Monday, January 20, 2020

Review: Dreamland by Nick Clausen

Dreamland: A Ghost Story
Dreamland by Nick Clausen
Publication Date: March, 2019
Ebook. 162 pages

About Dreamland:

"Some nightmares never end 

In his sleep, Louie starts visiting a magical world where he meets his father, who died when Louie was still a baby. But nothing turns out to be what it seems, and great horrors loom very close by ... 

Welcome to Dreamland 

A mysterious teen ghost story about fear and loss and losing yourself in dreams, Dreamland was originally published in Danish to great reviews, and is now available in English."

Dreamland is a fantasy/horror novella that packs a huge punch and explores a number of imaginative and surprising elements in under two hundred pages. This was such a unique story blend of bittersweet, paranormal, and unpredictable elements that worked together to create an incredibly memorable story.

Dreamland itself is a place for Louie to escape to at night from the grief and everyday struggles of his everyday reality. This escape is something that I think a lot of us can easily relate to and that Clausen expands upon really well. While in Dreamland, Louie is able to talk to his father who died when he was a baby an experience that Louie is hooked by and makes him want to continue visiting Dreamland.

Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with  lot of things that are possibly too good to be true, there's a big downside to Dreamland the Louie slowly starts to discover and things slow turn darker and darker in Drealmand. I think Clausen did a spectacular job of conveying the atmosphere of this change and in creating a setting that felt very vivid and believable. The physical changes that Louie begins to experience after visiting Dreamland at night--such as being tired rather than refreshed upon waking--contribute to this so much and really add an extra layer to the discomfort of Dreamland. There wasn't every anything overly terrifying, but the creepiness permeated the story extremely well.

There is a great exploration of grief and all of the surrounding struggles that come with grief that I really appreciated. The characters were all complex and well-developed and provided a great backdrop for the rest of the plot to unfold. I really enjoyed following Louie on this journey and experiencing all the crazy, unpredictable changes that made this such an interesting story.

I found the pacing of Dreamland to be really well done. It has a great balance of moments that slow things down in order to fully explore an important scene or element. I also really enjoyed the fact that I couldn't ever predict where the story was going. Clausen includes a couple big twists, but the entire storyline is so interesting and unique which allowed me to fully enjoy it and the discovery of each point to its fullest extent. There is a very bittersweet ending, which is how I tend to like my endings.

One last note I'd like to make about Dreamland is that although it's technically a YA story, it seems as though it has some great appeal for all ages. I found a lot of the themes highly relatable and I can see different areas meaning something different to each person, no matter the age.

Overall, I've given Dreamland four stars! This was a really enjoyable and quick novella that I definitely recommend to anyone looking for a little bit of spooky with their fantasy.

*I received a copy of Dreamland courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Friday Face-Face: Horizon

Friday Face Off New
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme 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. You can find a list of upcoming topics at Lynn's Books.

This week's topic is:
Horizon – “Your “beautiful” ship killed its crew, Doctor.”

Horizon was a fun topic to try to track down and I ended up deciding on The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick because I think the U.S. edition that I read has a fantastic example of an ocean-based horizon. The rest of these covers vary a decent bit, but I love the theme that inhabits all of them! There weren't a lot of different covers to showcase, but I still think it's a good variety.

The Red Wolf Conspiracy (Chathrand Voyages, #1)The Red Wolf Conspiracy (The Chathrand Voyage, #1)The Red Wolf Conspiracy (The Chathrand Voyage #1)
2009 US Hardcover | 2008 UK Hardcover | 2010 US Mass Market

La Conspiration du loup rouge (The Chathrand Voyage, #1)Spiknutí Ryšavého vlkaThe Red Wolf Conspiracy (The Chathrand Voyage, #1)
2009 French | 2010 Czech | 2009 Audiobook

My choice(s):
The Red Wolf Conspiracy (Chathrand Voyages, #1)The Red Wolf Conspiracy (The Chathrand Voyage, #1)
I'm more drawn to the UK Hardcover on the right, but I do think the US one reflects the slightly more adventurous spirit of the story and the inclusion of the sword makes it more fun. But I seriously still love the blues and the ships in the UK one!

What cover(s) do you like the most!?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Review: The Light of All that Falls (Licanius Trilogy #3) by James Islington

The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy, #3)
The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy #3) by James Islington
Publication Date: December 12th, 2019
Hardcover. 864 pages

**Note: This review will not contain any spoilers for The Light of All That Falls, but it will probably contain inadvertent spoiler-y events from the first two books. If you plan on reading the first two books and do not want to know anything, then you may want to skim this review. I don't go into details on anything, but just a head's up.

About The Light of All That Falls:

"The Light of All that Falls concludes the epic adventure that began in The Shadow of What Was Lost, the acclaimed fantasy blockbuster from James Islington.

The Boundary is whole once again, but it may be too late. Banes now stalk Andarra, while in Ilin Illan, the political machinations of a generation come to a head as Wirr's newfound ability forces his family's old enemies into action. Imprisoned and alone in a strange land, Davian is pitted against the remaining Venerate as they work tirelessly to undo Asha's sacrifice - even as he struggles with what he has learned about the friend he chose to set free. Finally, Caeden is confronted with the reality of the plan he laid centuries ago - heartbroken at how it began, and devastated by how it must end."

The Light of All That Falls was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2019. My excitement level for this book has been nearly off the charts because of how invested I am in not only the plot of the story, but also because of how much I love all of the main characters (and, frankly, everyone else as well). This trilogy is easily one of the most stunning and breathtaking epic fantasy trilogies that I've read in quite some time. I know I tend to have a lot of favorites when it comes to fantasy, but the Licanius Trilogy truly is one that I will always hold close to my heart and that I will never stop recommending to everyone.

One of my favorite things that Islington does is provide a comprehensive "the story so far" style recap in the beginning of all of his sequels. Islington takes care to note that he doesn't cover everything that happens int he books, but rather highlight this main points and although that's true, this one was still over twenty pages long and I found it to be invaluable in refreshing my memory. This is a series that I have actively thought about ever since finishing the first and second books, but it still has so many intricate details and storylines that are easy to overlook.

Jumping into the story itself, The Light of All That Falls picks up about a year after the events of the second book, which I found to be a perfect amount of time to sort of get into the groove of the new routine and life for all of our characters after the intense and astonishing ending of the second book. I found this to be the perfect balance in kick-starting the events of the final book while showcasing what the "new normal" is like for all of our characters.

One of my favorite things about this series and what draws me to it so strongly is how much I genuinely love and care about the main characters, as well as the way in which Islington crafts both main and secondary characters in such fulfilling and incredible well-developed and multi-dimensional ways. Davian has been through such a whirlwind of events since the start of the first book and I have been so hooked on seeing how he works through all of the chaos that is almost constantly thrown at him. The way he hones with skills and always works to put doing what's right before what he or someone else might want or find easier is so admirable and is part of what makes him so compelling. Wirr also really embodies the idea of doing what is morally right over what is more convenient or what others want him to do. As a leader, Wirr struggles with his new role and I really like how Islington continued to show his struggles with earning acceptance from those around him, as well as with earning how to be a good leader. He's incredibly loyal and always puts the safety and well-being of the people in Ilin Ilan first, something that shines through and makes him so endearing. Then there's Asha, a incredibly powerful and resolute woman who makes an incredible sacrifice a the end of the previous book. Her adaptation to her role is one done with maturity and no matter how undesirable her current situation might be, she always makes the best of it to be as useful as she can possibly be. I love Asha's role in these books and I'm so pleased by her character arc throughout this series.

Lastly, I'd like to mention Caeden. Caeden is easily one of the most interesting and complex characters I've ever read. Without being too detailed so as to not spoil anything, the sheer transformation of his character over time is unbelievably fascinating and so well-written. What Islington tackled with Caeden's character is something that I don't think many people could pull off and Islington did it so well. The inner conflicts that Caeden deals with are so intense and authentic and I believed everything about his struggles. There's also his difficulties with trust and getting others to trust him when even he doesn't think people should always trust him. I can't really say more without spoilers, but suffice to say that Caeden is one of the most intriguing fantasy characters and has one of the most incredible character arcs that I've read in years, possibly ever. My hat's off to Islington for that alone, if not everything else.

This book has a huge cast of characters in addition to the main characters (seriously, I made use of the character glossary in the back of the book so often to make sure I remember who was who) and no matter how small or large a character's role in the story is, Islington still makes them real, authentic characters with distinct personalities, motivations, and incredibly development.

This book is full of some of the best twists and developments. There was one huge moment at the end that I sort of guessed early in a "gee, maybe this will happen, but probably not," and I let out the biggest whoop of satisfaction when it actually came to fruition. That's not to say that this book is predictable, though, because it most definitely isn't and I was mindblown over and over at how deep and utterly clever Islington is with his plot and sheer scope of exploration in this book. There is a bit of exploration with time travel-type elements that I loved, and that's coming from someone who typically doesn't like anything to do with time travel. As before, I can't go into details about all of that, but trust me when I say that it's so well done and utterly original and well-written.

I could say a lot more about the world, the creatures in the world, the magic system, and so many other things, but I fear this review is already too long (looks to be more than a thousand words already, which is way too many) so I'm just going to cut myself off here and implore you to check this series out!

Overall, it's an obvious five stars. I'd honestly give this series and this book all the stars that are out there--they deserve them. I already want to start re-reading the series, and I honestly might just go ahead and pick up the first book again later this year to start this incredible adventure all over again.

*I received a copy of The Light of All That Falls in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Sword of Fire Katharine Kerr & The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Can't-Wait is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings that spotlights exciting upcoming releases that we can't wait to be released! This meme is based off of Jill @ Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday meme.

This week's upcoming book spotlights are: 

Sword of Fire
Sword of Fire by Katharine Kerr 
Publication: February 18th, 2020
DAW Books
Hardcover. 384 pages.

"This first novel of an epic fantasy trilogy reintroduces readers to the beloved and bestselling world of Deverry, blending magic, politics, and adventure in an unforgettable setting. 

The bards are the people's voice--and their sword. 

All over the kingdom of Deverry, the common people are demanding reform of the corrupt law courts. In Aberwyn, the situation catches fire when Gwerbret Ladoic, second in authority only to the High King, allows a bard to starve to death rather than hear their grievances. 

Guildwoman Alyssa, a student at the local scholars' collegium, and Lady Dovina, the gwerbret's own daughter, know that evidence exists to overthrow the so-called traditional legal system, if they can only get it into the right hands. The powerful lords will kill anyone who threatens their privileges. 

To retrieve the proof, Alyssa must make a dangerous journey that will either change her life forever--or end it."
This sounds intense and detailed and I love the sound of the political backdrop. I've not read anything by Katharine Kerr, but I've heard great things about her work so I'm really looking forward to this new one. And just like last week, I think both covers for this book are gorgeous and just give off such different vibes, so I had to share both.

Sword of Fire

The Last Smile in Sunder City
The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold
Publication: February 6th, 2020
Paperback. 352 pages.

"I'm Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me: 
1. Sobriety costs extra. 
2. My services are confidential - the cops can never make me talk. 
3. I don't work for humans. 

It's nothing personal - I'm human myself. But after what happened, Humans don't need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came... I just want one real case. One chance to do something good. Because it's my fault the magic is never coming back. 

The Last Smile in Sunder City is a brilliantly voiced fantasy for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Rotherweird or Terry Pratchett's Discworld, and the debut novel from actor Luke Arnold - known for his lead role in Black Sails!"
This sounds like a lot of fun. I'm really not sure at all what to expect from this book, but I'm ready for the ride! I also just recently realized that the author, Luke Arnold, is the actor from Black Sailts (which is literally right there in the synopsis, so I just completely missed that tidbit of info!), so that's pretty fun as well.

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Top 5 Tuesday: Series I Need To Catch Up On (Pt. 1/?)

This week I decided to switch back over and participate in Top 5 Tuesday, hosted by BionicBookworm!

This week's topic is: Top 5 Books I Need to Read in 2020--AKA, Series Catch-Up!

This week's top 5 Tuesday post is on books that we really need to read this year and I decided to use this as my opportunity to list a few books in series that I must catch up on this year. no more excuses. I constantly have the desire to read them, yet for some reason I procrastinate so I'll just add them here and try to hold myself accountable. This is also making me want to create an entire list of all the series I've started and I may come back and make a longer post at some point.

A Sword from Red Ice (Sword of Shadows, #3)

A Sword from Red Ice by J.V. Jones
Sword of Shadows Book #3
I just finished the second book about a month or two ago, so I'm not actually that behind in reading this, but I also finished the first book in early 2018, so... I'd like to really prioritize catching up on this series.

Kings of Ash (Ash and Sand, #2)

Kings of Ash by Richard Nell
Ash and Sand Book #2
Kings of Paradise was one of my top favorite books of 2018 and yet I somehow missed when the sequel came out last year? I've bumped it up in priority though and I'm really hoping to get to it in the next few months. The first book was really complex and epic, though, so I may need to do some sort of refresher before diving back into this awesome world.

The Dragon Reborn (Wheel of Time, #3)

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
The Wheel of Time Book #3
Yeah, I read The Eye of the World back in 2017, I think, so I've been majorly slacking on this series. Again, I think I'll need some sort of recap so I can remember all the details, but I feel good about diving back into this series.

Kushiel's Avatar (Phèdre's Trilogy, #3)

Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
Phedre's Trilogy Book #3
Isn't it funny how a series can be one of your favorites of all time...even though you haven't yet finished said trilogy? This is the case for me and trust me when I say I feel great shame for it. Kushiel's Dart and Kushiel's Chosen are some of the most incredible books, however, and I love them to absolute pieces. I can't wait to actually finish this trilogy, but I think I've also been putting it off because I don't want it to be over!

The True Bastards (The Lot Lands, #2)

The True Bastards by Jonathan French
The Lot Lands #2
I had such a fun time reading The Grey Bastards, but I never had a chance to read the sequel last fall when it came out. This year I'd really like to do so because I had such a fun time in this messed up world with the most frustrating yet endearing characters.

Have you read any of these series? Do you  want to!?

Monday, January 13, 2020

Review: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau
Endeavor Quill
Publication Date: January 16th, 2020
Paperback. 386 pages

About Dreamland:

"The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground. 

The invitation to the luxurious Oriental Hotel a mile from Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family. 

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of nearby Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of. 

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder."

Nancy Bilyeau's Dreamland captures the exciting and tumultuous time and place of 1911 Coney Island by throwing readers right into the heart of Dreamland, one of three amusement parks that were part of the original location.

I absolutely adored this book and I'm not even sure where to start my review, so let's just start off with one of my favorite things about this book: the setting. The physical setting of Coney Island in 1911 was so beautifully and authentically brought to life by Bilyeau. It's so apparent that she took great care to present a setting that captures the atmosphere and perception of the world in 1911. (As an aside, I personally always manage to remember the year 1911 because it's the year that my great grandma and Lucille Ball were born, so the fact that this book took place in that year was just a weird, fun coincidence for me.) This was an interesting period of America since occurred right after the turn of the century when a lot of new modern concepts were beginning to grow and win popularity, yet there was still such a sharp desire and effort to keep with the traditions and norms of the past. There's a huge confliction of morals, ideas of modesty, etc. that were constantly developing and I think Bilyeau captured this atmosphere really well through her characters and the varying conflicts between Peggy, her sister, cousin, uncles, mother, and society as a whole.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was Peggy herself. Peggy is a modern, forward-thinking woman who has no problem standing firm in her own beliefs and preferences. She is headstrong in the best way possible, though being headstrong can of course lead to some rather dangerous and unpleasant situations, which Peggy certainly encounters. Despite being so determined and adamant about her own views and desires, one thing that I really liked about Peggy was how she was aware of and willing to sort of bite her tongue at moments when she knew saying something or acting out could harm her sister or another family member. She was always willing to do what she wanted, but I appreciated that she had boundaries that always popped up to hold her back from letting her actions harm others. She sticks up for these she cares about, no matter, it seems, the consequences to her and her situation in life.

Dreamland tackles some really big themes and concepts that still hold relevance today. There is a big plot point that has to do with foreigners in America and how they were treated in 1911 America (and, frankly, a lot of it still points to issues that we have today), an issue that Peggy wasn't aware of at the beginning of the novel, making it particularly interesting to see how she discovered this prejudice and mistreatment and what she did to try to combat it. There was also a great handling of power dynamics and relationships and how there are so many different types that can in just as many different forms. In Dreamland, there's the power struggle between the police and the foreigners, the rich and the not-rich, those in romantic relationships, those within family, and so many more. I really appreciated how well Bilyeau handled these topics and how much care she put into crafting all of them.

The pacing of Dreamland is on the slower side, so if you're looking for something fast-paced and full of action, this probably isn't it. Personally, I found the pacing to be the perfect form of slower--it allowed me to really fall into this setting and get to know the characters and the situation/purpose of the plot while still maintain my interest and making me not want to put down this book.

Overall, I've given Dreamland five stars. I also put this in my 'favorites' category on Goodreads because I really think back on this book with fondness and it's one that still seems to be popping up into my head a lot even weeks after I've read it. I can't wait to dive into more of Bilyeau's book and to see what's next!

*I received an ARC of Dreamland courtesy of NetGalley and Endeavor Quill in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Friday, January 10, 2020

Month in Review: December 2019

This is so delayed, but I almost forgot that I hadn't made my December month in review amidst all of the new year hubbub, so I figured I'd throw it in real quick if only for my own sake of having one for each month of the year (I like completeness, what can I say?). 

December was a busy month in the beginning while I wrapped up final papers and exams and whatnot, but by doing that I also finished my first semester of grad school and it felt so good to have a break. I have never basked nearly as much as in a break than I did those last few weeks of December. 

 In less positive news, I also found out that due to the new California AB 5 bill that was passed, my contract with the company I work for would be ended and I'm out of a job! The bill basically changes up independent contractor roles with companies and the company I work for decided to just cut contracts with everything they had working for them in California (and this has happened with a lot of other people at different companies, also, which just sucks). I'm not sure what sort of job I'm going to try to find now since my last one was so flexible for going to school full time, but I'm already looking and hopefully I can find something.

To end things on a positive note, it turned out to be a pretty good reading month, so I'm not going to complain about that. Highlights were Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau (out this month in January!), In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente, and All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller, though I pretty much enjoyed reading all of these (hooray for ending my year of reading on a high note!) If you haven't seen my yearly stats/wrap-up post, you can find that here

If you can still remember, how was your December reading month!?

# books read: 14

A Secret History of WitchesThe Turn of the KeyA Fortress of Grey Ice (Sword of Shadows, #2)Deeplight
A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan 
Source: Owner| Format: Hardcover

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware 
Source: Library | Format: Hardcover

A Fortress of Grey Ice by J.V. Jones 
Source: Library | Format: Hardcover

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge 
Source: Publisher | Format: Paperback

All the Ways We Said GoodbyeGreenglass House (Greenglass House #1)The Night CircusAll the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella's Stepmother
All the Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, & Karen White
Source: NetGalley | Format: eARC

Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Source: Library Sale | Format: Hardcover

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Source: Library Sale | Format: Paperback

All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller 
Source: Gift | Format: Hardcover

IslandiaDreamlandProsper's DemonIn the Cities of Coin and Spice (The Orphan's Tales, #2)
Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright 
Source: Owned | Format: Paperback

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau 
Source: NetGalley | Format: eARC

Prosper's Demon by K.J. Parker 
Source: NetGalley | Format: eARC

In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente 
Source: Gift | Format: Paperback

The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1)Lock Every Door
The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood 
Source: Library Sale | Format: Hardcover

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager 
Source: Library | Format: Hardcover

The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of MadnessInto the Planet: My Life as a Cave DiverA Secret History of WitchesThe God GameHouse of Salt and SorrowsDeeplightIslandia
The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan 
Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth 
A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan 
The God Game by Danny Tobey 
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig 
Deeplight by Frances Hardinge 
Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright 

(other than reviews)

The Friday Face-Off:
A Temple 

Have you read any of these? What books did you read this month? I hope you all had a great month-- comment below and let me know!