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BookTube: January 2016 Wrap Up

Welcome to my January Wrap Up! I read a total of 10 books in January (9 novels and 1 short story!) so I’m pretty happy with my reading progress so far! I outlined which books applied to the reading challenges I signed up for earlier this week, but here are reviews in video form for everything I read since I haven’t gotten to write reviews for all of the books just yet.  What was your favorite read of January?

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Kristin

wish list

Wish List Worthy: Star Wars Tsum Tsum’s

I have been telling myself for a while that Tsum Tsums will be a slippery slope for me if I cave in and start going all out.  I’ve been exerting the utmost self control when I see them enter the Disney Store on Tsum Tsum Tuesday’s (the first Tuesday of each month) and I’ve managed to only buy some favorites thus far (the Christmas collection, Minnie, Peter Pan & Hook) but trust me when I say that the struggle is real.  Enter, my downfall.  Star Wars Tsum Tsums guys! STAR WARS! TSUM TSUMS! I have just been waiting for the day that this collection would be released and I’m super hoping this won’t be some type of gateway for me but GUH I need so many of them. ESPECIALLY Han and Leia. And Boba Fett.And R2. And Chewy.  These beautiful little bb’s come out on February 16th.

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Tsum Tsum - Star Wars

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Tea & Book Chat

Tea & Book Chat: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin #1)

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is the first book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy.  It’s a series I put in my Series I Plan to Read in 2016 video since I’ve heard such wonderful things about it from several credible sources.  Plus, it follows an assassin so that certainly caught my interest.  As someone who hadn’t really enjoyed historical novels in the past (until I learned I recently that I actually LOVE them see: Hamilton and Passenger), I had been expecting to have a difficult time getting into Grave Mercy but I was completely wrong.  Once I learned everyone’s names (which was a little bit confusing in the beginning), I found I had no problem enjoying the story and reading at my normal pace.

Our main character is named Ismae and she is the daughter of Mortain, the Saint of Death.  After a horrible childhood with an even worse stepfather, he sells her to a farmer for three coins.  Ismae has a scar on her leg from her mother attempting to abort her so she is viewed as undesirable.  On her wedding night, she get whisked away by a man who takes her to a convent that serves Mortain and after being tested, she accepts her new role as an assassin of Death.  I was shocked at how quickly Isame was willing to accept her new job offer but after being wronged by so many people I suppose I should’ve seen that coming.  I had honestly expected her to be hemming and hawing for a good portion of the novel but I’m so happy it was a quick decision because the remaining pages were used to tell a very captivating tale.  I love Ismae as a character.  She is eager to learn and serve her convent and despite what might seem like an impulsive first decision, she is very thoughtful in her actions henceforth.  I also love Duvall who strongly values family and puts his sister, the Duchess Anne above all else.  He protects her in ways that none of her other trusted advisers do.  Additionally, I also grew very fond of Duvall’s most trusted men, but particularly Beast.  These characters have secured a place in my heart and I cannot wait to find out more about them.

Grave Mercy

Seeing as how this is an historical novel, I would be remiss not to mention the intriguing setting of Brittany in the 15th century.  After completing the novel, I read the author’s note, only to find out how historically accurate all of her characters (with the exception of two) and much of the plot were (minus the whole Death’s daughter as an assassin thing).  For me, it is fascinating to learn about history when I can feel a deep connection to the characters involved instead of the dry recounts found in modern textbooks so everything about this story really worked for me.  I had so many feelings about what was going on and especially toward the latter half of the book I could feel my heart pounding in my chest while I read.  The fantasy elements interwoven in Grave Mercy enhanced the overall story and would add just as much if they were only metaphorical.  I love everything about the lore of the assassins, the tense atmosphere due to French threats in Brittany and the fate of these beloved pawns in an intricate political game.  As I understand it, the second book focuses on another character who meet in this book, but I’m still eager to find out more of the story!

Final Thoughts: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is the first book in the His Dark Assassin trilogy and it follows Ismae, an assassin who serves as her father Mortain, the Saint of Death.  I was completely captivated by Isame’s tale and the political situations in 15th century Brittany.  Robin LaFevers totally nailed it and I would highly recommend giving this series a read if you’re into historical fiction with fantasy elements.

Rating 5

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? (via Goodreads)

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Tea & Book Chat

Tea & Book Chat: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn is a novel I had wanted to read since I first hear about it.  The premise is very different from any other YA I’ve ever read and while I enjoyed reading the book (seriously, I read it in two days and could not put it down), I had a lot of issues with the book as a whole.  As such, I’ve had a difficult time figuring out an appropriate star rating forFirsts.  As far as enjoyment levels go, I did enjoy it, especially for it’s originality, but as far as morally, I feel awful giving this book a high rating.  The struggle is real.

Firsts follows Mercedes, a girl who has an open door policy for virgins.  She gives them the coaching they need during their first time so they’ll be able to give their girlfriends the first time that Mercedes herself never had.  I’m sure you can see where my issues are stemming from.  Outwardly, Mercedes is a likable character and for some reason she believes she’s doing a good thing.  Her parents are very absent from her life and she even tries to flaunt some of her escapades in front of her mother in the hopes that “Kim” (as Mercy calls her), will start handing out parental advice or laying down ground rules. I personally believe that if you’re in a committed relationship with someone, you should not sleep with anyone else unless you both have some kind of mutual agreement that you established.  I would also argue that Mercy is the lesser of two evils as she was not in a relationship with anyone else nor was she actively seeking out guys with girlfriends but it’s hard not to imagine that she put herself in her classmates shoes at any point.  So overall, my biggest issue with this novel is the morality of it.  I found it exceptionally interesting that Mercy hated grey area and was only drawn to subjects like math and science where there’s one correct answer instead of English where there’s grey area when she chooses to life her life mostly in grey area. I’m not saying Mercy doesn’t deserve another chance but I wish she would’ve put more thought into her actions.  I also wish it would’ve been driven home more that Mercy sleeping with guys with girlfriends is wrong and instead of guys in general.

Firsts

All of that aside, I was amazed that Laurie Elizabeth Flynn was still able to make me like Mercy.  I did not at all agree with her choices but she is an intelligent girl (which is why it’s so hard to believe that she believed she was doing a good thing).  Throughout the book I just hoped for Mercy to get her life in order and to stop allowing so many boys to take advantage of her.  Despite her situation, Mercy is best friends with an avid churchgoer named Angela who has no idea what she’s been up to in the privacy of her own home so that was an interesting juxtaposition.  Mercy also genuinely cares for Angela and tries to protect her innocence since she abandoned hers long ago.  I felt terrible when I found out what happened to Mercy as a young teen but it still doesn’t justify her actions.  I was very surprised that there wasn’t more involvement or consequences from Mercy’s school or from her parents after the inevitable fallout from her extracurricular activities.  Mercy’s classmates resorted to slut shaming her which is unfortunate but I had been expecting that from the beginning. I don’t think that’s right under any circumstance but I can understand why some girls were so angry with her. I just wish they had gone about their reactions differently.

Final Thoughts:  Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn is an original YA novels about a girl named Mercy who sleeps with virgins in an effort to allow them to give their girlfriends the perfect first time she never experienced.  The book is well written and manages to make Mercy a likable character but it’s impossible to agree with what she’s doing.  There seems to be a lot of morally grey area tied to issues that should be black and white. Even after writing my review, my feelings are still very mixed on this one.

Rating 3

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.  (via Goodreads)

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Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly series hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly awaiting.  This week I’m choosing Nevernight by Jay Kristoff which is the first book in a new fantasy series!  I mentioned Nevernight in the last Top Ten Tuesday I partook in.  The incredibly beautiful and spooky cover was released last week and what’s even more exciting is that Meg from Cuddlebuggery did the typography for the book! How awesome is that?!  I am honestly just obsessed with this cover.  I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve pulled it up just to analyze it further.  Nevernight is about a girl who becomes an apprentice to a group of deadly assassins and she’s hellbent on getting revenge so it sounds like things are going to get interesting very quickly!

Nevernight

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she wanders a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and its thugs. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the hearth of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. Treachery and trials await her with the Church’s halls, and to fail is to die. But if she survives to initiation, Mia will be inducted among the chosen of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the only thing she desires.

Revenge. (via Goodreads)

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BookTube: Top 5 Wednesday: Top 5 YA Badasses

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday topic is Top 5 Badasses! For some reason my mind just automatically assumed that we were supposed to pick female characters so that’s what I did! Who are your favorite badasses in literature?

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My February Pre-Orders

My Book Bag is a new monthly feature where I’ll be sharing all of the books that I preordered for the month.  There are so many amazing stories to look forward to this month so without further ado, here are all the February new releases I’ve pre-ordered! Links to each book’s Goodreads page can be found down below if you’d like to read the synopsis.

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Books Mentioned

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer (Goodreads)

Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell (Goodreads)

Raging Sea (Undertow #2) by Michael Buckley (Goodreads)

Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard (Goodreads)

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas (Goodreads)

Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan (Goodreads)

Calamity (The Reckoners #3) by Brandon Sanderson (Goodreads)

A Gathering of Shadows (A Darker Shade of Magic #2) by V.E. Schwab (Goodreads)

After the Woods by Kim Savage (Goodreads)

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Tea & Book Chat

Tea & Book Chat: Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is a contemporary romance that I made a number one priority for 2016.  I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about this LGBTQ+ novel since it’s debut last year and I recently included it in one of my Top Ten Tuesday lists.  The novel is a coming out story told from the perspective of Simon, a high school teenager who hasn’t come out yet.  Like any teen, Simon struggles with his identity and what it is that makes him who he is.  He has a solid group of friends and a wonderful family and a love interest who goes to his school but since they communicate exclusively via email his identity remains unknown.  I loved everything about this book and I was amazed at how quickly I read it but I honestly could not stop.  I read an e-book version that I picked up on sale during December but I love it so much that I ordered myself a hardcover copy for my shelves!

Simon is one of my favorite YA characters probably ever.  I love his voice and being in his head is delightful.  He has a manic sense of enthusiasm and he obsesses over the things that are the biggest deal to him.  He’s both confident and vulnerable and I just want to hug him.  Everything about him feels so real and genuine and I’m sure anyone who readsSimon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda will be able to identify with the struggles Simon faces.  Besides sharing an affinity for Oreo’s and having a major sweet tooth, Simon is a theater geek who enjoys comics, Doctor Who and anime.  He is such a real and fleshed out character that it’s impossible not to feel invested in his story.  Even the side characters, from the most minor to that almost majors, are completely developed which enhances the story even more.  Because Simon has such a strong support system of family (the parents who want to be the cool parents but really care about their kids, an older sister Alice who’s in her first year of college and a younger sister Nora who keeps to herself) and friends (Nick, his music-loving, guitar-playing, video-game-addicted best friend, their third musketeer Leah, an sassy and sarcastic anime lover who dresses up as a Fruits Basket character for Halloween, and the new girl Abby who’s loving and accepting).  Even Martin, the antagonist who blackmails Simon is given depth.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

The mystery surrounding Simon’s virtual love interest kept me completely hooked but even if the story had focused on anything else, I would’ve been just as engaged.  Throughout the novel I would make guesses as to who I thought “Blue” might be and I am so happy to say that I was completely surprised and delighted once his identity was revealed.  It feels so realistic to see a teenage relationship progress via email since communication via the internet is where many people feel the most comfortable being completely open and honest. I would be willing to bet that I looked forward to Blue’s emails almost as much as Simon did and the banter between them was absolutely adorable.  There is a definite bond of friendship that formed between Simon and Blue and they come to rely on one another for distractions when their offline life feels too complicated.  Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a story about finding first love, finding yourself and figuring out what your identity is.

Final Thoughts: READ THIS BOOK.  I rarely think a book will appeal to everyone on a mass scale but Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is something SPECIAL.  Within the first few pages you’ll fall in love with Simon and his narrative and throughout the course of the novel you’ll experience all those feelings of first love over again.  Every single character so much as mentioned in this book has a very distinct and completely fleshed out identity.  Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is an LGBTQ+ friendly story but it’s pretty solid proof that love between people, no matter what they identify as, manifest the same feelings as any “traditional” relationship.

Rating 6

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. (via Goodreads)

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BookTube: January Book Haul

It’s my first book haul of 2016! And it’s a BIG one.  I picked up a really good mix of pretty classic books, new YA releases and some backlist books I’ve been meaning to get to.  I’m pretty pleased with everything I acquired although I did buy a bit more than I thought I did. I’ve been using a spreadsheet to keep track of everything I read and buy and I was shocked when I looked at the number of books I hauled but it made it a lot easier to follow a list when creating my pile for the video.  What’s your favorite book you purchased in January?

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2016 Reading Challenges

2016 Reading Challenges: January Recap

Welcome to my first reading challenges recap of 2016!  This is going to be a monthly post where I’ll be updating my progress throughout the year by challenge so you (and I) can see a breakdown of what I’ve read and which goals those books apply to.  I’m always open to suggestions in the comments as well!

Goodreads

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Goal: 100

Read so far: 10

Flights of Fantasy

flights of fantasy

Goal: 30

Read so far: 4

Books that Qualify: Truthwitch (review), Red Queen (review), Clockwork Angel, Fablehaven

Contemporary Romance Reading Challenge

contemporary romance reading challenge

Goal: 21+

Read so far: 4

Books that Qualify: Meant to Be (review), Pivot Point (review), Summer of Sloane, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

The Re-Read Challenge

re-read challenge

Goal: 10

Read so far: 0

Books that Qualify: N/A

2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

TBR Pile Reading challenge

Goal: 50

Read so far: 7

Books that Qualify: Meant to Be (review), Mitosis, Firefight (review), Pivot Point (review), Red Queen (review), Clockwork Angel, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

2016 Finishing the Series Challenge

finishing the series challenge

*This challenge will fluctuate throughout the year based on whether a new book in the series has been released. A star denotes that I am either finished or current with the series.

Goal: 3-6 series

Series completed so far: 2

Books that Qualify: Mitosis, Firefight (review), Pivot Point (review), Truthwitch*(review), Red Queen*(review), Clockwork Angel, Fablehaven

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Kristin
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