Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Alias Hook

18404312Title: Alias Hook
Author: Lisa Jensen
Genre: Fantasy, retellings, adult fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
"Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It's my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy."
Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.
With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a beautifully and romantically written adult fairy tale.

I am a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, yet somehow I'd never read one about Peter Pan. Well, I guess that's a lie - I read Peter and the Starcatchers in elementary school, but nothing since then. I'm also a huge fan of antiheroes and complex characters, so as you can imagine I jumped at the chance to request this Hook-centric retelling from NetGalley.

Peter Pan has such an interesting premise - young boys that live forever and never age, frolicking in a land full of mermaids and fairies. The rather idiotic pirates seem like an afterthought, caricatures that provide comic relief. But Jensen makes Captain Hook a complex and all too human character, and it is Pan who is the caricature now. Her basic assumptions about the world are so brilliant, but they also make a lot of sense. The children kill for sport because they are just boys, and haven't yet developed a sense of conscience or responsibility. Hook is a man who welcomes death but has been cursed to keep coming back to life. He is selfish and callous, yes, but also broken and weary. The pirates on Hook's ship are former Lost Boys who couldn't shake off the call of Neverland even as they grew into adults in the real world. And then there's Stella.

Stella is the first grown woman to arrive in Neverland. Is she a former Wendy, or a part of Peter Pan's ruse? Is she an innocent that got caught up in a magical world on accident? Is she here to heal, or is she the one that needs healing? Sophie is the most intriguing and unique element in this retelling, and she really brought the story to life. I really enjoyed her flawed character as well as her complicated relationship with Hook.

I really enjoyed all the twists and little details that Jenson wove into the world of Neverland. From Hook being immortal to the nature of fairies, there was so much that was both familiar and new at the same time. This retelling struck a good balance of keeping familiar elements of the original story while weaving an entirely new story. The writing style was also really beautiful, and the snappy dialogue had me smiling quite a few times. I really enjoyed this book, and I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a new take on a familiar story.

*A free e-copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Way of Kings Readalong: Week 2

Welcome to week 2 of the Way of Kings Readalong! For those of you joining in, this week we are reading pages 202-405 (up through Chapter 28). The full schedule is below:

June 22 – June 28
Finish through Ch12 (page 210)
June 29 – July 5
Finish through Ch28 (page 405)
July 6 – July 12
Finish through Ch42 (page 600)
July 13 – July 19
Finish through Ch57 (page 810)
July 20 – July 26
Finish book (page 1002)

Again, you can tweet your thoughts and updates to me @spidersilksnow and use the hashtag #WoKRA. It's never too late to join! If you're starting late, you can always comment on older posts or link me to your posts whenever you have them up.

What has happened so far (needless to say, spoilers!):

There are 10 Heralds with immense power who have just finished battling the giant stone beasts known as thunderclasts. One has died and returned to the torturous hell that all Heralds experience between Desolations, and the rest refuse to return, leaving their Blades in a circle in the sand. 


Szeth is an assassin and a Shin. As Truthless, he must obey everything that his master commands him to do except take his own life. He is able to perform Lashings and manipulate Stormlight, techniques he uses to kill the king Gavilar. He escapes by hitching a ride in a wagon and is eventually sold to many different owners who treat him as a slave.


Kaladin "Stormblessed" is a darkeyes who fought in the emperor's wars until he was betrayed by the lighteye Amaram. His father was a surgeon, and taught him that there are those who take lives and those who save them, but Kaladin believes that there are people (like himself) who take lives to save lives. He later concludes that the third category is instead the victims, or people who merely experience the effects of the people saving and taking lives. He is labeled a deserter and sold as a slave, passing from master to master until he is finally made part of Bridge Four. He is almost broken by being a bridgeman, but a windspren encourages him and helps him get back his courage and strength to fight.


This determined, witty young woman put it into her mind that she would be apprenticed to Jasnah Kholin. Shallan comes from a lower noble family and is lighteyed. She is a skilled artist and loves learning for its own sake; while she initially wanted to apprentice herself to Jasnah to learn and make a name for herself, she changes gears when she discovers Jasnah has a Soulcaster. She decides to steal it now that her father is dead in order to help support her family and maintain appearances.

Adolin and Dalinar:

Dalinar is the brother of the assassinated King Gavilar, and Adolin is his son. Dalinar has sworn to protect his brother's son, King Elhokar, since he failed to save his brother. He was once a brave and respected warrior, but is now seen as weak, especially because of his fits of visions. Adolin is fiercely loyal to his father, but wants him to return to his former glory and is frustrated by Dalinar's weakness. Adolin, Dalinar, King Elhokar, Sadeas, and others go on a hunt for a chasmfiend on the Shattered plains. When one of the creatures makes a surprise appearance, Dalinar and Adolin pull out all the stops to save the impetuous king. They are successful, and King Elhokar harvests a giant emerald from the beast.

My thoughts and predictions:

I literally had to force myself to stop reading at page 210 so that I could write this post without spoiling anything. This book is so addicting!

I really like all the POVs so far. Although we have seen the least of Szeth, it seems like he is going to be very important later on. I love how mysterious and complex his character is - he hates assassination, welcomes death, even, but cannot keep himself from following orders to the best of his abilities. Seems like a more potent version of Ella's curse in Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted!

I also love Shallan's wit and I enjoy the conversations she has when she dissects other people's words and spits back a meaning more cynical than what was originally meant. Maybe it's the cynic in me that empathizes with her, but I really like her so far. I am also a huge fan of Yalb - I have a soft spot for lovable cons, and he certainly fits the bill.

Kaladin is a little harder for me to gauge. I understand that he is broken, but I feel like I don't really know enough about him in his non-weakened state to judge who he is. So far we have really only seen him take charge through the eyes of an adoring new recruit (Cenn), so it will be interesting to see how he grows and changes.

We hardly saw Adolin so far, so not much to say about him. I am kind of pissed off that he needs a beautiful woman around to constantly adore him, but hey, all characters have weaknesses. I'm just hoping he grows out of this one! Dalinar seems formidable, and I'm excited to see more of him in the future. I hope he reclaims his honor among his own people instead of being ridiculed - it always makes me sad when great people/characters are laughed at.

I think the concept of the spren is really cool! At first I had a really hard time imagining them, and just imagined something like a more ethereal version of flubber.

And as we learned more about the different kinds of spren (windspren, rotspren, creationspren, fearspren, etc), I started imagining them more like streaks or clusters of light.

I'm so curious about what the spren are and how they came to be. Are they alive? Sentient? It seems like the one that was talking to Kaladin was almost human, but then again he was surprised that she had any memories. Maybe we'll get some more answers about them later? We'll see.

Some predictions: I know all of these unrelated stories are going to have to collide at some point, but I honestly have no idea how at this point. I think Szeth and Kaladin are going to run into each other soon - both of them are such tortured souls, and it would be interesting to see how they view one another. I also think Jasnah's going to smell a rat with Shallan - she's a smart and formidable woman, and there's no way Shallan is going to pull wool over her eyes. I am also predicting (and this is just wishful thinking now) that there will be more Yalb. Because Yalb is cool.

Other stuff to check out:

Litha wrote this really helpful post with an overview of the main characters and some fantasy terms to know when reading this book. If you're confused about some of the words and characters in Roshar, you should probably check this out!

Here's Brandon Sanderson's introduction to this book, as well as more tidbits from the book jacket. It's pretty cool to see how the author frames the novel. (Interestingly enough, I had somehow never read the description of the book until I linked this post - I'd just heard so much about it that I started reading without any idea what this series was about!)

What did you think of the first chunk? Let me know in the comments and link me to your posts! The more the merrier!

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Q&A review: Fingersmith

45162Title: Fingersmith
Author: Sarah Waters
Genre: historical fiction, mystery, adult fiction

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a na├»ve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.
With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals

Never trust a book jacket.

This book is not what it seems.

But that's half the fun!

Since I don't want to give anything away about the plot, I'm going to do a Q&A style review instead of the usual.

Q: Describe the book in six words or less.

Dickensian mystery with a twist

Q: What genre is this book?

Mostly historical fiction and mystery, although it is also very (melo)dramatic and horrifying at times.
It's also LGBTQ fiction, which is one of the twists, but if you've read any other reviews you probably knew that already.

Q: Fast paced or slow?

There are lots of twists and red herrings, so the story keeps moving, but the actual story doesn't actually have that much action. The mystery and the layers that keep revealing themselves keep things interesting, and you constantly have to re-evaluate what you think you know.

Q: Writing style?

This book is incredibly well-written. You know how sometimes authors try and write in a certain style but it doesn't come off as natural? That's definitely not the case here. I felt like the writing and the dialogue fit the time period incredibly well - it was almost like reading a more mysterious version of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and Other Short Fiction, which was written in 1892!

Q: So why only 3 stars?

I really liked the writing style and the shades-of-gray characters. I felt like the twists and revelations resolved themselves really well, but there were a lot of points in the book where I was just waiting for something to happen. I was frankly bored with the story towards the middle, but I really wanted to see how it ended so I pushed through. I'm glad I did, but I can't say the brilliant ending made up for the part in the middle. I think other people might find the whole book intriguing, though, so I'd still recommend it!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review - Steelheart (and err...Vicious?)

17182126Title: Steelheart
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: YA, science fiction, dystopia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary:
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.
Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.
And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Brandon Sanderson continues to be a storytelling god.

This is the fourth book I've read by him (the first three being the Mistborn trilogy), and I had really high expectations going in. Never mind that this one is marketed as YA while the rest of his books are marketed as epic fantasy - I expected nothing less than the usual Sanderson Brilliance.

And I got it.

This book is what I wanted out of V.E. Schwab's Vicious. Both books feature a futuristic world populated by a few superhuman people/creatures that are morally complex and very troublesome. By troublesome, I mean they run around killing people. The main plot of the novels are very different, although they are both driven by revenge. Somehow I was able to connect with Sanderson's characters and their struggles more than Schwab's, which is probably why I enjoyed this one more (also it probably helps that Sanderson is a storytelling god. Just saying).

I'm sorry this review is turning into more of a compare and contrast exercise between the two books, but I couldn't read Steelheart without thinking of Vicious. I really liked the explanation for the superpowers in Vicious, and since we haven't really gotten one yet in the world of Steelheart, I'm hoping it's just as good.

A minor complaint about this book, which is why it got four stars and not a full five - I felt like the writing style took some getting used to. I know that this book is marketed as YA and is thus written for a younger audience, but I have read plenty of YA books that are incredibly well-written and don't seem dumbed down at all. At first I felt like this book was a watered-down version of the usual Sanderson prose, but eventually things got going and I was able to get past the writing style.

I would definitely recommend this to Sanderson fans, as well as people who loved Vicious. It's a superhero story where the heros aren't the ones with the supernatural powers - if that sounds like a fantastic premise, why yes it is.

View all my reviews

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 30 - Cover trends

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's theme:  Book Cover Trends I Like/Dislike

I honestly can't think of 10 different trends, so here are a few that I've noticed.

1. I've been noticing a lot of red and black making an appearance on covers lately. I kind of like it - it hints at the darker elements of the stories without making it too freaky or dark.


2. I also really like the trend of water on book covers.


3. I love the 2D/silhouette look of these covers:

18404312 1357962618081809

4. I think it's really cool how these covers have faces but with a twist. Either the face is part of something else, or it's the illusion of a face made up of other things...

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Way of Kings Readalong Kick off!

It's finally here! The Way of Kings Readalong officially begins today. Even if you don't usually read epic fantasy, Sanderson is a great place to start - his stories are so rich and exciting, and the amount of planning that goes into them is insane!

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting my thoughts and predictions each Sunday, and maybe some other tidbits and updates during the week. It's never too late to join - if you don't have a copy of the book yet, the kindle version of the book is on sale for $2.99 right now so don't miss out!

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments of my blog posts, but if you have your own blog posts, leave a link in the comments or on twitter (my handle is @spidersilksnow)! And if you're tweeting anything about the readalong, you can use the hashtag #WoKRA

Here's the schedule - I divided it up so that we're reading about 200 pages a week. If you decide to go ahead, please keep your comments spoiler-free for the later parts of the book.

June 22 – June 28
Finish through Ch12 (page 201)
June 29 – July 5
Finish through Ch28 (page 405)
July 6 – July 12
Finish through Ch42 (page 600)
July 13 – July 19
Finish through Ch57 (page 810)
July 20 – July 26
Finish book (page 1002)

I'm so excited to start reading and discuss this book with everyone! I am under the firm impression that Brandon Sanderson is a god on earth and master storyteller, and I cannot wait to see how his epic fantasy series turns out.

See you all in a week!

<runs off to start reading>

How excited are you for the Way of Kings Readalong? Is this your first time or a re-read? Let me know in the comments!

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review (kind of): The Archived

10929432Title: The Archived
Author: Victoria Schwab
Genre: Magical realism, young adult

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what she once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.
Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.
In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

Everyone I knew was raving about Vicious, and it sounded just like something I would love. I read it, and I liked it, but it was definitely not love. I decided to give The Archived a chance, hoping for some glimmer of what I missed in Vicious. Unfortunately, this book was also pretty lukewarm for me.

What makes this difficult for me to review is that I don't quite know why I am not convinced by these books. The premises seem like things I would like, and I've only heard good things about them from around the blogosphere. To me, Victoria Schwab is in a similar boat as Patrick Rothfuss: Both of them seem like such awesome, cool people from their blog posts and social media presence, and I love and respect them as people, but I just cannot connect with their books.

I think my main problem with The Archived was that I didn't connect enough with the characters (ironic, considering how "The Big Issue" for the main character was/is one of mine as well). I thought the concept of the Archive was cool - as someone who loves stories (and people), it is so comforting to imagine that all of our stories and experiences are held somewhere safe after we die. It is also remarkably disturbing to think of someone violating and extinguishing those stories, yet somehow I never seriously felt any urgency in the book as this was happening. The main character kept getting away with so much, kept being rewarded without good reason, that I felt like nothing could actually go badly for her. It's hard to root for someone who magically gets her way all the time.

I don't think I will be reading any more of this series, but I am not done reading V.E. Schwab. I'm hoping A Darker Shade of Magic will be the book to convert me into a fan!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review - Cruel Beauty

15839984Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Genre: Retellings, fantasy, young adult

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.
With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.
But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.
As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

I really liked some things about this book, but some things bugged me. I think the Greek mythology woven into the Beauty and the Beast story line trumps the annoyances, though.

Cruel Beauty is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but with far more elements than the original fairy tale. The world is almost like what you'd end up with if you took Greek myths and English folktales, mixed them up, fed them to people, and then trapped all those people under a bubble. Yeah, that sounds really strange, but that's the gist of how this world works. There is a bit of beauty, some magic, a bit of terror, and lots and lots of secrets.

Nyx has been raised knowing that one day she will be married off to the Demon Lord who presides over her world by making bargains. Her mother was a victim of one such bargain, and Nyx vows revenge. It would be more accurate to say her father vows revenge, but decides to dump the burden on Nyx before settling down with his dead wife's sister and his favorite daughter, Astraia. You can see why Nyx is bitter. I quite enjoyed her anger and her acerbic wit - she wasn't the usual self-sacrificing, pious young maiden that usually populates fairy tales. When Nyx finally meets the infamous demon lord, she is startled to find that he isn't as horrible as the tales make him seem. But there is still something very dark and very wrong in his house, and some secrets are best kept that way...

I really enjoyed the dark tone of this book. The writing was gorgeous, as were the inventive spins on Greek mythology. I especially loved the way Pandora was re-cast. I also really loved the narrator for the audiobook - she had such a unique voice, and the British accent definitely added to the charm of the fairy tale.

I was more than a little annoyed with Nyx though. I really liked that she wasn't a stereotypical "maiden", and I liked that she was headstrong, stubborn, and flawed. What I didn't like was how fickle she was. She kept changing her mind about...well, everything. She loved Shade, then Ignifex, then neither, then both? I don't know, I lost track. And she hated her family, especially her mother. Wait, no, she loved her mother but hated Astraia. Then she hated herself for hating Astraia because deep down she loved her family. But not her dad. Although she still wanted his approval, even if he's the type of slime to sleep with his get the picture. It was infuriating. I also felt like the resolution to the conflict was a little too neat. I feel like there could have been another answer, and while the ending was done well, I personally didn't love it.

Despite my annoyances, this book is still worth reading, if only for the Greek mythology and the beautiful writing. I'd say this is one of the more innovative and interesting retellings I've read.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 29 - Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top Ten Summer TBR books

I've been AWOL from Top Ten Tuesdays for the past couple of weeks because of finals, but class is over and summer is finally here! Here are some books I've been looking forward to and can't wait to read this summer.

A no-brainer, considering I am a die-hard Sanderson fan and I'll be hosting a readalong of this starting Sunday. CAN'T WAIT.

 I've heard a lot of great things about this book around the blogosphere, but I don't really know what this book is about (which is kind of the point?). The blurb sounds awesome, and I'm excited to start reading.

I love this series and just haven't been able to get a copy of this book to see how it ends. I'm still on the waiting list at the library, but I will read this one soon!

I don't usually read romance novels, but I needed a "J" book for my AZ challenge and well, Gayle Forman. I figured the summer was a good time to read it, and I'm excited to read more of Gayle Forman's lyrical writing.

So...for some strange reason I still haven't read this one yet. I know, I know, and I call myself a lover of fairy tale retellings. All the buzz about the second and third books has gotten me excited about this series, so I'll probably start this summer.

The first book in this series was fast-paced and funny, which sounds just like the type of book I'd want to read over the summer. I said it already, but I WANT A DOG LIKE OBERON!

This one is the blue cover book for a June rainbow book covers challenge. I also think it's cool when events/characters have parallels in the past and present, so that'll be interesting.

Another historical fiction novel - I absolutely loved Code Name Verity by the same author, and I'm really excited to read this one.

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