Saturday, January 23, 2016

Penny's Music Recommendations: January 2016

Hello music aficionados and welcome to the new year! With the year spread forth ahead of us you know what that music. For those of you faithfully following my music recommendation posts, you know that I spent the majority of my time in December listening to Christmas music. In fact, I wasn't in the mood for any other type of music, so I didn't put much energy into finding new music like I usually do, As a result, this list is a little shorter than I would prefer, but the music that's featured is still amazing and I want you to know about it. Here are the songs that I've been obsessed with during the month of January.
  • Do You Feel It? by Chaos Chaos

I discovered this song purely by accident and chance. One day I was just sitting on the living room couch reading as I usually do after work. My brother decided to watch tv and started flipping through channels. He stopped at cartoon network to see what was on adult swim and this random show Rick and Morty was on and this song was playing. I made him stop changing the channel so that I could listen to it. While I still have absolutely no urge to watch whatever show that was, I found a new favorite song. Choas Chaos is, shockingly, an indie pop/rock group. What I love about this song is that it has this wistful feeling about it, but it also has this hard beat that keeps you interested.Not to mention I love singing along with it. I figure if I liked this song so quickly, I might as well check out their other songs.
  • LA Devotee by Panic! At The Disco

You had to know with the release of Panic! At The Disco's new album on January 15th that there would be some of their songs on this list. Even though I live on the east coast of the U.S. and have no desire to move to the west coast, I love this song. This new album seems to be an experimentation in sound quite like their Pretty. Odd album, but I think this album is much more successful with it. Normally Panic! has a pop punk or pop rock sound that you come to expect from them. This album feels like it has a much stronger pop and even jazz influence. LA Devotee is one of those upbeat pop songs that you can't help dancing and singing along to.  
  • Death of a Bachelor by Panic! At The Disco

Speaking of the band's change in sound, Death of a Bachelor, the song which the album takes its name from, is completely unlike any P!ATD song I've enjoyed in the past. I have to admit when I first heard it, I didn't like it at all. When you hear this song you don't think about Panic! you think about Frank Sinatra. It has that same jazzy, old timey sound that I love from Sinatra, but wasn't ready to get from Brendon Urie. It took me a long time to warm up to this song and now that I have, it's the song of choice for shower singing. If you leave all of your expectations at the door, I think you'll enjoy this song.
  • Turn It Around by Lucius

Be prepared. It's about to get a little bit hipster up in here. I'm sorry. I've known about the band Lucius for a while now. I'm not quite sure how I first discovered them, but they are finally starting to get more listeners, in part because of the fact that this song, Turn It Around, is featured on the new Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ commercial. So if you've seen the commercial and wondered what that song was, look no further. Lucius is an indie pop/rock band that has what I imagine to be a very 70s sound. This is what you get when you blend pop with soul and thanks to that commercial, I've been playing it on repeat again. If you listen to Turn It Around and are interested in more Lucius music, you're in luck. The group is finally...FINALLY releasing a new album on March 11th.
  • Empty Threat by Chvrches

It has been months now since the release of Chvrches newest album, Every Open Eye, and I'm still listening to it. That's how good it is. The latest song that I'm obsessed with is Empty Threat. Chvrches is a synthpop band or what some people have been calling indietronica, which is a term I never even knew existed. It makes sense though. Smash together an indie pop sound with synth and you get Chvrches. Empty Threat is one of the songs on the album that you feel like you could actually get up and dance to. You just have to decide whether you want to sing along to it more or dance along to the electronic beats. 
  • Can't Help Falling in Love by Twenty One Pilots (Cover)

By now you all know about my love for Twenty One Pilots. Their music defies any sort of genre classification. Sometimes rock, sometimes pop, and even hip hop. Although I do think they've grown out of the indie label, since they are quite a mainstream band now. The lead singer, Tyler Joseph, shakes up their genre classification again by singing what I think is the best rendition of the song, Can't Help Falling in Love. As we all know this was a song by Elvis, a song that I never liked. It was too gushy and saccharine for me. Plus I'm a cynic at heart. I'm not even a fan of ukuleles either, but Tyler's voice gives this song such a hard edged and strangely tender sound that you can't ignore. I'm now a huge fan of this song.

Those are all of the songs that I've been listening to in January that I would recommend to you. As always, give them a listen and you never know. By taking a chance you might find your next favorite song, or even your new favorite band.   

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Best 15 Books I Read in 2015

Hello readers and welcome to the well overdue end of the year review of the books I read in 2015. I wasn't procrastinating, I was just waiting for the year to be well and over. Yep that's the excuse I'm going with. As you may know, 2015 was a great year for books, particularly for me, because I managed to read 152 books this year. Granted, the total should include a few more books because I did do some re-reading, but Goodreads has not yet included a function to allow you to count books you've already read. I've decided to be a bit ambitious in 2016 and I made a goal of reading 140 books.

That being said, I can't leave 2015 behind just yet. Those of you who follow my monthly wrap-ups probably know all about the books I read this past year. I've read some truly horrendous pieces of literature, but scattered about were some gems that I just have to talk about again. It's important to note that this list is going to talk about the best 15 books I read in 2015, not the top 15 books published in 2015. Also I am cheating the title a little bit. I discovered while compiling this list that I started a number of really great series this year and couldn't force myself to pick one book from the series. I'd like to think picking your favorite book from a fantastic series is a bit like choosing your favorite child, or so I assume. You could definitely do it, but it just isn't right or fair.

In the list I will also include links to the posts where I reviewed some of these books if you're interested in a more in depth discussion of their merits. Lastly, this list is not in any sort of chronological or least to best order. Truth be told I was too lazy to do that.

With that here are the Best 15 Books I Read in 2015:

1. A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

I first read A Doll's House in one of my college courses that dealt with Modern plays. As a general rule, I favor the Medieval and Victorian genres over anything modern, but this was one of the few plays I actually enjoyed reading. The plot centers around a husband and wife named Torvald and Nora respectively. A good chunk of the play deals with Nora's unhappiness and dissatisfaction with her life. She's trapped in a marriage where she's treated like a child and a beautiful possession. This play was a great vehicle for talking about women's rights, even though Ibsen never quite aligned with the movement. For him the play was a discussion about the human condition and each individual's right to freedom and happiness. Good old self-actualization. This is also one of the plays I would love to see performed now.  
2. You Deserve a Drink by Mamrie Hart

2015 seems to be the year of the Youtube book. I'm assuming the publishing industry realized the amount of celebrity surrounding Youtube stars and decided to make a profit out of them by offering book deals. Not everyone is really cut out to be a writer if I'm going to be honest. The problem I have with these books is that they often try to offer up life wisdom from people who haven't really lived much of their own life. Not to mention these productions usually have more space devoted to full color photographs rather than text. Even worse is when the book is ghost written. That being said You Deserve a Drink has to be the best Youtuber book I've read. Mamrie doesn't try to be moralistic or use her experiences to try to teach you something. She is just trying to use the misadventures from her life to make you laugh, and laugh I did.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         You Deserve A Drink Review                                                                         
3. Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

Those who have been following this blog for a little while know that sometime during the summer I decided to read the entire Princess Diaries series because I couldn't quite call myself a Meg Cabot fan without having read it. What was great was that my marathon read corresponded with the release of Royal Wedding, the latest installment of the series. This book made this list because it took one of my favorite ya characters and placed her in the adult genre. Basically I've grown up with the series and now I can continue to read it as an adult. It has the same fluffy story line and sarcastic Princess Mia humor that fans have come to love. Not to mention this is the book where Mia and Michael have finally started their life together.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The Princess Diaries Series Review

4. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I feel like a gushed enough about this book in my December Wrap-Up, but why not do it again. Illuminae is one of those books with an unconventional format, which makes the reading experience way better. The story of Kady and Ezra trying to survive the invasion of their planet on fleeing ships in outer space is captivating enough. What I love is that it's told through a series of documents, IMs, interviews, and even illustrations. I originally read this in ebook format, so now I need to grab myself a physical copy to add to my collection.                                                                                                                                                                                  Illuminae Review
5. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

While I don't read a lot of books in the mystery genre, I'd like to consider myself a fan. When I found out that J.K. Rowling was writing such a series under a pseudonym, I was so excited. Now that the novelty has worn out for some, I still love every new book that she releases as Robert Galbraith. While my favorite detective is still Agatha Christie's Poirot along with his best friend/sidekick Hastings, the detective duo of Cormoran and Robin comes a close second. What I also love about this series is that is seems to be exploring all facets of the murder mystery genre.                                                                                                                                        Career of Evil Review
6. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

For whatever reason the immense popularity of this book and the whole series eluded me until I heard about the television adaption. As a general rule, I don't really read much historical romance fiction, but I really enjoyed this book. The romance between Jaime and Claire was captivating, not to mention the mishaps she encounters as a modern women in Scotland's past were interesting to read. While some people dismiss these kinds of books as fluffy and poorly written Chick-Lit, Outlander proves that wrong. I can't imagine the kind of research that would have to go into writing this. You might notice that even though I've continued on with this series, only Outlander is on the list. The reason is I've been trying to read the fourth book, Drums of Autumn for months now, but the story isn't that exciting and it isn't grabbing me. I haven't liked any of the other books in the series as much as this one and I kind of have the opinion that maybe this should have been a standalone novel.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Outlander Review

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Illustrated Ed.) by J.K. Rowling

I think you had to know this would be on the best list for 2015. For those few people who haven't heard, all of the Harry Potter books are now being released in full color illustrated editions and the first book in the series was released this past year. Basically this book takes the childhood story you know and love and brings it to life. The illustrations are so detailed and beautiful that you could probably spend the same amount of time looking at them as you do actually reading the book.                                                                                                                                                                Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Illustrated Review
Here is where the discussion of this book ends, but it wouldn't feel right if I didn't take a second to acknowledge the devastating death of Alan Rickman, a wonderful actor who brought so many beloved characters to life, including Professor Snape. Thank you.

8. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Even though I'd heard so many great comments about this book, I never got around to reading it until the last semester of my senior year in college. I was taking an independent study where I read a couple of books that deal with gender in dystopian and utopian societies. The Handmaid's Tale was the first book I read and it's story has stuck with me ever since. The story centers on Offred, a handmaid whose sole purpose is to reproduce. It details the slow decline of women's rights until they become less than second class citizens. What makes this book so sad and so scary, at least for me, is the fact that there are people who exist today who would find a society like this ideal and who actively work to reduce women's reproductive rights. 
9. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Out of all of the ya contemporary books I've read this year Amy and Roger's Epic Detour was by far the best. The story is just as the title suggests. Amy has to get her car and remaining belongings across the country, but doesn't want to actually drive the car due to a number of personal issues you find out about later. Enter Roger, who is willing to drive the car since he also has to make his way to the east coast to see his father. This book distinguishes itself from other contemporary novels because it spends a good chunk of time on character development in addition to the romance.                                                                                                                                                                                           Amy and Roger's Epic Detour Review 
10. The Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas

 When I was first compiling this list I was having a hard time deciding which Throne of Glass book I wanted to include. After looking through my Goodreads overview of 2015, I realized that I read the entirety of this series this past year. Rather than choose one book, I decided to include the entire series because it's fantastic. Throne of Glass is a ya fantasy series that centers around a badass heroine named Celaena Sardothien fighting against the kingdom's tyrannous king, while discovering more about herself and her life as an assassin.                                                                                               Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight                           Heir of Fire                                                                     The Assassin's Blade                                                           Queen of Shadows
11. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

For whatever reason the ya fantasy genre this past year was full of amazing books, including Uprooted. The story centers around Agnieszka, a girl who lives in a village plagued by a nearby corrupted wood. Their only protection is a wizard, who asks the village to volunteer a new woman every ten years to live with him. What I love about this book is that it's a standalone novel and the world is so detailed and put together well.                                                                                                                          Uprooted Review
12. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

As you can probably tell from all of my monthly wrap-up posts, I'm not a huge fan of the horror genre. In fact I don't even think I've read 10 horror books in my entire life. Horrorstör changed that for me. It takes a traditional haunted house story and places it in a furniture store. Not to mention the book is formatted like an Ikea catalog.                                                                                                    Horrorstör Review
13. The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley

Those who've been around long enough to read my first Watch-a-thon which featured Pride and Prejudice, know that I am a huge fan of the YouTube series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I was one of the many people who were disappointed when the series came to an end. It is a fantastic modern interpretation of the novel that took the characters we know and love and gave them modern, and in the case of Lydia Bennet, better stories. The end of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries shows a rather beat down and lifeless version of the Lydia Bennet we all grew to love. This book is the continuation of her story. It does a fantastic job of reintroducing all the personal issues she struggled with in the series and bringing Lydia's story to a close.                                                                                                                                                                                                     The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet Review
14. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Another recent read that I just had to put on this list. I think talking about the construction and premise of Carry On is way more complicated than actually reading it. Those who have read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell are familiar with the story of Simon and Baz. This book is basically like the fancfiction that Cath writes in that book, except it's written by Rowell of course. It takes place at the Watford School of Magicks and chronicals Simon's quest to defeat the Insidious Humdrum. What I also love about this book is that there are so few LGBT ya books in the market, although that is changing thankfully, and this book provides such a great ya fantasy one.                                                                                                                   Carry On Review

15. The Queen of the Tearling Series by Erika Johansen

Finally, the last book/series of the Best 15 list. Out of all the ya fantasy series I've started this year, The Queen of The Tearling happens to be the one I'm most impressed with. While the books do have their own minor flaws, the world building is fantastic and the characters are so developed. Reading about how Kelsea tries to fix the broken down and corrupted kingdom she has inherited is fascinating. On the surface this series seems to be another one of those dystopian chosen one stories, but it's so much more. If you give the books a chance, you'll quickly find that out. I seriously can't wait for the next book.

                                                                                    The Queen of the Tearling Review
                                                                                    The Invasion of the Tearling Review

With that, those are the Best 15 Books I Read in 2015. Narrowing the list down from 152 books was quite the task, but I think I managed to do it well. This past year has been the year for great standalones it seems, but I'm looking forward to 2016 and the new books that will be released for all of my favorite series. I guess it's time to stop writing for now and get a head start on my 2016 reading challenge goal!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

December 2015 Wrap-Up

Hello readers and welcome to a quite late, but never forgotten, December Wrap-Up. Now that the holidays are over I can finally sit down and take some time to write out all of the blog posts I've been meaning to do. December was just one of those months where I imagined I would have a lot of free time, but in reality I was busy with work and preparing for the holidays. Not to mention I altered my usual book reading hermit lifestyle in favor of spending time with friends and family. Now that I'm back to my usual schedule, it's time to talk about the few books I managed to read before the end of the year.
  • My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

My True Love Gave To Me is a collection of short stories written by a number of famous authors. As such it's kind of difficult to give an overall rating to this book. Some stories were amazing, some were average and thankfully I only disliked two of them. Rather than dwell on the stories that I didn't like or spend time dissecting the stories I thought were average, I just want to talk about the stories that I really liked and wished were full length novels.

The first short story I enjoyed was amazingly the first story in the collection and that is "Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell, which isn't a shocker honestly because I've read and loved all of her novels. "Midnights" gives snapshots of two friends' lives every midnight on New Years Eve and over those midnights you get to see how their romantic relationship develops. This reminds me of that Lifetime movie, Love At The Christmas Table, where the movie shows how the relationship grows between the main characters over each Christmas dinner together. The next story I liked was Matt de la Pena's "Angels in the Snow," which is about a student that gets stuck apartment sitting over Christmas and runs into one of the neighbors. My absolute favorite short story in this collection has to be Stephanie Perkins' "It's a Yuletide Miracle Charlie Brown." It's about a girl that decides to visit a guy working at a Christmas tree farm to see if he'll be a part of her one of her short films. This book was the perfect kind of fluffy reading that I was looking for over the holidays.
  • Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Well here I am again having trouble finding to words to express how much I love this book. Words are easy if you dislike a book, but for some reason my thoughts don't quite order themselves when I really really like a book. Enough complaining. Time to start reviewing.

This book is set in the future when humans have colonized other planets. The story centers around Kady and Ezra, who live on one of these planets. On the same day that Kady finally breaks up with Ezra, two rival megacorporations are now at war and one of the corporations decides to attack the planet Kady and Ezra live on. Three ships manage to escape with refugees and our two main characters are separated. The refugees don't make a clean escape because one of the corporation's ships decides to come after the three other ships to kill all the survivors. As if that wasn't enough, a deadly plague ends up infecting a good portion of the survivors.

To say this book is action packed would be a bit of an understatement. The best part of Illuminae, in fact the part that really makes me love it, is that it's a story told through a unique physical format. I've made it no secret on this blog that I love books with innovative designs. Illuminae's story is told through a series of documents and pictures, including character emails, IMs, online journals, interviews, and reports. This book is as amazing to look at as it is to read. Through this dossier you get to read about Kady and Ezra's struggling relationship, but more importantly how the two grow as people in the face of almost certain death. This book is such a great mixture of dystopia, romance, and science fiction. I honestly can't recommend it enough and I can't wait for the sequels to be released.
  • Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #3)

I order to save myself some time and prevent you from reading the same rehashed points about this book, I'm just going to link you to my latest Murder Mystery Monday Post. where I feature Career of Evil. This post is essentially an in depth review of the book.

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Like the previous classic pick of the month, I didn't actually finish this during December, but I decided to include it in this post anyway. For whatever reason the classic books that I've been reading recently haven't captivated me. I think the particular problem I have with The Picture of Dorian Gray was that I entered the reading experience expecting something a little more gothic in tone. I wanted to read more about Dorian's sinful debauchery, which leads to the painting's transformation and his ultimate downfall. Instead what I got was a whole lot of not so subtle commentary on art, beauty, and aestheticism, which is great if you're writing an academic paper. It's not so great when you are just trying to do some pleasure reading. That being said I'm glad I got another classic book I've been meaning to read out of the way.

Those are all of the books that I read in December. It might not be a large pile, but I've found some new favorite books to add to my book collection. If you've already read these books, don't be afraid to share your opinions in the comments. Now on to all of the books I've picked to read for January. Until my next post, happy reading!

Friday, January 8, 2016

January 2016 TBR

Hello readers! I don't think I said this in the last post, but Happy New Year! You know what that means? New year, new books, and a new reading challenge. I'm hoping to start off the year by reading a ton of great books regardless of the fact that I've managed to catch the stupid cold going around. All I want to do is live in my bed, but sadly I have to be an adult.

That being said I'm in the process of finishing my December Wrap-Up post, which shall be released shortly. In the meantime I figured why not share the books I'll be reading in January, considering the first week in January is almost over. The majority of these books will be familiar because I've featured them in Christmas-y related posts and now I have the urge to read them all. Anyway, here are the books that I want to read in January.
  • Mirrored by Alex Flinn

I think this will now be the third time you've heard about Mirrored on this blog, but I have to mention it again because I've decided to read it this month. In fact, I've already started reading it. This book is basically a modern retelling of Snow White, but what makes this version unique is that you actually get some backstory on Snow White's stepmother. For those that have read any of Alex Flinn's other fairytale retellings, this book also features Kendra, the witch character from Beastly and Bewitching.

  • Winter by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles # 4)

I have been anticipating this book for soooo long and I'm glad that I finally own it! Winter is the fourth book in The Lunar Chronicles series, which is a science fiction/fantasy fairytale retelling. For the few people that don't know about this series, it's set in a dystopian universe where the people who live on Earth are dying from a plague. Not to mention they face the looming threat of destruction at the hands of Queen Levana. Each book in the series focuses on a different character loosely based on a fairytale character. All I can say is that I'm excited to see how Marissa Meyer wraps up this series.

  • Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Their Fractured Light is the third novel in the Starbound companion series. Near the end of 2015, I read the first two books in the series and found them to be average, enjoyable reads. Since I didn't mind reading them, I decided to finish out the whole series. This is another science fiction/ dystopian ya series that is centered around the corruption of the corporation, LaRoux Industries, and the problems it's caused in the galaxy. Each book features two new characters, who are a part of the main romance of this story, while the characters from the previous books do make appearances as secondary characters.

  • Soundless by Richelle Mead

I have been a fan of Richelle Mead since I was in middle school and now that her Vampire Academy series is finished as well as the  subsequent spin off series, I decided to explore some of the other books she has written. Soundless is her most recent release and it's a fantasy novel that takes place in a village where everybody is deaf and they survive solely because of the shipments they receive from an unknown place. Lives are in danger once the villagers start going blind as well. Their only hope is Fei, who starts to hear again one day. There have been a lot of mixed reviews for this book, but I'm hoping it will be an enjoyable read.

Normally this is where I would put the classic pick of the month, but I've decided to take a break from classic novels this month. I just haven't had the motivation to read them as of late and I figured why not give myself some time away from that genre and then I'll look forward to reading a new classic novel next month.

Now with that, those are all of the books I plan to read this January. This month seems to be the month for reading new releases and I honestly can't wait to get some time to myself to start devouring these books. I might even do some reading right after this post goes live. Until my next post, happy reading!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Bookish Christmas Haul 2015

Hello readers! As any book lover knows, the holidays are the best time of the year. Why? Well for once somebody else is buying you the books you've been desperately wanting. Oh and of course seeing your family, holiday cheer, gift giving, and all of that other stuff.

While this post is a little late, I still wanted to show you all of the books and book related items I received for Christmas. Let's start with the book related items, which turns out are all Harry Potter related. Let's just say I'm super excited about it because for some reason I didn't own any Harry Potter merchandise.

First I got a t-shirt with the deathly hallows symbol on it from my brother in blue, which is my favorite color. Then my Dad bought me a pair of Ravenclaw sweatpants. In case you were wondering, this is probably the comfiest pair of sweatpants I've ever owned. Not to mention I get to show some Ravenclaw house pride.

Then my cousin bought me a Harry Potter charm necklace. I think you're supposed to have only one charm on the necklace and switch it out with something different every once in a while. I decided why not wear them all at once. My favorite charm has to be the time turner.

Last, but certainly not least, my other brother got me this Harry Potter bracelet. It has a snitch charm, the deathly hallows, and owls. Now I can properly show off my love for the Harry Potter series!

On to the books I received for Christmas.

First I got this amazing edition of Shelly's Poetical Works from my aunt. It's an edition she found in a junk shop that is little weathered, but all the pages are there and readable. I think the weathering gives the book some character. It's an Oxford University Press edition from the 1920s and it looks like it was previously owned by an academic because there are margin notes scattered about.

The next book, Mirrored by Alex Flinn, was a gift from my mother and as some of you might know from my Tis The Season Tag post, this book is a fairytale retelling of Snow White.  

Speaking of fairytale retellings of Snow White, I also finally got Winter by Marissa Meyer, the last book in The Lunar Chronicles series. All I can say is that it's taken a lot of willpower not to just ignore the whole world and finish this.

The fifth book in this awesome Christmas gift book stack was also featured in my Tis The Season book tag and that it Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers. This is the autobiography of actress, Ginger Rogers.

The last book in this haul is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. When I first read this book I immediately loved it, but I never actually got around to buying a copy for my rather large book collection. Then when I read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, I got the hugest urge to read this book and I bought it with some of the gift money I got for Christmas. As soon as this came in the mail, I sat down and read it all in one sitting. The story is just as great on the second read through. 

That's everything for this Bookish Christmas haul. I hope you found something for your next wishlist or maybe we got some of the same stuff. See you all later in the week for my December 2015 Wrap-Up!