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“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming exciting new titles.

I recently decided to request fewer titles from Netgalley, and removing some of that pressure also seems to have increased my anticipation for these upcoming titles; so I also decided to hop on the WoW train!

The Girl with the Red BalloonAnd then I saw Katherine Locke‘s The Girl With the Red Balloon on Netgalley, forthcoming from AW Teen in September 2017 ahhhh! It immediately tested my “requesting resolution”!

I need 😍

Publisher Description:

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

!!!! Can’t wait to get my hands on this one! Historical/Alt Historical YA is possibly my favorite thing on the planet!

What book are you anticipating this Wednesday?

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Snow Day in Northern California?

Posted: March 6, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags:

Hey all, we just had an unusual amount of snow in our Northern Ca town. Schools have been known to close for “snow days” in our county at such DRASTIC LEVELS as 1-2 inches, so, you know, BIG DEAL! ;D Anyway, I thought it might be unusual to see grape vines covered in snow…

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To the left we have “Mt. Konocti,” our very own volcano. Above right is Clearlake, a shallow lake that has never been nor will ever be clear. And below…snowy vineyard!

So I thought I’d share. Hope you’re having a great weekend and getting in lots of great reading time! 🙂

‘The woman is a danger…What she does is an abomination.’”

About :

Shai is a MaiPon Forger in a country that despises Forgers as abominations. When she gets captured during a routine palace art theft, she scrambles for an escape plan; but before she gets the chance to spring herself from prison, her captors change the game.

‘She is a valuable tool. This woman can save us. We must use her.’”

They visit her prison cell and demand that she complete a job for them, a job so secret that Shai knows she will be murdered at its close: reforge the emperor’s soul. The Emperor’s Soul is a Fantasy Novella written by Brandon Sanderson and published October 11th 2012 by Tachyon Publications. Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fantasy (2012).

Thoughts :

This novella opens with the emperor’s staff debating the fate of their captive Forger, and this first layer of cultural tension immediately intrigued me: What is Forging? Why do they hate it? And why must they use it to save the country?

Nearby in prison, Shai desperately seeks a way out of her cell before the next day’s scheduled execution, and her technique introduces readers to the unique Asian stamp magic of the novella:

To Forge something, you had to know its past, its nature.”

At this point (on like page four), the cultural tension and the magic already have me intrigued. Then the emperor’s councilors arrive and explain the situation to Shai and to readers: the emperor has been attacked and needs a new soul to survive.

Whoa. What?

They grant Shai a stay of execution for the next hundred days, during which she must create the soulstamp—a task that will involve a huge amount of complex, untested magic.

Her ambitious artist’s soul longs to create the perfect soulstamp, but she knows she must prioritize one thing over this primal urge toward faultless creation: she must escape before those 100 days are up or she will never leave the prison alive. The 100 day countdown heads each new section, and I totally felt the squeeze by the end of the novella.

Over the course of the story, Shai uses her magic in a variety of ways: transforming her room, making various stamps to reforge the emperor’s personality and history, etc. But a constant war rages inside her between the need to create a perfect soulstamp and the need to escape with her life. Her escape plan is just one more layer of mystery that kept me reading.

The final layer that got me fully invested in the story relates to the characters. In order to escape, Shai knows she’ll need to do something that makes her cringe: she’ll have to manipulate the elderly Arbiter Gaotana who visits her cell to test the soulstamps.

Gaotana seems to have the most integrity of all those palace staff, as he alone regrets the need to forever silence the young Forger after she completes the stamp. So when he criticizes Shai’s choice of profession—thief, Forger, abomination—Shai feels his disappointment keenly.

Why? Gaotana thought again. Why would someone capable of this artistry, turn to forgery?…Why not be a true artist?”

Aarcanum-unboundednd now she has to trick him—just to escape with her life? It made my heart hurt just thinking about it!

Overall:

I love the human psychology and the theme of cultural misunderstanding in The Emperor’s Soul. And, of course, I love the Asian-inspired stamp magic. It ties in with the “form” type magic present in Stormlight Archives, I think, too—or it sounds like it does, anyway. In fact, I love the format and pacing and characters and everything about this story! I’m so happy it was included in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, even though it was published previously. I kinda wish we could hear more about Shai because her potential as a heroine is limitless; but I understand that Sanderson wants to finish a few series before starting an entirely new one, haha.

Recommended To:

Although the novella is set in the same universe as Elantris, the reading order doesn’t matter. In fact, this might be a great introduction to Sanderson’s work, if you’re not ready to jump into The Way of Kings. There’s no fat to trim.

*****5/5 STARS

gildedcage

“Understanding slid into Luke’s brain and lodged its sharp point there…

‘We’re all going to do our slavedays.’

About :

Luke and Abigail Hadley live like normal teenagers all over Britain until their parents suddenly commit the whole family to their “slave days.” Every British commoner is forced to devote 10 years of service to the magically “Skilled” elite class that rules over Britain, a caste known as the “Equals.” At least the Hadleys manage to score a cushy group deal: all five will serve the richy rich Jardine family on their legendary estate of Kyneston.

At least, that’s what they’re told.

But when the bus arrives, Luke gets marked as “surplus” and sent instead to Millmoor, “Manchester’s filthy, unforgiving slavetown.”

Because in a “state of non-legal personhood,” you have no rights.

You are now chattels of the state.”

Gilded Cage was authored by Vic James and will be published February 14th 2017 by Del Rey Books.

Thoughts :

I requested Gilded Cage mainly hoping to read about the cool “Dark Gifts” of the series title (and based on Vic James’ exciting bio). But the meat of the first 50% focuses instead on the challenges you might find in a British drama. Maybe more like Downtown Abbey? With cruel lords and ladies making life miserable for their butlers, maids and slaves. (I haven’t actually seen much Downtown Abbey, as I don’t watch a lot of tv beyond Cops and 48 Hours, so this guess could be somewhat off.*) The publisher is clearly marketing the book to people who enjoy this sort of story, and I think the target audience would enjoy it more than I did.

I read to 50% before deciding to set it aside.

Why DNF?

The title Gilded Cage perfectly encapsulates the majority of narrative perspectives in this book: Abigail Hadley tells us of life Kyneston; her new masters, the Jardine men, also share their perspectives with us in the first 50%. The “Gilded Cage” refers mainly to a magical wall that surrounds the Kyneston estate, keeping slaves locked inside, although it may also refer to the British society at large that cages its commoners into servitude. So we spend a lot of time in this cage, reading the thoughts of both captors and captives.

This is unfortunate for two reasons: (1) The Jardine men are a largely despicable lot, and (2) Abi’s plot mainly consists of developing feelings for one of them. The plot summary suggests more to her plot, later in the book—she discovers the Jardine family secret and must decide whether to reveal it or not—but I didn’t get that far because I just couldn’t get into the story. The focus stays mainly on domestic and political troubles rather than magical, during the first half, and I had a feeling the focus wasn’t going to change.

But my main problems with Gilded Cage relate to the characters. First of all, I thought there were too many narrators for such a short novel. The first 50% cycles through enough narrators that I don’t remember who they were or how many I met. More importantly, none of the characters feel like authentic people (with the bare exception of Abigail, who feels like a legitimately moony teenaged girl). The Jardine men especially fell flat for me. I had a difficult time buying Silyen’s antisocial brilliance and everyone’s fear of The Young Master. I especially couldn’t believe that the violently angry Gavar cared most in the world about his baby daughter. No amount of Gavar’s POV could convince me of that, after he shot the mother while she held the child in her arms during the prologue. No caring father would do that. The unrealistic psychology and motivations of the Jardine men left me bored and unconvinced.

Luke Hadley is also unfortunately a very wooden character, although his scenes in the slave town of Millmoor are the most exciting to read. Luke takes part in a slave rebellion, and I enjoyed the action scenes in his perspective. Little things in his perspective did make the narrative lose credibility, though, such as when one character gets harnessed up and steps straight off a rooftop, instead of carefully lowering herself down. Ouch! That would give you quite a jolt and likely smash you into the side of the building. I would definitely not recommend doing it thataway.

Overall :

Unfortunately, Gilded Cage doesn’t appeal to the “Fantasy,” “Alternate History” or “British Mystery” parts of me and I couldn’t get into the characters. Very little surprised or interested me about the first 50%. The author focused on Abi’s romantic ambitions or the proceedings of the court of cruel lords when I was hoping for something more magical.

Recommended To :

Readers who like both YA and British dramas. From what the positive reviews are saying, readers appeared to most enjoy the “Britishness” of it. It does feel very British. Lots of class warfare. I can see the Dickensian influence, as another positive review remarked—but only in the class structure and relations. That particular comparison makes me a feel a little sick; Dickens is known for his characterization and this book has terribly un-lifelike characters.

Thank you so much to Vic James, Del Rey and Netgalley for this e-galley!

*In the comments, Maddalena @ Space and Sorcery kindly corrected my misconception about Downtown Abbey: apparently the house staff doesn’t get abused, which is a relief!

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

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