Quick Review: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

tower of dawn **Spoiler Alert**

The Throne of Glass series has expanded way beyond the original books and has so many characters that Sarah J Maas basically had to pull a George R.R. Martin and split the characters up in to two books.  Tower of Dawn takes place at the same time that Empire of Storms but this time in the Southern Continent. Chaol and Nesryn journey to meet the Khagan and his family in hopes of swaying them to join their cause but to also heal Chaol paralysis with their famed healers.  Chaol meets the young healer Yrene, who readers first met in one of the prequel novella’s. Yrene and Chaol have the typical antagonizing relationship that turns into a romance but they have more chemistry in their first scene then Chaol and Nesryn ever did.  Chaol is one of my favorite characters and I was total Celaenia/Chaol shipper and was sad when they broke off but it was inevitable since as we know Celaenia turned out to be Aelin the Queen of Terrasan.  Chaol was in love with Celaenia not with Aelin and it’s not that I don’t like Nesryn but they just seemed off.  I’m happy that Chaol found someone who is more his equal.  Now back to the story.  The Khagan and the southern Continent have powerful armies and Aelin and Dorian need all the help they need if they are going to defeat Erawen and the Valg but the Khagan are not easily persuaded.  They have had peace in their lands for years and are not eager to rush into a war on another continent.  They are also in mourning of their youngest daughter who supposedly killed herself but some in the family don’t believe it.  After Chaol tells Yrene how he was really injured, strange things start to happen.  Another healer is mysteriously murdered that not even the healers can figure out how.  Are the Valg already here? Chaol, Nesryn and Yrene piece together who the Valg are and who they are really fighting.  Let’s just say some holes are filled in.  The nice thing about this book was that it only had 3 POV’s.  As the series has grown and the world expanded and more and more characters were introduced, there were more and more storylines and subplots and POV that it was getting a little out of control.  Again, think Game of Thrones.  It was nice to have a much simpler storyline to follow.  It was filled with the same intrigued and action as the previous books and it was nice breather before the finale comes out next year.

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Review: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

carve the mark 2 So let’s talk the controversy.  I was excited about reading this book because I thought it sounded interesting and was curious how Veronica Roth would follow up her Divergent series.  That was until reviews started to come in and people began talking about the racism surrounding the plot.  Now, I don’t necessarily think it is intentionally racist but it is definitely problematic.  So the plot revolves around two different races of people who share the same planet.  The fair-skinned, peaceful Thuve people and the dark-skinned warrior race Shotet.  Right there raised flags for me.  That the more violent people are described as being dark in skin, eyes and curly hair versus the more light skinned, blue eyed, straight hair peaceful neighbors.  Everything about the Shotet’s is described violently from their language to their tradition of marking their arms with every kill.  It brings up images in our society about we are programmed to think that those with darker skinned are more dangerous then those of us who have lighter skin tones.  That the lighter skinned people are somehow inherently just better people.  And that is why at first I felt a little uncomfortable reading it.  However, it didn’t turn me off either.  As the story continued, I became more invested in the characters Akos and Cyra.  I don’t think ever really got past the uncomfortableness of it but I did want Cyra to best her abusive brother and Akos to rescue his.  They compliment each other really well.  Cyra has a gift for pain. Pain that she inflicts on others but also lives in her while Akos gift is that he nullifies the current.  In this world, everyone has a gift granted by the current.  Each gift is different depending on the person.  Cyra brother is the ruler of the Shotet people and has been using her as his own personal torturer.  She has gained the reputation of being cruel when she is only doing what she is told to do but deep down she knows that she deserves the pain she feels thanks to her painful history.  Akos is kidnapped by the Shotet with his brother when their fates clash with the Shotet ruler.  Both Cyra and Akos really grow throughout the novel. They both see in each other that they don’t have to be what they raised to be.  That they can choose their own paths.  The ending was a little meh but it did pose one interesting question that makes me at least interested in the sequel.  It might be too late for Veronica to fix the unfortunate world building choices in the sequel but I do hope that in the future she takes more time to ask herself, why she is making these choices in her writing.  Is it because this is who the character really is or something that has been internalized in herself coming out on the page.

This Month in Reality: Shonda Rhimes is my hero. 

A Year of Yes
  

Welcome to a March 32nd tradition. I am posting this month’s in reality on the last day of March! 
This book, man. It’s life changing. Life affirming. It’s… I don’t even know where to begin. Except I do. At the beginning, I had to stop listening halfway through the introduction because I was crying my eyes out. I’ve never felt so seen…by an audiobook. I guess this is why Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday nights. 
This book is a memoir about a year in which Rhimes chose to say yes to everything that scared her. And, it would seem, a bunch of things that scare her also scare me and so hearing about how she faced her fears and won was transformative.  The book is read by the author, so, if like me, you listen to books a lot with headphones on, Shonda Rhimes is literally whispering in your ear telling you how she overcame her fears and leading by example. 
I want to say yes to everything now. I even want to say yes to saying no to things that are bad for me. 
This book, man. I loved it. 

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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You know when you’re reading a book and you can see where the story is going and who is the villain and who is the hero before the heroine does and you just want to scream at her to wake up and pay attention! That was me with this book.  Despite this, I flew through reading it. It was exactly the distraction I needed after a few tough books.  Mare Barrow has no skills besides pick pocketing and in this world that means when she turns 18, she’ll be conscripted to the war front.  She is a Red, born with red blood and is forced to serve and work for the Silvers, those born with silver blood and who have extra powers.  When her best friend loses his job and will be sent to war, she tries to save him.  This leads to her finding out she’s more than red.  She has powers, too.  Silvers can’t let her walk away after this discovery so they try to cover it up and force her to live with them and marry one of the princes.  That doesn’t sound like such a punishment but she’s basically their prisoner whose life is at their whim.  At the same time, a rebellion is starting to take hold and Mare wants to be a part of it.  The more she becomes involved with the Silvers and the rebellion things get complicated.  She’s playing a game she doesn’t know the rules to and anyone can betray anyone.

Mare is strong but full of vulnerability.  She doesn’t have skills like her sister and jobs are scarce so she does what she can to help out her family, steal.  Her family isn’t exactly happy about it since her sister has a job and is their ticket out of poverty.  It’s hard to compete against.  She is loyal, almost to a fault.  If she has a fault is that she is so focused on her family and friends and what she sees as injustices that she fails to see the bigger picture and it gets her into trouble.  Her suitors are abundant.  First their is Kilorn, her friend that she will do anything to save.  Prince Cal, the perfect prince and Prince Maven, her betrothed.  Mare is one of those YA heroines that doesn’t think she’s pretty but has guys falling all over her.  I find this kind of annoying.  We’ve been there and down that but it does actually make sense here.  At least with her relationship with the Princes it’s not so much she thinks they wouldn’t fall for her because of how she looks but that she is beneath them.  As for Kilorn, her loyalty and feelings of having to take care of him blinds her to his feelings for her which is pretty obvious for the reader.

As I said at the beginning, I knew that Mare was being played by some of the characters but despite that I kept wanting to read to see how it plays out.  It’s paced well, the characters are interesting and I do look forward to the sequel.

Review: Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

A woman wakes up burned, shot, and with broken bones in a cave. She can’t remember who she is. She can’t remember how she got there. She can only remember the pain and some instinctual things like a need to eat. Slowly, she’s able to find food and put some things together. She finds the remains of a burned village. She hunts some deer. She wanders down a road and meets Wright and slowly starts to put the pieces together of who and what she is when she bites Wright and drinks his blood. She is part of a vampire race but she is special. She has been genetically engineered with a little human DNA so that she can be alert during the day and she has much more tolerance to the sun. She’s also dark-skinned, something that isn’t true about her people. Without knowing who she is or what happened to her (and the others? are the others like her?) she has to figure out what happened to her home. While trying to figure out what happened to her to make her have amnesia she meets her father who tells her that her name is Shori and explains why she is so special. Shori and her father begin the investigation into what happened to her and her family. Clearly there was a fire, but what caused it? Shori is put on the the path to solving the mystery of her destroyed community and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

This was a thrilling vampire novel, certainly the best one I’ve read since Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Since the main character has amnesia, we discover things about her species and her world as she does. You start to wonder pretty early on if what has happened to her is garden variety people hunting vampires, or garden variety people being racists asshats or something worse. When she is shocked and horrified by the behavior of humans and other vampires, we are, too. There is so much to say about this book but I don’t want to spoil anything (and I really want to do it justice if I’m going to analyze the themes of the book) so I won’t go into details. I will however say that this book could be a model for all of paranormal romance (even though it wasn’t a romance). I was so pleased with how it dealt with issues of consent that are so often missing from novels about vampires.

This book was so enjoyable and so wonderful and I can’t gush about it enough. Seriously. You should go read it. Now. You should read it now.

Fledgling

This Month in Reality…..Travel as a metaphor for personal growth!

Let us rejoice in today, March 32nd! 

I am indeed back after a lovely vacation hanging out with my sister and our parents! And, let me tell you: not only do I love traveling, but I also love travel memoirs! Since I discovered the genre of travel memoir in college it has been a genre I’ve always been happy to come back to. So, it might surprise you to know that until this month I hadn’t read Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, I saw all the hype when the book came out and then when the book was optioned and made into a movie. I avoided it because it seemed like a travel memoir that was going to make me angry. I thought it was going to make me angry because here’s this woman who is making a good living and has a good job and a husband who loves her and she just throws it away and travels the world. I thought she’d make me angry or worse, that she wouldn’t be sympathetic at all and I’d be reading an entire memoir where I don’t care about the person at the center of the story. (Yes, that’s right, not being relatable is a bigger problem than making me angry.) On top of that, traveling and exploring other cultures while either talking about how cheap everything is or glossing over the problems and idealizing the not-problems really bothers me. I was concerned that Elizabeth Gilbert was going to go to an ashram in India and talk about how deep and spiritual all Indians are and not put this ashram in the context of a country with large populations of people who have different religions which are antagonistic to each other. Or, worse, I was worried her biggest concern would be about the dogs. (Note: I’m happy when people are worried about animal welfare. I’m not happy when they’re so worried about animal welfare that it affects how they feel about seeing poverty-stricken people. This is especially troubling when you also think those poverty-stricken people have the most beautiful culture. Anyway, that’s probably a hypocritical rant for another day.) So, I didn’t read the book when it came out. Or, when it was made into a movie. Plus, I didn’t see the movie. I picked it up hoping that I would hate it and that would make me feel vindicated for avoiding it up until now.

No such luck. (Spoilers behind the cut).
Continue reading

Review: Blood and Absinthe by Chloe Hart

These three novellas all packaged into one are your standard paranormal romance fluff that is the sort of mindless fun that you’d expect from anything that can be described as “standard paranormal romance fluff”. They weren’t really well written and I wasn’t in love with any of the characters but I didn’t hate any of them either. The novellas asked nothing of me and that was exactly what I was looking for.

Plus, I got them from a book bub blast for 99 cents.

The first of the three novellas follows Liz, a faery warrior whose job it is to keep dark paranormal things out of the world. She is forced to work with her nemesis Jack (who is a vampire) to fight a particularly awful demon. It turns out that they both are crushing on each other. The next sentence is a little spoilery in account of this story was kind of formulaic. It also turns out that Jack can lend Liz his super vamp strength so that she can kill the demon if they spend one night of passion together.

The second story follows Celia, Liz’s friend, who is a mage faery and a vampire named Grant. Celia makes a discovery about the faery absinthe that all of the fae use occasionally to up their strength and connect them to their magic. She goes to Grant for protection when she realizes someone is trying to kill her. Intrigue, mayhem and romance ensue. Fun times.

The final story follows Jessica, a faery princess and Vampire assassin Hawk as they try to save magic and keep the human world from being overrun with demons and other evil faeries. There was a lot of hotness early on in this one but I’ll admit that I didn’t finish it because I was kind of bored with the whole world by this point.

I do have one bone to pick with these stories (and in romance novels in general). Sometimes, the sexy bits of these books are problematic in that they show sexual encounters that should not be considered consensual (even though we, as readers with access to the thoughts and feelings of the characters know that that the encounters are consensual). This happened at least once in these novellas: a character was under the influence of a spell or some kind of drug or was having a waking dream and got all hot and heavy with another character. In the worst of these instances, when the non-magicked/drugged/dreaming character realized that they were having sexy times with an incapacitated person they chose to pretend like the incident never happened. This led the other character to wake up and realize that it had happened and to be confused about how to go forward. When I read the novella, I found it enjoyable. But, after I had finished reading it, I felt very uncomfortable with how this had played out. I was uncomfortable because this was a terrible modeling of how people should treat each other in relationships. If you accidentally have magical faery sex with someone who thinks they’re asleep and dreaming your reaction to realizing they thought they were dreaming shouldn’t be, “Well, I’ll just pretend like this didn’t happen.” At the very least, you should make sure that they are physically and emotionally okay. (Or, you know, turn yourself in for sexual assault.) This has been an issue that has been discussed a lot recently with the release of 50 Shades of Grey. It is an important topic to critique and discuss because literature and art allow us to explore our world in a safe space. If the representations that we encounter are problematic, we need to talk about why they are problematic and how they could have been made better. I’m not saying that Chloe Hart should have written any of her scenes differently. They were hot and they served the story and the reader even if they didn’t serve the characters. But, these novellas don’t exist in a vacuum, so it is worth discussing things that make us uncomfortable.

These novellas were fine and they were quick reads but I won’t be reading anything else in the series. Meh.

Review: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Under Heaven

This was a really different tale than I typically read. Set in what is a fantasy-version of Medieval China, it follows the lives of a number different people who have a huge impact on the course of the empire. The tale starts with Shen Dai who is spending his official mourning period following the death of his father at the site of his father’s worst memory, a battle field at the edge of the empire which was so devastating that many of the slain weren’t even able to be buried. He spends the mourning period burying as many of the dead as he can. This ends up having tremendous consequences for him because he is honored for his work with a gift of 200 of the strongest and most beautiful horses. This is cause for some alarm. He’ll probably be killed for these horses. So, he has to figure out how to navigate the world he’s been out of for two years without getting killed.

Meanwhile, his lover in the capitol has been taken as a concubine by a rival. That rival has moved up in the Palace ranks and is a hugely influential adviser to the king and his brother is that rival’s most trusted adviser. Additionally, his sister has been raised to a princess and has been sent to marry a border tribe leader to cement a treaty.

And, that’s not even half of it. The story follows the lives of Shen Dai, the rival, his brother, his sister, the concubine, an assassin, the heir to the throne, army leaders, border leaders and outcasts and the Emperor’s favorite wife. All of these threads weave in and out of each other in a personal tale about a crisis within the whole empire.

This was an immensely fun listen and I am happy to have read it. Although, it is full of an incredible amount of detail so I ended up listening to some parts of it more than once. (As it turns out, when it snows heavily during your evening commute, you have a lot of time for listening and re-listening to audio books.) If you’re looking for a break from teen romance, I recommend this!