Book Review: Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić

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★ ★ ★ ★

Saša Stanišić’s Before the Feast was a strange and whimsical story. It was one that had to be read in small portions, so it took me quite a while to get through despite thinking it would be a quick read. At times it was a challenging book because it required my full attention, but it was memorizing and beautifully written. Without giving too much detail away, it is about a long night in Fürstenfelde, a small East German village, on the eve of the feast–the feast that is not exactly defined. We learn about the history of Fürstenfelde, the mysteries and magic, we also follow the inhabitants of the village with their distinctive personalities and different circumstances. Told through short chapters and the town as the narrator, I enjoyed this story, although at times it was chaotic, and didn’t have a straightforward plot–if you go in expecting that, this may not be book for you. If you want to not just read, but experience a story that brings you into that world through captivating prose about old stories, myths, folklore, and fairy-tales, this would be a fine choice. This vibrant, odd, yet charming village full of its people both living and dead, of all backgrounds, that end up coming together.

Often I found myself putting the book down because I needed to pull myself from the story and read something a little more solid in terms of a plot. In a way it felt like I was in this dream land, though not completely in slumber–you know that middle, where you can’t seem to fully wake from the trance? I still feel like that when trying to form my thoughts around the story. I feel like while there is a vagueness to it, and a reader can easily be confused with where it is going, there is a lot up to the reader on interpretation and whether or not they think there is meaning or a point behind it. Take the time to appreciate how well crafted this story is, and don’t rush through it–travel through Fürstenfelde with a curious and open mind. Before the Feast was an unusual and riveting novel that I hope to come back to one day to relive.

Synopsis

Someone has opened the doors to the Village Archive, but what drives the sleepless out of their houses is not that which was stolen, but that which has escaped. Old stories, myths, and fairy tales are wandering about the streets with the people. They
come together in a novel about a long night, a mosaic of village life, in which the long-established and newcomers, the dead and the living, craftsmen, pensioners, and noble robbers in football shirts bump into each other. They all want to bring something to a close, in this night before the feast.

Paperback, 353 pages
Published June 14th 2016 by Tin House Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

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★ ★ ★ ★

In The One Hundred Nights of Hero, after a brief introduction into the prehistoric mythical world with three moons, we are transported to the empire of Migdal Bavel, where two friends make a bet: Manfred has one hundred nights to seduce Jerome’s wife, Cherry, while Jerome is out to sea–and if he wins, Jerome must forfeit the castle and his wife. Unknown to both men, Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women have a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred with mesmerizing tales for 100 nights, keeping him at bay until Jerome returns.

I am still trying to untangle my thoughts from this graphic novel, but without a doubt, this is a wonderful read, and beautifully illustrated. I read this in one sitting a few nights ago, and as soon as I closed the book, I went on ramble about each story, the characters, and meanings behind it all because it left me feeling so much. It is about brave women, independence, love, sisterhood, and exquisite storytelling. It contains stories within stories that come together in the end, and fill you with empowerment and inspiration.

The artwork is stunning with muted tones, splashes of color, and Greenberg’s unique style, and makes for brilliantly telling of ancient tales. Hero tells simple stories while weaving traditions, folklore, and myths throughout each one. While getting lost within the pages, you’ll encounter faraway lands, empires, supernatural beings, explorers–and always, strong-willed, determined women who take no bullshit from men and will overcome anything. It is a tapestry of folk tale and myth retellings with modern twists, and although somber at times, there is also humor, insight, and wit.

Synopsis 

In the tradition of The Arabian Nights, a beautifully illustrated tapestry of folk tales and myths about the secret legacy of female storytellers in an imagined medieval world.

In the Empire of Migdal Bavel, Cherry is married to Jerome, a wicked man who makes a diabolical wager with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in one hundred nights, he can have his castle–and Cherry.

But what Jerome doesn’t know is that Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women hatch a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred by regaling him with a mesmerizing tale each night for 100 nights, keeping him at bay. Those tales are beautifully depicted here, touching on themes of love and betrayal and loyalty and madness.

Hardcover, 224 pages
Expected publication: December 6th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Favorite Reads of 2016

It is that time again. The year is quickly coming to a close, and with that, it is time to wrap up my year in reading with the favorite books that I read in 2016. Next year is another chance to knock out another reading goal, along with plenty of new releases that I can’t wait to read! In no particular order, below are my favorite books of 2016.

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

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The Gentleman is Forrest Leo’s debut novel, and it was one of the best of 2016. It is about a husband who conjures the Devil, and accidentally sells his wife, which results in planning a rescue mission to Hell. A variety of personas come along for the quest, and a whole lot of over-the-top encounters happen along the way that will have you laughing out loud.

This novel was so well crafted and the humor flowed so effortlessly in the story-line. If you’re looking for a fun and quick read that doesn’t require as much commitment, this is definitely the pick.

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

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Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island after fleeing the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father, and ravaging the island’s environment. It’s set in post-disaster Washington state as Lucie returns to the island that is slowly rebuilding to reconnect with her childhood friend, Kate, who lives within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony that is located on part of the island—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” As an environmental journalist, Lucie’s experience tells her that there is more to the Colony than their charismatic leader is letting her know, and Lucie sets out on uncovering the secrets even if it endangers more than their mission.

I adored this novel. It is beautifully written, captivating, and Smith has a way of bringing you into the story where you feel like you are Lucie. Marrow Island was a slow, but satisfying burn. If you’re looking for an eerie setting with vivid world-building, and lyrical prose that leaves you feeling unsettled, this is it.

Each Vagabond by Name by Margo Orlando Littell

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Shelk is quiet, peaceful Pennsylvania town in the Appalachian Mountains, where life of a small town is knowing everyone, circulating gossip and settled-into routines.That is until a group of teenage runaways settle in the hills and begin to invade homes and lives–quickly a line is drawn between those residents seeking to insulate themselves from the outside world and those reaching out for more. Caught in the middle due to newfound loyalty is the lonesome local bar owner, Zaccariah Ramsy–when tensions rise between the townspeople and the newcomers, he must choose a side.

Each Vagabond by Name is a story that brings you into their world, and when you finish, you feel like a piece of you is left behind within the pages. It Littell’s debut novel, about isolation, loneliness, but also survival and coping. It is slow-paced, but beautifully written with emotion, grit, and and complexity. It was a well deserving 5 stars, and one of my favorites of the year.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

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After being knocked unconscious by a masked abductor, Jason wakes up to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounding by strangers in hazmat suits. In this world he awakes in, Jason’s life is not his own. His wife is not his wife, and his son was never born. He is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who achieved something remarkable and once thought unimaginable. Is there a way to make it back to the world he knows, the family he loves? He must battle a seemingly impossible and unpredictable foe to get back to the life he knows.

This book was overwhelming, thought-provoking, and made me feel so small the further I read. It is a complex novel with the concept of parallel universes, physics, and mind-boggling twists, but easy to follow along and understand for all readers. This was one of those books you think you have figured out, but in reality, you have no idea. Crouch has a brilliant way of writing, and this was a story where I felt Jason’s pain and emotions, that edge of defeat that he keeps inching towards but never giving up. I’m torn between wanting a sequel, and letting Jason’s story come to an end wherever it is that he ends up–you have to read to find out!

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

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Yelena is about to be executed for murder, until she is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She will eat the best meals and have a room in the palace, but she will be the food taster–at risk of assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia. To prevent her from attempting to escape, the Chief of Security deliberately feeds Yelena Butterfly’s Dust, which requires a daily antidote to delay an agonizing death from the poison. While she tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep happening everywhere she turns. She develops magical powers that she can’t control, rebels plot to seize Ixia, and her life is threatened once again.

I read novels 1-3 in the Study series, and Poison Study was my favorite. It was a solid introduction into the story and characters, with exceptional world-building and character development from beginning to end. There were quite a few unexpected discoveries throughout, which left me on the edge of my seat. There wasn’t an aspect that I didn’t enjoy, and I recommend it to anyone that wants an action-packed story with fantasy and magic.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins

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The Gigantic Beard that was Evil is a graphic novel with Dahl and Burton-esque, about the island of Here, where everything from the lawns to citizens are tidy, neat, and in order until a single hair sends the island into an uproar. Dave, who is bald, but for a single hair, begins to grow a massive, unstoppable beard.

This was such a whimsical, darkly funny story with social and political themes and issues. It is beautifully illustrated and the narrative is similar to fairy-tales, so it brings forth a quirky fun read, but with an underlying message that is so important, and thought-provoking. It is a graphic novel that will always have a place on my shelf.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

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Brain on Fire is a memoir that tells the experience twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan went through when she started to experience symptoms that went from flu-like to memory loss and constant paranoia. It is a gripping yet terrifying read that was at times uncomfortable to read because it is a very real situation that took place, but it was also educational. While there is medical and psych discussion throughout, it is well-written in a way that those not in the fields can understand, and we aren’t left skimming through or stumped over explanations. It is a non-fiction that I would highly recommend.

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

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Everything You Want Me to Be is about high school senior Hattie Hoffman, who is the good student, the good daughter, and good citizen–or so it seems. When she is found brutally stabbed to death, the tragedy shakes the small town community. As the local sheriff begins to try to solve her murder, he begins to find that Hattie’s acting runs far beyond the stage, and she isn’t the person she portrays herself to be. It is told in three different point of views- Del, the local sheriff who is a family friend, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is falling apart.

Now while this book was only a 4 star read for me, it was one that even months later, I am still thinking about. It was a complex and layered story with twists that you would not expect. I kept trying to figure out who killed Hattie, and when revealed, it was not at all what I expected. The expected publication for Everything You Want Me to Be is January 3rd 2017 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books.

The Telling by Alexandra Sirowy

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Set on an island near Seattle, Lana is trying to come to terms with the brutal murder of her step-brother, Ben, who was killed by an unknown man with a red painted face. The only witness to the crime is found dead, and Lana is the one who pulls the body out of the water. Lana and her group of friends are the likely suspects to the police, knowing that Maggie is Ben’s ex-girlfriend, and hated by Lana. The further they dig for the truth and to prove their innocence, more people are killed. Lana starts piecing together the stories Ben used to tell her as a child to the way the people (who have wronged her in some way) are being killed.

Is Lana committing the crimes and blacking out? Is she being framed for the murders? Is Ben’s ghost seeking revenge?

The Telling was one of those books that pulled me in at the very beginning, even though I seen the ending coming. I am not particularly fond of YA mystery, but this novel was exceptional with rich world-building, and realistic characters who developed naturally throughout the story. If you are expecting a horror novel, this is not it – it is a YA mystery that dips into thriller closer to the ending. It is twisted, dark, and one that you will not be able to put down.

The Beauty, Vol. 1 by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley

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Two years ago a new sexually transmitted disease, called The Beauty, started turning patients into perfect specimens. Everyone who contracted the STD ended up looking physically beautiful, and now almost the entire planet is willingly living with the disease. Suddenly people start internally combusting as a long-term effect of The Beauty, and government officials are trying to keep it unknown to the public. This is an original, action-packed story line that I thoroughly enjoyed, and now want to tell everyone to read it because it was unique, thought-provoking, and intriguing.

This comic is beautifully done with artwork that is moody and consistent. This is definitely a comic series aimed towards an older audience because of the subject matter, and there is some gore along with full frontal nudity. I am really interested in more backstory on the main characters, especially Mr. Calaveras who is a skull wearing crazed hitman. It is a great opening to a comic series with a lot of potential, which is why I am looking forward to reading the series.

Honorable Mentions

  • I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1: Madly Ever After by Skottie Young, Jean-François Beaulieu, Nate Piekos
  • Harrow County Volume 1-2 by Cullen Bunn, Tyler Crook
  • Giant Days, Vol. 1-3 by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar
  • The Amulet series 1-6 by Kazu Kibuishi
  • Dept. H #1 by Matt Kindt, Sharlene Kindt
  • There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales
    by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Keith Gessen, Anna Summers
  • Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
  • The Trees by Ali Shaw

 

 

Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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★ ★ ★ ★

Before we get to my thoughts on The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, I wanted to let everyone know about a great website that I recently discovered because I am partnering with them for this review. SocialCookCo is a website that helps you find, locate, and compare book prices so you can find the cheapest deal by comparing your chosen books with over 50 book shops around the world to make sure you get the best bargain. There are different formats available, such as paperback, audio, eBook, out-of-print, and even textbooks along with second-hand copies. SocialBookCo is a comparison engine and not a bookstore, so when you find the best price for your purchase, they will direct you straight to the retailer where you carry out the transaction. They give shoppers all the options when it comes to book buying, and want you to save your money, which I think is cool for those of us who frequently purchase books through online retailers because who doesn’t like saving some money that will most likely go towards another book? I sure do!

Ken Liu is a phenomenal author of speculative fiction, as well as a translator, lawyer, and programmer. He has won numerous awards for his novels, such as the Nebula, Hugo, and World’s fantasy awards. The Paper Menagerie, his debut collection, contains 15 fantasy, magical realism, and science-fiction short stories and novellas–some of which have been previously published. If I had to summarize this collection in three words, it would be profound, thought-provoking, and distinctive. Very rarely do I come to the end of a book, unable to form my thoughts on the experience because I am still in a literary daze.

The Paper Menagerie is an exceptional short story collection, but at times it was a challenging read. Through different genres and exploring different themes such as love, history, suffering, and diversity, to the complexity and connections with the characters, and Liu’s brilliant, imaginative, and unique story-telling. When it comes to short-story collections, it is common to find a mix of feelings and thoughts when it comes to the individual stories, but with this collection, whether I enjoyed the story or not, I appreciated and was engrossed in the writing. The stories strike a reader’s core when it comes to experiencing so many emotions throughout every story.

This is the first of Liu’s work that I have read, and I think it was the perfect introduction into his writing. When it comes to the stories, you really need to clear your head, focus, and dive into the worlds and character stories he builds–afterwards, take the time to reflect on each one before beginning the next. There is no doubt that Ken Liu is a remarkably talented author, and writes effortlessly and poignant no matter the genre or subject. My ultimate favorites were Good Hunting, The Regular, The Paper Menagerie, and The Waves. The Paper Menagerie is a beautifully crafted collection that was equally heartbreaking, captivating, and engaging. I am not one to often pick up or recommend short-story collections, but I highly encourage anyone who appreciates rich, authentic prose, to read this.

Synopsis 

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Paperback, 450 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Saga Press

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Book Review: The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

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★ ★ ★ ★

While sorting through her mother’s belongings, Jessica Campbell and her father find a horrifying discovery — beneath resealable plastic bags with frostbitten meat, in the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers are the bodies of two dead girls. The two girls are a pair of foster children, Casey and Jamie Cheng, that lived with the family in 1988 — two of the countless foster children her mother had taken in over the years. Six weeks after the sisters went missing, give their difficult history, everyone assumed they had run away. As Jessica learns more about the girls, and Donna, whom she thought of as the perfect mother, she uncovers dark stories and complicated truths about the life she thought she knew and mother she admired.

While The Conjoined is marketed as a mystery-thriller, it is more of a family drama. It is thought-provoking, well-written, and captivating until the very end. Through complex and realistic characters, and a writing style that flows effortlessly, Sookfong crafted a novel that makes you forget that you’re reading a book. Alternating between the past and the present, The Conjoined, is a not exactly a murder-mystery — the murder of the girls is not the main focus, but rather the exploration into the social work system that is often unfair and ineffectual. It is also about character psychology, trauma, family, self-discovery, and the struggles that immigrants and their children face.

This was a dark novel the further along, as the several layers were lifted. Sookfong’s prose brings depth and understanding into the story and characters, it hits nerves and brings forth real emotions that you physically experience. I devoured this in a few sittings, because of the compelling story and rich prose. There was so much that as a reader who was invested into the story and characters, I wanted to know, or at least have confirmed rather than wonder if  what I suspected was true. There is no resolution when it comes to the girls murder, or whether Donna committed the crime. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed Sookfong’s profound writing that crafted a riveting and disturbing story. If you’re looking for a dark thriller whodunit story, this is not it, but if you are willing to go in expecting the unexpected, and want a family drama that is much more, The Conjoined is your next pick.

Synopsis 

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by ECW Press

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book of the Month

This month I received a package from Book of the Month, which is a subscription service that brings you 1 new release hardcover book of your choice each month, with the option to add two additional books from past or current month selections for $9.99 per title. This is a subscription that I have been eyeing for a while as someone who orders books online frequently and loves receiving books in the mail because I have heard nothing but fantastic things about the company. I recently because an affiliate for BOTM, so I wanted to let everyone know about the subscription service, and below are some special offers for my followers who would like to join.

Each month the panel of judges select a limited number of books to offer to members of BOTM, which are announced on the first of every month. You have six days to decide which book (or books) you would like to receive. All books are shipped at the same time so members can read and participate in the discussion forum on the website. If you forget to log into your account during the selection period to choose a title, no worries! They will skip the month on your behalf, and will automatically extend your membership by 1-month.

When you join for the first time, BOTM offer 3 standard enrollment offers:

  • 1-month for $5.00, then $14.99 per month
  • 3-months for $9.99 per month, then $14.99 per month
  • 12-months for $11.99 per month

If you were previously a member, and are looking to rejoin BOTM, they offer 3 re-enrollment plans.

  • 3-months for $14.99 per month
  • 6-months for $13.99 per month
  • 12-months for $11.99 per month

All membership plans automatically renew, but you can cancel anytime.

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This month I chose The Trespasser by Tana French. It is the sixth novel in the Dublin Murder Squad, which is a well known mystery-thriller crime series. I have yet to read the series, but I wanted to pick this one because I have nothing but great things about Tana French’s writing. The book can be read as a stand alone, although many recommend reading in order because it makes the experience richer since it adds to the development of previous characters.

Each book arrives individually wrapped in plastic with a cardboard backing to prevent damage during shipment, along with their logo on a magnet, and a bookmark with a little note from the judge who selected the title.

You can tell a lot of thought and care goes into each month when it comes to selecting titles and packaging, which is nice as a reader and subscriber because it shows they want to deliver the absolute best to every member. BOTM is a quality subscription service that is reasonably priced, and I personally think it is one of the best when it comes to those who want to receive a book and not all the little novelties that come in other subscriptions. Every month you receive a hardback of your choice that is a new release, which is worth the price right there for me.

If you subscribe to a 3-month subscription, it will only be $9.99 a month! Plus you will receive a cute BOTM tote bag. Join here: https://www.mybotm.com/ipa465sleib2o6r

If you’d like to try out one month of Book of the Month, you can do so here and pay only $5!

*I am an affiliate so will receive a small commission with the above links.

Book Review: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

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The Lesser Bohemians is the newest novel written by Eimear McBride, the author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which won the Baileys Women’s Prize in 2014. This is the first novel that I have read by Eimear McBride, and it was quite the experience.

This story appears to be a simple love story between an 18-year-old Irish girl who arrives in London to attend drama school, and a successful actor who is 20 years older. There are complex layers that only begin when their relationship blossoms. It is a captivating story about fierce love, innocence, and discovery set in the mid-1990′s London. McBride writes prose that is musical and beautifully done, but the structure of the writing absolutely made my head spin. This novel is wonderful, but it requires a lot of focus and piecing together bits throughout because sentences are quite choppy and scattered. The style of writing is not one that I would particularly pick up and purchase for myself because of that, however it certainly is unique.

Synopsis

Upon her arrival in London, an 18-year-old Irish girl begins anew as a drama student, with all the hopes of any young actress searching for the fame she’s always dreamed of. She struggles to fit in—she’s young and unexotic, a naive new girl—but soon she forges friendships and finds a place for herself in the big city.

Then she meets an attractive older man. He’s an established actor, 20 years older, and the inevitable clamorous relationship that ensues is one that will change her forever.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 20th 2016 by Hogarth

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Book Review: The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill

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★ ★ ★ ★

The Beginning Woods is Malcolm McNeill’s debut novel, a peculiar story that is full of magic and wonder. The Vanishings are a mystery that no one can solve — people disappearing into thin air without any trace left behind aside from piles of clothing. Max was the baby no one wanted, abandoned in a bookshop. As Max grows up, he is haunted by memories of his real ‘forever’ parents, and sets out to find them no matter what it takes. What is to come when Max believes there is a connection to finding his parents and putting an end to The Vanishings? Meanwhile, the number of people disappearing is increasing rapidly, and scientists have yet to discover the cause of what is going on, let alone how to fix it.

While it is marketed towards children, I would find YA more suitable because it is a chunky book with 448 pages, and I think that would be too long for some young readers on top of that it is a fairly dark story with fantasy elements. I think that adults would enjoy The Beginning Woods, too,  and be able to appreciate the philosophical aspect that is throughout the story. It does at times become complex and can be a bit confusing, and while there are also parts that seemed to drag on, I did often pick it up to read a couple chapters then set it down again–I feel like it was a bit too long, and wouldn’t be such a heavy read at times if it were cut down in length.

This is a dark fairy-tale with such rich world-building; unexpected characters like witches, dragons, fairies, ‘cold’ people that we know as ghosts; and endless adventure. Anyone who picks this up will find their imagination is as vivid and weird as this story was crafted. My thoughts on this are still settling, but I do know that while at times I took breaks in-between reading, it was a wonderful, whimsical read, and this is one of the few books I will be rereading in the future.

Synopsis 

A MYSTERY NO ONE CAN SOLVE

The Vanishings started without warning. People disappearing into thin air – just piles of clothes left behind. Each day, thousands gone without a trace.

A BABY NO ONE WANTED

Max was abandoned in a bookshop and grows up haunted by memories of his parents. Only he can solve the mystery of the Vanishings.

A SECRET THAT COULD SAVE THE FUTURE

To find the answers, Max must leave this world and enter the Beginning Woods. A realm of magic and terror, life and death.

But can he bear the truth – or will is destroy him?

A STORY THAT WILL TAKE YOU TO ANOTHER WORLD

Greater than your dreams. Darker than your fears. Full of more wonder than you could ever desire. Welcome to the ineffable Beginning Woods…

Paperback, 448 pages
Published September 1st 2016 by Pushkin Press

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Skinnytaste Fast and Slow by Gina Homolka

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★ ★ ★ ★

Award-winning blogger and best-selling cookbook author, Gina Homolka, has released her latest cookbook, Skinnytaste Fast and Slow, filled with slow-cooker and quick-fix recipes. I discovered the Skinnytaste website over a year ago, and it quickly turned into a resource to find nutritious and flavorful recipes to prepare at home. I have Homolka’s first cookbook, which is one I always come back to, so when this released, I was looking forward to getting a copy for my collection.

As most cookbooks, there is an introduction and recipe key is followed by all the information you’ll need to get your kitchen stocked and prepared for cooking, along with fast cooking basics, and slow-cooker secrets. The next section is a Month of Good-For-Your Meals; 4 weeks of meal planning for breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner, and treats that include the page number to locate each recipe. There are 11 recipes selections: Healthy Mornings; Chilis, Soups, and Stews; One-Bowl Meals; Zoodles, Squashta, Pasta, and Sauce; Taco Night; Poultry Mains; Meat Lover Mains; Fish and Seafood Mains; Meatless Mains; On the Side; and The Sweeter Side.

At the beginning of each section there is an introduction page that includes a list of the recipes with page numbers, and icons to indicate whether the dish is under 30 minutes, pressure cooker, slow cooker, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, or freezer-friendly.

Some insight from the author, serving size, ingredients, and nutrition key are along side every recipe. Throughout the cookbook you can find food facts, time saving tips, perfect pairings, and Skinny Scoop. There are recipes in here for every occasion, season, and even those picky-eaters. All are healthy, but full of flavor while giving you that freedom to change up some of the ingredients to make it to your liking.

Recipes like chicken and zucchini noodles with black bean sauce, and zoodles with shrimp and feta, make me impatient for the warm months to prepare those dishes for my family. There are recipes like slow-cooker hamburger stroganoff that take typical box meals and give you an easy-to-follow guide on preparing a healthy, homemade meal that can still be affordable while on a budget.

The photography in this cookbook is beautiful, and the images will make your mouth water before you get to cooking. It is a well crafted cookbook that is sturdy with an easy-to-follow layout. Skinnytaste Fast and Slow offers a variety of dishes that will please all palates around the dinner table, whether you are looking for a quick-fix or slow-cooked meal, you will find hearty comfort food for these winter months, or refreshing, vibrant meals to prepare through spring and summer.

Synopsis

80+ Under 30 Minute Dishes and 60 Slow Cooker Recipes
The easiest, tastiest, most convenient healthy recipes ever!

With Skinnytaste Fast and Slow, you can get a nutritious, flavor-packed, figure-friendly meal complete with a flourless chocolate brownie made in a slow cooker on the table any night of the week. Gina Homolka, founder of the widely adored blog Skinnytaste, shares 140 dishes that come together in a snap whether in a slow cooker or in the oven or on the stovetop. Favorites include:
Slow Cooker
Chicken and Dumpling Soup
Korean-Style Beef Tacos
Spicy Harissa Lamb Ragu
Peach-Strawberry Crumble
Under 30 Minutes
Zucchini Noodles with Shrimp and Feta
Pizza-Stuffed Chicken Roll-Ups
Grilled Cheese with Havarti, Brussels Sprouts, and Apple
Cauliflower Fried Rice
Each recipe includes nutritional information, which can help you take steps toward weight and health goals, and many dishes are vegetarian, gluten-free, and freezer-friendly all called out with helpful icons. Gina s practical advice for eating well and 120 color photos round out this indispensable cookbook.“

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Clarkson Potter

Goodreads
Purchase on Amazon

I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review through Blogging for Books. All opinions are my own.

 

2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Book Themed Gifts

If you’re having trouble deciding what to buy that literary lover in your life, look no further! While receiving books on holidays is always one of the best gifts, who doesn’t like some book-themed goodies to go along with those hardcover and paperbacks?

Bookshelf Games, Set of Three

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This set of Clue, Monopoly, and Scrabble are perfect for the book and classic game lover in your life. These book-style designed editions include easy to store, linen book-style box that provide hours of family fun. Can be purchased individually for $34.95, or as a set of three for $99.00.

llbean, $99

 

Pug Butt Bookmark

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MyBOOKMark on Etsy has changed the world of bookmarks with a unique way to mark one’s place in the pages. Whether you’re a pug own like myself, who would adore the bookmark (pictured on the right) between the pages of my books, or a Harry Potter fan who would love the Magician that would bring a little Harry Potter into every book you read. You can find a wide range of selections, inspired by every occasion, holiday, or reading experience on MyBOOKMark’s Etsy shop.

Etsy.com/MyBookMark, $25

Book Inspired Candles

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The Melting Library is one of the many book inspired candle shops on Etsy that brings a new reading experience to the reader with scents inspired by books. One of my favorite books is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, so when I found it in the shop, I had to have it! Pictured on the right is the Dinner at Midnight candle, a combination of sugared figs, rosemary, orange blossom, and sandalwood–based on Chandresh’s midnight dinners. It smells phenomenal! All I can say is that if you plan on purchasing one, make sure to buy two because you’ll want one on your shelf because the presentation is beautifully bookish.

In the shop you can find the latest hand-poured editions for Throne of Glass, The Winner’s Trilogy, The Bone Season, Harry Potter, and more. All the candles are made in small batches using soy wax, and take 7-10 days for processing.

Etsy.com/TheMeltingLibrary, $14.50

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Novelly Yours offers book inspired soy candles, fandom collections, and more, that create an amazing atmosphere for the next time you pick up a book! When looking for inspiration before the hand-pouring begins, Novelly Yours looks to the themes, characters, and places from favorite books, bringing together two passions –books and candles.

The candle pictured on the left is inspired by the popular Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Bringing the scents of Scotland and Craigh Na Dun into your home with heather, firewood, and outdoors with light floral notes.

I received a Tempest themed candle in my October Muse Monthly subscription, and immediately I had plans to make a purchase from the Novelly Yours shop because the quality, scent, and packaging were all amazing.

While a majority of candles are inspired by young-adult novels, there are always editions to the shop, such as Disney inspired candles, seasonal lines, and the option to customize your order.

Etsy.com/NovellyYours, $11

Bookworm Magnets

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Bring the bookworm vibes to your fridge or filing cabinet with this 4-pack of magnets designed by Alison Cole.

BuyOlympia, $10

 

 

 

My Weekend is Booked Sweatshirt

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When your weekends are spent in a comfy spot with a hot beverage, and book in hand, you might as well wear a shirt that goes along with it! There is an option to choose the style, whether it be hoodie, tee, tank, and even for the little future reader in your life. Sizing goes up to XXL, with a variety of colors available.

Design in image shown is lightweight pullover in heathered light blue.

Lookhuman, $18.40-$35.20

 

‘Drink Good Coffee, Read Good Books’ Mug

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If there are two things that go together better than anything else, it is books and coffee. A classic mug like this and many others you can find on Etsy are perfect for those bookworms who love coffee just as much as literature. Holds 11oz. with design/text on both sides.

Etsy.com/Giftsology, $15

 

The Atwood Blend Coffee

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A coffee mug is not complete without coffee. In partnership with Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, Margaret Atwood has created an artisanal blend of South and Central American coffee with distinct notes of caramel and cocoa with a balance of acidity for a smooth, rich brew.

Balzacs, $18 for 1lb. bag

 

 

 

100 Literary Postcards Set

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In 2015 Obvious State collaborated with Penguin Random House to make a collection of literary postcards. In this beautifully crafted boxed set there are 100 postcards featuring work from their Bibliophilia collection. The set contains 2 of each of 50 original designs, one to share and one to keep for yourself–or gift it to someone special!

Etsy.com/ObviousState, $20

 

 

Knock Knock Personal Library Kit

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While not all of us readers are so generous to lend our beloved books out to friends and family, there are many who find great pleasure in doing so. Knock Knock Personal Library Kit offers an easy and fun way to keep track of those borrowed books, and brings back that feeling of checking books out at the library. Who else loved looking at the cards in the back of the books to see who previous borrowed them?

Refill cards are available here, 15 for $6.

Amazon, $11

Cozy Fleece Throw

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What reader doesn’t like to cozy up in a blanket while reading during the winter? When it comes to blankets, I want the softest I can find, so this Quatrefoil Heavy Fleece Throw is my choice! It is ultra-soft but won’t compromise warmth, comes in four different colors, and is generous in size so it is great for curling up in. You don’t have to splurge on price to get a quality blanket either.

Wayfair, $14.99

 

Umbra Aquala Bamboo Bathtub Caddy

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Have a reader in your life who enjoys a relaxing bath with a good book? This bathtub caddy has a wine glass holder, a book/magazine prop, hooks on the other side to hold a razor and loofah mesh sponge, and extendable arms to fit different tub widths. Don’t forget to buy bath bombs!

Amazon, $30

 

 

 

Book of the Month

Book of the Month is one of my favorite subscriptions because it is a great value for a hardcover book each month, and giving you the ability to chose the book you want. It is a subscription service that brings you 1 book of your choice each month, with the option to add additional books from previous selections for $9.99. On the first of the month, BOTM announces five monthly selections carefully chosen by their judges. By the sixth of the month, you choose which books you would like to receive or skip the month if you prefer. Then it will ship out on the set date, or you can pay $1 for it to ship immediately.

For a reasonable price, you can gift a 3, 6, or 12-month membership ranging from $44.97-$143.88. That includes 1 book of your choice, an extra book for only $9.99 each, free shipping, and easily skip any month. For a limited time, you can give a gift and receive 50% off a 3-month membership!

If you want to subscribe to a 3-month subscription for yourself, you can do so for $9.99 a month! Plus you will receive a cute BOTM tote bag when you join here: https://www.mybotm.com/ipa465sleib2o6r

If you’d like to try out one month of Book of the Month, you can do so here and pay only $5! I am an affiliate so will receive a small commission with the two links above.

Book of the Month, $14.99 per month

Images used in this post belong to the original owners, and are linked at the bottom of each description.