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Book Review! A Court of Thorns and Roses

Friends, I tried my hardest to get hold of an advance copy of this book, but I just couldn’t make it happen. Since I was so head-over-heels for the Throne of Glass books, I decided to go ahead and pre-order this one from Barnes & Noble for my Nook app so I could read it right away. Of course, I finished it just a few hours after it landed in my inbox.

It was awesome.

But I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because I was having a hard time writing a review that wasn’t too spoiler-y or too basic and vague… Anywho, here we go!

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

First of all, how amazing is that cover!?! I like that it gives you an idea of what the main character looks like without being the “girl in a formal dress looking over her shoulder” style that’s become ubiquitous. Also, red. Which is very fitting given the plot of this story. To get us started, here is the publisher’s blurb:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!

First of all, the relationship between Feyre and Tamlin is a slow burn with a few bumps in the road, not an insta-love like the publisher’s blurb might suggest. There are lots of hard choices to be made, and Maas doesn’t pull punches to give Feyre an easy out, which I quite liked. About 2/3rds of the way through the book we learn more about Feyre’s family and a lot of depth gets added to their characters, which really took this book to the next level for me – it would have been so easy to use the family characters as set-up in the beginning and then leave them there, as flat, one-dimensional individuals who were holding Feyre back and had little to no redeeming qualities of their own, but Maas took the time to give them layers and make them continue to be an important part of the story and Feyre’s choices. Bravo.

There are a couple of characters that “help” Feyre out at various points in the story – for a price, of course. We’re dealing with the Fey here. Based on those characters I’m anticipating much more political gamesmanship in the next book, which is great, because Maas does so well with the politics and individual characters’ motivations in the Throne of Glass books. I’m also looking forward to seeing more of Rhysand in the next book, because I’m always a sucker for a tall-dark-and-handsome bad boy 😉 Although this is known to be a sort of Beauty and the Beast retelling, Maas very skillfully places the story in the world of the Fey and gives nods to the original tale while staying true to her own writing style and keeping the story fresh. If you know it’s there, you can most definitely see the parallels, but subtle enough that you could miss it if you didn’t already know.

While I really enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses and I love Sarah J. Maas’s writing, I think I like the Throne of Glass books just a little bit more. The two series each have a distinct feel to them, and I find that world and those characters a bit more intriguing. It probably stems from the fact that Throne of Glass is a totally original world from the author. That said, I will definitely be reading the rest of this series.

If you like a darker sort of fairytale à la Holly Black or Gregory Maguire, A Court of Thorns and Roses should be right up your alley!

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Book Review! The Inheritance Trilogy

First, my apologies, friends. I thought I had scheduled this post to go live aaaaaaaaages ago, but apparently not. Secondly, things got a little crazy at work, and then I went on two awesome vacations, so I’ve been pretty absent around these parts. Fortunately, vacation time and 12+ hour plane rides meant lots of reading, so I have several more reviews coming up soon! (You can check out my Goodreads page if you want a sneak peek at what’s coming.)

I’ll probably post a quick edit of some of my favorite vacation photos too, and I thought about maybe doing a post on how I packed for both vacations (China and the Czech Republic/Paris, respectively) and what I forgot/didn’t need. Would you all be interested in something like that? I feel like when I was scouring Pinterest and the internet at large for packing tips, most of what I found was for backpackers as opposed to people staying in hotels/apartments… Let me know!

Now, on to the good stuff!

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

I loved this series. I read the omnibus edition, which has all three and a “half” novels in one. I received this book from NetGalley and read it in my Kindle app, which was super convenient because this omnibus edition is about 1400 pages long! Although the individual books were released a while ago, I had never heard of them, but on NetGalley it stuck out to me for some reason and I decided to give it a go. When I saw in the introductory blurbs that this had Felicia Day’s stamp of approval, I knew I’d like it 🙂

Rich in detail, with a complex plot and a good variety of characters and viewpoints, I never felt like this was falling into the standard fantasy tropes. Of the three books contained in this edition, I think the first book was the strongest and would be equally enjoyable even if you read it as a stand-alone, but I enjoyed them all and each story added it’s own interesting details to the world that Jemisin has created.

I particularly love that each of the books visits the same world, but in different places and at different times, narrated by different characters, so you can really get a sense of the whole society, rather than just a snapshot of particular characters in a particular place at a particular time. There is enough continuity of characters and places, though, that the books feel like they belong together and it isn’t overly confusing to the reader. (One of my favorite YA/fantasy authors of all time, Tamora Pierce, is equally good at this aspect of fantasy writing. If you’re going to spend the time coming up with a whole fictional world, and a good one at that, I want to get enough information and perspectives to feel like I’m immersed in it!)

Not everything in these books is sunshine and roses (although it’s not anywhere near Game of Thrones-level bloodshed/intrigue) but if you like fantasy, magic, and political machinations, you’ll like this book. I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a good fantasy read, and I’ll definitely be checking out any of Jemisin’s other works!

What was the last great fantasy book that you read? I’m always looking for new material 🙂

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Book Review! Chasing Power

I’ve received several advance/publicity copies of YA books through NetGalley since I joined earlier this year, but this is the first YA title that I’ve liked enough to share here on Barks & Baking!

Chasing Power

Chasing Power, by Sarah Beth Durst

Available to purchase on October 14, 2014.

The publisher’s blurb: 

Lies, secrets, and magic — three things that define Kayla’s life.

Sixteen-year-old Kayla plans to spend her summer hanging out on the beach in Santa Barbara and stealing whatever she wants, whenever she wants it. Born with the ability to move things with her mind — things like credit cards, diamond rings, and buttons on cash registers — she has become a master shoplifter. She steals to build up a safety net, enough money for her and her mom to be able to flee if her dad finds them again. Well, that, and the thrill of using her secret talents.

But her summer plans change when she’s caught stealing by a boy named Daniel — a boy who needs her help and is willing to blackmail her to get it. Daniel has a talent of his own. He can teleport, appearing anywhere in the world in an instant, but he lies as easily as he travels. Together, they embark on a quest to find and steal an ancient incantation, written on three indestructible stones and hidden millennia ago, all to rescue Daniel’s kidnapped mother. But Kayla has no idea that this rescue mission will lead back to her own family — and to betrayals that she may not be able to forgive… or survive.

My thoughts:

There were a few stumbling moments early on in the book, but I was fully on-board by the time Kayla and Daniel team up and start looking for the stones. The search takes them various places around the world, and while the different locations were interesting, I would have liked to see a bit more real history added into the story (it’s a great way to add to the reader’s knowledge without forcing it or being a great big info-dump.) Kayla is pretty decisive for a YA character, and not naive, which is refreshing. She also is very good at putting major issues in context and acting accordingly –  as evidenced by her reactions to the events toward the end of the book.

Kayla’s best friend, Selena, is a strong secondary character, and I love the dichotomy of how she acts with the rest of the world versus how she is around her family. It’s easy to write supporting characters that are one-dimensional/stereotypes who are only there to interact with the main characters, but I think it’s particularly important in YA books to support the idea that people are multi-faceted and may have a mix of more and less desirable characteristics, and that even the most put-together appearances may go hand-in-hand with personal struggles. That being said, I think that Daniel could have been written better – he felt a bit flat to me, and the scenes that I surmise were supposed to add “depth” to his character really didn’t. The “cocky-to-hide-his-vulnerability” thing was overplayed, he was very single-minded throughout the book (“must. find. mother.”) He basically gets a pass whenever he acts like a jerk, whereas Kayla and Selena dealt with things more maturely.

I’d say this falls at a 3.5/5 stars on my scale. I probably won’t re-read it, but it’s one I’ll probably recommend to other YA readers looking for new reading material.

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Book Review! Throne of Glass Series

Holy blog traffic, Batman! I’m sure most of you are here because of the lovely shout-out from Franish – with whom I’ve been bonding over the perfect maroon-y purple skirt from JCrew Factory. If so, you might be interested to take a peek at my favorite pieces for work casual wear, or the gym, and my makeup basics, and then please stick around for one of my favorite topics, book reviews!

 

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass Series #1)

I’ve read the first two books of the Throne of Glass series, by Sarah J. Maas, in just two days, and I’m already halfway through the third book. Yup. Hooked. This is hands-down one of the best YA fantasy series I’ve read in years. Since the series isn’t done yet, I’m not sure if it will top The Abhorsen series, by Garth Nix, or the Tortall books, by Tamora Pierce, on my list of all-time best YA books, but it’s pretty high up the list.

The publisher’s blurb on these gives you a good idea of what to expect from the books, and it’ll be hard to do a review of all three books without any spoilers, but I’ll try! Celaena Sardothien is an assassin, trained from a young age to be the best at her brutal trade. When she’s summoned from her hovel mining salt in Endovier and sent to the capitol city of the ruthless Adarlan king to compete for her freedom, she’s not sure what to expect. Almost immediately, Celaena is drawn into a scheme much larger than herself, and with no one giving her the information she seeks – or any of the truth – she has to figure things out for herself, before she winds up on the executioner’s block.

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass Series #2)

One of the things I’ve truly enjoyed about this series is that Celaena is very decisive and not afraid to take action, even when she has doubts and may need to adjust her path once things heat up. Although she’s painted as a cold-blooded assassin, there are plenty of internal struggles and emotions for her to face, and ultimately she ends up being better and more mature for it. I’ve enjoyed seeing her character evolve so far over the first three books, and according to Goodreads, there are three books yet to go. (Which makes me deliriously happy. I love a good, long series!) There are also several interesting (read: not shallow) male characters and other important female characters that pop up over the course of the first three books, which gives the plot more depth and keeps things racing along quickly. No dragging, endless descriptions and boring filler scenes here!

Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass Series #3)

One of the reviews published in the paperback version of Throne of Glass (book one of the series, followed by Crown of Midnight, and then Heir of Fire) that caught my eye stated that they viewed Maas’ series as a combination of Tamora Pierce and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, which I think paints a pretty good picture of where this sits in terms of fantasy works. The writing is much more direct and (overall) is less  gruesomely realistic than the Game of Thrones books (see my Goodreads reviews on those if you dare, I didn’t care for them) but also involves more politics, plotting, and death than Pierce’s books. The Throne of Glass books are broader in scope, but they remind me a bit of The Castings Trilogy, by Pamela Freeman (if you like the Throne of Glass books and fantasy in general, those might be worth a read.)

If you’ve read any of the Throne of Glass books, please let me know your thoughts! Did you devour them like I have, or were they not your cup of tea?

If you’re just popping by to check things out, I’d love it if you said Hi in the comments or maybe took a second to fill out the quick blog poll I posted recently!

(*Disclaimer: None of the links in this post are affiliate links and I am not getting anything at all from the respective companies or blogs they link to. But if JCrew, Goodreads, or Barnes & Noble ever start giving me goodies or cash, I’ll let you guys know! 🙂 )

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Book Review & Giveaway! – Murder at the Brightwell

Congrats to the winner of the giveaway, Laura M.!

The lovely staff over at St. Martin’s Press gave me a free copy of Murder at the Brightwell for my review.

Murder at the Brightwell: A Mystery

The publisher’s description certainly got it right with this one: “Set in 1930s Britain’s posh seaside holiday scene, Murder at the Brightwell is at once a glamorous glimpse into the past, a delightful love story, and, of course, a gripping, exciting whodunit. Drama, gossip, and mystery all abound!”

Very much in the style of Agatha Christie and Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, this book was a fun sleuthing romp through the early part of the 20th century. The heroine, Amory, is a unique mix of confidence, wit, and romantic uncertainty – the latter usually occurring when her ne’re do well husband, Milo, is concerned. Amory takes a trip to the seaside with an old flame and his friends, and as members of their party drop like flies, she simply can’t stay on the sidelines. As with any amateur sleuth, she doesn’t figure out who is perpetrating the murders until she’s made a few wrong guesses, but she does manage to impress CID’s Detective Inspector Jones along the way.

This was a charming, light read, and I’ll certainly be interested to read more books by this author!

St. Martin’s also asked if I’d like a second copy of this book to give away. Silly question, right?! This title won’t be released for sale until October 14, 2014, but for the next week you can enter to win your very own advance copy of the book, along with a few other fun items from yours truly!

As you may have seen from the sneak peek I posted here on the blog and on my Instagram, the prize package looks a little something like this:

The winner of this giveaway will receive everything they need for a good old-fashioned afternoon tea:

  • A paperback advance copy of Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
  • A book full of tasty “afternoon tea” recipes (I’ll admit, I was tempted to keep this for myself, the little cookies and sandwiches in here look awesome!)
  • A patterned tea cup from Anthropologie (I got the blue/green version for myself, and chose the orange to give away because I thought it went nicely with the cover of the book)
  • A (sealed) container of my favorite tea – Earl Grey Crème from Giant foods – which is an Earl Grey tea with a vanilla-y creaminess to it. I’m usually a milk and sugar girl when it comes to Earl Grey, but this works nicely without any milk or sugar, as it already has a little sweetness to it.

To enter the giveaway, click on the Rafflecopter link below (it may take a second or two to load). Then, you can get up to two entries, by either a) leaving a comment below that answers the prompt or b) following/subscribing to my blog (please make sure to enter the username you use to follow/subscribe, because I will verify this before I mail the prizes to the winner!) Or you can do both and get 2 bites at the apple 🙂 The giveaway will accept entries until midnight on Friday, August 22nd** and I will select a winner at random. The winner will be announced on the blog on August 23rd and I will provide an email address so the winner can send me their contact info.

Thanks so much for entering – Good luck!

(This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to winner Laura M.!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* A little disclaimer – The copy of Murder at the Brightwell for this giveaway was provided by St. Martin’s Press, but all other items were purchased by me. The links on the book title and photo go to Barnes & Noble simply because they are my favorite bookstore, but they are not sponsoring/affiliated with me in any way.

** I’m hoping that’s correct, and I didn’t somehow screw this up, but it’s my very first giveaway, so if there are any issues, I beg in advance for your patience. Thanks!

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Checking In

Hi there, my lovely readers! (Oh, there’s only one of you… OK. You know you’re the coolest, right? Excellent. Moving on.)

It’s been a long time, but let me assure you that several draft posts are in the works and you can look forward to:

1) A tutorial on making roman shades. I’m too cheap for what stores like Target or West Elm charge for window dressings and we have a whole house full of windows to cover! It hasn’t been an issue thus far, as we already had (temporary) curtains for our bedroom, and nicer ones for the main living room, but the hubs’ family are coming to stay in 2 days and they’ll be actually using the guest room and my office as bedrooms. So, curtains! I like the idea of roman shades because of the shape of our windows (wider than they are tall) and I can make them a bit sheer while still giving privacy and the option to let lots of daylight in. I’ll get more into specifics once I have some of these bad boys hung up and working (hopefully…)

2) We built a kegerator and we’ve brewed 3 batches of homemade beer so far. I need the hubs’ engineering expertise to help me with this post, but it’s coming! We love beer, and a kegerator is way more economical than all the bottles we’ve been going through, especially at the rate that we’ve been hosting game nights.

3) Book reviews galore coming up. I’ve won a couple of Goodreads First Reads giveaways (free books, y’all!) and I also signed up for NetGalley the other day when I was home sick from work. I already have 9 books to read from NetGalley! Someone please explain to me why I didn’t start blogging for free books, like, 10 years ago? I love it. I’ve always thought that the book buyers for places like Barnes & Noble had the coolest job, and now I’m getting access to all the ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) and promo copies just like they do, and ITS SO COOL!!! Not going to lie, I got an advance copy of Rita Mae Brown’s new Mrs. Murphy mystery and it made me feel like a legit publishing exec. Review a brand new book from one of my favorite authors, for free? Don’t mind if I do 🙂

Abe is totally going to help me review all these books.

4) We had an appointment with a kitchen designer at Home Depot. Combined with the playing around I did in IKEA’s planner, I think we now have a good idea of where our kitchen is headed, we just need to find all the money for it! There will be a few different posts coming as we really start to dig in to this project.

5) I’ve perfected my hazelnut scone recipe, and I have waaaaaay better pictures than the last time I wrote about them. Yum.

6) If the weather cooperates, there may also be a post on putting together some raised garden beds. I’ve started my seeds indoors already, but the very next day we got another 4-6in. of snow, so who knows how long it will be before I can move them outside :-/

What did you all get up to this February? Does anyone have any good homemade roman-shade advice for me?

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Goodreads

This post is for all of my fellow bookworms.

If you’ve stopped by the blog before, you’ve probably seen the Goodreads* widgets on the right hand side. If you’re new to these parts, scroll down my home page and you’ll see what I’m talking about (go ahead, I’ll wait… yup, all the way down there…)

Goodreads might be loosely described as Facebook for book lovers. You can look up pretty much any book whether already published, in the final advanced-reader stage, or planned. Once you create your own profile, you can identify books you’ve already read, write reviews, list books you’re currently reading, and mark books that you’d like to read. They even have fancy widgets where your blog readers can see what’s on your lists 🙂

It’s also a great way to keep track of your favorite authors (if they’re on Goodreads) to see what books they enjoy and what/when their next work will be published. I’m currently stalking Daniel O’Malley’s page (which I believe is linked from his website, http://www.rookfiles.com) for a tentative publication date for the second book of the Checquy Files (my review of the first book, The Rook, is here – but the short version is IT’S FABULOUS, GO BUY IT. NOW.)

But my favorite part of the site is Goodreads First Reads, which allows you to browse upcoming titles or publicity giveaways to win a free copy of a book. Copies of upcoming titles, known as Advanced Reader Copies or ARCs, give the author and their publisher a way to get feedback about the book before it is actually published, which can help with last-minute edits, cover design, and marketing. The quotes you see from readers on dust-jackets or the first few pages of a paperback are usually taken from critics, fellow authors, and everyday people who read advance copies of the book.

I try to browse through the open giveaways in First Reads every week or so, and I only put my name in for books that I would pick up in a library or bookstore – personally I feel there’s little utility in trying to give feedback to an author of a genre I never read, like romance. Although if something really catches my eye I might put in for a copy; for example, I don’t read a lot of biographies, so I don’t often go into that section of a bookstore, but an interesting biography can still be a great read – especially if I’m looking to give gifts to others whose taste runs more to non-fiction, like my husband.)

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I just got notification that I’ve been selected for my first ARC through Goodreads – Moth and Spark, by Anne Leonard. It’s a fantasy book that seems right up my alley and clocks in at 384 pages (I tend to look for books over 250 pages, because I like them to last a bit longer and have plenty of details to the plot and the characters.) I’ll be back for a review once I have it in hand, which the site says could be anytime in the next 4-6 weeks. I’m also going to create a new shelf in my Goodreads profile for First Reads now that I have something to put there!

Do any of you use a particular site to read book reviews or look for upcoming titles or giveaways? Are there any new reads that you think I should check out?

* A Lovely Legal Disclaimer: Goodreads isn’t sponsoring any of this content, and all opinions are my own, I just really like their site! First Reads giveaways are open to any Goodreads member and each giveaway has its own terms and conditions, which may be read on the Goodreads website.