Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: Now I Rise

22817331Title: Now I Rise
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Historical fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.
After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.
What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?
As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.

I never found the era of Constantinople and the rise of the Ottoman Empire to be particularly interesting, so I am honestly amazed by how much this story made me want to find out more about this time period in history. As in the first book, the three main characters are very compelling, with even more complicated and tangled personal and political relationships. I loved seeing how people reacted when their personal and political loyalties were in conflict, it makes for very interesting insight into what is most important to that character.

The first book was mainly Lada's story, but this one seems to focus more on Radu. Lada has left Mehmet on her quest to reclaim Wallachia, but things aren't as straightforward for an ambitious woman compared to a man with the same goals. I loved how Lada's lust for power and drive to be a leader in her own right were portrayed; she's flawed and proud and sometimes naive, but she is also fearless and will not step down because she doesn't meet men's expectations of who a woman should be. I also loved that she had more interactions with other women in this book.

Radu's story stole the show for me! He is still confronting his feelings about Mehmet and weighing them against his political usefulness. Radu has to make a lot of hard choices, and without Lada to help him out, he really comes into his own as a leader. He does have Nazira though, and she is easily one of my favorite characters in this series. She is intelligent, compassionate, and incredibly courageous. She is an invaluable asset to Radu, but she's also just such a lovely person and I was rooting for her happy ending the entire time. The second half of the book, which puts Radu and Nazira in an entirely new environment, was so emotionally painful! I didn't know who to root for, and it felt like no matter how things turned out, I would be really upset.

I was so captivated by the rich world and intriguing, flawed characters and their messy relationships in book 1, and I was worried that the second book wouldn't have too much more to add. I was sorely mistaken, and I really enjoyed seeing all the new layers to our characters and their political machinations. This book raised the stakes immensely without feeling like a "middle book", but I cannot wait to see how things play out in book 3!

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Kerrytown Book Festival

I moved to Ann Arbor a couple of weeks ago for grad school, and it's so different here compared to LA (where I've lived for the last 5 years). Everything is so much quieter in Ann Arbor...well, except the freight trains that insist on honking as they go past. I like that it's a smaller town, and obviously because it's such a college town there are plenty of coffee shops and bookstores :)

Last weekend was the annual Kerrytown book festival, which I found out about quite on accident as I walked down Main street. It was a really cute little festival, with about 50 booths ranging from indie bookstores to stationary/journal booths to art prints to bookish swag. I guess that's actually quite a bit, but having been to the LA Times Festival of Books in the spring, this one seemed tiny by comparison!


I got some awesome bookish magnets and bookmarks, and business cards from people who make bookish stuff. One of the business cards was stylized as a library due date slip, which I thought was really cute! They did not pay me to publicize them or anything, I just thought their card + stuff was really cute:

Also saw some cute art prints of the Star Wars ladies ("May the FIERCE be with you", online here) which I almost bought but didn't because broke grad student + I'd already bought some other stuff at the fair.

The one book I bought at the fair was the first volume of Saga from an indie comic book shop. I asked for comic recommendations and the guy just handed me Saga and said he hasn't met anyone who didn't love it (spoiler alert, I loved it). He also recommended Habibi, which I got from the library later on because it was super gorgeous but I just couldn't afford it at the moment.

All in all, a few hours well spent at the book festival! I'm hoping to make it out to some author events too. Literati cafe has Jeffrey Eugenides and Celeste Ng coming out later this month, and I've liked but not loved their books. I think it would still be cool to hear them talk about what makes them tick though! We'll see how much of my life research + homework eats up.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

SFF Reading Challenge: Update 4

I think I'm doing pretty well on the reading challenge, I have 6 books and 4 1/2 months left. The manga and the novella will probably be quick, so as long as the books I'm planning on reading are available at the library, I'm golden! (Watch me still struggle to finish the last few books in December LOL)

I've read 3 more books for the challenge since my last update. I finally read Library of Fates, a book I've been meaning to read for ages! I also read Foundation, a book that I read in middle school and completely forgot about. And Persepolis, a comic book I've wanted to read for years but could never find at the library until this month. All three books were awesome!

I also finally planned all the books I'm going to read for the rest of the challenge. I was really excited about getting approved for 27 Hours on NetGalley because that was one of my crowdsourced twitter recommendations for a book with an Ace/Aro character. The only other book I've read with an Ace character is Quicksilver (featuring Tori), and I'm always looking to broaden my perspectives and support authors who bring diversity in their books. The other planned books are in gray below.

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

6) Manga: Either Death Note or Ghost in the Shell, whichever one is at the library when I go next :)

7) Comic book: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

8) Urban Fantasy: Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

9) A classic: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

10) Superheroes: Wonder Woman Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

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

15) Non-White culture fantasy: Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

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)

18) Ace/Aro character: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

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: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

#TRQ final update

The Reading Quest ends tonight! I don't think I'll be binge-reading anything before the night is out, so I figured I would put up my final stats now!

So I ended up at Level 5 with 200 XP! I also had 330 HP by the end of the challenge. I finished the Mage quest, just like I planned, but I only finished 1 book of the Knight quest. I did read a couple of books for side quests though. Here's a list of all the books I completed for the challenge:

One word title: Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Contains Magic: Flame in the Mist by Renee Adieh
Mythology: Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
First Book in a series: Persepolis (part 1) by Marjane Satrapi
Different World: ACOWAR by SJ Maas

Verb in title: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Respawn (previously DNF) - The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Animal Companion (animal in title) - The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
Mini-Game (poetry/graphic novel) - The Complete Works of Maya Angelou
Open - Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

I'm pretty happy with how I did for this challenge. I normally would have been able to squeeze another book or two in, but moving across the country and starting grad school kind of threw a wrench in my normal reading habits LOL

I had a lot of fun with this challenge, though, and it really pushed me to finally read those books by POC that have been on my TBR forever. Now I have an even bigger list of books by marginalized authors or featuring POC/LGBTQIA characters, so I'm excited to get to those!

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TTT: Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Were Totally Worth It

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
This week's theme: Top Ten Books I struggled with but were totally worth it in the end

Foundation – Isaac Asimov
This story takes place over a century, and it's more like a short story for every era. I always have a hard time connecting with characters immediately, so it was hard to keep re-setting every 50 or so pages, but overall it was an awesome story!

 Well of Ascension - Brandon Sanderson
I haven't re-read to confirm, but this is perhaps the only Sanderson book I dislike. It was really slow and angsty, but the ending was INCREDIBLY MINDBLOWING and book 3 made it more than worth it.
The Queen of Attolia – Megan Whalen Turner
It took me until I re-read this book to fall in love with it, the first time I just found it dull. But that's just because I was being a lazy reader and not paying attention to the subtle threads MWT was weaving together :)

The Tiger's Daughter - K Arsenault Rivera
I love the structure of this book in retrospect, but at first the fact that most of the book is in the form of letters addressed to "you" really threw me off. I eventually got used to it, and loved the story and characters.

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie
I had to read the first 50 pages twice before I figured out what was even going on, but this book was so worth the effort! Definitely made me think about my assumptions about gender, but also it was just a really cool, non-linear sci-fi story.

This Savage Song - VE Schwab
I really have no idea why it was so hard for me to get into this book, but the voices of the characters in my head were too whiny. So after reading the first 50 pages three times, I picked up the audiobook, and promptly loved the characters and their incredible journey.

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
There wasn't anything particularly difficult to get through with this book besides its incredible length. At around 1200 pages, it was a workout just to hold the book open! But this was a highly entertaining classic by an author whose work I really enjoy.

Empire of Storms - SJ Maas
For about 80% of this book, I was rolling my eyes. I honestly just wanted to read about Dorian and Manon, forget Aelin and the rest. And then somehow SJ Maas managed to make all that go out the window with an incredibly emotional final 100ish pages. I was really excited to see the epic scope of the series grow and see how many plot lines converged at last.
Image result for ember in the ashes

An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir
I freaking hate Laia. She's so powerless and whiney and gorgeous but doesn't think so and just ugh. But the world was captivating and the other characters (especially in book 2) made it more than worth putting up with Laia.
Image result for jonathan strange and mr norrell 

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
I really struggled with the slow pace of this book, especially with the incredible amount of footnotes. Once the second half of the story picked up, though, I was hooked. This book was magical and captivating, and watching the BBC mini-series has cemented it as one of my favorite fantasy books.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review: Strange the Dreamer

28449207Title: Strange the Dreamer
Author: Laini Taylor
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

I fell in love with Laini Taylor's DoSaB trilogy because of her magical ability to pick the perfect words to make even the most mundane situations seem gorgeous. Her prose is so unique and beautiful, and that prose is in full force in Strange the Dreamer. It was even better with an excellent narrator, Steve West, reading the story out loud. I also enjoyed DoSaB better on audio than with the paper book; maybe her writing style is more immersive and beautiful to me when someone is actually telling the story.

As with DoSaB, Strange the Dreamer is full of whimsical worlds and magic known only to a secret few. There are gods and humans who are each flawed and have bad blood between them. There are complicated families, found families, incredible friendships, despicable human beings, and excellent descriptions of food. I really loved the world of this story, especially as we slowly unearthed the history of what happened to the gods and their children.

All the characters were very well-sketched out and memorable as well. Ironically, I don't remember her name except that it started with an M - the child who controlled ghosts - was the most mercurial and terrifying character in the book. It's pretty incredible when an author can make your skin crawl every time a six-year-old makes an appearance (even if she's not actually six). Sarai was incredible as the Queen of Nightmares - torn between wanting justice for the atrocities committed against her people by the humans and wanting to understand the humans whose dreams she inhabits. She was vulnerable yet loyal and committed to helping everyone she loved. Lazlo was endearing, of course, with his broken nose and his incessant curiosity. I also really liked all the secondary characters.

So it seems like I can't stop gushing about how amazing this book was, so why only 3.5 stars? The book takes forever to get on its feet. The true plot doesn't begin until nearly halfway through the book, and as much as I loved getting to know the characters and world, I felt like all those details were preventing the plot from progressing for much of the book. The ending was spectacular, however, and full of twists and heart-stopping moments.

I definitely recommend this for fans of Laini Taylor, and for anyone else interested in immersing themselves in a lushly written fairy-tale world tinged with more than a little bit of darkness and pain.

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