Book Review: Ashen

I recently finished H.L. Burke’s Ashen. Here’s what I think of it.

So if you’ve been around for at least a month, you may already know I have a slight obsession with Iceland. I discussed it a bit back when I helped with the release tour for H.L. Burke’s Ashen, but let me just give you a quick overview. 😉

Hubs and I went to Iceland for our honeymoon back in April of 2018. And I fell in love with it. The ecosystem is so different from anything I’ve ever been familiar with here in Pennsylvania (hello, volcanoes, glaciers, and lava fields!). The whole country is quiet and peaceful. Sheep outnumber the population of people. The country is filled with fascinating folklore, particularly tied to trolls and elves (who are said to live in the lava fields). There’s a fermented shark delicacy (I did not eat it, but hubs did… he says it was as horrible as they hyped it up to be).

And it is absolutely gorgeous. When they say it’s the land of waterfalls, they’re not kidding! In fact, if you take a look at the picture in today’s blog image (the one with Ashen’s book cover), you may see a waterfall. That’s a picture I took in Barnafoss and Hraunfossar (Hraunfossar is the one/many in the picture), and it was one of my favorite waterfalls. It travels from the Langjökull glacier over 25 years under the lava fields, where it is filtered by the lava rock before emptying into this river (or so our tour guide told us).

But I digress.

In the literature world, I’ve been looking for books to remind me of my trip ever since we returned. I recently read Sky in the Deep, which did a pretty good job, but it was very Vikings and less fantasy (I am ALL ABOUT that fantasy!). I’ve even been planning two separate books/series inspired by Iceland and its lore (you’ll find out eventually) and have been reading the folk tale books I bought there (that’s what I collect whenever I go somewhere out of my normal experiences).

So I was absolutely THRILLED when H.L. Burke announced the release of Ashen! It’s a fantasy set in a world inspired by Iceland! And while she did admit to taking a few liberties, I could not wait to get my hands on it!

Friends, I was not disappointed.

So let’s just dive right on in.

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the purchase links on this page. However, I purchased this book and am sharing it out of my own love, not any personal gain!)

Ashen by H.L. Burke

Ashen is a fun, exciting, heartrending standalone featuring Lizbete, a young woman who has never quite fit in with her hometown of Brumehome. Her peers call her Ash Lizard, as she likes to spend her time in Auntie’s kitchen where she can stay warm because she cannot produce her own heat and steals it from anyone she touches. Auntie seems to be the only person who truly loves her, other than the little, and wonderfully snarky, Elin, the sickly younger sister of her once-best-friend, Brynar – the town’s next mayor.

Yet everything changes with one great quake that rocks tiny Brumehome, and Liz suddenly finds herself in danger from the villagers. She runs away, learning some very, very dangerous things that are putting the entire town at risk – and a lot about who (and what) she is. Don’t worry, this is spoiler-free! But suffice it to say, the stakes build fast!

So now that you have a little background, let’s talk details.

First off, I absolutely LOVED Liz. Her condition of heat-stealing was so unique to me and so interesting that I was drawn right in to sympathizing with her and wanting to know as much as possible about what was going on.

I also bonded a little bit with her experience of her first pair of glasses. I remember well that feeling: putting on your first ever pair of glasses and having the world suddenly snap into focus. You really can’t stop looking at everything! It was delightful to see that in a story. (Side love: I LOVED the character that gave her the glasses, Widow Gri the Scholar. I would have loved to see more of her at the end, but alas, ’twas not to be.)

I also really enjoyed the way the plot came together. It was so easy to get lost in this world of cold and magic. Once I started, it was hard to put the book down. The pacing was fantastic, keeping me engaged throughout, and the revelations all came at the right places. It was awesome seeing Liz come into her own and stand up for herself, as well as seeing justice served by the end (I love a good, satisfying ending!).

And the feels! Very few books can bring me to tears, but this one? Burke seems very good at making her readers cry. Let me put it that way. But I truly felt everything the characters did, and boy was it an emotional roller coaster.

There were very few things that detracted from the experience. There were a few places where I found typos or similar issues, but overall I found them to be minor; it wasn’t enough to take away from enjoying the story.

My biggest complaint was that I had been promised Iceland, but this felt much more like a general Norse-inspired setting than Iceland to me. I kept waiting for trolls, and while there may be a version of trolls in this story, it wasn’t similar enough to the tales I’d heard and read to be clear. And there were steam vents in the story, but that didn’t really track with my personal experience there. There were no lava fields, though Brumehome seems to be next to an active volcano, but I think the steam vents were almost lava tubes. And I can live with that. But honestly, if I hadn’t been as invested in Iceland itself, I would never have noticed. So my biggest complaint will also probably not bother any other readers.

Short version: you need to read this book! Overall rating is 4.5 stars, and if you’re looking for unique magic, engaging story, and consuming worlds, this is the book you need.

~~~

If this piqued your interest, you can grab a copy of H.L. Burke’s Ashen here.

Also, if you are interested in other things Icelandic-feeling, you can get a copy of Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young or a classic Icelandic sweater (these were too expensive during our honeymoon, but I am DEFINITELY getting one when we go back!). But definitely make sure to pick up Ashen.

Anyway, that’s all for now! I hope if you read this book you love it as much as I did, but until next time, have a wonderful Halloween and November!

Happy reading! ❤

3 Ways You Can Have a Fun Halloween In This Year

Planning on staying in for Halloween but not sure how to celebrate? I got you covered!

This year is weird. You know that, I know that, the whole world knows that. And Halloween is a bit different. Trick-or-treating may be affected in your area. You may not have the normal costume parties you’re used to this time of year. You may be wondering how you can enjoy the season if you plan to stay in for the holiday.

And that’s why it’s time to figure out how we can have a fun, safe, bookish Halloween. So today, let’s look at three ways you can embrace the season without leaving your house – and do it in a way that celebrates books! I know I plan on enjoying some good media, setting my mood up, and dressing the part!

So let’s dive right on in!

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the purchase links on this page. However, the things I have chosen to share either I have tried and enjoyed myself or it’s something I would buy for myself!)

Set the Mood

The easiest way to get into the spirit of the season is to surround yourself with things that put you in that spooky frame of mind.

Personally, I think the biggest thing you can do to set the mood is find a smelly thing. Before I met my husband, my favorite fall candle was Warm Caramel Cider from Bath and Body. But it turns out he doesn’t like that scent so much, so I’ve been burning my last one in bits and pieces when he’s not around.

Ultimately, that led me to seek out some new scents. High on my list are Yankee Candles – they have good burn times, and they’re super fragrant, so the scent fills the room really well. They have a couple that are on my list to replace my Warm Caramel Cider: Mulled Cider and Apple Cider. I’m hoping one of those will be agreeable to both hubs and me!

But more than smelly things, you need some good decorations. Last year, my sister got married in the fall. That meant I had the chance to get about a million (this is an exaggeration) pumpkins for her shower. I highly recommend checking out your local dollar store for pumpkins to display around your house. Or, if you don’t want to get out of the house for decorations, you can find some options on Amazon.

Another of my favorite things is placing battery-operated candles everywhere. When you have a lot of them, you can turn off all the lights and still have enough to wander in the spooky atmosphere without keeping your lights on. Though, if you get to the entertainment section and need a lamp to read… well, that’s ok, too.

Dress the Part

Once the mood is set, I like to dress for the season. Last post, I shared a cozy cardigan that I absolutely love. You can certainly wear that here, too!

But I’m also thinking things like jewelry and shirts (unless you want to wear a costume, in which case, GO FOR IT.). Personally, I love the shirts at Tee Turtle, and this year I finally got myself a couple of fall ones. Both with foxes, because foxes.

But besides that, I LOVE accessorizing, particularly with earrings. And if I don’t feel like wearing a costume to celebrate Halloween, I definitely wear earrings. Here are a couple sets that look like fun to me (unfortunately my current sets don’t have great options on Amazon, but they are simple clear orange fall maple leaves!).

Find your Entertainment

I know we’re all here because we love to read (and I’ll get to some book recs soon!), but I also know that some of us have overwhelming TBRs or need a break from reading. That’s why I say to find your entertainment, whether it’s a game with a housemate or close friend/family, a movie night, or books.

Games!

So let’s start with a game. I have the game Unstable Unicorns, a silly, fun card game all about building a unicorn army. And it has so many expansion packs, including some that would work great for Halloween! I have only played the base game, though, so I can only personally vouch for that one. But my family loves the game, and I bring it to family gatherings often.

Another great option (with a ton of versions) is Munchkin. My family also loves to play this one, which is a card version of role-playing games that goes to ridiculous lengths. Basically, you explore a dungeon, kill monsters, get better equipment, and try to be the first to make it to level 10.

Or, if you want something a little scarier, there’s Betrayal at House on the Hill. I only watched this one being played, but IT IS SCARY. Def a good Halloween game.

And/or Watch a Movie!

But, if games aren’t your thing (or if, like me, you like things on in the background), there are a ton of Halloween movies. But today I will share my own favorite: The Little Vampire, all about a little boy who moves to Scotland with his family, only to find an entire family of vampires and an ancient curse. It’s so cute and so seasonal, and every year I want to watch it.

I also have a dear place in my heart for Disney’s Coco. It’s a great watch and has such an important, positive view on death. It’s so great for Halloween night or your own celebration with friends and/or family.

And, finally, BOOKS!

First, check out last year’s picks for spooky reads here (note: none of links in last year’s post are affiliate links; they link only to Goodreads. However, all the links on this page with the exception of The Patch at the bottom, are affiliate links. Be aware I NEVER use an affiliate link to my own books).

And here are my new recommendations!

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

I read this over the summer, and I have two words: murder mermaids. If you’re looking for something horror-y, this is a great pick! It’s so spooky and scary and exciting! It also has a lot of good representation, including neurodiverse and LGBT+ characters. It’s a long one, though, so if you plan to read this, you may need to block off a few days of binging!

Ghost Academy by E.C. Farrell

This is, just as it sounds, academy fiction, but with ghosts. There’s a lot to take in here, but if you want a little less spook with your spirits, grab this one! It’s got a lot of good characters, strong storylines, and an interesting take on the afterlife.

Dead Girls Don’t Dance by h.g. Lynch

If you’re looking for something quicker to read, how about a short story based in Day of the Dead mythology? Follow the main character as she wakes up dead and has a mystery to solve and her own death to come to terms with before she can move on.

Are you ready yet?

Those are my biggest recommendations for celebrating a safe, fun Halloween IN. I hope you’ve found some entertainment, decorations, and/or attire to put you in the mood and let you enjoy the season, no matter what is going on in your community right now.

I know I don’t talk about the outside world often, but holidays are hard. I know. I understand. I’ve lost events and celebrations, too. But keep strong, keep safe, and take care of each other. And, just maybe, these little tips I’m sharing with you can give you some bright lights, some joy, in the midst of whatever you’re facing. I want you to know that I sincerely care about you guys. I know how rough it’s been; I’m in it with you.

So let’s enjoy October, do things that make us smile, and celebrate, safely, together. ❤

~~~

PS! I just submitted the final version of The Patch (this is not an affiliate link) to all retailers today! If you want to know when it’s up for purchase (hopefully within 3 days), subscribe to the newsletter! (You’ll also get two free short stories just for signing up, and you’re free to unsubscribe at any time).

The Patch (this is not an affiliate link) is my spooky Halloween novella all about a girl desperate to save her family’s farm… and a mysterious magical pumpkin patch filled with ghosts and a hundred-year-old curse.

Don’t forget to subscribe for updates!

5 Ways You Can Have a Cozy Bookish Fall

Wondering how to max out your cozy factor with reading this fall? I got you.

So. I have this thing about being cozy. The first thing I did whenever I moved into a new place was hang things on the walls and pile blankets and pillows all over the place. And then light a nice, warm-smelling candle. It was all about the cozy.

In fact, that was one thing my now-husband loved about my apartment when we met: I had made it a place to be comfortable and at peace. And, of course, I applied my own personal rules of cozy to his house!

So now that fall is in full swing and spooky season is upon us, why not discuss five things you can do right now to have a cozy bookish fall?

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the purchase links on this page. However, the things I have chosen to share either I have tried and enjoyed myself or it’s something I would buy for myself!)

1. Choose a cozy book.

I mean, this is the first requirement of a bookish fall, right? You have to find yourself the right book! Ideally, this book should evoke all the warm fuzzies you could imagine and take you on an adventure of your choice.

Not sure where to start? No problem. I can get you started with 3 recommendations.

Pumpkin Everything by Beth Labonte

I’m currently reading this on my ereader, and it is so full of everything autumn! The fall foliage, the chill in the air, and, of course, everything pumpkin. This is great if you’re looking for a sweet adult romance, and even better, it’s the first book in a series set in Autumnboro, the self-proclaimed capital of the New England fall season!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This is one of my all-time favorite books! It’s young adult, but college-age, and it follows the story of Cath as she navigates her first year of college, new separation from her twin sister, the finale of her super-popular fanfic, and her first real relationship. This book has such a rollercoaster of emotion, and it always leaves me with warm, happy feelings when I finish it! (yes, I’ve read it 3+ times) Also, it’s coming out in manga form! (for those of you who don’t like sex or swearing in your fiction, maybe pass on this one)

Pumpkinheads by rainbow rowell

And even though I haven’t read this one, it’s been on my list for ages! Same author as Fangirl, but it’s a graphic novel format and of course is set during the fall! It follows two teen seasonal workers in their last year… the year they say goodbye. I love Rainbow Rowell, and I’m so excited to read this one!

2. Set the mood.

Once I got my own apartment and didn’t have dorm restrictions anymore, I developed a love for candles and wax/oil burners. Scent is so deeply tied to memory (neuroscientist here) that it can be easy to set a mood with smells, relive old memories of fall, or create new associations.

This year, my husband bought me a candle I love so much that I’ve been savoring it. It’s especially great if you don’t have a fireplace, like us, because it’s campfire scented and has a wood wick, so crackles. I also love the shiny, charcoal-like appearance of the wax. Seriously, I love this candle, and wood smoke is one of the scents I always link to fall! You can check it out here.

But if candles aren’t your thing, I also recently came across a few different autumn oil blends. In particular, this maple one! Like, how cool is that? I haven’t gotten to try this one, but it sounds fantastic.

Whatever you decide to use, just make sure it is a scent you find warm and welcoming!

3. Get a drink!

I love picking out special things to drink while I’m reading or relaxing at home. There are a few good choices, depending on your tastes. For example, I switch between coffee, tea, and super sweet Duplin wines, like their Toil and Trouble mulled wine for fall…which they sadly don’t have this year 😥 . But especially when it gets colder, warm drinks are a must to cozy up!

Last winter I had gotten the Victor Allen mix of winter coffee K-cups, and this fall I found their autumn version! There are so many warm, autumn flavors that I’m super excited about. Or, if tea is more your thing, how about a cinnamon, orange, and clove black tea? It sounds spicy and warm, all good flavors for the season!

And since we have a wood fire going with the candle already, how about a camp-style mug to drink out of? I’m so happy these are on trend right now. When I was in undergrad, I won a camp-style mug from the school, and I got another when I went to grad school to stick with the theme. They just remind me of the camping trips I went on with my family when I was a kid. Simpler times… and one of those trips especially was super cold!

4. Find some snacks.

I don’t know about you, but I am a snacker. It may be a bit of a problem. But this is a great season for snacks! I particularly like sweet snacks, like little cakes, or savory like special cheeses or simple chips and popcorn.

One good option is the Pepperidge Farm pumpkin cheesecake cookies. I’ve had these, and they’re such a sweet twist on autumn cookies! I love the cheesecake bites in them and the spiciness of the season.

Another favorite of mine is Cake Bites, though I’ve had them in the Italian Rainbow cake flavor (husband comes from an Italian family and introduced me to them). But now they have their own pumpkin spice version! These cakes are sweet, moist, and delicious! Great for whenever you have a sweet tooth but don’t have a whole cake.

Whatever snack you go with, I highly recommend preparing it together with your drink before you move on to the next step…

5. Snuggle up!

Yesss, my favorite part! First, you have to find the perfect place to nest. For me, I prefer to snuggle into my spot on the couch. I have enough surfaces around it to hold my drink and snacks, and there’s our fluffy Costco blankets and the heated blanket (another luxury my husband introduced to me). The Sunbeam washable versions are the kind we have, and they have 3 settings for you to adjust your level of toast. And if your feet also get cold, I like to wear my thick socks. I can’t find the ones I have, but I love the pattern of these wool socks!

I also bought myself a super cozy, bulky, sweater cardigan for around the house. It was so handy when I was working from home and quarantined back in May, and I’m so happy I have it now. It’s so comfortable and warm! I got it in antique violet because I’m a fiend for all things purple, but it comes in a bunch of different colors.

Final Thoughts

With the weather getting colder up here in Pennsylvania, I’m so excited for cozy season! Today I shared some of my favorite ways to have a cozy, bookish fall. Once you’ve performed all five steps, you’ll find yourself snuggled and ready for a super cozy, warm, and peaceful reading session! Whatever choices you make for your own bookish fall, just make sure they’re right for you! And I’d love to hear your suggestions, too. 🙂

What do you do to snuggle up? What are your favorite cozy reads?

Also, you may notice that the format of this post is a little different. That’s because I’m trying a new thing. Instead of just throwing a list of books at your likely already monstrous TBR, I wanted to help you curate an experience. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on this as well!

Talk to you in the comments, and until next time, stay cozy!

What I’m Reading: Mid-2018 Update

This year, my reading goal was simply to read one book per week. As of June 8, I am 9 books ahead of that schedule at 31 books read since January. So I think it’s time to review my top and bottom picks! A note: I didn’t hate anything I read so far this year. A few I didn’t enjoy as much as others, but most of the books I really had fun reading!

Currently Reading (some more than others):

Favorite book of the year so far: The Fireman by Joe Hill

Okay, so I read a lot of really good books so far. But I was so fantastically impressed with this post-apocalyptic-feeling sci-fi that I actually shared it with my sister only a few chapters in! Imagine a world where anyone can be infected by a fungus that makes you burst into flames spontaneously. What an exciting and unique premise! And it’s so well done (no pun intended, but HA) I couldn’t put it down.

Least favorite: Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Again, most of the books I read this year I really enjoyed. But this one, though it was well done, I just couldn’t get into. I found it a little dull. It just wasn’t for me. But I did learn a bunch from it, which is the beauty of reading non-fiction sometimes. And I did really also like Devil in the White City by the same author, so it was probably just the subject matter.

Honorable Mentions (in order of reading): the books I also really really enjoyed!

  • One Salt Sea (October Daye #5) by Seanan McGuire (I love her)
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Oh my goodness, adorable!)
  • Hushed by Joanne Macgregor (Gorgeous cover, fun fluffy read!)
  • Born of Aether (Elemental Origins #4) by A. L. Knorr (such an awesome series!)
  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham (the audiobook was fantastic!)
  • Transcendent (The Kacy Chronicles #4) by A. L. Knorr (love this author)
  • How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather (spooky and gripping… would have been good for Halloween!)
  • Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by a bunch of authors (beautiful art, intriguing world)
  • Etched in Bone (The Others #5) by Anne Bishop (one of my all-time fav series)
  • Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer (so good)
  • The Elementals (Technically #6 in the Elemental Origins) by A. L. Knorr (told you I loved this author)

Other books I read this year:

So that’s that! What have you been reading? What are your favorite and least favorite reads this year? Tell me below!