Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Summerlost Blitz (and Giveaway!)

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Hello, all! Today I'm trying something a little different: a blitz post! Ally Condie (author of the Matched trilogy) has a new book out today, and I thought it looked so cool I volunteered to help spread the word. As a word of warning, I haven't actually read Summerlost yet so I don't know if it's really as good as it looks.

Here's the description:

It's the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar's father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.
Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.

Looks good, doesn't it? Ms. Condie wrote a letter to help entice us even more:

Dear Readers, 
I think most of us have had our hearts broken. Sometimes we can see it coming, and sometimes it comes down with the unexpected force of a sudden gale of wind or a rising of waters that we thought were still and safe. Loss is universal to human experience, but the way we each feel and recover is one of the most personal things we do. 
In Summerlost, Cedar is dealing with the loss of her father and younger brother. And my intent was to show how hard their deaths are for her. But this is also a book about the healing power of friendship. Most of us have been broken-hearted; I hope that most of us have also discovered the miracle of friendships that were just what we needed. Cedar and Leo’s friendship is based on someone I met when I was twelve. Like Leo, my friend was fun and liked to enlist me in crazy adventures (although we never gave a secret guided tour of our town the way they do in Summerlost). And, like Leo, he thought I was wonderful and of worth at a time when I needed it most.  
SUMMERLOST is my attempt to pay tribute both to the pain we feel and the friendships that save us. Thank you so much for supporting this book, and for your willingness to give Cedar’s story a try. I hope it makes you think of a wonderful friend of your own, whether that is someone you met in the pages of a favorite book or outside, in the world where it is often hard and beautiful to live. 
Best wishes and happy reading always,
Ally Condie

I don't know about you, but I'm definitely looking forward to reading Summerlost. I'm getting some very Love, Aubrey vibes from the description, and if you've read my review of that then you know how much I love sad, meaningful books.

Anyway, you can enter to win a copy of Summerlost in the Rafflecopter form here. If you do win, be sure to let me know what you think of the book!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Curio by Evangeline Denmark, 2016

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Grey Haward has always detested the Chemists, the magicians-come-scientists who rule her small western town. But she has always followed the rules, taking the potion the Chemists ration out that helps the town’s people survive. A potion that Grey suspects she—like her grandfather and father—may not actually need.
By working at her grandfather’s repair shop, sorting the small gears and dusting the curio cabinet inside, Grey has tried to stay unnoticed—or as unnoticed as a tall, strong girl can in a town of diminutive, underdeveloped citizens. Then her best friend, Whit, is caught by the Chemists’ enforcers after trying to protect Grey one night, and after seeing the extent of his punishment, suddenly taking risks seems the only decision she can make.
But with the risk comes the reality that the Chemists know her family’s secret, and the Chemists soon decide to use her for their own purposes. Panicked, Grey retreats to the only safe place she knows—her grandfather’s shop. There, however, a larger secret confronts her when her touch unlocks the old curio cabinet in the corner and reveals a world where porcelain and clockwork people are real. There, she could find the key that may save Whit’s life and also end the Chemists’ dark rule forever.

(432 pages)

I'm a long-time fan of the author Donita K. Paul. Her DragonKeeper Chronicles are amazing - literally the best Christian fantasy I have ever read - and I've gobbled up tons of her books over the years. When I got a newsletter telling me that her daughter Evangeline had a book coming out, and that it was steampunk dystopian, I was excited. Then I saw the gorgeous cover and I was completely hooked.

It was available on BookLook Bloggers, a review program I'm a part of, but the copies were snapped up so fast that when I went to request it the day it became available, they were already out of hard copies. I hate reading ebooks unless I absolutely have to, so I sent a semi-begging email to Blink. I got a lovely email back letting me know that I would be getting a copy in the mail, asking whether I would like to interview the author, and just all-around being so nice and welcoming to me that it made me feel even more warm and fuzzy about the book than I already did. That was literally the most pleasant interaction I've ever had with a publishing company! Plus, they sent me a gorgeous hard-back copy instead of an ARC or even just a regular paperback. When I pulled that beauty out of the package my heart just about stopped.

The trouble started once I actually cracked open the cover. And I'm absolutely heartbroken to say it, but . . . Curio was really bad. And the terrible thing is that I actually really love the premise - even now, having read the book and kind of hated it, I'm still excited about the premise because I feel like Denmark really had some really awesome material to go on. She came up with a fascinating scenario, with the tocks and the porcies and the entire world full of fully-animated, living dolls. The entire dystopian backstory to everything sounded really cool too, and the writing was quite good - though I kind of lost track of all the myriad side-characters running around - and, with a few rounds of judicious edits, the book could have come out really well.

I'm not talking about editing for grammar or anything like that - Denmark is a competent writer, there's really nothing lacking there, though I wouldn't have minded a few more paragraphs explaining the dystopian setting before diving into the story. But no, what I would really focus on removing are all the lust scenes. Like, seriously. In Grey's community there's some rule (that really doesn't make any sense, to be perfectly honest) that forbids males and females from standing within a few feet of each other. Literally from the first chapter - when a childhood friend picks her up to protect her from a pack of wolves - every single time she touches a man Grey starts obsessing about it. Every. Single. Time. Her heart starts racing, she starts focusing on the touch of his skin, she forgets whatever super-important thing she's in the middle of and just starts thinking about that person's eyes. And I'll be straight with you: it's not just Grey who gets carried away with her lustful instincts. Whit does too, and so does a character who comes into the story later (whom I don't want to name for fear of spoilers). People who barely know each other randomly start passionately kissing, but it's supposed to be okay because we know that the kissing obviously means that they are meant to be a good match for each other - they're soul mates or something, never mind the fact that they have no idea whether they even have anything in common other than some hormonal urges.

But honestly. I don't really like reading a book where I get the feeling that if you left the two main characters alone together in a room for more than ten minutes you'd come back to find them, ahem, getting it on. I legitimately think that the self-control in all of these characters is so low that they could not deny the urge to take it all the way and sleep together if other pressing matters didn't keep them preoccupied most of the time. And that is really not a pleasant impression to have of the protagonists of a story.

Plus, I'll just add, there's some really creepy goings-on amongst the porcies, including a lord who we're told cycles through mistresses and who actually tries to rape Grey at one point. I wasn't such a huge fan of that, either, for obvious reasons.

Basically, if all those pages of racing heartbeats and trembling kisses and creepy hands-on-skirts had been deleted from the book, it would have been a very entertaining read; as it is, though, I struggled to get past all of the troubling parts and through to the meat of the story. I almost DNF'd about halfway through, actually, but I decided I was still interested enough in the core story to see it through to the end. I can't say I'd highly recommend this book to anyone, but I am interested to see what Denmark comes out with in the future; she's definitely inherited that knack for creating fascinating worlds from her mother, and if she would just stop giving her characters so many hormones she could easily write some quality fiction.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The After-Room by Maile Meloy, 2016

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It’s 1955, and Benjamin Burrows and Janie Scott are trying to live a safe, normal life in America. It’s not easy, when they have the power to prevent nuclear disaster, and sinister forces are circling. Soon the advice of a mysterious, unscrupulous magician propels Janie and Benjamin into danger, and toward the land of the dead.
Meanwhile, their friend Jin Lo washes up on a remote island where an American spy is stationed, and finds herself on the trail of a deadly threat in China. But she’s on the other side of the world—how can Janie and Benjamin reach her?
The triumphant finale in the trilogy that began with Maile Meloy’s bestselling, critically acclaimed
The Apothecary, and continued in its captivating sequel, The Apprentices, The After-Room is full of enchantment and heart, with Ian Schoenherr’s stunning illustrations throughout.
(432 pages)

This is, I have to say, a very strange trilogy.

But I love it. I can't help loving it, even when I'm wrinkling my brow and going "huh?" This was the perfect conclusion to the trilogy, wrapping things up for everyone in such a way that just makes sense.

I was a little worried going in about the theology, considering the way the characters can actually send their minds to talk with dead people. It's very strange, yes, but there's no direct reference to any specific religion and Meloy keeps it ambiguous enough that I think readers can interpret everything however they want to.

Honestly, I don't have much to say about this book because it is such a peculiar gem that so perfectly ends the series. This series is one of those things that you either love or hate, and I love it - but at the same time, sometimes I pause and go "hmm, weird." The strange mix of science and magic (i.e. alchemy) works wonderfully throughout the series, and the plots of all three books are realistic and compelling - I honestly felt the characters' emotions bleed into me as I read, making me laugh and cry (and occasionally blush) along with them.

The entire trilogy is one of those things that I have a hard time analyzing, because it's so unique and flawless that I can't think of any ways to change it. No, wait, I do have one way: the ending. I would have liked a little bit of a punchier final scene. Then again, I was mulling it over in my head for like a week afterward, so maybe the slightly underrated ending was the way to go. Hmm . . .

Gah, I know I sound so conflicted and confused! Just read the series for yourself, and you can make up your own mind about it. I'd love to know whether you love it or hate it!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel, 2016

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Welcome to Fortune Falls, a magical town where superstitions are real. Four-leaf clovers really do bring good fortune, and owning a rabbit's foot is the secret to success.
However, there aren't enough charms in the universe to help Sadie Bleeker. She can't pass a ladder without walking under it, and black cats won't leave her alone.
That's because Sadie is an Unlucky. And things will only get worse as she gets older, which is why Unluckies are sent away at age twelve to protect those around them.
Sadie can't stand the thought of leaving home, so she and her friend, Cooper, devise a plan to reverse her bad luck. But when their scheme accidentally results in a broken mirror, the situation turns dire. Because for Sadie, seven years bad luck isn't an inconvenience-it's practically a death sentence.
Can a girl who's never so much as found a single lucky penny change her fortune? Or will she be forced to celebrate her twelfth birthday by saying farewell to everyone she loves?

(208 pages)

Wow. This book is so, so good.

I mean, I thought it would just be a fluffy kid's book. That's what it looks like from the cover and the page count, isn't it? And yet this is one of the coolest premises I've read about in a long time, and it's more well-written and engaging than many books that are supposed to be written for older kids.

Everybody's always talking about retelling fairytales, but how come no one ever came up with the idea of playing with superstitions before now? Maybe I'm just ignorant and this has been done in the past, but I for one had never seen it before and man - it was like a breath of fresh air. There was a whole new world to explore, a world where walking under ladders or crossing a black cat's path could spell ruin, a world where Unluckies who break mirrors usually wind up dead, a world where stepping on a crack literally breaks your mother's back . . . and the potentials are endless! I really love how Goebel builds her story on such an awesome premise.

But it's not just the setting that I loved about Fortune Falls; the characters were great as well. The stereotypical mean girl (who of course is a brat about the upcoming test to weed out the Unluckies) aside, all of the characters are well-developed and realistic. Sadie's friend Cooper, who already passed the test as a Lucky, is so determined to make sure Sadie can keep coming to school with him that he disobeys his snobby parents' orders to stay away from her so he can help her find a way to be lucky. It's really very sweet of him, and I would totally love to have a friend like Cooper! Sadie's younger brother Petey is also a great character, a mixture of adorable and infuriating that perfectly encapsulates the essence of younger brothers everywhere, and the supporting characters - like Sadie's mother, and the kids at school - are all drawn with strong strokes.

I don't know what else there is to say about Fortune Falls, other than that I highly recommend it and my fingers are totally crossed that there's going to be a sequel. And who knows? With this book, maybe crossed fingers really will help!

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker by E.D. Baker, 2014

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Cory is a young tooth fairy in training who wants to be anything but that, except there's no way the Tooth Fairy Guild or her mother will let that happen. After yet another bad night on the job, Cory quits to explore other things—like babysitting an adventurous Humpty Dumpty, helping Suzy organize seashells by the seashore, and attempting to finally rid the spiders that plague Marjorie Muffet. But it isn't until Marjorie asks Cory to help set her up with a boy that Cory taps into a power she never knew she had. As she tries to understand her new-found romantic visions, will Cory finally discover her own true path?
Just as she did with her Wide-Awake Princess series, E. D. Baker spins a tale that is poised to launch her to the top of the fairy tale canon with a new series that fans of Gail Carson Levine and Diana Wynne Jones.

(352 pages)

When I originally saw this coming out, I thought it looked really dumb. I mean, a book about a girl who goes around setting up couples? How dumb would that be? I barely scanned the synopsis before clicking away, and never even gave it a try.

Until a week ago, when I saw it sitting on a library shelf and grabbed it because, well, I might as well because it was there anyway. When I got it home and started reading, I realized that I'd made a mistake: The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker was nothing like what I'd expected to be - and it was much the better for it.

After all, just for starters Cory's world is really fascinating. I read a lot of fairy-tale mashups, but this has to be one of my favorites. I mean, a world where people communicate by basket mail (which is just like texting, but way cooler) and various fairy-tale characters and stereotypes are all mixed together in a magical land that lives next to but is completely separate from the human world.

Another great thing about The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker is that it's realistic (if the word can ever be applied to fairytale mashups) - Cory is an adult trying to find a job that suits her, and she bounces around doing odds and ends in the meantime. There's a beauty in watching the little random things come together in new ways, as by the end of the book Cory's found ways to make almost everyone's life a little bit better by introducing them to other people she's encountered in her wanderings. I like to think that this same sort of falling into place can happen in real life, though I know that's not always the case.

My biggest trouble with the book, honestly, is the ending. Once things get a little darker for Cory and she starts uncovering the hardcore secrets her mother kept from her the book lost some of its appealing rationalism. There's a certain appeal in what happens, though, and I think that it just depends on what sort of mood you're in when you read it. For me it worked, though just barely, and I was interested enough in the turn things took that I immediately went and requested the sequel. I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, but I'll be sure to post a review once I do!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Criminal Destiny by Gordon Korman, 2016

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The clones of Project Osiris are free—but they’re being hunted. . . . After their narrow escape from their “perfect” hometown, Eli, Tori, Amber, and Malik are finally in the real world and determined to expose the leaders of Serenity. They decide to track down Tamara Dunleavy, the mysterious billionaire and founder of Project Osiris. Evading capture by breaking laws and sneaking into houses, hotels, buses, and cars—are they becoming the criminals they were destined to be?
What they discover will change everything, leading them straight into the Plastic Works and the heart of the experiment, in order to uncover the deadly criminals they’re cloned from—and any evidence that will convince the outside world to believe the truth. But the outside world isn’t exactly what they expected—strangers aren’t just unfriendly, they’re dangerous. And the wrong move could send them right back into the arms of Dr. Hammerstrom—and trapped in Serenity for good.
On a breakneck journey from Jackson Hole to a maximum security prison—Eli, Tori, Amber, and Malik will stop at nothing to take Project Osiris down.

(320 pages)

Anyone who's been following my reviews for a while knows that I really loved Masterminds. When I found out that the sequel was coming out, I was so excited to see what would happen next! I went to Barnes & Noble the week it came out, and snagged my very own bright, shiny copy.

Needless to say, it did not survive the night. I didn't name my blog "Read Till Dawn" because I have a real abundance of self-control.

And honestly, I am glad I bought a copy of Criminal Destiny, but I'm slightly disappointed in it. And I don't think this is really the book's fault - it's more mine, for having read so many other "on-the-run" books over the years. Stealing cars, crashing in strangers' houses, worrying about the ethics of crimes you do while on the run . . . it all sounds very familiar, and that's because Gordon Korman himself actually has a series (literally called "On the Run") that incorporates a lot of those same elements. I'm not saying that Korman is out of things to write about or consciously copying himself, but with the basic premise of the story he had to include a lot of scenes about being on the run and after a six-book series he really hadn't left himself much unused material to tap into.

The characters don't make a huge amount of progress in regards to their conundrum, but they're certainly trying. I like that they're actively doing their very best to not just stay away from Project Osiris, but to also find a way to permanent safety. Watching them fumble their way through modern, normal cities is also a lot of fun - I never get tired of reading about people discovering things like skyscrapers for the first time.

My biggest attraction to these books, however, is the premise: that the kids are cloned from some of the worst criminals alive. The news hit them like a sledgehammer towards the end of the last book, but it isn't until now - with limitless wifi access - that they truly begin to explore all of the details of their crazy beginnings. They also have a disturbing notion that they're not actually human, because they don't have two biological parents. It's actually kind of heartbreaking, and I really hope that someone comforts them and explains things in the third book.

Because there is going to be a third book, right? Right?!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays: Criminal Destiny by Gordon Korman (March 8)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Masterminds #2: Criminal Destiny by Gordon Korman. Don't read on unless you've read the first book!

The clones of Project Osiris are free—but they’re being hunted. . . . After their narrow escape from their “perfect” hometown, Eli, Tori, Amber, and Malik are finally in the real world and determined to expose the leaders of Serenity. They decide to track down Tamara Dunleavy, the mysterious billionaire and founder of Project Osiris. Evading capture by breaking laws and sneaking into houses, hotels, buses, and cars—are they becoming the criminals they were destined to be?
What they discover will change everything, leading them straight into the Plastic Works and the heart of the experiment, in order to uncover the deadly criminals they’re cloned from—and any evidence that will convince the outside world to believe the truth. But the outside world isn’t exactly what they expected—strangers aren’t just unfriendly, they’re dangerous. And the wrong move could send them right back into the arms of Dr. Hammerstrom—and trapped in Serenity for good.
On a breakneck journey from Jackson Hole to a maximum security prison—Eli, Tori, Amber, and Malik will stop at nothing to take Project Osiris down.

Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
"I see your taco and raise you half a cheeseburger."
I peer at my cards. I've got a pair of kings and a pair of eights. It's a pretty good hand, I think. Then again, I only learned the rules of poker twenty minutes ago. I'm from Serenity, New Mexico, where nobody plays poker because it's gambling.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, March 7, 2016

NKJV Apply the Word Study Bible from Thomas Nelson, 2016

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The Apply the Word Study Bible brings you to an intimate understanding of the Bible's message, helps you think about it and apply it to your lives. People of all ages and walks of life will enjoy the fresh style of the feature articles, which are directed at helping you approach life with the mind of Christ. You will discover that the Bible is a very practical book, just what is needed to guide you through every day. Featuring the New King James Version, the best translation for Bible study, abundant sidebar articles and vibrant full-color design, the Apply the Word Study Bible is the perfect companion for everyday living.

This is the second Bible that I've reviewed on this blog (the first was Zondervan's Understand the Faith Bible), and I have to say that Bibles are not the easiest books in the world to review. I was really curious about the New King James Version, though, and I wanted to see what sort of features this Bible has, so I went ahead and requested the Apply the Word Study Bible for review. I've used it a fair amount for a month or so now, and so I think I'm ready to finally write my review.

First, the physical stuff. It's not the most attractive Bible in the world (it kind of looks like a textbook from the cover, doesn't it?), but at least it's not the garish red of the Zondervan BIble I tried before. It's hard-cover, which I suppose is nicer than the soft leather-bound Bibles I usually read from but I really just prefer the floppiness of a good leather Bible. It feels strange to hold a hard Bible, but that's really more a matter of preference than anything else. This one also doesn't have a ribbon, which is a bummer, but I just use a bookmark instead.

Next, the translation. I honestly can't tell that much of a difference between the NKJV and regular NIV, but then I never really spend much time focusing on the exact words of different translations. Regardless, this is definitely a very fluid, easy translation to read - it's natural enough that it feels like someone could have written it not long ago. Since the original KJV is famous for being hard to understand for 21st-century readers, I thought it was kind of funny how easily readable its modern translation is. There's a certain elegance in the old translation, though, which is why it's my goal to someday own a King James Bible to read when I'm in a particularly poetic mood.

Last, the supplementary resources in the Bible. There are little inserts every few pages that go into different verses in more detail, which are pretty interesting. There's also a nice long concordance in the back, which is probably one of the most useful tools a Bible can have. I haven't used the reference materials too much but they seem solid.

This is a good Bible for studying, though not a very attractive one. I like to use it when I'm reading at home, but I've never taken it out in public and don't plan to in the future. I think after reading this review you'll know pretty well whether this is the Bible that will meet your needs, but if you have any more questions about it feel free to post them in the comments section below.

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby, 2010

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Three ordinary children are brought together by extraordinary events. . . .
Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician who sees no way to escape from his ruthless master, until the day he finds an enchanted violin.
Frederick is an apprentice clockmaker with a past he cannot remember, who secretly works to build the most magnificent clockwork man the world has ever seen.
Hannah is a maid in a grand hotel, whose life is one of endless drudgery, until she encounters a mystifying new guest and learns of a hidden treasure.
As mysterious circumstances bring them together, the lives of these three children soon interlock, and they realize that each one holds the key to the others’ puzzles. Together, the three discover they have phenomenal power when they team up as friends, and that they can overcome even the darkest of fears.

(395 pages)

This was the first book by Matthew J. Kirby that I ever read, and it introduced me to an author whose books I've been adoring ever since. This was his debut novel, which is just so incredible because it's such an amazing book.

Yeah, okay, so you can probably see where this review is headed. Yes, I love Clockwork Three to pieces - which is why I bought it on sale at my library, and immediately re-read it, and am now reviewing it. This was the first time I'd read it since my first time, and it was really interesting to see how the book held up on closer inspection.

Reading it for the second time, with a little more perspective because I knew more or less how it ended (barring all of the twists I'd completely forgotten), I still really enjoyed The Clockwork Three - though I perhaps have a few more believability issues with it this time than I did the first time I read it. The characters are a tad too . . . I don't know. Predictable, maybe? Or familiar? I feel like Kirby did a really great job reinventing the wheel here, but it's still the same old wheel. This was his first novel, though, and his later books have really amazing characterizations, so I can forgive his debut for having good instead of great characters.

Also, the plot is really cool. It's weird, but it's cool, and I'm really glad I bought a copy of The Clockwork Three because now I can re-read it whenever I'm in the mood. Kirby's prose is also amazing, and the entire book just feels so classic and beautiful that it makes a wonderful comfort read. A steampunk science fiction comfort read, granted, but still a great one. Let me know what your favorite comfort read is in the comments section down below!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, 2015

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The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change?
Gretchen Rubin's answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.
So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?
Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation.

(336 pages)

I don't usually read a lot of self-help books, but when I saw this one I thought I'd give it a go. I've been having trouble with staying up too late at night (usually doing mindless stuff, like checking Twitter or googling random things), so I thought a book about changing habits could really help me.

And it did, more or less. I'm still working out the kinks, but I've figured out that I'm an "Obliger" (that's one of the personality categories that Rubin came up with), which means that I'm much more likely to follow through on a good habit if I hold myself accountable with other people. Coupled with her advice that inconvenience makes people less likely to do things, and I've started keeping my iPad and my computer charger downstairs. That way the only screen access I have at night is on my laptop, which has a really crummy battery and will die after literally an hour if I start at full charge. Once it dies I'd have to go downstairs to get either the charger or the iPad, which a) means the risk of being discovered if one of my family members hears me and b) is very inconvenient. It's worked pretty well for me so far, except for the nights that I didn't even go to bed until late (so the hour of computer kept me up even later), and the night I read a book instead of getting on the computer at all. I've tried to steer clear of reading at night, because of my unfortunate tendency to "Read Till Dawn," and I really need to find a way to force myself to do that. I know it goes against most modern advice, but I actually go to sleep sooner if I stay up on a time-limited screen than if I just read for uncensored amounts of time.

Anyway, you probably don't care that much about my personal habit formations. If you're interested in this book at all (and I realize that about fifty percent of my readers probably aren't), then you want to know how it can help you. And the good thing about this book is that's it's chock-full of tips for every type of person, sorted into category types like "Questioners," "Rebels," and the afore-mentioned "Obligers" (of which I am one). Rubin talks about the true purpose of habits (to make things automatic, so you're not wasting will-power every day forcing yourself to make healthy decisions), and about different techniques for both building good ones and tearing down bad ones. I feel like how much you get out of this book depends a lot on what sort of person you are. I got a better understanding of my habits and of ways to fix them, which was great, but if you're already pretty self-aware then this book might not have much more to offer. Rubin does do some research, but she's much more focused on observing the people around her - which means that you can either respect her understanding of the variability of personality types out there, or you can wrinkle your nose at what's basically a bunch of lessons pulled out of her experiences sticking her nose into other peoples' business (with varied success).

I'm not sure I completely agree with all of the habits that Rubin herself advocates (I'm sorry, but diet soda is not better than the regular stuff - she thinks she's so healthy and awesome for never touching soda that's not diet, but doesn't she know artificial sweeteners cause cancer?), and her methods sometimes seem a little obnoxious (she literally bought her sister a treadmill desk), but she does make an effort to be empathetic toward people who aren't as high-strung as she is, and recognizes her own struggle with pride. That right there is half the battle.

Anyway, I can't really say whether or not Better Than Before is going to help you or not. It helped me, in a way (though I have to say I keep finding loopholes to my going-to-bed-early plot), and I am glad I read it - if for no other reason than that it made a great detox read at the end of the school day. If you have access to a copy, go ahead and read it (and tell me what you think while you're at it); otherwise, it's really up to you to know whether it would be helpful or not.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Charmed by Jen Calonita, 2016

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Charmed is the exciting sequel to the wildly popular Flunked -- second in the brand new Fairy Tale Reform School series where the teachers are (former) villains. "Charming fairy-tale fun." -Sarah Mlynowski, author of the New York Times bestselling Whatever After series.
It takes a (mostly) reformed thief to catch a spy. Which is why Gilly Cobbler, Enchantasia’s most notorious pickpocket, volunteers to stay locked up at Fairy Tale Reform School…indefinitely. Gilly and her friends may have defeated the Evil Queen and become reluctant heroes, but the battle for Enchantasia has just begun.
Alva, aka The Wicked One who cursed Sleeping Beauty, has declared war on the Princesses, and she wants the students of Fairy Tale Reform School to join her. As her criminal classmates give in to temptation, Gilly goes undercover as a Royal Lady in Waiting (don’t laugh) to unmask a spy…before the mole can hand Alva the keys to the kingdom.
Her parents think Gilly the Hero is completely reformed, but sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. Sometimes it’s good to be bad…

(288 pages)

After my friend recommended Flunked (my review), I was really excited to get my hands on its sequel, Charmed. I got the ebook on Netgalley, and devoured it in a single day.

Was it as good as its prequel? No, not really. There's a certain charm (no pun intended!) that simply can't be replicated, and while Charmed does its best to match Flunked it unfortunately feels a little bit too much like a sequel.

I mean this mainly in the sense that the plot shares certain similarities with that of the first book, not enough to make it feel like a rip-off but enough to make it feel rather unoriginal. The main difference that distinguishes Charmed from its prequel is that in it Gilly is dealing with her newfound popularity and she basically winds up acting like an idiot. My other main trouble with Charmed is that I guessed literally every twist waaay too early. I like to have my books surprise me, something that Flunked did at least to a certain extent (it at least kept me guessing), but with Charmed I had zero doubt about whether I was guessing correctly - the foreshadowing was really obvious to me. I don't think this is really because Calonita drops too many hints, but that the plot is a little too similar to that of many other books I've read.

Honestly, I think that's the crux of my trouble with Charmed: it just doesn't stand out from the crowd the same way Flunked did. It doesn't raise the bar, it doesn't wow me, it doesn't surprise me. It definitely entertains me - I'm not denying that I was sucked in from page one! - but it does that and nothing more. It's not a book that I'm going to be drawn to re-read, because it doesn't have much meat. Flunked doesn't really either, but it's such an engaging premise and story that it's okay; Charmed is forced to stand on its own merits a little more because it doesn't get the narrative crutch of introducing a fascinating new world, and it just doesn't completely do it for me.

I don't want to be too negative about the book, though. It's fun and engaging, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the first book, but I guess I was just in the mood for something a little meatier.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.