Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ARC Review: And I Darken

25324111Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Historical fiction

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.
Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.
Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.
The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she'll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.

I really enjoyed this book! It was a fascinating period of history, richly described with unique and captivating characters.

I think the best historical fiction is the kind that makes you fall in love with a certain time period or figure in history and want to learn more about them. This book certainly fits that description! I knew absolutely nothing about the Ottoman Empire when I started this book. In fact, the only other place I'd encountered it was the Tintin comic!

Even though Kiersten White is known for her light-hearted Paranormalcy series, this book is by no means a light read. White takes you deep into the nitty gritty of European and Ottoman politics, complete with brutal punishments, assassinations, betrayal, political and personal manipulation, and very tangled, ugly love stories. There's one line of the book description that sums up this book remarkably well:
"Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point. " 

The three of them form a seemingly unbreakable friendship as children, but as they grow older, nothing is as pure or simple as it seems.

I've heard some comparison of this book to Game of Thrones, and I think that is at least partially valid in terms of how dark and twisted almost all the characters are. There's also a sense of vast scope with so many battles and political players. The one thing I would say is that this book isn't nearly as convoluted as Game of Thrones, and has quite a tightly-written plot despite all the political machinations going on behind the scenes. And of course, I care about the characters in this book far more than I ever did with those of Game of Thrones.

Lada is no stereotypical princess. She is ugly, unrefined, foul-mouthed, and cunning; she is completely unafraid to speak her mind no matter how dangerous the consequences. She's all tooth and claws, both in terms of how she physically wrestles people who try to put her or her brother down, and how she tends to push people away with that sharp tongue of hers. Radu is her soft-spoken little brother, and at first she finds him pathetic. He's small for his age and quiet, and there's no way he would win a brawl with any of the other boys. But then Radu shows surprising cunning as well; together these two form a formidable team that can manipulate events and people around them to get what they want.

I absolutely adored how none of the women in this book were stereotypical or two-dimensional. The cool thing is that Lada herself is actually a man in history, Vlad the Impaler. He's a terrifying person, one who enjoyed staking his enemies and inspired the Dracula myth. One of my favorite women was Mehmed's mother. She is a concubine and confined to her harem, but despite being physically sequestered and seemingly powerless, it quickly becomes clear that she is the one pulling all the strings. She will do anything to see Mehmed on the throne, and her brand of strength and ruthlessness made a very interesting complement to Lada's. The two women have a lot in common, although neither will admit it.

Rich, lush writing, broken and brutal characters, a fascinating time period in history full of twists and turns. This book has it all!

A free e-ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

ARC Review: Strangers Among Us

29484057Title; Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts
Editor: Susan Forest
Genre: Science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, anthology

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
There's a delicate balance between mental health and mental illness…
We are your fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and lovers. We staff your stores, cross your streets, and study in your schools, invisible among you. We are your outcasts and underdogs, and often, your unsung heroes.
Nineteen science fiction and fantasy authors tackle the division between mental health and mental illness; how the interplay between our minds' quirks and the diverse societies and cultures we live in can set us apart, or must be concealed, or become unlikely strengths.
We find troubles with Irish fay, a North Korean cosmonaut's fear of flying, an aging maid dealing with politics of revenge, a mute boy and an army of darkness, a sister reaching out at the edge of a black hole, the dog and the sleepwalker, and many more.
After all, what harm can be done…

I was really excited about this anthology when I first heard about it. I've been looking for more books/stories that address mental illness or feature characters that have mental illnesses, especially after reading the phenomenal Challenger Deep. A sci-fi/fantasy anthology that featured characters with mental illnesses and unusual perspectives seemed like the perfect fit! Unforunately this anthology didn't live up to my expectations.

I think part of it was that my understanding of what this anthology was about is different from what the anthology was actually aiming for. In the description, it says:

"Nineteen science fiction and fantasy authors tackle the division between mental health and mental illness; how the interplay between our minds' quirks and the diverse societies and cultures we live in can set us apart, or must be concealed, or become unlikely strengths."

And some of the stories really did that in a phenomenal way. There were many stories I really enjoyed and I thought they did a great job of incorporating a respectful and realistic portrayal of people who live with mental illness and how it affects their lives. Others just had a character who saw visions/hallucinations or heard voices and didn't really address it from a mental illness standpoint; instead, it seemed more like the magical "chosen one" situation and that to me really took away from the message I was expecting from this book.

As with all anthologies, some stories were far more enjoyable than others, but overall I'd say this was a pretty mediocre anthology.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Review: The Raven King

17378527Title: The Raven King
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Contemporary, young adult

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.
For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.
Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

I have never, ever, been so emotionally bruised and exhilarated by a book before. Serious whiplash, got everything I wanted and more, 200% would recommend.

Prepare to cry.

Okay, time for an actual review. When I started this series, I was completely hooked by the prologue of The Raven Boys. Blue Sargent sitting across from the church on St. Mark's eve, seeing the ghost of a boy who is both her true love and the one who will die when she kisses him.

So you know what's coming. Maggie Stiefvater tells you exactly what's going to happen at the end of the series when you start the prologue of book one. She just makes you care about the characters so much that you are in complete denial and disbelief and you know Gansey can't possibly die, can he?

And the beautiful thing about this book in particular is that it's as much about Adam and Ronan as it is about Blue and Gansey. Ronan is my favorite character of the series, and Dream Thieves was my favorite of the series (until this one). There were so many moments in this book involving Ronan that made me cry or grin stupidly or just sit numbly on my sofa, burrowing my face in a pillow because I couldn't deal with the overwhelming emotions.

I think this book showed me exactly how much my reading habits have changed and how much I have changed since I started this series. Before, I was way more sold on a book if it had an amazing plot or a beautiful writing style. Now it's all about the characters - even the most plot-twisty book can't hold my attention if I don't care about the characters. I've become a more emotional reader over the past couple of years. I never really cried or got caught up in the friendships and relationships of the characters I read about, I focused more on who the characters were and how they grew. Now I've grown to love the tangled relationships between characters and their friends/families/significant others possibly because I've grown to appreciate those same relationships in my own life.

This is one of the few books I read in 24 hours. I literally just dropped everything after I finished my midterms (who am I kidding, I was definitely taking lots of "study breaks" to read before the midterm too) and sat on the couch and read for hours. By the end I had laughed and cried and felt so catatonic I didn't want to return to the real world and do something so mundane as make dinner. My roommate walked in the door at 8 and saw me on the couch and was really confused about why I was so dead and I just didn't have the words to describe how beautiful and harrowing and overwhelming my past few hours had been.

I still don't have the words for it, but please read this series. It's a very enjoy-the-journey-not-the-destination book but it does have a spectacularly perfect ending. Experience the beauty of real complicated lovable characters and their tangled relationships.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

AZ Update 2

It's been a couple of months since the last update, and we're just about halfway through the year. Thankfully I'm more than halfway through the alphabet! Unfortunately this means I'm hitting a lot more letters that are difficult to find at the beginnings of titles, so fingers crossed that I'll actually be able to get to them all :D

A: And I Darken by Kiersten White (2/26)
B: The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (2/8)
C: Court of Thieves by Kate Elliott (1/12)
D: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (4/3)
G: A Great Hunt by Robert Jordan (1/22)
H: His Majesty's Dragon (3/30)
I: The Immortal Heights (1/5)
M: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes (3/21)
N: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (6/18)
O: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine (3/12)
P: Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov (6/15)
Q: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that cannot stop talking by Susan Cain (3/27)
R: Rook by Sharon Cameron (3/7)
S: Shadows of Self (1/3)
T: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights (1/31)
W: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (5/12)

I read a lot of books between March (my last update) and now that started with the same few letters that I had already read. It looks like I'm going to have to start consciously finding books that start with certain letters of the alphabet, because chance can only get me so far! I really enjoyed all three of the books I added to the list this time around, which is funny because they could not be more different. Warbreaker had a rich, colorful world, and despite a few dark scenes it was generally a vibrant and fun book. On the other hand Nevernight was a very dark and bloody fantasy with a dose of dry humor. Prelude to Foundation started out as a rather dry and slow science fiction book, but ended up having insane twists and revelations at the end. The only thing I can say about all three books was that I adored the main characters - just goes to show how much my reading style has changed over the years from a plot reader to a character reader (but more on that later).

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TTT: Top Ten 2016 releases

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top Ten 2016 releases (so far)

In no particular order, here's a mix of ARCs and books published this year that I've really enjoyed! 4 and 5 star books only. Since I only had 9, there's also a book on here that I'm highly anticipating this year and I'm pretty sure I'll love even though I haven't read it yet :D


Dark and disturbing, yes, but also poignant and full of dry humor. I loved this!

If you thought Golden Son ripped the feels out of you...oh god this book just takes everything to a heart-in-your-throat conclusion.

Such a cool premise and an amazing amazing badass protagonist.

This book is also very dark, but so lushly written. Complicated characters and their even more complicated relationships dominate in this political historical fiction book.

Possibly the worst book hangover I have ever had, this book left me crying of happiness and crying of sadness and crying just from too many emotions all at once. It was perfect.

Technically I read this last year, but it was published this year and I really enjoyed it! Someone or something left pieces of a giant robot all over the earth and now those pieces are waking up...

Any guesses as to why I loved this book? A whole new world-within-a-world has been opened up and I am so excited for the future Mistborn books.

Not my favorite Sanderson book, but still really good! I love David's awful metaphors and the dynamic between everyone on the team :)

Such a beautiful ending to an amazing series! The Lunar Chronicles make me so happy on so many levels, and these short stories made me love the series even more.

Yeah, I haven't actually read this one yet, but there is no doubt in my mind I will love it beyond reason. Locke Lamora is the absolute best.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

On Adulting for the First Time

I finally graduated! I'm officially done with college! I'm a real adult now! AAAAAAAAAAH

Okay so I just finished my first week of work! A lot of the work I'm doing right now is testing all sorts of things and that involves a lot of mindless preparation of different samples and waiting for things to dry or react or heat up. I was bored out of my mind until I realized I could listen to an audiobook while I was just waiting around. It was a fantastic idea...except that I'm going through audiobooks way faster than I expected. I finished a 12 hour audiobook in 3 days. Now I'm working on Way of Kings because it's over 40 hours long and will hopefully get me through a week or two :)

I didn't realize how tired I'd be when I got home, because I'm used to a crazy-packed schedule with multiple 12-hour days when I was still a student and involved with different clubs and a dance team and research and all that good stuff outside of class. I figured that once I had regular hours and 8 hour days I would have a lot more free time in the evenings. And it's true, I do have more time because I don't have homework to do or exams to study for (THANK GOODNESS). The thing is I'm just so checked out and don't have the energy to do anything except eat food and binge watch TV (currently binge-ing Friends. So relevant to my life right now haha).

I've decided that I need to make a reading/blogging schedule for myself. I have always liked making lists. Checking things off makes me feel good because I feel like I've accomplished something. Up until now, I've just been reading what I felt like, with maybe 1 ARC each month. I really need to get organized with when I post reviews for my ARCs, because I almost always read them in time but then I wait to write the review so it's posted closer to the release date...and if the release date is a while away, sometimes I forget. I also just need a checklist to remind me to write my blog posts. I still obviously enjoy blogging and being a part of the blogger community, but I've lost the habit of posting on here so I need a nudge to remind me.

So here's my reading/blogging checklist:

Checked box symbol Read 2-3 books each week
Checked box symbol Read at least 2 ARCs each month
Checked box symbol Write 2-3 reviews each week
Checked box symbol Write 1 discussion post every two weeks (at least)
Checked box symbol Keep up with my A-Z reading challenge for the year

And that's it! It's mostly what I've been doing already, and there's still a lot of room for flexibility with what I read and when I read it, but I think having a list will help remind me to stay on track!

Here goes nothing!

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