The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Image result for the tiger and the wolf"In the bleak northern crown of the world, war is coming . . .

Maniye’s father is the Wolf clan’s chieftain, but she’s an outcast. Her mother was queen of the Tiger and these tribes have been enemies for generations. Maniye also hides a deadly secret. All can shift into their clan’s animal form, but Maniye can take on tiger and wolf shapes. She refuses to disown half her soul so escapes, rescuing a prisoner of the Wolf clan in the process. The killer Broken Axe is set on their trail, to drag them back for retribution.

The Wolf chieftan plots to rule the north and controlling his daughter is crucial to his schemes. However, other tribes also prepare for strife. Strangers from the far south appear too, seeking allies in their own conflict. It’s a season for omens as priests foresee danger and a darkness falling across the land. Some say a great war is coming, overshadowing even Wolf ambitions. A time of testing and broken laws is near, but what spark will set the world ablaze? (taken from Amazon)

I received this book as winner in a contest, courtesy of the author and Dave at the Write Reads.

Bleak in some ways, yet utterly compelling, this book is a masterpiece. It’s unlike many other fantasies that I’ve read. Instead of a linear story, where I have an idea of where things are going, this felt more like a window into a world. The story was less important than the book as a whole, if that makes sense.

In this world, humans can shift into animal shapes. It feels very tribal, in that there are clans and each clan can shift into only one shape (that of the clan’s animal totem). Maniye is an exception. She’s the daughter of the Wolf clan’s chief, but her mother was of the Tiger clan. Maniye can shift into both forms. This is an ability she hides, only known to herself and her clan’s priest, who is most definitely not on her “side.”

Instead of discussing where the story goes, I’m only going to say that in many ways it’s a coming-of-age tale. Maniye struggles with her identity, her messed-up relationship with her father, and finding her place in the world. The fact that the world features shape-shifters, and many fights, is a benefit to the reader.

The strength in the writing, for me, comes down to the excellent world-building. While the characters and story are interesting, the world is engrossing. I loved reading about the different tribes and how their lifestyles varied from each other. I especially liked the Laughing Men. The idea was so original!

This book will not be for everyone. It’s not your usual fantasy. It’s stark and without fantastical frills (if that makes sense). It is, however, incredibly good.

I highly recommend this book to fantasy readers who like fully-realized worlds, and don’t mind slower builds.

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington


As destiny calls, a journey begins.

 
It has been twenty years since the godlike Augurs were overthrown and killed. Now, those who once served them — the Gifted — are spared only because they have accepted the rebellion’s Four Tenets, vastly limiting their powers.

As a Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war lost before he was even born. He and others like him are despised. But when Davian discovers he wields the forbidden power of the Augurs, he and his friends Wirr and Asha set into motion a chain of events that will change everything.

To the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is…

And in the far north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. (taken from Amazon)

                     I could honestly boil my thoughts on this book down to one word: “amazing.” This book has everything I like in a fantasy (except for dragons). I immediately became engrossed in the story, enough so that I bought the sequel about halfway through reading this first installment.

The world is fully developed, and the history is fascinating. There used to be people known as augers, who wielded extreme magical abilities. They- and their allies, known as “gifted”- were defeated before the book opens. Throughout the book, the fallout from that defeat, as well as the changes in laws and how they affect the world, often comes into play.

Davian finds out he has the (now forbidden) powers of an auger. He is given a talisman, and told to follow it to learn how to use those abilities. His best friend, Wirr, goes with him. They learn that Devaed, an ancient enemy, has been marshaling his armies, and is prepared to bring war and destruction down upon everyone.

From there, things become complicated. Stakes are raised, new friends, (as well as new enemies) are introduced. Sometimes the enemies are confused with friends. Not everyone is who they say they are, and several characters have hidden agendas. I loved every moment of intrigue, every revelation, and every sword thrust. It was epic.

All of the characters were fantastic, but two really stood out to me. I loved Wirr. He was complicated and smart, and he thought ahead. He was an intriguing character because of his ability to look at the bigger picture. I also loved Caedan. He’s the very definition of a conflicted character. He has no memories, and has been accused of a horrific crime. He can’t say with certainty that he is innocent, and I adored that about him. I am a huge fan of complicated characters, and his storyline was excellent.

Another great thing about this book is that not everything was wrapped into a neat little package by the end of the book. I’m desperate to dive into the sequel and see what happens next. There are so many things that were only hinted at, and I’m curious to see how they play out. I have theories, but I could be dead wrong. I was completely off about one of the characters in this book, which was excellent. Usually I can see things coming a mile away, but this caught me off guard.

Basically, this book is incredible. If you like fantasy at all, read this book as soon as humanly possible.

Have you read this? What did you think?

Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig

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Jetta is a wanted criminal. The army wants her for treason against the crown, for the sabotage of Hell’s Court temple, and for the murder of General Legarde. They also want her for the power in her blood―the magic that captures wandering spirits to give life to puppets, to rocks, to paper . . . to weapons. They’re willing to trade the elixir that treats Jetta’s madness for the use of her blood. The rebels want her, too, to help them reclaim their country. Jetta may be the one who can tip the scales in this war.

But Jetta fears using her power will make her too much like Le Trépas, the terrifying and tyrannical necromancer who once held all Chakrana under his thumb―and who is Jetta’s biological father. She’s already raised her brother from the dead, after all. And scared off Leo, the only person who saw her as she truly is. With Le Trépas at large and a clash between the army and the rebels becoming inevitable, Jetta will have to decide if saving her country is worth sacrificing her soul. (taken from Amazon)

There are spoilers for For a Muse of Fire (first in the series) below. You can find my review for that book here.

                                                     ** Here Be Spoilers**

                          Oh man, I loved this book! From the plot-line to the characters, everything was done well. It was a worthy sequel to For a Muse of Fire, which was a huge relief after some of the sequels I’ve read lately.

Jetta is a great character. She’s tough without being cold and emotionless. In fact, her emotions are a big part of what makes her so tough. She has an illness that is most definitely bipolar (as confirmed by the author). I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but books that feature mental illness with consideration and respect automatically get extra points from me. This one in particular means a lot, since I also have bipolar. It is a mental illness that is rarely represented in YA, and even more rarely mentioned in the fantasy genre. Heidi Heilig’s choice to not only feature it in a fantasy, but to show both the positive and negative aspects of it is pretty stinking cool. But I digress.

In this book, Jetta has been offered a medication that will help with her illness, in exchange for the use of her blood by the crown. Whoever uses the blood can bind souls to inanimate objects, essentially animating-and controlling-them. The crown wants to use her power as a weapon against the rebels, who Jetta sympathizes with.

The rebels also want to use Jetta. Meanwhile, she’s afraid to use her power at all, worrying that it will make her like her biological father. He’s a monstrous necromancer, and everyone is afraid of what would happen if he- or another like him- came to power.

Of course, there’s also ye random romantic entanglement with Leo, another rebel. I’m not a huge fan of their relationship because it often came across as an unnecessary distraction from the rest of the plot, but I admittedly don’t like most dramatic bookish relationships.

I liked that Heilig didn’t pull punches. I was justifiably concerned about what would happen to some of the characters in the book. I like when an author gives things a sense of urgency, and she does that very well. I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.

I feel like this series is very underrated and deserves way more hype. It’s well-written and fast-paced, with memorable characters and an interesting plot. The mental illness representation just pushes it even higher in my esteem. I highly recommend this book.

Have you read this book? What did you think?


Reverie by Ryan La Sala- ARC Review

Reverie
All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different―reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what’s truly going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere―the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery―Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for honest opinion. This is available in stores now.

What drew me to the book was the comparison to Inception, a mind-bending movie that I really liked, though the gorgeous cover definitely helped. I’m a big fan of twisty plots, so I had high hopes.

This book just didn’t do it for me. It felt too big, and at times I worried that the plot had gotten away from the author. I’m not sure that makes much sense, but it’s the impression I had. It’s difficult to become immersed in a book when you are unsure if the author can deliver on what he set out to do. It was actually mildly stressful.

The characters didn’t really stand out all that much to me. One of them actually shot rainbows, and I couldn’t stop thinking of Aoyama from My Hero Academia: he has a laser that shoots from his naval and for some reason that image kept popping into my mind as I read this. Poesy, the drag queen sorceress was my favorite by far. The other characters just didn’t interest me.

The concept was interesting, but felt a bit shaky on delivery. The descriptions were fantastic, however, and I consider the prose itself the strong point of this book. La Sala definitely knows how to turn a phrase.

I think this is one of those books that many people will love;  it just didn’t butter my biscuit.

Cadaver Swords by Emmett Swan- ARC Review

Image result for cadaver swords
Chimber was a master grave digger and knew his business. But when the Queen of the nation of Dalmeer called out the Gravedigger’s Guild to bury thousands of citizens that had perished from a mysterious poison-laced cloud, he was not prepared for what he found. Before his very eyes, bodies thought dead began to rise up, walk, and huddle together in dark groups. Soon, an unstoppable cadaver army was laying waste to the land.

With the good people of Dalmeer under siege and the army in disarray, Chimber wants to do his part to defend his home town. But as a gravedigger, he isn’t usually needed until after the killing is done. As he watches a battle unfold from the cover of a nearby hill, an unflappable female warrior gets felled from her horse by a mob of cadavers. Risking life and limb, he slides down to the battlefield and manages to save her life.

Chimber and the warrior establish a bond and agree to journey into the Northern Wastes to find the one being that may be able to save the nation—the mysterious Medium of the Blue Mountain. But she is surrounded by a strange tribe of female ice pixies that have little interest in helping those from the southern lands.

If Chimber can convince the Medium of the Blue Mountain to join their cause and return to Dalmeer’s capital city in time, they just may save the people of the land from the bite of cadaver swords. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Epic in scale, this was a slow read for me.  It took me a very long time to get all the way through. However, once I did, I ended up really enjoying it.

With this book, what stood out to me was the world-building. It was so incredibly creative! The setup of the geography was pretty cool. There were several islands within relatively close proximity, which made the timing more believable. I am a big fan of fantasy books that feature a journey of some sort because it allows for so many different kinds of encounters, so that was a win for me.

Climber’s buddy Jern was probably my favorite character. The relationship between the two was fun to read. I know I’ve mentioned in other posts that I don’t always like the main character, but I did enjoy Climber. It was good to read a main character that wasn’t a giant ball of angst.

The author was very judicious with his fight scenes. They were well-written, but they weren’t the crux of the story. I liked that he understood the fine balance between action and story. Many authors rely too much on one or the other.

I recommend this one to fantasy readers who don’t mind some slow set-up.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Death Train and Anxious Anna by Daye Williams

Anxious Anna & The Souls by [Williams, Daye] DEATH TRAIN by [Williams, Daye]

Thank you to the author for providing me with these novellas in exchange for my honest opinion.

I went back and forth on whether to review these two novellas in one post, or separately. I finally decided on one because they both examine similar themes, albeit from different angles.

Death Train is about a man who stores aboard a train that delivers souls to the Underworld. He is attempting to save the souls of his deceased loved ones. While this story is ostensibly about saving his family, what made me invested in this story are the underlying themes of grief, and dealing with loss.

The story moves along quickly without ever feeling trite. While the descriptions are absolutely incredible, sometimes I’d get lost in them and have to remind myself of what was happening. Daye Williams has a very detailed writing style. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into his mind, so to speak. I quite enjoyed this one.

Anxious Anna also explores themes of mortality and the fear of the unknown. This story is about a young girl who, on her eighth birthday, is so terrified by the idea of growing old and dying that she manages to break the binds of Time and goes on a journey wherein she must come to grips with her fears and decide whether to return home.

This one was a little more difficult for me to grasp. Again, it was very well-written, but I felt a little lost at times. The descriptions were beautiful, but I couldn’t connect with Anna as easily. Taken separately, both of these novellas are good. Read back-to-back (I read Anxious Anna first), they paint a vivid picture and are thought-provoking. These stories can be read quickly, but they’ll stick with you and make you think.

Have you read either of these novellas? What did you think?

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: Adult Fiction Edition

I’m back with my final post of books that would make great gifts. I’ve already written posts suggesting gifts for picture book readers, middle-grade, YA, and adult nonfiction. If you’re interested in reading those posts, I’ll put the links at the bottom. Here are five suggestions for adult readers:
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

This prose in this book is gorgeous. I’d recommend this to anyone who appreciates good writing with a sense of wonder liberally thrown in. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Holy guacamole, this book is fantastic! There’s heart (and gore, of course). It’s fun and engrossing. Any fantasy reader will love this book.

Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M Nair

Image result for duckett and dyer dicks for hire

This book is flat-out hilarious. I buddy read this one with Beth at beforewego (read her excellent review here) and we both loved it.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

This was my most anticipated new release of the year. It did not disappoint. The writing is exquisite. It will suck the reader in and leave them breathless.

Master of Sorrows by Justin Call

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Last but most certainly not least, I loved every moment of this book. It had a bit of a Name of the Wind vibe and belongs on the shelf among greats like Tolkien.

So, there you have it. These books would be great gifts. Have you read any of these? Are you planning on giving them to anyone?

Links:

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: Adult Nonfiction

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: YA Books

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: Middle-grade Books

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: Picture Books

Christmasathon- December Readathon

During the month of December, I’m going to be participating in an awesome themed readathon. It’s the brainchild of the talented Bookishtiffany. You can find the details of her Christmasathon here. It runs from December 1st to the 31st, so there’s still time for you to sign up.

While I’m feeling pretty holly and jolly this year, I still chose to be on Team Grinch because I prefer those categories. Let me don a homemade Santa costume, and I’ll tell you my picks!
Steal Someone’s Favorite Book- read a book that was recommended to you: The Jackal of Nar by John Marco

Image result for the jackal of nar

My husband suggested this one and it looks good. I’ve started it, but I’m only a few chapters in so far.
Coal- read a book that will keep you warm (has fire or red on the cover, or has a fire-form word) : Heart of Flames by Nicki Pau Preto

Heart of Flames|Nicki Pau Preto

This book is the sequel to the fantastic Crown of Feathers. I hope it lives up to the first book!
Bah Humbug- read a book with something wintry on the cover or in the title: Cadaver Swords by Emmett Swan

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There’s snow on the cover, so this counts. Right? Right?
Ebenezer Scrooge- Read a book with a morally gray character or with a villain: Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

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Jason from offthetbr (if you aren’t reading his blog, you’re missing out) did a great read-along with the first book in this series during the month of November. I’m continuing with book two in the trilogy. Raistlin is about as morally gray as it gets.

So there you have it. Whether Team Elf or Team Grinch wins this challenge, it’s going to be a blast! Bah humbug, everybody!

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander

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Have you ever read a fairy tale about three raptors? Yeah, me neither. I must say, I was missing out. This short story was fantastic.

This is the story of three raptors, an intelligent princess, and an incredibly stupid prince. One day, the prince stumbles across a raptor. The rest of the village knows to avoid these beasts, since they don’t much fancy being eaten. The prince seems to think he’s come across a horse, and decides to ride it back to his castle. The raptor, hoping to gather more information about the fearless man, goes along with it. That ends up being a mistake, as the prince soon holds the raptor captive. This story continues from there.

While decidedly odd, this short story was also a ton of fun. It was well-written, full of humor and heart (and a wee bit of viscera). As with most fairy tales, it ends with a “happily ever after.” The question is: who gets the happy ending?

I loved the way the raptors thought, and the princess was awesome. Yes, this is a weird concept, but I recommend you give it a go. It is very short; it only took me fifteen minutes or so to finish it. You can easily read it in that amount of time but, if you’re like me, you’ll read it more than once.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Image result for the starless sea
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world—a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life. (taken from Amazon)

           The word “exquisite” doesn’t begin to describe the beauty of this book. This book is the sweet melancholy of virgin snow, soon to be stepped in. It is the delight of a surprise package, the excitement of a first kiss, the mysterious possibility of change. It is perfection on pages.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is an excellent protagonist, sweet and a little unsure of himself. The story begins with a book found in a library, one that contains a tale about Zachary’s childhood. It’s a memory of something that really happened, something that no-one has been told about.  Zachary’s need to know more about the origin of the book leads him into labyrinthine tunnels, and the even more difficult -to- navigate maze of self-discovery.

The prose is gorgeous and the nonlinear way that the story unfolds is perfect. I love how Erin Morgenstern evokes not just sight and sound, but smell and taste with her writing. This book made me sad in that beautiful way that is so close to happiness that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe I’ll do both. That will really freak my husband out.

The Night Circus, which is Erin Morgenstern’s first book, is on my “top five favorite books of all time” list. I have officially made it my “top six favorites” because this has found a place in my heart. Read this book.

“Each door will lead to a Harbor on the Starless Sea, if someone dares to open it.
Little distinguishes them from regular doors. Some are simple. Others are elaborately decorated. Most have doorknobs waiting to be turned though others have handles to be pulled.

“These doors will sing. Silent siren songs for those who seek what lies behind them.
For those who feel homesick for a place they’ve never been to. 

Those who seek even if they do  not know what (or where) it is that they are seeking. 
Those who seek will find. 
Their doors have been waiting for them.”