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Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday Face Off: Throne of Glass vs. The Winner's Curse (again)


Two weeks ago, Friday Face Off made its 2016 debut with the cover shakeup for Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Curse series, in which I mentioned that the updated covers reminded me quite a bit of another female-centric YA fantasy series... This week, I thought we'd have a little Winner's Curse FFO redux, and put it head to head with said fantasy series -- Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass books.
From the tonal color themes to the specific Fierce Female Poses™, right down to the billowing hood placed just so, there's no denying these covers have a lot in common. When I first noticed the strong similarities, I was a little. . . surprised, to say the least, that such similar covers (especially when the originals, Throne of Glass, make up a pretty damn well-known and popular series, so it's not like it'd go unnoticed...). But the longer the comparison sits with me, and now, seeing them side by side (well, top to bottom, but you know), I think it may have been a good move. I mean, the similarities and feeling of familiarity may draw in readers from the Throne series, and as far as execution, I think they may have even done it better... There's something so crisp and clear in the design that makes the Throne of Glass series almost look muddied. . .

But I'm curious to see what you think. Which do you find more appealing? If you had to pick between the two sets, which would you reach for on the shelves? And maybe the real question is, if you've read the books, which suits their respective story more? In short,
Which one did it better?


VS.




(And in case you were wondering, in our last Face Off, the original covers for The Winner's Curse series just   b  a  r  e  l  y   managed to eke out a win. Many of you noted the submissiveness of the original covers not quite fitting Kestrel, but though the overall vibe of the original designs better captured the romance and feel of the books.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Excerpt: THE KILLING JAR by Jennifer Bosworth

When I shared the recent excerpt of Kim Savage's AFTER THE WOODS, and mentioned that both it and another dark contemporary YA, THE KILLING JAR, were going to be in my current TBR, I had a request to share a teaser of it as well. And I am doing so gladly, because frankly, I think The Killing Jar has a killer (ba dum tss) opening!
Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and if you want to see more of my thoughts on this book, make sure to check out my most recent The Last Five Books video!




about THE KILLING JAR by Jennifer Bosworth
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“I try not to think about it, what I did to that boy.”

Seventeen-year-old Kenna Marsden has a secret.

She’s haunted by a violent tragedy she can’t explain. Kenna’s past has kept people—even her own mother—at a distance for years. Just when she finds a friend who loves her and life begins to improve, she’s plunged into a new nightmare. Her mom and twin sister are attacked, and the dark powers Kenna has struggled to suppress awaken with a vengeance.

On the heels of the assault, Kenna is exiled to a nearby commune, known as Eclipse, to live with a relative she never knew she had. There, she discovers an extraordinary new way of life as she learns who she really is, and the wonders she’s capable of. For the first time, she starts to feel like she belongs somewhere. That her terrible secret makes her beautiful and strong, not dangerous. But the longer she stays at Eclipse, the more she senses there is something malignant lurking underneath it all. And she begins to suspect that her new family has sinister plans for her…



Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored video. I did receive an advance copy of this book from the publisher, for the purposes of a review.



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

GIVEAWAY: "TruthRider" (Truthwitch + Riders) Swag Pack!!



As some of you know, I just recently read Susan Dennard's Truthwitch, and am currently reading Veronica Rossi's Riders, so when the lovely folks at Tor informed me that Susan and Veronica have teamed up and are setting out on a TruthRider tour (coming to Michigan's very own Schuler Books on Feb 17th -- though I can't make it (drat!)), and asked if I'd like to offer you guys a chance to win some TruthRider swag, of course my answer was: YES!
(When do I ever turn down the opportunity to shower you guys in swag? ;P )

SO:


Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
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Fantasy, 416 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Tor Teen

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

RIDERS by Veronica Rossi
Fantasy, 384 pages
Expected publication: February 16th 2016 by Tor Teen
For eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.

Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can't remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen--Conquest, Famine, and Death--are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.

They fail.

Now--bound, bloodied, and drugged--Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he's fallen for--not to mention all of humankind--he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.

But will anyone believe him?


****GIVEAWAY****
Tor Books has offered up a swag pack of a signed "Riders" poster, a signed "Truthwitch" bookplate, a "Riders" bracelet and a "Truthwitch" poster to one (1) lucky winner in the US or CAN!
To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter below.
Ends February 18th at 11:59pm EST
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Friday, February 5, 2016

READER'S CHOICE & INPUT: The Friday Five / Friday Face Off


Hey there! It's Friday, which should mean either a Friday Face Off post (still talking about last week's big Winner's Curse shakeup) or a The Friday Five discussion post, but before I start diving back into those wholeheartedly, I thought I'd pause and give YOU a chance to weigh in!

I mean, I always invite you guys to contribute your take, or request topics/reviews/etc., but I thought I'd do so a little more formally, and have a dedicated space for us to generate ideas.  (Plus, with no internet, it helps me to have a go-to place for my TFF list-making, and FFO comparison-making.)

So in the comments, I would love to hear from you on both The Friday Five and Friday Face Off! If you've come across two books with similar covers, or a series that has had a cover rebranding, etc., suggest it for coverage on Friday Face Off!
And if you have a topic -- big or small, silly or serious -- that you would like to see talked about for a Friday Five (a top-five list & discussion post), I'd love to add your ideas to my own list! And I'd love to see what it is you guys would like to talk about, or hear my opinions on. Favorite side characters? Absolute worst mainstream (or indie!) book covers in existence? Most overrated books of all time? Book quotes good enough to get them tattooed on your body? It's all fair game, and I'd love to chat with you about it!

So let me know in the comments some of your ideas and topics you think could make for a fun, list-worthy discussion, and/or any cover-twins you've come across, and hopefully we'll see them in future TFFs and FFOs!

I look forward to generating ideas with you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard | Review

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Get It | Add It
Fantasy, 416 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Tor Teen

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.


I have to say, there came a point in this when I was feeling pretty let down. Hype has been strong with this book, and I was so excited to find out what all of that hype was about when it showed up in my mail – and then I found myself kind of feeling like I had to slog through it, and not really connecting with the world or the characters at all. I found it very, very cheesy in the beginning, and jumbled and messy – I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it was a number of smaller things: I didn’t fully buy the premise of “Threads” and the various witcheries, didn’t buy the names and the cultures as indeed separate languages and cultures; didn’t fully buy the relationship between the two female leads and the way the complete each other’s sandwiches sentences well, fighting moves, really. Names and locations seemed picked for individual sound, not for any truth to the weight of cultural heritage, which is one of my biggest fantasy pet peeves, and the fantastical premise and overall world-building was really hanging by a thread (ba dum tss), which is the other of my big fantasy pet peeves. All in all, I was ready to call it quits on this one at about 50 pages in, and write it off as one of those weird mindfreaks that sweeps through the blogging world on occasion.

But then something happened. I don’t know that it ever became That Book that everyone has been raving about, for me, but it did take a pretty sharp turn into ‘Hey, this isn’t so bad,’ and from there into ‘Hmm, this is vaguely addicting.’ It still sometimes irritated me with its gimmicky treatment of multiple POVs (I call it the Dan Brown Style™ of writing, where each chapter/POV is cut off right at the crucial moment, like a mini-cliffhanger, which is a trick that has a very short shelf life, before it becomes very obnoxious and starts absolutely killing  the tension the author has worked so hard to build); the names and gimmicks and the easiness of things still sometimes jangled against me, the jumble of the magic and the “witcheries” still got on my nerves a bit, or felt hollow and a little too far of a stretch for me to willingly suspend disbelief (completely).  And yet . . . Somewhere along the line, I grew to start really enjoying it. I couldn’t help but be drawn along, eager to see how it was all going to play out in the end – and I also found myself still thinking about it, still feeling like I should be reading it, should be continuing on with the characters, for days afterwards. It had worked its way into my head, and I came around to it.

Reading it on the heels of Six of Crows probably didn’t help, as you kinda can't help but compare the two, Tidewitches and all, and feel this falls short. But once the ball really got rolling, it was pretty damn enjoyable, and there are elements there that I actually do love (and man! Let me tell you, I was so excited to see a story where the focus (at least, for a time) was on a female friendship. Of course, of course, romantic tension competes hard for top billing, but the friendship aspect remains strong, and from the bits of the world mythology we get sprinkled throughout, I think that’s a trend that’s going to continue throughout the series, and that makes me very happy. YA desperately needs a stronger focus on friendships), and so, though in the beginning I felt sure I was going to abandon this one to the DNF pile, in the end, I find myself actually pretty eager for book two.
Go figure.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Catching Up & Finally Winter: The Vlog, January 2016 edition

Hiya! Here's a quick(ish) look at what I've been up to, and some of the pretty sights and sounds (ooh, ahh) of the last little while, all wrapped up in a tidy little VLOG.
If you're champing at the bit for more vloggish goodness, you can find the entire playlist here, including some from January of last year, in which we were definitely not short on winter-time goodness... (Hello, 24 straight hours of snowfall...)

Ahh, it's good to be back (ish). ^_^



MUSIC: "Not for Nothing" by Otis McDonald and "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" by Tchaikovsky

Sunday, January 31, 2016

JUST SAY YES by Alyssa Goodnight | review


Just Say Yes by Alyssa Goodnight
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Contemporary Romance, 332 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by Entangled Publishing;llc
He's just what she needs... Single mom Jade Moran isn't ready for any big changes in either her horrible '70s kitchen or her romantic life. Her ex did a number on her, and she isn't interested in getting hurt again. But when she meets a super-hot contractor, she wonders if avocado appliances are on the way out and romance is on the way in. Max Gianopoulis doesn't have a clue why he's so enchanted by Jade. She's almost as big a mess as her kitchen, and he's a guy who likes to keep things simple. But Jade has turned up the flirty heat - and he can't keep his hands off her. With everything moving too fast and coming too easy, Jade's insecurities kick into high gear. She's not sure she can trust another man again - and she definitely doesn't believe in happily ever afters.



Say "kitchen witch" and I'm there.  (Especially when said kitchen witch tells me, personally, that I should eat nasturtiums, which I love...) There's just something so. . . charming and quirky and endearing in stories around the theme of kitchen witchery, and this was no exception. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it's like magical realism's more universally palatable cousin (and we all know how I feel about magical realism). Think Practical MagicJust Say Yes is the even more palatable cousin, actually – the kitchen witchiness is subtle, never beating you over the head with quikry magicfulness, which I imagine many people will appreciate.

If you’ve been around for awhile, or follow my Austen event, you’ll probably already be aware that I tend to find Goodnight’s stories equal parts cute, funny, and sexy; they never fail to win me over and put a smile on my face. This was fun and funny and quirky and cute, as expected. There's charm and warmth to her characters, always balanced by a sharp, incisive humor, coated in a veneer of light sarcasm (never bitter or obnoxious, just witty). She seems to do well at fleshing out her casts, too, with great side/peripheral characters that you always want to see more of (which means you’re seeing just the right amount of them – always leave ‘em wanting more, and all that). There’s a great mother/daughter relationship, and other friend and family relationships and interactions that help ground the story and build it up nicely. There were times I questioned Max, the male lead, and whether he’d really be so gung-ho about all of the goings on, and the way Jade consistently pushes him away, but I still think it worked – and frankly, maybe that's my own biases clouding my perception of him. But it was never enough to thrust me out of the story or make me dislike either of the romantic leads, or their relationship.

Speaking of the relationship, which is kind of a central focus in a romance, this one was sexy and fast-building in a way that could go really wrong and feel like it’s fleeting and meaningless, but it managed to keep from going off the rails into cheesy territory. It's – for the most part – believable, and there seems like a solid-enough foundation and chemistry for it to go somewhere after the book has run its course. Goodnight wisely tests the romance and characters, beyond that initial getting-together/will-they-won’t-they. She gives them obstacles, and opportunities to grow stronger together, which is something that really elevates a romance novel for me. It takes it out of the realm of quick fluff, and makes it that much more believable. On top of all that, there’s a good streak of nerdery that pop culture/nerdom fans will appreciate. All in all, I’m glad to hear there's more in the series AND I totally want there to be an offshoot business, with recipes and label designs and all of it.

All of the kitchen witchery. All of it.




Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Face Off: The Winner's Curse series


Welp. It has been a looong time since we've had a Friday Face Off, and I know, I know, I've been promising to bring it back for ages, only to have it pop up for a week here or there, and then: nothing. And hey, that may happen again, I make no promises, but FOR NOW. . .
A startling cover change crossed my laptop a couple of weeks ago, and at first, I thought it had to be a mistake. It's for the The Winner's Curse trilogy, and it's not that the new covers are horrendous (they're not, I actually like them), and it's not that they look quite similar to another popular fantasy series (they do, they really do, but still... I like them). It's just that. . . I don't know why a change was even needed? I mean, that's often the case, hence the many, many FFOs we've had full of lamentations that things can't just stay the same (or that series' can't at least just be freaking finished first, so that we don't have mismatched covers, dammit!). But for this series -- I just don't get it. The original covers are striking, and as a series theme, they held their own and were instantly recognizable. And I thought the series was doing well, which would mean that the normal reason for a change (to boost sales) wouldn't apply, though I guess I may have been wrong?  The new covers do project more of a sense of strength than the originals, which can be read as very defeated. . . And with all the splashes of color, the new versions might be considered more dynamic, and have a leg up over the understated elegance of the originals, for some readers.
(And to be clear, the series had already undergone a minor overhaul between the publication of the first hardcover and its paperback version/the rest of the series... so basically, with this change, each release will have brought with it a facelift.)
Either way, I like both sets of covers, but I'm definitely curious to see what you guys think! Take a look at both sets below, and then let me know in the comments which cover YOU prefer. Which would you reach for on the shelves? Which stands out to you more? If you've read it, which do you think suits the story best? In short,
Which one did it better?


VS.



Duke it out for your pick in the comments!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

1st Book Haul of 2016!

This little stack has been quietly building for awhile now, seeing as I was virtually MIA for the last couple months of last year. And it was harder than it should have been to keep from digging into the stack, even though I was in a reading rut for the better part of that time (and reading a really, really good book for the rest of it); there are just some goodies in this stack that make my fingers itch to pick them up.
Anyway, without further ado, I give to you my first book haul of a brand new year!



THE BOOKS:
Roller Girl | Victoria Jamieson
Circus Mirandus | Cassie Beasley
Mr Darcy falls in love | Noe and Cindy
Truthwitch | Susan Dennard
The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl | Melissa Keil
Sweaterweather | Sara Varon
Apollo | George O’Connor


Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored video. As stated in the video, many of these books were either gifts or were sent to me by publicists for the purposes of an honest review.

Monday, January 25, 2016

BEST READS of 2015!


I may be a little late to the game on this one, because everyone tends to post their best of lists either right at the beginning of the new year, or even at the end of the last one. But what can I say – besides being unintentionally Amish-ish (no internet), I also was a little undecided on the list for this past year. Although there was a fair amount of like, there weren’t a lot of loves – and there were far too many Did Not Approves (and Did Not Finishes). And this is on top of not having read as much last year as I generally do, which meant the pool for picking was smaller as well.

So, no slight intended to authors whose books I read last year and enjoyed, but am not including on this list – I just can’t bring myself to list something as the ‘BEST’ of the year if it doesn’t leave me with at least a little ball of excitement when I talk about it… even if I did truly enjoy it and would readily recommend it, and/or even if it was among the best of the year, just by the default of not really having anything else to take its place. I’d rather have a small but concise list that I can truly, enthusiastically, wholeheartedly and eagerly recommend to you, than a longer one of, say, the top 10 books I read, when only 7 of them were real standouts. 
(But if you want to see everything I read in 2015, including the greats, the goods, the awfuls and the smut (don’t judge), you can check out this Goodreads list for the full list and ratings.)
 
Now, on to my Top Seven (go figure ;P ) Books of 2015!
In no particular order:


The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. Oh, this book. This book, this book. I’ve sung the praises of this book on any number of occasions, and I think it may have been the only book that I read last year that I knew was going to end up on this list from the first page. It may not be a life-changing book, and it’s certainly not one that I think will suit everyone (in fact, reactions to it were pretty mixed and fairly extreme), but every now and then, a book comes along that just so thoroughly suits you: the style you like, the type of plots that draw you in, characters that intrigue you, the right amount of darkness and light, and an authorial voice that’s all its own. The Accident Season had all of that and more; it was the type of book that makes me want to write, that makes me want to hone my own craft, and I will be eagerly awaiting Fowley-Doyle’s sophomore offering, as evidenced by the most recent The Friday Five post.


A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Whew, boy. This was like an amusement park ride – all of those jittery feelings in your core that tell you something exciting is about to happen, all the twists and dips and thrilling heights. . . And then, at the end, that feeling that you’re on a precipice, and everything before it has been leading to this, and shit’s about to go down. ACOTAR was lightening-paced, sexy as all get-out (if you’re into that sort of thing, and if you can go with a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome-yness (ish)…). The world building was intriguing, but familliar-enough to fall right into. The characters were fierce and memorable. And to top it all off, it was a fairy tale retelling of sorts, which you know gets bonus points from me.


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. World-building, baby. It’s all about the world-building, and how good characters can represent good worlds and help cement it all into one cohesive unit that just works. This heist novel (always a fun premise!) is so thoroughly replete with good decisions on Bardugo’s part, and solid elements of world and culture, that I sometimes feel like it must actually exist. This is the hallmark of good fantasy writing, to me – when it seems like a writer knows every in and out, every little detail of the world they’re writing about, that it must be real, they must have visited it, then I’m pretty much sold.
And I want to visit it, too.


Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. This wrap-up to the Seraphina duology took the story in an interesting new direction, exploring Seraphina’s “garden” of oddities and the extent of her abilities, playing with the reader’s percetption of what it means to be the antagonist or villain, and adding new facets and layers to already-loved characters. I’ve described Seraphina as a very adult and cerebral YA book, not necessarily in the story, but in the choices and in the telling, and I think Shadow Scale furthers this – while of course still being as interesting and engaging as ever.


The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I’m not going to lie, I was all set to dislike this, having really not been a fan of Stiefvater’s writing in Shiver, the only other book I’ve read by her. But at the same time, I’ve had so many people enthusiastically recommend this series and others of Stiefvater’s books that a part of me (a smallish part, but a part none the less) thought maybe Shiver was a fluke and the rest of her works will win me over. (It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened, so I try to keep an open mind…) And thankfully, for The Raven Boys, at least, that appears to be the case – though it may not be groundbreaking, there was something so engaging and fascinating in this story, and it made me rather glad that an enthusiastic publicist pushed a copy of book two, The Dream Thieves, into my hands at ALA awhile back… I may just have to dive into it soon.


Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers. I didn’t think the first book in LaFevers His Fair Assasin series, Grave Mercy, could be topped, and I certainly didn’t think I was going to be happy with the fact that the POV was changing – I’d grown to quite like Ismae and frankly did not have high hopes for Sybella, who wasn’t exactly a winning personality in Grave Mercy. But damn, if I wasn’t completely wrong about that. Sybella’s story knocked my socks off, and I not only rooted for her, but I grew to downright love her. Sybella’s story is a harsh one, but she is a smart and strong and fearsome thing. Just thinking about her makes me want to read the book again, actually, and though I’m (once again) not prepared for another POV shift (I want more Sybella!), I very much need to get my hands on the final book, Mortal Heart. Like, asap.


Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson. It’s strange, my relationship with this series – I know I love it, I know it sucks me right in, but with both books now, I’ve found myself reluctant to start reading, and slow to dive in. I truly don’t know why this is, because there’s never a moment in this series that I’m not interested, or even enthralled. And once I get a few chapters in and remember that, I am all in: Pearson juggles multiple POVs and sprawling plotlines with seeming ease, building a believable and interesting world and glorious tension of all types, in a story whose end I am clamoring for.

As I said, there were plenty of other books I read and enjoyed last year, and many of them I would recommend (Skandal, Stone in the Sky, The Witch Hunter, Silver in the Blood, Just Say Yes, lots of graphic novels), but they just didn’t quite make it to the excitement-levels needed to land on this list. (But still, read them. They’re good people. Or something.)
And in all likelihood, you've already guessed a lot of my 2015 favorites, based on the books I'm anticipating in 2016!

So, what were YOUR favorite books you read in 2015? Please let me know a few of them in the comments – I’m always on the lookout for more! And if you’ve read and loved (or disloved), share your thoughts in the comments!

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