Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin Review

Title: A Wizard of Earthsea
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Earthsea Cycle, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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

My husband received a recommendation to read this book and begin this series, so he read it before I did it. He enjoyed the story, but the prose seemed a little long-winded to him. I was finally able to get to it in my library stack, and I finished it in a day and a half. Reading this start to The Earthsea Cycle, I can see why the late Ursula K. Le Guin was a legend in the science fiction and fantasy genre. A Wizard of Earthsea is unlike any other fantasy book that I’ve ever read, and honestly, I’m kicking myself for being so late to the party! She was a titan in her genres and I’m awed by her storytelling skills! Despite some slight flaws, I was blown away by the first entry in one of her most famous works. I can’t wait to continue this intriguing, poetic series!

A Wizard of Earthsea tells the story of Ged, who went on to be the most powerful wizard in Earthsea. But this story tells of his youth and rise to power, when he was called Sparrowhawk. Hungry for power, knowledge, and dominion over all, he tampered with the forces of the world without knowing that there was a steep price to pay: In his arrogance, he released an evil shadow upon the world and upset the natural balance of the world. This is the tale of his youth and his quest to right his grave mistake, how he mastered the dangerous and mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and risked death itself to restore the balance of everything.

I really enjoyed this book! It’s essentially a classic in the fantasy/science fiction genre, and I’m really upset that I’m getting to The Earthsea Cycle just now. It was unlike any fantasy book I’ve ever read, and it was really refreshing to be reading about a magical world that’s not in the midst of a vicious, bloodthirsty war. I really liked Ged, a boy whose ambition and pride often gets the best of him; his character development was one of my favorite parts of the novel. The writing was gorgeous, poetic, punchy, and purposeful; I could see what my husband was talking about, with the prose being a bit long-winded, but I didn’t mind it much; it kind of gave the whole book a fairy-tale type of feel. The pacing was really nice; there were lots of action-filled moments, but there was plenty of exciting worldbuilding moments and less tense scenes to nicely contrast with that; it had a really good balance. I really liked the ending, too; it wrapped up a lot of loose ends, but it was still enough to keep me guessing. Unfortunately, there were so many different characters that at times, it was hard to keep up. Nonetheless, this book is definitely a favorite, and I can’t wait to continue this wonderful classic fantasy series! The bottom line: The first book in the bestselling Earthsea Cycle series, I loved A Wizard of Earthsea, and I can’t wait to read the next volume! Next on deck: Furyborn by Claire LeGrand!

War Storm by Victoria Aveyard Review

Title: War Storm
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Series: Red Queen, book four
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

I’ve had War Storm on my list since before it came out; I was a little late to the party, concerning Red Queen, but I really enjoyed it, and after King’s Cage, I was desperate to finish the series. It’s been sitting in my library stack for a few weeks, and I pushed it to the top of my stack after I finished Dread Nation; I dived in immediately and finished it on Thursday. This review is kind of late, but I had so many feelings that I needed the weekend to process just how I felt. First of all, I just can’t believe that it’s all over; I’m so sad. But I’m also angry, confused, and more than a little upset. I mean… Just ugh! Even now, three days later, I’m still not sure how to put my feelings into words. But here we go. I’ll try not to say too much about the plot, for my readers that haven’t read it yet.

Mare has at last achieved victory, but it comes at a steep price. Cal has walked away from her, feeling that his calling lies with taking the throne of the broken country of Norta. Meanwhile, Maven is ripping the country apart with an ill-conceived civil war. Mare is resolute in her cause: she will overthrow the King of Norta, no matter who holds the crown. But unfortunately for her, a war cannot be won alone, and Mare must side with the man who broke her heart to finally defeat the one who almost broke her completely. Forced to join forces with Cal and his Silver allies, they all present a powerful force. But Maven’s obsession with Mare is so deep and driving that he will stop at nothing to have her, even if it means destroying everything. War is on the horizon, and everything Mare has risked hangs in the balance. Will she win the war at last? Or be silenced by her own demons forever?

This book was, in a word, intense. The pacing was breakneck, the political intrigue breathtaking, and I couldn’t put it down. Granted, there were a few times that I simply had to, because it got too intense and emotional. The book was also narrated from several people’s points of view: Mare, her archenemy Evangeline, Cal, Maven, and Maven’s wife, Iris. It was a little hard to follow at first because of it, the pacing tended to stutter and I had a hard time keeping everything straight. But I will say that the multiple points of view, once I got the pacing down, was a really nice touch: I really got a good feel for what everyone was feeling. The twists and turns were numerous, and I was either gasping, crying, or screaming in frustration as the book went on. As far as last books go, this one was really satisfying: all the loose ends were tied up, and the ending was shocking, heartbreaking, exciting, and more than a little bit terrifying. The large cast of characters was hard to keep track of; I almost wish Aveyard had put an index in the back so it was easier to keep track of. But one thing is for certain: I will never forget Mare, Maven, and Cal, and what they all went through, and I’m so sad that it’s all over. Red Queen is one of my favorite series of recent years, and I’m so sad that it’s all gone! I can’t wait to see what Victoria Aveyard has up her sleeve next! The bottom line: The final book in the bestselling Red Queen series, I loved War Storm: shocking, scary, heartbreaking, and unforgettable! I’m so upset that it’s all over! Next on deck: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland Review

Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justina Ireland
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Horror
Series: Dread Nation, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

Dread Nation has been on my list at the library since I first heard of it, way back in May. When I saw that it was available at my local library, I went and snatched it up. It was on its last renewal, and I didn’t want to return it to the library again without reading it. It presents an alternate timeline of history, where the dead walk just two days after The Battle of Gettysburg began. It is also a powerful treatise on racism, colonialism, and what it really means to be human. This book is one of the best of 2018, striking straight to the soul and not letting go, not until the explosive ending. Thought-provoking, sharp, darkly funny, meticulously researched and diverse, Dread Nation is a zombie novel that I was waiting for my whole life. I can’t wait for the next book!

Jane McKeene was born two days after the dead began to walk at the Battle of Gettysburg, and as a result, The War Between the States is utterly derailed, normal life shattered forever. In a nation more frightened by the threat of the undead than one another, safety is placed in the hands of a few, and the laws such as the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children, once they are of age, to learn how to put down the dead for good, called ‘shamblers’. But with the laws come new opportunities that the children wouldn’t have otherwise. Jane is studying to become an Attendant, a guardian trained in weapons, fighting, and etiquette to guard the well-to-do from the undead; it is the only thing that could raise her status and protect her from society’s prejudices. But that’s the last thing that Jane wants: her only thoughts are for her mother and returning to her home in Kentucky, once her education is finished. But when people begin disappearing mysteriously around Baltimore county, Jane is soon caught up in a deadly conspiracy that could cost her everything she loves, against some powerful, secret enemies. Apparently the walking undead is the least of Jane McKeene’s problems.

This book; I had to take it back to the library twice before I actually had the time to read it, and I’m so happy that I was able to finish it before I had to take it back. It is easily one of the best books of 2018, and for good reason. A smashing combination of horror, historical commentary for the past and today, biting, sharp, hilarious prose with biracial and black female protagonists, killer fight scenes, and political intrigue and turns and twists around every corner—this book was fantastic. (Diverse books for the win, always!) The pacing was breakneck, the prose biting, spare, and sharp, and if I wasn’t cringing, or screaming, I was laughing, ever anxious to see what was going to happen next. The alternate timeline that Ireland presents was both exciting and terrible, and I didn’t realize just how much I wanted this kind of book until it was written. I mean, a combo of zombies and Civil War America? Genius! One of my favorite parts of this novel was that it was a timely and thought-provoking read on what it really means to be human, but especially a black, Native-American, or Mexican individual in a white, patriarchal society. Reading this book felt like being struck by lightning; it made me laugh, cry, scream, and think, and I recommend it to everyone. Get your hands on this book, read it, because I promise you, you won’t regret it. They say that fiction is a mirror through which we get to see different points of view, and I will never forget Jane McKeene, Katherine, or Jack Redbone; I feel like I found a little ragtag family in this book, and I can’t wait for the second one. Hands down one of the best books of the year, if not all time. ‘Nuff said. The bottom line: A thought-provoking, sharp and funny historical fiction novel that bends time and space, I loved Dread Nation, every little thing about it. One of my favorite books of 2018, and I can’t wait for the sequel! Next on deck: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard!

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir Review

Title: A Reaper at the Gates
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: An Ember in the Ashes, book three
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

An Ember in the Ashes, the first book in this series, was one of my favorite books of 2015, and the sequel, A Torch Against the Night, was just as fantastic. I reserved A Reaper at the Gates at my local library as soon as I knew of its existence, and it’s been sitting in my library stack for a while. As soon as I was finished with Let Me Tell You, I dove into this book, and honestly… My emotions are still roiling, and I finished it on Friday. I needed the whole weekend to process my feelings, and I’m so sad that I have to wait until 2019 for the sequel. This book was the best yet in the quartet, but it was also the most heartwrenching and emotional. I think I’m going to be scarred for life over this book, but that being said, it is easily one of my favorite books of 2018. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, for my readers that haven’t read it yet, so I’ll do my best to sum it all up without giving it away.

A Reaper at the Gates picks up where A Torch Against the Night left off. The threat of war looms large over The Empire. Helene Aquilla, The Blood Shrike, is facing unrest inside of The Empire and out. Things are even more perilous when she realizes that her sister’s life—and the lives of every citizen in The Empire—hangs in the balance. In the far east, Laia of Serra hunts for a way to stop the even bigger threat of The Nightbringer, but in the process, she faces unexpected threats and is drawn into a battle that she never even imagined she would fight. Elias is stuck in the land that dwells between the living and death, having given his freedom away to take on the mantle of Soul Catcher. But in so doing, the ancient power that he has pledged to serve will stop at nothing to ensure his devotion, even at the cost of his own humanity.

This book: It was beautiful, emotional, heartbreaking, and even three days later, I’m still shell-shocked. The pacing was breakneck, moving between Laia, Elias, Helene, and occasionally The Nightbringer, and this book grabbed me by the throat from the first line. I was captivated by Tahir’s gorgeous, beautiful prose, and as the book progressed, I was laughing, crying, or screaming. I also really loved the intense, realistic character development, especially the three main characters, Marcus, and The Commandant. Rife with romance, action, and more than a fair share of heartbreak, I was absolutely enchanted by this book. Full of twists that had me gasping in shock, I was enthralled, often against my will; there were times when I had to put the book down, because my heart couldn’t take it. I cried multiple times reading this book, and I spent most of the weekend crying over it, too. And that ending! It. Was. The Worst. I’m still reeling from it. I need the last book! Right now, or I’m gonna die! This book was the most exquisite torture, and I really enjoyed all of all the loose ends that it tied up. Is it April of next year yet? I’m dying! The bottom line: The third book in the bestselling Ember in the Ashes series, I loved A Reaper at the Gates, even while it shattered my soul and stomped my heart into tiny, broken pieces! Next on deck: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson Review

Title: Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings
Author: Shirley Jackson
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Anthology
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

Shirley Jackson is a name that is synonymous with titan, god, or witch, in my opinion, and to be honest, the short story ‘The Lottery’, prior to this point, way back in high school, and it’s left an indelible mark on my mind. Let Me Tell You has been sitting in my stack for a while now, and when I realized that it went back to the library this week, I immediately began after I was finished with Reign the Earth, and I was absolutely blown away. A collection of unpublished work, complied by Jackson’s children, Let Me Tell You was amazing, one of the best works I’ve read in a long time, and I will never forget it. It was like finding a massive wellspring of inspiration and knowledge; Jackson, to this day, is known as one of the best American storytellers of all time, and I can’t wait to dive into more of her work when I have the time. I really feel like I’ve found a new inspiration, someone new to look up to, and I’m so inspired!

This book just contains far too many pieces to be reviewed individually, so I’ll just give the book an overall rating. Consisting of short stories, drawings, humorous pieces about life and family, and advice on the craft of writing, I was captivated by this book; there wasn’t a piece that I didn’t love or didn’t inspire me in some way. I was only sad that there wasn’t more. This was an obvious labor of love from children to their mother, and I was greatly touched by the time and efforts that her children put forth in order to put their beloved mother’s work out in the world, where people could read it.

This book also had great range: no piece was quite like the other, and if I wasn’t laughing, gasping, or crying, I was amazed just by the sheer skill that Jackson poured into her work, especially when I realized just how much she had to do when she wasn’t sitting in the study, clacking away at the typewriter. This book has everything: tales of lost love, affairs, supernatural stories, suspense that had me screaming or jumping at every loud noise, anxious and paranoid, stories that hinted at magic and things that hid in the shadows. But her nonfiction was just as compelling, giving depth on her family life and how she balanced it and her passion for writing. It’s really hard to pick a favorite in this volume; it was all so good! I devoured these stories like a junkie, and I can’t wait to find more of her stories and novels! I feel like I’ve found a gold mine that I was blind to before; I’m totally blown away by Shirley Jackson’s work, and I can see why her work still endures today; her voice is timeless. This book is essential to a Jackson fan, whether they’re familiar to her work or not. Easily one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I can’t wait to explore more of Jackson’s delicious, chills-inducing prose. Absolutely beautiful. The bottom line: An intense, beautiful labor of love from a writer’s children to their slightly wacky, hilarious mother, I loved Let Me Tell You! One of my favorite books that I’ve read this year! Next on deck: A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen Review

Title: Reign the Earth
Author: A.C. Gaughen
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Elementae, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

I found this book from a recommendation list, and it’s been sitting in my library stack for a while. As soon as I was finished with The Radical Element, I dove into this book. This is my first book by A.C. Gaughen, and I can promise you all that it will not be my last. A lush, gorgeous fantasy series opener, rife with magic, deception, betrayal and political intrigue, I was captivated by this book, and I will never forget it. Easily one of my favorite books of 2018, and I’m so excited for the sequel! I decided to wait a few days to review, because I needed some time to think before I put my thoughts down on paper, and I went on a camping trip on Friday and didn’t return until yesterday. Honestly, I’m really tempted to check out her first series, about a lady Robin Hood! Reign the Earth was absolutely amazing.

Shalia is a daughter of the desert, and in an effort to barter for peace for her people, she is engaged to marry the King of the Bone Lands, Calix, never mind that they’ve never met. In their world, there are people who have the gift to control different elements, called The Elementae. But her new husband has his own secrets, many of them deadly: He longs to exterminate The Elementae, aiming to settle the score for a wrong that happened years before his time. Even more unsettling, Shalia begins to have feelings for her husband’s brother, Galen, which trigger dormant powers over Earth that she never knew she had. As whispers of rebellion and revolution begin to reach the palace, Shalia must choose between forging a lasting peace between the peoples of the desert and the Bone Lands, or to fight for her own future as an Elementae, even if it costs her everything she loves.

This book was amazing. The writing was gorgeous, the pacing breakneck, and I was utterly spellbound by Shalia’s glittering, dangerous world. I also really enjoyed Shalia’s voice, and her character development; she grew from a meek, shy girl into a powerful young woman who refuses to let anything stand in the way of what she believes is right; I loved it. All of the characters in this book were really memorable, especially Shalia’s family members most noticeably Kairos and Rian, Calix, his siblings, Danae and Galen. There were also really great elements mixed into it that helped move the plot along: secrets, betrayal, political intrigue, forbidden love, surprising magic and heartfelt bonds. And that ending! Oh my goodness, how in the world am I supposed to wait a whole year before the sequel?! I’m dying here! This book was perfect, a gorgeous, thoughtful fantasy about what it means to be human, and how to stand up for yourself, even if all the odds are stacked up against you! The bottom line: A gorgeous, emotional series opener full of magic and action, I loved Reign the Earth, and I can’t wait for what’s next in this series! Next on deck: Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Radical Element by Jessica Spotswood Review

Title: The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls
Editor: Jessica Spotswood
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Anthology
Series: A Tyranny of Petticoats, book two
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

I loved the anthology A Tyranny of Petticoats, so when I found out that it was getting a sequel, I was so excited. I reserved it at my local library, and as soon as I was able, I pushed it to the top of the stack, eager to drive in after The Neverending Story. I really loved Tyranny, but I honestly think that The Radical Element was the stronger of the two. Since this is an anthology, I’ll do this review a little differently than normal; I’ll give the whole book an overall rating, and since there are twelve stories, I’ll be reviewing the stories that were highlights for me, for the sake of clarity and time. I will say this, though, before I get started: all of these stories were well-researched and strong, featuring women who refused to let the social mores of their time hold them back from what they truly wanted. Okay, so without further ado, here we go:

The Magician by Erin Bowman: 5 out of 5 Stars. Set in 1858, on the Colorado River, in the New Mexican Territory, this story tells of a girl disguised as a scrawny boy, desperate to make a living and leave the tiny riverside town she lives in, only to end up with her secret in deep jeopardy. But she fights back with everything she has and gets away with more than she could’ve ever imagined. Gritty, poignant, and spare, I loved this story!

Lady Firebrand by Megan Shepherd: 5 out of 5 Stars. This story takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, with the Civil War in full swing. Honestly, this was one of my favorites, partially because the main character was disabled, confined to a wheelchair due to a tragic accident. But that doesn’t stop her from doing her part to turn the bloody tides of the war, disguised as the dashing figure of Lord Firebrand. Accompanied by her best friend, Pauline, a freed slave, she is presented with an opportunity that she simply can’t refuse. Gorgeous, witty, and surprising!

Step Right Up by Jessica Spotswood: 4 out of 5 Stars. 1905, Tulsa, Indian Territory. Honestly, I think that this story is my favorite piece of work in Spotwood’s arsenal. This story tells of the brave, vivacious and defiant Ruby, who has the restless heart that led her father to run away with the circus when she and her sister, Pearl, were young. She longs to be a star, to be more than the girl who’s beaten by her Uncle Jack and all but ignored by her mother. Refusing to be confined to the life of a loveless marriage and having children, she runs away in pursuit of her dreams, even when her family turns against her. I loved it a lot, but I honestly hated her family, aside from Pearl. I loved Ruby and her bright, unstoppable voice. Wonderful!

Better for All the World by Marieke Nijkamp: 5 out of 5 Stars. 1927, Washington D.C. A story of law, the eugenics movement, and being unapologetically yourself, Carrie longs to be a lawyer and be able to stand up for those who can’t do so for themselves. She is spurred on by this and a secret that only her closest family members know. When she makes an unexpected friend outside of the courthouse while waiting on a verdict on a case that is close to her heart, she thinks that she may have finally found a kindred spirit, until they begin to debate and she realizes that he fully supports the eugenics movement, a movement that is about optimal genetics and eliminating the threats to society, for example, the disabled, the old, the infirm. Deciding that she cannot be friends with someone who would have her sterilized or even killed because of her differences, she lets go of her fear and goes on to live the way she wants. This story really hit home, and I will never forget it. Thoughtful, brutal, and enlightening, I loved it.

When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough by Dhionelle Clayton: 5 out of 5 Stars. 1943, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. This story is a contender for my favorite of the entire collection. Emma and her family have lived for hundreds of years, collecting moonlight to prevent natural aging. But now that the War is on, Emma is no longer content to hide in plain sight and move on once people get suspicious. She longs to do something meaningful, to enlist as the boys in her town have been doing. But her parents are desperate to keep her out of the conflict, and so the story ends with her posing as a nurse, determined to make a difference even if it means defying her loved ones. I loved Emma’s voice, the prose lovely and beautiful and sparse; easily one of the best of the whole collection; I wish this story was a whole book! Clayton is one of my favorite authors, as I loved this story and her sophomore novel, The Belles. Fantastic!

Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave by Stacey Lee: 5 out of 5 Stars. 1955, Oakland, California. I loved Stacey Lee’s last book, Outrun the Moon, so I was really looking forward to this one, and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed at all. Lana Lau is a Hawaiian native, come to California with her parents, her mother a worker in a sugar refinery, her father a cobbler. Desperate to help her parents and to make something out of herself, she decides to try out for the part of Sugar Girl, the girl who will be on all the bags of sugar for the company that her mother works for. When things go deeply wrong in her audition, she is forced to rely on another, unexpected talent: her jokes. I really, really enjoyed this one! Another frontrunner for my favorite story of the whole book. Full of spirit, resilience, and humor, I loved Lana and her vibrant, hilarious voice, and the way she used her connection to her Hawaiian culture to come out on top! Amazing!

This book is one of my favorites of the year, full of spunky, spirited stories that inspired me, made me laugh, cry, and cheer! I can only hope that there’s another anthology in the works now, because if I wasn’t hooked before, I definitely am now! Full of tales from some of my favorite authors and ones that I’ve just discovered, I loved The Radical Element! Absolutely stunning! The bottom line: Filled with stories that are as diverse as they are inspiring and funny, I loved The Radical Element—one of my favorite anthologies of 2018! Next on deck: Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen!