Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Top Ten Books I've Read in 2016

For the most part, this year has been rather lackluster book-wise in comparison to where I was this time last year. Last year I'd already read what ended up being my favourite books of the year. (In fact my end of year list was practically the same as my half-year.) It's not that I haven't read a lot of good books so far, I just haven't read many great books so far. Hence me highlighting them now - I'm not expecting most of these to make it to my end of year list, but they are worth highlighting!

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Only Ever Yours

Thanks to Kirsty for putting this book on my radar!  If I hadn't read The Handmaid's Tale multiple times, and this was my first experience with the subject matter this probably would make end of the year list! It's even bleaker than The Handmaid's Tale, and while it tackles the same concepts, author chose to focus on different aspects (I.e body image and mental health) which made it refreshing. I highly recommend reading this author - if you can brave the emotional trauma.

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen, #1)

This was so fun! I can't WAIT for the next book to come out! I'm a big Alison Goodman fan, and this is very different from the other books I've read by her. 

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South

Ah the swoons! It's like Jane Austen if she wrote 50 years later and focused on the working man instead of the gentility. There were so many issues Gaskell looked at from multiple angles that still feel so relevant today. Plus of course the swoons, although my heart was not satisfied by the very short swoon confessions at the end, but that's ok. I can watch the miniseries again if I need heart palpitations.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

I really loved this one. If you're looking for a book with diversity where a character isn't entirely defined by said reason, look no further. This was funny, and heart breaking, and so, so real. I may even reread this one I enjoyed it so much!

The Bone Knife by Intisar Khanani

The Bone Knife

So you've probably seen me mention Intisar Khanani on the blog a few times - but trust me, it's not nearly as many as she deserves. Of all her works (and I read them ALL this year, but I'm limiting myself to one per author) this is my favourite. Which was honestly a surprise since I don't tend to like short stories much, but this one is perfect and I love it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)

Oh god this book. Of all the books on this list, this is the only one I am 99% sure will be on my end of the year list. It pretty well destroyed me, I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing, but it was unique and basically my brain goes AGH FEELINGS every time I think about it for more than 2 seconds so I'm going to not talk about it any more.

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

Magic Study (Study, #2)

Soooo I have had a very, very, VERY rocky relationship with this series. That being said, whatever I may think about the third book in her second trilogy of this series, it doesn't change the fact that the fast paced nonstop action of this series paired with the really interesting world building and politics of this book in particular had me super addicted to this series.

Attack of the Ninja Frogs by Ursula Vernon

Attack of the Ninja Frogs (Dragonbreath, #2)

Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath books have become a staple choice for dinner reading with the kids. I think we've read at least four, maybe five at this point but so far the second book is hands down the funniest (in an already funny and wonderfully informative series).

Sleeping With Her Enemy by Jenny Holiday

Sleeping with Her Enemy (49th Floor, #2)

A romance novel with an Asian (well, half anyway) man and a white woman? Whaaaat? It was hot, and hate to love, and I'll take half-Chinese if I can't get Korean in my romance novels. Particularly since Asian men of any nationality (race? I'm not actually sure which word makes sense here) in a romance novel are hard to find (especially paired with a non-Asian partner). So if any of you have recommendations on that front...

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakani

The Strange Library

The impossible has happened! I found a Murakami book I actually liked! I even really liked it! It's cheeky and surreal and basically the few things I had liked about his previous writing without all the things I hadn't liked. It showed he actually had a sense of humour which helped greatly too. I think his writing style is really well suited to shorter works, so I'll likely read his shorter works from here on out.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Day in the Life #43: In which Elizabeth has all the links

Linking up with Kimba from The Caffeinated Reviewer

This will be a decidedly unglamorous post after my last one, but that's probably enough excitement for a whole year so that's alright!  Since my last post I've become 26, so I'm officially now in my late twenties.  I'm feeling surprisingly ok with that - I've hit the time in my life where birthdays are officially less exciting than they were when I was a kid.  But 26 isn't one of the BIG birthdays so it doesn't have any added pressure, which is nice.  I had a low key birthday, but I grabbed a drink with some friends and it was loads of fun.  Sejoon also bought me a SUPER EXCITING birthday present!!! I am now a proud owner of AN XBOX ONE!!!!!  I only have three games so far - Just Dance 2016 (which is one of the reasons I'd been thinking of getting a console - it's just so damn fun! And I get a good workout from it), Assassin's Creed Unity, and The Witcher 3 which is like....guys.  I didn't know video games could be like this.  It's so detailed and fun and there's just so bloody much to do! And the story is super intense.  Basically, if you get the opportunity to play it, you should.  

The weather here has been pretty nice so Sejoon and I went hiking today.  We did a short hike - probably only 4 or 5 miles, but it mostly followed a river so it was scenic.  I did have the misfortune of choosing the ONE day they were hosting a cycling race for a hundred or so cyclists, but they were all very friendly, and luckily I could make my way mostly down back baths so we didn't get mowed down by a cyclist.  Also this happened:

Around the middle of the hike we found this giant field which is everything Sejoon has wanted for the past couple of weeks so he got really excited and reenacted "The Hills Are Alive" from The Sound of Music.  (Also ever since that horror film The Hills Have Eyes came out it's ruined the title of that song for me. BOOOO).

In any case we had fun, and also we didn't get killed by cyclists or horses, so that's good.  And now, as promised in my last post, lots of links!!

Nonbookish Links

- In a week full of bad news, it's great to hear that California is making sexual consent education mandatory in high schools.
- Anyone watching the Tonys tonight? You're going to want to watch James Corden's Carpool Karoake from this week for sure then!
- Two names: Abbie Mills and Sleepy Hollow. Spoilers to follow.  And also probably rage. Lots and lots of rage.  I remember back when this was my favourite show.

Bookish Links

- Gillian Anderson has been cast in the American Gods adaption!!!! 
- More casting news: Elisabeth Moss is Offred in The Handmaid's Tale (aka one of my favourite books of all time)
- You guys KNOW I'm all over the Tamora Pierce news - she's just wrapped up the first book in her Numair trilogy!
- IT'S FINALLY HAPPENING!!! Two of my most awaited books are going to be published this fall (no, not Abarat *grumbles*) - Scott Lynch's next Gentleman Bastards book The Thorn of Emberlain and Garth Nix's next Old Kingdom book (LIRAEL AND NICK FINALLY IT'S BEEN LIKE A DECADE I'VE BEEN WAITING SO LONG FOR THIS BOOK) Goldenhand.
- Tessa talks about how much the interpretation and direction of a performance matters in interpreting Shakespeare. (So how about go see some plays instead of just reading them if you can)

Blogging Links

- Heather (hilariously) compares to compares two different con worlds - the world of book cons, and the world of vet cons.
- Mitchii talks about why she loves being a multilingual reader.

Ok, so actually this list ended up not being super long, but guys I'm trying to type this while the Tonys are on AND LIN MANUEL MIRANDA JUST WON GUYS AND I CAN'T TYPE ANY MORE BYE.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Memories of Ash Release Week Blitz + Giveaway + Review

Regular readers of my blog know that I never do blog tours and the like - it's just generally not something I'm interested in doing.  But as soon as I saw that Intisar Khanani was releasing the next book in her Sunbolt Chronicles, I knew I was going to do whatever it took to help promote it!  

In the past six months I went from not having read any of her books to now having read ALL of her books - they're that good.  The writing is gorgeous, the world building is layered, and the characters are so human and flawed.  Looking for diversity in your fantasy?  Look no further.  I really can't recommend any of her books more (because you can bank on all of the above in any thing she's ever written), and if you're looking for somewhere to start, The Sunbolt Chronicles are definitely worth checking out.  The first book is actually a novella - and my only real complaint was that it felt like it needed more.  It packed so much action and world and characters and I just wanted a little more space to explore all of that.  And now here we are!  As much as I can say without spoiling the first book, I felt like Memories of Ash took everything I wanted and liked from the first book and just built on it.  We got more world, more magic, more Hitomi (and lots here that I can't talk about because of spoilers).  It's action packed and I have to say, in both books the plot never went where I had assumed they were going to go - in a very refreshing way.  I don't know what else I can do to convince you to pick this series up (other than hey look! There's a giveaway down below so go check that out!), so I will leave you with this checklist:

Do you like fantasy novels? Read this series.
Do you like fantasy with different communities in them, particularly ones that aren't Western based? Read this series.
Do you like characters who feel like three-dimensional people? Read this series.
Do you like your characters to not all be white? Read this series.
Do you like beautiful prose? Read this series.
Do you like Robin Hood/band of heroic thieves? Read this series.
Do you like magic with real consequences? Read this series.

Do you get what I'm saying here? READ. THIS. SERIES.

You know. Just in case I wasn't stating the obvious there.  And now I leave you with all the information and means to go do it: (with a warning to skip the summary underneath the picture below so you don't read spoilers, although it wouldn't be the end of the world)

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

                                              Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble |  Apple  |  Kobo


I start forward, my eyes on the bundle ahead of us. I cannot quite make out what it is.  Something sticks out from the bulk of it, reaching across the floor like an errant branch, dried twigs.

Filled with foreboding, I draw closer, straining to make out the thing in the light of the glowstone. The mage slows beside me. My throat closes up. I stare, frozen mid-step, at the shape stretched out before me: a body that is nothing more than papery skin curled over the brittle bones within. A mummified corpse, preserved by the endless heat, untouched by nature, its clothing long since dissolved away. Its bones protrude obscenely: each rib tracing a line around its chest, the pelvic and hip bones encased so tightly in skin that the gaps, the natural spaces formed by the bone, seem translucent, as if the light were shining through thin parchment.

My stomach tightens into a ball. I swallow hard, forcing down the bile in my throat. The skull bears no expression, dull teeth showing through leathery lips, the eyes long since shriveled away. But that hand, outstretched... A plea. Or a single, hopeless attempt to escape death.

Beside me, the mage breathes a curse.

Other books in this series:

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

About the Author:

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.

Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy.  Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles, an epic series following a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms.

                                                           Website | Goodreads | Facebook Twitter

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Co-Review: Think of England - Part 2

Once again, I'm joined by the lovely Yash from The Book Wars as we wrap up our review of Think of England!  You can read the first half of the review here.

Chapters 9-16


Y: While the first half of the novel was fun to get introduced to the characters and the world, I think I preferred this half of the novel because Curtis and da Silva really seem to come into their own. It feels less like I’m reading about Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane and more like, hey, there’s Curtis and da Silva! Hope they get to cuddle! You know? Also, remember those ladies that Curtis made snap judgements about? Oh, yeah, they are kick-ass and Curtis owes them so much.

E: I love the lady characters SO MUCH.  I really want to read a book about them, actually - I’m going to have to look up and see if she wrote a book about them (it seems doubtful, but a girl can dream).  Otherwise Curtis and da Silva progress in a fairly expected way - Curtis has a lot of self-reflection, da Silva becomes more open to intimacy so good things happen.  But really, the lady characters are THE BEST (Other than da Silva, of course).


Y: I also think Curtis develops in some interesting ways over the novel. As someone who is the closet without really knowing that he is in the closet, Curtis sort of fumbles his way through his relationship (if it can be called that) with da Silva. Just as you can display racial prejudice while being a person of colour, I suppose one could be gay and still have to fight years of heteronormative biases. I think we get to see Curtis grow on that front and I appreciate that. Much of these developments (and shortcomings) are revealed during romantic interludes with da Silva and we get to see how their relationship grows (or suffers) as a direct result. I still can’t tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

E: The first half of the second half (I feel like there must be some way to phrase this better) is where the relationship really shines for me.  Da Silva is at his most vulnerable, Curtis gets to be strong and protective, and it becomes significantly more about physical attraction at this point, which is what I had really been waiting for. There’s cuddling and cute moments and it’s perfection.  The epilogue kind of lost me a bit - that last encounter reminded me too much of all the things I hadn’t liked about the second encounter, and it kind of felt like the character development regressed because of that, despite all the progress Curtis has made in self awareness.


Y: The ending is ridiculous. So. Very. Ridiculous. Like, Quentin Tarantino would have shook his head and gone, maybe that was a bit much? But I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes and giggling, so obviously I didn’t hate it. I just wanted Curtis and da Silva to be okay. TBH, I wouldn’t even have minded if a giant unicorn had come trampling through the fields and crushed their enemies. So, plot-wise, don’t expect anything mind-blowing, but do be prepared to laugh at the ridiculous.

E: Yeahhhh...so if I had plausibility issues with the set up this ending is beyond ridiculous hahahahaha.  I mean it’s fun I guess? A bit bloodthirsty for my taste in historical romance, but to each her own I suppose.  Basically at this point I was just so happy da Silva and Curtis got all their cuteness in that I was ready for the main plot-line to be over.


Y: So much representation--and most of it done well, I feel--we have a closeted, disabled Englishman protagonist and his romantic interest is an openly gay, Jewish man from Spain. We also have a minor mention of ladies who are quite possibly a couple. It is hilarious and so full of innuendo--I laugh for five straight minutes at the mention of “buttering a roll with great care”--and it is set in the Edwardian era, which, I mean, maybe you want some historical fiction set in England that isn’t all white and all straight? I know I do. And, while this is marked as the first book in a series, I think the ending was pretty conclusive and doesn’t leave any loose threads.

E: This is more or less exactly what I’ve been looking for in my historical romances lately: non-white or gay characters (this is my first non-hetero relationship for historical romance actually).  And I have to say, as far as first books in that category go, I would recommend it.  (Also if you are looking for non-white, might I recommend Beverly Jenkins).  I would say this is for people who like: Edwardian era romance, alpha male and/or snarky male pairings, non-white, and/or disabled characters.


Y: My biggest issue with the book was the epilogue. I suppose Curtis kissing da Silva is meant to be passionate, but it mostly read like assault. Granted, da Silva reciprocates enthusiastically almost immediately, but it is an uncomfortable way to properly begin their relationship. It is also very uncomfortable to read. (Maybe da Silva feels he doesn’t have a choice? Maybe he would regret it after? I mean, obviously, they are Meant To Be in this book, but IRL reciprocation doesn’t always mean yes. Especially if you are holding them down.) I hope K. J. Charles does better in terms of consent and passion in the next one.

E: I have similar qualms - a few of the scenes were too much like assault and it made me a bit uncomfortable.  Particularly the epilogue because he’s inserting himself into da Silva’s life in every aspect.  I also think you can’t be a stickler for details - plot-wise you definitely need some suspension of belief.  Overall, though, I was pretty pleased with this book and would definitely try another book by K.J. Charles (particularly if they are about aforementioned two ladies!)