Reading roundup – August 12th 2016

Good morning and welcome to another reading roundup.

This week I finished Naomi Novik’s League of Dragons, the last in the Temeraire series.  As I mentioned in my last reading roundup, I skipped the intermediate seven books of the series and relied on Tor.com’s reread.  That wasn’t such a great idea in hindsight.  While there was a lot to love about the book – especially the narration (Simon Vance, people!) – I expect some of the emotional punches passed me by.  I did very much enjoy the whole theme of draconic rights and Temeraire’s commitment to improving his kind’s lot in life.  What did irk me though was the sudden switch in goals.  It seemed that every time our protagonists came near to achieving their goals, the posts were moved and they were sent off on another errand.  It did all come together in the end, but it did bother me at the time.

I gave League of Dragons three and a half stars out of five.

My library hold of Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown came through earlier and I’m enjoying it very much indeed – much more than I had anticipated.  I would place it in the genre of fantasy of manners in that it has a fantastical element but takes place in an Austen-style Regency setting.  This is a subgenre I definitely want to read more of.  Austen it is not, but the style is reminiscent of that era and I’m loving the characters.  The fact that our protagonists are a man of colour and a woman adds a fascinating aspect to the novel. I’m about half way through, so expect a full review at some point.

Onto some housekeeping;  my husband and I are setting off on vacation so I will be taking a short break from blogging.  Expect more reviews and roundups when I return!

Like many bookworms, I’m sure, planning my vacation reading list takes as much work as packing clothes!  At least with a Kindle, I’m not limited by bulk of how many books and audiobooks I can take.

For this summer trip, I’m planning on some light fare, nothing to heavy.  We are travelling by train, so a perfect time to catch up on reading.  I’m planning on following up with the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne.  As of now, I’ve read five of the currently published eight books.  The reason I’ve not finished the series yet is because they are absolutely wonderful – the audiobook is awesome – and I’ve been saving them for an appropriate time.  The characters and the humour are just perfect.  Now seems like a good time to catch up.  This is a series I’d definitely recommend in audiobook format.  Do yourselves a favour and check it out.

While we’re away Rick Riordan’s Hotel Valhalla – Guide to the Norse Worlds should hit my Kindle download queue.  That should also be a nice, light holiday read.  

If I’m in the mood for something a bit more meaty, I will continue with Kate Elliott’s Cold Fire.  I have been enjoying it, but it kept getting pushed to the back of my list by library books that had to be read before being returned.

So I’ll catch up with you when I get back.  Till then happy reading!

Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

Blood for Blood by Ryan GraudinBlood for Blood by Ryan Graudin
Series: Wolf by Wolf #2
Also in this series: Iron to Iron
Format: ARC
Pages: 496 pages
Genres: Alternate History
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

Hachette was kind enough to send me an Advance Reader Copy of Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin, the sequel to Wolf by Wolf.  Thank you so much, guys!  I was super excited to receive it as it was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016 and it did not disappoint in the least.  Blood for Blood is the second book in an alternate history young adult series set in a world in which the Hitler and the Nazis won World War II.  Our protagonist is a young Jewish death camp survivor with the ability to shape shift.  The series consists of the two main novels, Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood as well as the prequel novella Iron to Iron.

The story starts immediately after the cliffhanger ending of Wolf by Wolf and expands the points of view to three.  It continues the quest Yael was assigned in Wolf by Wolf and deals with the fallout of the events and discoveries of the book.  

What I liked

The world.  Once again I was completely drawn into the alternate history that Graudin has created.  The world felt so real and fleshed out I could easily imagine our characters trying to navigate it.  Once again, I found myself hearing the story in the voice of Christa Lewis, the narrator of Wolf by Wolf.  I certainly intend to purchase the audiobook as soon as it is available in November.  What was also nicely done was the way in which the world was impacted by the actions of our protagonists.  The world has changed by what they achieved.  I really hope we get to see more of it through short stories.

Character journeys.  I really loved the journeys that all of our main characters go on.  Each of our main three characters has a different journey and they were all beautifully developed.  Instead of the single flashbacks to Yael’s life as in Wolf by Wolf, we are shown specific moments in the past experienced in unique ways by each of our three point of view characters.  This serves to show where each of them is coming from, as well as to contrast their attitudes.  While I did prefer the Yael flashbacks from Wolf by Wolf, tied thematically as they were with the wolf tattoos, the flashbacks in Blood for Blood did serve their purpose to give some understanding of the characters’ motivations.  I very much disliked a certain character, but his actions were both logical and understandable.

Themes.  I studied German at university and one of the books we studied was Erzählte Zeit, a collection of short stories written by Germans immediately after World War II as they attempted to come to terms with the horror of the Holocaust.  These explored some fascinating themes of guilt and loss and I really enjoyed seeing similar themes explored in Blood for Blood.  

Identity.  Identity was another strong theme explored in the novel.  The characters are constantly asking themselves what it means to be a death camp survivor, or Jewish, or a Third Reich poster boy, or a loyal citizen of the Reich or son or brother.  They are constantly re-evaluating this as they progress through the narrative – beautifully done.  I’m assuming this is where the title comes from.

What I didn’t like

The only minor quibble I had was that I didn’t quite buy the logic of what they were trying to do.  I would have liked a bit more background into why they expected achieving their goal to have the effect it did.  Sorry, I can’t say too much more without being too spoilery.

Blood for Blood is a fantastic end to a great duology.  My only regret is that the series is now finished.  Can we have some more short stories please?!?   I gave Blood for Blood five stars out of five.

five-stars

Reading roundup – August 5th 2016

Good morning and welcome to another reading roundup.  To be honest I don’t have a great deal to share with you this week.  It’s been a heavy week at work so I am a little tired.  Though I am absolutely loving having a kitty again to curl up beside me when I’m reading or watching TV.

This week I finished Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin.  It was as wonderful as I’d hoped.  The ending in particular was beautiful.  I’m really hoping we get a few more short stories in this world. Expect a full review soon

My library hold of Naomi Novik’s League of Dragons came through, so that is my current read/listen.  This is the last in the Temeraire series which is based on the Napoleonic Wars but with dragons.  I listened to and loved the first – it’s narrated by Simon Vance! – but I was uncertain about committing to a nine-book series.  So I cheated and read Tor.com’s Temeraire reread for the intervening books.  The series is definitely well worth checking out.

I’m also hoping to make a start on The Poisoned Blade, the second in Kate Elliott’s Court of Fives series, the ARC of which I picked up at BEA.  

In a couple of weeks my husband and I are heading off on a trip to visit his family in Michigan.  We are travelling by train this time – our awesome trans Canada trip gave us a taste for it – so I will have a lot of time to listen and/or read on the train.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes deciding what books to download is as tricky as packing clothes!

That’s all for today.  Have a good week!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – the Script (spoilers)

So, the script for J.K. Rowling’s play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, billed as the eighth Potter story, was released on July 31st.  Naturally, I and the world and his dog rushed to pick up a copy.  Here are my thoughts.  I should point out that I have not seen the play, worse luck, and am going from the script alone.  Note that there will be total and complete spoilers, which I will hide after the cut.

First, the non spoilery section. There was a lot I loved about it, and some things that didn’t work nearly so well for me.  I loved that the same themes that pervaded the book series – love, friendship, family, loyalty – still form the core of Cursed Child.  It was wonderful seeing how Harry, Ron and Hermione coped with adult life and parenthood (being an adult myself, it was especially fascinating.). The new characters, Scorpius and Albus and their friendship are completely adorable – Scorpius really does get all the best lines.  And, naturally, it is simply wonderful to revisit the Wizarding World in any shape or form.  Rowling’s world is utterly breathtaking.  I really wish I could see how certain scenes played out on stage.

What I didn’t enjoy so much were certain plot points.  I didn’t feel they gelled too well with what we know about the Wizarding World and the characters in it.  Some character development points I didn’t feel worked too well in a play setting.  They might have worked better for me in novel format with more space to expand and develop them.  Also, while it’s not necessary to have devoured Pottermore, certain interactions do have much more meaning if you are aware of some of the character’s backstories.

All in all I enjoyed Cursed Child and gave it four stars out of five.

Now, onto the spoilery section.

(more…)

Reading roundup – New Kitty!

new kitty LuschkaGood morning fellow bookworms.  The big news in my family this week is that we adopted a cat!  Meet Pavlushka, a seven year old female adopted from the Montreal SPCA.  I have tried for many months to fill the cat shaped hole in my soul without success, and I am so, so grateful to Thad for accepting a new feline into our home.  Lushka is a curious, affectionate cat according to her profile and she was certainly happy to be petted at the SPCA.  

Lushka really enjoyed being out of the shelter and being fussed over last night.  She spent most of the evening on the sofa next to me demanding pets.  She has already worked out how to open our kitchen cupboards.  I think she’ll be a wonderful fit for our household. 

In more reading-related news, I did something I don’t often do this week – consigned a book to the did not finish pile.  This was Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch.  As I mentioned in my review of the first book Snow Like Ashes, I found the plot rather predictable, and unfortunately for book two, the interesting worldbuilding was not enough to carry me through this time.  

I’ve also been continuing with my ARC of Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin (fully as excellent as I expected it to be so far.) and Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game which is improving the further along I go.  

Before the Snow, a prequel to Danielle Paige’s Stealing Snow was released this week.  I have read it and enjoyed it.  I should note that I have read Stealing Snow – I got the ARC at BEA this May.  I will say though that some of the twists of Stealing Snow were stronger to me for not having read Before the Snow.  I would suggest holding back on this and reading it afterwards as background reading.  I did really love the tie in with some of Andersen’s other fairy tales.  

This weekend, of course, sees the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  I will certainly be devouring it as soon as it hits my Kindle on Sunday morning.  I’ve heard snippets about the story, and seen the rave reviews so I Iook forward to reading it for myself.  I’m still really hoping they will film the play and show it in cinemas. 

Upcoming releases in August.

August and September are generally big months for new book releases and this year is no exception.  This August there are five books coming out about which I am super excited.

First up is Rick Riordan’s For Magnus Chase: Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds.  For those of you who don’t know, Magnus Chase is the protagonist of Riordan’s Norse mythology based middle grade series.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not as familiar with Norse mythology as I am with Roman and Greek (the basis of Riordan’s other series) so I think this book will be extremely useful – and knowing Riordan, very funny too.  For Magnus Chase: Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds is released on August 16th.

Next up on August 23rd is Blake Charlton’s Spellbreaker, the third in his Spellwright trilogy.  For those of you unfamiliar with this series it has one of the most interesting magic systems I’ve read.  If Charlton’s world, words literally have power and take physical form.  I’m really looking forward to seeing how this series ends.  

Queen Rising is the second in Danielle Paige’s prequels to her Snow Queen retelling Stealing Snow.  As I mentioned earlier, I have read Stealing Snow and felt that the first prequel weakened some of the twists of the main novel.  I’ll be interested to see if the same is true for this one.  Queen Rising is released on August 30th.

Also scheduled for release on August 30th is Furthermore, Shatter Me author Tahereh Mafi’s first foray into middle grade.  I picked up a copy of this at BEA, but sadly it never made its way back to Montreal.  It does sound like a fun read.

Finally on August 30th we have The Bronze Key, the third in Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Harry Potteresque Magisterium series.  I’ve really enjoyed this series so far, mainly because of the very clever twisting of the Harry Potter tropes.  I’m definitely looking forward to continuing this.

What books are you most looking forward to in August?  Let me know in the comments!

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott – Review

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott – ReviewCourt of Fives by Kate Elliott
Series: Court of Fives #1
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Georgia Dolenz
Length: 11 hrs and 40 mins
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott is a YA fantasy book and one that I found myself being sucked into even in the middle of a reading slump. I found the protagonists engaging and loved the world. I found it had a bit more substance than some YA fantasy novels.

What I liked

Cultural tensions. This is very much a tale of being caught between two cultures.  Our protagonist, Jessamy, is the child of a Saroese father and Efean mother and struggles to fit in with either culture.  Her father’s people, who are the conquerers of the Efeans, do not fully accept Jes as one of their own due to her mixed heritage yet her genteel upbringing closes her off from acceptance in her mother’s society.  Jes herself also struggles to find her place in her world.  The only time she can truly be herself is when she is training for the game the Court of Fives.  Although we do not live in a magical society, this theme may still strike a chord with many readers.

The Games.  I really enjoyed how the game of Court of Fives permeated the story to a great extent.  We see the games themselves a couple of times in the books, but it’s made clear that the skills Jes uses to become a successful Fives player are the same skills she and Kalliarkos will need to get out of certain situations and also to navigate Saroese politics.  I really loved that politics was hinted to be just a different version of the Court of Fives.

The magic and Jes’s journey.  The magic is very subtle in this book and is tied to the Efean culture.   At this point in her story Jes still struggles to accept her Efean heritage, so she has difficulty understanding the magic.  I expect that Jes’s journey in future books will be to embrace her cultural background, at which point the magic will become more and more prominent.  That I am excited to see. 

Little Women.  I read in the author’s notes that the characters of Jes and her sisters were based on those of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  I didn’t notice that at first, but once you do see it, it is very clear.  It was fun seeing those personality types in a completely different setting.  I am curious about what it means for the sisters’ character arcs in upcoming books and whether they will mirror those of Alcott’s.

Moral dilemmas.  Certain of the characters, including Jes, face moral dilemmas at certain points in the book.  I felt these were very well written and engaged my sympathy for the characters.  I am very interested to see how the decisions made will impact future character development and relationships.  I’d like to think Jes will have more understanding for her father in future.

What I didn’t like

The romance.  I wouldn’t say I disliked the Kalliarkos/Jes romance; it’s more a case of I’m waiting to see how it plays out in future books.  I was concerned that it felt a little too much Instalovey, which I don’t like.  If the parallels with Little Women hold true, the future for the couple doesn’t look too rosy.

In the end I really enjoyed Court of Fives and gave it four and a half stars out of five.  I have an Advanced Reader Copy of the sequel, The Poisoned Blade, and I’m very excited to read it.  

four-stars

Reading roundup – July 22nd 2016

ARC of Blood for BloodAs you will see from my picture, I got my hands on a copy of Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin!  This is the sequel to Wolf by Wolf which I adored.  You can read my review.  Those of you who follow my blog will know that I missed out on this one at BEA in Chicago, and that it was one of my most anticipated reads for 2016.  Hachette Canada was kind enough to send me an Advanced Reader Copy.  Thank you soooooo much.  Expect me to share my thoughts on it over the next week or two.  Blood for Blood will be released on November 1st 2016.

More exciting news, this time from the world of audiobooks.  Brent Weeks announced this week that Simon Vance has recorded The Black Prism, the first book in Weeks’ Lightbringer series.  It was originally recorded by Cristofer Jean, and Vance took over narration duties from book two, The Blinding Knife.  Now, no disrespect to Mr. Jean, but this is Simon Vance we’re talking about.  Winner of multiple Audies and other awards and a damn good narrator.  I personally credit Brent Weeks and Simon Vance for my love of audiobooks.  When listening to The Blinding Knife (first in the series narrated by Vance) I kept getting strange looks from my husband for snickering out loud at Vance’s narration of some of Kip’s quips.  

For those of you on the fence about audiobooks, I can’t recommend this series highly enough, especially now that Simon Vance is narrating the whole series.  His narration of The Black Prism is now available from Audible.  

This week I finished Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – you can check out my review if you’re interested.  I picked up the sequel, Ice Like Fire, from the library and it’s next on my reading stand.  Or, at least, it was until Blood for Blood arrived on my doorstep!

The second book I finished was Kate Elliott’s Court of Fives.  I found myself really drawn into this world – expect a full review next week – and I’m very happy I have the Advanced Reader copy of the sequel, The Poisoned Blade.  As I don’t have audiobook versions of Blood for Blood or Ice Like Fire, I am listening to Cold Fire, the second in Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.

In non reading news, I have finally 100% completed Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens!  Yay!  Now I can finally get back to reading. 

That’s all for this week folks – see you again next week.

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Review

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – ReviewSnow Like Ashes Series: Snow Like Ashes #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 448 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible
Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch is the first in a young adult fantasy series centering around Meira, a young refugee left orphaned when her country was overrun and conquered by a neighbouring power.  It focusses on her struggle to locate the missing magical Conduit of Winter and to free her imprisoned countrymen.

What I liked

The world.  I really enjoyed the world that Raasch has built for her story.  There are eight kingdoms; four Season realms, each dominated by a single season (our protagonist is from Winter) and four Rhythm, whose climate cycles through each season.   Each kingdom was wonderfully described and I loved their seasonal themes.  The tensions between the kingdoms were interesting and well described and I appreciated the political machinations that were going on behind the scenes.

The magic system.  The magic system of the Conduits was fascinating, and I look forward to reading more about the chasm of magic and the Decay in future books.  I always appreciate it when limitations are written into the magic system – often, they are as interesting as the magic itself.  In this case I enjoyed the fact that certain artifacts are limited by gender and can only be used in certain ways.  I loved reading how the various wielders of the Conduits worked within those limitations to either serve their own ends or help their people.

What I didn’t like

All the tropes.  Too often I felt that Raasch was ticking boxes to see how many YA and fantasy tropes she could fit into this book and more, that they are not subverted. Young orphan discovers she has a secret past and destiny filled future. Check.  Missing magical artifact hidden right at the heart of the antagonist’s power.  Check.  Young king struggling to meet the needs and expectations of his people.  Check.  Honestly, there are simply too many to name, and many I can’t name for spoiler reasons.  Now, I’m aware that there are very few new stories in the world. but I would have liked to see some kind of twist on these old tropes.  

The foreshadowing.  This came across as being rather heavily emphasised, which, along with the use of the tropes, made the story for me at least very, very predictable.  

The love triangle.  This seems an obligatory part of every YA book these days and Snow Like Ashes is no exception.  It wasn’t badly done, it just didn’t grab my attention at all.

Despite the predictability, the worldbuilding carried me through Snow Like Ashes and I gave it three and a half stars out of five.  I probably wouldn’t be interested enough to pay for the sequel, Ice Like Fire, but as it was available from my local library I will check it out.

three-half-stars

Mary Poppins a la Québecoise

Mary Poppins a la QuébecoiseMary Poppins - the Musical Buy from AmazoniTunes
Evelynne's rating: five-stars

Every summer a large, Broadway style musical comes to Montreal – read about my Wicked obsession from a couple of years ago.  Generally it’s in English and plays at the huge Salle Wilfred Pelletier.  This year, as the flagstone show of the Juste Pour Rire festival a Quebecois it was decided to stage a French language version of hit show Mary Poppins.  It was considered quite a risk, given the size of the production, but judging from the bottoms on seats and reviews it one which has paid off in spades.

Yesterday I took myself off to see it at the Theatre St Denis and had a wonderful afternoon.  In terms of production values, the show was superb.  The sets are gorgeous, the cast is talented and well prepared, the magic tricks/stunts like when Mary Poppins enters or exits by flying high above the audience or the Banks disaster of a kitchen suddenly fixes itself are breathtaking.  Add to that the incredible Sherman Brothers’ songs and astounding choreography and you have a wonderful spectacle.  It produced one of the few mid show standing ovations I’ve experienced in North America.   The cause of that was the showstopping dance number Step in Time – sorry, Juste a Temps as it is here – and was well deserved.  

The theatre was as full as I’ve ever seen it and for every child in attendance there were at least three or four adults.  It certainly shows the place Mary Poppins still holds in people’s hearts.  Even now Feed the Birds – excuse me, Pour Nourrir les P’tits Oiseaux – brings a lump to my throat.  It is certainly very different seeing Mary Poppins as a child and seeing it again as an adult.  As a child, you are drawn into the wonder of Mary Poppins’ magic.  As an adult, it’s easier to see things from the adult Banks’ perspective, especially with the way the roles have been expanded for the stage musical rather than the Julie Andrews film.

Instead of a suffragette, Winifred Banks is a young former actress who has married into the upper middle class and struggles to adapt to her new role as wife and mother as well as to understand her husband, coming as he does from a different social background. She has a beautiful character arc (and some touching new songs) which is really touching.  Mr Banks’ role, too, is developed from the film with the revelation of his unhappy childhood under the tutelage of the show’s antagonist Miss Andrews, missing from the movie.  These are aspects that adults can pick up and appreciate while still leaving kids to enjoy the spectacle.

Mary Poppins, whether in London, Broadway or Montreal is a fantastic show and well worth going to.  Enjoy

 

five-stars

Reading roundup – July 15h 2016

Hello, yes I know I’ve missed a reading roundup – my apologies for that.  I’ve had a lot of shifts at work and was working some crazy hours over the last few weeks.  Also I had a virus which left me rather run down.  Also, there were some great season finale TV shows on – Game of Thrones and Outlander – which I really wanted to watch.  Also LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens won’t play itself.  Anyway, enough excuses.

Right now I’m in a kind of reading slump.  I have many, many books in my TBR, but none of them are taking my fancy.  Don’t you just hate that?  I have hopes that Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch may help ease me out of that slump.

Since my last roundup, I have managed to finish a few books, and consign one to my Did Not Finish pile.  Sorry The Crown’s Game, you just didn’t grab my interest fast enough.

The books I completed were Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine, for which you should have seen a full review go up earlier this week, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, one of the ARCs I received at BEA 2016 and On the Merits of Unnaturalness by Samantha Shannon.

Danielle Paige’s Stealing Snow was one of my most anticipated ARCs from BEA and I was really looking forward to reading it.  However, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped.  I will write a full review nearer to the time.  I didn’t find Snow as engaging a protagonist as Dorothy Must Die’s Amy Gumm, and I personally prefer the world of Oz to Hans Christian Andersen’s world.  From Dorothy Must Die, I know that Paige’s narrative and characters become much stronger as the series progresses so I will be more than happy to check out book two. I gave Stealing Snow three and a half stars out of five.

On the Merits of Unnaturalness by Samantha Shannon is a companion novella to her Bone Season series.  At only 37 pages it is very short, but it is jam packed with worldbuilding and useful information.  It is written as an in-world pamphlet explaining the different orders of clairvoyants appearing in the series.  The Bone Season series is one that is really growing on me as it progresses – we’re at book two of a seven book series – and this novella has really whetted my appetite for The Song Rising due in March 2017.

That’s all for today.  Have a great weekend!

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