31 August 2019

august reads.

A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #2 and #3), by Victoria Schwab
These are the followup books to A Darker Shade of Magic, which was the last book I finished in July.  Book two started out with an amazing look into what Lila is up to, and I freakin' loved it.  I'd read a million books about Pirate Lila.  This book also featured a competition, which is one of my favorite tropes and I was fully down for it.  Admittedly, I spent a lot of this book waiting for a Kell+Lila reunion, but I was not expecting that SUPER HOT reunion between another pairing (it reunion for the characters, but we were seeing them together for the first time).  Another couple to ship is never a bad thing!
Book three had some serious zombie vibes and lots of character deaths - some of which were surprising and sad, others were pretty obvious.  The ending was great, though I am a bit sad for how one character ended up... I would have liked them to be happy, but I think they were at peace with where they ended up.  All in all: a great series, and I'd definitely buy physical copies of the books!

Teen Titans Raven, by Kami Garcia
This was a graphic novel featuring pre-TT Raven, aka Rachel Roth.  I liked it just okay, but I think I would have liked it better if I didn't have to wait for the rest of the team's stories, which appear to be rolling out VERY slowly (Garfield's comes out in a year).  I really liked the NOLA backdrop, and Max was a great supporting character.  I wasn't super sad to see Raven's relationship end, mostly because I will forever ship BBRAE. 🎶if i don't gots my baby all i do is go crae🎶

We Hunt the Flame, by Hafsah Faizal
I was really looking forward to this book, and I'd been on a wait list for months.  And unfortunately, this ended up being a pretty big disappointment for me.  I felt like there was a lot of wasted space in the first third of the book that didn't further the plot or contribute to world-building, and it all could have been condensed A LOT.  I thought the most compelling parts were all the scenes when Zafira and Nasir interacted, and they didn't even meet until 170 pages in.  I pretty much wanted to DNF the entire time, but I stuck it out and don't feel like it paid off at all.  I was really bummed about this one, but it just fell flat for me.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo
I already read these two earlier this year, but we started listening to the audiobook of SoC on our trip because I have been dying for Jon to read this series all year.  I ended up finishing both of these books in via audiobook, and damn this series is SO GOOD.
At the end I was in that post-CK sadness haze and I decided a few things:
(1) Kaz is the ultimate DDNB and his anti-hero-ness might be the death of me.
(2) The lost Darling in this series might be the most gut-wrenching loss of any Darling in any book I have ever read??  Jon and I actually had a little discussion about it and what purpose it served and fell into that hole of daydreaming what could have been if the Darling did not die.
(3) If Jon didn't like this series, I promised him all kinds of dramatics on my part.  Thankfully, he liked the series too, so I didn't have to tell him he was dead to me.
(4) I would actually die for another book with these characters and then demand a copy to be sent to me in the afterlife.
(5) The bathroom counter scene in CK is better than any sex scene in any book ever.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
I have heard so many great things about this book, and I was excited to finally get around to it.  This book was really beautifully written, the prose was gorgeous and the story and settings were pretty magical.  It was somehow not confusing, even having been written from many perspectives and many points in time.  (I've yet to pinpoint why some books written this way are really hard for me to read and others give me no trouble at all.)  I do have to say though, that I didn't really feel like this book fit  its description, which I found on Goodreads and basically any bookseller website.  I suppose this worked a little bit against me, and I found myself wanting more - or at least wanting what I was expecting from the book blurb.  Even so, I really enjoyed this book.

Spin the Dawn, by Elizabeth Lim
This book was just okay.  I really wanted the tailors' competition to last much longer than it did; I think I would have liked the competition to be one whole book, and then the three-pronged journey be a second book.  I found the romance to be just fine, it was sweet and straightforward (though I was waiting for a betrayal on the part of the love interest for some time at the beginning).  I think what I wanted most was a more descriptive look at Maia.  I didn't really have any idea what she looked like, save for her hair and and one mentioning, her freckles.  Lastly, did EVERYONE know she was a girl the entire time?  It seemed like not a single person fell for her disguise.

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
I liked this book enough, but I really would have preferred it to be drawn out more.  It definitely read like a movie, and I just found myself wanting more of everything, every place they visited, every character that was introduced, etc.  But I can acknowledge that the writing style of this particular story is VERY fairy-tale-esque.  Which is to say, telling precisely what happened but not expounding more than is necessary.  I just like the expounding, I think.  My favorite part might have been the twist with the bird-slave from the very beginning.  Lastly, I found the parting conversation between Yvaine and the Witch-Queen to be very... odd?  It definitely left me scratching my head and more than a little bit unsatisfied.

House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin A. Craig
I tentatively put this book on my TBR, not knowing for sure if I found the premise interesting enough via the book blurb.  Then I came into work last week and saw that it was a new addition to our collection, so I checked it out.  And I surprised myself by really liking this book!  Maybe even loving it?  It's part murder mystery, part ghost story, part period drama with all of those old worries about finding a husband.  The oceanside setting was beautiful, and I loved one character's observation about being able to taste salt in everything.  And the cover!  It is so incredibly beautiful, I found myself absentmindedly rubbing the embossed lettering while reading.  A great standalone, and yay for unexpected five-star ratings!

Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia
I don't read a lot of contemporary YA fiction, but when I read the premise of this book I knew I would like it.  Which is why I was a huge dummy for deciding to start the book at 10:00 at night, because I didn't stop reading until after 1:00 in the morning.  I loved this book so much, and it made me feel all of the emotions.  I laughed, I teared up (as close as I get to crying), I ached, I panicked and stressed (lordy, Eliza's parents) and I felt like I related on a deeper level than with other books.  But what I felt the most at the end of this book was how much I wished I had as much direction or purpose with my interests in high school as Eliza and Wallace did. Or like, that I didn't feel embarrassed about the stuff I liked.  A million stars to this book.

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
I started out really wanted to like this book.  Which is to say, I really wanted to like this world because there are like 15 books in it, and I'm always down for getting sucked into a new series.  But even starting out that way did not stop this book from being a huge letdown.  The truth is, I knew from the first chapter that I didn't like it.  The prose was so lackluster, all of the words seemed to be just regurgitated from the author's mind, and that old rule of "Show, Don't Tell" was like, fully ignored.  Besides that, the characters were really one-dimensional and I did not feel a connection to a single one.  I should have DNF'd this book, but I kept reading, hoping that anything would change for the better.  Instead, I got a series of twists that went from bad to worse - the last twist of which nearly made me throw the book across the room in frustration.  Few things are worse than a twist that you know, at some point later on in the series, will be "untwisted" by yet another revelation.
I haven't given a one-star rating to a book since Three Dark Crowns two years ago, and even that book I felt deserved that star for what was actually, a really great twist at the end.  I'm not sure what the one star for City of Bones even is for.  The acknowledgement of how many other people seem to like it (it's got a crazy high rating on Goodreads)?  Because you can't rate a book and give it zero stars?

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers
Again, we have a female protagonist who has been trained/is being trained as an assassin, but THIS time she is trained by nuns at a convent.  Assassin Nuns!  I love it.  The political maneuverings in this book were a bit exhausting, but I thought it was made up for with a compelling enough cast.  Ismae and Duval are both likable characters, and it was fun to watch them grow to like each other.
I had a slight issue with this, and it was that I thought that this three-book series followed Ismae the entire time.  In fact, each book follows one of three students of the convent.  This misunderstanding was very confusing for me, because I felt like everything was wrapping up or happening much too quickly for a trilogy.  If I'd known Ismae's story was just in the one book, I probably would have thought the pacing was just fine.

They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei
What a great piece of art that details such a horrible time in history, while also warning of its repetition occurring today.  So many parts of Takei's story were so sad, and seeing him experience it as a child and seeing some of it with wonderment and excitement was particularly heartbreaking.  Even his dad's statement about American Democracy still being the best of all the government options was a little crushing to read.  It definitely made me wonder what works of art and literature will eventually emerge from today's imprisonments, though I imagine they will be much more harrowing - throughout TCUE I kept thinking, thank goodness he had his parents the whole time.

The Remnant Chronicles (The Kiss of Deception, The Heart of Betrayal, and The Beauty of Darkness), by Mary E Pearson
The premise of book one hooked me right away.  A princess who flees her betrothed (whom she has never met) on her wedding day, and later unknowingly meets him in the new town where she has decided to restart her life?  I'M IN.  The problem for me entered when she met her jilted fiancé at the same time she met an assassin who was sent to kill her (which she also was unaware of at the meeting).  The problem was not the assassin's presence in the book.  It was that I literally had the prince and the assassin mixed up for most of the book.  I thought that Rafe was the assassin and Kaden was the prince up until the actual assassin (Kaden) made his move on Lia and then I was like WAIT WHAT.  Some of the story was even told from each of the boys' perspectives, and not one time did another character refer to them by their names.  I know this because I was looking!  I wasn't sure from the very beginning who was Rafe or Kaden, and I was looking for clues!  Eventually I just guessed and went with what seemed to make sense to me, but apparently I was wrong.
Here's the thing: By the end of book one I was like, did I like this story better when I thought that Rafe was the assassin?  Reader, I think I did.
Book two had me a bit bored.  There were some moves and manipulations that I desperately wanted to see Lia make towards a certain character, and I didn't get it.  The attempt at a love triangle had me rolling my eyes and I honestly would rather have not had it (I usually will always choose No Love Triangles, but especially here.)  Rafe was much less interesting to me in The Heart of Betrayal, and I strongly think it is because I was still reeling from the mixup I made in The Kiss of Deception.
Book three had me extremely annoyed for most of it, especially when Rafe becomes a complete ass but Lia's breath still catches and her blood freezes whenever he walks into a room.  UGH.  But the battle was good and it was my favorite part of the book.   The ending was cheesy as hell.
Overall, I liked the series.  A part of me wants to reread The Kiss of Deception, but this time knowing for sure which boy is which.  The other part of me wants to read an alt version of This Kiss of Deception wherein Rafe was the assassin and Kaden was the prince, haha.

SLO 2019.

We finally got to take Vivi to San Luis Obispo!  I'd been looking forward to this trip all year, especially since we skipped last year.  And while it wasn't as relaxing as I hoped it would be (kids), it was still a great trip.

The kids did so well in the car.  Like, miraculously well.  Day one was an 11+ hour drive, and they rocked it.  We already knew that Theo would be fine, he's done well on long trips his entire life.  We weren't so sure about how Vivi would do, but she also did amazing.  Didn't even need a screen until the last two hours!  I don't do much public bragging about my children, but I'm always tempted to gush how well they do on road trips, haha.

Theo wanted to go to the beach so badly.  He'd been talking about it for over a week leading up to the trip, so we knew we had to deliver pretty early on in the visit.  We stopped at our favorite spot in Cambria (after picking our our favorite donuts at SloDoCo), and it was not what Theo was expecting.  He was like, "where's the beach?!" and we had to explain that this place just had the rocks and the ocean but we promised beach the next day.

And the end result of our beach day was probably the best that we could have gotten.  He loved the beach and had a complete blast, but was also totally satisfied and did not need to return for the rest of our trip.  Yay!!

I think I might have been most excited to revisit our favorite places to get some video footage for our vacation video.  Our video from 2016's trip to SLO is one of our favorites and probably our most rewatched.

So here is this year's!  Yay for SLO and yay for happy and patient kids in long car rides.

07 August 2019

july reads.

Warrior of the Wild, by Tricia Levenseller
This book was on the New YA Releases shelf at our library, and I liked the last Vikings-inspired book I read so much that I thought, Why not?  Before I got into the book though, I thought that the author name looked familiar.  After a quick Goodreads search I discovered she was the author who wrote Daughter of the Pirate King, which was a DNF for me.  So, I started this book with pretty low expectations, and I think I'm glad I did.  I thought the story was solid, and I actually liked it.  The second half of the book was MUCH better than the first, and Rasmira is an easy character to root for (especially after you find out everything that works against her).  But the prose was a bit boring, and Rasmira's continued talk of how she'd never trust a boy again seemed a little too contrived for me at parts.

Furyborn, by Claire Legrand
I saw that a couple of authors I follow on IG were excited about the release of Book #2 in this series, so I added Furyborn to my TBR list.  This is an exciting adventure that follows two young women who live very different lives 1000 years apart from each other.  Rielle and Eliana are both so interesting and compelling; protagonists whom you can't help but root for, in spite of flaws or tendencies that err on the side of, well... NOT ideal.  Switching back and forth between their perspectives was a little obnoxious for me, but I think that's just something I personally struggle with in books and eventually (hopefully) I will get over it.  Half the excitement of reading Furyborn is finding out what on earth the connection is between them, and now that we know I am very eager to read Kingsbane, which I am currently on a waiting list for.  Also, Simon.  Simon forever, more stories about Simon, PLEASE, Legrand, don't you dare hurt Simon.

the Legend series (Legend, Prodigy, and Champion), by Marie Lu
So even though I was really disappointed last spring in how the story of The Young Elites ended up turning out, I wasn't willing to give up on Marie Lu as an author and wanted to read some of her other works.  I finally got around to reading Legend, Prodigy, and Champion all within a few days, and I love this series.
These books were published nearly ten years ago, right around when the Dystopian genre was blowing up.  I haven't read many books featuring dystopias because they aren't really my jam, but I really liked the world/US that Lu has established.  Her main characters, Day and June, are so amazing and well balanced with their virtues and flaws, and I devoured their stories and journeys.
At the end of Prodigy I really felt like my heart was wrecked, and I was eager to read Champion so that my sadness would be remedied and everyone would be happy.  AND THEN.  At the end of Champion I really actually was indeed wrecked, and the thought that went through my mind was: if 'death by book' was a thing, Champion would the the culprit.  I was ACHING with sadness and welling with tears at the whole ending, even with that teeny tiny bit of hopeful happiness at the end.  Basically, I closed the book and sat in silence with my sad feelings and I wanted to die.  I knew that Champion was published in 2011, and I was like, dammit this is really the end of the series, this is actually how she ended it, I am going to be sad FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.
AND THEN.  I went on to Goodreads to give it my rating (still gave it 5 stars even though it murdered me), and saw that Lu is giving the world (ME) a book #4 in October.  YOU GUYS, if the end of Champion killed me, then seeing "Rebel (Legend #4)" on Goodreads full-on resurrected me, and I nearly wept with relief.  I am so excited for at chance at some happiness for some characters I really became invested in.  But also, I'm not holding my breath because obviously Lu was willing to end it the way she did 8 years ago.  But okay, maybe I am holding my breath a little.  Okay, A LOT.

Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson
I have an upcoming project at work that involves this book, and I have been eager to read it for months now.  I was a little apprehensive because it turned out that I did not care for Rogerson's other book, but I thought maybe it was a good thing that my expectations were lower.  Well I'm not sure if it was due to low expectations or not, but I really loved this book.  I couldn't put it down, and I was annoyed at anything that came up that made me stop reading.
This book had everything: Strong Female Lead!  Magic!  A non-obnoxious love interest!  Excellent supporting characters!  LIBRARIES!!  SO MANY LIBRARIES!  And a gorgeous cover to boot!  It is a standalone, which is a slight letdown because I would love to see more of these characters' lives, but the story is also just right as it is.

Nevernight and Godsgrave, by Jay Kristoff
If you ever read Throne of Glass and wondered what it would be like to read about Celaena in an adult novel, this might just be your answer.  It's intense, violent, brutal, and AMAZING.  I love Mia, the supporting cast in these books is *chef's kiss*, and the competitions and action events in both books are *chef's kiss*.
My warning to you: it would appear that Kristoff takes the advice "Kill your darlings" to an insane level.  Mia's constant advice to herself of "don't get attached, they are not your friends they are your competition" is, in fact, advice to you.  Don't get attached, they are not your precious babies to live happily ever after, they are ASSASSINS and as such are subject to high risk of death.  Devastation awaits!
Lastly, if Champion was my figurative "death by book," Godsgrave was nearly my literal "death by book."  The last few chapters had me progressively going

and then
and then

AND THEN, the very very end made me deeply gasp out loud, only the breath wasn't smooth so I actually ended up choking.  Then I was hacking while yelling OH MY GOSH and then hacking again, and this was in front of my family and they probably thought I was insane.  Anyway.  Book three can't get here fast enough, come on September!!!

The Kingdom of Copper, by S.A. Chakraborty
OOOF.  I was very excited to read this, but I have to admit that it did not end up anywhere near where I expected.  I loved seeing Nahri exert herself against Ghassan (or anyone, really), it was good to see her being as confident and self-assured as she was at the very beginning of The City of Brass.  It was frustrating that see again all the times that something Ali said was misconstrued, especially when it came to Nahri.  It happened over and over again in Book #1, and I was annoyed to see that repeating itself here.
As for the ending... sheesh, where does it even go from here?  Manizheh gives off serious Queen Maeve (may she writhe in hell) vibes, which makes for an excellent antagonist, but also does not bode well for my faves.  (LEAVE DARA ALONE!!)  I have no idea what is in store for Book #3, but the only thing I really want to see at this point is Nahri's relationships with Ali and Dara mended.  Is that too much to ask??  Probably.

Wicked Saints, by Emily A. Duncan
I really liked the angle that Nadya's powers were divine and that she could speak to the gods and goddesses who gave her abilities.  I also liked Serefin's character, one who was acutely (if not bleakly) aware of his station in life.  Once he decided to put down the bottle and tried to do something about his situation was when I really started to root for him.  I did not love Malachiasz, though.  I get the point of Malachiasz, he teaches Nadya some things that are important for her growth and world-view shaping, but on his own I was not a fan.  There's something significant that happens at the end (vague, but gotta be spoiler-free), and the shock factor did not find me.  Like, it shakes one character pretty deeply and that person was really rocked by the change and I just... was not rocked.  I would have liked to have been rocked, but I just wasn't extremely surprised by the turn of events.  At this point in time, I don't see myself continuing the series, which was unexpected and disappointing, but c'est la vie.

The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger, Renee Ahdieh
I have always wanted to read this after I heard it was a retelling/expounding on the legend of Scheherazade and the One Thousand and One Nights.  It's the best of the Hate to Love trope, one where you know there's a reason behind one character's awfulness and you and the other character are dying to figure out what it is.  Because of this, it's easy to connect with Shazi because both her and the reader are on the same quest to get the complete story.
My main issue with Wrath was Khalid.  Even though I am firmly on Khalid's side as far as the love triangle goes, I actually feel pretty "meh" about him.  I find him to be pretty one-dimensional, and more characterization for him would have been greatly appreciated on my part.  He was just a kid of nothing character for me, a blank piece of paper.
The Rose and the Dagger I did not care for.  I didn't love the new conflict, the new setting, any new characters introduced (except for Shazi's sister), I was disappointed with how certain family relationships ended up, and, and, and.  If Rose had been a standalone book, it definitely would have been a DNF for me, and now I really wish that Wrath had been a standalone book.

A Darker Shade of Magic, by Victoria Schwab
Okay, so the reading hump took me a while to get past in this book.  It wasn't until about 150 pages in where I finally could start reading at a breathtaking speed because I was fully into the story and could not get enough.  The first 150 pages were not bad, it was just a lot of world-building and the reading was just a bit slower going there.  I loved the concept of the different Londons and what remained constant about each.  I LOVED Lila and wish that she had been in the book more.  And I can't not give a shout out to Holland, my DDNB, who does so many bad things but dammit I want things to turn around for him.  Fingers crossed.

29 June 2019

may and june reads.

Aurora Rising, by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman
I loved this book so much that as soon as I was done I put it right on my "to buy" list.  This is a story featuring a group cast, and if you want to know what they are like, imagine if the kids from The Breakfast Club were also the Guardians of the Galaxy.  It's a great space fantasy with plenty of mystery, fun group dynamics, and characters who are so easy and fun to root for.  I am VERY exciting about shipping a certain couple in the series, and I can't wait for next year's installment.

Radiance, by Grace Draven
I found this to be a very boring, yet very sweet romance that was a fast read.  The couple consists of one human and another who is very obviously not.  By reasons of politics they become betrothed to each other, and the funniest thing about this is that they are physically repulsed by the appearance of the other.  It is kind of the most hilarious conflict to give a couple, and it's also very sweet to watch how they come to care for each other.  My absolutely favorite thing about this book was the part wherein the not-human man describes the grotesqueness of human eyeballs, which I also find freakish and so I could laugh along to the disgusted reaction to them.

We Are Blood and Thunder, by Kesia Lupo
This story was morbidly grotesque, which I suppose is to be expected when one of the main characters has spent their entire life thus far as one who prepares dead bodies for the crypts.  I liked the story okay, but I felt annoyed every time it shifted to Constance's perspective.  I preferred Lena as a character and might have liked a story told entirely from her point of view.

Sky in the Deep, by Adrienne Young
I loved this story very much, I read it in 24 hours.  I expected to enjoy this book, but I didn't not expect to physically ache with emotion as I read it.  I was constantly tearing up throughout with the feelings of loss and betrayal the main character, Eelyn, experienced.  Eelyn has such a great journey in this story, both physically and emotionally, and nothing felt forced or contrived.  My only criticism was with the character Fiske.  He felt a little too one-note for me and even just one scene of him  showing literally any emotion outside his norm would have made me like him more.

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson
There were so many lovely passages in this book, my Kindle Clippings doc was out of control with all of my highlights.  I really loved the depth of Fatima and Hassan's friendship and all of their complications and tender moments.  However, throughout the reading of this book I also constantly felt myself thinking I think I could probably stop reading this book right now and not be bothered about it for the rest of my life.  I enjoyed this book enough but also feel a little indifferent about the story as a whole.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely, by Brigid Kemmerer
When I looked into this book to find out what it was about, I saw "Beauty and the Beast retelling" and I was sold.  And although I liked that Harper had opportunities to prove to her brother what she is capable of, I kept thinking throughout the whole book that I was wrong about who my favorite character was.  It was neither main character (Harper and Rhen), each participant in the supposed couple of the story, but Grey, the seemingly minor character who sometimes mediated between Harper and Rhen.  Constantly throughout the story I found myself thinking Okay but what about Grey?  I want to read a story about Grey.  WHY IS MY FAVORITE CHARACTER GREY?  And then the ending happened, and because I like to keep things as spoiler-free as possible here I won't say what happens.  But let's just say I'm eager to read next year's follow-up.  Because Grey.

Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor
Oof, you guys.  I'm not sure I've read something so heartbreaking and maddening in a long time.  Strange the Dreamer was a really lovely story, and Lazlo is such a great character to follow.  I'd follow him anywhere to read about what he does in a place and with the people.  And the story is so great and harrowing and GREAT.  But the ending was so devastating and maybe not wholly unsurprising but I kept telling myself "no, it couldn't possibly be" and then it was and I was so mad about it.  I still am.
So I went into Muse of Nightmares mad, and I wanted my anger to be dealt with and taken away so I could get back to the loveliness and greatness.  But I also didn't want everything to be undone just for the sake of my anger, I wanted it done right.  And guys, it didn't happen.  Which is not to say it couldn't, because the author ended the book with a THE END and then a damn question mark after it.  But this may very well be it.  Even though I'm still a little mad on behalf of all of these characters who have had so much taken away from them through no fault of their own, I can't actually say I hated these books.  I hated what happened to these precious babies (FORKIN' SKATHIS I hope he's burning in Hell right now), but not the story.  The story was good, and the precious babies are good, and dang it, I just want only good things to happen to them.  And I want to read about those things canceling out all the bad things.
I did have an issue of the technical variety with this series, and that was the third person omniscient point of view.  I'm by no means against this POV, and even though the perspective is omniscient, it still usually tells the story through the eyes and mind of one character at a time.  I found that Taylor would switch between characters without warning or transition, often multiple times and through multiple characters in a single chapter.  I found all of this jarring and it really took me out of the story when it did.

To Best the Boys, by Mary Weber
This was a quick, standalone adventure with a good female lead with great allies.  There are also sooooo many micro-aggressions that Rhen, as a young woman, experiences and it was truly infuriating to be confronted with all of the bullshit I've allowed to be said to my face without any pushback.  But of course, this makes Rhen all the easier to root for, especially as she goes up against all the men who have ignored, underestimated, or shamed her.  She is the heroine that basically no one in her city deserves, but we are lucky to read her story,

Nocturna, by Maya Motayne
I was ready to come back to a book with magic, and this was a good one!  I loved Finn the best, and I would follow her to the ends of the earth to find out what she does with her life.  Her and Alfie's relationship and how it evolves from rivals to reluctant allies to friends was really great and very satisfying to read.  The villain was evil, and the dark army was so terrifying so it all made for an intense conflict.  My only issue was that I never actually saw Alfie teetering on that line between light and dark.  I mostly saw him as a purely good person who on one or two occasions did something dumb because his emotions for a loved one was driving him.  None of it seemed truly inexcusable or evil.  But other than that I liked this book a lot and will eagerly await the sequel.

The Tiger at Midnight, by Swati Teerdhala
If you like cat-and-mouse stories, look no further.  Even though it's not really, this book first and foremost seemed like a romance to me because the meeting of Kunal and Esha is literally the very first thing that happens and both characters are struck enough by the other that impressions are made. This isn't a bad thing, but that was my thinking as I made my way through the book.  I had a couple of issues, one being that certain revelations didn't seem earned.  If little bits had been subtly placed throughout the story before the reveals came, I would have been fine, but the ones we got nearly came out of nowhere.  The other was that Kunal's personal revelation that the people he works for are corrupt seemed totally inconsequential because it seemed like it should have been obvious even to him.  Ill-received revelations aside, by the 60% mark I was into the story and I will definitely be reading the next book when it comes out.

The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty
Okay, the world-building in this book happened slowly for me, and I found myself confused and overwhelmed at times.  But things became much clearer as I progressed, and I felt fine by the end.  (I was just a little stressed in the beginning that I felt like I wasn't understanding things right away.)  But right away I really loved the characters Nahri and Ali, and I especially liked reading about their complexities and weaknesses and how they faced the decisions they were presented with throughout the book.  They are awesome, well-developed characters and I am extremely eager to read about them in the next book, which I am on a wait list for.

An Enchantment of Ravens, by Margaret Rogerson
I wanted to read this book because the author had a book come out this month that I am interested in, and I wanted to get a feel for her work.  And, I thought this book was just ok.  The romance was pretty meh for me, it didn't grip me or anything.  I also wasn't crazy about the fairy world or like, any of the characters who came from it.  But, the story was short, and it's a standalone, so it's over and done with.  I still intend to read her new book and am still excited about it, so I'm not necessarily giving up on this author yet.

19 June 2019

yellowstone national park.

Last week we had a little reunion-type trip with Jon's family in Yellowstone National Park.  This was my first visit to Yellowstone, and truthfully I might not have ever seen it if it hadn't been the chosen destination for this trip by Jon's parents.  It was probably the first national park I ever learned about in grade school, but maybe the last one I would have picked to visit -- I guess geysers and enormous throngs of visitors aren't really my jam.

But the trip turned out just fine, and I even found a part of the park that I well and truly loved.  Yay for unexpected surprises and geological wonders that border on miraculous!

To start: here's our video!

A quick side note about this video, or more accurately, the song that plays in this video.  While we were driving through the park, we just happened to be listening to this song, which is actually and genuinely titled "Yellowstone," and as soon as I saw that I was like, well I guess I know the song that will go in the video!  And honestly, I was happy to have it fall in my lap that way, the songs are always the hardest parts of these home videos for me.

Anyway, the park!  We really only covered the west side of the park, to the bottom at Old Faithful, and then to the top at Mammoth Hot Springs.  Day one was Old Faithful.

And maybe this is blasphemous to say, or maybe I should have gotten a closer viewing spot of the geyser, but my favorite part about Old Faithful was... the inn.

What a crazily and beautifully ornate building.  It was a lot of fun to explore and admire in between geyser watchings.

On our second day in the park we drove up to Mammoth Hot Springs, which was the area I most wanted to visit, and GUYS.  It did not disappoint.  (Prepare for photo dump.)

Could you have ever conceived of such a place in your own mind?  If aliens ever decide to wipe us out and settle Earth for their own, they will come to this place and feel right at home.

^^This was by far my favorite shot, and I am very excited to get it printed and hung up (somewhere) in our house.  Every once in a while when I'm out taking photos in places, I take a shot that I cannot wait to go home and process, and this was one of those.

*in Stefon voice* It had everything!
The color contrast!
The storm clouds!
That fore-, middle-, and background combo!
Just the right amount of steam to dreamify the picture!
That gnarly old tree!

My concluding thoughts: if I didn't ever visit Yellowstone again, I wouldn't be heartbroken.  However!  I will totally recommend the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces to anyone and everyone who tells me that they are planning on visiting Yellowstone.  Bring your space suit.

28 May 2019

our first scandinavian festival.

We finally got to see what Scandinavian Days is all about.  Our participation was pretty low: just fireworks, a parade, walking around to the booths, and eating up all of the festival food for us.  But we had a great time!  Lots of events happen in the county during the summers, but it's especially nice when it's in your own town.

Theo was really hamming it up at the parade, and this was probably the first parade where he actually cared or made an effort to grab some of the candy.  Meanwhile Vivi served up all the glares and bored looks you could possibly imagine.

At one point during the parade Jon was like, "This isn't... super... Scandinavian?"  Haha.  And it's true, basically all of the parade "floats" are not related to anything Scandinavian.  Mostly for local businesses, pageant winners, and various school clubs and teams.  It was fun to see lots of our neighbor teens in the parade, I dorkily called out to each one I saw and waved like a madwoman.  

But then!  We saw a couple of people dressed up as Vikings and this AMAZING dog-wolf-dog!  We happened to see them after the parade and got to take a couple of pictures.  When we asked about the breed we were told "he's mostly wolf," so we like to say we met a wolf.  He was very nice!  A good wolf.

We ate so much good food, including the county-famous Turkey platter and the spiralized/ribboned/tornado potato.  Honestly, it's just a dang potato that is cut prettily and deep-fried, but for some reason it's special!

Anyway, yay for the Scandinavian Festival!  We are big fans and can't wait until next year!

09 May 2019

the binge continues.

I said after my last reading roundup in March that I was done for a while, but evidently I wasn't.  (So, I guess I'll be back with more reads in a couple of months??).  Anyway, this brings my book count for the year to 33.  😳😳😳

The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi
The book was like if The Da Vinci Code and Six of Crows had a baby; lots of symbology and riddles mixed with a high stakes heist.  Obviously I loved the setting, (I mean who doesn't love Paris during la Belle Epoque?) and I think the author made really good use of Paris as the backdrop for this story.  I also liked each member of the heist group, but my favorites were Zofia and Laila.  I thought they were the most interesting developed characters of the group, and honestly, I kind of wish they were the starring members and we were reading their stories instead of Severin's.  I also loved Hypnos from the very beginning, sorrynotsorry.
I did find the symbology and mathematics to be a little confusing at times.  There were several countries and mythologies mentioned at various times throughout the book, and I thought it was a little messy. (I would have preferred all of the references to be of a single origin.)
And then there was the end, in which two characters were terribly mean to each other.  And I get it's to establish conflict that will carry forward and eventually (hopefully) be resolved, but damn, that shit broke my heart.  At this point I'll probably read on just to make sure those two make amends, and less because I want to see overall how the plot works out.

Air Awakens series, by Elise Kova
I found myself needing to read more after The Gilded Wolves, and this series came at the suggestion of my sister.  And to be honest, it was just okay.  Two months later, I can remember the main character and her love interest and most of the main conflict and resolutions, but little else.  Oh, and two character deaths that beyond enraged me and did not help my weak feelings for the series.  Anyway, I wouldn't necessarily say that I regret reading these, but my life definitely didn't change because I read them.

Shatter Me series, by Tahereh Mafi
I really liked this series, and it's one where the time you put in yields great rewards.  Books One and Two are extremely difficult to read at times (ok, A LOT of times).  This is because the author has chosen the syntax to match the main character's state of mind, which is a straight up mess in the beginning of the series.  This is evident by the obvious: the strikethrough sentences littered throughout the books, and also the exhausting use of metaphor on the part of Juliette to describe what she is experiencing.  (The metaphors got to me way more than the strikethroughs, I disliked them very much.). Luckily, everything improves over time and by book three it's smooth-reading from there on out.  If you start this series and feel like you want to quit in the beginning, try your best to make it to the end of Book Three.  And if you're struggling to make it that far, just hang on to those characters that are so easy to love and root for.  They are worth it!

A Very Large Expanse of Sea, by Tahereh Mafi
This is the first non-fantasy book I've read in ages, but I couldn't resist another book by this author.  It tells the story of a young Muslim teenager just after 9/11 and what her high school experience is like.  It's an emotional and enraging and heartbreaking piece of fiction that I suspect is actually closer to autobiography than fiction.  I started and finished this book in a single afternoon, I couldn't put it down.
I'd also like to mention that the author, Tahereh Mafi, is hands-down, probably the most beautiful human being I have ever seen in my life.  Scrolling through her IG feed is like engaging in art, her beauty and fashion sense belonging in every issue of Vogue.  I mentioned to my mom once that I like the corners of Instagram that authors inhabit, because instead of the constant "Look at how pretty and perfect my life is!" you see everywhere else, every author is like "DEADLINES NO SLEEP WRITER'S BLOCK NO SHOWERING I'M GOING TO DIEEEE" and it's hilarious and sobering and a breath of fresh air.  The exception, of course, is Ms. Mafi.  Stunningly beautiful and not a hint of deadline or writing stress to be found.  What a dream!

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
Okay, so I had very strong, very negative feelings toward a certain character in Novik's other book that I read earlier this year, and I swore if there was a similar character in this book then I'd immediately stop reading.
And there was a mean, unlikable male partner in this book.  TWO, in fact!  But I kept reading, because this book wasn't at all about these men as love interests to our heroines and any hot makeout sessions that immediately followed verbal abuse.
Instead it was about three heroic young women and their efforts to save their loved ones even when thrust into hopeless, dangerous, and thoroughly unromantic circumstances.  Did I end up wishing for something romantic to eventually happen to certain characters?  Yeah, sort of.  And maybe there was hope for that at the very end, but this book is entirely unromantic and it's not really a bad thing.  It was refreshing and satisfying.  Thank you for not another Dragon character, Ms. Novik.

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, by Clamp
My first ever Manga series!  And good hell, was it a doozy.  So many twists and turns, it was hard to keep up with sometimes.  But I liked it!  Lots of cool, well developed characters who wouldn't seem to mesh well together but form a good group worth cheering for (or not?  again, those twists were 😳).  And it was also cool to see the characters that I liked so much from Cardcaptor Sakura throughout this manga series.

Frostblood series, by Elly Blake
This series was wholly inoffensive to me, and therefore good.  (I think I might be at that point where I categorize books like this now: LOVED, inoffensive, HATED).  Ruby is a solid main character to get behind, the world is pretty airtight, and a conflict between Have(magic)s is much more appealing to me than the one between Have(magic)s and Have not(magic)s.
My one request would have been that the building relationship between Ruby and her primary love interest be dragged out a little more.  Book One had some good relationship angst, and I found myself missing it throughout the rest of the series.  I preferred the budding relationship dynamics of Frostblood to the jealousy and anger and petty-meanness (and love, of course) that was in books Two and Three.

21 April 2019

easter 2019.

Boy With Luv is the first and only BTS song I have every listened to, and I listen to it multiple times a day, every day.  So of course, I had to make it the background song for this year's Easter video!

As far as Easter pictures went... well, it is what it is, haha.  Luckily, I stopped worrying about getting the perfect picture a long time ago and have to say I rather enjoy some of the grumpy ones.  Happy Easter everyone!

20 April 2019

watching watching watching.

A Discovery of Witches (aka the only non-animated thing I've watched in a while)
There are a couple of things about this show:
One, it proves to me that Instagram ads are way more effective on me than Twitter ads.  The trailer for this show kept popping up in my Instagram feed and I actually watched the trailer and then I actually watched the show.  Twitter ads, on the other hand, I just scroll right past.  Anyway.
Two, if this had been about a vampire and a human, I would have snatched any interest right back.  Been there, done that, regretted it.  But the rivalry and politics of vampires vs demons vs witches that's established here was infinitely more interesting.  And it's cool to watch!  Although one of my few gripes was that from the show I couldn't actually tell what demons could do or what set them apart from the other creatures.  More work could have been done on them.
Three, the sets and locations in this show are beyond gorgeous.  It is a deeply beautiful program to watch.
Four, I like Matthew Goode as the vampire.  He's good!  I did not like Teresa Palmer as the witch and/or his love interest.  Something about them felt off for me, and I think it was her, not him.  Nothing against her or her performance exactly, but I felt like she was miscast.
Five, it ends on a cliffhanger, so at the end I was like, I can just read the books and find out what happens!  Reader, I couldn't.  Book one so far is a DNF for me, and maybe one day I will give it another shot, but for now I'm content with consuming this story via television.
Six, it was definitely not as sexy as I thought it was going to be.  I'm not sure if this disappoints me or not, I think this is because Diana's casting was weird for me.
Lastly!  I believe this show is currently airing week-by-week on AMC.  I watched the entire series via a free one-week trial to Sundance Now, so if you want to binge you can take that route. (Psst, when I went to cancel my membership at the end of the first week, they gave me an additional month for free.)

The Dragon Prince
Probably my favorite show right now!  We watched Season One back in September or so, and honestly, I wasn't sure if I liked it after we finished.  But then in December, I did a distracted rewatch while working on some stitching projects, and I liked it way better!  And then Season Two came out in February and I am fully obsessed.
I think my initial problem was two-fold:  First, that I kept comparing the show to Avatar: The Last Airbender (a few of the execs on TDP also worked on ATLA).  This was a mistake.  A huge one!  Second, I really needed an adjustment period when it came to Rayla's accent.  It was jarring enough at first that it took me out of the story, but then it became more familiar, and now it doesn't even stand out anymore.
There are so many great things to this show.  The characters are so great!  The character development is *chef's kiss*!!  It's so fun to analyze and theorize about!  Great for the whole family!  (Theo requests his favorite parts regularly).  The only bad thing is waiting for the next installment, which is the best problem for any show to have, I think.

The Legend of Korra
Some of this show was a rewatch for me, but most of it was completely new.  I remember trying it when it first came out and I didn't really take to it (again, comparing it to ATLA affected me negatively).  This time around I was totally down, and I loved it!  It's more grown up than the first show and there are world changes with the Industrial Revolution turn, but it the universe is still the same somehow.  It's nice to be back in that world, and any and all references back the original show are great to see, too.  I watched most of it while Jon was out of town for a few days and it was just the kids and me.  Theo's "let's watch 'koh-ya'" is now a pretty common phrase and frankly, I'm not mad about it.

Sailor Moon Crystal
So a few years ago, I saw that the OG Sailor Moon show was up on Hulu.  I excitedly went to re-watch what was one of my favorite shows as a kid.  I knew that the version I watched was heavily edited and censored from the original and here was my chance to see the real thing, but I COULD NOT DO IT.  It was so hard to watch something that I loved so much but so different, so I gave up.
Recently I decided to take a crack at it again, and once again failed.  But, I discovered Sailor Moon Crystal, a recent reboot, and it was so much better and so much easier to take in.
And dare I say: better??  It eliminates all of the filler episodes that were pointless to the plot, and also doesn't make you scream HOW CAN YOU NOT TELL WHO THAT PERSON IS at your television for fifty million episodes.
My favorite arc has always been the first, and SMC does it good.  I eventually made my way through the second, but I've never really liked Chibi-Usa so it took me a while.  The third still awaits, but I imagine I'll end up rewatching the first before getting around to that.

Cardcaptor Sakura: The Clear Card
Thanks to Hulu's "You might also like" feature I found this show, which I never even knew existed!  I'd forgotten about the OG show (also crazily edited and censored in the US when I was a kid), of which I was a huge closeted fan of, so this brought back a lot of memories.  It's nice to revisit this world and do the geeking out as an adult when I give absolutely zero effs about other people thinking I'm a dork.  The dork flag has flown high and bright the last few weeks.
Anyway, this show was a little disappointing.  Not a lot of headway was made as far as the story went.  Like, I have pretty much all the same questions on the last episode as I did on the first.  It's kind of a bummer.
But!  The food animation is AMAZING.  I loved watching the characters prepare the food and the panning shots of everyone's lunches, and those were basically my favorite parts about the entire program.
I also found the OG show on Crunchyroll (which I finally know what that is now, after seeing its app on the Apple TV many times before and wondering what it was), and skim-rewatched it (so many filler episodes!) and it was a fun blast from the past.

18 April 2019

new orleans 2019.

At the beginning of April, I took a short trip to New Orleans.  It was my second "I'm Done Nursing Another Kid" trip by myself, and I was very excited for it.  I've wanted to visit NOLA for a long time and I was ready to eat and explore and recharge my Alone Time batteries.

And yet, somehow I was not prepared for how beautiful this city is.  If it weren't for the "Double 100" days in the summer, I'd fully be petitioning to Jon to move our family there.  I fell instantly in love.

1. I can't not take a photo of all the Burgundy Streets I meet.
2. A hotel in the downtown area that made me think of Paris.
St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

Andrew Jackson and the St. Louis Cathedral

There are several parks in the city, but the two largest are Audobon Park and City Park.  I only saw small parts of each, but what I saw was beautiful and I loved them both.

Audobon Park

The Singing Oak, City Park

Something I wasn't expecting to see in City Park was The Singing Oak, this beautiful tree with several wind chimes of varying size hanging from its branches.  It was so relaxing and magical, and it had me wondering if it would be possible to recreate such an installation in the trees in our front yard.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

One of my favorite things about my stay was actually where I stayed.  I booked an Airbnb right on the St. Charles Streetcar line.  This made traveling across the city very easy, but also I lived in the most beautiful neighborhood that was a joy to walk through (even on the warmer, more humid day on my trip!). Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 was just around the corner, along with the most gorgeous homes and the greenest city neighborhood you will ever find.  The Garden District was easily my favorite area, and I was constantly in awe of it all.

And now, everything I ate on my trip!

1. District Donuts: the Fried Chicken Sandwich, with a buttermilk garlic slaw, candied jalapeños, and a spicy pimento cheese sauce.  The chicken was so perfectly crispy that the generous amount of sauce didn't even ruin the meat's breading.  Even if this wasn't the first thing I ate after landing in New Orleans completely starving, this still would have been the best fried chicken sandwich I have ever had.

2. Cafe Beignet: beignets, obviously!  The only mistake I made was wearing black pants when I ordered these.

3. 1000 Figs: the Falafel Sandwich, with a root slaw, red cabbage, tahini, and zhoug.   An unexpectedly great part of this sandwich for me was the root slaw, I could have eaten it on its own as a side salad.  1000 Figs is a small place a short walk from City Park and St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, I highly recommend it.

4. Domilise's Po-Boy and Bar: their famous Shrimp Po Boy.  I'm not sure what is the traditional way to dress a po boy, but I kept mine simple with mayonnaise and hot sauce.  I got the half size and felt like I would burst, but how could I regret a fried shrimp sandwich?

5. Saba

I got Alon Shaya's cookbook for Christmas and I was really looking forward to eating at his restaurant on this trip.  He was actually there in the restaurant, and I was only geeking out a liiiiittle bit.

Anyway, I ordered the Blue Crab Hummus (with peas, mint, and lemon), which might be the most delicious thing I have ever ordered in a restaurant.  Have you ever taken a bite of something and it was so good that you're almost brought to tears?  That was me with the hummus.  I honestly could have done without the flatbread, I would have just eaten the whole bowl with a spoon.

I also ordered Safta's Fried Eggplant sandwich, which was a delight!

6. Chicken & Watermelon: the Cajun Creole chicken wings!  So delicious, and a little bit bittersweet. It reminded me of our beloved Wing Counter from Phoenix (RIP) and I told Jon that I wish we could live in NOLA just to go through the menu and try all of their different wing options, much like we did at Wing Counter.

7. Gracious Bakery & Cafe: My third and last day in New Orleans was a bit of a wash, as in, it was full of intense raining and thunderstorming.  When there was a moment where it seemed like the rain less like a deluge and more like a light shower, I grabbed my umbrella, ran across the street to this bakery, and got all of my food for the day.  Of course, as soon as I made it back home, the deluge returned.

Anyway, I ordered the Salmon Bagel, which I can never resist from a menu, a sweet cruffin, a savory cruffin, and a pain au chocolat.  Everything was delicious, and the cafe was really lovely.  I could imagine myself spending long hours inside or on the patio (on a dry day, of course) reading or working, which I don't believe can be said of every place that calls itself a cafe or makes itself out to be a place to comfortably spend lots of time in.

You know you are the baddest one / And the one I want

I love this city so much, and I can't wait to return many many times.