Archive for January, 2017

the-witch-of-portbello

What happened to Athena? 

About :

Athena was a lot of things, but nobody’s labels seemed to stick. Everyone who knew her had an opinion…but did any of them really know her? Told in “transcripts” taped by Athena’s “biographer,” The Witch of Portobello is an unusual mystery tale. Not only does the reader discover Athena, Athena discovers herself—through the eyes of others. The Witch of Portobello is adult fiction by Brazillian author Paulo Coelho and published in 2006. Coelho also wrote The Alchemist.

Thoughts :

What happened to Athena? This question drove my interest in The Witch of Portobello. Early on in the transcripts, we learn from several of the narrators that Athena was murdered. But how? And by whom? Details, details!

This is the second Paulo Coelho novel I’ve listened to, and I enjoyed it as much as the first (The Alchemist). When I realized this was an epistolary novel told through the alternating “transcripts,” I worried that I might confuse the narrators over audio; but it worked out just fine, although I occasionally had to rewind to figure out who was speaking.

We hear the story of Athena’s journey through the eyes of her parents, her teacher, a besotted journalist and his ex-girlfriend…and they all share really strong opinions about her! Conflicting opinions! It was so entertaining to go from the love-struck journalist to his poisonously jealous girlfriend, etc. Athena evoked strong reactions wherever she went.

The central question of the novel relates, of course, to self-discovery. (If you’ve read anything by Paulo Coelho, you probably know how important this theme in his fiction.) Here’s the pitch:

How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are?

While Athena discovers her own identity, we hear a lot about the New Age beliefs she comes to devote herself to—seriously, a lot. And they’re weird. As a foster-child adopted from a Transylvanian gypsy woman, and as a young mother, divorced and cast from the Catholic church, Athena struggles to recover from loads of internal wounds. She searches for her identity in a goddess who may or may not speak through her (depending on who is narrating at the time) and trances and dances and other, er, strange places. I admit that sitting in on these meetings is a little awkward, but the rotating narrators make it more fun than preachy. I love when authors use a multitude of narrative perspectives to share different versions of the same story, ultimately leaving the interpretation up to the reader.

And anyway, the central mystery—“What happened to Athena?”—has such a strong pull that I would have listened through ten more of her bewildering New Age sermons just to find out.

And then that surprise ending! Good stuff.

Overall :

A short, refreshing contemporary mystery by the bestselling author of The Alchemist.

Recommended To :

If you don’t mind wading through the weird stuff, I think you’ll be hooked by this posthumous tale of Athena’s self-discovery. Some have complained that it’s too preachy—most of Coelho’s books could probably find warm spots on those lists of “most controversial books”—although I didn’t mind at all. It’s a relatively short book and, I think, really brilliant.

****4/5 STARS

The past becomes a continuous future, unless you break the Change…No further analysis!

About :

Arienrhod, the Snow Queen, rules over the planet of Tiamat. She won the right to rule during Tiamat’s 150 year winter cycle, and she stays young and immortal on the blood of the dolphin-like mer. No one understands the immortality, but clues point to remnants of the ancient “Old Empire”…

Unable to explain the mystery, Arienrhod embraces eternal life and has decided that her own rule really should extend beyond the planet’s winter cycle and further, into the summer years. Several of her potential plans to that end appear to be bearing fruit.

If only that troublesome police chief, Jerusha, would stay out of her way. If only Arienrhod’s clone, Moon Dawntreader Summer—a Summer native, raised to understand and eventually manipulate the naiveté of Tiamat’s technologically-backward Summer natives—would heed the Winter queen’s call to the great royal city of Carbuncle. If only Moon’s cousin and pledged, Sparks Dawntreader Summer, would love her, or at least both of them…

One way or another, the Queen is determined to rule this planet forever. And the Queen always gets what she wants. The Snow Queen is classic hard sci-fi authored by Joan D. Vinge, originally published in 1980 and republished several times since. First of a series. Won Hugo Award for Best Novel (1981), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1981), Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1981).

Thoughts :

Coming in at 536 pages, The Snow Queen is a monster of ambitious character- and worldbuilding, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the same name. While the novel takes time to come into its own, its depth becomes clearer as the clues gradually unfold to reveal the full picture of The Snow Queen Cycle universe. Two of the main narrators—The Winter Queen and her young clone, Moon—have information unknown to the other, and the large cast of characters (including Moon’s lover Sparks and the police chief Jerusha) adds other pieces to the puzzle. With patience, I found myself quite taken with the universe.

Moon and Sparks are cousins, pledged in their Native sort of “marriage.” The young lovers have committed to spending their lives together, no matter what, and to Moon, this means they will both become sibyls of their Native goddess, the Lady of the sea. But to their joint dismay, only Moon is chosen, and Sparks leaves both her and their home for the royal city of Carbuncle, hurt and confused about his own future.

Sparks is not wholly Summer Native. Though he never knew his Offworlder father, he spent his childhood dissecting technology that other Summer Natives of Tiamat reject in favor of simple lifestyles. On Carbuncle, he quickly finds that his naiveté will make life difficult…until he draws the attention of the Winter Queen herself.

Meanwhile, Moon learns the art of the sibyl, connecting with the unearthly reservoir of knowledge that can perfectly answer any question (which she assumes is from her goddess, the Lady…). But when the Queen summons her to visit her cousin and lover, Sparks, on Carbuncle, she determines to make the trip.

Along the way, she is kidnapped and taken Offworld, an act that will banish her from ever returning to Tiamat—by law, and by physics. Soon, the season will change into Summer, when all technologically-savvy Winters will leave their colony and travel back to their homeworlds–and the stargate to Tiamat will close. And anyway, once “Offworld,” sibyls aren’t allowed to return to Tiamat, for reasons that not even the queen knows all about…So now Moon must stay on this colorful new planet of Kharemough, forever, or so say her kidnappers. But Moon won’t give up on Sparks that easily.

As Moon plans her return to Tiamat, the Winter Queen, who mirrors Moon with perfect physical precision, slowly poisons young Sparks with her power-hunger. Eventually, she corrupts him into breaking his pledge to Moon and hunting out the mer blood for her immortality. Reveling in her success, the queen hatches a plot to live forever with her newest consort.

I was able to settle in and get swept away by the vision of the book, although it did take some time for me to feel committed and interested in the plot and characters. Partially, this is due to Vinge’s slow pay out of answers to our many questions. We’re also following quite a large cast of characters, so the desire lines can be difficult to follow and slow to develop in urgency.

Unfortunately, the characters grew on me very slowly, although I loved the awesome police chief, Geia Jerusha. I wish we could have spent more time with her. However, almost every character does have complex, grey-scale morals and motives—even the strong, well-developed secondary characters—so even if it can be hard to like them, they are interesting to read about (and watch tumble into the dark depths of their ambition, muahahahaha!).

The writing itself has little feel or atmosphere, although it does reach literary heights in several places. I found it difficult to connect with, during a lot of the book.

But even with its slow-burn plot, difficult characters and remote writing, The Snow Queen is a hard sci-fi you can get lost in. I’ve been preoccupied by its exploration of colonialism, sexism, feminism, technology and religion in the days since I finishing it; I would certainly be interested in exploring more “Offworld” planets, whose politics and technology I found very interesting. I’m not in a hurry, at the moment, but perhaps in the future.

Overall :

Despite my difficulty in connecting emotionally with this book, The Snow Queen is hard sci-fi you can get lost in.

Recommended To :

The Snow Queen reminded me very much of Julian May‘s Pliocene Exile saga ( The Many-Colored Land ). They read similarly in many ways, although the latter moved slightly more quickly, with its killer premise. I would recommended The Snow Queen to hard sci-fi fans looking for a complex, grey-scale space opera.

****4/5 STARS

shadowsofself

About :

A year following the events of The Alloy of Law, Waxillium Ladriam has successfully retired from The Roughs into the city of Elendel and managed to compromise between his “lawman from the Roughs” and “rich city lord” responsibilities. He still fights crime, but he manages to fit in a party, here and there, with his respectable fiancée, Steris.

But the city of Elendel has grown more restive, even in the last year. Labor workers riot, religions battle for worshippers and everything else that might go wrong in a young, developing city, does. Wax, his sidekick Wayne and their associate, Marasi, now a newly-minted constable, work together to find the source of the city’s tensions, which seem to revolve around the possibly-corrupt Governor Innate. But at the center of it all, they discover a rogue kandra, a creature which is considered an ancient servant from the time of the last emperor, Elend Venture (detailed in the first three Mistborn books).

And Wax could never have anticipated the staggering personal consequences of involving himself with this particular investigation…not that he had a choice. Shadows of Self is an adult western fantasy authored by Brandon Sanderson and published October 6th 2015 by Tor Books. Set in the Mistborn universe.

Thoughts:

‘Out of work,’ Marasi thought. Too many idle men out of work’…

The governor had recently given political speeches to these men, making promises. More coach lines to compete with rail lines, going places the railroad could not. Higher tariffs on imports from Bilming. Empty promises, mostly, but men losing hope clung to such promises…How would people react if they began to wonder if the governor, Replar Innate, was as corrupt as his brother?

‘A fire is kindling in the city,’ Marasi thought.”

And Wax finds himself at the center of the fire, yet again. As The Alloy of Law explores Wax’s identity crisis—is he a Roughs lawman? Or a respectable city lord?—so Shadows of Self forces him to face the tragic death of his girlfriend, Lessie, over a year before. He never recovered from her loss, and his heartache shows in his emotional distance from both his betrothed, Steris, and from constable Marasi, whom he rejects even as a colleague after she expresses her admiration of him. I didn’t anticipate the direction of this novel at all, but that’s part of why I LOVE IT! Sanderson incorporates Harmony, Waxillium’s past and the kandra (which are an awesome throwback to the original trilogy!) to add an emotionally potent character arc to the normal adventure and mystery of an Alloy Era novel.

The mystery plot ties in directly with the character arc, too. I love how Wax and Harmony brainstorm together about how to deal with the rogue kandra:

‘One of your ancient servants,’ Wax said, ‘has gone mad and is killing people.’

‘Yes.’

‘So stop her!’

‘It is not so simple…Something is wrong, unfortunately.’

‘What?’ Wax asked.

God was silent for a time. ‘I don’t know, yet.'”

Shadows of Self totally levels up the series. Everything has improved on the last book (which I also loved), from the secondary characters to the metal powers to the action and the humor. I had been leaning toward a 3.5 stars for the first book until the explosive ending, which earned it 4 stars. But Shadows of Self was clearly a 5 star read from the beginning.

As with book 1, I never wanted to put this second installment down, and the patented Sanderson twist got me again in the best way. I was desperate to start The Bands of Mourning after finishing Shadows of Self. Of course I didn’t have it on hand, and of course I had another book to finish at the time. But the Sanderson Epoch isn’t over yet! And I suspect it won’t end with Bands of Mourning, either…

Overall :

I NEED BANDS OF MOURNING!! Immediately!

Recommended To :

If you’ve read this far into the series, I say ‘Don’t stop now!’

*****5/5 STARS

futureshock

“No one wants to hire an underage, inexperienced, tatted-up Mexican girl. Even McDonald’s turned me down.”

About :

Elena Martinez has slipped through the cracks of California’s foster care system. Desperate for money and a future, she signs a contract with the corporate tech giant Aether in exchange for money and a college scholarship: time-travel to the future for 24 hours and bring back info about future technology.

The only catch? She can’t look into her own future. It might mess with her mind or keep her from returning safely home. If she just gets the technology and gets back through the time portal, she’ll be set for life.

Elena signs up and, of course, ignores the prohibition on researching her fate. But she doesn’t expect to find herself enmeshed in the mystery of a murder: her own. Future Shock is a ya science-fiction novel authored by Elizabeth Briggs and published April 1st 2016 by Aw Teen.

Thoughts :

Future Shock is perfect for romantic sci-fi junkies, and I flew through it despite a few worldbuilding and research goofs.

It starts off a little rough, even helped along by Elena’s strong, captivating voice. The problem is Elizabeth Briggs’ outdated description of the current foster system in California. To give Elena strong motivations and high stakes for accepting Aether’s offer, Briggs puts her in a desperate situation:

In two months I’ll be kicked out of foster care, forced out of my current home, and most likely will have to drop out of school…Once we turn eighteen, they’re done. The instant checks stop coming, we’ll be out on the street.”

Thankfully, I happen to know that this is no longer the case, although it used to be true. My husband works as a juvenile probation officer and he deals every day with kids who’ve been raised by the CA state system. They do have access to financial and college aid, now, after they reach the age of 18. Elizabeth Briggs is describing the system of a decade ago, in Future Shock.

But, hey, this could easily have been set a decade ago, and thankfully the story moves fairly quickly into more plot-relevant terrain. I raced through the story, from here on out, because the pacing never slows and the mystery just gets better and better.

After Elena signs on the dotted line, she and four other teens prepare to travel one decade into the future. They will arrive in the future Aether headquarters and have twenty-four hours to gather as much technology as they can. Sounds almost too good to be true…and Elena knows it. She’s a street-smart Latina and she asks good questions: Why teenagers? And why foster teenagers, at that? I very rarely found myself ahead of the technical thriller plot.

And within the first forty pages, we’re in the future! The teenagers are extremely, entertainingly proactive—wandering into shops and exploring the tech—and I love how Briggs imagines the future with lots of cool goodies and sharp edges. Driverless cars rule the road, and they appear to be a government monopoly, as other types of cars were made illegal several years before.

Unfortunately, a few notes ring false in this future world, such as the fact that prostitution appears to be legal, but cigarettes are banned. I think a future that legalizes prostitution will likely legalize more drugs instead of criminalizing more, although I could be wrong about that. CA did just make cigarettes illegal under age 21, so perhaps Briggs’ future LA is spot on, in this regard.

A few other sketchy points jumped out at me. For one thing, [Highlight to read SPOILER: a big plot points involves a cure for cancer. It’s a nice thought, but I sincerely doubt it’s medically feasible that we’ll find a generic cure for every kind of cancer. There are too many different kinds.]

Also, the author has apparently never watched Cops. In several action scenes, her cops seem to lack knowledge of basic police training and strategy. For example, in one instance, the police shoot at teenagers who are running away from them. This would be a major exception to police training, which teaches cops not to shoot at suspects who are running away. In several other instances, these teenagers escape situations in which police could have easily radioed in backup to contain the area. These oversights definitely neutered the action scenes, for me.

I was also hoping that Elena’s eidetic memory would play a larger role in the book. Considering how the whole first scene is built around her amazing memory, I was expecting more from that angle. Maybe book II will deal with it more.

But even when I hit hiccups or areas that could have used further development, I never wanted to stop reading Future Shock. The tech elements are a lot of fun, the pace stays in high gear and the mystery just gets better and better. Every chapter ends with terrific motivations to keep reading.

Overall :

If you just read fast and don’t look too hard at the deets, I guarantee you’ll have a good time with Future Shock. I do have high hopes for a high-concept series or trilogy. I loved the premise, the mystery, the Latina narrator, the lightning pace, the imaginative setting of a futuristic LA…I hope this series continues. It’s a good thing. I’ll probably pick up book II, at some point.

***3/5 STARS

Recommended To :

This can be a great, fast read for romantic-sci-fi junkies. For someone who has stuck mostly to Fantasy, this YA sci-fi thriller could be something really new and fun.

Thanks so much to Elizabeth Briggs, AW Teen and Netgalley for this e-ARC!

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Posted: January 16, 2017 in Book Tag

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thebearandthenightingale

‘All of my life,’ she said, ‘I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender myself to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow that live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”

Vasilisa Petrovna has “the sight.” All around her she sees creatures from Pre-Christian folklore, known as “chyerty” by the villagers and “demons” by the Catholic. But in medieval Catholic “Rus,” having the sight is a dangerous; so she hides her gift and seeks her own way in the world.

Her way does not include marriage. Every other girl may marry or go to a nunnery, but Vasya refuses, preferring to talk with her creature friends and ride horses in the wild woods around her village.

Everything changes when her father remarries to a Catholic stepmother. Vasys’s idyllic—if never easy—life in the woods shifts from difficult to miserable. The oppressive atmosphere over the village bodes ill for Vasya and her chyerty friends. She has no idea that the Winter king watches her, just as his brother, the devourer, watches. But she slowly begins to realize that her village may depend on the very gifts it scorns. The Bear and the Nightingale is Historical Fantasy/Russian Fairytale written by Katherine Arden and published January 10th 2017 by Del Rey.

Thoughts :

I actually requested The Bear and the Nightingale thinking it was adult fiction, but I quickly realized it could easily be considered crossover, with the way the whole narrative revolves around the young heroine. So it was with pleasure that I read about the two girls who see the “demons” and soon become family by marriage. I thought, “Oh, how good Anna will be for Vasya! They can talk about their visions. They can be friends; they’re not so far apart, and Vasya desperately needs a friend.”

Clearly I didn’t read the book description very thoroughly before starting the book! I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say nothing turned out like I hoped. Anna’s marriage into the family begins all the troubles for Vasya and her village. Why?

Because Anna is a fearful, superstitious Catholic. She assumes the harmless house creatures to be demons; and from then on out, the whole village slides into the clutches of the enemy: the one-eyed man, brother of the Winter King. He is,

Appetite…Madness. Terror. He wants to eat the world.”

He gains more and more power, thanks to the fear-mongering, misguided Catholics, whose belief system is entirely based on a misunderstanding of the reality of Pre-Christian Russian folklore. God, Satan and demons? They’re all just misunderstandings. So they misinterpret the the harmless domovoi as demons and the one-eyed man as both God and the devil, at different times, and they lead the village into danger.

‘You are the devil!’ whispered Konstantin, clenching his hands.

All the shadows laughed. ‘As you like. But what difference is there between me and the one you call God? I too revel in deeds done in my name. I can give you glory, if you will do my bidding.’”

Thankfully for the villagers, Vasya understands that fear feeds the one-eyed man and that the domovoi help protect the households against him. She heroically and sacrificially turns the other cheek as everyone gathers against “the witch,” saves the bumbling priests again and again (as they, of course, fall head over heels in love with her), and finally rides out to save the day.

I don’t want to make light of all the things I truly enjoyed about The Bear and the Nightingale, because the story reads beautifully, despite its problems. I loved Vasya, as a truly strong female protagonist, and I sympathized with her plight of making the village see reason. But we spend a lot of time in the head of a Catholic priest who is led astray by powers he misunderstands, to the folly of the entire village. We also spend a lot of time pitying Vasya’s situation as a woman, as she is forced to choose between either the marriage bed or the nunnery. Arden did Vasya a disservice by turning everyone against her, to the point that it felt overdone and melodramatic. When Vasya misses a certain funeral because she’s out slaying the village upyr, this is the response she gets:

Witch-woman. Like her mother.

[Highlight to view SPOILER: Dunya ] loved you like her daughter, Vasya,’ [her father] said, later. ‘Of all the days to play truant.’”

C’mon. She just spent 24 hours nursing this dying woman into her grave. This is just obnoxiously melodramatic, and it happens again and again throughout the book.

I dreaded posting this review, knowing that my opinions would be different from most of my friends; but I just have to say that good Fantasy authors know how to respect the mythology and beliefs they interact with. Jim Butcher and Max Gladstone come to mind- they don’t pick and choose winning and losing faiths, among the devout of their fantasy. There are good guys on every team. Katherine Arden didn’t get the memo on this. Her handling of medieval faith, while sensitive in the way of characterization, is drastically biased in many other ways. I’ll leave it at that.

With less emphasis on the human and religious drama and more on the fairy tale elements—which are, I suspect, why most of us pick up this book—I would have loved The Bear and the Nightingale enough to give it five stars.

This is obviously just my opinion, but I think this could have easily been children’s fiction to rival Elizabeth Enright’s. Which is…amazing! I loved reading about Vasya’s life in the woods and the fairy tale aspects from Russian folklore. Here, she’s breaking in a young horse, after a period of convalescence:

Vasya eyed the stallion’s tall bare back. She tried her limbs, and found them weak as water. The horse stood proudly and expectantly, a horse out of a fairy tale.

‘I think,’ said Vasya, ‘that I am going to need a stump.’

The pricked ears flattened. A stump.

‘A stump,’ said Vasya firmly. She made her way to a convenient one, where a tree had cracked and fallen away. The horse poked along behind. He seemed to be reconsidering his choice of rider.”

This is what people loved about The Bear and the Nightingale! The writing and atmosphere are truly, breathtakingly lovely, and the characters, though dark and often tiresome, are clearly imagined with care and love. But the books’s flaws are big enough that they did largely ruin the book for me.

Overall :

Gorgeously wrought fairy tale with a few major flaws. They won’t be fatal flaws for everyone, although they are for me.

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 3/5 Stars
Plot: 2.5/5 Stars
Writing: 5/5 Stars

***3/5 Stars

Recommended To :

A lot of readers enjoyed this story based on the historical detail, the strong characterizations and the perfect atmosphere. And no wonder! I suspect most readers won’t feel the way I do about it, so I say go ahead and try it. You’ll probably like it a lot better than I did. (Which is to say 3+ stars at least!)

Thanks so much to Katherine Arden, Del Rey and Netgalley for my review copy of The Bear and the Nightingale.

The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation. It struck randomly—usually at night, during the mysterious hours when life slowed to a rest. The Shaod could take beggar, craftsman, nobleman, or warrior. When it came, the fortunate person’s life ended and began anew; he would discard his old, mundane existence, and move to Elantris. Elantris, where he could live in bliss, rule in wisdom, and be worshipped for eternity.

Eternity ended ten years ago.”

A lot has changed in the decade since Elantris fell: the Shaod transformation has become a curse; a militant religion called Shu-Dereth has risen in Arelon’s theocratic neighboring country, Fjorden; and almost every nation has fallen to the Fjordell Empire. Now only Arelon and Teod stand free.

Prince Raoden of Arelon betroths himself to Sarene, the princess of Teod, hoping to create an alliance against Fjorden. But his plans change, suddenly, when the Shaod descends on him and his parents, the king and queen of Arelon, secretly exile him to the rotting city of Elantris.

A short time later, Princess Sarene steps off her ship from Teod into Arelon’s capital city of Kae, only to find herself a “widow” to the “deceased” prince Raoden. However, never one to waste an opportunity, she uses her new station and powerful personality to begin digging into the diseased heart of the crumbling kingdom, searching for strength necessary to keep her new home safe from Fjordell.

Meanwhile, Hrathen, a Derethi priest from Fjordell, plots domination of Arelon as he also arrives in Kae—and his plotting involves the Elantrians. Elantris is adult Fantasy authored by Brandon Sanderson and published 2005 by Tor.

Thoughts:

It took about two seconds for the mystery of Elantris to grab me. Who were the Elantrians? What happened to them? Could their sickness be cured? The characters work to answer these questions in different ways.

In fact, the three main narrators maintain a continuous duel of wits, throughout most of the book, hoping to reach their own ends before the others can stop them. It’s difficult to express just how fun a conniving dance of a novel like this can be, but let’s start with the cursed Prince Raodan.

Raoden makes it his goal to discover the secret behind the Elantrian curse. It’s almost like an Undercover Boss moment, for him, when he realizes how the city next door has been suffering during his parents’ reign. I loved following him around Elantris as he brought small, but clever changes that made all the difference to the Elantrian standard of living. Raoden uses his curse to solve problems constantly, and it’s just so much fun to read! For example, at one point he needs to escape the guarded walls of Elantris. He knows of a river that runs under the city to Kae, so he takes advantage of the fact that he can’t die: he holds his breath and lets the river drag him, underwater, to freedom.

Now is that clever or what? And all this while plotting to thwart Sarene’s and Hrathen’s plans for the city of Elantris and keep his old identity a secret from everyone around him.

Sarene comes up with equally clever plans to destroy the power of a certain Derethi priest from Fjordell (hrm hrm, Hrathen). If Hrathen wants the people to hate the Elantrians, Shallan will start a food drive for those poor souls. If he wants a certain noble sympathizer to topple the king, no problem, she’ll marry someone else to give her own sympathizer a step up over the competition.

I seriously love this chick.

These characters pull the best tricks on each other, but Gyorn Hrathen might be the most conniving of the three. To him

Elantrians represented the ultimate flaw of human arrogance: they had set themselves up as gods. Their hubris had earned their fate. In another situation, Hrathen would have been content in leaving them to their punishment

However, he happened to need them.”

All three really came alive, for me, with their clear motivations and proactivity. Occasionally Sanderson would “tell” a character’s feelings, instead of showing them, but even in the “telling,” their motivations felt so truthful.

While I did enjoy the setup of all these tensions, the pacing does drag, at times. I think the biggest reason for this drag has to do with the questions about Elantris. We wonder about the Elantrians from page one, but it takes a long time to start getting answers. I raced through the pages when Raoden made a discovery, or a big plot twist happened. But other times, I was just plugging along to get on to the good stuff. A few other, smaller things contribute to this. For example…it’s a little maddening that Raoden won’t just tell Sarene his identity! Also, it took me some time to get into Hrathen’s POV, although he really came alive before the end.

My only other beefs with this book have to do with the ending, which feels a little rushed. First of all, Raoden’s mother sort of disappears. [Highlight to view SPOILER: What about her heroic death? Why isn’t she buried with honor near the king and Hrathen?? Did Sanderson just forget about her or something?] But Queen Eshen feels slightly shell-like, to me, anyway. I mean, what mother wouldn’t tear down even the walls of Elantris to reach her sick son?!? Other than that, I just have a few unanswered questions that I’m hoping might find answers in book II or Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection. [Highlight to view SPOILER: What “possesses” Hrathen, near the end? And where do the Fjordens get their power? Through a corruption of the Dor?]

Overall :

Fantastic debut. Absorbing mystery, compelling characters and a world that I would love to explore in further books.

Characters: 4.5/5
Plot: 3.5/5
Worldbuilding: 5/5
Writing: 3.5/5

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

Anyone who already loves Brandon Sanderson will enjoy Elantris. It’s also a great place to start with him, being a standalone, although I would recommend other works (*ahem* The Way of Kings *ahem*) as even better starting places, since they’re more polished than Elantris. Anyone looking for a really original fantasy with fleshed-out characters, cultures and religions will enjoy this novel.

Truth can never be defeated, Sarene. Even if people do forget about it occasionally.”

Have you read any great standalones lately?

way-of-kings About:

Roshar is a land ruled by Highstorms and Shardblade warfare. But as a cycle of Desolation approaches to destroy humanity, four people will play key roles in the outcome:

Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, assassinates King Gavilar and begins a cycle of vengeance—the “Vengeance Pact”—between two races. He weeps as he is forced to kill for his masters.

Kaladin Stormblessed, an apprentice surgeon, is forced to become a soldier in the armies fighting for vengeance. After suffering the betrayal of a “light-eyed” noble, this dark-eyed soldier fights for his life and that of his dark-eyed crew.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands an army like the one that employs Kaladin. But as he is drawn to an ancient text of law, The Way of Kings, he finds himself questioning the purpose of this war.

Young Shallan Davar, Brightness of a small, struggling estate, risks everything to plan a daring theft. The first step of her plan is to train as a scholar with the heretic Jasnah Kholin, Brightlord Dalinar Kholin’s niece; but as she gains Jasnah’s trust, she realizes that the woman studies much more than obscure academia: she studies the secrets of the fabled order of the Knights Radiant, their shards and the Desolations they fought so long ago. Adult High Fantasy Published August 31st 2010 by Tor Books.

My Thoughts :

Wow. 1,000 pages of wow. Just let me fangirl for a moment, here.

Don’t let the size of this tome fool you: The Way of Kings is a compulsively readable, highly character-driven high fantasy. The characters always let you know what they want; but you never know what twists lie in store for them.

And there are so many twists! They start coming early on. It’s almost funny how I continue to guess and theorize because I’m always totally wrong. Everything is sailing along as the characters expect, and then BAM! You weren’t getting comfortable were you, Christy? Because this guy’s being sold into slavery and this gal’s not the naïve young bookworm you thought. You think you know what’s going on? Trust me, you don’t.

I can’t talk overmuch about the plot without spoilers, but:

I dare you to get bored during a Kaladin scene. Seriously. I bet you can’t do it. Early on in the novel, he’s drafted into a hellish portion of the army known as “bridge duty” (wherein generals force crews of unarmed men to rush first into battle, set bridges across chasms and draw enemy fire away from the “real” soldiers) and his goal becomes one thing and one thing only: keep his bridge crew alive. He constantly schemes up crazy ideas to meet that goal, and I promise, it’s worth your time to read The Way of Kings just for this one innovative soldier’s arc.

But Dalinar Kholin’s arc is a close second favorite. Uncle to the king and brother of the slain King Gavilar, Dalinar dominates the battlefield. Known as the Blackthorn, he fiercely wields a weapon called a “Shardblade,” a giant sword with unimaginably destructive power. As the book’s description says, wars are fought for and won by these ancient, mysterious weapons that appear from mist and kill souls as easily as they kill bodies. Dalinar is a cultural hero among his war-obsessed countrymen—but he has lately been troubled by Highstorm visions that may or may not be the onset of madness. As everyone including his sons and the king begin to question him, Dalinar has to navigate the visions, public opinion and private family business. A complex man with a complex path. I’m totally obsessed with Dalinar.

I think Shallan’s arc qualifies as the most complex among the four main narrators. She possesses the potential and desire to become a great scholar, but family secrets close that option to her. While innovation and leadership concerns characterize the narratives of Kaladin and Dalinar, Shallan’s narrative blossoms more slowly, and it feels almost self-contained until we find out more about Jasnah’s research. Nevertheless, I love Shallan’s scenes. Her intelligence and ambition make her arc tense and painful, at times, but always twisty and keenly satisfying.

Szeth the assassin is the most mysterious of the four narrators, but I suspect that he holds the secret to the coming Desolations. We shall see.

The worldbuilding itself is like a fabulous character. It’s so big! And it feels that way, paradoxically, by detailing the small stuff.

“Kaladin stared out over those grasses blowing in the mild breeze. Whenever the wind picked up, the more sensitive of the grass stalks shrank down into their burrows, leaving the landscape patchy, like the coat of a sickly horse.”

Although we expect large amounts of setup and worldbuilding in a novel like this, Sanderson incorporates it all smoothly into the secretive and engrossing characters arcs. The swords, the storms, the mysterious “stormlight” that connects everything together…and don’t even get me started on the countries, social prejudices and religions! One society lives on an endless, shallow lake, and citizens just…stay wet. All the time. And Alethi men and women must eat gender-specified foods! It’s craziness. The smooth writing let me slip easily into the world of Roshar, never drawing attention to itself. I got lost in this engrossing giant of a novel.

When plot twists pay off—when the action starts—it’s explosive. This is totally cliché, but the battle scenes really are heart-rending and pulse-pounding. Very “visually” effective (better than Mistborn‘s action scenes, I would say). The tactics and strategy are extremely well drawn.

I switched back and forth between the audiobook and the hardcover copy, so I can confirm that the story reads easily in both. Hearing all the unique names pronounced with such assurance made the audio version a favorite with me; but the easy writing makes the hard copy equally as engrossing—and the illustrations! They’re gorgeous!

Overall :

Combines the intrigue of Elantris with the action and themes of Mistborn. X1000. It’s definitely my favorite thing by Sanderson, as yet. As I was reading, I kept wishing the book could last forever. Thankfully, 9,000 is a conservative estimate of pages remaining in the series, right?

Recommended To :

It sometimes feels like I was the last person to this Stormlight Archives partaaay, but I know that’s not true! The books are so gigantic, I was intimidated away until I saw the list of contents in Arcanum Unbounded. Then I knew I needed to get on these books already. But seriously, if you like character-driven fantasy, I highly recommend trying The Way of Kings. You might be surprised how the pages fly by, once you start to get to know the characters.

*****5/5 Stars

winter-final

She froze a few steps into the sitting room. Her gut tightened, her nostrils filling with the iron tang of blood.

It was all around her. On the walls. Dripping from the chandelier. Soaking into the upholstered cushions of the settee.…‘Why does the palace hurt so much, Jacin? Why is it always dying?’”

Princess Winter lives in mad Lunar Queen Levana’s court. Unfortunately, some of the madness has rubbed off on her. Seeing the destruction caused all around her by the Lunar gift, she refuses to use her own, a decision that causes her mind to deteriorate.

Winter’s breakdown is heartbreaking for her guard, Jacin, to watch. He has loved the princess since childhood, and now that he’s back in the Lunar court, it’s harder than ever for him to endure her pain. But there might be hope yet: rumors say that the rebel Lunar princess Selene knows of a cure for the “gift”—a cure that could help his princess. As Princess Winter fights every day to covertly undermine Queen Levana’s bloodshed—a decision that leads her to care for the Queen’s newest “pet,” a tortured earthen rebel named Scarlet Benoit—Jacin determines to find a cure for Princess Winter’s Lunar sickness at all costs.

And helping Princess Selene lead a rebellion against the evil Queen is his best bet. YA Sci-Fi, fairy tale retelling. Published November 10th 2015 by Feiwel & Friends. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2015).

About:

As with the other reviews of this series, I can’t address much about the overarching plot of the series without spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at this: welcome to Luna. This setting adds all sorts of tension to the plan of revolution, and the plot moves fairly quickly.

There’s so much to like about this fourth installment, and a lot of it has to do with the characters. First of all, the whole crew is finally working together in genuine camaraderie throughout much of the book—even Scarlet, who has been languishing in captivity since book III. I suspect any reader would enjoy spending a few hours with this large, loud group of friends.

I also have to once again praise the pure genius of the audio narrator, Rebecca Soler: she brings all the characters to life, but her portrayal of Winter, with the princess’s growing mental instability, is the most breathtaking of all.

Though Winter’s arc is largely reactive and introspective, instead of proactive, her complex character-building and the portrayal of her madness definitely add layers of intensity to her scenes. I think she, Cress and Cinder are tied three ways for my favorite characters of the series; Cress’s scenes are usually the most entertaining, though, with plenty of action and humor.

And speaking of Cress, she gets some fantastic scenes in this book! She’s been a dynamic character ever since her “official” introduction in book III, my favorite of the four volumes.

One of the best surprises about this book is the friendship between Winter and Scarlet.

‘Hello, crazy,’ said Scarlet. It sounded like an endearment. ‘How are the castle walls today?’”

Throughout book III, Scarlet felt largely like an unnecessary accessory to the arc of her Lunar supersoldier boyfriend. When she starred in book II, she would pop off randomly at times that called for calm, as if that was supposed to convince me of her toughness. But Princess Winter brings out Scarlet’s courage, humor and many capabilities in a way that none of the other characters managed to do.

Alas, just as I’m truly growing fond of the entire cast, it’s time to say goodbye. As the last installment, Winter had a big job to tie off the story. The final showdown with Levana did unfortunately lack much in the way of visible, clever trickery that would have greatly enhanced the battle. Also, the love subplots grew somewhat tired by the end—not because of the individual relationships, but because even Disney princesses don’t always get a prince. Still, Winter ends the series really well with a big decision by Cinder. Good stuff.

Overall :

Awesome heroines (including a fashion-obsessed android), swoonworthy guys, rebellions to infinity and beyond, and, of course, spaceships to fly in the rebels. I’m really glad I listened to it because now I can wholeheartedly recommend it to the many patrons of my library looking for this exact thing: a completely unique YA series with lots of genuine entertainment value.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a clever modern twist on the princess fairy tales!

****4/5 Stars

New Year Update & Book Haul

Posted: January 3, 2017 in Book Haul, Booktalk, TBR
Tags:

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Hello friends! After a two-week blogging break, it’s time for an update! Over the holidays, I spent a lot of time working on my own writing project, which involves a lot of research about Mesoamerican civilizations. But I also finished reading several novels!

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I made a goal to read the two published volumes of the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson over the holidays. While I only finished  The Way of Kings completely [Review coming next week!], I am about 200 pages into Words of Radiance and will be happily enjoying the audiobook as the blog returns to our regularly scheduled programming.

Other Books I finished: 

I actually finished Winter before the blog break, but I never posted the promised review! It really will be coming this week 🙂

Book Haul

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Next, I wanted to share the gorgeous books I’ve gotten recently. My husband actually bought me the original Mistborn trilogy a while ago, but I hadn’t ever posted pictures of them. Arcanum Unbounded (!!) and The Exiled Queen (The Exiles #2) by Cinda Williams Chima were Christmas presents!

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I also recently picked up three pocket paperbacks at used book sales: Fiddler’s Fair by Mercedes Lackey (foreground), Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (bottom of stack) and Doomsday Book (top of stack) by Connie Willis, who authored my second favorite book of 2016, Crosstalk). A friend also loaned me my first Baen book, called Once a Hero by Elizabeth Moon (middle of stack). Which looks awesome.

Netgalley Digital ARCs

And last but certainly not least, this year’s Netgalley haul (so far)! This should carry me through February, at which time I plan to settle down to some backlist reading and perhaps binge read a series.

  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katharine Arden, Del Rey Jan 10th, 2017. I’m reading this one right now and really enjoying the atmosphere and setting.
  • Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs, Albert Whitman & Company. This book was actually published in 2016, but the sequel will be available soon and AW&C is offering this first volume on Netgalley. I was so excited to get access because I’ve been eyeing it for a while!
  • Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer, Tor Jan 31, 2017. “At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies.” <-How could I possibly resist a description like that? And when I saw’s Tamora Pierce’s praise, I couldn’t request this one fast enough.
  • Gilded Cage by Vic James, Del Rey Feb 14th, 2017. I think I requested this one largely based on the author’s amazing bio, but the description sounds none too shabby: “For readers of Victoria Aveyard and Kiera Cass comes a darkly fantastical debut set in a modern England where magically gifted aristocrats rule—and commoners are doomed to serve.”
  • Portal of a Thousand Worlds by Dave Duncan, Open Road Integrated Media Science & Fantasy 14th Feb, 2017. I’ve never read anything by Dave Duncan, but I can’t resist Asian fantasies, beautiful covers or titles that promise magic. I’m so so excited to try this one!
  • Autumn Princess, Dragon Child (The Tale of Shikanoko II) & Lord of the Darkwood (The Tale of Shikanoko III) by Lian Hearn. These were published in quick succession last year, but Farrar, Straus & Giroux kindly gave me access after the fact. I actually meant to access only the second book, but I accidentally grabbed the third. So now I have both! Oh darn. I’ve been wishing I’d gotten to these earlier, but since they were already published when I was given access, I decided to wait for a time when I could sit and enjoy them one right after the other. If the first book is anything to judge by, the temptation to binge-reading will be strong!
  • Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett & Ken Mitchcroney, Blackstone Publishing 13th June, 2017. “Captain Farley navigates a maze of treachery and wonder—and finds a love seemingly decreed by fate—as his bomber becomes a pawn in a centuries-old conflict between remnants of advanced but decaying civilizations.” The description of this one is tantalizingly vague. I requested it months ago, before that awesome cover was revealed, and I’m growing ever more curious to dive in!

That’s it for this book haul. What did you get for Christmas? I’d love to hear about what you’re excited to read in 2017!