were a bit easy with Morwen and Peter at the end, and I wish there would have been more involvement from the Southlanders. But overall, really great book! I'm excited to see what Ursel does with the series!

Recommendation: I would highly recommend Disenchanted to anyone interested in Christian Fantasy. It's very unique without being over-powering, so even fans of fantasy or alternate histories of society might enjoy it. Don't let the word "Christian" nor "Fantasy" scare you away!

I was part of the launch party for this book (although regrettably not finishing it before it released), so I was given an e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I did actually buy a print copy of this later, though, if that means anything to you. I was very excited to explore a new-to-me genre, so thanks for that, Janet! Happy reading everyone!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Diverse Books: Beyond Magenta

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin is a collection of memories from transgender teenagers and young adults about their experiences discovering themselves and interacting with the world and people around them. The accounts of their experiences are taken from conversations the subjects had with the author.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Conclusion: This is kind of a strange book. Not so much because of the content, much of which I've learned from other sources as well, but because of the composition. Compiled as it was from taped conversations, the stories are a bit scattered. I appreciate the separation of subjects and the attention to detail in the author's research. She made a point of getting a variety of people and backgrounds about which to write her book. My eye was constantly twitching at the use of the word "they" for an individual, but I'm having trouble thinking of another pronoun to use that doesn't specify gender. "One" seems too non-specific on who is being discussed. Anyway, I think this book is probably a good informal introduction to the transgender young adult, and I appreciate the contribution from each of the people who participated in its creation. I'd like to read something a little more in-depth now to expand my knowledge of the transgender topic.

Recommendation: If you don't know much about transgender identity or would like to hear first-person accounts of teenagers and young adults who are transgender, this is a good book for you. There is a good variety of situational accounts in it that will help provide better understanding.

Beyond Magenta is my March choice for the 2015 We Read Diverse Books Challenge on sexual orientation.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

2015 Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence

Once again, Hamlette over at The Edge of the Precipice is hosting her annual Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence this week, September 22-28! I feel a little guilty having still not finished the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but I love Tolkien all the same, so I'm participating this year. Click on the link above or the blog party button below to join in!

These are my answers to the questions jump-starting the party:

1.  What draws you to Tolkien's stories?  (The characters, the quests, the themes, the worlds, etc.)   Definitely the characters! I mean, I love a lot of things about Tolkien, but the characters blow me away every time. And not just the unique development of each one, but also the thorough intricacy of each race and their history in Middle Earth.

2.  What was the first Middle Earth book you read and/or movie you saw?  What did you think of it?   The first Middle Earth book I read was The Hobbit. My impression was that it was pleasant but long. It wasn't really that long; it just seemed to drag on for a while, and I couldn't figure out why everything happened in waves instead of one big climax. Of course, I was reading this shortly after high school, so my perspectives on reading material were a little different. I saw the three live-action Lord of the Rings movies when they first came out and thought they were fantastic. Action, character development, graphics...they had it all! It's kind of funny, but I still haven't seen the Hobbit movies.

3.  Name three of your favorite characters and tell us why you like them. This is hard for me since I haven't read all of the books and I feel like the movies probably don't do the characters justice. But anyway, I've always liked Gandalf. There's just something about wizards, am I right? Plus, in The Hobbit, he often plays a teacher-like leadership role, which I like. He always fights for good, and he notices "minor" characters and actions that others might miss. I also like Gollum, or Smeagol. Just to clarify, I don't like him in the sense that I think he's a great person or anything! But I do think he is one of Tolkien's most well-developed characters. There are so many layers to him, and he's constantly doing something unexpected. Very intriguing all around. In the movies (because I haven't met with him yet in the books), I'm a big fan of Aragorn. And this may be a "he's dreamy" thing, but he's just awesome. Pretty much a knight in shining armor type...or maybe dull armor to attract less attention? I like that he cares much more for others and doing what's right for Middle Earth than for his own glory.

4.  Are there any secondary characters you think deserve more attention?   Hands-down, Beorn (the skin-changer) and the Ents (the tree people). I've always been drawn to them, and I just want to know everything about their lives and history and what they're doing while everyone else is traveling around on quests and preparing for war. Not sure why--maybe it's their closeness with nature?

5.  What Middle Earth character do you relate to the most?   I honestly have no idea. I'll get back with you on this one when I've finished all of the books and seen all of the movies.

6.  If you could ask Professor Tolkien one Middle Earth-related question, what would you like to ask him?   I don't know that I could compile it to one cohesive question. Probably either something about how Middle Earth relates (or doesn't) to the real world or something about the history and life of the land itself (the scenery and animals that are sort of background to the story and characters--there's a little of this history in The Silmarillion).

7.  Are there any pieces of Middle Earth merchandise you would particularly like to own, but don't?   Sadly, I don't have any Middle Earth merchandise at the moment. But I've seen several mugs and bookmarks lately that I'd love to have...

8.  What battle would you absolutely not want to be part of?   Really, any battle. In Middle Earth or real life. Unless I'm protecting my child, I am absolutely the worst person you could have on your side. I guess if you need a cook or someone to hide the children, I might be useful.

9.  Would you rather eat a meal at the Rivendell or Bag End? Rivendell. Elves,'s a thing. A thing of which I want to be part.

10.  List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.   I don't have specific favorites, but I'll list some that I like!
“It's the job that's never started as takes longest to finish.” --Samwise
"No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take." --Gandalf
“It is no bad thing celebrating a simple life.” --Bilbo

“Not all those who wander are lost.”--Bilbo
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” --Gandalf
“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.” --Gandalf

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Club / TBR Pile: Dragonflight

Dragonflight is the first book (in published order, not chronological) in Anne McCaffrey's Chronicles of Pern. The beginning introduces the reader to the world of Pern and to Lessa, a young woman waiting for the right time to claim her birthright. The rest of the book is about the fight against the alien Threads who are trying to invade Pern from the Red Sun.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

The picture above is the same as the copy I read. The one below is from a different version, also taken from Goodreads.

First Impression: I'm really excited about this book. I've always heard good things about the series but didn't read much fantasy when I was younger. This is an interesting combination of fantasy and science fiction. Based on the idea that long ago, humans discovered other solar systems and colonized a planet called Pern (then basically forgot about Earth and vice-versa), the story has dragons as creatures of an alien world, not a mythological one. That being said, the dragons do bond with their riders in a mythical way when first hatched, the telepathic link forged almost immediately and without scientific explanation. I'm a little wary of the fierceness of the riders and this dangerous society of dragons and men. That being said, Lessa is rather fierce herself. She's willing to do things that seem harsh in order to accomplish what she believes is right, but that is what makes her a perfect Weyrwoman choice, I think. This is a very patriarchal society. The dragon queen and weyrwoman are very powerful, but they serve Pern and mate with their male counterparts (the head male dragon and Weyrleader, respectively). McCaffrey has created an intriguing world here, and I'm excited to jump into it. A friend of mine describes it like this: "Pern is how the world would be if humans moved to another planet during the Renaissance and dragons were real." I think that is an apt and succinct description. Pern is somewhat progressive, but the ceremonies and traditions are paramount to survival on the planet.

Conclusion: What a great book! I love that McCaffrey takes something that has been done so many times (dragon stories) and makes it completely unique, although I guess it hadn't been done as many times when she first wrote this. Alien planets, Threads that only dragons can fight, and an entire civilization built around protecting against Threads and supporting the dragons. There was a point where the story lagged a bit while the Southern Weyr was being established. It was building a little drama, but not as much as I had expected. And the extreme patriarchal society was a bit much for me sometimes. It's easier to look at from a historical standpoint, both in the old-time fantasy atmosphere of the story and the fantasy genre of thirty-or-so years-ago when the book was released. That being said, McCaffrey ended with a bang! I'm curious to continue with the series and these fascinating characters. How will Lessa deal with the new people and changes from the end of this book? What differences will occur in Pern? Will Pern's defensive strategy against the Threads continue? What's going to happen for F'nor (because, honestly, he's my favorite, but he's kind of living in F'lar's shadow)? Can't wait to read the next one!

Recommendation: If you like old school dragon-related fantasy in the Mercedes Lackey style, this is a good choice for you! Or if you just like to try a variety of fantasy types, also a good choice!

This is my fifteenth choice for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. I'm happy to be making so much progress with my to-be-read books this year!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Five Bookish (and Not so Bookish) Thoughts

"Bookish (and Not so Bookish) Thoughts" is a meme created by Christine over at Bookishly Boisterous. Here is my new batch of thoughts!

1) I recently went to the 2015 Japanese Festival in St. Louis, and it was awesome! I got to watch a lot of neat demonstrations, including taiko drumming, sumo wrestling, sugar and ice sculpturing, and traditional calligraphy, among other things. Unfortunately, my phone died while I was there, so I didn't get any pictures. But if you're ever in St. Louis, head to the Botanical Gardens! Even when the festival isn't there, it's beautiful!

2) We do monthly crafts with kids at my book store on the second Saturday of each month, and this month, we "built" dinosaurs! It was so simple, but we all had a lot of fun. Gabe has always had an affinity for these prehistoric creatures, and I've become a big fan myself. So anyway, here are a couple of pictures of our creations:

3) You all know how excited I was when Empire of Night by Kelley Armstrong was released in April, because it's the only series with which I'm caught up that is still being written! The third book in this Age of Legends Trilogy isn't due to be released until April 2016, and I was filled with pain at waiting, but I've just struck gold and won an advanced reader's copy! The title is Forest of Ruin, and I'm sure you will hear all about it in a review after mine comes in the mail. (cue girly squeal) Get excited!

4) Speaking of ARCs, I am very close to finishing Janet Ursel's Disenchanted, but while you're waiting for my review, snag a free e-copy for yourself or buy a print copy!

5) Check out this list I found on Goodreads!: "15 Beautiful #GoodreadswithaView Photos to Celebrate the Last Weekend of Summer" Beautiful! And below is one of my own:

Okay, I didn't get my book in the picture, although I was at the park to read and let Gabe play a bit. I am loving the weather. Even on the hot days, the breeze is starting to get cooler, and I saw a couple of trees starting to change color the other day! Autumn is my favorite season!