Uprooted

Naomi Novik

I find this book is difficult to view as a single story. There are many aspects of the story which I enjoyed immensely and some aspects which were not well executed. I will start with the good, follow with the bad, and sum up with an overall impression.

The good. The story is unique and has the feeling of a fairy tale. Many scenes occur that would make John Donne seem concrete and grounded in his works. There is also a lot crammed into this story – which I enjoyed, but a lot of readers did not. I do admit the high number of events occurring makes the story seem like several different tales in one. But, I kind of liked that.

The magic is both familiar and strange. The author does suggest magic requires energy from the practice – which is fairly standard. Yet, the world’s magic is also a living thing.  It can be navigated, persuaded, and felt – which felt different and yet right.

The villain is proper evil. The tale does not shy away from being dark where it is necessary. The villain takes countless lives to accomplish its end goal – devouring the entire land.  Novik ensures the villain lacks compassion, kindness, any other than vengeance, which leaves us when a particularly gruesome and cruel enemy.

The bad. I shy away from calling things bad – I know authors work hard to deliver the best story they can in the best way they can. However, it is difficult to accept the romantic aspect of this story. Initially, it felt as though the story unfolding would be similar to Beauty and the Beast. Despite the many issues in that fairy tale, it holds a special place in my heart. (Belle really feel for the library – like any reader would. It is a story about a woman falling in love with a library! Not about Stockholm Syndrome. No, I refuse to see it through adult eyes!)

Anyway, I was expecting a similar tale. And in a way, it is. If the Beast never showed any kindness and stayed the grumpy, awful, rude animal he was at the start. The author made the male interest a patronising individual and, even after the tilt in the relationship where he begins to respect and admire the female lead, he never softens or shows true kindness. There are times in the story during which Sarkan’s heart seems to have softened and his gruff exterior seems to have been broken. But, unlike a Dalek, Sarkan is shown to have no gooey centre. To be fair if I met a person with special snowflake syndrome, I may not be very nice either. (I have worked over a century to be an expert at magic and after two weeks you are a million times better? That would piss me off too, Sarkan.)

It seems as though the author was trying to show the dangers of seclusion and living only for the pursuit of knowledge. Or, the hollowness of life without companionship. It is hinted at throughout the story. Perhaps, this was the role of Sarkan and the author failed to execute his redemption adequately. The lack of any clear character development in Sarkan leaves the reader uncomfortable with the knowledge the female lead is left in this odd and abusive relationship with a beast of a man.

Overall. Something about the book felt poetic and wonderfully unique. To get the most out of the story, I believe the reader needs to perceive it as a fairy tale that does not take itself too seriously. The story falls apart when you look at it through too fine a scope. Yet as a superficial read, it is entertaining and even enjoyable.

Be good to one another.
A Bookish Girl

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Guardians of Summerfeld Series

Melissa Delport

Note: This is a review of the full series. 

Delport shares Quinn’s tale in a manner which demonstrates her mastery of the craft. While you read the story, she is sinking her talons into you so that you cannot wiggle free from her grasp until the story is complete. (I read the third and fourth book within a couple hours of each other. Well, I finished the third book at midnight and pressed on reading the final novel until 4 AM. When completed, I finally rested.)

The story is driven forward by a mix of changing relationships and large-scale, action events. (Which is not a style I typically enjoy. I prefer the romantic and/or interpersonal drama takes a backseat to the events in the story.) Delport had me flipping pages to see the next interaction because certain characters as well as to find out what happened in the battle. I think it is this balance that will see The Guardians of Summerfeld enjoyed by a diverse audience.

The thorn in my side, which is predictable to any of my readers, is the love triangle. I find love triangles to be the most obnoxious, over-played, terrible ploy to create drama and feign “true love” in the tool kit of most romance writers. While Delport gets dangerously close to adopting a love triangle story line in the second novel, she does abandon it after the second novel. Thank goodness.

The story is unique. The host of characters (from different paths, species, and in a way, word) have well-revealed stories that provide unique perspectives that sway the reader’s view of good and evil. Delport implores us to question what we have been told and to believe in the power of love and kindness over all else.

This is my first time at the mercy of Delport’s story-weaving. I am sure it will not be my last adventure into her work. Next time, I will bring snacks and make sure someone is around to make me shower, sleep, and go to work.

Be kind to each other.

A Bookish Girl

The Invisible Library Series

Genevieve Cogman

Note: This post is a review of the series to-date.

The first book of this series, The Invisible Library, has a unique plot that keeps the reader engaged despite odd dialogue in areas. I read parts of this novel out loud to my spouse to ensure I was not the only one who felt the author had not conversed with another person while writing this story. The dialogue shattered the pace of the story at times, but the idea was so neat, I kept reading.

I am glad I did.

The awkward interactions are wiped clean by the second and third novels. I even began to think Cogman intentionally wrote the conversations as stunted and uncomfortable so she could illustrate to growing bond between the lead characters. As time passes and as the characters survive and struggle together, they communicate naturally and with more than language as most tight-knit groups come to develop as they grow together.

Cogman writes a unique and enticing story that will keep you entertained and seeking more. Her host of characters have depth, but not written out. The point of view is such that only the main character is fully revealed. The supporting characters and additional main characters are revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story. Mysteries still abound in their full personalities, their motivation and intentions have not fully been illuminated to the reader. Rather than creating shallow, half-formed characters, Cogman has created tension that mirrors that of real relationships. (You don’t fully know or understand even those closest to you.)

This is a female lead with two main male characters. So, there is a love triangle, right? No! Although some tension exists throughout the novel between the female and the males, it is at different times and in completely different ways. Rather than an obnoxious, all-consuming, dull, love-triangle tale, Cogman presents a realistic relationship between three friends that, at times, feel perhaps there is more to the connection between them. Yet, the romantic drama is sidelined so the friends can endure adventures, challenges, and escapes from certain death. The tension and drama exist only between two characters and is never a dividing point in the circle of friends.

In other words, some romance is sprinkled throughout the tale. If you are a die-hard romance fan, you will be left frustrated. However if you enjoy a fantastical tale with realistic relationships and characters, Cogman delivers in the most wonderful of ways.

I can hardly wait for the January 2018 release of the next novel in this series.

Keep reading.

Be kind to one another.

-A Bookish Girl

Stripped to the Bone: Portraits of Syrian Women

Ghada Alatrash

I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing.

This novel made me yearn to read poetry in the jasmine-scented gardens of a peaceful Damascus. At times, my heart was broken, and I wished to reach out and hold the women in these pages. There were moments while reading where hope, optimism, and joy restored my soul. Stripped to the Bone is not a long book; it is merely a collection of short moments in the lives of several Syrian Women. Yet, it takes you further and makes you feel more than many books three times as long. It is simply a wonderful work of art.

I adored this collection. I felt I was experiencing a portrait of the subjects in Alatrash’s novel. A photographer or painter would do well to portray the subjects in such an honest, stunning, and impactful manner. One cannot read these glimpses without being changed forever – perhaps because life is a collection of moments and these shared moments are so raw and beautifully honest.

-A Bookish Girl

After Spring Update

I have started working full-time. I have also begun reading series and I am not a fan of writing several reviews from the same series. (Especially if the books are not episodic.)

How to Train Your Dragon

I am about half-way done with this series. This is an episodic series that will make you smile. No matter your age, Hiccup’s memoirs are a reminder to be brave, clever, and a bit crazy to make it through this adventure we call life. The books will take you a lunch or two to read alone, but I would suggest listening to David Tennant narrate these stories in the evening. Like classic radio shows, this story is meant to be heard aloud and imagined with the sounds, voices, and singing of a creative mastermind. A bit of family time listening to these books would be enjoyable for the youngest and eldest in your home.

The Invisible Library

I like this series in one of those I-would-not-recommend-it ways. The first of the series is a bit slow and the dialogue is awkward. I am an engineer so I know awkward and the exchanges in this book made me wonder if the author tried to read them out loud or perhaps had never spoken with another human. By the second novel, the conversations seem to iron themselves out a bit and seem more natural. I am beginning the third and the whole series seems to feel better.

We should keep Cogman on our radar because she writes creative, new takes on classic ideas. She writes strong female leads with depth. She doesn’t make romance the prime driver of the plot. I think she will have some really awesome books to come as she builds confidence in her own voice.

The Tainted Crown

Haha, taint.

I read the novella, The First Crown, over the beginning of this week. (I downloaded it for free from Instafreebies a few weeks back.) I enjoyed Cowley’s prequel to the recently released Tainted Crown series. Cowley writes a short story that feels as if it were told around fires at night in order to stay in the memory of the civilisations of Caledan. The story is equal parts realistic and magical. I think I will enjoy my future time spent in Caledan and hope Cowley continues to write with such a perfect mix of epic fantasy and magical folklore.

Cheers,

A Bookish Girl

Conversations with Friends: A Novel

Sally Rooney

I received an advanced reader copy of this novel for free from First to Read.

Rooney has written a short novel which focuses on interactions and relationships rather than events and character reactions to the events. In many ways, this style is the strength and weakness of the novel. At times, it feels as though the events are unfolding in a realistic manner. There are moments in the story that feel as though Rooney is accurately depicting the complex intertwined nature of human relationships as they are influenced by our strengths and shortcomings. Yet, this intimate writing style can fall short. Something about the book felt like watching a reality show, like a caricature version of reality.

I tried branching out with this novel. And, I do not feel like this novel is my cup of tea. I doubt I would have finished it, but for the fact it was short. I did not want to bail on trying something new when it would not take too long to complete.

I do know that my next book will be fantasy, sci-fi, or fiction with a hero or heroine to cheer on and empathise with. Stories like that just bring me so much more joy. And reading should be joy filled.

-A Bookish Girl

Return of the Elves (Books 1-3)

Bethany Adams

I won a Goodreads Giveaway last year or the year before and received Soulbound from the author. Then, I set the book on my bookshelf, bought a house, moved, forgot about it, picked it up, read ten other books, and finally picked it back up early last week. I devoured the first novel in an afternoon (waiting for my new job to start has allowed me binge reading days). That night I bought the second book and read it the next morning. That afternoon, I purchased the novella. (Note: Each book is able to stand alone, only hinting at previous events (typically retelling them without painful redundancy.) Thank goodness for Kindle and the ability to instantly satisfy that NEED to read a series.

Overall, I enjoy this series. I do not think the books are something every reader will enjoy, but they really were a lot of fun for me (and I look forward to her future books in this series). The are somewhat superficial, entertaining reads. Surprisingly, it doesn’t result in half-developed characters, interactions, descriptions, or plots. Adams has a romance-sprinkled, fantasy story that works without requiring much effort or time on the reader’s part.

Soulbound

(Disclaimer: Again, the copy I read of this novel was given to me free through a Goodreads giveaway.)

A female lead without crippling self-esteem issues, with courage, brains, and a bit of snark. A female lead who admires and works alongside other females. Adams has given us a unicorn, a likeable and believable female lead. Thank you, Mrs Adams!

Adams introduces soulbond. The soul bonded are two individuals are connected on such a level that their souls and their internal energy (which is connected to their magic) are in tune. The connection bonded individuals share includes emotions, thoughts, and physical experiences. It is this connection and this idea that drives the romance bit of the story. It also has an odd effect on the reader, which I believe is beautiful. Adams leaves the reader more empathetic, open, and understanding.

The way these connections and the elven society works relies strongly on respect and empathy, which tumbles out of the page and into the reader. It is easy to say each person is their own complete person. They have an entire world as deep as your own. If only for this reason, you should be friendly to strangers and kind to those you see every day. Yet, we often forget and allow our view of those around us to be narrower and shallower without noticing. Adams reminds us to open up, once more, and seek genuine connections which include those messy parts (and to accept and endure other’s messy parts). What better people we would be if we were to remember that throughout every interaction and day.

Sundered

The second of the series introduces a new cast with some familiar faces, which was a bit difficult for me at first. I really liked the lead characters of Soulbound and had to adjust to them being supporting characters. But Adams knows what she is doing. By the middle of the book, I liked the new leads a much as, if not more, than those I grew attached to previously.

The storyline was original and creative, which can be difficult in an episodic series. Again, Adams encourages people to be a bit nicer and more open with her storytelling. Although this novel includes soul bonds and their effect on the elves, this story focuses more on individual value and the dangers of measuring everyone with the same criteria. She leaves you encouraged and more encouraging.

Again, a sweet and entertaining story that resounds seemingly without intending to.

Exiled 

This short novella connects the second story and the book to be released very soon – fingers crossed. Again, the lead characters have shifted. Somehow, the story is entirely unique and engaging anyway. (Adams is a secretive mastermind?)

It was a short and sweet telling of a short adventure that will have intriguing consequences in the elven world Adams created. Even in a short tale, Adams gently reminds us to be better people. Encouraging us to challenge our mental models and prejudices because no one and nothing is quite as it seems.

-A Bookish Girl

Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Marie Brennan

The long-awaited finale of the Lady Trent memoirs was as wonderfully personal and charming as the previous four novels. Isabella Trent continues to feel like a close friend retelling the adventures that resulted in the successful career she has now. She inspires today’s female scientists, engineers, and mathematicians despite the small fact that she is not actually real. But, Sherlock Holmes is fictional as well and has undoubtedly shaped and inspired readers. Marie Brennan is an incredible author with the ability to build a world, society, and character that is both believable (given it feels like an alternative version of 19th Century England, the world building is not as impressive as the descriptions and character-building).

Marie Brennan is an incredible author with the ability to build a world, society, and character that is both believable (given it feels like an alternative version of 19th Century England, the world building is not as impressive as the descriptions and character-building). The practical-insanity that gets our heroine into and out of trouble is beyond relatable to anyone who has followed his or her curiosity to its inevitable end. The growth in the main character from the start to end of the series (and even in the time covered in a single book) is easy to identify with as struggles, accomplishments, and failures occur throughout her memoir. As with any mentor or inspiring figure, once you hear her story, you admire her more. Real or fictional.

After finishing the series, I began listening to the audiobooks. (Thankfully, my library has Hoopla, and they are available on Hoopla.) The narrator of the audiobooks resulted in me falling in love again with the series. I do love this series and shall read them, listen to them, and share them as often as possible with anyone who will listen to me.

-A Bookish Girl

Crewe Chase and the Jet Reapers

E. Sisco

I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for a review.

Crewe Chase and the Jet Reapers would be better named Crewe Chase and the Anger Problem. Hailed as fantasy novel on the level of Harry Potter and the X-Men Origin comics, I was thrilled to read this novel. The adverts have greatly exaggerated what the reader will receive from this novel, which is disappointing because I would have loved to read a Harry Potter/X-men Origin/Engrossing Fiction novel.

The prologue is great, you have high hopes for a great, new magical series. That should be in a fantasy short story collection; it is intense, dark, and engaging.

But, that is just the prologue.

Sisco’s world-building is mediocre. Harry Potter and X-Men are greats because they swept you away into their world. Gringotts and Hogwarts were places that you stayed in far after the comics, books, movies, and trips to the filming sites / the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You loved the characters, the world, the story. You wanted to be magical or genetically evolved. You started a book and ended a relationship that you revisit often.

The tension in the story relies solely on ignorance (just pure lack of information given to the reader) and the drama between the main character and the women around him. (“Ooh, she hates me. I don’t know why; I am a good guy. She says she is taking care of me but she is crazy.” Seriously, this for 80% of the novel.)

This is a university – with a school nerd, a school dance, and other boarding school nonsense. Apparently, magical people take a bit longer to mature?

This book has very little to offer a female reader. The castle is given a paragraph of imagery. A castle. A HUGE CASTLE. One paragraph. The three female characters have a paragraph every time they enter the story. The tightness of the shirt worn, the cut of the shirt, the level of makeup used, how hot versus how crazy they are. Seriously, HUGE castle and I know there is a hall blackened by dragon fire and tall ceilings and a portal room. Three young women and I know what they look like, what they wear if they are Chase’s type or not and WHY not. The only thing I know about Crewe is that he is decent looking. His best friend is tall and gawky, no idea about the other two close friends he has but they are NEVER described. The role of the females in this novel is to be subjects of mystery or to be the victim to be saved. We also perpetuate the myth that if a nice guy likes you, it is your DUTY to entertain him. Not liking a guy is portrayed as tossing him aside, too stupid to see his strengths, shallow, or missing an opportunity. Obviously, girls have zero reasons to not like a guy that is your friend unless she is a shallow cow; but telling her off will change her mind. (I have decided to skip the very clear implications that women should have cookies baked or dinner cooked.)

It might have less to offer a male reader. You get some eye candy in the female characters. But, at no point do you get any depth. The mystery of a person’s intent is not depth. The main character is reactive. Despite being the most powerful wizard and one of the most intelligent students in the castle, which is at times humble and at times very egotistical about in a way that makes no sense, he reacts to situations with rage and violence. (Yes, like a steroid abuser.) A bully is attacking the victim girl? Threaten and violently react. Obviously. Someone is sabotaging you? Launch a bias and completely shallow investigation, assume a guilty party, and attack them out of anger because you didn’t get what you felt you deserved. The idea that males only have anger and impulse in their toolkit for handling situations is as bad as (if not, worse than) the myth a girl is a mystery or victim or a bitch.  The one male character with personality is obsessed with a girl and constantly knocked down for his personality. They guy needed better friends than Crewe.

The first 95% of the novel mentions the Jet Reapers only a couple times. A single chapter, less than 2% of the novel, reveals them to be a sect of fighters that are supremacist and extremists.

The author appears to be setting up a series about the dangers of prejudice from both the ruling class and of the minority. The cycle of war, hatred, and prejudice seems to be a clear theme. And, given the difficulties that lay ahead in our lifetimes, those are very important topics to discuss.

It would have been more effective if the character was fully developed. If anger and revenge were not the ONLY things he felt. People joining supremacist are more than angry, vengeful drones.

-A Bookish Girl