Book Blogger Love-A-Thon Kickoff!

Book Blogger LoveAThon

If you haven’t already heard, Alexa from Alexa Loves Books is hosting the 2015 Book Blogger Love-A-Thon, which is a weekend long event dedicated to exploring new blogs, celebrating the bloggers behind them, and spreading positivity in the community. If you haven’t already signed up, it’s not too late! Click on over to Alexa’s blog to find out more.

Behind the Blog

If you don’t already know, I’m Jackie, and I hail from the Mitten State (ie. Michigan, USA). I’ve been involved in the blogosphere for almost fifteen years now. I don’t remember how I was introduced to blogging. I was a pre-teen? I was bored? I just discovered the internet? I thought I had something to say. I started back in the day of expage and envy.nu and geocities, and eventually one of my online pals hosted my site through her own personal domain. I just spent about an hour shuffling through the Internet Archive: Way Back Machine to see if I could find one of my old layouts, but alas they do not exist. Imagine if you will, my layouts featured bands like Tiger Army and AFI, and I drew sharp, erratic squiggles for borders because I wanted to be edgy. I didn’t have a niche back then; I blogged about my teenage life and color guard and AP classes and the Lord of the Rings. Thrilling, right? I still keep in contact with a few of my blogging buddies from back then. One of them even sent me a Christmas gift this year. I think I’m due to return the favor. Double Bubble Jo, I’m lookin’ at you!

It wasn’t until my last semester at college that I discovered niche blogging– more specifically, a handful of young adult book blogs that kept me entertained between classes when it was too cold to walk home. After college, when I was bored and unemployed and looking for something to bide my time, I decided to start Books & Tea. Here is my first post EVAR! Mostly I write about young adult books– fantasy, contemporary, sci-fi– I don’t have a preference. Sometimes I write about non-fiction books, especially those by Bill Bryson. Oh also tea. I write about that too, of course. Which reminds me, I’m supposed to tell you about how I came up with my blog name, but I don’t have an interesting story to tell. Just like Siegfried & Roy or Barnes & Noble, Book & Tea make such a superb pair, and that is, as they say, is that.

Blogosphere Love

The older I grew, the more my preference in reading material made me feel like a black sheep. I’m and English Major who never developed an appreciation for the classics (but, I am trying to change that with the Classics Club). I’m an adult who never truly graduated to grown-up novels. What can I say? I’m a sucker for young adult novels– those feelings of falling in love for the first time and almost-kisses to saving the world from a dark lord while away at boarding school to cyborg Cinderella finally making it to the ball. So, when it comes to discussing books “in real life”, I approach the topic with reservation. I feel like a lot of people will think I’m silly for reading young adult novels.

The blogosphere has provided me with an outlet though. Sure the book blogging community has had its fair share of drama, but for me its easy to look past that because there are a plethora of book blogs out there spreading positivity and sharing their love of books with the world. On top of that, I’ve discovered a community of readers similar to me– in their mid-twenties, some older, and still suckers for young adult literature. It makes me happy that I’m not the only twenty-six year old re-reading Harry Potter or eagerly waiting to read the next installment in the Lunar Chronicles.

Books on My Radar

I mentioned before that I don’t have a genre preference, although I do tend to avoid romance and westerns and the self-help sort of non-fiction. Lately though, I’ve been gobbling up fantasy novels, like the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, which I would totally love to see turned into a movie or even a TV show. I’m also really loving science fiction novels and graphic novels.

The next part in the Love-A-Thon questionnaire asks us to list five books we’re looking forward to in 2015, but I don’t get super geeked over new releases. That sounds ridiculous, I know! But I’m stingy and I don’t request ARCs. I seek out cheap e-books, paperbacks, and library loot; a lot of the books I read and review on Books & Tea are usually over a year old. So, I’mma change up this next part to books I’ve had my eye on for a while now and am still dying to read.

fantasy graphic novels Science fiction

Jackie in Real Life

I love playing video games as much as I love reading and blogging. I have a hard time choosing my favorite game, but I’m a huge fan of Borderlands and its sequels, the Elder Scrolls games, the Mass Effect series, and the Fallout games. Binge watching TV shows on Netflix is also a fun pastime, and lately I’ve been a little obsessed with Supernatural, Pretty Little Liars, and Gilmore Girls. My all-time favorite is Eureka, though. I also like to plan the stories that I want to write, but I haven’t found the courage to actually write the stories. Ugh! I have a tendency to be a homebody, by my boyfriend breaks me out of my shell on occasion– like the time we went to the cider mill or the time we went to the pig roast.

I also love trying new kinds of tea and new kinds of coffee, so outside of buying books, I probably spend most of my extra cash on these two things. I actually haven’t purchased any more tea since last fall, but I also have three shoe boxes full of tins and unopened bags. I unofficially put myself on a tea buying ban. I’m sure this will dissolve once I find a great sale. As for coffee, I buy it when I run out, but I make sure I try new brands, new blends, new flavors every time. I really should make a post about some of the coffees I’ve tried because there are a few Michigan-based roasters that provide a wonderful product, and I cannot resist showing some love for my home state.

Your turn, reader! Tell me a little about yourself. Who are you? What do you love about our blogging community? What do you love to do when you’re not reading or blogging?

Favorite Reads of 2014

Feature and Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, and poses the question “What was your favorite read from 2014?”

exiled

This is an easy answer because I read so few books in 2014. My resolution to read more in 2015 will be a breeze to attain! But, I digress. Of the books I reviewed in 2014, The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima was my favorite. It’s a rare occasion that I so eagerly pick up the second book in a series, but after finishing the Demon King back in 2013, I simply could not wait to start reading the Exiled Queen. The Seven Realms series makes high fantasy accessible to readers who have had poor experiences with the genre in the past because it is an action-packed story with the perfect blend of world building and character development. I already have the Grey Wolf Throne, and you better believe I will be reading that in 2015!

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz book cover

The next of my favorite reads from 2014 does not show up on my blog, and that is The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz. This was a fluff book that I read back in May when Spring was holding tight to Michigan. It was one of the first warm days of the year, so I slathered on some sunscreen and sat out by the lake for a few hours. I devoured the book in one sitting because it was just one of those books that made you feel good about everything, and I did not want that feeling to end.

writing in books

I felt so inspired by The Summer I Saved the World that I ended up writing all over the inside of the front cover of the book. I wrote about the perfect day and the people floating by on boats and my fear of missed connections because that’s what this book was about in a way– missed connections. Or rather, it’s about a young girl who sees a community full of missed connections, so she decides to do random acts of kindness to bring that community back together. It’s hard to explain, but in a way, this book saved my world during summer of 2014. It’s a book that I will carry with me forever.

What was your favorite read of 2014?

Breaking the Spine

The way I treat my books would horrify most book bloggers, who have shelves lined with pristine book spines and pages that have never, ever been dog-eared. The books on my shelf have a lifespan because I’m guilty of folding the corners of pages to mark where I left off. I write in the margins and underline passages that are meaningful to me. And the condition of the book cover and spine is a reflection of how much a love a book; the more I love a book, the more worn it will become because I’ve read it so often– that’s why pages fall from my copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read that book. I feel no shame about this, and expecting books that I love to remain flawless is impractical to me. But then, my mom bought me replacement copies for all of my Harry Potter book this Christmas…

Harry Potter covers

The book spines have not a single crack and the edges are not at all torn or worn. Most importantly! They still have the artwork on the front. My old copies are hardback and I seem to have lost all of the dust jackets. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the cover art that I have forgotten what some of it looks like. Yikes!

These books are beautiful…and suddenly I feel afraid to read them because I don’t want to tarnish them. I find that I’m holding the books delicately, I’m not opening them all they way, and I’m using a book mark…well, I’m using a receipt…Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Cover O

When will this madness end?! I’m half-tempted to just crack the spines. Get it done and over with so I can read on without anxiety.

For those of you who prefer flawless books, how do you keep your books in good condition when you read them? For those of you who don’t mind that a book looks well-read, have you ever come across a book that suddenly you were afraid to handle?

Weekend Review: Happy Holidays

Illustrated Christmas OrnamentHappy Holidays from Jackie at Books & Tea!

This Christmas was perhaps my most bookish Christmas yet. My mother bought me the entire Harry Potter series (again) because my original copies were so heavily used, and Jon bought me the Harry Potter DVD collection because I left my original ones behind in a past life. If you follow me on Twitter (@books_n_tea), then you know he’s never watched the series, so we’re having a bit of a Harry Potter marathon this weekend. We made it through the first three movies in one day, and he seemed genuinely appreciative of the movies so far. He still seems up to watching more of them, too. I’m just excited that I get to share this with him!

I also received a bunch of gift cards to bookstores. I went on a spending spree on Barnes & Noble to buy e-books, but near the end I started to burn out. I have about $8.00, and I’ve suddenly become incredibly selective. You know how it is– you want all the books, but you only have enough money to buy one, so it better be the best one. In the meantime, I’ll be shuffling through the pages of these books– electronically of course.

Book Covers

Clearly, I was a little all over the place when I bought these books– non-fiction, YA science fiction, mystery, apocalyptic, fantasy for middle grade and YA, and historical fiction.

I guess I could just not spend my last $8.00 right away. I could wait until I come across something that really piques my interest. But…where is the fun in that?! Then again, when I say I’m down to my last $8.00, I mean on my Barnes and Noble gift card. I still have a gift card to Schuler’s to work my way through, but Jon and I will make plans to go to the brick and mortar to do a little shopping. He really has no idea what he’s in for. I spent over an hour at that store just buying one book. Imagine what it’s going to be like when I have $50.00 to spend!

What books did you get for the holidays? I could use a few fresh ideas!

Wintertime Reads

Winter officially started this week, but the cold and blustery weather settled in long before December 21st. I was not prepared for this, especially after last winter, which was the coldest and snowiest and most icy and generally most uncomfortable that I’ve ever endured. I’m not certain I ever thawed out this summer, which was particularly mild. If there is one thing about winter that I can appreciate though, it’s that winter is the perfect season for reading. The world seems quieter and slower, so I’m less distracted. I’m also certainly not going anywhere because I’m not comfortable driving on snow-covered roads, and leaving the comforts of my cozy home means I have to change out of my thermal long-johns– no thank you! Truly, I make like a bear and hibernate for six months, and by hibernate, I mean bury myself amongst blankets and pillows with a good book (wearing previously mentioned long-johns).

Thick books

I Love Big Books & I Cannot Lie

Some of the best winter reads are thick, 600+ page novels that for some reason seem daunting in the summertime. A typical winter weekend may go like this:

  1.  Wake up
  2. Sip some coffee while updating Books & Tea or getting caught up on my Feedly
  3. Day dream about Fargo, my cat, being a lap cat
  4. Retreat to my bedroom around noon to start reading a chunky novel
  5. …fall asleep after 2.5 chapters
  6. Wake up and continue reading where I left off
  7. …fall asleep after 2.5 more chapters
  8. Wake up to Fargo, who is not a lap cat, terrorizing my feet, and continue reading where I left off
  9. etc…

Westeros Map from Game of Thrones

A Whole New World

I like fantasy novels, but I especially love them in the winter time. During the summer, you will most likely find me with a contemporary fiction novel or a non-fiction book. But in the winter, I prefer to be swept into a new world. One preferably not covered in snow. Then again, I would not turn my nose up at The Game of Thrones even though #winteriscoming. The dull grey afternoons and early nighttime beg for a little whimsy and magical adventure.

Harry Potter, Book 1

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Most of all, I love returning to books that warm my soul. I’ll often drag out all of my favorite books in the wintertime. This even includes all of my favorite picture books from when I was a kid, like Pig William, The Mitten, and Wednesday is Spaghetti Day. Of course, this means I drag out all of my Harry Potter books and give the series a re-read too.

 

What season is your reading season, and do your reading habits tend to change along with seasons?

The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima Review

Book Cover for The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams ChimaThe Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

Book Two in the Seven Realms series

Released: September 2010
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 586
Source: Won from Heather @ Proud Book Nerd

It’s a rare occasion when I read the first book in a series and I enjoyed it enough that I consider reading the second book in a series. It’s an even rarer occasion when I actually pick up book two in a series. Remember when I declared my love for Matched by Ally Condie, The Candidates by Inara Scott, and Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel? I never actually continued those series, and I probably never will now. Then, there are these anomalous events where I find myself not just reading book two but then scrambling to get my hands on book three and four. There is the Harry Potter series (duh!) and the Twilight series (I can’t explain this one), and now there is the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima. I reviewed the first book, The Demon King, two years ago, and believe it or not, I just finished the second book in the series. OH. MY. GOSH.

P.S. Spoilers?

In The Exiled Queen, we find our two heroes, Han and Raisa, separated once more. Yet as the tides of war lap at the Seven Realms, both are traveling to boarding school, Oden’s Ford, to seek refuge and to perfect skills that may aid them in the battles to come. I don’t know why, but if a story involves a boarding school, there is a 97% chance I’m going to love the book. I am such a nerd that I’m excited to learn about my favorite characters’ school day (please ignore the notes on how to travel to Aediion that I’ve jotted down in my own composition notebook). I just get really absorbed into the surroundings. Plus, there are so many unsupervised opportunities to mingle with one’s peers, and in such close quarters, there are so many opportunities to bump into love interests. Despite taking place in a fantasy setting, the romantic elements seem more realistic in this novel than in most other YA novels I’ve read. The passion without obsession. The mind’s hesitation to start a relationship, when the heart wants nothing more than to jump in with abandon. The crushing force of seeing the person you’re falling in love with doting on another.  There were moments when my heart was screaming for two characters to kiss, but instead they were both stuck inside their own heads filled with doubt, too afraid to make the first move. Won’t we all experience this at least once in our own lives? And kudos to the author, who wasn’t afraid to write about hormonal teenagers and birth control (ie. maidenweed).

The characters continue to grow and develop in The Exiled Queen. Just when I thought I understood a characters motives, they are thrown into situations that challenge their values. I was always eager to turn the page so I could discover what caused the change of heart. Raisa continues to be my favorite character because she’s learning to become a warrior without sacrificing her femininity, and characters like that seem so rare. There are also a handful of new characters, who I don’t quite trust. Dean Abelard is introduced as the head of Mystwerk House. She holds dinners during the school year that are reminiscent of the Slug Club from the Harry Potter series– only the most gifted students are invited, and they take turns teaching each other valuable lessons. I sense Dean Abelard is loyal only to herself, and she has a few tricks up her sleeve to ensure she comes out on top (a true Slytherin!). Then there is the mysterious mage, Crow, who is a master of illusions, and I’m dying to know his true identity.

My only issue with the Exiled Queen is the pacing, and that may be more of a result of preference than anything. During the first half of the book, both Han’s and Raisa’s parties were traveling through the realms. Of course they ran into trouble and excitement along the way, but I found myself wanting to fast forward to their adventures in boarding school instead. For someone who claims she loves traveling, I’m definitely not a huge fan of it in fantasy novels. Mostly, I just view it as an opportunity for retrospection and world building, but book one was full of that and I wanted more of the plot to be revealed. This does begin to happen near the end of the book, and I found myself staying up way past my bedtime…during the work week. The Exiled Queen ended with a cliffhanger, and it left me asking a million questions that I just know will be answered in the next installment of this series.

So far, the Seven Realms series is incredible, and if it’s not on your reading list, you should definitely add it– especially if you’re reluctant to read high fantasy books. I was too, but this series made the genre more approachable because Cinda Williams Chima created the perfect balance of world building and character development.

Rating: Four Star Review

Characters I’d Love to Dress Up as for Halloween

Halloween used to be one of my top favorite holidays. Dressing up and going door-to-door begging for candy with friends was the perfect way to spend a crisp, October evening. But, the excitement for this suger-infused holiday sort of fizzled out when I realized that as an adult, I had to buy my own candy (and worse, share it with all the kids in the neighborhood. Puh!). I haven’t really had an excuse to dress up since college (and even then I just alternated between a fairy and a zombie). If I had an excuse to dress up for Halloween this year, these would be my top five choices:

Zoey Left 4 Dead1. Zoey from Left 4 Dead

Finding a playable, strong female character (who is not sexualized) can be challenging to find in video games, so when I discovered Zoey in Left 4 Dead, I fell in love. She’s a horror film nerd, who wears comfy sneakers, jeans, a pink track jacket, and her hair tied back. She doesn’t have cleavage spilling out or a bare belly because that’s not really practical during a zombie apocalypse. Zoey just seems real. Aside from being able to assemble the costume out of clothes already in my closet, I would just need two cap guns and a bright red first aid pack!

shepherd2. Commander Shepherd from Mass Effect

Now, my Commander Shepherd had short black hair styled into a bob, but like the Commander Shepherd above, she totally kicked butt and saved the universe. Well…maybe. I never got to finish Mass Effect 3. Honestly, I try not to think about the Mass Effect series because I’m trying to save money. The more I think about how amazing the games are, the more likely I am to go out and buy an XBox 360 just so I can play these games.

Lilith as "the Siren" from Borderlands3. Lilith as “the Siren” from Borderlands

The only games I could possibly love more than the Mass Effect games are the Borderlands games. I love both Siren characters– Lilith from Borderlands and Maya from Borderlands 2. But, I was unstoppable as Lilith wielding a Maliwan Hellfire (we don’t need no water…). How could she not make this list? Actually, I’m pretty sure dressing up as Lilith for Halloween won’t be satisfactory– can I just be her?

Hermione4. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter

Not everyone on this list wields guns. Hermione relies on her smarts, her books, and her wand to fend of evil. She’s been my hero since I was ten years old, so it’s no surprise she would make it on this list.

Eowyn from the Lord of the Rings5. Éowyn from the Lord of the Rings

Éowyn– she casts aside her nobility and becomes a shieldmaiden. And then. AND THEN! She killed what no man could.

This post is so full of girl power. I feel like starting a riot.

What characters would you like to dress up as for Halloween?

 

The Nerdy Girlie and Super Space Chick host Five Fandom Friday. I totally didn’t know it was a thing until today, which is why I’m posting this on a Sunday.