Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Eight years after watching her father, King Leck, be killed and inheriting the troubled kingdom of Monsea, Bitterblue still feels a long way from being settled as Queen. Secrets surround her. Secrets from her father's reign of terror, secrets about her own memories of her childhood, and the secrets seemingly everyone seems to hide in Monsea. Well Bitterblue is tired of secrets and the endless drudgery of pushing papers and signing documents -- she wants a chance to truly understand her people and their struggles. And so one night she decides to secretly leave the castle to do just that. Disguised and alone, she begins her exploration of Bitterblue City. What Bitterblue discovers on her nighttime wanderings is confusing, exhilarating and depressing all at once. In the secluded story rooms her people gather to recount tales of Leck's reign (often different from Bitterblue's own memories) and the adventures of renowned Gracelings such as Katsa and Po. There she also meets Saf and Teddy, two thieves who only steal what has already been stolen and who slowly teach Bitterblue about the real underlying problems of Monsea. Underscoring all this new information is the fact that as much as everyone seems to want to forget Leck and his horrible legacy, Bitterblue begins to understand that her people must uncover their hidden past before they can ever move forward.

Well, well, well. Talk about your emotional read. Like many of you I'm sure, Bitterblue is one of those books that I have been building up in my mind for a long time. Graceling effortlessly wowed me and Fire left me stunned beyond recognition so that I have been earnestly waiting this sequel of sorts ever since. What Kristin Cashore delivers is extremely different from her previous novels although strikingly similar at the same time. Bitterblue centers around many of the same characters we've come to love, like Katsa, Po, Giddon and even Fire makes an appearance but Bitterblue is decidedly a more quiet novel filled with political maneuverings and inner turmoil. For much of the book, Bitterblue is frustrated by her lack of understanding for what her people faced during her father's reign. Especially since she feels that to finally overcome their struggles, she has to know what demons they face daily. This is never more apparent within her own set of advisers, talented men who also served under Leck but who cannot seem to help Bitterblue move the kingdom in the direction she knows it must go. I'm sure partly this is intentional, but I became extremely frustrated with the runaround Bitterblue got from her advisers. Too much time was spent agonizing over and over the same details that I wish certain parts had been resolved a little more quickly.

Although I cannot say enough about the quality of Kristin Cashore's writing, in my opinion Bitterblue is not as strong a book as either Fire or Graceling. While excellent at developing feelings and the unraveling of secrets, I felt as if too much time in Bitterblue was devoted to political intrigues and the quest to understand history. I was not able to spend as much time with the people I really wanted to learn more about: Saf, Death (a fearful librarian who utterly stole my heart), Teddy, Giddon and many others. Frankly, although I was pleased with how Bitterblue's story was concluded as far as Monsea is concerned, I was not at all pleased with how we left her personally. Especially since Ms. Cashore gave us over 500 pages to get to that point! In the interest of not getting spoilery, suffice to say I feel like I still need yet another Bitterblue book to assure myself that she is truly going to be alright. I understand that such an emotional book was not meant to wrap up everything in a pretty little bow but I would liked to have seen a bit more resolution regarding her personal relationships. But that is not to say that Bitterblue isn't a beautiful book full of drama and ciphers and danger. It is. It's just not what I was expecting -- for good or bad.

series reading order:
~ Graceling - my review
~ Fire - my review
~ Bitterblue

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Book Smugglers review
Chachic's Book Nook review
Good Books & Good Wine review
The Readventurer review

book source: ARC from the publisher

Bitterblue Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered my Bitterblue giveaway hosted by Penguin! 
The winners of a copy of Bitterblue are:


Please send me your address and I'll make sure a copy gets on it's way to you!

Smart Chicks Get What They Want

originally published at Book Harbinger's Seven Days for Sevenwaters but I wanted to make sure it wound up in my archives too.

Thank you very much to Holly for inviting me to be a part of her fabulous Seven Days for Sevenwaters series! I'm all aflutter at the chance to be able to talk about my favorite Sevenwaters book. And which particular volume of deliciousness am I going to blabber on about today? Hmmm. It was a little over two years ago that I devoured read this unforgettable series for the very first time. Believe it or not Daughter of the Forest simply blew my mind. And how could it not? It's an utterly gorgeous book full of long-suffering patience and love and sacrifice! Not knowing quite what to expect with the sequels however, I steeled myself not to get my hopes up too much ... just in case.Well, I settled into Son of the Shadows (book 2 in the series) and right then and there it was alllll over for me. Truly. Son of the Shadows was positively perfect in all it's heartbreaking hopefulness that it just had to become my new shiny favorite. And today I have the enviable pleasure of explaining just why my heart beats a bit faster every single time I pick up that extraordinary book.

A quick warning ... If you haven't gotten around to reading Son of the Shadows (and why ever not?!), I really don't want to spoil it for you. Really. So be warned. Spoilers, dishing over the villains, the HEA, and all those delicious details will be contained herein.

Like many other Juliet Marillier novels, what truly cemented my love affair with Son of the Shadows is its standout cast of characters. In addition to one dark, brooding hero with a mysterious past and his band of Merry Painted Men, it happens to contain one of my all time favorite female leads: Liadan, daughter of Sorcha and Red from Daughter of the Forest. Liadan is smart, she's resourceful, she's an infinitely caring person and one who values family above all else. But never fear! Our Liadan would never be described as a pushover. She's the type who utterly refuses to back down when it counts. And what's more, she knows what she wants and then goes out and MAKES it happen.

Case in point: At this point in Son of the Shadows Liadan has not had the best day. She's just been unceremoniously released by Bran and is now headed home to Sevenwaters brokenhearted and humiliated when the Fair Folk appear and decide to drop this bombshell.

Fair Folk: You've sorta been making some stupid choices in the man department.

Liadan: Excuse me? Are you talking to me?

Fair Folk: Yes, you. We've decided you need to stay near Sevenwaters. Forever.

Liadan: Huh?

Fair Folk: Oh and you can never get married.

Liadan: Whaaa???

Fair Folk: Promise?

Liadan: Uh, no.

Fair Folk: But! But! You could mess up the prophecy!

Liadan: Don't care.

Fair Folk: Well then. Doom on you! DOOM on you!

Liadan: Really. Don't. Care.

Remember now, Bran has just basically dumped Liadan after learning who she really was. And like many bad breakups, he said some truly not-so-nice things to her and Laidan is pretty convinced she's never gonna lay eyes on the man she loves ever again. But instead of swearing off men forever like the Fair Folk demand, she hasn't given up hope and chooses instead to decide for herself. Think of it: in the face of so much pain she still has hope for the future!

I truly don't think I've ever encountered a character with more hope than Liadan. She refuses to let fate dictate her path and instead fights for her own future. When the Fair Folk come back later and demand she choose Bran or her son Johnny (I KNOW! You'd think they'd learn by now), Liadan once again flouts their decree and then goes on to keep BOTH. But not because anybody handed her her happily ever after on a silver platter. Oh no, she's a smart chick with a very strong view on how her life will turn out and a deep understanding that she has to fight for that happiness. And guess what? She does get it all: her man, her son, and the chicken dinner. I'll just leave it to you to find out exactly how...

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is the book I have been dying to read even before I knew it existed. It's the book I will still be talking about for the rest of the year (and probably much longer). And it's the book with so many complexly interwoven details that I'm sure it will continue to stun me for many rereadings to come. 

Verity, the code name of our narrator, is actually an Allied agent who has been captured by the Nazis in occupied France. Opting against torture, Verity (also known as Queenie to her friends) has agreed to divulge codes and other Allied wartime secrets for her captor, SS-Hauptsturmf├╝hrer von Linden. Thus begin the outpouring of secrets. Though even as she is proclaiming herself a coward (and traitor) with her every breath, Queenie is constantly needling her captors and poking fun at her own very dire situation with her endlessly dark and razor sharp humor. What Queenie does write to her captors however is not simply a list of British secrets and codes but the story of herself and her best friend Maddie, an airplane pilot. Woven into their initial introduction and developing friendship are all the details von Linden demanded asked for, but by setting it agonist the backdrop of their relationship, you have an inside view of the life of two strong-willed women during WWII: the secrets they kept and the lies they told.

Almost from word go, you get the immediate sense that Queenie is not all she proclaims to be. In fact, she herself describes herself thus:
I am in the Special Operations Executive because I can speak French and German and am good at making up stories and I am a prisoner in the Ormaie Gestapo HQ because I have no sense of direction whatsoever.
'Making up stories' indeed. With this one sentence very early on we get an immediate sense of the vitality and humor possessed by Queenie and that perhaps our storyteller is not as reliable as she proclaims herself to be. What makes this story so unforgettable (just like one of Queenie's stories) are the details. Hundreds of tiny historical facts about planes, the RAF, the WAAF, literature, and even the history of the ballpoint pen! I simply couldn't wait to pick up Code Name Verity as each time as I knew every page would contain  another adventure, another heartbreak.

Perhaps my favorite line from Cody Name Verity (and you better believe my copy has been bombed with bookmarks) is after Queenie and Maddie have just begun to get to know one another and Queenie writes,
It's like being in love, discovering your best friend.
This line, my friends, utterly encapsulates why I am head over heels for this book. Yes, it is full of surprises and intrigue but at the heart it is a beautiful story of two friends -- who would have never, ever become close had the situation been different -- but who did find each other and had one of those stunning relationships that you always find yourself completely giddy over. I can't say it enough, this book blew me away. I simply cannot get the story out of my head. Verity's voice and Maddie's story are so intricately crafted. It's one of those lovely stories that as soon as you finish, you just want to immediately jump right back into a satisfying reread to rediscover (or maybe even for the first time) all those seemingly innocent details inserted along the way. Just go ahead and read it now, I'll patiently wait for your gushing reply. Grab a box a tissues though, you'll be needing them.

And, if you get the chance, check out these links for a few interviews with Elizabeth Wein.
Shelf Awareness
~ Huffington Post (in which Elizabeth Wein reveals she's working on Part II of Code Name Verity!! wheeee!)
~ Kirkus

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy review
The Book Smugglers review
Chachic's Book Nook review
Maggie Stiefvater Five Things review
Steph Su Reads review

book source: NetGalley

Bitterblue Giveaway!

Thanks to Penguin today I have TWO copies of the newly released Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore to give away. This book is one of my most anticipated reads for 2012 seeing as I totally devoured Graceling and Fire. I'm sure you all want to get your hands on a copy of this lovely book too, right? 
All you have to do is leave me a comment telling me which Grace you'd like to have if you lived in the Seven Kingdoms. Please be sure to leave a contact email as well.

All prizing provided by Penguin.
Giveaway open to US addresses only, open until May 28, 2012.

About Bitterblue:
Bitterblue is the long-awaited companion to New York Times bestsellers Graceling and Fire.

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle--disguised and alone--to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn't yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Find out more!

In My Mailbox: From Gramma

I just got back from beautiful North Georgia for the funeral of my Gramma. It was so special to see so much of my far-flung family as we celebrated the wonderfully strong and intelligent woman that was my Gramma Frances. 
And as we were going through some of my Gramma's things we found these lovelies. Now I knew my Gramma was a dedicated reader, she's a card carrying bookworm -- in fact, I'm sure that's where my love of books came from -- but we always thought she had pretty refined tastes. Lots of Gene Stratton-Porter and historical fiction. 
Well, in her closet we found a giant pile of these hilarious romance novels from the 40s and 50s with fantastic teasers and my sister and I just knew we'd have to snag a few to take home. 
Which I am posting here for your enjoyment.
 and the fabulous back copy:
Oh. My. I love it!
And can I say that I feel just a tich closer to my Gramma now knowing that she enjoyed her book crack just as much as I do. 
I grabbed a couple others that I think I actually will enjoy - it seems she was a fan of Gothic stories too.
Love you Gramma. 

Read-Along Review: Northlander by Meg Burden

This past week has been filled with all sorts of fun as I did my first read-a-long with my good blogging friend Chachic. We selected Meg Burden's Tales of the Borderlands duology for our first read-along and I for one could not have been more pleased with the series. Or the constant comments flying back and forth between Chachic and I. Since we basically wound up saying most everything we'd want to get across in a review in our emails back and forth, we decided to simply post our exchanges (minus spoilers!) for your enjoyment. 

Having traveled with her father, a master healer, hastily and in secret from the Southlands, Ellin Fisher quickly learns she is neither liked nor wanted in the cold Northlands. Both of which are made perfectly clear one night when she is locked outside the city gates -- during a blizzard -- simply for having the red hair of a Southling. Fuming and in danger of freezing to death, Ellin takes refuge in a guard cottage only to be intruded upon by the same guard who earlier denied her entrance. Only this guard is now crying his heart out over the impending death of his father. The King of the Northlands. Whose father Ellin came to heal (I'm sure you can imagine his change of heart). Not willing to stand by when perhaps she can help, Ellin convinces the young Prince Garreth to taking her to the King's bedside where she attempts an illegal healing using abilities she has is still only learning herself. Of course, by taking that first step into the King's presence, Ellin is brought into the inner circle of the five young Northern princes whose world she is about to turn upside down. That is, if they don't manage to muck hers up first.

Chachic: I started on Northlander and I'm really liking it so far. I'm at page 50 but I stopped because I want to pace myself to read with you so let me know when you've started and we can go from there. But please, don't feel pressured to read if you don't find time for it.

Michelle: No worries! So I'm up to chapter 6. So far I really, really like it. You have to love that brilliant first paragraph!

Chachic: I'm really liking it too! The first few chapters really draw you in and I had to stop myself from reading more. 

Michelle: So who do you think Ellin is going to fall for? Because you know she IS going to fall for one of those brothers! I'm intrigued with Finn and the whole silent communication thing but of course Garreth insulted her first and so he's going to have to go to all sorts of lengths to make it up to her, right? So I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Chachic: LOL I'm Team Finn! Yeah, I have a feeling she's going to end up with one of the brothers eventually - although maybe not until the second book? I'm not sure how old Ellin or the boys are but I think they're a bit young, maybe early teens? Because Ellin said that Alaric and Coll are men compared to the boys.

Michelle:  By the way, I love the dichotomy of the Northland and Southland, so far the premise is awesome. Your thoughts?

Chachic: I'm looking forward to reading more about the history of the world - why Northlanders hate Southlings and vice versa. It's a really promising book and I hope I keep liking it until the end.

(spoilery conversation removed, moving on to thoughts after finishing the novel)

Chachic: So I did finish reading Northlander and I really like it! I'm going to wait for you to finish it before we discuss so I won't mention any spoilers here. Really looking forward to reading the sequel. :)

Michelle: HA! I literally just finished reading it about 10 minutes ago! Honestly, this has been so fun -- I totally kept thinking "I wonder what part Chachic is to now?" So glad we did this together.

Chachic: LOL so funny that we finished reading it at the same time! It was so much fun, wasn't it? I mean I enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you but I also liked that we picked a good book to read.

Michelle: Overall I especially like the pacing of this book, so much happens in such a short span that I feel like you barely catch your breath when the next unthinkable thing happens. I'm all wore out now. :) But very, very good reading. I'm so glad we went with this one! 

Chachic:  I know what you mean about the pace of the book - going in, I thought it was going to be a quiet fantasy novel but I was pleasantly surprised that so much happens. And it never felt forced, you know? I was with Ellin all throughout all of those events.

Michelle: Although, I'm not sure I loved whole reason for the King hating Southlings. I don't know, it just seemed kind of rushed and thin. I wish it had been something a bit more substantial -- and explained more, but there you go. A minor quibble.

Chachic: Yeah, the part with the King hating the Southlings felt a bit rushed, it would have been better if there was more of an explanation for the situation. But yes, it's a minor quibble because I still liked the book overall.

I'm excited to review this one because I feel like it's such an under-the-radar title. I bought it because of recommendations from Angie and Charlotte and I see that Laura (from Jane of All Reads) also liked it but aside from that, no one else has read it. And I saw that it's marked as "hard to find title" in the Book Depository.

Michelle: Agreed! Excellent choice in book(s). I'm glad you seem to have similar reactions that I did, that just made this whole experience so much more fun.

Obviously if you couldn't already tell, Northlander stole my heart. I found it extremely refreshing to see such a character like Ellin who is constantly out of her element but who is still willing to learn and admit to her mistakes. And constant is the key here. It seemed as if Ellin flew head-first from one dangerous adventure to another, yet I never once felt that her story was forced or implausible. Unexpected, yes -- but still utterly believable in context. The five Northern Princes were also a complete breath of fresh air! Alaric, Coll, Finn, Erik, and Garreth all stole my heart in their own way (probably around the time they each wormed their way into Ellin's heart too). Meg Burden did an excellent job of creating believable and unique relationships between Ellin and each of the Princes. Seldom do you find YA books that manage to include well-drawn friendships between males and females. Northlander is one of those rare books that will continually surprise you with it's endearing characters over and over again. So very glad I decided to read it along with my good friend Chachic!

Want more? Be sure to hop on over to Chachic's Book Nook for the second part of our tremendous read-along and our thoughts on the fabulous sequel to The King Commands (even if the cover is properly cringe-worthy).

series reading order:
~ Northlander
~ The King Commands

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Jane of All Reads review
Angieville review
Bookshelves of Doom review
las risas review
Wands and Worlds review

book source: purchased

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

I am so totally on board with this whole New Adult genre. The protagonists are out of high school and are just looking to define themselves of individuals. I've always had issues with those YA books where teens are declaring their undying love for each other at 15 or 16 (frankly, at that age I didn't even know enough about myself to begin to know what I wanted in someone else). Something Like Normal had inadvertently flown under my TBR radar until a few reviews mentioned it's older characters and sharp sense of reality and just like that, I was all in.

Travis is just back from one life-altering year as a Marine in Afghanistan. No longer able to connect with his former friends back home, Travis knows it's not healthy to be seeing or having conversations with his best friend Charlie who died in the war. But who can a guy turn to if not his parents (whose less than stellar relationship is becoming rockier by the day) or his brother (who not only stole his car but his girlfriend Paige while gone)? However life seems to hand him one last chance the night he runs into Harper. Despite the fact that he ruined her life in high school, she's the one girl whose kindness yet uncanny ability to coax the unvarnished truth out of Travis draws him to her like nothing else could. And Harper doesn't even know if she has it in her to trust her heart to this different, damaged Travis. Again.

Despite what the cover suggests, Something Like Normal is not really a steamy read. Unforgivingly honest? Yes. Devastatingly sad and unexpectedly sweet? Most assuredly. Travis spends a large portion of the time in this book either making extremely stupid decisions or learning some really hard truths about himself. Either way you look at it, our man has not has an easy time. But what killed me most about Something Like Normal is the startlingly openness of it all. Told from the male perspective, Travis' confessions to Harper often left me sobbing my eyes out. This story is in-your-face heart breaking but still full of the hijinks any 19 year old guy gets up to. Throw in Harper's innocence and her big dreams for the future and, well, Trish Doller strikes an incredible balance. It wasn't a quiet or easy read by any means, but Travis' voice is just unforgettable.

Something Like Normal is due out June 19th.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Good Addiction review
Angieville review
Between the Pages review
Bloggers [heart] Books review
Chachic's Book Nook review

book source: NetGalley