Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

*Empire of Sand is now available!*

Empire of Sand
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Orbit, 2018
Paperback. 496 pages.

About Empire of Sand:

"A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy. 

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited. 

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda. Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…'"

Empire of Sand is a Mughal India-inspired fantasy debut that combines beautiful worldbuilding, a highly riveting culture, and a varied cast of characters that left me hanging onto every word. I had been eagerly anticipating the chance to read this book for quite a while, so when I received a copy from Orbit I was thrilled, and I was not disappointed in the slightest--this book was amazing. It was right about the time when I realized that I was subconsciously reading this book slowly because I didn't want it to end that I knew this would be a winner for me. 

One of the biggest things that set this book apart from others for me was the main protagonist, Mehr, who is probably one of the best characters I've read in a while. Mehr is strong. She is not strong in the cliche'd 'strong female protagonist' way, but she is strong because she has conviction, she fully believes in her culture, and she will not bend to things that go against her morals or that treat people poorly. Because of this, I was constantly impressed with her decisions and how she decided to move forward with her life, something that I don't often find myself doing in books. Mehr has had a privileged life in some ways, such as growing up in a palace-like place and being the son of a governor, but what I liked about her was that she was very much aware of her privileged lifestyle and did not allow that to be ignored even thought she also had many struggles because the people in her land have such disdain for the magic in her blood and what she stands for. Mehr is resilient, always finding hope in places where others, such as another wonderful character in this named Amun, can see none.

The world itself was something else that I really liked about this book, and the only complaint that I have is that there wasn't more of it. I hope that in future books we are given the opportunity to explore more of this world and visit new places because the foundation laid for this world is incredibly intriguing. I love the dessert setting, the South Asian influence, and the general ruling structure of the world--one mortal emperor and one godlike ruler--and I look forward to seeing how the balance is shifted and dealt with in the next book.

This is a book that definitely moves at a slower pace than your usual high action fantasy, but that somehow still creates a story  that felt packed with engaging scenes and a plot that I desperately wanted to know more about. The pacing starts out strong with an introduction to Mehr and the basic setup of the world, and from there it continues on at a very solid pace, slowly building up anticipation for what would happen next. I can see where some might say the middle of the book felt a bit slow, but I found that the it provided an abundance of input in the way of character development and more political and magical development. Suri's writing itself is also beautiful; it's simple but elegant in its reading and I found this book impossibly easy to sink into every time I picked the book up.

One last area that I thought was exceptionally well done was with the religion and culture of the world. In particular, I loved learning about the Amrithi culture and the rites that Mehr and Amun performed; the dancing element was so beautiful to read and I found myself almost falling into the movements in my head while I read them. Everything about both this culture and the rest of the world felt so rich and full of thoughtfulness that I can tell Suri really put a great deal of effort and care into her development of it.

Overall, I have given Empire of Sand five stars! I couldn't help but fall in love with the world and the characters and I am anxiously awaiting the next installment. 

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

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Friday, November 16, 2018

Standalone Speculative Fiction Recommendations

The speculative fiction umbrella, which includes fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, etc.. is an area full of great books, but a lot of them tend to be in some sort of series. Standalones seems few and far between in fantasy sometimes and since I'm always seeing people looking for some good standalones, I thought I'd put together a small sample of some great standalones! I had to really weed this list down so it wasn't too long, but perhaps I'll make a 'Part 2' at some point with more. Also, I'd like to note that these are all books that, to the extent of my knowledge, are currently seen as standalones. With that, let's dive in!

The Book of Lost Things Miranda and Caliban Space Opera Spinning Silver

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly: If you like dark fairy tale themes and settings or some portal fantasy, then The Book of Lost Things might be right up your alley. If you've followed my blog for any amount of time, you might also be wondering, "Can you make one list without mentioning this book!?" And the answer is no, no I cannot.
Amazon | Book Depository

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey: This is more in the low fantasy realm, but it's still a deeply magic literary fantasy by the master author of the Kushiel's Dart series that I love. I really enjoyed this "The Tempest"-inspired retelling and thought it was beautifully written.
Amazon | Book Depository

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente: Here's a sci-fi book that really has no other way to be described than as extremely crazy, but also ridiculously fun. Valente basically wrote this book off of the main idea of "Eurovision in space," and if that doesn't tell you what to expect, nothing will.
Amazon | Book Depository

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: You've probably seen Spinning Silver at least somewhere in the book world lately, but that's for a good reason. It's a beautiful, expertly written fantasy following three young women from different areas of life, but who all struggle with similar themes.
Amazon | Book Depository

Tiger Lily Munmun The Glass Town Game The Changeling

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson: I read this book a few years ago, but I still think about it fondly and look forward to a re-read one day. This is a Peter Pan-inspired retelling narrated by Tinkerbell herself. It's beautiful, imaginative, a little heartbreaking, and something that I always like to recommend to people.
Amazon | Book Depository

Munmun by Jesse Andrews: Have you ever wondered what the world might look like if people's physical size reflected their wealth and status in society? Munmun takes that idea and runs with it! This was a surprisingly heartbreaking story that follows a young boy named Warner who wants nothing more than to increase his and his family's way of life, but ends up on quite the rollercoaster of an adventure.
Amazon | Book Depository

The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente: This is a middle grade portal type fantasy in which the Bronte children, Anne, Charlotte, Emily, and Branwell, are whisked away into a world in which a game they made up is brought to life--and they're now living in it. As one can expect from Valente's writing, this story is ridiculously imaginative and has something new to explore with every page, from the whimsical to the more serious.
Amazon | Book Depository

The Changeling by Victor Lavalle: This is a contemporary fantasy that reads sort of like a modern day dark New York fairy tale. The main character, Apollo, is an antiquarian book dealer whose life is turned upside down when his wife begins have difficulties after the birth of their son. This is definitely a weird one with a few loose endings, but it's also captivating.
Amazon | Book Depository

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch The Goblin Emperor (The Goblin Emperor, #1) Under the Skin Gather the Daughters

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman: Who doesn't enjoy some humorous fantasy about the end of the world? Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are unstoppable forces that combined their genius into one exceptional and entertaining novel. Plus, it's currently in the process of being adapted into a TV mini-series set to release next year!
Amazon | Book Depository

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: Political fantasy at its finest, The Goblin Emperor will have you continuously turning pages. There are some steampunk elements in here as well that really contribute to some fantastic world-building. If you like court intrigue, this is for you.
Amazon | Book Depository

Under the Skin by Michel Faber: If someone asked me, "what's one of the weirdest fantasy books you've ever read?" this would be one of my top answers. I don't even know how to describe the plot of this book, but suffice to say it's a contemporary low fantasy that is certainly thought-provoking. It was also made into a movie apparently, though I've not seen and don't really plan to, so I can't attest to how well it holds up the book.
Amazon | Book Depository

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed: I couldn't make a speculative fiction book complete with a dystopian-esque story in it. I'm not sure that I would completely classify this as dystopian since it is mainly focused on cult-like group that live on an isolated island, but it sure feels that way. Plus, if I recall there are small hints that there was some great disaster in the rest of the world. Daughters in this society are essentially "wives-in-training" and there are strict breeding rules, limited knowledge, and so many more crazy things in place. It's definitely worth a read.
Amazon | Book Depository

The Graveyard Book Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook The Witches of New York The Gray House

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: This book about a boy named Nobody who grows up in a graveyard feels like a classic to me by this point in my life. There's something really endearing about the idea of a huge family of ghosts raising a toddler and doing their best to protect and educate him.
Amazon | Book Depository

Lost Boy by Christina Henry: I'm a sucker for Peter Pan-inspired stories (if you couldn't already tell) and this one focuses on Captain Hook himself (before he becomes the 'Captain' part) and takes a much darker turn than the story of Peter Pan. This has been one of my favorite 'origin stories' of Captain Hook and I was really impressed by where Henry took the story. I'd also recommend Lisa Jensen's Alias Hook if you like Captain Hook stories.
Amazon | Book Depository

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay: This is a historical/magical realism-type of fantasy about three young women working in a tea and sympathy shop. It's magical and full of so much interesting detail that really made me love entering this world each time I picked it up. There are a lot of things going on throughout this book, but McKay incorporates them well which makes for a great standalone.
Amazon | Book Depository

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan: Another weird one that I'm not entirely sure how to describe. I think it's best summed up from this excerpt from the synopsis: "an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths." It's a fantasy that's worth checking out.
Amazon | Book Depository

Have you read any of these books? What fantasy standalones do you love?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review: In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

In the Night Wood
In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Hardcover. 224 pages.

About In the Night Wood:

"'In this contemporary fantasy, the grieving biographer of a Victorian fantasist finds himself slipping inexorably into the supernatural world that consumed his subject. 

American Charles Hayden came to England to forget the past. 

Failed father, failed husband, and failed scholar, Charles hopes to put his life back together with a biography of Caedmon Hollow, the long-dead author of a legendary Victorian children's book, In the Night Wood. But soon after settling into Hollow's remote Yorkshire home, Charles learns that the past isn't dead. 

In the neighboring village, Charles meets a woman he might have loved, a child who could have been his own lost daughter, and the ghost of a self he thought he'd put behind him. 

And in the primeval forest surrounding Caedmon Hollow's ancestral home, an ancient power is stirring. The horned figure of a long-forgotten king haunts Charles Hayden's dreams. And every morning the fringe of darkling trees presses closer. 

Soon enough, Charles will venture into the night wood. 

Soon enough he'll learn that the darkness under the trees is but a shadow of the darkness that waits inside us all."

In the Night Wood is a contemporary fantasy with a strong premise that unfortunately fell flat for me in the end. It had moments of magic and intrigue, but these were somewhat rare when packed between a--at times--seemingly non-existent plot.

When Charles Hayden was a young boy, he stumbled upon a book called In the Night's Wood, a children's fairy tale book that, as many fairy tales tend to do, carried with it much darker themes and frightening images than most children would appreciate. This imagined book is where the story begins, how Charles eventually meets his wife, and how he eventually ends up living in the house of Caedmon Hollow the author of the infamous book itself. 

The made-up children's book In the Night Wood is the most interesting part of this entire storyline, along with the forest surrounding the Hollow estate. These elements are where the book shines with an unexplainable darkness tinged with magic and myth. There is a mystery at that heart of this story that Charles explores, a mystery that I found myself drawn to and looking forward to uncovering. At the beginning of various parts of the story, Bailey would insert an extract from the fictional In the Night Wood fairy tale that I loved and that I wish I could just sit and read in its entirety. 

Another positive component to this book is Bailey's writing itself, as the prose itself is consistently beautiful throughout the entire book. I knew from reading only the first few pages that whether the plot and characters were good or not, this book would still be well-written, and that is something that did hold true. I highlighted many passages within In the Night Wood and truly enjoyed Bailey's prose. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the story wasn't quite as engaging as those aspects. The story is as much a character study of Charles, his wife, and their marriage as it is a story about Caedmon Hollow and his story--if not more. I struggled with this because I do enjoy books that focus heavily on characters, but in this case it was simply too repetitive and monotonous for me to enjoy. I was hoping for much more to discover in this book, and instead I was met with a rather dry account of a grieving couple--not a bad thing, but not how this book was advertised.

Charles and his wife, Erin, are struggling with Charles' previous affair, the death of their young daughter, and now their struggling marriage that is the result of the former two events. I fully understand that losing one's child is a devastating, tragic event, and it's understandable that these two would be struggling. However, too much of this narrative was concerned with relentlessly commenting on their daughter--and not even on new things about their daughter, but rather the same ideas, the same images, the same sentiments. It was simply too monotonous to fully enjoy, and I became tired of Erin's stubbornness to accept any help offered. I wanted a little bit more development or insight rather than the same things mentioned over and over again.

The ending was both satisfying and lacking at the same time--I appreciate how things were wrapped up and the conclusions that were reached, but it also seemed to happen much too quickly. The story doesn't really have much forward motion throughout the book, so the climactic ending was both too long coming and too quickly taken care of. I wish that there had been a bit more content in the middle of the story to better prepare the story for the ending.

Overall, I ended up giving In the Night Wood 3.5 stars. Parts of this book I really loved, and parts were just tedious to get through. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind a slower paced back that still packs in some dark, imaginative fairy tale elements.

*I received a copy of In the Night Wood courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau

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 spotlight is:
The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau
 Publication Date: December 3rd, 2018
Endeavor Quill
430 pages
Pre-order: Amazon | Book Depository 

The BlueFrom Goodreads: 

In eighteenth century London, porcelain is the most seductive of commodities; fortunes are made and lost upon it. Kings do battle with knights and knaves for possession of the finest pieces and the secrets of their manufacture. 

For Genevieve Planché, an English-born descendant of Huguenot refugees, porcelain holds far less allure; she wants to be an artist, a painter of international repute, but nobody takes the idea of a female artist seriously in London. If only she could reach Venice. 

When Genevieve meets the charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse; if she learns the secrets of porcelain, he will send her to Venice. But in particular, she must learn the secrets of the colour blue… 

The ensuing events take Genevieve deep into England’s emerging industrial heartlands, where not only does she learn about porcelain, but also about the art of industrial espionage. 

With the heart and spirit of her Huguenot ancestors, Genevieve faces her challenges head on, but how much is she willing to suffer in pursuit and protection of the colour blue?
This sounds so interesting to me! This sounds like an exceptionally inventive historical fiction and I'm curious to find out what exactly these "secrets of the color blue are." Plus, blue does happen to be one of my favorite colors so I'm in!

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


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review: Crown (Manhunters #3) by Jesse Teller

Crown (The Manhunters, #3)
Crown (Manhunters #3) by Jesse Teller
Self-published, 2018
Ebook. 323 pages.

About Crown:

"Brody Bedlam, immortal source of chaos, has taken over the crime network of the oldest city in the nation, holding the mayor in his pocket and the citizens in fear. Rayph and his Manhunters move to usurp him, but the street war brings casualties Rayph cannot justify. With his crew unraveling and pressure mounting from the unsatisfied king, will this mission be Rayph’s end?"

It's a busy time of year and I have a lot of books for review lined up, so this week gets an extra review!

Crown is the third and final book in Jesse Teller's Manhunters series, and I must say it is goes out with a bang. I've previously read, enjoyed, and reviewed the first two books in this series, Song and Hemlock, and was thankful to have the opportunity to finish off the series and see how everything gets wrapped up.

We once again get to journey on with Rayph Ivoryfist in this latest installment, along with many of the existing characters that we've grown to love as well. I've had such a great time following the Manhunters group and I once again found myself immersed in this group and eager to follow their actions. In addition to the existing characters, a few new characters are introduced and I thought that they were incorporated smoothly into the story, adding even more personality to the existing cast of characters. What I particularly appreciate about Teller's writing is how much care he seems to put into his characters, both the good and the bad one, fleshing all of them out in a detailed manner. The development of these characters has definitely grown stronger with each book, and the villains were expertly created and made me interested in finding out more about them.

This series has been dark the entire time, but Crown explored new types of darkness, including the loss of some people close to Rayph. Teller depicted this particular topic with a deft hand and the way it was handled by Rayph and others felt very realistic. There is also just as much blood and violence as in the previous books, so it's safe to that Crown did not lose any of the intensity of the first two books, but instead continued on with the dark intensity established in prior books in this series. 

The last book in a series always has a lot of pressure attached to it because of everything it has to accomplish: wrapping up plot lines, taking care of characters, etc. In the end, I felt very satisfied after finishing this book. All of the major plot lines and issues were wrapped up in a really well-written manner that didn't feel rushed or thrown together at all. I wish certain areas and topics would have had a little more time to be explored, but on the whole I've enjoyed following the Manhunters throughout this crazy ride, and I do hope to see more from this world one day.

Overall, I've given Crown four stars!

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

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Monday, November 12, 2018

Review: Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater by Tade Thompson
Orbit, 2018
Paperback. 464 pages.

About Rosewater:
"Tade Thompson's Rosewater is the start of an award-winning, cutting edge trilogy set in Nigeria, by one of science fiction's most engaging new voices. 

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers. 

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn't care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future."

This was a fascinating book! However, this has proven to be a difficult review to write because it's hard to fully explain how things in this world work without writing pages and pages of information, but I'll do my best to discuss the structure itself and give you an idea of what to expect.

Rosewater is one of those books where the reader is thrown into things without a lot of explanation. As the novel progresses, the author slowly unfolds more and more information about both what is occurring in the present timeline as well as what occurred in the past that has built up to present events. I'm often mixed on my opinion of books that throw the reader into too much without providing much background information about anything that's going on, largely because I then often find myself focusing too much on being lost and not the story itself--but not so in this case. To prevent this, Thompson feeds the reader just enough information to keep them grounded without ever giving away too much or overwhelming the reader. Even though I felt a bit confused or uncertain at times, I was surprised at how sucked into this story I was--I didn't want to put the book down, and whenever I did I was yearning to pick it back up again and find out hat was going on in this crazy story.

The protagonist, Kaaro, is the sole perspective to tell the story, which I was very thankful for--sometimes I just get tired of multi-perspectives in fantasy and sci-fi an prefer to stay with one person. However, the chapters do alternate between various times in Kaaro's past and the present, and it is done so in a way that melds together really well and lets the story unfold at solid, steady pace. Kaaro is a character that I really grew to love throughout the story. He first came across as someone who is a bit indifferent to the world around him, but as the story gained momentum and more about his past and current life were explored, his personality really started to show through. He's someone with a rather dry humor that adds subtle personality to an otherwise potentially mundane world; he's both reckless and careful, which makes for a thrilling combination.

Thompson's writing style is what I think made this book the most engaging for me. It's mostly a rather blunt, simple style, but it has a certain amount of deftness and precise storytelling that makes it something surprisingly compelling. I could never quite put my finger on what it was about this book that made it so captivating, but Thompson somehow continuously touches on deep, thoughtful topics in a simple way, then sprinkles in a bit of dry irony or humor and suddenly I'm glued to the pages.  He can take the complicated and write it in a simple way that is excessively readable. I also really liked the detail that was seemingly paid to each and ever word and sentence in this book. I felt as though there were a lot of very subtle references, metaphors, or other meaningful phrases and ideas that were quietly sneaked into the book. 

As I mentioned before, the pacing was really well done. There's enough intensity to keep the reader engaged, but it also moves at a somewhat slower pace at times that gives the reader a chance the get their bearings and better understand what is going on. There was no excessive info-dumping, but I always felt as though I had enough information at each given scene. The last third or so of Rosewater really picked up speed and that was where things really started to get crazy. I did find myself feeling a bit lost at various points near the end, but I can't tell if that was just me or if other people might also find themselves a bit confused and it was purposefully that way. Despite that, the ending was still extremely well done and has left me dying for a sequel.

Overall, I've given Rosewater 4.5 stars! I was so close to giving it five stars and there is a high likelihood that after I eventually re-reading this I might just raise it to that five.

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

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Friday Face-Off: A Starry Sky

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.

I felt that it was time to join in another Friday Face-Off, so here we go!

This week's topic is:
“Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.” – a cover featuring a starry sky

The original topic for this week was for a book cover with a spider on it, but.. guys, I don't like spiders. Like I really, really hate them. I appreciate that they eat other bugs and are good guys overall, but I have a long, fraught history with them invading my house no matter what I do, so I'm not exactly inclined to pick up a book with a spider on it. But more importantly, I also simply couldn't find any covers with spiders on them from books I've read. I was hoping that one of the other Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets books might have a picture of Aragog on it, or The Hobbit might have one of those big spiders, but alas, I was out of luck. 

Because of this, I decided to go back into the archives of Friday Face-Off topics and pick one that I missed, so I went with a starry sky! I chose The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber because I didn't see a cover that fit this topic better than this one. Plus, I love this book. It's about a man who is basically offered a chance to travel to a new planet to interact with the alien species there and... the entire thing is a bit wacky. I highly recommend it.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things The Book of Strange New Things The Book of Strange New Things

US Hogarth HC || US Hogarth PB || Canadian HC

Kniha zvláštních nových vÄ›cí El Libro de las cosas nunca vistas Cartea lucrurilor noi È™i ciudate

Czech Edition || Spanish PB Edition || Romanian Edition

Imelike uute asjade raamat O livro das estranhas coisas novas El libro de las cosas nunca vistas

Estonian Edition || Portuguese Edition || Spanish HC Edition

My choice:

The Book of Strange New Things Kniha zvláštních nových vÄ›cí

My choice has to be with the US Hardcover with the dark starry background and hands reaching out. I think it lends a mysterious air to the book, but it also feels.. hopeful? yearning? curious? I like it. I think the Czech cover is rather lovely as well.

Which covers do you like best?

Buy it! Amazon Book Depository

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