May 31, 2014

The Monthly Digest: May 2014

Welcome back to The Monthly Digest here at Late Nights with Good Books. With these posts I hope to recap everything reading- and blogging-related for the past month.

The Books 
May Reads

Favorite Read from May:
Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

Notable Quote from May:
"Our bodies aren't strangers,: he said, his voice ragged. "Our spirits aren't strangers." He held her face in his hands. "Tell me what part of me is stranger to you and I'll destroy that part of me."
And she wept to hear his words.
Melina Marchetta, Quintana of Charyn

The Writing
Nothing to report, but I did finally order a new computer, which will hopefully be arriving next week! And when it does come, I have tons of writing plans (and some blogging ones as well).

How was your May?
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May 29, 2014

Review: Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Series: Paradox, #1
Published: 2013, Orbit
Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Source: Purchased

I can’t help it, I’m not a subtle girl. When I see something I like, I go for it, and I liked what I saw very much.

There are those books you read to learn from, to better appreciate stories and language and writing. There are also those you read for entertainment, for the sheer joy of a good story. These two types are not mutually exclusive, and neither is one better than the other. For me, however, Fortune’s Pawn falls squarely into the second camp. The story - and my experience reading it - could best be described as fun. And sometimes that’s more than enough needed to really enjoy a story.

Deviana Morris isn’t just good at her job as a mercenary for the kingdom of Paradox: she’s great. She excelled in military training and rose through the ranks of the Blackbirds, an elite military squadron. After being made into a squad leader, Devi realizes that there is no further way to ascend the ranks and so quits. What she really wants is to be a Devastator, part of the armored unit devoted to protecting the Sainted King of Paradox. Although probably the most dangerous job within the Paradoxian military, Devi also knows it’s where her skills can be best utilized and appreciated. And Devi is nothing if not ambitious.

Devi’s ambition leads her to accept a security job for a trade ship named the Glorious Fool. It’s the type of job that she would have never considered taking if she hadn’t been assured that one year serving under Captain Caldswell was the equivalent of serving another number of years with an organization like the Blackbirds. Trade ship or not, however, the Glorious Fool somehow manages to get in more than its fair share of trouble.

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May 26, 2014

Review: Evertrue by Brodi Ashton

Evertrue by Brodi Ashton
Series: Everneath, #3
Published: 2014, Balzer + Bray
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Library
Contains spoilers for Everneath (my review) and Everbound (my review)

"Do you feel that?
This heart is yours. It belongs to you. It beats only for you. And somewhere out there is a heart without a home, and it beats for me, and we're not giving up until we find it."

Oh Everneath series, why must you toy with me so? It’s like the series doesn’t want me to be able to form one solid opinion as to its contents. Is it entertaining and compulsively readable? Heck yes. It is a good, quality YA paranormal series? That’s a bit more debatable.

After saving Jack from an eternity condemned to the Tunnels, Nikki and Jack hoped to be free of the Everneath’s influence. In order to keep up her strength on the rescue mission, however, Nikki fed on Cole’s energy three times. What Cole didn’t tell her is that when a human feeds on an Everliving three times in the Everneath, that human begins an irreversible transition to becoming an Everliving. Upon learning this, Nikki vows to take down the Everneath once and for all, and Jack has agreed to stand by her side. Unfortunately, Cole and his Everliving friends have other plans for Nikki: for her to become the new queen of Everneath, ruling with Cole at her side. And to aid in the process, they've stolen her heart.

An unexpected stroke of good luck seems to fall at Nikki and Jack’s feet when Cole loses his memory and believes their story that he wants to help them destroy the Everneath. But the queen of Everneath is aware that Nikki is her competitor - in more ways than one - and with Cole unable to provide them with his centuries of knowledge about the inner workings of the Everneath, Nikki and Jack find themselves racing against the clock one final time, this time with not just Nikki’s humanity but the fate of all souls on the line.

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May 23, 2014

Browsing for Books as a Book Blogger

Since I’ve now been blogging for just over two years, I’ve had some time to become adjusted to the changes in my reading habits blogging has caused. I now read more books and I read them faster in the span of a year. I read - and am aware of - far more new releases than I ever knew existed. I read each book a bit more critically now, knowing that I plan on recording my thoughts on it later. I buy a ridiculous amount of books and am hyperaware of book deals/sales.

None of these changes in my reading habits are bad. And, overall, I’m pretty happy with how blogging has impacted my communication skills and knowledge of the publishing industry.

If I did have one complaint, however, it would be this: I seem to have lost the ability to browse in bookstores and libraries.

That’s a rather dramatic statement, so allow me to refine my meaning.

Prior to blogging, recommendations from those whose reading tastes I trusted constituted the vast majority of the book I knew I wanted to read. Other books I read for classes. And still others I decided to read simply because a title or a cover caught my eye, I picked up the book, and I found the synopsis/first few pages to be interesting.Going to a bookstore or library was a cause for excitement because, for the most part, I had literally no idea what books would end up catching my eye. Navigating the shelves, checking out notable books on display - everything felt new and shiny and special to me.

Bookstores and libraries still elicit some level of excitement for me, but not to the same degree. Now many times I have some idea of specific books I’d like to find, or specific authors. Now I’m generally on a tighter schedule and don’t have an hour or more to just look around. Now I place library books on hold and often go to my library specifically to pick up those books or order a book through my local indie and stop by solely to pick it up, convincing myself that I have enough reading in my hands as it is without adding any more by browsing the shelves. And, of course, I cannot fail to mention that a good chunk of the books I read are digital.

But this post isn’t about the browsing for digital books (that’s for another discussion). Instead, I wanted to focus on my changing physical book browsing habits. They’re not all bad: I’m a more efficient browser, a more efficient reader, and acquire far fewer books that ultimately don’t mesh well with me as a reader.

Sometimes, though, I miss the spontaneity that came with browsing shelves with no preconceived expectations. The elation of discovering a new book or author destined to become a favorite. I miss introducing friends and family to unfamiliar, underrated books. It’s still possible to do that as a book blogger, of course, but it seems like it’s become a rarer occurrence for me.

From pulling books off of shelves I’ve discovered some of my favorite books: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, Wolf Speaker by Tamora Pierce (yes, that was my introduction to Pierce’s works), A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. And many, many more.

I admit that there are also so many books that I would never have read in the past two years had I not been a blogger. Books that I’ve come to love, but that didn’t sound like they were worth the investment upon first glance.

And perhaps that knowledge makes the lessening of my spontaneity not as big of a problem as I sometimes feel like it is. I can work on making myself a better browser, after all - allotting more time to browse new-to-me shelves, authors, and books - but having a greater knowledge of the publishing industry, authors, and books makes it worth the changes, I think.

What about you? Have you become less of a book browser and on more of a mission when you visit libraries, bookstores, or other places with books?
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May 22, 2014

Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Published: 2014, Riverhead Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Retelling
Source: Won

We’re friendly toward strangers because of a general belief (I don’t know where it comes from) that we’re born strangers and that the memory of how that feels never really leaves us.

Boy, Snow, Bird is being touted as a historical fiction retelling of “Snow White” set in 1950s America. The fact that it is a retelling is the primary reason I became interested in reading this story. The retelling, however, is more of an afterthought than anything else. Instead, Oyeyemi’s novel focuses on the trials and tribulations that three women face: Boy, her stepdaughter Snow, and her daughter Bird.

Boy Novak’s beauty is widely acknowledged, and she has grown up frequently admiring her reflection in mirrors. But Boy’s life is far from perfect. She has grown up without her mother, and her father makes a living catching rats. He also likes to abuse her in her spare time. So when Boy finds herself with an opportunity to leave her father for good, she takes it and travels up to the small New England town of Flax Hill.

In a small town where everyone seems to know everything about each other, Boy is treated with suspicion and envy. Until, that is, she befriends some of the locals and begins working at a bookstore. Still, it isn’t until Boy begins a serious relationship with Arturo Whitman, local scholar-turned-jeweler, that she finally begins to feel she may have a place in Flax Hill after all.

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May 20, 2014

Top Ten Books on Friendship

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're discussing our top ten books on friendship.

The Sisterhood series by Ann Brashares I've only read the first two books, but I had to include this series on my list. The story revolves around four teenage girls from very different backgrounds and with very different personalities who nonetheless remain the best of friends. Good girl empowerment right here.
Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray It's been a while since I've read this one, and I know that there have been some criticisms against this series, but honestly? I didn't notice anything problematic as a teen reader myself.  I love how through Gemma's connection with the enchanted world of the realms brings her and three other girls out of their shells and gives them reasons to live again in their overbearing Victorian society.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky This is more Charlie's story about finding himself than anything else, but the friendships he forms with Sam and Patrick, Alice and Mary Elizabeth, and even his English professor Mr. Anderson, are all integral to Charlie's growth. And I love a good story about misfits finding friendship and support in one another. [My review]
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton I am in desperate need of a re-read. But I remember loving how tightly knit this group of Greaser guys were as they dealt with some pretty formidable challenges in their daily lives. I'll never forget my favorite line from this book: "Stay gold, Ponyboy." (Nor will I forget their somewhat ridiculous names, but that's neither here nor there.)
Golden by Jessi Kirby Golden is primarily about how in solving her town's tragic mystery, Parker hopes to figure out what she wants to do with her own life. But who encourages Parker to go on a road trip in search of the truth (and accompanies her, of course)? Her best friend Kat. Parker and Kat are very different people, but they manage to use their differences to form a friendship where they both bring out the best in one another. [My review]
Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty The focal point of the majority of Jessica's books is Hope, her best friend who moved away after sophomore year. The description of their relationship is one-sided, as it's told almost entirely through Jessica's diary entries, and yet it still sounds like an enviable friendship between two girls who really respect and care about one another. [My review]
The Help by Kathryn Stockett Another potentially controversial pick. And yet - even if you think the relationship developed between Skeeter and Aibileen and Minny is more of a "friendship" of convenience made so that white readers feel good about themselves rather than a true friendship - these women all support one another during a challenging time. 
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein Despite working for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II, Maddie does all right when it comes to friendships. She and Verity have one of the most enviable friendships ever in Code Name Verity. I loved learning about how they met and exactly the extent to which the two of them are willing to protect one another. [My review]
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein — Maddie and Rose also have a pretty solid friendship in Rose Under Fire. More than Maddie and Rose's friendship, however, I really enjoyed the friendships that Rose makes with the other prisoners of Ravensbruck women's concentration camp. There's no way anyone could go through an experience like that and emerge unscathed, and the friendships they form are what keeps them whole. [My review]
How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr This book explores a lot of heavy topics (teenage pregnancy, death, adoption, abuse), all to great effect. Protagonists Jill and Mandy must grapple with overcoming these challenges, and then some. These characters are at the lowest of lows when the novel starts, and they're still far from being completely okay when the novel concludes. And yet, it is the friendship that they develop that allows readers to think they'll both be okay again one day. [My review]

For as much as I express my preference for books that focus more on friendship rather than romance, I had a rather difficult time coming up with this list. I guess that means that I need to read more books that focus on friendships. Have any suggestions for me? I look forward to reading everyone else's lists to get some ideas.
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May 19, 2014

Bout of Books 10.0: The Finish Line

Has a week already passed? This was definitely the fastest week I've had in quite some time. Fast mostly because it was just really, really busy.

Books read:
Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Something Real by Heather Demetrios

Number of pages read: 807

So I didn't quite accomplish my goals. I did not read four books - I didn't even get through three complete books. I didn't participate in any Twitter chats or challenges or interact with any other bloggers.

But I refuse to see this as a failure. Because you know what? Going to a Brewers game this week (which they won) and hanging out with my family and boyfriend for my brother's graduation this past weekend were more than worth it.

So no complaints here.

Well, one: I should have borrowed an audiobook from the library. The amount of driving I did this week would have enabled me to read an audiobook (or at least the majority of one). Poor planning on that end, I suppose. But now I know for next time!

If you were also a participant, please let me know how you fared!
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May 16, 2014

Ready to Become a Fan of...Leila Sales

Ready to Become a Fan of... focuses on those authors new and old whose works I have every intention of eventually reading, but haven't been able to devote the time to just yet. By discussing authors and their works that I'm sure I'll love, given the chance, hopefully I can be more easily compelled to take the next step in not simply acquiring one of their books, but actually take the time to read it.

This month I'm putting on record that I am ready to become a fan of Leila Sales.

About the author:
Leila Sales is the author of three YA contemporary novels, most recently This Song Will Save Your Life. According to her Goodreads profile, Leila Sales grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2006. Now she lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in the mostly glamorous world of children's book publishing. Leila spends most of her time thinking about sleeping, kittens, dance parties, and stories that she wants to write.

Work I'm most looking forward to reading:
Past Perfect

All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra’s working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated…even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new.

Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off limits, all Chelsea knows is that she’s got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it…. (Goodreads)

Why this author & this work:
I might be exposing even more of my nerdy qualities here, but I used to be quite obsessed with the idea of historical reenactment villages. There are a number of other historical reenactment villages I’ve been to over the years, as well as many places without the actors necessarily, but whose purpose still is giving modern-day people a glimpse of how life would have been during an earlier era.

Of the places I’ve been with a bend towards the historical, my favorites have been the colonial section of Philadelphia, the colonial section of Boston, and the colonial section of Williamsburg. Williamsburg in particular had a strong impact upon me. Felicity was my favorite American Girl doll, and after reading her stories it was almost a surreal experience to be able to see what her life would have been like.

On the not-so-historically-accurate side, I also loved going to a Renaissance Faire a few years ago.

Basically, I enjoy learning about history, but I love it even more if I can actually apply what I’ve learned and witness things first-hand. For me, historical places (with reenactments or not), are a perfect way to do so. And they’re just fascinating.

So I anticipate a little bit of wish-fulfillment going on when I read Past Perfect. Beyond that, though, this does sound like a cute, light-hearted read. Here’s hoping I’m right on this one.

For those of you who've already read some of Sales’ works, I'd appreciate hearing what you think about them. For those who also haven't read her works yet, let me know what's been holding you back!

Ready to Become a Fan of... is an original feature of Late Nights with Good Books.

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May 14, 2014

Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
Series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3
Published: 2014, Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Contains spoilers for Daughter of Smoke & Bone (my review), Days of Blood & Starlight (my review)

History conditioned you for epic-scale calamity. Once, when she was studying the death tolls of battles in World War I, she’d caught herself thinking, Only eight thousand men died here. Well, that’s not many. Because next to, say, the million who died at the Somme, it wasn’t. The stupendous numbers deadened you to the merely tragic, and history didn’t average in the tame days for balance. On this day, no one in the world was murdered. A lion gave birth. Ladybugs lunched on aphids. A girl in love daydreamed all morning, neglecting her chores, and wasn’t even scolded.
What was more fantastical than a dull day?

Without a doubt, Dreams of Gods & Monsters was one of my most anticipated 2014 releases. Like so many others, I fell in love with the fantastical world that Laini Taylor has created, full of warring angels and demons and the two whose destiny may put an end to the conflict for good.

Over the course of two novels and a novella set within this world, Taylor has created dynamic, realistic characters, tense conflict, a reimagined battle of epic even Biblical proportions, all wrapped together in gorgeous prose. That all being said, I expected to love Dreams of Gods & Monsters, even as I expected to mourn the conclusion of a beloved series. But while I enjoyed the conclusion, I can’t say I was fully satisfied with it.

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May 13, 2014

Review: “Night of Cake & Puppets” by Laini Taylor

“Night of Cake & Puppets” by Laini Taylor
Series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #2.5
Published: 2013, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Contains spoilers for Daughter of Smoke & Bone (my review), Days of Blood & Starlight (my review)’s like all my life I’ve been this tower standing at the edge of the ocean for some obscure purpose, and only now, almost eighteen years in, has someone thought to flip the switch that reveals that I’m not a tower at all. I’m a lighthouse. It’s like waking up. I am incandescent.

“Night of Cake & Puppets” is a purely delightful novella. The few novellas I have read, coupled with the many reviews I’ve seen for those I haven’t read myself, have convinced that the in-between novellas trend currently so popular among young adult series is not really for me.

If an author writes an in-between novella for a series, there are a couple of criteria that must be met in order for me to be a satisfied reader. I don’t want to read about novellas that simply rehash events that already took place within the series proper from another perspective. Neither do I want to read novellas that are so new that readers who chose not to read this “supplemental” material feel lost in comparison to those who did. Essentially, the novella should function on some level as its own work, much like I expect individual novels within the series to do. It should be its own work, but pay homage to the series proper and tie together elements, while also expanding my understanding of the world/characters/general plot.

And I’ll be damned if Laini Taylor doesn’t check all these buttons and then some in “Night of Cake & Puppets.”

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May 11, 2014

Bout of Books 10

It's time for another Bout of Books! I love how Bout of Books always seems to occur at a time when I can really devote my spare time to doing little more than reading. It's been super convenient like that for me. It won't be quite as convenient this week, but I think I can make it work.

For a recap of what Bout of Books is:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 12th and runs through Sunday, May 18th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 10 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

My reading options for this week include:
Something Real by Heather Demetrios
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard (I already started this one and it needs to be finished before Friday.)
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

These are nearly all YA contemporaries, and for good reason. I find that YA contemporaries are generally faster reads and much easier to process. I love worldbuilding in speculative fiction (along with many of its other elements), but if I'm going for speed (and enjoyment at the same time), then contemporaries are better suited for this challenge for me.

I'm going to be ambitious and attempt to get through 4 of these books. In addition to working full-time, I'm most likely attending a baseball game on Tuesday night (go Brewers!) and have festivities for my brother's college graduation on both Saturday and Sunday. But what's the point of setting goals that are easy to achieve? And maybe this time I'll even interact with other Bout of Book-ers through challenges and twitter chats.

Please let me know if you’re participating in the current Bout of Books as well so we can cheer each other on! 
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May 9, 2014

Review: Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer
Published: 2013, William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Adult Contemporary
Source: Library

During Whitney and Merry Carole’s little banter, everything comes rushing back. I can’t believe I was so naive. There is no coming back to North Star on my own terms. I may be older and wiser, but we are still the villains. We are still the unwanted. We are still the ones parents point to and warn, “Don’t brush your teeth and you’ll end up like poor Merry Carole and Queenie Wake. Let a boy get to second base and you’ll end up like poor Merry Carole and Queenie Wake. Cheat on that final and you’ll end up like poor Merry Carole and Queenie Wake.” Being Brandi-Jaques Wake’s daughters meant being branded a pariah.
We are North Star’s very own bogeymen.

Never would I ever have imagined that my first five-star read of 2014 would be a work of contemporary adult fiction (that could probably be classified as “chick lit” by those who so desired to). After seeing positive review after positive review, I knew that I would eventually read this one, but perhaps as a lighter fare in between heavier reads. But this story ended up being so, so much better than I could have anticipated.

Over the past decade, Queen Elizabeth Wake has become skilled in the act of avoidance. She left her hometown of North Star, Texas shortly after graduation and hasn’t looked back since. She has no desire to return to the town where she has the unwelcome distinction of being Brandi-Jaques Wake’s daughter. Her mother was a talented chef, but also an example of parental neglect, as well as the town slut. As far as Queenie is concerned, the only legacy worth adopting from her late mother is her passion for cooking. For Queenie, North Star is full of too many painful memories, too many raw emotions, for her to ever want to return.

When Queenie finds herself fired at yet another restaurant in New York City, she’s forced to face a hard truth: she has nowhere she wants to go, nothing she wants to do. Until she figures that out, Queenie decides to return to North Star and live with her older sister and nephew. For a brief visit, she reassures herself. But after a decade of running, Queenie realizes that she can no longer evade her past. By returning home, Queenie has the opportunity to face the demons of her past - and perhaps ensure that they no longer continue to haunt her future.

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