Top Ten Tuesday (7): Top Ten All Time Favorite Fantasy Books

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week we are talking about our Top Ten Favorite Books in a Genre of our choice, and I pick fantasy.  This list will be a mix of adult and YA books.  It will also probably lean toward books I’ve read more recently because if I didn’t review it on Goodreads, I might as well never have read it.

Top 10 All Time Favorite Fantasy Books

1. The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – This is the beginning of a series of a bunch of interrelated trilogies, but it’s the first one that really grabbed my heart.  Fitz is one of my favorite characters in all of fantasy. If you like communicating animals, dragons, a great underdog tale, and court intrigue, you will love this one. 

asassins apprentice

2.  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I feel like this is a popular one, but if you haven’t read it, I think it’s a great entry point into epic fantasy.  This book follows a guy named Kvothe telling his life story over the course of three days, and each book in the trilogy represents a day of the story. It’s so great and an excellent entry point into epic fantasy, even though it’s a chunker.

name of the wind

3. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan – This is taking a little bit of a risk because only the first book in the trilogy is out, but I instantly fell in love with this book as soon as I read it.  It is slightly reminiscent of The Name of the Wind in that it is a scribe telling the story of a guy known as The Hope Killer, but in many ways I actually loved this book even more. Shocking, I know, but you REALLY need to try this one if you like fantasy at all.

blood song

4.  The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavirel Kay – This is actually just a  placeholder for all of Guy Gavriel Kay’s stuff (except, oddly enough, the Fionavar trilogy, which I personally didn’t like).  But this one, A Song for ArbonneSailing to Sarantium, or Tigana… basically the list goes on and on. His writing is this gorgeous historical, magical prose with characters that you just must love. Lions is one of the only books that I have ever read, closed, and then immediately re-opened because I wasn’t ready to let go.

lions

5.  Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – This is kind of also a Marilliet placeholder because I totally love her works, but also this is such an excellent entry point to fairy tale retellings and fantasy.  This is a retelling of the Wild Swans fairy tale, but it completely stands on its own.  The romance is pitch-perfect, Sorcha is an amazing female protagonist, and man I just love love love this book.

Daughter of the Forest

6. The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson – This is definitely a Sanderson placeholder.  I am an absolute Fanderson – he basically can do no wrong in my eyes.  I absolutely adore the Mistborn trilogy, I love Warbreaker, I love Way of Kings, I love Steelheart, and you KNOW I love The Emperor’s Soul…. ugh, I just love them all. I think this one is probably the best entry point to Sanderson.  That said, The Emperor’s Soul would also be a great starting place since it’s a short story that I feel like gives a really good test to see if you like his writing style.

final empire

7.  Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor – This is where the YA fantasy recommendations start.  I love Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and I actually think it would be a great cross over into adult fantasy. The world-building is just freaking amazing, the realistic writing of Prague makes you feel like you are right there, and it’s one of my absolute favorite story that incorporates angels.

smoke and bone

8.  The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente – This is just so different than anything else I’ve ever read.  The language is so fantastical, the world is immersive, and the characters just stick right with you.  I get totally transported to this world when I read these books, and I highly recommend them.

fairyland

9.  The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner – This is a freaking amazing series that focuses on Eugenidies, who (as you might guess) is a thief.  He gets caught in a nearby kingdom and ends up being asked to go on a journey in order to help the king.  Gen is one of my favorite male protagonists for sure.  And for those of you who like The Winner’s Curse, the author of that said in a recent Twitter chat that this series was one of her inspirations.

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10. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – This is a throwback recommendation – it was a Newberry honor winner in 1983! It follows the story of Harry Crewe, an orphan girl, who has just moved to a border town that basically is the last defense against a tribe of people known as the Hillfolk.  For reasons that are not immediately apparent, Harry is kidnapped by the Hillfolk King and ends up learning a lot about herself.  The book was so enjoyable and I highly recommend it.

blue sword

11. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher – This is a bonus choice and is really representative of one of my favorite sub-genres in fantasy, which is urban fantasy.  I love the Dresden File series (though for me they get great starting at around book 4), and I also love the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.  These are great reading slump busters for me because they are characters I love in realistic settings with excellent magic and supernatural characters.  They also generally read as standalones, even though they are all related in one big series.  Just excellent.

So how about you?  Do you like fantasy as much as I do?  What are some of your favorites?  I had to leave off SO MANY that I really love, and chose to lean a bit more toward adult stuff since I think the YA stuff gets pretty good coverage in the blogosphere (at least the corner I hang out in).  Are any of these on your TBR?

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Epic Recs (2): March with Danie!

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Ok – I loved participating in Epic Recs so much last month that I am doing it again!  Epic Recs is a really fun online book club idea hosted by Judith at Paper Riot and Amber from Books of Amber.  Basically they recommend books to each other every month that the other one has to read and review.  And they’ve opened this awesomeness up to others to participate in and they will even pair you up with someone who’s reading taste they think goes along with yours.  Can we just talk for a second about how awesome this is?  If you’re interested in more info and the rules and whatnot, check out Judith’s post here.

This month I am teaming up with one of my best blogosphere friends Danie from The Bookish Brunette!  Danie’s blog is so amazing and a must visit for basically everyone.  If you like my blog, you will DEFINITELY love hers.

So what are we reading this month? 

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I was actually pretty torn on what to recommend Danie this month until I read her most recent Top Ten Tuesday post!  In that post, Danie mentioned that she had never read anything by Richelle Mead and I just KNEW I had to recommend Vampire Academy.  I think Danie is going to really love Rose and REALLY freaking love Dimitri.  Even better, Rose and Lissa have (at least in this first book) one of my favorite friendships in all of YA and so I knew I had to recommend this for Danie.  When I first read this book, I got so swept up in the series that I basically marathoned all six.  I really hope Danie loves this series as much as I did!

Danie suggested I read The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd.  Here’s what she had to say about it:

“I am choosing this one because it was my all-time favorite of last year. And everyone needs to read it. It was beautifully written, and the story itself was perfect. I honestly have so much love for this book. I wasn’t interested in it at all, until I got the sequel for review so I decided to try it. And became obsessed with it. I push it on everyone. If the time period isn’t your thing, or the subject matter bugs you a bit, keep reading. Go into it with a completely open mind.”

I am have had this one on my radar for so long and really keep meaning to get to it.  I mean, that cover!  I am super-excited that Danie pushed this one on me and I can’t wait to see what I think.  Come back at the end of the month to see how we liked these awesome books! And in the meantime, definitely check out Danie’s post here to see what she thinks of her rec this month!

Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

shades of grey

Book Summary

From Goodreads: Part social satire, part romance, part revolutionary thriller, Shades of Grey tells of a battle against overwhelming odds. In a society where the ability to see the higher end of the color spectrum denotes a better social standing, Eddie Russet belongs to the low-level House of Red and can see his own color—but no other. The sky, the grass, and everything in between are all just shades of grey, and must be colorized by artificial means.

Eddie’s world wasn’t always like this. There’s evidence of a never-discussed disaster and now, many years later, technology is poor, news sporadic, the notion of change abhorrent, and nighttime is terrifying: no one can see in the dark. Everyone abides by a bizarre regime of rules and regulations, a system of merits and demerits, where punishment can result in permanent expulsion.

Eddie, who works for the Color Control Agency, might well have lived out his rose-tinted life without a hitch. But that changes when he becomes smitten with Jane, a Grey Nightseer from the dark, unlit side of the village. She shows Eddie that all is not well with the world he thinks is just and good.

Review: 4 out of 5 Stars

If you enjoy cleverly-written, tongue-in-cheek, intelligent fantasy, you really must read something written by Jasper Fforde.  While Fforde is probably best known for his Thursday Next series, which is also excellent, Shades of Grey was his first entry into the world of YA.  This was swiftly followed by his next YA series, The Last Dragonslayer, which I ALSO really loved. This is becoming a pattern with me and Fforde, as you can see.

Shades of Grey is a really engaging dystopian written in Fforde’s usual nonsensical style. In this world, people are divided in a very strict caste system based on the hues they are able to see, governed by the Colortocracy.  When a person comes of age, they are permitted to take a test that evaluates what colors you can see and how well.  Both the color spectrum you can see as well as the strength of the hue provide your lot in life.  Everything from the person you are able to marry to the job you are able to perform is defined through this test.  Fforde makes clear that this society has come directly from the society we live in now, though how this major change came about is not immediately clear. There are many references to our present world, and through these Fforde manages a few tongue-in-cheek jabs at our society.

As with so many Fforde novels, Shades of Grey is utterly confusing at first, because the world is never built through info-dump, but through tantalizing clues throughout the novel. And yet somehow, it works.  You find yourself building the world in your mind as you go as then, snap, the final piece falls into place on the very last page and it all comes together. The world was immense and clearly developed. And because it was based entirely on a color-based ranking system, the entire novel was just so visual, making it a very interesting reading experience.

Another Fforde hallmark is a somewhat stilted cadance and flow to the dialogue.  The characters speak in stilted ways and it does take a few chapters to get completely used to the flow of the novel.  That said, I loved the characters in this novel, even though few of them were actually likeable. I particuarly enjoyed Eddie’s character development as he goes from a sort of goody-two-shoes to uncovering the various flaws inherent in his world.

My only sadness is that the rest of the trilogy is not yet out.  I am comforted by the high re-read potential this novel has and I look forward to pulling it back off the shelf very soon.

Bottom Line

This novel is yet another example of Fforde doing what he does best — writes these impossibly possible novels that stick with you long after the book is over. Highly recommended.

Top Ten Tuesday (6): Top Ten Popular Authors I’ve Never Read

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week we are talking about our Top Ten Popular Authors We’ve Never Read.

Top 10 Popular Authors I’ve Never Read

Ok, this is tough because I feel like I have at least read one book from many authors that come to mind.  That being said, there is always more to read, so here are the authors that stand out.

Young Adult Authors

1. Cassandra Clare – I know, I know. Everyone has read and seems to have enjoyed her Mortal Instruments series, but I read like 50 pages and could NOT get into it. I keep meaning to give it another try, but haven’t been able to bring myself to yet!

2.  Sarah J. Maas – I KNOW! I haven’t read Throne of Glass yet and I really really mean to.  I even had it out from the library at one point, but the back made it sound like it was a love triangle-y book and I just wasn’t in the mood at the time. That said, I’ve since heard that’s not really the case and really want to try again soon.

3. Tahereh Mafi – Confession time. I even own the entire Shatter Me trilogy. Signed. So what is my problem! The prose in these books is divisive from what I have heard, but if you love it you REALLY love it.  Because of that, I want to give these books a fair shot.  And come on, I OWN THEM ALL!

4.  Ransom Riggs – I also own both of the Miss Peregrine’s books, also signed.  I am a huge fan of Ransom Riggs the person, and I hear this set of books just keeps getting better.  I am annoyed by this one and will be trying these books out ASAP.

5.  Paullina Simons – I keep hearing such excellent things about The Bronze Horseman trilogy, and that sucker has been on my TBR for-freaking-ever.

Classics and Classic Adult Fantasy Authors

6. Charlotte Bronte – I keep meaning to read Jane Eyre. Everyone seems to really love and enjoy it, but I am not the biggest fan of that era of British literature and I keep avoiding it.  I need to make this happen at some point, though.

7.  Terry Pratchett – I’m not sure how I call myself a fantasy fan without ever having even TRIED Discworld, but there it is.  Hopefully soon – this one is on my definite to read in 2014 list.

8.  David Eddings – Similar to my feelings about Discworld, I feel like I truly must give The Belgariad series a try.  I think I own them all in two different forms – both standalones and a bind-up. I hear this is a really defining series in fantasy and I just need to get going!

9.  Ilona Andrews – I am a really big fan of urban fantasy — particularly Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  With this being the case, I KNOW I need to get some Kate Daniels in my life ASAP, but I just haven’t gotten around to it!

10. Mercedes Lackey – With this author, I admit I just don’t know where to start. There are so freaking many books in the Valdemar world and there seems to be debate as to which order to read them in.  But a well-known, female fantasy author who I haven’t read… I’m embarrassed.

So that’s my list! Which ones of these do I need to shoot to the top of my TBR? And which authors do YOU wish you had made time for already?  I can’t wait to hear!

Epic Recs Book Review (1): Unwind by Neil Shusterman

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Hey everyone!  Remember back on February 12 when I told you I was participating in Epic Recs? This a really fun online book club idea hosted by Judith at Paper Riot and Amber from Books of Amber.  If you’re interested in more info and the rules and whatnot, check out Judith’s post here.

This month I was paired up with the AWESOME Kim from The Avid Reader.  She recommended that I read Unwind by Neil Shusterman.  I have read it and now I am here to review it! Let me just say up front, though, that I am really grateful to have been paired with Kim.  She was really fun to start catching up with on Twitter and her blog is great.  Plus she had such a great recommendation for me this month!  Thanks, Kim!

Unwind by Neil Shusterman

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Book Summary

From Goodreads: The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

Review: 4 out of 5 stars

I was very glad that Kim suggested this read to me, because it’s really not one I probably would have picked up and prioritized on my own.  I don’t personally choose to mix my politics with, well, anything, so the summary of this book had always kind of turned me off a little.  Basically, in this book there was a huge War fought over the right to have abortions.  The “compromise” that they came up with outlaws abortions, but permits a child to basically be killed — oh, sorry, “unwound” — at the request of their parents anytime between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, and their organs to be repurposed in others through organ donation.  As a result, there is almost no ailment or physical deformity that cannot be cured — assuming you make it past the age of eighteen, of course.  If you make it past the age of eighteen without your parents requesting that you be unwound, you are home free, but if your parents make the request, it cannot be taken back and there is basically no escape.  No one really understands the unwinding process or how it works, but there are starting to be hints and rumors that not all is what it seems.

The story follows three protagonists who have all been selected to be unwound — Connor, Risa and Lev.  All have been selected for unwinding for different reasons: Connor because of behavioral issues, Risa because she is an orphan and hasn’t proven to be of any particular special worth and Lev because he was the tenth child in his family and was conceived for the specific purpose of unwinding as a religious tithe.  Connor is horrified at the prospect of being unwound and goes on the run.  While he is in the process of running from the police, he causes a car accident that allows the paths of all of our protagonists to cross, and they all start traveling together.  Both Connor and Risa are horrified at the prospect of being unwound, but Lev is devastated to have been swept up in this escape process.  All of his life he has been taught that being unwound as a tithe is an honor and a good thing to do, so finding himself in the company of two deviants is pretty much more than he can handle.

The rest of the book follows the paths of Connor, Risa and Lev as they continue to try to escape their unwinding fates, get to know more about each other and develop their own feelings about and opinions on the society they live in.

So what did you think?

Overall, I really “enjoyed” this book.  I thought the character development that each of our protagonists go through was totally believable and well-thought out.  Shusterman writes each of these teens so well and so believably that it is very easy to put yourself in their shoes.   Overall, while Lev wasn’t my FAVORITE character, I personally connected to his character development arc the most.  Connor was also very interesting, but I guess I wanted a bit more from his background to understand WHY he was being unwound in the first place.  Risa was probably the least-well explored and developed, for me.

I also really loved the side characters we came across.  At one point, for example, Lev parts ways from Connor and Risa and ends up traveling with a boy named Cyrus Finch, or CyFi.  He was probably my favorite part of the entire book and I thought that the side plot and exploration of organ memory was so freaking well-done.

Ok, Emily, why the quotes around “enjoyed” then?

This book was absolutely freaking horrifying.  It was just so difficult to read.  The society, though in some ways so totally UNbelievably terrible, is so clearly drawn that it seems more possible than you would like to admit.  There is one chapter in particular (and if you’ve read this book I guarantee you know what I mean) that was just gut-wrenchingly awful — I still find myself thinking about it, and it was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever read.  Since Shusterman’s writing is so clear and detailed, you get drawn totally into this terrible world, and that was actually really tough.

I did have a few small issues with this novel — there were a few expansive tangents on the background of the War and the politics underlying everything that I thought drifted a bit into preaching.  I skimmed them, mostly, and didn’t think they added a lot to the novel.  In fact, they often took me out of the storyline.  I thought there were parts of this book that could make people even more squeamish about organ donation than some people already are.  I don’t know that Shusterman meant to do it that way (in fact, there was one line where he basically says “if more people donated organs, this [dystopian society] never would have happened”), but some parts surrounding organ donation and unwinding were so terrible and graphic, I do fear it could be taken the wrong way.

Bottom Line

Overall, I really thought this novel was worth a read, but it is TOUGH to read.  Shusterman’s writing is really beautiful and the novel is well done and makes you think.  I think this would be the perfect novel to read with a group, because there is just so much to talk about, much of which is hard to cover in a spoiler-free review.  I am not in a hurry to move on in the series just because I think I need to recover first.  That being said, I will finish out this series at some point because Shusterman is a master and I need to see what happens in this world.

Book Review: Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

fire & flood

Book Summary

From Goodreads: A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother’s life—and her own.

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can’t determine what’s wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She’s lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she’s helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It’s an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother’s illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there’s no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can’t trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

Review: 4 out of 5 Stars

I received a copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The US publication date is February 25, 2014, from Scholastic Press.

Ok, first things first – let’s get this out of the way. Everyone is going to compare this to The Hunger Games. In this novel, a girl named Tella chooses to participate in the Brimstone Bleed in order to win a cure for her dying brother. The Brimstone Bleed is an Amazing Race-esque competition lasting three months and taking place in a variety of settings. In this book, for example, they compete in both the jungle and the desert. Over 100 people participate in this race, all fighting to earn a cure for a loved one. Even better, each participant is given an egg that eventually hatches into an amazing animal-like creature called Pandoras.  These Pandoras each have unique special powers that help the Competitors throughout the competition.

Personally, while I certainly see the HG comparisons in the broad design of the plot, I thought this one easily distinguished itself. It wasn’t truly a dystopian – the world is otherwise fairly normal aside from this race. There was no love triangle (thank goodness). Not everyone has to die – though some do, of course. And Tella is no Katniss. Where Katniss was scheming and distrustful (rightfully), Tella is open and in many ways guileless. Another main difference is that Tella doesn’t seem to have a huge number of innate talents that will help her in this competition, aside from her awesome Pandora, a black fox named Madox, and the skills of the various friends she makes along the way. Granted, she is referred to as a good runner and she apparently throws an awesome right hook, but really her open heart is her main tool and it serves her well through this book.

This book had many strong points for me. I loved the concept of the Pandoras, each with their own personalities and gifts. Madox especially was a treat and I want one right now, please and thank you.  I know the animal companion thing has been seen in other places, but I don’t remember it in any recent YA and I thought it was a fun addition. The Pandoras did serve as a bit of a deus ex but I think that was the point, to be honest, so it didn’t bother me.

I also thought the dialogue was well done here. I actually believed Tella was 17 and enjoyed the way her internal monologue changed and grew as the book progressed. And Harper. Harper is another competitor who teams up with Tella and basically serves as a catalyst for bringing our group of protagonists together. Parts of me wish Harper was the main character of this novel. She was a serious BAMF and I want to know more about her and be her best friend immediately.  I think there will also be many who get swoony for the love interest.  He was a bit too “protect my woman” for me, but it is always fun seeing the mysterious male character reveal his various layers.  I want to know a LOT more about his back story and how he got to be the way he is. I’m hoping that comes in later books.

There were also some things I didn’t totally love. Tella was actually not my favorite character. I wanted her to be stronger for herself, not through others. She had a bit of a relying-on-boys thing that annoyed me at times. I also wanted a bit more background on her and her family before jumping into the action to help me care more about the conflict in the story. She is doing all of this for her brother, who we really know nothing about.  I think a few additional chapters at the front would have helped us be more invested in her race.

There was also one twist related to the Pandoras at the end that struck me as false-feeling and in some conflict with the development of the plot and boundaries of the game as they had been introduced up to that point. I realize it was likely done to prove to the reader that there are no rules in this game, but it was so jarring that I couldn’t reconcile it. And I didn’t love how much of a cliffhanger this book was – I don’t mind a series, but I prefer them to be a bit more able to stand on their own in terms of a fully finished plot.

Bottom Line

Overall, I really enjoyed this read. I powered through it in a few hours and legitimately cared what happened to Tella and her friends. I will absolutely be checking out the rest of this series. If you like dystopian feeling novels with a touch of romance and a thrilling plot, pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.

My First Epic Recs!

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I am so freaking excited!  This is my first time participating in Epic Recs, which is a really fun online book club idea hosted by Judith at Paper Riot and Amber from Books of Amber.  Basically they recommend books to each other every month that the other one has to read and review.  And they’ve opened this awesomeness up to others to participate in and they will even pair you up with someone who’s reading taste they think goes along with yours.  Can we just talk for a second about how awesome this is?  If you’re interested in more info and the rules and whatnot, check out Judith’s post here.

This month I was paired up with the AWESOME Kim from The Avid Reader.  Not only have I gained a really awesome book recommendation, but another really awesome bookish friend!  You should definitely check out her awesome blog if you haven’t already for some really amazing YA recommendations.

So what are we reading this month? 

poison study unwind

I checked out her shelves and IMMEDIATELY knew I had to push Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. It fit right in with her love for strong female leads, YA slow-burn romances, and desire to start a new series. I really hope she loves it – I sure did!

Kim suggested I read Unwind by Neil Shusterman.  Here’s what she had to say about it:

“For you, I was torn in at least three different directions… but then I read your review of The Darkest Minds, and your sheer enthusiasm for that book made me decide that I’m picking Unwind, by Neal Shusterman for you. You said that part of your love for The Darkest Minds stemmed from its close examination of Ruby’s character – how her past has shaped the person she has become. You’ll have a similar appreciation for Connor, Risa and Lev. This is one of my favorite books and I think if you like dystopian even a little you can’t help but love this one. It’s definitely one that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.”

I am super excited to dig into this one!  Come back at the end of the month to see how we liked them and in the meantime, check out Kim’s Epic Recs post here!