Archive | December, 2014

2014: A Year of Reading in Review

31 Dec

A few of you might remember my book review round-up from last year. I decided to make a similar list this year and reflect on all of the fantastic books I read.

I started out the year with a goal of reading 35 books. I’m pleased to say that I was able to accomplish this goal, despite six weeks of travel during the year and a few employment changes which threw my schedule off.

The year started with a bunch of books I found on NetGalley, a resource for bloggers looking for free advance copies of books to review, and I found quite a few gems, including Shattered Veil (Rebel Wing) by Tracy Banghart and later in the year its sequel, Storm Fall. Some of the NetGalley books weren’t quite as promising, such as the first book on the list below.

NetGalley is an excellent resource, but the lure of paper and ink is too strong for me, and I ended up going back to paper books for (most) of the rest of the year. I read quite a few sequels, including Witchstruck and Witchfall, books 2 and 3 of the Tudor Witch Trilogy, plus The Caller, the final book in the Shadowfell Trilogy, and the second book in the Scarlet series, Lady Thief.

Juliet Marillier appears to have been my favourite author this year–I read five of her books across three different series. The only other repeats were Victoria Lamb and Tracy Banghart, with two books each.

My favourite book this year was most likely Shattered Veil (Rebel Wing) by Tracy Banghart. She was an indie author who very deservedly got picked up by Alloy Entertainment; her books are excellent, and I can’t wait for the sequel to Storm Fall!

In 2015 I’m going to maintain my goal of 35 books since it worked well for me this year. We’ll see how I go–it would not surprise me at all to learn that 2015 will be filled with just as many disruptions as 2014 was. I am most looking forward to the releases of a few sequels: Lion Heart (Scarlet #3) by A.C. Gaughen, Shadowscale (Seraphina #2) by Rachel Hartmann, and SUPPOSEDLY The Gift of Power (Exile #1) by Tamora Pierce… but you’ll notice that last one was in LAST year’s hopes and dreams (then titled Arram), so who knows. I’ve been waiting since 2006, I guess I can wait a little longer.

Here’s to a new year!

Books I Read in 2014:

  1. Defy by Sara B. Larson *
  2. The Long Way by Michael Corbin Ray and Therese Vannier ***
  3. Endless by Amanda Gray ***
  4. The Commodore’s Daughter by Jaime Brazil **
  5. Quintspinner by Dianne Greenlay *
  6. The Tale of Mally Biddle by M.L. LeGette *
  7. Shattered Veil (Rebel Wing) by Tracy E. Banghart *****
  8. Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn ****
  9. The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood ***
  10. Set in Stone by Linda Newbery ****
  11. Lady Thief (Scarlet #2) by A.C. Gaughen ****
  12. Legacy of the Clockwork Key by Kristin Bailey *
  13. A Taste of Lightning by Kate Constable *
  14. City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster ***
  15. Witchfall (Tudor Witch #2) by Victoria Lamb ****
  16. Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl *****
  17. Copper Magic by Julia Mary Gibson ****
  18. A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz *****
  19. Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters #1) by Juliet Marillier ****
  20. Son of the Shadows (Sevenwaters #2) by Juliet Marillier ****
  21. The Caller (Shadowfell #3) by Juliet Mariller ***
  22. Witchrise (Tudor Witch #3) by Victoria Lamb ***
  23. The Kiss of Deception (Remnant Chronicles #1) by Mary E. Pearson ****
  24. The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry ***
  25. The Mind’s Eye by K.C. Finn ****
  26. Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters #3) by Juliet Marillier ****
  27. Cattra’s Legacy by Anna Mackenzie ****
  28. Promised (Birthmarked #3) by Caragh M. O’Brien ***
  29. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier *****
  30. His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik ****
  31. Storm Fall (Rebel Wing #2) by Tracy Banghart *****
  32. The Thief (Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner ***
  33. The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones (and Ursula Jones) ****
  34. The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman ***
  35. The Witch of Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper ****

Book Review: The Witch of Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

30 Dec

witchofsaltandstormAvery Roe is a witch. Or at least she should be, if she could unlock the magic within her. Stolen from her grandmother’s cottage by her mother, Avery has been sheltered from magic. But her grandmother is fading, and someone must continue the Roe Witch line–the sailors on Prince Island depend on magical protection at sea. But when Avery’s ability to interpret dreams tells her of her own death, it seems there is no hope left. Unless a tattooed boy with magic of his own can break her mother’s curse before it’s too late.

Oh, my my my… I don’t know where to start. I’ll say that this was going to be my favourite book of the year.

The Good:

This book is exceptionally well written. I read other reviews that stated that they would have preferred more action. It certainly is a more narrative book, but that’s the sort I love, especially when done correctly. This book was literary. It was a study in what it means to be a good writer: so many beautiful descriptions and sensory details and little analogies–I’m pretty sure there’s more to this book than I was able to get out of it on a first read. Honestly, I was reminded a bit of Patricia C. Wrede who manages these things so excellently that I didn’t think I’d ever find someone quite as good.

Avery herself was an incredible main character. I loved her. She went after what she wanted and made plenty of mistakes along the way and was horribly disappointed at the outcome. She was real. She was refreshing.

The plot kept me turning pages. Not only was it interesting and a bit different from what I normally read, but I could practically hear the clock ticking on Avery’s time. Plus, the ending is unexpected–at least for YA.

The Bad:

The romance. The romance is really a key point in the plot, which makes it a romance I can get behind (if you follow this blog, you know I can get pretty critical of some romances!). But in my opinion, it happened too fast, and the boy who stole Avery’s heart was not developed nearly enough for my liking. If we had gotten to know him a bit better, I think the romance could have soared.

Pet peeve alert. I hate, hate, HATE reading books in present tense. My argument is this: books are stories that are written down. If they have been written down, they have already happened. If they have already happened, they should not be written in present tense. Obviously, the amount of present tense you’ll find these days in YA fiction shows that I’m pretty alone in this opinion, but it doesn’t stop present tense from grating on my nerves.

When an early chapter of Salt and Storm was written in present tense, I panicked and flipped to a page in the middle just to make sure I hadn’t been duped. Sigh of relief–that chapter was only in present tense because it was a dream. Later, other dreams were also written in present tense. This, I can stomach. It’s a way of differentiating between what’s a dream and what isn’t without using other transitions. Fine, because it had a purpose.

But the sudden switch on page 289 to present tense, which was maintained through the rest–nearly a third–of the book? I was tearing. my. hair. out.

My pet peeve aside, the previous use of present tense showed that the author MUST have been intending some deeper meaning with its usage in the last third. The rest of the writing is too smart for this to have been thrown in without reason. But whatever she was aiming for, she missed her mark with me. Clearly, the rest of the book was not a dream. Not a sleep-dream, anyway. Was it a remark on how Avery was accomplishing her life-long dreams? But then I thought the present tense should start even later. How she was in her dream, the one that set the plot into action? I think this is the most likely, but it was slow to click, and I honestly think it’s a statement that flew over the heads of most readers. But then again, other people don’t seem to be as sensitive to present tense as me.

Anyway, I still gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. If present tense doesn’t bother you, don’t be swayed by my negative comments–this really was an excellent book. But if it annoys you as much as it annoys me, beware.

Book Review: The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart #1) by Philip Pullman

27 Dec

rubyinthesmokeWhen Sally’s father dies in what appears to be a simple boat accident, she receives a mysterious letter from someone unknown mentioning something called “The Seven Blessings.” But when she mentions that to one of her father’s former coworkers, he drops dead. Sally finds herself in the middle of a mystery she has to solve, but there are people working against her, such as the dangerous Mrs. Holland and her cronies. With the help of a photographer, an actress, and an opium addict, Sally must find the ruby at the center of it all before it’s too late.

I’ve been wanting to read this for a while as Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is among my favorite series of all time. It took me a couple of tries, honestly, because the beginning of the book was a bit “dense” for my mood. The narration is a different style and jumps from person to person, making it difficult at times to keep up with who’s who and what’s going on.

That said, it’s Philip Pullman we’re talking about, so the writing itself is wonderful. Brilliant descriptions that take you back in time to an opium-rich London. Dialogue that changes in style depending on the person speaking. Characters who are engaging, likable (or not), and with motive. It all adds up to a pretty enjoyable read.

[SPOILER ALERT BELOW]

My biggest issue, once I got used to the narrative style, was the ending. It just wasn’t satisfying. It felt, in fact, quite rushed. Maybe I’m missing something–but after all that work setting up this mystery and giving Sally clues to find the ruby, she comes to the realization that she really MUST find the ruby and Rosa’s like, “Oh, don’t worry, Jim found it ages ago, I was going to tell you…”

WHAT? After all that, Sally didn’t get the satisfaction of finding out where this thing was for herself? And figuring out other things based on the opium dream of events that happened when she was a baby… I’m sorry, but it all seemed a bit of a cop-out. I had higher expectations.

That said, I WILL likely be reading the second book in the series with the hope that it’s a bit better than the first. It’s a worthwhile read particularly from a writer’s standpoint (Philip Pullman can do some awesome things with words!) but be prepared for an unsatisfying ending.

Book Review: The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones (and Ursula Jones)

10 Dec

IslandsofChaldeaAileen is the youngest in a magical family, so she always thought she was supposed to be magical too. But she seems to have failed her initiation–and that isn’t even the biggest of her problems. Soon she and her aunt are sent off to fulfill a prophecy to lift the magical barrier surrounding Logra, the largest of the Islands of Chaldea. But even though they’ve been told they’re fated to achieve their goal, everything seems to be going wrong. It remains up to Aileen to save the day, with the help of an ugly cat, a boy from Logra, a holy man, and a hot air balloon.

I was astounded to come across this in the library the other day. Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite authors, and when she passed away in 2011 I was heartbroken. She was hugely talented, weaving magical tales filled with intricate details that seemed to come alive and certainly enchanted my 10-year-old self. The Lives of Christopher Chant, Howl’s Moving Castle, and A Tale of Time City in particular are high on my “favourite books” list.

This one was left unfinished at the time of Diana’s death, and was finished up by her sister Ursula and published earlier this year. It is definitely one of her younger stories and I felt it didn’t contain as much depth of character as her other books, but the world was still richly magical and the plot was fast-paced and tied together nicely.

I admit I was reading with an eye for the place where Ursula took over. I’ll never know if I found it, of course, but I thought there was a bit of a shift around page 190 (would love to hear other guesses in the comments below! An earlier guess was page 118–I can’t remember why–but that seemed almost too early). Certainly by the very end I could tell that it wasn’t Diana writing anymore, but that was only because I was conscious of it–it’s a fairly seamless transition. Certainly younger readers won’t pick up on anything. I thought Ursula did an admirable job of wrapping up her sister’s final story and I would love to encourage her to write more of her own; the talent seems to run in the family.

All in all, a surprising, enchanting story that left me spellbound until the end.

Book Review: The Thief (Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner

4 Dec

TheThiefGen is a thief, and as thieves so often are, he’s in prison. When he’s offered an opportunity to escape prison (at least for a little while) by stealing something for the King of Sounis, he’s forced into the chance. He spends his days traveling with the king’s magus, two useless boys, and a guard. No one will tell him where they’re going or what he’s meant to be stealing. But Gen has his own secrets, too, and it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do next.

I rated this book a 4/5 on Goodreads. To be honest, I think that’s a bit high. I think I was intimidated by the silver Newbery Honor medal on the cover.

I’ll start with the good: it is quite an interesting story, and Gen is a fantastic narrator–smart, witty, sarcastic, full of fire–I loved him from the first few pages.

However.

This wasn’t great as a fantasy novel. The world was not developed enough. Things that were happening in these countries were not expounded upon, just mentioned in passing. The time period seemed a bit mixed up (the author notes in the “Extras” section that there’s not specific date in our world that correlates). Much as I loved Gen, he and the rest of the characters weren’t developed very much either. When a couple of characters died, I was like, “Well, that happened.” I’d prefer to feel a tug at my heartstrings, not apathy.

I think a lot of this development was sacrificed for the “big reveal” at the end (which I admittedly did see coming, but I’m rarely surprised!). Rather than risk telling too much, the author told too little. I might have been more impressed if I knew that it didn’t have to be this way. The more recent The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen had some similar elements and a similar “big reveal” and did it much better, in my opinion.

Still, this was an entertaining book and for all of my complaints I won’t hesitate to grab the sequels when I can.

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