Sunday, November 30, 2014

Confessions/Rant: Book Ratings are in the Eye of the Beholder

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #13

One of the great questions you come across when you start book blogging is this: How do you rate books? Do you rate them on your enjoyment scale, or do you rate them as pieces of fine literature? How can you give 4 Stars to a Paranormal Romance that's lighter on the plot end and then give a classic that's filled with intricacies like foreshadowing, symbolism, and a well-executed plot only 3 Stars? What are the factors that come into play when you rate something?

These are complicated questions, but also deeply personal. On Goodreads, you can see people's rating averages, and sometimes you wonder why they're so high (or low, in my case). How can some people rate every book they read five stars, and others rate the majority of theirs only three stars? Do the people who rate books lower not enjoy reading?

As one of those chronically lower-rating people, I can tell you I enjoy reading books more than watching tv or even sometimes hanging out with people. I really don't know how some people always rate highly- I've always had clear ideas in mind for what each star really means to me.

1-1.5 Stars - Don't talk to me about this book. I don't want to relive my experience of it. This book wasn't bad- it just wasn't my cup of coffee.
2-2.5 Stars - This book was simply tolerable or okay (or meh), but I didn't like many aspects of it. I probably won't read it again, but may give it another chance if enough people like it.
3-3.5 Stars - I genuinely liked this book, I'll reread it sometime, but some aspects fell flat. I'd recommend this to certain people.
4-4.5 Stars - I pretty much loved this book. Sure, there were a few flaws, but it will be considered one of my favorites and recommended to most people.
5 Stars - This book amazed me. You cannot bash this book in my presence without me crying or spouting threats of imminent harm. I recommend these books to everyone, but will not hear of people not liking them- that is simply incomprehensible to me.

Factors I Consider in Book Ratings:

-My Own Enjoyment of the Book
 -Did I laugh or cry while reading this book?
 -How long did it take me to read it?
  -Did I read it fast because I skimmed or because I was enthralled?
 -Was I entertained or horrified?
 -Did I learn something new?
 -Did this book have something almost universally true about it?
 -Will I remember this book six months from now, or will I forget about it completely?

-The Writing Quality
 -Was the writing blah?
 -Was I distracted by spelling and grammar issues or repetitive words?
 -Would I read a dictionary written by this author?
 -Did I jot down any quotes for later reference?

-The Plot Quality
 -Was the plot plausible, even if set in a fantasy world?
 -Did it make sense, or did it feel hastily put together?
 -Did I predict all the plot twists?

-The Characters
 -Did I feel like they were real people or cardboard cut-outs?
 -Did I empathize with them, even if I wouldn't have made the same choices?
 -By the end of the book, was I rooting for the protagonists or the antagonists?
 -Would I want to meet this character in real life?

-The World Building (Sci-fi, Fantasy, Historical, and Paranormal Only)
 -Did I feel like I was in a different time or place?
  -Or did the conversations feel like something I'd overhear at the grocery store?
 -Was it a unique world? (Fantasy/Sci-fi/Paranormal Only)
 -Would I want to visit this time/place/world again?

-The Ending
 -As detailed in my previous confession, All's Well that Ends Well

So how do I rate a fluffy paranormal romance higher than a classic? Easily. Classics may be classics for a reason, but if I don't enjoy reading them, they aren't going to get a high rating, even with all the symbolism, foreshadowing, and intricate writing. Sure, those aspects will play into the overall rating, but if I don't enjoy it, I'm not going to be one of those people and rate it five stars simply because it's a classic. 

I once heard a self-published author complain that the person who rated his book low also rated classics with low ratings- and therefore must have bad taste. Times like these call for a gif:

Conan/Hulk to the rescue!
No. A person who rates classics in low star numbers doesn't have bad taste, they have their own unique taste, not to be judged by other people. The same applies to those who constantly rate 4+ stars on every book they read- they clearly love every book they read, maybe because they're optimists, maybe because they genuinely and fully enjoy every book they read.

I am not one of those people. I enjoy reading two star books, up to a point where something goes wrong, and sometimes the same scenario applies for one star books. I'm not afraid to rate exactly how I feel about the book with no regrets and no thought as to the author's feelings. Authors should know coming into the book writing world that not everyone is going to like your book. The same can be said for artists and their paintings, directors, actors, and screenwriters and their movies, and chefs and their fine cuisine. There will never be an author's work which everyone in the world loves, regardless of talent and the amount of sweat, blood, and tears extracted to produce the book.

(It should also be noted that everyone in the world cannot love one author's work, mostly because not everyone in the world reads, or likes reading books. It's an improbability.)

In conclusion, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so book ratings too, are in the eye of the reader. There is no such thing as bad taste, just as there is no such thing as a wrong opinion. As long as we live in a non-dystopic, non-totalitarian world, there will be books and lovers of books who don't like certain books for whatever reason. And I will not judge them for it... even if they one-star my five-star reads.

Do you think there's such a thing as bad taste in books? Do you judge certain books more harshly than others? What are the biggest factors that influence your star rating?

Fun Fact: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder is an idiom by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, written in her book Molly Bawn, although on Goodreads it's currently listed under Plato's quotes. Similar meaning quotes have appeared earlier, but Margaret Hungerford first wrote it as we see it today.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"The Dovekeepers" by Alice Hoffman

This is probably my favorite Alice Hoffman book that I've read so far because of its history and its setting, in addition to the title occupation. I'm a sucker for animals, and although birds may not be my favorite, doves are a powerful symbol in this book. (Even me, a person immune to symbolism, can catch on to that).

The Siege of Masada remains a tragic and ambiguous event, probably because it happened a little less than 2000 years ago. To write of it here would probably require spoiler warnings, so instead, I've provided the link to Wikipedia for those who wish to learn more.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Blends mythology, magic, archaeology and women. Traces four women, their path to the Masada massacre. In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.
'Four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The four lives intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.'

What really strikes you when you read The Dovekeepers is the depth of rendering in the heroines' characters. Some may seem fragile at first, but when their stories are told, you get a sense of how strong they had to be. Women were treated as less than their male counterparts, although they worked just as hard to survive in harsh conditions.

You also get a sense of the old way of Jewish life- how holidays were celebrated and what traditions were held. If you wanted a blessing or a charm to give to your loved one, it was easier for women to go to non-religious magic practitioners and pay for it. Unless you had a good family (which none of the characters in this book technically do), you were easily cast aside and forgotten.

My favorite quote, which sums up the book nicely:

"Here is the riddle of love: Everything it gives to you, it takes away."

         ~Alice Hoffman, The Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers is one of my favorite stories by Alice Hoffman. She gives us more than a passing glimpse into the history behind the Siege of Masada, while still including her magical realism elements without them seeming out of place. If you want a book that can take you back in time to meet four incredibly strong women, consider this book for your next read.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for a beautiful book about the power of love.

Content: Ages 18+ for extreme violence, domestic abuse, and sexual content.

Page Count: 501 pages in my hardcover edition.

Note: This will be a miniseries on CBS, airing sometime in 2015. I can hardly wait!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

From my table to yours...

Happy Thanksgiving!

As you can see, I've already prepared half the meal- maple-syrup smothered pecan pie and Cheddar Chive Biscuits that I found in a magazine that are a snap to make... and also delicious. I'll be back on Saturday with the latest book review, have I not succumbed to a semi-permanent food coma.

Until Saturday,

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy #1)" by Claire B. Dunkle

This has an unusual plot choice for a Young Adult book- the plot is what most would consider more adult-themed. But since it's done in a unique way, there's no issue with age appropriateness.

Upon rereading this gem, I discovered my rating on Goodreads had been changed at some point- I remember rating it four stars, and it ended up with three. This book well deserves its four stars, due to its noncompliance with all my major YA hang ups- no instalove (or even instalust), no handsome suitor(s), no blah writing, and no girls completely incapable of fighting for what they want. Instead, this book tells a non superficial love story where a girl chooses to surrender herself to what she views as monsters, in order to find her sister.

The Plot:
Orphaned sisters Kate and Emily arrive at their parents' estate near Hallow Hill to be cared for by their great aunts. One night, they get lost in the woods, stumbling onto a group of Gypsies, who they ask to take them home. Kate is wary of them and refuses to ride on the horse they offer her, so she walks home. It's soon revealed that Marak, the man who escorted her home, isn't human: he claims to be King of the goblins, and intends to kidnap her to be his bride. All his intents come to naught, though, when she arrives at his door asking for his help, promising to be his willing bride if only he releases her sister.

This book reminds me of two different fairy tales- Beauty and the Beast and Rumplestiltskin, both with happen to be my favorites. It transcends both with its storyline, but in some ways it's an homage to folk tales and those who love the idea of goblins and elves in a historical setting.

The characters in this book are what make it truly stand out from the crowd. You have Kate, who is brave enough to face her instinctive fears when she realizes she needs Marak's help, and Marak, who, despite his gruesome appearance, is kinder to Kate than many other people in her life. I have always loathed captive bride stories, but somehow this one didn't end up rubbing me the wrong way, For the author to be able to tell this well, without the need for sexual content (I swear she only mentions them kissing chastely once) and still manage convince us of the depth their relationship is truly remarkable.

The Hollow Kingdom is an unassuming book loaded with a fascinating, and at times expansive story. Not only is it set in the nineteenth century, it's also set in a hidden fantasy world, somehow avoiding the hokeyness of many similarly plotted books. If you're searching for a quickly devourable book that somehow manages the depth of many similar 500+ page volumes, The Hollow Kingdom may be for you.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent historical/fantasy crossover!

Content: Ages 14+ for violence and cruel magic.

Page Count: 230 pages in my paperback edition.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

SFF: The 5 Things Book Bloggers are Most Thankful For

The Sunday Fun Five #15

Sunday Fun 5:

Feel free to participate by commenting below or writing a blog post: I wrote up some guidelines for blog participation here.

A Countdown of

The 5 Things Book Bloggers are Most Thankful For

5. The Awesome Authors Who Use Internet Etiquette 
For every Kathleen Hale, there are a thousand or more reasonable human beings who also happen to be authors. And although they may feel a sharp stab in the gut from a one star review, they don't fixate on the person, try to find their house, and then write a whiny article about it. They move on, get better reviews, write another book, and forget the person who didn't like their first one. They also don't spam Goodreads groups' with their books in the non-promotional areas. Or maybe in a more perfect world they wouldn't.
Thank you, awesome authors!

4. Gifs
Although I sometimes hate to use them (they're hard to ignore), gifs are probably the most effective way of communicating one's feelings about a book (or anything, really). Because book bloggers are rarely seen beyond their about pages, adding a gif often gives your review a lot of personality without having your followers read a word you write. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a gif is worth a million or more.
Thank you for inventing the 'jif', Steve Wilhite!

3. Every Follower, New or Old
There's something innately comforting about having followers. It means that even if a random googler doesn't come across my reviews looking for book gifs, maybe someone else will actually stop by on my off days. It also means when I make an unintentional spelling or grammar error in my posts, I use my super-speed OCD to correct it.
Thank you, amazing followers!

2. Advanced Reading Copies/Post-Publication Review Copies
To be honest, as cool as it is to be able to read something the public cannot read yet (ARCs), it's just as awesome to be sent a review copy of a book you're excited about reading that's previously been published. Review copies mean when I'm strapped for cash and my pile looks uninteresting, my mind can still devour and review books without having to eat Ramen everyday.
Thanks for the books, publishing houses and indie authors!

Sometimes I wonder if I'd even be compelled to blog without comments. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy doing it, but sometimes you wonder if anyone is actually reading what you wrote. Maybe all those page views are from bots- maybe your writing bores people half to death and they fall asleep dreaming that if they keep clicking the mouse they'll win a million bucks. Maybe someone accidentally hit the 1+ or like button of your post. Without comments, blogs would basically be public journals on which the person who writes it becomes the supreme authority, and I would also feel like I'm talking to myself right now. With comments in the world, there may be naysayers and trolls, but there's also a lot of 'Great post!' that inspires more reading and writing on the book blogger's part.
A huge thank you to all my commenters!

What are you thankful for in the book blogging community? What things do you think book bloggers couldn't live without?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield

This book has been on my want-to-read list for ages, and when I recently came across it in a thrift shop I was ecstatic. It's sometimes difficult to come across the books I want most, even if they're as prolific as this one was.

The Thirteenth Tale has all the elements I love in books: a mansion, a ghost, an eccentric family, more than a passing mention of books, as well as quotable quotes. My expectations of it were more than a little high due to all of my favorite elements being in place- I was sure this would be one of the favorite books I read this year.

The Plot:
Margaret Lea receives a letter from famous author Vida Winter asking her to come and stay at her house while writing her biography. The problem? Vida Winter is infamous for spinning tales about her life that ultimately end up fiction. Will Margaret be able to get to the truth, or will Vida Winter remain a mystery?

This book had everything going for it, and yet... something was missing when I finished it. I had been able to predict many of the plot twists, the characters weren't my favorites, and the writing style left me wanting. The main part of the problem, as I see it, was this: Vida Winter is supposed to be the best storyteller in England. And although it took me no time at all to finish this, having a world famous author for a character may have sabotaged my enjoyment... because the writing wasn't my style.

The best element of this book is its story- even when I was able to see things coming, I still wanted to read it and be sure I was right. Although most of my hunches did come to pass, there was a twist to the story I didn't see which was very far-fetched. I may like fantasy and the sudden reversals authors are able to make in fiction, but to me it made little sense- I was disappointed with the big reveal of it, and it left me raising a brow in silent protest.

The Thirteenth Tale is about the vagaries in our own lives and how we are prone to embellishing them. I finished this book in two nights after making little progress in any of my other books for a week, so the pacing is clearly well done. In all honesty, this book disappointed me most because my expectations of it were so high. If you like a compelling story with gothic elements, this book might be more your cup of coffee.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great yarn that left me a bit disappointed.

Content: Ages 18+ for sadism, implied rape scenes, and violence.

Page Count: 406 pages in my hardcover edition

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)" by Suzanne Collins

By the time I'd read this book, I had watched the movie, read the reviews, and been fed such HYPE that I was certain I'd give it two stars or less just because it bugged me. But I was also curious- who was this Katniss Everdeen? I'd taken many "Which book character are you?" quizzes, and always, always ended up with 'You are Katniss Everdeen'... when I really wanted Arya Stark.

I was also in need of quick reads to get my Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2013 back on track, and picking up this trilogy was an easy choice.

The Plot: (From Goodreads)
'Winning will make you famous.
'Losing means certain death.
'The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The 'tributes' are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.
'When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.'

My main issue with this book is the writing style, which no one else seems to object to. It was detached and made me feel 'blah', despite being in first person- or maybe because of it. I don't like many first person books, maybe because spelling out names makes sentences feel meatier and less like my second grade diary (or possibly, the first draft of my book).

Although the plot reminded me of previous books and short stories I've read, it was, in its own way, original- and probably the best part of the book. Even though many people have bemoaned the similarities to Ender's Game (a book with an MC I loathe), it didn't feel too derivative, probably because of the interesting details thrown in. The characters, besides Rue, fell a bit flat of my expectations, but really- if I lived in a dystopia, I'd be a little flat too. And not just in an emotional sense.

The Hunger Games wasn't what I'd thought it would be. Where I was warned on the news of 'extreme violence' that had supposedly induced nightmares in some teens, I found in reality it was tastefully done- I've read much more violent YA books in my time. Although Katniss may be a bit of an ice princess, her actions seem to speak louder than her words. If you're someone who hasn't read The Hunger Games, you may as well give it a try, because you'll never stop being asked "Have you read it, yet?" until you have.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an unexpectedly excellent dystopian.

Content: Ages 14+ for violence and killing (I wouldn't call it murder).

Page Count: 454 pages in my paperback edition

Similar Reading:

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
A memoir I dubbed "The Real Hunger Games" because it perfectly describes it. Want to see real life dystopia through the eyes of a child? This is it.
"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson (A Short Story)
This is the story that I was constantly reminded of while reading The Hunger Games, and it's also something I read in school. It's been paired with "The Most Dangerous Game" for my Mini Macabre Review Monday feature, which also bears similarity to The Hunger Games.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold" by Francesca Lia Block

These are fairy tale retellings set in the modern world, written in almost a poetry-like style. I remember reading these as a teen and being weirded out- but somehow I still rated it 3 Stars on Goodreads. As I reread, I was beginning to fear I'd made a terrible mistake in my original rating, because the first few weren't my cup of coffee, but they greatly improved after such a bumbling start.

I'll be individually grading each and put the overall rating at the bottom- it's much easier to review each story by story instead of generalizing them together.

"Snow" (Snow White Retelling)
I really felt this added nothing new to the story of Snow (White)- a few details were different, and the dwarves were renamed and modernized, but it didn't impress me.
Story Rating: 2 Stars

"Tiny" (Thumbelina Retelling)
Umm... the hero of this one was a major pervert, if you ask me. I liked Thumbelina's (or Tiny's, as she's called) character more than in the original fairy tale, but my enjoyment of her was overshadowed by the creepy hero.
Spoiler (Highlight to View): The 'hero' watches Tiny's mother undress through a window, and is perturbed to feel someone watching him- Tiny. Of course, he can't see her and freaks out.
Story Rating: 2 Stars

"Glass" (Cinderella Retelling)
Although the author's poetic style really shows in this one, I have to say I wasn't a fan. Maybe if something more was done with the story I wouldn't be so critical, but there was also the issue with the characters. I didn't even like the portrayal of one of my favorite fairy tale princesses, Cinderella (she actually went unnamed in this one, as far as I can tell).
Story Rating: 2 Stars

"Charm" (Sleeping Beauty Retelling)
This was the first one that I enjoyed rereading, despite being the one with the most difficult content (drugs and sexual abuse). The author manages to put a fresh spin on the story and addresses the difficult issues without it seeming out of place. I think she has powerful imagery, and she made the story her own.
Story Rating: 3.5 Stars

"Wolf" (Little Red Riding Hood Retelling)
Easily the best story in the entire book, due in part to a more relatable style. The characters were also more vivid, taking the spotlight instead of hiding in the shadows. Another darker story with themes of sexual abuse, but done in a tasteful way.
Story Rating: 4.5 Stars

"Rose" (Snow White and Rose Red Retelling)
This is the story that focuses more on issues between sisters or friends without as much happily ever after as the other stories have. Even the most lasting friendships can be damaged by jealousy and realizing that the other might have a better life, and this addresses that issue.
Story Rating: 3.5 Stars

"Bones" (Bluebeard Retelling)
I actually hadn't heard of Bluebeard before, and found out it's a French fairy tale based on a real life story- this is probably one of the more frightening ones due to the original story. This one truly gives you chills- it would almost have been suitable for my Mini Macabre Review Monday feature I had in October. The ending is what makes it so exceptional, which is why I said "Wolf" was the best short story, overall.
Story Rating: 4.5 Stars

"Beast" (Beauty and the Beast Retelling)
This one I really liked, but I've also read so many Beauty and the Beast stories that it didn't bring much new to the table for me, which is reflected in the story rating. Although a lot of the story was too much like the original (and other retellings), I liked what the author did for the ending, almost making it darker.
Story Rating: 3.5 Stars

"Ice" (The Snow Queen Retelling)
I vaguely remember the fairy tale of the Snow Queen, but didn't enjoy this story as much as I presumed I would. Even with the vague outline of the original story in my head, "Ice" wasn't much different, although I did like the style in which it was told.
Story Rating: 3 Stars

Although this collection didn't have the best of starts, the six stories at the end bolstered the rating. I'm sure there are better fairy tale retellings out there, but what made this one different was the setting in the modern world, with modern evils. I recommend this to those looking for a modern take on fairy tales, if you're willing to suffer the huge margins in the paperback edition (see below).

Overall Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for a good collection of short stories that starts out 'meh'.

Content: Ages 16+ for f-bombs, sexual abuse, drug abuse, and violence.

Page Count: 227 pages in my edition, but more like 113 due to huge margins.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NQAC: Biweekly Update #4 Winter is Coming...

I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but it's kind of cold outside in the States, and with the cold came inertia for me. I actually haven't read very much because it's so cold my brain has been cryogenically preserved for future generations (sarcasm), but on the creative writing side (i.e. non-blog writing) I've managed to make some headway. In other words, I don't have much to update, but will proceed with this post for posterity.

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

So, you'll notice in the above pic I have two tablets- my original fingerprint-happy Kindle Fire 2013 HD 7 to the right, and a recently acquired Fire HDX (also 2013) to the left (with a perfect reflection of our chandelier). My original tablet I got about a year ago, taking a gamble with ereading (I was a Paperist- one who likes paper books only) because my town has no big box bookstores (and also nowhere to buy new books in my favorite genres). The gamble paid off, and I ended up loving the freedom of buying books in my pajamas. But my original tablet had a lot of trouble with letting me read blogs- particularly if anyone did gif-filled posts. It would also randomly go to the home page while I was reading things on the internet, essentially saying "You've read 200 blog posts today- I quit!"

Hence the new arrival of the HDX, which I'm trying to think of names to give it. It doesn't randomly kick me off the browser or go spastic when presented with gifs, and has a more appropriate storage capacity for all those free books I 1-click purchase.

So, from now on my Recent Acquisitions will be scaled back, despite my penchant for devilish Daily Deals.

I did pick up The Queen of the Tearling (because I want to have an opinion about it- is it worthy of the Hype?) and The Darkest Minds (a freebie), both of which are considered YA, but I was curious about. I'm usually not a YA reader but... all that hype sometimes gets to me. I've considered buying into other uber popular YA series, but I have to prioritize and buy only the books I really think I'll adore. Or click the free ones.

Currently Reading:

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber (Just Started)
A steampunk/urban fantasy set in the Victorian period. I actually haven't read much yet because the publish date is so far away (February 3rd 2015) that I want it fresh in my mind then to review it.

Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles #1) by Anne Rice (Page 140/342)
I've always had mixed feelings about reading anything by Anne Rice because of her lack of filter on social media, but so far I like it. I've actually tried to read this before but never got far. I think it reads better when I'm in a less frosty mood.

A Passage of Stars by Kate Elliott (10%)
Ironically, I pulled a different (fantasy) book of hers from the TBR Jar for the November Lottery, but I wanted some sci-fi. This is also an ebook, which is easier to read in cold weather- I can grip a Kindle through a blanket, or have to wear gloves for a physical copy. The best thing about this book is there's been an alien abduction and there is a robot named Bach who communicates through music, and I'm only 10% into it.

Legacy by Susan Kay (page 69/570ish)
This is one of the two I drew from the TBR Jar for my books to read in November. I don't know much about the Tudors other than Henry the Eighth and I'm learning lots from this book. It follows Elizabeth Tudor, who is one of the daughters of King Henry and later becomes queen.

Finished These Books:
These are two romances I picked up for free, but decided not to count them on Goodreads because I read both of them in less than two days, and also because they're both three star reads and I'm trying to pump up my rating average.

One to Hold by Tia Louise (Free Contemporary Romance)
I was a bit upset about this one because of it's false advertising on Amazon. Although it doesn't end on a cliffhanger, it isn't a standalone because there's another book about the same couple, with a problem that originated in this book. It kind of bordered on erotica because of so many sex scenes in such a small (212 page) book, but I skimmed through those and liked the basic plot. I also didn't find the hero distasteful, which happens a lot to me with romance. Basically, it was good enough for three stars, but I felt cheated because of the synopsis saying it was a standalone.

Caversham's Bride (The Caversham Chronicles #1) by Sandy Raven (Historical Romance)
I knew this was part of a series, but I also know most historicals don't have a series about the same couple like contemporary romance, and that was the case with this book. Although its plot was predictable and reminded me of a few stories I've read before, it was entertaining enough. It could probably use some reworking due to the lack of tension- I knew where the plot was going and wasn't scared for either character, but again- the plot is better than most you come across in run-of-the-mill historical romance.

In the Blogosphere:

In case you didn't know, Cute Peach Book Blog is now Mayhem Books.

Angie of Pinkindle reviews Popular by Maya van Wagenen, who decides use a 1950s popularity guide to see if old tricks help her become more popular in school. (Memoir)

Erin of The Hardcover Lover reviews Losing It by Cora Carmack, the plot of which reminded me of an old Twilight fanfic I read back in the day.

Jaclyn of The Book Adventures reviews The Fire Seer (Coalition of Mages #1) by Amy Raby, a genre bending book about Taya, a low-caste fire seer with a bit of an overzealous suitor.

In My Life:
A window that usually looks onto the mountains- but not while it's snowing.
The weather in Idaho is usually much milder than what I experienced in Montana, but it's still pretty cold out here. Instead of venturing out, I've been crafting some Christmas stuff and loom knitting my larger dog, Torrie, a sweater despite her usually adequate fur coat. One thing I enjoy most, other than reading, is a very Victorian habit- painting and making miniatures. My favorite from a few years ago where some plain 3-4 inch tall nutcracker men, and I found another set to do this year.

Above- the new set of plain nutcrackers, below the set I painted and blinged out.
I'm thinking of doing a few book characters as nutcrackers, but I'll have to find different colored fur/hair- white would only do for Gandalf the White and Dumbledore.

Anyone else preparing for the holidays? Or making your list of books you want?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

O.o.O.C: "Nothing to Envy" by Barbara Demick

Out of Orbit Critiques (O.o.O.C.) are on books not in my usual genres that I review about once a month. This book is nonfiction.

As a child, I was constantly admonished: "Finish your plate Talitha, there are children starving in China." Little did I know at the time, that that particular honor is more suitable for the people of North Korea.

I heard about Nothing to Envy during the Travel the World in Books Readathon's Twitter chat, and was instantly intrigued. North Korea is probably one of the most mysterious places on Earth: what snippets of news that are leaked out often become headlines. What lies behind the fences and facades of the country. which often presents itself with massive choreographed performances?

The Plot:
Journalist Barbara Demick is assigned to cover the Koreas for the Los Angeles Times, a difficult proposition. Where South Korea is relatively easy to report on, North Korea only allows journalists accompanied by watchers to enter the country. It's clear she has little access to real stories of real people inside the country, so she turns instead to those few who have managed to leave. What follows the prologue are incredible feats of survival and life in a truly 'dystopian' society.

One of the most interesting parts of this book to me was the fact that North Korea actually does get news from the outside world- but only the bad news. The title for this book is so apt because of that- North Koreans are told they have "Nothing to envy" of the outside world. Journalism is also the most highly regarded field in North Korea, which is kind of ironic.

Another fascinating thing is that North Koreans regard their original 'Great Leader' as a god. When Kim Il-sung died, it was the equivalent of 9/11 in the American mind- everyone remembered where they were when they heard the news. Devastating would be an understatement- earth-shattering is more like it. Although they were expected to revere his son just as much, nothing and no one could compare to their 'Great Leader'.

When I finished the book, I realized I'd probably have to include some spoilers in my review, because some of the things boggled my mind that I have to blab about. I saw some other reviewers on Goodreads also used them without the spoiler brackets, so here goes:

***Mild Spoilers Within***

The dogs in China are better fed than the doctors in North Korea. True story.

My favorite person in the book, Jun-sang, was highly educated in North Korea and managed to get his hands on banned Western books. His favorite? Gone With the Wind. When he eventually got out, he said 1984 was very close to what life was actually like in North Korea. Hence I tagged this post 'Dystopia'.

***End Spoilers***

Nothing to Envy is a major wake-up call for those of us who think life isn't easy or fair and happen to live outside North Korea. Our lives in general are very easy compared with somewhere where color is used only for propaganda and if you don't starve to death, the cold winters may also kill you. If you've ever wondered what it's like to live in North Korea, this book is for you.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for a glimpses of daily life in mysterious North Korea.

Content: Ages 16+ for descriptions of extreme suffering and hunger.

Page Count: 296 pages in my paperback version.

Thanks again to Aloi of Guiltless Reader for hosting a giveaway that won me this book!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Trinity (The Koldun Code #1)" by Sophie Masson

I received this ebook for free via NetGalley, but in no way did it affect my literary taste buds. This critique is my honest opinion.

Book One of The Koldun Code Series

Expected Publication: November 13th, 2014

I have to say this is the first book I've obtained to review that I've seriously considered DNFing- the beginning just rubbed me the wrong way. This book has main characters that kind of have a 'love at first sight' connection: it isn't instalove, per se, but something close to instant emotional bond. As a plot-motivated reader, I was more interested in the mysterious deaths of the Trinity leaders than I was the romance, and usually I don't mind romance- it just wasn't my type of romance.

Another thing I noticed in the beginning were the strange conversation patterns between the two lovers- I've never been to Russia, but in America, when you say "Oh, Alexey," in a conversation, it begets images of black and white movies or soft-focus-lens soap operas. With the heroine swooning in a full-skirted dress, in the hero's arms. And soft violin music swirling in the background. Those are the images that came to mind that made me want to DNF.

The Plot: (Synopsis from Goodreads)
'I am in a world deeply strange and strangely deep, a world as different from my old life as it's possible to be, and it feels completely natural.
'An unexpected encounter with a handsome stranger in a Russian wood changes the life of 22-year-old traveler Helen Clement forever, catapulting her into a high-stakes world of passion, danger, and mystery. Tested in ways she could never have imagined, she must keep her own integrity in a world where dark forces threaten and ruthlessness and betrayal haunt every day.
'Set against a rising tide of magic and the paranormal in a modern Russia where the terrifying past continually leaks into the turbulent present, Trinity is a unique and gripping blend of conspiracy thriller, erotically charged romance and elements of the supernatural, laced with a murderous dose of company politics. With its roots deep in the fertile soil of Russian myth, legend, and history, it is also a fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary, distinctive country and amazingly rich culture.'

As I said, I more than considered DNFing due to the characters not being my type- but I read on (past 30%) and became more invested in the plot once it actually thickened. All three of Trinity's previous leaders had been mysteriously killed in ways that defied the laws of nature, but Alexey takes up the mantle of leader to help keep the loyal employees at their jobs despite the obvious danger. Usually I find fault with the heroes of romance-infused books, but this time there was nothing not to like- but Helen and his insta-connection never made sense to me, and I couldn't see what really zinged them together.

Helen reminded me of a heroine (who will remain anonymous) from an uber-popular series for the first half of the book. She seemed very open to love despite having come to Russia to escape memories of an awful relationship, and fell for Alexey hard. I understand the merits of their relationship, I just don't understand why she would place her trust so easily in the mysterious Alexey's hands after that bad a breakup. She isn't the strongest heroine, but I can see changes for the better in her by the end of the book.

It should be noted I learned a bit about Russian folklore by reading this, a treat in any novel set in a foreign country. Bears seemed to feature strongly, for reasons not divulged until the end. Many of the twists the story took I did not predict, which also makes this a more interesting read.

Trinity may start slowly, but the last fifty percent flew by with no conscious effort on my part. The ending. while not a cliffhanger, does to some extent leave you hanging and wanting more. If you're looking for a paranormal-infused romantic thriller set in Russia, this may be the book for you.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for a good story, once it begins.

Content: Ages 18+ for violence and non-explicit sex scenes.

Page Count: I cannot find a mention of page count as of now- I guess it's a mystery.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" by Cory Doctorow

Full Disclosure: I knew this was a novella, but I thought it'd be 140 pages, as shown on Amazon. It's actually about 100 pages with unrelated essays and interviews tacked on to it. Don't buy it unless it's cheap.

You feel like you'd know the book from the provided plot, but really it goes into different tangent. 'Disney-dominated future' is the part of the plot synopsis I most object to- there were some elements of Disney, but most of the future I glimpsed through reading this book wouldn't warrant the combination 'Disney dominated'- it felt more dysfunctional dystopia with a smattering of Disney-esque elements.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
In a Disney-dominated future, a transhuman teenager engages in high velocity adventures until he meets the “meat girl” of his dreams and is forced to choose between immortality and sex in one of Cory Doctorow's most daring novellas.

Due to its tiny page count, this wasn't a difficult read- it was something I picked up to help me push through with my stalled reading of The Broken Eye. The future presented was rather bleak, possibly due to the main character, Jimmy's predicament- he lives in the body of a prepubescent child despite being many years older. As a kind of experimental transhuman, he doesn't have any peers to relate to, save actual humans who look their actual age. This leads to problems for him further down the line, when Jimmy moves away.

Jimmy eventually settles with a commune of people he calls the Wireheads, due to the wire in their heads that moderates their emotions by connecting them with the rest of the Wireheads' wires. Because of the commune-type format, Jimmy is also required to be wired if he wants to stay, but remains curiously immune, possibly due to his transhumanity. I found it a fascinating concept- the Wireheads can feel and negate other Wireheads emotions so they're basically emotionally numb. As a person who's very in tune with my emotions, I can't imagine I'd like to have a wire negating my feelings- I'd be frustrated to not be able to express myself.

Because it's short, I also can't fully discuss other topics without being spoilery, but I fully enjoyed the concepts explored in this novella, and it reminded me of the recent Johnny Depp film, Transcendence.

The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow may not be as Disney dominated as advertised, but remains a great look at the world around us and how far may be too far in terms of technology. While it reminded me of many dystopias I've read before, it had some interesting insights that may have been previously overlooked. I recommend this to any reader looking for a great dystopia with many future tech elements.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a novella with lots of punch.

Content: Sex scenes and violence (some of which is mental). Ages 18+

Page Count: Actual Novella Page Count is 106 pages, ebook edition.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

SFF: The 5 Books You're Most Grateful For (2014)

The Sunday Fun Five #14

Sunday Fun 5:

Feel free to participate by commenting below or writing a blog post: I wrote up some guidelines for blog participation here.

A Countdown of

The 5 Books You're Most Grateful For (2014)

5. Moloka'i by Alan Brennert (4.5 Stars)
Read during the first weeks of August 2014
Most diverse book read in 2014? Check. Most informative book about Hawaii's culture read in 2014? Double check. Most interesting man in the world? Err... no. What I mean is, this book has a lot of interesting elements, but does not have the actor from the Dos Equis commercials as a character in it. It does, however, educate the reader about Hansen's disease (formerly known as leprosy) and the life of people stricken with the disease from the early-to-mid 1900s.

4. The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (4.5 Stars)
Read during the Travel the World in Books Readathon, 5th-7th September 2014
To know this book was lurking in my pile for a couple years bothers me. I bought it due to its cover, and never suspected the story within wouldn't be about a Samurai, but instead a beautiful and pensive rendering of pre-WWII Japan. I'm now hopeful that more of my pile books will end up as lovely as this.

3. The Broken Eye (Lightbringer #3) by Brent Weeks (4.5 Stars)
Read from August-October 2014
How can a book that took me so long to read end up so high on my list? Simply put, the ending was fantastic, even if I ended up with a case of The Broken Eye blues. And also, the characters are like people- people I want to meet in real life!

2. Poe by J. Lincoln Fenn (2nd 5 Star Read of 2014)
Read in the first week of October 2014
This is a case of the right book at the right time, though to be honest, even if I hadn't read this during October, it'd still be a five star read. I loved the characters, the humor, and the combination of horror, urban fantasy, and paranormal elements. I also love the book itself. In other words: Read it. Even if it isn't October anymore.

1. Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson (the Benevolent) (5 Stars)
Read during the second week of March 2014
I thought the first book in this series was excellent, and expected Words of Radiance to be of the same, or lower, quality. Mr. Sanderson (the Benevolent) truly knocked it out of the park with this one- characters I was iffy about in the first book made their mark on me in this one. And it didn't have a cliffhanger ending, wasn't drawn out too long (a feat for a 1000+ page book), and it satiated my inner book monster. But I still want the next brick book. Right now.

Honorable Mention(s):
The last 4.5 Star(s) for 2014, The Scribe (Irin Chronicles #1) and The Singer (Irin Chronicles #2) by Elizabeth Hunter are an exceptional start to a Paranormal Romance series, and well deserve a place on my Five list, but I ran out of room. Perhaps someday it will be the Sunday Fun Seven: The 7 Books You're Most Grateful For?

What books have wowed you the most this year? How many five star books have you read in 2014?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"Death Masks (Dresden Files #5)" by Jim Butcher

This review features a book that is the fourth in the Dresden Files series, and may have minor spoilers for those who have not read Storm FrontFool MoonGrave Peril, and Summer Knight. My critique of Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) can be found here.

This book was a bit of a surprise for me- I thought if anything would change my mind about Harry Dresden, it'd be the presence of faeries. I think what changed with this book was the overall level of maturity and grimness setting in, much like with The Broken Eye. Although the previous book had some level of it at the end, it didn't feel like Harry was a grown-ass man. With this book, I felt that he was.
You tell 'em, Dresden.

The Plot:
Harry isn't scraping by as much anymore- and no damsels in distress have begged for his services. Instead, the Shroud of Turin has been stolen and he's been hired to find it by Father Vincent, who wants a discreet investigation. Meanwhile Murphy turns up with a disease and plague-ridden corpse that has been cut up to prevent identification. But with the Red Court breathing down his neck and Susan mysteriously appearing at his apartment, will he solve the mysteries in time?

It's kind of a different book due to the absence of Murphy- instead, Harry pairs up with Michael and his buddies for most of the book. Sure, there's a few scenes at the beginning and the end with Murphy, but Susan stole the heroine-in-focus spot for this book. I've never been that attached to Murphy- she's always seemed a little severe and goodie-two-shoes for me, and Susan provided a nice change of pace. With her recent changes, Susan is more an asset than a bystander that needs to be protected in this book, making her a standout in the long line of damsels-in-distress I've been seeing in this series.

Harry and Susan's relationship is further developed in Death Masks than all of the books prior to it. This says a lot, as they've basically been together since the first book, but I never found myself thinking they were actually serious about each other. There are some changes coming for them that I can barely allude to without spoiling, but I felt the change was good, and Harry had (finally) grown up.

Death Masks proves that you can't judge a series on its first four books. I thought by the time I'd finished my last Daily Deal Dresden File book (number seven), I'd feel comfortable giving up on the series, but now I may read on. I've been strangely compelled to read these, even when none of the previous ones have been four stars for me, and I'm finally beginning to see why. Harry Dresden may have been an adult before, but he's never been this mature as a character.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a series that's growing on me.

Content: Ages 18+ for violence, sundry uses of Hell's Bells, and sexual content.

Page Count: 451 pages in the paperback edition.
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