Book Review: Throne of Glass

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Yes, I’m just now reading this book. 😛 I was very late to the Sarah J. Maas train, only discovering her books after the publication of A Court of Mist and Fury. I was intrigued by reviews I saw of THAT book, and on the strength of those alone I read A Court of Thorns and Roses, the first in that series (which I wasn’t entirely on board with but then there was a horribly cliffhanger ending sooooo) quickly followed by ACOMAF, and I’ve been obsessed with the series ever since. Naturally I wanted to read her original series as well, but to be honest I’ve been a little scared. What if I don’t like it as much? What if I just think it’s crap compared to ACOTAR? Such high expectations. Honestly though, I was kind of braced to not like it, as everyone kept saying (as with ACOTAR) not to judge the entire series off the first book. So, SJM, I love you, but something about your first book game isn’t quite meshing with me…or maybe I just take a long time to fully commit to characters. Hrm. Anywho.

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This is my Treat choice for the Halloween Read-A-Thon!

I have done my best to avoid spoilers and there are definitely no plot spoilers! However if you don’t want to know ANYTHING about the characters you might not want to read.

Throne of Glass launches us into what promises to be an epic fantasy adventure. I love the way we’re immediately thrown in with Celaena in a dangerous, scary situation because I, naturally, want to know HOW THE FUCK she ended up there. Also how she can seem to be so young and yet so skilled, so brutal…and yet so obsessed with frilly dresses.

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Both of these are totally Celaena. I’m still not sure how she does it or why, especially as she even notes that all the layers of skirts hamper her fighting skills. Only somehow she doesn’t seem to get caught in particularly bad situations while all dolled up. Hmm.

The forest was different here. The leaves dangled like jewels – tiny droplets of ruby, pearl, topaz, amethyst, emerald, and garnet; and a carpet of such riches coated the forest floor around them. Despite the ravages of conquest, this part of Oakwald Forest remained untouched. It still echoed with the remnants of the power that had once given these trees such unnatural beauty.

Maas has created a beautiful world that is by turns thrilling, intriguing, and terrifying. I would like to visit, but retain the option to return to my own world with the push of a button. 😛 Because Cain and those demon things were scary AF, and the king gives me nasty chills. I want to know all about it though, and I feel like there is SO MUCH that still needs explaining. Where did the current King of Adarlan come from? What happened to Celaena’s family and why? Why is Dorian so very unlike his father? Who is Chaol, really? How did the magic of Adarlan just…die? Where did the Faery people go?

The plot really moves along at a good clip. I loved the constant suspense of waiting for each new test of the Champions, and seeing who would be eliminated or die trying. I also really enjoyed the continuous building of tension in the court, as Celaena tries over and over to piece things together as she gains new information.  It all flows smoothly leading up to the final duel…except that Kaltain’s part seemed rather forced and contrived, to me…of course there is someone like her in EVERY court (usually several), but it was just very convenient and felt a bit out of place.  Maybe part of that was due to the influences on her, I’m not sure.

There are a couple of tropes here, and I spotted them almost as soon as the book started. I took notes as I rolled my eyes around page 47. Verbatim: “Celaena is naturally the most gorgeous woman at court, both the captain and prince will fall in love with her, and the prince is possibly/probably not the prince at all.” I was slightly annoyed.

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Not this AGAIN.

HOWEVER. The love triangle was handled much better than a lot that I’ve seen, and the special snowflake turned out to be a special snowflake through much hard work, not just being born to it. Why does she have to be so gorgeous that practically every man falls at her feet? With the exception of the other Champions, thank the gods that be. But the constant references to her beauty in the first part of the book were really annoying. Blah. The love triangle was slow in the build-up, and if I hadn’t already seen so many memes and fangirl sites over ToG I might not have been so sure about it early on (thanks, interwebz), but I still feel like it was pretty obvious.

As I’ve said many times, characters are what really make a book for me. This one is STUFFED FULL of wonderful amazing people that I want to go live with. They are flawed – each and every one of them. They do annoying things that make me want to choke them. (Chaol, anyone?) They also have pasts that I am DYING to find out about because they are such strong people but they have scars and tender spots that show through now and again and yet NO. Apparently I must wait for the next book (which, not to worry, has already been requested from the library).

“Second place is a nice title for the first loser.”

Ah, Celaena, our heroine. Despite her annoyingly perfect body and face (even with her time in the mines and the abuse to the rest of her body, her face was somehow left alone), she’s definitely someone I’d want in my corner. She’s got a backbone of steel, a quick mind, and…well, she’s The Assassin. She’s been hurt, and horribly. But she hasn’t entirely hardened herself again the entire world yet. She is, however, a badass with a flair for the dramatic, and she likes attention.

“My name is Celaena Sardothien. But it makes no difference if my name’s Celaena or Lillian or Bitch, because I’d still beat you, no matter what you call me.”

Also, she loves books and good food. Seriously, the descriptions of the library in Rifthold made me feel lightheaded and all delicious food she was forever gobbling down kept me feeling hungry. Thankyounotreally.

 “I can survive well enough on my own— if given the proper reading material.”

Girl after my own heart, I’m telling you. Such a fighting and adventurous spirit – and yet she loves books.

She had often wished for adventure, for old spells and wicked kings. But she hadn’t realized it would be like this – a fight for her freedom. And she’d always imagined that there’d be someone to help her – a loyal friend or a one-armed soldier or something. She hadn’t imagined she would be so…alone.

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No, they’re not brothers, but they might as well be.

Dorian and Chaol – best friends consisting of the crown princeling and captain of the guard – are…well, they’re just sweethearts and good guys. Dorian more openly so. Chaol is, to be honest, something of an ass, but underneath it is a soft heart that shows through from time to time and I just want him to be able to open up and trust SOMEBODY. Geez Louise, but the man seems to wear his tough guy armor 24/7 . Dorian, on the other hand, needs to grow a pair (he’s working on it, I know I know but come ON). I am solidly team Chaol, at the moment. Also, not going to spoil for anyone that hasn’t read it but…Celaena NAILED IT towards the end of the book, when dealing with these two. HATS OFF. YOU GO GIRLFRIEND. Now that, took guts.

Oh, but back to other characters. There is of course Princess Nehemiah, who is very intriguing indeed and has me dying of curiosity about her country and magic and all the sparkly creepy things she seems to know about. I’m sure we will see more of her. There’s also Nox, who I’m NOT sure we will see more of but I hope we do. The most intriguing side character by FAR though, is Elena…who I can’t really discuss without giving stuffs away. Mph.

“You could be great. You could rattle the stars. You could do anything if only you dared.”

SO MUCH POTENTIAL IN THIS BOOK. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Now that the competition is over but ALL the dastardly schemes are just getting started.

That said, I’m giving 3.5/5 stars. It definitely got better as the story progressed, but I did a lot of eye-rolling during the set-up, and still feel like the love triangle itself was/is unnecessary, even if the characters are definitely not. Also I’m still not sure on the prince thing, nothing else ever happens to make us think that Dorian isn’t the prince, but for some reason it’s still in the back of my mind.

 

 

Review: September 2016 OwlCrate


I’m back again with another OwlCrate review! I love this subscription box so much, I could marry it. This is the September “Darkness” themed box and it was a-maz-ing as always. Once again, they managed to send me a book that had been on my wishlist since well before it was released – bravo, guys! It also included a mini-candle, a bath bomb, and some other stuff. Candles – bravo again! I adore candles. Possibly even more than Funkos. They go with my decor better, anyway, haha.


This month’s book was Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake (who also wrote the Anna Dressed in Blood that I’ve become obsessed with reading before October is out, thank-you-all-the-50-people-that-have-it-on-your-Halloween-Read-A-Thon-list). I literally had this book in my Amazon cart and was bravely resisting the temptation to buy, and then this happened. Very happy bookworm. The Miss-Peregrine’s inspired pouch on the top right is from Out of Print – it’s a lovely, sturdy canvas. I have got to get to that book…one day. The Six of Crows inspired bookmark is designed by the amazing Evie Seo (Evie Bookish) – yet another book I still need to read! The little “passport” book is a mini-coloring book/excerpt from a soon-to-be-released novel.

Then there is the Celaena’s Cake candle, by The Melting Library – obviously inspired by the Throne of Glass series (which I still haven’t read, but I know the character names!). THIS THING SMELLS SO FREAKING GOOD! I haven’t lit it yet, but I like just leaving it open on my desk. Haha.

Then there is this awesome little…mini-book? Pamphlet? Anyway, it’s a printed version of the first “episode” of Remade, a series by The Serial Box. Such an awesome idea, and a throwback to the days of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and other famous serial authors. I was rather disappointed that this seems to be a one-off solely for OwlCrate, as their serials are all available only electronically. It’s such a cute little thing, I was envisioning lines of them across my bookshelf…anywho. Still an awesome idea! They have several ongoing series at the moment. ALSO, check out that AMAZING bath bomb!! It’s by Da Bomb Fizzers, and inspired by The Raven Cycle. It looks so cool I’m afraid to use it.

All in all another TOTAL win for OwlCrate! I can’t wait to see next month’s box…this is the teaser for it. I had to include both sides this time because…well.

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Book Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

This cover is horrible. Seriously, when I saw it, I thought the book was published in the 80s. WHAT WAS YOUR GRAPHIC ARTIST THINKING, YO.

This cover is horrible. Seriously, when I saw it, I thought the book was published in the 80s. WHAT WAS YOUR GRAPHIC ARTIST THINKING, YO.

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

This book was recommended to me by one of my oh-so-awesome penpals (no, WordPress, I do NOT mean pencils…as I’ve spent 5 minutes trying to give a cease and desist letter to your autocorrect)! I’ve been on a real fantasy kick lately and she provided some spot-on recs…like Sabriel.

I was instantly doubtful of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. However, I am happy to report that the actual reading improved the impression I had drawn based on the cover (gag) and title (odd). Overall I’m giving it 3.5 stars…I am leaning towards 4, but…the sheer length of it is taking a half star off for me. I don’t mind longer books, as I read faster than average…but honestly this one could have been edited a little better, starting with less scenes of boring medieval castle chores. The writing itself is of excellent quality, I have no complaints whatsoever! Emily Barker has created a colorful world peopled with interesting characters. I finished it in about 3 days, despite the staggering 570 pages!

 

I’m a sucker for any books that have to do with books or bookish people, and Nora’s grad school/literary critic/teacher occupation intrigued me. Her personal life woes in the beginning are oh-so-very first world, but thankfully we don’t spend much time with that before she goes wandering and plunges headlong into the other world. The first, oh, about 60 pages…I felt like I was drunk and wandering around trying to figure out what was going on. At first I was extremely annoyed and though I wouldn’t be able to finish the book, but then as I kept going I realized that the feeling was intentional, to make us feel how Nora feels when she first enters the alternate world. Well done indeed. Maybe keep it to 40 pages next time though. 😉

The world she enters has a deep history and so many interesting characters – most of which are MUCH more interesting than Nora herself. There are stories within stories – both in the form of sub-plots, and actual stories characters are telling. I loved that part. I absolutely despised Aruendiel until the last 100 pages or so, but his story was just so DAMN INTERESTING I had to keep reading. So much intrigue – and so much innuendo and crimes hinted at but not fully explained. Which, I suppose, is quite in keeping with the medieval type society depicted. Oh…don’t even get me STARTED on all the patriarchal nonsense that Nora has to put up with. I did really like that she was constantly resisting all that malarky, even when it was shoved on her day in and day out.

The overarching conflict was very long in coming to its conclusion (see comments on editing). I could have done with a few more fight scenes. If the tempo of the last 200 pages had been over the majority of the book, it would have definitely been 4 solid stars. Emily Barker has, thankfully, avoided the dreaded tropes of either a love triangle or a special snowflake. Nora is underwhelmingly average, as she is frequently reminded. I can really appreciate that after so many books lately just chock-full of ALL THE SPECIALNESS.

Just when I thought the ending was resolving itself…oh, haha, nope just kidding! We’re left hanging by a thread and while part of the conflict was resolved we never find out what happens to some of the main characters. *flail* This is so unfair! Especially since there is no hard and fast date for a sequel. *cries* I. Must. Know. I actually checked my book to make sure no one had torn out the last chapter (I had a library copy). Nope. Just a massive cliffhanger. I will definitely be looking at for the next one, even if from the sounds of the author comments on GoodReads, it might be a long time in coming.

Book Review: Front Lines

It’s a lovely fall morning here…rainy, foggy, gray, and slightly cold. I’m sitting on my glassed in porch on the 11th floor with the windows open, a cup of coffee, and blanket, laptop, and kitty all in my lap. I spent a fun evening out last night with my DH and some friends, and while of course it was fun I’m pretty sure my social interaction quota has been filled for about the next 6 months. Haha.

Best way to spend a morning.

Anyway, on to the review. Also a quick reminder: 4 days left to enter my giveaway for The Woman in Cabin 10!

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Front Lines is an alternate history of WWII. The big switch-up Grant has made is adding females to the draft and using them in ALL roles across the United States military (other countries have not made such an enlightened choice). Other than that change, the book is pretty much true to history – including attitudes towards women, people of color, and people of Asian features. It is at times harsh and heartbreaking, but the main characters of Rio, Frangie, and Rainy are sympathetic and compelling as they grow and adapt to the war and their changing roles in the world. They are not only dealing with the hard reality of being females in a still very patriarchal world, but with their own coming of age, of loss and love on a personal level, and all while being swept along in the grand scheme of the war.

The rituals are different now. It has always been that the men went off and the women wept and waved. There is no blueprint for what is happening now. There is no easy reference point. People don’t know quite how to behave, and it’s worse for the men in the station who are staying behind and feel conspicuous and ashamed.

God knows the MODERN United States army is having a hard enough time getting a grip on itself with females in the ranks, but add to that the expectations of the generation that would become the idealogical 50s housewife – the book ends in about 1943, so with a couple more years left in the war, I’m very interested to see how this shapes Grant’s version of the United States in the sequel coming next year, Silver Stars.

We spend the most time with Rio, a gutsy farm girl who finds herself in the awkward and unwanted position of being good at her army job while in her heart, just wanting to be a normal girl. Her growth is the most marked of the three main characters and I love her so much.

She [Rio] has just upended her entire life based on a diner conversation with her best friend and an awkward exchange with a boy she barely knows.

The other two girls – because really, they are all still girls when the books starts – are lovable as well, but I felt the most connection with Rio. There is also an unnamed first-person narrator that shows up in the beginning, middle, and end, and has some succinct insights on the war and the women in it.

Will you understand if I tell you that there are times when it is better to feel the pain yourself than to see it and hear it in another?

Michael Grant has, I think, either been in military service or he has done his research very, very well. His descriptions of Basic Training are spot on. His knowledge of the WWII era is commendable (I went and looked a few things up to see just how accurate he was, if it all, since sometimes historical fiction writers are VERY free with the facts) and he has altered as little as possible in his writing. He’s baldly honest with the racism and sexism of the time, enough to make me squirm in my  chair. His descriptions of events are extremely accurate as we follow our heroines through their army journey from civilian to soldier.

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The one thing that bothered me was the substitute of fug or fugging for fuck or fucking…it would be one thing if the entire book was censored that way, but the words dick (the male appendage, not the name) and goddamn are used without euphemisms sooooo…that was kind of annoying and pointless. And GOD KNOWS it’s every soldier’s right to swear. And grumble.

I loved how honest the portrayal of human nature was, and how emotions come so close to the surface during times of stress. Rio especially is torn between what she knows is waiting for her at home and what is happening in the right here right now.

Strand is there, close to her heart.
Jack is there, close.

As a medic myself, I loved Frangie and her fighting spirit, even in the face of soldiers being SO VERY HORRIBLE to her because of her race and her gender. She just never quits. But she never stops feeling, either, she just learns to put it aside at the time. I can’t wait to see her further development.

Rainy, our little intelligence soldier, felt the least realistic to me. Some of her dialogue exchanges are stilted and left me with raised eyebrows. I mean, I know it was WWII and there were a lot of green soldiers thrown into positions that ordinarily they wouldn’t have been…her storyline just seemed far-fetched at times. Almost like, well, we need this group to be here and we need them to meet up with her so let’s throw in this over-the-top mission that makes no sense to anybody. But maybe I’m just overly skeptical.

Don’t go into this expecting a happily-ever-after, or an exceptionally fast paced story. The first half of the book is fairly slow as we are introduced to all the characters and how they came to be in the army. As for the ever-afters, one – the war isn’t over, so we’re going to have to wait and see how things turn out. For another – it’s war, and people die, even the characters we’ve become attached to. Overall, 4/5 stars.

At night we cry sometimes, and if you think that just applies to the females then you have never been in combat, because everyone cries sooner or later. Everyone cries.

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Book Review: The Cruelty

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This book has already had a lot of buzz, mainly because of the author’s condescending and inflammatory comments about YA in general. I have a LOT of thoughts on his comments and general attitude, but I tried – I really, really tried – to not let my view of the author color the book. I agreed to the review before knowing anything about all the drama, so I felt like that was only fair. Usually when I try a new author, debut or not, I don’t research a lot about the author. I like to let the book speak for itself. In the end, I feel like The Cruelty (Scott Bergstrom’s debut, releasing in February 2017) mostly did that. I ended up giving it 3/5 stars, in spite of feeling like the author himself probably deserves 2/5. Or maybe 1/5. Because really, sir, you are not special, your book is not going to revolutionize YA, and it’s definitely not going to dazzle long-time readers of the genre. Also, sidenote: even though you’ve already made enough money to be able to quit your advertising executive career, you might want to work more on networking with your fellow writers instead of alienating and insulting them. But enough about Scott Bergstrom. After all, a lot of creative people lack social skills and if their work is dazzling enough we excuse them for it, right? Anyway, that was how and why I approached reading this book. Sadly, overall I felt like Mr. Bergstrom is not genius enough to be excused for his behavior.

So, the positive: the pacing is really spot on. I whizzed through this in a single afternoon/evening. There’s none of the stream-of-consciousness dwelling that bogs down some YA books. Even though there were aspects of the writing and characters that bothered me, I was interested enough in the plot line to ignore everything else I had planned for the day and read it all in one go. Also, the ending left me with enough questions (while not being a true cliffhanger) that, had the sequel been available, I would have picked it up right away. That in itself added the extra half star to me. The suspense and anticipation is definitely the most well-written thing about this book.

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The story takes place in several different countries. In my experience, you can almost always tell when an author is writing about a locale they’ve never personally seen or lived. It just rings false or like they’re ticking off a list, and having lived abroad myself I notice it more than I ever did before. Now, I haven’t been to all of the countries Gwen visits and don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but the descriptions feel very real. I think that Bergstrom has probably visited these countries or he researched very, very well.

Now for the negatives. I’m going to try not to rant on and on about these…but who am I kidding, I’m probably going to rant.

The book starts off REALLY rocky. I almost DNFed it at page 15. We start off with the special snowflake trope (OMG, she speaks French! even thinks in French and accidentally blurts it in class! oops!), followed by much angst. Sigh, page turn, and then –

I pull a book out of my backpack and lean against the door as the train shoots through the tunnel under the river toward Queens. It’s a novel with a teenage heroine set in a dystopian future. Which novel in particular doesn’t matter because they’re all the same. Poor teenage heroine, having to march off to war when all she really wants to do is run away with that beautiful boy and live off wild berries and love. 

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Let’s start off by throwing rocks at dystopian YA!! Yay!! Because we’re not writing almost the EXACT SAME type of book and calling it special, are we, Precious? *insert much eyerolling* I’m not even that much a fan of the dystopian type books! What I’m NOT a fan of, is generalization – and buddy, you just hit every student in the room with your spitwad. And this wasn’t even the point of the almost DNF.

Guys out on the sidewalk in front of the shops whistle and catcall after me. They love this – the school uniform, the flash of seventeen-year-old legs. 

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What the…? I mean…who even talks or thinks that way? It seems totally out of place in the current context and setting, and is just such a jolt of stupid and bad writing that I came *this close* to throwing the book across the room and doing something else with my afternoon. However, I continued. Mostly because I wanted to see if it could really be THAT bad. There were a few similar instances, like this one:

He uses as his tools reason and facts, a whole orchestra of them. But in the end, they bounce off the armor of my stubbornness.

Not quite on the same level as the seventeen-year-old legs quote, but close. Most of the female-specific points or themes in this book sound utterly redonkulous. Like a seventeen-year-old boy was trying to imagine how girls think. Big fat fail. The body image comments really grated on me…like somehow, when the book begins, we’re supposed to see Gwendolyn as overweight…I think? Only she’s an overweight gymnast, which totally makes sense. Also she doesn’t like being looked at but dyes her hair bright red…and then in the grand scheme of changing herself so she can go hunt for her father she has to dye her hair a more unnoticeable shade and become this lean, muscled, martial artist type. Well, I have news for you…that shit doesn’t happen overnight, and not even in the several weeks Gwendolyn has to work on it. If she’s indeed overweight/out of shape as it seems we’re supposed to believe. I don’t know. I’m confused as to what the perception there was supposed to be.

Then, the love interest is lame. A plot device. Gwendolyn needs an ally back home, one with smarts, money, and connections…and suddenly she’s all weak-kneed for this boy she’s barely even looked at before. There was no buildup, just suddenly she runs into him and starts shaking. Sorry, but I have no feels for this at all.

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Yeah, no.

Actually, I pretty much have no feels at all for the entire story, which is really sad. I mostly feel annoyance. I wanted more from the characters. Characters are easily the biggest and most important part of a book, to me. Gwendolyn, her father, even the people that help her, just aren’t generally likable and while yes, Gwendolyn definitely changes through the book, I found the changes a bit far-fetched. She morphs rather quickly from a slightly bitter, spoiled high school girl to a lean, mean, killing machine. Really? But, ok. I’m willing to suspend disbelief a bit – after all, that’s what we do for any book, right? But it’s the author’s job to sell us on it. Sadly, the writing style is such that I couldn’t STAY suspended in my disbelief. I was repeatedly jarred out of it. But I still wanted to know what happened. How’s that for a quandary?

“Justice isn’t some abstract thing, Gwendolyn. What your did tonight, that’s what it looks like. Ugly and mean.”

Best line in the entire book, I swear. And it does get ugly, the longer it goes on. It’s like a train wreck you can’t stop watching, as Gwendolyn delves deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld in her search for her father. She develops an amazing poker face and some steel nerves, even in the face of a rising body count and discovering a sex trafficking ring – somehow she manages to stay cool. But at what cost? That’s the real question, and in the end, the question of what was saved and what was lost is still somewhat up in the air.

Many thanks to Feiwel & Friends for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Haunted Hearts: Lit-Cube September Box

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I’m so excited to share this box with you guys! I’ve never had a Lit-Cube before but when I saw that A.G. Howard’s new book, The Architect of Song, was going to be the feature for September I jumped on it. So many good reviews and it sounds so creepily gothic. Perfect for the month before Hallowtober. 😉 I haven’t actually read ANY of her books before so I’m even more excited! Also, she helped curate this box – how cool is that?!?

However, I must say I am absolutely DEVASTATED that I couldn’t order the Lit-Cube Halloween box (it wouldn’t have been here in time – *sob*). Because after seeing this one…I have no doubt at all it would have been fan-freaking-tastic.

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Look at all these goodies!!! So much gorgeousness. The little round soap you see right in the middle had the most amazing cinnamon-y smell, as soon as I opened the box I was looking for WHAT was giving off that delicious autumnal smell. Good things do indeed come in small packages, because it looks so unassuming! Anyway, the Lit-Cube (a one month subscription is $34.95 shipped to the U.S.) contained:

a Readable: A.G. Howard’s The Architect of Song (*squee*)

a Wearable: a gorgeous glass necklace with pressed flowers! :hearteyes:

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This necklace is so lovely. It’s surprisingly heavy and the flowers are beautifully delicate. I’m a little concerned that my clumsy self will snap the delicate chain, but it wouldn’t be hard to replace.

an Edible: hot chocolate!

Goodies: an amazingly gorgeous leather journal with a quote picked by A.G. Howard herself on the front, a dip pen and ink, and yummy soap (yes…I just used “yummy” to describe soap, I know)! Check out this journal…I am absolutely stunned that this was in the box along with a book!

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“Keep a green tree in your heart, and perhaps a singing bird will come.” I adore trees. This is so perfect.

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Looks like lovely paper inside, too!

The ink isn’t marked, so I have no idea what brand it is (it might have been on the card included with the box, but I accidentally threw it away with the packaging after I took the picture). The pen looks very fun, but as a fountain pen aficionado, I think it’s more for decoration than use! Yes, it’s meant for dipping only, but it feels very flimsy overall so I think I will just display it rather than try to use it.

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Tristan trying to get in on the book box action as I was trying to take pretty pictures – LOL

Overall I am THRILLED with this box! October’s theme is “Tale as Old As Time,” and while I had intended to just try one month…um…yeah. That’s happening. Hehe.

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This box was bought with my own funds and this review was not solicited in any way. 🙂

Book Review: Equal Rites

I’ve read a hodgepodge of the Discworld books over the years, enough to be completely and totally obsessed with Terry Pratchett’s whimsical, scathing, hilarious writing. I was so sad when he passed away last year. The world truly has lost a great soul, but I really believe he will live on in his writing for decades to come. Partly due to this, and also due to Gollancz putting out the gorgeous, drool-worthy new editions of some of his early works, I said in January that I wanted to read through the Discworld books chronologically. Obviously not going to happen entirely within this year, as I have a bad case of reading ADD (but it’s so much fun to…oh look, squirrel!), but I’m excited to finally be reviewing one! I re-read The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic earlier, but this one I hadn’t read at all yet. I was very excited to see the debut of Granny Weatherwax! While you can definitely read just about any Discworld book and enjoy it without having read the others (I started with Thud!, which is actually #34), seeing how the characters were introduced and how certain jokes come into being is really cool. Another thing about the Discworld books: while they are ALL in the same world and most of them overlap or connect, there are several little sub-series within the series.

204939141Equal Rites is the third Discworld book, but the first Witches book (the first two books were in the Rincewind sub-series). I was immediately hooked by the mildly hysterical battle of the sexes that takes place within the first few pages – a dying wizard tries to bequeath his powers (and staff!) to the 8th son of an 8th son…who turns out to be a daughter. Said daughter – Esk – absorbs magic in a slightly different but no less powerful way than a son might have done, resulting in a family and community that really has no idea what to do with her. A boy would have been sent off to Unseen University, but a girl…”Girls can’t be wizards,” everyone tells her. Thankfully, she has Granny Weatherwax for a guardian. Despite Granny’s slight misconceptions of children, they soon get along quite well.

Granny, in fact, was at a loss, but she knew she had to do something. “Didda nasty wolfie fwiten us, den?” she hazarded.

For quite the wrong reasons, this seemed to work. From the depths of the ball a muffled voice said: “I am eight you know.”

I’m quite sure only Granny would be capable of dealing with a small child with such interesting abilities and ways of dealing with seven annoying older brothers.

“Turning people into pigs is not allowed,” she hissed. “Even brothers.”

I don’t even have GIFs for this book. Call me a fangirl, but Pratchett’s prose is both so pointed and poignant that it really speaks best just by itself. I love Esk, and I love Granny, and watching them tear through Discworld was just a rollicking, fun ride (complete with flying broomsticks that have to be kickstarted). While Granny at first tries to insist that Esk study the traditional female magic, she soon realizes that Esk’s  gifts are quite different and she needs alternate methods of instruction. Eek and Granny share the stage and despite the multi-generation gap between them, make a great team. Of course, like any good guardian, Granny spends a good deal of her time chasing or getting Esk out of trouble, but Esk’s independent little self does fantastic on her own, most of the time. Her sometimes unwitting (maybe?) use of magic creates a variety of reactions from the people she meets, especially as they travel closer to Ankh-Morpork, the large capitol city.

Esk, in fact, moved through the fair more like an arsonist moves through a hay hayfield or a neutron bounces through a reactor, poets notwithstanding. 

Needless to say, they create QUITE the stir at Unseen University, break all sorts of rules, cause all sorts of upsets and feelings. But every insular world needs shaken up now and then, and I think Unseen University will definitely be the better for it. 😉

5/5 stars. Pratchett, as usual, manages to create his own very entertaining world and somehow have it be a satirical commentary on our own.  I throughly enjoyed this Discworld installment and it’s definitely going on my list of favorites! Highly recommend.

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Book Review: The Reader

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Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

Find it on GoodReads | Pre-order your copy!

The Reader is Traci Chee’s debut novel, being released in just a few days on September 13, 2016! This is one of those books that grabs you and just doesn’t let go. I finished it four days ago and I still find myself thinking about the characters and wondering about them. It ended not so much on a cliffhanger exactly, as just leaving us with SO MANY QUESTIONS. Not only of the “what happens next” variety, but of the “why did they do that” and “how did THAT happen” sort.

The story is set in a world where reading is prohibited and books are unknown.

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Well, that was certainly MY reaction to that idea, but these people quite literally don’t know what they’re missing. It’s just the way their world is, and no one remembers (or perhaps never knew) anything different.

Two curves for her parents, a curve for Nin. The straight line for herself. The circle for what she had to do. 

There are several story threads throughout. Usually I find this annoying but somehow these all blended just enough to make sense and keep me from getting confused (which is quite an accomplishment). I liked how some of them eventually came together – now, the ones that didn’t…I still have ALL THE QUESTIONS about and the suspense is killing me.

The world is beautiful yet stark, amazing and yet creepy AF. It’s detailed, with several different territories/countries and vying lords. If this were an RPG game, I would go explore every. single. one. They all have slightly different cultures with common threads. Chee’s writing brings them all to life in vivid color.

In Kelanna, when you die, they don’t say prayers for you, for they have no heaven and no gods to pray to. There is no reincarnation; you will not return. Without a body, ou are nothing anymore, except for a story.

There are also pirates and ships and sailors and the navy. And in this world, women are treated as complete equals – no one ever doubts if they have a place in the crew, or the military, or anything. It’s awesome. There’s also this amazing song that I would LOVE to hear set to real world music. I was going to add it as a quote but decided you should really discover it for yourself in the actual book. 😀

 

I became attached to Archer before I was completely invested in Sefia. Archer, Archer. The silent, sweet, killer-boy. He’s a walking contradiction. I was scared of what he would do and wanted to protect him at the same time. Funny enough, that was sort of Sefia’s reaction too…and what ultimately convinced me Sefia was a character worth rooting for.

“I would never leave you behind.”

See, in the beginning Sefia seems just a teensy bit too cold, too good at shutting herself down, a little unsympathetic. But her growing relationship with Archer shows that she does indeed still have a heart and not just one hell-bent on revenge. The two of them grow and learn together. I really liked how at one point, their roles switch – instead of Sefia  taking care of and protecting Archer, when she has a difficult moment he (rather awkwardly, but it was still there) takes care of her. It was just so sweet. Don’t think that the romance is the focus of the story though – it’s more like a sidebar that just adds a touch of rosy-glow to the otherwise rather sad overtones.

Instead he pulled her into him…he was going to do it for her, no matter what it turned him into. 

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Excuse me while I indulge in the sappiest gif I can find. Moving on…

I reeeeeeeeally want to know more about the magic of this world. It’s definitely there, but it’s not fully explained. Usually this would make me rate a book considerably lower, BUT. In this one the lack of explanation was alright. It wasn’t completely key to the story though it definitely affected in in big ways – twice. One of these was at the end, so it was totally part of the near-cliffhanger ending and therefore to me doesn’t count. I’m enjoying how we are discovering the magic and the book right along with Sefia.

5/5 stars. While I’m dying to read the next one (Traci confirmed on Twitter that there IS a second one in process as we speak!), I was overall very contented and while the ending wasn’t exactly happy it was…appropriate, in character, and satisfying. I flailed, and cried a little, and Tweeted about 5 times in an hour about it. Also preordered the signed copy from Kepler’s Books. Ahem.

Book Review: The Secret Place

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Get your own copy – I love the cover on the UK version!

I don’t usually get all the feels when reading a murder mystery. For me mysteries are generally all about the who/what/where/when/why and how the detective figure puts all that together into a solution. But Tana French’s 5th Dublin Murder Squad book, The Secret Place, gave me the feels.

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Somehow, she manages to intrigue me in every single book, even though the POV character changes each time. Unlike most mystery series (at least in my experience), while there are familiar characters in each one, usually we just see a very brief appearance of the people from the last book in the current one. After there first book, the subsequent book’s main character has also been seen briefly in the previous one. I love this foreshadowing, even if I was completely and totally distraught when I started the second book and realized we weren’t going to see Rob again. Still not over it. Still begging to know what happens to him. Ms. French, are you listening?

I love beautiful; always have. I never saw why I should hate what I wish I had. Love it harder. Work your way closer. Clasp your hands around it tighter. Till you find a way to make it yours.

The Secret Place delves into the world of priviledged upper class high school girls, a very slender sliver of the population and as full of vitriol and poison as Henry VIII’s court ever was. I was skeptical going in…how accurate could it be? I was really afraid that it might end up one of those books that sounds like the author is trying desperately to be young again and only succeeds in dating herself by her generation’s slang. But no. Without compromising her usually sparkling prose in the slightest, Ms. French absorbs us into this cut-a-bitch world. God, I’m so glad I didn’t go to this kind of school. Scary AF. Remember little Holly Mackey, from Faithful Place? Well, she’s back and almost-all-grown-up. Still just as smart and sassy, with a slight tinge of…

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Holly’s holding her own in this den of lions, along with a very tight group of her friends. They’re having some growing pains, but they’re mostly of the first-world variety. Despite that, they’re actually quite compelling. Much more than I was expecting. I hope Holly appears again. Maybe she’ll eventually join the murder squad herself? Oooo. Now there’s a thought. But I’m getting sidetracked.

My body my mind the way I dress the way I walk…mine all mine.

This book was a lot about the politics and emotions of being a teenager. Yes, teenagers have what I would term politics. In what was a bit of a departure from the previous books (for me) – I guessed the murderer somewhere between page 62 and 101. I kept expecting some huge plot twist and I did doubt myself A LOT, but still. Also, Detective Moran was probably the most…unoriginal narrator she’s had yet. That was helped by the alternating viewpoints – yes, Moran was in the 1st person, but that alternated with chapters in 3rd person from the girls’ POV. Moran is likable but just kind of…there. Now Antoinette Conway, the female detective Moran thrown in with for this case? There’s a bitch I’d like to have at my back, and I mean that in the best possible way. I am SO EXCITED that she’s coming back for The Trespasser!

Also, this is the first time French has had anything but the strictly statistically or scientifically provable events/actions in her books. Trying not to spoil here, but I was really nonplussed by a particular set of occurrences that is never fully explained. I guess that really does happen in real life sometimes, but I have a really hard time extending my reality this far. She actually addressed this in a Q&A on GoodReads (link but DEFINITE SPOILERS here!!), and that made me feel a little better but I still think it should have been clarified better in the book itself.

They can’t tell you what it’s going to be like…in the reek of ragwort and the milk of broken dandelion stems.

Yes, I’m glad I didn’t go to this kind of school. Pretty sure the sensitive, insecure girl I was in high school would have been flayed alive. At the same time, I’m really sad I didn’t have the kind of experiences Holly and her friends have – and the friends. Despite all their issues…these girls will remember each other, always. 20 years down the road, just thinking of the others will bring back not only memories of things seen but things touched, things tasted, heartache and hope.

4/5 stars.I always find mysteries hard to review without giving spoilers. Also I was a BAD BOOK REVIEWER and returned the library book BEFORE COPYING THE QUOTES I WANTED. Ack!!! Hence the short quotes/lack of quotes.

Book Review: Alice

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Cheshire’s fingers, cold and slightly damp, stroked down the scar on her cheek. She swallowed the shudder of revulsion at his touch.

“Yes,” Cheshire said. “He marked you so that he would know you again, and know that you belong to him.”

“I belong to no one,” Alice said.

This is my new fight song. I belong to no one. You better believe it. You do not own me. I may be small, and I may be weak, and I may be frightened, but I belong to no one. Without even knowing the complete context in which that is spoken in this book, doesn’t it make you want to stand up and shout?

Alice is my first Christina Henry book. I already have the sequel, Red Queen, on my bookshelf. I knew I was in it to win it by the time I finished the 3rd chapter of Alice, and so I put away the digital version I had of it, ordered both books, and waited until they arrived to finish. I really thought it might kill me, but it was well worth the wait. Thankfully, Alice doesn’t end in a cliffhanger. The ending is definitely OPEN for future tales, but it’s not one of those OMG WTF cliffhanger endings that seem to be par for the course for a lot of the books I’ve been reading lately. Phew.

Obviously, this is an Alice in Wonderland retelling. However, unlike most retellings of various stories I’ve read, I think you could enjoy this one even without knowing the original! Shocking! Raises the bar, I think. So many retellings depend on our love of the originals to carry over – and often, at least in my case, it does – and make us more accepting or forgiving to the new work.

The story is fairly graphic and sometimes disturbing in its depictions of violence, killing, rape, and abuse. It’s creepy right out of the gate. The world of this Alice is definitely not ours, but it has enough resemblance to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Alice and her friend Hatcher have been locked away in an insane asylum for years, abused and neglected, barely kept alive – and not entirely sane or insane. Are they innocent? Maybe not entirely. Justified? You have to decide for yourself. I loved the complexity of their struggles, not only to find the Jabberwocky but to figure themselves out. I love Alice, her sheer will in the middle of circumstances that would bring most of us to our knees. I love that she and Hatch are there for each other even when they annoy the daylights out of each other, that when one is weak the other is strong. The best kind of partners. Neither perfect, both so very human and tortured by their own demons.

He [Hatcher] would not stand and argue with Alice when they did not agree, even if she wished to. And she did wish to.

Hatcher always had changeable moods…out here the world was bright and sharp and full of hungry mouths waiting to eat her up. She couldn’t afford Hatcher’s instability, and she wouldn’t leave him either. They were bound together by love and need and other feelings she didn’t entirely understand. 

Despite pretty much nothing going her way – except that she isn’t killed or raped, Alice just keeps going. She and Hatcher both struggle against the effects of what to me is PTSD, as well as the drugs fed them by the hospital. The story may be fantasy but the flashbacks and the horror is not. Henry did an excellent job of portraying the day-to-day struggles of some mental health patients. People who just want to live their normal lives, but have even the most mundane of tasks interrupted by the terrors that live in their brains. I hope people who read this see that, and not just the dark fantasy land.

“I w-want to go h-home,” she said. Her tongue tasted like salt and roses.

“Where’s home, my Alice?” Hatcher said. “Where’s home? We don’t have a home, you and I.”

“Then I want to go back to the hospital,” she said. “We were safe there. Nothing could hurt us…”

“Except the doctors,” Hatcher said…”Theres nowhere for us to go back to. We can go forward. We can find our way out.”

Forward and out.

I gave it 4/5 stars because I really wanted MORE. I felt like more explanation, more backstory, and more tying up of loose ends was needed to really bring the story to closure, especially since the ending wasn’t exactly a cliffhanger. That’s really a small thing, I guess, for as much as I enjoyed the book!

Book Review - Alice