Friday, July 31, 2015

"Once Burned (Night Prince #1)" by Jeaniene Frost

Vlad the Impaler is... too sexy for his shirt.

*Sorry, not sorry*

I readily admit when I first dipped my toes into Jeaniene Frost's work, I was expecting a bit more than I got from Halfway to the Grave. Yes, it was fast-paced, the romance was steamy, and although I was lukewarm about that hero who everyone loves, Bones, I did love Cat. There was something missing. I didn't know what it was, but I think I found it in the spin-off series, the Night Prince.

Speaking of Vlad's shirt, it's weird he's on the cover without it. Most of the book is about Leila trying to keep the dang thing on, or Vlad keeping it on expressly to annoy her. The shirt should be on with this particular cover, but since I'm not your average paranormal romance reader (half of the genre I loathe or am lukewarm about), I suppose my two cents don't really count. Other than that, I feel the cover is a decent likeness of Vlad, who I met before in one of the Night Huntress books (a series which I haven't yet finished). Although it was somewhat beneficial to me to have 'met' him before, I don't believe you have to read the Night Huntress series beforehand, unless you hate spoilers for that series and actually plan on reading it.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'She's a mortal with dark powers...
'After a tragic accident scarred her body and destroyed her dreams, Leila never imagined that the worst was still to come: terrifying powers that let her channel electricity and learn a person's darkest secrets through a single touch. Leila is doomed to a life of solitude...until creatures of the night kidnap her, forcing her to reach out with a telepathic distress call to the world's most infamous vampire...
'He's the Prince of Night...
'Vlad Tepesh inspired the greatest vampire legend of all—but whatever you do, don't call him Dracula. Vlad's ability to control fire makes him one of the most feared vampires in existence, but his enemies have found a new weapon against him—a beautiful mortal with powers to match his own. When Vlad and Leila meet, however, passion ignites between them, threatening to consume them both. It will take everything that they are to stop an enemy intent on bringing them down in flames.'

In this book, I wasn't 100% on Vlad's side. I'm notoriously picky about alpha males, having grown up with a control freak male figure in my life who could be compared with both certain dictators and beloved romance heroes, and Vlad was everything you'd anticipate in a medieval male. This greatly concerned me, but I have to admit, his savagery is what later makes me appreciate his character. I'd loathe it if an author took a beloved historical figure like Vlad Tepesh and make him into some sort of wheatgrass-guzzling, well-adjusted modern male with a degree in political correctness.

The character who made me stand up and cheer was obviously Leila. It's pretty obvious why- she grew up different, having to keep other people at arm's length (or actually longer) due to her powers. As a teen, I struggled with doing the same thing because of my incessant medical issues, which made being social a bit of a choreographed dance. With Vlad, none of her objections to being close with a person apply, leading to a bout of instalust. But really, who would pass up the only person in the world who can stand your touch? Leila does her best to.

I warmed to Once Burned much more quickly than I have to any of Jeaniene Frost's previous works. I hadn't expected that, despite snapping up all of the series as a Kindle Daily Deal, but some part of me wanted to fall in love with some of her work just to hang out with the cool kids (hi there, cool kids!). If you liked the Night Huntress series, I can't imagine this being a disappointing read for you, but I also recommend this if you're obsessed with Dracula. This from someone who knows.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great start to a series I've enjoyed immensely so far!

Content: Ages 18+ for the expected violence/vileness (he's Vlad the Impaler), and the obvious paranormal romance scenes.

Page Count: 346 pages

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Dog Days are... Postponed!

If you hadn't noticed I was doing a "Dog Days of Summer" feature on my blog, well, that's okay, because my procrastinator brain hadn't either and was unwilling to dent my vacation time with blog things like rereading dog books and reviewing them. Anyway, I hadn't anticipated the last two weeks of July being as busy in my real life as I went camping, and now I'm off to see my dear grandma and celebrate her 89th birthday by baking a cake (celebrations aren't worth having without dessert). So expect to have more Dog Days come August, and not many more posts (if any) to round out July and early August.

You may also be seeing another Montana Book Roundup post soon, as I'm headed that way and willpower against buying books is also not a strength of my poor brain.

New Release Review: "The Conquering Dark (Crown & Key #3)" by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

Disclaimer: I was given a free advanced e-copy of this book from Del Rey Spectra via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My opinion remains as forthright as ever.

*There may be spoilers within for The Shadow Revolution and The Undying Legion. If you haven't read those books and hate spoilers, keep on scrolling (past this review).*

Our unlikely band of characters hit a major snag in their quest to abolish magical/god-like atrocities in the previous books: their fearless leader, Simon Archer, lost his magic, and with it their strongest chance at success against their most fearsome enemy to date. So it's safe to say I expected a lot to be crammed into this book plotwise.

What I hadn't anticipated was the continuing sense of unity between the characters. Sure, they have endured many trials together, but I had expected a greater level of friction between them, especially with the coming struggles. I also was anticipating a character's return, but I guess I'll have to wait for another book (I'm guessing there'll be more with my fingers crossed) before that mystery will be solved.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain.
'To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.
'But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.'

It's difficult to discuss the plot without spoiling it, so since this is such a character-driven series anyway, I'll stick with discussing their dynamics and other such goodness. Malcolm has stepped up to the plate as the resident grizzle bear, protecting the young ladies in particular, even though sometimes I think Imogen and Charlotte are more there for his protection. Imogen also goes through a transformation in this book, her personality slowly bleeding past the veil she wears to hide her otherness.

Although this book has Malcolm on the cover, I can't help but feel like Kate is getting a lot of the spotlight (which is more than okay with me). Not only has her house become the Crown and Key 'bat cave', she insists they stick together in this alternate steampunk variation of England, even when it might be easier to disperse and forget about the heroics.

The Conquering Dark is as dark as its title and cover might suggest. Although there are twisted-version-of-a-Hallmark-card vignettes littered throughout the book, leading you to think it might end on a high note, this book doesn't leave you skipping under rainbows while frolicking with hedgehogs in the end, unless you've taken way too many antidepressants. Personally, I prefer my fantasies flavored liberally with reality, but to some this may be a little dark. In any case, if you're looking for your next character-driven steampunk series binge, I recommend Crown & Key, if you hadn't already noticed that from my last two '4 Stars' reviews of the series books.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a dark, but excellently executed addition to the Crown & Key series!

Content: Ages 16+ for violence, mild sexual content, and ungodly powers.

Page Count: 352 pages

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gone Camping: Moose, Mesa Falls, Dog Antics, and Lots of Rain

Instead of the usual Not Quite a Confession, this week I'll be regaling you all with my vacation photos and captions, as I was gone much of this past week and I'm feeling like a Lazy Vacationer again.

We took That 80's Motorhome for her refurbished 'maiden voyage'. Although I was feeling especially crappy due to torrents of rain falling during our stay at the campground, I did manage to take some neat pictures of moose out for a stroll about twenty feet from our motorhome window. Most of the pictures were crappy, due to the fact it was raining when the mama moose and her calf were booking it toward the hills, but one did turn out pretty well considering:

This one was through our back window, which had no tree coverage, hence the rain effect:

Torrie and Keisha also enjoyed the respite from their pesky little brother's presence- Keisha mostly celebrating by dragging her rope around whatever she could find:

This one proves Torrie deserves one of those dumb "I'm with Stupid --->" tshirts:

Torrie likes showing off her brains... by not wrapping herself around a tree.
They also showed great appreciation when I swaddled them in their oversized Christmas sweaters in the cold mornings:

We also took a trip to see Mesa Falls, the Upper of which was much more impressive than the lower:

See the rainbow?

Camping Tips (From the Soul Who Has Camped A LOT):

1. No selfie-ing or approaching wild animals for pictures. A fellow camper almost approached the moose and her calf, which would have likely been the death of him. If you want to selfie with a wild animal, go to the zoo. Life's not a Disney movie, people.

2. Never forget your basics: matches, food (make sure to have ready-made food, as sometimes it's too rainy out to cook), sleeping bag, bug spray, sunscreen (especially if you're as bone white as I am), and always read the weather report before you set your camping date. Also, reservations are sadly a must anymore for camping- unless you don't plan on using an actual campsite. In that case, you'll need more advanced tips than I can readily sum up here.

3. If you come upon a moose while walking, get some trees between you and the animal and walk slowly away. I can't tell you how many times my brother (or my friend) and I would come across moose while camping, but of course all the camping I've ever done has been very near or in Montana. If you plan on hiking in bear-frequented areas, get some bear spray and wear noise-makers (bells, chains, etc.) on your person.

4. Put out your campfires if you don't plan on watching them. Smokey Bear will come for your soul otherwise. And Smokey Bear gives no bear hugs to wildfire starters.

5. Your kids and dogs must be supervised at all times- even the savvy, camp-friendly kids can make a fatal mistake. Dogs must be leashed at all times while camping (unless in a trailer/car), and always remember to pick up after your dog. The wilderness/campground is not a dog park. If you plan on bringing dogs, bring long leashes so they can be tethered- and don't tether them near the campfire.

6. If you don't know the area or have any questions, ask the camp host. If the camp host is unavailable, go to the nearest gas station/cafe/bar and ask questions- after buying something, of course.

Bookish Bits

Although I was pretty much out of commission during our camping adventure, I did manage to read the rest of the available Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost, which I enjoyed much more than the series she spun it off of, the Night Huntress series. I've been neglecting my readalong and review books, but I did manage to color most of one bug in my shiny, new Animal Kingdom adult coloring book. Yeah, perfectionism does have its drawbacks...

                          Until (hopefully) Tuesday,

Saturday, July 25, 2015

O.o.O.C.: "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein

Out of Orbit Critiques are the reviews on books outside my usual genres. In The Art of Racing in the Rain's case, it is a contemporary novel written from the first person perspective of a dog.

I'm usually loath to read anything contemporary, unless it happens to be nonfiction and has an outside the box plot, but because this book had a dog on the cover, I was convinced to pick it up some time ago. I wasn't disappointed with it at all, despite having general bad luck with 'dog on the cover' books.

Enzo, the dog who narrates the book, is the very soul of honesty, and has no clue at times how blunt he sounds, which is all part of the magic of this book. As a dog owner, I often wonder what in the world goes on in my canine companions' brains, and I think Mr. Stein really nailed it as far as male dogs go. Female dogs, however... I think they're a bit more mysterious in nature.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.
'Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through.
'A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human only a dog could tell it.'

It occurred to me while rereading this book that dogs make the perfect protagonist. Most of their weaknesses and faults will be forgiven, because they can't really be held to the human standard of behavior. Dogs also aren't fond of waxing poetic, so you don't have to use all those flowery words much of the time- although Enzo's observations can be intensely philosophical at times. Also, people aren't afraid to whisper their darkest secrets in front of a dog, because they can't tell... or can they?

The most unique element of this book (other than Enzo's narration) is the inclusion of car racing. I have to admit, I'm not a fan of racing, but I nonetheless enjoyed reading about it through Enzo's eyes. I can't say I've ever read a book with car racing included in it, so I actually learned a little about the subject while reading.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a sentimental, feel good book that makes you wonder what kind of narrators your own dogs would be. The story really isn't about Enzo, but rather his family, and despite my aversion to contemporary I was more than pleasantly surprised. If you're a dog lover who doesn't mind contemporary narratives, I recommend The Art of Racing in the Rain for your next read.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a funny, but heartfelt novel as told through the eyes of a dog.

Content: Ages 18+ for cursing and sexual references/content.

Page Count: 319 pages in my paperback edition.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

SFF: The 5 Animal Companions You'd Like to Read More About

The Sunday Fun Five #32

Sunday Fun 5:
#28: The 5 Excuses for Not Reading That Just Don't Cut It Anymore
#29: The 5 Summer Vacations You Can Take Through Reading
#30: The 5 Authors You Just Can't Read Enough Of
#31: The 5 Oldest Books You've Read
#32: The 5 Animal Companions You'd Like to Read More About
For the 2nd of August: #33: The 5 Struggles of a Fantasy-Centric Reader

A Countdown of

The 5 Animal Companions You'd Like to Read More About

5. Arrow the semi-feral dog of Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman
There's something about feral animals that I find intriguing, even though sometimes they're much to violent for modern life. That would apply to Arrow, who is kept kenneled when he isn't working as an air dog. I would love to read more about him (and possibly Julian), even though this book is an older standalone.

4. Purza the Barquecat of The Rowan (The Tower and the Hive #1) by Anne McCaffrey
I had a feral kitten named Pursy (tamable only when fed junk food like Cheetos) when I was a child, which may explain my attachment to the futuristic barquecat named Purza. But still, I'd like to hear more of Purza and Rowan's story, even though the author has since passed away and no more of the Rowan's story will likely be told, as the author skipped to the next generation in the sequel to this book.

3. Any of the Animals Featured in Robin McKinley's Books (The Hero and the Crown, Deerskin)
I was trying to narrow it down to one animal in particular I admired, but then I realized I'd pretty much like to see more of all her animal portrayals. From Talat the three legged horse, to Ash the dog, to any of her various other critters (that seem to pack The Hero and the Crown to the brim).

Found on Pinterest
2. The Direwolves of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
Since I now have a dog who is the very personification of a miniature direwolf (Torrie), I admit I fell hard for the direwolves of ASoIaF. Not only are they brave and (at times) vicious, they also show steadfast loyalty to their owners.

Immortalized in wax with his owner at the James Herriot Museum (it exists???)
1. Tricki Woo the Pekingese of All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
There's something about obese lapdogs that makes them so lovable. In Tricki Woo's case, Mr. Herriot's writing helped bring him to life so the rest of us might know about him, even though Mr. Herriot and Tricki Woo have long since passed. Perhaps I'll have to read some Tricki Woo fanfiction.

Which animal companions leave you wanting to read more about them, even when the book is over? 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

O.o.O.C.: "A Three Dog Life" by Abigail Thomas

Out of Orbit Critiques are the reviews on books outside my usual genres. In A Three Dog Life's case, this is a memoir on dealing with a significant other's traumatic brain injury and the comforts of dog ownership.

It isn't very often that you come across a short memoir that has more impact than the last few books you've read combined. That would be how I'd describe my initial thoughts on reading this book way back when I first read it, however many years ago that was. Naturally, I selected it because of the dogs in the title, but this isn't a book built for animal lovers only- it's more written for human beings, especially those who have had a loved one lose memories and/or their grasp on reality.

This memoir isn't told in the traditional sequential manner of most books, but I never found myself lost or bored with the current segment of reading, nor did I find it choppy, despite it having a series of stories within the overall story. Much of the chapters have a subject the author sticks to, and her observations are often spot-on for the subject. In particular, her chapter on Guilt struck home with me- who in the world doesn't feel guilty for one reason or another at sometime in their life, and then has difficulty letting go of it?

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'When Abigail Thomas’s husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations, he must live the rest of his life in an institu­tion. He has no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and great change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lives in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. This wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail discovered in the five years since the acci­dent: You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it.'

I'm unsure if I read this prior to my grandpa's fall, but I greatly related to Abigail's observations of her husband in that respect. My grandpa fell in his bathroom roughly a year prior to his passing, during the time my mom and I lived with my grandparents. He was sent to a rehabilitation center since his balance was wavery at best, but he never improved enough to come home until it was clear he was on his way up (heaven-bound). Half the time he was sharp as a tack, but the other half he grew confused about where he was. In Abigail's case, her husband seemed to have much fewer moments of clarity due to the severity of his injuries.

The three dogs you meet in the book: Harry, Rosie, and Carolina, are Abigail's main support system in this memoir. Having a now a crowd (three) of animals, I can relate to depending on their presence and the sense of regularity that comes with owning pets. Abigail never really feels alone despite actually living by herself, something that helped her endure her separation from her husband.

The quote that sums the book up:

Simple tasks were uphill sledding.

        ~A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, page 113

A Three Dog Life takes you through the everyday struggles and sentiments of a woman struggling to live with a husband whose memories are often robbed from him- but it covers much more ground than that. Part memoir, part self-help (in the oddest way), and part storytelling, the author takes you through her husband's ordeal and the way she dealt with it's aftermath. I recommend this to anyone interested in stories of memory loss as seen from the caretaker's perspective, as well as people who enjoy well thought out memoirs.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent book that lingers with you long after you've put it down.

Content: Ages 16+ simply for interest reasons. Really not much objectionable content to speak of, other than a slightly graphic description of her husband's accident.

Page Count: 182 pages in my paperback edition

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy #1)" by Ilona Andrews

So, the first agenda in this book review is to cover that awful cover. Ignore it. As I imagine the characters, they look nothing like that. Nevada is supposed to have skin as dark as Rogan, and she never once wears a 'Gone With the Wind' rejected dress/top, and I don't recall reading Rogan as 'shirtless with dog tags'. Nevada would also never pose like that with Rogan, since he kidnapped her- and not in the fun 'I'll let you go after I torture you with a feather' way.

Now that we've moved on from that subject (and mourned the loss of the original cover), it's onto my first impressions. This is a much easier book to crack into than Magic Bites, which had uneven pacing. I was in a headache-induced slump when I picked this up, hoping it would prove as entertaining as my beloved Kate Daniels series, and it was. We have a larger cast of characters in this book, in addition to a mechanic grandma who fixes up tanks for private security firms. Yep, you read that right.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.
'Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.
'Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.'

As always, a good urban fantasy cannot be good without a decent amount of worldbuilding. In Burn for Me's case, we have a world that's similar to ours, but changed as a byproduct of magical inheritance. People in power marry other people with magical genes so they might stay in power, since the serum that gave them the magic has been destroyed.

The characters, as I may have eluded to previously, were of Ilona Andrews' usual caliber. In other words, they were pretty much perfectly personified. In 'Mad' Rogan's case, it worked against him, because he was so brash and stupid with how he went about things, but I believe in later books I may warm more to his character. Nevada and her family were my favorites, winning me over whenever I began to grow a little too creeped out by Rogan.

Burn for Me isn't what I'd thought it would be- which is a good thing. While the cover suggests an excess of paranormal romance, in reality, it's much less than other books people deem Urban Fantasy like Halfway to the Grave. I recommend Burn for Me to Ilona Andrews fans (no duh), urban fantasy aficionados, and those who like urban fantasies with superhero-like characters.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent start to a new Ilona Andrews series!

Content: Ages 18+ for kidnapping, monstrous magic, some sexual elements, and some swearing.

Page Count: 400 pages

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Best Books of My Year (So Far)

Since I did this post on July 15th last year, I figured I'd continue the tradition and roll out this post now. I excluded the 'worst' books this year because I had no one star books (can I get a yay?)- and if you're very curious about books I was lukewarm about, you can just check my month-in-review posts under Reading Stats.
Note: Not all of the books on this list were published this year. This list is based on the books I've read (so far) in 2015.

Total Books I've Read (So Far) in 2015: 50 Books
My Goal: 107 Books, if I'm feeling up to it.

The Best of Fantasy

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I have no idea why I waited so long to read this one, especially since I loved the movie version, but it's safe to say I loved it just as much. This fantasy book has everything from pirates, princesses, satire, giants... and of course, my favorite part, the revenge.

Honorable Mentions (Fantasy)

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Rating: 4 Stars
I watched the movie version of this book first as well, and expected no surprises. The ending was completely different from the movie, throwing me for a loop. I generally think Mr. Gaiman's work is overhyped, but this one was pretty excellent.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard #1) by Scott Lynch
Rating: 4 Stars
I acquired my very own Gentleman Bastard just prior to reading this book, making it a bit more 'true-to-life' for me. Essentially, this is a book about orphan thieves who are conning their way into the big leagues in a fantasy world. I'm currently reading the second book with help/motivation from Kritika's readalong at Snowflakes and Spider silk, and I'm loving it so far.

The Best of Historical Fiction

Billy by Albert French
Rating: 5 Stars
I had no idea I had such a gem lurking in the depths of my pile. I began reading African-American fiction that had been backlogged in my pile for February, and chose this one due to its short length. It might be short, but it's pretty close to perfection in my opinion- it has the only 5 Star rating I've given in 2015.

Honorable Mention (Historical Fiction)

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran
Rating: 4 Stars
I doubt I'll be forgetting the story of Rani Lakshmibai and her Durga Dal (female guards) anytime soon. I haven't read very many books set in India, making this perfect for my Travel the World in Books Challenge.

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Rating: 4 Stars
Although I had this book's plot down from pretty much the beginning, it was nonetheless diverting. What I loved most about it were the descriptions of Paris, the fact that much of it was set in Paris, and the characters themselves.

The Best of Sci-fi

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Rating: 4 Stars
I don't know what I was expecting this book would be like when I picked it up, but it definitely wasn't a book of outrageously accurate scientific advances. Although the story wasn't particularly enthralling, what keeps you engaged is the writing and ideas that seem much too advanced to be written about in the 1930s.

Anthem by Ayn Rand
Rating: 4 Stars
In the same vein as Brave New World, Anthem imagines a society where the only evil is the individual. For a novella it is chock-full of ideas and plot, which makes reading it that much faster.

The Best of Steampunk

Unseemly Science (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2) by Rod Duncan
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I was surprised to find that, despite a slower start, I enjoyed this just as much as its previous installment. Although it was a bit chillier in feeling, it only made me fall more in love Elizabeth and her double life. I can't wait until the third book comes out!

Honorable Mention (Steampunk)

The Shadow Revolution and The Undying Legion (Crown & Key #1-2) by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
Rating: 4 Stars Each
The Crown & Key series is enthralling due to its magic system and immersive environment. If you like macabre elements in Urban Fantasy or Steampunk, you'd be missing out if you didn't at least try reading the first book.

The Parasol Protectorate Series by Gail Carriger
Rating: 4 Stars for 4 of them, 3.5 for Changeless
My year started off with a reading boost thanks to these fun and addictive steampunk books. What sets this series apart is that the characters are really what drive it, along with their respective relationships. It also has a strong paranormal romance element.

The Best of Urban Fantasy

Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop
Rating: 4.5 Stars
What more could I ask of an urban fantasy than Wolf puppies and a strong (but at the same time, very human) main heroine? Despite its slightly threatening cover, I found Written in Red so funny I began to get odd looks in the waiting room of my doctor's office.

Vicious by V.E. Scwab
Rating: 4.5 Stars
While not technically urban fantasy (kind of superhero fantasy), Vicious reminds one of it due to dark and light elements balanced perfectly (for me) and memorable characters. The only problem? Vicious is a standalone (that has a prequel, but still...). I'll be looking for more of V.E. and/or Victoria Scwab's books in the future.

The Best of Magical Realism

Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Despite it's contemporary setting, I found Turtle Moon to be one of my new favorite Alice Hoffman titles. There are a multitude of quotes, characters, and settings I loved, making this a worthy addition to my 2015 favorites collection.

Honorable Mention (Magical Realism)

Peony in Love by Lisa See
Rating: 4 Stars
This is half historical fiction, half magical realism, and entirely worth your time if you have a love of both genres. Set in 17th century China, Peony in Love tells the story of Peony, who falls in love with a man she meets when her father brings a production of Peony's Pavilion to their estate.

The Best of Romantic Fantasy

Song of Blood & Stone (Earthsinger Chronicles #1) by L. Penelope
Rating: 4 Stars
Anymore, I rarely expect a book to live up to its cover, but this one did for me. Song of Blood and Stone follows Jasminda, a lone magic user who helps a stranger, only to be dragged into his life.

The Best of Historical Romance

The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister #2) by Courtney Milan
Rating: 4 Stars
Probably the first historical romance I've read in which I loved the secondary romance much more than the first. What stood out to me was the fact that the author included a character with a chronic illness, which is really NOT done in your run-of-the-mill historical romance. However, with Courtney Milan, it's safe to expect a lot more from your historical romance than just a love story.

A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin (The Debutante Files #1) by Sophie Jordan
Rating: 4 Stars
I don't usually like stepbrother romances- they're too weird, but in this case it worked, even with the regency setting. I was also surprised how much I grew to know the characters and love them, whereas most books I really couldn't care less about them.

The Best of Paranormal Romance

The Secret (Irin Chronicles #3) by Elizabeth Hunter
Rating: 4.5 Stars
One of the more sad books for me to read because of this being the final Eva and Malachi book in the Irin Chronicles, The Secret reveals most (but not all) of the things we've been burning to know all series long. Nonetheless, I look forward to the next in the series, and hope I love the next 'couple' just as much as these two.

My Favorite Out-of-Orbit Books:

The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman
Rating: 4 Stars
Probably the hardest book for me to read this year. Holocaust memoirs are always difficult, but this one has an interesting twist to the usual story you hear.

The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Constantine Croke
Rating: 4 Stars
Not just a book about pandas (despite my love of their adorableness), The Lady and the Panda takes you back in time to the China that once was. It also provides a strong, yet immensely human heroine to cheer on in her quest to find the pandas, and then watch as her thoughts on the matter gradually change. If you ever wonder about how zoos and zoo animals were originally formed, this is a great book to read up on the subject.

What are your favorite books that you've read so far this year? What makes them stand out from the rest of the books you've read?

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