Saturday, January 31, 2015

"A Dance With Dragons (ASoIaF #5)" by George R.R. Martin

This is the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. For those of you who haven't read A Game of Thrones, (or haven't watched the tv series), there are unmarked spoilers for the first four books of the series in this review.

What kind of book do you expect from a famous author who has previously made your jaw drop, your eyes turn into water faucets, and your heart explode into three billion little bits of bloody nougat? Yep, you expect a lot. That's my problem with this book: I feel if it weren't by Mr. Martin, I'd give it four stars- the characters are awesome, if a little waffley, but the plot was... not.

I always expect the best from my favorite authors- in Mr. Martin's case, I've grown to expect the sun, the moon, all the stars, along with the rest of the Milky Way Galaxy. I only got the moon and the stars- the galaxy, the sun- they were absent. That is the best analogy I can come up with to describe my feelings with this book.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance — beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.
'Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys's claim to Westeros forever.
'Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone — a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.'

My main disappointment with this book: Nothing much happens. That's not to say nothing happens, but it seems like there's a lot of machinations going on and not a lot of action, as compared with the other ASoIaF books. The problem is, in part, due to the splitting of the world- if we saw what A Feast for Crows had going on at the same time, it might've been a bit more thrilling. But then again, we have the issue of length- if Mr Martin had mashed the two together instead of splitting them apart, you'd have a book about 2000 pages long (a built-in workout for the hardcover reader). I think he was right to splice them as he did, but something still left me wanting when I read this book.

Also, there's an issue I have with the ending: once again, we're left wondering what precisely will happen in the next book (which won't be published in 2015, dammit!). I'd like very much to elaborate in a spoiler section, but my conscience will not allow the possibility of this book being spoiled for anyone else- I'm sure plenty of Goodreads reviews have mentioned the spoilers. Regardless, this book is guaranteed to make you grind your teeth when you reach the end, if only to realize the next book is at least a year's wait away.

A Dance with Dragons disappointed me, but my expectations were exceedingly high for this book (the title + Mr. Martin + the things that happened previously in the series = a major setup for my disappointment). Dany and her dragons may dance a merry jig, but it wasn't enough to sate the inner bloodthirsty reader within me. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend this book (and its series) to those who are brave enough to wait for Winter to come.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great, if disappointing, series continuation.

Content: Ages 18+ for the usual Martin gambit.

Page Count: 1016 pages in my spare dumbbell hardcover edition.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Magic Slays (Kate Daniels #5)" by Ilona Andrews

This review features a book that is the fifth in the Kate Daniels series, and has inevitable spoilers for those who have not read the first four books of the series. My review of the first book can be found here.

This book continues Kate's (and also now Curran's) adventures in grand style- building up to my favorite two books of the series: Magic Rises and Magic Breaks. This series has become a major favorite of mine because of all the virtues I've listed before in previous reviews: snarkiness, banter, and books that all seem relevant to the series itself- as if the series itself has more of a cohesive purpose than most urban fantasy series I've read.

Oftentimes there are a few books in a series that could've been cut- either the book was more for character or world-building than actual plot, or the author just didn't have a clear vision for the series itself at that stage. The Kate Daniels series remains the exception to the rule: I can't really see cutting any of the books in this series- and that's a rare thing for me to note.

The Plot: (Because the one on Goodreads sucks)
Kate must deal with her rebellious ward Julie, appease the Pack who scrutinize her every move, all while starting her very own business... with the Pack's funds. Luckily, she has her friend Andrea to help her, but when Masters of the Dead suddenly start losing control of their vampires, will her help be enough?

Kate's ward Julie was a character I hadn't expected to stick around this long. I suppose I'm used to books were characters are disposable (*cough* A Game of Thrones *cough*), but I always have a sneaking suspicion that the fate of an orphan a hero/heroine adopts will never be an easy one. Julie herself doesn't appear much in this book, and yet she is always in the back of Kate's mind, along with her fears for her ward.

Andrea also features strongly in this book, bringing her love of guns, as well as her expertise with them. Andrea has had some struggles recently, disappearing with the attack poodle, only to return in defeat- her heritage is something that seems to follow her wherever she goes.

Magic Slays retains the awesomeness of the Kate Daniels series. Although it is not a five star read, it comes very close, leading up to my two very-late-in-the-game five star reads of 2014. I definitely continue to recommend this series for any and all who love strong heroines, action, sarcasm, with a side of romance.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for another exceptional Kate Daniels episode!

Content: Ages 18+ for the continued themes of the series (see all my other content warnings for the series- you've been warned!).

Page Count: 308 pages

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"The Perfume Collector" by Kathleen Tessaro

Although this book isn't entirely set in Paris, France and/or England, I think it qualifies for the Travel the World in Books Challenge because the vast majority of it does.

I was searching for a historical fiction book in my piles to read and came across this one. Despite its length, the synopsis sounded intriguing enough (along with the pretty cover) that I picked it up.

The first thing I noticed about this book once I began reading it was that the pages flew by swiftly. Maybe it's due to the mysterious plot, but despite areas of reminiscence and chunks of description did nothing to slow this book's progress. It's rare that I devour a 400+ page historical fiction in a few days, and yet with this book it was possible.

The Plot:
Grace Munroe receives notice of an inheritance bequeathed to her- the only problem? She has never heard of or met the stranger before, the stranger whose name is Eva d'Orsey. Traveling to Paris without her husband, Grace meets with the lawyers in charge of the bequeathal, but refuses to disband Eva's estate before she learns who she is, and how she knew Grace. Will Eva d'Orsey's secrets be revealed, or go with her to the grave?

The best part of this book was its characters and setting. I've always sought to find books that give me a feel of an era or a city (in this case, Paris) and I think The Perfume Collector really makes you feel (and smell) like you're in Paris circa 1955. Grace is immensely relatable because of her imperfect relationships and her slightly outsider-ish status. This book also provides flashbacks into Eva's life, and although I didn't exactly relate to her, I feel like she is one of the more real characters in the book. The things she suffers and the choices she makes build on her personality as she ages into the woman she was before she died.

One of the aspects in this book that made it easy (as pie) to guess the plot was one of the character's traits. I won't say more about it, but I can't imagine many people went the entire book without having some clue as to why Eva would leave everything to Grace, as the plotline of this book isn't hard to come by, even in general fiction.

The Perfume Collector is the book I'd sell alongside perfumes. Although it isn't really a love story, it's deeply romantic and makes you wish you were in Paris in 1955. If you want a surprisingly fast-paced historical set in vintage Paris for your next read, I'd strongly suggest The Perfume Collector.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent set of characters in a not-so-remarkable plot.

Content: Ages 16+ for brief sexual content (and insinuations), and lots of perfume descriptions.

Page Count: 464 pages

Sunday, January 25, 2015

NQAC: Biweekly Update #6 The "Good" Bibliophile

Recently, I've been trying to make some improvements to the blog, including Disqus comments. That comment system lasted all of 20 minutes before I decided it was not for me- the main problem being I had errors when trying to retrieve my previous comment data, so on posts where I had had comments before, there were none. Also, I looked at a lot of differents blogs' polls on the subject, and found Disqus to be less popular than the hideous Blogger system. Even though it is unsightly, I'm sticking with Blogger, not using the Captcha, and moderating all comments. In other words, if you want to promote your 'weblog' by leaving a spammy comment (like "do you use Wordpress" doi) this isn't the place to do it.

Isn't it weird how all spammers use the phrase weblog instead of blog?

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

I've been a very good bibliophile and have only bought one book (Ready Player One) in accordance with my 2015 goals. Let's see how long that lasts.

Ready Player One (Ready Player One #1) by Ernest Cline
A video-game based sci-fi novel. I can dig that.

Unseen (Unborn #2) by Amber Lynn Natusch
This popped up on Netgalley as a Read Now, even though I previously had to get approved for the first book, Unborn, which wasn't an advanced copy when it was available there. I think Unborn is currently Read Now as well, but I could be wrong. Anyway, I'm almost always willing to continue a series, as I am a certified series devourer.

Currently Reading:

I was reading A Passage of Stars (Highroad Trilogy #1) by Kate Elliott, but then I read so many other books besides it and could only remember bits and pieces of what had occurred thus far. Also, I was reading a part with a prophecy in it, but for the life of me I can't place which character they think to be the chosen one. I'll get back to this one later, when I'm done with all my review copies.

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber
I'm not exactly impressed yet, but this one could surprise me and turn around. Only, the Goodreads average rating leads me to suspect otherwise.

Finished These Books:

The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
Chances are you've seen some of my reviews for these (as well as the Kate Daniels series) popping up a lot this January- it seems I'm catching up on my previous lack of adult series in urban fantasy and steampunkery. All in all, these were supremely entertaining, and probably (based on some lukewarm critiques by my fellow Casual Readers) not for everyone. Of course, I never expect historical accuracy with any fantasy/sci-fi book, so my expectations were less historical-minded than others. Werewolves, unfortunately, did not exist (openly, at least) in late-nineteenth century England. Or in Scotland, for that matter.

Billy by Albert French
My first five star read of the year. Here's the synopsis because I don't have words for this book yet: "Albert French's harrowing debut novel of 10-year-old Billy Lee Turner, convicted and executed for murdering a white girl in Baines, Mississippi, in 1937, is an unsentimental and ultimately heartrending vision of racial injustice."

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
I liked that this book had quotable quotes and other things, but I saw where the entire plot was going from a few chapters in. Overall, I felt the plot could be better (and less predictable) as it seems to be a very popular plot with mainstream books nowadays (and even before nowadays). I can't say more without spoiling, but it still earned 4 stars due to its characters and imagery. Who thought perfumes would work so well in books? Not this gal.

In the Blogosphere:

Greer Macallister's The Magician's Lie, an involving tale of deception, female agency, and fin-de-si├Ęcle magic by Sarah of Reading the Past

5 easy ways to be polite... by Kate of Diary of an Urban Housewife (because not everyone knows how to).

Art it Up! (41) – How to make mini books by Tabitha of Not Yet Read, because we all need to make some of these cute little things.

A book review of Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels #7) by Ilona Andrews, wherein Erin (Paperback Stash) perfectly describes my feelings of it.

ARC REVIEW: Ink Deep by Renee Lovins by PurpleBook of Way Too Hot Books, with reasons as to why she didn't like it as much as she thought she would.

In My Life:

So lately, instead of obsessing about books, as I'm wont to do, I've been thinking more and more on starting my seedlings early- specifically my annual flowers. Last year they didn't bloom until July (which was a long wait for me), but when they did, they were spectacular:

Blue and purple is the color of almost everything I like.

I actually haven't had store-bought lobelia and alyssum do that well, so planting them earlier this year might be a better choice, despite the fact my "growing" porch (a 1903 sun porch with thin glass windows) will still be freezing. I think I'll use my upstairs window area to start the flowers, while the rest (vegetables, squash, etc.) will wait until March for me to plant them.

Is anyone else ready for spring? Because I really am- no more 20 degree (F) weather for me.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Blameless (Parasol Protectorate #3)" by Gail Carriger

This review features a book that is the third in the Parasol Protectorate series, and has (inevitable) spoilers for those who have not read Soulless and Changeless. My review of the first book can be found here.

In this book, Alexia must learn to deal with her "infant-inconvenience", without the aid of her husband or Lord Akeldama. It appears she's been targeted for some reason, though exactly what no one is sure. What I like about this book is because Alexia is on her own, we get to see more of her independent streak and how she can manage well without help.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season.
'Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.
'While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.'

One of my other favorite parts about this book is that we get to see Lord Maccon at his lowest. Although he himself caused the inexcusable rift in the relationship, he doesn't exactly act like it, leaving poor Professor Lyall to pick up the pieces. While Alexia tries to move on, Conall is clearly unable to, at least in the beginning of the book.

There is another element to this book that stood out to me- there was a lot of playful coffee-bashing going on. With the characters of this book being pseudo-nineteenth-century English citizens, I'm hardly surprised they can't stand coffee, but I personally can't drink tea (stomach issues) so coffee is my go-to caffeine high. I am here to defend coffee's honor and say I love it more than tea, but it probably tastes better now than it did back in those days due to weighty additions of sugar and cream (also: the invention of Starbucks).

My favorite quote:

'"I have died and gone to the land of bad novels," was Squire Loontwill's response.'

    ~Blameless by Gail Carriger, Chapter One

Blameless is an improvement on the series, mainly because it tidies up Changeless's messy ending, which had left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Although this book was not significantly better than the first book, it did leave me smiling and reaching for the next book (as I am a known series devourer). I recommend Blameless to anyone who has read and enjoyed the first two of the Parasol Protectorate series, because you may as well see what happens next.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent third book in the Parasol Protectorate.

Content: Ages 18+ for violence (including mad scientists and crazier Templars), lovers' quarrels, and an infant-inconvenienced lady armed with a lethal parasol.

Page Count: 374 pages

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels #4)" by Ilona Andrews

This review features a book that is the fourth in the Kate Daniels series, and may have spoilers for those who have not read the first three books of the series. My review of the first book can be found here.

I personally pity the poor souls who had to wait for this book to be published. Magic Strikes was incredible, but also left you with a bit of a cliffhanger ending, and I would've been beyond frustrated had I been made to wait more than a day to find out what happened. I will try not to elude to what occurred with the scene, but will write that it was unexpected.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren't for the magic. When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose.
'Kate Daniels works for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, officially as a liaison with the mercenary guild. Unofficially, she cleans up the paranormal problems no one else wants to handle - especially if they involve Atlanta's shapeshifting community. When she's called in to investigate a fight at the Steel Horse, a bar on the border between the territories of the shapeshifters and the necromancers, Kate quickly discovers that there's a new player in town. One who's been around for thousands of years - and who rode to war at the side of Kate's father. This foe may be too much even for Kate and Curran, the Beast Lord, to handle. Because this time Kate will be taking on family.'

Kate has a very messed up family, maybe because the authors of this book were feeling vindictive on the day they hatched her character, or maybe because it's just what makes the series so compelling. If you don't have any problems, ever, with your relatives, I humbly congratulate you, because most of the people I know have something distinctly un-Hallmarkish about their interfamilial relationships. With Kate, the problem is intensified by the fact that her relatives are likely powerful magic users. Imagine Harry Potter and the Dursleys, if any of the Dursleys could cast spells.

From Rebloggy
Exactly my point Harry- Kate is a big girl and can't hide in her bedroom (or broom closet beneath the stairs, for that matter). Things would get out of hand quickly, and the situation would be eminently sticky- the perfect setup for an urban fantasy book.

This book is the turning point for many of the plotlines in this series. Whereas most urban fantasy series seem to beat around the bush inordinately (I'm looking at you, Dresden Files), the Kate Daniels series has a more obvious and inevitable ending- Kate must someday confront her father, who is the most powerful magic user in the land. She also has to decide whether she's better off facing him alone, thereby limiting casualties, or among friends, which means she risks the lives of others in her quest for revenge.

Magic Bleeds is pretty much the pivotal book in the Kate Daniels series (although Magic Breaks [book seven] is also epic in that regard). Change is in the air, and it's for the better of the series. If you haven't read this book and have already read the first three in the series, I congratulate you (again), because I don't have that much self control.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for an exceptional urban fantasy family reunion!

Content: Ages 18+ for sexual content, violence, and bloodthirsty relatives.

Page Count: 349 pages

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

O.o.O.C: "Girl, Interrupted" by Susanna Kaysen

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 a memoir.

Mental health is a difficult subject to talk about, and even more so is the treatment of those afflicted with mental illness. This memoir details an eighteen-year-old girl's experience with the mental health care facilities of the sixties, specifically the one that Sylvia Plath also went to when she was recuperating. It is unpleasant to think of all the procedures we once thought helpful to the mentally ill: electroshock therapy, excessive medication, and ice water baths, and this book deals with the aftereffects of all of those on a group of Susanna's fellow patients.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele -- Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles -- as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary.
'Kaysen's memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a "parallel universe" set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.'

This memoir also brings the subject of how we define mental illness, and at what point is someone nonfunctional in society. Although we don't have the doctor's side of the story, Susanna didn't appear that bad off (from what I could tell with the written account) when she was sent away to the facility. How can we really tell if someone is in danger of taking their own life or hurting someone else? If you pay any attention to the news, we all should know that sometimes there are no signs, or the signs seem so inconsequential that we ignore them and the results are dire. Girl, Interrupted may have been written in 1993 about events happening the 1960s, but it remains a relevant book on the subject of mental illness and its treatment.

Sexism also comes into play throughout the course of this book. 'Promiscuity' is one of the traits that is attributed to the disorder Susanna was diagnosed with. But what might be deemed promiscuous of girls is often shrugged off when the patient is male- in ways, males are expected to be highly sexually active. And, let's face it- when the events of this book played out, it wasn't that unusual to be sexually active with different partners: free love, anyone?

This quote sums up many of the ideas in this memoir perfectly:

"In a strange way we were free. We'd reached the end of the line. We had nothing more to lose. Our privacy, our liberty, our dignity: All of this was gone and we were stripped down to the bare bones of our selves."

    ~Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, page 94

Girl, Interrupted is one of my favorite memoirs. It straddles the line between introspection and storytelling, but also addresses the issue of mental illness in a cohesive fashion. If you want to know what it was like to live in a mental health facility circa 1967, this is the book for you.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a compelling memoir about mental illness.

Content: Ages 16+ for coarse language, gruesome imagery, mentions of suicide, drug use, and blow jobs.

Page Count: 168 pages in my paperback edition.

Fun Fact: The title for this book came from a painting by Vermeer: Girl Interrupted at her Music, which Susanna admired when she was a teenager.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

SFF: The 5 Books To Kickstart Your Reading Journey

The Sunday Fun Five #19

Sunday Fun 5:
#19: The 5 Books To Kickstart Your Reading Journey
For the 1st of Feb. #20: The 5 Character Couples that are Matches Made in Heaven
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 To Kickstart Your Reading Journey

(Because January is supposedly National Book Month)

5. The Rowan (The Tower and the Hive #1) by Anne McCaffrey
Science Fiction, 336 pages
What I love about this one is it's everything I love about science fiction: space, spaceships, alien races, and telekinetic powers. It also doesn't hurt that the Rowan is a very independent-minded heroine with a sad backstory. This is the perfect book to start your science fiction journey.

4. Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Fiction,  301 pages
If there were ever a book that reminded me of a Hallmark movie, this would be it. It also turned into a movie that aired on the Hallmark channel, so clearly someone was thinking the same thing as I was. If you're interested in a general fiction title that may be more than a tad uplifting and heartfelt, Plainsong is what you should read.

3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Trilogy #1) by Stieg Larsson 
Crime Thriller, 465 pages, but remains glued to your hand once you start reading.
I hate to say something is "un-put-downable" but with this book, that's the perfect way to describe it. I stayed up way too late at night to finish this, but still had to put it down once before I could finish it. This book is also extremely edgy (i.e. major adult content: sex and torture scenes) so don't pick it up if you can't stand that type of thing. I generally hate crime fiction and thrillers, but this book pulverizes the mold of the genres.

2. A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
Memoir, 190 pages
This is about a woman whose husband who has a traumatic brain injury and is sent to live at a specialized nursing home due to his memory loss and mood swings. I can't remember much about it, but I do recall it helped me rethink some of what I think about life. Not exactly Hallmark material, but decidedly heartfelt and compelling. If you're unsure about nonfiction books or memoirs, give this one a try- it's short and has staying power.

1. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors
Historical Fiction, 344 pages
Something about this book still appeals to me, despite having rated other historical fiction books higher. I suppose what makes it so recommendable is I learned a lot, I don't recall being bored reading it, and the subject matter itself. Learning some of the backstory behind the Taj Mahal makes it something I want to learn more about, despite never having interest in the subject before.

Which books do you recommend to people wanting to jump into a certain genre? What are the books you've read that have helped you out of a dreaded reading slump?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2)" by Gail Carriger

This review features a book that is the second in the Parasol Protectorate series, and has (inevitable) spoilers for those who have not read Soulless. My review of the first book can be found here.

Today I had planned on reviewing a non-series book, but it appears this month will be mostly series books as most of my backlog of read books are from a series. The Parasol Protectorate sucked me into its web of steampunkery, and I've only glanced at a couple other books since.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Alexia Maccon, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears; leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.
'But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. So even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.
'CHANGELESS is the second book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.'

In this book, we are treated to glimpses of Alexia's relationships with people other than her now-husband, Conall Maccon, due to his early disappearance in the book. Ivy (or as I refer to her- the female Mad Hatter) continues to shine as her eccentric best-friend-in-chief, despite their discrepancies in societal standing. There is also a new addition to the motley crew- Madame Lefoux, a woman who dresses every inch the gentleman, in spite of being obviously female. Lefoux also has a way with gadgetry, leading to a new addition in Alexia's outfits.

Did I mention I have an unfair bias to this series due to its parasols? In addition to collecting music boxes, handheld fans, and vintage clothing, I also have a taste for parasols of oriental flair:

So yes, I do have an undue bias to this series and its seriously amazing parasols. If only mine had secret buttons that emitted weaponry...

I must take a moment to discuss the ending, because I was a bit shocked and disappointed by it, despite having the next book on hand (I can barely imagine reading this series if the third book hadn't been published...). It brought out an unpleasant side to one of our motley band, and all I could think was Would x person really act that way?. Despite reading the next two books after it, I'm convinced that one of our characters was out of character simply to provide a dramatic ending. For that reason, despite this book's exceeding excellence, I marked it down to a 3.5 star rating.

Changeless is definitely a change in tone for the Parasol Protectorate series. Although Alexia had troubles previously, I had hoped this book would have a happier ending now that she was independent from her Cinderella-esque family members. If you've read Soulless, expect a different feel to this book of the Parasol Protectorate.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great sequel with a shocker of an ending.

Content: Ages 18+ for extreme dirigible stunts, werewolf nudity, and an out of character character.

Page Count: 388 pages

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels #3)" by Ilona Andrews

This review features a book that is the third in the Kate Daniels series, and may have minor spoilers for those who have not read Magic Bites and Magic Burns. My review of the first book can be found here.

The trouble with the Kate Daniels series is: once you devour the first two, the addictive drug laced in the pages forces you to read all the rest of them. I swear, even though I read these on my Kindle, that there is some sort of drugging going on (subliminal messaging? Alien mind melding? Incredibly snarky dialogue?). Each book gets incrementally better, until you are forced to stop because... the eighth book isn't quite published yet. Fiddlesticks.

Carrying on, this is the defining book of the Kate/Curran dynamic. If you were lukewarm about their dealings before, Magic Strikes will strike you like Eros's arrow. No joke. I've warned you. If you don't have enough money to pick up the next book (or the rest of the series) than don't read this one... just step away while you still can.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'When magic strikes and Atlanta goes to pieces, it’s a job for Kate Daniels…
'Drafted into working for the Order of Merciful Aid, mercenary Kate Daniels has more paranormal problems than she knows what to do with these days. And in Atlanta, where magic comes and goes like the tide, that’s saying a lot.
'But when Kate's werewolf friend Derek is discovered nearly dead, she must confront her greatest challenge yet. As her investigation leads her to the Midnight Games—an invitation only, no holds barred, ultimate preternatural fighting tournament—she and Curran, the Lord of the Beasts, uncover a dark plot that may forever alter the face of Atlanta's shapeshifting community…'

Other than being illicitly addicting, this book also takes a closer look at Kate's past, answering the burning question: how did she become so badass? The Midnight Games (think Gladiator with Russell Crowe) bring out some unusual flashbacks, as well as some interesting characters she hoped to avoid. And also, some fresh mythology I haven't seen used before (ever) in a book.

The Midnight Games also bring out plenty of subterfuge on the account of some of Kate's friends. I use the italics because it seems to suit me in this review, and also because who Kate thinks of as friend and foe gets a bit muddled in this book. In other words, I can't tell you more without spoiling, but I will leave you with my favorite bit of banter from the book:

'I sighed and put Slayer between the front seats. "Stay here. Guard the car."
'Saiman shut the door. "Is the sword sentient?"
'"No. But I like to pretend it is."'

    ~Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews, page 56 Kindle edition

Magic Strikes made me grin and immediately reach for the next in the series, or in my case, desperately swipe with my finger until I found it on my bloated Kindle Fire carousel. While certainly exceptional, it didn't quite breach the ultra exclusive five star rating, probably because I was left wanting more. I recommend Magic Strikes to anyone who has read the first two books in the series and is willing to read several more (or all the rest) of Kate Daniels's adventures.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for an honestly addictive third book in the series!

Content: Ages 18+ for hot tubs, vicious violence, and more choice cursing. Also, sexual content.

Page Count: 310 pages

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Snowflake and Spider Silk Sci-fi/Fantasy Bingo Challenge

In accordance with my goals for 2015, I've decided to join in on Kritika's Snowflake and Spider Silk Sci-fi and Fantasy Bingo Challenge!

Rules: (From the announcement at S&S)
1. One book can only count as one square, but feel free to shuffle which square you're using the book for as the year progresses
2. Although this card is geared towards SF/F, you can use other genres for squares like "debut author" or "reread a favorite"
3. Fill out the entire square if you're feeling motivated, or 5 in a row (across, vertically, or diagonally) for a more relaxed challenge. You are welcome to fill out as much or as little as you like!

My goal is to fill out approximately thirteen squares- I'd like to do the whole thing, but I'm not much for audiobooks. I can already see three I may have completed, but I plan on updating this card along with my Month in Review posts.

Anyway, that's it for today because I'm currently binge-reading the Parasol Protectorate series and cannot think of doing anything else (at the moment).

Until Thursday,

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Confessions: Looking Back at 2014 and My New Year's Resolutions For 2015

All These Things That I've Done- in 2014:

1. Started a book blog, for the second time. And I've kept at it devotedly since April 2014.

2. I wrote much more for my books/world, which was one of the reasons behind me starting the book blog. I've been told if you write daily, even if it isn't for your books/stories, you'll write more, and I have to say that's true for me. So far, I've filled out 1 and 3/4 of notebooks with different variations of my stories, all written in cursive, the dying art form.

3. Grew my own plants for my garden. Including 12 tomato plants and a whole variety of squash. I may have lost a few to the heat, but the tomato plants were more bountiful than my neighbor's store-bought tomato plants. So there.

4. Read 100+ books. In all honesty, I didn't put some of my books I read on my Goodreads account, because they were awful romances that didn't deserve me marking them even as read. But for the ones I did mark, I ended up with quite a few more 'read' than I originally intended. (I started my challenge last year with a goal of 50 books, upped it to 75, which eventually became 100).

5. Wove 2 scarves, knitted two dog sweaters, made bookish ornaments, made paw-print ornaments, and painted a holiday village church, but neglected my other holiday crafts. I still have an army of nutcrackers to paint, along with nesting dolls, a nativity scene, and another holiday house.
6. Started learning to code. I started to learn to code via code academy, but promptly was swamped with other things. But at least I tried, and know just enough to correct some basic things. It counts for something.
7. Revamped my blog design, too many times to count. It seems every time I'm happy with it, I see something that irks me, leading to another makeover. I'm very happy with this simple design, but the perfectionist in me always sees room for improvement.
8. Kept up with my book review requests, even when I over-clicked on NetGalley. For some reason it isn't hard for me to say no to a lot of books, mostly because I'm very good at knowing what is my kind of book. I have two reviews to write in 2015, but so far my record is mostly spotless.

Note: In addition to this post, I've done a year in review for 2014 for my blog, which will probably have more statistics blogwise, etc.

[Click here for a music video of "All These Things That I've Done" by the Killers on mobile devices]

Shaking It Out In 2015:

1. Comment 6 times during a week, and comment on new-to-me blogs more. I can probably manage 6 comments, even in the weeks I'm feeling especially antisocial.
2. Continue my posting schedule of four times weekly. Sometimes I struggle with this because I don't know what to say about a certain book, what to discuss during my Confessions, or Sunday Fun Five lists. In other words, sometimes I lack words, but I've managed it in 2014 so 2015 should be a snap.
3. Participate in more Challenges and Read-a-Thons. This should be easy, since I've only ever participated in one readathon and one challenge, both for 'Travel the World in Books'. I will just have to keep watching out for something to shake up my reading habits.
4. Update my social media and blog archives more frequently. I'm absolutely awful at this- I rarely, if ever, personalize and hashtag tweets for specific books (which often bring a lot of new people to my blog), I often forget to post to Pinterest (which is surprisingly effective for upping blog post views), and my archive goes untouched by me despite the fact I've written another fifteen book reviews. So yes, updating things more frequently is on my list of things to do in 2015.

1. Read 111 books in 2015. In 2014, I read 105 books, and wanted to read 111 (which I may have accomplished had I noted my read kindle freebies). This year I plan on accomplishing my reading goal, unless unforeseen circumstances arise.
2. Buy less books and ebooks. I have plenty of reading material to last me the next 2+ years. I really don't need to buy everything I want, nor do I have the funds to buy everything I want.
3. Read a more balanced diet. Some months I seem to read mostly one genre- I'd like to be more balanced in what I read, therefore reading several genres (that aren't just different varieties of fantasy) in a month.

1. Take the dogs out to play in the yard at least twice a week. This sounds silly, but sometimes all I want to do is play with them inside, even though we have a perfectly huge yard and both Keisha and Torrie are addicted to fetching tennis balls.
2. Take the dogs for a walk at least once a week. I used to walk Torrie every single day in Montana, regardless of any weather conditions. I also used to live right by a trail system/wildlife area, which was perfect for walking Torrie because I could avoid the idiots who let their dogs off leash, subsequently resulting in their dog biting/snapping at Torrie due to her "I was raised on a reservation, and therefore am a wild dog" vibe. Unfortunately, the areas I like to walk Torrie in here in Idaho have to be driven to, but I'm sure I can find a loose-dog-free stretch of area nearby that will suit our purposes.
3. Trim Torrie and Keisha's nails at least once a month. Dogs need their toenails kept clipped, and all the places I've looked in Idaho make you pay $10 per dog. I can't afford that, so I invested in a dog-nail-clipper, and therefore my resolution is to clip them at least once a month.
4. Stop accidentally hitting Keisha in the head when throwing the tennis ball. I swear every time we go outside, I end up bouncing the ball off of Keisha's little noggin, despite Torrie's skull being a much larger target. This also happens when my mother throws the ball, so I either need to invest in a tiny Dorkie-sized helmet, or we both need to work on our eye-hand coordination.

My seedlings of 2014
1. Try to raise all my own gardening plants. Last year, I raised almost all the plants that ended up in our garden, but I lost a few to the summer heat. This year I'll try to be more vigilant and water more, in addition to planting/raising my own flowering annuals.
2. Craft less, draw more. This year I overloaded on crafts, to the point that I couldn't do nearly as many as I thought I could this holiday season. I don't think I've drawn all year, except for my imaginary covers of Summer Knight and Doors of Stone. I should balance my creative wiles this year and draw (and maybe paint) more.
3. Try new homemade foods/spices. I have a pretty restricted diet due to my infernal stomach problems, and trying new foods is not an easy thing. The only vegetables my stomach can 'stomach' are carrots and yams, but I hope to broaden my palate by introducing a few new veggies- maybe even homegrown if I can manage. I also cannot have spices with any type of pepper (not black pepper- red, yellow, green, etc.) besides paprika, so expanding my spice horizon is also on my list of things to try.
4. Don't overcommit on tv shows. There are quite a few tv shows I used to watch that I quit watching this year, mostly because their plots had become so inane or shock-jock-like that I couldn't see continuing with them. That said, I have a tendency of giving many pilot tv series too much leeway and watching them, even if I'm reading blog posts/playing sudoku half the time they're on. This year, if it sucks, I'm not watching it. I have better things to do, like read.
5. Stress LESS. For some reason, despite my lack of commitments and debts to society, I am always stressed out by something. Be it a snide article I read online, seeing my friends doing something I'm not physically able (yet) to accomplish, or a vexing doctor who seems to be part robot, there will always be something bothering me any given month. For that reason, my official song of 2015 will again be "Shake It Out" by the wonderful Florence and the Machine (not to be confused with Swift's Shake It Off, which kind of sounds the same but was produced later). My favorite lyric: "And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off."

[Click here for "Shake It Out" music video on mobile devices]

Did you accomplish something you hadn't expected to in 2014? Have you chosen any goals for 2015?

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