Friday, January 19, 2018

Book Recommendations: If You Like Your Fantasy on the Darker Side

I enjoy most book genres, but fantasy tends to be one of my favorites, and although I enjoy many different types of fantasy, I have to say that I'm usually drawn to darker books and settings. Because of this, I decided that I might as well make a post with some of the ones I've really enjoyed that I am always recommending to people. About half of these were actually released in 2017 because it was such a fantastic year for debuts in fantasy, but the rest vary in release date. Many of the books on this list are also referred to as 'grimdark' novels, which, for those that do not know, does not have a firm definition, but generally refers to fantasy books that have dark, nihilistic, gritty settings with morally ambiguous characters. Of course, don't let the definition confine your opinions, because it isn't a fully defined term, but just that be a guideline. Now, on to the books!

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle, #1)
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
I love Nevernight so much it's ridiculous. This is a story of Mia Corvere, who competes to become a true assassin so that she can take revenge on those who killed her father. It's super bloody, brutal, and all-around amazing. The second book, Godsgrave, is also already out and the final book should be out this year.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust, #1)
The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark -- Review
This book was so dark in such a beautiful way. Anna Smith Spark uses a really unique writing style that is, at times, almost reminiscent of a steam-of-consciousness style. From my review for it: This is true grimdark, meaning it is dark, full of gory details and violence, and spilling with characters whose morals lie in the grey area of life. The Court of Broken Knives is a devastating duet of beauty and cruelty that weave together to create a breathtaking book that is impossible to step away from. The sequel is coming this year!
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga #1)
Jade City by Fonda Lee -- Review 
Jade City really stood out from other fantasy books that I read this past year because it was more of an urban/contemporary Asian setting, but still a very different world from what we have now. It's a gritty world with mafia-inspired groups that don't shy away from violence. 
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Blackwing (The Raven's Mark, #1)Blackwing by Ed McDonald 
I have a really hard time describing this book, which is partially why I do not yet have a review up for it. This is essentially set in a post-apocalyptic world that includes a huge wasteland known as the Misery, which is basically a terrifying, unpredictable, and incredibly deadly expanse of land that many do not survive crossing. The story focuses on a sort of bounty hunter who regularly crosses the Misery, and that's about all of the story I'll dive into. This book maybe be on the shorter side*, but it is brutal, dark, and not overly optimistic. It's great!
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

*Okay, so I just checked and it's actually 380 pages, but for some reason it looks really short and read really fast, so I thought it was shorter than it is. Oh well.

The Last Wish
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski - Review
I've never played The Witcher games, but I have read a few of the books that inspired them and I love them! This particular book in The Witcher series is a series of short stories that each focuses on one instance of Geralt taking down some crazy creature, spirit, etc. It's dark, bloody, and fantastic. I can't recommend these books enough--the entire series has about seven books so far.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman - Review
So this one isn't your typical grimdark-style fantasy that I've been recommending, but I still think it's very dark. It takes place in a world in which death is pretty much eradicated and everyone can live forever. To combat the risk of overpopulation, every year a certain amount of people are chosen at random to be 'gleaned' (aka: killed). This book dives deeply into many topics surrounding death and the many grey areas of life. Thunderhead, the sequel, just released this week. (This is also more dystopian, but thought that it fit on this list.)
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1)
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Assassin nuns.
In this book, young girls are trained to become assassins and are taught how to fight, poison, lie, and do all-around not socially acceptable things--this book has it all! Oh, and magic. The second book, Grey Sister, is coming out this year.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)
Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence 
Mark Lawrence is pretty much just great for grimdark. The protagonist in this book/trilogy walks a very thin line between a mere 'grey' character and being completely heartless.  It is absolutely not recommended for the faint of heart, but if you tend to think 'the darker the better,' then step right up.
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Godblind (The Godblind Trilogy #1)
Godblind by Anna Stephens 
This is another one that doesn't have a review yet because I've had a hard time putting my thoughts into words. Essentially, a group of peopleknown as the Mireces worship the rather bloodthirsty Red Gods and decide to invade the land of Rilpor. It is much, much more complex than that, but just be aware that this book is dark, bloodt, full of deceit, and hard to put down. 
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
I will confess that I have only ever read the first fifty or so page of this because I had to put it down for school and then sort of forgot about it.... but I plan to finally finish it up this year! Abercrombie's First Law books are dark and tend to be the top recommendation when people are asking for grimdark/dark fantasy. Let's just say that it's recommended for a reason.

(Note: I thought I included The Lies of Locke Lamora in this list, but after proofreading it I can see that I didn't. Oops. Please consider The Lies of Locke Lamora in your future book reading endeavor because it is fantastic. You can purchase it at Book Depository or Amazon [or any other bookstore probably].)

Have you read any of these? What books would you add to this list?

Planning to purchase a book or two? Consider purchasing on Book Depository through my affiliate link! Book Depository has worldwide free shipping and millions of titles to choose from.

I am also an Amazon affiliate, so if you'd prefer to shop through Amazon, just click the banner on the upper right hand side of my blog! (above the 'Follow by email' box, you may need to turn off adblock to see it!)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Age of Heroes by Scott J. Robinson

The Age of Heroes by Scott J. Robinson. 2014. Ebook. 197 pages.

Over the years, I've read many different fantasy books with wide variety of different settings, plots, and inhabitants, but I have to say that The Age of Heroes has managed to stand out from many of those books as something that offers not only an interesting world and variety of characters, but also a protagonist that is markedly unique from most other characters I've read.

The Age of Heroes centers on the life of Rawk, a great Hero who is renowned for his celebrated deeds and battles against beasts and evils of all kinds. In this world, Prince Weaver has outlawed magic, leaving Rawk with even less to battle than ever before. Rawk is also finally nearing a point in his career in which he could--and is encouraged by some-- to retire, but Rawk is not quite ready to give up status as a Hero in return for becoming a "has-been." The story begins when a wolden wolf is spotted within Katamood (which hasn't happened in more than a decade) and Rawk is called in to take care of it.

As I mentioned, Rawk felt unique from many others characters, and I really liked him! He's not necessarily an immediately likable guy, but I found him very relatable and I appreciated his confidence and dry sense of humor. I think we all have a certain amount of pride and would all struggle to give up doing something that has given us a strong, respectable reputation. I loved the concept of portraying a great Hero as a person that gets old just like the rest of us.

Robinson has created an incredibly well-written story that immediately drew me in and kept me engaged. He introduces a brief but vivid world that he brings to life with his characters and the many creatures that are a part of it. I enjoyed the various encounters that Rawk faced in this, which included those that were both serious, frustrating, and a bit silly. I do hope that future books in this world further expand upon it, as I'd love to find out more about this world. 

There is a good mixture of humor and seriousness in this book that make it feel like a true adventure to be a part of. I loved how Robinson took the idea of a 'hero' trope and sort of turned it into something else that went a bit deeper and became more authentic. I also found a smaller subplot that regarded prejudices to be really thoughtful and well-written. This subplot eventually forced Rawk to reconsider some of his preconceived notions about certain races and open his mind to something more, which was a nice addition to the overall story. This overarching theme of change seems to be very prevalent. 

I really wasn't sure what to expect from this book, especially with the shorter length, but I am so glad I picked it up and had a chance to explore this world and the figure of Rawk. Overall, I've given The Age of Heroes four stars!

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

*I receied a copy of The Hero of Ages in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

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 Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
Publication Date: February 8th, 2018
Hodder and Stoughton
Pre-order: Amazon Book Depository 
From Goodreads:

"The year is 1831

 Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and no one is willing to speak out on behalf of the city's vulnerable poor as they disappear from the streets. 

Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible. 

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations. 

Hester and Rebekah find themselves crossing every boundary they've ever known in pursuit of truth, redemption and passion. But their trust in each other will be tested as a web of deceit begins to unspool, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking . . ."

The first thing that grabbed my attention about this book was simply the title, The Wicked Cometh. How deliciously dark does that sound? The rest of the synopsis sounds incredibly interesting, so I really can't wait to see what this book is all about!

What do you think about this upcoming release? What are your anticipated upcoming releases?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday: Circe by Madeline Miller & The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

First Chapter Tuesday is hosted every Tuesday by Vicki @ I'd Rather Be at the Beach. This is meme in which bloggers share the first chapter of a book that they are currently reading or thinking about reading soon. Join the fun by making your own post and linking up over at Vicki's blog, or simply check it out to find more new books to read!

I always have endless books that I want to read, as most book lovers tend to have, but right now I feel like I have so many books that I want/need to read right now and it's a bit overwhelming. Thus, today First Chapter First Paragraph is a double feature, starring Circe by Madeline Miller and The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley. An ARC of Circe arrived up the other day and I'm beyond thrilled about it--as a Classics grad, I feel like Circe is a figure that is often overlooked outside of the Odyssey-related content. I also won a copy of The Heart of Stone a couple months ago and I (embarrassingly) haven't gotten to it yet! I plan to pick it up as soon as possible because it sounds great and I've seen a lot of great things about it! Below is an excerpt from beginning of each--enjoy!

Circe by Madeline Miller

This excerpt can be found at Entertainment Weekly:

"Chapter One 

When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and thousand cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.

My mother was one of them, a naiad, guardian of fountains and streams. She caught my father’s eye when he came to visit the halls of her own father, Oceanos. Helios and Oceanos were often at each other’s tables in those days. They were cousins, and equal in age, though they did not look it. My father glowed bright as just-forged bronze, while Oceanos had been born with rheumy eyes and a white beard to his lap. Yet they were both Titans, and preferred each other’s company to those new-squeaking gods upon Olympus who had not seen the making of the world."

Pre-order: Amazon | Book Depository

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

A longer excerpt can be found at Ben Galley's website:

"What is man, if not a shel for te Architct’s imaginaton?
From The Manual of Life 

35th Fading, 2&7&82 
The day that gripped the Irkmire Yawn was a foul one. The strip of sea was strangled with eager winds, the air choked with icy drizzle, and the waters boiled to a spray. 

The only mercy the Yawn could offer the valiant men of the glorified barge was its size. The gap between Irkmire and the soaring cliffs of Hartlund was barely eight leagues at its skinniest point. The journey might have been a detestable wash of rain and saltwater, but it was a brief and relatively steady one. The Bilgesnapper was a stout craft. Its squat shape and mean, flat prow bludgeoned the waters aside, bothered not a penny by the swell."

Buy the book: Amazon Book Depository

What do you think? Would you keep reading these books? (And feel free to join in and make your own post!) 

I am also an Amazon affiliate, so if you'd prefer to shop through Amazon, just click the banner on the upper right hand side of my blog! (above the 'Follow by email' box, you may need to turn off adblock to see it!)

*Excerpts are taken from the novel itself; I do not claim to own any part of the excerpt.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict

*Carnegie's Maid will be released Tuesday, January 16th!*

Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict. Sourcebooks Landmark. Ebook. 288 pages.

Last year I read Marie Benedict's The Other Einstein, a story that focused on Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein's wife, and her own accomplishments and life events. What looked to be a promising book ended up falling a bit flat for me and I didn't find it nearly as enjoyable as I thought it would. I mention this only to say that despite the intriguing premise of Carnegie's Maid, I still felt somewhat hesitant about starting it. All I can say now that I have read it is that Benedict's writing seems to have vastly improved and I

Carnegie's Maid centers on a period of time in Clara Kelley's life, from her journey to America from Ireland through her employment as lady's maid to Mrs. Carnegie, mother of the famous Andrew Carnegie. I'll be completely honest and admit that I really didn't know much about the Carnegie family. I've of course heard the name and know the very vaguest bits of information about them, but that's about it, so I was actually rather excited to read a book that might enlighten me.

This book did indeed deliver on teaching me more about the business of Andrew Carnegie, but it of course focused much more on Clara and how she managed to start an entirely new life on her own, adapt to a new course of work, and even educate herself further with the help of Mr. Carnegie. I appreciated the subtle insight into the gap between the rich, the poor, and the working class, as well as the brief bit that focused on the ongoing Civil War and the struggle for many newly-freed and escaped slaves.

Clara is a highly intelligent woman, and I'm happy to say that overall I really loved her character.  Not only is she intelligent in an academic manner, but she also has so much common sense. It was so refreshing to read about a character like Clara. There were so many instances in this book where Clara could have been too stubborn or outspoken or said something to get in trouble, but she knew to use her brain and avoided those moments! I would say that about ninety-two percent of the books I read feature characters who think, "I know that I shouldn't do/say something, but gosh, my feelings are just too strong to handle something that would keep me from being thrown out on the street," and thus do/say the bad thing and get thrown out. Maybe I'm being too dramatic, but let's just say that I found Clara to be a intelligent, and also very complex, character. The only frustration was that by the end of the book I felt like the author had also pounded over my head the fact that Clara is so smart, especially for her class status.

I liked that the romance was so slow-building and didn't just sort of appear out of nowhere, but I almost found it to be a bit too subtle at times. Part of me really liked that, but part of me felt that this book needed more to make the actions of the characters more understandable.

Something that confused me somewhat was that in the beginning of the book (and at a few other times) we are told that Mrs. Carnegie is an impossibly difficult woman to please and that no lady's maids every make it working for her (I was think Emily Gilmore-style here). But then Clara takes the job and seems to have no problems that I can discern. Mrs. Carnegie does not seem exceptionally demanding or difficult to work for, so I just feel like that part of the story wasn't done as well as it could have been.

The part of this book that frustrated me twas the ending. It was one of those where you turn the page expecting a new chapter, and instead the page says 'Epilogue.' I don't mind open endings or those that leave you wanting more in a good way, but I don't like endings that leave me feeling jilted and like I wasn't fulled finished with the book. Looking back, I see why Benedict ended it where she did and the epilogue does answer some questions, but I was just left feeling like this book didn't fulfill what it was supposed to; it left me asking 'why did I just read this book?' I appreciated that there was an epilogue that helped to fill in some of the leftover gaps, but it just didn't feel quite as smooth as it could have been.

Overall, I've still given Carnegie's Maid four stars. Despite the rather lackluster ending, I really enjoyed this book and reading about this period in history in America.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

*I received an ARC of Carnegie's Maid in exchange for an honest review.*

I am also an Amazon affiliate, so if you'd prefer to shop through Amazon, just click the banner on the upper right hand side of my blog! (above the 'Follow by email' box, you may need to pause adblock to see it!)

You might also like:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Discussion: Why I Do This Crazy Thing Called Book Blogging

Every now and then I get asked something along the lines of, "Why do you take book blogging so seriously?/Do you get paid for this?/Why do you love doing this so much? It seems like a lot of work."

Well, no, I don't get paid for any of this and yes, it is a lot of work. But honestly: I don't care. I think any book blogger has been met with similar thought/questions form others--or even themselves; I know I've even wondered similar things myself. Because of this, I decided to write a post that attempts to explain exactly why I love book blogging.

I'm going to try to break this down into a few main reasons:

1. To encourage others to read.
Whether I'm encouraging people who don't read that much to pick up a book, encouraging regular readers to read a book outside of their comfort zone, or just encouraging readers to continue loving books, it's all great and something that I love. Reading is a brilliant for people to expand their knowledge of the world and to discover different cultures, worlds, ways of life, and so much more. It's a way to enhance your vocabulary, to spirit you away into different worlds, to de-stress, to learn to write, to spark your own creativity, to find a home--the benefits are endless.

For me, there are few things more enjoyable than sharing my love of books with other people and furthering their own interest in books. In order to share a love of books with others, there needs to be other people that also love to read, and in this day and age the best way to get people to do that is to share your love of books online where others can see it. It's important to get out there and promote reading, and I think that book blogging is a fantastic way to encourage other people to read.

2. To promote authors/publishers!
I am more than aware that most big publishing houses actually have paid publicists and marketers that do their own promotions in a professional and much more effective manner than I do, but that doesn't mean that I can't also help to promote books and authors in my own way. I especially like to promote smaller presses and self-published authors whenever I have the ability to because I understand that sometimes the traditional route of publishing just doesn't always work. I have a pretty busy review schedule normally, but I always try my best to include self-published review requests. This can be daunting, especially since it means I get a lot more review requests than I would if I didn't, but I like to do it when I can because I want to help get the word out about new authors and their books. I can't always accept every review request, but I try to do what I can. Even if a book isn't necessarily 'my thing,' it my just become the new favorite of someone who read my blog and found it that way. I want to do my part to help spread the news about the books and authors I encounter through my days of reading.

3. To stay on top of and improve my own reading.
Book blogging really holds me accountable for my reading. I think I'm much more likely to read more when I know that there are more books out there that I want to read and review, and blogging makes me painfully aware of how many books there are out there that I want to read. It almost adds pressure in a fun way, if that makes any sense (?). Sometimes it does feel overwhelming, but that's when I just step back and remember why I'm doing this. Similarly, reviews help me think critically about books and also remember what I read better. By taking the time to think over the book, its characters, the plot, the pacing, the writing style, etc., I have a chance to ingrain the book more in my head and also work out those analysis skills I spent four years of college fine-tuning. In turn, this also helps me figure out more carefully exactly what I enjoy and look for in a good book, which is always a plus when picking out new books.

Another huge plus is that blogging also keeps me abreast of the upcoming releases and the great new books that are coming out, which is something that I was never good at doing before I started my blog. It used to be that I would find out that a book in a series that I really liked came out... almost a year later. Except Harry Potter--we always knew the release dates for Harry Potter books and movies.

4. I like to stay busy.
Honestly, I like work. I like having things to do. I love free time, but I go crazy if I have nothing to do and this is somewhat my 'free time' because I enjoy doing it. I'm crazy about having schedules and productive things to do, and book blogging helps me do that. Also, books are great for my mental health and really help me in ways I can't even describe.

5. The community
Holy hell, guys--who knew that I was missing out on such a fantastic bookish community all of the years before I started my blog? I have yet to meet a book blogger who is not amazing and welcoming and all-around fantastic. You don't even have to have an active blog to be a part of the book community--if you read and participate, you're welcome! Much of my experience with this community has been great and full of some of the most open-minded, hard-working people that I've ever met. I look forward to what the future holds for the book world, but I'm already incredibly pleased with how it is at present.

6. I love books!
This the most important reason, and the primary reason that I even started a blog in the first place. I wanted a place where I could talk about books and share my one main passion in life. I don't have a ton of hobbies other than reading (though I do have a few, I should probably add more) and I love having a place that I can talk about them all the time. I love having discussions with people and being able to visit the blogs of other like-minded book bloggers, and that just makes everything worth it. I may have started using affiliate links on my site, but in the end, it's all about the books (I'm just trying to keep eating also, I've become quite used to doing that).

Well, for those of you that made it through all of that -- thank you! Would you believe me when I said that all of that was the majorly edited down version of everything that I normally wrote? Because it was. I hope I managed to get across everything I meant with this post. I love doing this.

What is it that you love about book blogging? 

I am also an Amazon affiliate, so if you'd prefer to shop through Amazon, just click the banner on the upper right hand side of my blog! (above the 'Follow by email' box, you may need to pause adblock to see it!)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

*The Hazel Wood will be released Tuesday, January 16th!*

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. Flatiron Books, 2018. Hardcover. 368 pages. 

This review has taken me so long to write because I have no idea how to fully describe this book. The Hazel Wood is one of those books that I was really impressed by and found the overall concept and plot wonderful, but I still feel like there was something missing even though I really enjoyed it.

Going into this book, I was really excited. I love fairy tales and stories that revolve around the idea of how they function, especially if they are on the darker side. The Hazel Wood does exactly that with its own version of 'fairy tales' known as Tales from the Hinterland that were written by our protagonist, Alice's, grandmother. As a child, Alice was never allowed to talk about or even read any of her grandmother's stories, and in fact Alice is now extremely rare.

The beginning of this book is a bit slow. There isn't much in the way of fairytales and magic in the first half, other than vague discussion of Alice's grandmother's tales. There is more of a focus on Alice and her mother's lifestyle and her personal life. It wasn't that the beginning was boring, but it just felt like a lot of build-up for the second half of the book, which ended up feeling like there was a lot filled into a small space.

As The Hazel Wood progressed, it seemed to teeter on a very precarious ledge where it could either turn into something really boring and poorly executed, or truly magical. I was so pleasantly surprised to find the latter was the case. The Hazel Wood was even more incredible than I expected. Albert took this idea and turned it into something truly brilliant that I find to be fairly rare in these types fairytale-inspired tales.

There was such a fantastic mix of magical, creepy, dark, and unpredictable that I really enjoyed. The way Albert turned the idea of fairytales and an alternate land--the Hinterland--into something really unique and intricate was so interesting. She played with time and stories in a very interesting way that I really enjoyed reading about. I know that sounds super vague, but I don't want to give anything away!

I have mixed feelings about the character of Alice. She's not exactly likable, but she's interesting. I found myself curious about what she would do in the story, but I wasn't really invested in her life or actions. I did, however, find Ellery Finch, a boy she befriends from her school, much more fascinating. I almost wish that we would get some sort of extra story about his own background and upbringing, as well as what continues to happen with him. He just felt so much  more complex than Alice and I was actually invested and interested in everything he said and did. This frustrated me a little, but I did still very much enjoy the novel. Alice's mother felt like that 'literary novel mother' that I see so often: a  bit flighty, unpredictable, dramatic, over-the-top in her emotions and reactions... it's not necessarily a bad thing, it just felt like stuff that I had seen before. Nonetheless, she was still an interesting character that did add quite a bit to the story.

One thing that I can say I also really liked was Albert's writing. At times, her writing felt very ordinary and didn't stand out much, but there were so many instances in which her prose simply glowed. She had a magical way of phrasing things at times, ways that were often dark and slightly bleak, but sound so lovely and captivating.

Overall, I've given The Hazel Wood four-and-a-half stars! Despite any issues I had with characters and storytelling, I was still incredibly entranced by the Hinterland and the story Albert built and would certainly recommend this to anyone looking for a dark, magical story.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

*I received an ARC of The Hazel Wood courtesy of Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the book.*

I am also an Amazon affiliate, so if you'd prefer to shop through Amazon, just click the banner on the upper right hand side of my blog! (above the 'Follow by email' box, you may need to pause adblock to see it!)

You might also like: