Chachic's Book Nook


8 Comments

Retro Friday: Fire by Kristin Cashore

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 read both Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore when they first came out. That was a few years ago, back when I didn’t have a book blog. I recently reread them for a discussion with my online book club YAckers. I loved rereading both and realized that I have never written a review for Fire. It’s a good thing I refreshed my memory by rereading it recently because that gave me the perfect opportunity to talk about one of my absolute favorite epic fantasy novels.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

FireIt is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she has the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, the royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.

Fire is such an achingly beautiful novel. It is wonderfully written with engaging characters, set in a dazzlingly colorful world. Fire is a human monster, an amazingly beautiful person who can read minds and manipulate people through her powers – either with just the way she looks or by compelling them to say or do things. Having seen what her cruel father Cansrel was able to do with his own monstrous powers, Fire is very cautious with hers. She has no intention of manipulating people and doesn’t even want to be involved in court politics. But the kingdom is on the brink of civil war and Fire has a role to play in all of this.

I loved Fire’s character. It was a pleasure to see her stretch as she opens herself up to possibilities. It’s understandable that she’s afraid of what she’s capable of but she has such a good heart that she doesn’t really have to worry about it. Aside from Fire, there are also plenty of fully fleshed out secondary characters to love in this novel. Can I just take a moment to say how much I love Brigan? Remarkable character and brilliant in so many different ways. I loved how Kristin Cashore portrayed the relationships in this book – they’re very messy and complicated but work so well in the context of the story. I liked seeing the dynamics of different types of relationships – romantic, platonic and within families – in the story. There’s a lot of love in there but also has some sadness and violence mixed in. Here’s a snippet that illustrates this:

“She had thought she’d already reached her capacity for pain and had no room inside her for more. But she remembered having told Archer once that you could not measure love on a scale of degrees, and now she understood that it was the same with pain. Pain might escalate upwards, and, just when you’d thought you’d reached your limit, begin to spread sideways, and spill out, and touch other people, and mix with their pain. And grow larger, but somehow less oppressive. She had thought herself trapped in a place outside the ordinary feeling lives of other people; she had not noticed how many other people were trapped in that place with her.”

Fire just has everything that I look for in my epic fantasy reads. Great characters, solid worldbuilding, a slow burn romance that I can root for and complex relationships that feel realistic. I cannot recommend it enough. It makes me happy that Fire stood up to a reread and I loved it just as much as when I was first introduced to it. In fact, I had to wait a couple of days for the story to fade from my mind before I could move on to another book. After rereading both Graceling and Fire, I am now craving for a new Kristin Cashore novel. I will be eagerly waiting for news about what she will publish next.


15 Comments

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Curse came to my attention when my good friend Nomes mentioned that it’s one of her favorite reads for this year. For some reason, this title flew under my radar when it first came out. I think the cover doesn’t really represent the story very well and might be one of the reasons why I wasn’t initially curious about The Winner’s Curse. I tried reading a couple of chapters just to see if it’s something that I would be interested in and I was fully absorbed. I was surprised at how easy it was to get into the story.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Winner's CurseAs a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him — with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

The Winner’s Curse is set in a make-believe world but has no magic or mythical creatures in it so it has more of a historical fantasy feel to it. Kestrel is the daughter of a well-known general, which is a pretty big deal since their society holds the military and warfare in high regard. The Valorian empire is already huge and yet it still continues to extend its reach and enslave the nations it conquers. The story is set several years after the Valorians have conquered the Herrani people. While Kestrel loves her people and she knows that slavery is part of their culture and their way of life, she doesn’t really approve of it. When she unexpectedly buys a slave at an auction, she has no idea what to with him. But she recognizes Arin’s strength of spirit and admires that. A friendship slowly develops between the two of them. Kestrel is bound by the constraints of the Valorian society – she only has two choices when she comes of age: to join the military or to get married, neither of which are very appealing to her. She’s not a good soldier even if she keeps training and she’s not interested enough in any guy to marry him. She’s great at military strategy, which is why her father keeps pushing her to enlist, but she’s not passionate about that kind of thing. What she loves is music, something which Valorians believe shouldn’t be taken seriously. A snippet to show how Kestrel feels when she plays the piano:

“Music made her feel as if she were holding a lamp that cast a halo of light around her, and while she knew there were people and responsibilities in the darkness beyond it, she couldn’t see them. The flame of what she felt when she played made her deliciously blind.”

I wish I felt that strongly about music but I don’t have the skill or talent for it. Instead, I will liken Kestrel’s passion to how I sometimes feel when I read – entirely focused in the world created by the author, paying no attention to other tasks that need to be done. Which is exactly what happened while I was reading The Winner’s Curse. To be honest, I have a hard time pinpointing why I enjoyed this book so much. I suppose it’s mostly because I like Kestrel, I like Arin and I like how their friendship developed. They’re both intelligent characters who slowly learn to respect and trust each other, in spite of their differences and the enmity between their nations. I also liked the setting and the contrast between the Valorian and Herrani cultures. How one was all about gaining power by expanding its borders, and one was a more peaceful culture centered around the arts. I was engrossed by The Winner’s Curse and yet I also feel like it could have been a stronger book. Let’s put it this way, this is a good introduction to the series and the story arc wraps up nicely but I feel like by the time the sequel comes out (maybe next year?), I would have forgotten most of the details in this one. It wasn’t mind-blowing but it was a pleasant and enjoyable read which I recommend to YA fans, even those who don’t usually read fantasy.

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe
Good Books and Good Wine
Ivy Book Bindings
Shae Has Left the Room
The Bookish Manicurist
Alexa Loves Books


3 Comments

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

At the beginning of the month, I was working on my monthly recap for April when I realized that I only finished reading one novel for the whole month. Instead of doing a recap, I thought I might as well just write a review for Thorn by Intisar Khanani. Thorn is one of those titles that I would never have discovered if it hadn’t been recommended through the blog. I was immediately curious when I found out about the premise of this book since it’s a retelling of The Goose Girl fairy tale. The only retelling of The Goose Girl that I’ve read prior to this one was Shannon Hale’s which is one of my favorite books so of course, I wanted to find something similar.

ThornHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had… until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies – and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

I read Thorn in bits and pieces, while traveling from one place to another. I can’t tell if it was because of this that I didn’t enjoy Thorn as much as I was expecting. I wonder if I would have liked the book better if I was able to read it in one go. I thought the writing was beautiful, I felt that it had a fairy tale feel to it. I also liked Thorn as a character and I was curious about her and what would happen after she loses her place as a princess. In spite of that, I felt that I wasn’t as invested in the story as much as I would have wanted. None of the other characters, except maybe for Falada the talking Horse, stood out for me. I would have wanted to care more for the prince and maybe even the king. I definitely wanted more of the thief Red Hawk. Maybe there were too many characters in the story, which made me feel that there wasn’t enough character development for most of them. The tone of the book is also a bit bleak and dark, with several characters having to endure so much but I was fine with that since the original story isn’t exactly a light and fun read. I just felt that some of the problems weren’t properly addressed towards the end of the novel. Maybe I’ll have a more positive reaction if I get to reread Thorn. I’m glad I gave it a try since The Goose Girl retellings are hard to come by. I would still be interested in checking out the author’s other books.


14 Comments

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


12 Comments

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


18 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


14 Comments

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,389 other followers