Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spinning Starlight

I love retellings. One of my favorites is Sarah J. Maas's ACOTAR series. The first book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the second a loose retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone. I loved Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles and their sci-fi take on classic tales. So when I saw R. C. Lewis's Stitching Snow a while back, I was excited to see what other ways these stories could change with a sci-fi lens.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Liddi Jantzen is set to inherit an tech empire spearheaded by her eight brothers. Her parents died years ago, so it's just been the nine of them. Liddi hates all the attention and hides from media grubs on their family's estate, not understanding why she can't invent the way her brothers do. But then her brothers disappear, and Liddi will do anything to get them back. When she stumbles upon the secret of their disappearance, she finds her voice hobbled so she can't tell the secret, and narrowly escapes to another planet where humans are not the only species and the portals between worlds are thought to be alive. She must work quickly to save her brothers. But without her voice, how can she make people understand what she needs?

I'll say this--interesting premise. I liked the idea of tech being the reason this Little Mermaid lost her voice. And she's certainly a fish out of water on the new planet. She makes lots of cultural mistakes and nearly gets thrown in jail. There are warring factions and some cool science around the portals. And I liked the notion that her planet didn't have a written language anymore. As someone who has a degree in history and works with history books, it was a fun nod to the many cultures with oral rather than written traditions, particularly since Liddi's planet is advanced rather than the usual way of portraying these kinds of cultures as primitive. But. Where I got to know Marissa Meyer's characters very intimately, and the world was very fleshed out, I don't feel like I got to know much about Liddi beyond her love for her brothers and her inferiority complex. There's instalove which always makes me roll my eyes. And it was all resolved so quickly. I guess I had the same problem with this book as I did with Stitching Snow--I wanted it to be longer. When you have these amazing sci-fi worlds you owe it to them to give a ton of detail. So while I really enjoy the spin on classic stories that Lewis does, I want there to be more meat to each of her books.

Goodreads Rating: 3 Stars
Up Next: The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

Monday, February 20, 2017

On Second Thought

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a review of a romance book by one of my favorite authors. I've been reading Kristan Higgins books since high school and if there's one thing I can say about each and every one of them, it's this: they are hilarious. They may have their sad points and their awkward points, but all of them make me laugh out loud at least once or twice. And that is amazing. So many of the books I read are depressing, even if they're really good. It is hard to write humor, and Higgins succeeds every time.

Retrieved from Goodreads
96 days ago, Kate got married. 96 days of marriage before she became a widow. Now she's living in a new town trying to work through her grief for a husband she'd known less than a year. Meanwhile, her half sister Ainsley has been with her boyfriend since college. Over ten years of the perfect relationship. And then he was diagnosed with cancer, and everything changed. He became insufferable. All she wants is to marry him and continue their perfect life. But then he dumps her. And blogs about it. And it goes viral. These sisters come together to figure out what to do with their lives and become closer in their shared pain, laughs, and wine.

I binge-read this 500-page book in two days by reading on the train, on my lunch breaks, and settling down with it as soon as I got home from work. There's something about Higgins' books that just flow so easily. The characters are vivid and funny, and there's always a spectacular secondary cast. Her last two books have fallen more in the chick-lit category than straight romance, but it's there in the background as these characters deal with their grief in different ways. And it's so realistic. They go through the stages without seeming to just be checking off the boxes. There are revelations and a scene in a douchey bar that is so satisfying I actually fist pumped while at my desk when it happened. There's hilarity and sadness and everything that is good about Higgins' books. It made me tear up, it made me laugh, it made me care for the characters. And there's delicious food and a cute puppy. I can't sing the praises of this book loud enough. Read it. Seriously. While you do that I'll be sitting in the corner rocking back and forth while waiting for her next book to come out.

Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
Up Next: Spinning Starlight by R. C. Lewis

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Lucky Ones

The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen is the final book in her Bright Young Things series set in the roaring 20s. Being the history nerd that I am, I always enjoy Godbersen's focus on slang and fashion and how different social customs were between eras. Flappers wore long straight dresses with fringe and glitter, and their hair was short and wavy and might be dyed blond. It's these kinds of details that I really enjoy in my historical fiction, things that remind me of how much the world has changed and will change again. I doubt anyone in the 20s would have foreseen the rise of skinny jeans. But enough of that. On with the review! [Also, of course, beware of spoilers]

Retrieved from Goodreads
Astrid is married, Cordelia is in love with Max, and Lettie is now apprenticed to two of the biggest names in the movies. But beneath all the glitz and glamour, things are not perfect. If people find out the truth about Max, he could lose his career. Astrid's marriage is already fraying at the edges with Charlie becoming more and more erratic. And Lettie would never do anything to hurt the couple she's living with. But she finds herself more and more drawn to the husband. And it seems he might be drawn to her as well. As the summer of 1929 comes to a close, these three girls have to decide what they want with their lives and what they're willing to do to get it.

I think my favorite book in this series is the first one. While I still really enjoyed the threads coming together in this book, and it even got my heart pumping a couple times, some of the threads were sloppier than others. First and foremost: what happened to Good Egg on the night of the party!? And after all the decades of animosity, I couldn't believe that the Hales and the Grays put their feud aside just like that. It seemed too convenient in order to sweep in the new, more violent gang that Charlie was going up against. I think the fact that the Hales and the Grays had more of a gentleman's feud increased the shock to Cordelia and Astrid when the new bad guys turned up meaning business. I loved Max and Cordelia together, but was completely thrown by how that story ended up. Astrid's was better, I think. She was always more airy fairy, but the climax from the last book made her realize more how surface-level her life was. So when her story evolved into the romance I saw coming from book one, I was happy for her. She really matured and came to realize it's not money that makes happiness, but the people you spend your life with. And Lettie...poor Lettie. I wish there had been a scene with her confronting yet another man who used her to his own ends. I really was devastated for her. But luckily she was able to walk away with a promising career. All in all, a satisfying series that couldn't quite pull together everything in the end, but what an enjoyable ride getting there.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Beautiful Days

This Christmas I received the full Bright Young Things series by Anna Godbersen and I finished them off in quick succession. So I'll apologize right off if I can't quite remember exactly where one book left off and the other began. As soon as I finished off Beautiful Days I picked up The Lucky Ones, so the lines are a little blurry.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Cordelia's father is dead and Lettie has been reunited with her friend after her disastrous attempts at love and making it big on the stage. Astrid is engaged to Charlie and moving in with him and her two best friends. And while they lounge by the pool and drink mimosas, it's easy to ignore all the bad things happening around them. Like Cordelia not knowing if Max the pilot ever wants to see her again. Or if Lettie will ever have the courage to audition again. Or if Charlie cheating on Astrid was a one-time thing. But in the meantime, Cordelia is put in charge of opening a new club in the city and the music and booze is always flowing. It's the summer of 1929 in New York City, and you never know what could happen.

Poor Astrid. Seriously. She lived such a privileged life and it made her so entitled and naive. But at the same time she's so loyal to Lettie and Cordelia and she doesn't deserve what happens to her in this book. Talk about shattering a world view. As for Lettie, she becomes a rising star and meets people she's only ever heard about in the papers and movies. She can be a bit insufferable, letting herself wallow in misery over the smallest things that could be fixed easily if she just expressed herself a little bit. That wore on my nerves a bit. As for Cordelia, her and Max were so sweet, and I liked how he mellowed her and gave her a different perspective on the life she had always dreamed of in NYC. Her competing loyalties between Charlie and Astrid really start to show in this book, and her thoughtlessness hurts people she cares about. I enjoyed this book a great deal, even though sometimes the naivete of the main characters was so acute it was rather painful. Still, an excellent segue into The Lucky Ones!

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next: The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Rose & the Dagger

I'll admit, I never thought of a retelling for One Thousand and One Nights. And it should have been obvious! What better retelling could there be than one where the main character tells stories to stay alive. It's a writer's dream. So when I read The Wrath and the Dawn, I loved it, though I had a few quibbles. But in the main I loved Shazi's relationship with Khalid and the revelation that it was a curse, not from someone who wanted to take over the world, but a grief-stricken father than brought Khorasan to the brink of revolt. So I was eager to pick up the sequel, The Rose & the Dagger. And I devoured it just as quickly as the first one.

Retrieved from Goodreads
With Khorasan in flames, Shazi is forced to leave Khalid behind. She ends up in the desert camp of those who wish to take down Khalid's regime, led by her childhood love. Together with her sister, Shazi does the only thing she can do: act. She has a burgeoning magic she does not understand, but it might be the only way she can save Khalid from the curse. Meanwhile, Khalid is slowly going mad. He misses his wife and he might lose his throne. These star-crossed lovers will stop at nothing to save the kingdom, and each other.

Oh my. I can't believe I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed Ahdieh's writing style. It just flows from one sentence to the next to the point where it's 2am and I forgot to eat dinner but don't even care because I need to read just one more chapter. Now, I will say that the story is not perfect. I could have done with more content about the bordering kingdom trying to destabilize Khalid. But at the same time...I don't think this was supposed to be that kind of book. In the end it was the relationships between Shahrzad and her sister, Khalid, and Despina. And can we take a moment to talk about Despina? Because I adore her. I've read all the novellas that go along with this series, and I think Despina's was my favorite. She is such a good actress. Where Shazi is all fire and passion and fierce intelligence, Despina is the snake in the grass that you invite into your home because it promises not to bite you. And then somehow it's still surprising when it does. She was magnificent and was probably the one character that could put Shazi in her place. There's also some stuff in here about magic, but the true magic was the interactions between the characters. I will absolutely be picking up Ahdieh's next series.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars (more like 4.5)
Up Next: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Girl in the Blue Coat

Here's another sort-of YA book. All the main players are in their teens, but I think it's shelved with the historical fiction rather than in the YA section. But for the purposes of this review, I'm calling it YA. As you can see, here we have another WWII historical fiction. I really should branch out and try a different era. If you have any suggestions, sound off! I'm always looking for new books to read, even if my TBR pile is actually over 100 titles long at this point...

Retrieved from Goodreads
Hanneke lives in Amsterdam, a city under Nazi control in 1943. She spends her day working for an undertaker and dabbling in the black market. That is, until one of her clients asks her to find something much more difficult than sugar--a Jewish girl. Suddenly, Hanneke is swept in the underground where people her own age risk their lives to spirit away people the Nazis deem unworthy. She's not sure this is a world she wants a part of, but she doesn't really have a choice now. She needs to find the girl in the blue coat who ran away from her safe house for unknown reasons and might have run straight into the Nazi cages.

This book sort of reminded me of an episode of White Collar. The premise is simple: Hanneke is given limited, strange information and must use it to find a missing girl. The setting is what is interesting about it. The Dutch underground is an under-examined portion of WWII, and the glimpse that is given here is interesting. There are some truly scary moments as Hanneke defies Nazi rule and nearly gets caught several times while trying to find a girl--a task that she reminds herself she does not necessarily have to do. One thing I was very pleased with in this book was that the romance I predicted did not evolve. It ended up being a story of friendship and perseverance in a terrible point in history. And if I got bored at times because of the straight-forwardness of the plot, I still ultimately enjoyed the tale.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next:  The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Way of Kings

I'll fess up to this right now: It took me over a year to read this book. But not because I didn't love it with every fiber of my being. No, it's because I listened to the audiobook which may be the longest thing in the world. Why did I listen to the audiobook instead of reading the book, you ask? Simple! Because I knew going in that I was going to love this book. Several people in my life had already done everything short of shoving the book in my face and manacling me to a chair to make me read it. And I wanted that languid experience I get whenever I go back and listen to Harry Potter (at least once a year). So, coupled with the fact that the audiobook has an insane number of holds on it at the library, it took me over a year to finish. Also, you may ask, this blog reviews YA. The Way of Kings isn't YA! Well, I'm going to let this one slide because Brandon Sanderson does write YA as well. And also because it's just an awesome book. Here we go.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Roshar has been at war for years, ever since the Parshendi killed the Alethi king by sending a Shardbearer after him. Dalinar Kholin, the dead king's brother, has doubts about the war. Plagued by realistic visions every time a high storm sweeps across the stone plains that make their battlefield, his status as the new king's adviser becomes ever more precarious. Kaladin is called Stormblessed, but he really has the worst luck ever. Everyone he tries to protect has died. So when he is enslaved after a battle and sent to the Shattered Plains to be part of the bridge crews tasked with laying bridges across chasms to let the army proper across, he knows it's only a matter of time before he and everyone else dies. Across the sea, Shallan studies at the side of a heretic scholar, Jasnah Kholin. She needs the Soulcaster Jasnah uses in order to save her family from destitution. But upon taking up her studies, the betrayal becomes ever more difficult to complete.

I There are no words to encompass this magnificent beast of a book. Clocking in at over a thousand pages (and apparently there are going to be 10 books), the plot is slow without plodding. The characters are so developed that I feel I would be able to pick them out if I saw them on the street. Plans are made slowly, executed slowly, sometimes failing and then having to be reworked. The past is still being unraveled, and the truth behind the history of Roshar and how the Shards came to be in the hands of humans and a dozen other things are key points of this book. There are much more detailed reviews out there of how amazing this book is so I'll try not to go on too long. There are great debates, there is a fantastic backstory for the characters, there are palpable villains and hidden ones. There are cultures that are fully developed and sub-cultures within those. The world building is the best I have ever seen managed in one book. And I do not say that lightly. I did not care how slow the book was because I knew it was building to the final confrontation and I was not disappointed and when I finished reading I just sat back and stared at a wall for like 10 minutes because I could not believe how satisfied I was with what I had just read. This easily takes its place alongside my favorite books of all time. And I hear Words of Radiance is even better. I simply cannot wait to find out how.

Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
Up Next: Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse