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Sunday, January 31, 2016

JUST SAY YES by Alyssa Goodnight | review

Just Say Yes by Alyssa Goodnight
Get It | Add It
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?


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!

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!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Excerpt: AFTER THE WOODS by Kim Savage

I promised (and recorded! Thus the pale pink hair) this video aaaaages ago, but it's just now making it to the light of day. (And speaking of light... sorry that it's so over-exposed. It was a REALLY bright day.)

This one is coming out at the end of next month, so there's still a little bit of a wait on it, but hopefully this will help you decide if it's something you want to look into or pick up. I'm actually reading it currently, and I gotta say, so far, so good!

Feel free to request excerpts or first impressions of other books, and I'll do my best to get to them! Thanks for watching!

Get it | Add it
Contemporary/Realistic Thriller, 320 pages
Expected publication: February 23rd 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Would you risk your life to save your best friend?

Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught. Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend. A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor. As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

Anticipated Books of 2016! | The Friday Five

As I mentioned in my 2016 manifesto-thingy, I've been meaning to revive some of my early-2015 brainchildren, when I was gung-ho & gloriously ready to inject some life into this ol' blog. And though much of that fell by the wayside, one of those things that I'd actually really liked and wanted to delve back into was a quick little meme called "The Friday Five." 
Along the lines of best of / discussion listicles (think Top Ten Tuesday, but quicker and not on Tuesdays...), it was supposed to be a bi-weekly post that would let me delve into little oddbits, favorites and pet peeves and the like, that I didn't get to talk about as often here. I have lists and lists of some of the topics I wanted to cover with you, but it was just so easy to always mean to, but never let it happen...
And though I make no promises about any kind of regularity (which would be foolhardy, having limited internet access for the time being -- I've been sitting at a library for 2 hours trying to upload a few videos, and just completing ONE is giving me trouble...), I do still want to attempt to make my way through some of the goodies on that long, long list.
But we'll get into those various oddities and discussions of bookish minutiae down the line. Today, we're starting off with an easy one -- an obvious one. One of the few TFF posts to actually go up last year (even if I didn't do so well on actually acquiring and reading said books)... 
Today, we're taking a look at the top 5 books clamoring at me to be read in 2016.

The Beauty of Darkness (August), book 3 in Mary E. Pearson's Remnant Chronicles. I somehow managed to never review the last book,  The Heart of Betrayal – I found my notes on the book sitting in a draft recently, waiting to be written into a review (which was a thing that surprised me – I felt sure I’d reviewed it, though I suppose I just talk about it in videos). But this world and these characters just thoroughly suck me in, and I’m very ready indeed to find out how it all ends.

Something – anything – by Moira Fowley-Doyle. I fell in love with Fowley-Doyle’s debut, The Accident Season (in fact, it nabbed a top spot in my Best Reads of 2015 list), and it essentially catapulted this new author onto my auto-buy/read list; whatever she comes out with next, I will be getting my hands on, and I will be devouring it at the soonest possible chance. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a 2016 follow-up, if only Goodreads would inform me what and when that will be.

Crooked Kingdom (September), aka Six of Crows, book 2. I need this, like, yesterday.

Following the theme of follow-ups, ACOTAR book 2, A Court of Mist and Fury (May). I need this, like, NOW. Right meow. I fleeeew through A Court of Thorns and Roses, and was just smitten. It was exactly what I needed at the time -- something quick and quippy and fiersome and sexy, and so utterly readable that it was guaranteed to break me out of a reading slump – and I’m hoping (and pretty confident) that the next book will be the same. Actually, no – with the way things left off at the end of book one, I’m sure it’s going to be even more addictively readable and exciting.

And lastly…? Again, I’m not sure. There are always a ton of things clamoring to be read, and it’s anyone’s guess which will be my next-most anticipated at any given moment. Some days it may be This Savage Song, and others it may be Heartless.
Ever the Hunted is looking pretty damn good, too (and damn, that cover! I love a good typography-based cover), but of course there are also all of the books I haven’t heard of yet – fantastic new debuts, a friend’s old favorites that they’ve thrust upon me. . . And any one of them could end up being that next book that I absolutely need.

So, friends: what are your most anticipated books of 2016? Whether they’re debuting this year or you’re just planning to finally get around to reading them, what books can’t you wait to crack the spines on and get lost in?

Let me know in the comments!
And if you have any ideas or requests for Friday Five topics, please do tell!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Next Five Books: Januaryish, 2016

Alrighty, really getting back into the swing of things means striking up a few good TBR lists, putting my books in order, and trying to keep my reading on schedule and myself accountable. . . to myself. Goals, yo!
So let’s get to it:

After the Woods
The Killing Jar
I See Reality
and lastly, ??? I’m not entirely sure, but I list a few options in the video, and always have more (and more. and more) options up my sleeve and on my shelves (of course).

Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored video. Many, if not all, of the books listed were sent to me for the purposes of an honest review.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Note on Where I've Been + 2016 Manifesto

I sort of fell off the map towards the end of 2015. I'm sure that's not news to anyone. I talked a bit about it in my Autumn Ennui video (during which I was so hardcore ennui-ing that I couldn't even be bothered to copy and paste the code to the video into a blog post for those of you who visit me here...), but Fall has just become a weird, lackluster time for me, in which I'm not really motivated to do much of anything. There are a lot of reasons for this of course, but judging by many of your comments on said video, I'm hardly the only one to lose interest and motivation in things as the year comes to a close. So maybe it's just part of a natural cycle.

But the upswing of that is that there is an upswing -- January comes like clockwork, bringing with it a new start and a fresh, clean slate full of possibilities, and I'm not immune to the cheesily gung-ho, do-it-all spirit which that engenders. And though I can't help but acknowledge that blogging has lost a bit of its shine, and I do sometimes question whether I want to continue, for now at least, I've been bitten by the overly-ambitious bug and am still game.

That said, onto my goals, plans and approach for 2016!

  • As with last year, I want to continue to bring more me into my blog. There were a number of new features I toyed with last year, that I want to reprioritize, and I have some new ones I want to bring in. I also occasionally want to have more non-bookish posts
  • I need to bring some memes back, yo! They were among my most popular posts, and I've had numerous requests to bring them back (Friday Face Off, especially), but also, they're fun and light and help build up better blogging habits.
  • But along with bringing some old staples back, I also want to usher in change. This will be my 7th year of blogging, and it's time to reassess and reprioritize. And some old favorites may find themselves on the chopping block...
  • I want to continue moving in the direction of QUALITY over QUANTITY. For a long time (and I'm sure still, today), bloggers were being told over and over that they needed to churn out content, have daily posts if possible, always be blogging.  It becomes very impersonal (which is the opposite of what a blog should be), and it becomes very much like work. Soulless work. Drudgery. I don't want to write that, and you don't want to read it.
    Though it's a hard habit to break, I want to continue to shuck the daily-post mentality and focus more on giving you things that are actually fresh and interesting, and that I can take pride in. Or at least things that are fun to me, personally. But the fun, creative things take more time, more involvement, and honestly, can be a lot more draining that churning out mass-produced filler posts and run of the mill things, so shifitng a focus to something like that means that there will probably be fewer posts -- but they'll be better for it. 
  • And as always, because this is such a difficult one for me, I want to encourage and participate in more community interaction. I say this all the time, but the reason I got into blogging and vlogging was for the community, and sometimes I just feel like I'm throwing things out there, but not engaging with all of you as much as I could. I don't go into your spaces and see what you're up to often enough, and when I do, I don't always comment and let you know I'm there -- and we all need that. None of use wants to feel like we're shouting into the void; I think we all do this for the community, and I need to be a better member of it. I know you guys are out there, doing really cool things, and I need to let you know that I see it. I need to be better at commenting and interacting, and appreciating
  • And on the same note, I want to encourage more interaction across my own platforms. Polls, book talks, liveshows, group reads and twitter chats and movie watch-alongs -- these are all really fun to me, and I love how it pulls some of you out of the woodwork, and I want to do more of this. 
  • And lastly, I want to work in a better variety of books. I've gotten into a lot of ruts lately, and I think it's because I'm sick of the sameness. I used to read a much wider variety of styles, genres and types of work, but since blogging, I've been forcing myself into this little hole where I feel I can only read certain types of books because that's where the audience lies, or they're quicker so I can burn through more of them -- and again, it's about quality. I want to pull in more backlist titles, more adult titles, non-fiction on occasion, more poetry and short stories. I want to vary what I'm reading, AND help bring anything but the same old same old to you. (That said, I am still a total sucker for a lot of the hot new YA books, and accepting all the bright, shiny things will be a hard (maybe impossible) habit to break, so you'll probably still see a lot of them. But I want to begin laying the groundwork of rounding out my reading and blogging-about habits.)

  • 2016 will (hopefully) be the year of building better habits. But we all know how that can go (after all, 2015 was supposed to be the year of habit-building and routine-setting...). I feel better and things are so much more manageable with routines made and schedules kept, and I want to build and reinforce those habits this year, both on the internet side of things and in my real, day to day life. 
  • That said, I also want 2016 to be the year of following my bliss and seeing what works. Finding what makes me happiest and helps me be my best self. That is possibly the most saccharine thing I've ever written on this blog, but I can think of a better way to say it; it's cheesy, but it's true.
  • To that end, this blog will probably become more vlog-heavy. It's been headed in that direction for awhile, but it's time to just admit that I enjoy blogging (most of the time), I love vlogging more.
  • This blog also may become less about trying to reach goals and quotas (posting X-number of days, etc) and more when I really feel there is a reason to. This year is almost going to be a trial period for me, of whether I want to keep blogging, and how, and do posts may be sporadic at times and regimented at others, as I try to find what works for me and what I like best. 
  • In an effort to keep things more personal AND to make the whole process more enjoyable for myself, I'll probably be changing up how and when I review books -- more on this to come.
And there's more, I'm sure. I'm constantly reevaluating and plotting and toying with ideas. And I'm fairly indecisive by nature, so there's that. And you don't find out what works until you do things, and then readjust. 
But for now, that's the general thrust of things.

I'm not gonna lie, there will probably be dry spells. Finding what works and seeking to decide if blogging is still the thing for me will naturally mean that there will be gaps while I readjust and reassess. And if I'm going to prize quantity and personality over quotas, there will be times when there's not much going on here because I'm working on the next thing I'm excited about.
All of these goals also mean that I've value even more input from you. The community interaction, as I said, has always been a thing I've prized, but especially if I'm changing things up, I want your feedback. Let me know what works for you, what you like to see. Let me know when a new idea excites you, or how you feel about certain posts or approaches to blogs/vlogs. Your feedback is crucial, truly.

And so that is what the future of this blog looks like -- for now.***  Everything's a bit up in the air, I know, but I hope you'll stick with me, chat with me and help pull me out of my hole, and continue being the amazing bookish community that I love being a part of. 

Here's to a great 2016!

*** That said, I am currently without internet and have been for over a month now, and I'm not sure how quickly that's going to change -- or if I even care to change it. I'm kinda enjoying the internet cleanse, which is why I haven't rushed to find a different provider. So though I'm feeling gung-ho at the moment, things will still probably be sporadic for a time, and very light on vlogs until I have a decent enough connection to upload them. But I'll pop on and chat with you all when I can!


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