Artistic License by Elle Pierson

Act Like It by Lucy Parker surprised me with how good it was. I even included Lainie and Richard in my recent list of favorite literary couples. I immediately wanted to read more books written by the author but saw that she only had one title that was out. Then I followed her on Twitter and discovered that she self-published another book under a different name: Artistic License by Elle Pierson. To make things even better, the Kindle edition was available for free for a few days. Of course, I grabbed a copy and read it as soon as I could (also because I was gently nudged by my friend Angie).

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Artistic LicenseWhen of the world’s prestigious art collections comes to the resort town of Queenstown, New Zealand, shy art student Sophy James is immediately drawn to the pieces on display – and to the massive, silent, sexy presence keeping watch over them. She’s completely fascinated and attracted by the striking planes and angles of his unusual face, and can’t resist sneaking out her pencil when he’s not looking.

Security consultant Mick Hollister is used to women looking at his ugly mug – but not with the genuine pleasure he sees in the face of the girl with the charcoal-smudged fingers and terrible skills at covert surveillance. A security breach brings the two into fast and furious collision, and an unlikely friendship begins to blossom. And an even more unlikely – and very reluctant – love.

Introvert Sophy is content with her independence and solitude. She’s never looked for a long-term relationship, and isn’t sure she wants one now. Mick, apparently born with a face that not even a mother could love, has given up all hope of having one.

They have nothing in common. They shouldn’t even like each other. And they can’t stay away from one another.

Going by how Act Like It sucked me in, I knew I should start reading Artistic License on a weekend or I would lose a lot of sleep. I was right. I read most of the book on a Saturday and ignored everything else that I had to do (as usual, I was supposed to do some chores). I couldn’t put it down once I got in the swing of things. It was just too much fun to read about Sophy and Mick. I liked the unusual circumstances of their meeting, and how that incident brought them together. While there’s initial attraction, both of them weren’t looking for a relationship so they started off as unlikely friends. Unlikely because at first glance, it seems that they don’t have much in common. In spite of their differences, they soon realize that they’re able to read and understand each other very well. Sophy is an introvert and is painfully shy. She rarely opens up to strangers, only her family and friends truly see her bright and vibrant personality. She’s happy in her solitude and she immerses herself in her art. For some reason, she instinctively trusts Mick from the moment they meet and she quickly lets her guard down around him. Mick has a tough exterior, matched by his looks, but is really such a sweet guy. He’s had some nasty experiences in the past and definitely deserves all the friends that he could get. He needs people to back him up and stand up for him, and Sophy becomes on of those people in just a short amount of time.

I think the transition from strangers to friends to lovers felt very natural in Artistic License. Even as friends, both Sophy and Mick were wary of each other. They’re both observant types, and they were careful around the other person. I thought Sophy’s introvert nature was a huge factor in this. Also, Mick has his own reasons for not getting too close to someone else. I also think it gave their romance an unusual flavor. While I have always been classified as an extrovert, there are times when I think I’m an introverted extrovert. I could relate to Sophy needing her alone time, and trying to reconcile the idea of opening herself up enough to let another person into her life. She’s worried of what she has to give up in order to be in a relationship, even if she does want to be with that person. It is a pretty big step for anyone, especially for someone who recharges by being by herself. Mick is the perfect gentlemen in the sense that he gives Sophy all the space that she needs. I really liked that there wasn’t any unnecessary drama between them. They were honest with each other and there were no mind games. All the conflict were from external factors. There’s a dash of mystery and suspense in this story, but the focus is definitely the development of Sophy and Mick’s relationship. I really liked how the secondary characters played a part in the love story, like Mick’s best friend Sean had some fun scenes and Sophy’s mom also gave some great advice.

I also enjoyed reading about the Queenstown setting of the book. It’s a refreshing choice of setting, not the more common US or UK locations in romances. I’ve never been to New Zealand but now I want to visit it because of the descriptions in Artistic License. Seems like a great place for a vacation. The author shared this picture of the setting on Twitter:

No matter what name she writes under, I will definitely be watching out for this author’s next book. I hope one will be released sooner rather than later!

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

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?

Neil Gaiman talks about reading and libraries

An edited version of Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency can be found over at The Guardian, entitled “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”. It’s pretty long but a really good read. I wanted to mention it here on the blog because I know so many readers will be able to relate to the things that he said. Here’s one section that I particularly loved:

“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.”

I love how he described reading fiction as traveling to another world because that’s absolutely true, books take us out of our own world and brings us to magical places. I’m an escapist reader and I like getting lost inside a book, how it lets me live in a fictional world for a few hours. I love it when authors talk about how powerful reading is because they say it much more eloquently that I ever could. Have you read (or listened to) Neil Gaiman’s lecture? What did you think of it?

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Artwork by Simini Blocker

Favorite Literary Couples II

Image from We Heart It

Last year, I did a post about my favorite literary couples for Valentine’s Day and I thought it would be good to make this a yearly kind of thing. Without further ado, here are my favorite couples in fiction since February of last year:

Taylor Markham and Jonah Griggs from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – These two literally came from opposing camps in their local turf wars so you can say that theirs is a love-hate relationship. Both of them have also experienced heartbreaking moments in their young lives which makes their romance sweeter. The love story between these two isn’t even the main plot of Jellicoe Road but it still resonated with me, especially because I believe what they have is also based on friendship.

Kate Daniels and Curran from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews – The Kate Daniels series is my favorite urban fantasy series and I love how Kate and Curran’s relationship developed. I enjoyed the witty banter and the uncertainty of whether they’d ever end up together. You have to read the whole series to appreciate what goes on between these two.

Gabriel and Rachel from Archangel by Sharon Shinn – When the Archangel Gabriel came looking for the wife that the god Jovah picked for him, he didn’t expect to meet vehement resistance from the feisty Rachel. Another turbulent relationship that I really enjoyed watching unfold. What I liked about Gabriel and Rachel is that they both had to work hard for the relationship even if the god mandated that they should be together.

Liadan and Bran from Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier – I had to include a pair from the Sevenwaters series because all of the books in this series have love stories in their plots. I admire Liadan for fighting for the love that she believed she deserved, even if it goes against the wishes of other people.

Ellie and Lucas from Fairy Tale Fail by Mina V. Esguerra – I bought this on a whim because I wanted to give Filipino chick lit authors a try and I’m so glad I did. I could really relate to Ellie – her twenty-something, corporate lifestyle in the Philippines and her wish to get her own fairy tale romance. I wish I had my own Lucas.

If I decided to list ten couples instead of just five, I would’ve included these pairings:

Sorcha and Red from Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Meg and John After from Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
Laura and Sorry from The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
Anna and Etienne from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Cameron and Jack from Something About You by Julie James

Do you agree with my choices? Who are some of your favorite literary couples? Happy Heart’s Day, everyone. 🙂