Rambling Recommendations: The Paper Magician Series

I am OBSESSED with these stories! I got The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (the first installment) to check out for free through Amazon Prime Reading, and I just fell in love with Ceony and Emery.

I wasn’t sure at first–fairly early on, Ceony goes off on an adventure (seemingly) far from the magician she’s apprenticing for (the adorable and charming Emery Thane–a pairing I was already shipping HARD) so my interest waned slightly. But, guys, there’s still a pretty great love story woven into her battle for Emery’s literal heart, one that I think is sustained really well throughout the three books. Full disclosure, there’s a fourth book in the series but I haven’t read it…yet.

The summary, for those who need more: in this world, magicians are bonded to a certain material that they’re able to manipulate (paper, plastic, metal, glass, rubber…). Ceony is assigned to a paper magician despite her desire to become a Smelter (one who works with metal). She grudgingly learns all the weird lessons Emery assigns her, until a woman breaks into his home and steals his literal heart (she’s evil/bonded to flesh, so *mom disclosure* there is some fighting involving tossing vials of blood around, but it never really struck me as graphic/gruesome, so I think even the more squeamish will be ok). Ceony creates a paper placeholder heart and chases her down, determined to save her mentor’s life.

Also, there’s an adorable paper dog who just melts my heart. The whole thing is so imaginative and delightful. It’s a fast read; I read through all three books in about a week (granted, I was on vacation for some of that time, but we were exploring Louisville so my reading time wasn’t *so* extended). I highly recommend this series for anyone looking for a fun, easy read that will still linger in your mind long after you’ve set it down!

Rambling Recommendations: Anne of Green Gables

I know, I know: What?? Annie, your favorite movie of all time is Anne of Green Gables. How are you only just now recommending the book?

I’ll tell you: So I’ve seen Anne of Green Gables more times than I can count. I’m talking the 1985 Sullivan Entertainment Anne of Green Gables (I adore the trilogy, but the first one is 100% my favorite movie that has or ever will exist). Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie will forever be the true Anne and Gilbert. And speaking of Gilbert, other girls can keep their Prince Charmings and their Mr. Darcies. Gilbert Blythe is the bar I measured my potential love interests against (fun side story: extremely early on in dating my husband, there was a day I kept pushing back our date to continue spending time with friends until one of them said something along the lines of ‘you can’t keep delaying, he’s going to get pissed’ and I just laughed and naturally as could be said he would “stand on his head if I asked him to!” which I knew to be 100% truthful, and recognized to be the same level of confidence Anne had in Gilbert’s affections and that’s how I knew I’d found my Gil).

Sometime around middle school, I picked up my mom’s copy of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I *maybe* read the first page or two before putting it down. It had been (and continues to be) my experience that the movie is never as good as the book. Already, I adored Megan Follows’s Anne Shirley with the core of my being. I simply couldn’t bear the thought that this book might tarnish in anyway the perfection of my favorite movie. What’s more, I didn’t want to read a book and think “that’s not how they did it in the movie” the entire time. I resigned myself to the idea of never reading the series in favor of cherishing the movies.

But then I was searching for the exact wording of one of my favorite quotes (Anne Shirley is the source of so many excellent ones), and noticed a Kindle special: the entire 8 book series for $0.99. Um WHAT. I figured it is time.

I told my mom it’s really nice that I’ve waited nearly 3 decades to read the book. Now, Anne and Gil, Matthew and Marilla, Mrs. Lynde and Diana Barry are all like dear friends, and as I began reading that first page, it felt like that’s all this was: a book about dear friends. Some things might be a little off, not quite what I *know* the truth to be, but an entertaining and rich view of those I love so much.

I’ve only finished book 1 so far, but it was rather delightful. Full disclosure: I skimmed over a lot of the setting exposition. But then, I already know what Green Gables looks like. ūüėČ

Rambling Recommendations: Brightly Burning

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne was the 5th book I finished this year (because OF COURSE I’m counting) and it was such a delight.

It takes my favorite classic: Jane Eyre, teases out all the modern-day young-adult themes I know and love, and plops the storyline on a futuristic space ship orbiting Earth.

Stella, our main character, is a delightful young woman who is both bold and understands her “place” in terms of social structure. I could relate whole-heartedly to her, preferring to keep to her quarters and read or draw rather than socialize with her peers, getting brazen only under the influence of a few strong drinks, or once she’s comfortable. Hugo, the love interest (yes, that’s the role I’m designating for him–I suppose he could be a quasi-antagonist much like the Mr. Rochester he’s based upon), is mysterious and broody, maybe more handsome than the original but I let that slide. Personally, I liked the mysterious Mr. Rochester being so much older (maybe it’s my thing for Bruce Willis making age gaps feel so irrelevant), and so was a touch disappointed Hugo was around Stella’s age–but then I figured it’s way less ok for a 17-year-old to start a love affair with her older employer in this day and age than it might have been in Charlotte Bront√ę’s time.

I loved that this story had that comforting familiarity of a well-loved story, yet enough new twists/plot points to keep things fresh. More than once I found myself thinking “well¬†Jane Eyre went this direction, but there’s no way for that to happen here” or “how will she handle X if Y is so different in this version?” so nothing felt stale.

If you like SciFi YA (that’s science fiction young adult, mom), hundo p–this book is for you. If you’re a fan of¬†Jane Eyre, I’d also highly recommend this novel.

Rambling Recommendations: The Adventure Zone–Here There Be Gerblins

First and foremost: I wanted to change the name of these posts because let’s be honest, I don’t write very good, balanced “reviews.” I’m only telling you about books I recommend, so let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? It does make for an obnoxiously long title, which I’m beginning to think will be a theme this year. 2019: Because Sometimes You Don’t Need to Make the Long Story Short.

Yup, that feels right.

Anyhoo… on to the recommendation!

Okay, second confession: this is more a recommendation of a podcast than the actual book. Partially because I’ve always felt “meh” about graphic novels and “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins” did not really shove me headfirst into a love of them. Don’t get me wrong, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. I just love the podcast adventures of Magnus, Merle, and Taako so much more.

If you’re looking for a relatively quick, fun, humorous read, definitely check out this book! IF you’re interested in hearing more about this podcast, you’re in luck, because as we’ve established, this year is all about rambling on and on…

The Adventure Zone podcast began as three brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) introduced their father to the wonderful world of Dungeons and Dragons. Considering the nerd-level of my beloved Wildcards, I’m a little shocked this was *my* introduction to D&D as well. Side note about that link: I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but you’re gonna want to scroll to the bottom of the page and click “last” to start this bad boy from the very beginning. Partially because that’s how stories work–not starting in the middle or skipping to the end like some monster (Mom)–and partially because they’ve long since moved on to other role-playing games, so you won’t get a taste of that good, good D&D magic if you start with Amnesty. Go all the way back to the very beginning, “Here There Be Gerblins,” and you’ll meet Magnus Burnsides (the folksy human fighter), Merle Highchurch (the ornery dwarf cleric) and Taako from TV (the sassy elf wizard–and quite possibly one of the best characters ever created).¬† These three characters embark on a series of adventures, following an engrossing storyline that veered almost immediately from the D&D playbooks and was written by Dungeon Master Griffin McElroy, that delighted and enthralled. I seriously wept at some parts, laughed hysterically at most of their antics, and fell completely in love with these characters.

One little “Mom” note: there is a good amount of swearing, some dirty jokes, and a lot of creature-slaying.

Rambling Review: A Study in Charlotte

If you love Sherlock Holmes, you will love this book. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is the first in an amazing, 4-book series. I am 100% obsessed.

This story begins when Jamie Watson, the however-many-greats-grandson of Dr. John Watson, ends up at a boarding school with Charlotte Holmes (the however-many-greats-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes, keep up). The way Cavallaro has entwined the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (famed biographer in this world) into the plot and explained the generations of Holmeses and Watsons since is captivating. Jamie is such a lovable character, and (his) Holmes is intoxicating in her mysteriousness as well as her prickly vulnerability.

There are some more “adult” themes that (if memory serves) are only slightly touched on in the original Sherlock Holmes series (i.e. drug abuse), so just a brief note of caution, a “trigger warning,” if you will: this story does deal with such things as the trauma after a sexual assault and¬†teen drug use (it also has some swearing, Mom). On the whole, I think the subject matter is very well-managed and real without being coarse or insensitive.

If you have an Amazon Prime account, right now A Study in Charlotte is free on Prime Reading, so you can dip your toes into this series without the commitment of purchasing the book — but I am confident you will end up devouring it and immediately stocking your library shelf with the next two books (book 4 comes out in March 2019). This is honestly such a well-written and enjoyable series — I would go so far as to say it is one of my favorites.

Rambling Review: Love, Lies and Spies

From the opening page, Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey is such a delight. The prose is fast-paced, the banter witty, the characters immediately enjoyable. I haven’t figured out why, but I’ve already mentioned how much I love chapter titles that tell me what will happen in a clever way that follows “In which…”

This book is chock full of just such chapters.

As for plot, I’d say it’s somewhere along the lines of Pride and Prejudice meets any spy thriller ever. Juliana is a scientist on her way to London for the Season when she is saved from a mishap by a mysterious, handsome gentleman. Neither of them is interested in marriage, but both have their reasons for attending the various outings and events of the Season.

Despite the fact that there are enemy spies and sinister dealings, the book remains lighthearted. I devoured it in about two days. The story is engaging enough to keep the reader turning page after page to see what happens next, yet easy to set aside when life demands it. Still, it’s easy to dive right back in the next chance you get.

This is the perfect vacation read. Whether you’ve got a late-season beach trip, family reunions, or maybe a honeymoon (*eyebrow raise/wink-wink* Erin), I’d highly recommend such a delightful, easy read!

Rambling Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is a book about zombies interrupting the Civil War. Don’t let the idea of zombies scare you off, though (Mom), because this story is so much more than the next zombie apocalypse novel.

Our main character, Jane, was born during the Civil War, right around the time the dead came back and put a stop to the battling. Everyone became focused instead on solving the issue of zombies — or “shamblers” as they’re known in the book. Old beliefs linger despite the physical war ending, and the view of post-war America where neither side won is fascinating.

Black and Native American children are sent to boarding schools where they learn combat skills to fight the shamblers. The ultimate goal is to attain a position as bodyguards for the wealthy. Jane is enrolled in one of the best of these schools, and while she is an excellent fighter, she struggles with following the rules. Her antics lead her from a frustrating situation to one that is downright deadly. She has to fight –and not only against shamblers — to keep those she loves safe.

Dread Nation is very well-written with believable and relatable characters. The America Justina Ireland paints is vivid and sometimes heart-wrenching in its authenticity. It isn’t hard to imagine some of the reactions, beliefs, and social norms created in this alternate society. This book is both entertaining and deep, evoking fun conversations about zombies as well as more serious social commentary that could be applicable even today.

Also worth noting, I really love the chapter titles. It’s a small touch, but in my opinion, they are very well done and made me look forward to each new story-within-the-story.

Rambling Reviews: An Ember in the Ashes

HOW HAVE I NOT ALREADY WRITTEN THIS?! Guys, this is my all time favorite YA book that isn’t Harry Potter (because Harry Potter is really its own thing at this point, anyway).

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is about a slave and a soldier in fantasy-Ancient Rome. Laia is a Scholar, the broken and subservient class, sent as a slave to spy on the martial school in order to help free her brother from imprisonment. Elias is a Martial, and on his way to joining the upper echelons of the Empire — a position that only fills him with disgust. (And also, Helene is a badass secondary character whom I love — dare I say it — possibly more than either Laia or Elias).

I will say right off the bat, if you haven’t already noticed, I’m not too hard to please when it comes to the love interest. I know that makes me somewhat unreliable when it comes to actual opinions about the guys in these female-led novels. Set that aside for a second and trust me when I say, Elias is everything. Strong and deadly and kind and compassionate. He’s probably my favorite swoon-worthy character since Gilbert Blythe (not that anyone will ever take the place of Gilbert Blythe).

Laia is relatable, at least for me. She wishes she were braver than she thinks she is, but she’s willing to do anything it takes to save her brother. She pushes herself out of her comfort zone time and again until she learns she is strong enough to take charge of her situation.

The writing is exceptional, especially for a debut author. It’s the kind of writing that makes me question whether my own could ever be good enough. And I mean that in a good way — too many debut novels make me cringe and wonder what the point is of even trying if pretty much anything can be published.

And, if you find yourself falling a little for Helene, she gets a main character POV in the next book which will only make you love her more. Plus, the third book is due to come out this June, so it’s a pretty good time to get started on the series. DO IT!

Rambling Review: Daughter of the Pirate King

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller is my favorite YA book I’ve read so far this year. And guys, it’s currently only $5.99 for hardcover on Amazon right now. That’s amazing! It could be because the sequel, Daughter of the Siren Queen just came out. I say buy ’em both!

DotPK stars Alosa, a fiery pirate captain (and, you guessed it, daughter of the king of the pirates). She gets herself kidnapped by a rival pirate ship so she can search out a piece of the ultimate treasure map (and show off her overall badassery).

Of course, she meets her match in the handsome Riden. They battle wits and occasionally trade physical blows and fill the pages with wonderful tension. I loved their banter and their chemistry.

This isn’t the first heroine I’ve met who is both feminine and strong, but I love it every time. She brags about her fine clothes and threatens to murder those who get her gowns dirty. She’s been hardened by past trauma but still leaves room for hope and kindness. Alosa is both vicious and compassionate, and I greatly enjoyed her story.

Rambling Reviews: Secondborn

**This contains a few spoilers, though — as I’ll go into more below — nothing really felt like a “big reveal” enough to qualify protecting the details**

For July’s “Kindle First” book, I chose¬†Secondborn by Amy Bartol. An aside — Kindle First is possibly my favorite part of being an Amazon Prime member, since I get a free book each month before it’s released to the public. It’s currently $4.99 otherwise.

I love the concept of the story: Firstborns are basically royalty, secondborns are servants and soldiers, thirdborns are illegal and therefore destroyed. Of course,¬†Secondborn follows one such secondborn, Roselle, as she acclimates to her new life as a member of the Fates Army. Since she’s the daughter of one of the highest leaders of the society, she’s something of a celebrity, making her transition into the ranks that much harder.

Bartol’s world-building is pretty phenomenal. I love the different “trees” everyone lives in, and the imaginative technology. After finishing this book, I read that she is well-known for her fantastic worlds, and this time was no exception.

World-building aside, this book felt more like a rough first draft than anything. The relationships are hurried and there is very little depth to Roselle. I liked Hawthorne as a potential love interest, but as soon as I’d thought that, he was declaring his love and they were in this intense physical relationship that just felt strange. Then a year passes (denoted by “one year later”), in which an actual relationship could have developed more naturally between them — complete with the slow, delicious build up of more and more physical affection — and I might have felt more invested when he was suddenly ripped away from her.

She seems to attract every handsome male in her vicinity. That didn’t exactly bug me — after all, her life had been broadcast since a child, and it’s insinuated she’s very pretty — but I couldn’t tell how she felt back. There’s a lot of exposition and “telling” rather than showing, but I don’t feel like I ever really saw inside Roselle’s head.

The whole thing ends rather abruptly, in what feels like the middle of a conversation. There’s no resolution of a goal — and in retrospect, I’m not even sure what Roselle’s goals as a character were for this story. Too many questions were left unanswered, and more cropped up with such a quick ending.

All that being said, if the second book shows up as a free option, I might check it out. There’s so much potential for a great series. The characters can be fleshed out more, given actual motivations and backstory and their relationships and interactions to flow more naturally. The underlying concept of the story has potential to generate enticing plot lines. And like I said earlier, the world itself is fascinating. The first book was just too rushed and disjointed for me to recommend it.