Author Archives: Kaja

On Life, Romance, and New Projects

Hey everyone.

I know. It’s been a long, LONG time since you last heard from me. I’m not even sure if anyone’s still here to read this post. If you are, thanks for not unfollowing two years ago when I suddenly dropped off the face of the earth and left without much of an explanation.

So. You’re probably wondering what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half. And while the answer is far from simple (part of it comes down to the fact that I’ve been raising two awesome boys who are now 4 and 2), it can be boiled down to this:

I’VE BEEN WRITING.

I finally gave writing a serious try, and now, almost four novels (and some 300k words) later, I’m finally getting ready to self-publish my first paranormal romance in January 2019. You can add TRUST THE WOLF to Goodreads now! It doesn’t have a cover yet but the blurb is there.

The reason I’ve been quiet here and on all my social media accounts is that I’ve created a whole new pen name – and all the things that come with it (I even have Facebook now!). Writing and maintaining a presence online takes a surprising amount of time, and though I’m still reading tons of books (duh), blogging had to be pushed aside to make room for what has now become my favorite hobby/work ever.

If you’re still here, reading this, I’d like to invite you over to my website, where you can meet me – Zoe Ashwood – and maybe follow me on your preferred platform, and possibly give my books a try when they’re out in the world. And if you’re a romance reviewer, I’d be happy to send you an ARC if you’d like.

This site has been a wonderful, wonderful place where I met hundreds of interesting people – you were amazing. You made me understand that I wasn’t weird for sometimes preferring books to people, and I’m certain that without being part of the bookish community through my blog, I never would have gone on to write my first novel. So for that, I thank you. Thank you for all the book recommendations, comments, and general kindness. I’ll miss this place, and I hope you’ll say hi over at Zoe’s.

The site is HERE.

Lots of love,

Kaja/Zoe

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
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Links: Goodreads.

Source: Borrowed from mom (Slovenian translation).

Genre: Historical fiction.

My rating:

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

I don’t often read historical fiction unless it involves ball gowns and dashing dukes (aka historical romance). But my mom recommended Guernsey and I sometimes actually listen to her, so I decided to read it – and was very pleasantly surprised. Guernsey Literary is a great book, one of my (increasingly rare?) five-star/heart reads, and I can’t recommend it enough.

(A note, I think the two authors are there because one started the book, couldn’t finish it herself because of some medical issues, and asked the other to do it. It doesn’t diminish the quality of the writing in any way. It’s superb.)

It’s written entirely in the form of letters. If that’s interesting to you, go for it. If you don’t like epistolary novels, give it a try anyway, it’s really that good. Letters need to be very carefully thought out if the plot is going to work, and I think the authors did very well with keeping all the voices of the characters separate (and keeping track of events and who knows what and all). Of course, the letters are longer (and include some dialogue, for example) than they would be if they were real, actual letters, but I wasn’t bothered by this because the story sucked me in so much.

The characters are fantastic. Julia, the main character, is this unconventional reporter who made a name for herself writing cynical articles during WWII, and is now intrigued by the existence of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (and who wouldn’t be?), and makes her way to the tiny Channel island of Guernsey. Dawsey’s (the main male character’s) letters were a treat to read, you really get the sense that he’s a calm, thoughtful person, and when Julia meets him in person, that’s exactly how he is. I loved getting to know the characters both through their own letters and through the descriptions the others write in theirs.

The people of Guernsey are distinctive, interesting, and funny without being mere caricatures. I guess in such a closed setting, it would be easy to fall into cliches, but the authors avoided that by creating beautifully rounded characters who each shed light on the events of the war years.

Now, WWII is a major theme here. I admired the authors’ way of talking about some very serious topics – they kept things light but meaningful, there is never the sense that the war merely serves as a backdrop for the current events. The atrocities of war, the sacrifices made (*spoiler in white* those scenes where the people of Guernsey describe how they sent their children away to England to keep them safe nearly broke me, people. It’s one of my triggers lately, children being in difficult situations, and this hit me hard. But it was so thoughtfully, beautifully done, I was in awe. *end spoiler*), the authors deal with them all. The characters each found their way of pushing through, of somehow coping with the ugly reality, and it’s amazing to see how they managed.

I don’t know what else to say to convince you to read this. I kind of want to journey to Guernsey myself, explore the funny little island, and learn its history. I know I’ll be recommending Guernsey Literary to anyone who wants a meaningful read and re-reading it soon. Oh, and I read the translation (by Miriam Drev), which was great. I’m always conscious of how works are translated but here, I barely noticed it at all.

Have you read Guernsey? What did you think?

Do you have any other good historical recommendations (that aren’t purely historical romances)?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

2017 Book Haul Post (AKA Failing at NY Resolutions)

There was a time, about six months ago, when I was feeling super optimistic and joined not one, but two reading challenges that consist of reading books you already own instead of buying new ones. I think it’s safe to say I’m failing spectacularly at both of them as I’ve bought nearly 50 books in 2017. Yeah, that’s right. Some sof them were birthday gifts and a lot of them were Kindle deals, so I haven’t beggared our family yet (I’m actually being really good and sticking to my self-allotted book budget). But here are some of the more memorable ones (I might or might not review them at a later date). Links go to reviews if reviews exist!

Bought/Received and Read:

  • The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater – yeah, all four books. So good.
  • The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima – not as good as the first two but still fairly okay.
  • Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle – again, not as good as her first but pretty addictive nonetheless
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – SUCH a disappointment. :(
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton – I wanted to love this one so much but just didn’t.
  • A Conjuring of Light by Victoria Schwab – reviewed this already.
  • Pretty Face by Lucy Parker – I love this series, it’s such great fun!
  • Walk of Shame by Lauren Layne – this was fantastic. The ending was a bit rushed but still great!
  • City of the Lost and A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong – WOW this is fantastic! I am totally hooked on this series and if you have more similar recs for me, I need them now.
  • The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes – Maraia recommended this after I told her I loved Armstrong’s books and it was so so good!
  • Temptations of a Wallflower by Eva Leigh – this was really good! I don’t read many historicals these days but I like discovering new authors.
  • Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews – I quite enjoyed this! Alpha male warning though.
  • The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean – much anticipated but sadly my least favorite of her books! :( I just couldn’t forgive the hero.
  • Sustained by Emma Chase – this was me giving Chase a second try after pretty much hating her first Royally book, and I didn’t like this one, either. So Chase just isn’t for me, I guess.
  • Haze by Paula Weston – I finally decided to continue this series, and this second part was even better! I’ll have to get the rest soon before I forget too much. Lots of angst.
  • Half of Sarina Bowen’s opus – I’ve been on a serious Bowen binge, she’s one of my favorite new romance discoveries! I even fell in love with sports romance (hockey, woop!).

Honestly, there was a lot more romance. :D

Bought/Received and Waiting to be Read:

  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell – I finally got this to complete my collection (still missing Kindred Spirits though)
  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas – I can’t bring myself to start this. I haven’t the energy.
  • Temeraire by Naomi Novik – I said I wouldn’t start this series because it’s so long but then it was a Kindle deal and I kind of had to, after how much I enjoyed Uprooted.
  • Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette-Kowal – this has been on my to-buy list for a long time and then I saw it was less than 4$ and had to pick it up. It came highly recommended + the cover is gorgeous.
  • Finger Lickin’ 15 by Janet Evanovich – I buy one Stephanie Plum book every 6 months or so. I might catch up with the series in a decade or so! :)
  • Leon and Louise by Alex Capus – my mom gave me this one for my birthday, it’s supposed to be really good!

What have you been reading and buying?

Anything I should put on my to-buy list immediately?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

In Which I Flail Over The Raven Cycle

It’s been a long time, people, but I finally found a series that broke my reading slump for good (fingers crossed). The last time I binge-read an entire four-part series in less than 10 days was when I first read Twilight (don’t judge, okay?).

So I’m beyond happy to have finally caved to peer pressure – because Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle is great. Let me tell you why (also this is a non-spoilery sort-of review of the entire series):

  • The characters are fantastic. Okay, I know people are saying that they’re really over-privileged white spoiled boys (and girl), but I couldn’t help but feel that the over-privileged part was more of a hindrance in their case. And I know readers are especially partial to Ronan (or Adam), but I have to say Gansey stole my heart. He’s such a good guy and you know how much I love good guys. I was also afraid that Blue would be your typical manic pixie girl, but she’s just so relatable and down to earth and kind. She’s a wonderful heroine.
  • The adults aren’t complete morons. So often in YA, adults either act as antagonists or are completely absent from the plot, leaving teenagers to save the world (which is…fine, but gets old pretty fast). Here, I loved Blue’s relationship with her mother, the psychic ladies, and Mr. Gray. They never stole the spotlight from the main characters but they also didn’t let them flail around on their own.
  • The writing is addictive. I’ve read the Mercy Falls series before and I liked Stiefvater’s world a lot, though it didn’t blow me away. With The Raven Cycle, however, I couldn’t stop reading. When my local bookstore didn’t have Blue Lily, Lily Blue in stock, it was the worst (they got it for me from another town so I didn’t have to order through The Book Depository and wait for two weeks, whew).
  • The worldbuilding is detailed but not overpowering. As always, I’m super glad when I find a series where the author doesn’t beat me over the head with their world. Like, the mythical king Gansey is looking for (the drive for the entire series) was completely unknown to me, and though I didn’t particularly care about the king (and didn’t even check if he’s an actual historical persona), I could still follow and enjoy the plot.

All in all, this series is a treat. If paranormal YA is your thing, you need this in your life. And then we can chat about who your favorite raven boy (or girl?) is, alright?
Have you read The Raven Cycle? What did you think? I’d love to hear from you! :)

My May

May was pretty good to me. Apart from constant sleep deprivation, we had some great weather and managed to go on some good trips.

In Kiddo news: He’s doing good. Sometimes, he’s jealous of his little brother and also annoyed because he keeps trying to steal his toys (I think this will be a recurring theme for years to come). He talks a lot, he’s mastered complex sentences and it’s really funny to hear him repeat back phrases that we use or read in books. He’s in a Peppa Pig phase, which is cool because that cartoon is awesome. Dinosaurs and tractors (and combine harvesters) are still a thing. He’s also potty trained, which is a relief. :D We planted some beans and cucumbers on our balcony and he’s very diligent with watering them with his yellow watering can.

In Baby news: We had his 9-month check up last week and he’s great. He’s really big for his age and it’s hard to carry him sometimes if he decides to squirm. He still doesn’t understand what we want from him, obviously, so it’s impossible to keep him away from Kiddo’s toys, for example. He’s also very different, personality-wise – he’s very determined and…brave? By which I mean reckless when he wants something and just goes after it, even if it’s out of his reach. Then he dangles from the tabletop or the sink by his tiny fingertips, waiting to be rescued by us. He also started saying mah-mah, which is adorable, of course! He can clap (clumsily) and if asked what sound cows make, he blows out his cheeks and makes a sort of bwuh sound that vaguely resembles “moo”. So that’s a win. ;)

In personal news: I’ve really been enjoying the weather. Being outside and taking day trips is so much easier in the summertime. And I’ve been taking photos of flowers everywhere, they’re gorgeous and early this year. I don’t bake as much bread anymore, though, because it just seems stupid heating the oven to 350°C every other day when it’s 30°C outside… I’ll start baking again in the autumn. I did bake a chocolate cake (with Kiddo’s help, of course) yesterday because my husband and I celebrated our 30th birthdays together (mine was in April and his is in 2 weeks but we invited everyone together).

We went to two medieval fairs these past two weeks – one at Ljubljana Castle, where we witnessed a sword fight demonstration (Kiddo watched, transfixed, and I had to explain to him that the gentlemen hacking at each other weren’t actually trying to hurt their opponents…), and the other at Bled Castle, where we saw a smithy and my husband tried his hand at flinging throwing axes at a battered wooden target (He hit it more than once! And the guy who gave the demonstration reminded me of Jean Tannen so much.).

I’m going to try and post a book haul/recently read post soon because I got so many books this month. I bought some for myself, I got some gift certificates for the bookstore for my birthday, I got a couple as gifts…and it’s been a while since I did one of these posts. Let’s just say that my reading slump still hasn’t gone away completely and I’ve been self-medicating with easy-to-read romance, which isn’t exactly healthy for my book budget. *sigh*

How are you doing? How was your May?

What was the best thing that happened to you last month?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

 

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Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published in October 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: YA fantasy.

My rating:

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

zmaj-desno

This review should really have been written a year and a half ago when I first read Carry On, chewing through the entire book in one day. But I never got around to actually writing down my (very enthusiastic) thoughts, so I put Carry On on my “to be re-read soon” pile and now I finally took the time to do it! My re-read was the result of a pretty big reading slump – I just needed to re-read a favorite and fall in love with books again. There are spoilers in here (because that’s how I roll these days), so you probably shouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t read the book yet. But it’s been a while since its publication, and you’ve been warned. So.

Carry On has received mixed reviews – and I can absolutely see why. It’s a big mess of a book, the setting and topic and everything so reminiscent of Harry Potter, some people couldn’t get past it. I guess it’s possible to read it as a sort of parody. Rowell picked a ridiculous number of fantasy tropes and mashed them all together and yes, the resulting story is overwhelming at times.

But I loved it. I loved it the first time when I barely grasped what I was reading because I was so eager to see what happens and I loved it now that I took my time to savor Rowell’s writing.

I think it’s mostly the characters who make this story great. Rowell’s characters always have this fascinatingly real feel to them (see my reviews of Eleanor & Park and Attachments and Fangirl if you want to read more gushing praise), even if they’re vampires, ha. Something about them just speaks to me and they get under my skin and I can’t help but root for them. It’s good to know that I can trust an author to create likeable characters every time.

Simon Snow and Basilton Pitch are among my favorite YA couples of all time, and that’s saying something. I liked that they were more preoccupied with the fact that they were supposed to be mortal enemies than by being “hopelessly queer”. Coming out stories are important and powerful but I enjoyed reading a book where the fact that they weren’t even both human was more important than their sexual orientation. (Not that there was no mention of it. There were confusion and questions and people judging. But none of that mattered in the end. Because <3.)

I also enjoyed the side characters, Penelope in particular. I want to read her story. I even liked Agatha – the first time I read the book she sort of seemed pale and unimportant, but she’s a really intriguing young woman if you pay attention to her. I’d read her story, too.

And can I say that I wanted to clap when I read the ending? Flipping the Chosen One trope on its head was the best thing ever. I didn’t know what to expect with all this talk about Simon being the Greatest Mage that ever lived and his power being amazing, and then he sort of just fizzled out instead of being a big hero. Well, he did sort of save the day in the end – unintentionally. He didn’t want this burden, he didn’t enjoy his role, and for once, he wasn’t made to accept it and “grow a pair”, but was left to live the rest of his life in peace. I really liked that.

I now have only Landline to read (and a couple of novellas). I have a copy on my shelf, but I’m afraid to read it because it might not be as good as I want it to be and then I’ll have to wait for her next book to be released, which is just horrible. I’ll auto-buy all her books from now on, and I hope you’ll give them a try if you haven’t already.

Have you read Carry On? What did you think?

Who are your auto-buy authors?

I’d love to hear from you! :) 

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