Saturday, May 9, 2015

Reading Plans May 2015

For those that follow my monthly wrap-up posts, you may have seen that I've kind of fallen off the wagon lately of reading more books from my shelves than new ones I've just bought. I am determined to remedy this situation.
As such, I have decided to try and assign myself a few books from my shelves to get through each month. At the moment this is just a challenge to myself, with no real punishment if I don't succeed (I have other stuff to do and I sometimes get too sick to read), but the benefit if I manage to do it will be a clearer conscience, and a smaller TBR. That's the theory anyway!

So, the books I have picked out for this month are:

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

A gift from ages ago from the lovely Katharine, one that has sat on my shelf for about... a year and a half? two years? and has been staring at me unforgivingly.
This book uses sciencey stuff to explore the existence of superheroes and supervillains. It is a stand-alone book that has received an average of 4.25 stars out of five from 8,133 ratings so far, so might be time to give it a shot!
For more info, here is the goodreads link (image above is also from there).

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

This one I received for my birthday from a lovely friend, and was highly recommended by one of my favourite book people, Misty. I have read the sample in the past and decided I definitely wanted to give it a read, and it's a relatively short one at about 230 pages. The first book in a series (maybe a trilogy?), it has so far clocked an average of 3.66 stars out of five from 687 ratings, which equates to 'not too shabby' in my mind. Plus, the cover is full of beauty.
For more info, here is the goodreads link (image above is also from there).

And finally, if I manage to get through those two, I am going to add just one more to my 'do try' list...

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

This was an impulse buy from about a year ago, when I was in a Dymocks book store and really needed some book-retail-therapy. Aaaand it has sat on my shelf ever since. If you can't tell from the pretty cover, it is a mermaid book. Seems legit. I want to give it a go. It is the first book in the 'Waterfire Saga' - the second of which, 'Rogue Wave', is already out. 
Deep Blue has received an average of 3.71 stars out of five from 3,445 ratings on goodreads, which seems pretty decent.
For more info, here is the goodreads link (image above is also from there).

I will be reading other books in addition to those, as I have a review book or two to get through, and I already have things on my 'currently-reading' shelf that I would like to finish (particularly The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson!). If you want to check out my goodreads and add some more books to your shelves, find my profile here.
Wish me luck!

Friday, May 1, 2015

{2015} April Reading

Goodness, is it really May? I just... everything is happening so quickly!

still one of my favourite reading locations...

Books bought/received:
~ The Catalyst by Helena Coggan (review)
~ Ms. Marvel volume one: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson (gift)
~ Rat Queens volume one: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Webe
~ The Assassin's Blade (Throne of Glass Novellas #0.1 to 0.5) by Sarah J. Maas
~ Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas
~ Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3) by Sarah J. Maas
~ By the Book: A Reader's Guide to Life by Ramona Koval
~ Rumor Has It (Animal Magnetism #4) by Jill Shalvis (ebook)
~ Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

Books read:
~ Ms. Marvel volume one: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
~ Rat Queens volume one: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe
~ Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas
~ A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) by Sarah J. Maas
~ By the Book: A Reader's Guide to Life by Ramona Koval
~ Rumor Has It (Animal Magnetism #4) by Jill Shalvis
~ The Assassin's Blade (Throne of Glass Novellas #0.1 to 0.5) by Sarah J. Maas
~ The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger
~ Cross Stitch (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

Oh man, the system kind of broke down this month. I just bought books whenever I felt like it, only talking myself out of it once or twice. To be honest, looking back, its been a bit of a rough month for my health, and so I guess I got into a mood of just spoiling myself because I felt I needed it. That happens sometimes, and I don't feel super apologetic about it, but I am determined to get some more of the unread books on my shelves read. Just have to get back on the wagon, I suppose!

Anyway, on to what I read this month. I started the month with a couple of comic collections, Ms Marvel vol. 1 and Rat Queens vol.1. I went shopping with my dear internet friend Katharine when we met for the first time in person during Swancon, and I took her to my favourite comic shop. I wasn't very vigilant in watching her and she sneakily bought me Ms Marvel (thank youuu!) and I read and quite enjoyed it. 
Rat Queens is something I have wanted for a while and when I finally got my hands on it, I was not disappointed. The characters in this are just so amazing, with such an interesting storyline. I can't wait for the next installment.

Now, onto the novels. Throne of Glass. I tried to read this back when I first bought it, and I actually had a bit of trouble feeling close to Celaena (the main character) and so I put it down. Recently, though, as part of investigating my library's ebook-lending service, I started reading it again and ended up enjoying it (and finishing it!). I then went out and bought all the other books currently out, including the book of novellas, as they were going for a very reasonable price at the time from Dymocks. I did end up finishing The Assassin's Blade, the book of novellas, and I actually found that more enjoyable than Throne of Glass, but I do feel like the books will get better as they go on!
In addition to the Throne of Glass books, I was very excited to read A Court of Thorns and Roses, which is also written by Maas. I really enjoyed this one! I am very excited for more books in this series already, even though I think it isn't actually released yet in some places! It is a wonderful blend of fae and human issues, a fabulous re-writing of the Beauty and the Beast tale, and with a strong, stubborn, cynical main character, to boot. I loved it.

Speaking of cynical main characters, I was convinced by my partner Xin that the DUFF might be something worth my time after he went and saw the movie. It was a fast read, done in about 24 hours, and I actually appreciated the differing view of high school to what you normally get in YA Contemporary fare. There was slut-shaming in this one, but it was done in such a way that the main character noticed it, questioned it, and ultimately comes to a conclusion about the pointlessness of such behaviour. Very interesting and an enjoyable read that I am still thinking about.

Let's see, what else did I read? By the Book was something I picked up while in Canberra for the Aurealis Awards to read on the plane back, as I was getting close to finishing Court of Thorns and Roses at that time. By the Book basically takes a broad look at Ramona Koval's life in reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I am likely to enjoy any and all books written about someone's reading habits. I have a bit of a collection of these kinds of books now, and I was happy to add this one to the shelf.

My Jill Shalvis reading has continued on, though not at the breakneck speed of February. This instalment was very cute and I appreciate the small personality quirks of the main female character, and the knowledge of migraines that came into play for the male character. It was a smutty romance, and I loved it. Thinking about continuing on with this series soon.

And finally! I had a craving something fierce for something of a Scottish tone, and my mum had been reading/watching Outlander lately, so I picked up the first book in the series, Cross Stitch (though I believe reprints have been renamed 'Outlander' so that people can know for sure which book is first). Man this book is a chunker! At almost 900 pages I wondered at the start what I had gotten myself into and I confess that at the time of writing I am actually still reading this one, but will be finishing it soon. And I love it! I find the writing so immersive and, while the book is super long, I have enjoyed every moment of being in this story. And some moments are so damn cute, so that's a win in my book.

I am hoping to head back into reading stuff that's on my shelves during May, and try and get back on that wagon, but having said that there are quite a few things I want to get into, plus books that have been sitting on my currently-reading shelf on Goodreads that have not really been read in a while...

What are you reading at the moment?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: The Girl at Midnight
Author: Melissa Grey
Series: The Girl at Midnight #1
Publication Date: April 28th 2015

Synopsis: "Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borers of her home, she decides it's time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants...and how to take it."

My thoughts: I will be honest here and say that I finished reading this book quite a while ago, but it took me a long time to figure out my emotions surrounding it.
There is no denying that it is a wonderful read - a new world to explore, bird people, dragon people, even normal human people, what more could you possibly want? The characters are intriguing and flawed, which only makes them more intriguing, and I found myself drawn in despite opening the book with the subconscious thought that I was going to be delving into another YA fantasy romance 'like all the others' (I am not sure why I was thinking this at the time, as I said earlier I had some emotions to work through).
I think perhaps I read this at a time when I was still feeling a little depleted from the Aurealis Awards reading, and for that I can only apologise to this book, as it made me a little reluctant to get involved with its story. But then, at the very beginning of Chapter Two, I found myself loving the style of the writing, the creation of the main character, Echo, and the worlds she moves between.

I loved Echo's little personality traits - the ones that were kind of idly part of her, not completely in your face. She has a love of specific words and collects them like sweet candies, and she has a past that she prefers to forget because of its darkness, rather than in spite of it. As the story went on, it was Echo herself that kept me coming back for more and, while she made some decisions that I would deem a little too reckless, a little too questionable, I still never found myself wanting to abandon her mid-story.

The world that Grey has created here has echoes (pun not really intended...) of other book worlds, hidden as it can be, but it still offers something new to the palate. The bird people and their differing markings, depending on what bird they are more related to, and how this affects their personalities - this was fascinating and rather gleeful to read. The explanation of the war also intrigued me rather than repulsing me on sight.

However, I will mention that a few of the decisions and concepts introduced in this book had me either wincing or biting my lip in confusion - things occasionally were a little too difficult for me to follow, and I found myself wanting to shake some of the characters a little to get them to make a little more sense.

Overall, I found myself pretty enchanted with this book. The beautiful cover only adds to its charm.

I received an ARC of this book from Hachette. (thank you!)

You would like this book if: you enjoy new fantasy world, with fascinating characters; you love a main character with a smart mouth and the odd quirk or two.

Rating:  8/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Friday, April 17, 2015

On trying to stay grounded when you're not sure where your ground is.

There has been a lot going on for me over the past two weeks or so, and so I have neglected my blog (among other things), and find myself returning only occasionally to post, or to check how things are going.

I have been house-sitting with Xin, going to Swancon, trying to catch up on study, dealing with random symptoms (a usual part of my life but nonetheless present), trying to deal with Xin's random symptoms and going with him to emergency when there was a chance something was more wrong than we thought (it wasn't, and yet he still hasn't recovered 100%), and travelling to Canberra for the Aurealis Awards and general touristy stuff with my Dad.

I may write specific posts on all of these things at some point, but for now the thing that is causing me the most consternation is the fact that I am feeling cast adrift a lot lately. It has only become absolutely apparent to me of late, but I realised that I was so very tired of not feeling like 'myself', and trying every single day to just get up and continue on with things.

That's not to say that I was depressed - I would recognise those telltale signs of apathy for things I normally love, that numbness of feeling, that sinking into darkness. This is a thing that has returned to me time and again and, while I may acknowledge that I could be at risk of it happening now, I still feel cheerful and happy to do gentle things most of the time, and so I know that I have not sunk too far as yet.

I realised a couple of days ago that I started this year doing so many wonderful things that I believed in, that I was excited about, that made me feel more like myself. And all of those things have kind of fallen over now. I haven't been swimming in months, my Korean lessons have stopped, I have barely blogged at all this year, let alone reviewed many books or kept up with my reading challenge that much, and my writing? May as well be non-existent for how much I have done.

I have been enjoying myself, though. I have started playing Dragon Age 2 on Xin's PS3 and I am really enjoying it - the intricacies of the characters and the relationships you can form with them is amazing, and the storyline is so close to one of my fantasy novels that I would happily pick up a book version and read it. 
I have tried to spend lots of time with Xin and I feel so happy in my relationship with him.
My mum and I are slowly knitting a blanket-type-thing through knitting little squares that we will eventually sew together, and I am feeling a bit more accomplished in the craft world than I have in ages.
And, of course, with all of the things I have been doing lately, I am meeting people, enjoying new places, discovering new things. 

It's just all a little much now. I came home today from house-sitting and, though I already feel more comfortable being able to get my clothes out of a wardrobe instead of a bag, and getting into my own bed, I still feel disjointed and disconnected. It is making me question what I want to do, and that is a difficult thing to approach for me sometimes. I always thought I wanted to be a published writer - I return to writing time and again and find solace in worlds not my own - and yet, I haven't written in months. And I can't seem to force myself to at the moment.

I feel like some form of inspiration will be coming my way soon, but for now I will just try to inspire myself - to enjoy the new cold that has come through (although we may have a bit more heat soon), to listen to the birds, and to find my restful space again.

Love to all who read.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

{2015} March Reading

Ah, my birth month! I actually received a few books for my birthday, so they will be below. I am pretty happy with my reading this month :)

books and beautiful teacups! :)

Books bought/received:
~ To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (op-shop purchase)
~ The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide (birthday gift from my parents)
~ Murder of Crows (Others #2) by Anne Bishop (birthday gift from a dear friend)
~ Tin Star (Tin Star #1) by Cecil Castellucci (birthday gift from same dear friend!)
~ Collected Poems of Gwen Harwood (library book sale purchase)
~ The Stranger (Last Man #1) by Bastien Vives, Michael Sanlaville, and Balak (for review)
~ The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight #1) by Melissa Grey (for review)

Books read:
~ The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
~ Of Silk and Steam (London Steampunk #5) by Bec McMaster
~ Vision in Silver (Others #3) by Anne Bishop
~ The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
~ The Stranger (Last Man #1) by Bastien Vives, Michael Sanlaville, and Balak
The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight #1) by Melissa Grey
~ Little Women (Little Women #1.1) by Louisa May Alcott (re-read)
~ Good Wives (Little Women #1.2) by Louisa May Alcott

Eight books this month, with two of them being review books! All of these books were ones I had preordered, received for review, or already had on my own shelves (how odd...) and so that's kind of a heartening thought.

After the Perth Writer's Festival last month, where I got to meet Elizabeth Gilbert, I got to thinking about the fact that I never finished reading my copy of The Signature of All Things. I kept looking at it on my shelf and eventually decided to pick it up again and I ended up finishing it! And I absolutely loved it. It really got me interested in the scientific world again - a place that I had idly looked into here and there since finishing my Psych degree, but not felt capable of venturing into. I am sure there is something there about my health and science not helping me so much with that, but either way, Liz Gilbert helped me get back to a place of awe and fascination, which I am so thankful for.

Both Of Silk and Steam and Vision in Silver were preorders that arrived this month (Of Silk and Steam was bought for me by Xin as a lovely gift) and I loved both of them. It seems that the London Steampunk books might be done now, but Bec McMaster keeps saying she has a few other things in the works, so I am really hoping for more. I love the characters and the romance in these books.
The Others books by Anne Bishop just get better and better, and I am loving the character building and the world. There is this tension underlying everything in these books that is difficult to read at times, but just so addictive. Can't wait for the next one - Marked in Flesh.

The Guest Cat was such a sweet surprise gift from my parents, and I enjoyed it very much. A short book, but with lots of charm. I find writing by Japanese authors to be so different from the writing I am used to, and there is a certain flavour to Japanese writing that is hard to recreate. Or perhaps I just read a lot of similar authors! Either way, I enjoyed this and it left me feeling sad, but content.

My two review books this month were quite different, not least because The Stranger is a graphic novel while The Girl at Midnight is not. I won't say anything about them here as their respective reviews will be up on my blog in good time. I will say I enjoyed them both, though.

Finally, I have been looking at the classics on my shelf for some time now, and slowly realising just how many of the classics I own are actually unread. It led me to creating a separate shelf on goodreads called 'classics-challenge', currently (at time of writing) with 17 books on it [You can find it here, hopefully the link works!]. I would like to get through at least half of them this year, and decided to start with a re-read of Little Women, so that I might continue on with the series and finally read all the books. I have already finished Little Women, and am on to Good Wives (which is really Little Women part two, rather than a separate book it seems, but there you go) and I am hoping to get onto Little Men very soon.

As for my buying habits, I have been pretty good, but also not so good. While I only bought two books for myself this month (the others being gifts or review books), I did purchase a book without having a book-buying-token to spend. I decided that I would need to read four books to make up for it, and then resume my read-three-get-one-token system as before. This may also force me to read more classics, which I am pleased about!

Anyway, what are you reading at the moment? Have you got any classics that you would like to read (or re-read)?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: Last Man: The Stranger by Balak, Michael Sanlaville, and Bastien Vives

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: The Stranger
Author: Balak, Sanlaville & Vives.
Series: Last Man trilogy, book 1.
Publication Date: March 31st 2015

Synopsis: "Adrian Velba is excited to compete in the annual Games, a gladiatorial contest, but his hopes are crushed when his combat partner falls ill. His luck changes when the mysterious Richard Aldana appears as his new teammate. Nobody knows what to make of Aldana - a cigarette-smoking, tough guy - in this medieval realm where fighting magic reigns supreme. Eschewing spells for physical prowess, Aldana helps Adrian as they become the Games' top contenders. But who is Richard Aldana? And what is the ultimate purpose behind the games?"

My thoughts: This book arrived for me on a day when I was tackling a few different things, and so I may have been a little biased towards it from that, but, to be honest, I tend to be biased towards First Second books quite naturally - they tend to be of a high standard!

This book starts in a great place, with Adrian - a blonde boy whose skills in the fighting ring are still a little lacking, according to his relatively judgmental trainer. Adrian is trying his hardest so that he can compete in the upcoming Games, and his fire and drive for the fight are somehow sweet.

I wasn't sure about the art style of this for some time - it felt unfinished to me and a little sketchy, like it was a couple of stages away from the finished product. But as I read I realised that this art style translates quite well for a book with such a large focus on martial arts and fighting as it flows very well and shows the movement without harsh lines getting in the way.

The book definitely finishes on a bit of a cliff-hanger, and the way you get to know the characters within the book definitely leaves you eager for the next volume. There is a surprising amount of emotional content in this volume, and I did experience times while reading this where I wanted to look away from everything that was happening but just couldn't - I needed to know what happened!

I have to say that, although the art style did grow on me, it was still a bit of a drawback at times, but I think that was personal preference. Very occasionally the storyline was a little predictable, too, but this wasn't a huge problem either.

I know I will be trying to get my hands on a copy of the next volume, and I will probably try to get my partner to read the first one, as I think it is a good read.

I received a review copy of this book from First Second Books. (Thank you!)

You would like this book if: You like seeing styles of martial arts in picture form; you enjoy a good annual Games tournament, perhaps with a side of emotional scenes.

Rating:  8/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Thinking about Change.

When things change, often we tighten up. We stiffen ourselves in an attempt to avoid the onslaught, like somehow we will turn ourselves into a unsurpassable mountain and all the waves of changes will simply bounce off of us. We will remain unchanged, and our world will remain the same.
And yet, that kind of reaction just doesn't track in the real world. We all know that even the strongest mountain is eventually whittled down, softened, via the waves and wind that beat at it. If you go into the ocean and just try to stand there, rigid, as the waves approach, you are more likely to be knocked down (often with a wave-slap to the face, saltwater up your nose) than for the waves to suddenly part around you.

This tightening is still my automatic response to big change, I notice myself trying to dig my heels in, refuse to be pulled or pushed. And yet that just doesn't work. Once I notice what I am doing, I try to do my best to just let go, to soften. I try to be gentle with myself and with the situation. Sometimes I will get stressed again, feel overwhelmed by all the change that is hitting me, and then I will still automatically tense, go back to digging in my heels, refusing to go with what is happening.

Sometimes this response is just a part of mental (and sometimes physical) overwhelm, where my spirit just says 'enough', and that is when I have to be the most gentle with myself. Because change is easier to cope with if you aren't feeling like your cup is not even half full, but completely empty, bone-dry. 

At the moment I am going through changes, I am exploring the more tender areas of my psyche and my spirit. I am also helping others with big change, and considering some of my own that will be coming along later down the track - later this year, early next year. It is confronting and difficult, and I find myself returning to that place of tightness quite often, hardly ever truly relaxing. But I keep trying to soften - soften into what is happening, soften into who I am and into who I am becoming. And I am finding out some interesting things about the best ways to support myself through the symptoms of overwhelm.

Nature is important - even nature analogies, it seems, help me to come to grips with the changes that are happening within and around me. Being okay with wanting things, but also not setting up expectations of those desires being met (that's a tricky one). Tactile experiences - for example, when I am feeling super stressed out (I'm talking, on the verge of a panic attack, here), I grab something soft, with different experiences of 'soft' all over it, and I allow myself to disappear into tactile sensation, rather than holding onto difficult thoughts. 

Feeling cozy seems to be super important to me - Xin pointed out to me very recently that he didn't understand why I needed so many different kinds of pyjamas, and I had to think about that for a little while. And I realised that I had always kind of liked pyjamas, but they only became important to me after I started to really understand how sick I was, and how it wasn't a type of sick that was just going to go away if I ate more garlic or got more fresh air. Coziness became this wondrous thing, a place where not only could I feel more human, more like me, but I could also often be more productive - I started giving my body more comforts so that my mind was able to work a little better. And it's only writing this now that I realise how true this was - when I first started semi-collecting pyjamas/blankets/teas, I was supporting myself in the only way that I knew how - through the experience of feeling cozy and cared for, even if it was just by myself, for myself. This experience of being cozy is something I have carried into my experiences of change - when I get overwhelmed by things, I turn to things that make me feel cozy. [More on this idea of coziness in another post, because it really is a topic all on its own.]

So, as this change continues to occur, I will be turning towards these things in an effort to weather everything. I will be trying not to tense up and avoid things, but loosen up and explore options with love and gentleness. I think change is easier to bear when we soften into it.

Love to all who read.
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