Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Review: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #2)

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.
Consistent with the quality of the first book - I was thoroughly pleased with the efforts from the second book in the series.  I think comparisons to the intrigue and drama of Game of Thrones continue to be deserved and I appreciate the continued intermingling of politics and court life with action and magic.  I think the author does a great job of keeping her characters in order and blending characterization with plot in a way that keeps the story moving but also gives the reader an investment in more than just the story.

Entertainment Value
Lots to enjoy here if you're a fan of fantasy-based courtly intrigue.  I think those who enjoyed Game of Thrones will find a lot to enjoy here, especially those who are looking for a little bit more empowerment for female characters.

I highly recommend this to fans of YA fantasy with a bit more focus on courtly intrigue and politics.  It has more grit that some, so readers should be prepared for violence, including some sexual violence, and harsh language.  I'm looking forward to the conclusion to the trilogy!

Thanks to TLC and the publisher, Harper Collins, for providing me with copies of the trilogy to review.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Like the rest of the world, I think, I've struggled to make it through 2016.  This year has been a particularly hard one in my personal life.  I'm not publicizing it in most places, but I do want to mention it briefly here, as it specifically relates to my reading life.  Luke and I are getting divorced, which is why my blogging and reading life have both greatly suffered over the last six months or so.  I've been so overwhelmed, emotionally and physically, with the processes of moving and legal processes and division of property and working out finances and dealing with life in general that I haven't had much energy for either reading or blogging.

I am finally settled in my new home though, with Pompom, and we're getting into a new routine.  Even though it's been a much slower reading year than I typically have, I've still got some favorites and some least favorites to share this year.  I wouldn't leave my reader friends hanging without a list of best books from the last year to add to your wish list.  As always, I'll have several genre-specific lists posted before Christmas and then I'll follow up with some post-Christmas end of year surveys and wrap ups.  

I love the holidays and I'm really looking forward to a new year and the new beginnings it will bring me.  I think the rest of the world is too!  Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming Best of 2016 lists to see which books were the highlights of my reading year!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea's forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea's nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen's Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch."

Kelsea's quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea's journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.
Very well done.  This is a series with lots of characters and lots of political intrigue, which can be hard to do well, but the author more than succeeds at keeping it all going.  I love a good fantasy with a focus on characterization but that also delivers on the action and this one has both.  I thoroughly enjoyed this first installment and appreciated how Johansen manages to keep the story moving while also introducing us to a variety of characters and building a foundation for the series.

Entertainment Value
First books in a series can be difficult, but, again, this book really succeeds in introducing characters quickly and keeping the action moving.  She lays the foundation for her world in a way that makes you want more but doesn't feel like a lot of exposition.  I'm so excited to be a part of the three book review tour for this one and can't wait to move on to the second book!

This is a great choice for fans of political intrigue with a dash of fantasy in the style of Game of Thrones but with maybe a bit more social awareness.  It's got some violence but less gore and definitely more of a respect for women.  It might be a difficult choice for younger teens, but it's a good book for older teens and adult fantasy readers.

Thanks to TLC and to Harper Collins for having me on the tour.  Click here for a link to the other stops on the tour!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Book Review: The Bitch Is Back by Cathi Hanauer

The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier
More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today...
Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these "bitches"—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the "original bitches" (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions. 
The writing here is fantastic, as you would expect from some of the most highly acclaimed feminist writers of our time.  Obviously, I connected with some essays more so than others, and I'm significantly younger than many of the authors (I'll have to make The Bitch in the House a priority on my TBR) but I found a lot to enjoy here.

Entertainment Value
Again, the audience here is older.  Fortunately, that also means, in many cases, wiser.  I'm embarking on my own major life changes and this was a great place to turn for some advice on doing so with grace and dignity (or in some cases the pitfalls to avoid to maintain my grace and dignity).  I think there's a lot of value here for all readers, regardless of age and life situation.

Highly recommend for those interested in feminism and women's issues, particularly those surrounding marriage, careers, children, and independence.  There's a lot of humor to be found here, but also a lot of great advice and motivation.

A major thank you to TLC for having me on the tour and to Harper Collins for sending a copy of the book.  Click here for a list of other stops and links to reviews.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Book Review: Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco

Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life
From Goodreads:
Yoga, Meet Life.

Sometimes an hour-long yoga class is the only chance we get to connect meaningfully with our bodies and our minds during a week otherwise full of work, family, and the daily grind. Have you ever wondered how would it feel to bring that experience of awareness and calm out of the yoga studio and into your everyday life? After all, we know that practicing yoga can give us a leaner body and more sculpted limbs, but isn't its most important benefit the way it makes us feel?

In Do Your Om Thing, master yoga teacher and creator of the popular blog OmGal.com Rebecca Pacheco shows us that the true practice of yoga is about much more than achieving the perfect headstand or withstanding an hour-long class in a room heated to 100 degrees. "Yoga is not about performance," she tells us, "it's about practice, on your mat and in your life. If you want to get better at anything what should you do? Practice. Confidence, compassion, awareness, joy—if you want more of these—and who doesn't?—yoga offers the skills to practice them."
I fell in love with Pacheco's writing from the first paragraph - she's intensely relatable and down-to-earth.  You can tell she's got a background in blogging from how personable her writing style is.  It feels like having a conversation with a friend, which is exactly the right tone for this kind of book. Pacheco's entire point in writing the book is to take a more relaxed and personal look at yoga and her tone reflects that perfectly throughout the book.

Entertainment Value
This is exactly what I was looking for and it came at exactly the time I was looking for it.  I've been needing a book that teaches the basics of the philosophy of yoga in a way that isn't dictatorial.  I'm never going to be the yoga practitioner who takes it all super seriously.  I'm very science minded and practical and a lot of the stuff that goes along with the typical yoga practice isn't going to be for me, but that doesn't mean I don't want to know what the philosophies behind yoga are.  This is the perfect book for anyone who isn't ready for whatever reason to jump onto the stereotypical yoga bandwagon but still wants to know about the practice and what it means.

I highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in or passion for yoga but who hasn't quite bought into the culture surrounding yoga for whatever reason.  It's a very open minded and easy-going look at what's happening in the world of yoga now and in its history that doesn't pressure the reader to adopt any of the beliefs personally.

Thanks to TLC for providing a copy and hosting the tour.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: The American Girl by Kate Horsley

The American Girl
On a quiet summer morning seventeen-year-old American exchange student Quinn Perkins stumbles out of the woods near the small French town of St. Roch, barefoot, bloodied, and unable to say what has happened to her.

Quinn's appearance creates a stir, especially since her host family, the Blavettes, has mysteriously disappeared. Now the media, and everyone in the idyllic village, are wondering if the American girl has anything to do with the missing family.

A Boston reporter named Molly Swift travels to St. Roch, prepared to do anything to learn the truth and score the ultimate scoop. After Quinn is arrested and a trial by media ensues, she finds an unlikely ally in the young journalist. Molly unravels the disturbing secrets of the town's past in an effort to clear Quinn's name, but even she is forced to admit that the American girl makes a compelling suspect.

Is Quinn truly an innocent abroad, or is she a cunning, diabolical killer intent on getting away with murder?
Another entry in the "thrillers with the word 'girl' in the title" and I think that pretty much sums up the writing.  Another entry.  It's nothing bad, but nothing stands out about it as exceptional either.  It reads quickly, and it's entertaining, but it doesn't bring anything new or outstanding to the genre.  The ending wasn't particularly shocking or thrilling and I wasn't kept guessing up until the end.  I also wasn't captivated by the characters or drawn to any aspect of the story line in a way that stands out from the herd.

Entertainment Value
Again, it was a great diversion.  I went through it quickly, it kept my attention, I wasn't bored.  I also wasn't blown away and I doubt that it'll be one that I can recall the plot for a year or two down the road.  It's a fine book and I don't have anything negative to say about it as far as the reading experience is concerned, but I also don't have many raves for it either.  It's another entry in the generic thrillers about girls who may or may not be telling the truth category and it does a fine job of being what it is.

If this is your genre, I think it's a fine title to grab.  I'm enjoying all of the Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc, etc, etc spin offs, and this one isn't an exception.  I'm not sure it lives up to the high standard of those titles, but it's a fine diversion for an afternoon.  If you're not just super into the genre, I'd say maybe skip it and pick one of the more well known iterations that's getting all the buzz.  Sometimes the hype is there for a reason.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour and providing me with a copy of this one to review.  Click here for a link to the other stops on the tour!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mini Reviews: Personal Stories

Oh dear.  We're quickly approaching the end of July and I am so seriously behind on my reviews that I just don't know how to catch up other than writing a whole bunch of seriously short mini-reviews in a desperate attempt to get there.  I'm gonna just jump right on in with the memoirs:

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood

Hilarious modern parenting memoir by a man who doesn't take himself or his parenting too seriously.  If I can enjoy it without having kids, it's a pretty good sign that he's not pretentious and that he's highly relatable.  Thoroughly enjoyable on a wide-ranging level, but will appeal most to those who have at least a passing interest in children, obviously.

The V-Word: True Stories About First-Time Sex
A collection of essays from YA authors about losing their virginity.  Their experiences range from frightened to touching to hilarious to heart-breaking.  Some are good, some are awful, most are just plain awkward.  It's a great book to have in any collection that serves teens and a very real approach to first times.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Sound of Gravel
Cults are one of those things I can't not read about.  Any cult memoir that comes across my path is just an automatic read.  I'm just fascinated.  This particular cult was started by the author's grandfather and followed by her mother and father until her father was murdered by his brother.  It is just a heartbreaking story.  I couldn't put it down, but it is incredibly difficult to read and contains all manner of abuse and hardship, so be warned that it is not a light read.

If at Birth You Don't Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny
I love Anner's YouTube channel and was delighted when he wrote a memoir about his early life, his time on reality tv, his college years, and what he's doing now.  He's got a great story and he's as funny in his book as he is on video.  I highly recommend reading him and checking him out on YouTube and I'll definitely be watching to see what he comes up with next. (Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review)

Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind
I listened to this one on audio, and it was...wow.  The narrator just really ruined the whole thing.  I mean the writing wasn't spectacular to begin with - almost the entire book is made up of quotes from various actors and directors instead of actual writing.  But what really killed this for me is that the narrator attempted to do impressions of each actor when he'd read their quotes.  And he didn't do them well at all.  Phoenix's life is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed his story, but the narrator butchered the experience.