Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 2018 Recap

When I caught sight of the date on my laptop, I couldn't believe that January was at an end already! I'm really happy that I actually read AND blogged this month—yeah! I started the new year determined to get back on track with both of those things.

It's also been lovely to have my cousin, Melissa, back on the blog! Look for some more posts from her soon.

As a planner geek, lol, I was thrilled to be able to finally begin using my 2018 planner. This is the first year I'm using the Passion Planner, and I'm absolutely LOVING it. The format is working really, really well for me, i.e. there's plenty of space to fill with washi tape, which I own way too many rolls of. XD

I don't watch much TV, but I'm totally into The Crown and recently binge watched Season 2. I also saw The Greatest Showman in theaters because after also watching Logan at the start of January, I needed to see Hugh Jackman in something a lot less depressing, LOL.

Unfortunately, I ended the month catching a cold that just won't quit. While it's mostly cleared up, it's like I can't shake the last bit of it, which is annoying. The weather's inability to make up its mind whether it should be in the high 70's or close to 40 probably isn't helping.

Happy February, everyone! Not gonna lie: I'm probably going to spend a good part of the month eating Reese's Peanut Butter Hearts. XD

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can't Believe I Read

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week's topic is:
Books I Can't Believe I Read

I had to give this week's topic quite a bit of thought and still came up just shy of ten, lol.

1. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

This one's on here just because I can't believe I ever read that many pages, lol. Ahhh, those were the days when I had time to binge read the first four A Song of Ice and Fire books that were available at the time.

2. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

Ditto for The Forsyte Saga: I can't believe I read 800+ pages.

3. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

It still kind of boggles my brain that I had to read this for high school. Classics made up most of my required reading, and it was odd to be assigned a book that was a current bestseller at the time.

4. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Zombies aren't really my thing, but there was a time when it seemed like everybody was reading books about them, so I decided that I should read about them, too, lol.

5. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I don't read much horror in general, but Anna Dressed in Blood had so many great reviews that I finally gave it a shot, and I ended up really, really enjoying it.

6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I usually don't read books that are 1,000% guaranteed to make me cry, but my cousin Ally used her formidable powers of persuasion to convince me to pick up TFiOS.

7. The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Nightfall by L.J. Smith

This time it was my cousin Melissa who asked me to hang in there for one more VD book even after being underwhelmed by the previous VD books I'd read. This did end up being the last VD book I read.

8. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

I'd forgotten about this one until going through my Goodreads for this post, lol. A friend lent me American Psycho and told me to just read it and see what I thought. I remember calling her after finishing the book and being like, "WHAT did I just read?!!!!!"

What books are on your Top Ten this week?

Monday, January 29, 2018

ARC Review: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi
Down and Across
By Arvin Ahmadi
Format: eARC
Source: First to Read
Publication Date: February 6, 2018

To Sum It Up: After barely starting a summer internship that he has no interest in, Scott Ferdowsi hops a bus to Washington, D.C. to seek out the Georgetown professor whose online grit quiz he took. Scott hopes to find a direction for his future, which looms uncertain as his parents try to steer him towards a career in medicine or engineering. Scott’s singular mission in the pursuit of grit morphs into a wide-open field of possibilities after meeting free-spirited college student and crossword enthusiast Fiora Buchanan on the bus to D.C. Whether or not he gets to meet Professor Cecily Mallard in person, this trip is sure to change Scott’s life.

Review: As a longtime crossword geek, I was instantly sold on reading Down and Across because of the title alone. Fellow cruciverbalists will find plenty to love about this novel, starting with the assurance that the title isn’t a mere passing reference. Crossword puzzles figure prominently throughout the book, which even namechecks New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz. That alone won this book a special place in my heart.

The plot of Down and Across centers around Scott Ferdowsi’s search for direction. He’s never been good at sticking with anything, and with high school graduation on the horizon, he doesn’t know where his future lies. Scott’s parents want him to go into medicine or engineering, but he knows these fields just aren’t for him. I could absolutely relate to Scott’s struggle to figure out what he wants to do in life; in fact, I can still relate, even as someone who’s still trying to work out this whole adulting thing.

Scott’s narrative voice was easily my favorite aspect of the novel. He’s funny, snarky, self-deprecating, and most importantly, engaging. He’s the type of guy who you just want to see catch a break for once. Scott gets knocked down a few times in Down and Across, sometimes literally, but he never wallows in self-pity. He’s a finely crafted character, as is Fiora, the college student he meets on the bus to Washington, D.C., where she attends George Washington University. Fiora is a crossword fiend, skilled not only at solving but also at constructing. She’s also prone to moments of spontaneous boldness that Scott never would have dreamed of pulling off before meeting Fiora. Their budding friendship hits some bumps along the way and isn’t perfect—just like them. I can’t say enough about how realistic the book feels, from the dialogue to the problems the characters face to the elation one feels after solving a New York Times crossword puzzle.

I rarely read contemporary, but I’m so glad that I gave Down and Across a shot. You don’t need to be a crossword fan to enjoy the book, either; Scott’s story is more than compelling enough on its own. The very clever way that the puzzles are woven into the novel, however, is sure to bring a smile to readers who also love the challenge that a blank puzzle grid poses.

All in All: What a wonderful and winning debut from Arvin Ahmadi! Down and Across was exactly my kind of contemporary novel, and featuring my all-time favorite crossword (the New York Times, of course) just melted my heart.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Loot (31)

It's not even the end of January, and I've already amassed books since December, LOL. I blame all of the fantastic Kindle deals Amazon had at the end of 2017/beginning of 2018. These titles were all on my TBR, the prices were too good to pass up, and so I 1-Clicked away. XD


Abhorsen by Garth Nix
Many thanks to the lovely Micheline at Lunar Rainbows Reviews for both this and the awesome HP mug! ♥


Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson


Far from the Tree by Robin Benway
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
The Falconer by Elizabeth May
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Warcross by Marie Lu

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Really Liked But Can’t Remember Anything/Much About

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week's topic is:
Books I Really Liked But Can’t Remember Anything/Much About

I feel kind of bad admitting that I don't always remember everything about books that I really enjoyed, LOL, but yep, I'm guilty. And it's not because these books weren't memorable or anything like that. It's just been so long since I read them that while I remember the basics about the plot and the characters, the fine details are a bit fuzzy.

1. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

2. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

4. Blood Red Road by Moira Young

5. Half Bad by Sally Green

6. The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

8. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

9. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

10. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

What books made your Top Ten this week?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow

Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow
By Gene Luen Yang (Script), Gurihiru (Art)
Dark Horse Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: After reuniting with his mother, Ursa, Zuko and his family return to the Fire Nation. It’s a very bittersweet homecoming for Ursa; although she’s happy to be with her son again, she’s still very much haunted by the past she left behind there. Meanwhile, Zuko must deal with a growing threat from the New Ozai Society, an organization determined to show how weak and unfit to rule the current Fire Lord is. Their cause gains even more momentum when Zuko can’t seem to stop a spate of kidnappings, allegedly by spirits known as the Kemurikage, and he has no choice but to call on an old friend for help.

Review: I’ve been rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender on and off lately, so I was totally in the mood to read Smoke and Shadow, the fourth graphic novel that follows the continuing adventures of the gAang, post-TV series. I was especially looking forward to this installment because HELLO—ZUKO! He was absent from the previous volume, The Rift, and he makes a most welcome return in Smoke and Shadow. Returns are a bit of a theme here, as Zuko’s mother, Ursa, sets foot in the Fire Nation’s Capital City for the first time since viewers of the show watched her leave a young Zuko and Azula behind and disappear. Mai is back for this story as well and features prominently in it, while Katara and Sokka head home to the Southern Water Tribe for the first time since the end of the war.

I know I’ve lavished heaps of praise on these graphic novels in previous reviews, but it’s because every bit of praise is absolutely well-deserved. What I continue to adore about these comics is how extremely well-crafted the stories are and the care that’s taken to keep the characters consistent with the characters we originally met in the TV series. The continuity not only between the show and the comics but also between the graphic novels is simply stellar. Thanks to Gene Luen Yang’s superb writing and artists Gurihiru’s lush, beautifully rendered illustrations, it’s like the TV series never signed off.

Although I love every member of Team Avatar, Zuko is my favorite. The transformation of his character is one of the best written arcs EVER. I love that he’s not perfect, and in Smoke and Shadow, we glimpse some of the impulsiveness that was especially prevalent during the first season of the show. To be fair, though, the New Ozai Society, a group trying to undermine Zuko’s authority and restore his father to power, often puts Zuko in a position where he’s forced to react to their plotting. AtLA story lines can be pretty intense, as is this one. Creepy spirits are kidnapping Fire Nation children, and the New Ozai Society capitalizes on the ensuing panic to bolster their claim that Zuko is too weak to be Fire Lord. Meanwhile, a subplot finds Zuko’s mother, Ursa, struggling with facing the past life she didn’t think she’d ever see again. There’s also a brilliant plot twist that’s bound to feature in future graphic novels.

As always happens when reviewing these AtLA comics, I could go on and on about how phenomenal they are. Before wrapping up, I just have to say how badass Mai is in Smoke and Shadow. I really liked seeing her in the spotlight here, and like everyone else in the Avatar-verse, she’s a wonderfully complex character.

Yet again, Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru have produced a homerun of a collaboration set in a world that I love so much. There’s typically a bit of a wait between graphic novels, but I’d wait forever as long as I knew there’d be another one eventually because they are just. So. Amazing.

All in All: I pretty much know these are going to be 5 star reads from the moment a new title is announced. They haven’t disappointed me yet, and I doubt they ever could.

Monday, January 15, 2018

ARC Review: S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett

S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett
By M.A. Bennett
Delacorte Press
Format: Print ARC
Source: YALLFest
Publication Date: January 30, 2018

To Sum It Up: Greer MacDonald has become the new scholarship student at a highly prestigious boarding school. However, the excitement of her new school quickly wears off as Greer is treated like an outsider by most of her wealthy classmates. When Greer is invited to Henry de Warlencourt’s estate for the weekend, she eagerly accepts, excited by the prospect of forming connections with her peers. But the weekend takes a turn for the sinister, and Greer must face some shocking truths.

Melissa's Review: The premise of this story was fascinating to me. I mean, who doesn’t love stories about elite boarding schools with a dark twist?! M.A. Bennett does an excellent job of immersing the reader in the setting of her story by providing interesting, but not an excessive amount of detail. I thought the most intriguing part of the book was Bennett’s ability to set such a gripping and continuous pace. I read this book in only two sittings!

I felt as though the characters were not fully developed, and they seemed somewhat one-dimensional. Additionally, the relationships between characters were weak and not quite believable. This lack of development made the characters unrelatable and the reader unsympathetic to their plights. While there certainly was an interesting ideology behind the motives of the antagonists, there was a serious lack of relatability, making it hard for the reader to suspend their disbelief.

The ending was, unfortunately, very dissatisfying. There seemed to be a forced sense of the story coming full circle. It was boring in its predictability. I think if the book had ended a chapter or two sooner, the ending would have been more fitting for the rest of the story.

All in All: S.T.A.G.S. was certainly a quick read, and Bennett has a talent for pace within her writing. The downfall of this book was ultimately a lack of character development. It was enjoyable all the same.

Lee's Review: Given my ongoing struggle with reading for any extended length of time, it’s pretty amazing that I finished S.T.A.G.S. in a single weekend. That is entirely due to the book’s absolutely brilliant pacing; once I began reading, I could. Not. Stop. S.T.A.G.S. actually brought me back to my Twilight days, when I spent every available minute buried in the book because I needed to know what happened next.

It quickly becomes clear that there’s a “The Most Dangerous Game” type element going on here, but it’s not the “what” that spurs you on reading. It’s the “how” and the “why.” While both are eventually revealed, the motivation behind the actions of the Medievals, a clique of students at St. Aidan the Great School (the titular S.T.A.G.S.), fell short for me. I expected something more complex than what the book offers, and this was quite disappointing considering how solid the build-up was.

I still would have given S.T.A.G.S. at least three stars if the ending hadn’t also fallen flat. It seemed both rushed and anti-climactic, and it even annoyed me a bit because the previous three-quarters of the book had been so compulsively readable. Although the insight into the mindset of the Medievals’ leader, Henry de Warlencourt, wasn’t wholly satisfying, I would’ve been fine with the story ending there instead of trying to set up a possible sequel.

I also wasn’t really impressed with the main character, Greer. She’s named after actress Greer Garson and is a film buff, and she drops a lot of film references, so much so that it feels heavy-handed sometimes. What bothered me most about Greer, though, was how oblivious she could be to what was really going on around her. Overall, Greer’s character development never quite took off, and none of the secondary characters, particularly all of the Medievals except Henry, was especially memorable.

S.T.A.G.S. was an odd read of sorts for me because I tore through it despite having a few big issues with it. If the book had ended as strongly as it started, this would have been a fantastic read.

All in All: S.T.A.G.S. boasts some impressive pacing, but unfortunately, the book loses the momentum it builds up so brilliantly in the beginning and ends without fully delivering on what drives some of the characters to act as they do.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2018 Releases I Need to Read

As much as I'm really, really, really, really, really trying to stick to a budget this year, I've got to make allowances for all of these lovelies:

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Publication Date: January 16

This comes out next week, and I'm super excited! I love Maureen Johnson's Shades of London series and am eagerly awaiting this one very much.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Publication Date: February 27

I freaked out when I spotted ARCS of this at YALLFest and was lucky enough to snag one. Set in the same world as Rachel Hartman's fantastic Seraphina, I can't wait to return to that world.

Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi
Publication Date: March 6

When I heard that Juliette, Warner, Kenji, Warner, Warner, Warner, Warner were returning for more books, my first thought was, "WHAAAAAAAT????!!!! MORE WARNER????!!!!!!!!" So, um, yeah, I'm a tad excited to read this book. Possibly because of Warner. XD

Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray
Publication Date: April 3

I just about jumped for joy when I held an ARC of this in my hands at YALLFest. Defy the Stars was one of my favorite reads last year, and anyone who's looking for a bit of a Westworld fix while waiting for the show to return might want to check out this series.

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
Publication Date: May 1

Like everyone else who's enjoyed the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, I'm curious to see where the story heads next.

Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare
Publication Date: December 4

Oops, I didn't get to Lord of Shadows last year, but I've got a bit of time to catch up before this final book in The Dark Artifices releases.

And, of course, there's:

Throne of Glass 7 by Sarah J. Maas

It's too early for a title or cover, but I know one thing that's certain: this book is probably going to absolutely wreck me. And I can't wait! XD

Are any of these books on your TBR? What other 2018 releases are you looking forward to reading?