Saturday, February 27, 2016

Book Talk: Bookmarks and Pages

Every bookworm's favorite thing is a collection of pretty bookmarks, right?


I'm one of those weird bookworms who never uses bookmarks. I used to try to use them when I was little, but they kept falling out. Also, where do you even keep your bookmarks when you aren't using them? I'd always manage to lose the few bookmarks that I had.

Some of my friends are really confused by how I can read so much without bookmarks. They always wonder if it's hard for me to remember where I left off. I don't know if I consciously started doing this because I needed to remember pages or if this is just how my reading pace has evolved, but I have a particular way of reading books that makes it easy to remember the pages.

The first day, I usually only read a little bit, about 25-50 pages, to ease into the world and characters. The next day, depending on how much time I have, I read another 50-100 pages, and so on and so forth. What ends up happening is that I always end on a chapter or page number that is really close to a multiple of 50, so that's really easy to remember. I also read about 100 pages/hour naturally, so it's nice knowing that if I have half an hour to read or an hour to read, I'll always end up getting to a multiple of 50.

Of course, once I started reading kindle books and ebooks without page numbers, this system sort of goes out the window. I read in between classes, during lunch, or whenever I have a few random minutes somewhere. But in this case it doesn't matter, because you don't need to remember what page you left off on. I haven't actually compared to see if I read any faster or slower when I'm not aware of page numbers, but I feel like that would be an interesting thing to find out. 

Do you have any strange quirks with how you remember what pages you left off on? Do you have a regular reading schedule or do you just read whenever?

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Review: Court of Fives

18068907Title: Court of Fives
Author: Kate Elliott
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
On the Fives court, everyone is equal.
And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.
Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.
In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege. 

I was really excited for this book, but I'm not as impressed with it as I was expecting. I have adored all the other Kate Elliott books, and although this one was good too, I didn't love it as much as I thought I would.

What I love about Kate Elliott's books is that I can count on them to turn gender stereotypes on their heads. It's always refreshing to read a fantasy/sci-fi book that is full of complex women who are never subject to objectification. Court of Fives is no exception; The book also does an excellent job with addressing and grappling with skin color and prejudice. Jess and her sisters are "half-bloods", since their father is a Patron while their mother is a dark-skinned commoner. I liked how Kate Elliott dealt with the precarious situation of being shunned for associating with/being common-born but also being expected to maintain face like a Patron family.

What I didn't enjoy so much about the story was the characters. Jessamy never really struck me as an interesting or lovable character, and while I admired her strong loyalty to her family, I thought she was incredibly stupid and selfish at other times (why risk everything to run the Fives in the first place if you know you can't ever win?). Jess's sisters were also not very likeable to me. I really admire their mother for her quiet strength though.

I was also expecting more of a friendship/relationship between Jess and Kalliarkos. He just kind of appears and then he helps Jess with a few things and then suddenly they're in love. I was scratching my head and wondering when that happened because they'd hardly interacted at all.

And finally, the very strange pacing of the plot. This book takes a very long time to get the story set up, and the actual conflict doesn't even begin until nearly halfway through. Then there are more secrets and revelations but they come so late that I stopped caring about the characters and their (albeit terrible) predicament.

I think my main issue with the book is my own high expectations for it; it's not a bad book, and I am sure others will enjoy it. I just expected more having read some really amazing stories by the same author.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review: The Immortal Heights

17410991Title: The Immortal Heights
Author: Sherry Thomas
Genre: Fantasy, young adult

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:In a pursuit that has spanned continents, Iolanthe, Titus, and their friends have always managed to remain one step ahead of the forces of Atlantis. But now the Bane, the monstrous tyrant who bestrides the entire mage world, has issued his ultimatum: Titus must hand over Iolanthe, or watch as his entire realm is destroyed in a deadly rampage. Running out of time and options, Iolanthe and Titus must act decisively to deliver a final blow to the Bane, ending his reign of terror for good.
However, getting to the Bane means accomplishing the impossible—finding a way to infiltrate his crypt in the deepest recesses of the most ferociously guarded fortress in Atlantis. And everything is only made more difficult when new prophecies come to light, foretelling a doomed effort…
Iolanthe and Titus will put their love and their lives on the line. But will it be enough?
With The Immortal Heights, Sherry Thomas brings the acclaimed Elemental Trilogy to its breathtaking conclusion.

This series started out as a fun diversion from all the other tense and dark books I had been reading at the time. I figured a book involving a girl pretending to be a boy at an all-boys boarding school would be pretty funny. Added bonus that this girl is a mage and that the are wyverns and magic carpets in this series.

What started out as just a fun series ended up being so much more intense and exciting and emotional than I was prepared for! This series does a great job of ratcheting up the stakes with every book, and making you grow to love all the characters even more. There are no annoying love triangles here, and every type of relationship, be it friendships, family bonds, or romantic relationships, is treated with respect and care. Sometimes relationships get tangled and ugly, but people always remain true to themselves and to their feelings for each other, which I loved. It's just so nice to read a book where friends have each others' backs and people are willing to sacrifice so much for people they care about.

There are so many characters that I love in this book! Iolanthe and Titus continue to be badass and awesome, especially together! I love that they know and respect each other's strengths, and I especially love how Titus never feels like he needs to prove his manliness every time Iolanthe does something awesome. It's just so refreshing since most books involve men who constantly need to show their girlfriends how strong and awesome they are. Titus is such a sweetheart :) Kashkari has become even cooler than ever, and that one character who I don't want to name is surprisingly and heartbreakingly awesome as well. Brownie points for including an Asian-best-friend who isn't completely stereotyped!

One of the other things I really liked about this series was how it dealt with prophecies. It was interesting to see how Titus tried to make his mother's prophecies come true and Kashkari tried to foil them, and how that turned out for each of them. It's very interesting to see how each character feels about fate and taking action for themselves.

The prologue nearly killed me.

The epilogue nearly killed me too.

Go read this series if you haven't already! It's a lot of fun and the characters are some of my favorites :)

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reading Updates

Hello blogosphere,

I've been really sick for the past week, which is why I haven't had any blog posts up recently. I used my sick-and-in-bed time to catch up on a lot of reading, though! I'm feeling a lot better and hope to start posting as usual in the next day or two :)

Here's what I've been reading this past week:

The Scorpion Rules

WHY didn't I read this sooner? It was nothing like what I was expecting (to be fair, I had no idea what it was about and then I read the blurb after I finished the book and went, huh, that's not what this book was about at all). So yes, the blurb is incredibly misleading. This isn't a cookie cutter dystopian book at all, and I really enjoyed how complex and tense and unpredictable it was.

I love Talis but I also hate him. Talis is the best kind of villain because you don't really even think of him as the bad guy. Of course it's those other people...right? There are so many morally ambiguous characters/entities in this book and it was great.

I will have a more coherent review of this book soon, but I just wanted to say that I loved it and absolutely recommend it for anyone who enjoys psychological/really intense books. It builds up almost painfully slowly but once things start going they just snowball and it's amazing.

Bands of Mourning and the other thing


No words to describe how mindblowing this book and the thing are. I never really liked Steris in the first two books (I mean, I liked her but at arm's length. She was adorable but also kind of got on my nerves). Now I love her! I didn't think the word badass applied to the woman who likes to make lists of her lists of every possible outcome of every single event, but it definitely does :)

I also never expected to learn so much about the cosmere so soon! Also, I was dumb and didn't figure out a Very Important Thing but thanks to Nikki and Mark that got sorted out pretty quickly. Thanks guys!

My favorite thing was that I rediscovered old friends in unexpected places.

I really hope that was cryptic enough that it wasn't a spoiler...

I literally don't want to say anything about anything because there is so much to be revealed in these pages that I don't want to spoil it for anyone!

The Martian


I'm re-reading the Martian now because I need a nice light-hearted book after the intensity of the last few books I read. Mark Watney cracks me up, but I'd forgotten how science-y this book is. I mean, I'm an engineer and a total nerd so I love it, but I can definitely see why some less science-inclined people were annoyed by all the math and physics.

It's also interesting seeing the images of my original read-through and the new images in my head from the movie. The first time I read the book was before the movie came out, but now that I've seen it I'm going through a weird switching thing where I see images from both depending on the scene.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Review: Elantris

68427Title: Elantris
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
A rare epic fantasy that doesn't recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It's also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

This definitely felt like a Sanderson book, but a watered down one where he still didn't quite know how to create characters as rich as his worlds. I liked it, but it was just so pale in comparison to the other cosmere books I've read.

One of the big things that struck me was how...flat all the characters were. Raoden is a noble young man who wants to help others despite growing up in a privileged position: a pretty stereotypical protagonist for a fantasy novel. Sarene is quick-witted and sharp-tongued, but there's not much more to her than her witty tongue. I kept on comparing her to Shallan, a much more nuanced character, from the Stormlight series. It's almost like Shallan is what Sarene could have been if Sanderson had been better at characterization earlier on in his writing career. And Teod, the religious fanatic who wants to take over the world, was also pretty flat. It's almost like Sanderson had one of those writing checklists that went: defining characteristic, check. Motivation, check. Character flaw, check.

The worldbuilding was stellar as usual, which is unsurprising given how complex and nuanced most cosmere worlds are. I really liked the solution to why Elantris began to decay and turned from the city of the gods to the city of lepers. It was also interesting to see how different countries evolved their own interpretations of what happened to Elantris and what it means for their own well-being and future.

Overall, I'd say not to read this if you're new to Sanderson, because it's definitely not his best work. It's still unique and interesting, but it's more fun to see how far Sanderson has come in terms of writing than it is to actually get through this book :)

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Talk: Rereading childhood favorites

How often do you reread books?

I never used to be a re-reader. I had a couple of books that I'd read parts of over and over again, but I never really was into reading all of my favorite series over again. When a new book came out I'd just hope I remembered the old stuff or that it would come back to me as I read the new book. I just felt like there were so many new books to read that I never wanted to spend time on old favorites.

But there were still times when I just really needed a familiar friend. I re-read parts of my favorite books when I'm upset, or when I've read a bunch of mediocre or un-enjoyable books in a row.

Re-reading Tamora Pierce

Recently, I've started re-reading some of my favorite books from when I was younger and seeing if I still feel the same way about them. Tamora Pierce was a huge favorite of mine in 5th grade and middle school, so I started rereading her Wild Magic series.

When I was little, I hadn't read that many fantasy books and I was captivated by all the magical creatures, knights in shining armor, and political intrigue. I really liked all the strong and fierce women in this world, but I don't think I consciously appreciated how truly fierce and amazing they are. Now that I'm older and realize how truly rare it is to have complex and independent women featured in fantasy novels, I'm blown away by how 

It's not just the strong women that makes these books unique. They are very diverse in terms of socio-political background of the characters, the colors of their skin, and their cultures. Tortall is not a world that borrows from stereotypical white medieval society, "exotic and magical" Asian-inspired people, and nomadic, dark-skinned Arab-inspired cultures. There are people from every walk of life, and none of them are reduced to a stereotype. I definitely did not pick up on that as a kid.

Some of the storylines seem really predictable now that I've read a lot of fantasy books, but it's a nice sort of familiar. I really like the way the books follow a familiar pattern because it's fun to remember how surprised and excited I was by the same thing when I was little and didn't know what to expect.

Re-reading these Tamora Pierce books has made me realize how much fun re-reading is, and it's definitely something I'm going to do more in the future!

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

The A-Z challenge

Last year I got really ambitious and tried to fill out a bingo card for sci-fi and fantasy.

That didn't turn out so well, since about halfway through the year I just got too busy to try and read the books on my chart. I decided I wasn't going to do any reading challenges this year, but then I remembered a fun one I used to do that doesn't require too much effort.

It's called the A-Z challenge, and it's basically exactly what it sounds like. You try and read books that start with every letter of the alphabet!

There are some variations: some people only count titles, some do authors, and some count both interchangeably. I'm going to try doing just titles, but if I get stuck I might amend that to include authors :)  There are also obviously some letters that are really hard to find at the beginnings of words, so for Q, X, and Z as long as it's somewhere in the title/author's name it'll count.

So here's my A-Z chart, filled out with what I've read so far this year:

C: Court of Thieves by Kate Elliott (1/12)
G: A Great Hunt by Robert Jordan (1/22)
I: The Immortal Heights (1/5)
S: Shadows of Self (1/3)
T: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights (1/31)

Have you ever done an A-Z challenge before? Have you ever made it all the way through the alphabet?

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: Fortune's Pawn

15790894Title: Fortune's Pawn
Author: Rachel Bach
Genre: Science fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Devi Morris isn't your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It's a combination that's going to get her killed one day - but not just yet.
That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn't misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she's found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn't give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.
If Sigouney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you'd get Deviana Morris -- a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy. 

I heard nothing but good things about this series before I picked it up. The description I heard most often was This is the sci-fi version of urban fantasy. It's a pretty accurate description: this book has a kick-ass heroine, snarky main characters, mysterious and hot love interests, and terrifying strange creatures. It's funny at turns and intense at others. If you enjoy urban fantasy, you'll definitely enjoy this book, and if you enjoy science fiction, you'll probably enjoy it too.

Devi is incredibly arrogant and full of swagger, but the great thing is that she really is as good as she says she is. It's fun seeing a woman with her swagger, since usually she'd be type-cast as a bitch, while an arrogant man would somehow be portrayed as attractive or ambitious or anything else more positive. I really appreciate how Rachel Bach plays with gender stereotypes in this book: Devi knows what she wants and she isn't afraid to go get it, which is usually such a stereotypical masculine attitude.

This book also has some really cool science fiction elements. On one hand there are some really terrifying aliens and on the other mysterious mind-reading lunatics that might not actually be as crazy as they seem. I really liked the world-building and the way we discover more about how Devi's cut-throat world works. It's tough being a mercenary, but it's even harder when you're tasked with protecting cargo ships from ferocious creatures like the Reavers from Firefly.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was that it had way more romance than I was expecting. I'm not much of a romantic, but I can appreciate a romantic sub-plot. At times it felt like the romantic sub-plot started to become the main storyline, and especially after the end, I'm really not on board with the main "ship". I did like that Devi has a prominent sexuality since most women in science fiction aren't portrayed that way, but I just felt like her constant worrying about her love interest took away from her otherwise awesome personality.

Overall, this is a fun series and I'll probably be continuing!

Thanks Ginger, my #otspsecretsister, for sending this awesome book my way :)

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

TTT: Top Ten Historical Settings I'd Love To See

This week's theme: Historical Settings I want to see

This theme is great because it goes hand-in-hand with my discussion post about how annoyed I was with the huge number of fantasy novels set in medieval worlds. I would love to see technology and magic go hand in hand. Who says technology and magic can't coexist?

1. Ancient Egypt. Hands down my favorite historical period growing up. I think it helped that my first chapter book ever was the Magic Tree House book where they went to Ancient Egypt (Mummies in the Morning, anyone?)

2. Renaissance Italy. There are so many things to love about the Gentleman Bastards series, but one of my favorites is how magic is woven into a Renaissance-era Italy-inspired world. Culture is flourishing and art and technology are both shaping each other, which is such an exciting time to read about!

3. Feudal Japan. I love the rich history and culture of Japan, and the few historical fiction/fantasy books I've read that involve the Samurai and feudal lords have been fantastic! I'd love to read more.

4. French Revolution. I've read a couple of books set in this era, from classics like Les Mis to more contemporary books like Revolution by Jennifer Donnely. It's such a tumultuous time and it makes for a very intense and exciting story! Will the main characters survive, will their heads get cut off, or will they be trampled in the dust?

5. The Roaring 20s. This is such a fun time, and I really liked how a supernatural element can be woven in with the craze over seances and Ouija boards (The Diviners!).

6. The Wild West. Karen Memory is my current favorite steampunk novel, and it's so fun because it mixes in steampunk elements with all the craziness of the wild west. This era is all about the spirit of exploration and pushing boundaries, and even if the movies drive me nuts, I'd love to read more Western books :)

7. Mughal India. This is a time period of India that I don't know that much about, but I do know that there was a very unique melding together of two very different cultures as the Persian/Mughal empire began its conquest of India. Most of my knowledge of this time period comes from a bollywood movie (Jodhaa Akbar, pictured above!) so I'd like to read some books and get a little more historical accuracy :)
8. American Civil War. I've read a lot of young adult/children's books set in the years of the civil war or the Reconstruction for English class, but not too many books since then. It was a pretty formative time period for our nation and a very empowering because you get to see people's courage and compassion.

Any recs for books in these time periods? Is there a time period I'm missing that I ABSOLUTELY must read? Let me know!

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Monday, February 1, 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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