5 New-to-Me Authors of the Last Year

I’ll be honest – I like to stick with what I know. When I find an author that I love, I keep going back to them. When they release new books – there I am! I pre-order and count down the days, then drink the new story in once it’s released. But the time in between, I occasionally branch out. I need to do this more often, and it’s actually one of my reading goals for this year. I need to seek out new-to-me voices and perspectives, giving new authors a chance.

These are 5 new-to-me authors I enjoyed that I’ve read in the last year or so.

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Kendare Blake

Blake book Antigoddess has been on my radar for a few years. I actually purchased the book at a Half Price Books, but then ended up giving it away because I never picked it up! After reading Three Dark Crowns on New Years Eve, I want to seek out anything and everything she’s written. It was dark and surprising and so thrilling. I really loved it! You can read my full review HERE. She has whole other series I can read! Yes!

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Kaye Dacus

I love a good historical, Christian romance story and this one was good! I thought the author did a great job painting a picture of the setting and the characters. This book’s plot was strongly character driven, and although the main conflict fell flat, I would like to read her other books! You can read my full review for it HERE.

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Annie F. Downs

I heard about Annie’s works last year during the summer and immediately picked up Looking for Lovely. It had recently been published at that time and was getting some buzz, so I decided to give it a whirl. I don’t usually do well with non-fiction because I get bored, but Annie had me so hooked. I read this in just a couple of days and felt like I’d spent the whole time with a close friend. Since then, I’ve also read her book Let’s All Be Brave and loved it, too. Keep writing, Annie! I’ll keep reading! (I’m calling her by her first name because I feel like we’re kindred spirits. I also feel like she wouldn’t mind at all.) Read my full reviews for the first book HERE, and the second HERE.

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Pam Munoz Ryan

I know that this author also wrote Esperanza Rising, which I’ve heard a lot about, but I’ve never read it! I”m aware that she isn’t a NEW author, but she IS new to me. Echo is fantastic, if you haven’t picked it up yet. It’s got a lot of pages and feels like a brick, but it reads quickly and is SO insightful. I found the plot to be unique and the way the author weaved the 3 stories together, masterful. I definitely want to pick up her other books!

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Melanie Dickerson

I read 2 of her books last year: The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest and The Healer’s Apprentice. (Click the titles to see my full reviews.) These are the types of stories I like to read without analysis. The plots are simple, but there’s a lot of historical elements that I find interesting. Sometimes the plot comes together a little too easily for my taste, but the characters are sweet and I root for them from beginning to end. Dickerson has many other books, so I will continue to pick up her stories from time to time!

Who are some little known, little celebrated authors I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen

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Synopsis from GoodreadsAnthony Blake is in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot. But his plans to court her are put on hold when he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for the Crown. A secret document listing the names of the entire network of British spies-including his own-has been stolen. To protect Sophia, Anthony cuts off all ties to her and exchanges his life as an honorable earl for the façade of a flirtatious playboy.

Heartbroken and confused, Sophia travels to India, hoping to find healing in one of the most exotic regions of the British Empire. But the exotic land isn’t as restful as she had hoped. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery of a missing sea captain, a possible murder, and a plot that could involve the prince of India. And when Anthony appears at the British Residency, asking questions and keeping his distance from her, she is stunned.

She still loves him, and, in her heart, she knows he loves her too. But how can she rebuild her relationship with him if he won’t confide in her? Does she dare offer her heart to him a second time, or will their love be lost under the India sun?

Feelings:  One thing I really appreciated about this book were the cultural spotlights. She gave us a base – the British expectations and values – something most of us have a loose understanding of. Then as the story developed, she layered in the traditions and cultural norms of India. She compared the two worlds and showed how they impacted each other.

The author somehow managed to teach me about a culture I didn’t know much about, draw me in with a murder mystery, and keep me hoping for our two protagonists. There was a lot going on, to be sure, but I don’t think it was too much. I believe it was well balanced.

With murder mysteries, my main concern is usually that I’ll have it all figured out long before the final pages. With this story, I had some guesses, but I never could have predicted exactly how it would play out.

Issues: The ending felt a little too rushed for me. We spent so much time building up to who the murderer was and their motivations, then the truth comes out pretty quickly and it’s over. The epilogue helped the story to feel like it had a satisfying ending. Without it, I really wouldn’t have been thrilled.

While there’s a lot going on in this story, there were a few times where I felt like…nothing…was going on. About a third of the way through, I started to lose interest. Then I just resolved to finish reading it and finished the other two thirds in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down! I think it was because we’d met our protagonists, a change in scenery had occurred, and then someone was murdered. I hadn’t really dug my heels into it yet; it didn’t feel like there was anything solid to hold onto. But then the story picks up and it sucked me in! So stay with it.

Characters: I thought the two main characters, Anthony and Sophia, were really sweet. I was worried that the tension would drag on too long, but it ended up being just right. They complimented each other well and I loved the way they understood one another. Because of the way the author paced the story, we got to know our main characters in doses. There wasn’t a major introductory information dump. In fact, for a while I had some questions, but the author had answered them all by the end. I like that because it forces me to pay better attention and look for specific things.

The minor characters added some value to the plot and gave us some more cultural insights. They included a wide range of individuals from different backgrounds and levels of society, which added some depth to the overall story.

Final thoughts: The setting was beautiful and totally jumped off the pages, the romance was clean and sweet, and the mystery wasn’t too predictable. I really enjoyed the author’s writing style and felt like I was reading some classic Austen, from time to time. This book was a great change of pace from what I’ve been reading lately and I’d recommend it to my historical fiction and mystery loving friends!

Pick this up if you liked:

My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen

Goodreads rating: 4.67/5

My rating: 4/5

*This book will be out August 1 of this year. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Romances I Hate to Love, or Love to Hate

I love a good romance story. I mean…who doesn’t? Give me a rom-come or a love-filled period drama any day of the week and I’m a very happy camper. Sometimes though, I come across stories that I love, but hate at the same time. And there are always different reasons for this response. It could be that I dislike one of the people in the relationship, but I like the other one. It could be that it was an instalove connection, which annoys me. It could even be the writing style throwing me off, yet I keep trudging onwards. And yet…keep them coming!

These are 5 romance stories that I hate to love, or love to hate.

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Mare & Cal

I read this second book in the series mostly because I wanted to see how their relationship would play out. Would they recover from the plot twist in Red Queen? Would it drive a wedge between them? I got so frustrated with them throughout Glass Sword, but I just HAD to know how they end up. I didn’t love this book, as you can read about in my review of it. But I really like Cal, and I think he can do better than Mare. You know it too, Cal!

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Kaz & Inej

They’re not even a straight up couple and I hate that I love them. They’re so right for each other, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense that they can’t just commit and be together. They’ve both got ridiculous amounts of baggage that prevent them from being what I want them to be (insert flirtations of Nina & Matthias as an example). I’m so conflicted by their relationship, or lack thereof. I need a third book, Bardugo!

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Harry & Ginny

That’s right! I said it! I’ve never been a fan of the Harry-Ginny combo. Actually, I’ve just never really been a fan of Ginny. I didn’t expect it to last, to be honest, while I was reading the books. Then the movie came out and I thought the chemistry between the two actors was off a little, so that just solidified my opinion. Harry literally could have ended up with whoever he wanted. (Cue “Choooo Chaaannggg” from A Very Potter Musical.) Then the “Cursed Child” script was released and I’m still sticking to my guns, here. And yet…I love Harry Potter and his whole world. So even if a book came out that was all about their life together, I’d read it. Because Potter.

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Marko & Alana

I’ve been reading the Saga volumes for the last year or so and I have to say, Marko and Alana have an incredibly frustrating relationship. As far fetched as their bond seems, there’s also a crazy dose of reality mixed in. Yes, they’re in another world, but they’re dealing with a lot of the same relationship drama that we see everyday all around us. Maybe not escaping from our warring planets, but raising a family together, meeting each other’s families, being separated from each other, and more. I like this story and the way I’m kept on my toes, but sometimes it’s hard to face the truths these two characters deal with.

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Bridget & Mark & Bridget & Daniel

I really enjoyed this book and I love the 3 movies. There’s so much in these stories that I can relate to, and then other things that I have no connection with and make me laugh out loud…or just generally enjoy my own life a little bit more. I went back and forth between whether I preferred Mark or Daniel for Bridget. While I now that in the end, Daniel wasn’t the right pick for her (not including the spoilers from the new movie), I still don’t love her with Mark. But I do love Colin Firth. So I’ll keep coming back to these stories, anyway.

What romances do you hate that you love? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

*This review will contain some spoilers, if you haven’t read Six of Crows.*

“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”

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Synopsis from GoodreadsKaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

Feelings: I love Bardugo’s writing and the way she weaves in characters’ back stories with the present action. We’re constantly learning new things about them as the story moves along and it adds so much dimension. Emotionally, this ride was up and down – the drama, the laughs, the tears. This book took me longer to get through for some reason than the first one. I think it just didn’t move in the same way that the first one did. But I read the last 200 pages or so in one sitting, partly because I was determined to finish and partly because I was so IN.

Issues: The only issue I had was that it lost my interest at times. I’m not sure if that’s because I was comparing it to Six of Crows for a while or if it was the actual plot that did me in. There were certain parts of this ride where I was gripped and on the edge of my seat and others where we were just filling in before the next exciting bit.

Characters: I needed more Kaz and Inej. And Nina and Matthias. And Wylan and Jesper. Just a little more of everyone. I understood the limits that they had and it made sense with the world and the story up to that point. Just personally, I need another book to see how those pairings play out, or don’t. (No spoilers. No mourners. No funerals.) It was especially interesting to get more of Wylan’s history and relationship with his father. With all the new back story information, we also saw even more character growth. They found themselves and banded together as a crew and a family.

I really value the diversity of this cast of characters. Not just diverse in skin color or gender, but in their diverse upbringings and experiences. They’re all so different but each member of the crew is equally important. Their differences are what makes them valuable and each has a story to share. This type of storytelling is really beautiful and I feel like everyone can find something or someone to connect to. 

Just like in Six of Crows, there wasn’t a clear hero or even a set villain. No one was perfectly fit for either label and I kind of enjoyed that. It made me question who I could trust, which kept me engaged and wondering. I really respect Bardugo’s choice for Kaz to not develop into some hero who overcomes his past. He remains an anti-hero from beginning to end and while he finds pieces of humanity along the way, he’s still Kaz. 

Some characters from Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy show up in this book, too! I recognized their names, but I couldn’t remember exactly who they were. So I Googled them. Ha! It was cool to see those characters pop up again. Like I said in my review of Six of Crows, you don’t have to have read the Grisha trilogy to understand what’s going on in this book. But it does help a little.

 

Final thoughts: In the end, I did enjoy this book and I’m glad I read it. Some of my predications came true, while others were way off, but that’s what makes reading fun! I recently found out that Bardugo will be releasing short stories that will be from this same Grisha world. These stories will be like old wives tales told and passed down through generations. I can’t wait to see the depth these add to this world!

Pick this up if you liked:

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Goodreads rating: 4.64/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.7/5

My rating: 4.25/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Things I Do to Prepare For a New Book in a Series

If I had to choose between only reading standalone books for the rest of my life OR only books in a series…I wouldn’t even have to think about it. My answer will forever and always be: gimme that series! I love watching as characters grow and change over time, go on new or continuing adventures, and meet other characters that impact them along the way. I live for a new book to come out, meeting up with those characters who have become like old friends.

However, I read a lot. And my memory is useless when it comes to the long-term. So I also have to deal with some stress about whether or not I’ll remember what’s going on before a new book comes out.

Here are 5 things I do in order to be ready for a new book in a series.

1. I like to read or watch book reviews for the other novels in the series.

If it hasn’t been too terribly long since I read the previous book, all I need is a little refresher. In these cases, I’ll read some of my favorite blogger’s reviews (or even my own) and a lot of times I’ll even watch videos on YouTube of people sharing their thoughts. Doing this not only helps me remember plot points and character information, but it reminds me of any scandals or crazy things that happened! Reading and watching reviews gets me back into that emotional state I need to be in before the next book comes out.

2. I like to visit my favorite series recap website.

Last year, a friend told me about the website bookseriesrecaps.com and you guys…please check it out (after you finish reading this, of course). They do a great job on this website of reminding readers what happened in previous books, as well as reviewing new ones. Their posts with recaps are titled “What happened in…?” They include a quick, spoiler-free overview and then laundry list everything that happened. These have been especially useful for me when a new book in the Throne of Glass series comes out. So much happens in 1 book!

3. I like to look back over my notes from the previous books.

I typically only take notes on a book if it’s part of a series, if there are a lot of characters, or if it’s just a long book…or all of the above. I have a journal where I specially write about books or I’ll type into the Notes app on my phone or iPad. Sometimes I’m so into whatever I’m reading that I just speak into my phone and the Notes app types it out for me. That way, I never even have to take my eyes off the book. Ha! I always write down questions I have and predictions for what may be coming, which is helpful when reviewing the last book in a series. It’s like I can get back into my own thinking and pick up where I left off.

4. I like to talk to my reader friends about the series.

In some cases, all I need is a little conversation. I have a few friends who like to read about as much as I do and we’ll gather up to discuss what we remember. Sometimes we’ll read reviews together, but most often one of my friends remembers every little detail and helps me to remember as well. Talking about a series that I love also helps me get hyped for what’s to come and I get even more excited to get my hands on the new book.

5. I like to reread previous books or listen to the audiobooks.

Sometimes, reviewing notes just isn’t enough. I have to dive head first back into the world and walk around with the characters for a while. I do this when it’s been more than a year since I read the last book. If I read the hardback copy the first time around, then for my re-read I’ll switch it up and get the audiobook. Sometimes the narrators help me pick up on things I hadn’t even noticed on the first read.

 

Do you have to do anything before a new book in a series comes out? Are you as manic as me? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Reading! – Caitlyn

January 2017 Wrap Up

This is what I was able to read in January…I read 2 books, listened to 3 audiobooks, and read 1 graphic novel, for a grand total of: 6!

London Belongs to Me by Jacquelyn Middleton

  • Living my dream. Cute Irish boy. Fandoms.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: London, England
  • My rating: 4 stars

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls by Hope Nicholson

  • Skipped around. Wasn’t what I hoped. Fun art work.
  • My rating: 2 stars

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (audiobook) by Trevor Noah

  • Hilarious. Narrated by the author. Educational.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: South Africa
  • My rating: 4.75 stars

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

  • Historical. Relevant. Packs a punch.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: Washington, D.C.; Troy, Alabama
  • My rating: 4 stars

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai (audiobook)

  • Middle grade. Great narrator.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: Vietnam
  • My rating: 4 stars

May I Have Your Attention, Please (audiobook) by James Corden

  • Smithy. History Boys. Comic Relief.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: London, England
  • My rating: 3 stars

What did you read in January? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

“Life is easy and hard, beautiful and ugly.”

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Synopsis from GoodreadsA California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

Feelings: This was one of the books for my school’s book club, which is focusing on other cultures and view points. I really appreciated this pick; there were so many things I didn’t know or hadn’t realized about Vietnamese culture.

There’s a lot that this book does well: great messages on friendship, identity and what defines us, as well as strength and what it looks like. There are also undercurrents of family, the power of our choices, and patience. I think the author does a great job of weaving all of these elements together, while also crafting an engaging and fun storyline. There are some surface-level conflicts, sure, because it’s about a 12-year-old girl. But there’s also a pool of depth when it comes to culture and history.

Issues: I don’t know that I had any specific issues. For me, it just felt like the story was unfinished. While the main conflict was certainly resolved in the end, there was a lot left hanging. I’m not sure if this story lends itself to a sequel, but maybe a companion novel. But for now, it just left me feeling like…soooooo what about all this other stuff?

Characters: For some (especially adult) readers, I can see how Mai would be an annoying narrator. I mean…she’s definitely annoying. But you also have to keep in mind that she’s a child and this book is targeted to middle grade readers, mostly ages 8-12. I think for that age group, there are a lot of kids that could totally relate to Mai’s struggles. As an adult, there was a hint of nostalgia there, remembering what it was like to think everyone was conspiring against me, rooting for my complete discomfort. She almost lost me in the beginning, but I stayed with her and she grew on me.

Her grandmother made me miss mine so much. That quiet strength and the way Mai really SAW her at the end…got me right in the feels. I don’t know what I was expecting from the main conflict, centered around grandma and her long lost husband, but I felt content with its resolution.

The Vietnamese boy who goes to school in Houston, Texas was so great. (I don’t remember his name or know how to spell it, since I listened to the audiobook. That’s so terrible, I know!) The southern gentleman’s accent the narrator gave him was great. It gave him a sophisticated air about him that shook up the dialogue from time to time. And the girl who cut off her hair and wants to be a scientist…she was brilliant. (Again, sorry about the lack of character name.) She added that taste of rebellion that the perfect community needed, wanting to get her hands dirty and go outside of what was expected.

Narrator: I don’t think I would have cared much for this book in the very beginning if it hadn’t been for the narration by Lulu Lam. The first chapter is SO whiny valley girl middle schooler and I almost couldn’t hang. But she was so engaging that I wanted to keep listening. As the story went on, I could hear the character growing and changing in Lam’s voice, which I think takes great skill. Also, her pronunciations saved me. I really enjoyed her accents and different voices that she used for the varying generations and backgrounds of characters. Simply looking at the narrator, without any influence from my view of the storyline, I’d give Lulu Lam 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Final thoughts: I liked this book! I thought it was different from anything else I’d read and I really appreciated how the author gave us a history lesson without an information dump. Facts were delicately weaved in with the storyline and it just seemed natural. If you’re looking for a good realistic fiction middle grade read, I’d recommend this one, especially if you have kids. This would be a good one to preview for them or just put straight into their hands.

Pick this up if you liked: (These are all novels in verse…there’s no particular reason why that happened…they’re just the first ones I thought of!)

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg (another perspective from a child on the Vietnam War)

Goodreads rating: 3.89/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.4/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn