Sunday, January 31, 2016

Review: The Magicians

6101718Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy, Satire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn't real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn't bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin's yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they'd imagined. Psychologically piercing and dazzlingly inventive, The Magicians, the prequel to the New York Times bestselling book The Magician King and the #1 bestseller The Magician's Land, is an enthralling coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren't black and white, and power comes at a terrible price.



When people ask me why I like to read fantasy and science fiction, I tell them that it's because I enjoy getting away from real life. I already know what it's like to live in the here and now, so why would I just want to experience the same thing when I could get to experience fantastical worlds instead?. Fantasy is my means of escapism, and the magic and wonder and adventure inspire and entertain me.

If you open pages of The Magicians expecting the usual kind of epic fantasy book that helps ease you out of the troubles of this world, you're going to be sorely disappointed. The Magicians is by no means a form of escapism; instead, it confronts you with all the bitter unfairness of reality. It's full of scathing satire and cynicism. This is by no means a happy book, but it'll get the occasional wry chuckle out of you. This book was written to make you uncomfortable, and it laughs at you as you squirm.

So how could I possibly have enjoyed a book that is so opposite to what I usually love about fantasy books?

Once I realized that this book wasn't written to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, I could really dig into and appreciate its satire. After a while I enjoyed how clever the book was in how it dissected fantasy tropes and tore them down with wry wit. Usually the most important factor in my enjoyment of a story is how much I like the characters, but these characters were made to be disliked. Again, this took some getting used to, but I could appreciate how strange and quirky the characters were and how much they contrasted with usual fantasy book heroes and heroines.

This book is unsettling, to say the least, but it really makes you think. Would we be so desperate to escape the real world if the magical world was just as wearisome and bitter? The cynicism of this book almost makes you appreciate the little things in your real life that make you happy. I'll admit that I'm in no rush to pick up book 2 because this is a series that I'll have to be in a very particular mood to read. Still, I'd definitely recommend giving it a try. Just be warned that this is going to be unlike any other fantasy book you've ever read!

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Review: The Rose Society

23846013Title: The Rose Society
Author: Marie Lu
Genre: Fantasy, young adult

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends. Then they betrayed her, and she destroyed them all.
Adelina Amouteru’s heart has suffered at the hands of both family and friends, turning her down the bitter path of revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she flees Kenettra with her sister to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army of allies. Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.
But Adelina is no heroine. Her powers, fed only by fear and hate, have started to grow beyond her control. She does not trust her newfound Elite friends. Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead. And her former friends, Raffaele and the Dagger Society, want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good when her very existence depends on darkness?
Bestselling author Marie Lu delivers another heart-pounding adventure in this exhilarating sequel to The Young Elites.




This isn't nearly as dark as I was expecting it to be, and frankly I was disappointed after such a phenomenal first book. I still liked this series, but I wasn't blown away :/

After the end of book 1, I expected Adelina to be a lot more unhinged than she was in this one. Yes, she definitely is showing signs of losing her grip on reality and losing control of her wild anger and need to hurt other people, but she wasn't as terrifying or reckless as I was expecting. I also was disappointed by the characterization of some of the new characters. I was just expecting so much more in terms of complexity and rivalries and complex relationships, but this book seemed like a step down from the first one.

I found myself bored with this book a little over halfway through. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and the plot to move forward, but it seemed like every step forward was accompanied by a step back and the book never really moved anywhere.

I can't quite put my finger on what I disliked about this book, but it seems like my general complaint is that there could have been more of everything: more intensity and darkness, more complex relationships, and a faster/more twisted plot. I'm hoping for a stronger finish to this series, since I was initially very excited about an anti-hero story. We'll see how I feel about book 3!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review: Winter (Lunar Chronicles)

13206900Title: Winter
Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre: Science fiction, retelling, young adult

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?



One of the best series endings ever :)

I will always have a soft spot for fairy tale retellings, but I don't think anything else is going to come close to how much I love this series. Cyborg Cinderella, a fierce French Red Riding hood, computer hacker Rapunzel, and a gentle, kind of insane Snow White. Plus a little android who is as badass as she is girly! So much girl power and so many shattered stereotypes, lots of endearing characters and characters that make my skin crawl...this book (and this series) is just PHENOMENAL!

I raced through this 23 hour audiobook in five days, if that tells you anything about how much I enjoyed this :)

I really don't want to go into the plot of this book in any way because I don't want to spoil any of it. This is quite a long book, and it takes a lot of meandering paths before it gets to the end. There are a lot of elements in this book that I was pleasantly surprised about, including getting to see Luna and learn more about daily life on the moon colony. I don't want to say anything else I really liked, because half the fun was the aha moment of discovery when little details clicked into place.

I will say that the end is bittersweet, but I love that it wasn't a cookie-cutter happy ending. It was very realistic and allowed the characters room to grow and develop outside of these four books. That said, I'm very excited for the epilogue in Stars Above!

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

DiverSFFy: Karen Memory




DiverSFFy is a 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: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

22238181

The Rundown

Title: Karen Memory
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Genre: Steampunk, fantasy

Goodreads Summary:
"You ain't gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It's French, so Beatrice tells me."
Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable's high-quality bordello. Through Karen's eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone's mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.
Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen's own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

So what's so diverse about this book?

SO MUCH. This is one of those rare books where most of the characters are women and they actually talk to each other and help each other out and have each others' backs. This is so incredibly rare, especially in fantasy/steampunk, so I was really excited to get to know all of the lovely "seamstresses" in this book.

Aside from featuring a lot of women, it also has a lot of characters who are POC. One of the main characters is an Indian girl (squee! Someone who looks like me is in a fantasy book!!) and another is Chinese. There's also a black man and a native American man who work together (!! People of different races helping each other!!). And all of these people are characterized with care, and there is far more to them than the stereotypes that define their races and cultures.

AND it also features people from all across the LGBTQ spectrum, and none of these people are defined by their sexuality. Everyone is a person first, and who they love and how they perceive themselves is important but definitely secondary to the rest of their personalities/motivations/desires.

Despite all the different diverse perspectives in this book, I never once felt that someone was characterized in a certain way just to include a token "unique" perspective. All the characters were multi-faceted and no one was just there to diversify the melting pot.

Why you should read it:

This book is just plain awesome. It's basically a steampunk Western, complete with a murder mystery, horseback shoot-outs, automatons, and lovely ladies. The best part is that instead of just being eye-candy, the lovely ladies are all pretty badass and are the ones who actually save the day!

Also, just look at that cover. It's gorgeous. You know you want that on your bookshelf, creepy octopus silhouette and all.

A small note: some people might find Karen's narrative style annoying. It's written in dialect, so if you're the type of person who likes their narrator to dot all the "i"s and cross all the "t"s, this isn't the book for you. I loved Karen's voice because it seemed more authentic given her background and the society she lives in, but I realize it's not for everyone.

In short, this book is awesome, and I am definitely going to be reading more from Elizabeth Bear.



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Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Talk: Magic vs Technology



Fantasy vs. Science Fiction Worlds


There's this age old tradition of fantasy novels taking place in the time of lords and ladies, princesses, dragons, knights, and young village boys who set out to make their fortune. There's also a tradition in science fiction, in which books are either set in the future or in parallel universes in order to make the technology landscape viable. But who says that magic and technology can't co-exist?

The line blurs a little bit in steampunk novels, since they're set in the past, usually around the Victorian era, but feature steam-powered automatons and scientific contraptions. Still, this seems like a very small niche for science fiction and fantasy to overlap. I am an engineer, so I am such a nerd when it comes to cool technology, but a little magic here and there would be cool too!

How can technology and magic co-exist?

I think one of my favorite series as a kid is a great example of how magic and technology can coexist. I loved the Artemis Fowl books because there were magical creatures like fairies and goblins, but they relied on really cool technology like Neutrinos and had a centaur hacker to help them navigate the modern world. It only seems natural that if magical creatures evolved to fit the present day, they would have access to more advanced technologies than we mere muggles do because they can use magic to bridge the gaps where science stops. 

More recently, I've really enjoyed the Powder Mage trilogy, which has two main systems of magic. One is the usual element-based magic that involves reaching into some magical force/being/place and channeling it via the elements of air/water/fire/earth. There is also a second system that revolves around using gunpowder as a sort of super-drug that heightens your senses and endurance and also gives you control over things like where your bullets go and how to avoid getting blown to bits in a war.

Another series I love to death is Mistborn. While the first trilogy was set in a more traditional medieval-esque setting, the Alloy of Law books are really fun because they start to integrate magic with the technology of the Wild West: printing presses and sensational headlines, pistols and rifles and shotguns, gas lamps and the glimmers of skyscrapers. We've been promised Mistborn trilogies that will show that world in many different stages of technological evolution, which I'm really excited about!

What next?

It's great that the Mistborn trilogy is going to evolve magic and technology together over the course of many books, but why hasn't it occurred to many people that they can set their fantasy stories anywhere in time? It's frustrating to me that so many authors rely on the tried-and-true tropes of medieval-based fantasy, especially when they use "historical realism" as an excuse for their homogeneous and generally socially-backwards societies.

A little bit of technology and magic mixed together can go a long way. Just imagine if we had the magic to harvest energy or to heal emotional trauma. Think of how far that would go to creating a more sustainable or compassionate earth! Magic and technology can make our dreams of flying cities and a world without illness into realities!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: Autumn Republic


I've decided to try something new instead of just traditional reviews where I ramble forever. I'll still do some longer reviews, but this way I don't feel bad when I just want to write down a few thoughts and who I'd recommend it for.

I've made an S&S Sci-fi and Fantasy Card that I'll use to rate different aspects of SFF books that are important to me: characters, worldbuilding, and that extra "oomph" factor that I'm calling originality because it sounds more official than "oomph" :)

So here goes!

20883847Title: The Autumn Republic
Author: Brian McClellan
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
The capital has fallen...
Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away.
An army divided...
With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son.
All hope rests with one...
And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed...
THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC is the epic conclusion that began with Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign. 

530 pages in two days...that has to be a record for me! It was nearly impossible to put this book down, and I thought it was a great ending to an awesome trilogy. I absolutely love how this series incorporates technology and culture outside of the usual medieval-based fantasy. The spirit of the French Revolution shines in all its bloody glory! I also really like that there are multiple magic systems and ways powers can interact with one another. It's a very cool series, and this book is especially interesting since it makes even more interesting revelations about the mythology of this world.

My only complaint is that after so much complexity and political maneuvering, the resolution was rather abrupt and I would have liked to see more of how Adro picks up the pieces after the power struggle between gods and mortals. I also want to know what makes Nila special, since we don't ever find out why she can do the things she can do (unless I forgot it from book 2).


How do you like the new review style? Have you read any of the Powder Mage trilogy? Any other recommendations for non-medieval fantasy?

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Monday, January 11, 2016

TTT 71: 2015 releases I didn't get to



Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's theme: Top Ten 2015 releases I didn't get to



 22522808
 The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)
 23437156
 18692431
 16278318
 22816087
 The Orphan Queen (The Orphan Queen, #1)
 22055280

I missed the boat on these books lasts year, but which ones should I be dying to read this year? Let me know in the comments!

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

2015 in review


Happy New Year!

I'm a little over a week late, but better late than never :)

While I was away from the blogging world, I was a lot more relaxed and it was nice to be able to breathe and not feel like I had to be writing reviews and coming up with cool posts. It was also conveniently winter break so I had a nice break from classes and research and all the rest of the craziness of being a college student.

After a few weeks I really did miss writing reviews and interacting with all the bloggers in this awesome community. It's a new year, I'm a year older (my birthday is very close to New Year's :) ), and I'm ready to get back into the swing of things!

I spent forever making this graphic that summarizes some reading stats from last year. It's from December 15, so my total number of pages went up by about a thousand pages, but the rest of it is pretty accurate! I wasn't surprised to see that my most-read genres were fantasy and science fiction, but I was surprised by how high my average rating was! I guess I did a good job of picking books I liked or at least not finishing the ones I didn't care for.

I read 109 books last year, which is a personal record for me. I've highlighted some other cool stats as well. Let me know how my reading compares to yours!


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