Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015 Releases Update

Awhile ago we did a post on the which 2015 releases we were most excited about and I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the ones I have read so far. I do not want you, faithful reader, to think that we come up with these lists and then do nothing with them. I enjoy the lists because they help me to organize my otherwise unwieldy TBR list.

Thus far I have read 2 of my 10 books that I was most anticipating. I am waiting on a Barnes and Noble coupon (it pays to be a member!) to buy book 3. Have you read any on your list yet? Did you have a list? I would love to hear it - I am always looking for new authors to try!

The Vitals

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
Release Date: 3 March 2015
Page Count: 336
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience: Adult
Series: Alpha & Omega #4
Source and Format: Amazon; eBook
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (From Goodreads) 
For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal, as Charles plans to buy Anna a horse for her birthday. Or at least it starts out that way...

Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire.

Notes on Dead Heat
I gave this book 3. 5 stars because it was just okay. The problem with a series like Alpha & Omega is that it starts out with complex, well-developed characters, which can be difficult to maintain the longer a series gets. Don't get me wrong, I still really like this series, but this particular entry was just okay. The ending felt a little rushed and overall I am not really sure what this book has to do with the overarching plot of the series. Perhaps this is just a bridge book and they do tend to be mediocre but necessary. Charles and Anna have been dealing with heavy issues their whole relationship and while there is certainly some heaviness here, it is more a secondary issue that is not as fully dealt with as previous conflicts have been. 

Overall Diagnosis

Memorable Quotes
“But that is the dual gift of love, isn’t it? The joy of greeting and the sorrow of good-bye.”

“It comes with being a teenager—you inspire violence in the hearts of those who love you. It mostly goes away when you hit twenty.”

The Vitals

Prudence by Gail Carrier
Release Date: 17 March 2015
Page Count: 368
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience: YA/Adult
Series: The Custard Protocol #1
Source and Format: Amazon; eBook

Summary (From Goodreads)
When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (Rue to her friends) is given an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female would under similar circumstances - names it the Spotted Custard and floats to India in pursuit of the perfect cup of tea. But India has more than just tea on offer. Rue stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier's wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis and an embarrassing lack of bloomers, what else is a young lady of good breeding to do but turn metanatural and find out everyone's secrets, even thousand-year-old fuzzy ones?

Notes on Prudence
I was seriously disappointed in this book. I have read both her Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School series, the first Adult and the second YA, and enjoyed them immensely, especially the first books in which she really fleshes out her characters and sets out a plausible story arc for the series. This one was missing both of those things. The main character, Prudence, is an amalgamation of the protagonists from her previous 2 series. She is so very flat, which is something I never thought I would say of Ms. Carriger's characters. Another issue is the target audience; I do not think this book was supposed to be considered YA but it very clearly is. The situations were a little too outrageous and the characters a little too immature to be believable as adults. This book seems a little too ambitious for a first book in a series. The more you love the characters, the more leniency you are willing to extend and this book just did not justify that leniency, in my opinion. 

Overall Diagnosis

Memorable Quotes
“He wielded verbal italics as if they were capable of actual bodily harm.”

"The ambassador’s wife was clearly a woman who enjoyed the sound of her own voice. She dropped flowery vocabulary about her like an incontinent hen might deposit eggs."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Books From Jenny's Childhood That She Would Love To Revisit

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is a chance to revisit the books that made me a reader. I love looking back over my books and revisiting old friends.These are books that I have not re-read yet but are on my list. It is really great to re-read these books as an adult.  My child-self was a pretty good judge of books... or maybe I just have not matured all that much in my reading :)

1. Maniac Magee | Jerry Spinelli. If you have not read this book, please go buy, borrow, or steal it. I am not going to tell you anything about it - just read it.

2. James and the Giant Peach | Roald Dahl. I remember not knowing what to do with this book when I read it. It was not as straight forward as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Then I watched the movie and did not like it. Maybe I can make more sense of it now. Maybe.

3. Where the Sidewalk Ends | Shel Silverstein. This is the first book I remember loving the illustrations and not thinking they were too childish (clearly I was an insufferable child). I need to go back as an adult and see if I still love them.

4. Tuck Everlasting | Natalie Babbitt. I do not want to give too much away, but this is the first book I read that dealt with the issue of immortality in a realistic, hard way. This book will probably appear on a TBT post in the near future...

5. Island of the Blue Dolphins | Scott O'Dell. I think my adoration of the beach, especially islands, stemmed from this book. I wanted so badly to go live on an island by myself (with lots of books, of course).

6. Holes | Louis Sachar. This group of quirky characters are wonderful. I loved the movie when it came out but the book is much, much better.

7. The Indian in the Cupboard | Lynne Reid Banks. Before there was Toy Story, there was this book. And it was magical.

8. The Merlin Effect | T.A. Barron. This was the first fantasy book I remember reading. My mom is not a fan of fantasy (just because she doesn't like the genre, not for any ethical/religious reasons lol), so I never really encountered it until I was old enough to check books out of the library at my elementary school. Strong female protagonist, Arthurian legend, and the ocean/beach.... perhaps this book was more life-defining than I realized!

9. Riding Freedom | Pam Muñoz Ryan. This is another book with a strong female lead AND she loves horses. Books like this were for me what catnip is for cats. She wants to work with horses, girls aren't allowed to, so she dresses like a boy and no one EVER finds out. This is based on a true story. Y'all should definitely check this one out ASAP.

10. The Devil's Arithmetic | Jane Yolen. I know for a fact I was not old enough to understand all the nuances of this book. It has haunted me (in a good way) my whole life. This is the first book I read that opened my eyes to the fact that injustice and death do, in fact, exist. It is also shows the preciousness of life, what makes life worth living. It is painfully beautiful. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thesis Music

I do not know how many of you visit author websites/blogs, but I have noticed that more and more authors are talking about the music they listen to while writing. Some make playlists of what they listened to while writing particular books, while others talk about a a song that they identify with one of their characters. It is fascinating, in my opinion, how true it is. The connection between music, words, and feelings is something I could write on endlessly but, never fear, that is not what I am going to do to you today.

Music helps me to think, to drown out distractions so that I can focus better on what I am writing or what I am reading. And, as the authors I just mentioned, I have found that I gravitate towards music that seems to meld with whatever I am working on, especially when I am writing. What am I writing? My thesis, in case you are reading the blog for the first time. Did I intentionally set out to have a play list of music that helps me to write about Beowulf, biblical exegesis, allegory, monsters, and Anglo-Saxon monasticism? Of course not. The fact that one has come to exist is very, very funny to me. That is the main reason I am sharing this with you. I do not think you care, really, but it is funny to think that listening to certain music helps me to write about such things. Some are predictable, while others are much more surprising. Without further ado, here is, more or less, the music that fuels my thesis.

The Lord of the Rings Soundtrack. I do not think this one is much of a surprise. If this does not make you think of a heroic age where men and monsters live side-by-side then your imagination has been stunted and needs to nurtured so that it can make proper connections. Solemn, stately, and hopeful - the tone of any good epic.

Gregorian Chants. I adore Gregorian chants. The beauty of human voices, unaccompanied by instrument or digital enhancement gives me chills each time I hear it. This helps me to get in a monastic mindset. These chants capture the complexity, depth, and beauty of the monastic life that the majority of modern readers (well, people really, not just readers) do not understand.

Led Zeppelin. This one does not make a whole lot of sense, but I don't really care. Something about Robert Plant's voice just energizes me and helps me to write like a crazy person. Sometimes I find myself typing in time to Jimmy Page's guitar solos. Just kidding. I can't type that fast. But seriously. The Immigrant Song? I could listen to that on repeat.

X by Ed Sheeran. I did not realize I was an Ed Sheeran fan until the Grammys, but there it is. I have been listening to this album while writing the part of my thesis about authorship in Anglo-Saxon England. Do the two have anything in common? No, not one thing. Does the album help me to focus and tune out the millions of distractions clamoring for my attention? Yes, most definitely.

Needtobreathe. This is one of my favorite bands. I have all of their albums and listen to them on shuffle while I am reading. Their sound is unique and soothing, helping me to be unconsciously happy while reading, thereby helping me to read more. I love reading, but academic reading can be so dry. These guys help me to get through it.

The George Frideric Handel station on Spotify. The hugeness of his sound (nice and technical, I know) really helps me to focus on what exactly I am writing. The audience I am writing for is small, but I believe that what I have is important and necessary to understanding the unique, wonderful complexity that is Beowulf. This station is full of songs that are aware of their own importance. Does that make sense to you? Probably not. I fully recognize how my thesis has driven me to delusions.

Does anyone else have songs or playlists for books or writing? If so, I would genuinely love to hear them. Hope you were entertained by this post and have not become afraid to be my friend. I'm told everything will go back to normal once my thesis is finished.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Bookish Place: Bookstory | Cluj, Romania

Not sure if y'all have noticed or not (I hope you have!), but Lesley Anne and I have been seriously MIA this past month. Okay, more like past 6 weeks, but who's counting? We have not forgotten about the blog but it has not been a priority due to other, overwhelming projects, a.k.a my thesis. Y'all. It is so hard to write a thesis. I finally had to knuckle down and write or it was never going to get done. Research is much more fun than actually writing. Anyways, my rough draft is with my committee at the moment so I am (kind of) free to catch up on life.

I have been in Oradea, Romania these past 2 weeks visiting my best friend and her sweet family. Actually, the only sweet people in her family are her children. The rest are very sarcastic and like to make fun of people, but they kind of grow on you. Anyways, it was the best trip. I happened to be over there on Women's Day, which pretty much everywhere else in the world celebrates except America. I have never been given so many flowers in my life. It was great. True story - we were pulled over in downtown Cluj by police officers so that they could give us flowers and our picture was taken for the paper. They also gave us a voucher for a defensive driving course which we pretended was not sexist at all. You win some, you lose some.

(Geez, sorry I'm so chatty. Apparently I missed blogging.)

Ashley and I left the kids with Kalep (thanks, Kalep!) and drove to Cluj, a city that is about 2.5 hours east of Oradea and it is seriously beautiful. It is exactly what you picture when you think of a European city.

Ash and I were walking along one of the streets and came across a book store. Of course I made her go in. She is not really a reader but she is a great friend, so she humored me. Turns out the bookstore was a hidden gem. The English section was small, but I was not even expecting them to have an English section so it was a nice surprise. In addition to Romanian and English, they also had books in Hungarian and German. As you can see, it was really cute on the inside.

Ash and I spent the most time in the children's section because her family runs an after-school program for the kids in the village they live in. The education system in Romania is not the best, and the farther you are from the city the worse it gets. In addition, they work with Roma (gypsy) children, too, who are severely marginalized. Education is the key to changing not only these kids' lives, but their communities, society, and country.

Ash was telling me how they have not been able to find a lot of good books for the kids when we went downstairs (yes, it was a two-story bookstore!) and found two walls, covered floor to ceiling in kids and teen books. We literally spent 45 minutes down there just going through books. I have never had as much fun picking out books as I did in that store. Ashley wants to build a library for the kids but has had trouble finding good books that the kids could actually read. This bookstore was, literally, filled with books for these kids and I got help pick some out. Going through the books and helping to decide which stories these kids should hear, should read was the best.

Of course, I had to go with the fantasy classics. Ashley was telling me that these kids do not have much imagination because it has never been taught to them. I was floored. Most of their parents can't read, and if they can, they do not have the money for books and it is not cheap to travel to the city where they library is (and some of them probably would not even be allowed in). The majority of them never leave the area surrounding their village so they do not know how big the world is. This is unacceptable. To help start the library I chose The Little Prince, Prince Caspian, and The Hobbit. I was especially excited about The Hobbit because it is the same edition I got for my niece and nephews.

I can honestly say it was the best time I have ever spent in a bookstore. There were tons of books I wanted to get for the kids but did not have the money on me to do so. I will be talking with our book club about how we can help build their library and if you, too, want to help let me know in the comment section and I will tell you how. I could write post after post about my trip, but this was definitely one of the highlights. If you would like more information about the after-school program and other programs my friend and her family run, please check out their website here.

I hope this post made you want to travel, buy books, and help out kids. I mean, how much more perfect could life get?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Top Ten Books on Jenny's Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is books on our Spring To-Be-Read list. Pretty straight forward and an easy topic as my TBR list is always overflowing. These books are not in any particular order other than the fact that they are highest on my list.

1. Shadow Scale | Rachel Hartman
2. The Praise of Folly | Erasmus
3. All the Light We Cannot See | Anthony Doerr
4. The Cloud of Unknowing | Anonymous
5. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald | Therese Anne Fowler
6. Prudence | Gail Carriger
7. The Gracekeepers | Kirsty Logan
8. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch | Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
9. Antigone | Sophocles
10. The Canterbury Tales | Chaucer