Monday, February 17, 2020

January 2020 Reads // Taking it Slowly!

It's book day! I didn't read much of anything in December... so here we go! I lowered my reading goal a lot this year in order to savor books more and read more non-fiction... so you'll probably notice fewer reviews in this space. I'm ok with it! :)



Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran library, physical book

2 Stars - I might recommend if you enjoy very very dark graphic novels and re-tellings, with a lot of nudity.

A re-telling of Snow White from the step mother's perspective.

I was so disappointed in this one. I adored The Sleeper in the Spindle and always love Gaiman's world building, so I was really excited for this one. Sadly, the written bits were rather short and broken up into chunks, and the story itself while a different take on Snow White... was just perverse from start to finish. I don't mind sex or nudity in writing or graphic novels... but the nudity felt never-ending here. We just finished watching Good Omens and the part where Anathema talks about how the assumption that witches do their spells naked is based on men writing the books... well I loved that. I thought, woohoo Neil Gaiman! Only to be disappointed by the two main female characters in this book constantly being nude (while doing witchcraft and otherwise). I guess I feel that there weren't long enough stretches of writing and world building to marvel at (my favorite part of Gaiman's books) and not much happened aside from nudity, some sex, and some gore. If you like very very dark stories with a lot of nudity, you may enjoy this. The illustrations on the other hand were beautiful.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (Hazel Wood #1) own, physical book

2.5 Stars - I might recommend if you enjoy urban fantasy.

Alice grew up with her mother moving them from place to place, always trying to get away from something. Something that she attributed to bad luck. When her mother gets a message that Alice's grandmother has passed away, they move to New York City and think that their bad luck is over. When Alice's mother is kidnapped, Alice must figure out what happened, and the real story behind their bad luck.

This book was not at all what I was expecting. I was looking for a high fantasy/YA book that would satisfy my desire for something magical and forest-y... and this was not that book. This felt so much like urban fantasy, and honestly a mystery more so than a fantasy novel. It reminded me quite a lot of Night Film, an artist with a cult following and trying to peel back the layers of their story and world. The writing was lovely and vivid, which I appreciated, and the world that Albert created was complex and interesting. But I just didn't really enjoy the story or characters. It wasn't my thing. By the time I thought about DNFing I was already more than 60% through. I perhaps should have abandoned it anyway, but I wanted to stick it out. I felt like there was a lot of build up to the action part of the plot, which resolved fairly quickly, and only took up a small portion of the book. The writing was good, but again, it just wasn't what I had expected, and not really my thing. Though I have a copy of the second book from Netgalley, I don't plan to read it at this time.

It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday (Bridesmaids Behaving Badly #2) own, physical book

4 Stars - I recommend if you enjoy contemporary romance.

Wendy grew up loving her best friend's brother Noah, who was always her biggest competition. When he stands her up at the prom, she never wants to see him again. Anytime he comes home to visit, Wendy is conveniently out of town, on vacation, etc. Up until her best friend and his sister's wedding festivities. Suddenly Wendy and Noah are in the same space again, and Wendy is no longer his little sister's best friend. She's her own woman, and still his biggest competition. The two instantly fall back into their old ways of trying to one up each other. The ultimate test? Who can plan the best bachelor/bachelorette party? On weekend in Vegas could change everything between them.

I LOVED the first book in this series and was super excited to check out book #2. I am not a huge fan of books that take place around weddings, but these work for me! I really liked both Wendy and Noah and I thought that their second chance romance was sweet and believable. There was enough angst to make the trope work, without it being too angsty or annoying. I really loved their banter and the competitions that they would get into to prove who was a better member of the wedding party. There were some pretty swoony moments in this one, and it was fun that bits of it took place in NYC and Las Vegas. I didn't love the ending of this one, it felt just a bit anticlimactic. I'm excited to see where book #3 goes!

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh library, physical book

4 Stars - I recommend if you enjoy historical romance.

When Lady Grace Wyatt, a scholar and scientist finds out that she must get married, she aims her sights on her long-time colleague and crush returning home from an expedition. One problem: he's never noticed her as a woman. She enlists the help of her good friend Sebastian, to pose as a rake and her fake love interest. For Sebastian, he would do anything for Grace.... but the more rakish he becomes and the more time he spends with her, the harder he finds it to fight his true feelings for him. As the scheme goes on, Grace finds herself questioning her feelings for her friend. Is it all fake? Or does she really love Sebastian?

I don't always love the "friends to lovers" trope, but I think this is one of my top picks I've read so far. I loved the plot, a woman trying to snag her long time crush by having her friend pretend to court her. It was the right mix of "friends to lovers" and "fake to real dating". It really made beta character Sebastian get in touch with his alpha side. This book had quite a lot of tension, which was even better shown by the dual perspective writing. I loved that the characters were so smart and interesting! I always love a bluestocking in a historical romance and Sebastian was a fun mix of confident and shy. There is a particularly steamy barn scene, that is definitely memorable. I thought that the ending was satisfying and a little over the top. This was my first Eva Leigh book, but it won't be my last!

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (Wildwood #1) own, physical book

3.5-4 Stars - I recommend if you enjoy YA fantasy, and fairytale retellings.

Jena and her sisters have found a secret passage into another realm, that they have been visiting at the full moon for years. They cross through the portal and dance all night with creatures and people from another world. When their father goes away to heal from an illness, their imposing cousin Cezar little by little begins to take over their estate. Cezar's hatred of the forest and the other folk comes from the loss of his brother in the lake. He will kill the creatures and chop down every tree if he has to, to make Transylvania safe. In his blind rage and single-mindedness he goes too far and Jena and her sisters must work with the other folk to fight a common enemy: the night people. Can Jena save her family, estate, and the other realm?

I absolutely loved Marillier's book The Harp of Swans in 2019 and am now trying to grab any book of hers that I can. I already had a copy of this one and decided to continue reading Marillier with this book even though it is an unfinished series. The writing is just as I expected: excellent and atmospheric. It doesn't feel quite as "high fantasy" as The Harp of Swans, but I still enjoyed it. This story is sort of a Twelve Dancing Princesses re-telling, with Romanian Folkloric influences. That of course, means vampires... which is not something I was expecting when I picked up the novel. I adored the sisters and their trips to the other world. I liked that they each had their own defined personalities and interests. I loved Jena and her pet frog Goku as they were the main characters and Jena was the POV of the story. I did wish from time to time that the POV of the chapters switched from one sister to another, even if that meant some chapters were quite short. I felt that I was missing what was going on with the other girls, and Jena didn't seem to know either. Cezar was the worst worst worst type of mansplainer and I really hated him. Marillier did a good job with her characters. The second half of this novel I enjoyed much more than the first as it follows up on some pieces of their childhood and contains some interesting folklore related to Draguta (the witch of the forest). In the end I guessed things that were revealed, but was overall happy with the book. I'm excited to see what happens in book two, and to try not to be too sad that it is an unfinished series.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (re-read) own, physical book

4.5 Stars - I highly recommend if you enjoy magical realism and women's fiction. Also a good fiction pick for foodies.

Claire Waverly is part of a line of Waverly women with extraordinary gifts. She uses the flowers from their garden to influence the emotions and lives of people in their town. This makes her a popular caterer, but very misunderstood, as much of her family has been. When her sister, Sydney, returns to town with her young daughter they must reconcile their differences to make a new home together. Sydney is running from her dangerous ex, and has always denied her Waverly blood, but stability and a home for her daughter is what she needs now. Can she make a home for herself in a place she's always felt strange?

Before I got back into reading consistently, there were spurts of time where I would binge-read a few books and then read nothing for months. One winter with a lot of snow days I read a lot of Sarah Addison Allen books and they became some of my favorites. I finally got a chance to re-read this and it was just as fun to read the second time. Many of my favorite books have a close-knit multi-generational group of women looking out for each other and they often have special gifts of abilities. I love love love the Waverly women. I love the folklore around their family and all of their special abilities. I love how different Claire and Sydney are, one reserved and embracing her family legacy, the other on the run and only putting down roots for her daughter's sake. Bay and Evanelle are my favorites, a little girl who knows exactly where items and people belong, and an elderly woman who gets the urge to give random items to people just when they'll need them. There is so much quirk, but also so much heart in their stories. I love how they come together, support each other, and use their gifts to make their town and lives better. I love their home, and as a foodie I especially love Claire's affinity for cooking and baking with flowers from their garden. The whole house and garden also sound just dreamy as can be. I enjoy the love stories and the bits of folklore around other people and families in the town, but my favorite part of this book is the Waverly women as a whole. I am excited to finally get around to the sequel, First Frost.

Monthly totals:

Read - 6
Owned - 4
Ebook - 0
Physical book - 6
ARC - 0
Library/Borrowed - 2
Bought - 24 (10 physical books, 14 ebooks) - 8 books were freeee!++ :)
To Let Go - 1

Yearly Totals:

Read - 6
Owned - 4
Ebook - 0
Physical book - 6
ARC - 0
Library/Borrowed - 2
Bought - 24 (10 physical books, 14 ebooks) - 8 books were freeee! :)
To Let Go - 1

Linking up with Jana and Steph for Show Us Your Books today. :) 

What have you been reading? What do you hope to read this month?! 

Let's be friends on Goodreads!

XO,

Alexandra

* Asterisks denote titles that I was given advance access to by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. These reviews are my own opinion, and based on the edition of the book I was given at the time. Thank you Netgalley

**Double asterisks denote books won via a goodreads giveaway! 

***Triple asterisks denote titles that I was given advance access to by Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. These reviews are my own opinion, and based on the edition of the book I was given at the time. Thank you Edelweiss!

****Quadruple asterisks denote titles that I was given advance access to by the author of the book in exchange for an honest review. These reviews are my own opinion and based on the edition of the book I was given at the time!

++ pro-tip: use your Amazon shipping at a slower rate to get e-book credits. I do it whenever I don't need something ASAP and it's resulted in a lot of free ebooks. I usually get them when they are $1.99, etc. Just make sure to use them before they expire!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Keep It Together // January 2020

Hello All! It's the first Keep It Together of 2020! :) Woohoo! We're so excited that Rebecca Jo is joining us as a co-host from now on!

I am excited to post today with Lauren at Shooting Stars Mag and Rebecca Jo from Knit by God's Hand for our Keep It Together linkup!

If you're new here, this is our linkup for all things planners, memory keeping, and journalling. Please feel free to join us on the third Thursday of the month with any posts that fall into those categories! :)




Planning:

This year I've been thinking about goals and planning differently than in the past. On a whim during Black Friday I picked up this planner from Moorea Seal's 52 Lists line at Target. I wasn't sure if I wanted to use it, but I love that it has more intention setting and reflection built in to the planner and the weekly spreads.



It allows you to set intentions for the week and ideas on how you'll make the next day 1% better than the day before. You have a grateful thought for each week day and reflections at the end of the week. In the back of the planner there are a lot of spots for writing goals and breaking them down into chunks. So far I'm enjoying this planner, mostly for record keeping and reflection purposes. One of my goals this year is to keep our schedule light! :) 




Documenting:

With everything that December brought I am even more behind on my 2019 documenting. I plan to finish my October Daily, but am unsure if I'll do retroactive November and December Dailies or not. December was kind of a blur or sadness and fear so I'm not sure how much I want to document it, to be honest. We shall see.




ANYHOW, this year I have done a different method of goal setting. I purchased a PDF from Victoria Smith's Mojo Lab to reflect on 2019 and set intentions for 2020. It is called creating a "wonder manifesto". It's new agey, which I love. I really enjoyed the questions and the different approach to setting goals and intentions. It focuses more on what you want the year to be like, and your life to be like, and THEN setting the goals, rather than setting goals just to set them, or in areas you think you should set them. Ex: I always feel like I need a relationship goal for me and KC. But at this point, I just want to focus on other things, because we're doing well and setting a "1 date per month goal" is basically what I end up with each year, and it makes us kind of tired. LOL So I'm skipping that this year. I also realized along the way that I don't really WANT a life that some of my old goals would be associated with. And continuing to make goals of that nature would be counter to the daily life I'd like to live. So, it's really been helpful and a great relief to complete the process. 

Once you do the reflection, you make a physical version of your wonder manifesto, values, and goals. I chose to do mine in a Traveler's notebook because I have a little stash that needed used, and because I would like to add journaling related to the manifesto and goals as the year goes on. This  allows me to keep working in the same insert, and to add more inserts as needed.

If you are interested in doing one as well the PDF is $18 and available, here. This isn't a plug, I just really found it helpful and wanted to share. :) 

Here are a few peeks at physical manifesto that I created. 





What's Next?!

I'm hoping to journal as the year goes in my wonder manifesto album, and decide what else to do from there. I still need to do a giveaway album from my YouTube channel, so I will probably start there. :) 

Please feel free to linkup with us below! We'd love to see what you are up to!

XO,

Alexandra


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