Saturday, August 30, 2014

A small hiatus

Hello lovely blog readers,

I'll be out of the country for about two weeks, visiting the grandparents in the land of no internet. Well, it's more "the land of very sporadic and supremely slow internet" but either way I won't be posting anything for a while except scheduled reviews. So if I'm not replying to your comments or prowling your blogs, it's because I'm gone, not because I don't love you all!

See you on the other side!

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Fantasy Friday - Tackling massive series

This is a meme hosted by Rinn Reads where anyone can join in and talk about anything Fantasy!

As I continue my quest of reading every Sanderson book ever, it's hitting me that a lot of fantasy novels (and series) are ridiculously long. I've weathered the Harry Potter series (7 books), five A Song of Ice and Fire books (7-8 books), the Mistborn trilogy and a bit of the Stormlight Archive (10 books), The Name of the Wind (3 books), three Gentleman Bastards books (8 books), and quite a few others.

The common theme? If the books themselves aren't huge, the series are.

This infographic gives you the word counts of the books in ASoIaF:

For reference, a novel is classified as a book that has approximately 50,000-110,000 words, while an epic novel is anything more than 110,000 words. By that classification, all of the ASoIaF books are epic novels. Epic novels. So each novel is in itself an epic, and there are an as-yet undetermined number of them. Intimidating? Yes.

A lot of people are scared away by fantasy series because there are so many books, or because each book is 500+ pages. This makes me sad, because I have a lot of books and series I want to recommend to people, but they're either too intimidated or too impatient to stick with these books. I guess I don't really blame them, because even I'm wary of starting a few series (A Wheel of Time, anyone?). I recently recommended the Stormlight Archive to a friend, and he said he's start when all the books were out. Which will likely be in 20 years. Sighs.

To make reading a 1000+ page book less intimidating, I hosted a readalong of Sanderson's The Way of Kings this summer. It helped to break down the book into smaller chunks, about 200 pages each week. That way I never felt like I had a huge amount to read, and in fact I wanted to read way faster. It was also encouraging to be part of a readalong because when other people are reading with you, you're more likely to keep up so that you can chat about what's happening.

But you can't exactly have a readalong for every book, can you?

So how do you tackle these giant series? I think some series are better than others for this. With Scott Lynch's The Gentleman Bastards series, you can read the first book and leave it at that, but once you start reading the second book, you fall down the slippery slope of cliffhangers and you have to keep reading. The nice thing about this is if you don't love the first book (which I hope is not the case, because then we can't be friends anymore), you can just stop there and it almost seems like a complete story. If you started ASoIaF, it would be really maddening to drop it after the first book because there are just so many loose ends (and in fact, the loose ends grow exponentially with each book). So maybe picking the right series to whet your fantasy appetite would help.

How do you tackle giant books? Have you been too intimidated by size to start reading fantasy series? How do you convince people to give these massive things a shot?

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: The Secret Place

20821043Title: The Secret Place
Author:Tana French
Genre: Mystery, psychological thriller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.
Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.
But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

This is the fourth Tana French book I've read, and it's not my favorite of hers, but it's still excellent. Giving this book four stars is like me giving Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies four stars. These author's other books are so flipping fantastic that I have to knock a star when they're just amazing.

In a nutshell, a four star Tana French is probably a five star anyone else.

I was a little unsure about this book, since it focused on a year-old murder at a girls' boarding school instead of the usual recently discovered murder in some corner of Dublin. The girl who brings Stephen Moran onto the case is Frank Mackey's teenaged daughter, no less. The last time we saw Stephen and Holly was 7 years ago in Faithful Place, so I was unsure about how things would play out. At times it was a little dull getting through this book, since it takes place over 24 hours and involves a lot of interrogating. I mean, with a murder over a year old, there's not much room for investigation or working in the field. Once things started taking shape, though, I couldn't put this book down. The second half more than made up for the rocky middle.

This book makes me realize how much worse Lord of the Flies would have been if it had been an island of girls. Girls are catty and spiteful, and very good at smiling sweetly while they are secretly planning to stab you in the back. We're very good at pretending and putting on faces, and it's much much worse when you're a teenager. Tana French captures all of that, but she also captures the firm conviction that friends we make in school are the people we will hold onto for all of our lives. Our friends are greater than our families, greater than first loves or anything else we have ever known. So how far would you go to protect that?

What's most frightening about this book is how believable it is. It's just ordinary girls and accidents and drama. There's no psychopath or criminal with a disturbed past. There's a touch of the surreal, but only a touch, and that adds to the slightly eerie atmosphere.

I missed getting inside a detective's broken head. First we had Rob, dealing with the demons of his past. Then Cassie, trying to pick up the pieces and find herself even as she lost herself in someone else's life. Frank Mackey had to deal with his twisted family and face his fears. Scorcher Kennedy is a lonely soul who keeps his secrets locked up tight. But Stephen Moran? He's just a new kid trying to make it big. He's the friendly guy who gets along with everyone because he's very good at being who the other person wants him to be (sound like those teenage girls?). I was definitely rooting for Stephen, and I'll admit I was as charmed as everyone else, but I was slightly disappointed that we didn't find out more about him.

Another departure from the previous books is that this one also includes flashbacks from the girls' point of view. You see them lazily walking through life, drinking in the moment and shouting to the world that they can take on anything. It's beautiful, but also makes it even more painful when the truth comes out.

As with all Tana French books, I'd highly recommend this for fans of mysteries and fans of stories about real people. Most of the time it's not about who the killer is; it's about how one event can deeply affect so many people, and how far people will go to protect the people they care about. This book is no exception.

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

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 36 - Unowned TBR

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

This week's theme: Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don't Own Yet

This is a strange theme for me because I read almost all of my books from the library, and only buy my favorites. So I'm going to amend this to Books I really want to read but don't have in my possession. 

1. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

As I mentioned last week, I'm on a mission to read every Sanderson book ever. He's one of my favorite authors, and if I'm going to tackle the mysteries of the cosmere, it's obvious that I'm going to have to read all the books set in it.

2. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

I really enjoyed Half a King by the same author, and I've heard on all accounts that this trilogy is even better! I will be reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it. Which is hopefully soon.

3. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2)

I loved Code Name Verity by the same author, and was lucky enough to win a signed paperback of it. I've read and reread that book and it just gets better (and more emotional) every time. I can't wait to see how Rose Under Fire compares. I'm sure it will be fantastic!

4. The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch

I love Locke and Jean to death, and I cannot wait to see how the next chapter in their story turns out. Obviously I don't have this book in my possession, because it won't be published until early next year (!!).

5. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I've been hearing a lot of great things about Mark Lawrence's series, so I'm excited to read this one. Unfortunately, my library doesn't have a copy, which means I'm either going to have to beg/borrow/steal one or buy a copy for myself. Hmmmm...

6.  A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

So...I have this strange relationship with V.E Schwab's books (see my reviews of The Archived, Vicious, and Steelheart for more details) where I think everything about them is fantastic and awesome and I want to love them...but I don't. I actually really liked Vicious, but I didn't think the hype did it justice. So I'm excited to give V.E. Schwab one more chance, and this book's synopsis has my pulse racing even more than her other books. Third time's the charm?

7. Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica

The synopsis of this one sounds incredible, and I've heard lots of good things about it. I mean, a fantasy world where the real-world intruder isn't the hailed savior of prophecy, but instead someone to keep away? That's new. Working on getting a copy of this. We'll see how that goes.

Any of these on your wishlist? Which one should I try to get my hands on first?

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Fool's Assassin

20640707Title: Fool's Assassin
Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Nearly twenty years ago, Robin Hobb burst upon the fantasy scene with the first of her acclaimed Farseer novels, Assassin’s Apprentice, which introduced the characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and his uncanny friend the Fool. A watershed moment in modern fantasy, this novel—and those that followed—broke exciting new ground in a beloved genre. Together with George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb helped pave the way for such talented new voices as Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Naomi Novik.
Over the years, Hobb’s imagination has soared throughout the mythic lands of the Six Duchies in such bestselling series as the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles. But no matter how far she roamed, her heart always remained with Fitz. And now, at last, she has come home, with an astonishing new novel that opens a dark and gripping chapter in the Farseer saga.
FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.
Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.
Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . . .
You can find out more about the book by clicking on this link.

I feel like this entire book was exposition, and then in the last 100 pages the author remembered that things needed to happen and then crammed everything in.

This book doesn't really read like a fantasy novel. It reads more like Little House on the Prairie - it's about family and growing up and love and life and loss. There are hints at Fitz's dark past and an even darker future, but since I hadn't read the previous trilogies, I didn't know what demons tormented him. That's not to say that there is nothing dark in this novel. There are a few very unsettling events, but the majority of it is very...peaceful.

This story is also a bit of a coming-of-age story, and it's interesting comparing how Fitz's weary eyes see things so differently from a perceptive child's. The child plays a large role in this story, but I will not spoil anything by saying who or how.

I really liked the characters, Fitz and Chade especially. I was drawn in by the politics and intrigue and unspoken promises and betrayals. Unfortunately, I also felt like I was missing out on a lot. Some things were explained, but I really wish I'd had a better understanding of the characters. The Fool was hardly present in this book, but when s/he did show up, I really wanted to know more about him too.

I'd recommend it for people who have already read and loved the other FitzChivalry and the Fool trilogies, but not for people like myself who are reading Robin Hobb for the first time.

Thanks Nicole from Feed Your Fiction Addiction for recommending Robin Hobb to me. Even though this book wasn't that great for me, I'll be sure to check out the original Farseer trilogies!

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

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

DiverSFFy: Partials

DiverSFFy is a new (sporadic) feature hosted by yours truly! The goal is to get the word out about books in science fiction and fantasy that do a good job of portraying people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives - be it race, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic levels, etc. I'd love it if you joined in - just link me to your posts in the comments or on twitter (@spidersilksnow)!

This week's pick: Partials by Dan Wells

The Rundown

Title: Partials
Author: Dan Wells
Genre: Science fiction, dystopian, young adult

So what's so diverse about this book?

This is a look at Long Island after most of  the rest of the world has been destroyed by biological weapons, radiation, and nuclear fallout. New York today is a melting pot of different cultures and communities; New York of the future is even more so. 

There are characters from almost every race and ethnicity, many of mixed heritage. There are people with widely different political views and social standings. This book does one of the best jobs of representing humanity as a whole, instead of just a large group of similar people with a few diverse characters thrown in. You don't discriminate by race or social class or political party anymore; you can't afford to. There is so little of humanity left that there is simply no room for discrimination.

Why you should read it:

It's a fast-paced, gritty look humanity when it is on the brink of extinction. There are so many moral and ethical questions to grapple with - how far are you willing to go to save the people you care about? After a certain point are people even worth saving? What exactly makes us human?

There is also a lot of suspense and action, politics, and manipulation. You never really know what's coming next, and this book keeps you at the edge of your seat. Twists and turns abound throughout this entire series, and as more secrets are revealed, you're left with even more questions.

The author does a great job of explaining the science behind the catastrophe that has struck earth. He's not a scientist, so he obviously did his research, and he manages to make rigorous sciences like virology and pharmacokinetics accessible.

The best part? It's funny. There are a lot of light-hearted moments to balance out the every-day struggles and tragedies.

The Twitter version:

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: Jackaby

Title: Jackaby
Author: William Ritter
Genre: Historical fantasy, mystery, young adult

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.
Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

I love fantasy, mysteries, and historical fiction. When I first read the book description, I jumped at the chance to read it, since it's a combination of three genres I enjoy. The gorgeous cover helped too.

Unfortunately, the book itself didn't deliver as much as I'd hoped. Let me be clear, I was not buying that tagline ("Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel" can't just name-drop two TV shows that people love to death and pretend your novel is a combination of the two). It literally has pitfalls of each of the genres that it borrows from.

1) Eccentric detective with zero personality
2) Wide-eyed assistant to detective who obviously has some talent at this sort of thing even if she hasn't ever done it before
3) Fantastical creatures that only the Chosen One (in this case, our detective) can see
4) Stubborn young woman rebelling-but-not-really in an oppressive Victorian era society

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if the main characters had half a personality, but both Jackaby and Abigail were lacking on that front. Still, the story itself was interesting, and I liked some of the minor characters. There were some twists with the minor characters that I didn't see coming, and they were just generally more interesting than dear old Jackaby.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book, but it wasn't bad either.

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

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Top Ten Tuesday 35 - Must reads

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

This week's theme: Top Ten Books People Have Been Telling You That You MUST Read

1. Every Sanderson book ever.

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors, and I've now read the entire Mistborn trilogy and the first two books of the Stormlight Archive. But of course, as I've been told a thousand times, I have to read the rest of them as well. The Cosmere calls!

2. Angelfall series

Angelfall was on my list last week about books I wasn't too sure about, and I got unanimous recommendations to go read it. So I will!

3. Wool 

I've seen this book around a lot, and everyone I know has loved it. I'm pretty sure I'll read this, but I'm just confused about whether I'll have to read the other two omnibuses or if this one can stand alone. The whole serial story thing is throwing me off!

4. Of Metal and Wishes

Nikki from TWBI tells me that since I love Phantom of the Opera, this is a must read. I'm really excited for this retelling of an amazing classic.

5.  The first law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

I really liked Half a King by the same author, so I've been meaning to read his other books, but Michelle from Book Hangovers sealed the deal. She's now a die-hard Abercrombie fan, and I can't wait to see what I think of these.

6. The Throne of Glass series

I've heard a lot of great things about this series, and I actually have a library copy of the novellas, but I haven't gotten to it yet because I have so many other books I've been dying to read. Fear not, I have been convinced that I must read this series, and I definitely will!

7. Blood Song

I hadn't even heard of this one before, but one of my friends told me it was AMAZING and that I had to read it. Usually I'm the one recommending things to her, so this time it'll be nice to read something that she told me to try.

8. The Martian

I've been hearing a lot of great things about this book, and it's one of this month's picks for the Dragons and Jetpacks group on Goodreads (which I just joined this month). I'm really excited to read this, and hopefully I'll get to it by the end of the month!

9. Night of Cake and Puppets

I love Laini Taylor, and I love the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Obviously, I have to read the novella that goes along with it. I've been told that it is fantastic, so I'm excited.

10. Firefly

Ok, I'm cheating, but I've run out of books! A bunch of my friends with really similar tastes in books told me that I have to watch this show. I finally watched the pilot this week and I love it!

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: The Art Forger (or, White Collar in book form)

18633276Title: The Art Forger
Author: B.A. Shapiro
Genre: Contemporary, mystery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Almost twenty-five years after the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—still the largest unsolved art theft in history—one of the stolen Degas paintings is delivered to the Boston studio of a young artist. Claire Roth has entered into a Faustian bargain with a powerful gallery owner by agreeing to forge the Degas in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But as she begins her work, she starts to suspect that this long-missing masterpiece—the very one that had been hanging at the Gardner for one hundred years—may itself be a forgery. The Art Forger is a thrilling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

I have to admit that the main reason I decided to read this book was because it sounded so similar to one of my favorites shows: White Collar.

Art forgery and running cons? Check.
A good dash of humor and wit? Check.
Characters with questionable motivations? Check.
A dashing and lovable ex-con protagonist? Okay, so maybe Claire doesn't quite fit that description...

There was a lot to love about this book, and I was pleasantly surprised by the humor. I wasn't expecting that at all - I figured this would be more of a thriller, but it was really more contemporary with a little mystery thrown in.

The author did a spectacular job of convincing me that art forgeries are more common than we think, and that many museums are actually displaying forgeries instead of the originals. As technologies improve, there are even more sophisticated ways of figuring out if a painting is genuine or not; there are also more sophisticated ways to get around that. There was a lot of detail about art reproduction and how to get past common authenticity verification tests, which was really cool.

I liked Claire, but some of her past actions made me want to beat her over the head with the nearest heavy object. She was just so naive sometimes, and it was ridiculous that she went through with what she did for Isaac. And then kept on saying that oh no, of course she wasn't jealous/bitter/seething with rage. Ahem.

I liked the way the mystery resolved itself, and it was really cool to explore the art world. This book was a lot of fun to read, and I'd definitely recommend it!

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