[Now I Rise: The Conqueror’s Saga II] Kiersten White

This review contains some minor spoilers for the first novel in The Conqueror’s Saga. This review is also long because I loved this book so much.

One of my minor complaints about And I Darken (the first in the series) was that it got a little long purely because there’s a lot of unfamiliar names, places, and events that I had to first get through in order to get to the story. That was not the case with the second novel. Now I Rise benefits from the world building that was done in the first novel and further expands on locations that had smaller parts in the first novel. It balances character growth with action, creating a thrilling story that had me questioning characters’ motives. It is a a great continuation of a series that is set in a historical context that is real, yet also genderbends a historical figure. It made me more excited about a series that I already loved.

Lada and Radu burst back onto the scene shortly after where And I Darken left them. Radu remains in the Ottoman Empire, and Lada is trying to regain what she believes is rightfully hers: Wallachia. They’ve taken different paths that are still connected to each other, but Radu uses gilded words and Lada uses cold steel. Mehmed remains, but Now I Rise quickly becomes about Lada and Radu. Mehmed takes on a role in the background but occasionally comes back to interact with our main characters. And even when he’s not physically there, both Radu and Lada often think about him. Sometimes he still affects how they act, but gradually that changes.

Shortly into the novel Radu is sent to Constantinople to act as a spy for Mehmed. Although he has quite a bit of worries about going there, he follows Mehmed’s orders because he loves him. In the first novel, Radu learns how to use his skills to further Mehmed and through close proximity, himself. He is very charismatic, and it was interesting to read how he grew into it in And I Darken. This novel finds Radu questioning much of what he believes and who he believes in. Radu is semi-stranded in Constantinople for months. At first, he eagerly awaits a war that he knows is coming, playing his role as defector to the Christians as he secretly plots to bring Constantinople down. The longer he stays in Constantinople, however,  the more he questions the motives of Mehmed and what he’s doing.

He had imagined Constantinople, had wanted it for Mehmed. It had been simple and straightforward. But now he knew the true cost of things, the murky horrors of the distance between wanting something and getting it.*

Radu is becoming a part of Constantinople and being accepted by people there, but he knows that he ultimately will betray them. It begins to wear on him. Reading this expanded his character in a new direction that was so raw I was heartbroken for him. While this series does tend to focus more on Lada as the female Vlad, I feel that Radu has the greater emotional response in Now I Rise.

Radu had seen what it took to be great, and he never again wanted to be part of something bigger than himself.*

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[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

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Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

Unusual Planet wallpapers and images - wallpapers, pictures, photos

The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

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[When the Moon Was Ours] Anna-Marie McLemore

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I love that this looks like a screen print.

When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful book that read like a fairy tale but had a firm place in today’s world. It follows Miel and Sam, two friends who met when she fell out of the town’s decaying water tower. They have only grown closer as they grow older and navigate their lives. A boy who paints moons and a girl who has roses growing out of her wrist, the two are viewed as strange by the townspeople but are largely left alone. When the Moon Was Ours is partially a love story between friends and family, a fairy tale, and a coming of age tale.

What I particularly loved about When the Moon Was Ours was that while McLemore was very upfront about what this book was trying to do, it wasn’t forcing it down the readers’ throats. I’ve read books that go this route and it ends up giving the book a poor taste and ultimately doesn’t succeed. McLemore succeeded in my opinion. Yes, there is a character who doesn’t identify as what they were born as, but the novel was deeper than that.  It was a very caring look into who they were as people, as a whole, rather than purely focusing on one part of who they are. McLemore is teaching through sharing moments of her personal life, and I could really see that as I was reading. It was extremely intimate. The novel takes its time revealing how this has affected the characters and how they are trying to figure out who they are. It is part of the story rather than the whole of the story, which I thought was a very important and natural way of telling it.

I thought that all of the characters were very dynamic and very carefully crafted. The characters who were good had their moments of bad, and the characters opposite of them weren’t all bad. Everyone, no matter where they fell on that line, had reasons for their actions. And often the cause of their actions were because of a fear that they had: fear of discovery, fear of not being enough, fear of being ignored…that made the characters all the more real to me. I really connected with the characters, even the ones who functioned as the “villains” in this fairy tale. I may not have felt as much for them as I felt for Miel and Sam, but it was really easy to see why they acted the way they did. I had sympathy and pity for them.

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[A Darkly Beating Heart] Lindsay Smith

This is a book I wrote off as one I’d have to read after it was published. I was pleasantly surprised when I was given an ARC by the publisher and NetGalley, so this became an unexpected October read. Perfect for Halloween, because the book deals with a lot of darkness. A Darkly Beating Heart is going to be published next week, so now is the perfect time for a review.

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I love this cover.

Reiko didn’t go to Japan to enjoy herself. Packing herself away to a country where she doesn’t speak the language, Reiko allows the rage she has inside about the events preceding her senior year to fester. Consumed by thoughts of revenge, she manages day by day only because she is planning how to best get back at everyone. Comfortable with her routine, when her summer job requires her to go to an Edo-period town in Gifu prefecture, Reiko initially believes that leaving Tokyo is the worst thing that could have happened. It throws all of her revenge plans out the window.

Finding herself in a town with a curfew and deeply-rooted traditions, Reiko struggles with maintaining her revenge plot and coping with the anger that fills her head. Then she discovers a long-forgotten makeshift temple. It pulls Reiko back into the past into a time period rife with dangers. The connection that she feels with Miyu is immediate, her anger even more explosive than Reiko’s. But Miyu is keeping things from Reiko. And if Reiko doesn’t discover them in time, it’s not just Miyu’s time that will be affected.

This is a book that is odd to review. Lindsay Smith writes beautifully; the scenes she creates are so vivid that it’s very easy to see them in my mind’s eye. The setting just jumps off the page. Of course, it helps that I live in Japan. This book isn’t one that is “set in Japan,” where the setting isn’t realized. This setting is, and I loved it. This would have made me really nostalgic for Japan had I already moved back.

The world of modern day Tokyo and that of the Edo period were so clearly written that I had a very easy time picturing them. I’m such a fan of the Edo period of Japan that I was thrilled to read a story set in it. Or half set in it. Reiko is connected to both, and the differences and similarities in the town she finds herself in–and the times–is done really well. I liked how they both kept getting closer together and the connections that were being discovered. Despite the speed of the plot, the setting was built slowly and when it made sense for the readers to be given the information.

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[Last Seen Leaving] Caleb Roehrig

 

Flynn’s girlfriend January has disappeared. Flynn has a secret. The cops think the two are connnected. Last Seen Leaving is a coming-of-age novel that is wrapped up in a mystery. Did January disappear or did someone take her? Feeling that the cops are looking in all the wrong places, Flynn embarks on an investigation of his own by talking to people that January was close to. Along the way he discovers that what she shared of herself with him was not what she shared with others. How can he know what she would do–this friend of years–when he’s discovering that he may not have even known her himself?

Last Seen Leaving was a quick, straightforward read. The mystery was a little light for me; I felt that it was rather obvious what was going to happen at several moments of the novel but it was still an enjoyable read. Honestly, even though this was a mystery, I felt like the bulk of the plot focused on Flynn growing up. Flynn had to deal with issues of identity while dealing with the larger problem of what happened to January. It made things really difficult for him and it was a nice way to have his character grow.

Although this book has many characters in it, it’s really only about Flynn and his various discoveries. Part of the problem and reason for this is that the book is written in first person. I didn’t feel that Flynn really looked beyond the surface at his friends, family, or the strangers that he interacted with. As a result, they were very flat and I didn’t much care for any of them. I wasn’t given a reason to. They existed for Flynn to have character growth or for him to uncover things about January, rather than for the characters to have their own growth.

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[Carry On] Rainbow Rowell

 

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There’s been thousands of reviews written for Carry On, so I’ll try to make this brief.

Carry On is about Simon Snow, a powerful mage who’s meant to stop the threat against magic. The only thing he wants to do is finish up his last year at school in peace–if everything will stop trying to kill him.

I never read Fangirl. As I understand it through my review scanning, Carry On contains the characters and story that a character in Fangirl was writing fanfiction about. That’s the only thing that connects the two stories, because this is a story in its own right. It was a little frustrating reading this novel at first because I felt that it was a Harry Potter knockoff. This is sort of a last book in a series, but the problem is, the other books don’t exist. Simon took us through the past six years at the beginning of the book, and a lot of that had similar qualities to Harry Potter. Coupled with the fact that a lot of it was exposition, I was tempted to put it down.

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[The Myriad Carnival: An Anthology]

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The Myriad Carnival focuses on losing yourself among people who will accept you no matter what differences you have: whether that is having a winged arm, a form of magic, or loving someone in a time when you could only love certain someones; the Carnival accepts all. Oftentimes it is difficult to produce a short story that engages the reader in a way that novels can solely because of their short form. It’s more challenging than a longer piece, because you don’t have pages and pages to get the reader hooked; you have the first paragraph and perhaps five to ten pages. A majority of these stories succeeded, with Boxes,  Our Scalloped Bitch, and El Amor Brujo on the top of my list. They, along with others, were written beautifully, their styles bringing to mind the very Carnival they were set in. Others were not as successful, at least for me, but that is the nature of anthologies: the editor hopes that a mix of stories, styles, and authors will interest many types of readers instead of just one. Notably, the one that was the worst was the one entitled As Mephistopheles said…. It was lewd and full of gratuitous violence and sex, culminating in several rape scenes. I heartily wish the editor had rejected it for this anthology, because I felt that it brought down the stories as a whole by including it with the others. The writing was not good enough to get me past the garbage that was in the story, and it didn’t match as well to the theme of the Carnival.

On a higher note, I enjoyed that the stories reflected the transience of the carnival and the good and bad that comes with them when they roll into town. There were several stories and their authors that I will be interested in reading again. It’s a little difficult to review an anthology without ruining every story that is contained within, but as a whole, they fit together well as a collection.

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