Four Year Blogoversary Giveaway!

get ready to party

Wow. Wow wow wowza. I got back in the game just in time for WordPress to congratulate me for FOUR YEARS since beginning to blog. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun!

I could do one of those recap posts about how great the past four years has been, but that would be boring. Instead, I want to thank all of YOU for making this a great experience. Ergo–giveaway!

And it’s a big one.

And there’s two prizes.

PRIZE ONE:

The Gathering StormThe Unfailing LightThe Morning Star

The Katerina Trilogy by Robin Bridges

The second book in this series, The Unfailing Light, was one of the first ARCs I ever got direct from a publisher. I think this makes it a perfect choice for this blogoversary giveaway!

PRIZE TWO:

overstuffed box

A mystery box of four books!

My only criteria for this giveaway is that I’ve reviewed it on my blog. There will be a few ARCs and a few finished copies. Of what, you ask? Even I’m not sure yet! I’m still picking the best ones!

The only stipulation for this giveaway is that you live in the US. Sorry, but for shipping purposes it must be so. This giveaway goes til the end of May, and there are multiple thing you can do per day so keep stopping by!

Ready to enter?

Follow the link to a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Weekly Wrap Up + Stacking the Shelves for 8-31-13

wrapup

Hey guys! It’s been a LONG time since I’ve done one of these, so this isn’t so much of a “weekly” wrap up as much as a “here’s what’s happened since the last one.” My Stacking the Shelves this week is also huge, but mostly because I just bought a bunch of books for college. No, I’m not StS-ing with textbooks – I’m showing off the books I bought for one of my awesomest classes, “Studies in YA and Children’s Lit!” (Plus, you know, actual review books.) As always, watch the video for the views, and check out the links below!

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ARC Review: “The Morning Star” by Robin Bridges

The Morning StarThe Morning Star (The Katerina Trilogy Volume III) by Robin Bridges

Goodreads | Amazon

Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, wants to be known as a doctor, not a necromancer. But Tsar Alexander III forbids women to attend medical school; his interest in Katerina extends only to her ability to raise the dead. Twice now, Katerina has helped him by using her power to thwart the forces of darkness—vampires bent on resurrecting the lich tsar Konstantin Pavlovich so that he can take what he sees as his rightful place on the throne. Katerina thought she had bound Konstantin to the Greylands, the realm of the dead, but he has found a way out. Now he is searching for the Morning Star, a sword that will allow him to command a legion of supernatural warriors.

Katerina must find the sword before Konstantin does—and she must travel to Egypt to do so. Along the way, she puts up with unwanted attention from her former fiancé, the nefarious Prince Danilo, and struggles with her feelings for her true love, George Alexandrovich. But with the looming threat from Konstantin, Katerina’s focus remains on the sword. Russia’s fate will be determined by whoever wields the Morning Star—and delivers the final blow.

Three and a half stars

Thanks to Random House and Delacorte Books for Young Readers for this ARC! This title will be released August 27th, 2013.

WARNING: This review WILL have spoilers for volumes 1 & 2. See my reviews of The Gathering Storm and The Unfailing Light for more! Don’t forget to also check out my interview with Robin!

Well, this is it. The end of Katerina’s journey through legions of the supernatural and an (intentionally) lopsided love triangle. She has raised an army of the dead and fallen in love and fought fiercely to be allowed to be a doctor. Will Katerina get everything she desires, or will she let go of her dreams and her love for the sake of the lives of friends and family? Well, I know how this all turns out, and I was fairly pleased with the result.

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“The Unfailing Light” by Robin Bridges – Interview + Giveaway

It’s Day 2 of 2 for my fantastic stretch of The Unfailing Light’s blog tour! Did you miss my review of the book? Then click HERE for yesterday’s post! (There’s also a list there of all the other blog stops, which you’ll want to check out for other giveaways and goodies!) Don’t forget you can also check out my review of the first book in this series, The Gathering Storm, HERE. Now…

WELCOME TO AUTHOR ROBIN BRIDGES!

By day, Robin Bridges is the mild-mannered author of the YA historical fantasy series, THE KATERINA TRILOGY, set in Imperial Russia at the end of the nineteenth century.  By night, she’s a pediatric nurse who pokes small children with needles and makes them drink horrid-tasting medicines. Robin is a member of the Apocalypsies 2012 Debut Author group, as well as the Class of 2K12 and SCBWI.  She lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband, one teenager, and two goofy mastiffs.  She likes playing video games and watching Jane Austen movies.

INTERVIEW:

So, The Gathering Storm left off in a place where anything could happen. In one sentence, what’s the story of The Unfailing Light

Forced to return to Smolni and trapped behind a spell where she can no longer communicate with George Alexandrovich, Katiya tries to protect her schoolmates from a dangerous ghost.

What inspired this series?

I’ve always loved supernatural stories and I always loved Russian fairy tales.  And I’ve always been fascinated with Romanov history.  Picking one generation of Romanovs to write about was the hardest part of my research.  There were so many interesting time periods to choose from.  But I think the late nineteenth century, the Russian Silver Age, is my favorite period- the age of Tchaikovsky and Faberge.

When I read The Gathering Storm, I was floored by the amount of mythology in the book. What was your research process for these books like?

There was lots of research involved!  I decided to create a LibraryThing account just for the Russian history I was researching.  A lot of the original plot had to be revised as I dug deeper into research and discovered more about the members of the Russian aristocracy.  I exchanged emails with a history professor in Germany for information on 19th century medical schools.  And I dream of visiting Russia someday- once I learn to speak Russian!

Briefly, what was your path to publication like?

I think I took the scenic route!  It took four YA manuscripts, two agents, and almost five years from the day I decided to start writing for young adults to the day my editor at Random House bought The Gathering Storm.

Okay, I know you can’t be writing all the time. What other kind of adventures do you get up to? 

I love to play video games when I’m not on a deadline.  I was so excited about Guild Wars 2- I made a character named Katiya who is a necromancer!

I understand that you’re also a pediatric nurse. How do you balance that important job with your writing? Have you ever had stories come out of it?

I am a nurse, but have a really great schedule.  I work weekend nights, and then I’m off all week.  I can write in an empty house all day long while the family is at school or work.  If only the dogs could go to school or work, then I’d have a completely quiet house all to myself.  I did write a short piece one year for Blog Like It’s the End of the World based on those long nights at the hospital!

What kind of books do you read? Any favorite titles you think anyone should read?

I love to recommend favorite books to people.  I’ve gotten a lot of my fellow nurses hooked on reading YA fiction with my locker stuffed full of books.  They call it my library.   See some of my recommendations below!

After reading your books, I really got excited about necromancy and this Russian mythology. What are some related books you could recommend while we wait for your next installment?

If necromancy is your thing, Lish McBride’s Hold Me Closer Necromancer is hilarious.  And the sequel, Necromancing the Stone, was just released this week!

If you like reading about hot undead guys, Lia Habel’s Dearly Departed is swoon-worthy.  And its sequel, Dearly Beloved comes out September 25.

If you love Russian mythology, you’ll love Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone! [Side note – Check out My Life is a Notebook’s review of that HERE]

Does The Gathering Storm or The Unfailing Light have a soundtrack? Or do you prefer to write in silence? 

I listened to mostly classical Russian composers while writing the Katerina books: Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Borodin.  I also found some gypsy love songs that were popular in the nineteenth century, like “Chrysanthemums” and “Dark Eyes”.  And there’s the hauntingly beautiful orthodox chant, “Unfailing Light”.

GIVEAWAY TIME!

That’s right! The awesome folks over at Random House have offered to sponser a giveaway of a copy of The Unfailing Light for you guys! All you have to do is fill out some slots in the Rafflecopter HERE. Please note the giveaway is US only and ends at 11:59 PM on October 19th.

Blog Tour ARC Review: “The Unfailing Light” by Robin Bridges

Welcome to Day 1 of my 2 day celebration of Robin Bridges’ new soon-to-be-released book The Unfailing Light! Today there is a review of the book! Tomorrow’s goodies are at the bottom. 😉 Don’t forget to check out all the other stops of the tour with their reviews, giveaways and more!

The Unfailing Light – Blog Tour

September 24th: Smitten Over Books ~September 25th: Casey’s Crew ~ September 26th: Much Ado About Books ~ September 26th: The Streetlight Reader ~ September 27th: Infinite Reads ~ September 28th: The Hiding Spot ~ September 29th: Girls *Heart* Books ~ October 1st: Mom Reads My Books ~ October 2nd: Magical Urban Fantasy Reads ~ October 2nd: The Book Review Club ~ October 3rd: The Book Review Club ~ October 4th: Kimba Caffeinated ~ October 4th: My Life is a Notebook ~ October 5th: My Life is a Notebook ~ October 6th: Candace’s Book Blog ~ October 7th: Reader Girls~ October 8th: Bookish ~ October 8th: Peace, Love, Books ~October 9th: YA Bibliophile ~ October 9th: Reader Girls ~ October 10th: Wastepaper Prose ~ October 10th: Imaginary Reads ~ October 11th: Imaginary Reads ~ October 12th: Well Read Wife ~ October 15th: Libby Blog ~ October 16th: Cracking the Cover ~ October 17th: A Bookish Libraria ~ October 18th: A Novel Review ~ October 19th: In the Best Worlds ~ October 20th: Tripping Over Books

The Unfailing Light (The Katerina Trilogy Volume II) by Robin Bridges

Goodreads | Amazon

Lush and opulent, romantic and sinister, The Unfailing Light, Volume II in The Katerina Trilogy, reimagines the lives of Russia’s aristocracy in a fabulously intoxicating and page-turning fantasy.

Having had no choice but to use her power has a necromancer to save Russia from dark forces, Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, now wants to forget that she ever used her special powers. She’s about to set off to pursue her lifelong dream of attending medical school when she discovers that Russia’s arch nemesis–who she thought she’d destroyed–is still alive. So on imperial orders, Katerina remains at her old finishing school. She’ll be safe there, because the empress has cast a potent spell to protect it against the vampires and revenants who are bent on toppling the tsar and using Katerina for their own gains. But to Katerina’s horror, the spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school, a ghost more dangerous than any creature trying to get in.

Thanks to the fantastic people at Random House/Delacorte Books for Young Readers for this ARC! You can get a copy for yourself on October 9, 2012.

3 1/2 stars

BEFORE YOU READ, don’t forget to check out my review of book 1 of this series, The Gathering Storm. There WILL be minor spoilers out of necessity.

When I finished my review of the first book of this series, I mentioned that despite my problems with the first book I wanted the second one because I had hopes Bridges would settle into the story and much more of it would make sense.

My prayers were answered.

I was deeply worried I wasn’t going to be able to remember much from the first book and that I had done this review a deep disservice by forgetting to bring book 1 to college with me. I was genuinely surprised to find that the first part of the book did a really good job summerizing the events of book 1 while not dragging down the new events of book 2. Usually, this is not the case when authors do make the decision to remind the reader of what happened in the previous book.

As predicted, the ending of the last book was far too tidy and didn’t come to pass in this one. (The blurb tells you this.) Honestly, I was kind of annoyed that Katerina had to go back to Smolney after the global adventure I thought I was promised by the end of book one. The characters that surround her there were underdeveloped and flat in the last book and were the same in this one. (I also just don’t like school settings. Far too many clichés.)

Still, I found myself enjoying the beginning just because I felt more secure in what was happening. Bridges has severely paired down on the mythology that’s sprung on the reader and we’re given much more time to understand what all the different Russian folklore names are and mean. The differences in vampires and fae were made much clearer, and the werewolf connection was greatly expanded. My heart rejoiced.

At the same time, I have no idea why Katerina’s powers are downplayed for most of the book. The spell that’s cast on Smolney literally shuts it off, for the most part. She raises another person from the dead, yes, but we–and she!–still has no idea how that happens. There is nothing special that occurs, no attempt made to do so, no NOTHING. For being 2/3rds of a way through these books–with this supposed to be a focal point!–the fact that both us and Katerina herself are so in the dark seems to be disturbingly off.

The Danilo-Katerina-George thing is still going on, but honestly they weren’t around for much of the book which made me happy. The lack of typical love triangle gooey-ness is always a plus for me. Still, the whole situation seems strange, and Katerina questions it herself, but we’re still given NO ANSWERS about the blood bond, etc. And George as a character appears fairly bipolar and out of whack. I think this is supposed to be happening because George is falling towards the Dark Court, but it felt jumpy.

I think my biggest problem with this book was the pacing. I honestly forgot that there was only one more book to this series, not two or three. I wanted Bridges to slow it down and she did, but then it seemed like nothing was happening. The ghost that appears at Smolney isn’t as scary as she seems, and half the time Katerina forgets about her to think about George or something. It’s strange because SO many other things are going on, but the book seems to progress at a slow plod. But then, that could just be middle/second book syndrome kicking in.

Though I gave this book the same rating I gave book 1, I find it to be a large improvement over The Gathering Storm–in terms of understanding what’s going on. I feel much more confident about the mythology now, and I really want to reread book 1 because I feel like I’d be able to understand it a lot more. Many of the characters with the confusing names also became clear, and the large cast was cut down to a smaller number of important people who I could keep track of. The characterization itself still seemed to be a bit off, however. As I said, my biggest problem was the pacing just because I prefer my books to zoom at the speed of light. As with book 1, I felt the ending to be a bit odd. However, since it does leave me genuinely puzzled about where book 3 is going to go, I guess that’s a good thing? Either way, I completely intended to pick up the third and final installment. With all the questions yet to answer and the foes yet to be dealt with, there is no possible way that it could go anything but fast.

WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING EXCITING?

If either this review or my review of The Gathering Storm intrigued you, make sure you stop by again tomorrow! Not only will I have an interview with the author Robin Bridges, but there will ALSO be a giveaway courtesy of Random House. DON’T miss out!

Review: The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

3 1/2 stars

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888~

As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.

An evil presence is growing within Europe’s royal bloodlines–and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina’s strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources … including two young men–George Alexandrovich, the tsar’s standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina’s help to safeguard Russia, even if he’s repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.

The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose–and to whom will she give her heart?

Lush and opulent, romantic and sinister, The Gathering Storm, the first book in Robin Bridges’s Katerina Trilogy, reimagines the lives of Russia’s nobility in a fabulously intoxicating and page-turning fantasy.

So, if you’ve been reading the reviews of this book, you probably heard that this book is really mythology heavy.

IT REALLY, REALLY IS.

Now, it should be known that I am ALL FOR mythology. But the thing is, if I don’t understand that mythology, I need it explained to me. 99% of the reason The Gathering Storm only got 3 1/2 stars from me is because I felt as if NOTHING is explained.

My big problem with this book is that I walked away feeling like I had no idea what had just happened. The book’s blurb doesn’t even begin to cover the kind of mythology going on in this book. Actually, I felt like Katerina’s power took a huge backseat to the different kinds of creatures running around in the book–and there were a LOT of creatures; almost too many.

The major creature in this book? Vampires. That was totally not what I signed up for. No, they don’t sparkle, but there is three different “breeds” of them that I never fully understood, and they didn’t seem to have any of the traditional vampire issues. (Granted, I think Bridges was playing with Russian vampire myths, because she was name-dropping breeds I’d never heard of.) The second one? Fae. It kept being referenced in brief flashes that the Imperial Family was descended from the Light Court of Fae, and this other family was descended from the Dark Court and they had special abilities and … something. Didn’t quite understand that either. There was, of course, undead, but that was all thanks to people other than Katerina for the most part. Supposedly she did raise one guy, but she never TRIED and it was just really, really weird. A reference to werewolves was also dropped for like three sentences.

Now, maybe my problem with this book is that I read really, really fast. I literally cannot slow down, which is not good when trying to read books like this. But I just kept going through this book and just. Not. Getting it. Whether it was mythology or events or descriptions, I felt like way too many things were glossed over. Other people have read and loved this book–aka, totally understood it–so to each their own, but don’t take this book lightly.

Another thing that bothered me: Do you see that bit in the blurb where it says “No one knows” about her power? In the beginning, no one did. Then, one person finds out and it’s like dominos. I don’t remember 85% of these people ever being told about her powers, but all of a sudden EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYTHING. That was really jarring to me.

Now, I can’t get away with this without mentioning that potential love triangle the blurb hints at. Readers can relax, it doesn’t get as love triangle cliché as it sounds.

Personal annoyance: The name dropping. If ONE more person called Katerina by her full name every other sentence, I was going to lose it. There were way too many names running around as is, especially for characters that were never introduced in the story. “He” or “she” really is an acceptable substitute when you can use it, authors.

Lastly, the ending. Perhaps it’s just me, but I felt that–for the end of a first book in a trilogy–the ending was far too tidy. Obviously there were some things to clear up, but there didn’t seem to be enough still going on to keep some readers interested. I’m legitimately curious about how the story will continue because there isn’t a clear place to go from there, except that it seems to be leading to “Katerina leaves Russia to go be a Doctor in Switzerland.” Which I feel should be the feeling we get after the end of book THREE.

Overall, though, I think this book has potential. Robin Bridges is, after all, a debut author (who did make my list of 12 Debut Authors I’m Looking Forward to in 2012). The Gathering Storm is very involved, so I will certainly be picking up the second book, The Unfailing Light, expected to be published October 9, 2012. What I’m hoping for is that Bridges, now settled into the story, will be able to take the time to explain just how in the world this world actually works, and what in the world is going on in these millions and millions of layers. I would recommend this book, but only to certain types of people who devour mythology heavy books. If you’re looking for a new world to drop right into, I’m be wary about handing you The Gathering Storm. An interesting challenge it is. An easy read it’s not.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Spring To-Be-Read List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish.

Okay, I have to face it, my to-be-read list is SKY HIGH. Picking ten for the spring is going to be … death defying. Let’s give it a try! (All links will go to Goodreads unless otherwise noted.)

1. Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins

In case you missed my Waiting on Wednesday post last week, I WANT THIS BOOK. If Amazon’s shipping department wasn’t the worst, I’D HAVE IT BY NOW. But I don’t. And the wait is KILLER.

2. The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

Really, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with this book. It’s historical fiction in the fact that it takes place in Russia circa 1888. It’s fantasy because the main character is both a Duchess and a necromancer. This book’s blurb caught me on the first look, and I can’t wait to read it.

3. Die for Me by Amy Plum

Okay, Anna and the French Kiss maaaay have made me have an instant love of books set in Paris, which I discovered at line 2 of the blurb. Then I read the REST of the blurb and went DUDE. Let’s see if the plotline is cool enough to overcome the star-crossed lovers thing! You can bet you’ll hear which way this one goes as soon as I get my hands on it.

4. Balthazar by Claudia Gray

I’ll admit, my interest in the Evernight series continued to wane as the books went on, but it seems that this one is completley unrelated to the Evernight books and characters except for Balthazar, so sign me up! I was a huge sucker for this guy, and I’m not ashamed to admit it!

5. The Selection by Kiera Cass

Okay, this is one book where I read the blurb and I went I WANT NOW. NOW. I have no idea why, but I just fell in love right there. Plus, the CW is making it into a TV series so DUDE. I have to at least read the book so I can watch how much the series messes with the plot line. 😛

6. City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

GUYS. GUYS. CASSANDRA CLARE. THAT IS ALL.

7. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

This is the sequel to Divergent, which I thought actually lived up to a lot of the hype it got. Enough is said.

8. The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

MORE VAMPIRE ACADEMY WORLD. MORE ADRIAN. GIVE ME NOW. If you don’t believe the CAPS is pertinent, read my review of Bloodlines!

9. Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers

Girl escapes arranged marriage, becomes assassin. Seriously, do I need to tell you anymore? Also, for the life of me I can’t get this cover to actually show up here, so you’re just going to have to click the link to check it out. 😛

10. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

I am a horrible person who judges books by their cover–only literally, I swear! However, CHECK OUT THIS COVER. Then CHECK OUT THE BLURB. Really interested in getting my hands on this one!