May Litcube Review

I’ve been really enjoying seeing all of these awesome nerdy book subscription boxes crop up over the last year or so. As much as I’d love to, I can’t afford to subscribe to ALL of them, so I’ve been dabbling. LitCube first came to my attention due to a stream of very excited Instagram posts about their one-time Gilmore Girls box (which has since been spun-off into a monthly Stars Hollow box!).

LitCube “strive[s] to pair hand-picked books with high quality literary themed products to bring you a magical reading experience each and every month.” Each themed box contains something readable, wearable, and snackable, plus a few additional goodies, and runs $34.95 a month with free shipping in the US. Unlike a lot of other book subscription boxes, LitCube does not feature exclusively YA titles, sending books from a wide variety of genres.

The box itself is super bright, which definitely set it apart from other boxes I’ve seen.

 

Once again, I proved that I cannot be trusted not to ruin a surprise and checked the #litcube tag to sneak a look at what was in the box.

Sidebar: Yes, I was the kid who peeled back the edges of the wrapping paper on gifts to try to see what was under the paper.

And now…here’s what was inside the May Alice in Wonderland LitCube!

What was inside:

    • A LitCube limited edition paperback copy of Alice Takes Back Wonderland by David D. Hammons—retail $19
    • An exclusive Wonderland-themed tee that says “You’re entirely bonkers, but I’ll tell you a secret: the best people are”—retail $20
    • A darling “Eat Me” cookie, baked with love by Sweets By Steph!—retail $3
    • A custom Alice in Wonderland makeup bag—retail $13
    • Through the Looking Glass compact mirror—retail $9 
    • Mad Hatter and Alice art prints and bookmark (not pictured) by Star in my Pocket—retail $13 and $3

Total value of items in box: $80

Final thoughts: I didn’t love it.To be honest, the items included in this box just aren’t my taste. Plus, I’m not a huge Alice in Wonderland fan (though I do love the Cheshire Cat), so this box was fighting an uphill battle with me.

The pros: It’s clear that this box, just like every other box I’ve tried, is lovingly put together by someone/people (I don’t actually know who’s behind LitCube) who love(s) books and reading and fandoms.

The cons: This is the most expensive box I’ve ordered, though as it does include shipping for me, the price pretty much evens out. That being said, I wouldn’t pay the listed price for any of the items in the box, so to me, it wasn’t that great of a deal.

My favorite item in the box for sure was the cookie; naturally, I ate it immediately after shooting these pictures. The book isn’t something I would have normally picked up, which is usually the case with these boxes—the ladies behind the boxes know how to push me out of my reading comfort zone!

I’m signed up for one more month, and so I’m hoping I’ll like the June “Roaring 20s Mystery” theme better. Order here now!

A Feast for Crows

A book and its prequel (Part 1): A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

Why I picked it: After a misstart in 2012, I began slogging through Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series last spring at the same time I binged all four available seasons of Game of Thrones.

Sidebar: Yes, I was very late to the party on both counts.

I wrapped up the third book, A Storm of Swords, right around Christmas last year, and decided to embark on book four almost immediately afterwards instead of giving myself of break (SoS was THAT good).

Blurb in brief: “After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it’s not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes…and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.”

What I thought: This book took me three months to get through. THREE MONTHS. I am a fast reader. Despite Storm of Sword‘s length, I managed to finish it in two and a half weeks; I could hardly put it down.I had heard from many Feast for Crows was the least enjoyable book of the series, so perhaps my struggle to plow through TEN chapters of Book!Cersei’s poorly-thought out plotting.

Sidebar: All credit to Lena Hedley for her nuanced portrayal of Cersei on the show. She may still be a bitch, but she’s a bitch with whom I can sympathize at least.

I’ve read that GRRM intended to include a time jump between the action in ASoS and when AFfC was due to pickup, but realized that while that gap would work well for characters like Ayra and Bran, it would be less useful for other important characters like Jon Snow and those in King’s Landing because the readers couldn’t be expected to believe that nothing happened in that interim (and writing that many flashbacks was unproductive).

Then of course, he decided to break up his monster manuscript geographically instead of chronologically, which is an interesting choice, but resulted in my being separated from most of my favorite characters who found themselves outside of Westeros proper at the end of book three.

Sidebar: Tyrion! Oh, how I missed Tyrion.

So what we got was filler. A LOT of filler. Most of which I couldn’t be bothered to care much about. The Greyjoy succession plot? Meh. Pretty much everything that happens in Dorne? Bleh. I think part of the problem is that none of the POV characters in this book is particularly witty. A Song of Ice and Fire is a dense story, with a lot of violence and gore, which is why I think characters like Tyrion, Bronn, and the Queen of Thorns are fan favorites (anyone else adore Lady Olenna? She’s basically a hybrid of Lady Violet from Downton Abbey and nearly every character Judi Dench has played, which is to say: perfection)—you need a bit of sass (sometimes a LOT of sass) to balance out all of the depressing deaths and humorless characters.

GRRM’s world building does continue to be incredible. To not only create a whole mythology/history but also keep it straight in your heard when writing thousands upon thousands of pages—it boggles my mind.

So long story short: if you’re making your way through the whole of A Song of Ice and Fire, you’ve got to read this book. Perhaps you’ll find it less of a chore than I did (though if you get really annoyed you can try this reviewer’s method for cutting out the boring bits).

My ratings: 3/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.07/5 

May Bookish Box Review

 

 

I’ve been eyeing Appraising Page’s Book(ish) Box for awhile. However, when I saw their May theme was Harry Potter, I was desperate to get on the list. Some lucky timing and too much time spent on Instagram allowed me to snag one of Justine’s extra subscriptions—and I’m so glad I did!

The Book(ish) Box brands itself as a “monthly subscription box for stylish bookworms.” Each themed box contains a t-shirt from Appraising Pages and 4-5 additional literary-inspired items and runs $29.99 a month, plus shipping. This subscription box does not include a book.

I’m a sucker for pretty packaging, and the Book(ish) Box does not disappoint. Even the box itself is gorgeous.

Sidebar: I’m sad I didn’t get a shot of the sides of the box, which have the theme and a really pretty watercolor of the Deathly Hallows symbol printed on them. It’s dark now, but I’ll try and get some shots of it to add here later.

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Getting closer to the magical goodies within…

 

I was bad and checked the #bookishbox tag on Instagram to get a peek at this month’s box early (I’m also the person who looks up the menu online so I can pick out what I want to eat before I even get to the restaurant); I was drooling over the Hogwarts Coffee tumbler and consequently was checking the tracking info every few hours so I’d know exactly when my box arrived!

Now without further ado…the contents of the May Harry Potter-themed Bookish Box!

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I had to stand on a step stool to fit all the awesome in one frame.

What was inside:

  • A watercolor “Expecto Patronum” print from Lexy Olivia—retail $12
  • A bubble pendant necklace from Rich Love Shoppe that says “The stories we love best live in us forever”—retail $17
  • The aforementioned, much anticipated Hogwarts Coffee tumbler from Knot Knirvana—retail $15
  • A sample package of Butterbeer-scented bath salts from Cherry Pit Crafts that made the entire box smell like creamy, butterscotch goodness—retail approximately $2
  • An Appraising Pages t-shirt with one of my favorite Dumbledore quotes: “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic”—retail $15

Note: You have the option to upgrade your shirt to a different style. I chose the regular women’s fit option, though I did size up and get an XL since I had a feeling the fabric would shrink a bit, and I prefer to wear my shirts on the looser side.

Total value of items in box: $61

Final thoughts: A+, 5 stars, 10/10 would recommend. When you add everything up, it’s plain to see this box is a great value. I was a little disappointed that my tumbler had some scratches on it, but other than that, all items arrived in mint condition.

You can tell Justine puts a lot of thought and care into choosing each item, and everything was wrapped and boxed beautifully. The fabric of the District Made brand shirt is SUPER soft and the screen-printed (not vinyl!) graphic is darling and should wash and wear well. Other than the tumbler, most of the items in the box things I would probably would not have bought on their own but are definitely things I will use and enjoy!

Sidebar: If I’m being honest, and I think I should be, I’ve already used all the bath salts. My skin smells delicious, and I anticipate visions of pumpkin pasties dancing in my head tonight!

Next month’s theme is Classic Reads, so I’m crossing my fingers for some Pride and Prejudice-inspired items. Order here now!

At the Water’s Edge

The first book you see in a bookstore: At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Why I picked it: I kept seeing this on my Audible feed over the past few months, so I decided it was time to finally download it after I finished binge-listening to the entire Winner’s trilogy. This audiobook is also narrated by Justine Eyre, who continues to amaze me with her ability to do accents. I LOVED Water for Elephants but hadn’t read any of Gruen’s other books, so all in all, this seemed like a good pick.

Blurb in brief: “After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind.

To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war.

Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants.”

What I thought: Ultimately, this book was somewhat of a disappointment. The basic plot is very similar to a less tightly-plotted, gender-flipped Water for Elephants, with Maddie subbing in for Jacob’s fish-out-of-water character who runs away to the Scottish highlands rather than to the circus. Maddie’s agency is somewhat diminished as she is dragged across the Atlantic on the whims of her husband, Ellis, and their friend, Hank, rather than choosing to strike out of her own accord.

Sidebar: Ellis is absolutely the worst. THE WORST.

The alleged reason for their trip is to find the Loch Ness Monster, an endeavor in which Ellis’ estranged father failed. I was never clear on if he was hoping to win his father’s favor back by vindicating his claims or if the caper was meant as a kind of eff-you to his dad. Ellis and Hank’s motives (and relationship) remain a bit murky throughout the book.

Despite the fact that Maddie is an adult, this really is a kind of coming of age story as she grapples with the truths about her place in her family, her marriage, and society.

“It was full of luxurious trappings and shiny baubles, and that had blinded me to the fact that nothing about it was real.”

Gruen writes beautifully, and her writing in this book doesn’t disappoint; there are some truly lovely descriptions sprinkled throughout.

I initially thought I’d give this book 4 stars after I finished reading it; however, the more I thought about it, the more some of the plot holes bothered me. Perhaps Water for Elephants had these same issues and my memories of Jacob and Rosie are just colored rosy (pun intended), but ultimately, I think that is the better story of the two.

My rating: 3/5; Goodreads rating: 3.64/5

The Rose and the Dagger

A(nother) book based on a fairy tale: The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Why I picked it: This book has been on my TBR pretty much since last spring when I finished The Wrath and the Dawn. I’m a huge fan of retellings (in case you haven’t already figured that out yet), and Ahdieh’s reimagining of Scheherazade and her king was beautifully written and fun to read. This was an automatic Amazon pre-order.

Blurb in brief: “In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.”

What I thought: This started slow for me. I reread The Wrath and the Dawn last month in preparation for the release (ah, the days when I remembered everything I read with stunning clarity), but even with the first half of Shazi and Kahlid’s story fresh on my mind, it took me about 150 pages to get my bearings. Ahdieh introduces some new characters whom I loved—her little sister, Irsa and the magical, maybe genie, Artan (seriously, did he come from a family of genies? That was never really clear to me). The relationships that developed between Irsa and Rahim and Irsa and Khalid were very sweet to read. Artan was a saucy delight; my heart has a soft spot for prickly-but-charming, irreverent male characters (see: Roshar, The Winner’s Trilogy; Tyrion Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire). I could have done without the lingering love triangle with Tariq, who definitely needs to read the classic scroll, The Calipha is Just Not That Into You.

The story wrapped up quickly—I was thumbing through pages towards the end, concerned as to how Ahdieh was going to finish in time, and for a fleeting, horrifying moment, thought maybe this was going to be a trilogy after all.

But it wasn’t! Ahdieh manages to get all her loose ends tied up before she ran out of pages in a way that was very satisfying. If you’re looking for a love story with a sense of history and a dash of magic and mystery, this series is a great read!

My rating 4/5; Goodreads rating 4.45/5

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

A satirical book: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

Why I picked it: So I had originally planned to read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters for this category; however, I don’t actually know where my copy walked off to and my general attitude towards these challenges is to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law (this is not the first time I’ve been generous in matching a book with one of the challenge categories). As I said before, Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites. I’m far from an Austen purist, and I love reading/watching others’ interpretations of Darcy and Elizabeth’s story (from Pemberley Digital’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), so adding this to my TBR (and squeezing it in as a satire) was a no-brainer.

Blurb in brief: “A bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century. This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.”

What I thought: Sittenfeld did a fantastic job of modernizing aspects of Pride and Prejudice in a way that felt true to the social satire of Austen’s original work—making Kitty and Lydia into CrossFit junkies and Bingley into a former Bachelor (and the one most remembered for sobbing during the finale of his Eligible season) was brilliant. In fact, I found the modernization of most of the characters to be creatively spot-on. Liz as a magazine writer and Darcy as a monied neurosurgeon were probably the most uninspired translations in that they seemed like the obvious choices.

Parts of the narrative felt clunky, as though Sittenfeld was trying too hard to stick with Austen’s original dialogue; the first Darcy proposal scene felt a little forced, as did the Collins proposal/proposition scene, though part of the awkwardness could definitely be attributed to the social awkwardness of both characters.

I guess it’s a hallmark of a Sittenfeld book (for me, at least), that even though I quite like the story and the writing is good, I always feel a little icky reading her work. She has an off-putting knack for writing heroines who are flawed and sometimes not even likable—a kind of anti-Mary Sue. Sittenfeld’s Liz lacks the charm and warmth of Austen’s Lizzy, which I missed. Liz feels a lot more realistic in today’s world though, as much as it may make me uncomfortable to admit it.

My rating: 4/5; Goodreads rating: 3.80/5

The Star-Touched Queen

A book recommended by someone you just met: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Why I picked it: I mean, have you seen the cover? *drools* I first heard about this book on Instagram from Lisa Parkin, creator of Uppercase Box a couple of months ago (I’ll admit, I’m stretching to fit this in this particular Popsugar Challenge category). The stupidly pretty cover led me to look it up on Goodreads, where the description—Magic! Marriage! India!—cemented a place for it on my TBR. I really wanted to get my hands on it early, but my first couple of attempts at snagging an ARC were unsuccessful. Enter Goodreads Giveaway, which along with the publisher, St. Martin Griffin, hooked me up with a copy a couple weeks prior to publication! #Bookmail is the best mail.

Blurb in brief: “Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen? Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…”

What I thought: Chokshi’s writing is a decadent smorgasbord of vivid and lush description. From the very first words, I wanted to crawl between the pages and live in Maya’s world for awhile:

“Staring at the sky in Bharata was like exchanging a secret. It felt private, like I had peered through the veil of a hundred worlds…I could see where the winds yawned with silver lips and curled themselves to sleep. I could glimpse the moon folding herself into crescents and half-smiles. When I looked up, I could imagine and existence as vast as the sky. Just as infinite. Just as unknown.”

The whole mood of this story reminded me immediately of The Night Circus, which is a very good thing: dense, poetic prose is my jam, and I found this story a pleasure to read. If I had to find fault with the novel, I’d confess that sometimes Chokshi’s gorgeous word painting overpowers her pacing. The plot doesn’t unfold steadily, with some points spun out slowly for the reader to savor and digest, while others are summarily dispensed with. However, as this is really more folktale or fairy tale than literary fiction, I wasn’t bothered by it overly much—villains and princes and gods in this genre rarely have complex motivations to explore. Be prepared to read this one late into the night and to fall asleep afterwards with visions of jeweled gardens and white horses and magic mirrors dancing in your head.

My rating: 4/5; Goodreads rating: 4.18/5

ARC Wishes & Bookish Box Dreams

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Is this how the bookstagrammers do it?

This week didn’t get off to the best start—fifteen inches of rain and soggy car floorboards tend to put a damper on things—but today was made of awesome.

First, I managed to snag a subscription for May’s Bookish Box after a few spots opened up at the last minute. Bookish Box is a new(ish) literary-inspired subscription box which pairs limited edition Appraising Pages tees with 3-4 other bookish home, beauty, or fashion items. I’ve been lusting after Justine’s past few boxes (including her gorgeous Outlander box), and when I saw next month’s theme was Harry Potter, I was so disappointed that she was sold out and beyond thrilled when I picked one up! I’m sure I’ll be gleefully reviewing this box once I get it next month.

Next, the copy of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible I pre-ordered from Amazon finally arrived! I was supposed to get it yesterday, but I think the flooding in Houston wreaked havoc on the mail delivery schedule…I’ll give them a pass. Eligible is based on Pride and Prejudice and is the fourth book in the Austen Project series in which best-selling authors rewrite and reimagine one of Austen’s six novels. The third installment, Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, is still on my TBR after I saw some less-than-favorable reviews; however, based on Sittenfeld’s past novels, I’m really excited for this book! I will consume literally any P&P retelling you put in front of me, bad or good, and I think Sittenfeld has the perfect style and voice for a modern Austenian comedy of manners.

Finally, the best kind of surprise bookmail! St. Martin’s Griffin sent me an advanced reader copy of The Star-Touched Queen after I entered (and apparently won) a Goodreads giveaway on a whim a couple weeks ago. I’ve been hearing SO MANY GOOD THINGS about this book. Here’s the blurb:

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.

A lush and vivid story that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology. The Star-Touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.”

Secrets, romance, the promise of strong female characters, a hint of magic realism, and India? I’m salivating.

 

Popsugar Reading Challenge Update: 9-12

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Part three of my Popsugar Reading Challenge review series. Read the first two installments here and here. Or just, you know, keep scrolling down.

A dystopian novel: Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard 

  • Why I picked it: Yes, this is yet another YA dystopian trilogy. Yes, our brooding heroine, beaten down by Society, yearns for a better life as so many brooding heroines have done before her. Yes, there is a sweet younger sister, and yes, there is a hunky childhood friend—we get the trope at this point. However, despite the proliferation of young adult novels playing some (slight) variation on this theme, I liked Red Queen, the first book in this series, well enough to buy the second when I saw it at Target.
  • Blurb in brief: “Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from…the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.”
  • What I thought: I got about 5 pages into the book before I realized I didn’t remember enough of the first book to proceed without a re-read. Once I was reacquainted with the story line, I did like this novel even more than the first because it does feel more original. Red Queen was Red Rising with a dash of X-Men and The Selection (and by extension, The Hunger Games) mixed in; this book felt a little too reminiscent of Breaking Dawn with the hunt for newbloods and their subsequent training sessions in various deserted wooded locales, but in general, it was less formulaic. There were some scenes that Aveyard skipped over or didn’t fully develop which made me feel cheated (thinking in particular of the fallout…or lack thereof…after a major character death), but overall, I enjoyed it.
  • My rating: 4/5; Goodreads rating: 4.10/5

A book with a blue cover: The Siren by Kiera Cass

  • Why I picked it: I’ve held a longtime fascination with anything to do with Greek mythology. There were a lot of retellings of the Hades/Persephone myth in recent years, but I don’t actually know of a lot of stories that deal with sirens in popular culture (anyone else remember that episode of So Weird with Jewel Staite?), so between Cass’s name, the pretty cover, and the premise, I was intrigued.
  • Blurb in brief: “Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again. Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude…until she meets Akinli.”
  • What I thought: Oh, YA authors and their insistence on “unique” character names. I can take Eadlyn and Kile in the futuristic/alternate reality setting of the Selection series. But seriously? No turn of the last century society lady is naming her child Kahlen. Don’t get me started on Akinli. I’ll be brief—I didn’t like this book. I choked down the murky money making mechanics that kept Kahlen and her sisters afloat financially and the odd conceit of referring to the Ocean as “Her” and “She” and the Instalove™ that developed between the two main characters after an afternoon because epic eye-rolling aside, it was at least an easy read, and I think a part of me hoped it would eventually get better. It didn’t.
  • My rating: 2/5; Goodreads rating: 3.86/5

A book about a road trip: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (audiobook version)

  • Why I picked it: Because twenty-six hours of British accents wasn’t enough to satisfy my craving. And I needed a book about a road trip.
  • Blurb in brief: “Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages… maybe ever.”
  • What I thought: I didn’t like this as well as I liked Me Before You and After You—Louisa’s story stuck with me long after I’d finished both books in a way this didn’t. Things I did like: the relationship between math-prodigy Tanzie and her big half-brother, Nick. Tanzie’s devotion to her ancient and flatulent pooch, Norman. The whole Odyssey-esque framework of the story in which the journey truly is more important than the destination in all senses of the phrase. Save this one for your beach bag.
  • My rating: 4/5; Goodreads rating: 3.93/5

An audiobook that has won an award: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (audiobook version…obviously)

  • Why I picked it: This is a category my book club added and one I actually researched before choosing a title. I was delighted to discover this book as I’ve been eyeing Gaiman’s body of work for while. The book itself has won heaps of awards, including the Newbery and the Carneigie medals (the only book ever to win both!), and this unabridged, full-cast version won the 2015 Audie for Distinguished Achievement in Production, while the original recording won Audiobook of the Year in 2009. Basically, this is a children’s book with a long pedigree.
  • Blurb in brief: “After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own. Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…”
  • What I thought: I LOVED it. Gaimen took some of his inspiration from Kipling’s The Jungle Book, so some of the characters are familiar in their re-imagined states: Bagheera, Baloo, and of course, Mowgli. Bod’s story unfolds through a series of short, almost-but-not quite stand-alone chapters which take place roughly two years apart from one another, so the reader gets to watch Bod grow-up over the course of the novel. I really liked the audio version (and spent a good deal of time googling to confirm that The Man Jack was, in fact, voiced by THAT Andrew Scott), even if young Bod’s voice was grating at times. This is a wonderful and magical coming-of-age story I know I’ll reread again and again. 100% will purchase and hoard on my bookshelf forever.
  • My rating: 5/5; Goodreads rating: 4.10/5

Which book should you buy in bulk at Half Price Books and gift to everyone you know? 

The Graveyard Book, in any of its award-winning iterations.

Have you read any of the titles in this bunch? Did anyone else covet the sisters’ sparkly sea salt dresses (and perfect, beachy waves) after reading The Siren or was that just me? Let me know in the comments section!

Popsugar Reading Challenge Update: 5-8

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Here’s a 5-star quartet of novel reviews for your reading pleasure. You can catch up on my first set of Popsugar challenge reviews here.

A book published in 2016: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkowski 

  • Why I picked it: I started the Winner’s Trilogy last year after a friend recommended the first book, The Winner’s Curse. I actually listened to the audiobooks before I went back and re-read the physical books, and I highly recommend them; the narrator, Justine Eyre, is fantastic, and her voicing of the characters does a lot to add to the world-building of Herran and Valoria. I wish I could put my finger on what blend of accents she does for the Valorians because it’s awesome—but I digress. I instaloved the series and was desperate to get my hands on the final installment after listening to the audio versions again (seriously, they are so good) in preparation for its release. The Herrani god of luck must love me because Barnes and Noble accidentally stocked The Winner’s Kiss four days early, which I promptly bought and devoured on a Saturday afternoon.
  • Blurb in brief: “War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him. At least, that’s what he thinks.”
  • What I thought: Y’ALL. Trilogies are tough. It’s rare for me to find a trilogy which has a truly satisfying ending; rarer still to find one in which I feel each part is equally as strong as the others. Each book is different, genre-wise, in this series: Curse feels a lot like a historical romance (of the star-crossed variety), Crime is a mystery complicated by a tangle of infuriating misunderstandings (and not nearly enough face-smushing), Kiss is almost a war novel with some intense battle scenes and lots of strategizing. I loved seeing the trajectory of Arin and Kestral’s relationship  reach its (satisfying) conclusion. Roshar has my heart forever. I’m pretty sure I would be terrible at Bite and Sting if my attempts to play this are any indication. But most importantly, this book and this series is amazing, and I’m kind of mad you’re still reading this instead of listening to it on Audible right now.
  • My rating: 5/5; Goodreads rating: 4.51/5

A book with a protagonist who has your occupation: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

  • Why I picked it: This book came to me in my March 2016 “Writer’s Block” OwlCrate (which was my favorite box so far). I’d been reading lots of fantasy/dystopian YA and so liked the sound of a contemporary novel set in the South. I knew the book had been getting a lot of good press, and I started this one right away.
  • Blurb in brief: “Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace. He and his fellow outcast friends [Lydia and Travis] must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self.”
  • What I thought: About halfway through the story, I thought to myself, “You know, I like this book, but I don’t love it.” Then SPOILERS happened, and I ugly-cried throughout a lot of the last third. This book isn’t perfect—some of the characters felt a little too pat or a little too heavily drawn to me, mostly the secondary characters like Dill’s classmates and Travis’ dad. Maybe I’m naive, but I also thought Lydia’s internet fame might gain her at least a little cachet with her peers. What I liked most about the book was the relationships depicted between the characters: the love between the trio of friends was beautiful.
  • My rating: 5/5; Goodreads rating: 4.44/5

A book that takes place during the summer: After You by Jojo Moyes (audiobook version)

  • Why I picked it: We read Me Before You for book club last year (and I looooooooved it). I was so excited to see that Moyes decided to continue Louisa’s story after Will. I listened to Me Before You via Audible, so I decided to download the sequel too (I drive a lot). Unexpected consequence of listening to back-to-back British books read by British narrators was developing a slight British accent…I was okay with it.
  • Blurb in brief: “How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living? Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.”
  • What I thought: I’m so glad that Moyes wrote this book. I think there is a tendency to want to wrap up sad stories with a neat bow, which simply isn’t realistic. Louisa wasn’t going to just go to Paris and live this amazing life after Me Before You ended. I haven’t experienced grief like Louisa’s, but I think that Moyes does a good job giving us, the reader, an honest look at the grieving process for all those who were touched by Will’s death. The book had a great mix of old, familiar characters and some fresh faces, and it’s possible I cried at least twice.
  • My rating: 5/5; Goodreads rating: 3.73/5

A murder mystery: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith 

  • Why I picked it: I’ve been a fan of Galbraith’s Comoran Strike books since The Cuckoo’s Calling was released back in 2013. I’ve always liked mysteries and the Strike books have a grittiness to them I enjoy. It was also one of the first books I bought on my Kindle, even though I swore for years I’d never go over to the e-reader dark side. Meep.
  • Blurb in brief: “When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.”
  • What I thought: This was my favorite Strike novel to date. My barometer of a good mystery or thriller is whether or not I can figure out whodunnit before the big reveal; this one had me honestly unsure for 90% of the book. Rowling—ahem, Galbraith—made sure I didn’t start pulling together plot strings until the precise moment he wanted me to. All in all, I felt that the pacing and character development was excellent. I can’t wait for book four!
  • My rating: 5/5; Goodreads rating: 4.21/5

 

Which book should you download from Audible or onto your Kindle ASAP? 

Sidebar: I swear I’m not schilling for Amazon, though if they wanted to send some account credit my way, I’d be okay with that too.

Ugh, this is a tough one as I clearly really liked all of the books in this bunch. As I believe it’s a book that would appeal to a wide audience, I’m going to go with Career of Evil. Though it’s part of a series, I think you could read it without having read the other two first, and if you did like it, you have two more books to add to your TBR pile, which may or may not be a good thing for you.

Have you read any of these? Did anyone else decide they need a pocket-sized Roshar to provide a running commentary on their life choices or was that just me? Let me know in the comments!