Chachic's Book Nook


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Retro Friday: Medair by Andrea K. Höst

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

MedairHaving previously loved Andrea K. Höst’s sci-fi novels And All the Stars and the Touchstone trilogy, I picked up her Medair duology when I needed to be fully absorbed by a good novel. It’s funny because out of all of her books, I wanted to read this epic fantasy duology first but I didn’t get the chance to read them until recently. Once again, I would like to thank the author for providing a review copy of the omnibus edition which contains both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost. I feel that both books have to be read together so I’m glad I got them in one edition.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Medair an Rynstar returned too late to drive back the Ibisian invasion. Centuries too late.

When friend and enemy have become the same thing, what use are the weapons Medair planned to use to protect her Empire? There is no magic, no artefact, no enchanted trinket which can undo the past.

But no matter how Medair wishes to hide from the consequences of her failure, there are those who will not allow her the luxury of denying the present. Her war is already lost, but she carries weapons which could change the course of new battles.

With the skirmishes of war beginning, and hunters in near pursuit, it is her conscience Medair cannot escape. Whose side should she be on? What is she really running from?

Silence of MedairI was completely immersed in Medair’s world right from the start. I read the whole thing in just one weekend because I couldn’t get enough of the story and just had to reach the end as soon as I could. I wanted to be swept away into a wonderful world filled with magic and adventure and I’m happy to report that Medair lived up to my expectations. Having had prior experience reading Andrea K. Höst’s other novels, I knew there would be surprising twists and turns in both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost and I was right. I was immediately intrigued by the premise – Medair is a Herald of her kingdom, tasked with finding a powerful magical object that will help her people win the war. She succeeded in finding what she was looking for, but she stopped to rest in a place outside of time and when she woke up, she discovered that 500 years have passed. Not surprisingly, Medair feels lost, with no idea how to move forward. A large part of the reader’s enjoyment of Medair would depend on whether one will be able to sympathize with her and the issues that she faces. Her narration is very introspective, going back and forth from the past to the present, and trying to reconcile the differences between them. There’s a lot of reflection on her part as she reluctantly becomes involved in making decisions that would irrevocably change the world she found herself in. I loved Medair’s character, I understood her hesitations, her feelings and her worries. She’s an intelligent and resourceful woman, loyal to her liege and her country, and inherently a good person. But completely at a loss with how much has been altered in her world. I do admit that there could have been less of her thoughts going around in circles, even Medair was self-aware enough to realize that she keeps doing that, but I wasn’t really bothered by it. I can see why the narration wouldn’t work for everyone but I’m delighted that I was completely engrossed by it. Aside from Medair, I was also invested in several other characters in the story and I loved seeing her interact with them even as she tries to keep a distance.

Voice of the LostThere’s a whole lot of history and political intrigue intertwined with the story, partly because of the invasion centuries ago, and also because of the alliances of the various governing bodies around the region. I enjoyed these aspects and how magic was also involved in all of it. I like that there weren’t any lengthy explanations on how the magic works but it never got confusing for me. I felt that it was seamlessly woven into the story. I believe that this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the romance in these two books. While I could see it coming, it was how the characters got there that mattered. In keeping with her personality and the situation she’s in, Medair doesn’t take her attraction to a certain someone lightly. As a result, there’s tension and ambiguity. I really had no idea how things would unfold between them. Andrea K. Höst has consistently surprised me with how she builds and develops relationships in her books. While I wasn’t exactly able to predict how things would end, I can say that there was a nice build up and I couldn’t see Medair’s story ending any other way. Similar to the Touchstone trilogy, I can see the Medair duology will be a very good reread. I look forward to finding the time for it. In the meantime, I need to work on convincing more readers to pick up her books because I seriously find it surprising that they’re not as well-known as they should be. I had a book hangover after reading these two books and the only solution I could think of was to start on another Andrea K. Höst title.

Other reviews:
Me and My Books


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House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

I’ve heard so many good things about House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier from other bloggers. I borrowed it from the Singapore public library last year but didn’t get a chance to read it before the due date. Which is why I decided that it would be better to just get my own copy – that way, I could read it when I felt like picking it up. A few weeks (months?) ago, I noticed that I haven’t read fantasy in a while so I thought it would be good try this one. Can I just say that I think it’s great that House of Shadows is a standalone? Most fantasy novels are part of a series so it’s always refreshing to come across a fantasy book that stands well on its own.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

House of ShadowsOrphaned, two sisters are left to find their own fortunes.

Sweet and proper, Karah’s future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life… if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage’s offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne trust the mage?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

You know when you feel like you read a book just when you were in the right mood for it? House of Shadows was exactly what I needed, it’s the kind of epic fantasy that I enjoy reading. Magic, intrigue, a world I can get lost in and characters I had fun getting to know. The premise suggests that the main characters are sisters Nemienne and Karah, but we also get the points of view of Leilis and Taudde. It was easy enough to like all four of them, plus the secondary ones within the story, but I feel like it was Leilis and Taudde who stood out from everyone else. It may sound a bit confusing to read about so many individuals but I didn’t have a problem with it, probably because I usually focus more on characters than anything else in the books that I read. The switching points of view gave me a better understanding of the different types of people who inhabit this world. I also really liked the idea of the keiso, modeled after the Japanese geisha. The keiso choose to devote their lives to their art (e.g. dancing, singing) and they are well-respected for that. Living as a keiso is considered an honorable way of life, which I think gives them a higher status than geisha. Instead of becoming mistresses, the keiso can choose to marry men (who are usually powerful or wealthy) and become flower brides if they wanted to. Children of flower brides are recognized by their affluent fathers.

Aside from the characters, I enjoyed reading about the world in The House of Shadows – where there are different kinds of magic and there’s a brewing war between two nations. I liked how the political intrigue added to the character development, how the different layers and motivations behind everything that they do were shown. To be honest, I’m having a hard time pinpointing what worked for me in The House of Shadows. I just feel like all the details came together to produce an enjoyable fantasy read. I was absorbed by the story and I read the whole thing fairly quickly. There are times when I really like a novel but I find it difficult to explain why – I kind of just want to say that I enjoyed this, maybe you should give it a try as well. It’s been months since I finished reading it and I still I haven’t found the right words to articulate my appreciation of this book. And yet I want to post a review so I can recommend it to other readers. If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, then you will probably enjoy reading this just as much as I did. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend this to non-epic fantasy readers, I don’t think this will be a good introduction to the genre if you’re not familiar with it. I really like how pretty and eye-catching the cover is, I think it suits the story even if the dress the girl is wearing wasn’t described in the book. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The House of Shadows and I’m delighted that I have a copy of The Floating Islands waiting on my TBR shelf. I hope it’s just as good as this one.

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Charlotte’s Library
The Book Smugglers
By Singing Light
Specfic Romantic


17 Comments

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

I remember being fascinated by The Lost Conspiracy a few years ago and I’ve been meaning to read more of Frances Hardinge’s novels since then. But you know how it goes, you get distracted by other books in the TBR pile and you forget your intentions to read books by a certain author. Fortunately, I was attracted by the pretty cover of A Face Like Glass when I saw it in one of the bookstores here. I’ve been hearing good things about this book so I was pretty excited to read it.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

A Face Like GlassIn the underground city of Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare – wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear – at a price.

Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed…

At a little less than 500 pages, A Face Like Glass is quite lengthy compared to some of the other YA novels that I’ve been reading lately. Which is why it kept me captivated for several days. Towards the end of the book, I decided to stay up late one night to finish it, I was so curious about where the story would go. I can’t even remember the last time I did that, probably not since I moved from Manila to Singapore last year. I found A Face Like Glass engaging for several reasons:

- I found the idea of wearing Faces like most people wear clothes intriguing. You can never know what a person is feeling based on just the expression that they’re wearing because they can choose which Face to use at any given moment. I’m fascinated by characters who are unreadable because they can surprise you in so many ways. In this book, most of the characters are like that because you can’t even use facial expressions to gauge what they’re thinking of.

- I enjoy reading about how complicated court intrigue is. I love how subtle court movements are and how the smallest of things can be significant because everything means something. There are complicated rules that courtiers follow and it requires a highly intelligent person to navigate the tricky waters of court. I liked how the craftsmen are divided into mafia-like families that compete against each other.

“It is terribly bad form to admit to being terrified for one’s life, but nobody in their right mind would go to a Court banquet without making preparations. One must have the right costume, the right Faces, and at least eighty-two ways of avoiding assassination.”

- I’m a big fan of cheese so I found Neverfell’s apprenticeship with Cheesemaster Grandible interesting. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to take care of cheese that has its own personality – they can explode and harm people if not handled properly. The same goes for wine and everything else that Caverna excels at making, here’s a passage that I really liked:

“They were masters of memory, its loss and recovery. They could brew Wine that would make you remember the face of your dead love so clearly you could count her eyelashes, or that would make you forget specific chapters of a book so that you could read them again with pleasure.”

- The underground setting because I’ve lived in tropical countries all my life and I can’t imagine living in a dreary world below ground with no sunlight. I would probably feel claustrophobic and suffocated most of the time. It was interesting how Caverna’s inhabitants functioned underground and how they were willing to suffer the consequences just to keep the secrets of their craftsmen.

- There’s a mysterious thief in this novel called the Kleptomancer. As you well know, sneaky thieves in fiction have a special place in my heart. So when bits and pieces about the Kleptomancer started showing up in this book, I was immediately curious. I wanted to know more about him and his reasons for stealing.

- Of course, Neverfell is also another intriguing character. She’s a bright and curious individual and has such a good heart. She genuinely cares for other people, even if she had an isolated childhood. She’s always interested in helping out whenever she can.

With all the reasons listed, I think it’s pretty obvious that I loved reading A Face Like Glass. This beautiful book will definitely make it to my best of 2013 list. Highly recommended for MG/YA fans of fantasy, political intrigue, class conflict and unique world-building. I look forward to reading the rest of Frances Hardinge’s books, I have a copy of Fly By Night waiting for me back home in Manila.

A Face Like Glass paperback

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
The Readventurer


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The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse

The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse is a retelling of the latter part of Beowulf. I don’t think I’ve ever read Beowulf or a retelling based on it. I don’t know much about this epic tale because we never studied it for school. The Coming of the Dragon came highly recommended by both Brandy of Random Musings of a Bibliophile and Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library so I decided to give it a go. Also, I’m very curious about the companion novel, Peaceweaver, because Ana and Thea of The Book Smugglers gave it a positive joint review. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that both books are available in the library. Yay for making the most out of my library membership!

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Coming of the DragonWhen he was a baby, Rune washed up onshore in a boat, along with a sword and a pendant bearing the runes that gave him his nickname. Some people thought he was a sacrifice to the gods and wanted to send him right back to the sea. Luckily for Rune, King Beowulf disagreed. He lifted the boy from the boat and gave him to Amma, a wise woman living on a farm far removed from the king’s hall, to raise as she saw fit.

Sixteen years later, Rune spends his summers laboring on the farm. And at King Beowulf’s request, he comes to the hall each winter for weapons training. But somehow he never quite fits in. Many people still fear he will bring a curse on the kingdom. Then a terrible thing happens. On a lonely crag on a mountain that belongs to the giants, someone awakens a dragon. It is time for Rune to find the warrior inside himself and prove to the doubters once and for all that he is a true hero.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while now then you’re probably aware that I read all kinds of books but I rarely venture into middle grade territory. I only do that when a book comes recommended by book bloggers I trust. And when I end up enjoying the book, I usually feel like I would have loved to read it when I was in the target age for it. The Coming of the Dragon is one of those novels. I really liked Rune’s character development – he starts off as an insecure young man but grows into something more as the story progresses. I understood how difficult and confusing life must have been like for Rune while growing up. I mean it’s hard enough to figure out what you’re meant to do with your life but with Rune, he had to deal with not knowing who his real parents are or where he came from. He desperately wants to prove himself, he just needs the chance to do so. I liked how the change in his character from the beginning to the end wasn’t drastic, it felt believable based on the challenges that Rune experienced.

There is magic in this book but most of it is subtle, aside from the presence of the dragon. The novel reads more like historical fiction instead of epic fantasy. Maybe I should just describe it as historical fantasy and leave it at that. Like I said, I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to Beowulf or this time period so I’m not sure how accurate the setting is. What I can just say is that I enjoyed reading about the characters and their struggles to overcome their biggest foe: the dragon. I found the first few chapters a little slow but things picked up towards the end. Also, I got the feeling that the kingdom wasn’t that big? I was wondering why there weren’t more people who were there to fight against the dragon. Although that might really be the case, Beowulf’s kingdom might just be a small one. I was really curious about Peaceweaver after reading this one and was a bit disappointed to discover that it’s not a sequel but a companion novel instead. It doesn’t continue the story after The Coming of the Dragon but occurs simultaneously with the events of the novel and features a different character. I’m still interested in reading it though, I just hope Rebecca Barnhouse returns to Rune’s story. Would you happen to have any other recommendations based on Norse mythology?

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library
Random Musings of a Bibliophile


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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente is one of those books that make an impact the moment you hear the title. You immediately wonder what it’s all about. I saw this one pop up in several Best of 2011 lists end of last year so I’ve been planning to read it for a while now. The perfect opportunity arrived when read-along buddies Janice and Holly agreed that this would be our next pick.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t… then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is a delightful read. If I was the type of reader who highlighted books then my copy would have colorful pages. I wanted to take note of so many of the passages that I liked. This is the type of novel that has lyrical writing that just sweeps you away. I’m definitely a fan of that kind of writing but there were times when it felt a bit much. There were moments when I had to read this in bits and pieces instead of swallowing everything in one big gulp because I felt like I could use a break. In a way, I wasn’t as engrossed in the story as I wanted to be. I still enjoyed reading about September’s adventures in Fairyland though. September is a pretty easy character to like – a reader craving to be part of something bigger than what she feels like is a very ordinary life. I guess my expectations were just a bit high after everything that I’ve heard about the book. Since I loved how unique the writing is, I thought it would be a good idea to give non-spoilery samples:

“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

*nods head* Here’s another one I really liked:

“For the wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets.”

Wishes that become regrets, I think that’s beautiful. Last but not the least:

“Temperament, you’ll find, is highly dependent on time of day, weather, frequency of naps, and whether one has had enough to eat.”

Love that last bit because that is so me. My mood is dependent on whether I’ve had enough food and sleep. Also, if I’m reading a good book or not. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is reminiscent of the Narnia books, Alice in Wonderland and other books that follow the same format – a human child gets whisked off to a magical land, where he or she has to go on a quest although September’s story has its own twists and turns. This book is also September’s coming-of-age story, how she learns to view the world in a different light as she matures. While I did find Fairyland fascinating, I was hoping that the story would have something different to surprise me and I was starting to think that it wasn’t going to happen until revelations near the end resulted in events that I didn’t expect. I apologize for being vague but I finished reading the book on a high note and I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel. If it was available in the library or any of the bookstores that I’ve visited, I would have grabbed a copy of it already. Even though this one didn’t make it to my list of favorites for this year, I very much enjoyed reading it and I get the feeling that most fantasy readers will feel the same way about it. I feel like we made a good choice when we picked this to read together.

Fairyland chapter illustration

One of the chapter illustrations in the hardcover edition

Reviews by readalong buddies:
Book Harbinger
Janicu’s Book Blog


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Back to Back Great Reads: Seraphina and Such A Rush

I miss blogging! I think this is the longest that I’ve gone without a post. Hopefully, I’ll have more time to blog once things have settled down – I’m still trying to get used to so many aspects of the move. Anyway, I read and loved two titles recently: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman and Such A Rush by Jennifer Echols. Since I wasn’t sure if I could write a full review for both anytime soon, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about both titles in one post.

Here’s the summary of Seraphina from Goodreads:

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

Seraphina is a lovely book. I remember rushing to a bookstore in Manila to grab a copy of this on its release day because I’ve heard such good things about it and I couldn’t wait to read it. I was disappointed in the books that I read before Seraphina so it was a pleasant surprise that I found a YA fantasy that I could really sink my teeth into. Seraphina is exactly the kind of character that I love, one who possesses admirable inner strength. I’m also a fan of the world that Rachel Hartman created, where there’s a tenuous peace between humans and dragons. I liked how distinctly different humans and dragons are – the latter sees the former as a weaker race, prone to emotional decisions that aren’t always logical whereas dragons are more detached and analytical. And I found it intriguing that dragons can take human form. I really liked how subtle the romance was, it wasn’t the focus of the story and they started out as friends. There were so many details to love in this novel and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel – I wonder how long do I have to wait to read it? Here’s a quote from the book that I loved:

“The world inside myself is vaster and richer than this paltry plane, peopled with mere galaxies and gods.”

From fantasy, let’s move on to contemporary. It has never been my dream to become a pilot. I was briefly interested for a time but then I found out that there’s a height requirement and I wouldn’t make it. I have the utmost respect for pilots though – I think what they do is amazing. And I’m a big fan of strong women so I think lady pilots are awesome. It’s funny because I wasn’t actively seeking to read novels that feature women as pilots but I’ve ended up loving two such titles this year: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and now Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols.

Here’s the summary of Such a Rush from Goodreads:

High school senior Leah Jones loves nothing more than flying. While she’s in the air, it’s easy to forget life with her absentee mother at the low-rent end of a South Carolina beach town. When her flight instructor, Mr. Hall, hires her to fly for his banner advertising business, she sees it as her ticket out of the trailer park. And when he dies suddenly, she’s afraid her flying career is gone forever.

But Mr. Hall’s teenage sons, golden boy Alec and adrenaline junkie Grayson, are determined to keep the banner planes flying. Though Leah has crushed on Grayson for years, she’s leery of getting involved in what now seems like a doomed business — until Grayson betrays her by digging up her most damning secret. Holding it over her head, he forces her to fly for secret reasons of his own, reasons involving Alec. Now Leah finds herself drawn into a battle between brothers — and the consequences could be deadly.

Jennifer Echols’ Going Too Far was one of the first contemporary YA novels that I fell in love with. I’ve read the rest of her books after that, hoping that they’d be just as good but they didn’t live up to Going Too Far. Until Such A Rush came along. Now I have another Jennifer Echols novel that I can enthusiastically recommend. I felt so bad for Leah – her story made me realize that not everyone who lives in a first world country has a good life. It made me sad that she didn’t have access to so many things that we all take for granted – internet, cellphones, buying groceries and take out whenever we need to. I’m amazed at how she took control of her own life because she doesn’t want to be stuck in a trailer park her whole life. I also loved the tension between Leah and Grayson, with all the ambiguity of their relationship. Jennifer Echols sure knows how to build up a slow burn romance. I was rooting for the two of them to get together even if they had to work through so many issues. Highly recommended for fans of swoon-worthy contemporary YA.

What about the rest of you, have you read and loved any books lately?


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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass

I first noticed Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass when several Goodreads friends began reading review copies of the book. It’s been getting a lot of attention lately and I heard positive things about it so I became curious. My friend Janice generously sent a copy and since I wasn’t in the middle of anything when it arrived, I started on it right away.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Throne of Glass coverAfter serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men — thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Well, that didn’t turn out as well as I expected. I’m a huge fan of YA epic fantasy when it’s done well. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like that was the case with Throne of Glass. The premise had so much promise – I wanted to read about an assassin trying to balance court intrigue with the fierce competition to become the King’s Champion. After just a few chapters, I knew I wasn’t going to get what I expected. I found it odd that an assassin as notorious as Celaena is more concerned about her looks and her dresses rather than honing her fighting skills. I was surprised by how often the characters focused on physical appearances rather than personalities – even the prince kept noticing how pretty Celaena is when he should be noting how well she fights as his candidate in the competition. Aside from not being fully invested in the characters, I wasn’t impressed by the world-building, either. I was initially intrigued by the mystery in the novel – what the country’s history was like, why magic has been banned, who was behind the murders – but that eventually fell flat for me. I don’t know, it just wasn’t as tightly woven (if that makes sense) as I’d like.

I also wasn’t a fan of the love triangle in Throne of Glass because I felt like it wasn’t necessary and the romance felt under-developed because of it. Sigh, I hate to be so negative in a review but I just wanted to list the reasons why I felt like Throne of Glass didn’t work for me. I was even tempted to DNF the book because I found the last hundred pages or so dragging, I just wanted to get it over with. It felt like I was reading paranormal YA (which I try to stay away from as much as possible) instead of epic fantasy. As always, feel free to pick up the book if this looks like the kind of thing you’ll enjoy reading, I’ve seen mixed reviews for it so I guess it really depends on how well you’ll be able to connect with the story. I feel like Throne of Glass would work for readers who haven’t read the likes of Robin McKinley, Megan Whalen Turner or Kristin Cashore. But if you’re like me and you’re aware of the awesomeness of other novels, I have a feeling you’ll just be disappointed. Throne of Glass will be released August 7, 2012.

Other reviews:
A Jane of All Reads
Emily’s Reading Room
Books Without Any Pictures


18 Comments

Retro Friday: The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I’ve been meaning to read the rest of Juliet Marillier’s novels ever since I fell in love with her Sevenwaters series. It’s taken me a while to pick up another Marillier book because the huge TBR pile keeps distracting me with other choices. Nowadays, I’m behind on reviews so I thought it would be a good idea to sink my teeth into a doorstopper so I can catch up on blog posts. The Dark Mirror, the first in the Bridei Chronicles, is certainly one of those with its 670 pages.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Dark Mirror by Juliet MarillierBridei is a young nobleman fostered at the home of Broichan, one of the most powerful druids in the land. His earliest memories are not of hearth and kin but of this dark stranger who while not unkind is mysterious in his ways. The tasks that he sets Bridei appear to have one goal-to make him a vessel for some distant purpose. What that purpose is Bridei cannot fathom but he trusts the man and is content to learn all he can about the ways of the world.

But something happens that will change Bridei’s world forever… and possibly wreck all of Broichan’s plans. For Bridei finds a child on their doorstep on a bitter MidWinter Eve, a child seemingly abandoned by the fairie folk. It is uncommonly bad luck to have truck with the Fair Folk and all counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work here and heedless of the danger fights to save the child. Broichan relents but is wary.

The two grow up together and as Bridei comes to manhood he sees the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger… for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.

The Dark Mirror spans several years – it starts from Bridei’s childhood when he was first brought to Broichan’s household to endure long years of training. While not cruel, Broichan is very strict and Bridei’s childhood seemed a little bleak without the company of fellow children. Which is why he was ecstatic when he discovers a child left on the doorstep – Bridei names her Tuala and he firmly believes that she is a gift from the gods and he is meant to protect her. As always, I found Juliet Marillier’s writing lyrical and atmospheric. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the pacing of the book was slow. The first half of the book was devoted to Bridei’s learning and how he relates to Tuala as a child. While I liked Bridei, Tuala and several of the secondary characters, I didn’t feel as connected to them as I did with the Sevenwaters characters. I was curious enough about the story to keep on going – I wanted to see how Bridei would develop into a young man and how he’ll face the plans that have been laid out for him. I also wanted to know what Tuala’s role is in Bridei’s life, why she was entrusted in his keeping. But I wasn’t as invested in the story as much as I’d like. I felt a little detached and I guess that prevented me from falling in love with this.

I still believe Juliet Marillier writes excellent historical fiction – I enjoyed reading The Dark Mirror because it reads like a well-researched historical novel with just the right amount of magic to make things interesting. She’s still an auto-buy, auto-read author for me and I’m planning to read the other books in the series because I already have copies. I’m just hoping I’d like them more than I liked this one. The Dark Mirror is a quiet kind of story so I feel like it’s not something that every reader will enjoy. I feel bad that I didn’t find this as amazing as I expected because Juliet Marillier is one of my favorite authors and I can’t even explain why the book didn’t work for me. This experience reminds me of the first Marillier that I read: Wildwood Dancing and the fact that I didn’t love that either. The Dark Mirror really is a well-written novel but I think it just wasn’t for me or I wasn’t in the right mood to read this. If this sounds like your kind of thing then go ahead and pick it up but if you’re reading Juliet Marillier for the first time, I recommend that you start with Daughter of the Forest instead of this one.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Calico Reaction


21 Comments

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore is one of my most anticipated titles in 2012. I’ve been waiting for YEARS for Bitterblue to be published, ever since I found out that Graceling will have a sequel. I loved both Graceling and Fire so I had high hopes that I’d feel the same way about their companion novel. On the week that it was released, I kept dropping by local bookstores to ask if they already have a copy of Bitterblue. Luckily, I found a copy soon enough and got even more excited when I discovered that there are beautiful illustrations inside the book. Spoiler warning for those who haven’t read Graceling! Read Kristin Cashore’s first novel before picking up this one.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle — disguised and alone — to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Going in, I knew that Bitterblue would be different from Kristin Cashore’s other heroines, Katsa and Fire. She’s not Graced with fighting and she doesn’t have mind reading abilities. What Bitterblue has is a horrific past care of her psychotic father, truly a creepy villain. There’s a lot of confusion in the kingdom of Monsea because of the mind-altering ways of its previous monarch. I found the first few chapters (maybe even the first half) of the book a bit slow, which I guess is a given because Bitterblue is still trying to work through the mess left by her father. I understood that and I really felt that the writing in this book is even better than the author’s previous work, which is why it pains me to say that I didn’t love Bitterblue as much as I expected. It’s hard to explain, really, because I admired Bitterblue’s character. I think she’s developed well throughout the course of the novel – she learns how to stand up to her advisors and her friends. She eventually comes out of her shell (or should I say her palace) and learns so many truths that have been kept from her for her protection. I guess the pacing was a factor but I think it was mostly because I wasn’t able to connect with Bitterblue and that prevented me from wholeheartedly enjoying her story.

I think I have to mention the romance and my problems with it. I was disappointed because I LOVED the romance in both Graceling and Fire. However, I didn’t feel the same way about the romance in this book. I felt like it would have been better if there had been no love interest for Bitterblue. It’s still a slow burn romance, with a lot of tension between the two characters, but I felt like it was half-baked. Does that make sense? The relationship didn’t have the depth that I was looking for and to be honest, I kind of felt like Bitterblue would have been better off with a different leading man (am I the only one who noticed that there was something between her and a certain someone she can’t lie to?) Kristin Cashore is still an auto-buy author for me – I really liked seeing how characters from her other novels are doing and I think she did a great job of tying everything together in this installment. As always, it’s just a matter of personal taste and I can never predict how I’ll feel about a novel until I read it – which is why I’m still recommending Bitterblue to fans of YA epic fantasy and those who like their novels with a healthy dose of political intrigue. It’s a well-written novel, it just wasn’t as brilliantly amazing as I wanted it to be.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Good Books and Good Wine
The Readventurer


10 Comments

Read-along Review: The King Commands by Meg Burden

My good friend Michelle (See Michelle Read) and I decided to do a readalong of Meg Burden’s The Tales of the Borderlands duology. We kept exchanging messages back and forth, updating each other on our progress and our thoughts. We thought it would be a good idea to post conversation-type of reviews for both books. Drop by her blog to see what we have to say about Northlander. While this is a spoiler-free discussion of The King Commands, we discuss specific details about the books so if you’d rather not know anything about the story before reading it, you might skip this and just read the last paragraph.

Ellin never wanted to go to the Northlands but she didn’t have a choice when the Northlander king’s physicians requested for her father’s help. So much has happened in her life and surprisingly, she’s learned to like living in the Northlands just as much as the Southlands. Sure, people are still wary of her red hair and her healing abilities but she thinks that’s a small price to pay for being with her friends – the Northlander princes. Just when she thinks peace has settled in the kingdom, a series of unexpected events force Ellin to travel back to her homeland to find answers.

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Chachic: Yes, let’s go on and read book two! I read the first few pages last night but I didn’t want to continue because I wanted to wait for you so we can discuss the first book. Have you read the synopsis for book two? The love interest is mentioned right away. I wish they hadn’t done that.

Michelle: So I’m so very glad that you mentioned that the synopsis gives away Ellin’s love interest! I usually don’t read the back cover anyways once I decide to start a book but I appreciate the warning. Still, the temptation is GREAT to peek! And the hubby keeps taunting me cause he read the back when I told him what you said :) I started it tonight, but I’m only a few pages in so I’m looking forward to see where it goes.

Chachic: So I’m a couple of chapters in and I’m still confused regarding Ellin’s love interest! Haha I’m not even sure if the guy mentioned in the synopsis is really the romantic lead because I can see the story going in other directions. So funny that your husband keeps taunting you though. Don’t worry, you’ll probably go through the chapters quickly and you’ll reach the place where I currently am (end of chapter 12) in no time.

Michelle: So I’m up to page 100 or so now and once again Meg Burden is astounding! So much happens and it always catches me completely off guard!

Also, how fun that we are getting a greater insight into Finn’s character! If possible I am loving him more than ever now due to those chapters from his perspective. Seriously! I just want gather that boy up and hug him tight.

Chachic: We’re at about the same page so that’s good. :) Yes, I was so surprised at how quickly things unfolded in the first few chapters of the The King Commands! I haven’t been able to predict any of the events that have happened so far – and that’s a good thing, right?

I love the chapters from Finn’s POV! I did a bit of searching and found this interview that Meg Burden did on bookshelves of doom and she talks about how she wanted to write from a different POV in the second book but didn’t want it to feel disconnected with the first one.

Sorry, I just had to share this – Meg Burden replied to a conversation that Angie and I had on Twitter.

Michelle: How crazy is it that Meg Burden chatted with you on Twitter! Maybe she gets alert emails (like me) when someone happens to mention me there. Pretty cool tho. It is sad that she didn’t get to write a 3rd book for the series, but I am secretly thrilled that it does all get wrapped up in TKC since there isn’t another one for us to read. Nothing worse than being left hanging during the middle of a truly awesome series.

Chachic: I know, I was amazed when Meg Burden replied on Twitter! It is sad that there wouldn’t be a third book in this series but at least things are nicely wrapped up in TKC and we don’t have to wait for the next installment. So glad I decided to buy a copy of TKC when I ordered Northlander. I wouldn’t have minded waiting a bit to read the sequel because Northlander stands well enough on its own. It’s just that I enjoyed it so much so I wanted to start on TKC right away.

Michelle: I should start this out with an apology! I got reading tonight and couldn’t help but finish! I think you will too once you get going :) And wow, what a ride it takes you on! Back and forth from the Northland to the Southland and everywhere in between. I do feel like this one was a bit more grown-up if you will. Ellin had seen and been through so much that I really feel like she changed buckets. Really all the characters, but I think that’s to be expected.

Chachic: No need to apologize! I understand that you wanted to keep on going until you finished the whole thing, I felt the same way. So much action was packed in TKC, I wanted to reach the end just to find out how everything will unfold. I agree that this book feels a bit older than Northlander, which is a good thing because it’s like the story grows with Ellin. That also means there’s excellent character development in the novel.

Michelle: Also, how lovely to see a YA book where there are true friendships developed between men and women without it ever getting weird. Ellin and Coll’s interactions throughout the book had to be some of my favorite moments. And seeing the teasing that went on with the other brothers never failed to bring a smile to my face either.

Chachic: I agree, it’s always nice when books focus on friendships or healthy relationships between family members (like the brothers in this duology – you can really feel how fond they are of each other). I also love how Ellin and Coll act like their siblings even though they haven’t known each other that long.

Michelle: Can I just say how much I adore Coll? His character has evolved so very much and he has become this amazingly strong and stalwart person that I never would have foreseen. I love his ability to speak from the heart and find comfort in his horses.

Chachic: I love Coll as well, he’s such a great character! Steadfast and strong in his own quiet way. Coll Horse Master is the perfect title for him and I love that he bonded with Ellin over his favorite mare.

Michelle: But really?!? That’s how Meg Burden ended the book? She just drops this little tidbit onto us in the last 10 pages? I guess it’s mostly due to the fact that originally it was planned out for 3 books so the story had to be condensed, but still! So many details were thrown out there at the last that I was so not expecting!

Chachic: I KNOW! So I know that Meg Burden said on Twitter that there wouldn’t be a third book so she wrapped things up in TKC. But even if I liked where it ended, I still felt like it was incomplete. I get the feeling that the story could have continued. I agree that the last few pages nicely sets up the rest of the story and it makes me sad that there wouldn’t be more set in this world.

But I really enjoyed reading these books! Yay us for picking winners for our readalong. I like how most characters from the first book changed (for the better) in the second book. It seemed like all of the characters did their fair share of growing up – enemies became friends and vice versa. So many changes in how things were!

Michelle: Yes! Everyone was able to put aside differences and see that working together was for the benefit of the group at large.

Chachic: Can we talk about the cover for a bit? I think the cover for Northlander looks okay but I feel like TKC could have a much better cover design. Is it just me or it looks like a picture straight out of an online game? And I can’t even figure out who is supposed to be on the cover. The blond guy is probably Alaric but who’s the red-headed one? I wish they just used a picture of Ellin (or maybe the brothers).

Michelle: Oh my, yes! We never did discuss that tragedy did we? And you’re right, Northlander is pretty good — sorta brooding, forbidding castle but TKC? Horrible. Every time I picked it up I just would cringe in disbelief that someone would actually choose to PRINT that. And I have no idea who those two are supposed to be either. Finn? Alaric? I wish they had just gone with another generic castle or something — anything would have been better than that photoshopping disaster.

Chachic: Maybe they used a stock photo instead of having someone specifically design a cover for the book? I agree, it would have been better if they had gone with a generic cover design – maybe a landscape of the Southlands or the Northlands? LOL but I’m glad we agree about the cover.

So excited to post our reviews of these two. I’m hoping we get to encourage more readers to pick up the books.

Michelle: And yep! I can’t wait to post these either. I really hope it spurs someone else to pick them up cause they were a lot of fun. I actually originally looked at getting my copies from the Book Depository but saw that they were $8 or 9 apiece so I actually got mine used off Amazon for around $8 for both. Super cheap. I know that wasn’t an option for you (very sad) but we could let people know that you CAN find them cheaply if not at libraries or something.
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There you have it, folks. I think we pretty much covered everything that we wanted to say about the sequel. I was telling Michelle that our thread for The King Commands is a bit longer than the one that we had for Northlander. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of these books. I was reminded of how much I enjoy reading epic fantasy novels while I was going through Meg Burden’s books. There are so many things to like in this series – a strong female character (inner strength instead of physical strength), political intrigue stemming from the uneasy situation between the Northlands and the Southlands, friendships that you can root for and even a bit of romance. It’s sad that there aren’t a lot of readers who have picked up these books because they’re really good reads and both Michelle and I are hoping to encourage more people to pay attention to them with our reviews. Recommended for fans of Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale and Sherwood Smith.

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library
wands and worlds
A Jane of all Reads

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