Daughter of Smoke and Bone

by Lani Taylor

Cover Beauty Score: 4 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 3 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Karou is a girl who lives in Prague, loves art, and has a secret family of demons. Running errands for her unconventional demonic family (really - they're demons) all over the world is sometimes dangerous, but never boring. She finds teeth from around the globe and traffics the magic they hold for her adoptive family, bringing the contraband to the alternate dimension where her family lives. But things change when an even more dangerous (not to mention good looking) stranger spots her on one of her missions, things begin to fall apart and Karou finally learns why a part of her has felt missing her entire life.

My Reaction: Well this book came incredibly highly recommended - I feel like every blog and reviewer with similar taste as mine has sung the praises of Lani Taylor for well over a year. And I bought this book a long time ago because of that. It's just been sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read since then.

And it was good! Great, even... I absolutely loved the character of Karou. She was fiercely independent and self sufficient. Blue hair, tattoos, and martial arts training? Now that's my kind of heroine! She didn't take shit from anybody and she certainly knew how to treat her cheating sleazy ex boyfriend. Karou is an intriguing chick - a sort personality that feels like a goth hipster Buffy Summers.

Ad then we have Akiva, the brooding and sexy angel that swoops out of the skies and into Karou's life with flaming wings and hard core brooding stares. Although he initially sets out to kill Karou, we all know the best relationships start with attempted assassinations. He has an immediate fascination with Karou, despite obviously having a tortured past. His character is established as complex and lengthy in a way that Karou is oblivious to. He knows more about her adoptive demon family than she seems to, which is intriguing in itself.

The story flows well, filling out with great dialogue and interesting characters. As soon as we're introduced to Karou's family that resides in a sort of alternate dimension, the world building is phenomenal. We get a glimpse at these creatures and it feels right away like a Hellboy family - dark and weird and loving in its own way. Brimstone was an absolutely fabulous creature, well described and infinitely complex for Karou's father figure.

And then things get a little weirder. Not in a horrible way, but without mentioning any spoilers, Karou learns the truth about who she is and why her family keeps secrets from her that this new sexy Akiva seems to know. And we have to abandon everything we thought Karou was, somewhat abandoning her story completely and learning a completely new one.

This is where it lost me, really. I adored Karou so much that I didn't want to read about a life without her, even if it was still her. She lost her fire. In fleshing out her history, Taylor seems to completely neglect the main character we have come to know and love. And in her place, we get a sort of lack luster sappy romantic love story with not much substance at all. A mythical Romeo and Juliet adaptation that honestly felt like it could have been written by a middle schooler.

Where was my fiery blue haired martial arts expert who likes to draw nudes at school one day and run around on missions trying not to get shot at the next? I wanted Karou back! Too much romantic sap and not enough ass kicking!

Will I read the second one? Probably. But just in the hope that Taylor will be able to erase the entire second half of this book and give me Karou back to read. Should you pick this one up? Probably. It's entertaining, if nothing else. The writing itself is superb - another great author in the making here. Let's just hope book 2 has more action and adventure and less face sucking and romantic destiny.
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A Court of Thorns and Roses

by Sarah J. Maas

Cover Beauty Score: 8 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Feyre learned to become a huntress out of necessity when her family fell into poverty at a young age. When she kills a wolf during a desperate winter, a monstrous faerie from a magical land comes across the border into human territory to claim her as just compensation for the murder of his friend. Feyre soon learns that the beast is Tamlin, a High Lord of the faerie court and his estate and lands hold even more terrible things than himself. Feyre is drawn into their world and begins to see that the faeries may not be all terrible, least of all Tamlin. And there are larger forces at work that threaten to destroy both of their worlds.

My Reaction: Dude. Where did that come from?! My mind is still reeling over this one. I mean, I've never had a book completely turn around for me the way that this one did. The first half of this thing, I was dragging. It felt like I was just reading Throne of Glass (read that review here) all over again. Typical warrior chick gets pointlessly thrown into something weird - we find out she's not as badass as she should be - she has to choose between two dudes - there's a lot of fake-y emotions - blah blah blah... but NO! Right at that halfway mark I realize that the arc we were building to is really not the main arc at all! Well done, Maas, well done.

So let's talk about our main character - Feyre. Despite spending the first few chapters trying to figure out if it was pronounced Fay-er or Fay-ruh, I was pretty into her character from the start. She's ballsy and knows how to fend for herself. Despite being the youngest sister in her family, she's had to provide for everybody since her good-for-nothing dad lost all their money. That was a little cheese ball, not gonna lie. And then we hop right into this weird stuff when Tamlin takes her to his lands. She like immediately loses her fire and becomes all weird and submissive, I felt. There should have been more resistance. If she hated faeries enough to kill one of them (the wolf), then why would she have just been all lah-tee-dah about getting abducted by one? I just feel like the story could have really used some better character background for her... and the current armistice with the faerie world should have been established a little better.

In short - things got off to a rocky start. The whole love story between Fayre and Tamlin felt rushed to me. The connection between them just wasn't there... I didn't feel their fire, really. But as soon as it became apparent to me where the real arc was going to lead, things kind of clicked into place. Like ohhhhh - Maas was trying to get to THIS part. I could 100% tell that she wanted to write Feyre's kick ass story. That's where the meat of this book was.

And don't even get me started on Rhysand. I mean is that one yummy piece of other worldly demon, or what? I mean, sure... Tamlin is Feyre's soul mate, whatever. He's all good and noble and that whole pagan orgy sex ritual thing certainly didn't hurt his appeal, but Rhysand's characterization in this book just blew Tamlin straight out of the water. The minute he came into the page, I was itching to read more of  him. And the scenes Under the Mountain certainly didn't dissapoint. But of course, we all know I'm a sucker for an anti-hero (could this story be any more Thor-Loki?).

And the ending was well thought out and plotted - satisfactory and yet with enough loose ends to really get me salivating for the next one in the series. With how Freye's soul is shattered a bit by her trials, I can really see the potential for a lot of great emotional conflict in the next one, not to mention some serious butt kicking because of a certain something that happened (spoilers!).

Not really sure this book can be considered YA, though. Definitely should be firmly settled in the New Adult category. For anyone who says they don't like romance novels - let's get real. This definitely had some steamy scenes in it. I've literally read romance novels with less sex. One things for certain; older heroines (I mean, should 19 really be considered an "older heroine?!") get to have a lot more fun, if you know what I mean (skip to chapter 21 &27)!

So the real revelation here is that maybe I'm not so pissed off at love triangles. Ok ok... so for Freye there's not much of a choice, really. But I get the feeling book two in the series will present some more complex challenges for her... a reader can only hope!
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Daughter of the Forest

by Juliet Marillier

Cover Beauty Score: 5 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 4 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Sorcha is a young girl who lives in medieval Ireland, during a time when magic and the Fae Folk are still alive and well for the people of Erin. As the seventh daughter of a seventh son, she has always felt a disappointment, although she finds solace in her connection with the spirits of the earth and in her talents as a healer. When her father remarries a mysterious and evil woman, Sorcha and her six brothers are targeted by the woman and she turns all six brothers into swans. Sorcha is told by the Fae that in order to break this curse, she must complete seemingly impossible tasks and travel a path that will be the most difficult of them all.

My Reaction: This book, though. I can't even begin to describe the emotional roller coaster of this thing. I read this book because I thought it was in the YA category, although as I began to read I realized this was really a more classical fantasy than anything else. Despite Sorcha's initial age of 14, the book spans across 4-5 years so she the reader is able to see her mature and grow.

Speaking of growth, let's talk about the character development in this one. Out of this world. There is not a character who does not alter irrevocably throughout this tale. Marillier does an excellent job of plotting out the ways her characters will change on their journeys, particularly Sorcha. Once sheltered and naive, she is forced out of her comfort zone in the worst way imaginable and given some of the most horrendous hurdles to cross. My heart would break for her with each new challenge she faced. As she was given the task of remaining mute until her other tasks were complete, there were parts where as the reader I felt as though I should be just as silent. Her struggles transferred to me, as though I could help her somehow from my end.

That, my friends, is good writing.

And in regards to the writing as a whole, it was excellently done. Marillier obviously knows what she's doing with her words, weaving a tale that felt as reverent as the original Grimm stories. The writing flowed well with great dialogue, although due to the nature of Sorcha's task, there was understandably a lot of internal monologue. The nature of classic fantasy is that the story is long and in depth, which at times I found difficult to get through. The suspense was too much for me to remain patient enough to read a four page description of something. It was torture!

But should we touch on the love triangle here? We all know I despise love triangles... I was not a big fan of the one here, honestly. I didn't see it coming, and once our second hero Red was introduced, I knew he had to be the true choice for Sorcha. Simon would have been good for her, before her trials, but they grew in ways that took them away from their path together. This part was, perhaps, the most difficult for me. I did not feel as though Simon was given enough of a story - enough closure.

So we come to the part where I say this was a great book. However, upon finishing it I am reminded why I stay away from traditional fantasy. I read books to live in worlds that I would enjoy living in. The world in which Sorcha inhabits was dark and difficult and devoid of much laughter. I appreciate her journey and am still in awe of the tribulations she was forced to face, but I would not want to share this journey with her. Ever.

And so I will move on to something happier with my next book choice. Preferably something with less death. And heartache. And general emo-ness.
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Halfway Point Blues

“Hitting that halfway point and don't know where to go next? We've all been there. This is when it gets hard, when you feel like giving up. I have one word for you: Don't. Don't stop. Keep writing. Yeah, the words might not be great, but guess what? You can go back and fix it. You're so close, don't stop now!” — Monica Murphy

Man it has been hard for me to get my story moving for a few months. I'll be honest, I haven't really written much of anything. My story is just sitting out there - in limbo. My poor characters are dying to have their journeys completed, but I'm too scared or blocked or whatever to keep going on them. I definitely needed to read this quote today. 

Why does the story get to difficult at the halfway point? Getting out of that slump is one of the most difficult things about completing a book. Seriously. I totally think you just have to push through it, even if you think the writing you've done is crap. You really can just go back and fix it later - that's the whole purpose of edits! 

So what do you think? Are you a writer, or aren't you? Yeah - get out there and get your word count, bitch! 
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An Offer From A Gentleman

by Julia Quinn

Cover Beauty Score: 3 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 3 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Sophie Beckett is the bastard of a wealthy English lord who is left at the hands of her merciless stepmother when her duty bound sire dies of a weak heart. Years later, Sophie gets the chance to attend a fabulous masquerade among the debutantes and rogues of the ton - meeting the unforgettable Benedict Bridgerton who gives her a kiss she'll never forget. But it sets into motion events that will change her life forever.

My Reaction: This was a cute little retelling of Cinderella - a light romance novel that was a bit like candy. It was sweet and I knew what I was getting into and it was well made, but it didn't really move me or stick with me particularly. Sophie is a pretty courageous heroine and she was enjoyable to read, although I would say that her spirit deflated a bit towards the end of the story. I got a little fed up with how dramatic the characters were trying to make their situations when I didn't really feel like there was much to complain about. If I'm going to keep a romance novel on my bookshelf, that thing had better rip apart my soul, and unfortunately this one just didn't really live up to that standard.

Which is not to say that it wasn't fun - because it definitely was! It was a little light thing that was easy and enjoyable and a good way to spend a road trip. I particularly enjoyed the little intro to each chapter of a gossip columnist writing about the goings on of all the famous echelon in the ton. I must have read another in this series a long time ago by Julia Quinn, because I swear this intro is familiar to me. It was rather charming, I have to say.

Speaking of charming, the Bridgerton family is just adorable in this one. This "family finds love" series reminds me a lot of the Mallory family as written by Johanna Lindsay, and who doesn't love the Mallorys?! (If you haven't read that series, shame on you! Google that shit right now!).

So overall, enjoyable and probably worth the $5 I spent on it, but not really one I'd be interested in picking up again. This one is gonna go to Goodwill rather than take up valuable space on the bookshelves. Quinn is a great writer, though - she'll always be a firm choice for me to give a chance on a story!
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Stolen Songbird

by Danielle L Jensen

Cover Beauty Score: 5 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Cecile de Troyes lives a simple country life, training to be a singer and hopefully join her mother one day in the big city and become as famous performer. On the eve of her 17th birthday, she is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain that overlooks her valley to be traded to the trolls that have been secretly residing in the dark for hundreds of years. And to make matters worse, they engage her to the troll prince named Tristan and expect her to fulfill a prophecy to free them. She learns that there is more to the trolls than scary nightmares, and she is swiftly drawn into the political games and intrigue of the court to which she now belongs.  

My Reaction: May I just start out by saying that this book is far and away my favorite read in a LONG time. I became so immersed in this one. The writing was great - easy to read and flowed perfectly with some nice imagery and above all, amazing dialogue. There is nothing better than a book where the dialogue just flies off the page! And Jensen has this down... I mean to tell you... the characters here come alive as soon as you hear them speak to one another in a way that is entrancing.

So let's move on to the characters themselves. I found Cecile wonderfully complex. Normally I am incredibly put off by singers in books - I think it is hard to translate a person with an extra-gifted talent like this in writing. It comes off as needless and silly - but somehow Jensen seemed to make it work. I didn't get pissed at Cecile for her talent, because it was inserted at the right times and in the right placed. And how clever of her to title the book songbird? When it's songbirds who used to warn miners when to go above ground and here we have Cecile whom everyone believes will be their key to freedom above ground... see what she did there? Nice touch, Ms. Jensen.

But I digress. Cecile is as normal as you or I. She is a normal girl that wants normal things and has cool dreams that she hopes to see through. When she's put in a horrible situation, she reacts in much the same way I would. She tries to escape and reluctantly falls in love with this troll prince that is as equally complex. Tristan is a strong character that knows what he wants and doesn't plan to let her get in the way of his plans. But they both grow and change throughout the novel. So much so that their actions from the beginning to the end of the novel are incredibly different. They felt incredibly human to me. Their romance is incredibly real, in many ways.

Can we talk a moment about the romantic notion of bonding in this book? To share your innate feelings with the person you marry? I practically giggled aloud when I read that on the page, knowing that when two people pretend to hate each other, but can feel the truth of things, it was bound to get interesting. And Holy God did I nearly have a meltdown on more than one occasion. I may or may not have thrown my fancy Bose headphones at the wall (causing them to burst apart into several pieces, but that's a different story. Pretty sure my husband thinks I'm crazy now).

Now, I'm not stupid. I know there are elements of cheese in this one. But sometimes a little cliche is just what you need to get a story really going. You have to sprinkle that shit in there like it's flakes of gold. Too much and you'll ruin it, but just enough makes it sparkle and shine. Were there some overreactions? Sure. Were there some predictable makeup scenes? Absolutely. Was this book almost like a romance novel in the guise of a fantasy? You bet your blog-reading ass it was! And I loved every damn minute of it!

And that ending!!! Omg I was sobbing for about 20 minute. I definitely feel like I cried myself to sleep. But it wasn't horrible - don't let the crying throw you off! Anybody that knows me knows that I don't do ridiculous endings (aka when everyone dies). Unless you're Shakespeare, don't come at me with a story where the main character dies. I'm not having any of it. This was more of a "whyyyyy" crying with a little bit of "holy hell I need to read the next one" thrown in there.

So should you read this one? Have you even been paying attention?!? OF COURSE YOU SHOULD! If you haven't already, go pick this one up, or order it from Amazon, or check it out from your library... if you and I have similar taste in books and you haven't read this one, then you should do yourself a favor. Trust me. Yes, it's that good.
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by Meg Cabot

Cover Beauty Score: 8 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 4 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Meena Harper is a writer for a daytime soap opera that is trying to compete with its rival network who has begun writing about vampires. As luck would have it, Meena meets a dreamy guy from Transylvania that just happens to be a prince! Thinking he'll be perfect inspiration for her show's need to compete with some fictional vampires of their own, Meena doesn't hesitate to go out with him - falling head over heels for this dreamboat in the process. But what she soon realizes is there's something fishy about Lucien... and maybe vampires aren't as fictional as she thought. Did I mention Meena can see when people will die? Yeah. There's that, too. 

My Reaction:  Every time I pick up a book by Meg Cabot, it's like coming home. Her writing makes me feel like I did when I was young (er?)... independent and self sufficient and able to handle my own craziness and love it. Her writing has me laughing right from the start, her dry humor echoing the ridiculous thoughts that run through my own head sometimes. I have to say, this book was a fun way to spend a couple of days.

If you're looking for serious, this book isn't for you. It's a fun action adventure vampire romp that pokes fun at the ridiculousness of the Twilight saga. Seriously... Cabot reminds us what should be sexy about vampires and gives it to us in spades with Lucien. Meena isn't afraid to be a little feminine - she draws power from the fact that she enjoys having her man cherish her a little. And if he gets a little Transylvanian on her and tries to overstep his bounds, she is quick to tell him to buzz off.

Not sure how I felt about the bit of triangle here... although I really didn't feel like it was a well established triangle. It's pretty obvious to me that Lucien and Meena are meant to be together. Despite the events in the book, I feel like what they have is the real deal. Meena's brother going all "vampire killer" was a little weird. If anything, I felt the way he treated Meena was the real aspect of masogynistic assholeness. Like just because she was a girl they completely ignored her opinions.

In true Meg Cabot style, this book came together with a big dramatic event (there may or may not have been a dragon) and I really enjoyed it! It came down quickly and left us on a bit of cliff hanger that will probably have me picking up the sequel in a few months.

Overall, not Cabot's absolute best, but still pretty damn enjoyable! Need a fun pick-me-up option? Like sexy dark brooding heroes and intelligent but slightly scatter-brained heroines? This one is for you!
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The Kiss of Deception

by Mary E. Pearson

Cover Beauty Score: 5 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 2 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Princess Lia can't stomach the thought of marrying some old prince she's never met to whom her parents have sold her off to, even if it would mean uniting their two kingdoms against dangerous forces beyond their borders. So on the morning of her wedding day, Lia flees the castle with her trusty handmaiden to start a new life in the faraway shipping town on the coast, planning to live out her life as a normal girl. Two handsome dudes show up after a while and Lia begins to fall for both of them without knowing that one is the prince she left at the altar, and the other is an assassin sent to kill her. As much as she wants to live a plain life, she is dragged back into the foray soon enough.

My Reaction: As much as I hate to admit it, this book was a DNF for me. I was so encouraged with the book - it started out fabulous and I really loved the character of Lia. The world building was awesome, with rich traditions filling out Lia's kingdom and her lifestyle. I really adore a well built background for a fantasy novel. The writing was excellent - succinct and descriptive and easy to read quickly... there's really not much I can complain about there. It was great!

So it went south for me as soon as the assassin and the prince show up. Ugh... I think you know how much I loathe love triangles. This book was one big fat triangle that didn't have any qualms about shoving the thing down the reader's throat. There's not even any pretense at concealing this... the guys walk into her line of sight at the exact same moment. One second Lia is swooning over the prince's eyes, and the next her stomach is flipping over the assassin's smile. Like. At the same time. There was a point in the middle where I thought, wait... is this a story about poly-amorous relationships? They all seemed to be pretty into one another... Lia certainly was into both at the same time.

And while I was trying to get over this double-boy scenario, Lia just kept on complaining. And I began to realize... wait, this chick is pretty selfish. Running away from her kingdom and basically dooming everybody to war because she's scared of a little unhappiness? Ugh. And now she wants to sleep with two dudes at once? Bleh.

Since I checked this one out on my kindle (thankfully I didn't buy it!), I said sayonara and stopped it about the time she was going to pick blueberries and her boy toys were both following her in secret to drool over the way she was lowering herself to the status of a peasant.

A valiant attempt, Pearson... I'll be happy to try another of your stories if you can master the strong woman characterization. But this one, unfortunately, just didn't speak to me.
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Scratching My Cornea

There is a particular evil to scratching your eye that I have never experienced before. On Friday I took out my contacts and, according to my doctor, I happened to take out a chunk of my eyeball right along with it. This, my friends, is a singular horror that I wouldn't wish upon anyone! Instead of spending my weekend being productive and doing renovations on our new house, I was forced to sit in a dark room with my eyes closed with the uncomfortable sensation of an ice pick resting beneath my eyelid, digging into my eyeball flesh with each movement I made.

Oh, I can hear you saying "but Jessica, wasn't it nice to relax for the weekend and just kick up your feet and not have to worry about being an adult?" No. No it wasn't, and I'll tell you why.

Normally when you are sick, I will acknowledge that it's a little bit nice. You can binge watch Netflix and Youtube shows while forcing your significant other to bring you food and water (or perhaps wine) all while blissfully ignoring any kind of responsibilities on your plate. However, scratching your eye is a completely different beast all together. You can't watch tv or your eye will freak out. You can't look at your phone or your eye will freak out. You can't even READ or your eye will freak out!! Can you imagine!?

Lemme tell you, I got really familiar with some audiobooks (although I really dislike audiobooks - it takes away from the imagination for me) and then when I actually got into the book, I had to stop it because I want to actually read it myself. Then I found these lovely things called dramatized audio books - they're a revelation! It's like books adapted for radio - some of it is the actual text, but a lot of it is just adapted and voice actors act that shit out for a microphone! Pretty enjoyable, I have to say.

So that's how I spent my weekend. Laying in my bedroom with all the lights off, a pillow over my face, with my headphones on listening to voice actors dramatizing Pride and Prejudice for my auditory enjoyment.

It sucked.
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Red Queen

by Victoria Aveyard

Cover Beauty Score: 8 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Mare Barrow lives in a world where society is put into two classes - the servant class who is normal with red blood, and the ruling class who has special powers and silver blood. When she sneaks into the Silver's world to try and save her friend, she accidentally puts herself into a dangerous situation that reveals to the world that she has powers of her own. Desperate to conceal the fact that a Red has powers, the Silver royal family creates a lie that she is a long lost Silver daughter - betrothing her to their son. Mare is quickly torn between two lives and gets caught up in the pull of two worlds that are now a part of her.

My Reaction: Man did I blaze through that book! I started this one on Sunday, intending to make it last throughout the week... but after taking it to work yesterday to read through my lunch break, I became way too addicted to the storyline to stop. I binge read until I finished this puppy, and I wasn't disappointed!

The minute I first read Mare, she was ballsy and dark, with a perfect little sister that is her "little star." This had me wary, obviously feeling some Katniss from Hunger Games pretty strongly. But as events begin to happen to Mare, she begins to change in a way that Katniss never did. She began to realize the complexities of things and she has moral qualms when asked to kill callously for the rebellion. She struggles with the idea that not all of the Silvers are bad as she comes to know them individually as real people.

The writing itself was great - easy to read and well written. I get so excited when a book that is on the NYT Best Seller List actually can live up to its hype and not depress me about the state of the national reading level. Aveyard is an excellent story teller and her writing is top notch, giving the tone a raw and easy-to-relate feeling. That's incredibly important in YA novels - to be able to step into the shoes of the character so easily.

Can I just talk a minute about Mare's love interests? This girl didn't get a love triangle... oh no... she got three dudes fawning all over her. THREE! That's gotta be some kind of Young Adult record, right? Usually I hate it when we get the heroine emotionally picking between guys, but Aveyard was able to weave these believably until I didn't know where the story was going. Keeping that suspense was awesome and well done. If anything, this love square (see what I did there?) gave me a bit of a tip as to what was going to happen in the end. None of the love interests felt forced or unnatural, although I would have liked to see Mare and Kilorn's relationship a little more in the beginning. She had every geeky girl's dream going with the Thor vs Loki-- excuse me, I mean Cal vs Maven predicament. Who wouldn't want to be in between that tortured bromance? Like seriously... where do I sign up?

And overall, I loved the message of this book; don't believe lies just because they're easy or convenient. We should always question what others tell us or what we see and hear. It is our responsibility to make choices that reflect our own moral code. Not our parents or our friends. Ours alone.

So if you haven't figured it out by now, I definitely think you should read this one! Beautiful cover, good writing, awesome heroine, plenty of boy toys to choose from - it's a win, win, win, win, right?

My only problem now is having to wait 7 months for the sequel. Bleh.
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Crimson Bound

by Rosamund Hodge

Cover Beauty Score: 9 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 3 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Rachelle is an apprentice to her aunt whom the village depends on to protect them against the dark magic of the deadly forests. When Rachelle strays from the forest path her aunt tells her to keep on, she is marked by one of the dark forest creatures and must either kill someone within 3 days to survive, or become a mindless dark creature herself. She makes a choice that grants her extreme powers and runs from her small village to the country's capitol, where she becomes a hired hand for the King himself. Forced to act as bodyguard to the King's son, Rachelle tries desperately to interact with the court intrigue while searching for a way to end the dark creatures threats from the evil forest.

My Reaction: Let me start by saying that I had ridiculously high expectations for this book. I famously preached how I adored Hodge's first book, Cruel Beauty (read that review here), and after my extreme love for that one, it's a rather hard impression to live up to. So let me hop into why I gave this book a 3 out of 5.

Hodge is a fabulous writer. There's no getting around that blessedly beautiful fact - her writing is a joy to read and I sincerely wish that every YA writer could take a lesson in prose from this lady. Just take a look at this:

"He grinned at her, and it felt like there was no space or barrier at all between them, like his smile was happening inside her heart. Without meaning to at all, she smiled back."

How beautiful is that?! And it didn't stop here... I could just write quotes from the book all day long, but you really should just read it yourself. In fact, after looking over some of the quotes I marked, I'm worried that I gave this book a 3 based on what I anticipated it being, versus what it actually was. Am I making any sense?

Hodge has a unique ability to weave an intricate tale of darkness and beauty and eeriness and magic together until her book stands on its own as a work of art. While this book certainly had her tone and signature all over it, I felt like the characterization left something to be desired. Or perhaps it was the way the characters interacted with one another. I found Rachelle likable and brave - she made a difficult choice that I feel a lot of us would have made as well. Her personal journey is great and she comes full circle with her growth as a characters. 

So then my ultimate issue is the two men in her life. As I've previously stated, I tend to hate love triangles. Hodge gave us a beautiful twist on the traditional triangle in Cruel Beauty and the heroine had a real and believable relationship with the main hero. Here, however, it felt like Rachelle came out of her big crisis and just settled with the guy she chose. It left me with a Hunger Games Katniss and Peeta type of feeling. Like a "hey we just went through this big thing and I guess we'll be together, but like... I'm not sure I wasn't in love with the other guy. Sorry about that." feeling. 

Perhaps that was my only issue with the book. To be touted as a dark YA fantasy romance, the love bits felt forced. Like Hodge herself couldn't pick between which leading man she wanted Rachelle to fall for. 

That being said, you still need to read this one. I didn't regret buying a signed copy - Hodge is a writer that I am certainly going to follow for the rest of her career. Her approach to traditional fairy tales is breathtaking and despite my picky review of this book, if more teens read Hodge's writing, perhaps we can restore a semblance of literary appreciation to society! 
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Romance Novels on NPR

Imagine my surprise when browsing through my NPR Morning Edition stories, I saw a link for a Pop Culture Happy Hour that focused on romance novels! Needless to say, I got very excited for this - it's kind of amazing how romance novels are getting the attention they deserve these days. I think a great degree of that is due to social media and online communities - as they touch on in this podcast. Where before romance novels have been shunned and we've had to read them in secret... we now can connect to these hundreds of readers with similar tastes that can help our love for romance novels flourish! Isn't that amazing?

And the fact that NPR is touching on this billion dollar business that makes up a HUGE part of literary sales today is freaking fabulous!

So get your butt over to NPR and listen to this awesome 45 minute segment - you won't regret it!
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The Smell of New Books in the Mailbox...

I'm so crazy excited to break into my new book. I ordered signed copies of Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound back in January, but then I had to wait for Crimson Bound to be realeased and then the author had to get to the local bookstore to sign them before they could ship them to me. And then apparently it takes books a century and a half to get from Oregon to Florida... but now they're here!!

Look at those beauties - in all their crisp, new-book glory! The covers are velvety and gorgeous... I absolutely adore the rich colors of the design. They are gracing my Instagram (feel free to follow me!) feed right now, that's how in love with the covers I am.

I absolutely adored Rosamund Hodge's first book, Cruel Beauty (you can read that review here). Her writing is whimsical and romantic and classically eerie, like a true creepy and wonderful fairy tale. I cannot WAIT to tell you what I think of Crimson Bound.

The real challenge will be keeping myself from staying up all night to finish it in one go.
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It Ain't Easy

"If it feels hard, don’t assume you’re doing something wrong. All writers find it hard at some point (and if they tell you differently, they’re lying).” — Sarah Morgan 

This was my motivational quote from RWA this morning. Good to know I'm doing it right, I guess... But seriously is good motivation to know that it's normal to find parts difficult. It's the pushing through it and actually finishing the damn thing that makes the difference between the professionals and the amateurs.
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Grave Mercy

by Robin LaFevers

Cover Beauty Score: 7 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 1 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Ismae is a poor commoner whose abusive father is about to marry her off to an even more abusive husband. She escapes to a convent called St. Mortain where the nuns are all female assassins that worship the god of death. She grows into her trade and her first assignment takes her to the royal court in Brittany where she has to work with Gavriel Duval, a good looking dude that rubs her the wrong way, to carry out St. Mortain's ultimate objective.

My Reaction: Well it's not often I put a book down. But this one was a DNF. I tried... I really did... I read well into this one - I even shelled out full cover price for it at my local independently owned bookstore (yay small bookstores!!). I mean - just look at that cover! Badass medieval lady assassin out to kick ass and take names? Where do I throw my money?!

So sitting here trying to figure out what went wrong and I realize that I just got bored. It had small elements of fun sprinkled in with large amounts of snooze-ville. I know a lot of people complained because it was too romance-novel-y, but let me tell you... I know romance novels and this was not one of the them. If there had been a little more sexy time, maybe it could have brought this book up to mildly interesting... but alas, Grace Mercy was stuck in limbo. Not quite an action/adventure, not quite a feminist diatribe, not quite a romance novel, not quite a YA... I just felt like LaFevers couldn't quite pin down what she wanted this book to be and it suffered because of that. The pacing was fast and slow and everything in between, leaving me feeling confused and dissatisfied during the whole process.

Besides the sloppy commitment to character, we get quite thoroughly sidetracked by the extensive politics of history. Elements that seemingly have no point to the overall story as a whole. I can barely handle preachy history even when it IS necessary for plot development. There's nothing that makes my eyelids droop closed faster than an author trying to show off their research capabilities. Entertain me, please! Don't give me a textbook! Historical details should supplement a story, not navigate them completely.

And then we come to the actual writing style... I'm hesitant to berate this, because I know everyone has their own favorite type. But it was mediocre, even at the best of times. LaFevers gives us predictable cheese without the subtle charm that makes it work, leaving a bad taste overall. As with her pacing issues, her writing style is so all over the place that it leaves you feeling like you're not reading anything at all. And who wants to read a book that leaves you feeling like you haven't really read anything?

Ok, so now I feel a little mean with what I've written, but I'm going to stick to my guns. The high ratings for this one on GoodReads are overstating its worth... which fits in with my theory that the majority of readers today like to indulge in dribble.

If you were able to get through this one, I bow down to the power of your will. (If you read it and liked it... I just don't know what to say. Wow, this is awkward. Sorry.)

Ultimately, not the book for me. But for now I own it and it's going to have an obligatory spot on my bookshelf until I can find someone to pawn it off on.

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Demon Love Spell Vol 1

by Mayu Shinjo

Cover Beauty Score: 4 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Miko is a girl who works at her family's shrine, and they have guarded it for hundreds of years! Because of their rich history, everyone in her family has powers to see demons and ghosts and supernatural beings so they can defend the world of the living from these evil spirits. Unfortunately, Miko has never had any kind of special ability. Seizing her chance to save a crush of her best friend, Kagura, she uses a spell to banish the demon that is possessing him. And it works! Sort of... She soon realizes Kagura is a full demon and he is determined to have her undo the spell that sealed his powers.

My Reaction: So who says I can't review manga? Technically this counts as reading. Even guilty pleasures deserve critical attention!

I found this manga while perusing my local Barnes and Noble for the first volume of Kamisama Kiss (which I'm sure I will review shortly as well). The cover was a little cheeseball for me, but when I read the synopsis I was definitely on board to give this a shot. And I was delightfully surprised! What an adorable idea for a story... Miko has a tsundere tenacity about her that I particularly enjoy and Kagura is generally a good dude with just a hint of asshole to really polish off his character.  It makes for a super entertaining read - their interactions are great!

The artwork was very well executed - great attention to detail and clean lines... I love the artistry in this. The little chibi-Kagura is just adorable!

In terms of the story as a whole - it's a great read with a unique approach. Kagura becomes dependent on Miko when she seals his powers and makes him chibi which forces him to really get to know her. She has to do the same as well, and through Kagura's powers, she finally finds a way to see other evil spirits and to use her training to fight against them. Of course they become much closer until they fall for each other and begin to fight the bad demons together.

This is just the kind of manga/anime I enjoy - romance and action and a ballsy heroine that kicks ass and takes names with a leading man that challenges her right back. Great option for you manga lovers out there!! I am sitting on pins and needles waiting for them to develop this one into an anime series - it will be totally worthy of it!
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by April Lindner

Cover Beauty Score: 10 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 2 out of 5

Plot Blurb: A modern retelling of Jane Eyre, we follow the story of Jane Moore who drops out of college following her parents' deaths and takes a job as a nanny for a famous rockstar, Nico Rathburn. Jane becomes closer and closer with Nico and secrets from his past surface, forcing her to make a decision that will change her life.

My Reaction: Man, I wanted this one to be good. I actually found this book on the employee recommendations shelf at Barnes and Noble. Anyone who knows me knows that Jane Eyre is my favorite classic novel - it has slowly been vying for a position against Pride and Prejudice for a solid decade now. So when I saw a book that was a retelling of one of my favorite stories in modern times with a rockstar Mr. Rochester and a freaking awesome cover? Color me sold!

Unfortunately, just like the beguiling charms of Miss Blanche Ingram, Lindner's Jane left me feeling underwhelmed.

When I think of Jane Eyre, I think of a dark story. One that is poignant and solid and nearly tangible in its realness. Her internal struggle throughout the original story is one of importance and personal growth that allows the story to hold the weight it does.

Jane Moore, on the other hand, gives us a look into her life that is loose and poorly translated to modern times. Lindner, at least, can write efficiently enough to not force me to put the book down. But again, the prose wasn't really creating life of its own, either. Lindner essentially took my favorite characters (which are arguably some of the best examples of complex characterization in literature), and stripped them down until they were flatter than a French crepe.

Did I finish the book? Yeah, I did. Although I think it was out of loyalty to Eyre and Rochester that I did so. Ultimately this reincarnation of my favorite novel just couldn't live up to its hype. I felt like I just saw a movie adaptation that ripped the original power of the story away and left a crude imitation in its wake.

Although the cover is admittedly beautiful and haunting and slightly modern and feminine, the book in no way compares to that. Alas... another case of "Jessica got fooled by the cover." If you want to read this one, go ahead. But please please PLEASE promise me you'll also read Jane Eyre. This one will creep you out and make you think that Rochester is just some creepy pedophile that uses his fame to take advantage of an innocent girl in his employment (a la 50 Shades).

In the mean time, at least it will look pretty sitting on my bookshelf.
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A Little Reminder About Perseverence

So I'm participating in this writing challenge with RWA which conveniently sends me little motivational quotes to my inbox every morning. I realize now that I've been putting off writing for going on an entire month. What is wrong with me? I was going so strong for so long, but I feel like I traveled down the wrong rabbit hole and now the story is all tangled. I know that when I sit down with it again, I'm going to have to throw out 20k or so words. The thought of doing that makes me want to shove my face into a carton of Ben and Jerry's and watch Ever After until I forget about the cruel nature of trying to write a novel.

However, I can't really do that. I mean, I could but I don't think that it would really make me feel any better in the long run.

So when I got this quote in my email this morning I realized something. I can't give up. The only way that you won't see your goals accomplished (and this is for anything, not just writing), is if you stop working towards those goals.

So today when I get home, I will sit my butt down in my big comfy chair and tackle the knot I've managed to create with my plot. I'll get past my block and actually finish this book.

It's about damn time.
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Not Every Heroine Loves Books

So I thought today I'd touch on something that has bugged be for a while. I read a lot of YA books. And by a lot, I mean that they probably make up the majority of the genres I read. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a romantic action adventure SciFi/Fantasy crossover. Most of the time, you can only find this lovely combo in the YA section.

I only ever have a problem reading YA books one basically two occasions. The first is when I'm browsing through the aisles at Barnes and Noble and an actual young adult comes up invading my browsing space. I'm nearing the age where I feel like they might actually be wondering to themselves what the old lady is doing in their section (perhaps that's why I usually just order my new books from Amazon these days).

The second problem I have with YA lies in its tendency to fall into convenient plot traps. Let's be honest, here. I read books by females, mostly. I'm not saying I'm sexist when it comes to purchasing new books, but maybe I'm a little bit sexist. (That's my bad, I know. But I'm working on it!) That being said, we can safely assume that the books females write are mainly about a female protagonist. And that the female author loves books, considering she has produced a work of fiction for me to enjoy. I have noticed an obvious trend as a result of this in which every heroine of said YA novel seems to be head over heels in love with books.

And I'm talking EVERY heroine. I have never met a main female character in a book that doesn't like to read. Come on! Not everybody loves to read, people! I know plenty of others that don't freak out at the thought of owning a Beauty-and-the-Beast-esque library. I'm pretty positive that personality exists out there!

So why is it, then, that all these heroines all flip their shit at the idea of reading? I have a theory that authors can't respect someone that doesn't appreciate the written word, so they always have to infuse this element of themselves into their character. But the reality is, people are more varied than that. It honestly is getting pretty boring to keep reading this in every story I pick up.

So this got me thinking.

Most YA books, at least modern ones, are about girls. Seriously. Go to Target and take a look at that YA shelf - it's covered in feminine crap all over the place. When did reading become a feminine-centric activity? At least in the YA section, there are very limited choices for guys looking for a story. They get pushed over into the adult scifi and fantasy sections instead. So does that mean it's ok for adult men to read, but not adolescents?

In all reality, the adult SciFi/Fantasy sections are a male dominated genre, and it's pretty difficult to find a good female author writing about a female heroine. Perhaps that's why I've come to rely on my YA section to heavily.

But I digress... the real thing I wanted to touch on was the concept of expanding your idea of the worth of a person separate of their love of books. Yes, your heroine can be awesome, get the guy, save the day, and still not yearn for a three-story library.

I know it's difficult to believe, but there's a vast population of worthy people out there that don't read as much as us book worms. And that's ok, too.
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by Lauren Oliver

Cover Beauty Score: 8 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Lena Haloway lives in a future where wars have ravaged the country and everyone lives in walled in cities that are surrounded by electric fences to keep the wild ones out. The totalitarian like government propagates that love is a disease and they have developed a cure for it. When Lena turns 18, she will receive the treatment and live out her life the way the government assigns it to her. A few scant months before her 18th birthday, she meets a boy who isn't like any of the other "cured" citizens and she realizes what being cured of the "disease" will actually mean. She's thrown into a spiraling situation once she begins to feel something real for the first time in her life. And she has to choose between two lives.

My Reaction: Wow... Lauren Oliver is an absolutely fabulous writer! What a refreshing change to see someone who has a serious talent for weaving words together. You know that I'm a sucker for some prose that masquerades as light poetry, and Oliver does an absolutely amazing job with this. Just take a look at this:

“Love: a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That's what it is: an edge; a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side.”

or this one:

“I said, I prefer the ocean when it's gray. Or not really gray. A pale, in-between color. It reminds me of waiting for something good to happen.” 

Right? I mean... this book is full of gems like this one. I could go on typing up quotes for you all day, but I won't. So beyond Oliver's fabulous writing, what else did I like about this book?

It's very different from other ones I've read the genre. Lena is a real character with some real issues and her pov was interesting to get into. Her relationship with Alex is seemingly simple at first and becomes complex as the story develops. Lena really comes into her own as a character. Her relationship with her bestie, Hana, was particularly realistic. The dynamic here was great, and I just think the way Oliver handles the developments of the characters is phenomenal. There's growth on all sides, and Lana leads the way with her transition from the beginning to the end.

And the ending! Gahhhh I don't want to give any spoilers, but it will leave you salivating to rip open the next book in the series and get through it. Alex is a hero that is strong in his own way, but he encourages Lana to develop her own strength and make her own decisions. He leads her to find her own path, which is incredibly admirable.

If you haven't read this one yet, go out and do it right now! If nothing else, you'll begin to see what real writing looks like. Well done, Lauren Oliver. You've made a fan out of me! :-)
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Refining That Thing Called a Plot

So I've been thinking a lot about plot structure lately. It feels like every time you get to the middle of a novel, you really start to slow down. You lose focus on where you're going and how to get there. Why did everything come flying out to the page in the first act only to grind to a halt here in the second? It's ridiculous and super unfair! I can hear writers around the world screaming as they pull their hair out in frustration. The rewrites in this stage are numerous and excruciating. Seriously... it feels like somebody has thrown my soul into a bog of sludge and all I want to do it crawl out, but I'm stuck and can't move.

So what do I do in a situation like this? Well last night I sat down and really evaluated my plot structure. I'm a huge fan of the 7 Point Plot Structure and I use it heavily to craft where I think I want my story to go (if you aren't familiar with it, check out my post on the 7 Points here). I also created a new nifty graphic to help me keep the whole thing straight in my mind. Apparently nobody on Pinterest has done this yet, and it seriously needed to happen:

I'm a super visual person sometimes and it really helps to have it laid out like this for a reference. Now I can look back and easily see where I am and where I should be in relation to the intensity of the scene. If you're a writer, let me know if you find this handy! After really nailing down the progression of the story, I feel like I'm ready to get back into the nitty gritty of the writing bit again.

I might have to throw away some scenes I've crafted, but hey! It's all in a day's work.

Okay... so maybe the thought of trashing a carefully written and funny scene makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry like I just watched Titanic for the first time, but I'll get over it.

It's all in the name of the greater good. Right?
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Live Writing: Breathing Life Into Your Words

by Ralph Fletcher

Cover Beauty Score: 0 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 2 out of 5

Plot Blurb: This is a general "how-to" book - a way to help you make your writing more vibrant.

My Reaction: Well this book came highly recommended via a member of RWA as a way to help make your writing more active and real. This person even mentioned that she referenced it often as she wrote her books. So I thought, sure! This is going to be a great option for me! I want to make my writing more alive and vibrant!

Well right when this guy came in from Amazon (yeah, I buy everything there), I was immediately thrown off by the cover. It looked like a 5th grader threw up his imagination on the thing. Still... I was going to give it a chance. Maybe there was some insane crazy simplistic wisdom within its pages. So I persevered, sitting down to read this guide book.

And it's an ok "how-to" book, I suppose, for someone who has never written in their entire life. The recommendations are basic, to say the least. It was strange that a majority of the advice was explained using grade school examples. And as if that wasn't the worst of the problems (I mean, I'll buy into the "from the mouths of babes" thing), all of those examples were in first person. Well of course it's easy to show your voice with first person writing! What about the rest of us, that write in something other than that? Ugh... no help at all.

And what really worries me is that a professional writer recommended this! I feel like if you're reading this book, you should be a middle schooler trying to write a short story for his mid term. Not an adult writing about adult issues for other adult readers.

Ultimately, I can see how this would work as an educational material, but it certainly shouldn't have a place for a professional author writing sophisticated books. It's the ABC's of writing... and honestly if you need help nailing this stuff down, maybe the writing game isn't for you...
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The Perilous Gard

by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Cover Beauty Score: 2 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Kate Sutton is one of Queen Mary's lady's maids who is exiled to a remote castle after displeasing her. While she learns about the grounds and how its master, Sir Geoffrey Heron, lost his daughter under mysterious circumstances surrounding his brother, Christopher. After learning that the local folk fear the "Fairy Folk" and guard their children scrupulously, she begins to suspect that perhaps Christopher isn't to blame for the girl's disappearance. Together Kate and Christopher have to figure out a way to find Geoffrey's daughter and defeat the Lady in Green who rules the fairy's underworld domain.

My Reaction: In honor of St. Patrick's day, I thought I'd review one of my all time favorites. This book is so near and dear to my heart. It has held a firm place on my favorites list since I found it on the Newberry Award Winners shelf at Books a Million when I was in middle school. Yes, it's a middle grade book. Does that mean it's any less awesome? No. This is one that I wish I could take and rewrite to make even darker and intense (dare I say more Perilous?).

Let's start with the writing. Straight off the bat, you know you're going to get something really well done if it's a Newberry book. It's just a fact that you don't get that award if you're producing some half-assed crap that a four year old could stream together. Pope is a phenomenal writer, her words succinct and clear in a voice that is pleasant to read and conveys a very strong pov for the heroine.

The history of the "Fairy Folk" in this is fabulous, plain and simple. The world that Pope creates underground for them is imaginative, secretive, and eerily beautiful in a way that will endear me forever to the idea of living underground. She has created an entire culture that is believable and steeped in the folk lore of ancient tales. You wish you could be there in Kate's shoes, kicking some ass and not standing for the shitty elitist attitude that those fairies throw at her.

Speaking of Kate, she is one of my favorite heroines ever! She's tough and puts her cards on the table in a way that is honest and refreshing. She knows who she is and doesn't simper or wait for boys to save her. She does a lot of the saving in this one, actually. In fact, the girl is so badass that even the douchebag stick up their butts Fairy Folk decide she's pretty cool.

And then to top it all off, there's the sweet and real romance that buds between Kate and Christopher. There's a lot of growth that happens between these two, and they learn to admire and work with one another as they search for the lost girl. It's a romance that feels real and tangible, while still having some swoon worthy moments. Still possibly one of my absolute favorite endings ever.

I really can't think of anything bad about this book. Even after a decade of rereading this thing, it never gets old for me. To this day, I make a habit of picking it up every time the fall season rolls around. Something about the smell of hay and bonfires gets me thinking about the tone and feel of this one. I can dance around a fire and pretend I'm rescuing my lover from the threat of human sacrifice, snickering at my own genius as I outsmart fairies and magical creatures.

Whoops. Did I just say too much? Who cares! Get out there and read this one!! You seriously won't regret it. Happy St. Patty's Day!
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The Immortal Oxford Comma

So I hope that many of you can tell where I am going with this one. The Oxford comma has long been a debate amongst my peers. It is definitely something I feel strongly about, as any English Lit major will tell you, I'm sure. No matter who are, or what you majored in, you undoubtedly have an opinion on the topic as well.

So what is the Oxford comma, some of you may ask? Perhaps it has been a while since you've been exposed to the finer aspects of grammatical punctuation. In very simple terms, the Oxford comma is a comma that is inserted before the word 'and' at the end of a list. Some people would even refer to this comma as optional. Optional? Optional? How completely ridiculous is that?!

Ok, so I guess in terms of being gramatically correct, it could be classified as optional. But, my friends, you should never consider this little dandy an optional addition to your listing.

Why? I hear you asking. Why should I bother cluttering up my beautiful sentence with a loud and ghastly extra comma? It just gets in the way and clogs up my pretty clean list!

I'm about to tell you why, dear reader. For emphasis, I will include a lovely image that I found floating around on the internet. I am positive that this info-graphic will do more justice to my argument than anything else. Feast your eyes:

Holy guacamole, does that comma make a difference? Yes. Yes it most certainly does.

Why sure, we could expect the average reader to rely on common sense and realize that JFK and Stalin exist separately from the strippers, but as we all know, the average reader likes things like 50 Shades of Gray.

So for the sake of humanity, I implore you to realize the benefit of the Oxford comma. Go out and spread the good news of your conversion, if you have been. Together we can finally beat down this argument until the debate no longer even exists.

Hey. I can dream, right?
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Too excited to sleep

So you know how when you were in middle school and you knew the next day was going to be a field trip day full of adventure and excitement with your friends so you absolutely couldn't sleep because of all that anticipation? That's how I have felt the last two days.

My book just seems to be flying out of my fingers. It's like when I broke through that block, it opened a floodgate of story. And it's so fun to get to know my characters! Do you know I have never written an action adventure type of story? It's ridiculous how amazingly entertaining it is. I mean seriously. I love romance, but writing something like this, I can have fun and danger and excitement and throw in that dash of romance for a little added bonus.

Basically it's crack. I'm writing my own form of heroine.

And that's totally fine by me because it means that I've pumped out around 17k words over the past four days. After a crazy dry spell, I feel like I'm refreshed and back at it with little twinkles lighting up my eyes.

I'm back, bitches.
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Kiss that Writer's Block Goodbye

Let's get real. I've been dealing with some serious writer's block. And this block has lasted like ages. Like. Months and months of block.

Now you may be saying to yourself - "Well, Jessica, that sounds like laziness to me. Not exactly writer's block." You may be right. I will acknowledge that I've been in crazy town for a while with moving to a new state and getting a new job and all that life crap that sucks every ounce of creativity from your veins. Regardless - there hasn't been inspiration or motivation to carve out time for myself.

But this week, it's like something clicked. I finally got my shit together and my inspiration came flying back at me. I'm so psyched, it's ridiculous. I am like:

I mean seriously. If I had hair that long, I would literally go outside and swing around the trees.

So that's me. Updating you on what's going on in my corner of the world.

I also discovered this nifty thing that some writers use - a hashtag #1k1hr where you link up with other writers and sit down to write as many words as you can (shooting for 1000) in one hour. Talk about motivation! Those kids are crazy, and it's pretty motivational when you feel like you're about ready to fall asleep and somebody challenges yo to write more. I never could say no to a direct challenge.

So tonight I'm going home and pumping out a little more on my book and I'm going to kick that little puppy's ass. I've been living with these characters in my head for the past year and plotting it at least that long... it's about time to get them down on the page.
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by Veronica Roth

Cover Beauty Score: 5 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 3 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Picking up where book 2 left off (Divergent - read that review here), it continues the story of Tris Prior and the dystopian post-apocalyptic version of Chicago. Following the events of the previous novel, a war now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. While trying to save the people that she loves, including Four and her brother Caleb, Tris faces some of the toughest trials yet. She and Four make their way through the factions, trying to figure out what plan is behind the Erudite betrayal.

My Reaction: So I read this book a while ago - and I ultimately put the book down about 3/4 the way through it. After watching the movie that came out last year and falling in love with that version, it made me want to pick it up again to prep for the new movie. Perhaps I had been smoking a crazy pipe and just had an off week when I attempted it the first time.

What was my reaction the second time around? Meh. I realized why I stopped reading last time.

After Divergent established Tris so well as a stronger character, I found it hard to swallow that she was so wishy washy in this one. I found myself rolling my eyes at her whining. I mean... the girl really whines in this one. I get that killing one of your best friends' is a bitch, but seriously? Can we lay off the depression and self flagellation? It's degrading and not how I want to see my heroine behave. I mean... she essentially hates herself so much in this one that she willingly steps up to the execution block. She is crazy selfish - talking all the time about wanting to die so she can be free and be with her parents. After establishing this, quite honestly, real and bare relationship with Four, she goes and does something that would hurt him irrevocably. She totally deserved to see him tortured. Ugh - I'm getting preachy.

And then as I began to get weary of Tris' behavior, the writing style started to grate on my nerves. I realized that I really don't find Roth's attempts at sarcasm to be funny. They just feel like she's trying too hard - it's not a real humor that translates. If anything, it makes the characters all seem like total a-holes for being snarky. The bit where she mocks Jeanine to her face in the testing facility? It was gag worthy.

Ultimately I felt like Tris made things too complicated just for the sake of complicating things. She sees herself as this crazy important person that needs to make decisions for other people to "save" them when all she's really doing is fucking shit up irrevocably. She even admits to trying to "emulate [her parents'] self sacrifice" which is completely horrible - she doesn't do anything for real reasons. For me, at least, Tris became this fake person in this book. Even more unbelievable than I found her in Divergent.

And honestly, unless the writing is fabulous, if the writer loses me with the main character then I'm pretty much not going to invest myself in another book. Maybe with Allegiant I'll take the Cliff Notes version. I can only hope that for the movie Insurgent, Shailene will light up the screen and make me love Tris the way she did with the first movie. Sometimes there is something to be said for the movie version.
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Throne of Glass

by Sarah J. Maas

Cover Beauty Score: 4 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 3 out of 5

Plot Blurb: In a fantasy realm where magic has been outlawed and a powerful king has begun taking over all of the lands (killing all magical things in his wake), Celaena Sardothian is an orphan who was raised by the king of assassins - and she has become the most feared and dangerous assassin in the land by the age of 18. Having been betrayed, she landed in a death camp and is only brought out when the Crowned Prince chooses her as his fighter for his father's tournament. If she wins, Celaena will gain her freedom after working for the King for a few years. But things at the castle are a bit darker than she planned, and magic is closer to the capitol than anyone thinks.

My Reaction: This book started out so fabulous! I was crazy excited about it - I swear it was the first time I felt that an author really was able to do a love triangle well. I could feel chemistry with both of Celaena's love interests and it wasn't sappy or overdone. I liked Celaena because she had bigger things on her mind than screwing with two hot dudes. The story moved along nicely, and it seemed like Celaena was a pretty badass chick.

The writing is done very well - props to Maas for being able to write some decent prose. Not once did I find myself shaking my head over crappy imagery or the overuse of phrases. It was great writing for a high concept fantasy, with lovely bits of description like this:

A glass chandelier shaped like a grapevine occupied most of the ceiling, spitting seeds of diamond fire onto the windows along the far side of the room.

Throne of Glass was full of little trinkets like this - the world building was very elegantly done and we have a glimpse of this land pretty easily from the get go.

So where did it go wrong for me? I'm not quite sure I can put my finger on it. Perhaps it's when I found out Celaena wasn't really as badass as she appeared in the opening scene. She falls a little flat towards the middle of the book and the entire plot just kind of fizzles out. There's not enough intrigue and it feels like Maas attempts to make up for this by forcing the love triangle down our throats. The action grinds to a halt as Celaena gets into court drama - she seems more concerned about the ornate design of her dresses than she does with training for her freedom. Sure, she gets up in the morning and does some burpees and fancy pull ups, but it seems to me that a real warrior would be a little more concerned about being the best. She wouldn't have the free time to make out with the prince all night.

And where in the hell did the whole "I play the piano like a trained master" thing come from? It was in the book for like two seconds and felt like an immature writer's attempt to add in characterization. It didn't feel sincere at all and reduced the impact of the character tremendously. Expert assassins do not have time to learn piano (in the same way they don't have time for playing with dogs) - unless they want to fail and get their skulls crushed in a duel by crazy mofos three times their size.

I just think that this book was obviously written with the series arc in mind and in that respect Maas didn't give this story the attention it deserved. The duel in the end wasn't enough of a climax - it was more of an afterthought. And Celaena didn't even get to pull of the kill shot! Wtf... that was a super let down and something that she should probably be pissed about.

And can I talk for a second about how Chaol is a 20-something Captain of the army that has supposedly taken over the world and he has yet to make a kill? His emo reaction at the end of the book really just left a bad taste in my mouth. It didn't seem true to his character at all, and he came off sounding like a whiny 16 year old rather than a rough and tough Captain that has seen his share of battles. I mean, I get the Prince being a whiny teen, but Chaol? I thought he was better than that.

Just because you write a strong female heroine does NOT mean that you need to write her love interests weak. In fact, it should be the opposite! Strength calls to strength, and that's what I thought I was reading when I opened this book. Maas just couldn't live up to my expectations... maybe the other books will be better if they complete her ultimate story arc, but at this point I have to ask myself; is it worth my time?

I know I'll get some haters from this review... it has a crazy online following. The fanart is was made me hop on this bandwagon from the beginning. I've been abstaining only because of my cover art prejudice (yes, I know I have a problem).

Ultimately, this book fell short of my expectations. It was a little sloppily conceived and I wish the sappy crap hadn't overpowered our heroine. She had such potential!
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Can't wait to review this...

Loving this book so far - it's just sitting here on my desk at work, taunting me because I have to actually earn money and can't read constantly. But I'm so going to make it my bitch during my lunch break! What a surprise this book has been!

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Snow Like Ashes

by Sara Raasch

Cover Beauty Score: 4 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 3 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Meira is an orphan, saved by the few people from her kingdom of Winter that were fleeing the genocide brought on by the evil ruler of Spring. She has grown up as an exile, training to become a soldier to help win back her kingdom and reclaim the throne for the boy/man she loves - Mather. They live on the plains now with 6 other survivors while the rest of the Winter people are enslaved or worse. When Meira gets the chance to steal back a necklace - their kingdom's source of magic that could help them defeat the Spring kingdom, she sets into motion a series of events that changes her world forever. She finally gets to play her part in helping Winter, but it's certainly not everything she hoped it would be.

My Reaction: This book started off with an excellent little surge of action - I felt like I was reading a some sort of teenage Xena Assassin's Creed. And it was awesome! Meira started off as a kick ass character, wanting to prove herself and actually succeeding in doing so. It was only after the first bit of action happened that things started to get a little forced and stale. The Meira/Mather romance was hard to swallow - they didn't have much in the way of chemistry. I don't really think it's ever a good idea to start your story off with your heroine already in love. Needless to say - that turned me off a bit. And then there is this supposedly big betrayal and I just got a little bored with the way the characters handled the drama. Something about it was too fake - it didn't feel like I was introduced enough to the dynamics of it all to really care about Meira's reaction. Perhaps if Raash had spent a little more time on the familial relationships between the 8 survivors... if Meira had been a little more isolated... I can't put my finger on it.

All that being said - after this mess in the Cordell kingdom that shelters them for a while, that's where it kind of begins to kick off. Meira gets a new boy toy, the yummy Cordellan prince, Theron (I mean, I don't think anybody minded the shirtless training scene) and their interactions are adorable. He's quite the suitor, and I didn't mind one bit that Mather gets all huffy about it. Although I have to admit that I am sick to death of love triangles. But really - there's not much competition here from my humble pov. Theron is too noble, intelligent, and good (not to mention hot) for Meira to ignore (even if she thinks she's in love with her childhood sweetheart).

Meira follows the heroic journey pretty steadily from this point - really maturing and finding her inner strength when the shit really hits the fan. And I definitely guessed where this story was going - which isn't a bad thing. I was dying for what happened to happen, and I would have been disappointed if Raasch hadn't gone in that direction.

The writing was really fabulous, with just the right touch of imagery and simplicity to keep a younger audience captivated. The bits of action were great, and it was full of lush descriptions. Raasch is excellent at world building, introducing this whole land and its kingdoms with ease.

Despite my issues with the middle of the story, I'm excited to read the second book in the series - I think once Meira got a hold of her identity and worked through some issues, her character was more solid and believable in her sincerity. But let's face it. I also want to fantasize a little more about that golden haired god called Theron. Who wouldn't?
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by Elissa Sussman

Cover Beauty Score: 10 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 3 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Set in a fantasy world where princesses are plenty and magic (which can only be used by females) is seen as a wicked curse, we follow the story of Aislynn - a princess that struggles to keep her magic hidden. It is her only duty to learn to control her urges to use magic and get married so she can be safe from its wicked taint. Unfortunately for Aislynn, she is awful at controlling it and instead of being married off, she get's "redirected" and is forced to become a fairy godmother (in effect, a lady's maid to other princesses). She is assigned to the princess regent and struggles to learn to control the what little magic she is allowed to use as a fairy godmother to aid her princess. In the process, she discovers that the country is not all that it seems, and the Path that they are all told to follow might not be as pure and safe as it seems.

My Reaction: Ok, so I admit it. I'm a cover art slut. You throw a gorgeous cover at me, and I can guarantee it will influence my decision over whether or not to buy a book. Have you seen the cover for this one? It's crazy beautiful. The blue is almost a gorgeous purple and the red lettering of the title "Stray" is slightly embossed. I wanted to give it more stars because of the cover. I really did.

What can I say about this book? I thought I was going to love it. A twist on the modern idea of fairy tales... a strict caste system in a fantasy realm where magic is rejected and seen as sin. I felt like there was a fairly obvious comparison here to the church and the rejection of anything "female." I mean, the girls are sent off to school after their first "occurrence," which I was originally confused and thought meant their first period - but later realized it was the first time a girl used her magic. They are then immediately shipped off to go to school to learn how to control this horrendous thing that has the potential to destroy them.

And then we have the element that if they fail to control themselves, all their worldly goods are taken away and their "loving heart" is removed, essentially casting them as a nun (they even have to cover themselves completely and wear a wimple!!!) and act as a servant to the other princesses. So we follow Aislynn as she struggles through the process of failing to control herself and ultimately is forced into the life of a fairy godmother, dealing with the loss of everything.

Sounds like a pretty unique and great story, right? It is! So why didn't I love it?

Although Sussman does an admirable job of writing in terms of semantics, there were elements of this story that felt unpolished. I felt like the writing wasn't concise enough - it was all over the place and inconsistent in its sincerity. One minute it was mature and eloquent, the next imaginative and full of imagery, and still the next it fell quite flat with meaningless descriptions and dialogue. There were elements that were lovely - a passage in particular about the rising moon resembling whipped butter was perfect. :-)

If it had only been the slight looseness of the writing, I could forgive it easily. I, above anyone, understand the individual discrepancies between authors. But what I couldn't get past was the lack of forward motion in this book. I felt I was waiting around the entire book - waiting around for something to happen. We spent entirely too much time watching Aislynn mope and hang around, being all weak and sad about her situation... I suppose Sussman meant for Aislynn's "Redirection" to a fairy godmother to be the kickoff for the story, but let me tell you - it certainly is not. The story really got going about 80% of the way through. When Aislynn gets off her butt and starts kicking ass and taking names. But we only got to know mopey Aislynn, so the fact that her man keeps calling her brave seemed a little weird.

And can we talk about Thackery for a moment? It might have been a little better if they had a little more chemistry. The romance bit fell flat for me, but I think it was because Aislynn wasn't fiery enough for my taste. Thackery comes off as a joking type A personality and Aislynn just didn't seem to mesh well with him. Where were the sparks? To be a girl that was supposed to be obstinate and willful, she sure seemed surprised every time she let loose a little magic. And the whole self inflicting pain thing? That's definitely a trait of someone who isn't super brave in my humble opinion... she wants to hurt herself because she doesn't value herself...

But maybe that's my entire issue with the book - I just couldn't identify with Aislynn as a heroine. She seemed like a secondary character in her own story. By the time the ball starts rolling with some action and I can finally see who she is - or at least the version of her that I can admire - you're already at the end of the book.

Ultimately, I feel Sussman should have gotten to the point a little sooner and spent a little more time devoted to Aislynn learning to control her magic and learn about life outside of the sheltered academy. It would have made the transition of her character much more believable, not to mention identifiable.

I'll debate whether or not I want to read the second book in this installment when it comes out and in the mean time, I can rest easy knowing that at least the book will look gorgeous sitting on my bookshelf.
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