Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Considering A Change

If you've been around for a while, you know I go through spurts and dry spells with my blogging. This blog has also changed over time. When I first started, there were no book reviews. I wrote mostly writing advice as I found it helpful for me to put my thoughts into words. But over time (right around the time of my first summer reading project) this blog became mostly reviews. They were incredibly short and didn't have much substance to them. This has changed into longer reviews where I try to delve deeper into books without being so long-winded that it gets boring.

Now I'm contemplating another change. I adore reading. I'm currently reading three books right now. One is my At Home book. One is an audiobook I listen to on the way to work, and another one is the Huge Book That Is Going To Take A Year to Read. I love my books, clearly. I have another passion. It's baking. In the last couple years I have really gotten into cooking and baking, mostly because I was finally out of the college dorms where the "kitchen" was a sink and an ironing board. I make a lot of crock pot meals and I'm building a spice collection. But my true passion is baking. The more complicated the better.

And I've been thinking about changing this blog once again. I want to do book reviews. I really enjoy writing them. But I'd also love to share my baking experiences with you. I'm not yet at the point where I develop my own recipes from scratch, but I do tend to have interesting experiences because I don't have a complete kitchen like a lot of food bloggers. I don't have a standing mixer. I have two spatulas and one set of measuring spoons. I have to read recipes and adjust based on my equipment. I can't make certain things because of it.

So, I'd like to share my experiences with my readers. I'm not sure yet how this could change the blog, how often I would post about it, or if it would just be a background to my reviews. I'd love recommendations! Sound off!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Reasons I Love Raisa ana'Mariana

If you've been on this blog for at least six months you'll know I've read a LOT of Cinda Williams Chima books recently. Like...7 of them. I just started reading The Enchanter Heir. But while I've enjoyed the Heir Chronicles, I tore through the Seven Realms series. The main character in these books? Raisa ana'Mariana, princess heir of the Fells, a little kingdom with a ton of political and magical intrigue. Over 4 books I got to know her pretty well, and I can say with certainty that I love her. Why?

  • She's open-minded. Not to say she doesn't have biases, but she's open to hearing different peoples' perspectives and understands why they look at the world the way they do. There's one scene that truly struck me in this regard. Raisa is checking on someone in the infirmary, and discovers that the best healer hasn't been tending her because he's stretched thin and doesn't use techniques other cultures use. She understands, but cuts him down and puts him in the position to learn about these other cultures and appreciate what they can bring to the table. It was well done without hitting the reader over the head.
  • She allows herself to be a teenager. Yes, she's the princess heir, and yes, she's got a TON of responsibility, and she takes it very seriously. But that doesn't mean she doesn't enjoy kissing different boys and wearing pretty clothes and escaping it all once in a while to be herself. And she doesn't do these things with an annoying "woe is me" attitude. She takes these moments to be herself wholly and truly.
  • She likes learning. This is kind of related to the first point, but Raisa likes to learn. She decides to do physical training and war training when she goes to school instead of focusing on the arts because she's already learned some of those things and wants to be a well-rounded queen. She's got a council of people from all walks of life, and she goes walking in her city as a commoner to see what their lives are like. And she encourages others to learn, even funding schools for people without much money. That's aces in my book.
  • She does not give up. Yeah, I know that's general. But there's this scene where she's running from some people and she's exhausted and just watched people die, and then she gets poisoned, and then she hits a dead end. She's dying and has only a rock, but she never stops fighting. It's admirable and crazy and just what I'd want in a queen.
So yeah, I've read a lot of Chima's books in the last 6 months. And YAY she's starting a new series in the same world as the Seven Realms! I can't wait for it to come out in paperback.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Reasons I Love Wyatt Enslow

It's been a few months since I read Catalyst, the final book in the Insignia trilogy. Today I want to take a little trip down memory lane with you guys and talk about Wyatt Enslow, a main character in the series. She is the best programmer in the Spire, and close friends with Tom and the gang. I won't tell you more, because the very base of her character is why I love her so much.

  • She's awkward. It might be hard to believe (/s), but once upon a time I was a very awkward individual. I could not wrap my mind around social situations. Every time I had a conversation with someone they would get this *look* that told me I was doing something weird or wrong. Over the years that changed, but I still remember those days. Wyatt is that kind of awkward. She has a hard time expressing what she feels, but has no trouble saying what she thinks. It's so relatable to me because she's not silent because of it. She still talks. And I think that personality type is underrepresented in books.
  • She has crushes. So slight spoiler, she crushed on Tom for a while, and ended up dating Yuri while still having a little bit of feelings for Tom. She even had some suspiciously tense banter with one of the other guys in the gang. And that's fine. She isn't slut-shamed for it, it isn't the only aspect of her character, she is still a good person. And she doesn't fall in love with the first guy that smolders at her and love him for all eternity. Sorry, but that Mary Sue trait bugs me a lot.
  • She's hella smart. Like, ridiculously smart. She's better than everyone else at programming. And it doesn't go to her head. She's proud, yeah, but she's also just good at it. She will help other people with their code and also whip out a virus that messes with them. I like that she's the best at it without being portrayed as arrogant or completely ignorant of how special she is.
  • She's loyal. This pops up a lot in my posts, I know, but seriously, loyalty that isn't blind is so awesome in a character. She is loyal to her friends even after they've done bad stuff. She doesn't let them get away with it, but she also doesn't ditch them as soon as the going gets tough.
So yeah! Those are my thoughts on Wyatt. I can't wait for S. J. Kincaid to write something new because she writes very believable characters with poignant and yet funny stories.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Reasons I Love Kestrel

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. It's not even 3pm and already I feel like I've accomplished enough things that I'm free to lounge for the rest of the week. I've cleaned, run errands, completed a couple projects I've been meaning to get to, and I've baked. How have I done all this, you ask? Well, I have to get up so early to get to work these days that sleeping in till 8am has become a luxury, one that I can't extend to say...9am. So I'm up at 8 on my day off. I'm working my way through The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan right now, so I should have a review for ya'll soon. In the meantime, enjoy reasons I love Kestrel (the heroine of The Winner's Curse series).

  • She's calculating. I always love a hero(ine) that is calculating. I love hearing about the different strategies running through their minds, the little details about people they pick up on that affect how they respond to their world. Kestrel loves to win, so she's calculating in a way that starts as a game, but over the course of the series becomes a necessity.
  • Her relationship with her father. Familial relationships are incredibly important and nuanced. But oftentimes they are reduced to Good Parent/Bad Parent when they serve as a secondary character to a plot. But in this series, despite Kestrel's father's secondary status, Kestrel's love and hate of him comes through the pages very clearly. They play games with each other, both wanting to win but interested to see if the other will beat them. Very interesting to watch.
  • She's withdrawn. Over the course of the series, Kestrel goes from being a moderately open person to one who gives out pieces of herself in dribs and drabs. Especially with Arin. Although she can't be very open with him even in the first book due to him being her slave, by the end of the book she has had to seal herself off to keep him, and herself, safe. Watching that happen, and then seeing her struggle to take down those self-imposed walls, was a treat.
Unfortunately, I haven't more for you on this that isn't retreading things I've already written about other main characters. If you've been following this blog for a while I think you'll know how I love my complex main characters. I want them strong AND weak, vulnerable AND wary. Seeing these conflicting characteristics is (for me) what makes the difference between a character that is carried by their story and a story that is carried by its characters.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reasons I Love Adelina Amouteru

I realized a little while ago that it's been a long time since I did one of these posts! For those of you just joining us now, these "Reasons I Love" posts are about characters both main and minor that I have enjoyed in the course of reading. Today I would like to highlight Adelina Amouteru, the anti-heroine of The Young Elites series by Marie Lu.

I instantly loved Lu's first series, Legend. I adored how June Iparis noticed the tiny details around her, how her relationship with Day evolved over the books without seeming forced. So when The Young Elites came out, I knew I had to snap up a copy. Adelina is a Young Elite, scarred for life by a virus that left some of the world with special powers. They are revered in some cultures and hunted in others. And Adelina is one of the ones you aren't so sure shouldn't be put down. Her story is heartbreaking. And this is why I love her:

  • She is awful. I mean it. She's a terrible person if you look at it objectively. She killed her father. Her actions led to the murder of a prince. She feels power in the face of other people's fear. But at the same time she is so damn lonely. You understand why she is awful. Her world made her that way. Some people turn into diamonds under pressure and horrific life circumstances, and some people crumble. Adelina crumbled.
  • She is loyal. Now, this may seem weird to those of you who have read The Young Elites, but hear me out. Adelina is loyal to people who treat her well. The problem is that almost no one treats her well. When she is used, she is hurt. When people push her down and say it's for her own good, she retaliates. But until then, she really tries to mold herself into who others want her to be. And it destroyed her.
  • She loves her sister. Trust issues are really big in this series. Adelina never knows who to trust, so she trusts no one until she does, and then it proves to hurt her all over again. The one person she was able to forgive is her sister who was their father's Golden Child. She hated her sister growing her. She was weak and perfect and everything Adelina wished she could be. But then she came to understand that her sister was living in just a different kind of hell, and their bond strengthened and solidified, and Adelina loved her fiercely.
  • She's powerful. Oh yeah, there's no denying it. Adelina has some serious power and she's creative with it. At first I wasn't sure how being able to create visions could make her a power player in a rebellion, but boy does she know what to do with it. She can make people think their worst nightmares are happening right in front of them. She can craft a mask and shed it just as quickly. Terrifying? Yes. Badass? Also yes.
I'll try to do some more of these in the upcoming weeks. I've been feeling pretty wiped from work so I haven't been reading as much, but I'll try to supplement with other things. Have a great week, internet!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Winner's Kiss

My SO commented the other day that I've been reading slower lately. It'll regularly take me a week to read a book when I used to devour books in about two days regardless of how much I liked them. I gave some flip answer, but later it got me thinking. I am reading slower lately. Why is that? Sure, I have a job that pretty much exhausts me because it involves talking. But I used to do that for longer hours every summer, which was when I started my summer reading project. So why I am I reading slower? I really don't have an answer here. Maybe it's a slump. Maybe I'm becoming pickier about what I read so when a book doesn't wow me it goes slower. I don't know. Something to ponder on.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Kestrel gambled everything she had and lost. Now she's a slave in a sulfur mine in the north and Arin believes she hates him. Her father disowned her, the emperor discovered her involvement in the Herrani rebellion. The only peace she gets now is from the drugs that her masters use to keep her useful and docile. Meanwhile, in Herran, Arin is preparing for war. He has his alliance with the east, and he's stymied the Valorian attempts to poison his people. He throws himself mercilessly into his cause, not thinking about how Kestrel sneered at him, or how his spymaster Tensen revelation of who his Moth was didn't really make sense. War is coming to Herran, and so is the largest gamble yet.

This series has really matured over time. I quite enjoyed The Winner's Curse. Although the beginning 100 pages were slow, the last half of the book was packed with happenings and some really interesting role reversal. Then The Winner's Crime upped the ante, giving me court intrigue and a heartbreaking dog, and a last few chapters that split my heart open. This series evolved from a tame romance story with a side of rebellion into a tale of two broken people trying to build themselves back together, save an oppressed people, and maybe find a way to forgive each other and themselves for what they've done. I was, quite simply, floored by how sad this book made me. Not in a weepy way, but in a resigned way. Kestrel gives herself over to a drug addiction to forget what she did to Arin and how her father gave her over to the emperor, exposing her as a traitor. When Arin discovers Kestrel is the Moth, he breaks, and when he finds out she doesn't remember him in her drugged-out state he breaks even more. Their journey back to each other emotionally is a good one, one that is beautifully written and sad and...yeah, I'm out of words. There's military stuff as well that switches POV quickly to great effect, and the minor characters get a good amount of screen time. I'm really impressed by how this series matured. You should read it!

Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
Up Next: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

Friday, April 1, 2016

Red Queen

One of my favorite shows is West Wing. I started watching in a couple years ago, and now I'm on my third viewing of it (at least). What I love about the show is the details. The minutiae that is always flowing under the surface and serves to fill out the world of the show. In the real world there is paperwork and bureaucracy and people get colds randomly and sometimes you tip over a glass of water and it ruins that paper you've spent hours writing. Little things like this really make fiction seem realistic. And, despite my enjoyment of Red Queen, this is what was missing.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Mare Barrow is a Red, born to work in service to and die for the elite Silvers. But after a freak accident reveals there's more to Mare that meets the eye, she is thrust into the world of the Silvers, forced to pretend to be one. But she is not swayed by the beautiful, powerful people who have enslaved the Reds for centuries.

The premise of this book is very simple, and very much like a lot of dystopian books. Oppressed girl is undercover in the oppressor's world. She must not be discovered as she tries to take them down. I don't mind that this is a retrodden theme. Books follow patterns. I care instead that they are done well. The journey matters more than the destination when it comes to books. And in a lot of ways, Red Queen hits the right notes. There's some political intrigue and cornering that couldn't be talked out of in one conversation. Bad things happen to good people and bad. Action scenes are well-written, and there's some heat to the love V. But Red Queen failed to me in a few ways as well. The world feels part fantasy, part sci-fi, which was hard to wrap my head around. Mare doesn't feel as fleshed out as I wish she would be, instead saying a lot of things about how she's going to save her people. She's too easy to like because she doesn't do anything wrong, which strays alarmingly close to Mary Sue-like behavior. There's some mean girl tactics on the part of the other female characters for seemingly no reason, but I'd be okay with it if it were explained more. All in all, this was a pleasant read. It didn't knock my socks off like it did to others, but it was enjoyable and I'll be reading the next book. And you know why? Because the ending was amazing and I totally didn't expect it. It played off my expectations with books like these and then laughed in my face for assuming I knew what was happening.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski