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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I have been curious about Naomi Novik’s standalone fantasy, Uprooted, ever since I first heard about it. I read the first few Temeraire books and thought they were well-written. I just didn’t feel like continuing with the rest of the series. Closer to Uprooted’s release date, I saw glowing reviews pop up in the blogosphere and that just made me want to read the book even more. I picked it up when I was in the mood for a good fantasy novel – Uprooted delivered and even went beyond my expectations. It’s one of my favorite reads this year.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
UprootedAgnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows — everyone knows — that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I love how Uprooted’s first line just drew me in. Right away, I wanted to know more about Agnieszka and her village’s arrangement with the Dragon (who is a wizard and not a mythical beast). I really liked Agnieszka’s character. She had a lot of freedom because she was a Dragon girl and was able to run wild as a young girl. She used to think that one of her greatest skills was that she could always be counted on to mess up her appearance, getting her clothes torn and having mud stick to her skirts. But I think what’s great about her is that she cares deeply about people, especially her family and her best friend Kasia. I knew this was a significant trait that would shape her actions for the rest of the novel. At the start of the book, she has no idea why the Dragon chooses her and was as surprised as anyone else to discover that she is actually capable of doing magic. It was interesting to see her grow and develop her skills as a witch, more so because she has a different way of doing magic. I found her interactions with the Dragon entertaining! Some of the scenes were surprisingly funny for me. The Dragon was so ill-tempered, arrogant and a little vain. He was very reluctant to be a teacher to Agnieszka, he only did it because he felt it was his duty to train anyone who has magical abilities. He was snooty and kept looking down at Agnieszka when she couldn’t manage the simplest forms of magic. He thought she was a hopeless case. He strongly reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, which is not a bad thing because I loved that book. I just wish there was more about the Dragon, I wanted to know more about his backstory and I also wanted him to have more scenes in the latter half of the book. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Kasia. I thought she would have a small role to play in the story but she has an inner strength that’s very different from Agnieszka’s. I loved how solid their friendship was because I always enjoy reading about strong friendships in fiction.

Uprooted - first line

I loved the fairytale feel of the writing. It reminded me of some of my favorite authors like Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier and Diana Wynne Jones (because of the Howl-like character). I thought the first half of the book had great pacing. I was very absorbed and wanted to ignore everything else so I can keep reading. The pace slowed down a bit after reaching the halfway mark, but it picked up again for the last few chapters. I enjoyed reading about the world that Naomi Novik created, from the mysterious and horrifying Wood to how magic works in different ways. Agnieszka’s magic is more instinctive and closely tied to nature and her environment. While the kind of magic that the Dragon wields is a more traditional (in their world), more scientific, with specific steps that need to be followed in order for a spell to be executed well. I also liked the experimental feel of the two kinds of magic being combined, I thought that was described beautifully. It felt like the combined magic worked specifically because it was Agnieszka and the Dragon doing them. Even though I wanted to read more about this world, I’m very satisfied that Uprooted is a standalone novel. Nowadays when so many series books are being released, it’s refreshing to read a book that is complete on its own. Beautifully written, Uprooted has everything that I love in a good fantasy novel: solid worldbuilding, political intrigue, strong heroine, friendships and family ties, and a romance that has a bit of a love-hate flavor. Highly recommended for fantasy fans. I felt like I was reading an old favorite when I picked this up. I’m pretty sure it’s a book that I will be rereading in the future. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Naomi Novik will write a companion novel set in this world with cameos from Agnieszka and the Dragon! I’ve also heard the news that the rights for an Uprooted movie adaptation have been bought and I’m really hoping they’d do a good job with that.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
By Singing Light
Angieville
Fantasy Cafe
The Book Smugglers
Me and My Books


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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I’ve Read So Far In 2015

Top Ten Tuesday2

As always, thank you to The Broke and the Bookish for hosting. I can’t believe half of the year has gone by! I like this week’s topic because it lets me catch up on my past reads and see which are the ones that I’ve included in my best of 2015. I don’t have enough favorites (so far) to make it to ten but these are the titles that I’ve loved this year:

Adult Contemporary:
Girl Before a Mirror Once Upon a Rose
Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer
Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand

Young Adult / New Adult Contemporary:
I'll Meet You There The Deal
I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
The Deal by Elle Kennedy

Fantasy:
Pure Magic Uprooted
Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier
Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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I haven’t written reviews for all of these but I hope I’ll be able to find some time to do so! Also, I want to read more fantasy novels in the latter half of the year. It’s going to be fun to go through other people’s lists to see what have been their favorites in 2015 so far. I have a feeling I’ll be adding some titles to my wishlist. Care to share what you’ve loved reading this year?


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Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

I read and loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone the year it came out. I can’t believe it’s been four years since then! I don’t know why I put off reading its sequels, I think I wanted to wait until the trilogy is finished so I can read all three books together. I was in the mood to read about Prague and also to immerse myself in a good fantasy world so I picked up Daughter of Smoke and Bone to reread and dove right into the second and third books. There are unavoidable spoilers for the first book in this combined review.

Days of Blood and Starlight
Days of Blood and StarlightVastly different from the first book in the series, Days of Blood and Starlight is all about the cycle of violence and vengeance involved in the never-ending war between the seraph and chimaera. Karou and Akiva are on opposite sides of the war and both are struggling to make the most out of their current situation, to find a way to atone for everything that they’ve done previously. The peace and tranquility of Karou’s human life in Prague gives a nice contrast to the war-torn world of Eretz. If Daughter of Smoke and Bone was about an epic love, its sequel is about soul-crushing heartbreak. Heartbreak not just for Karou and Akiva but also for all their people, for everyone who has only ever known war. I can’t say that I loved twists and turns that the story took but I have to admit that it’s a compelling read. Laini Taylor has a beautiful writing style. I wanted to keep reading but also didn’t want to continue because I didn’t want the characters to go through more pain. While it’s not easy to read, I did appreciate the empathy that this kind of story invokes in the reader. I really just want things to get better for everyone (well not the villains, of course). I started the third book right after finishing this one because I couldn’t wait to find out what’s going to happen.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Dreams of Gods and MonstersYou know how some series just keep getting better as it progresses? For me, this series was the opposite of that. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone and thought it was a beautiful story. I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the second book but I still found it an absorbing read. With Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I kept thinking more along the lines of, “What? What is going on here?” While Karou and Akiva’s storyline continues, other threads featuring new characters (Eliza and Scarab) are introduced. I wasn’t really invested in Eliza’s story and even skimmed some of the sections that were devoted to her. Scarab was more interesting but it might have been better if there was more than a hint about her people in the earlier books. At the end of the book, the varying threads of the story are pulled together but it didn’t feel seamless to me. I got the feeling that Laini Taylor was trying to tie loose ends and create an epic mythology encompassing Eretz and Earth but it felt a bit all over the place for me. From the start, the trilogy was focused on Karou, Akiva and the war between their people. The new elements in this last installment made the main focus of the trilogy feel smaller and less significant. I think there really was just one thing that I liked in Dreams of Gods and Monsters, which was the sweet secondary romance. Aside from that, I kept reading only because I wanted to see how the story would end. And even that wasn’t as satisfying as I would like. The end felt more like the beginning of the end – raising more questions than settling answers. It really makes me sad that I didn’t love the whole trilogy since it started really strong for me.


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Mini Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Goblin EmperorThe youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

I had high hopes for this one since it kept being recommended by bloggers I trust. Also, they said that it’s a good read for fans of Megan Whalen Turner. In my eyes, that’s the highest praise that they can give! I did enjoy reading The Goblin Emperor and I really liked Maia’s character. But it didn’t become a favorite novel. I just didn’t love it as much as I was expecting. It’s a quiet kind of fantasy, a lot more introspective than action-oriented and filled to the brim with political intrigue. Maia was never groomed to become the emperor and his education is sadly lacking but he rises to the occasion beautifully. He’s a smart guy and never loses the compassion that’s such a big part of him even though he had a gloomy upbringing. He has an inner strength that others gradually recognize and admire, which helps him gain allies along the way. I like how Maia inspires loyalty because of how kind he is and how unusual that kindness is in an emperor. He deserves all the help that he can get so it’s a good thing that there are some people on his side. One thing that I liked about the novel is that it’s a standalone… as much as I love reading fantasy series, it’s refreshing to read a book that is complete on its own. While I believe this story wouldn’t linger in my mind, I did have fun reading it and would recommend the book to readers who like quiet fantasy with a strong dose of politics.

Other reviews:
By Singing Light
The Book Smugglers
Things Mean a Lot


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Top Ten Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books I Want To Read

Top Ten Tuesday2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I LOVE reading sci-fi and fantasy (SFF) but I’ve noticed that I’ve been on a contemporary binge in recent months. I should be more conscious about mixing up my genres so I’m focusing on SFF books that I want to read for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday post. I’ll even make it easier for myself and choose books that I already have copies of.

Among Others by Jo Walton – I’ve seen other readers raving about this book and that made me excited to grab a copy (and a hardcover at that), which I’ve yet to read.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis – I haven’t tried any books written by Connie Willis and I’ve had my copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog for several years now. I think I put off reading this because I wanted to read more of Dorothy Sayers’ novels first, because I heard someone say that she’s mentioned in this book.

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas – I have the ARC of this, which was passed on by my friend Holly. The sequels have been released and I still haven’t read the first book.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart – I’ve read Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels but I haven’t tried her fantasy yet.

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama – I really feel bad that I still haven’t read this! It’s sitting on my bookshelf, making me feel guilty that I haven’t picked it up.

Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman – I’ve had this duology in my TBR pile for years! I grabbed copies when I started seeing positive reviews from fellow bloggers and I just haven’t found the time to read them.

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson – I’ve only read one book from Brandon Sanderson, which was Elantris, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve been meaning to read more of his work and The Emperor’s Soul seems like a good choice because it’s a standalone.

Shadows by Robin McKinley – I love Robin McKinley’s writing and it would be interesting to see what her latest book is like.

Fire and Hemlock or Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones – I really need to read more of DWJ’s books. I have so many of them in my TBR pile and I don’t know why I keep putting off reading them.

Dreamer’s Pool or Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier – More Juliet Marillier is always a good thing. I am so behind in reading her recent releases.

I have many more SFF titles in my TBR pile but these are the ones that I can remember off the top of my head. Have you read any great SFF books lately? Or is there a different genre that you would like to read more of?


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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.


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Fantasy Based on Reality

Tamora Pierce

Image from Tamora Pierce’s website

Yesterday, I read this guest blog post by Tamora Pierce entitled “Craft of Writing: Suspension of Disbelief” over at Adventures in YA Publishing. I’m a fan of Tamora Pierce’s books because she writes fantasy novels with strong female protagonists. I particularly like her Daughter of the Lioness duology. I haven’t read all of her books but I would like to do so eventually. Anyway, I love what she had to say about writing fantasy and how it has to be grounded in reality. I end up loving a book when the characters and the setting feel real even if the story takes place in another world and in another time period. What I always look for in the books that I read is having a connection to the characters and being able to relate to what they’re going through. I think that happens when there’s an essence of truth in the story. Here’s one part of the blog post that I would like to share:

“Life has to be real to suspend disbelief. People should eat, and sleep. Dogs and cats have to be let out to do animal business. Teeth have to be cleaned, beds have to be made, horses must be cared for. It’s important to find out how far a horse can go in a day and under what conditions, because if you have a horse running all day without let-up, you will lose all of your horse-loving readers — and there are a lot of them out there. Magic should be the same. I view the realism in the way I write as the thing I do to make it possible for my readers to save up their suspension of disbelief for the magic, but the truth is, I try to make my magic sensible, too. It must follow rules. I like mine to draw on physics, and the energy that is inherent in all things. The stronger the magic used, the more powerful the world’s reaction to it, and the better chance that it will kill a mage who is unprepared, careless, or too weak to conduct the energy. Spell circles and drawings become magical circuits to conduct the power drawn from the mages, circuits that can increase or contain power. This way, it makes sense, and I keep my reader.”

Click the link to read the whole article, I think it’s a good one. And if you haven’t had the chance to read any of Tamora Pierce’s books, you should definitely check them out especially if you’re a fan of YA fantasy.

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