Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Black Friday Haul: Short Story Edition

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently. I went a little nuts on Black Friday. Here are the collections/anthologies I got:

My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories – Stephanie Perkins (editor)

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins. Whether you enjoy celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or New Year's there's something here for everyone. So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy. You have twelve reasons this season to stay indoors and fall in love.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys – April Genevieve Tucholke (editor)

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

American Housewife: Stories – Helen Ellis

Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it's cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it's a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop. Vicious, fresh, and nutty as a poisoned Goo Goo Cluster, American Housewife is an uproarious, pointed commentary on womanhood.

I See Reality: Twelve Short Stories About Real Life – Grace Kendall (editor)

Through prose and comics alike, these heart-pounding short stories ask hard questions about a range of topics from sexuality and addiction to violence and immigration. Here is the perfect tool for starting tough discussions or simply as an introduction to realistic literary fiction. In turns funny, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking, I See Reality will resonate with today's teens long after the last page has been turned.

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories – China MiĆ©ville

London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure but violent purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse's bones—designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what?

Have you read any of these short story collections? What did you think?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Discussion: What If You Can’t Comment Back?

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2016 Discussion Challenge.

When I first started book blogging, I was pretty religious about commenting back. If you left a comment on my blog, I left one on yours. This was the first thing I did in the morning. Every single morning, I commented back. Then, two things happened that made commenting back difficult.

1. My blog grew. Compared to a lot of blogs, mine is small, but it feels big to me. Keeping it going is time consuming. As I got more interested in blogging, I started posting more often, and I got more comments on each post. I also discovered cool link-ups and “favorite” blogs that I wanted to read every day. I could easily spend a whole day blog hopping. I started to become less disciplined about commenting back because I just didn’t have time. The book blogosphere is huge. I want to see everything. If I spend all my time commenting back, I might not be able to look at link-ups or read the thousand blogs I follow on Bloglovin’.

2. I don’t always know what to say. Not everyone who comments on my blog is a book blogger with similar reading tastes to me. Sometimes I go to comment back, and I find a beauty blog, or a movie blog, or a baby-pink blog plastered with pictures of people kissing. Then I panic because I don't know what to say. I loathe makeup; most movies make me twitchy; and I don’t read sexy-times books. I have no idea what to comment in these situations. I spend a lot of time struggling to come up with something semi-intelligent to say about a topic I know nothing about.

I still comment back as often as I can, but I’m not as crazy about it as I used to be. It’s been hard to find a balance. I want to comment back, but I also want to discover new blogs, click links, read my favorites, and find random stuff that interests me on Bloglovin’. How do I do everything?

If you’re a blogger who comments back, are you strict about it? What do you do when you encounter a blog about a subject that doesn't interest you? Do you comment or skip it? 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

#ReadIndie Review: Bound By Duty – Stormy Smith

Bound By Duty – Stormy Smith

Amelia grew up in a world of half-truths. She knows she's an Elder but has no idea what that means. Her father reminds her daily that she must maintain control but he refuses to explain why. Even worse, she's betrothed to the prince of the Immortals and she doesn't even know his name.

Finally breaking free to live a few normal years at a community college, the last thing Amelia expects is to find her best friend in a cheeky Southern girl and to fall for a self-assured human who sees her for who she is and not what she'll be. 
As she learns more about herself, Amelia realizes the line between love and duty is a thin one. As her power continues to increase exponentially and her questions are slowly answered, Amelia must make the ultimate choice. The question is, will her head or her heart win the battle?

#ReadIndie Review: Um . . . unpopular opinion alert. This one was brutal.

Amelia is a college student with some unusual problems. As a baby, her mother was murdered by a mysterious queen, and Amelia was arranged to be married to the prince. Now, as a college student, Amelia’s magic powers are out of control, and the time for her wedding is fast approaching. Should she fulfill her duty and marry a prince she’s never met for the good of the magical world? Or should she follow her heart and run away with Aidan Montgomery, her human boyfriend?

“Your heart is yours to give, it is no ones to take. Not a queen. Not a prince. No one.” – Bound By Duty

One of my issues with self-published books is that they often feel half-baked, like they could have used a few more rounds of developmental editing before the author hit the “publish” button. That’s my main problem with this book. It would have been great if the author had spent more time with it.

Let’s start with the characters. Amelia’s mood swings are so drastic that I’m surprised the other characters don’t have whiplash. One second she loves Aidan, the next she wants nothing to do with him. One second she’s blowing up about people keeping secrets, the next she’s keeping her own secrets, the next she’s blowing up because people are telling their secrets. There are just so many secrets! Keeping them is more effort than they’re worth. I feel sorry for her friends.

Speaking of Amelia’s friends, I didn’t like Aidan or Bethany. Aidan is creepy in a stalkerish way. No matter how many times Amelia tells him “No” or “Go away,” he doesn’t. I guess I can’t totally blame him for that because Amelia is the queen of mixed messages. She changes her mind about Aidan every paragraph or two. I can see why he’s confused. Still, I cringed every time he called Amelia “Doll.”

“You wish, Montgomery. You just seem to irritate the crap out of me.” – Bound By Duty

Amelia’s friend, Bethany, exists to talk about boys with Amelia and to remind the reader that she (Bethany) is Southern. Amelia treats Bethany like crap, and they only interact when they have boy problems, so I’m not sure why they’re friends.

This is a smaller issue, but I wondered about Amelia’s brother. He left home at 18 and spent years searching for information about the queen. Now he’s in his 20s and owns a gym and a beach house. Where did he get the money for all this? Their family doesn’t seem to be rich.

Next, worldbuilding. I needed to know so much more about this world. Despite the frequent and inelegant info-dumps, the magical world is vague. I never found it threatening. I don’t understand why everyone has to be so secretive. I don’t know how magic works. I’m not sure how common mages are. The humans don’t know about them, but Amelia isn’t surprised when she encounters one.

Finally, I got the feeling that the author occasionally wrote herself into corners and didn’t know how to escape. Whenever this happens, Amelia faints and wakes up somewhere else. It’s like the author is pressing the “reset” button on the story. Amelia doesn’t ask what happened while she was unconscious or who saved her. The reader is expected to roll with Amelia’s convenient fainting spells, but I don’t roll easily. I felt cheated.

The premise of this book is a good one: Amelia has to choose between her love and her obligations. However, the execution makes the premise hard to enjoy.

I was given a free copy of this book as part of the #ReadIndie Challenge. This does not influence my review.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I Read For The First Time In 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten new-to-me authors of 2016. I picked authors whose writing and/or illustrating styles I liked. I plan on reading more books by all of these authors.

Authors I read for the first time in 2016

10. Emily Carroll

9. Jandy Nelson

8. Jenny Lawson

7. Hannah Kent

6. Jennifer Niven

5. Adam Silvera

4. Patrick Ness

3. Anthony Doerr

2. Neal Shusterman

1. Marcus Sedgwick

Who is your favorite new-to-you author of 2016?

Monday, December 5, 2016

#ReadIndie Review: Anyone? — Angela Scott

Anyone? — Angela Scott

The end of the world? That’s the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters and deep philosophical exercises in school. No need to sweat it. So when sixteen-year-old Tess’s doomsday-dad builds a bomb shelter in their suburban backyard, everyone thinks he’s gone crazy . . . 
. . . Until fire rains down from the sky, sinking whole cities into colossal craters and setting much of the world ablaze. 
Tess’s dad gives her a few short minutes to gather her emergency bag and her freaked-out kitten, then leads her outside and into the underground shelter. Terrified, the last thing she expects is for him to leave her there all alone, but he has no choice—he must find her missing brother. 
Before leaving, he makes Tess promise to keep the hatch door shut, not to open it for anyone but him, and to stay put until he returns. 
But he forgot to tell her one thing: What is she supposed to do if he never comes back?

#ReadIndie Review: No matter how many end-of-the-world books I read, I never seem to get sick of them.

This one is about sixteen-year-old Tess, who is shaken awake by her father in the middle of the night and led to his bomb shelter. He tells her not to open the door until he comes back, so she waits . . . and waits . . . and waits. Several weeks after her father left, she can’t wait anymore. Tess opens the door and discovers that everyone in her city has vanished.

Throughout the book, the reader is kept just as clueless as Tess. She doesn’t know what happened to the world or where all the people went. I loved trying to puzzle out the mystery with the characters. The twists in the story are surprising. I didn’t see most of them coming. Once the plot gets moving, it goes quickly. Tess is constantly in danger. There’s some crazy weather and a disease that she may or may not have been exposed to . . .

Tess eventually does come across a few other people. One of them, Cole, is a strange dude. He’s completely in love with the apocalypse and thrilled that he can do anything he wants. There’s a big difference between his personality and Tess’s. Cole would be happy if he never saw another person again. Tess is obsessed with finding her father and brother. She’s convinced that the people will come back, and Cole will get in trouble for breaking into their houses and stealing their stuff. Tess and Cole make an unusual pair.

There are a few issues that kept me from completely enjoying Anyone?. First, there are typos, which always distract me. I also thought the story took a long time to get going. Like I said at the start of the review, I have read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction. The beginning of Anyone? isn’t very original. The story does get more original as it goes on, but I spent a huge chunk of time wondering if the book was going to break out of the post-apocalyptic stereotypical formula.

In addition to waiting for the original bits, I spent most of the book wondering where this story was set. For the majority of the novel, we’re only told “American west.” As someone who has spent her entire life in the American west, I know that it has an extremely diverse landscape. I wasn’t sure which version of “American west” I was supposed to be picturing. Eventually, we find out that the characters are in Utah, but I needed to know that right away.

My biggest issue with the book is the ending. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I didn’t buy it. It’s rushed and abrupt. I hope there’s a sequel. I have so many questions.

I flew through Anyone? because the characters are engaging, but I was let down by the ending.

I was given a free copy of this book as part of the #ReadIndie Challenge. This does not influence my review.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sunday Post #74

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I #ReadIndie review Anyone? by Angela Scott.
  • On Tuesday I list some talented authors I read for the first time in 2016.
  • On Wednesday I #ReadIndie review Bound by Duty by Stormy Smith.
  • On Thursday I ponder what happens if you can’t comment back.
  • On Saturday I have the short story edition of my giant Black Friday book haul.

In My Reading Life

The only book I finished last week is There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. I’m once again experimenting with book polygamy. I usually only read one book at a time, but I thought I’d shake things up. I’m still working my way through Haruki Murakami’s massive novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Whenever I get tired of that one, I’m reading Children of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein.

#ReadIndie is happening now!

For the next two weeks, I’m only going to be reviewing self-published books on this blog as part of the #ReadIndie challenge.

“Welcome to the first ever #ReadIndie challenge! This event was created to promote indie authors who we think are amazing! What is this challenge, you ask? #ReadIndie is a two week time span in December during which we will only be reviewing and promoting indie titles.  
So what is #ReadIndie all about? This isn't necessarily a read-a-thon. Instead, the challenge is simply to post indie reviews for two weeks in place of the reviews you would normally post. However, each review you post and link up will gain you an extra entry into an indie book giveaway! This is ALL about spreading the word about incredible authors who don't necessarily get the hype that they deserve.”

Head over to Cornerfolds to find out more.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I got so much blogging done. I’m a blogging machine!
  2. Christmas decorations.
  3. I still have the bronchitis cough, but the other bronchitis symptoms are going away.
  4. The Great American Baking Show. It’s not as good as the original British version, but whatever. Pretty food makes me happy.
  5. Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein is amazing so far. If you like sci-fi/dystopian short stories, you need to read this thing.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other. See you around the blogosphere!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

November Wrap-Up: In Which I Become The Master Of Children’s Literature!

November was one of the craziest months of my life. Get ready for a long wrap-up and lots of photos.

November Overview

1. If you’re sick of politics, skip this paragraph. The rest of the wrap-up is more entertaining. I promise. I protested Trump without breaking anything or starting any fires. Not even a small fire. I spent a lot of time talking about fear and bullying. Since I’m a straight, white, nonreligious woman, it’s possible for me to sit back and ignore discrimination, but many people in the US don’t have that luxury. We can’t normalize Trump’s bad behavior, or the bad behavior of his followers. If you see something wrong, speak up. If someone is sharing their story, listen. Patriotism doesn’t mean blindly following a leader. It means working to make the country the best it can be.

 2. I don't have "residue." I just really like munchies. My backpack got swabbed for "residue" in the security line at the Denver airport. I don't know what kind of "residue" airports check for. Drugs? Bombs? This has never happened to me before. I found the whole thing hilarious because when the TSA agents opened my backpack, they were surprised to find that it was stuffed with junk food. I really like Doritos, okay? Don't judge me, airport cops! The TSA lady who swabbed my backpack did compliment my keychains, though, so that was sweet. Also, they didn't find any mysterious "residue" in my backpack.

3. I’m a master of children’s literature! I was in the airport because I went to Louisville, Kentucky to finish my master’s degree. I can now put the letters M.F.A. after my name whenever I want to feel pretentious. I’ve been a university student for 11 years and have earned 3 degrees. I don’t think I want a doctorate in literature, so I’m done with school forever! (Probably. Maybe.)

4. Public speaking almost murdered me. Have I ever mentioned that I hate public speaking? While in Kentucky, I gave a lecture about narrative structure and read part of my thesis to a conference room full of people. I’m sure my mentor said nice things when she introduced me, but I could only hear my heart pounding. I made it through all my public speaking without losing consciousness, so I guess everything went well.

I took this selfie after my reading to prove to myself that I was still alive.

5. My ass has more fans than my academic work. I’m a country girl, so I’m always caught off guard by the catcalling and sexual harassment that happens in cities. The harassment was strong in Louisville this month. One man told me I was sexier than all the girls at the bus stop. He asked if I wanted to “communicate” with him. I’m not entirely sure what that means because I declined his offer to “communicate,” but I’m insulted on behalf of the bus stop girls.

6. Maybe I like art? I went to an art museum for a school project, even though I’m not really an art person. I’m more of a sports bar person. My assignment was to find art that “spoke to me.” I rolled my eyes at the assignment until I got to the museum. One painting captured my attention immediately. When I got closer to it, I discovered that it was painted with chocolate sauce instead of paint. I guess I do like art!

Some of my own "art." Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky.

7. Authors are better at public speaking than me. The best part of studying literature for 11 years is that I’ve met a lot of authors. In November, I got to hear lectures/readings by Lamar Giles and Natasha Trethewey. I was very impressed with both of them. I especially appreciated hearing them discuss diversity in literature and their experiences as authors of color. If you want to be a fabulous individual, consider donating to We Need Diverse Books.

8. I blame the extreme exhaustion. I went to a lecture where the speaker analyzed part of a Laini Taylor book. I can’t remember which book, but my exhausted mind was completely blown by her writing style. I’ve never read a Laini Taylor novel, so where should I start? My zombie brain also loved the picture book I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. I read it several times and laughed like an idiot every time. Sometimes I wish I had kids so I had an excuse to buy stupidly amazing picture books.

9. The strangest walk of shame ever? The oddest thing I saw in Louisville was a woman in a sparkly black ball gown, carrying a stack of pizza boxes down the street at 5:30 in the morning. If I was braver, I would have asked her where she found so much pizza that early in the morning.

Not Louisville, but I did take this photo early in the morning.

10. Mammoth Cave—chubby chicks need not apply. The day after I graduated, I went on a two-hour tour of Mammoth Cave. I’m a bit claustrophobic, and there are some tight squeezes in that cave. I really wished I was thinner while I was in there. The tour was totally worth it, though.

11. Bucket list item. One of the items on my bucket list was to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken . . . in Kentucky. I did it! If you’re curious, my bucket list mostly consists of me eating different foods out of buckets. If you read #10, I guess my cave-exploring hobby is going to be short-lived.

12. If you want people to smile at you, bring a flower everywhere. I got this flower from my mentor after reading my thesis, and I carried it through two hotels, two airports, one airplane, and one national park. I noticed that people are much nicer when you’re randomly holding a flower. A lot of strangers smiled at me.  


Books I Read

I read 8 books in November:

The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell
Sarah, Plain and Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
Native Guard: Poems – Natasha Trethewey
Anyone? – Angela Scott
Bound by Duty – Stormy Smith
ZIA, the Teenage Zombie & the Undead Diaries – Angela Scott
Floor 21 – Jason Luthor
There Once Lived a Girl who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Best Books Of November

1. Native Guard: Poems – Natasha Trethewey
2. Sarah, Plain and Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
3. There Once Lived a Girl who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Most-Viewed Reviews

Most-Viewed Non-Reviews

#ReadIndie Starts Today—Sign Up

I’m on the review team for #ReadIndie! I’d love it if you joined us.

“Welcome to the first ever #ReadIndie challenge! This event was created to promote indie authors who we think are amazing! What is this challenge, you ask? #ReadIndie is a two week time span in December during which we will only be reviewing and promoting indie titles.  
So what is #ReadIndie all about? This isn't necessarily a read-a-thon. Instead, the challenge is simply to post indie reviews for two weeks in place of the reviews you would normally post. However, each review you post and link up will gain you an extra entry into an indie book giveaway! This is ALL about spreading the word about incredible authors who don't necessarily get the hype that they deserve.”

Please consider joining #ReadIndie and helping us promote indie books in December. Head over to Cornerfolds to sign up and find out more. (Did I mention there are prizes?)

All The Things!

All the Things (AKA my TBR pile) = 30 books.

I’m currently reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.