Monday, May 21, 2018

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang


The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Harper Voyager, 2018
Hardcover, 544 pages

So this book... I truly don't even know where to begin with this review. This was absolutely insane and incredible and I can't stop thinking about it. Basically, I've been looking forward to this book for quite a while, and then when it finally came out I started seeing rave reviews for it everywhere about how wonderful and brutal this book was, so my excitement skyrocketed up and I ended up picking it up way sooner than I expected to. 

If you've seen anything about this book, then you have probably already seen people calling it extremely dark and intense, and well, they're not wrong. It's also incredibly riveting and an exceptionally exhilarating experience. The Poppy War spends the first portion of the book in the sort of school setting that we all tend to love in fantasy books. There are, of course, rivalries among other students and the protagonist, Rin, since she isn't overly welcome and doesn't fit in, which leads to very few real friends. However, this school setting is still very fresh and exciting and it works really well with the atmosphere of the book. There's a lot of variety within the school itself and what is taught and it's not your average 'fun school setting,' but rather is a harsh environment where you're sort of left to fend for yourself for the most part. I really liked that the rivalries among the students didn't take up too much time and energy and that the school period wasn't just filled with savagery and revenge like in a lot of books. Instead of focusing on this, everyone was too busy actually studying and trying to focus on their own work and grades, which was oddly nice to see As mentioned, this school setting only lasts for the first half or so of the book, so if you don't like school settings then don't worry because it's not the whole thing, but if you do like school settings then I promise you'll enjoy it. 

The Poppy War takes inspiration from China's brutal 20th century history and draws many similarities between various events and themes/ideas between the two. I liked knowing about this inspiration before reading the book because it added some extra curiosity to my reading and actually inspired me to get back into learning more about China's history. The world itself that Kuang crafted in The Poppy War is incredibly realistic and it truly felt like it was a place that actually existed. There were strong mythical and cultural elements that built up this world extremely well and added so much to it. I love when there are such strong elements like these in books that allow the culture to bleed into the story through a variety of ways that, again, make this world feel so real and interesting. 

As with many fantasy books, there is a pretty decent sized cast of characters. Every character had really strong characterization and development overall and I really didn't think that there were any characters that were purely one-note; each one had many different sides that were interesting to explore. Rin, our protagonist, is truly an interesting person that constantly had me wondering what she was going to do next. She's a bit reckless, but this didn't annoy me as much as in other books because I sort of understood where her recklessness came from based upon where she grew up and what the current stakes in her life were. I loved watching her grow throughout this book and I think Kuang did an excellent job at creating such a fascinating character that, although we might not always agree with what she's doing, still has an engrossing journey that I am fully invested in.

Among other characters are Altan, a top student at Sinegard and the last known member of the Speerly race still alive; Kitay, one of Rin's only friends; Jiang, a professor at Sinegard who is not widely respected and is a bit of a wild card, and Nezha, Rin's immediate enemy. Kitay and Jiang were easily some of my favorite characters. I felt that they both had such interesting personalities that were explored in very different ways. Kitay comes across as a rather normal type of student, but there's much more to him than expected. Jiang is a very complicated person, but he's also an especially intriguing person and is one of those that you can't help but be drawn to due to his great mystique and many unpredictable and strange actions. There are honestly a lot more characters that I could touch on, but I fear discussing them could give away minor spoilers about future plot points in this book, so I am going to refrain from doing so in this review.

Although there are some dark elements in the beginning of the book, it isn't until the second half of the book that things really take a turn for the truly dark and difficult. There are some images described that are so hard to imagine--and honestly, I didn't want to imagine them most of the time-- and really make you wonder at the depravity of humans and how low they can get. At times, the last part of the book actually felt like a completely different story from the first half, almost as if I was reading multiple books in a series instead of just one, and I actually loved that. There is so much going on that you hardly ever even have a chance to feel bored or think that the book is dragging; something new or intriguing was almost always going on. 

Overall, I loved The Poppy War. This book is beyond thrilling, fully compelling, and one that I once again cannot recommend enough. I've given The Poppy War five stars.


Friday, May 18, 2018

The Friday Face-Off -- Gravestones!

Friday Face Off New
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme here at Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe.

It has been an extremely long tie since I've done a Friday Face-Off! I had a discussion post planned, but unfortunately this week has gotten crazy and I don't have as much time as I wanted to dedicate to it, so I thought now would be a great time to bring back this blog meme.

This week's topic is:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs - A cover featuring a gravestone

This was surprisingly difficult. Out of books I've read, I could only come up with one... Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I guess it seems like a pretty obvious one, also. There's quite a number of covers for this one and most of them seem to have some sort of graveyard/tombstone image on the cover, so I've collected a few of those to share here.








I really like a lot of these. but the one that stands out most to me for its creativity and unique design is this lovely Italian edition:

 

Which cover is your favorite? Is there a cover not here that you like better? Let me know!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: Furyborn by Claire Legrand

*Furyborn will be released Tuesday, May 22nd!*

Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Sourcebooks Fire, 2018
Hardcover. 512 pages.

Furyborn is a book that had been on my radar since last year and I was thrilled when I received copy of it in the mail one day. I read it pretty much as soon as I received it and almost immediately fell in love with this story. In all honesty, I started seeing a huge mixture of good and bad reviews for Furyborn a few weeks before I received it, so I was starting to feel fairly skeptical about whether or not I would enjoy it so I really didn't expect to like it nearly as much as I did. 

Furyborn tells the story of Rielle Dardenne and Eliana Ferracora, two young women living entirely separate lives centuries apart, but who end up having more in common in their stories than they ever knew or expected. I was curious to see how Legrand would handle the two storylines in this book, as I've found time-jump novels to be rather hit or miss for me, personally. The way Legrand handled it was perfect, however, and I found that both stories were incredibly engaging and meshed really well overall. 

The story is told in evenly alternating chapters between Rielle and Eliana, and I was so glad to see that Legrand kept up the alternating pattern between only those two characters and no one else. I worried that if she added too much or mixed it up it would become confusing, but because of how she executed the story it was perfectly clear the entire time what was happening in each time period. Legrand also managed to tie together both perspectives with much cleverness and managed to make these two wholly separate lives fit together in unexpected ways. I even noticed very subtle symbols of similarities in the stories of each as they were told that I also felt added an extra layer of cohesion.

In regard to our main characters, Rielle and Eliana, I am beyond pleased to say that I genuinely liked both of them, which is something that doesn't always happen. What made both characters stand out so much and endeared them to me the most was that they were both such distinct people with very different personalities, but at the same time they had core similarities that united them in subtle ways and helped make this story work so well. Eliana is intense, badass, and occasionally does morally questionable things, though everything she does is for the benefit of her family. She is confident in herself and her abilities and I really appreciated that because she wasn't ever afraid to hide what she did or what she was capable of and I really admired that. Rielle is not quite as intense as Rielle, but she is every bit as badass as her, though it manifests itself in different ways. She tends to be the quieter form of power, whereas Eliana is more outspoken. 

Furyborn is an action-packed book that takes off at a quick pace and never really lets up. I would have liked a few more moments to catch my breath at times, but I also felt highly entertained and always lamented the times when I would have to put the book down for a while. Another set of props goes to Legrand for writing the consistent action in an approachable and highly engaging manner. I never felt like I wanted to skim over any action scenes, and that's always a good sign to me that action scenes are written with a lot of care and attention to detail. I also found myself subconsciously slowing down my reading to prevent finishing this book too quickly because of how fast it reads!

My only real complaint about this book was in regard to the magic system. It was discussed in detail to a point, but I still don't feel like I ever had a full grasp or understand of how it actually worked. It's not necessarily vital to the story itself, but it just would have been nice to have a better understanding of how the magic worked and details in regard to that. 

Overall, I really loved this book. The characters and the story were refreshing, the dialogue was incredible, and the writing itself was highly engaging. I wholeheartedly recommend this to any fantasy fan or anyone looking for a fast-paced, exciting story. I've given Furyborn five stars!

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository



*I received an ARC of Furyborn in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*



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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston & A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh & Elsie Chapman


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights exciting upcoming releases that we can't wait to be released!

This week's upcoming book spotlight is:
The Traitor God by Cameron
Publication Date: June 5th, 2018
Angry Robot
432 pages
Pre-order: Amazon Book Depository 
From Goodreads:


"A city threatened by unimaginable horrors must trust their most hated outcast, or lose everything, in this crushing epic fantasy debut. 

After ten years on the run, dodging daemons and debt, reviled magician Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the sorcerers who rule the city. He failed. Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut. Now nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods - Walker will burn them all if he has to. After all, it wouldn't be the first time he's killed a god..."




Another new fantasy debut--I just can't seem to get enough of them, it seems. I'm particularly intrigued by the premise of this one and how dark it has the potential to be, plus I noticed a positive review for it from the incredible Anna Smith Spark, so.. I'm sold!

and...
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
Featuring stories by: Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagwa, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodar, Cindy Pon, Alyssa Wong, Rahul Kanakia, Shveta Thakrar, and more
Publication Date: June 26th, 2018
Greenwillow Books
336 pages
Pre-order: Amazon Book Depository 
From Goodreads:


"Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries. 

Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turcs enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate. 

Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renee Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong. 

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me."


Does this not sound like it's going to be a fantastic collection of stories? I am so excited to read this because I love Asian myths and folklore and I really don't see too many stories based on them. I can't wait to have an opportunity to read this one!


What do you think about these upcoming releases? What are your anticipated upcoming releases?


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Didn't Really Like, But I'm Still Glad I Read Them

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly book blog meme now hosted by Jana over at The Artsy Reader Girl!

This week's topic is: Books I Disliked/Hated but Am Really Glad I Read
This topic was a bit tricky because it was somewhat difficult to find books that I didn't like but that I still felt benefited me in some way or that I was proud of reading. There are plenty of books that I didn't like, but I didn't really feel that happy I had read any of them, either. In the end, I did manage to come up with ten books that I do think had some sort of positive aspect on me or just provided some sort of benefit from reading them, so let's dive in!




The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I'm one of the few that didn't fall in love with this book (which I'm sure you already know if you've followed my blog for a little while), but I'm still glad I read it largely because of its popularity. This book almost always pops up among conversations and around the book community, so I'm glad that I have actually read it and can follow along, but.... I still didn't like it.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
This was a true mountain of a book for me climb over, but I am so proud that I actually did it. I ended up thinking that this book is highly overrated and entirely pretentious, but I do have to give props to the sheer detail and effort that went into this. There were a few good parts, but overall I just really disliked this one. I'm glad I read it though because: 1) it's just such a big title that's thrown around a lot and 2) because it shows myself that if I can make it through Infinite Jest, I know I can get through almost any book.....right?
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
This book was a load of hogwash in my personal opinion. I think the only reason I'm glad I read this is because now when I see it mentioned I can know that I don't have to feel obligated to ever pick it up again. I can firmly and safely say that I do not like this book and I will not being reading anything more Coehlo.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

  

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
I didn't really like this one much at all, but it's one of those that I know I would desperately want to read if I hadn't and I wouldn't be satisfied until I did--does that make sense? The cover is stunning and the synopsis is fascinating, so I definitely know I'd be constantly wanting to read it, and therefore I'm glad I read it and can safely stop worrying about reading this book and the rest of the series. That being said, I am tempted to try re-reading it sometime...
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

The Once and Future King by T.H. White
I was fairly disappointed by this book, but I've always wanted to learn more about the King Arthur stories, so I'm glad I read this and now have a basic foundation of the stories. I definitely want to read more King Arthur books and other Arthurian settings, but White just didn't click with me I guess.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
I read this years and years ago and distinctly remember being unimpressed despite all of the wonderful things I've heard about Jon Ronson. That being said, I'm glad I read this because I know I want to read other books by Ronson, so this just sort of tells me to maybe choose my next Ronson book more carefully. I'm also glad to have at least read one thing by Ronson and be aware of who he is and what his focus is.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

   

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This is just another one of those that I'm glad I read because it's so popular and I find it useful to have knowledge of the story and being able to understand references, know the basic story, etc. But... I didn't really like it, though I'm not sure I can quite place my finger on why.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
I understand why this is popular, but I was so bored. I'm glad I read it because it's an interesting perspective and I like what Haddon did with the story, but from an entertainment standpoint, it wasn't good.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Just another classic I'm glad I read, but still didn't like. I've discovered I'm not a huge Steinbeck fan, but I did like Of Mice and Men quite a lot more than The Grapes of Wrath. Still, it never hurts to have read some classics that are so often mentioned in everyday discussions.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository



The Magician's Nephew/The Horse and His Boy (+ a few others from the series) by C.S. Lewis
I liked The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but... that's about it. I hate admitting this (even to myself!), but I just found a lot of the other Narnia books so boring. I tried reading them many times, but I just hated where the plot went and was bored to death. I'm still glad I read them and know the stories and can follow along with references, but on the whole... I'm not reading them again.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

What do you think of any of these books? What books are you glad you read even if you didn't like them?



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Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones (or, Where Has This Book Been All My Life?)

A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones
Aspect, 1999. 
Hardcover | 736 pages

A few weeks ago I was reading through some recommendations of some dark fantasy novels written by female authors. A Cavern of Black Ice was one (of many) that caught my eye, and since I enjoy catching up on backlist titles I thought I'd give it a go. This book was first published in 1999, so it's very backlist, and Jones is also apparently currently working on the fifth book of this series after many years, so that's a plus for starting the series now. I was only maybe one-two hundred pages in--there are over seven hundred--when I realized that this book was more than likely going to end up as a favorite. By the time I finished, I knew that undoubtedly it was becoming one of my new favorite fantasy books.

A Cavern of Black Ice and JV Jones are, in my humble opinion, incredibly underrated. I don't really understand why I don't see this book recommended more often or why it took so long for me to find it, but I am so glad I finally did. The world-building in this book is fascinating, the characters are incredibly well-drawn and well-developed, and the plot itself is compelling, with both simple and complex elements that kept me hooked.

This book is set in what is probably one of the coldest settings I've ever read. I've read plenty of books set in snow and deep winter, but I have never read a book so cold that people's eyes get frozen together or where they have to wear layers and layers of different oils on their faces so that they can ride through the cold air without destroying their skin. I'm one hundred percent positive that I would die in about two seconds if I lived in this world. I loved this setting, however, and it's part of what made this book so brutal and so wonderful. It's constant and all-encompassing, and something about that just really made this book stand out to me as something remarkable. I also really loved reading about the different clans that exist in this story, as well as the various places that the characters come from. I was particularly intrigued by the Sull, an old group of people that have such a reputation that they are almost revered in a strange way.

Raif Sevrance and Ash March are the main protagonists and also the two main perspectives (both third person) that we follow, though this book does follow many different characters as well. We also meet Raif's brother and sister, Drey and Effie, respectively, and his uncle, Angus Lok. Effie and Angus were two of my favorite characters, and I felt a connection to both Effie and Ash because of some of the elements of their personalities and how they reacted to different circumstances. Angus is one of those men that is always lovingly grumbling about 'my wife'll be mad if I don't do this' and similar sentiments of that nature, but you can easily tell that he's perfectly happy and loves his wife and daughters unconditionally--he's an incredibly endearing person and father-figure that I loved.

Both Raif and Ash were incredibly engaging and I was equally immersed in both of their stories. Raif is a thoughtful young man who does not readily accept whatever is told to him. He is constantly questioning what people say and wondering if there is more to something than what is being said. Although he always does what he thinks is best for himself and his family, Raif tends to put his family and his clan above his own safety which occasionally leads to dangerous situations for himself. I liked how he matured throughout this book and we are able to see him grow from a boy fiercely loyal to his clan to a young man with incredibly responsibilities placed upon his back and a realization that he must move forward and put his past behind him for good.

Ash comes from a very different lifestyle to Raif, but she is also someone who knows when people aren't fully truthful about their intentions and doesn't always hesitate to question that. She is rather quiet, but she is also extremely clever and holds a bit of darkness and unexpected strength within her, which I found myself immensely drawn to. She may be a physically weak and unassuming girl, but there is much more to her than what appears. I also enjoyed watching her grow throughout this story, and I was drawn to her perseverance and ability to make difficult decisions when also faced with incredible responsibilities that she never expected.

Another thing that I loved about this book was that even the 'villain' characters were written in multi-dimensional ways with interesting stories. For instance, Vaylo Bludd, aka the Dog Lord, is, on the surface, a cold-hearted, bloodthirsty man who wants nothing more than power. But when we visit his perspective, we learn that he also has a strong love and passion for his dogs and his grandchildren, the latter of which he loves fiercely. He is power hungry, but he's also an interesting person. You want to dislike him, but you can't help but appreciate how much passion he has for the things in his life that he loves. There's also Marafice Eye, a towering force of brutality who has very few redeeming qualities except for the fact that he is fiercely loyal to the men under his command and is genuinely upset when one is lost. And, of course, there is Penthero Iss, Ash's foster father who is creepy as hell, but also a simply interesting figure. He appears to want to protect Ash, but he also has ulterior motives.

This is a super dark, bleak book. There really isn't much at all in the way of positive things going on, just really small bits of light or humor amidst the ninety-nine percent constant darkness. Despite this--or perhaps because of this--I was unequivocally captivated by this story. It took me much longer to read this book than it usually does and I didn't mind one bit. I savored every page and every event in this book. The pacing is definitely on the slower side, but I felt that ever part was important and added something to the story and I didn't mind the slower pace at all. I think that it helped to really dive into this world and become fully immersed.

I gave A Cavern of Black Ice  a well-deserve and obvious five stars. If you are any sort of fantasy fan, then I cannot recommend this book enough--in fact, I implore you to read it for yourself. Maybe you'll just love it also.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository



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