Thursday, July 28, 2016

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (Spoiler-free!)

*Nevernight will be released on Tuesday, August 9th!*

(US cover here - I am in the U.S., but I just really love the UK/AUS cover)
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. Harper Voyager, 2016. Ebook. 448 pages.

*I received an ARC of Nevernight courtesy of Harper Voyager and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

I have been wanting to post this review for what seems like ages now, but since I generally tend to post my review closer to the release date, I've  been waiting and waiting - but I am waiting no more!

Nevernight is truly a masterpiece of immense proportions. If you want a brief review: Go read this book. If you want a more expansive review, please do read on.

This was my first experience with Kristoff's writing, and I fell in love with it almost immediately.  By probably the fifth page or so, I could tell that he was one of those authors that writes with a wonderful flow and instead of merely using words to convey his story, he commands words to say what he wants - his storytelling becomes those words. That probably sounds completely ridiculous, but my point is that his prose is both effortless and powerful all in one and it really makes for a breathtaking (sometimes literally for the characters) reading experience.

Nevernight is essentially about a girl named Mia who hopes to join the ranks of some of the deadliest assassins in the land. There is a boatload of juicy intrigue, plots, and secrets. This a bloody, brutal book with fierce characters and competition and I loved every minute of it.

First, I adored whoever our narrator was. The dry wit and sense of humor were such welcome additions to this dark story. I also particularly loved the footnotes. They added a wonderful dimension to the story and provided detailed background information (or mere asides) that firmly enforced the world-building and truly brought the world of Nevernight alive around me. I don't often see footnotes in fiction books (with a few exceptions), and I really enjoyed the concept. It made it feel much more like I was reading something real and authentic.

For many of the chapters, there is a switch between the telling the story of the present day and telling the story of Mia's past and what got her to the present day. This was one of those rare occasions in which I liked the occasional switches between present day and experiences from Mia's past. Sometimes these can be overdone and a tad on the dry side, but learning about Mia's past was just as interesting and also helped with understanding her and her story. This brings me to Mia, a realistic, badass, and wonderfully developed character that I loved reading about. She's serious and tough, but also maintains her own distinct sense of humor and endearing personality. Along with Mia is Mister Kindly, her not-cat shadow that acts as her constant companion; I loved the relationship between the two characters, as well as the overall concept of what Mister Kindly is as well (keeping it vague because spoilers).

As far as secondary characters go, there is such an abundance of outstanding ones that I'm not going to go through and discuss each one individually here because I'm pretty sure none of you want to sit and read this review all day. Suffice to say, Nevernight is full of interesting, well-developed, and wonderfully molded characters that do nothing but add immense depth and entertainment to the story.

 I was so immersed in this novel that I ended up speeding through it faster than I've sped through a book of this size in a while. The ending was absolutely brutal and  beautiful and heartbreakingly perfect all in one. I sat in awe for quite a long time after finishing this book, and I still occasionally like to sit back and think about what a wonderful journey this book was.

I would like to quickly add that I was pretty confused for the first few pages, as I wasn't sure how long the parallel format storyline was going to continue (despite how wonderfully written it was), but once I got into the groove and things started happening, I was completely hooked and everything fell into place.

Side note: I've been on a very successful book buying ban this year (I've bought hardly any books - most have been ARCs or library books, though I do go to a lot of library sales... but they're so cheap I don't always count them), but I completely splurged and went for the red stained pages from Goldsboro - I'm so excited and it's gorgeous!

I think a star explanation is unnecessary - this is hands down a five-star book that earned itself a place on my favorites shelf. And I personally don't even want to compare this to Harry Potter because it's in a league all on its own - no comparisons or mash-ups necessary.

You might also like:
Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
And I Darken by Kiersten White
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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:

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Publication Date: March 28, 2017 (!)
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Amazon Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

From Goodreads:

An alternate history / historical fantasy / steampunk novel set in Strange the Dreamer is the story of: 

the aftermath of a war between gods and mena mysterious city stripped of its namea mythic hero with blood on his handsa young librarian with a singular dreama girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiledalchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

Okay, so we've still got a long way to go for this one, but I am still so excited for it. I love Laini Taylor's elegant, flowing prose and I am really looking forward to seeing what she has in store for us. The description of this book is so simple and brief, but also so incredibly intriguing.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do/Learn About After Reading Them

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly book blog meme hosted by the lovely girls over at The Broke and the Bookish
This Top Ten Tuesday is quite the mouthful, but it sure is a fun one! The topic this week is the top ten things books have made me want to do or learn about after reading them. I really like this topic because there are so many books out there that have either prompted some new fascination with a particular topic or skill, or that have inspired or encouraged me to do new things. Also, I miscounted when I originally typed this out, so I actually have eleven things listed.

1. Go on an adventure/journey and discover more about myself.
Into the WildThe Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)The Adventurer's Guide to Successful EscapesThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)
The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White (review coming soon!)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente
(Honorable mention: The Magus by John Fowles - not so much an adventure,
 but there is definitely some weird adventuring/soul-finding going on.)

2. Read more fairy tales and write my  own stories - or retellings!
The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1)Through the WoodsThe Book of Lost Things
3. Continue on to achieving a graduate degree. (in Classics, though, not English)
Will this actually happen? I don't know quite yet, but this book really inspired me.

4. Learn magic tricks.
Girl in the ShadowsBorn of Illusion (Born of Illusion, #1)

5. To actually ask for help if I need instead of trying to pretend I can do everything myself.
The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

6. Take a long train ride. (Preferably through a scenic area in the U.S. or Canada - and also preferably without the corresponding murder.)
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

7. Read more comics/graphic novels.
WatchmenPreludes and Nocturnes (The Sandman, #1)Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
Watchmen by Alan Moore
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Fables by Bill Willingham

8. Own my own bookstore! (Or just work in one, I'm not picky)
The Little Paris BookshopMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, #1)The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (review)
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (review)
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

9. Find a close-knit group of friends who will do crazy things with me and keep secrets.
The Secret HistoryBlack ChalkSix of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)A Separate Peace
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates (review)
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
(okay, so this last one isn't a perfect fit, but it is still heavily friend-based)

10. Learn more about astronomy/physics.
The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban AstrophysicistSeven Brief Lessons on PhysicsPhysics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel
The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Seven Brief Lessons by Carlo Rivelli (review)
Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku (review)

11. Taking boxing/martial arts/fencing/etc. to learn how to fight! (For fun, of course)
The Berlin Boxing ClubFirst Test (Protector of the Small, #1)A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)
The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
First Test by Tamora Pierce
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (review)

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What have books inspired you to do?

Monday, July 25, 2016

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. Anchor, 2006. Hardcover/Hardback. 466 pages. 

I love reading nonfiction, but unfortunately I often have a hard time finding nonfiction that really grabs me and pulls me into the story itself without getting bogged down by dry information. It's important to me that the author is able to incorporate all of the facts in an interesting manner that is actually able to grab my attention. The River of Doubt did just that and more, and I immensely enjoyed this story. I initially picked up this book because I was sent an ARC of Millard's upcoming release on Winston Churchill, The Hero of the Empire,  which I read and loved (and will be posting a review closer to the release date), and I knew I had to read more work by Millard - in short, she's a brilliant writer.

I don't claim to be overly knowledge of Theodore Roosevelt, but I always thought I at least remembered the basics of his life from various classes in school and other books I've read about him. Apparently what I knew of Roosevelt was rather sparse, however, because I had no idea that he explored an uncharted river in the Amazon that ended up being an entirely dangerous and insane trip.

What I loved about The River of Doubt was how much it endeared Roosevelt to me; when I closed the book, I felt like I was losing a friend. That might sound odd, seeing as he wasn't an overly warm and fuzzy man, and was in fact a bit egotistical and sometimes arrogant, but that's how well Millard wrote about Roosevelt's journey. She showed all sides of him in complete honestly, which revealed not only his flaws, but also his kindness and appealing aspects. I found his strength and seemingly endless perseverance to be incredibly inspirational. I won't lie, though, it also made me rather frustrated that Roosevelt was so stubborn about deciding to undertake this dangerous hazard of a trip in the first place - there was obviously not nearly enough planning or precautionary measures taken to prepare.

There is a lot of information in this book, but somehow I never felt bogged down by it. The beginning is fairly slow to start, but it's still full of interesting information. Millard spends an abundant amount of time discussing the various preparations and planning the occurred for the journey, as well as some pre-journey events once Roosevelt landed in South America. But I promise all the background information pays off; this knowledge of pre-departure events really helps to understand the nature of the journey and where things went wrong.

There were also some smaller, more minute details that Millard included that I really enjoyed: for instance, when she described how much a person was being paid for a service, she would then list, in brackets right after, how much money that was equal to with modern day inflation adjusted. This really helped give me perspective on various elements, as well as showed Millard's intent to make sure her audience truly understands and can relate to what she writes. Similarly, she goes into great detail on many of the insects, animals, plants, and indigenous peoples that inhabited the areas in which the crew explored, which really helped to put the entire experience into a more understandable context. It made the dangers that much more real and added a lot of intrigue and risk to the story; I felt like I was right there in the jungle with the rest of the crew without, of course, actually having to endure their hardships.

It is obvious that Millard spent endless hours researching and carefully constructing this book. No detail is overlooked and no fact is left unsourced. This is an incredibly exciting adventure story, and I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to know a little bit more about Theodore Roosevelt, or even just someone who wants to read about a daring, perilous, and all-around exciting exploration story.

Overall, I am giving The River of Doubt five stars for its wonderful detail, story, and extremely well-written writing.

You might also like:
The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
Consequence by Eric Fair
Elon Musk: Inventing the Future by Ashlee Vance
Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ithaca by Patrick Dillon

Ithaca by Patrick Dillon. Pegasus Books, 2016. Hardcover. 257 pages.
(I am absolutely in love with this cover design - it's stunning)

*I received a print copy of Ithaca by Patrick Dillon courtesy of Pegasus Books in exchange for an honest review.*

I love learning about Ancient Greek and Roman societies (I am a classics major, after all - it would be weird if I didn't enjoy that), which thus makes me extremely excited whenever I happen across a book that uses an Ancient Greek or Roman setting, storyline, myth, or culture. So when I saw Ithaca, an Odyssey-based story focusing on Odysseus' son, Telemachus, I knew that I had to immediately pick this one up. After reading it, I would say this is a great introductory novel to The Odyssey and the world of Ancient Greece, albeit not necessarily an overly in-depth or reinvented interpretation.

Ithaca is an Odyssey retelling in which Telemachus and his mother, Penelope, have been living in Ithaca for the sixteen years since his father first went away to fight at Troy. Telemachus has grown up those sixteen years never having met his father, and the court where he resides is now overflowing with suitors attempting to take Odysseus' place as Penelope's husband, despite her stubborn refusal to accept Odyesseus' death. As a result, Telemachus decides to embark upon on his own journey to find out whether his father is dead or if he is actually still alive.

 I really liked the concept of this story; the idea of following Telemachus' perspective of the time in which his father is missing is incredibly intriguing, and I was eager to see how Dillon would handle this story line. To be honest, though, Telemachus didn't see much action, and I was almost disappointed by how uneventful his 'journey' ended up being. However, I think is partly because I found this book to me much more of a character and theme-driven story than one fueled by plot, which would account for the lack of adventuring. On the character-driven side, this novel certainly excelled. I liked that Telemachus was portrayed not as the tough, brutal boy you would expect as a result of the environment of his upbringing, but as a somewhat softer boy that is fiercely protective of his mother, but yet still does not know how to fight - likely a direct result of Odysseus' absence. He did not have the opportunity gain the same experiences or skills that a similar young boy at that time would have because he did not have any singular male influence to learn from or even look up to (all of the suitors are rather deplorable human beings). As a reader, we get to see Telemachus undergo a wide array of emotions and opinions, from yearning for his father's presence and firmly believing he is alive, to doubting his being alive and great reputation, along with everything in between.

Along with Telemachus, there is also a sizable portion - about one-third of the story - in which Odysseus recounts his experiences since leaving Troy and attempting to head home, a total of about ten years. This portion was a bit odd to me; I understood why it was placed in the story, but it didn't quite feel necessary. If you are unfamiliar with the actual story of The Odyssey, then this portion is quite frankly a perfectly succinct and understandable summary of the story, and also provided a nice refresher.

The rest of the cast of characters - Penelope, Nestor, Menelaus, Helen, etc. - were all quite wonderfully reimagined, and I felt a sense of excitement whenever a familiar face from the myth was introduced and I was able to see Dillon's interpretation of them. One tiny issue I had was with the character Polycaste, daughter of Nestor, whom Telemachus meets when he travels to find his father. While I enjoyed her character's strength, her dialogue seemed entirely out of place for this story and time period, and I actually found it a bit jarring. It seemed much too modern for a story that I don't think was meant to be overly modern in its retelling.

While this was an overall enjoyable read, I found myself wondering what exactly the point of this retelling was. Was it merely to add in some insight into the character of Telemachus, or was there meant to be something more?  For the most part, I otherwise felt that this was quite literally a basic retelling of the Odyssey with some extra information about what Telemachus may have been experiencing at the same time. I think I was both expecting and hoping for a fresher perspective on this story, so I ended up being left with slight disappointment. Despite this, I cannot fault the writing or strength of the story, which was still certainly entertaining and a lovely story. I would easily recommend this for anyone unfamiliar with the original story, or who is a fan and wishes to read another version. (I must insist, though, that the original be read at some point as well, because it is truly a masterpiece. :) )

Overall, I am giving Ithaca three-and-a-half stars for its readable and flowing prose that retells a classic in a delightful and entertaining manner.

You might also like:
Helen of Troy by Margaret George
Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman
Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

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:

Everfair by Nisi Shawl
Publication Date: September 6th, 2016
Tor Books
Amazon Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

From Goodreads:
An alternate history / historical fantasy / steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo, from noted short story writer Nisi Shawl.

Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium's disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo's "owner," King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl's speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

There are so many incredible upcoming releases that I'm eagerly anticipating that it becomes hard to choose just one each week to spotlight! But Everfair's upcoming release luckily made it a bit easier to choose. I haven't read many alternate history or steampunk novels (especially not together), so I'm really excited about those aspects of this story. I also don't know much about this particular event in history, and although this is an alternative history, I am very interested to understand more about it! I am really looking forward to digging into this complex and representative work.

If you're at all interested in Everfair, be sure to check out this article about both the book and its incredible author, Nisi Shawl, in this article at Tor Books.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Set Outside The U.S.

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly book blog meme hosted by the lovely girls over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is on our top ten books set outside of the U.S.! Confession: okay, so technically this isn't a true top ten because I actually have twelve titles listed here. There were so many to choose from that I had a really hard time narrowing it down, so I just decided to add on a bit...

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story
The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
Setting: North Korea
My review
Maybe I talk about this book too much, but it's only because of how incredible it is. This is the story of the life of a young North Korean woman and how she eventually escapes from her country. It brings a lot of interesting perspectives into the lives of North Korean citizens as well as the world around them.

The Paying Guests
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Setting: England
My review
Frances Wray and her mother, struggling to make ends meet after the war, decide to take in some boarders. Thus, Lillian and Leonard Barber move in and what ensues makes for quite an intriguing story. The time period for this story is not one I see very often, and I really enjoyed it!

Anna and the Swallow Man
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Setting: Krakow
My review
When Anna's father does not come home one day during the Nazi regime, she is unsure what to do. Then she meets the Swallow Man, a mysterious man who takes her on a journey throughout the country.

Kafka on the Shore
Any and all Haruki Murakami novels
Setting: Japan
Kafka on the Shore review
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World review
I have yet to meet a Murakami novel that I don't like, and Murakami tends to place all of his stories in his native Japan, which always sounds like a lovely place.

Growing Up bin Laden: Osama's Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World
Growing Up bin Laden by Najwa bin Laden
Setting: Afghanistan
Najwa bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden's wives, along with her son, Omar bin Laden, tell the story of their experiences as family members of Osama bin Laden, and of their eventual escape to America. This is an incredibly interesting look into a harsh and complex man and his family.

Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Setting: Japan
This book is just flawless. As the title says, it is basically the story of a young woman who becomes a geisha and it tells of her personal struggles and experiences - it's a must-read, I promise.

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Setting: Spain
By far one of the most gorgeously written books-about-books that I can't get enough of. It is, essentially, about a man tracking down lost books, but it is also so much more than that and it is filled with absolutely gorgeous prose.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Setting: Pakistan
My review
This is a short but heavy novel that takes place in a cafe in Lahore between a elder Pakistani man and an American visitor. Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is also a great book set in Pakistan, and one that I would also recommend.

Funny Boy
Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
Setting: Sri Lanka
This was actually part of the writing course syllabus for a class I took a few years back at University, but it really stuck with me. Funny Boy centers around a young Indian boy who struggles to accept his homosexuality in the midst of his strict anti-homosexual and racist society, as well during a tense civil war.

Black Chalk
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
Setting: England
My review
Six Oxford friends devise a game of consequences to entertain them throughout the year, but the stakes grow much higher and have a much greater effect on their lives than they could have imagined. This was a five-star read for me. 

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Setting: Vietnam
This book is still about Americans, but the entire story basically takes place in Vietnam, so I'm assuming it fits into this category. This is a striking Vietnam War story that continues to haunt me because of its blunt, intense description of the war, but also it's incredible storytelling and writing style.

The End of Mr. Y
The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
Setting: England
This book is so hard to describe, so here's the opening blurb from Goodreads: 'A cursed book. A missing professor. Some nefarious men in gray suits. And a dreamworld called the Troposphere?' This is an extremely enjoyable and unique read.

Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite books set outside of the U.S.?

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