Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – Review

walkonearthastranger
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – ReviewWalk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Series: The Gold Seer #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 453 pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson is the first in a young adult historical fantasy following the story of Leah Westfall, a young woman from Georgia with the gift of sensing gold.  Circumstances lead her to seek her fortune in California as part of the 1849 gold rush.  This first book deals with Leah’s departure from Georgia and the first part of her journey west.

I really enjoyed this book.  I was highly invested in Leah’s story and loved the depiction of the trek across the country.  Upon finishing it I immediately preordered book two, entitled Like a River Glorious, due out in September 2016.  And can I just say, isn’t that a gorgeous cover?

What I liked

The protagonist.  I really enjoyed reading from Leah’s perspective.  She is a young woman with a good heart, and a strong mind.  It’s clear though the toll her secrets are taking on her.  I liked that Leah does sometimes does make mistakes and errors in judgement – it keeps her real.  The supporting characters are also very engaging and in many cases have significant character development.

The historical detail.  I admit that this is a period of American history about which I am not too familiar.  Carson was able to evoke a wonderfully vivid atmosphere of what life would have been like travelling West during the Gold Rush.  From the author’s notes at the end I have the strong impression that Carson did a significant amount of research when writing this book.

The fantastical.  While there is some fantasy in Walk on Earth a Stranger, it is very subtle and well integrated into the story.  The focus is very much more on historical fiction than fantasy though.

The tropes.  This was a mixed like/didn’t like.  Carson used so many tropes in this book it did get a little obvious at times.  We had the girl dressing up as a boy trope, the wicked uncle trope, the best friend as potential love interest trope, the refusal of the Call to Adventure until the Inciting Incident trope.  However, Carson makes them work very, very well together and has created a wonderfully cohesive story.

What I didn’t like

The love triangle.  This is a young adult book, so a love triangle is unavoidable.  While I did think that, at least, the third member of the triangle was convincingly written I really didn’t care for this aspect of the book.

There was very little I didn’t enjoy about Walk on Earth a Stranger.

I gave Walk on Earth a Stranger four and a half stars out of five. 

four-half-stars

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016

yellowbrickwar

Hello and welcome to another reading roundup.  Again, it’s been a month where I’ve really struggled to focus on reading and blogging.  I really should be more ruthless about putting books into my Did Not Finish pile.  I spent too much of the month plodding through books which really weren’t doing anything for me.

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige
Series: Dorothy Must Die #3
Also in this series: Dorothy Must Die
Format: eBook
Pages: 288 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: three-stars

With regards to Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige, I’ll be perfectly honest and say that my opinion and rating is heavily influenced by my – mistaken – impression that this was the final book in the Dorothy Must Die series.  This is a series involving an updating and reimagining of the world of L Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. I had been expecting, and looking forward to, resolution to the plot points introduced in Dorothy Must Die and The Wicked Will Rise.  So coming towards the end of the book when I realised there were no resolutions coming, I felt annoyed and frustrated.  My own fault, I freely admit it.  Had I known there was one more book to come, I could have better appreciated the continued excellent worldbuilding and character development in Yellow Brick War.  I will certainly read the conclusion when it comes out.  I look forward to reading the conclusion of Amy’s story.

I gave Yellow Brick War three stars out of five.

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Series: Charlotte Holmes #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 336 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery
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Evelynne's rating: two-stars

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is one I should probably have consigned to the Did Not Finish pile much sooner than I did.  The concept sounded fascinating.  In Cavallaro’s world Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson were real and their modern day teen descendants Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson meet up at an exclusive boarding school to solve mysteries.  It’s clear that a significant effort was made to reflect the personalities of Holmes and Watson in a modern day setting and to some extent it succeeded.  What completely turned me off this book is that the author introduced sexual tension between Holmes and Watson.  With that partnership it is a meeting of minds, not bodies and I personally lost all interest in the story after that.  That is a personal opinion and your mileage may vary.

A Study in Charlotte rated barely two stars out of five on my scale.

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 468 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Supernatural
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

This was my second attempt to read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys.  The first time I started, I just couldn’t get into it at all.  This second attempt was much more successful.  It’s clear that this is setting up a series.  The book opens with a real bang – Blue is fated to meet and/or kill her one true love within the next year.  I definitely want to read how that plays out.  There were multiple points introduced that I expect will pay off in later books – I would say Stiefvater is an architect rather than a gardener.  I found the characters interesting even if not all of them are immediately likeable – or intended to be so.  The type of supernatural events in this book are ones that to me, personally, are very creepy.  I will have to take a break and read a cutesy contemporary to clear my mind before I start The Dream Thieves!

I gave The Raven Boys four stars out of five.

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson #9
Format: eBook
Pages: 350 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

Fire Touched is the ninth book in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  I must admit I wasn’t overly excited about reading it.  I like Mercy and the rest of her allies; I just feel after nine books her story has pretty much come to an end.  I’ve felt that way for the last couple of books.  It’s like a long established, high quality TV procedural.  You pretty much know what you are going to get going into it, but you still enjoy it.  I keep saying I’m not going to read any more, yet I still do and still enjoy them.

I gave Fire Touched three and a half stars out of five.

In other news, I’m beginning to get excited about Book Expo of America, BEA, in Chicago in May.  This will be my first time there, so if any of you old hats could give me some tips that would be very much appreciated.

Upcoming releases in April

There are two books coming out in April about which I’m rather excited.  

The first of these is Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire.  This is a young adult fantasy and I was drawn to it by the concept; what happens to young people like Alice or Dorothy when they return home from Wonderland or Oz?  How do they adapt?  Every Heart a Doorway is released on April 5th and I’ve preordered it in Kindle format.

The second is Eligible, the next in the Austen Project series of modern retellings of Jane Austen classics.  Eligible is the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and is written by Curtis Sittenfeld.  There is a sneak peek of the audiobook available on SoundCloud, which sounds fantastic.  I have preordered the book in audiobook format based on this snippet.  That’s not to say I don’t have my concerns.  The Austen project adaptations have ranged from the bland and uninspired (Emma, Sense and Sensibility) to the very, very good (Northanger Abbey).  Pride and Prejudice is probably the best known – and most adapted – of Austen’s works and Eligible has a lot of work ahead of it to compare to the superb Lizzie Bennet Diaries YouTube series. I am intrigued that Sittenfeld has moved the story to Cincinnati and aged up our protagonists to nearly 40, giving a more modern pressure point for Lizzie and Jane to look for a husband.  It could well work, and from the snippet I am cautiously optimistic.  Eligible is released on April 26th.

Have a good week and will review more books soon. 

three-stars

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare – Review

ladymidnight
Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare – ReviewLady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Series: The Dark Artifices #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 720 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare is the first in The Dark Artifices, a new Shadowhunters series set around the Shadowhunters Institute in LA.  It focusses on Emma Carstairs and her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, characters introduced in City of Heavenly Fire, the final book in the Mortal Instruments series.  This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016 and I LOVED it.  The setup for Lady Midnight was one of the things I enjoyed most about City of Heavenly Fire and it more than lived up to its promise. I devoured this 700+ page book in less than a day.

What I liked

The characters.  Although Emma is a smart, engaging kickass heroine, I found my sympathies being drawn more to Julian – his struggles and challenges spoke to me even more than Emma’s.  I was also very interested that this time we meet some Shadowhunters who do not necessarily fit the mould of young teens, perfect in mind and body who embody the ideals of the Clave.  Particularly interesting to me was Tiberius, who is clearly on the autism spectrum.  I thought it was wonderful how he was shown to make a significant contribution to our protagonists’ quest even if it wasn’t always by going out and fighting demons.  I am interested to see how the Clave tries to handle him in the future.  We also have Mark Blackthorn, who, although technically a Shadowhunter has been strongly influenced by his time with the Fae.  In both these cases we clearly see how Shadowhunter society in general is not very accepting of those who do not fit a specific mould.

The Law.  The Law is a major theme in this book, specifically how to handle a law that seems harsh or unfair.  This is symbolised by two Latin phrases “Sed lex, dura lex” – the Law is hard, but it is the Law – and “lex malla, lex nulla” – a bad law is no law at all.  This refers mainly to the law against helping the Fair Folk, and this is used to hinder our protagonists in their quest.  We see attempts to get around this law both by diplomatic means and then by less open methods.  Of course this theme also applies to the law against parabatai falling in love, which is also a major issue for our protagonists.  All in all, it didn’t leave me feeling very positive towards the Clave and Council.  I look forward to seeing how Julian and Emma and their friends change their world for the better.

The world.  I really don’t need to say much here.  Clare’s world is absolutely phenomenal and fascinating.  What was particularly interesting this time was seeing a post Dark War world.  The struggle with Sebastian has left its mark and even five years later, the results can still be seen.  We learn of new, elite Shadowhunters and processes that have been put in place as a result of the War – processes that aren’t necessarily for the best.  I’m not sure if Clare was aiming to reflect our modern post 9/11 world in this, but that is certainly what it made me think of.

What I didn’t like

Bland, boring antagonist.  I wasn’t especially engaged by the antagonist – however, I suspect that the real villain of the piece was intended to be the rigid, inflexible attitude of those in charge of the Shadowhunters and the climate of fear that seems pervasive.  I would imagine we’ll see our heroes come into direct conflict with that later on in the series.

I gave Lady Midnight five stars out of five – when is the next book due out?

five-stars

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – Review (minor spoilers)

gatheringofshadows
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – Review (minor spoilers)A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #2
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer
Length: 16 hrs and 9 mins
Genres: Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab is the second in the Darker Shade of Magic Series which centres on Kell, an Antari magician who has the ability to move between different worlds, and Lila, a young woman from “our” London who has ended up in Kell’s magical home world.  I really enjoyed the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, and was very much looking forward to this next instalment.  I LOVED this book and am happy to recommend it.

What I liked

The characters.  Right from the beginning, Lila had me chuckling along with her sassy attitude and I sympathised with Kell and Rhy as they tried to come to terms with the events of the previous book.  Some new characters are introduced, notably Alucard Emery.  This is a particularly interesting new addition as both our protagonists have very different attitudes towards him.  This leaves the reader somewhat torn about how to feel about him.  He’s rather a mysterious characters – It’s clear that he’s a lot more than just the pirate – excuse me, privateer – that he claims to be.  I really hope we learn more about him in subsequent books.

The romance.  The relationship between Kell and Lila was so cute and beautifully done, especially given how little time they actually spend interacting with each other in the book.  There were so many adorable instances of Lila thinking things like “oh, that guy’s hair is almost the same shade as Kell’s”  or Kell’s seeing something pretty and thinking of how much Lila would enjoy it.  Of course, if confronted both would vehemently deny being in love.  A clear case of showing, not telling.  Brava Victoria.

Interesting pacing.  As the book blurb indicates, a significant focus of this book is the Element Games, a magical equivalent of our Olympics.  Yet, they do not provide much dramatic tension.  They are generally non lethal, and the outcome of winning is little more than achieving bragging rights.  In fact, until about 85% of the way through the book very little actually happens.   Towards the end, it was very clear that this story would not be self contained in the way that the first one was, and that I would have to prepare for a cliffhanger.  The wonderful thing, however, is that I really didn’t care.  I was having too much fun following these two crazy kids and their mixed signals romance and the magical world in which it takes place.  The last few chapters of the book really speed things up though and I can’t wait for the next book.

What I didn’t like

Lack of variety in the Element Games.  Each level of the competition follows the same format. I would have welcomed some changes in structure for the subsequent bouts.  Also I did have to suspend my disbelief at certain participants.  Did Stasion really think he could compete at Olympic level with his limited experience of magic?

Despite those minor gripes, I adored A Gathering of Shadows and it gets a well-deserved five stars out of five from me. 

five-stars

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard – Review

glass-sword
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard – ReviewGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard
Series: Red Queen #2
Format: eBook
Pages: 469 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian
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Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard is the second in the Red Queen series and continues the story of Mare Barrow and her struggle to end the oppression of the non superpowered Reds by the Silvers.  

When we left Mare at the end of Red Queen she was not in a good place, both in a practical sense and emotionally.  She feels betrayed by those she cared about and many of her allies are lost or alienated.  Nevertheless, she focusses herself on the goal of rescuing those who, like Mare, are of Red heritage but display Silver abilities.  

Although that is the goal of the book, the focus is far more on Mare’s psychological distress as she attempts to come to terms with what she has experienced as well as what is expected of her.  The title is clearly a metaphor for Mare; she is a weapon, but is very fragile and could easily be shattered.  In this respect, Glass Sword is faintly reminiscent of Catching Fire or Mockingjay which also deals with the protagonist’s PTSD.

What I liked

Vulnerable protagonist.  I enjoyed that the main character is struggling to deal emotionally with the situation in which she finds herself – it feels more realistic and relatable that young teens who seem to breeze through their crises.  Mare’s psychological trauma was well written and was a natural and logical progression of her circumstances.

Some interesting plot developments.  There were a few plot developments in the novel which were unexpected and reengaged my attention at times when it was flagging.  

Strong premise.  I really enjoyed the main premise and worldbuilding in Aveyard’s world.  The Red/Silver conflict and the addition of the newbloods made for gripping reading.

What I didn’t like

Bland characters.  Yes, I know I said that Mare’s vulnerability made her more interesting, but despite that, the characters in Glass Sword are still rather bland, typical YA heroes/heroines.  Perhaps I am being unfair here; I have just started A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab and within a few paragraphs, Lila Bard had already leapt out of the page and had me completely engaged in her story in a way that Mare never did. 

New characters not fully developed.  Some interesting new characters were introduced in Glass Sword such as Nanny, Cameron and Nix, but none of them were given enough page space to be developed fully.  That is perhaps due to the first person point of view and Mare’s own emotional struggles, but I would have liked to have seen it handled better.

Despite these issues, I did enjoy Glass Sword and gave it three and a half stars out of five.  I will probably read the final book whenever it comes out.

three-half-stars

Reading roundup – all over the place

littledribbling

Gosh, it’s been quite a while since I last posted.  My apologies.  I seem to have been going through not quite a reading slump but a lack of focus in my reading – I’ve been all over the place.  I’ve started so many books and not actually finished them before moving onto another book.  Sigh.

Some of the books that I have managed to finish have been by Brandon Sanderson who published not one, not two but THREE books in the last couple of months.  These are: Bands of Mourning, Mistborn: A Secret History and Calamity.  Bands of Mourning and Mistborn: A Secret History are both set in Sanderson’s Mistborn world, the first being the third in the four book Wax and Wayne series and Secret History a short novella set just after the events of the original trilogy.  While I very much enjoyed Bands of Mourning – the pacing, characters and plot were all wonderful, and an incredible ending – I was less happy with Secret History.  For those of you unaware, all of Sanderson’s adult novels are set in the same world, which he calls the cosmere.  In other words, Mistborn, Warbreaker and the Stormlight Archives are all happening in the same universe.  At this point in the Mistborn story the worlds are beginning to collide and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that.  I gave Bands of Mourning five stars out of five and Secret History four.

The final Sanderson book I read was Calamity, the final book in the Reckoners trilogy.  I had high expectations of this one as one thing Sanderson does very very well is end a series.  His endings to the Mistborn trilogy and his work on ending Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time have been among the most memorable for me.  I must admit Calamity didn’t quite live up to expectations, although that was more of a personal choice for me; I just didn’t enjoy where Sanderson took the story and characters as much as I’d hoped.  I gave Calamity four stars out of five.

Reading roundup – all over the placeThe Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Nathan Osgood
Length: 14 hrs and 4 mins
Genres: Travelogue
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

One book I did very much enjoy this month was Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling.  This is a travelogue in which Bryson takes a trip around the UK.  Bryson is an American married to a Brit who lived in the UK for many years.  It’s always refreshing to see one’s home country from a foreigner’s perspective and this is no exception. This is one to enjoy in audiobook format.  The style of the book is as if Bryson were sitting down over a cup of tea with the reader talking about his travels, which makes this an excellent choice for listening and Nathan Osgood does a great job as narrator.  Each chapter is introduced by some music typifying the region which adds a little something to the experience, too.  Be warned though.  The audiobook includes a song “The Bryson Line” written and performed by Richard Digance which is a real ohrwurm.  I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. I gave The Road to Little Dribbling five stars out of five.

Reading roundup – all over the placeUprooted by Naomi Novik
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Julia Emelin
Length: 17 hrs and 43 mins
Genres: Epic Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a book I listened to this month which very nearly went into my did not finish pile.  This is a stand alone epic fantasy about a young woman who is chosen against all odds to serve the local magician as he works to contain the evil Wood.  Novik has created a wonderful, magical world, and the characters are interesting.  However the pacing and buildup is very, very slow.  For quite some time I kept saying to myself, OK one more chapter and if I still amn’t hooked, I’ll leave it.  Eventually I realised I was finally becoming invested in the story and characters and was happy to finish the book.  I did very much enjoy the audio performance of Julia Emelin.  The book is worth persevering with and I gave Uprooted four stars out of five.

Reading roundup – all over the placeThe Diary of River Song by Big Finish Productions
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Various
Length: 2 hours
Evelynne's rating: five-stars

This is a production I’ve had on my radar for a while.  As I’ve mentioned, the relationship between River Song and The Doctor is one of my favourite fictional relationships and I was intrigued to see how she would pair up with the Eighth Doctor.  Big Finish has long been known for Doctor Who audio productions – indeed most of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures take place in this medium – and their production quality is absolutely stellar.  For this particular adventure they hired Alex Kingston and Paul McGann to play River and The Doctor and both really get their characters.  I must confess to a slight disappointment that River did not reveal her true identity to Eight; but then again that would have broken the internal logic of the TV show.  All in all these productions are wonderful and if you like Doctor Who you really should check them out.  I gave The Diary of River Song five stars out of five.

And now onto books I started but did not finish this month.  The first of these was White Queen by Philippa Gregory.  At first, I found myself being really sucked into this story – it is written in a very engaging manner.  However, historical dramas is not my usual genre and I found myself leaving it aside for my more usual fare.  I imagine I will return to White Queen at some point in the future.

Next up was The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey.  I really loved the narrator and her sassy attitude in the face of alien invasion.  However, I read the rest of the synopsis on Wikipedia and decided I really wasn’t interested in where the story was going.  

I started listening to Star Wars Darth Plagueis at the gym, but the story never really grabbed me.  I had been hoping for some insight into the world of the Sith and maybe I didn’t give it long enough, but the first few chapters really didn’t grab my interest at all.ianna

Having watched a couple of episodes of Outlander, I dived in once again to the fourth book, Drums of Autumn.  These are real doorstops of books and much as I love the characters and story, I find I cannot read them all at once.  I read a few chapters, wait a few months, then go back in again.  I did enjoy the chapters I read which focussed more on Brianna’s and Roger’s adventures.  

So there you have it – my update for the last month.  Hopefully in March I will be more focussed.  We do have Cassandra Clare’s latest Shadowhunter series starter Lady Midnight being released as well as the conclusion to Danielle Paige’s modern adaptation of the world of Oz, The Yellow Brick War.  I’m hoping they will keep me out of trouble!

five-stars

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken – Review

passenger
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken – ReviewPassenger by Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 496 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken is a young adult fantasy novel, the first in a duology, marketed as a treasure hunt through time.  It focusses on the characters of Etta, a young 21st century woman and Nicholas, a black man from the 1700s, both of whom have the genetic ability to travel through passages in time and space.  They embark on a journey through time to locate the astrolabe, the series McGuffin, in order to prevent its falling into the hands of the Ironwoods giving them power to change history.

What I liked

The time travel system.  I really enjoyed this aspect of the book.  It was very well thought out and the rules and limitations were well explained.  Often in fantasy it’s the limitations on magical powers that make them most interesting and generate the most interesting stories.  At the risk of spoiling the novel I won’t say too much more, but this aspect was very well done.

The character development.  Writing believable and consistent characters is one of Bracken’s strengths.  I could easily believe the characters actions and reactions based on what they’d already experienced.  

The social commentary. Having two characters whose race or gender has historically deprived them of power and placing them in situations where that is emphasised was inspired.  It leads to some scenes that are both funny and poignant.  

The writing and the pacing.  This was excellent – the story kept moving along at a brisk pace with the tension managed expertly.  It’s amazing what a deadline can do for plot pacing!  Of course, I hadn’t expected anything less from the writer of The Darkest Minds series.

What I didn’t like

The romance.  Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the relationship between Etta and Nicholas.  What irritated me though was the fact that they allowed it to overshadow everything else.  They were on a very tight deadline and yet they still took a lot of time out to enjoy each other’s company.  Focus, people!

Bland characters.  I will say I enjoyed the situations in which the characters found themselves more than the characters themselves.  Yes, they did have a few moments of awesome, and yes, their character development was realistic, but I wasn’t particularly engaged by them.  

All in all I really enjoyed this book and gave it four out of five stars.  I look forward to Wayfarer, the conclusion of the story.

As an aside, if you enjoyed Passenger, I would strongly recommend you check out Kerstin Geir’s Ruby Red trilogy. This explores a very similar premise of time travel, but the heroine is much more fun and sassy than Etta.

four-stars

My top three fictional relationships

Today I thought I’d tell you about my top three fictional relationships.  While I do not consider myself a hard core shipper, there are a few pairings in which I am super invested, and here they are.

The Doctor and River Song (BBC, Doctor Who)

Perhaps I should provide some background here for those readers unfamiliar with the BBC series.  The Doctor is a space and time travelling alien from the planet Gallifrey who has a special fondness for Earth and who is frequently called upon to use his smarts and trusty sonic screwdriver to save the world.  As a Time Lord, he has the unique trait that, when he is severely injured, his body regenerates, giving a whole new look and personality to the character.  River Song is a slightly-more-than-human time traveller whose timeline collides on a regular basis with that of The Doctor.

Showrunner Russell T Davies, who introduced River to the show, has said that his inspiration for the character was Audrey Niffinegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife in which a time traveller’s relationship with his wife is complicated by his meeting her at different points in her life.  The first time we – and The Doctor – meet River is shortly before her death when it’s clear she has already enjoyed a long and event filled relationship with The Doctor, one of which The Doctor is unaware.  Her devastation that her Doctor doesn’t know her is beautifully and poignantly played by Alex Kingston.

Throughout the following series, we learn more about River and her relationship with our favourite Gallifreyan.  Not only is their relationship complicated by jumping in and out of each other’s timelines – their first action upon meeting is to compare diaries to pinpoint where they are in their timelines – but also The Doctor’s changing personality due to his regenerations.  

Why I love this relationship.  In spite of the time travel and fantasy elements, there is a lot of human in this relationship, particularly the fear that a loved one will no longer be able to remember you or share in the memories of events you’ve experienced together.  That is the aspect of the relationship that touched me the most.  I’ll be perfectly honest here and say that much of my investment in this relationship comes from Alex Kingston’s performance as River.  it has to be said, she has some very cheesy lines: “I live for the days when I see him, but I know that every time that I do he’ll be one step further away. The day is coming when I’ll look into that man’s eyes, my Doctor, and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.”  Kingston delivers those lines with such truth you can’t help but feel for her character.

Fitz and The Fool (Robin Hobb, Realm of the Elderlings)

Again, perhaps some background might be necessary here.  Fitz is the protagonist of Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies.  These are typical epic fantasy novels in which  the Fool prophesies a dire end for the Six Duchies unless he and Fitz can work together to prevent it.  Their adventures together creates a very strong bond between them, and it is a joy to watch their friendship develop.  

What makes this relationship very different in epic fantasy is the Fool’s gender fluidity.  At some points in the narrative he (I’ll use the male pronoun just for convenience) presents as male, at other points, he is female.  Throughout the series the Fool is extremely careful and adept at avoiding situations which may reveal his physical gender – he avoids bathing in public and refuses medical attention.  There are moments where Fitz could ascertain the truth of the situation but out of respect for his friend he refuses.  At this point I wonder if the Fool’s physical gender will ever be revealed – and more to the point, what difference it would actually make.

His gender has absolutely no bearing on the Fool’s love for Fitz; as far as he is concerned, Fitz is the centre of his world, his other half.  Fitz, on the other hand, views things differently.  For him a physical relationship is an integral part of a pair bond, something he struggles to accept with the Fool, given that he views him as male.  The Fool’s comment on that is very astute;  “You are confusing plumbing and love again.” I believe though that Fitz is lying to himself about the depth of his love for the Fool.  This central conflict between the pair has yet to be resolved – there is one more book to come in the Fitz and the Fool series – and I am so impatient to see how Hobb has the pair overcome this hurdle.  

As far as I am concerned, Fitz and the Fool is endgame.  Hobb all but confirmed it when Jinna the hedge witch reads Fitz’s palm and says “By your left hand, I’d say you had a sweet and true love in your short life. A love that ended only in your death. Yet here in your right hand, I see a love that wends its way in and out of all your many years. That faithful heart has been absent for a time, but is soon to return to you again.”  The very next chapter it’s not his previous love, Molly, who returns to Fitz’s life but the Fool.

Why I love this relationship.  The depth of the connection between Fitz and the Fool is so movingly written.  Both would happily give up their lives and/or happiness to ensure the other’s wellbeing.  I am so invested in the relationship and am keen to see how it develops.

Tessa Gray, Jem Carstairs and Will Herondale (Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices)

Generally I am not fond of love triangles, especially in young adult fiction.  All too often, it’s very clear from the beginning which couple the author intends as endgame (did anyone seriously expect Bella to end up with Jacob?)  and the third party serves as little more than a temporary roadblock on the way to true happiness.  Bleugh.  I’ve read that scenario far too often now for it to be remotely interesting.

The love triangle between Tessa, Jem and Will in The Infernal Devices is different.  The triangle is perfectly balanced in that both Jem and Will are written as valid partners for Tessa.  Clare does not make it clear which couple is endgame.  Jem and Will also have a very strong pre-existing bond and they love and respect each other as brothers.  Both are willing to sacrifice their lives and happiness so that the other may be happy.  I was genuinely upset that one of them had to step aside, and I couldn’t decide which Tessa should choose.

Why I love this relationship(s).  That ending.  Wow.  The way Clare resolved this triangle was just so beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time. She clearly did her work well to evoke such a reaction in me.

So there you have it, my top three fictional relationships. What they all have in common is that the love between the pairs is selfless – they would all give up their lives in a heartbeat to ensure their partner’s happiness – and that they all have interesting obstacles to overcome.  Let me know about your favourite fictional relationships in the comments!

Most anticipated reads of 2016 and other news

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My last entry talked about my favourite books of 2015, so now it’s time to talk about my most anticipated books of 2016.

Passenger by Alexandra BrackenPassenger is the latest book by Alexandra Bracken.  it is the start of a new YA series and is billed as a YA treasure hunt through time.  I really loved Bracken’s Darkest Minds series, so this sounds like a real winner to me.  The publisher has released a sampler, which I encourage you to check out.  Passenger is officially released in just a few days on January 5th 2016.

Lady Midnight by Cassandra ClareThis is the first book in a new series by Mortal Instruments writer Cassandra Clare.  It is set in the same world of the Shadowhunters but the action takes place in Los Angeles.  At first, I’d been a little sceptical of the setting; the older cities of London and New York seemed a more natural fit for vampires and demons than sunny Los Angeles.  However, the last book in the Mortal Instruments series, City of Heavenly Fire, functioned as much as a setup for this new series, introducing characters, locations and possible plotlines in the new series, and I am 100% convinced now.  I will certainly be devouring Lady Midnight when it is released on March 8th 2016.

Yellow Brick War by Danielle PaigeYellow Brick War is the third and final book in the Dorothy Must Die series by Danielle Paige.  This series is set in the world of L Frank Baum’s Oz in which Dorothy has turned wicked.  While I loved the world and protagonist – Amy Gumm – is wonderfully kick ass, yet real and flawed – but I was unhappy with the pacing of the first book.  The second book, The Wicked Will Rise, fixed these issues and had such a fantastic cliffhanger ending that I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Yellow Brick War is released on March 15th 2016.

Paper and Fire by Rachel CainePaper and Fire is the second in Rachel Caine’s Great Library series. I was originally drawn to Ink and Bone because of the world – a world in which the Great Library of Alexandria survives and exercises complete control over all published work.  Our protagonist discovers a way to break the Library’s control and ends up in danger.  With this book I came for the concept and stayed for the characters.  They are both engaging and intriguing and I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Paper and Fire is released on July 5th.

The next book in Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, The Thorn of Emberlain is scheduled to be released on July 21st 2016.  At least that’s what Amazon tells me.  I’m not certain how official that date is – it has been put back several times.  In any case, this is one book I am very much looking forward to.  I love the characters, the world and the writing is so sharp and witty.  I look forward to what the future holds for Locke.

The final book I’d like to mention is Heartless by Marissa Meyer.  This is a new series set in the world of Alice in Wonderland in the same way that the Lunar Chronicles were a retelling of traditional fairytales.  Other than the brief synopsis, not much has been revealed about this book.  I look forward to picking it up on November 8th 2016.

One book that I am not holding my breath anticipating in 2016 is George R.R. Martin’s continuation of The Song of Ice and Fire, The Winds of Winter.  In a recent blog post, Martin confirmed what most of us had expected: Winds of Winter will not be published before the upcoming sixth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  While disappointing, this is not surprising.  However, the tone of Martin’s post suggests that he still has a lot of work to do, and that he cannot say when it will be completed.  I’ll be interested to see how that affects viewing of the series.  Personally, I’m going to watch it and treat it like any other book adaptation – I’ll enjoy watching David and Dan’s interpretation and then read the original whenever Martin publishes it.  I do have more faith in Martin’s handling of the characters though.

Reading through my preorders and my most anticipated list, I see that the vast majority of them are YA fantasy type books.  One of my goals for 2016 should be to expand my reading genres.  That may be tricky – there are just so many good YA books coming out and so little time to read.  I do have some historical fiction, some Outlander and some biographies to read.  I also see that all of them are by authors with whom I’m already familiar.  That is probably also something to work on in 2016.  Because not yet published books don’t have Kindle previews, I’m a little more reluctant to commit my money to an unknown.  

This year I have set my GoodReads reading challenge to 80 books.  I feel that should be doable, even if I do listen to more audiobooks.

One very exciting thing I’m really looking forward to this year is attending BEA in Chicago!  This will be my first visit to the book expo and I’m so excited at the opportunity to spend time with people who are as passionate about books as I am.  I look forward to seeing some of you there.

Reading roundup of 2015

Now that 2015 is almost done, it’s time to review my reading year.  Thanks to GoodReads, I have a very good idea of how I did.

I had set my reading goal at 75 books, and I completed 87 with a total of 29,110 pages.  This is a little lower than the last few years, but I did enjoy many of these books in audiobook format, which does take longer.

The shortest book I read was Two Tales of the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne which had a total of 39 pages, and the longest was Voyager by Diana Gabaldon which weighed in at a hefty 870 pages.

I read some pretty amazing books this year.  So without further ado, in no particular order, here are the books I enjoyed most.

Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb is pretty much defaulted to my top books list because I am so, so invested in the characters of Fitz and the Fool and their unconventional friendship.  Of course I was going to soak up every nuance of their continuing tale.  Hobb would have had to really mess it up for me not to like it. Fortunately, she produced a wonderful continuation to their story and I loved it.

You can see my full (spoilery) review here.

The Martian by Andy Weir The Martian by Andy Weir is perhaps the most unexpected entry in my top books so far.  This is because it is very much out of my usual genre(s).  For those of you who have not  heard of this, it’s a science fiction adventure about an astronaut who is accidentally left behind on Mars and how he has to use all his skills to “science the &^$% out of things” to survive.  Although there is a strong emphasis on the science side of things, it is beautifully blended with the personal and you can’t help but root for our hero’s survival.  At one point I was seriously tempted to text my friend to ask if he did survive, but I managed to restrain myself. Watney’s story is told primarily in a first-person journal style and the writing is very accessible.  I listened to this in audiobook format, which was a wonderful way to get into the story.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan GraudinWolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin was one of the books which really got under my skin this year.  It is an alternative history set in a world in which the Nazis won World War II. We follow our protagonist, Yael, who is a death camp survivor, and her mission to kill Hitler.  This mission hangs on the fact that Yael’s experiences in the death camp gave her the ability to change her appearance to look like any other woman.  I cannot explain why it got under my skin so much – perhaps it was because the protagonist was so beautifully written – a real blend of kick ass heroine and vulnerable young girl.  My full review can be read here.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell From time to time a book will come along in which plot, character, pacing, worldbuilding and writing come together to create something wonderful. For me that book was Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Carry On is a follow up to Rowell’s Fangirl – Carry On is the final book in the series about which our fangirl protagonist is obsessed. I should point out that it’s not necessary to have read Fangirl before reading Carry On.

I will admit that initially I wasn’t too interested in reading Carry On. Fangirl was one of the few Rainbow Rowell books I did not finish. However some glowing reviews encouraged me to reconsider and I’m very glad I did.

Carry On follows the final school year of Simon Snow, a Harry Potteresque Chosen One, destined to save the magical world from the Insidious Humdrum. As well as the impending confrontation with the Humdrum, Simon must also deal with his growing feelings for his vampire roommate Baz. The book is a perfect blend of humour, romance, adventure and wonderful character moments and I highly recommend it.

I gave Carry On a resounding five stars out of five.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffIlluminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a young adult adventure story imaginatively told through a collection of documents. We follow Kady and Ezra as they are forced to flee their planet after it is invaded.

Now, I’m going to say something I don’t often say; PLEASE don’t buy this book in ebook format. Pick up the hard copy instead. Because formatting is an intrinsic part of the story, the ebook is often scanned images rather than text. This means that you lose all the advantages of using an ereader – font size adjustment, searching for example. More worryingly, when I tried to read it on my iPad, a significant number of these images were missing, meaning I lost a whole chunk of the story. I only noticed this because I was following along with the audiobook at the same time. The images were present in the Kindle, but I found the text very small and sometimes difficult to read. So do your eyes a favour and skip the ebook in favour of the hardback.

In an ideal world, you would experience this book in both hard copy and audiobook format. The audiobook is narrated by a full voice cast and is absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend it. However, by listening to the audiobook alone you miss out on the formatting of the book which also adds an extra dimension.

Although the unusual format is one of the key attractions of this book, the story itself more than holds its own – I was enthralled by Kady and Ezra’s dilemma, and the ending is fantastic. It really made me anxious to read the next book.

I gave Illuminae four stars out of five.

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