Lirael (Abhorsen #2) – Garth Nix

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An early Happy New Year to all of you out there! I imagine this will be my last post of 2014: I haven’t started a new book yet and I will be spending all of New Years Eve at Disneyland. It promises to be a fun (but quite exhausting) day and New Year’s itself will be spent watching football (Go Ducks!). Hope your holidays (if you celebrated) were lovely and that you all have a great 2015. So, without further ado, my final review of 2014: Lirael.

Summary:

New York Times bestseller Lirael is perfect for fans of epic fantasy like Game of Thrones. In this sequel to the critically acclaimed Sabriel, Garth Nix draws readers deeper into the magical landscape of the Old Kingdom.

Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Abandoned by her mother, ignorant of her father’s identity, Lirael resembles no one else in her large extended family living in the Clayr’s glacier. She doesn’t even have the Sight—the ability to see into possible futures—that is the very birthright of the Clayr. Nevertheless she must undertake a desperate mission under the growing shadow of an ancient evil—one that opposes the Royal Family, blocks the Sight of the Clayr, and threatens to break the very boundary between Life and Death itself. With only her faithful companion, the Disreputable Dog, to help her, Lirael must find the courage to seek her own hidden destiny.

Review:

If Sabriel felt like it was a bit simplistic, Lirael feels closer to my beloved Clariel. It’s a tale of growing up and how crushing it can be when you aren’t what everyone expects you to be. In the first twenty pages of this book our protagonist was seriously contemplating suicide. It’s not the first time that the topic is brought up, and even at the end of the book, when she knows what her destiny is, the specter of that thought of what she should have been never fully leaves her, and she never does shake that sense that she is, in some way, a failure even though she really isn’t. Nix also gives us the flip side in Prince Sameth: as the son of the Abhorsen Sabriel, he’s naturally expected to be the Abhorsen-in-Waiting and that’s the absolute last thing he wants to be because he’s afraid of the Dead and Death, and can’t help but feel that he’s a disappointment to his parents for it, even as he’s afraid to mention to his mother just how unsuitable he is.

These traits could make for a pair of unlikable characters. I found myself liking Lirael – despite her disappointments and her cutting herself off from the other Clayr to protect her heart from the disappointment, she teaches herself a great deal of Charter Magic and becomes a strong woman in her own right, even if she doesn’t necessarily see it. Sameth on the other hand just kind of grates. When both protagonists make comments about how much a whiner he is, it’s difficult to not see that for yourself. It doesn’t make him compelling, and quite honestly, his sections drag the rest of the book down and it feels like they go on longer than they actually do.

Rounding out the characters are some of my favorites – his anthropomorphized ones – Mogget (who appears in every book) and the new character of the Disreputable Dog. Constructs of Free Magic (Mogget) and a mix of Free and Charter Magic (Dog) Nix has managed to infuse the creatures with genuine personality and concern (in their own ways) for the humans they travel with. I can’t really recall another series that does this, let alone does it so well. Mogget’s appearances in the latter parts of the book make sitting through Sameth’s parts worth while.

Finally, though you can’t tell in the photo, the cover of Lirael (and all the paperbacks, really) have these lovely clear-embossed Charter Marks on them. It’s a lovely little touch and perhaps a sign of respect from the publishers that they’d spend the extra money to produce them, without significantly jacking up the cost of the book.

Overall, Nix still does a lot of things right. The themes in this series still feel like they carry a greater weight than just about any YA fantasy and even a lot of adult titles. The world remains fantastic, and Lirael herself is a great character. But Sameth is a huge disappointment and that Abhorsen is a direct sequel that means he’s coming back does leave me a bit weary. I do already own Abhorsen and as I’ve already read the other three books in the series, I’ll definitely be checking it out. Push comes to shove you can do what I did and just kind of skim his parts.

Verdict: Buy It

Available now

Heads up! Red Queen (Red Queen Trilogy #1) – Victoria Aveyard

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Summary:

The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

Hey all!

I checked this out much earlier than I normally do when it comes to ARCs due to the #RQReadAlong. While I am planning on holding my review for release time (as I’m wont to do), I do want to make sure to give ya’ll a heads up: this is one of the best YA Fantasy titles I’ve read in ages. Put it on your TBR list and go ahead and give it a pre-order. If you like the genre at all, you’ll enjoy it. Trust me. 😉

 

Movie Review: Into the Woods

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Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and happy Thursday to those who don’t! For Christmas Eve I decided to go check out Into the Woods and since the story is based on fairy tales, figured why not throw up a review of it?

First and foremost, the cast was fantastic. While some of the singing wasn’t the best, it was pretty much contained to characters who didn’t have much to sing, most notably Johnny Depp, whose Wolf was little more than a cameo, but on a whole the cast was very solid and I never had an immersion break because of bad vocals. Chris Pine’s voice was an especially pleasant discovery. I’ve seen him on stage before (I actually prefer him on stage than on screen) and now I’d love to see him tackle a stage musical – it was that good. Emily Blunt has justly been getting praised and James Corden was a wonderful Baker. Props all around. It’s such a relief that they cast people who could sing as Broadway intends you to and act, as opposed to trying to teach actors how to sing (as in Sweeney Todd). More productions need to do this.

Also top notch are the visuals, including the costumes and the sets. It feels likes a fairy tale. Some may complain that it’s a bit-stagey in costuming because the clothing changes are very minimalistic, but I personally didn’t find it a distraction and I don’t think most audiences should either.

As for the music, it’s Sondheim. The prologue (“Into the Woods”) is very hummable, and “Agony” may get stuck in your head, but this isn’t a show that you’re going to sing along to. That simply isn’t the composer’s style. There aren’t any real reprises either – the one reprise (ironically the first one ever used in his shows) was actually cut from the film for length – so you’re not going to have songs repeated again and again, though there are certainly motifs that do run throughout the show if you’re observant.

Finally, if there is a complaint I do have is that the pacing is slow. Again, it’s very Sondheim. It just doesn’t work quite as well here because fairy tales usually call for something a bit more brisk. Though the show’s running time was cut significantly (from 2 hours 40 to 2 hours 4) it does feel a little long. It doesn’t really feel like they should have cut any of the songs, I think it’s just the nature of the storytelling. For what its worth, there were a couple of people at my show who fell asleep . It may also be a bit dark for younger kids. There were three significant deaths (not counting a pair of giants) and let’s just say the fate Cinderella’s step-sisters is very much in line with the original fairy tale. That said, the violence is implied and mainly handled off-screen so that shouldn’t be too much a concern for parents. From what I understand, Depp’s Wolf was toned down, but there still some legitimately creepy undertones there as well. The film did earn it’s PG rating though, and I probably wouldn’t show it to kids under the age of 9 or 10. Between the slower pacing, the lack of real up-beat songs, and some of the themes, younger kids might get antsy and/or scared. It’s something to keep in mind because the trailers don’t attest to the darker aspects of the show.

Overall, I enjoyed the film and I think musical fans will as well. The general audience may be a little more iffy, if only because Sondheim isn’t the most accessible composer. I personally love that about him, but I can see how that might be a turn off for others. If you’re a musical fan, you’ll enjoy yourself for sure and it’s worth paying full price. If you’re seeing it for any other reason – the cast or the story – you may want to stick to a bargain matinee in case it isn’t your cuppa.

Verdict: Borrow It

Review: Poison Study (Study #1) – Maria Snyder

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Summary:

Choose: A quick death and hell or slow poison and hell.

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear.

Review:

Poison Study is decent older (2005!) YA novel. And that’s really all that can be said about it. Our heroine is plucky, she has determination and a will to live. She gets threatened, she learns to protect herself. A plot is a foot, she works to stop it. She starts to fall for Valex, he (eventually) starts to fall for her because YA books demand it. Oh, and she develops magic.

Because you have to make this a series somehow.

Honestly, I liked this book best when she was watching what was going on around her, but before she started getting the extra powers. The next few books in the series she more or less becomes the Special Snowflake who is more powerful than most and just yeah. Maybe the series should get some credit for doing it before most, but it doesn’t change the fact that this book isn’t unique once you get past the interesting set up.

It was a quick and easy read, and I enjoyed it enough to finish it in a few hours. Fans of YA would likely enjoy it. Personally speaking though, I didn’t find Yelena to be interesting enough to press on with the series, and in all likelihood, I’m not going to remember that I read it – there’s just isn’t enough there to make it worth remembering.

Verdict: Borrow It.

Review: Mistborn (Mistborn #1) – Brandon Sanderson

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Summary:

Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.

He failed.

For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.

Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.

Review:

Although I have read both of his young adult titles (Steelheart and The Rithmatist) I’ve never gotten around to reading what made Sanderson famous in the first place: his adult fantasy. It isn’t necessarily for a lack of trying. Twice now I have started The Way of Kings. Twice now I haven’t been able to make much progress. I decided that maybe I just needed to give one of his other series a chance. Elantris seemed like it might be promising, but I’ve seen some suggest that because it was his first major work (and therefore not necessarily his best work) that it wasn’t the best place to begin. Then a strange thing started happening on Twitter:

YA bloggers started going crazy for this book.

Bloggers whom, to my knowledge at least, pretty much never read adult fantasy and yet were gushing over it and recommending it to whomever they could. I’ve even see copies turn up in some of the book-related Secret Santa giveaways floating around. To say I was surprised was a bit of an understand. It started to make more sense when I discovered the publisher did a relaunch with a cover intended specifically for the YA crowd. Still, just because you give it a YA-friendly cover isn’t enough to win them over, so I decided to give this one a shot.

And ultimately, I come to this review mixed.

On the one hand, I absolutely understand why the YA crowd loves this: it fills what I feel is a very real void in YA fantasy. It manages to combine both a well-crafted novel, an interesting magic system and likable characters with the YA tropes of Plucky Young Heroine with a dash of romance and yet no dreaded love triangle. While I’m not entirely sold on the romance, it’s still miles above what you see in most YA books and I can say with certainty that this better than most of anything put out in the last year in the fantasy YA genre – and proof that YA is just a moniker and that a good fantasy title can easily crossover.

On the other hand, I feel like this tweet, written about a third of the way through my reading is still the most accurate reflection of how I feel about this book:

And there’s a reason my reaction didn’t change: if you’ve read any decent amount of epic fantasy, you’ve read this book before. If you take out the Allomancy you’re left with a pretty basic story of Plucky Rebels Look to Dethrone Evil Against All Odds. This basic story has been told a million times over – Star Wars anyone? And even with Allomancy, Sanderson doesn’t do anything new with this story. The magic just gives the story an extra bit of gloss.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to recommend this book and I’m going to recommend this book – to YA fans, to fans dipping their toes into fantasy for the first time or fans of more traditional fare. And there will always be room for these kinds of books on our shelves, and if you’re going to read something traditional you should read something this good. And yet, But when books like City of Stairs or Goblin Emperor or The Waking Engine or even The Mirror Empire dare to push boundaries and try and do something different with a genre that hasn’t changed all that much since Lord of the Rings it makes me want to see more authors do the same.

Mistborn helped establish Sanderson, and clearly has helped give him the freedom to let his creativity fly (seriously, check out The Rithmatist. It’s still one of my top three all time favorite magic systems I’ve read). Of his many projects, the fifth book in this series (it’s actually a two trilogy series) is next up on his to-do. I just hope that one day soon we can see him take that creativity he’s displayed in his YA titles and create something just as special for adults. In the mean time, this is a good read, and it’s an accessible read. If you’re looking for a good place to start with Sanderson, this is probably as good as any.

 Verdict: Buy it

Available: Now (Note: As of 12/17 the Kindle version of the first trilogy is on sale for $5.75. You’re not going to find a better deal than that. Grab it if you’ve wanted to check it out

Top 10 of 2014

I’m kind of amazed we’re already at this point in the year again, time really does pass by faster as you get older. How bothersome! Overall, I think 2014 was a pretty good year. There were no books that I downright loathed. I can’t even pull together a “Worst of” list for the year. You go, 2014! The list is a mix of young adult and adult. If there’s an overriding theme to my list is that I rewarded books that tried to put their own spin on traditional. Outside of my picks for the 9 and 10 spot, they all do something just a little bit different. Finally, the only criteria for being on the list was that I reviewed it in 2014. A good book is a good book and deserves a shout out regardless of publication date.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at my Top Ten books of 2014. Click on the covers for links back to the original review 🙂

 

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9. The Casquette Girls – Alys Arden & A Taste of Blood Wine – Freda Warrington Paranormal Fantasy (Vampires) YA and Adult, respectively
I honestly couldn’t rank one above the other because they’re on the list for the same reason: they take the tropes of their given genres and spin fantastic tales using those tropes. It shows why the tropes have hung around and proves that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to create a great book.

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8. Sword of the Bright Lady -M.C. Planck Traditional Fantasy, Adult
A mostly traditional fantasy novel with the twist of a modern protagonist trying to find his way in the new land. The author was careful with both avoiding over-explaining how he got there (important to avoid immersion breaks) and made sure to touch on how the people from that time to react to him which helps ground the novel.

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7. Zodiac – Romina Russell Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
A wonderful surprise of a Young Adult novel. Clever world-building, likable and smart protagonists, and no dreaded love-triangle! This is the kind of book that the fantasy YA genre should aspire to in general, and I’d easily recommend it for someone new to Young Adult and is looking for something to dip their toes with.

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6. Libriomancer – Jim C. Hines Urban Fantasy, Adult
A book lover’s fantasy novel. Between the almost endless references that are fun to find, but don’t feel added for the sake of being added and a very clever and well-thought out magic system, it’s a must read.

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5. Clariel – Garth Nix  High Fantasy, Young Adult
A high fantasy YA title that is YA in name only, it made me get why Nix has been around for twenty years. If Zodiac gently bucks against tropes of the genre, Clariel more or less gives the tropes a middle finger and it’s awesome.

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4. The Waking Engine – David Edison Urban Fantasy, Adult
Literary fantasy that at times is highly surreal, has some wonderfully creepy imagery and some heady and heavy themes. This is easily the most divisive book I have on the list, but I implore you to at least give it a look.

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3. Written in Red – Anne Bishop Paranormal, Urban Fantasy. Adult
A series that turned all the tropes of paranormal fantasy on its head by simply approaching it from the angle of: what if  the shifted form was human, and not beast? It’s a simple, yet brilliant, twist that makes you wonder why no one thought of it earlier.
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2. The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison Traditional Fantasy, Adult
Never has a book let me see the world from the point of view of its narrator as effectively as this book. It’s narrative style – a first person point of view that uses a formal second-person English tense – is rough to get used to, but works wonders in showing you the lonliness of the protagonist and the sense of isolation that comes with being Emperor. Give it a shot, and you’ll be rewarded.

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1. City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett Secondary World, Adult
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I’ve been pimping this book like crazy, and for good reason. A fantasy that reads like historical fiction due to the wonderfully developed secondary world that has strong, smart women as its leads. I will recommend it to anyone and everyone. It’s that good.

So what do you think? What should be on there that I left off? Let me know!

ARC: Uriel’s Fall (Ubiquity #1) – Loralie Hall

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eARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for review

Summary:

What’s a corporate demon to do when the voice in her head is devouring her sanity from the inside out, and the hosts of heaven and hell would rather see her destroyed than surrender a power they shouldn’t possess?

Ronnie has the job any entry-level angel or demon would sell their soul for—she’s a retrieval analyst for the largest search engine in the world. Ubiquity is a joint initiative between heaven and hell. Because what better way to track all of humanity’s secrets, both good and bad, than direct access to their web browsing habits.

She might appreciate the position a little more if a) she could remember anything about her life before she started working at Ubiquity, b) the damn voice in her head would just shut up already, and c) her boss wasn’t a complete dickhead.

As she searches for the solutions to the first two issues, and hopes the third will work itself out in performance reviews, she uncovers more petty backstabbing than an episode of Real Housewives, and a conspiracy as old as Lucifer’s descent from heaven. On top of all that, if she forgets the cover sheet on her TPS report one more time, she’s absolutely going on final written warning.

Now Ronnie’s struggling to keep her sanity and job, and stop the voice in her head from stealing her life. She almost misses the boredom of data analysis at Ubiquity. Almost.

Review:

I’m not sure how I managed to read two books back-to-back about female protagonists having unwanted hitch-hikers in their pysche, but somehow I have.

What I am sure of: this is how you do that concept right.

Without spoiling the story, I will just say that the explanation for how it all works is both simple, and makes sense. It’s a definite case of less is more, but remains satisfying to read. I’d almost suggest that Madison read this book, to get an idea of a better way of pursuing the concept.

This book is also superior in another, critical way: I like both our protagonist and her hitch-hiker. They have their own voices, their own personalities and they’re both likable. Critically, too, I think, is that Hall worked the hitch-hiker’s story has a purpose, it’s ties into the greater story of the world. It feels more thought out and it feels complete. And most important, it’s interesting!

As for the world, it’s a story of angels and demons. The mythology is, for the most part fairly traditional, but that’s okay. It’s gave Hall the platform she needed to tell the story she wanted to tell, which was ultimately Uriel’s story and Uriel’s story was interesting. Plus there were some nice bits of chemistry going on and a nice little steamy sex scene to boot.

Overall, this was a really clever, really fun urban paranormal fantasy. If you like the concept or the genre, you should enjoy yourself here.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now