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!

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire by Rachel CainePaper and Fire by Rachel Caine
Series: The Great Library #2
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Julian Elffer
Pages: 11 hrs and 5 mins
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible
Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine is the second in The Great Library series and is the sequel to Ink and Bone, which was one of my favourite reads from last year.  I realised I never did a full review of it.  Bad Evelynne.  Paper and Fire was also one of my most anticipated reads for 2016 and it did not disappoint.  For those of you not familiar with this series, it is a contemporary alternate reality/fantasy in which the Great Library of Alexandria survived and now has a monopoly on the distribution of books in electronic medium and controls all hard copy books, too.  Naturally, this gives it the ability to control the flow of knowledge and as such it has gained almost immeasurable power.  Our protagonist, Jess Brightwell, comes from a family of book smugglers and has infiltrated the Library with the intent of continuing the family trade.  The people he meets there open his eyes to the extent of the Library’s corruption and change his perspective.

The sequel, Paper and Fire, opens shortly after the events of Ink and Bone and deals with the aftermath of the Library’s successful “divide and conquer” campaign against Jess and his friends.  The book can be summed up by “let’s get the gang all back together.” Jess must reunite his friends and make alliances with people who do not necessarily share his values.

What I liked

The characters.  For me the characters are the real highlight of this series.  Not only Jess, but his friends and allies too are all wonderfully developed.  Each of them has his or her story, motivations, hangups and fears.  They all act in unique ways based on their values and experiences, and it’s great to see how they develop throughout the series,

Scholar Wolfe and his relationship with Santi remain one of my favourite parings. Incidentally at EnterTheLibrary.com the author has published a few short stories, one of which is Wolfe and Santi’s first meeting – a wonderful meet-cute. We also get to meet some new characters, including Wolfe’s mother and get to see a snippet of life in the Iron Tower which was fascinating.

The world.  The world is simply amazing.  It’s fascinating to see the changes that the lack of freedom of information has caused in the world.  The automatons protecting the Library are also very very cool.

The pacing.  Caine kept the story moving along at a great pace – there was never a point at which I lost interest.  I kept wanting to listen to the next chapter.  

That kick ass ending.  The book does end on kind of a cliffhanger and it has made me very excited for book three.  I really look forward to it.

I gave Paper and Fire four and a half stars out of five.

four-half-stars

Game of Thrones Season Six – Spoilers

Game of Thrones Season Six – SpoilersGame of Thrones Season 6 by George R. R. Martin, David Benioff, D. B. Weiss
Format: Video
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Buy from AmazoniTunes
Evelynne's rating: four-stars

One of my pleasures on a Sunday evening has been watching HBO’s Game of Thrones season six.  This is the first time that the show has outpaced George R.R. Martin’s books which made it a particularly fascinating season.  The season was for me a mixture of highs and lows, with more highs than lows.  I will split the post here for those who don’t want any spoilers about season six.

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four-stars

Reading roundup – July 2nd 2016

Good morning.  This week I’ve been really unfocussed in my reading.  I’ve dipped into several books, but not finished that many of them.  It’s been a crazy busy week for me at work, which hasn’t helped.  OK I admit it.  Any free time I’ve had I’ve spent playing Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens rather than reading.  Those games are addictive.

One book I did finish and enjoyed was His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik.  This is the first in the Temeraire series in which the Napoleonic Wars are reimagined with dragons.  I loved the concept, characters and themes.  I especially enjoyed the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire, the dragon.  The ninth and final book in the series, League of Dragons, has just been published.  Much as I enjoyed the series, I’m not certain I want to invest the time to read the rest of the eight, so I cheated and read Tor.com’s Temeraire reread.  I’m hoping this will catch me up sufficiently and I will pick up League of Dragons in audiobook format – narrator is Simon Vance, how could I not go for the audiobook? – as soon as I have a spare Audible credit.  I gave His Majesty’s Dragon four stars out of five

The other book I finished, and it’s more of a novella really at 174 pages, is Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire.  This is set in a residential home for young people who have returned from visiting other magical lands and who need a place to help them readjust to normal life.  I was drawn to the concept and that was very interestingly done, in particular the “mapping” of the various magical realms onto a graph with axes of Nonsense-Logic and Virtue-Wickedness.  The fact that the main protagonist, Nancy, identifies as asexual is also fascinating, and very unusual in a YA novel,  It’s incredible how the removal of any sexual tension completely changes the dynamic of a story.  What I really didn’t enjoy so much was that it turned into a kind of gruesome murder mystery.  I wasn’t expecting that and it did impact my enjoyment of the book.  I gave Every Heart a Doorway three stars out of five.

Other books I dipped into this week were The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye which I’m listening to in audiobook format.  I’m not sure why, but it just hasn’t grabbed my attention so far.  I will persevere with it, however.  I’m not very far in, and I suspect it may just  be a slow starter.

This week I also started one of the books I picked up at BEA, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, the start of a new series retelling the story of the Snow Queen by the author of the Dorothy Must Die series.  So far I’m not finding it as easy to get into as Dorothy Must Die, but I remember that series was a slow starter too, so I will keep on with it.  At this point though Snow isn’t as engaging a protagonist for me as Amy Gumm.

It’s certainly a Danielle Paige week for me as the latest novella in her Dorothy Must Die series, The Order of the Wicked, hit my Kindle this past Tuesday.  I am enjoying it so far.  It’s great that the novellas, while not required reading for the series as a whole, do add extra depth and new perspectives to the narrative.

Winds of Winter, the Game of Thrones series 6 finale aired this week and it was a thing of beauty (a few missteps aside.)  That first 20 minute or so setup for Cersei’s trial was exquisite.  Much kudos to director Miguel Sapochnik.  The images of the protagonists preparing for their confrontation in the Sept of Baelor set to Ramin Djawadi’s breathtaking music Light of the Seven was stunning.  I’m listening to it as I write this.  This season has certainly showed some of Djawadi’s best work on the show to date.  I plan to do a full post on the season as a whole so I won’t say too much more now.

Upcoming releases in July

The first release I want to talk about is Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine, the second in the Great Library series.  Ink and Bone was one of my favourite reads of 2015, even if I see I didn’t write a review for it – oops.  The concept and the characters are so fascinating and I can’t wait to read more.  I’ve preordered it on Kindle and will likely pick up the audiobook, too.  Paper and Fire will be released on July 5th.

Also coming out in July is Before the Snow by Danielle Paige, the prequel to Stealing Snow.  Given how Paige’s novellas usually add some great context to the novellas, perhaps I should have waited to start Stealing Snow until I have read this.  Before the Snow is released on July 26th and I have preordered it in Kindle format.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  This is it, the big one.  The story we never thought we’d get.  This is the sequel to Harry Potter, penned by J.K. herself.  The twist is that it isn’t a novel, but a two-part play, currently in preview in London, and the book that will be published on Harry’s birthday, July 31st, is the rehearsal edition script.  So far everything I’m hearing about this – and I’ve managed to remain spoiler free #KeepTheSecret – is awesome.  I am really looking forward to hearing what happens to the next generation of Hogwarts witches and wizards.  Interestingly enough, at the time of writing the book is not available to preorder in Kindle format, so I’ve gone ahead and ordered it from Kobo.

Speaking of the wizarding world, did you catch the details Rowling released about Ilvermorny, the North American school for the magical community?  I really want a whole novel on Isolt Sayre’s journey!

That’s all for this week – the Force is calling to me to go play the Lego game.

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia – Review

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia – ReviewJulian Fellowes's Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Series: Belgravia
Also in this series: The Summer Before the War, Julian Fellowes' Belgravia
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 15 hrs and 48 mins
Genres: Social History
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible
Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is a new book/audiobook/app series from the creator of Downton Abbey.  It is set in the Belgravia quarter of London in 1841 with a prequel set in Brussels in 1815.  The lives of two families, the rich, titled Bellasis family and the nouveau riche Trenchards are brought together at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball and the effects are felt down the years.  It is available in ebook format, as an audiobook and as an app.  I believe a hard copy of the entire story will be released on July 5th.  As an aside, isn’t that a gorgeous cover?

What I liked

The serialisation.  Fellowes made the decision to release his story in instalments, with one chapter each week in the style of Charles Dickens or Alexandre Dumas.  Usually the chapters would end on a cliffhanger to encourage you to come back the following week.  I thought it was a really interesting idea, even if I didn’t follow it in practice.  Although one chapter hit my Audible download queue as regularly as clockwork each Thursday, I actually ended up listening to it in a couple of marathon sessions.  As with most Audible pre-orders it hit my queue at 4am – not a time I’m likely to be sitting down to listen or read.  Perhaps if each instalment were released at 8pm on a Sunday evening I’d have been more inclined to set time aside for it.  I can’t comment on when the app downloads were released.  Still it was a good idea, although perhaps not one that fits in well with today’s Netflix binging.

The narration.  Belgravia is narrated by British treasure Juliet Stevenson who does an excellent job.  She provides very appropriate voices for the gentry, the professional classes and the servants.  

The app concept.  I liked the idea of the app which contained both the text and audio formats.  The fact that the app includes background information on the events of the episode in question and should also update the map and family trees as the story progresses is excellent.  However, in practice it was rather a failure from my perspective.  If you purchased the content anywhere other than on the app, you were locked out of the additional content.  I was rather irritated that I paid $1.99 for each Audible audio only episode and each episode on the app costs the same and gives the text, audio and background information.  A Google search indicated there was no way to link the Audible purchases to the app.  I actually ordered the final episode on both Audible and the app to see if that would update the family tree – nope.  I’m not certain if it was a marketing issue or a technical issue, but in any case that was poorly thought out.

The social history. I always loved Downton Abbey, seeing how the upper classes and their servants lived in times gone by and Belgravia is more of the same.  What was new to this was the rise of the merchant/professional classes, seen through the Trenchards and Charles Pope, which wasn’t really a focus of Downton.  Of course, I am no social historian, so I can’t comment on the accuracy, but it was fascinating.

The soapy plotline.  OK, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.  As I mentioned, each episode generally ended on a revelation or twist and it was awesome.

What I didn’t like

Issues with the app.  See above

Bland characters.  Some, not all, of the characters were so two dimensional as to be uninteresting.  As it happens one of these is the character around whom the whole drama turns.  This character is so good and… nice it’s boring.  The antagonist of the piece is also very much a caricature.  I’m surprised he wasn’t described as twirling his moustaches.  Fortunately there were enough fully developed and interesting characters to mitigate this.

Belgravia is definitely worth checking out.  The first episode is available for free, so you have nothing to lose.  I recommend picking it up directly on the app though, I gave Belgravia four stars out of five.

four-stars

Reading roundup – June 24th 2016

Good morning and welcome to another reading roundup.  And happy St Jean to my fellow Quebecers!

Reading roundup – June 24th 2016Iron to Iron by Ryan Graudin
Series: Wolf by Wolf #0.5
Also in this series: Blood for Blood
Format: eBook
Pages: 104 pages
Genres: Alternate History
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunes
Evelynne's rating: five-stars

This week I read the wonderful Iron to Iron, the prequel novella to Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf.  Like Wolf by Wolf, it is set in an alternate universe in which the Axis won World War II.  It tells the story of Luka Löwe and Adele Wolfe’s burgeoning romance during the 1955 Axis Tour, a relationship which causes much of the tension in Wolf by Wolf.  Within a couple of pages I was immediately back in the world created by Graudin and back following the Axis Tour.  I listened to Wolf by Wolf in audiobook and although this novella is an ebook only, I still heard it in my mind with Christa Lewis’ voice.  It’s not often that I have such a strong link with narration.  

For those of you who have not yet read Wolf by Wolf (and why not may I ask?) the Axis Tour is a motorcycle race between Berlin and Tokyo, with the winner receiving an Iron Cross and many accolades.  Iron to Iron is told from Luka’s perspective, and we learn more about him.  Both he and Adele are strongly motivated to win the Axis Tour, he to prove his worth to his father by winning a second Iron Cross, she to prove that women are equally as competent as men.  Of course, having read Wolf by Wolf we know the outcome of this race; Graudin does a wonderful job of keeping the tension high despite that knowledge and without the addition of the whole shapeshifter trying to kill Hitler plot of Wolf.

My only gripe about Iron to Iron – and it is very minor – is that fräulein is written with a lower case f.  In German all nouns are capitalised, so this really irritated me.  I gave Iron to Iron a well deserved five stars out of five.  Now when is Blood for Blood out?!?

This week I also started reading His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik.  So far I’m really enjoying it.

Game of Thrones thoughts after the cut

 

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five-stars

Versatile Blogger award

Thank you for nominating me, ajoobacats at Ajoobacats blog, for The Versatile Blogger Award.

Rules:

Show the award on your blog
Thank the person that has nominated you
Share 7 different facts about yourself
Nominate 5 blogs of your choice
Link your nominees and let them know of your nomination

Seven facts about me:

  1. I was born and raised in Scotland but am now married to an American and live in Quebec
  2. As well as Scotland and Canada, I have lived and worked in Germany, France, Austria, The Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.  New Zealand really is Middle Earth!
  3. I have read Lord of the Rings in four different languages; English, French, German and Dutch. 
  4. My favourite films are the Lord of the Rings trilogy
  5. I was in Wellington, NZ for the world premiere of Return of the King and took the day off work to go wave at the stars – are you seeing a theme here?
  6. I have lymphedema in my legs, and especially in this hot summer weather it’s a real challenge to avoid their blowing up like balloons.
  7. As a kid, my nickname was Smurfette and I collected lots of figurines.

I nominate the following

Mogsy at the Bibliosanctum

Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner

Kat at Katytastic

Christine at PolandBananasBooks

Jesse at Jesse the Reader

 

 

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