Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater
Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #4)
By Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buddy Read with Micheline of Lunar Rainbows Reviews

To Sum It Up: Isabel and Cole have both left Mercy Falls for Los Angeles, where she’s determined to move on with her life and he’s determined to win her heart. Even with his prodigious Cole St. Clair charm, Isabel won’t be easily swayed, especially since Cole also happens to be in California to star in his own reality show. She needs to know that he’s there because of her, but returning to the spotlight may supply one too many distractions—and temptations—for Cole to remain focused on why he followed Isabel to L.A.

Review: Isabel Culpeper and Cole St. Clair—what have you two done to me?!

Seriously. I’ve loved Isabel since Shiver and Cole since Linger, but I still was not prepared for the brilliance that is Sinner. As much as I adore Sam and Grace, and I adored them heaps throughout the previous Wolves of Mercy Falls books, Cole and Isabel refused to release their iron grip on my mind and my heart. Their chemistry is explosive; if either of them struck a match, everything within a fifty mile radius would ignite, too. I am eternally grateful to Maggie Stiefvater for deciding to give these two their own book because not knowing what the hell ever happened to them would have gnawed at me for an absurdly long time.

Sinner is an absolutely perfect novel about two imperfect people, and it’s all the flaws that make Cole and Isabel so damn real and their story so damn addictive to read. Maggie Stiefvater is unparalleled at taking the nuances of everyday life and examining them under a microscope: every word, every gesture, everything. Sinner often feels like a contemporary novel, propelled by two characters with equally towering page presences. There is not a weakness in either POV, and whether they’re in the same scene or separate ones, Cole and Isabel play off of each other’s narration seamlessly.

What more can be said about Cole St. Clair that he hasn’t eloquently said about himself already? He wears his ego like a badge, and on anyone else, it would come across as arrogance of the insufferable kind. But Cole also knows how to work a crowd, and did I fall hard for charming Cole. He’s a smartass to boot, a trait that I hold in very high esteem in my fictional characters, and so I found myself laughing maniacally at his Cole-isms. Because I never knew when the next outburst of cackling would occur, I nixed the idea of taking this book to work to read during lunch.

While Cole’s unique perspective on the world and Isabel’s snark amused me very, very much, Sinner did not hesitate to put my heart through the wringer, too. I felt anxious for Cole, who’s back in the public eye and surrounded by all of his old vices, some even provided by the producer of his new reality show because disasters make for compelling TV. I just felt for Isabel, so guarded with her heart, especially in light of witnessing her parents’ marriage in its death throes. Isabel isn’t the type of girl who wants anyone’s pity, though, and I love her for that. So too do I love how Stiefvater waves that magic wand of hers and convinces you unequivocally that Isabel and Cole are the only two people who truly know the real Isabel and Cole, the ones behind the ice queen and rock star exteriors.

Although the werewolf aspect isn’t as much of a focal point as it was in the previous books, it still surfaces at key moments. I’ve always marveled at the effortless way in which Stiefvater weaves the supernatural through stories that could otherwise fall under contemporary; her slight touch of paranormal in Sinner is particularly well done.

I’ve totally written an ode to Sinner and to Cole and Isabel instead of a review, but it wasn’t possible to do anything else but gush about how much I loved this book in its entirety. Maggie Stiefvater could not have written a more perfect conclusion to a fantastic series, and now I can proceed with life because I have my Isabel and Cole epilogue.

All in All: If you haven’t read Sinner yet, you MUST! I savored every single word of it, and it’s easily one of my favorite books of 2015.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fandom Mashups (30)

Fandom Mashups is a feature hosted by Lunar Rainbows Reviews. There's a different scenario each week, and you choose a "dream team" of five characters from five different fandoms whom you think are best suited for the situation.

This week's topic is:
You found a map that seems to lead to hidden treasures (Pirate Booty!) Who's part of your swashbuckling team?

I had some difficulty thinking of pirate-y characters this week (note to self: read more books/watch more movies & TV shows with pirates in them), so I just tried to come up with people who I think would be good at the treasure hunting thing.

  1. Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean): If we're going on a swashbuckling quest, Jack is definitely coming with! But we may have to hide some of the rum.
  2. Lila Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic): Lila's career aspiration? Pirate. She doesn't need any convincing to join this party because she's all about going on an adventure.
  3. Harry Potter: Accio treasure! OK, finding it probably isn't going to be that simple, but if Harry can find the Horcruxes, he can find anything!
  4. Gansey (The Raven Cycle): Yeah, I know I've mentioned him two weeks in a row, but I. Love. Him. Also, when he sets his mind to finding something (or someone), he doesn't give up. Ever.
  5. Superman: Because you never know when superhuman strength and x-ray vision might be useful in locating the treasure, especially if it's very, very well hidden.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Harry Potter Moment of the Week (108)

Harry Potter Moment of the Week is a meme hosted by Uncorked Thoughts and Lunar Rainbows. The aim of this meme is to share with fellow bloggers a character, spell, chapter, object or quote from the books/films/J. K. Rowling herself or anything Potter related! A list of upcoming topics can be found here.

This week's topic is:
Rename the Books from Hermione's Point of View

These rename-the-books-from-another-character's-POV posts are so much fun! I did get a little stuck trying to come up with Hermione-centric titles for OotP and HBP, and even after taking a break for a while and giving them some more thought, I still couldn't do any better than these, lol.

  • Hermione Granger and the Three-Headed Dog That Nearly Got Us Killed or Worse—Expelled
  • Hermione Granger and the Polyjuice Potion Mishap
  • Hermione Granger and the Amazing Class Schedule Balancing Act
  • Hermione Granger and the Very Bothersome Beetle
  • Hermione Granger and the Walk on the Rebellious Side
  • Hermione Granger and the Love Drama
  • Hermione Granger and the Incredible Beaded Handbag

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fandom Mashups (29)

Fandom Mashups is a feature hosted by Lunar Rainbows Reviews. There's a different scenario each week, and you choose a "dream team" of five characters from five different fandoms whom you think are best suited for the situation.

This week's topic is:
You've stumbled onto a portal that leads into a parallel world, but you have no clue what dangers lurk on the other side. Who do you bring 'through the rabbit hole' with you?

  1. The Tenth Doctor: This guy. He's seen just about everything, and this kind of scenario is exactly his thing.
  2. Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter): I'm going with Luna because she's fearless and adventurous and wouldn't get easily freaked out by the unknown. Plus she can use magic, so we're good if things suddenly go bad.
  3. Spock (Star Trek): Exploring new worlds is pretty much his job, and with all of his logic, he'd keep us out of trouble.
  4. Gansey (The Raven Cycle): Gansey has seen lots of weirdness in his search for the sleeping king Glendower, so I think he would be very comfortable with this mission. Plus, I just want to hang out with Gansey, okay? :D
  5. Bender (Futurama): Although I think Bender would be more prone to causing trouble even though he could be pretty helpful with all of his space travel experience, I'm still bringing him because he makes me laugh so much.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Adventures at YALLFest 2015

This past weekend, Ally, Melissa, and I headed to Charleston, South Carolina for YALLFest. It was our first time attending, as well as our first time visiting Charleston. The amazing lineup of authors included Richelle Mead, Alexandra Bracken, Gail Carriger, Gayle Forman, Scott Westerfeld, Brandon Sanderson, Libba Bray, Marie Lu, Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, Marissa Meyer, and many more. Since BEA was not in the cards this year and Charleston was reasonably manageable travel-wise, we decided to go for it.

Our plans hit a pretty big snag the night before we were supposed to leave. Melissa was ecstatic to be seeing Rick Yancey, whom she worships, and he was THE author she had to meet at the festival. Unfortunately, he had to cancel due to illness, and I saw the announcement on Twitter on Thursday night. I broke the news to Melissa, and she was heartbroken. But, she still wanted to go, and so we did.

On Friday afternoon, a small group of authors was scheduled to sign at various venues. Ally wanted to see Scott Westerfeld and I wanted to see Gail Carriger, so after scoping out where we each needed to be, we went our separate ways (we were actually only a block away from each other) and got on line.

Gail Carriger's signing started a little early, and the line moved quickly. I got this feeling of unreality when I found myself next in line, like this couldn't possibly be happening. She was super sweet, and I was giddy to have a signed copy of Soulless:

Melissa went with Ally to wait in Scott Westerfeld's line, so I joined them over there in the tent next to Blue Bicycle Books. Ally got Leviathan signed, and after getting some much needed coffee, which would be our fuel throughout the weekend, we called it a day and headed to the hotel.

Ally & Scott Westerfeld

Saturday was the main day of the festival, and we knew that a game plan was absolutely necessary with all of the panels and signings that would be taking place at the same time. We thought that we'd arrived downtown early, but there was already a line outside of the Charleston Music Hall at 8 AM for Richelle Mead and R.L. Stine's opening keynote, which didn't start until 10. We were useless without coffee, so we went to Starbucks first and then got in line for the keynote.

You needed a wristband for Richelle Mead's signing following the keynote, and a limited number were being distributed to those waiting in line. We were among the lucky recipients, which totally surprised me because a good number of people were in line ahead of us. I hadn't even taken my copy of Vampire Academy out of the car, so guess who had to go back to the parking garage to retrieve it?

After the doors opened and we went inside, we were each given a sampler of Richelle Mead's upcoming The Glittering Court. We made a strategic decision to sit toward the back of the music hall so that we could make a hasty exit for the signing afterwards. Margaret Stohl said a few words before the keynote moderator, Kami Garcia, introduced R.L. Stine and Richelle Mead. We got to see a clip from the Goosebumps movie, and R.L. Stine was just hilarious throughout the keynote. I never read Goosebumps or Fear Street, but I so want to now.

We scooted out of the keynote the second it was over, and as we were exiting, there were some ARCs available. I just about freaked out when I saw Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, which is already garnering a ton of buzz. So I was very, very, very happy at this point, and the day had only begun.

Melissa and I got in line for the Richelle Mead signing while Ally went to explore some of the booths. We were the last two people in the first group that was allowed into the train museum where the signing was taking place, and it wasn't long before it was our turn to go up. Again, I had that incredulous feeling, like I couldn't believe this was actually happening. Richelle Mead was so, so sweet, and I'm still in a little bit of disbelief that we were able to go to her signing.

Me Meeting Richelle Mead!

After meeting up with Ally outside, we went to two panels back-to-back. The first focused on world-building in historical fiction and was moderated by Libba Bray. Then we went straight to the next panel, which also discussed world-building and was moderated by Alexandra Bracken. Gail Carriger spoke at both panels, and Richelle Mead was at the second one. Both panels were excellent, and I just loved listening to some of my favorite authors talk about writing. There were so many great panels going on, but alas, with all of the signings happening simultaneously, we could only make these two.

Next we headed back to the train museum so that Melissa could get on line for Gayle Forman. Ally and I thought we were super early for Alexandra Bracken’s signing, but there was already a huge line, so we just got on it. Melissa kindly got my copy of If I Stay signed for me while Ally and I stood on our line; we ended up waiting for about two hours, but it was totally worth it when we finally got to meet Alexandra Bracken!

Ally & Alexandra Bracken

We hadn’t had time to eat lunch and were completely famished by this time, so we had a nice pizza dinner, grabbed more coffee, and retired to the hotel for the night. It was an exhausting day, but also extremely exhilarating.

We spent our last day in Charleston browsing some of the cool shops downtown and walking around a bit. The weather was very fall-like throughout the weekend, which we enjoyed since it’s still been in the mid to high 80’s in Florida. We also checked out the Charleston Museum and toured one of the historic houses before heading home. We all agreed that we could have used another day to just explore the city and will file that bit of knowledge away for next year, because we absolutely loved the entire YALLFest experience and would go again in a heartbeat.

Melissa's Haul

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why I Read

Why do I read? That sounds like a simple enough question to answer, especially for those of us who also blog about books, right? Lately it seems like this question has been cropping up with some frequency, or at least my response of "Caught up on some reading" in reply to what I did over the weekend or what I do in my spare time has been garnering some slightly quizzical looks. So I gave some thought to why I prefer staying home on a Friday night with a good novel over . . . pretty much anything else, and here's what I've come up with.

For me, reading has always been about escapism. It's a break, and often a much needed one, from real life. I can literally lose myself in the pages of a book for hours, and it's an immersive experience that I've never been able to duplicate by watching TV or a movie, no matter how much I love whatever's on. Maybe it's because with books, your imagination takes over to shape the written words into scenes in your mind's eye, whereas TV and movies supply the visuals for you. My mom read often to me when I was little, so I got off to an early start picturing fictional characters and places in my head.

I think the reason why I love paranormal and fantasy so much is because both genres explore worlds that are different from our own. They're a mini-vacation from the everyday grind, and I think that we've all at one time or another discovered a fictional world that we didn't want to leave. Taking a breather from things that are weighing on my mind by visiting a place that's far removed from them definitely helps me to recharge my batteries. I struggle a lot with keeping my stress levels manageable, and I can't imagine where they would be without the calming effect that reading has on me.

Reading is usually a solitary activity for me, and I have to admit that I embrace that aspect of it. While I also very much enjoy its social side—blogging being the obvious one—I also like my quiet time alone with a book in hand. I've always been an introvert, and although I feel that I've made significant progress, particularly in the last few years, in stepping outside of my social comfort zone, I'm never going to be the person who effortlessly strikes up conversations with strangers in the supermarket checkout line. That's just not me. In fact, I need my daily alone time, and more often than not, it's spent in the company of a book. Now, I know that readers come in all personality types, and I'm in no way trying to generalize here. What I am saying is this: if you happen to be an introvert who loves reading, too, I get you. Completely.

And that's the long answer to why I read. I'm not sure if it makes sense to anyone but me, lol. As always with these types of posts, I'd love to hear your thoughts—why do YOU read?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

* This review contains spoilers for the previous books in The Wolves of Mercy Falls series.

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Forever (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #3)
By Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Buddy Read with Micheline of Lunar Rainbows Reviews

To Sum It Up: Sam is still human, but Grace has finally shifted into a wolf at a time when all of the Mercy Falls wolves face imminent and grave danger. As the all too few minutes tick by, Sam, Grace, and some unlikely allies work to find a way to save the wolves. What does become clear is that Sam needs to lead them, but he may have to become one of the pack again for the rescue plan to even have a sliver of hope for success.

Review: Oh man. Where to start talking about this book?

I feel like I’ve already used all the words, especially superlatives, to discuss Maggie Stiefvater’s The Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Forever continues in the brilliant footsteps of Shiver and Linger with compelling characters, exquisite storytelling, and insanely beautiful prose. I can’t get enough of the latter; it’s terribly addictive. It’s writing that makes me look forward to the next word on the page. Whether she’s describing the wolves or the Mercy Falls weather, animate or inanimate objects, the abstract or the concrete, Stiefvater does so with such effortless grace (no pun intended). She always selects the perfect word/perfect phrase for every scene and finds a story in even the most seemingly ordinary details of everyday life.

Sam and Grace have absolutely become one of my favorite YA couples. Ever. “Epic” doesn’t even begin to cover the depth and strength of their love for each other. It’s impossible to imagine Sam without Grace and Grace without Sam; they are truly as one.

Sam’s mettle really gets tested in Forever, as of course first, he must cope with Grace shifting and the growing suspicions of the Mercy Falls residents that he’s responsible for her disappearance. He also finds himself increasingly questioning how well he actually knows Beck, the man who’s in all essence been his father for most of Sam’s life. Finally, a huge threat looms over the entire pack, and with Beck no longer shifting back to a human, it falls on Sam’s shoulders to take action and save the wolves, including Grace. Sam is far from comfortable with this role, which frustrates Isabel, who goes through her own struggles in Forever (most of them Cole-related). Sam’s troubles are all interconnected, and when they converge, reading this becomes simultaneously heart-shattering and heart-pounding. I had about fifty pages left in the book and very, very stupidly thought I could read just a few more before leaving for work. Well, naturally I had to pry myself away from the book at a most inopportune point. Trust me, you do not want to read Forever in stolen moments here and there; you need to be able to spend quality time with it.

I must gush for at least a sentence or two about my other favorite couple, Isabel and Cole. They’re technically not a couple here, but they so are in my head! Forever sees Cole find a purpose, one that is integral to the wolves’ survival. Isabel finds that she’s really grown to care for a certain handful of people. Come on, Sinner: please let Cole and Isabel now find that they belong together!

I have devoured every book in this series. While I know that it’s not quite over yet and as much as I’m dying to jump into Sinner (GAH—more Cole and Isabel!), I’m going to miss Mercy Falls. A lot. Sam and Grace sent my heart spinning in every possible direction, and I loved every single minute of it.

All in All: There are no more words that adequately convey all the things Forever made me feel: happy, sad, fearful, and whatever adjective that best captures how you feel after reading some stunningly gorgeous writing.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fandom Mashups (28)

Fandom Mashups is a feature hosted by Lunar Rainbows Reviews. There's a different scenario each week, and you choose a "dream team" of five characters from five different fandoms whom you think are best suited for the situation.

This week's topic is:
The leader of an elite assassin group has seen you fight and says you have great potential as an assassin. Who do you pick to train you in the deadly arts?

  1. Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass): Because I'd want to learn from the best, and hands-down, Celaena is THE. BEST. She'd probably assassinate you for even thinking otherwise. XD
  2. Valek (Poison Study): Not only does he possess exceptional combat skills, but he's got all of the poison know-how, too!
  3. Jaqen H'ghar (A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones): Jaqen is SO good at what he does, especially in the stealth department.
  4. Black Widow (Marvel): Um, her name pretty much sums it up?
  5. Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy): Rose isn't an assassin per se, but she's a badass fighter and more than qualified to teach someone how to be lethal.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Harry Potter Moment of the Week (107)

Harry Potter Moment of the Week is a meme hosted by Uncorked Thoughts and Lunar Rainbows. The aim of this meme is to share with fellow bloggers a character, spell, chapter, object or quote from the books/films/J. K. Rowling herself or anything Potter related! A list of upcoming topics can be found here.

This week's topic is:
If You Could Change One Thing in Book Two, What Would It Be?

No Aragog? I know that's not practical at all, but Aragog and his family of creepy, gross spiders freaked me the hell out! I shudder whenever I see them in the Chamber of Secrets film, and they're even somehow scary in the Lego HP video game, LOL.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

* This review contains spoilers for the previous book, Shiver.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Linger (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #2)
By Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Buddy read with Micheline of Lunar Rainbows Reviews

To Sum It Up: Sam's cure seems too good to be true, even to Sam. As he tries to believe that he can now spend the rest of his life with Grace, he also attempts to reconcile himself to the fact that he might be the only one who can help the new wolves, including the very complicated Cole St. Clair, adjust to their new lives. But Sam has no choice but to face the increasing evidence that something is very wrong with Grace; after everything they've been through to keep Sam human, they may not be able to stay together after all.

Review: It's book two into Maggie Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and I am madly, madly in love with it. Each page is an exquisitely composed piece of prose; I'm fumbling to find the right words to describe how addicted I am to reading her writing. It's as though she infuses language with magic.

Shiver was heartbreakingly beautiful—emphasis on the heartbreak. But, the ending did kindle a spark of hope, which then gets doused fairly quickly in Linger. Sam appears to have been cured and no longer shifts into a wolf, but he struggles to believe that his humanity is permanent. Unease hangs over the story from the beginning, and it only snowballs from there.

Grace and Sam's swoon-tacular romance forms the centerpiece of this series, and anything that interferes with it shreds my heart. In Shiver, the pair's main obstacle was Sam's shifting; Linger doubles their adversity, which centers around Grace this time. There's something . . . amiss with her (vagueness necessary here to avoid revealing too much), plus her parents snap out of their self-involved bubble and actually try to parent. I'm still wrapping my head around that because their world consisted almost exclusively of themselves in Shiver. Now that Grace has a boyfriend, they're suddenly concerned and feel the need to establish rules because surely this is mere teenage infatuation on their daughter's part. I find it kind of funny, and maybe even a little ironic, that I've read plenty of YA in which the supposed romance lacked the emotional depth to make it come across as more than attraction or infatuation. But what Grace and Sam have—it’s the real deal. They picture themselves married one day and talk about growing old together. I can't think of many other YA couples who see beyond the here and now, and to me, that's what really sets Sam and Grace apart.

Linger adds two POVs to those of original narrators Sam and Grace. I loved Isabel's character in Shiver and was thrilled to discover that she had a POV in Linger. I know that she's not an easy character to warm up to, but I totally relate to and love how she has a very low tolerance for BS. Don't even consider spinning her a yarn because she doesn't have time for that crap.

Linger also introduces us to Cole St. Clair, former rock star and newly created wolf. His character is such an interesting study, especially when you compare it side-by-side with Sam's. Music has played a prominent role in both of their lives, but where it's still going strong in Sam's, Cole has walked away from it. He's walked away from the entire rock and roll lifestyle and now wants to lose himself in the oblivion of being a wolf. That's another key point on which Cole and Sam differ significantly—Sam wants to hold on to his human form and his human memories.

Not only does Cole cause some ripples for Sam, but he also creates quite a stir in Isabel's world. These two—it’s all sharp edges and cutting words with them, but there's also an undeniable magnetism there. I loved every Cole/Isabel scene, and I'm as wholly invested in what happens next with them as I am in Grace and Sam's future.

Linger is an entirely apt title for this novel; I kept thinking about it when I wasn't reading it. I'm still thinking about this book, and this series, and the characters, and how I excited I am to read Forever, even if it destroys me emotionally, which is highly probable.

All in All: Another brilliant and very, very sad installment in the series. I'm even more in love with Grace and Sam's epic romance, and the addition of Isabel and Cole's POVs were most welcome.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fandom Mashups (27)

Fandom Mashups is a feature hosted by Lunar Rainbows Reviews. There's a different scenario each week, and you choose a "dream team" of five characters from five different fandoms whom you think are best suited for the situation.

This week's topic is:
You've discovered that your world has become a dystopia and have been recruited by an elite anarchist group. Who's in the group with you?

  1. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games): Katniss is an expert on surviving in a dystopian society. I'd totally want her on my side.
  2. Liam Stewart (The Darkest Minds): Liam is a natural leader and another dystopia survivor. He's also absolutely charming. ♥
  3. Ronan Lynch (The Raven Cycle): Ronan would just really enjoy the anarchy part, and he'd be really, really good at it. XD
  4. Kenji Kishimoto (Shatter Me): Kenji is very skilled at infiltrating enemy lines, should the situation require that. Plus he has no filter, so there would be lots of snark to make us laugh.
  5. Tony Stark (Iron Man): Because it never hurts to have a tech genius on the team!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Anything Saturday (2): Back to Paper Planning

Way, way back in the day when I was a high school student, I used a paper planner, because that's all that was available then, haha! In all seriousness, though, I LOVED the planner that I bought in my school's tiny bookstore. The layout was just perfect for my needs, and, again in all seriousness, that planner was one of the handful of fond memories I have from high school. I lived by that planner. I bought the same one every year, and when I started college, I was actually sad that I had to go out and buy a different type of a planner. Yes, I was that hardcore about my planner, OK? LOL.

Once I'd graduated college, I didn't feel the need for an actual planner as much. I took to jotting notes on whatever scrap pieces of paper were handy, and that "system" was good enough for quite a long time. At one point I did own one of the Palm PDA models, but it turned out to be overkill.

Fast forward to the present, when there are times when I need to write myself a note for . . . just about everything. I used Evernote for a while and was pretty happy with it, but sometimes I just want to make a quick reminder without having to open the app, start a new note, tap it in, and remember to save at the end. I don't know if I'm just lazy, but that seems like a bit of work to write down something that I need to buy on my next trip to the grocery store.

I'd been seeing Erin Condren's Life Planners mentioned everywhere on social media, and the buzz made me curious to check them out. There are some really beautiful designs, and I loved the idea of decorating the pages. I had no idea that decorating your planner, kind of like you would a scrapbook, was even a thing. It is a brilliant idea, though; in fact, and this is gonna sound weird, but I used to keep my old planners as mementos of the time they covered. (Alas, I got rid of them during one of those if-you're-not-actually-using-it-you're-throwing-it-out cleaning purges.) So maybe I was on to something back then, although adding stickers and stamps to the pages never occurred to me.

Back in July, I finally decided to give paper planning another go. The stores here were stocked with school supplies already, so I thought I had a good chance of at least getting my hands on a student planner to get me through the rest of this year, and then I could get a regular planner for 2016. I was surprised to find Target stocked with all kinds of planners, even ones not specifically designed for students, that went all the way through the end of 2016. So I left Target with this planner in hand and feeling like the planner gods had, er, planned this:

Once I had my planner, obviously I needed a few accessories to jazz it up a bit. At the same time, I didn't want to go crazy buying stickers and other embellishments. Stamps, which are reusable, seemed like a good compromise, and when I spotted a stamp set in Michael's that actually had a "Blog" stamp, I knew I'd found what I was looking for:

Washi tape seems to be a must-have for planner decorating, and so I picked up a multi-pack of that as well, along with these stamps that I found in the Michael's bargain bin:

Since I started using a paper planner again, I really do feel like I'm better organized. For whatever reason, writing down a task in the planner makes me more inclined to do it, lol. And with my trusty "Blog" stamp, I find blog planning less stressful when I break things down into more manageable pieces. This planner has a very generous Notes section in the back, and I like using it to brainstorm future post ideas.

For the $15 or so I spent on the planner, I definitely think that it's more than paid for itself. Are any of you guys planner fans? If so, do you have a preference for paper or digital, or do you use a combination of both?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Harry Potter Moment of the Week (106)

Harry Potter Moment of the Week is a meme hosted by Uncorked Thoughts and Lunar Rainbows. The aim of this meme is to share with fellow bloggers a character, spell, chapter, object or quote from the books/films/J. K. Rowling herself or anything Potter related! A list of upcoming topics can be found here.

This week's topic is:
Favorite Chapter Titles from the Books

I don't know if any of you also did this, but every time I started reading a new HP book, I'd look through the list of chapter titles at the beginning to see if I could glean any info from them. My guesses were usually incorrect, lol. Of course it was tough to choose only a handful of titles, but these are some of my favorite favorites:

  • The Boy Who Lived (Sorcerer's Stone): Best first chapter title ever!
  • The Very Secret Diary (Chamber of Secrets): Secret diary? Of course I needed to know what was in it!
  • The Marauder's Map (Prisoner of Azkaban): Quite possibly my favorite magical item in all the world of HP.
  • Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs (Prisoner of Azkaban): I'm not so much in love with the Wormtail part, lol, but it's the Marauders, therefore I love this chapter title.
  • Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes (Goblet of Fire): I love the alliteration and creativity in this one.
  • Dumbledore's Army (Order of the Phoenix): HELL yeah!
  • An Excess of Phlegm (Half-Blood Prince): This one just makes me laugh.
  • The Forest Again (Deathly Hallows): Because it's my favorite chapter from any HP book, and maybe from any book ever. Infinite love for this.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Behold this beauty:

Isn't it blue-tiful? XD But oh my God—April 2016 is still a ways away! Well, I don't need psychic powers to predict what my favorite read of 2016 is going to be! :D

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1)
By Sabaa Tahir
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

To Sum It Up: Laia and her family are Scholars, a class brutally oppressed by the ruling Empire. When Laia’s brother is accused of being a rebel and imprisoned, Laia undertakes a dangerous mission to free him. The Resistance movement tentatively agrees to help her, but only if she infiltrates the walls of the infamous Blackcliff Military Academy, which trains the Empire’s future soldiers. Top student Elias Veturius is on the verge of graduating—with his loyalty to the Empire in question. But fate has other plans for Elias, and his service to the Empire may have only just begun.

Review: An Ember in the Ashes was one of the most hyped books of 2015, and for that reason alone, it secured a spot on my TBR. I’d also seen it compared quite a few times to A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, so I absolutely needed to check it out. I came this close to buying a copy; I actually held the book in my hands at Barnes & Noble but put it back in the end because it just wasn’t in the budget. Well, I’m glad that I opted to borrow this from the library instead because hardly anything about the novel, including the characters, the pacing, the world-building, and the romance, worked for me. Now, this book has received A LOT of love from other readers; I'm sorry to say that I'm not among them.

The comparisons to Game of Thrones led me to expect an epic fantasy here, but the fantasy elements were minimal, in my opinion. Jinn, efrits, and wraiths were occasionally thrown in, but the brutal, oppressive rule of the Empire gave An Ember in the Ashes a very dystopian feel. It reminded me more of Divergent, The Hunger Games, Legend, and Red Rising, the latter especially. As with Red Rising, I considered quitting An Ember in the Ashes after about 100 pages, but I’d already invested so much time in the book that I figured I might as well just tough it out till the end.

I had no problem whatsoever with this turning out to be more of a dystopia than fantasy, but the world-building was just lacking, regardless of the genre. Other than the abundantly clear picture of the Empire’s totalitarianism, this world didn’t make much sense to me. Blackcliff Military Academy, the elite school that churns out the Empire’s finest soldiers, is all-male except for one female student because that’s the policy. A new Emperor must be chosen through a contest to the death because a bunch of seers called Augurs say so. I needed further explanations for a lot of things, but I just didn’t get them.

Alternating POVs from the two main characters, Laia and Elias, are employed in the novel, but there’s little distinction between their narrative voices. Neither was an especially compelling protagonist, although if I had to pick between them, I’d go with Elias, whose arc had slightly better pacing. Laia’s storyline dragged, and I had issues with her character from the start. When Empire troops turn up at the home she shares with her grandparents and brother, Darin, to arrest Darin for rebellious activities, Laia has to choose between helping him and running. Darin tells her to run, and she does, and then she spends the next 400 pages regretting the decision. Okay, Darin did urge his sister to flee, but the way that the scene unfolded didn’t effectively convey the urgency of fight-or-flight to me. I think what gnawed at me was how Laia kept going on and on and on about how much she loved Darin and how she would do anything to bust him out of prison, but she didn’t make a stand when an opportunity literally stood right in front of her.

I also couldn’t suspend enough disbelief over how quickly and easily Laia ran into the rebel group that she hoped would help rescue Darin, the group that her parents used to lead. Laia approaches the Resistance with a rather large sense of entitlement because 1) rebels ratted Darin out to the Empire, so the Resistance now owes her, and 2) her parents were the greatest Resistance leaders ever, without question. But Laia is not quite so cut out for the family business of undermining the Empire, and she gets in way, way over her head when she agrees to spy on Blackcliff’s Commandant in return for the Resistance freeing Darin. Laia’s naïveté, coupled with some poor decision making, made her chapters really tough for me to get through.

I fared a little better with Elias’s POV, primarily because he winds up entangled in a Hunger Games-esque contest that will determine which Blackcliff student becomes the next Emperor. Even with the trope, at least the scenes with the Trials move at a solid pace, unlike the majority of the book. Both Elias and Laia are very, very chatty with their internal thoughts, which adds up to a lot of telling over showing.

The novel’s romance frustrated me most of all. Laia insta-falls for Keenan, a member of the Resistance. Elias sort of has feelings for his best friend, Helene, Blackcliff’s sole female student. But whenever Laia and Elias clap eyes on each other, it’s like, Keenan and Helene who? Put Laia and Elias back with their original love interests, though, and they return to their original feelings for them. Meanwhile, there’s barely any chemistry between any of these characters! I could somewhat buy into Elias and Helene’s friendship; I even thought that Helene might have made a more interesting female protagonist than Laia. As for the other pairings, there was zero build-up to the intense emotions that everyone suddenly felt for each other.

I really, really wanted to love An Ember in the Ashes like just about everyone in the universe did, but sadly, we were not compatible with each other at all. But, just as there’s another book out there that’s perfect for me, this book may perfectly suit another reader.

All in All: Fans of Red Rising may want to check this out. Unfortunately, An Ember in the Ashes came up short for me as both a fantasy and a dystopia, and I’m okay with not knowing what happens in the rest of the series.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fandom Mashups (26)

Fandom Mashups is a feature hosted by Lunar Rainbows Reviews. There's a different scenario each week, and you choose a "dream team" of five characters from five different fandoms whom you think are best suited for the situation.

This week's topic is:
You've been imprisoned by an unfair and tyrannical leader for speaking your mind. Who do you hope is in there with you? For company AND to help you escape!

  1. Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass): Celaena knows ALL about 1) being imprisoned, 2) tyrannical rulers, and 3) kicking ass. She'd work tirelessly to get us out and then go take out the leader.
  2. Harry Potter: Umbridge punished Harry horribly for speaking out about Voldemort, so he can totally relate to this situation. He's got magic, Celaena/Aelin has magic, so we're outta there!
  3. Brienne of Tarth (A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones): Brienne wouldn't take crap from a tyrant, and she'd fight our way out of prison, no matter the number of guards, if she had to.
  4. Aang (Avatar: The Last Airbender): Aang would be the voice of calm, urging everyone not to give up. Plus, he can go into the Avatar state and blast the prison walls away!
  5. Batman: Not sure if the Dark Knight would make great company exactly, but surely he has at least one gadget in his arsenal that would come in handy for escaping. Bat-lockpick? XD