Friday, May 29, 2015

June 2015 TBR

Hello everyone! Summer is basically upon us at this moment. Some of you get a blissful few months off from school and others like myself get to work full time.

That being said I'm so excited to be able to finally read what I want to read. No more school reading and no more essays!! As much as I'd love to bust out and marathon read, I'm not quite sure how much actually free time I'll have this month, so I want to be a little more conservative with my TBR this month. With that said, I think it's time to share what books I'm hoping to read during June.
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

This is the one book from my May TBR list that I never got the chance to read and I'm determined to finish it this month regardless of my schedule.

  • Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

Dragonfly in Amber is the sequel to Outlander, the book that I read and mentioned in my May 2015 wrap-up post. I actually started this book sometime in May because I was immediately interested to learn what happens next in the series. Sadly, this book hasn't hooked me quite like the first one did. Despite that, I'm completely planning on finishing it this month. The television series based on the first book has been green-lighted for a second series and I want to read the book it's based off of before watching it.

  • Cary Grant: A Biography by Marc Eliot

I  have a confession to make. I don't really read nonfiction books. I'm always a huge fan of the escapism that fiction books provide, so I never really get around to reading books based on actual events and the lives of real people. In the past two or three years, that has changed just a little. Now I like to actively seek out nonfiction books on subjects that I enjoy as a means to diversify my reading experience. As a result I've really been getting into reading the biographies and autobiographies of popular figures whose work I like. Cary Grant is one of those people. Some of you might not know this, but I'm a huge fan of classic movies. I'd rather spend a night watching Turner Classic Movies instead of going to the movies and seeing the recent blockbuster. Over the course of the years I've picked out my favorite actors and Cary Grant is one of them. About three or four years ago I read the short autobiography that he wrote for a magazine, but I always wanted to know a bit more about his life. After looking online for a biography, this is the first one that popped up. There are a ton of mixed reviews on this book, so I'm taking everything the author writes with a grain of salt so to speak.

Now I really shouldn't add any more books to this list, but I want to be ambitious this month. Also I've been waiting for a couple of months to get my hands on this book and I really can't wait to read it. What book is it you ask?

  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

You had to know this was going to be on a TBR list soon right? I'm a huge fan of Maas' Throne of Glass series, so I just had to seen what her newest book would be like. Apparently it's a blending of beauty and the beast with faeries lore, so I'm excited and apprehensive all at once.

Those are all of the books I hope to read during the month of June. As always feel free to share what books you'd like to read during the month and whether any of these have made it to your own TBR list. Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

May 2015 Wrap-Up

Looks like another month has come and gone in what feels like the blink of an eye. Usually I like to post these wrap-ups on the last day of the month to give me optimal last minute reading time, but I will be otherwise occupied that day. Sunday I officially graduate from college!!!

It's so exciting and scary all at once, but I am so ready to be done with college assignments and last minute essay writing. I can even get back to full time fun reading again, that is when I'm not working at my summer job. Oh adulthood. Anyway here are the books that I managed to finish during May when I was super busy with classes, my internship, starting a new job, and senior events.

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

TBR list? What TBR list? After I published my May TBR post and made the conscious decision to pick up Kiss of Deception, I decided to just read a chapter of Outlander on a whim. Cue me finishing the entire book in the span of a day, which is a pretty impressive feat, particularly when I should have been reading for my independent study course. I feel like everybody and their mother has been talking about this book now that it has been adapted into a popular Starz television show. I decided to start the book without really any knowledge about the plot, which worked out in the end because I usually shy away from overly romantic adult novels. For those who are curious about the plot, the book centers around Claire a former combat nurse during World War II. Now that the war is over, she and her husband are together again and they decide to go on a so called second honeymoon in Scotland in order to reconnect, while her husband looks into his ancestry. Through the magic of the stones at Craigh na Dun, Claire is transported back in time where she meets James (Jaime) Fraser. I think that's enough summary to get you interested.

If you'd ask me to describe this book, I would say that it's a very upscale, well-researched, and well-written version of a harlequin romance novel. It reads like a guilty pleasure book, but one you wouldn't be hesitant to talk about, or at least I'm not anyway. My one major critique is that the book is really a bit too long. Some scenes just dragged on and there are only so many times I can read about Jamie saving Clare.

I'm curious about what happens in the rest of the series, so I'll probably pick up and finish the second book at some point. I did also start to watch the television show and I have to say that it's remarkably faithful to the book, right down to moments of dialogue. My only real complaint about the show is that there is so much nudity and it's all primarily female nudity. No, I'm not a prude and I get that there are plenty of sex scenes in the book, but I don't think the audience needs numerous detailed scenes of Claire changing clothes, acts which in no way relate to the story-line. Oh well, at least this show proves that more people should consider making books into mini-series and not movies.

  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson


Next I decided to actually stick with my TBR list and I picked up The Kiss of Deception. I went into the reading experience with almost no expectations, which turned out to work in my favor. You can't feel let down if you didn't expect anything in the first place. I have a serious question. Why do people like this book? I'm interested to find out. Again I'm writing this review right after I finished this book, which is probably a bad idea. All I can think about is the amount of my life that I wasted reading this book. I could rant for ages, but I always feel terrible after it, so I'll keep my critique to three main points: the horrible narration/perspective set-up, the lack of world building, and the love triangle.

When you read the synopsis of the book, there is a usually an indication about the narrative structure. In the case of this book, the story is about Princess Lia, who flees from her home to escape her forthcoming marriage to the prince of another kingdom. What really frustrated me was the fact that the entire story was told from the first person perspective, but not just from Lia's perspective. The story also features first person narration from the assassin sent to kill her, and from her jilted prince. Funny thing is, you can't tell the difference between any of the narrations unless you keep careful attention to the chapter labels. I know this is a bit pompous and judge-y for me to say, but if the writing is distinct enough, you shouldn't even need chapter headers. Not to mention the first person narration made everything read stilted and awkward. If the author wanted the perspectives of all three characters, then why not just use third person.

While the book seems to have a pretty interesting setting, I honestly felt like it was nonexistent. There is supposed to be all of these kingdoms, which aren't fully explicated. There is also all of this folklore and religion that completely went over my head. It all honestly felt like a cheap background just to hide the fact that the entirety of the story is a love triangle. Yep, you read correctly. The title of the book...take that literally. The whole book centers on the love triangle between Lia, the assassin, and the prince. I'm still trying to figure out whether this was intentional or not, but I couldn't tell which male character was the prince and which was the assassin. The characters in this book lacked so much depth that I couldn't figure out what made each male character unique. Everybody in the story felt so one dimensional that I couldn't connect with them as a reader. Sadly, this book is just another forgettable piece of work in a sea of ya fiction. As you can probably tell, I won't be continuing on with the series.


  • Grace's Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-up by Grace Helbig

In an effort to continually avoid my TBR list, I apparently decided to keep reading different books. Lately it seems like every YouTuber is releasing a new book, which I don't have a problem with except when they neglect to actually write the book themselves...but that is a completely different rant about ghost writers that I don't want to get into. I've been a longtime viewer of Grace Helbig and I was interested to see what kind of guidebook she would write. I haven't really enjoyed the so called self-help books that celebrities have been releasing, so I was a little apprehensive about this one.

At the end though, all I could say was "Meh." It wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't that great either. I was hoping for a lot of great comedic moments about life, but I felt like the book length was padded with loads of pictures of Grace, The first few were interesting, but the rest felt like a bit of a cop out. Also I really think the title should be Grace's Guide: A Billion Short Numbered Lists on the Art of Pretending to Be A Grown-up. I guess that wouldn't fit on the book cover though. Sad days. For those interested in reading Grace's Guide, I would suggest borrowing a copy from a friend or the library because it might not be worth buying outright. It does make for a nice light 2 hour read, if that's what you're looking for.

  • Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole


I finally decided to get back to reading from my TBR list and I figured with all of my work and college commitments this would be the easiest book to finish. That assumption was of course completely true. While I gave Letters from Skye a generous three star rating on Goodreads, here I can't help but rate it 2.5 stars. In all honesty this book is exactly what you would expect, albeit a little over hyped in the book synopsis. As I've said many times before, I'm a sucker for books with different narrative formats and this one is written in a series of letters. The first group of letters is a correspondence between Elspeth, a Scottish poet, and David, an American fan of her work. They fall in love. This is not a spoiler because anyone who has picked up a nominal number of books could make an educated guess about that. While the characters differed in construction, the story is the same group of cliches as any number of the usually lambasted chick lit novels. The second group of letters revolves around Elspeth's daughter trying to find her now missing mother, a process sparingly revealed to her new husband, Paul. The ending was as picture perfect as you would expect and didn't leave much of a lasting impression. If you're looking for an average, romantic, fluffy read, this is the book for you.

While I didn't get a chance to finish all of the books on my May TBR list, I think I got quite a bit of reading done. Much more that I expected really. Don't forget to return sometime in the next couple of days to see what books I'd like to read during June!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Penny's Music Recommendations: May 2015

Well readers, it's a new month and with it comes another list of songs that I've been listening to on repeat since the middle of April. While all of you are busy crushing your TBR list or in my case doing school and internship work, these songs would make fantastic background music, procrastination fuel, or even celebratory dance music. In any case, here are my music recommendations for the month of May.  
  • Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon

I'm going to be obnoxious here and pull hipster status. Please forgive me. I first heard Walk the Moon well before this song got immensely popular. Their song, Tightrope, was on the soundtrack to the Saints Row 4 game and I listened to it on repeat while doing side missions. I will forever associate that song with jumping up the simulation towers collecting clusters. Shut up and Dance is currently one of the popular songs on the radio right now and for good reason. It's the kind of song that makes you want to get up and dance, just as the song title orders. Every part of this song is so amazing that I can't just pick one to highlight. The guitar provides a fantastic backbeat, the bass guitar is nice and prominent, the drums make it upbeat, the synth isn't overpowering, and of course the vocals are on point. If your day needs an immediate pick me up, this is the song that you have to listen to. 

  • Dead Inside by Muse

Muse is one of my all time favorite bands and I really really want to see them live sometime. Until then I'll just have to settle for listening to them on repeat. When I learned that Muse is releasing a new album called Drones in June, I had a mini freak out. It was sadly a solitary fangirl because none of my friends share my love for this band. Dead Inside was the second song off of the album that the band released to the public and again I've been listening to it constantly. I feel like I'm going to keep saying this for every song, but it's completely true. Again this is a bass and synth heavy song, which you come to expect if you've ever listened to Muse extensively before. If you haven't listened to Muse or god forbid you only know them from the song Supermassive Black Hole on the movie, Twilight, you need to give this a listen immediately.

  • Hearts Like Ours by The Naked and Famous

Before this month, I had never heard of The Naked and Famous, nor had I listened to any of their songs. I discovered Hearts Like Ours through the YouTuber, CutiePieMarzia, who usually puts a mini playlist of recommended music in the descriptions of her monthly favorites videos. One day I just scanned through all of her favorites videos and listened to all of the songs she recommended. This is one of the songs that stuck out. Hearts Like Ours has a very indie sound to it that somehow manages to be mellow and upbeat at the same time. I'm in the process of listening to some of their other songs, but this is the one I keep coming back to.

  • Youth by Foxes 

I first heard Foxes on Fall Out Boy's Save Rock and Roll album. She provided the featuring vocals for the song, Just One Yesterday, and I distinctly remember thinking that she had a beautiful voice. Up until April, I didn't bother listening to any of her own music until my college radio station mentioned ordering her cd for our music library. I found Youth immediately and for some reason I didn't like it after my first listen. The song finally grew on me after about a week or two and now here I am recommending it to you. The only way I can describe this song is soulful, electronic pop. I'll just leave it at that.

  • We Sink by Chvrches 

I honestly can't recall how I discovered the band Chvrches, but ever since then I've been completely in love with them. When I first listened to their full album, The Bones of What You Believe, I remember liking only one or two songs. Now whenever I give the album a re-listen, I find that I have to add another song or two off of it to my music collection. We Sink is one of those songs that I recently fell in love with. Chvrches is a Scottish band that is solidly in the synth/electronic genre. Some have even labeled it as synthpop. Again We Sink manages to be mellow and upbeat at the same time. I also think that Lauren Mayberry's vocals are so unique that you have to listen to her at least once in your life. 

  • Lifting the Sea by The Hunts

This song almost didn't make it into my May music recommendations list. Not because I don't like it, but because I only discovered the band this past weekend. Every year my college has something called May Days, which is essentially a campus carnival/activity day. The college pays for an entertainment company to come on campus with fun activities like a photo booth, a caricature artist, and inflatables. In the past the college has always hired a DJ, which wasn't bad... that is if you like all of the music they play on top 40 radio. This year they actually mixed things up and hired two live bands. The first band that played was The Hunts. They describe themselves as an indie-folk band, which sounds about right to me. The band is made up of seven brothers and sisters who are originally from Virginia. When they started to play I actually stopped what I was doing, listened to them, and was blown away by how much I liked them. I almost wished I'd written down the names of some of the songs I'd liked because unfortunately their YouTube discography presence is a little spotty. Oh well. Lifting the Sea is one of their songs that I found on YouTube and I've been listening to it ever since the weekend. I believe the only well know song they've made is called Make This Leap, and I swear I've heard bits of it in commercials.
  •    Eyes Wide (Samuel Remix) by Meadowlark

If you read my first music recommendation post, you know that I like to check out the free music that the google play store releases every month. Surprise, this song was on the list and at first I wasn't sure I liked it. The vocals were captivating, but for some reason it felt lacking. On a whim I looked up Eyes Wide on YouTube and found out that somebody did a remix of the song. The remix added just enough of an upbeat tempo and electronic sound to make it more to my own personal taste. Regardless, the song is great and I think you should check out the version I have linked here and the original version on YouTube if you prefer a less electronic sound.

Those are all of the songs I've been listening to lately and I hope you'll give them a chance. If there's a song you've been obsessed with lately don't be afraid to mention it in the comments. I love a good music recommendation too. Don't forget to visit my blog at the end of the month for my book wrap-up and of course I'll be here at the same time next month with more music recommendations!

Friday, May 1, 2015

May 2015 TBR

Now that it's a new month, time for a new batch of books to look forward to reading. May will unfortunately probably be one of the busiest months of the year, considering that it is the last month of my senior year in college...but I don't want to dwell on that for too long. I prefer denial. As a result, I've only put three books on my TBR list, but they are three books I've been wanting to read for awhile.
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton 
I initially found out about The Miniaturist watching some of my favorite booktubers. I don't know much about the story except that it involves a newly married woman, who has been given a miniature replica of her house. I'm hoping this lives up to all of the online hype.

  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
The Kiss of Deception is another book I've had my eye on for a long time, but never got a hold of it until now. While I'm a little wary of starting a new series, this one sounds like it could be potentially interesting. Again I don't know much other than it's about a princess that escapes a marriage meant to solidify a political alliance. 

  • Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

I have another reading habit confession to make. I can't resist a story told through letters, emails, even text messages. Again it all comes down to enjoying books with alternative formats. Letters from Skye is told (at least as far as I know) through the exchanged letters between a Scottish author and an American college student who's just read her poetry. I'm just hoping this isn't an annoying, overly saccharine love story.

Those are the three books I'd like to read during the month of May. Don't forget to let me know in the comments if any of these books made it onto your TBR shelf or if you've already read them. May the odds be ever in my favor during this month.  

April 2015 Wrap-Up

Hello readers! Yet another month has gone by in the blink of an eye. I don't know why, but April always feels like the shortest month to me. Anyway, I've been super busy this month somehow managing to juggle classes, an internship, managing clubs, and going to an awesome academic conference. I even found some time to read plenty of books, be they good, average, or just bad. All of the books I set aside for my April TBR are finished! Here is what I thought about all of them.
  • Sanctum by Madeleine Roux
Sanctum is the second book in a series, which really shouldn't be a series. Asylum, the first book, reads like a standalone novel and this extra story feels like it was very thinly connected to the first one. The same three cast of characters are back for another adventure at the college/Brookline Asylum. They decide they need to have some closure in their lives from the summer trauma and return to college for the prospective students weekend. On their quest to figure out more about the Warden of the asylum, some creepy events occur. The story centers on Dan, the blandest protagonist ever created, whose thoughts reflect that of a middle school student and not a senior in high school. Then there's Jordan, the walking gay stereotype who usually pops up with random important information to continue the characters' quest. Then there's Abby, the most cardboard-like character I've ever come across and who functions as the love interest. You could replace her with a lamp and it wouldn't make a difference to the story (This is an actual theory by the way. It's called the sexy lamp theory and you should totally look it up).

I rated this book three stars on Goodreads because of their sad lack of half star rating capabilities. I rated it 2.5 stars here because I just don't quite know how to feel about this series. On one hand the story is kind of interesting and innovative (the story, not the photos of course. Those are a Ransom Riggs copy). On the other hand, the characters are so ridiculously underdeveloped that it hurts the plot and it prevents me from connecting with them. This is also another one of those books where the so called "villain" only shows up once or twice in the whole story. I just feel like the series has so much potential that it isn't quite living up to. Granted the story is interesting enough that I would recommend it with the added caution that you not expect too much from it. Apparently, despite the fact that this book did wrap up neatly, there is a novella and a third book after this one. I'm not really quite sure if I'll be picking them up, at least not any time soon.

  • Just One Night by Gayle Forman                                                         

If you've been reading my blog posts for a while, you probably remember how upset I was after reading Just One Day and then how very upset I got after reading Just One Year. I was convinced that I was never going to get my hands on this e-novella and it irked me not to have closure. Now I have it and I'm just disappointed. This book should have been the last chapter to the first book. End of story. No useless series, just a great standalone contemporary romance novel. It's been a few months since I read the previous books, so sitting down to read this chapter length book didn't feel the same. The build up wasn't there anymore, which made the bad writing glaringly stick out. Not to mention all of the creepy instances of Willem's apparent foot fetish...ewww. 

  • Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross


This book...sigh.

This, dear readers, is what happens when you take an interesting story concept and then cram it so full of poor writing and ya lit cliches that you feel cheated, let down, deceived even. I wanted complex characters struggling against their fairytale destinies. What I got was a whole lot of insta-love, a terrible main character that everybody thinks is perfect, and a gaggle of love interests that borderline abuse the main character, Mira. I could go on, but ehhh I'm not in the mood to be overly negative today.

  • The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas


Normally I'm not a huge fan of prequel novellas, but The Assassin's Blade cured me of that opinion. This collection of five novellas details some of the time Celaena spent under the tutelage of the king of the assassins, Arobynn Hamel, and the problems she encounters under his not so benevolent ruling. These novellas also address her relationship with Ben, a character vaguely mentioned in the regular Throne of Glass series as an important part of her backstory. Normally I would say that all of this information about Celaena's backstory could be integrated in the regular series through flashbacks, but the novellas allowed for a more continuous narrative. I don't know if Sarah J. Maas intended it, but the novellas really built off of each other and read more like an actual novel. I also really enjoyed learning about how Celaena became the character so many of us know and love (or at least I do anyway). I almost wish there had been another novella somewhere in the middle because it felt like there wasn't enough interaction between Celaena and Sam, nor between Arobynn and Celaena. That was the reason why I didn't give the book a full five stars. All I can say is if you're reading the Throne of Glass series make sure you don't skip over this book/the five novellas. If you haven't read the series and you're a fan of ya fantasy, you seriously need to check this series out. I can't recommend it enough!!!

  • Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Next, I decided to read something not on my monthly TBR list (what a rebel...not really). I am one of those people that loves to read books with unique formats. I feel like the publishing industry doesn't embrace all of the possibilities that the print format can offer, so when I come across a book like that, even if it isn't in the genre I normally read, I have to read it. Case in point: Horrorstor. For those who haven't heard about this book, it is a horror/mystery novel that comes in the form of an Ikea catalog, as you can probably tell from the picture on the left. The beginning of every chapter features a furniture graphic and description similar to those in catalogs. Aside from the formatting, the story centers around some the employees who work at Orsk, a company again very similar to Ikea. The main protagonist of the story is Amy, a woman in her mid-twenties struggling to make ends meet, while trying to find a more fulfilling life. The story really kicks off when the store randomly starts to get vandalized and her boss asks her and a co-worker to stay with him overnight in the store to see what has been causing the damage. I don't want to tell you any more about the story because I'd rather not spoil it. Let's just say the horror elements are similar to that of a haunted house story.

When I sat down to read this book, I didn't intend on finishing it in one sitting, but the story was so captivating that I couldn't put it down, which sucked because I had to go to my internship early the next day. What I'm saying here is you should probably only start it when you have plenty of time to read. The one problem I had with the book, maybe...kinda...not sure...was the intense tone shift halfway through. On one hand I liked that Horrorstor blended comedy and sarcasm with horror elements, but on the other hand, the comedic elements only happened in the first half of the book. After that it was straight suspense and horror. Honestly, when I finished this book I was kind of hoping for a sequel. The story ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and I'm so interested to know what happens next. Even if you don't normally read in the horror/suspense genre, you should definitely check this book out.

  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab


I feel like the hype surrounding A Darker Shade of Magic oversold the book just a little bit too much. I'll admit that it took me longer to actually sit down and start it because of all of the great things people have been saying. It took a 5 hour car ride to New Hampshire and the 5 hour ride back to get me to read it. Granted most of that time was actually spent having some great conversations with one of my favorite college professors. The biggest problem I had was that I had so many expectations that the book just seemed average in comparison. It wasn't a terrible book, nor was it mind-blowing. A Darker Shade of Magic tells the story of Kell, a magician, who has the ability to travel between the different versions of London, which are shaped by their apparent abundance or lack of magic. Kell is the adopted prince of Red London, but his relationship with his family is a little more complicated than that. His life changes when agrees to carry a package into a different London for someone and when he meets Delilah Bard, a thief.

I'll definitely admit that this is one of the better fantasy/magic books I've read in a long time. The idea is wholly original and the story is very action packed. This book has an incredible amount of world building as well, which works for and against itself. I felt there was so much time spent on the setting and back-story that the characters felt a little bit flat in comparison. Strangely, this is the one book where I'm eager for a sequel, pronto! So much of A Darker Shade of Magic felt like an extended prequel of sorts. I'd love something with diverging narratives where I can follow both Kell and Delilah because she was personally my favorite character.

Those were the books I read for the month of April! Don't forget to check back in the next day or two for a list of the books I hope to read in May.