Monday, July 31, 2017

The Reading Quest: the journey begins!

While I'm in the middle of my year-long SFF challenge, I thought it would be fun to join a month-long challenge along the way! I'm not sure if any books will overlap, but both challenges encourage reading diverse authors and own-voice books so I'll have double the reason to pick up more diverse sci-fi and fantasy :)

I'm The Reading Quest by Aentee @ Read at Midnight (you can sign up here, sign ups are open until August 12!). I've chosen to be a Mage at first, but I'm hoping to finish the Mage squares and then do the Knight or Bard.

Here's my character card! I couldn't get the base image from the original link to work, so I made up my own. (Shout-out to  CW of Read, Think, Ponder for creating these characters, and for including characters of a bunch of different skin colors!)

The challenge starts August 13, so I have a bit of time to change my mind on these, but so far here's what I'm planning to read for Mage:

A book with one word title: Foundation by Isaac Asimov
A book that contains magic: A Flame in the Mist by Renee Adieh (bonus points for ownvoice and POC author)
A book based on mythology: Star-Touched Queen by Roshni Chokshi (bonus points for ownvoice and POC author)
A book set in a different world: Windwitch by Susan Dennard
The first book in a series: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (bonus points for POC author)

As you can see, I'm trying to make it a point to read all those books in the TBR that are by POC authors or feature diverse characters. I'm really excited about this challenge :D
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Assassin's Fate

30688013Title: Assassin's Fate
Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:More than twenty years ago, the first epic fantasy novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Now New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb brings to a momentous close the third trilogy featuring these beloved characters in a novel of unsurpassed artistry that is sure to endure as one of the great masterworks of the genre.
Fitz’s young daughter, Bee, has been kidnapped by the Servants, a secret society whose members not only dream of possible futures but use their prophecies to add to their wealth and influence. Bee plays a crucial part in these dreams—but just what part remains uncertain.
As Bee is dragged by her sadistic captors across half the world, Fitz and the Fool, believing her dead, embark on a mission of revenge that will take them to the distant island where the Servants reside—a place the Fool once called home and later called prison. It was a hell the Fool escaped, maimed and blinded, swearing never to return.
For all his injuries, however, the Fool is not as helpless as he seems. He is a dreamer too, able to shape the future. And though Fitz is no longer the peerless assassin of his youth, he remains a man to be reckoned with—deadly with blades and poison, and adept in Farseer magic. And their goal is simple: to make sure not a single Servant survives their scourge.

oh the emotional payoff of watching characters grow over 50+ years...

I loved this book so, so much! Robin Hobb is a master character writer. After all, she made me go from hating Malta's guts (reading about her made me cringe more than nails scraping on chalkboard) to respecting and even loving her by the end of the Liveship trilogy. If that's the sort of character development Robin Hobb can create in 3 books, imagine how much her characters can evolve over multiple trilogies! Full disclosure, I haven't read all of the Elderling trilogies/quartets, but I have read 3 of the 5, including the original trilogy about Fitz as a child.

I am going to be very brief with this review, because I do not want to spoil a single thing. I will just say that this book is very rich and ties together the events of nearly all the series before it. Many beloved characters make appearances (no pun intended), and it's so interesting to see how they interact with one another. I especially loved the interactions between Fitz and a certain ship. I have to admit that for the first half of the book, I found Bee's chapters kind of tiresome and difficult to get through. That all changed in the second half of the book; true to form, the final few hundred pages of the trilogy were action-packed and the characters had to make devastating choices.

Bee grew up quite a bit in this book, and looking back at the first book of this trilogy it's amazing to see how far she has come and how she has endured so much. The same can be said of Fitz, and the Fool. Their relationship is the focal point of this series, and I sobbed at the end of this book. It was an absolutely perfect ending, and as much as I would love to read more books about their relationship, I think this book's perfect ending would be ruined if there were any more. That isn't to say I don't want more Elderling books. I would love to see how things are coming along for Bee as she grows up, or to see what the kingdoms are like after a generation or two.

No one makes me feel as wide a range of emotions while reading as Robin Hobb. This book had me all over the place, from laughter and fond nostalgia to disgust and rage. This is a series I will probably come back to over the next few years, if not the next decades. No one else writes quite like Robin Hobb, and I am so glad there are so many of her books to enjoy!

A free e-ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: The Dinner

15797938Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Genre: Psychological thriller, suspense, unreliable narrator

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives -- all over the course of one meal.
It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

I read this book in nearly one sitting; it's not a very long book, and I had a very long car ride to read it. This book is incredibly unsettling, because at first you imagine that the four main characters are simply pretentious rich people who have nothing better to do than pretend to like each other at obscenely expensive 5 course dinners. As the story progresses, however, you realize that these pretentious rich people are in fact capable of horrific things, and their utter callousness about what they have done and how they "handle" the consequences is pretty disturbing.

These aren't the kinds of people who regret or repent a mistake, these are the people who will go to any lengths to save themselves and their families. It's pretty interesting to see how parental instinct to protect one's child is shown in such a twisted way, because generally we tend to root for the parents' morally questionable actions when they are done in the interest of protecting a child. It's selfless, we tell ourselves, the ends justify the means . Well, not here.

I can't say I enjoyed this book, but then again, this isn't the kind of book that's meant to be enjoyed. It's a book that is meant to horrify you and make your skin crawl. It wasn't all unpleasant, though. There were quite a few moments that were kind of humorous, in a wry sort of way. The scene with the photograph was a particularly interesting one. Herman Koch manages to weave in his satire and social commentary into a rather sinister dinner, and while it sounds like this would be a terrible combination, somehow it works.

This book is kind of slow, especially because of the narrator's propensity to withhold the truth from the reader. The book is nearly half over before you have an inkling of what is going on, and there are a lot of roundabout internal monologues or explanations of past events that are so long that you forget where the story left off in the present. Still, I think the style was very well suited to the character telling us this story. He weaves lies and forces himself to forget things, how could he possibly be expected to tell us the facts right off the bat?

This book was quite an experience, and while I'm glad I read it, I definitely will not be reading it again!

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book vs Adaptation: The 100

This week's edition of Book vs Adaptation: The 100 by Kass Morgan

I've been watching The 100 for three years now, and although it took five episodes for this show to grow on me, I've been hooked ever since! Even if the science/logic is sometimes sketchy and the characters manage to magic themselves out of ridiculously dangerous situations with hair and makeup intact, I have come to love the characters. Especially all the fierce women on that show. Literally every single one of them is a QUEEN

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Not to mention all the POC and queer representation. This is a show that has a truly diverse cast and doesn't pigeonhole its characters by race, gender, or sexual orientation.

I was really curious about what the source material for this show was like. Did it have the same level of moral complexity? Did it prominently feature women, POC, and queer characters? Were they even kind of the same story, or was the show just based on the same premise as the books?

Well, long story short, the book and the show are nearly nothing alike.

Full disclosure, I've only read two of the books (and I'm not even sure how many books there are total). The entire first book was only the first episode of the TV show, which was unexpected but really cool. You have a lot more time to digest and explore the ship and the motivations for sending down the original 100 when you're reading, and you don't expect the same fast paced action that you want from a TV show. I liked that the book featured characters both on the ship and on the ground, which gave a clearer picture of what was going on in both places instead of focusing on the kids sent to the ground. 

On the other hand, the show has branched out and covered so much ground and put its characters in crazy situations and ethical dilemmas that are so far beyond the scope of the book that the book kind of seems childish now. If the first book was a single episode, imagine the scope of an entire season, let alone 4 seasons that have each expanded the worldbuilding, characters, and strained relationships from the season before. Characters I once hated are now characters I can understand and empathize with (even if I still don't like them). The whiny teenagers are now complex young adults that have to make decisions and face consequences I certainly don't envy. The technology and the mythology of Earth is incredibly rich, detailed, and fascinating.

Also, the book doesn't particularly feature strong women, POC, or queer characters. I think all the POVs were white, and there were POC in the periphery, but no queer characters that I can remember. I guess you can assume certain characters are POC just because of ambiguity in how they are described physically, but there was little to no evidence of multiculturalism in a spaceship that supposedly harbors the last humans from all over the world.

Honestly, reading the books makes me appreciate the show so much more. Now that I see how sparse the source material is, I am astounded by how much depth the showrunners have been able to draw out of it. They've created characters I'm extremely invested in and a world that is always full of surprises. I will definitely be sticking with the show, and probably won't be reading any more books in this story!

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology

30831912Title: Norse Mythology
Author: Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again. 

If only Neil Gaiman had taught my Vikings class, I would have paid so much more attention!

I read excerpts from the Eddas for my class, so I did have some background in Norse mythology. This version, however, was a far more accessible and enjoyable version! Before I took the class on Vikings, all I knew about Norse mythology stemmed from Marvel movies about I had many misconceptions. Thor in the Marvel comics is a noble warrior and well-loved hero, while Thor of the original mythology is quite a strong and heroic figure...who isn't all that smart. Similarly, Loki in the original mythology is Odin's brother and not Thor's, and his nature is even more mercurial and capricious than the Tom Hiddleston version ;)

This book isn't about putting your own spin on the ancient stories (a la Marvel), it's about being a storyteller and passing on the myths of old. It stays very true to the spirit and events of recorded Norse mythology, and the way everything is told makes it enjoyable like a tale by the campfire. Neil says in his introduction that he pored over different sources and tried his best to weave them together into a story, and I felt like he did a fantastic job of making the individual stories flow together and create a larger story arc.

The icing on the cake was listening to Neil himself narrate the audiobook. He did such a great job of bringing all the gods, godesses, giants, wolves, and other creatures to life. The stories of Freja's wedding, the giant king and his 3 challenges, and the story of Ragnarok were my favorites. I honestly can't think of a single story that didn't make me grin or quirk an eyebrow. 7 hours well spent!

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: A Conjuring of Light

29939230Title: A Conjuring of Light
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Witness the fate of beloved heroes - and enemies.
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.
Kell - once assumed to be the last surviving Antari - begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace - but never common - thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay. 

Oh, my heart. This book was such a minefield, haven't had a book hangover like this since The Raven King.

This book will always be special to me because it was the book I took to my first signing. I'd never met an author or been to a book event before, and I was so happy that Victoria Schwab was my first! She was awesome in person, it's incredible how such a lovely person can inflict so much pain on her readers :) I loved hearing more about the writing process for these books, and it was interesting to think about questions I had never considered before ("Who's on the cover?" Mindbending when you find someone who can argue their way to a totally different person than who you thought). The best part was being in a room full of people who loved a book series as much as I did, and feeling absolutely no judgment about my fangirling :D

Okay, now to review the actual story. This book is absolutely gorgeously written, and I loved how the writing brought the multiverse of Londons alive. Each setting was truly a different character, and it was incredible to see how they each change from the catastrophes that occur. Speaking of catastrophes, this was a ridiculously painful book. I don't know about you, but after a certain level of pain and destruction, I start to tell myself, "Okay, things have to start getting better now. It can't possibly get worse than this." But when Victoria is in charge of the story, rest assured that just when you thought things couldn't get worse, she will make the story knock the breath out of you. Again and again.

As for the characters, these are some of my favorites. One of my friends recently asked me who my favorite female character in fantasy was (damn, what a broad question). I decided that my favorite was Lilah Bard. She's absolutely fearless, and she doesn't give a damn what other people think she should be doing. She follows her heart and doesn't let anyone or anything get in her way. Of course, I also loved Rhy, Alucard, Kell and his magical coat, and even Holland!

I don't know how to convey how gorgeous and rich and painful and emotional and hopeful this story is. I hope you will read it.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

SFF Reading challenge Update 3

It looks like I'm doing pretty well with staying on top of this challenge! I should be about halfway through since it's July, and I've completed 14/23 books (the creator skipped 11, oops). It's definitely going to be challenging to find a manga to read, but I think I can do the rest no problem!

Purple books are ones I've finished since the last update, black books are ones I finished earlier this year, and the ones in gray are books I'm planning on reading for the challenge. 

1) Fairy tale retelling: Miranda and Caliban by  Jacqueline Carey - A retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest

2) Historical Fantasy: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear - an alternate history/fantasy based on Mongolia in the time of Genghis Khan

3) NPR top 100 books: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

4) non-British Steampunk: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo - Russian/Scandinavian steampunk? 

5) Crossed with another genre: The City & The City by China Mieville - a police procedural mystery story that's also sort of sci-fi

7) Comic book: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

9) A classic: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

12) Sci-fi western: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

13) earth-based sci-fi: Station Eleven by  Emily St. John Mandel - a beautiful post-apocalyptic story about how people find their humanity after the end of the world

14) A Sci-fi with aliens: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel - ALIEN ROBOTS EVEN BETTER

16) POC MCs: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson - multiple POC main characters, including Moira, Doc, and Ivy. Extra glad that Asian POCs were featured!

17) LGBTQIA+ MC: The Swan Riders by Erin Bow (Greta is bisexual, and some supporting characters are queer as well)

19) POC author: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang - loved this anthology!

20) M/M Romance: A Conjuring of Light by VE Schwab - Rhys and Alucard are THE OTP

21) F/F Romance: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley - it would be spoilery to say who ;)

22) Pub 2016: Empire of Storms by SJ Maas - another epic love-hate installment of the Throne of Glass series haha

24) Novella: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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