Tuesday, August 15, 2017

10 Books To Read If You're a Newbie to Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Until a couple years ago, I'd barely read any sci-fi or fantasy. Off the top of my head, all that comes to mind is "Ender's Game" and Deborah Harkness's All Souls trilogy. So it's mostly thanks to blogging -- and working at a library -- that I'm now a budding SFF nerd; the two are rapidly becoming tops on my list of favorite genres.

Sci-fi and fantasy can be a little intimidating to get into, so for today's Top Ten Tuesday post I've made a list of 10 entry-level SFF books -- ones that should appeal to readers who don't typically choose books from those genres. And they're all ones I'd recommend -- many have been on my best books of the year lists!
sci fi

1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown (Red Rising #1): This is one of my all-time favorite books and I recommend it constantly! It's always going up as my staff pick at work, and everyone I've convinced to read it has loved it! It's kind of like "Ender's Game" + "Hunger Games" + Mars but sooooo much better! (my review)

2. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: This book blew me away -- I just could not put it down. It involves the idea of parallel universes and is a compulsively readable sci-fi thriller. It's another book I've recommended a lot (one of the perks of working at a library) with positive results! (my review)

3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: "RPO" is set in a pretty crummy near-future where everyone escapes their terrible lives with virtual reality. Enter a contest in the VR world to win a life-changing amount of money, a great protagonist and tons of '80s pop culture references and you have a damn fun read! (Plus the movie version comes out next year!) (my review)

4. The Martian by Andy Weir: This book is different from the rest in that there's nothing speculative about it -- the story is entirely plausible. It's about an astronaut (the brilliant, eminently likable and hilarious botanist Mark Watney) who accidentally gets left behind on Mars, his will to survive, and the efforts of NASA to save him. The book was phenomenal and so was the movie! (my review)

5. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Themis Files #1): "Sleeping Giants" is the first in a trilogy about the discovery of ancient alien artifacts on Earth. It's an epistolary novel told in journal entries, interviews and the like, and the format makes the book absolutely fly by. (my review)

1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik: "Uprooted" is a rare fantasy standalone novel! It involves a teenage girl taking on some malevolent forces of the natural world, and I was completely and utterly enthralled from page 1! (If you like this book, check out the author's Temeraire series, which is an alternate history of the Napoleonic Wars with dragons added to the mix!)

2. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic #1): The Shades of Magic series features four parallel-universe Londons -- three of which have magic and one of which, Grey London, is the world we knew a couple centuries ago. You'll quickly fall in love with the two protagonists -- Kell (one of the few people who can move between the Londons) and Lila Bard, pirate extraordinaire. Bonus: all the books in the trilogy are out, so you can see this fun adventure all the way through! (my review)

3. The Bear and the Nightingale (The Bear and the Nightingale #1): "The Bear and the Nightingale" is a lovely tale drawn from Russian folklore. The story -- about a young girl who can see creatures others can't, like the little man who lives in the fireplace -- is beautifully written and richly atmospheric. And the next book comes out in January, so you won't have to wait a whole year to find out what happens next! (my review)

4. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Broken Earth #1): This is the most hardcore of the fantasy books I've listed, and it also incorporates a bit of science fiction -- but once you get into the story, you won't be able to put it down! It's about people with the ability to manipulate the earth's power -- orogenes -- and though they literally hold the power to destroy the planet at their fingertips, they're kept oppressed and enslaved.  (my review)

5. Written in Red by Anne Bishop (The Others #1): I don't pick up a ton of urban fantasy, but this book was just such a treat -- I'm glad I took other bloggers' recommendations to read it! It's got vampires, shapeshifters, prophecies and more -- and the whole thing is imbued with this wonderful cozy atmosphere. (my review)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Musings

jarrod and alohi
Sun's out, tongues out!

My week: The week got off to a rough start when I came home from work Monday to find Alohi's cage the most horrific poopy disaster she'd had yet. The towels we'd put in the cage were sodden with diarrhea, every inch of the crate tray was covered in smashed poop, there was poop on the floor, poop on the wall, and of course poop on the puppy. Alohi stress-poops every single day when we put her in her crate, and the Monday debacle was the last straw: we decided it was time to try leaving her out on her own. The good news: no poop! Which means her anxiety comes more from the cage than us leaving. The bad news: our normally non-destructive puppy did chew up a couple things (we came home Sunday evening to find she had gnawed and played with the remote and in the process turned the TV to a vibrator commercial). But there's no going back -- after a handful of glorious poopy-towel-free days, I have zero desire to ever deal with that again! Hopefully she doesn't decide to see how books taste...

The rest of the week was fine. Wednesday was my second time doing the 4th and 5th grade book club at work and that was fun; we read "The Lemonade War," so I had the kids make lemonade from concentrate (like in the book) and fresh-squeezed (they got to juice the lemons!) and compare the two. Saturday we ate at our favorite gourmet hot dog place for lunch and tried a new bubble tea place, then ran errands, and Sunday we went to the beach.


Reading: Last week I had just picked back up "O Jerusalem" by Laurie R. King (the fifth in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series) and I tried it for a couple days and eventually put it down yet again because it kept putting me to sleep (literally). I had trouble with the second book in the series as well, but I plan to power through this one because I do want to read the whole series!

In the meantime, I picked up "This Is How It Always Is" by Laurie Frankel, a novel about a transgender child and her family. I decided to read it because I'd like to learn more about transgender people -- and to be perfectly honest, while I try to be open-minded, I have a hard time wrapping my head around a 5-year-old just bone-deep knowing he or she was meant to be the opposite sex. That's why the book piqued my interest, but it was such a pleasant surprise -- I loved the characters and I really liked Frankel's writing, and it ended up being one of the best books I've read so far this year! I definitely recommend it!

And now I'm reading "All the Ugly and Wonderful Things" by Bryn Greenwood, which I grabbed from work on a whim after chatting with someone who told me they absolutely, positively could not put it down and read it in a day. I'd already been wanting to read it -- in fact, I'm the one who asked my boss to order it -- but I just never seemed to remember to make time for it. It's a controversial book as it features a, shall we say, May/December romance, as well as an abusive mother and a drug-dealing father. It's on the intenser side, but Greenwood is a great storyteller -- and it is indeed a fast, hard-to-put-down book.

Watching: The "World of Dance" finale, "Game of Thrones" and "Turn." Movie-wise we watched "The Lost City of Z," which was a bit of a dud for me. It was looooong (2 1/2 hours) and it seemed to gloss over or put a rosy tinge on all the bad stuff that happened in the book while simultaneously leaving out all the things that made the book interesting. There was way too much England in the movie and not nearly enough Amazon.

I also got sucked into "Coyote Ugly" when it came on the channel we had left on for the puppy when we went out to eat the other night. It's a movie I used to love and hadn't seen in forever, and it was still just as adorably cheesy as I remembered!

Monday Musings
My August 2017 Reading List
I Judge Books By Their Covers: My Not So Perfect Life

Looking forward to: Jarrod has some use-or-lose leave he has to take from work and I took off two days as well, next Monday and Tuesday! We're planning to do fun Hawaii stuff on those days, maybe snorkeling or hiking. Also, we just booked a quick little weekend getaway to Kauai for September! I'm nervous about leaving Alohi (we're having someone house- and dog-sit for us) but, damn, do I need a vacation (this is definitely a mini vacation, but I'll take what I can get)!

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

I Judge Books By Their Covers: My Not So Perfect Life

I read and enjoyed Sophie Kinsella's latest British chick-lit novel, "My Not So Perfect Life" a couple weeks ago. It was fun, it was fluffy, and it saved me from my reading slump! Here's my review.

<<<U.S.      U.K.>>>

I don't have super-strong feelings about either cover, though I do like the U.S. one better. In real life, that green is extremely eye-catching -- it definitely stands out on a shelf. I like the dashes of pink and turquoise, and I vastly prefer the more artistic fonts on the U.S. cover over the U.K. one -- those look like they were pulled straight from Microsoft Word! And the U.S. cover just seems to have better flow and balance; somehow those hand-written notes on the U.K. version make it look a bit sloppy.

Both have white, pink and green tones, both have a graphic of a woman, and both appropriately convey the chick-lit tone of the book, but -- while I don't hate it -- there's nothing like better about the U.K. cover over the bright green U.S. one. The U.S. cover is my winner! Which do you like better?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My August 2017 Reading List

We're already a week into August, can you believe it? Right now I'm reading "O Jerusalem" by Laurie. R. King (the fifth Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book) and I'm far away in the Jerusalem of 1919, solving crimes!

I've got some more armchair travel coming up this month: 1800s England, 1927 America, space, a future filled with monsters... What's on your reading list for the rest of August?

august reading list

1. Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn (Lady Julia Grey #2):
I devoured the first book in this mystery series last month and immediately requested book 2 from the library!

2. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Wayfarers #1): I've been meaning to get to this well-liked sci-fi novel for months, since I ordered it from Book Depository. It was the one of two books from my July reading list I didn't get to.

3. The Essex Serpent: Oh, I'm so excited about this one! It just came in for me at work yesterday and I'm desperately hoping the story lives up to the lovely cover!

4. Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab (Monsters of Verity #2): I picked up the first book on a whim last week and though it was ok -- not anywhere near as good as Schwab's Shades of Magic series. But I figure I might as well go ahead and read the other half of the duology. It'll be a fast read.

5. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (Temeraire #2): I read and loved "His Majesty's Dragon" -- the first in this alternate history series set during the Napoleonic Wars -- last fall and I'm excited to finally get to book 2!

6. One Summer by Bill Bryson:
This is the other book from my July list I didn't get around to. It's been on my to-read list forever, and now it's been languishing on my bookshelf forever! I really do need to get it back to the library, though, and I also really wanted to read it during summer, so it's a must-read this month.

7. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel: I put this book -- about a transgender child -- on hold at the library months ago and it finally came in!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday Musings

Sunday night at the beach.

My week: It was a pretty good week here! (That's a sea change from the past few weeks -- see, I knew August would be better!) One of Jarrod's friends from his deployment several years ago just moved to Hawaii with his family, so we had them over for dinner on Monday and that was fun. Wednesday afternoon we took an impromptu trip to the beach, and it was so nice to go on a weekday when it wasn't crowded! We also went to the beach on Sunday late afternoon and got to see a gorgeous full moon rise over the water.

Reading: I finally finished "Dragonfly in Amber," the second Outlander book! Woo hoo! It was looooong, and though I did really enjoy it, it wasn't nearly as good as the absolutely fabulous first book in the series. Then I blazed through "First Grave on the Right" by Darynda Jones, the first book in her Charley Davidson urban fantasy series. I had picked it up a couple weeks ago but was instantly turned off by the banter-y, sarcastic writing style and knew it just wasn't what I was in the mood for at that moment, but it proved to be the perfect quick and easy palate cleanser after "Dragonfly."

Despite having a gazillion other things to read, I brought home "This Savage Song" by Victoria Schwab after someone returned it at work the other day. I love her Shades of Magic adult fantasy series and I've been wanting to try some of her other books, even though they're mostly young adult. This one was ok... not nearly as enthralling as Shades of Magic, though, and it definitely felt and read like a YA book -- I guess I was hoping it wouldn't.

At the beach on Sunday I read "The Lemonade War," this month's book for the 4th and 5th grade book club I help out with at work. It was cute enough, and mercifully short, but I didn't like it nearly as well as last month's "Walk Two Moons" by Sharon Creech. Now I'm back to "O Jerusalem," the fifth Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery by Laurie R. King. I started it a few weeks ago in the midst of my reading slump and set it aside about 50 pages in. I'm much more in the mood for it now!

Watching: The season finale of "Grantchester," which was bittersweet because it sounds like it's uncertain if there will be another season. (Sniff, sniff!) I also started season 2 of "Outlander" after finishing "Dragonfly in Amber." And Jarrod and I finally watched the first two episodes of this season's "Game of Thrones." Also: "World of Dance," "Deadliest Catch," "Turn." Movie-wise we watched "Office Christmas Party," which was pretty dumb but it made me laugh out loud several times.

Buying: The Target "miracle" swimsuit. It's a black one-piece with diagonal mesh inserts across the belly and it's purported to look good on everyone. (I don't know if it will look good on me yet -- I ordered it online and it should be arriving today!) Before we moved to Hawaii I bought a new swimsuit, but it has a skirt bottom (to cover up the "fluff" I've added on the past few years) but it's just not working out for me. It's impossible to wear shorts over it, and it's just too much wet fabric whenever I actually get in the water. I bought a pair of (rather wild) board shorts recently and just needed to find a black top to go with them -- then I saw a picture of a girl on Instagram wearing board shorts over that same suit and I figured I'd give it a shot too!

Receiving: My Goodreads Giveaway win of "Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore"! I've won several Goodreads Giveways, but this is the first time I've gotten a nice, non-ARC hardcover copy and I was so excited!

Monday Musings
Turning the Page on June & July 2017
How I Choose My Books (Book Tag)
I Judge Books By Their Covers: See What I Have Done
Book Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Looking forward to: "This is Us" starting back! I know it's still almost two months away, but I saw something about it recently and it got me excited  (plus a friend just started watching it this week!). I wasn't sure about the show when it premiered last year so I recorded it all on the DVR and binge-watched it in the spring -- and I'm so glad I did! It's SUCH a fantastic show and totally different from anything else on TV, and even though it tackles some tough issues I always feel good and happy after watching each episode. If you haven't watch it yet, do!

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Book Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

"First Grave on the Right" by Darynda Jones
Charley Davidson #1
First published in 2011
310 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Short Of It:

A light, easy read, though a bit short on substance. Good enough that I'll probably check out the second book in the series.

The Long Of It:
"First Grave on the Right" was like reading one of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books with a added paranormal element -- after all, our protagonist is the grim reaper. It was a light book that blended mystery, humor and a twinge of romance with a somewhat hapless, lovably flawed main character.

Charley Davidson sees dead people -- and helps them cross over to the "other side." And sometimes she helps the police figure out just what caused them to need her services in the first place. In this first book in the series, she's visited by three lawyers from the same firm who were all murdered on the same night, and with their assistance she and the police investigate their deaths and uncover a sinister crime.

The writing was adequate, I liked Charley for the most part, it made me laugh. It's definitely not going to win any Pultizer Prizes, but it was a fun, easy book and it was the perfect thing to cleanse my palate after reading the long and intense second Outlander book. I will say that the grim reaper jokes got a bit tiresome, and I was kinda confused about some of the supernatural elements, though perhaps those are fleshed out more as the books continue. It's one to pick up when you want something light -- the beach, the airport, when you've got kids tugging at your elbow -- and if you do like it there's a whole (ongoing) series to catch up with afterwards!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

I Judge Books By Their Covers: See What I Have Done

"See What I Have Done" by Sarah Schmidt -- a fictionalized account of the Lizzie Borden story -- came out this week and I'm hoping to read it soon. In fact, I have an advance-read copy that I just haven't managed to get to yet. Here's a bit of the Goodreads blurb:
"On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell -- of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence. "

U.S.   //   U.K.

I like both covers! They really have quite a bit in common: a bright, eye-catching single graphic centered on a neutral background, pretty colors, and a sort of rustic feel. And they both have just a little bit of eeriness that likely compliments the grim story -- the strange orange eye of the bird, and the bugs on the partially eaten pear.

The U.S. cover appeals to me because I love anything in the blue-green colorway and that bird is just so striking against the cream background! I also love artsy covers, and the watercolor paint-drip is right up my alley. On the other hand, the U.K. cover has that gorgeous font -- and I love how the author blurbs are made to look like they were handwritten.

In the end, though, the U.K. cover squeaks ahead for the win in my opinion. I like the painted look of the background, the bite taken out of the pear, the different-sized lettering and the colors, which compliment each other perfectly. I also like that it's such a balanced piece of artwork: when I look at it, my eye takes in the entire thing rather than zeroing in on a certain point (on the U.S. cover, my eye goes right to the white "HA").

Do tell: which cover do you prefer?
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