Review of “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas

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Rating: 5/5 Stars

Pub:  May 2016 Bloomsbury

“Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.” -Summary Goodreads.com

Ugh. I’m not sure where to start on this review so I will start at the beginning of my expansive notes which start at the beginning of the book. Also, I apologize for the length of this review, I have a lot of things to say.

From the setup, and the way she paints Tamlin, which I’m guessing is from her spending too much time within the book that she lost a little perspective, you can tell that she does not like Tamlin. Perhaps I need to re-read the first one, and I plan to, but I do not remember Tamlin being this big of an ass. I thought he was more accepting of her fighting and tough side in the last book. Feyre so abhorrently did not want to marry Tamlin, that it took me, as a reader, by surprise.

With all that said, this is a book, that at its heart, is a story of a girl finding her freedom and finding herself. It was absolutely gorgeous and powerful. This is a book for people who have suffered from unhealthy relationships, PTSD (I’ll come back to this), and the guilt of not wanting what you once thought you needed. Maas also covers male rape respectfully, something not talked about enough. A quote that absolutely struck me right in the feels: “I realized how badly I’ve been treated before, if my standards had become so low. If the freedom I’d been granted felt like a privilege and not an inherent right.” Holy. Shit. Maas hits the nail on the head here. I know this feeling and I know that many young girls do. She no longer needed a protector or a safe life full of food, wealth and safety. She became someone else when her human body died. Yes, this was hammered into us a lot of times throughout the book, but we needed to hear it. We needed to listen.

Maas handles PTSD with stunning grace. She did her research. Feyre couldn’t handle certain colors, the feeling of being trapped, and Tamlin’s disrespect and misunderstanding of that cemented their differences. He ignored it all together.

Coming back to what I said in the first paragraph, I do think that Maas went a little far with the heavy comparison between Spring and Night court. Everything was better: the clothes, the company. While yes, accurate, the setup was a little obvious.  With that said, everyone in the Night Court was pretty fucking awesome. Also, the conversations were well-written and nothing felt like boring court politics. That is not easy.

From then on my notes devolve into “WOWOWOWOW THIS BOOK IS FUCKING AMAZING”. I mostly ran out of intelligent things to say when my emotions took over. This book, this book right here, is so much, miles better than the first. I think this made my list of favorite books of all time. You can tell she must have been planning or already done with this book when she wrote the first because pieces of the second were important in the first and vice versa. I definitely want to read some more things from her. (Based on this, she would write a good vampire! There were many similarities).

Tamlin was such a flat character, but Rhys? Rhys is incredible. Sometimes I forgot about the war building because I got so into the story of him and Feyre. Maas showed us that you can be possessive in a way that is healthy and what an honest, real relationship should look like. (The sex scenes were quite a bit for YA, seems more like new adult, not that I’m complaining!)

The ending let me down a little bit. I was frustrated because the plot buildup of this war throughout the whole book, which was secondary to her and Rhys, but still, didn’t really happen at all? I didn’t completely understand what the King of Hybern wanted. And now the whole next book will be about that again? The last few chapters felt a little rushed and confusing. It was most certainly a buildup for the next book. Which I get, but I do enjoy everything getting resolved and I’m also a little bummed at what the immediate future holds for them. Without spoiling, let’s just say things are gonna be a bit awkward? Not sure how she is going to handle certain things there. But we shall see.

Regardless of the ending, this is a truly incredible book. A female character who is strong, but wasn’t afraid to break along the way and let herself be true to what she wanted and needed. I loved it. Perhaps this holds a special place based on my experiences, but even so, the writing was excellent. What can I say? Maas is kind of a master.

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Review of “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

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Rating: 3/5 Stars

Pub: May 19th 2015 by Del Rey

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.” -Summary from Goodreads.com

This book has a few instances of violence against women. Dragon grabs her arms and quite literally drags her, to the point of bruising, and early on a prince tries to rape her. Dragon calls her useless among many other things. These things didn’t sit well with me. The Dragon was almost too mean in the beginning. That being said I am a romantic, and I still liked the buildup of them getting to know each other. I won’t spoil it but I loved loved learning his real name and the magic she felt with it.

I am aware that this book draws quite a bit from Eastern European folklore of which I’m not too familiar with (except vampires) so I don’t feel a great authority to speak on that. I’d also be interested to learn more about the language used for the magic spells!

Dragon and Agnieszka spend a good chunk of the story apart, rendering it not really/completely about them, as the sorely lacking synopsis alludes to. (Seriously that synopsis is bad). There was also a lot of uninteresting court politics in this book. It was very long and had a few different pieces to it, I think this whole world and story could have been told in more than one book (and I am not usually the person to say this).

I did like the ending, even if it did feel a little abrupt. The best part of it for me was what Agnieszka was doing, that felt real to her character. It wasn’t all about the love story and she didn’t just blindly follow Dragon, she did what she knew was true to her. I liked that.

With all that said I don’t think this is exactly my type of fairy tale retelling, there was a good amount of pieces I didn’t really enjoy. But the story is there and quite detailed, so still 3 stars for me.

Review “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic” by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Emily Croy Barker

Pub: Aug 2013, Pamela Dorman/Penguin

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Rating 3.5/5

“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.” -Goodreads.com

I had a lot of trouble rating this book, due to various reasons. I picked this up at a random trip to Barnes & Noble; it hadn’t been on my reading list but it sounded interesting and the fact that Deborah Harkness’ review was on the front definitely hooked me. (I always questioned whether those worked and apparently they do). If this was to be anything like All Souls Trilogy I knew that I’d love it. I also liked the quote on the back of my edition that said: “If Hermione Granger had been an American who never received an invitation to Hogwarts, this might have been her story.” (People).

I will say that the title is absolutely horrible, I don’t know how that got past editing. I continuously forgot it when I tried to talk about it with other people: “The Practical Woman’s Guide to Magic? No that’s not right. The Smart Woman’s Guide to Practical Magic? No that’s not right either.” was my constant inner dialogue until I took out my phone and looked it up.  Short and sweet is always better. I was also surprised that a lot of this book didn’t get cut out of editing (although I’m sure it did, but more on that later). It’s rare to see a dense ~550 page book with lots of details and information that aren’t completely pertinent cut out. I didn’t mind too much though. Her prose was dense but accessible, well-done and beautifully detailed. World-building prowess? Hell yes.  If you’re looking for lots of action and plot, this isn’t it. The beauty is in the details and slow buildup.

The characters are great. Mostly Aruendiel (how do you pronounce that correctly anyway?). He was crotchety and grumpy but pretty funny. Barker is great at capturing little nuances. I will say that I was very disappointed in the ending. I was only slightly placated by the promise of a sequel and also a book three, which you can find more about here. I had to look this up immediately, thinking it just can’t end here. I get pretty annoyed when author’s set up a book for a sequel and leave things unresolved. Pro tip: if your writing is good enough I WILL come back for more, no need for tricks. She does say in that article that it was originally 1,000 pages long and her agent told her to save it for a sequel. I get it, but it could have ended in a better place to appease fans. People seem pretty angry about it on Goodreads. As a writer myself, I don’t feel the need for quite that level of hostility, but on some level I get it.

There were so many what ifs, unanswered questions and plot lines in this book. It’s akin to real life but not completely entertaining for fiction. Maybe I just needed a little bit more to happen or a little bit more from Nora. With that said I am still looking forward to the sequel. This book was long and took a bit to get through but I enjoyed it and it never felt exhausting to me. I give props to the author for still making it exciting and for her world-building. Like Deborah Harkness, she comes from the world of academia and it shows.
Any thoughts?

PS: This Goodreads summary is really quite the spoiler about a passage home opening. Not pleased about that.

Review “Marked” by P.C. Cast

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Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Pub: May 2007, St. Martin’s Griffin

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

“The House of Night series is set in a world very much like our own, except in 16-year-old Zoey Redbird’s world, vampyres have always existed. In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire–that is, if she makes it through the Change. Not all of those who are chosen do. It’s tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends, and on top of that, Zoey finds she is no average fledgling. She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx. But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers. When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school’s most elite club, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny–with a little help from her new vampyre friends.” Summary from Amazon

(I apologize for reviewing something that is old news, and if you’re here to see new releases only, no fear because I have been approved to read and review Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford, which I’m really excited about. I think it’s gonna be one of the year’s big releases so stay tuned for that.)

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I was having kind of a glum day last week so I picked up some vampire YA novels at Barnes and Noble. Because if that doesn’t make you feel better, what does? I guess I wasn’t expecting too much going into this but I really liked it. Here’s why:

This book is written by a mother/teen daughter combo and it really shows in the voice. She claimed that her daughter really helped her nail that teenage psyche and she’s spot on. I loved the fun inner-monologues that are super cheeky. It just makes for a light-hearted, entertaining read. I was also drawn to Zoey’s relationship with Nefert (the High Priestess and headmistress of House of Night). The setup is great and almost reminds me of how I felt with Harry and Dumbledore. NO it is not Harry Potter, but my point is that Neferet has this way of always being there when you need her and always understanding, and of course being eternally wise. (Not to mention Zoey debates on just how much she should tell her and just how much she knows). The second book is called Betrayal and I’m really hoping it’s not Nefert that betrays her because there is a great setup for a blossoming mentor-student relationship. I can’t wait to see how that plays out.

Lastly, and not everyone is going to agree with this, P.C. Cast makes astute observations on what can be the ignorance and hatred that appears sometimes in religious groups. Zoey has a “step-loser” that is an elder of “The People of Faith”. He is religious and full of hate towards the vampyre people, and yet, as Zoey mentions, The People of Faith still buy all of the creative products (movies, CDs) that the vampyres produce…then completely disregard them as people. They are hypocritical, non-accepting and judgmental, to say the least. P.C Cast does well to call this out. There’s a great quote (that’s actually at the beginning of the second book but shh don’t tell), that exemplifies this:

“Thus says a man who admits to worshiping a God who vilifies pleasure, relegates women to roles that are little more than servants and broodmares, though they are the backbone of your church, and seeks to control his worshipers through guilt and fear…Have a care for how you judge others; perhaps you should look to cleaning your own house, first.”

YES YES and more yes. Not only do I love this, but the vampyre legends of strong Amazonian women and a Matriarchal, instead of Patriarchal society is so great. We’re talking about a goddess and her high priestess, not the other way around. This is a breath of fresh air. This book still remains deeply spiritual and I loved the interplay of the elements and of Zoey’s adorable and loving grandma. (Yay for the Cherokee history and culture included!) Now, I haven’t read the other vampire boarding school books but this one seems really original and I’m excited to continue on in the series. (The book I picked up included the first two!)

Any thoughts? Happy reading!

Review of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

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Rating 5/5 Stars

A Discovery of Witches Deborah Harkness

Feb 2011 Viking Penguin

“Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.” –Goodreads

Guys. Guys. This book. Holy shit. I don’t think I have been this obsessed or enamored by a book in years. As a disclaimer (and the reason why I have not been present for some time) is because I’m writing a book, and there are vampires and other supernatural creatures in it so I have been immersing myself in the literature and pop culture, as well as myths and legends. This book has been on my to-read list for a while and I thought it was finally time.

I’d only gotten about 70 pages in, or less, when I decided that I was absolutely in love with it and I ordered the second. I loved it so much that I tried to pace myself and read it slower so that I could savor it, much like the last season of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It’s one of those books that reminds you of why you love reading in the first place.

But why did I like it so much? I have been a huge vampire fan since I read Carmilla in a literature class, so I’m predisposed, but I will tell you why you will like it, even if you don’t like fantasy. Deborah Harkness is a historian/scholar who has won fellowships such as the Fullbright, and it shows. Her writing simultaneously makes me want to strive to be a better writer and makes me feel slightly inferior. This reads like a grown-up fairytale: it’s full of credible history, forbidden love, alchemy, and supernatural creatures. I think Harkness saw this supernatural genre and thought: ‘OK now who is going to write something great for adults?’ I saw it described as historical-fantasy which is perfect.

Something I constantly complain about in this blog is weak characters. To me, characters should always come before plot. Without strong, developed characters nobody would care about the plot. Her characters are so vivid and alive (or undead), they have woven histories and depth and they leap off the page. Also the vivid Oxford setting was amazing, and really made me want to travel there.

Possible the only negative thing I could say about this book, although it wasn’t really a negative for me but may be for the author’s intentions, was that I found myself not really that interested in Ashmole 782, the primary mystery of the book. Maybe towards the way end, but other than that I really just loved following Diana and Matthew.  I found myself skimming through some of the more historical and scientific parts, but it is certainly clear that Harkness did her research. She proved (and you’ll get this when you read it) that this genre is not full of sex. If anything I would have liked a little more. 🙂

Something I thought was beautiful, and I can’t say much without giving it away, but Harkness weaves in a story from Diana’s childhood that caught my breath when I read it. These are the moments in a book where I think, damn, if only I could write like that. The careful planning and outlining is evident.

This is certainly not a story that relies on plot and a linear progression from point A to B, it’s like the characters in the book: woven in a mysterious web of past and present, history, romance and fate. This is probably my most informal review I’ve ever written. But, I can’t help myself. I feel like a giddy teenager falling in love with reading all over again. This book is truly magical and I’ve already started the second. I know I will be sad when it comes to an end, but who knows, this seems like great movie material! I’m delighted to have my first five star book on here. I rarely give 5 stars because to me, that is perfection, and how often do we really read a book like that? I could count them on my hands. But this book is perfection. I can almost guarantee you will love it and if not, you will appreciate it for what it is: a work of art.

 

Any thoughts?

Review of “Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

Harper Collins

YA, ages 13 and up

“A thrilling new fantasy trilogy for fans of DIVERGENT and THE HUNGER GAMES.
The poverty-stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.
To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.
Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.
But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?”

-Summary from Goodreads.com

First things first, the box this ARC came in was super cool. Very dramatic. I was really excited to get it. The cover art is amazing, very simple but powerful. If I had to sum this book up in few words I would say that it’s Hunger Games in a royal court setting. It reminded me of Hunger Games in that it’s a futuristic regime where fights to the death are broadcast as a show of power and strength to the poor and weak (the red-blooded people). There was also a capital that showed disgusting displays of wealth while people in other villages had to fight for survival and food.

Some of the themes included the brutality of mankind and the idea that “anyone can betray anyone” which was a mantra often repeated in the book.  Here are some quotes I enjoyed that portray this theme nicely:

“They’ve spent so long at the top, protected and isolated, that they’ve forgotten they can fall. Their strength has become their weakness.”

It’s our nature, Julian would say. We destroy. It’s the constant of our kind. No matter the color of blood, man will always fall.”

There were some things I didn’t like, and you can probably guess what I’m going to say here. I wasn’t super attached to the characters. I know I always say this but I’m a stickler for a well-developed character. They weren’t bad. But they weren’t great either. A little bit flat. The book was also kind of predictable. The mantra about betrayal became so frequent that we knew someone was going to betray somebody. No surprise there. (But I won’t tell what or who!) I was also going to say that it ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger so there was a setup for a sequel…but as you’ll see above it’s going to be a trilogy! I’m not a big fan of these types of books but I can see how they make great profits. I can easily see this book becoming a movie series.

A positive aspect was that the story did not lag or drag, it was certainly fast-paced. I even think it could have slowed down in parts to allow for less plot development and more character development. Some parts felt rushed but I think I prefer it to a book that I have to keep putting down.

Overall it was a quick read and definitely fits into the popular end-of-the-world dystopian YA genre. I thought the whole idea of blood types and the fantastical aspect with the super abilities was creative. It inspired me to write, which is always a good thing 🙂 If you enjoy books like this, then definitely pick it up. If you’re not a big fan of the genre there isn’t anything super new in it, so you may want to skip it.

Any thoughts?

Can Harry Potter Change the World?

I recently read a really interesting study about how children that read Harry Potter tended to be more caring and make better decisions based off of ethics. They showed more tolerance and empathy. Here’s the link: Can Harry Potter Change the World? I know when I have children Harry Potter will be required reading 🙂

“But Vezzali’s work supports earlier research suggesting that reading novels as a child — implying literary engagement with life’s social, cultural and psychological complexities — can have a positive impact on personality development and social skills.”