Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Look-Back: Raves

In the last post, I talked about the worst books I read this year.  This post is dedicated to all of my favorites!  These books all received either a four- or five-star rating from me.  Here is why.

Sorcerer's Feud
via Goodreads
Sorcerer's Feud by Katharine Kerr was one of my favorite books of the year.  I got to read it in beta a couple of times, which was exciting enough.  When I finally read the finished product, it was awesome to see how the book had progressed to the completed point.

Granted, this is book two in the series, so I highly recommend reading the first book, Sorcerer's Luck, before you start this one.  The series itself is interesting because it deals with Norse mythology in modern-day San Francisco, and a relationship that begins incredibly quickly but is grounded in past lives.  I loved the exploration of the main characters' past lives, how they connect with what happens to them in their current life, and how they affect the relationships they form with others.

Hollow City
via Goodreads
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs continues the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series wonderfully.  My only problem, and it was completely my own, was that it had been so long since I read the first book I was a little lost in the beginning.  But once I got further into the story and the adventure, I felt like I was in their world running along with them.  The danger was constant, the worry and fear always there in the back of my mind.  I was afraid for all of the children, but also had a lot of faith in their ability to overcome everything thrown at them.  They truly are peculiar children, but they are also remarkable.

This book was nominated for a Goodreads Choice award this year, and I was surprised it didn't win.  At least it came in second!

Three Souls
via Goodreads
Three Souls by Janie Chang was by far the best book I ever received in the Goodreads First Reads program.  It was beautifully written, a wonderful story and one of the best I read this year.  Since I like my own review so much (har har) I'm just going to quote one of the reasons I loved it so much:

I adored the main character, through all her faults and inability to understand she was dealing with things that were much too adult for her. Her character in death was beautifully contemplative and I loved how she was able to see, along with the reader, the impulse of youth contrasted with the reflection of consequences. We all forget, as teenagers, that our actions have repercussions. Even in our adult life it's hard to picture what will happen if we make this decision or that one. In death we are able to see exactly how everything Leiyin did in her youth contributed to the events around her, even without her knowledge or comprehension.

Poison Study
via Goodreads
Poison Study by Maria Snyder only got four stars from me, but that's not to say I didn't adore it.  I took issue with the relationship between the main characters, and the ending.  Both of these issues are expanded on in my review, but I don't want to post spoilers here.  I loved the writing and the story, something I had never read before.  Maybe someone else has written something similar in the past, but to me it was wholly original.

I recommend this book to all fantasy lovers who also like YA fiction.  There is some brutality involved, but I felt it was well-done and inherently relevant to the story.  The continuation in book two was also a great read, and I'm looking forward to finishing the series this year.

I read some pretty awesome books this year, not all included in this retrospective.  I hope that you will enjoy them as much as I did!  And don't forget to set your goals for 2015.  I look forward to seeing how everyone completes their journeys in reading next year!

2014 Look-Back: Duds

In my last post, you saw an overall picture of how my year in reading went.  In this one, I'm going to take a look at all three of the one-star books, and why they received their ratings.

Goddess Interrupted
via Goodreads
Goddess Interrupted by Aimée Carter was book two in her Goddess Test series.  Book one received two stars from me, but this one only merited one star.  I was so angry by the end of this book that I threw it across the room.  What a horrid example of relationships!  The main character spends the entire book complaining that her husband doesn't pay attention to her, and he doesn't love her, but she wants him to love her so badly, why doesn't he love her, why can't he show her affection, why why why whine whine whine.  It was awful.

On top of all of the insecure whining that goes on, there was the ridiculous mythology that was carried over from book one, that fits absolutely nothing from the original mythology.  While adaptation is not a bad thing, this one completely discards history in favor of a ridiculous romance.  Complete and utter fail.

Fractured Dream
via Goodreads
Fractured Dream by KM Randall was another failure for me.  It sounded like a somewhat interesting premise, although considering that we now have shows like Once Upon a Time exploring fairy tales from new angles, maybe it's not as original as I had thought it.  I had a hard time getting through this mostly because of the unprofessional writing, the constant use of the main character's name (Story, ugh), and melodramatic teen angst.  It turned out to be yet another one of those teen-girl-comes-of-age-and-finds-out-she's-a-savior things, but not done very well.

The odd sexual tension didn't help either.  Story and Adam, Story and Nicholas (I actually had to skim a few reviews because I couldn't remember his name), Elliot and literally every single male in the book...

Children Into Swans
via Goodreads
I received a copy of Children Into Swans by Jan Beveridge from NetGalley for the purpose of reviewing it.  However this is one I could not finish to save my life.  It read like an undergraduate academic paper, not professionally written or edited, with very strange personal interjections throughout.  It didn't help that I couldn't figure out where the related stories ended and the exposition began again.

Part of my problem was that I had gone in expecting more fairy tales to be told, but instead I was given a few snippets of fairy tales and then some regurgitated research that had already been done.  There wasn't even an original revelation on any of the stories in any of the pages I read.  I could have just read the original research, and the original stories.  This was a dud.

Stay tuned for the next post dealing with the "studs," my favorite books of the year!

2014 Look-Back: Overall Reading List

This year has been an interesting reading year for me.  I had a lot of fun discovering new authors and series I enjoyed, but also wasted a lot of time on books that I really didn't like.  It's been an up-and-down rollercoaster, but wow what a ride!  Below you can see a map of all of the books I read this year, courtesy of Goodreads.

In total I read 85 books, beating my goal of 60!  This was a huge accomplishment for me, not only because that's a lot of books, but also because it's my highest number yet since I started tracking in 2011.  Maybe I could be considered cheating since I counted short stories on here, but when they're counted on Goodreads as a book, I think it's only fair, right?

A few stats for my reading this year:

  • In total, I read 27,359 pages, almost double my page count for last year (16,717).  The longest book I read was The Abominable by Dan Simmons, weighing in at a hefty 663 pages!
  • I rated the majority of the books I read as 3 stars (33), followed by 4 stars (30), 2 stars (11), and 5 stars (8).  I only gave three books 1 star.
  • The oldest book I read was The Healer's War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, published in 1988.  This is the first year in which I did not leave the last century.  From my Goodreads map, it looks like the majority of books I read were actually published in the last two or three years, and a few are actually being published in 2015.

Another thing I've been doing this year is participating in the What we've read in 2014 Listopia list.  I love seeing where my books fit in, what I've read compared to others, and how popular the books I've read this year were.  I'm not surprised by the books that ended up at the top, but I admit I'm surprised by some of the books that I read that ended up at the bottom!

In my next post, I'll explore some of the books I really enjoyed and highly recommend, and a few that I felt were complete duds.  In the meantime, take a look at my 2014 book map!

Megan's bookshelf: read

Citadel of Fire
Red Doc>
Since You've Been Gone
Autobiography of Red
3 a.m.
Mortal Heart
Goddess Interrupted
The Goddess Test
The Bards of Bone Plain
True Calling
Juliet's Nurse
Dark Triumph
Grave Mercy
The Thirteenth Tower
The Healer's War

Megan's favorite books »

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: Goddess Test

The Goddess Test (Goddess Test, #1)The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ugh. Cassandra Clare said this was a great book. Much like her book being reviewed by Stephanie Meyer, mother of dreck, I should have known better. There are spoilers for the entire book in this review.

I'm running out of things to say about all the YA I've been reading lately, because it's all starting to sound the same. Why? Because all the books I've been reading are all reading the same way. One thing I've noticed is that every YA author seems to have picked up a liking for the word "deft(ly)" at the same time, and love sprinkling it everywhere. Also, whenever you kiss someone, your lips get swollen so badly you need to mention it. The other thing I'm noticing is that, plot-wise, nothing matters nearly as much as the romance. And that's just no fun.

I don't mind a romance, but I'm starting to think that teen girls are being encouraged to fall in love with the first or second guy they meet, at age 16-17-18, and let that consume their entire being. Their lives suddenly become all about making the guy happy. What about their own happiness? What about their own identities? By the end of this book, Kate is married (she's 18), she's become immortal, and she's 100% certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that she'll never stop loving Henry ever ever ever! She did this entire thing so that she could (a) spend more time with her mom before she dies, and (b) keep Henry from fading away. But what about her life? What about her hopes and dreams? She has zero identity outside of being Henry's new wife and queen of the Underworld. And that strange love triangle with James was forced and awkward. I never would have gone for that angle.

I remember, back when I was a teenager reading YA fantasy, there was actual fantasy amid the romance. The romance did not take center stage, it was often only a background element that blossomed into something more much later in a series. Take, for example, Tamora Pierce's Tortall books. Magic, intrigue, adventure, lots and lots of danger and excitement, and oh, a little romance here and there. Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle is also a great example of fantasy taking center stage, with the romance as something on the side. Why is that so hard to find in this generation of YA fantasy? Why is it that all teen girls (and adults who read YA) apparently want to read about is how a hot girl gets with a hot guy (or a not-so-hot girl gets with a super-hot guy), and oh maybe there's some magic here and there?

Lastly, the writing on this was so glaringly obvious that I had no trouble figuring out James was on the council, and that Kate's mom was actually the goddess Diana. Sorry if that ruined anything for you. I promise that you would have seen it coming a mile away yourself, unless you're super dense.

And I won't even get into the whole mythology thing. That has been very thoroughly covered in other reviews. (These are just two. Go see the multitude for yourself.)

The only reason I'm going to read book 2 is because I swapped for it at the same time as this one, and it's been sitting in my house, and I feel like I should read it before I send it away.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: The Bards of Bone Plain

The Bards of Bone PlainThe Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia A. McKillip
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't think my brain was in the right place when I started this book. I had such a hard time getting into it, I was bored and it was putting me to sleep (literally, I'd fall asleep after only a few pages).

But picking it up again a few days ago, determined to finish, I realized it was actually a very good book. Once I got to the halfway point I was much more interested and felt more connected to it. It was still a bit abstract, I don't really understand what happened to Nairn in the tower, but I liked the writing and the characters (for the most part).

Recommended for fantasy readers if you are looking for some good high fantasy with some abstract ideas of magic.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Juliet's Nurse

Juliet's NurseJuliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the Goodreads Giveaway.]

In Juliet's Nurse, Lois Leveen takes on the story of the nurse from Romeo & Juliet. The first half of the book is devoted to the bonding between Angelica, the nurse, and Juliet as a newborn through three-year-old. And if you're going to talk about a wet nurse, there's going to be a lot of talk about breastfeeding. But Angelica is also a bit randy (to put it mildly) and her husband can't get his fill of her often enough, so of course there's a lot of sex and sex talk, too. The story also involves Tybalt and his attachment to the nurse and to Juliet, and even to Angelica's husband Pietro and his bees.

For me, by about 30% of the way through the book I'd had enough of the narration of Juliet's breastfeeding, talking about how Angelica lost her virginity to her much older husband at the ripe age of 12, sex jokes, and finding ways to sneak sex with her husband. And the sheer number of times she mentioned her six boys lost to the plague was staggering. Almost every time she mentioned one of their names, it was followed up with something like, "but the plague took them and everything I loved." I feel like there wasn't enough to this nurse to make her into a full character or story. It relied too much on the fact that she was a wet nurse, that she loved Juliet and Tybalt, that she loved her husband, and she missed her sons.

That's not to say it wasn't well-written, and by the time we got to part two things started moving a bit more quickly. It is around the 75% mark where we start getting into the story that Shakespeare wrote, with a few lines from the play thrown in, and the dialogue changing actually quite noticeably to more Shakespearean language. It was not nearly as obvious in the first half of the book as it was when we flash forward to Juliet's 13th year. This part was interesting, although I really had to make myself "get over" how close Juliet and Angelica were since, in this century, it would seem odd (and a bit uncomfortable for me) for a nurse to clean her charge's teeth and sleep cuddled up with her every night (at 13 years old!). There is a lot more to the story of why this happens, and I don't claim to be an historian so I don't know if it would have been normal back then, but even so it made me feel uncomfortable, a bit leery.

The copy I received was an advanced reader, so there were many many typos and wrong words and missing letters and such. Hopefully they have all been fixed in the final release.

It was a good book, but I didn't love it, only liked it. It had an interesting perspective to present, and a strange back story to develop. Nice speculative fiction based on previous fiction. Just not something I really loved.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin, #2)Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*****There is a minor spoiler in this review, if you HAVEN'T read Grave Mercy yet.*****

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this e-book from NetGalley.]

4 stars instead of only 3, because I thought this one was *better* than Grave Mercy (although my review may not show it).

My main problems with this book are as follows:

1. Sybella and Ismae have an almost identical voice. They wonder about different things, and are concerned with different aspects of their relationship with Mortain, but they "speak" exactly the same. Without having read the description of this one and simply jumping in as soon as I finished Grave Mercy, I was a little confused because it sounded like the same person speaking, but with a different background. A few paragraphs in I realized it was Sybella, not Ismae.

2. There is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much narrated angst. This bothered me in Grave Mercy, but having read Dark Triumph immediately after finishing the first one, it was overkill. I love getting inside a character's head, but Sybella and Ismae are almost *too much* in their own heads. And it's typical teen girl angst, because they are all of 17 or 18 (I'm not sure how old Sybella is but I am guessing around Ismae's age), and outside of planning how to kill someone, they don't stop to think things through. They immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion ("I'm a something-or-other, I'm an awful person, he must hate me, now that he knows who I am I'm not going to look at him because he probably hates me even though it's not my fault and I don't know that for sure and there's no way I can possibly talk to him about it because that would be too awful because he probably hates me blah blah blah.").

3. While Ismae's and Sybella's stories differ greatly in the details (Sybella's story is much more complex and tragic, and frankly, interesting), they follow almost the exact same linear path. They are thrust into an assignment they don't want, their plans get ruined, they end up taking a detour and falling in love, and they almost lose that love to death, and then Mortain shows up and tells them how much he loves them, their eyes are opened, and they can go back to battle with complete clarity, understanding who they are and what they need to do.

4. Again, the ending to this was no ending. I know, series, continuation, cliffhanger, blah-de-blah.

But I liked the story and I liked getting further into the historically fictional conflict. It was interesting and fast-paced and kept me interested for the couple of days it took to get through it. Recommended with reservations. Hopefully I'll get to read the third book, although I have a feeling it's going to be much the same as books 1 and 2.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Dislcaimer: I received a free copy of the ebook edition from NetGalley.]

I'm very surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. It's a typical angsty teen romance, but there's so much more going on that I managed to overlook that for the most part. According to the author's note, the book is based on actual events from the Middle Ages, but since I'm far from an historian I won't comment on the authenticity. Overall this was well-written, intriguing, and flowed pretty well. I didn't really like how melodramatic Ismae could be when thinking about whether she loved Duval or not, but again, teen angst. I guess I can forgive it because of her horrible life up until she was 14, and for the rest of the book she's only 17 and spent years in a "convent," so it's to be expected.

The plots were so thick I didn't really see who was behind everything until Sybella manages to speak with Ismae for 5 seconds, well into the second half of the book. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, considering all the build-up, but knowing that it's a series makes up for it.

The fantasy aspects of the story were interesting, since it appears that there is much more to the "saint" Mortain than the abbess is willing to share with the girls in the convent. As Ismae figures it out, it gets more and more complicated. It will be interesting to see in book 2 how involved the abbess is in the deception. I also look forward to seeing the role Mortain will play in Ismae's new direction.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Review: The Thirteenth Tower

The Thirteenth TowerThe Thirteenth Tower by Sara C. Snider
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the e-book edition from NetGalley.]

The Thirteenth Tower was actually a pleasant surprise. I've read some really awful books that I got from NetGalley lately, and was expecting more of the same, which is probably why I ended up enjoying it as much as I did. Emelyn starts out as a servant girl, but ends up as so much more.

There is a lot good about this book. I mostly enjoyed the writing style, found it easy to read, and the dialogue wasn't as strained as I expected. There were moments where I found it wandering off into flowery territory, but for the most part it was appropriate and well-done. Emelyn isn't the greatest heroine, she's not someone I could see myself being friends with, but she isn't insufferable and her story ends up being quite thought-out.

The concept itself was interesting, and I appreciated the execution of the twists and turns of story. One thing I didn't like: it was absolutely completely predictable. It really was obvious what was going to happen; I think I figured it out about halfway through. And while that's a pretty nice chunk of book in which I was in the dark, it still leaves half the book for me to go "OK, when is [this] going to happen?" or "When is she going to figure out she's [that]?"

I didn't like the ending, there was too much going on in the final major scene and yet not enough. I felt like I was trudging through mud while reading the "battle" scene, and I still can't figure out exactly what happened. Also, I don't see anywhere on GR that this is a planned series, so the strange and abrupt ending has left me a bit confused. And while I appreciate Cobbe as a character, I still can't quite figure out her purpose aside from keeping them fed, and providing a little comic relief.

The one thing that has bothered me throughout the entire book is one of the opening scenes: when Emelyn gets swept away to the festival and finds instead the strange creatures, we see the following:

(view spoiler)

This is the *only* such passage in the entire book. Throughout the rest of it there isn't even the barest mention of sex, the closest thing to describing a body part being Emelyn's attempts to figure out whether the small-folk are men or women. It stuck out in a bad way, because otherwise this book was pretty exclusively PG. I'm not saying it was inappropriate, but it didn't fit at all with the rest of the book or with the narrative style. I would consider removing it in future editions, only because I felt it interrupted the story for no reason whatsoever, distracting me from what was going on.

So there's room for improvement, and if it IS going to be a series that explains the ending. It's not fantastic high fantasy, but it was a pretty good read and I rather enjoyed it.

ETA 10/29/14 - I've been skimming other reviews just to see what others have said about this book.  A lot of people have mentioned the lack of character development.  Upon further reflection, I think I was a bit too generous in mentioning I felt that Emelyn was well-developed.  Presented with passages and examples of her stupidity, I realize I had been thinking this all along.  I think what changed my mind was at the end when she decides to embrace her powers and stop being so stupid.  Maybe that blinded me to her faults (and there were many).  It's probably why I said I didn't really care for her as a person, or wouldn't be friends with her.  Anyway, I agree with other reviewers that most of the characters could have been more well-developed, with their motives a bit more clear, or noted at all.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: Sorcerer's Feud

Sorcerer's FeudSorcerer's Feud by Katharine Kerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I read this book twice in beta and was sent a copy by the author when it was finished. My opinions are my own.]

***There are no spoilers in this post, unless you have not read book 1, in which case what are you doing?? Go read it now!!***

In the second installment of the "Runemaster" series, Maya and Tor are dealing with the aftermath of the accidental murder of Tor's uncle Nils. The book picks up almost immediately after the last book ended, with Maya worrying that the police are going to figure out she killed Nils, and come after her. Not to mention her brother is still in the hospital and not progressing with his recovery, she has a final project for her degree to work on, she's finally engaged to Tor, and they make the discovery that Nils had kids, one of whom makes contact with Tor regarding the will.

On top of all of that, there's a frost giant who keeps showing up in the driveway demanding the gold plaque that Tor won't give back, Tor is still a were-bear, and Maya is finally confronting the memories that can unlock her heritage and her powers. And Nazis! *dun dun dun*

Let's get one thing straight: This series is fan-freaking-tastic! I loved reading it all three times, and even in my final read I discovered new things and saw some minor changes that really illuminated the plot. I always have fun reading about Maya and Tor, they are a great couple of characters. And the addition of Joel, Tor's cousin, was a great way to show how Maya is becoming entrenched in the magical world. His disbelief was once hers, but now she's so involved that it's like she was never a "normal" person. Her heritage is even more engrossing, because we finally learn where she's from and how she got her "disease."

Obviously it's not true urban fantasy, and the author says as much in the note at the beginning. It doesn't really fit into any one genre, at least not completely. I consider it simply fantasy set in the modern world (which I normally don't like to read as much, but I find this set wholly entertaining). The writing style is pretty easy to read, because you can end up reading a huge chunk of the book and not realize how much until you check your page count! And it never gets boring. I highly recommend this series (definitely start with book 1, Sorcerer's Luck) to anyone who enjoys a fun but intense story about magic, runes, old gods, and some spicy romance.

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