Monday, February 13, 2017

ARC review: Miranda and Caliban

25670396Title: Miranda and Caliban
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from? The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love. 

I am a huge fan of retellings/re-imaginings of classic stories, be it fairy tales or Shakespeare. I was naturally really excited to read this prequel/re-imagining to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Full disclosure, I didn't love the original but I thought it had a really cool premise and I was excited to see how Carey put a spin on it.

I liked how this book subverted the roles/morality of characters from the original; Prospero is a sinister patriarch, Ariel is a malicious spirit, Caliban is a wild yet innocent boy growing up under Prospero's tyrranical watch, Miranda is an intelligent young woman who learns that perhaps Papa doesn't know best.

This book is at its core a coming-of-age story of two children from very different backgrounds growing up in the same harsh environment. I liked how the writing style for the character's POV chapters evolved along with the maturity of the characters themselves. There were a lot of familiar elements in this book that I'd seen in books set in the Victorian era; emphasis on beauty and morality being intertwined, using phrenology and other strange pseudo-sciences to classify and draw lines between men/women/different people, rigid moral codes and sexual repression.

I generally did enjoy this book, but it wasn't as lyrical or engaging as I was expecting. Prospero's motivation and near-madness could have been fleshed out more; he was definitely mysterious and sinister but I wanted to get into his head more, or at least see more moral ambiguity. Caliban's development was largely centered around his discovery of his own sexuality and feelings for Miranda, and I wanted him to grow and mature outside of that context. Miranda herself was pretty dull, and I didn't really care about her until the very end. I also expected more of the book to tie into The Tempest, but those events only came into play during the last few chapters.

This was an interesting retelling, but I think it could have done a better job of playing with my expectations or adding a new spin to the original. I would definitely recommend it for people who love The Tempest, but not for people who just like retellings in general.

A free eARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bullet Reviews: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Ancillary Sword, The Last Mortal Bond

I'm halfway through December reviews, I'm hoping to finish up some bullet reviews for December/January in the next week or two and then start writing actual reviews again soon!

This week is a little bit of a hodge-podge set of reviews; they are all loosely connected because they are all books that I didn't like as much as I thought I would. I had heard so much about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I liked it initially, but then I just got kind of bored with it. I was really enjoying Brian Staveley's Unhewn Throne trilogy, and I'd heard glowing reviews about the conclusion, but I liked the second book better than the third. And finally, I read the sequel to Ancillary Justice since I loved the first book so much, but the second just didn't compare.

Here are the reviews!

2429135The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Genre: mystery, suspense
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I listened to the audio version, and I really liked the narrator. He had a perfect tone of voice for this story, I can't put my finger on why I liked it so much but the narration was a definite plus
  • This is sort of a plus and minus: I learned a lot more about random topics than I thought I did. This book goes into a lot of detail about everything from Swedish industry and economics, how the media works, and how guardians are assigned for the mentally ill. It was interesting, but it was also sometimes distracting/annoying because it slowed the book's plot down
  • Lisbeth is pretty cool, even if she's an unconventional protagonist. It was funny to see how so many normal social interactions went sideways when Lisbeth was involved. She is also really amazing at what she does, and I liked seeing how far she would go to achieve something she wants.
  • I was really scared to pick this book up because I'd heard there was a really terrible rape scene and I didn't think I could handle it; thankfully the scene wasn't horrifically graphic or long. It's definitely intense but the writing is dry and goes more into mechanics of the rape than the emotional trauma during the event, which makes it slightly easier to stomach (it's still horrifying though).

What I didn't like:
  • In general, I found the characters rather flat. I didn't really care about any of them, and they all could be described with 5 words or less. Even Lisbeth was just "pretty cool", not particularly compelling. I found her story interesting but I wasn't too emotionally invested in it (and considering the trauma she undergoes, that's saying something)
  • the suspense/mystery wasn't as surprising or compelling as I thought it would be. There are so many pointless interactions and subplots
  • The pacing was really wonky. Nothing much happens for the first quarter of the book, and then the climax happens about 3/4 of the way through the book. It's really hard to focus on picking up the pieces when nearly a quarter of the book is devoted to it instead of just a chapter or an epilogue.
Recommended for... 
People who are curious about the hype surrounding The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I honestly wouldn't recommend it to people who have read a lot of suspense/mystery novels

20753341The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley (Unhewn Throne #3)

Genre: fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I like how every book just gets more and more intense. This book really ratchets up the stakes and intensity with every book; you think things can't get worse for the protagonists and then somehow they do!
  • I think my favorite part about this book was the epilogue. I kind of wish the trilogy was plotted so that the story of the first 3 books was compressed into the first 2, and then the third book was all about what happens in the epilogue. I would have liked that story much better :)
  • I really liked Gwenna's subplot and how she got more POV chapters in this book. The Kettral subplot was really cool, even without Valyn. In general the women of this series have grown from being accessories to being important and complex main characters, which I appreciated.
What I didn't like:
  •  I felt like the characters went through tremendous growth in Providence of Fire, but remained pretty stagnant in this book. They are pitted against one another and make difficult choices, but as characters they don't really change motivations or mature or change in any tangible way.
  • This book started to feel too much like a grimdark fantasy for my taste. Grimdark is so brutal, and just so hopeless. It spreads this message of futility and brutality in the world that just makes my bones weary and my soul ache. I don't mind dark stories, but I just don't enjoy this level of hopelessness and futility.

Recommended for: people who enjoy grimdark and aren't scared away by violence and gore.


Ancillary Sword (Ancillary Justice #2) by Ann Leckie
Genre: science fiction
Rating: 2/5 stars

What I liked:
  • Ummm...this is hard. Most of what I liked about this book was just residual feelings of what I liked about book one. I enjoyed the writing style and the world and playing with gender stereotypes
What I didn't like:
  • This book was a very blatant "Ann Leckie takes on racism" and I just felt like the message about prejudice and race was very blunt and unsubtle. I felt like I was being beaten over the head with it.
  • This story is told linearly, unlike Ancillary Justice. Most of the fun of Ancillary Justice was switching back and forth in time as you figured out what was happening and its repercussions, and that's just missing here. There aren't any really big reveals like book 1 either.
  • The complexity of the situation at the end of book 1 is sort of brushed aside. It's hardly addressed, there is literally no progress regarding the Anaander Mianaai situation at the end of this book, it's all about combatting racism/classism on one little planet.
Recommended for... people who don't mind heavy-handed preaching about why racism sucks? I don't know, I honestly wouldn't recommend this book but I do highly recommend the previous one.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

ARC Review: Gilded Cage

30258320Title: Gilded Cage
Author: Vic James
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.
Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

I was pretty excited about this book, but nearly everything about it wasn't as good as I expected or wanted it to be. I was really expecting to enjoy this, but I just couldn't get into this story.

The premise of Gilded Cage is pretty cool: the world is in a near-future Earth where everyone must provide 10 years of unpaid labor ("Slavery") in order to become a full citizen and obtain the priviliges and rights that a full citizen possesses. Most people choose to take this decade off in their adulthood, however sometimes children get roped into it when their parents choose to do their time but don't want to leave their children behind. This is exactly the situation that our main characters find themselves in. The catch is that most of the family gets to work as indentured servants at a rich mansion instead of common laborers in more dangerous conditions. Key word Most of the family.

I thought there was a lot of potential in this premise; how is self-worth and social status measured when people fluctuate between living normal lives, being laborers with no rights, and powerful members of society? How does someone's attitudes change towards fellow slaves when s/he finishes the 10 years and becomes a citizen? What keeps this system in place? It's interesting that the slavery is imposed on everyone regardless of race and other characteristics have historically and currently been cause for prejudice.

I was less than thrilled with the actual execution of this though. The conditions that the "slaves" went through were obviously not pleasant, but they were nowhere near as traumatic or hopeless as what actual slaves have gone through in history. I felt that the use of the word "Slavery" to describe what these fictional people went through trivialized the all-too-real struggles of generations of people, which I found very disrespectful. What these people went through is more like the work of immigrants and indentured laborers, except for the fact that they get no money instead of too little money to live on. What especially angered me was how being a maidservant or gardener to a bunch of magic-wielding rich people was also considered slavery. This book could have really taken an unflinching look at the cruelty we humans inflict on those we believe to be inferior, but this book never quite got there. It was all very watered down and I had a hard time sympathizing with any of the characters.

The clumsy handling of the slavery wasn't the only reason I didn't care for the characters. Most of them seemed extraordinarily self-centered and even the ones that were supposed to come across as intelligent or practical seemed pretty silly. Everyone was pretty flatly characterized; there was the angry brooding young man, the mysterious handsome stranger, the innocent little girl...just a bunch of cliches. I always have a hard time getting into a book if I don't connect with the characters.

I wouldn't recommend this book, it's not a very compelling portrayal of rebellion, it's not especially tightly plotted or engaging, and the magic just isn't that exciting. I was so disappointed after the amazing prologue, but the rest of the book just didn't live up to it.

A free eARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bullet Reviews: Vampire Academy, The Magician King, Fool Moon

Round 4 of Bullet reviews features some not-quite-urban-fantasy books. I say not-quite because all three books involve our modern world and some paranormal creatures but none of them quite fit into the stereotypical UF mold. I was initially planning on making this set of reviews the last few books I read in November, but those three books were completely unrelated so I decided to grab a book from December to make the reviews fit better together.

18660669Vampire Academy by Richelle Meade

Genre: contemporary, urban fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars

What I liked:
  • Full disclosure: I only picked this up because it started with a V and I needed to complete my A-Z challenge. That said, I had zero expectations going into this book and I ended up really enjoying it
  • I loved how it focused on friendship. Yes, there were a lot of messy romantic feelings and such but the core of this story is a bond of friendship, and I'm a sucker for stories about amazing friends
  • Lissa and Rose are both such badasses, and in general I loved how this book took a stance against slut-shaming and generally portrayed women as characters with agency and power over their own lives and decisions

What I didn't like:
  • For all her general awesomeness, Rose came off as vain and selfish sometimes. She put ridiculous emphasis on her figure and her clothes and how she enjoyed how people reacted to her, and power to her for being confident and loving her body, but it just got tiresome reading about such superficial things when there were actual life-altering and mysterious things happening
  • I don't know how else to describe this, but the writing of this book just felt kind of young. Like it was purposefully written to cater to slightly-less-than-intelligent teenagers. I get annoyed when YA books/authors feel the need to write "down" to their readers; yes, I'm not a teenager anymore and I'm older than the target audience but even as a teenager I would have been annoyed by how this book assumes the reader can't appreciate subtlety or complexity.
Recommended for... 
people who are looking for a light and fun story about female friendships, vampires, and mysterious happenings at boarding school.

10079321The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Genre: Contemporary, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I loved that we got to see Julia's story. Julia came to magic the hard way, and she goes through some crazy and intense things to get where she wants to be. Her flashbacks that paralleled the chapters from book 1 were far more compelling to me than Quentin's story in book 1.
  • More magic, more subversion of classic fantasy tropes. The Magician King continues to poke fun at fantasy readers' expectations and our general belief in goodness and heroism and "good will triumph over evil". It's never quite so simple, and things don't always happen the way we want them to.
  • Fillory has a much bigger presence in this book, it was really cool to see more of the Neitherlands and other magical worlds as well.
  • I'm enjoying how the TV show is adapting the first two books by sort of twisting some story threads together and branching other subplots off in new ways
What I didn't like:
  • There was still a point in the middle of this book where it was a little hard for me to focus just because Quentin is so unbearably useless sometimes and I just can't care enough about him to see how things are going for him. It was definitely easier to get through this book than the first one though, the pacing was much better
Recommended for: people who aren't turned off by a less glamorous version of their favorite childhood fantasy stories, anyone looking for subversive humor and very dark truths


Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2) by Jim Butcher
Genre: urban fantasy, science fiction
Rating: 4/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator did a fantastic job with this book. He sounds exactly like the Harry Dresden in my head.
  • This book was absolutely sickening in some parts, and unbelievably adorable in others. I liked how I got to experience a full spectrum of emotions as the story progressed
  • Very cool new revelations about werewolf mythology
  • I enjoy the humor in these books, there are funny moments throughout but it never gets heavy handed
What I didn't like:
  • Harry sighs a lot. Or the narrator sighs a lot. Somehow there was just a lot of sighing in the audibook and I got a little annoyed
  • I don't like how awkward and messy Harry's relationship with Murphy is getting. Harry is constantly trying to take care of the women in his life and be chivalrous, which I found annoying (and so did Murphy). It was like he assumed women can't take care of themselves or don't know what they're doing unless proven otherwise. I also didn't like how Murphy kept assuming the worst in Harry despite their sort-of-friendship, like why does she assume the worst in people constantly? I hope they manage to work things out soon :/
Recommended for... fans of urban fantasy and those not afraid of lots of blood and gore

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Bullet Reviews: Gemina, Heartless, Torch Against the Night

Round 3 of Bullet reviews! I'm still working my way through November 2016, but I'm hoping to finish November this week and then I'll only be 2 months behind on reviews instead of 4! The bar is so low haha

This week's books are Heartless, A Torch Against the Night, and Gemina. These were all "big" 2016 releases, ones that I/the bookish community was hugely anticipating. One book exceeded my expectations, one was a disappointment, and one was just as incredible as I thought it would be. So which one was which? Check it out below!

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Genre: fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • the descriptions of the food! I love cooking and baking, and all the descriptions of Cath's baking made my mouth water and inspired me to try baking some lemon-flavored things
  • Jest was a really cool character, as was the Hatter. It was interesting to see how archetypal Alice in Wonderland characters were reimagined for this Queen of Hearts origin story
  • I loved how dark this book got towards the end. For a book that started out talking about pies and cakes it sure didn't pull any punches when it came to blood, fury, and darkness at the end.

What I didn't like:
  • I was frankly bored for most of the book, nothing seemed to be happening and then all of a sudden Cath became the diabolical Queen of Hearts in the span of a few dozen pages. I wish there had been more darkness in her throughout or at least a more gradual transition
  • Cath was such a boring character at the beginning, and I didn't really like how the relationship between Cath and Jest was portrayed. It could have been developed so much more, I just didn't find their love very compelling so that made it hard to swallow a lot of the end because so much hinges on the strength of Cath's feelings about Jest
  • I adored the Lunar Chronicles because of the characters and the humor despite all the darkness, and this book just didn't have that. I didn't connect with the characters as much as I did the Lunar characters. Maybe this story was doomed because I don't like Alice in Wonderland all that much?
Recommended for... 
anyone who loves Alice in Wonderland and fairy tale retellings. Most people have enjoyed this one more than I have!

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I listened to both book 1 and 2 on audio, and as much as I liked the voice for Elias, I didn't like Laia's narrator. I loved Helene's narrator, though, so that was a definite improvement from book 1
  • I don't like Laia much in general, so it was awesome that this book focused less on her and made room for Helene, who quickly became my favorite character of the series. She has to make the hardest choices of anyone, and sacrifices more than anyone else. She's broken but you know she will pull herself together and be stronger for it.
  • No middle book slump here! This was an exciting story all on its own, with lots of big reveals and cool elements added to the world/overall story arc
  • Biggest improvement from book 1: Much less propagation of rape culture. I was sickened by how much Ember in the Ashes spread ideas like "the pretty ones get raped more, they're asking for it". This book is still brutal but it is full of female friendships and mentors and women helping one another instead of tearing each other down.
  • Marcus is a lot smarter than people give him credit for, that was a welcome surprise! But also an unwelcome surprise. You'll know what I mean if you've read it.
What I didn't like:
  • I still don't like Laia. She's so whiney and incompetent and pretty selfish and honestly I don't get what everyone sees in her. At least she's trying, I guess?
  • The Warden was terrifying, as was the Commandant, but I just wish the villains were a little more 3D. They are truly frightening but I like more complexity and moral ambiguity in my antagonists
Recommended for: people who enjoy suspenseful, lyrical stories about war and revenge. There's more magic in this book than the previous one but I would still characterize this more as alternate history than fantasy

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: science fiction
Rating: 5/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I thought Illuminae was mindblowing and intense and hilarious, and Gemina had the same winning formula! It was just the right mixture of the familiar and the new, because the plot and characters were obviously all new but it still had the same level of intensity/suspense in the plot and sass from the characters
  •  I absolutely love how both books feature badass young women saving the universe(s) and a lot of humor mixed in to offset the disturbing, devastatingly sad, and horrifying parts. 
  • I love the visual experience of the pages telling a story through art and words at the same time.Marie Lu's drawings were a great addition, and the illustrations worked great even on a kindle!
What I didn't like:
  • This book was just a tiny bit less shocking than Illuminae, just because it's harder to be completely surprised the second time around. It was still awesome, though. I wouldn't even say that I actually disliked being less surprised haha
  • My only complaint is that in the kindle version Ella/Pauchok's text is the same color as the background 70% of the time so I couldn't read most of her witty banter. That was incredibly disappointing because she was my favorite character, but that's my own fault for rushing to buy a kindle copy instead of waiting for a hardcover to ship
Recommended for... fans of science fiction and fast-paced, suspenseful stories with a big dose of humor

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bookish Eats: Pistachio Macarons for Empire of Storms

This week's edition of Bookish Eats features:

Empire of Storms


Empire of Storms has been quite a polarizing book in the SJM fan world, and I went into it with both eyes wide open. I wasn't expecting it to be spectacular, I knew there were things that would annoy me, but I also knew that SJ Maas has proved my skepticism wrong on multiple occasions.

I don't know how she does it, but somehow I will spend most of the book rolling my eyes and waiting for things to happen and not really caring about anyone, but then towards the end things will come together in this giant emotional crescendo and I will just be so overcome with FEELS that I put on my rose-colored glasses and decide I liked the whole book quite a bit!

So...what does this have to do with macarons?

Image result for macarons
Macarons, the ones with a single "o", are adorable, tiny little French cookies. They are delicious. They are also at least $2-3 each and after my baking adventure I totally understand why. These things are so temperamental. It's almost impossible to get them right on the first try, and honestly, I wasn't expecting this baking adventure to turn out very well. Eyes wide open, see?

A few other points for how making pistachio macarons reflects my experience of reading Empire of Storms:
  • they both took longer to finish/make than expected (5 hours for the macarons. FIVE HOURS.)
  • took some effort to get through it but totally worth it in the end
  • maybe not as polished as I'd hoped but overall enjoyable, I'm definitely excited about making macarons again/reading the next ToG book

And now for the macaron making process! This recipe was very labor intensive, so I enlisted some friends to help me. We ended up making a vegan version because one of my friends is vegan, and we discovered that if you whip the liquid that comes in a can of chickpeas you end up with this meringue-y goodness:

who knew chickpea water could look so good??

We made pistachio flavored macarons using ground up pistachios and almond flour. In hindsight we probably should have sifted the ground nuts so we didn't end up with such lumpy batter...

but who cares how lumpy the cookies are when they taste heavenly?

These macarons took an immense amount of effort but they were absolutely worth it in the end. I think that about sums up my feelings about the ToG series so far. I've disliked some characters/books, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort for me to get through the series, but in the end the books grow on me and I am still very much enjoying this series.

Anyone else brave enough to try baking macarons? Any thoughts on Empire of Storms?

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Monday, January 23, 2017

TTT: Top Ten Nonfiction books I want to read this year

I read so much genre fiction. I love it, it helps me get through the day sometimes when I have another world to escape into. Genre fiction is entertaining and emotional and so much fun! But lately I have been making an effort to read more news articles and nonfiction books. Part of it is the whole "Be a well-informed citizen because this presidency is going to be full of misleading information and alternative facts" but part of it is just because I love to learn new things and I think reading is a great way to do it.

So here are the top 10 nonfiction books I want to read this year!

 Image result for ta-nehisi coates between the world and me
I've been meaning to read this for a while, and I actually just bought myself a copy so I am looking forward to this insightful commentary on how to live in a world where you are judged for the color of your skin - whether the world acknowledges that or not.
This book was recommended to me by a friend, and a collection of essays on feminism in the South Asian community sounds like something I would really relate to.

This seems like such a happy, peaceful book, and I am very curious to read musings by such important figures of peace in our world

I've seen this memoir on a bunch of "Best of" lists, plus I've been listening to a lot of audiobook biographies lately and I quite enjoy them.
A friend recommended this to me...four years ago? I'm hoping to finally read this one!

I've heard nothing but great things about the movie, which I am planning on watching soon. It only makes sense that I also read the book :)

I've heard a lot of good things about this author, although I haven't read anything by him. 
Image result

I've read a lot of WWII fiction, but not much nonfiction (I think Eli Wesel's Night is the only one I've actually read). It's a very troubling time but I am always amazed at people's resilience and how people managed to survive together.

I love the xkcd comics and I am such a science geek, I think I would thoroughly enjoy this :)
Image result for collected essays george orwell

1984 was my first dystopian novel and it was incredibly chilling and insightful. I am excited to read some nonfiction from this genius author

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