Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Oh, the time of year to give thanks for all the things we hold dear! Of course, good books are towards the top of my list, but there is so much more that I am grateful for this season…

My family. They may be more than a little messed up, but they are mine. I love them, and for good or for bad, they have shaped me into the person I am today.

My man. He makes me laugh so hard I cry, consider new perspectives and try new things, see others more like Jesus would, and appreciate the little things. I am a better person because of him.

My friends. Both old and new, my friends are shopping buddies, chefs, therapists, drill sergeants, co-conspirators, fellow coffee addicts, teachers, dance partners, explorers, and pals.

My health. With so many of my friends and loved ones struggling with illness, I feel so incredibly lucky to enjoy good health. It's something I take for granted, but am so grateful for.

My work. I am so incredibly lucky to wake up each day and go to a job I love and work with a great team that always makes me smile.

My church. I know it's not for everybody, but my church is perfect for me. I am grateful to serve in the café, belong to a community committed to loving others in Jesus' name, and receive awesome teaching from pastors like Ray and Curt.

My pretty things. I am so thankful I get to enjoy the finer things, like good books and good coffee! They sooth my soul.

What are YOU grateful for this Thanksgiving? Share your own list! And as always…

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Swoons and Sadness

Have I mentioned yet how much I freaking love my book club's pick this month, Jane Austen's Persuasion?! I love, love, LOVE it!

Right now, I've just finished up chapter four, which tells the tale of Wentworth and Anne. And ohmygoodness! ALL THE SWOONS! ALL THE SADNESS!

When they met, Wentworth had not yet established himself in a successful career in the military. Despite that, he is described as "a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy." Anne, at the time, was "an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling." The two gradually were introduced to each other, and immediately fell deeply in love.

"Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly anybody to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail."

He proposed, and she happily accepted.

But all was not bliss for long. Sir Walter, while not outright stating his refusal, was cold, silent, and flatly said he would do nothing for his daughter when she entered such a degrading match. Lady Russell, feeling it her duty as a mother-figure and mentor, strongly opposed the engagement. She felt Anne much too young to throw herself away on such a gamble of a man. After all, Wentworth had no family or fortune, and even though he was confident he would quickly rise through the ranks and find success in the navy, Lady Russell viewed his confidence, passion, and daring as a danger that must be mitigated at all costs.

Under the pressure of such disapproval, Anne caved. She could withstand her father's displeasure, but not the wise and loving negative opinion of Lady Russell. Anne was persuaded to think the engagement was imprudent, and incapable of success. Not only that, she truly felt that it was in Wentworth's best interest for her to call off their attachment.

Wentworth was devastated. He was angry that Anne felt forced to give him up, and quickly left the country in pain and resentment.

Anne's broken heart over the ordeal stole her youth, good looks, and spirit. In the seven years that passed, no man compared in her mind to the dashing fellow she let go.

At one point, Charles Musgrove asked her to marry him. It would have been an excellent match- his property and importance in the area was second only to Sir Walter's, but Anne refused. He was no Wentworth. Instead, Musgrove married her younger sister, Mary. Lady Russell was distressed at Anne's refusal, but even her advice could not sway Anne. Now Lady Russell worried that Anne might never marry.

Though it was never discussed, Anne felt very differently now than she did at nineteen, when she allowed her friend's influence to alter the course of her life. She did not blame Lady Russell, or even herself for having listened to her, but she did sincerely feel that she would have been much happier had she maintained the engagement, even if delays and disappointments had transpired.

Wentworth, in this time, had achieved everything he claimed he would and more. Anne gathered through the navy lists and newspapers that he was quite successful, rich, and unmarried.

Now, with his sister coming to stay at Kellynch Hall, all of Anne's emotions are stirred up. She takes comfort in the fact that the only ones who know, or remember, the details of the history are herself, Wentworth, and Lady Russell, and she feels confident that little awkwardness should arise.

My overall impressions from this chapter include feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness. One, I'm pissed at Sir Walter and Lady Russell for forcing Anne to break up with Wentworth. But then again, I'm ticked at Anne for giving up her love so easily. I can understand wanting to respect one's elders and take good advice, but if he were really that important to her, how could she send him away? I wish Austen explained more about how Anne felt it was in Wentworth's best interests if she ended things with him. That might give a better explanation as to how on earth she could give up on her love. Maybe this is just an area where I can relate, and that's why I'm feeling so emotional over the whole thing, but Sir Walter and Lady Russell are most definitely on my shiz list. Whether or not they can redeem themselves remains to be seen.

Also, I love Wentworth! I know I haven't been formerly introduced to him yet, but he sounds so confident, optimistic, brave, passionate, and sexy! *sigh* *swoon* It hurts that I know he had his heart stomped on by Anne, and I hate that Anne is STILL broken up about it. Such a sad, sadday.

Chapter four was definitely all about swoons and sadness.

What do y'all think? What were your thoughts on this portion of the book?

As always, happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Dream… A Personal Library

"A dream is a wish your heart makes…" ~ Cinderella

If that's true, then my heart's wish is for a well stocked personal library. I KNOW! I'm such a nerd! But when I daydream about my ideal home, the number one thing I envision is a beautiful room filled with row after row of books. *wistful sigh*

Currently, I arrange all of my books on their shelves in color order. I love looking out at the rainbow of book spines… It makes my heart happy!

Hopefully, this summer I'll be moving into a cute little apartment and starting my own house of dreams. And I want my living room to look something like this:

What about you guys? Got any pics of your dream library? If so, share a link in the comments!

Happy reading, guys!

Monday, November 25, 2013

I Want to Punch Him

Have you ever encountered a literary character that makes you want to jump through the pages of the book and slap their silly face?

That's how I feel about Sir Walter in Jane Austen's Persuasion.

As you know, the story of Anne Elliot is my book club's pick this month, and reading chapter three makes me growl in frustration.

In chapter three, we read about the possibility of a naval officer renting Kellynch Hall. Many navymen made a fortune in the war, and now that there's peace, are looking for a home. Mr. Shepard suggests this, and points out what excellent tenants a member of the navy would be…  But Sir Walter only has disparaging words:

"The profession has it's utility, but I should be sorry to see any friend of mine belonging to it." He finds it offensive on two counts- "First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and secondly, as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most horribly; a sailor grows old sooner than any other man."

Mrs. Clay of course flatters him by saying, "We are not all born to be handsome," and claiming that only the landed highborn, who have no profession, are able to maintain their good looks without having them worn out by labor. (*cue song* "Now I ain't sayin' she's a gold digger…")

An Admiral Croft, a very wealthy member of the Navy, heard rumors of the Elliot's situation and intention to let Kellynch. He made his desire to rent the place known to Mr. Shepard, who brought the prospect to Sir Walter. Of course, the baronet was snobby and suspicious.

Mr. Shepard tried to convince Sir Walter of what an excellent tenant the Admiral would be- married and childless, and whose wife was "not quite unconnected in this country… She is sister to a gentleman who did live amongst us once." He then became exasperated because he could not recall the man's name. After several minutes of grumbling and fumbling for a name, Anne helped him, "You mean Mr. Wentworth, I suppose?"

Sir Walter, of course, was his usual, arrogant self when he heard this. "Oh! ay, Mr. Wentworth, the curate of Monkford. You misled me by the term gentleman. I thought you were speaking of a man of property: Mr. Wentworth was nobody, I remember; quite unconnected…" (So the only thing that makes a man a "gentleman" is having land or belonging to an important family?! Ugh!!)

Seeing that he wasn't getting anywhere with Sir Walter, Mr. Shepard changed tactics and appealed to his vanity. He made it sound like the Admiral and his wife held Kellynch in very high regard, and that they felt it would be such an honor to be tenants of the esteemed Sir Walter Elliot. Since Elizabeth had no objections and wished to depart to Bath as soon as possible, it was a sealed deal. Sir Walter felt that an Admiral was just barely good enough to be a renter, at least preferable to a mere Mr., and yet not so great in importance as to ever overshadow himself.

Anne, of course, was never consulted for her opinion. She fled the room for the shelter of some trees, where she walked with flushed cheeks and said, "A few months more, and he, perhaps, may be walking here."

Where to begin with overall impressions of this chapter… Ugh! Am I allowed to call Sir Walter a pretentious prick? Because he is!

Looking down on the navy because it enables men to rise above their social rank and earn wealth, prestige, and influence? What an elitist! I know that this was a common view amongst nineteenth century aristocracy, but to have it so blatantly stated like that was an offense to my very American sensibilities. Being able to work hard and make something of oneself is an ability I hold very dear, so it ruffles my feathers quite a bit to read Sir Walter's condescending worldview.

Also, what a peacock! To discredit the navy as a profession because it has a negative impact on a man's LOOKS?! What the even heck! Even Anne jumped into this by saying that the navy, as the brave men who keep the nation safe, deserve honor and respect, and I 100% agree! But no, Sir Walter thinks "it is a pity they are not knocked on the head at once" before they become orange and weather beaten. Jerkface!

I find it interesting to see in this chapter how the only way to really persuade Sir Walter to do something is to appeal to his vanity. Not facts, reason, or honor, but by what makes him look and feel more superior than anyone else. Mr. Shepard is a shrewd man for manipulating Sir Walter's conceit in this way.

At the tail end of this chapter, we also discover that, even after all of this time, Anne still has feelings for Wentworth! But now I'm getting ahead of myself, that's another blog post for chapter four…

What about you guys? Do you share my same dislike for Sir Walter's character, or do you have your own literary figure that makes you want to scream in frustration? Share your thoughts by posting a comment!

Happy reading, everyone!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Very Bookish Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us!

If you're like me, you're frantically dashing about, searching for the perfect present for the loved ones in your life.

Let me help you out. Below, you will find the best gifts for literature lovers this holiday. Or, ya know, a spectacular self-indulgent splurge. Because, BOOKS. 

(Just click on the link below each photo to follow it to magical gifting goodness.)

Book Charging Station for iPhone or iPod

Tea Collection with Literary Quote Tags

Anne of Green Gables Quote Necklace

Bookopoly Board Game

Teapot Lamp (Ok, not exactly a book gift, but definitely bookish!)

The Raven Cuff Bracelet

Book Club Coasters

Comic Book Tights

Microwaveable Soup Mug with Venting Lid

Make Up Bag (for every product purchased from this online bookish shop, a book is donated to a village in Africa!)

Sherlock Holmes Personalized Flask

"She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain" Wall Art

Reading is My Superpower Coffee Cup

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Anne with an "E"

So I am deeply immersed in the first few chapters of Jane Austen's Persuasion, my book club's first book selection, when it hit me- The protagonist in this novel is Anne, more specifically Anne with an "e."

This may seem like a silly observation to most, but to a literature lover with a special fondness in her heart for a fellow ginger in the character of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, this caused a freak out moment of epic proportions. Go gingers! Go Annes!

Anywho. Back to the Anne I'm supposed to be studying for book club.

Anne Elliot is the middle daughter of a pompous and conceited baronet. She is quiet, sensible, and selfless. It is clear that her arrogant, fool of a father (Oops! Is my absolute disdain for this figure showing? I'll try to reign it in...) does not see any value in his daughter, because she is neither especially beautiful or as concerned with keeping up appearances as he and his eldest daughter are. Still, Anne faithfully serves her family to the best of her ability.

When she was young, she fell in love with a dashing nobody of man, and was superbly happy. But her father and mentor were not impressed. Weighted down by their disapproval of what they considered such an imprudent match, Anne broke off the engagement, and has been brokenhearted and filled with regret ever since.

Having read the book multiple times before and watching the movie version on many a blustery evening, I have the comfort of knowing how this story plays out. But for the sake of the book club, I'm trying to pretend that I don't know the outcome, and reporting my thoughts and feelings as they occur, chapter by chapter.

With that in mind, I'm sure I'll have many more "GRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!" and "What the even heck?!" moments regarding her friends and family, the breakup of her relationship with Wentworth, and her daily adventures.

For now, I'll try to focus on the first two chapters.

The story begins with Sir Walter Elliot, the baronet owning Kellynch Hall. Sir Elliot is vain, pretentious, and preoccupied by rank and social status. He is obsessed with the Baronetage, a book detailing the family histories of all the muckety mucks in England.

We learn that Sir Elliot's wife has died, leaving behind three daughters- Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary. Elizabeth is by far her father's favorite, and follows after him in conceit and entitlement. Anne is the most like her deceased mother, being practical, humble, and kind. Mary, the youngest, is the only married daughter, which gives her a tremendous feeling of importance.

We're also introduced to Lady Russell, a friend of the late Lady Elliot, who has become a trusted family advisor.

Since Sir Elliot had no sons, his fortune would fall to a cousin, Mr. William Elliot. It was Sir Walter's deepest wish that William marry Elizabeth, but the heir wanted nothing to do with the scheme. He spoke poorly about them behind their backs, and opted to marry a wealthy woman of little rank in order to be more independent. Sir Walter and Elizabeth never forgave him for it.

In the beginning of the book, we also discover that Sir Walter was facing significant money troubles. With his wife's practical guidance and frugality gone, nothing held him back from spending lavishly to live a lifestyle in keeping with his high rank. Debts were piling up around him, and Mr. Shepard, his advisor, along with Lady Russell, try to come up with a plan to get him out of his financial mess.

He must retrench, making cut backs in order to get out from under the mountain of debt he created for himself. Anne agrees, and in fact, wishes harsher cut backs would be made in order to pay back what the family owes even sooner.

Unfortunately, Sir Walter feels the restrictions can't be borne with; that doing without the comforts and customs he presently enjoyed would be disgraceful to a man of his rank. Instead, he opted for Mr. Shepard's suggestion of leaving Kellynch Hall, and moving to Bath where a household could be run in a more modest way without lessening his status among his peers. Once again, Anne's wishes against going to Bath were dismissed, and Sir Walter agreed to rent Kellynch Hall, as long as a suitable tenant was found.

These first couple of chapters illustrated two things. First, Sir Walter's character illustrates the self-importance and snobbishness of members of high society in general. Appearance was everything. It meant nothing to him that he abandoned responsibilities and obligations, because maintaining the illusion of wealth and prestige was his highest value. Honoring one's debts and being a man of integrity never entered his head. By contrast, Anne was deeply disturbed that the family had fallen so far into debt, and wished to rectify the situation as quickly as possible and by any means necessary. (Her reaction reminded me of Dave Ramsey's "gazelle intensity" of getting out of debt, but that's another blog post! Haha!) The difference in these two's approaches to their money problem speaks volumes.

Second, the beginning of the novel sets up the unique Elliot family dynamic. We get a character sketch of each of the family members, as well as secondary characters like Mr. Shepard and Lady Russell. We know that Sir Walter values appearances, Elizabeth her good looks, Anne honor and good sense, Mary her marriage, and Lady Russell respectability. Sir Walter's idiocy is on full display, as well as Anne's attempts to clean up his messes. Yet Anne received no reward for her dedication to her family; instead, Anne's desires are cast aside, and even Elizabeth prefers the company of a woman of questionable motives, Mrs. Clay, to that of her sweet sister.

I think Persuausion, more so than any of Austen's other novels, is the most blatantly cynical and satirical. The sharp contrasts are very present for the reader. Her social statements are hardly subtle, even from the very first few chapters! Even though I've read this book before, it's easy to forget all the details and nuances and humor found in Persuasion's pages. I am so excited to continue reading, and I'll be sure to keep y'all informed of my impressions!

Happy reading, everyone!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Budget... So Unsexy.

I hate money. Well, no, that's not true. I love to SPEND money; I just hate MANAGING money.

No one told me that being a responsible grown up would be so boring and difficult and unpleasant, and the most obnoxious and stressful adult task, I've found, is setting up and sticking to a budget.

Ugh. Budget. It's anything BUT a sexy topic. Nevertheless, it's an important subject to research, and implementing some sort of financial plan is vital in order to be dependable and successful.

One way I have tackled this disagreeable job is to GET INFORMED. The best guy out there on the issue of personal finance, in my opinion, is DAVE RAMSEY.

Now, this isn't just the money guru your parents listen to on the radio. He is the real deal. Having faced financial ruin himself, he knows what it's like to come from nothing and try to build yourself up to something. He's honest, practical, funny, and smart on money matters.

Recently, I checked out the book that goes along with his financial advising seminar, Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money.

Most of what he had to say wasn't rocket science. It was common sense information, but packaged and explained in a way that made it compelling. For me, I KNOW what I should be doing, I just have trouble actually DOING it. Dave agrees- "Personal finance is only 20 percent head knowledge. The other 80 percent- the bulk of the issue- is behavior." (Page 6)

Even though Dave goes in-depth on a variety of topics- savings, getting out of debt, budgeting, manipulative marketing, insurance, college and retirement planning, etc., I found the review of his Financial Roadmap for Success to be especially helpful. He has seven baby steps that will get you to where you need to go:

                Baby Step 1: Put $1,000 in a beginner emergency fund ($500 if your income is under $20,000 per year.
                Baby Step 2: Pay off all debt using the debt snowball.
                Baby Step 3: Put three to six months of expenses into a savings account as a full emergency fund.
                Baby Step 4: Invest 15 percent of your household income into Roth IRAs and pretax retirement plans.
                Baby Step 5: Begin college funding for your kids.
                Baby Step 6: Pay off your home early.
                Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give.
                (Page 9)

Now granted, not all of these steps are entirely applicable to me as an unmarried twenty-something living at home with my parents while I just start off my professional career. Begin college funding for your kids? I'm still deciding if I'M going back to college. I don't HAVE kids.

That being said, I KNOW Dave's plan is important, wherever you're at in life. A couple months back, I had a severe neck injury that prevented me from working for almost a month. And with no savings plan, no emergency fund, and suddenly no source of income, I was in deep trouble! Now, three months later, I'm STILL trying to recover financially. I wish I had taken Dave's advice seriously and implemented it sooner.

"The emergency fund is your protection against life's unexpected events, and you are going to have a lot of them throughout your lifetime. They're not really "unexpected" if you think about it. You know they're coming; you just don't know when, what, or how much. But you can still be ready." (Page 11)

Saving is hard! There are so many things I'd rather be doing with my money than just sticking it in a savings account. I want to do something FUN with my money! Even though I struggle with this concept, I think Dave makes so much sense- "Today, my motto is, 'If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.' " (Page 22)

One illustration Dave gave blew me away. It's one thing to think conceptually about saving consistently over time, but Dave actually calculated out what it would look like if a little bit of discipline and sacrifice is made:

"What if you squeezed an extra $100 out of your budget every month? If you saved just $100 a month, every month, from age twenty-five to age sixty five (your working lifetime) at the stock market average return of 12 percent, you'd retire with more than 1.1 million! You'd be a millionaire with just $100 a month! But is it easy to do that every month like clockwork for forty years? No!... Something else will sneak in and try to take away that money. It takes discipline to stick to your goals, but that little bit of discipline will take you a long way." (Page 17)

Holy crap on a cracker! I can retire as a millionaire with only $100 a month?! That's actually DOABLE!

All throughout the book, Dave gives super practical ideas about how to deal with money, and many illustrations of how this actually pans out in real life, just like the example above.

I know money stuff is hardly glamorous. I get how reading an entire book on budgeting and saving and planning might make your eyes glaze over like a dead fish. Let me tell you, the information and suggestions in this book are WORTH IT.

Be a little nerdy. Ditch the light chick lit and pick up this personal finance book. Your life will change for the better.

Happy reading, folks!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Daydreams and Magical Notebooks

I received a pocket notebook the other day. And it is MAGICAL.

After a really crummy morning at work (an angry customer chewed me out over the phone within the first thirty minutes of opening my store), a couple of friends {we'll call them Kandy and Kathy} showed up with a caramel brulee latte, peppermint brownie cake pop, and a gift bag filled with inspiring quotes, photos, sweet note cards, and a mini journal shown here:

Their surprise visit made my day.

And I can't get over how AWESOME this notebook is!

"She daydreams of a place where the coffee is strong and there's nowhere else she needs to be."

This phrase pretty much sums up my life.

Gimme a good cup of coffee, an absorbing book, and a comfy place to relax, and I am in heaven.

Some people daydream of daring adventures- climbing Mount Everest, swimming with sharks, zip-lining through the jungle… I fantasize about curling up in a cozy cabin with a fire roaring and a peppermint mocha in one hand and a thrilling novel in the other.

Here's to adventures in their many forms, strong coffee, good books, and daydreams. Happy reading, y'all.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Apology and EXCITING NEWS!

I've been beyond neglectful of this blog, and for that, I apologize. I have no legitimate excuses. I'm just lazy.

All of that is about to change, however, because… *EXCITING NEWS!* I'm part of a startup bookclub! EEEEEKKKKK!!!!

It all started last week when I met up with an old high school friend {we'll call her Penny}, who I haven't seen since our mutual high school friend {we'll call her Ally} got hitched five months ago. We got to chatting about work, life, love, and BOOKS! Suddenly, I had a light bulb moment, and blurted out, "WE SHOULD START A BOOK CLUB!"

A couple of texts to Ally, a long Facebook thread, and an initial meeting later, VIOLA! Our book club was born.

Last night was our first meeting at Ally's new house. There was soup, cupcakes, cider, and BOOK SELECTIONS! We each wrote down our picks in each of the following categories- fiction, nonfiction, and classic; put them on paper; and had Ally's hubby draw two slips from the pool.

Are you ready to find out which books were picked?! *drum roll, please!*

Jane Austen's Persuasion and C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Yes, two classics ended up getting picked, but honestly, I'm ok with that.

I LOVE Persuasion; it's one of my favorite of Austen's novels. I even own the movie. We're starting with this one first, and are breaking it up into two parts that will cover our next two meetings (we meet the first and third Tuesdays of every month). We'll go over discussion questions, watch the film, and maybe even enjoy yummy Austen-inspired food!

The second selection may be a little iffy for me. I remember having to read Mere Christianity in high school and college, but don't really recall many details from it. It just sounds dense and serious and … I'm ashamed to admit this… BORING. I'm hoping that even though it's a little bit heavier than a Jane Austen novel, I'll still be able to really enjoy it. I'm sure I will. I mean, C.S. LEWIS. Hello! It's bound to be a good read.

Anywho. Thanks for sticking around with me as I exhume and resume this blog. I'd love to hear from you! Any suggestions for our book club name? (Ally is currently cheering for "Bodacious Book Babes Book club"… clearly, we need your help, haha!) Who's your favorite character in Persuasion? Any encouragement on how I'm going to end up loving Mere Christianity?

Happy reading, guys! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Buying Ban

A couple of weeks ago, I instituted a book buying ban. Why on earth would I do such a thing? Because I have oodles and oodles of unread books on my bookshelves, collecting dust as I ignore them to purchase and read the latest and greatest bookstore offerings.

My intentions were noble and reasonable. Why spend more money on new books when I have several unread books just waiting to be enjoyed? It would be fiscally irresponsible to continue indulging my new book addiction.

Thus, I vowed to go without purchasing a new book until I finished ten that were already in my possession. I posted a picture of my TBR (to be read) stack and posted it to Twitter and Facebook for accountability, and began my #BookBuyingBan.

It lasted all of four days.

I know, I know, EPIC FAIL. In my defense, I was right in the middle of the Beautiful Creatures series, which was pretty much like setting myself up for failure. I HAD to know how the story ended!! But if I'm being honest with myself, there is a REASON why those ten books have remained unread, sitting lonely on my shelves for so long.

Hush is supposedly brilliantly written and deeply provoking, but it is also about incest, suicide, religion, and other tough topics. I don't know about you, but for me, I read to ESCAPE the pain, sadness, and general effed-upedness (yes… effed-upedness is a word!) of reality and life. While I am sure Hush is absolutely amazing (like the friend who suggested it keeps insisting), I can't bring myself to willingly invite that kind of emotional trauma when all I really want is a mental vacation.

Same thing with books like Crazy Love, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, and Velvet Elvis. These books are for serious introspection and reflection on one's faith journey. I don't want to deal with that messiness. I like my current avoidance of focusing on spirituality just fine, thank you very much! (ForTheLoveOfAllThingsSparkly, I hope I don't get zapped with lightening for saying that…)

As for the classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and Frankenstien, I just can't seem to get excited about them. They just seem to look and feel boring, and rather than trudge through a bunch of pages that I'm not even enjoying, I'd rather burn through the pages of the latest psychological thriller just released from Barnes & Noble.

I WILL read The Bloggess' book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened.  I'm actually super excited about that one! She is so irreverent, honest, inappropriate, and hysterical. I've been saving that one for when I'm having a really crappy day and need a funny pick me up.

So all in all, while I AM disappointed that I lacked the will power and self control needed to follow through on my book buying ban, I ultimately feel that caving to temptation was completely justified in this instance.

Life is too short for boring books!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January Reads!

I've been pretty lazy with my book reviews this month, but that does not mean that I haven't picked up some fabulous books in January! By my estimation, I have read around eleven books thus far (I started five or so cheap kindle books, but they were so poorly written, I couldn't bring myself to finish them. Sad freaking day!).

The following books range from "so-good-I-stayed-awake-till-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning-to-finish" good, to "I've-already-invested-so-much-time-and-eight-dollars-I'm-gonna-finish-this-sucker" bad.

So, in no particular order, here are this month's reads!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

This book is an eerie tale of angels, demons, love, battle, and family. Karou is just an average art student living in Prague. Or maybe not so average… the fantastical creatures filling her sketchbooks are actually real, and the mysterious monsters who raised her are the only family she's ever known. When a handsome, dangerous stranger enters her life, her entire world is turned upside down. No one and nothing is what she thought, and thought "the truth can set you free," it can also shatter your soul.

The imaginative world Laini Taylor created in this story is incredible. I found myself gasping for breath during the suspenseful moments, tearing up during the poignant ones, and throwing the book across the room at the ending (Well, not really, because that might damage the book or break a lamp… but I WANTED to!). Five-out-of-five stars for this haunting tale!

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

I LOVE Laini Taylor, and this collection of three short stories was true to her supernatural and romantic style. The first story focused on a girl, unique and independent, who longs to be someone and something else after being singled out by the hot new guy at school. Despite everything she's been taught and all the warning bells inside her head, she may just give in to get her first kiss… and lose her soul in the process. The second story is about a curse placed on a beautiful girl, and the man who falls in love with her. If the curse is true, she may end up causing the death of all she holds dear, with the simple act of speaking. The final story tracks a young girl who's strange upbringing is explained when she discovers she belongs to a strange world of magic, powerful shape shifters, and pale blue eyes.

This anthology of sorts was a quick, intriguing read. Slightly creepy and sometimes scary, these tales are super creative and thought provoking. Five-out-of-five stars for this one!

Falling in Love with English Boys by Melissa Jensen

This book follows Catherine "Cat" Vernon as she schleps off to England for the summer. While her mother spends her days at the museum researching a long-dead, un-famous author, Cat whiles away her hours poring over British gossip magazines and eating chocolate… That is until the descendant of her mother's research topic happens along and interrupts her lackluster London existence.

The story jumped back and forth between Cat's present day life, and the diary of the daughter of her mother's research. The two young people definitely have lots in common, even if it takes time for Cat to come to this realization.

Overall, even though I enjoy historical fiction, this book fell a little flat. Even the intriguing setting of London could not redeem the random scenes that did nothing to further character development or the story line. I frequently found myself thinking, "this scene was completely unnecessary," and just plain, "Why? WHY?!".

That being said, this book made me laugh. A lot. Thus, it earns a three-out-of-five stars.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

This may end up being one of my favorite books of the entire year!

 Allyson, the obedient and safe good girl, embarks on a European tour as a high school graduation present from her parents. But when she meets the good looking and cosmopolitan Willem at an independent production of Twelfth Night in London, everything changes. Daringly, she joins him on a sudden, whirlwind trip to Paris- for just one day. While experiencing the City of Lights, an undeniable connection develops between them. The next morning, however, Allyson finds herself alone. The book follows Allyson over the course of a year as she puts her life back together and discovers who she is and what she truly wants out of life.

Maybe I enjoyed this book so much because I could relate to Allyson's character- falling in love; having that flame snuffed out; working through the feelings of loss, insecurity, and sadness; growing apart from life-long friends; assessing one's strengths and what really makes one happy; and risking disappointing loved ones by deviating from the plan. This book was real life. It delved into messy emotions, strained relationships, and difficult choices young people often face when they come into their own person.

This book definitely earned five-out-of-five stars, and I cannot wait until the sequel (told from Willem's perspective!) comes out! I am HOOKED!

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik

This book was supposed to be a modern, high school interpretation of Pride and Prejudice. Elise Benton moves to glitzy Los Angeles and begins classes at a posh private school, where one of the most popular boys starts showing interest in her sister. Suddenly, Elise is stuck spending time with Derek, the son of famous Hollywood actors. With her obnoxiously embarrassing mother (who happens to be the new school principal!) pushing for them to get together, her little sister getting into mischief, and the attentions of the friendly fellow misfit Webster, "Will Elise’s love life be an epic win or an epic fail?"

I was so disappointed in this book! I thought the storyline held so much promise for a Jane Austenish tale, but once again, it just fell flat. The dialogue was often stilted, there was too much telling instead of showing, and the characters were too cliché. While some of the modern translations of Regency period issues were interesting, it was not enough to make up for this dull retelling of the epic romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Three-out-of-five stars, only.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

I made the mistake of reading this creepy, Jack the Ripper paranormal mystery at night, right before bed. Needless to say, every creak and rattle in my attic bedroom had me jumping awake, wide-eyed, heavy flash light in hand to throw at any psycho killer ghosts that might attempt to kill and dismember me.

Maureen Johnson pens a tale of a Louisiana girl, Rory, who beings class at a London boarding school. After nearly choking to death one night at dinner, Rory discovers that she has "the sight"- she can see dead people. An outbreak of suspicious murders modeled on the killings of Jack the Ripper grips the city in fear, and Rory becomes a sole witness in the crime. There's just one problem- the killer is a ghost. The story follows Rory as she assists a secret branch of the British police (very MI5!) to track down the killer, attempts to keep up with school and her social life, and avoids becoming the killer's next victim.

Five-out-of-five stars, for sure, and I cannot wait until the sequel, The Madness Underneath, comes out on February 26th!   

Decked with Holly by Marni Bates

This book was hysterical! High school artist, Holly, ends up trapped on a Christmas cruise with her two evil cousins as cabinmates. When she becomes desperately seasick, she gets kicked out of their room and stumbles into the cabin suite of a gorgeous guy who attacks her with pepper spray after mistaking her for a zombie (Seriously, one of the funniest parts of the entire book! I CRIED with laughter!). The hunk calls himself Nick, but the next morning Holly discovers amidst the screams and sighs of a hall filled with fans, that the attacker who begrudgingly allowed her to crash on his couch is none other than Dominic, the star drummer for one of the most popular bands on the billboard charts.

Since fooling around with a young girl would kill the band's carefully created image, the rest of the band forces Dominic to fix the situation- by pretending he and Holly are a real couple. For the remainder of the trip, the two must fake a relationship to fool the press. As they bicker and banter, they do a remarkably good job… but will their "fauxmance" turn into something more?

I loved this book. Sure, it wasn't earth-shatteringly insightful or all that intellectual, but it was a fun, whimsical read that left me giggling. Four-out-of-five stars for a successful, fluffy romance.

Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

Julia finds herself in a horrible predicament on a class trip to London- She, the super studious, type-A, "good girl" gets paired with the class clown, d-baggy slacker, Jason. When Jason drags her to a wild party, Julia decides to put on an ultra-cool, super confident persona with the aid of a little liquid courage. Only the next day, her killer hangover is accompanied by mysterious romantic text messages sent by someone she doesn't actually remember meeting. Over the course of the trip, Julia and Jason not only take in the historical sights, but also attempt to catch up with and win over Julia's secret admirer. Only, things may not be as they seem, and the least likely coincidences are meant to be.

I really enjoyed this light, funny read! Filled with quotes from Shakespeare, plenty of Beatles references, and the gorgeous setting of London, this book earned four-and-a-half-out-of-five stars.

City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments) by Cassandra Clare

I've read the first three books in this paranormal series, and I am hooked! Clary Fray is an average New York teenager… until she witnesses the murder of a boy in a night club and realized she is the only one who can see the individuals involved. Suddenly, Clary is thrown into the world of Shadowhunters- fighters responsible for eliminating demons. When her mom disappears and Clary is attacked, she must rely on her old friend, Simon, and new friends/frenemies Jace, Alec, and Isabelle to make sense of the madness that her life has become.

This series is INSANELY good! I can't go into too many details because I don't want to give too much away, but I love the world building, the character development, and the pacing of these novels. With the first book set to become a major motion picture in August, the series definitely deserves all the hype. Five-out-of-five stars.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Devonton Abbey

Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey by Camaren Subhiyah and Kyle Hilton


My first ever comic book purchase, of course, HAD to be a parody graphic novel of the hit PBS period drama, "Downton Abbey."

In this comic book, secret service agents pose as staff on the Granville estate, thwarting plots against the crown from within the great country house. Each member of the family and staff from the television series make an appearance, and their character qualities, positions, and idiosyncrasies are exaggerated and poked fun at to hilarious effect.

Sometimes random but always ridiculous, this graphic novel had me literally laughing out loud on multiple occasions.

Plus, the illustration of the Dowager was EPIC! How can you NOT giggle at that face?!

Five out of five stars for Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey, my first ever comic book, and my first book read in 2013!