Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Torch Against the Night by Sabba Tahir Review

Title: A Torch Against the Night
Author: Sabba Tahir
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: An Ember in the Ashes, book two
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Sabaa Tahir, once more, you have completely ruined my life.

I don't want to give any spoilers! I dread doing that, and risk ruining someone else's reading experience. But I will say this: A Torch Against the Night does complete and utter justice to its predecessor, and it completely blew my mind. Sequels often make me nervous, especially for a book that I really enjoyed, because I'll often be disappointed. But I had nothing to worry about here. You are thrust immediately into Elias and Laia's world once again, and the pacing is so breakneck that it grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. It was so, so good! It had everything I wanted in a sequel and more. The only problem is, the third book doesn't come out until 2018. (Cue me sitting in a corner in the fetal position, weeping pathetically.)

A Torch Against the Night picks up where the last book left off, with Laia and Elias heading for the dreaded Kauf Prison, in hopes of freeing Laia's older brother, Darin. And that's all I'm going to say about the plot, because as I said previously, I don't want to give anything away. But rest assured that if you choose to read this, you will not be disappointed! Breakneck pacing, gorgeous, beautiful prose, twists and turns at every chapter, characters old and new, and so much character development! Easily one of my favorite books of 2016! I demand a sequel! Next on deck: Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien Review

Title: The Fellowship of the Ring
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Classic
Series: The Lord of the Rings, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I bought an omnibus edition of this book and reviewed it.

I'll be honest: Tolkien and I haven't been on the best terms for a long time now. I bought this book ages ago, intending to read it, back in 2014, and I tried. Truly, I tried to take a stab at it. But it seemed muddled and heavy-handed to me, like a rock I was holding that was too heavy for me to lift. Add to that lots of intimidation and fear that I would hate it, because it is a classic, after all. Tolkien is essentially one of the modern fathers of fantasy. I got through to the second chapter on my first try and had to reshelve it. At the time, it seemed like too much to take on. Fast forward to a few days ago. My husband and I were standing in our living room, about to go visit friends. I was staring at my bookshelf thoughtfully. I tried choosing a few things, but I'd had no luck. So I turned to my husband for help. "I need something new to read. Help me?" He reached over to the bookshelf and plucked The Lord of the Rings off the shelf, putting it on the table. "How about this? You should try it."

Unable to resist the suggestion, I took it and began to read in earnest, and I'm so glad that I gave this book another chance. It took me a while to get past its sheer size and the language, but once I waded in, I could feel myself giving in to the story. And I really enjoyed it. It has the elements of every great story: rich mythology and worldbuilding, detailed descriptions of the setting, great characters, good and evil and everything in between. It also had breakneck pacing too, and I also loved the rich, constant history of Middle-Earth that served partially as a backdrop. It was pretty close to perfect, and here comes the unpopular opinion time in the review.

I didn't really like Frodo. I mean, I did. There were some parts of him that I really enjoyed: his sense of humor, his courage and bravery, his sheltered innocence, his kindness. But there were also parts of him that I didn't really enjoy: his tendency to lash out at his loved ones, his unfortunate habit of saying the occasional foolish things. But I suppose I should give poor Frodo some slack--every hero has flaws.

For me, though, my favorite character was and is by far, Samwise. I just love his patience and undying loyalty, and the way he loves his friends. He's definitely my favorite, with Aragorn, Pippin and Merry being close seconds.  But nonetheless of Frodo's few qualms, I'm definitely invested for the adventure! Thanks to my wonderful husband for the suggestion! Next on deck: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron Review

Title: Night Night, Sleep Tight
Author: Hallie Ephron
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

I was given a copy of this book through Edelweiss by the publisher, William Morrow, in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

 Hallie Ephron is a household name when it comes to thrillers, but this is the first book I've ever read by her. And frankly, I was captivated. Ephron combines the glamour and glitz of old Hollywood with a chilling, page-turning mystery that will send chills up and down your spine. I loved every creepy, subtle moment of this novel. I've never outright read a noir novel before, but I'm so glad I did--it opened the door to another facet of mystery stories for me.

Night Night, Sleep Tight is told from the point of view of Deidre Unger, and opens when she finds her father's body, floating in the family pool. Deidre is disabled from a car accident that happened when she was a teenager, and she's never really got along with her family that well--she doesn't fit in anymore, and after her parents' divorce, she mostly stays away. But when she finds her father's body, she is soon drawn into a web of lies and secrets that have been in place for decades. And if she doesn't watch her step, the consequences could be lethal...

This book was such a treat, especially for a thriller. For me, they can be really hit and miss--sometimes, they'll have me reeling, and other times, I'll be able to guess who did it in the very beginning. But that's the real selling point for this book--you never see anything coming, it has a subtle, creeping tone that lets you know that trouble is brewing on the horizon. I also loved the old Hollywood royalty angle--it provided a really compelling backdrop to it all. The Unger family is the focus of the novel, dangerous and cunning and full of frightening old secrets. This book was so much fun, and I can't wait for more from Hallie Ephron--what a talent! Next on deck: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock Review

Title: The Smell of Other People's Houses
Author: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I go to my library all the time--at least two or three times a week. As a result, I'm constantly taking books home, by my own selection and through recommendations, from other patrons and from the librarians themselves. One of them was telling me about this book, and when she told me the title, I wasn't enthused. I mean, The Smell of Other People's Houses? It sounded disgusting. But she reassured me that it was a work of historical fiction, told from multiple perspectives, in 19th century Alaska! So I figured, why not give it a shot? She's never steered me wrong before.

I finally got to it in the stack and I devoured it in a day. It was a beautifully written novel of family, coming of age, and the stark, wild beauty of Alaska. I love novels with multiple perspectives--the stories I read using that style usually resonate with me more. And it was even better because it was in first person. There are four young people at the center of this novel: Ruth, whose first love results in a life-changing ordeal, Dora, who wishes to escape the demons of her past and truly belong, Alyce, a fisherman's daughter who hesitates to leave home, even for her dreams, and Hank, who is running away from his ghosts. I really loved the pacing, too: It was quick and smooth, switching from each narrative and back again. But the shining stars of this novel were its characters, as well as its setting, Alaska.

I've always wanted to visit Alaska, but this book made that desire even stronger. I really felt as if I were there, in the crisp, clean air, white ice floes floating in dark ocean water, huge, shadowy shapes twisting through the waves... This book completely captured my imagination. It was a wonderful, thrilling debut. It was highly enjoyable. There were moments between the characters that seemed a little bit too contrived, but it was a wonderful novel. I'll be looking forward to more from Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Huntress by Malinda Lo Review

Title: Huntress
Author: Malinda Lo
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I bought this book and reviewed it.

I bought this book for myself at the end of 2014, as part of my yearly Christmas book haul. It's been sitting on my shelf, neglected, ever since. My husband finally put his foot down and insisted I read books I've purchased, as well as library loans and review copies I asked for. So I've started my cycle, and I couldn't really decide what I was in the mood for, so I just went hunting through my shelves and picked Huntress at random. I wanted to buy Ash, its companion novel, but I decided to buy Huntress instead, since it was longer. (I'm kind of mad that I didn't buy Ash with it, because now I need it!)

I was intrigued by the plot--two young women saving the world on an epic quest--and the cover really drove it home for me. This was the first novel I've ever read by Lo, and I wasn't certain what to expect. But reading Huntress has completely whetted my appetite for fantasy, all over again. Not just for any fantasy, but the kind that Huntress was: epic quests! Magic! Political intrigue! Romance--and the gay kind! To say that Huntress embodies all of these things is true, but it is so much more than that: I really loved this book for everything, for the sum of its beautifully written parts. There was real love put into this story, and it is one of the best I've read so far. Can I have more please?

The prose was gorgeous, the pacing breakneck, and it had just the right amount of sensuality and romance--I was literally swooning through the book. And I loved, loved, loved the way Lo gave two female characters a relationship that didn't revolve around coming out, or being themselves, it was just organic to the narrative. The worldbuilding was fantastic--solid and so full of mystery. But the characters were what really sold Huntress for me--it, and they, completely stole my heart. Kaede, the stubborn young woman who wants more to her life than her meager ability with magic, Taisin, the other young woman forced to choose between her life's duty and her heart's desire, and Con, the reluctant prince who journeys through the treacherous, magical Wood to save his people. I'm so happy that I bought this book, because it was worth it. The bottom line: A tale full of magic, romance, and adventure, Huntress is one of my favorite books of 2011, and probably of all time--Lo is now one of my go-to authors! A delectable treat worth savoring! Next on deck: The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory Review

Title: Three Sisters, Three Queens
Author: Philippa Gregory
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: The Tudor Court, book two
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I first read Philippa Gregory's books back in high school--I'd always enjoyed historical fiction up until that point, but when I read The Other Boleyn Girl, it really ignited my fierce love for history, especially British history. I've bought and borrowed some of her books since then, but I'd hadn't really read any recently until I heard about Three Sisters, Three Queens. I reserved it at my library immediately, hoping and praying that it delivered.

And I'm so happy to tell everyone that I didn't have a thing to worry about. With her usual meticulous research and exemplary writing skill, Gregory more than delivers--she packs over thirty years of history in this hefty novel, told from the point of view of Margaret Tudor, who grows up to be the famed 'Bloody' Mary, Queen of Scots. She is the primary focus of the novel, as well as her two sisters: the devout, pious Katherine of Aragon, and Margaret's little sister, Mary. The entire novel revolves around these three women, often so maligned by history that no one now really knows the truth about them. I really liked the way the story was told, through Mary's present-tense, first-person point of view, with letters from Katherine and Mary serving as a different take on the events of the book. Margaret's relationship with her sisters was totally captivating, loving and gentle at one turn and furious and cutthroat the next. And then there was Margaret herself--I was really sympathetic toward her throughout the novel, because she was always being overlooked, despite her fierce loyalty to her family. This book was thick with political intrigue--it was so exciting and informative, all at once!

The novel spans over three decades, from the time Mary is a child and meets Katherine, closing with Anne Boleyn's fierce and bloody ascent to the throne of England. Three Sisters, Three Queens was a sort of reminder to me, about how historical fiction is so important. I really, really enjoyed it. I loved the amount of research and care that was put into this book, though I'd expect nothing less from the woman who has made a rich, rewarding career from the genre. I didn't realize after I'd read it that it wasn't a standalone, but it wasn't a big deal--I really liked the story on its own. This book is definitely one of my favorites of this year, and I can't wait until I can start more of Gregory's work. I'm officially addicted. The bottom line: One of my favorite books of the summer, Philippa Gregory has woven another spellbinding, well-researched story about three women who are often overlooked or besmirched by history--absolutely amazing! Next on deck: Huntress by Malinda Lo!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine Review

Title: Paper and Fire
Author: Rachel Caine
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Great Library, book two
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Ink and Bone was one of my favorite novels of last year. The premise of the novel enchanted me entirely. I mean, a worldwide, gigantic evil Library? Yes, sign me up. I've been anticipating the sequel ever since I finished the first book. And, for the most part, Caine delivered. The sequel was meaty and satisfying, full of action, thrills, and excitement, as well as a healthy dose of political intrigue and plenty of twists and secrets to keep readers turning the pages, until the terrifying, jaw-dropping conclusion.

As far as sequels go, this one wasn't bad--it was satisfying, for the most part. I was a little nervous at first, because sequels are so hit and miss with me. But this book was lovely. Not as good as the first book, unfortunately, but it wasn't bad. I really enjoyed it. Paper and Fire picks up where Ink and Bone left off--Jess is now a full-fledged member of The Great Library, in the thick of the seductive political game that runs the organization. Forced to go deeper into the Library, Jess discovers that secrets hide in the most unlikely places, and he must decide whether to dedicate his life to the tyranny of the Great Library, or fight to change the world, even if it means risking death.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this book, though not as much as the first one. It delivered in some ways and fell short in others. It was so satisfying and exciting, full of twists and turns and lots of context and continuation. I loved the way the worldbuilding was expanded, and the way that all of the characters were expanded on, especially Jess and Morgan. But I think my favorite part of the novel was the political intrigue. That's part of what really drove the novel, and it was wonderful. There were also so many twists and turns that I kept frantically turning pages, unable to put it down until the final page. But at times the narrative felt like it fell through a little bit. I feel like some of the magic that made the first one so awesome was lost in translation in Paper and Fire. The bottom line: A satisfying and meaty sequel, for the most part, Paper and Fire delivered--I can't wait for the third book! Next on deck: Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory!