Patricia C. Wrede – Dealing With Dragons

I believe that there are too many great books coming out this year. Which is why I finally did what I’ve been meaning to do for ages. I picked up an older book that is somewhat of a classic of fantasy literature. At least that’s my impression. My first Patricia C. Wrede read was much more charming than expected and I look forward to returning to the Enchanted Forest soon.

dealing-with-dragonsDEALING WITH DRAGONS
by Patricia C. Wrede

Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers, 1990
Ebook: 212 pages
Series: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable.

Meet Princess Cimorene–a princess who refustes to be proper. She is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomobyish smart… And bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon. And not just any dragon, but Kazul–one of the most powerful and dangerous dragons arounds. Of course, Cimorene has a way of hooking up with dangerous characters, and soon she’s coping with a witch,a a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird, a stone prince, and some very oily wizards. If this princess ran away to find some excitement, it looks like she’s found plenty!

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Cimorene is a terrible princess, mostly because she is no good at princessing. She wants to do magic and fight and learn boy-stuff, not embroidery and dancing. As much as I hate the initial message of this book (everything girly is bad and boring), Cimorene makes up for all of it later on. She runs away, promptly meets some dragons and becomes the princess to the dragon Kazul. Because you see, much as it is tradition (and a form of establishing status) for princes to rescue maidens from dragons, having your own princess is a status symbol for a dragon.

Except most princesses want to be rescued and Cimorene will not have it. In fact, she has a rather hard time keeping away all the knights and princes trying to “save” her from the clutches of Kazul, who is much more a friend than an evil mistress. Cimorene likes cleaning up the dragon caves, organising the library, and sorting through the treasure cave. But dragons have politics of their own and not all is as peaceful as it seems.

The plot itself is quite cute, although very obvious to an adult reader. But despite seeing where the story was going from miles away, I enjoyed reading about Cimorene immensely. The villains may be obvious, but not always – prince Therandil, for example, may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but he is sympathetic enough. I really liked how things aren’t totally black and white, as in most books for children. I also liked the side characters, because they had their own flaws and personalities.

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Cimorene is just a cool heroine to root for. She is practical and brave, knows what she wants and is quick to make friends. But she’s also far from naive, and sometimes has to use all her cleverness to escape dangerous situations. Wizards and jinn are not to be trifled with, after all, and just because you may live with a dragon doesn’t mean their fire can’t hurt you. But my favorite part was probably the little remarks about fairy tale tropes. Like how it’s tradition to invite a fairy to a princess’ christening, or how it always has to be the youngest son who does important stuff. There are even little asides about princesses who did just what they were supposed to do – fall asleep for a really long time until a prince kissed them awake, spin straw into gold, and so on. These fairy tales are treated as the norm in this world, which gave this an added layer of fun and originality, because Cimorene so decidedly refuses to be put into that princess mold.

This was a delightful read, in every sense. The language was simple, but made it hard to put the book down at any point. The characters were lovely, the plot was nice, and the overall message – find what you enjoy and make that your job, pick your own family (and make it one who loves you for who you are) – is one I can wholeheartedly agree with. It rankled how distasteful Cimorene found her “girly” lessons at the beginning but even she has to admit, in the course of her adventure, that some of it came in quite handy.

I already look forward to the sequels because I have a feeling this series is a great comfort read, something to get you out of a reading slump, something to always leave you smiling. I also look forward to Cimorene growing up some more and finding her place in the world.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good!

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Top Ten Tuesday – My Fall TBR List

As I’m home sick and need some distraction anyway, I thought I’d do a Top Ten Tuesday again. The Broke and the Bookish have come up with another great topic that will hopefully help me organise my reading a litte. As much as I love making lists, I rarely adhere to them and just end up reading whatever falls into my hands.

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My Fall TBR list

this-savage-song1.Victoria Schwab – This Savage Song

Schwab disappointed me a bit with her sequel A Gathering of Shadows but I am still convinced that she’s got an awesome brain and comes up with great stories and characters. So I want to see what her latest novel – also the first in a series – is all about.

I know it’s about humans and monsters (and how they are not always what they seem) and music, and all of those sound pretty good. Plus, the title is brilliant.

bone swans2. C.S.E. Cooney – Bone Swans

I was so incredibly excited when I heard this was coming out and then I immediately got it and then… it’s been kind of sitting on my shelf. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to read it, wanting to really savor it. Cooney is still new to me but I have a suspicion that she might become a new favorite author. Everything I’ve heard about her and this collection is so up my alley that I will be majorly disappointed if I don’t fall in love with it hard.

haunting of hill house3. Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House

I said last year I wouldn’t wait around for another Halloween before I read my next Shirley Jackson book, but as new books came out, I ended up doing just that. The disctractions were too great, you guys. I don’t care, I’m going to read this creepy thing in October because I am still haunted by We Have Always Lived in the Castle and need more Shirley Jackson in my life.

shakespeares-star-wars-trilogy4. Ian Doescher – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Until this post goes up I may well have finished the trilogy already, but in case there’s still some returning Jedi left over, this goes on my Fall TBR. I mainly like these books for the illustrations and the little nods to Shakespeare. They are quick reads, they make me giggle at the Shakespearean version of famous Star Wars quotes and they are a fun way to revisit the Star Wars trilogy (I will most likely skip the prequels because why would I put myself into the pain of revisiting those stories without the one thing that made it bearable – the visual effects?).

bird-and-the-sword5. Amy Harmon – The Bird and the Sword

I stumbled across this book by accident but it sounds super-intriguing. The cover is mysterious, the synopsis makes me expect all sorts of mysteries, and magic, and myth. It might be totally not my taste but, hell, until I’ll try I won’t know, right?

Swallow, daughter, pull them in, those words that sit upon your lips. Lock them deep inside your soul, hide them ‘til they’ve time to grow. Close your mouth upon the power, curse not, cure not, ‘til the hour. You won’t speak and you won’t tell, you won’t call on heaven or hell. You will learn and you will thrive. Silence, daughter. Stay alive.

siege-and-storm6. Leigh Bardugo – Siege and Storm

I actually really, really want to read Six of Crows but because I’m weird and organised in my reading life (if nowhere else), I started the Grisha Trilogy first and intend to finish it before reading Bardugo’s other series. So Siege and Storm is up next and I have high hopes for it. While Shadow and Bone drifted off a little too much into YA-trope-land, I believe there is serious potential here and I quite liked the writing style. So let’s do this and do it quickly, then I can finally get into Six of Crows.

bands-of-mourning7. Brandon Sanderson – The Bands of Mourning

I am waiting for the Graphic Audio adaptations to come out (part one September 28th, part two October 26th) although I’ve had the physical book here since it came out. As my experience with Graphic Audio Sandersons go, I will probably eat this up in one weekend and it will probably be the first weekend after the entire audiobook is published. After that, I can start listening to the first part(s) of Words of Radiance as well, so the rest of 2016 looks very promising.

bryony-and-roses8. T. Kingfisher – Bryony and Roses

I am utterly in love with T. Kingfisher’s writing and the way she turns fairy tales into something new. Her collection Toad Words was lovely, and her novel The Seventh Bride both terrified and delighted me. I need more of that. Plus, the books are usually not very big (that’s a plus because I’ve started a few large series lately and feel quite intimidated by the page count).

three-dark-crowns9. Kendare Blake – Three Dark Crowns

I don’t own this book yet (as of writing this post) and I am on the fence about everything. But throw a cool book trailer at me, a gorgeous cover, and some buzz words in the description and I’m willing to try. So far, this sounds like Royal Hunger Games with magic – and that’s a pretty cool idea.

I know about Blake’s other series (Anna Dressed in Blood and the sequel) but I haven’t read it – don’t think I will either. The problem with these over-hyped books is that lots of people may end up liking them (see Sarah J. Maas) but I just can’t take the clichés and tropes anymore. I’m hoping for the best.

10. EVERYTHING ELSE by EVERYONE

I have SO MANY books on my TBR and I want to read at least half of them right this very moment. I can’t possibly pick only one for my last book, so I’m making a list within a list. That’s allowed, right?

  1. Carolyn Turgeon – Godmother
  2. Foz Meadows – An Accident of Stars
  3. Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Signal to Noise
  4. N. K. Jemisin – The Obelisk Gate (OMG, I forgot this one, I’m totally reading this, no matter what, this should be number 1!!!)
  5. Laure Eve – The Graces
  6. Indra Das – The Devourers
  7. Sarah J. Maas – A Court of Mist and Fury (started it already but it’s painfully bad, so I’ll read this if I’m in the mood for a ranty review…)
  8. Karin Tidbeck – Jagannath
  9. Nicole Kornher-Stace – Archivist Wasp
  10. Roshani Chokshi – The Star-Touched Queen

 

 

 

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Ian Doescher – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

I resisted this a long time, suspecting it may be just as cheap a rip-off as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was (never managed to finish that book…), but a friend convinced me that this is not merely a script of the movies made to rhyme but actually a bit more clever than that. While I don’t think this is a masterpiece of literature, it was truly fun to read and it’s a beautiful physical book to have on my shelf.

verily-a-new-hope

William Shakespeare’s STAR WARS:
VERILY, A NEW HOPE
by Ian Doescher

Published by:
Hardback: 174 pages
Series: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars #4
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It is a period of civil war.

MAY THE VERSE BE WITH YOU!
Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ‘Tis a tale told by fretful Droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying… pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

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I am really glad I bought this book. It came in a lovely slipcase including the other two books in the trilogy (they may be numbered 4 through 6 but who’s the publisher kidding?) and it looks fantastic on my shelf. Apart from the obvious good looks of this book, the content offered some interesting surprises as well.

The story is the one we all know and love. Princess Leia hiding the secret Death Star plans in R2-D2, who is trying to get them to Obi-Wan. Luke Skywalker picks up R2 and C-3PO and gets dragged into this big adventure involving a dark-clad man with a breathing problem, furry co-pilots and a damn sexy Han Solo. There is nothing new here, story wise, so don’t expect any extra scenes or background goodies – although there was a quite funny comment about who shot first (Han did! It’s always been Han!).

So what makes this book worthy of your time is mostly the fun of discovering famous quotes Shakespeare-ified. Whether it’s “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” or Han’s nicknames for Leia, seeing them in wrapped in iambic pentameter actually made me giggle. However, it was Luke that got to me in this book more than he ever did in the movies. I was genuinely surprised by how well his yearning for adventure came through. In the movie, I always thought of Luke as somewhat of a brat, you know, a whiny teenager who wants to leave home to lead his own life, never mind family responsibilities. But in Doescher’s version, Luke’s speeches actually touched me and conveyed in how much pain he is because he’s stuck on Tatooine (which, okay, I get it, it’s a pretty shitty planet).

There are also a few little gimmicks that made the book worthwhile. R2 may still speak droid (“bleep” and so on) but there are a few asides to us, the audience, in English. It’s nothing you didn’t already expect R2 to think but it’s nice to have the little guy actually get to talk in our language for once and voice his annoyance at his companion droid. Chewie is still Chewie and all we get from him is his famous growing/howling noise.

Even if this book weren’t as entertaining as it ended up being, I would have been happy about it just for the illustrations. Like the cover design, they show the characters in immediately recognisable shape, except wearing old-timey garb. Vader especially cracked me up, dressed in his suit (complete with breathing apparatus) plus super fabulous fur coat and puffy sleeves. Seriously, just look at this:

There are many more fantastic illustrations, some of which made me laugh (the Cantina band), others which were more of a nod to Shakespeare than Star Wars (Luke holding a Stormtrooper helmet much like Hamlet’s Yorick skull), and others still that I’m not spoiling for you. Let’s just say, Jabba makes an appearance in all his Shakespearean glory.

The one thing – and this was to be expected – that simply can’t be done properly in this medium, is the space battles. Whenever description is needed, the choir enters to set the stage for us. In the case of the final battle at the Death Star, the author even acknowledges that it’s impossible to reproduce this scene on a stage (or in a written play), so we just have to put a bit more effort into our readerly imagination. That’s totally okay and there was no way it could have been done differently, but of course it also made that last battle feel much less epic. When all you have to go on is the rebel’s comm messages, some randomly shouting “I’m hit” and others coming to their companions’ rescue, that’s just not very exciting if you don’t see the fight. But it was the only real shortcoming of this version of Star Wars, for which I will gladly forgive the author.

I’m sure a lot of work went into these books and they’re not just the money-grabbing merchandise that they first appear to be. There’s not much to discover here that’s new but if you like Star Wars, you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of this. I quite liked it.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Pretty good

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Okay, I can’t resist. Have another picture:

verily-a-new-hope-illustrations

 

 

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Leigh Bardugo – Shadow and Bone

I have resisted for a long time, guys. But you see, the covers and reviews for Leigh Bardugo’s new trilogy – the one with the crow and city silhouette on the cover, are so amazing that I thought I’d try them. Then I heard that they are set in the same world as the Grisha trilogy and, being obsessed with order when it comes to books (if not anything else in life), I had to start at the very beginning. And here I am, neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed. As Bianca said in 10 Things I hate about you: “Can you be just whelmed?”

shadow and bone.jpgSHADOW AND BONE
by Leigh Bardugo

Published by: Henry Holt and Co., 2012
Ebook: 368 pages
Series: The Grisha #1
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

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The reason I stayed away from this trilogy so long, despite the heavy praise from all over the internet, the (amazing!) fanart, and the thrill of reading a fantasy set in an alternate Russia, well… the reason is I expected it to be another idiotic romance with a love triangle, an oh-so-special and unique girl protagonist, and very little substance. And the thing is, this is a little bit of what I got. But not all.

Alina Starkov and her best friend Mal grow up in an orphanage – their childhood is wrapped up in a short prologue but that prologue was so well written that the bond between these two was immediately believable. The atmosphere, the Fantasy-Russia, the world are all set up just enough to get us by in that prologue. So I threw all my prejudices away and was positively surprised.

Cut to years later, when both Alina and Mal are in the army, Mal as a tracker, Alina as a cartographer. The second brownie point was collected by giving both characters interesting jobs and not making Alina a super fighter, as so many YA romances are trying to do. I don’t want a heroine who can (already) do everything, who is beautiful and skinny, but also secretly strong and a ninja. And probably a witch as well. No, Alina actually doesn’t fit in very well, unlike Mal. He is a natural and constantly surrounded by friends and girls swooning over him. Alina is on the sidelines. Until the Darkling arrives.

The Darkling was both an intriguing and ridiculous figure. First of all, he doesn’t seem to have a name as everyone calls him by his title – the Darkling. With a name/title like that, it doesn’t take much imagination to see him as a potential bad guy. He is the most powerful of the Grisha, the country’s magical army. And, as it turns out, Alina is a Grisha too. The middle part of the book is your average, and sadly unoriginal, girl learning her new powers and getting a makeover scene. Seriously, you’ve all seen it before. Alina comes to the palace, is suddenly treated like the special snowflake she turned out to be, gets pretty dresses and make-up, and flirts heavily with the darkly brooding, mysterious and gorgeous dude that everybody wants. I was both groaning at the familiarity of it all and at the same time delighted because the writing was actually good. So, Leigh Bardugo may have written the exact same story that we know from endless other YA books, but she wrote it well.

Alina herself starts as a great character but then she turns into a passive girl who’s just there to be pretty and special. She rarely does things because she wants to but is mostly passed around and told what to do. This does get better at the end but it doesn’t excuse her blindly trusting a man called Darkling or the first person who is kind of nice to her. My take on this is that it was meant to be her story arc – to turn from the passive, naive, lonely girl into a stronger woman with agency. I hope I’m not wrong.

My favorite parts suffered in favor of the sort-of love triangle. It is not as infuriating as most love triangle and it’s resolved pretty quickly – a refreshing change. But what really interested me was the world building, the way magic is used, the legends and myths of this place. The book has a great map at the beginning, showing the Fold, a sort of ocean rift in the country, full of terrible creatures. I want to know EVERYTHING about this! We do get glimpses and hints here and there and my guess is that Bardugo is saving the rest for the later books, so I’ll forgive her for telling me so little about it. But seriously, guys, check out this map. I totally love it.

shadow and bone map

The other interesting aspects are the magic, as I said, and social norms. Most things I just kept assuming, but I’d really like to know officially how this world works, more about the war that left Alina and Mal orphaned, more about the world at large. If it hadn’t been for training sessions and beauty regimens, there would have been time for that, but I get the feeling more and more that YA authors write books to become movies. Visually, there is a lot going on here and I think – with all the beautiful characters and the stunning imagery – this would actually make a good movie.

Plot-wise, the make-over bit is followed by an obvious plot twist (seriously, how could anyone not see this coming), and then things get better again. Alina and Mal’s friendship, although the two are separated for large parts of the novel, was definitely a strong point of the book. The romance wasn’t all that romantic, but if I can choose between embarassingly flowery love scenes (looking at you, Sarah J. Maas) or this understated love-from-friendship, I’ll take the latter any day.

The ending was both satisfying and frustrating – can you see a pattern here, do you understand why this book left me “whelmed”? I really liked the way the story ended, except it didn’t really end. I sort trilogies into two rough categories. The ones where each book tells its own story, but the trilogy tells a larger story. And the ones where a trilogy is just one story, chopped up into three physical books. The Grisha trilogy seems to be one large story where each novel is just a chapter. I am okay with this because not only has the trilogy been completed, Shadow and Bone also ends in a way that makes me want to pick up the next instalment. There’s no evil cliffhanger but things are far from resolved. So, fine, I’ll go along with it and hope the next book leaves out the high school-like court drama.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Good-ish

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T. Kingfisher – The Seventh Bride

T. Kingfisher is Ursula Vernon’s pen-name. I first discovered Ursula Vernon through her graphic novel Digger (which I still haven’t managed to buy anywhere but want so much!!!), then I read her absolutely charming short story “Toad Words” and knew I had to try all her fairy tale stuff. I was not disappointed. I believe, T. Kingfisher will become a new author on my auto-buy list.

seventh bride

THE SEVENTH BRIDE
by T. Kingfisher

Published by: Red Wombat Tea Company, 2014
Ebook: 183 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Her name was Rhea.

Rhea is an ordinary miller’s daughter, engaged to be married under suspicious circumstances to a man not of her choosing. He has unknown powers and a manor house full of mysterious women.
Rhea has a hedgehog. It claims to be ordinary, but normal hedgehogs don’t act like that.
It’s probably not going to be enough.

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Give me a good Bluebeard retelling any day and I’ll be a happy camper. But take Bluebeard and twist it into something new and even more horrible, and I’ll be your fan forever. T. Kingfisher tells the story of Rhea, a 15-year-old miller’s daughter, who enjoys her quiet life, helping in the mill, battling that evil swan that tries to steal her food, and living with her family. Until one day, she is told that she is engaged to Lord Crevan, a powerful rich man to whom the miller family can’t really say no.

I immediately loved the voice of this story and Rhea as a character. The voice is charming, almost like a friend telling you about something that happened to them, and Rhea is wonderfully practical in her ways, unlike so many other heroines, especially ones in fairy tales.

She hadn’t expected to love her husband. That sort of thing almost never happened outside of ballads anyway, and it didn’t really bother her. You married well and you were polite to each other, and if you were lucky, you became relatively good friends because after all, you were both stuck in this together. That was all she’d ever hoped for.

Being a good person and a good daughter, she is still not happy about this marriage but she’ll go through with it. Up until this part, the story reads like a light-hearted fairy tale, one that could easily be enjoyed by kids. But the moment Rhea sets out to visit Lord Crevan’s mansion, that’s when the darkness begins.

I’d go so far as to call this a horror novel because the things Rhea encounters are straight out of nightmares. Some are actual monsters, other things are terrifying for different reasons. However, Rhea goes to Crevan’s mansion and encounters – surprise! – some of his other wives. Her practicality shines through again when she is shocked that a man dares to take more than one wife at the same time. She also quickly finds out that all of the previous wives have lost something to Lord Crevan. Sylvie is blind, Ingath’s throat looks like it was torn out by a wild animal, and Maria the cook… well, it’s not quite clear what Crevan took from her but she is definitely afraid of him.

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What follows is Rhea being Rhea. She tries to figure this whole thing out and is helped by a friendly and possibly magical hedgehog she picked up on the way. As animal companions go, this must be one of my favorites! I’d say they should make a Disney movie of this but they wouldn’t dare – because this is a seriously creepy book. Lord Crevan gives Rhea certain tasks to do to get out of the marriage. This is where that fairy tale feeling comes back.

Rhea is definitely my hero. Not only do I love how… normal she seems, but also that, when faced with horrible situations, she is actually scared to death. She isn’t some superhero who doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. When she meets a mosnter, she half pees her pants and wonders if she’s gone mad. Then she takes a breath and makes a plan on how not to die right now. It’s terrifying and beautiful at the same time.

Another thing I adored about this not too faithful retelling was that the side characters are fully fleshed out, and the ones that aren’t (because they stay on the sidelines) remain mysterious on purpose. Rhea isn’t on an adventure by herself, she has other women helping her the best they can. In the end, they all have to work together to defeat that monstrous man who has harmed them all in different ways.

Ursula Vernon has a knack for showing different sides of well-known fairy tales – she has proven that in Toad Words. But she is also great at taking a well-known tale and making it her own. I have always preferred retellings that don’t stick too closely to the original. This way, there are new things to discover, new riddles to solve, different ways to defeat evil. The blend of utterly charming voice and terrifying plot also worked surprisingly well. I’m definitely going to read all the other fairy tale retellings by this author.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

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Fairy tale retellings by T. Kingfisher:

  • Toad Words and Other Stories
  • The Seventh Bride (Bluebeard)
  • Bryony and Roses (Beauty and the Beast)
  • The Raven and the Reindeer (The Snow Queen)

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Brandon Sanderson – Shadows of Self

Aaaaand Mistborn continues to be great, although there is a clear departure from the light-hearted The Alloy of Law to this new story arc. While Alloy was just a bit of fun and can technically be read without any prior knowledge of the other Mistborn books, Shadows of Self is set deeply in the world that we first came to know through Vin’s eyes. The tone also shifts and is more serious again as Sanderson delivers one of his most heartbreaking twists yet.

shadows of selfSHADOWS OF SELF
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2015
Ebook: 384 pages
Series: Mistborn #5
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Waxillium Ladrian, lawman for hire, swung off his horse and turned to face the saloon.

With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.
The trilogy’s heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are “twinborn,” meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.
Shadows of Self shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.
This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.
Shadows of Self will give fans of The Alloy of Law everything they’ve been hoping for and, this being a Brandon Sanderson book, more, much more.

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Wax and Wayne are irrisistible (especially Wayne). And they’ve got another case on their hands, but this time, they don’t work nearly as alone as they did last time. Marasi has become a constable and helps them wherever she can, although her personal relationship with Wax seems strained, compared to their easy banter from the first book. Which is only natural, considering that Wax is coming more and more to terms with marrying Steris, Marasi’s cousin.

One surprise of this new series was that characters turn out not to be as one-dimensional as they seem at first. Steris in particular turned out to be more than what she likes to show in public. But in Shadows of Self, Wayne also gets to show a side of him that doesn’t fit with his cocky, fun, light-hearted side. It made him an even better character to know that – like anyone else – he has darkness in his past and he can’t just shake it off.

But the most tortured soul in Shadows of Self is definitely Wax. His past confronts him in several ways, but especially the loss of his wife in the Roughs haunts him with every move he makes. It was also Wax who was hit hardest by the ending. I cried big tears for him, that’s all I’m saying. And I am very curious to see how these new developments impact his character development in the rest of the series.

Plot-wise, this was a bit of a mess. Sanderson tries to juggle many, many plot-strings at once. There is the one started in The Alloy of Law with Wax’s uncle conspiring for his own ends, there are the terrorist attacks that Wax, Wayne, and Marasi are trying to figure out, the kandra make a new appearance and wrap up a whole of lot of history since last we saw them. There are labor strikes and unrests, there are politics and police procedures, several religions trying to gain the upper hand… you see what I mean when I say it was a bit too much for one book, especially one comparatively short for Sanderson. I commend him for making the best of every scene, getting out the most of each line, having his text do world-building as well as advancing the plot at the same time. But as a reader, it still felt a bit overwhelming, not knowing which aspect to concentrate on.

I think that piece of legwork was simply needed to give the next book in the series room to breathe. A lot of things have been established here that can be used later without re-explaining them. I appreciated that – despite the abundance of themes – there was still time for character growth and development. The introduction of MeLaan promises a lot of fun for future books, and meeting old (very old!) friends again gave me some readerly joy, even if it was bittersweet.

Although things are resolved at the end of Shadows of Self, this was one of the most devastating endings Sanderson has ever written (at least of the ones I’ve read). It’s a perfect balance between telling a story with a satisfying ending but leaving enough questions open for the next book. He’s always been good at that but this time, it’s the emotional plot strings that are left frayed and I worry for Wax as a person more than for the larger world and its fate. Well… I guess there’s no way around it – I’ll just have to pick up the next book and find out what else lies in store.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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If you haven’t read the the Mistborn Series at all, here are my thoughts on the other books.

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Bout of Books 17 – Updates

It’s time for another bout of books. I actually did really well last week with catching up on some books (reviews are coming), but hey, Bout of Books is always a fun challenge. Plus, 2016 has been a very good year with lots of interesting titles coming out and I haven’t even read half the new publications I wanted to.

Bout of Books

As I mentioned in my sign-up post, I will be doing things differently this time. Instead of daily updates I will simply update whenever I have time or something to say.  I’m curious to see how that goes but I think it will take some pressure off and give me more time to concentrate on the books. Speaking of books: I said I’d probably read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo but I kind of finished that book yesterday. Here’s some books I might be reading this week:


Number of books read: 1
Challenges done:

Books read:

  • Marissa Meyer – Stars Above

Here is the general update area where I will post my thoughts on current reads, challenges, the Twitter chat and anything else to do with Bout of Books. This post will remain a sticky until Bout of Book is over.

Monday

I’m reading Marissa Meyer’s Stars Above and while it’s nothing groundbreaking, this is just a nice world to flee into when reality is too depressing. I am halfway done with this book, but I admit I skipped the stories that I had previously read – some of them were available for free online or in Meyer’s newsletter. If anyone’s interested, I talked about them here.

Tuesday

I was just tired. All day, whenever you asked me, I could have fallen asleep on the spot. So I almost finished Stars Above but there’s still a few pages left. However, I also started another book – An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. So far, it was pretty good – a harsh and cruel beginning to what I hope will turn out to be a great story.

Wednesday

I’m really liking An Ember in the Ashes. Maybe since the Hunger Games, YA authors dare to write about darker stuff. The beginning was pretty grimdark. Stars Above continues to be fun and fluffy, just how I expected. A wedding is about to happen and the characters all behave pretty much exactly as they should. If I manage to finish this book today (and as I’m not as tired as yesterday I’m pretty sure I will) then I have to pick a new book. Aaaaaah, exciting!

Friday

I’m so excited!! Okay, first the book stuff. I finished Stars Above and, surprisingly, my favorite new story was the one about young Scarlet and her grandmother. That one actually got to me emotionally. The wedding story (not telling whose wedding) made me giggle, but overall it wasn’t very good. Kind of exactly what I expected and I would have preferred to be surprised. But oh well, it was fun. An Ember in the Ashes is still pretty good, although I didn’t read very much yesterday or today.

In non-bookish info (or only slightly book-related, at least), I got my very first subscription boxes this week. If I have time to take nice pictures, I may write a post or two about them, but in general, I love the idea of surprise boxes. I got The Bookish Box by Appraising pages and Nerdy Bookworm Box – both were filled with excellen things. A T-shirt, a Peter Pan necklace which I adore (it’s a thimble and an acorn that represent the “kisses” Peter Pan and Wendy give each other), a mug, wax melts that smell wonderfully like the outdoors, a Hunger Games themed coffee, adorable magnetic bookmarks… you see, I’m in book-lover heaven.

As it’s finally weekend, I can now properly dive into An Ember in the Ashes and read more than a couple of chapters per day. I have also picked my next/parallel read and, surprising probably nobody, it’s none of the books I planned on reading. It is Vigil by the inimitable, wonderful, original Angela Slatter. More on that tomorrow.

SUNDAY

So okay, An Ember in the Ashes has taken over. I loved the beginning of Vigil, but I need to read that other book first. There is now spying involved. I haven’t done any challenges this week (although I loved the idea of the headlines challenge), because – and I think that’s a good thing – I was reading most of the time.

I will use the rest of this Sunday to finish the second part in An Ember in the Ashes, and then call it a day. Since my goals for this read-a-thon were very modest, I am happy with the way it went. I finished one book, got way into another one, started a third, and I have some reviews in the pipeline. I already look forward to the next Bout of Books and I hope it will happen during a week where I don’t have to work. Then I can really set myself some ambitious goals.🙂

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Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Illuminae

This book has been surrounded by enormous hype ever since it came out. Without that hype, I wouldn’t ever have thought of picking it up. The cover, although I like the colors, didn’t really speak to me and the synopsis just doesn’t do the story justice. So thank you internet, once again, for pushing stuff onto me that ends up being just as awesome as you said.

illuminaeILLUMINAE
by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Ebook: 608 pages
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: So here’s the file that almost killed me, Director.

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.
This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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We all know the kind of book that isn’t written in prose but is made up of interview transcriptions, chat messages, letters and so on. Illuminae is one such book, but the format is used very cleverly, not just to create a visually interesting book but also to deliver a whole new level of emotional punch. Kady and Ezra had just broken up and now their planet has been invaded, they are refugees on big space ships and they both have bigger things to think about than their petty relationship fight.

So, fine. Relationship drama is sent backstage in favor of the more urgent threat of the BeiTech ship pursuing them (most likely to kill any survivors from the attack on their home planet, Kerenza), the space ships need to deal with all the additional people they are now carrying – you know, feeding them, treating wounds, giving them a sleeping place, and so on. Families have been torn apart, some dead, others separated with one family member on each of the ships. In addition, a disease is breaking out that nobody seems to be able to cure just yet. So yeah… things are looking pretty damn miserable.

The author-duo throws their protagonists into a horrible, horrible situation and then makes them deal with it beautifully. Kady, a genius with a computer, tries to figure things out by hacking into the system, looking for classified information, anything to make sense of what happened. Ezra, in the meantime, becomes a pilot and joins the fight in his own – much more immediately dangerous – way. And despite this, these two still think about each other and that stupid fight they had. Things just gained a new perspective and they realise that they love each other, never mind the fight.

Through e-mails, chat messages, surveillance footage (described in prose), and snippets of the Alexander‘s AI (the Alexander is one of the three ships carrying our refugees), a story unfolds that is both thrilling and exciting as well as heartbreaking. Actually, mostly heartbreaking. At some points, it was the things that weren’t said that kick you in the face the most. Both Kady and Ezra are suffering from PTSD, both have lost family members – or at the very least they have no idea if their families are still alive and whether they got infected with the Phobos virus. And the only way they can hold on to each other and to life itself, is by talking across two space ships, grasping at the last bit of the life they had.

Plot-wise, I am going to shut up here. There is a lot of potential for spoilers and I am steering right clear of that. But I can say that Illuminae started out incredibly exciting, a real page-turner, then hits a slumpy bit where things don’t seem to move forward, where conversations seem to repeat, where I was waiting for something new to happen. And then it does. And, boy, it doesn’t let off until the very end. There are some plot twists in store that actually made me cry, there are several crowning moments of awesome, and there were times when I was just so proud of Kady – as if she were my friend or sister or something – where I marvelled at her bravery. The same goes for Ezra but Kady was just my heroine. You know, the kind of character that makes you wish you were as brave as her.

Apart from epic space battles and a virus gone crazy, Illuminae examines several difficult themes. The way Kady and Ezra deal with their PTSD, how creating artifiction intelligence may or may not be a smart thing to do, how people with power have to make impossible decisions for the greater good. These characters, even the minor ones, are faced with terrible, impossible situations and in most cases there is no right or wrong answer. There is only death or more death. Morality, gut feeling, none of those help you when you are responsible for thousands of lives and on the run. It’s a hard book to read and I am all the more impressed that it got to me so much with the chosen style. Because we rarely – if ever – read about people’s feelings or thoughts, all of these have to be conveyed through other means. And pulling that off is an amazing feat!

Another great thing was that I was never sure how the book would end. It had that anything-goes-feeling to it, where it could end in complete disaster, or with a bittersweet half-victory, or even with everything turning out fine-ish (I mean, lots of people die way before the end, so “fine” is a relative term here). The ending chosen by the authors was better than I could have imagined. I don’t mean better as in “all was well” but better as in it makes a better story. I’m also glad I waited this long to read the book because now I won’t have to wait so long for the sequel. And believe me, after that ending, I am more than excited.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

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Second opinions:

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Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven King

This is it, guys. I know all of you have probably read this book ages ago when it came out but I’ve been drawing it out. Ending a book series is always hard, but when the ending seems to be pre-determined from the very first chapter of the first book, that makes it even harder. But, as I can’t keep away from Ronan and the other Raven boys, I did eventually read the book. I may not have loved it as much as The Dream Thieves (do I ever love anything as much as The Dream Thieves?), but it is a worthy and beautiful ending to a truly amazing YA series.

raven king

THE RAVEN KING
by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic Press, 2016
Hardcover: 439 pages
Series: The Raven Cycle #4
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Richard Gansey III had forgotten how many times he had been told he was destined for greatness.

Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.
For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.
Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

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Don’t be me. Don’t try and draw out this book just to make it last longer. First, you will fail anyway because this book refuses to be put down, and secondly, it takes away from the emotional punch when you do force yourself to put it away. Because guys, this is it. This is the end. And it is an amazing, perfect ending to a brilliant series that defies all the tropes of YA books. As a long-time YA avoider, I can only say that – like probably any genre or type of literature – there are bad books and there are good books. And then there are gems like this series. Don’t condemn an entire section of the book store just because you had one (or ten) bad experience.

Just like us, the characters in this story know that the end is coming. At least the end of something, of their search for Glendower, their quest, their big destiny. Blue and Gansey continue to be a lovely couple, despite their difficulties (no kissing, remember), but it was – again – Ronan who got all my attention. I’ve been in love with this guy since day one, but in The Dream Thieves, seeds for a romance started growing that I’d hoped so very much would work out. Having just read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I know that not all authors are willing to go with their characters’ “organic” love interest (if you’ve read the play too, you’ll know what I mean), but Maggie Stiefvater is amazing and just lets her characters be who they are. Whew, writing this without spoilers is becoming more and more of a tightrope act and if you haven’t read this series at all, I won’t make much sense. Also if you haven’t read this series, what are you doing here? Go read The Raven Boys!

Having established a larger cast throughout the previous three books, I found that some characters were left behind a little or didn’t get as much attention as I’d have liked. The inclusion of the fairly newish Henry Cheng felt forced, although I did end up liking him a lot. I don’t really see why, if he was essential, he couldn’t be introduced earlier or at least more naturally. It almost read like he was added as an afterthought. So I’m not quite sure about him, especially as his presence takes precious page time away from Noah, or Ronan’s brothers, for example. There were some great moments involving Noah and Blue in the previous books, and that was completely missing here.

raven king wrap around

But let’s get down to what everybody’s been waiting for. The search for Glendower and – more importantly – Blue’s prophecy. No spoilers, I promise! Both plot strings reach a conclusion. I found both pretty satisfying, if you can say that when your heart has been ripped out a billion times along the way. But yes, of all the endings I could have imagined, Stiefvater deliverd one that both surprised me and didn’t make me mad. I honestly didn’t think that was possible.

However, with the subplots adding up throughout the series, something got lost as well. I believe The Raven Cycle reached its peak with The Dream Thieves, which had just enough going on to be fast paced but also put the right amount of focus on character development and the complex relationships between this group of young people. In The Raven King, with several threats raining down on these guys, and many other viewpoint characters who get their own chapters, there simply wasn’t much time for the quiet, more contemplative moments. Those are my favorite parts so I was sad to miss them. I would have gladly dropped some side characters – or at least chapters focusing on them – in favor of more Raven Boys and Blue.

Now I’m done bitching about this book not being exactly what I wanted it to be, let me repeat some things I’ve said about the other books in the series. Maggie Stiefvater is a wizard. She expresses more in one sentence than other writers do in entire books; her word choice is delicate and sometimes you only understand just how clever she is many chapters later. I can’t wait to re-read the Raven Cycle because I’m convinced this is the kind of story where re-reads pay off and let you see a whole different side of things.

The development these characters went through is honest and raw. They have each grown into themselves, they have sacrificed and learned, they have learned to deal with life when it doesn’t go their way (and when it does), and most of all they have all found each other. This chosen family with its many, many kinds and facets of love makes the Raven Cycle one of the best young adult book series I have ever read.

All things considered, I enjoyed The Raven King and how it toyed with my emotions. But most of all I liked it because it’s the final chapter in a bigger story that I ADORE. After all, it introduced me to the world of Aglionby sweaters and psychics, big flashy cars and sinister prophecies, ravens and trees that speak Latin. This series was my first foray into Maggie Stiefvater’s world but, boy, it won’t be my last. I’ll gladly let her break my heart over and over again.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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The Raven Cycle:
  1. The Raven Boys
  2. The Dream Thieves
  3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  4. The Raven King

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Bout of Books 17 – Sign-Up and Goals

It’s been very quiet around here. I’ve been reading some big books, and then some devastating books, and then some audiobooks – all of which were (and still are) hard to review. But it’s time to get back on track. My Goodreads page tells me I’m way behind on the reading challenge and my spreadsheet makes me do the shame-walk from Game of Thrones every time I check up on my stats. So it’s time for Bout of Books again.

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 22nd and runs through Sunday, August 28th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 17 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

I am in again, ever the optimist, hoping to catch up both on reading books as well as reviewing some. As always, I look forward to the twitter chats and the challenges and being jealous of how fast some of you people read.🙂


Goals

I’ll be a bit more modest with my goals this time. The way I’ve lagged behind on… pretty much everything, I’ll be glad to read one book and write a couple of reviews. I’ll also change my update posts’ format, because writing those up every day takes away precious reading time, and sometimes I just don’t have anything to say.

  • finish current read
  • read one more book
  • review both
  • if there’s time, throw in a comic book

That’s it. These are my goals for the read-a-thon. I won’t specify a page number or pick the books I’m going to read ahead of time. I do have a feeling that Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone will be one of the books I read because I’ve been eyeing it for a while now and I’m really in the mood. But we’ll see how things go. Wish me luck and click the link above if you want to sign up also. It’s a lot of fun, I promise.

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