Books I've Read

Not in my House

Today’s review comes courtesy of my friend and podcast co-host, Jess. She had been bugging me and bugging me to read Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to read them, I just never seemed to have the time. My to-be-read list gets longer everyday, after all. But then she did something that sort of forced my hand into moving these books up to the front of that list.

She finagled an ARC of book seven for us to review on the podcast.

House Rules
You can tell she means business, can’t you!

Reading seven books in a week and a half can be a harrowing experience, but when those books are as good as the Chicagoland Vampires books are, it’s actually pretty easy. In a world where everyone and their dog seems to be writing about vampires, it is hard sometimes to weed out the good stuff from the bad (and there are a LOT of bad ones). Lucky for me, the Chicagoland Vampires are pretty darn good.

There are so many things that make these books great. You have Merit, the former grad student who was turned into a vamp without her consent (yes, you have to petition to become a vamp – it’s not just done willy nilly). You have Ethan Sullivan, the Master of Cadogan House, one of Chicago’s three vampire houses. The relationship between Merit and Ethan is complicated and sometimes seems to change by the hour, especially since he is the one who not only changed Merit into a vampire, but then made her Sentinel for the House, a position that demands unwavering loyalty. Merit is a no-nonsense heroine who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is a kick butt while she does it. You can’t help but like her.

The cast of characters goes on and on, but the thing that makes these books so much fun is the world that Chloe Neill creates. It’s one of those vampire societies that actually seems plausible. In addition to vampires, you have the shifters. They are not just werewolves, since they aren’t controlled by the moon and don’t just change into wolves, but they are the natural enemies to the vamps. There is a grudging alliance forming between the two groups, which is actually a beautiful thing. There are also sorcerers, fairies, and nymphs – all the major supernatural groups present and accounted for, but all with a slight twist. We spend the most time with the vampires, of course, and their society is fascinating.

These books are fun and sexy, dark and gritty, and everything in between. A must read for anyone interested in vampires that are written well.

Books I've Read

She did it again . . .

And I seriously didn’t think she could. But it’s official: Mira Grant has totally blown my mind.

It all started with a little book (okay, not so little) about zombies, a book that I would never have picked up if it hadn’t been for the folks over at Mark Reads. You may remember this post a while ago where I described the first book in the Newsflesh series, Feed. You may remember how I was so anxious to review it because the ending had left me completely bewildered (in a good way). I wanted to read the next book, to immerse myself in this post-zombie-apocalyptic world, but at the same time, I was worried. Grant had built my expectations so high, I didn’t believe that this second book would affect me the way that the first one did.

Boy, was I wrong.

deadlineDeadline continues the story of Shaun Mason, who is starting to loose his grip on sanity. He is left at the helm of the “After the End Times” news site, still going through the motions of being in charge, but truly unable to find something to live for (and if you’ve read Feed, you know why). And then, a dead doctor shows up on his doorstep. Okay, the doctor isn’t dead, but has instead faked her own death in order to find Shaun and ask for his help. Remember that big conspiracy I mentioned in my other review? It’s even bigger than they thought, and they are right in the middle of it. They can literally trust no one and have to spend the entire book on the run.

Add to that Grant’s amazing world building skills, even more information about the zombies and how life is now lived after the Rising, and then make everything even worse. Sudden changes to the Kellis-Amberlee virus (which may have been done intentionally, we’re still not sure) has lead to a Second Rising, but even that catastrophe doesn’t hold a candle to the last chapter. I will not say what happens in that last chapter, but it will pick you up and drop you on your head. That last sentence . . . I’m still not over it. And I’ve already started the third book!

What I love about Grant is that she certainly isn’t afraid to take chances. Everything about this story proves that, and makes this series amazingly powerful. I’m only in chapter 3 of Blackout (why am I torturing myself with Mark’s reading schedule?? why??), but so far, so good. You’ll get another rave review once that one is done, I’m sure.

Top Ten Tuesdays

Top Ten Tuesday – Shopping Edition

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Greetings one and all! I am here today with another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the lovely folks over at “The Broke and the Bookish.” Today’s topic was a bit difficult for me – which authors are on your “auto-buy” list. In their words this means that you would buy their stuff no matter what they wrote. You love their work that much. And to be honest, I am really picky. As much as I love the authors I read, I don’t always run out to get the very next book just because of the name. But there are a few that trigger this in me, so here they are.

Top Ten (or Four) Authors on My Auto-Buy List

1. John Green – Ever since I started watching the Vlogbrothers on YouTube, I have loved listening to John Green. The first book of his that I read was Paper Towns because he was writing it at the time. Once I read it, I was hooked. His latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, is the only book I’ve ever pre-ordered that wasn’t Harry Potter.

2. J.K. Rowling – Speaking of Harry Potter, Rowling is another on my auto-buy list. I feel a bit bad saying that, since I haven’t actually bought The Casual Vacancy yet. But I’m going to, just because I adore her so much.

3. Dianne Sylvan – I am hooked on her Shadow World series, but her other non-fiction stuff is also excellent. I am sitting on pins and needles waiting for Of Shadow Born to come out next month, and I will definitely be at Barnes & Noble looking for it when it does come out.

4. Maureen Johnson – I don’t own all of Johnson’s books, but I have loved every one of them that I’ve read. Speaking of, I believe that the next book in her Shades of London series, The Madness Underneath, comes out today. Might have to swing by Barnes & Noble on my lunch break!

And that will do it for my list. Short, but sweet. So which authors are on your list?

Drabbles

A New Dawn

Please forgive my lack of Internet presence over the last couple of weeks. I have been on a self-imposed hiatus from the Internet, for several reasons. For starters, I have been sick as a dog. And when I haven’t been sick, someone else in my family has been. It makes for a lack of motivation to do much of anything. Also, I have to admit, I needed a break from social media. It gets so overwhelming at times, with so much going on and so much of it RIGHT IN YOUR FACE!!!!! Sometimes it’s good to just take a step back and relax for a while.

It also helps put things into perspective. When one is too sick and tired (and tired of being sick and tired), it makes you realize your priorities, particularly for someone like me, who likes to try and take on more than they should. As I look over the past few months, I’m really surprised it’s taken me this long to get sick. By rights, I should have fallen apart much sooner.

So it is with a sad (but confident) heart that I announce that I am officially leaving grad school. As much as I would like to continue, it is too much. There are several reasons, one of the main ones being finances. Due to some issues with financial aid, part of my tuition will no longer be covered by loans. I was forced to try and come up with several thousand dollars in order to cover things, plus still face the fact that I would still come out of this drowning in student loan debt. Put that together with the fact that my job prospects would be tenuous at best (my goal was to become a professor at a college or university – not always a sure bet), and it looked like a whole lot of money and effort thrown into something that wouldn’t pay out much in the end.

And that isn’t even taking consideration of the amount of stress I was putting myself under. I have always enjoyed school, always enjoyed learning. And right now, I wasn’t. It felt silly to devote so much time to something that made me feel nothing but anxious and lacking in every respect. The joy that I usually felt while learning new things was missing, which isn’t the best situation to be in when one is trying to complete a Happiness Project!

In the end, I decided to focus more on the things that bring me more fulfillment: this blog, the podcast, and my novel, which has taken a huge backseat. I haven’t been able to do hardly anything on it for months. And of course, I need to get back to the most important thing – spending time with my family. They have been nothing but supportive and patient through all of this, and they deserve more of my attention, more than anything else that I am doing.

So that’s it. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. And I’m feelin’ good.

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Drabbles

Daphnis and Chloe and Schedule Changes

To everyone who reads my blog posts in the mornings, thank you so much. It really means a lot to me that so many of you take time out of your busy lives to read my meanderings on my little corner of the Internet. A quick note – due to some scheduling issues, my posts will now be issued in the evenings instead of the mornings. Still five days a week (hopefully), still the same geeky book reviews and book related memes, just later in the day. Also, I’ve started tweeting my reactions to the books I read. You can find those on Twitter @lifewithnoplot.

Moving on. Usually on Mondays, I do a “Stacking the Shelves” post with the books I have procured over the weekend. This weekend, however, I didn’t have time to buy any books. This is shocking, I know, but I have a reason. This weekend, I got to perform with my local symphony in the chorus for Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. This score is from a ballet, and although we didn’t have dancers, it was still pretty powerful. The music is incredible, although the chorus part is very difficult to sing. I am always amazed when we do things like this – our town is not very big, but we have an amazing arts community. I’m very grateful to be a part of it, even if my part is very small.

After Tuesday, most of my music season will be over until next fall. As much as I love doing it, it will also be a nice break.

Here is a YouTube video with the music from the beginning of Daphnis and Chloe. This isn’t our group doing it, but it’s a really good recording.

The Happiness Project

Happiness Project – Week #5

Happiness Avatar

Due to missing several blogging days, mostly due to illness this past month, I haven’t mentioned my Happiness Project in a while. My goals for January were centered around cleaning and decluttering. Did I do everything I wanted to? No, not really. But I did make a lot of progress. My office is neater and more conducive to work. I’ve straightened out several things in my bedroom that keeps it from getting as messy as it used to.

Things I still need to work on:

  • Going to bed early. This is the number one thing. I have the hardest time doing it because I am such a night owl. I’d happily stay up until midnight or one o’clock, which doesn’t work so well when one is expected to be up by six.
  • I also didn’t add any exercise to my daily routine at all. The good news is that I switched offices at work. We work in a two story building and now, my office is on the second floor. That means a lot more moving around, since a lot of the people I deal with are still on the first floor. I need to dig out my pedometer and see just how many steps I’m getting in now.

Other things to work on:

  • Getting my closets cleaned out. This goal went completely by the wayside, which is sad because I think it would be very easy to accomplish in an afternoon on the weekend. I can’t do it this weekend, but next weekend, it is on!
  • Completing any of my “nagging tasks.” I didn’t even touch them.

So now it’s February and with the new month comes a new focus. Oh, I’ll still continue to work on January’s goals, but now it’s time to add another layer to it. And is it any surprise that February is all about marriage and relationships? Mostly, I think my husband and I have a pretty good marriage. It’s not perfect, but I don’t know anyone who has a perfect marriage. I don’t think that really exists. As I read through the February chapter, I had to think about things to work on, things to change. There are five main points that Gretchen Rubin uses for this month.

  1. Quit nagging.
  2. Don’t expect praise or appreciation.
  3. Fight right.
  4. No dumping.
  5. Give proofs of love.

The very first thing that I am going to do is talk this over with my husband. It’s easy for me to sit here and say, “But I don’t nag. I never nag!” Just because I can’t think of an example doesn’t mean I don’t do it. We tend to think of our nagging as justified, and therefore excuse it. The other points are just as hard to see from my point of view, which is why I need to figure out exactly where my weaknesses are by being up front and honest (although #5 seems pretty straightforward, and is definitely something I need to work on).

So the Happiness Project is chugging right along. Is it helping? Am I happier? In some ways, I can easily say, “Yes.” There are some stressful things that have been removed from my life, just with a little focus and work on my part. Hopefully that will keep increasing as I add more levels to the project as a whole.

Books I've Read

The Mortal Instruments

For my reading goal this year, I finished reading The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. I read the first two books at the end of last year, the last three published books last month. And all I can say is this:

WE HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL 2014 FOR THE NEXT BOOK???!?!!??! WHY???????

city of glassIn all seriousness though, I love this series. Funny story – I didn’t realize that it was more than a trilogy. I thought once I read the first three that they were done. There were a couple of loose ends (I didn’t believe Sebastian was gone forever, for instance), but it mostly seemed wrapped up. Imagine my astonishment when I saw not one, but two additional books! I was very excited, let me tell you.

city of fallen angelsThere are many books out there right now dealing with angels and demons, usually having some sort of half-angel human who is out there fighting the baddies. It’s not as bad as the vampire craze, but it’s close. There are a bunch of them, but I believe Cassandra Clare was one of the first ones and she definitely is one of the best. I love everything about the Shadowhunters. I love how they were created from the blood of an angel, but that doesn’t make them even remotely perfect. They are very flawed, attempting to protect the world from demons while still fighting inner demons of their own (yes, Jace, I’m looking at you!). I love how other supernatural beings are incorporated into this world – the vampires, the werewolves, the fairies – all have a part to play, for good or for evil, and those lines are always slightly blurry. It makes for a very compelling story world that seems hauntingly real.

city of lost soulsI’m not going to go into any plot points, since most of them wouldn’t make much sense unless you’ve read the first books. They would also be heavy in spoilers, and these are books that need to be enjoyed fresh. One thing is for sure – Cassandra Clare knows how to write a cliffhanger! After finishing City of Fallen Angels (book 4), I was clawing at my own skin trying to track down a copy of City of Lost Souls (book 5). And while City of Lost Souls didn’t have quite the same cliffhanger, it still leaves me waiting desperately for book 6 to come out (City of Heavenly Fire, set to appear sometime in 2014 according to GoodReads).

So if you haven’t read these books, give them a try. If you like urban fantasy and supernatural story lines, you’ll love these. They are well worth the time.