Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters - Review

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I read an ARC copy I was lucky enough to find for free at my local bookstore.

In 1918, the world is on the verge of apocalypse what with the death, destruction, and despair from Spanish Influenza and WWI. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black, named after the author of Frankenstein, watches as desperate mourners visit séances and spirit photographers hoping to find some little piece of comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink everything because Stephen, her first love—a boy who died a hero's death on the battlefield — comes back in spirit form. Mary Shelly's every curious mind needs to know why he's come back to her.

I was so thrilled when I came across this ARC because I'd been wanting to read it for so long. I wasn't disappointed and I greatly enjoyed reading this tragic paranormal mystery set during the Great War and Spanish Influenza outbreak. And, there are even interesting time-period photos to study.

When it comes to the characters, I could really appreciate Mary Shelly Black. She's the kind of character that I enjoy reading and would like to read more of others like her. Even though she lives in the teens, she still feels quite modern and refreshing. In regards to Stephen, the use of flashbacks really makes his character stand out since although we don't really see him - in the flesh, that is.

The only reason I'm giving this story four of five stars is for two reasons. The first being that some of the few scenes with ghost romance-y stuff just didn't work for me - the flashbacks were great and so was Mary Shelly's thought process but some of that particular ghostly angle seemed odd and not in the best way. Secondly, I wish there could have been a little more wrap up when it came to certain parts of the ending.

Overall, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a fantastic debut by Ms. Winters and I recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction focusing on the Spanish Influenza outbreak and WWI as well as readers who enjoy turn-of-the-century spiritualism. Luckily for me, I'm interested in all of the above topics. I'm really looking forward to reading her newest book, The Cure for Dreaming

I read this from December 26 - 31, 2014 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Top Ten Tuesday: Resolutions for 2015

I know I'm getting to this a little late (I've just been so busy lately), but yesterday's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, was Resolutions for 2015.  Since today is New Year's Eve, I figured today is just as good of a day for me to post it.  I usually don't make formal resolutions, but here are some of my goals for reading, blogging, and life in general.

Catch up on my series reads - I've started so many that I need to finish or catch up on this coming year.

Don't buy as many books when I already own so many that I haven't read yet.

Reorganize my personal book collection.

Read broadly and from outside of my comfort zone.

Donate more books to my local library.

Write more - aside from social media and reviews, I mean.

Become more unique with my blog content - host another giveaway, event, or interview of some sort.

Come up with a new feature for my blog - still trying to come up with ideas for this one.

Complete my Goodreads group challenges.

Live a healthier life - this is usually always a given from year to year.

On that note, I'm wishing everyone a happy new year!

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist - Review

Veronika. Caroline. Isobel. Eleanor. Four identical girls (except for their hair colors) who spend their days doing the same thing in order to learn by their two adult keepers. But when May, a very different kind of girl—the lone survivor of a recent shipwreck—suddenly and mysteriously arrives on the island, an unsettling mirror is about to be held up to the life the girls have never before questioned.

You know, I think the cover is what got me on this one - that and the fact that is was only $1.99 at Ollie's...and you know the description on the dust jacket doesn't sound too bad. Turns out I only made it through the first chapter (nearly 20 pages). What is called a "stark directness and straightforward tone" on the dust jacket, I call highly tedious. It was so slow, boring, and repetitive that I gave up after only 20 pages. If that's how it opens, I wonder how the rest of it comes across... Even though it extremely repetitive, I had a hard time remembering the characters names - good thing they were in the blurb, I guess.

I tried, but The Different Girl just isn't for me.

I attempted to read this on December 31, 2014 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The War of the Sidhe: Dawn Arising by Annalise Josephine Sullivan - Review

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I won a free copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads Program.

Fifteen-year-old Lilith Becker is a regular Los Angeles teen. Until, that is, she learns she's a Descendant of The Morrígan of ancient Irish mythology, and is a part of a prophecy that could decide the fate of mankind. She'll have to make a decision between the light and darkness, a decision that will move the war beyond humans.

If you enjoy Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief, or perhaps even Hounded by Kevin Hearne, you will love this action-packed YA fantasy novel. Annalise Josephine Sullivan works Celtic mythology into this wonderful series opener to great effect.

I loved meeting our cast, especially considering how the author would depict the Tuatha Dé Danann in relation to Lilith. She did a pretty fantastic job, and Lilith herself is also well-drawn. I am looking forward to seeing more of the Sidhe world, and even other pantheons.

The only reason I'm giving this four stars is because I caught quite a few typos sprinkled throughout the novel, pulling me out of the story. Nonetheless, The War of the Sidhe: Dawn Arising comes highly recommended from me. I cannot wait to see where the rest of this series goes with In the Light of Day and As the Sunlight Dies.

I read this book from December 2 - 26, 2014 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Christmas Book Haul!!

I did very well this holiday season!  Which should I read first: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, Schizo by Nic Sheff, The Girl From Felony Bay by J. E. Thompson, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, The Fall by Bethany Griffin, Revival by Stephen King, The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Denard, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Martian by Andy Weir, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, or Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers?

The Friday 56: The New Joys Of Jell-O Brand Gelatin Dessert Recipe Book

Welcome to The Friday 56, a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice.

These are the rules:
1. Grab a book, any book.
2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you.
4. Post it.
5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda's most recent Friday 56 post.

This week I'll be sharing a recipe with you from a 1974 Jell-O cookbook I received for Christmas.  You can see my review here.  The recipe is actually from page 58 - there is a picture of the recipe on page 56 and 57.

Richelieu Mold
(photographed on page 56)

1 can (16 oz.) pitted dark sweet cherries
1 package (3 oz.) Jell-O Gelatin, any red flavor
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons orange juice
3/4 cup diced orange sections, well drained
1 cup Birds Eye Cool Whip Non-Dairy Whipped Topping, thawed, or prepared Dream Whip Whipped Topping
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds

Drain cherries reserving 3/4 cup of the syrup. Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add reserved syrup and orange juice. Chill until thickened. Fold in cherries and oranges. Pour into a 4-cup mold or individual molds. Chill until firm-4 hours or overnight. Combine whipped topping, toasted almonds. Unmold gelatin. Serve with topping. Makes 3 1/2 cups or 6 servings.

Here's a picture of the Richelieu Mold from the book.  It's the dark red one on the bottom left side.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The New Joys Of Jell-O Brand Gelatin Dessert Recipe Book - Review

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So, Mom got me this for Christmas! Weirdly, I kind of like looking at strange old cookbooks - it seems like whenever I go to an antique shop I see cookbooks using either Jell-O or bananas (banana meat loaf, anyone?). I cannot believe that these were as actually popular, or, even edible for that matter. This is one of the newest (1974) I've seen for a Jell-O cookbook - I've seen some real doozies from the 1950-60s!

A few of the recipes in here aren't bad, like Jell-O cubes or Jell-O with fruit. Those are standard Jell-O fare, right? Some of these I may just try. Well, it's when you start adding mayo, sour cream, olives, tuna, pickles, tomatoes, chicken, shrimp, turkey, and assorted vegetables to that Jell-O that things start to get downright weird and disgusting. In the future, I may actually try to make one of those just to see if they are as bad as they sound. For example, "Chicken Mousse", "Molded Ham and Egg Salad", "Creamy Bleu Cheese Salad", "Green Goddess Salad Bowl", "Molded Tomato Relish", or "Salmon Dill Mousse" all sound positively stomach-churning. Seriously, who was paid to come up with recipes like these?!

I think "Chicken Mousse" takes first place most disgusting. What do you think?

With the "Molded Ham and Egg Salad" coming in a close second:

I enjoyed looking at the normal and ridiculous recipes as well as the incredibly 1970s-looking pictures of friends and families having brightly colored Jell-O parties.

The only reason I'm giving this four stars rather than five is the fact that not every recipe has an accompanying picture and that I did feel a bit nauseous while reading some of those wild recipes.

Is it just me or does a dessert called the "Richelieu Mold" sound like some kind of torture device?

Actually, this isn't one of the weird ones, the ingredients sound fairly normal. Most of the other recipes, however, could be, or, at least come directly from your worst nightmares.

I read this December 25, 2014 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  May you spend your time with good people, have a delicious meal, and enjoy your gifts as much as as my cat is enjoying this stack of boxes.

The Silent Deal (The Card Game #1) by Levi Stack - Review

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I received a free copy of The Silent Deal from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Viktor and Romulus, two young Russian serfs, awaken the wrath of a mysterious overlord as they begin to investigate the mystery shrouding their town. Their search takes them through gambling parlors, fortune-teller dens, and dangerous forests they've never seen the likes of in the past. But even with the help of their friends, can they escape the dark experiments that their foe is creating in Staryi Castle?

The Silent Deal was such a pleasant surprise for me. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from the story, but it's a great beginning to The Card Game series by Levi Stack. The prologue had me hooked right from the beginning.

There are so many elements I enjoyed when it came to the story. I haven't read that many YA (or possibly upper-Middle Grade) novels set in 1830's Russia, so that aspect alone is quite fascinating. I also liked the fact that Stack weaves Russian folklore into the story.

In regards to our cast of characters, both Viktor and Romulus feel quite realistic, and they're both likable. Although Viktor is the lead, he is actually more of a sidekick to Romulus, which works well as we unravel the mysteries surrounding the town and the cards. Of the supporting characters, I did Belch - I mean, even if he's a bit annoying he's still funny and quotes Shakespeare.

Finally, that brings me to the complex plot and the mystery. I don't want to spoil too much, but the detailed intricacies and the twists kept me going. Levi Stack is a fantastic storyteller and he has a way with words. I found myself really caught up in it all during some of the more intense scenes.

The Silent Deal by Levi Stack is a gem that comes highly recommended from me and I can't wait to read it's sequel, The Magic Trick.

I read this ebook from December 19 - 24, 2014 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Young Elites (The Young Elites #1) by Marie Lu - Review

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Adelina Amouteru was a child when she survived the blood fever that wiped out a good portion of her country. Most who caught it died, but all of the children who lived came away from it with strange markings. Adelina's black hair turned silver and there's only a scar where left eye used to be. Her father considers her to be a Malfetto, an abomination ruining his merchant family's reputation and standing in the way of any potential business deals. However, there are rumors that some marked survivors have powerful and otherworldly abilities, and although their identities are secret they have come to be known as the Young Elites. As far as Adelina knows, she has no powers just scars, but on the worst night of her life she realizes that she is indeed a member of the Young Elites, with powers unlike anyone else. When she inadvertently gets pulled into the Dagger Society, a special group of Young Elites that fight against the kingdom's Inquisition Axis which seeks to destroy Malfettos with abilities, her life is changed forever.

Honestly, I prefer The Young Elites to Lu's Legend series! Legend was good and all, but it didn't hold my attention nearly as well as the dark fantasy world of Kenettra (something like Renaissance Venice). For the most part, I love the leading cast, but I really wish some of the supporting Daggers could have been more fleshed out. It's quite refreshing to see such a diverse group of characters, as well. I also appreciate the fact there is no love triangle, although, there is a bit of a one-sided romance on Adelina's part which got old quickly - and Adelina herself got a little annoying in that regard.

In terms of the powers and abilities, Adelina's control of illusions is quite imaginative. I am pleased to see where Lu mentally and physically takes her characters over the course of the novel. The novel takes quite a few breathtaking turns that I didn't see coming whatsoever. I cannot wait to see where the series goes from here.

The Young Elites comes with my recommendations, especially if you are a fan of X-Men, Harry Potter, and Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.

I listened to this audiobook from December 15 - 18, 2014 and my review is also on Goodreads.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Mixed Bag Book Giveaway!

I know I love a good giveaway, so I thought I would return the favor to my friends and readers.  I'm hosting my very first Holiday Mixed Bag Book Giveaway!

My giveaway begins now and will run until Saturday, December 27.  I will be giving away six books and two lucky winners will have their choice of three books apiece:

To have a shot at winning these titles, please follow the link below!
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Friday 56: From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

Welcome to The Friday 56, a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice.

These are the rules:
1. Grab a book, any book.
2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you.
4. Post it.
5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda's most recent Friday 56 post.

Jamie looked over at Claudia; he shouldn't have.  Claudia looked as satisfied as the bronze statue of the Egyptian cat she was standing near.  The only difference between them was that the cat wore tiny golden earrings and looked a trifle less smug.

[While at my local thrift shop, I spotted this classic in paperback.  Somehow, I've never read it, so I figured I better grab it while I could.]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Humpty Dumpty Jr.: Hardboiled Detective (Case #1 and Case #2) by Nate Evans, Paul Hindman and Vince Evans - Review

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Humpty Dumpty Jr. is the best hard-boiled egg for the case. He always catches the bad guy...except once when things got too personal with his dad. Now, a frantic call for help tells him that someone is making it personal again. And this time, Humpty better watch out before he gets scrambled.

I stumbled upon this awesome chapter-book series for young readers at my local Goodwill store. Needless to say, I fell in love with this pun-tastic fairy tale noir mystery. I've always enjoyed a good hard-boiled crime mystery and I'm a sucker for a good fairy tale. I wasn't sure if it would work, but it turns out it's a pretty great combination of both worlds. I could easily hear all of the characters presented in these pages speaking inside my head and see them in gritty black and white.

I highly recommend this "Egg-cellent! Egg-citing! [and] Egg-splosive!" chapter book! If you have an interest in film noir, hard-boiled crime fiction, or fairy tales, you should not miss Humpty Dumpty Jr's first case, The Case of the Fiendish Flapjack Flop!

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In this second and, unfortunately, final installment of Humpty Dumpty Jr.: Hardboiled Detective entitled The Mystery of Merlin and the Gruesome Ghost, Humpty's sidekick, Rat, has to go to school. He doesn't want to until he learns he may be King Arthur reborn and gets invited to study at Merlin's Institute for the Knowledge of Everything. Princess Lily, Rat's new friend, tells them that a magic eating ghost is haunting the school. Can the three friends banish this ghost and learn the truth about Rat?

Just like it's predecessor, I also picked up this cool little chapter-book from my local Goodwill store. I really enjoyed the addition of Arthurian legend to this fairy tale noir. Somehow, all of the elements come together in a fantastic way in this super fun, pun-filled tale.

This hilarious chapter-book comes with high praise from me! According to my copy, there should have been a third case (starring a ninja!) released in May 2009, but unfortunately it looks like it never happened. Regardless, I'm glad I got to know Humpty Dumpty Jr.!

I read both cases on December 18, 2014 and my review for Case #1 and Case #2 can be found on Goodreads.

Aces Wild (Sin City Collectors #1) by Amanda Carlson - Review

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I received a free ecopy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Aces Wild is the first novella of the Sin City Collectors series. It follows a young dhampir Collector named Nevada on her mission to Collect a powerful vampire for the Boss. By the way, Collectors are supernatural bounty hunters. After screwing up her first vampire Collection job, she has been been assigned a partner to make sure things don't go south. Her partner is a hellhound named Jake. She and Jake have a history, a painful one, but they're both professionals. However, this new Collection will push them both to their limits.

I knew there was a reason I liked Amanda Carlson's urban fantasy! I love the characters she creates, even if they are sometimes a bit difficult to like. I also enjoy the detail that goes into her paranormal worlds. The Las Vegas of the Collector's sounds like one I would like to spend some more time in. I will be back for the rest of this series!

I read this novella on December 18 and my review is also available on Goodreads.

Brew (Salem's Revenge #1) by David Estes - Review

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Salem's Revenge comes swiftly without warning and without mercy. Gangs of witches, warlocks, and wizards unite to wipe out the practically powerless human race. Rhett Carter's foster family is killed and his best friend and girlfriend are captured by one of the most powerful witch gangs out there, the Necros. Rhett's mysterious neighbor, who happens to be handy with a sword, saves Rhett from being another victim and teaches him everything he needs to know to survive in the new world. The only thing really keeping Rhett going is his need for revenge, that and his new witch hunting skills and his magged-up dog called Hex. His mission is to hunt down and kill those responsible for destroying everything good in his life. However, there are a few secrets Rhett doesn't know about himself - secrets that the enemy will stop at nothing to keep him from discovering - and learning the truth just might be the only hope humanity has left.

Brew is refreshing, thrilling, darkly twisty, and action-packed, and I loved every second of it. It honestly had me at witch apocalypse. You don't see those every day! Did I mention that Rhett is a book-blogger turned sword-wielding witch hunter? That's a character I can definitely support! And, his dog, Hex, has some pretty cool magical powers after having been experimented on by witches. As much as I liked Rhett, I loved the fiery Laney with her shotgun and magged-up Glock and her odd little sister named Trish. I also enjoyed Rhett and Laney's working relationship, which could range from funny to heart-breaking. I can honestly say that I'm glad there was no romantic aspect to their relationship, up to this point at least.

Aside from the fantastic characters, the world-building that goes into this story is also pretty fantastic. I liked all of the little details in the story making it all the more realistic. Another element I particularly enjoyed is actually being familiar with some of the cities they travel to or mention - there's even a shout-out to Columbus, Ohio, the capital of my home state.

I highly, highly recommend this fantastic new series opener from David Estes. If you've never read anything by Mr. Estes, you will not be disappointed if you start with Brew! I cannot wait to continue this awesome series with Boil, the sequel that sounds ever so promising!

I read this from December 4 - 17, 2014 and my review is also available on Goodreads.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read In 2014

It's time for another edition of Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  The theme this time around it Books I Read In 2014.  I've read some fantastic stories this year and theses are my absolute favorites.  I've tried to put them in order starting with my most recent read.

Jackaby by William Ritter

Resist by Anne-Rae Vasquez

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Half Bad by Sally Green

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

And here are three bonus, just because I couldn't pick only 10:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

What do you think of my list?  Do we share any titles?  Have you read something that sounds like it might be something I would love?

Thanks and see you this time next week!