Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Books with Incredible Settings

One of the many things I love about reading is a book’s ability to take the reader somewhere new, different, or completely imagined. I’ve been to so many amazing places, and I haven’t had to sit on a plane with strangers for hours on end. I win!

Here are a few books that have stood out to me, in terms of settings.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: When I think of creative settings, I picture the Night Circus. Those black and white tents, with magic inside waiting to be discovered. The gorgeous clock. The midnight dinners. One of the things I love about Erin Morgenstern is her ability to evoke not just sight and sound, but smell and taste. It’s magical. She casts the same spell with her second novel, The Starless Sea.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: I think one of the reasons this odd little book has stood the test of time is the unapologetic weirdness of both the characters and the setting. I recently read this book to my children. My toddler loved it. My oldest thought it was “too weird”. That’s okay, I love him anyway (Ha ha!).

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Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman: I really love the Inn of the Last Home, and the town of Solace in general. It’s such a cool idea, and it’s done so very well. It’s such a homey place. I’d love to visit the Inn of the Last Home and eat some of Otik’s spiced potatoes. Yum!

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The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: Of course this series made the list. Rowling’s Wizarding World is so well-conceived that it’s very easy to picture. Oddly enough, it’s the Burrow that really stands out to me in terms of setting, though.

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The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold: I’m still in the middle of this book, but Sunder City is so well described that I had to include it in this post. A fantasy-slum town, it’s easily seen in my mind’s eye.

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: The enemy’s gate is down. Also, everything is so well-conceived and described that I never felt lost or disconnected from Ender’s world when reading this book, despite that being a slight issue I run into with sci-fi books.

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I’m a sucker for books with beautifully described settings. What about you? What books come to mind when you think of a good setting?

Paris Adrift by E.J Swift

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Paris was supposed to save Hallie. Now… well, let’s just say Paris has other ideas.

She’s linked to a hole in time and chosen by fate to prevent a terrible war. Tumbling through Paris’ turbulent past and future, Hallie changes the world—and falls in love.

But with every trip, she loses a little of herself, and every change she makes ripples through time, until the future she’s trying to save suddenly looks nothing like what she hoped for… (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February 4th.

What first interested me in this book was its comparison to Midnight in Paris, a movie that I love. I can’t say I see much of a resemblance, aside from the obvious (they both involve Paris), but I’m grateful for that blurb because otherwise this book might have passed me by.

Hallie is our main character, a woman who feels out of place in her own skin. She’s decided to travel to Paris, more to run away from something than to run toward anything. There, she gets a job at a bar and joins an eclectic group of friends. She finds a sense of family, a boyfriend, and-oh yeah- a time anomaly in a taproom. Soon, Hallie is traveling through both the past and future, making changes. Whether she’s fixing things, or causing irreparable damage remains to be seen.

On the surface, my description probably makes this book sound like a lighthearted romp. It isn’t at all. It explores the idea of small changes having big impacts, discusses problems in our present, and touches on themes of self-acceptance and change. It does all that in a fast-moving, unique way. I loved it.

There were several things that set this book apart from other time-traveling books. There wasn’t nonstop action, the futuristic gadgetry wasn’t everywhere, and a good chunk of time spent was actually traveling to the past as opposed to the future. I tend to shy away from books involving time travel because it’s hard for me to handle the problems that tend to arise when writing about that subject. This book handles those stumbling blocks with aplomb.

I liked the bohemian feel of the group of friends, how they were all dissatisfied with how the world works and desperately wanted to affect change, but were unsure how to start. I think many people can relate to that (and no, I’m not going to start a religious or political argument, I promise). I actually think the conversations Hallie had with her friends were some of the most interesting parts of the book. You know a writer is talented when the musings and dialogue are just as interesting as any action scene, if not more so.

While there was a climax of events, what I most enjoyed was how things got there. The ending, while good, almost didn’t matter because the meat of the story was so well done. I definitely recommend reading this one.

Always Gray in Winter by Mark J. Engels

9781945247194: Always Gray in Winter
      A distant daughter. A peculiar device. A family lineage full of secrets. When werecat Pawlina Katczynski finally resurfaces, her location previously unknown to anyone close to her, the reunion is short of welcomed. Instead, she finds herself thrust tooth and nail—tooth and claw—into a feud between opposing werecat clans as her family and their enemies reignite a battle that has raged for years. Always Gray in Winter invites the reader to join the feud and see if blood is truly thicker than water… (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Unfortunately, this book wasn’t for me. I don’t often read militaristic books, which could have a lot to do with it, but I spent a good chunk of the book feeling confused. The story was told from many different points of view: Hana, Mawro, Pawly, and Lenny to name a few. I struggled to keep track of what was happening to each of them.

I found the idea of feud between two clans interesting, and would have liked to know more about the origin of the feud. While it was a cool jumping-off point, I felt that it could have been explored more.

As I said above, I don’t often read military books. Many of the things that are probably completely understandable completely threw me. I had to reread a few sections to make sure I hadn’t missed something. There was also a flashback that confused me. I struggled to figure out where the flashback began and ended, if that makes sense.

I did like the idea of werecats being the subject of the book. I’m a big fan of creativity in books, and I must say that this was a very creative concept. However, I’m wondering if it would work better as a graphic novel, or maybe even an anime-style cartoon. Seeing it unfold, as opposed to trying to keep track of the many characters, might clear up some of my confusion.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Maybe I need to read it again? Let me know your thoughts!

Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth- ARC Review

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Fortuna launches a new space opera trilogy that will hook you from the first crash landing.
Scorpia Kaiser has always stood in Corvus’s shadow until the day her older brother abandons their family to participate in a profitless war. However, becoming the heir to her mother’s smuggling operation is not an easy transition for the always rebellious, usually reckless, and occasionally drunk pilot of the Fortuna, an aging cargo ship and the only home Scorpia has ever known.

But when a deal turns deadly and Corvus returns from the war, Scorpia’s plans to take over the family business are interrupted, and the Kaiser siblings are forced to make a choice: take responsibility for their family’s involvement in a devastating massacre or lay low and hope it blows over.
Too bad Scorpia was never any good at staying out of a fight. (taken from Amazon)

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

Oh dear. I wanted to like this book, I really did. I’m a big fan of smuggling in stories in general, and especially in space (blame the incredible show Firefly). Unfortunately, this book was a giant resounding “meh” from me.

I can’t pinpoint anything really wrong with the book, it just didn’t keep my attention. The characters weren’t all that engaging, and Scorpia annoyed me. She was immature to the point of obnoxiousness. Corvus was okay, but not all that fantastic a character either.

If I don’t enjoy the characters in a book, the writing itself needs to be incredible to keep me invested. The writing was fine, but nothing to write home about. This is my first book by this author and, honestly, I can’t say I’m going to go out of my way to read any others she’s written.

I’ll say that this is just a case of the book not fitting the reader. It happens. I hope other readers find it more interesting than I did. I gave up 60% in.

The Audacity by Laura Loup

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Rocket racing can be deadly, but working in food service is worse.

May’s humdrum life is flung into hyperdrive when she’s abducted, but not all aliens are out to probe her. She’s inadvertently rescued by Xan, an “I Love Lucy” obsessed alien with the orangest rocket ship in the universe.

But you still have to eat in space, and rocket racing is a quick, if life-threatening, way to make a living.

Finally, May has a career she loves and a friend to share her winnings with. Until a Chaos goddess possessing Xan’s ex decides to start a cult on Earth and threatens to turn the planet into her den of destruction. The Audacity is the only ship fast enough to stop her, but May’s no hero. She doesn’t even particularly like Earth.

Are we screwed? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for giving me this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is available now.

With a tagline like “Where rocket ships run on coffee and dumb luck,” how could I not fall in love with this book? Poor May works (slaves?) at a convenience store- until she is beamed up into a spaceship, launching her on an intergalactic adventure.

This book was absolutely bonkers, in the best way. I loved the witty humor, especially when the narration would include the reader briefly. When Xan’s ship was described as something from the BBC, I laughed out loud. I’m a big fan of tongue-in-cheek humor, and this book had it in abundance.

Xan, by the way, is hands-down the best alien ever created. There’s something endearing about him. His I Love Lucy obsession, and his oddball taste, made him a blast to read.  May reminded me of Dante from the movie Clerks (“I wasn’t even supposed to be here today”), which made me laugh.

This book is light-years ahead of many others, in terms of comedy. The prose is quippy without being over-the-top, the characters are fun and different. It’s funny without trying too hard to be, if that makes sense.

Basically, this book is a blast to read, and I highly recommend it. If you want a good belly-laugh, this book is for you.

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.

Frozen Secrets by Myles Christensen

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He has trouble following the rules on Earth. But this trip to Jupiter’s moon could kill his curiosity for good…

Thirteen-year-old Max Parker is a grounded Earthling with the soul of a space explorer. So when he learns his family is relocating to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, he readily agrees to stay out of mischief. But his promise is soon forgotten, and his snooping lands him on a shuttle doomed for a fiery disintegration.

Convinced someone sabotaged the craft to cover up the theft he witnessed, he digs into the incident. Why was this robbery worth attempted murder? Dodging a series of deadly accidents, he follows the clues to an abandoned outpost and discovers a secret that could blow the lid off a moon-wide conspiracy…

Can Max solve the mystery before his interplanetary escapade gets him killed? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available in January.

Funny story: I couldn’t find this book one afternoon. I looked in all the usual places that I “lose” things, but I still couldn’t find it. Guess where it was? In the hands of my sixth grader, who was very interested in reading it. That’s a pretty high recommendation for the book just right there. I have a feeling he’ll be curled up with it soon.

This book follows Max and his best friend Jonathan. They’ve just moved with their families to Europa, as part of a colonization. The two best buds manage to get themselves into trouble on a pretty regular basis, but their usual hijinks give way to the possibility of real trouble when they notice that things seem a little off. What did they stumble on? More importantly: will they survive?

Max was a fun character to read about. Trouble follows him, but he’s not a bad kid. He was actually really sweet. Both he and Jonathan were very believable and- I’m sure- easy for middle-graders to relate to. Their relationship was a joy to read.

This book is full of action, very rarely pausing to explain things. This is perfect for someone like my son, who is able to glean any background information that is included among other things that are happening, and prefers his stories to be action-packed. There’s never a dull moment.

Frozen Secrets is the beginning of what I think will be a highly enjoyable series. If you’ve got a middle-grade/YA reader who likes sci-fi, this is not one to miss. Keep this book in mind if you’re looking for something fun to give as a gift.

The End of the Year Book Tag

The end of the year is rapidly approaching. I’m not sure why 2019 decided to move at a gallop, but it seems that it did. I’ve seen this book tag on several blogs and I’m not sure where it originated. The credit for this great tag goes to Ariel Bissett. Without further ado, here are my answers to some questions that no one has asked:

Are There Any Books You’ve Started This Year That You Need To Finish?

Ruthless Gods (Something Dark and Holy #2) by Emily A. Duncan: I started this long before its release date, which is April 7th, 2020. I obviously have plenty of time to read and review it before the release date, so I’m not stressing it.

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Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become.

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone…or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet―those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.

In her dramatic follow-up to Wicked Saints, the first book in her Something Dark and Holy trilogy, Emily A. Duncan paints a Gothic, icy world where shadows whisper, and no one is who they seem, with a shocking ending that will leave you breathless. (taken from Amazon)

Do You Have An Autumnal Book To Transfer Into The New Year?

Indeed, I do. I always reread the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman in the fall. I’m enjoying it even more than usual this year, since I’m participating in Offthetbr’s readalong.

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Lifelong friends, they went their separate ways. Now they are together again, though each holds secrets from the others in his heart. They speak of a world shadowed with rumors of war. They speak of tales of strange monsters, creatures of myth, creatures of legend. They do not speak of their secrets. Not then. Not until a chance encounter with a beautiful, sorrowful woman, who bears a magical crystal staff, draws the companions deeper into the shadows, forever changing their lives and shaping the fate of the world.

No one expected them to be heroes.

Least of all, them. (taken from Amazon)
Is There A New Release You’re Still Waiting For?

Oddly enough, not really. My most anticipated new release just came out, so now I’m just enjoying discovering new books and rereading favorites.

What Are Three Books You Want To Read Before The End Of The Year?

The Audacity by Laura Loup: I’m starting this one soon, and I’m really excited to see where it goes.

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May’s humdrum life gets flung into hyperdrive when she’s abducted, but not all aliens are out to probe her. She’s inadvertently rescued by Xan who’s been orbiting Earth in a day-glo orange rocket ship, watching re-runs of “I Love Lucy”.

Seizing the opportunity for a better life, May learns how to race the Audacity and pilots her way into interstellar infamy. Finally, she has a job she likes and a friend to share her winnings with–until the Goddess of Chaos screws the whole thing up, and Xan’s unmentionable past makes a booty call. (taken from Amazon)
The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington: I love a good fantasy, and I think this book will deliver.

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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)

The Jackal of Nar by John Marco: My husband recommended this book, and he has excellent taste in fantasy books.

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His enemies call Prince Richius “the Jackal,” but he is merely a reluctant warrior for the Emperor in the fight for the strife-ridden borderland of Lucel-Lor. And though the empire’s war machines are deadly, when the leader of a fanatical sect sweeps the battlefield with potent magic, Richius’s forces are routed. He returns home defeated—but the Emperor will not accept the loss. Soon Richius is given one last chance to pit the empire’s science against the enemy’s devastating magic, and this time he fights for more than a ruler’s mad whim. This time Richius has his own obsessive quest—and where he hesitated to go for an emperor’s greed, for love he will plunge headlong into the grasp of the deadliest enemy he has ever encountered. . . .(taken from Amazon)

Is There A Book You Think Could Shock You And Become Your Favorite Book Of The Year?

I’m a big fan of surprise masterpieces, so I go into each book I read with an open mind and hope that it will be one I enjoy. It has been a year full of amazing books, and I know that I’ve only begun to discover all the incredible voices out there.

Have You Already Started Making Reading Plans For 2020?

I can’t even plan an outfit! I do have some ARCs that will be released in 2020, so my goal right now is to have them all read and reviewed before their release date. Other than that, my plan is to maybe remember to put eyeliner on both eyes if I’m going to put makeup on before leaving the house.

If you want to participate, feel free! This is a fun one.

Genesis: Vision of the New World (Terra Nova Book 2) by D. Ellis Overttun

A light streaking across the predawn sky, an explosion and an impending menace from above, seemingly unrelated events but connected to space time distortions predicted by an obscure scientific paper over 250 years ago. That same paper has predicted an end to the universe.

Has the unthinkable become a reality?

The ruling class Celesti see the danger as real and imminent since planet Arkos could become compromised in as little as 1,000 years. To them, that is one lifetime. That same timeframe is ten lifetimes to the servile class Gendu. To them, the threat does not even exist.

There are those within the Celesti who see the Gendu as a more immediate threat. Their solution is to genetically engineer a more pliant servant class and leave Arkos for an unknown planet. Is that even possible?

But will it even matter? The leaders of the Celesti, the Transcended, know a terrible secret: The Celesti are dying.

Against this backdrop of extinction lies the politics of power. A new leader has just assumed her role as the head of the Gendu Houses. However, she is an outsider. Will she be accepted or will she be cast out as an interloper?

Also, the leader of the most powerful religious organization on the planet is missing and presumed dead. It is the opportunity of a lifetime for anyone bold enough to seize the moment. Who will fill this void? Someone with a hunger for influence and privilege? Or someone with a calling for higher purpose?

Finally, there is a prophecy from the “Codices of Taru” which foretells of a time of darkness when the “head will be cleaved from the body” that will announce the coming of the “Deceiver”. Ancient superstition or a vision of the future? (taken from Amazon)

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

This book, while still a “thinking book” (don’t read this while you’re surrounded by yelling kids; it will make zero sense), moves more quickly than the first in the series. It’s incredibly smart and complex.

I liked the way the story expands, now that the plot has been established. It continues to expand on the themes of politics, and relationships. I was particularly fascinated by the relationships between the different classes.

I’m trying very hard not to give anything away. Suffice it to say, this is a series worth reading. It will challenge, as well as entertain you. I recommend this series to fans of sci-fi, as well as people who like books that make them think.

Universe Awakening (Redux Edition) by D. Ellis Overttun

The year — 526,780. A probe is deployed from ISV Intrepid at the outer edge of the universe. It is the last of a complement of twelve that is part of the Deep Exploration of Uncharted Space or DEUS. Its mission: collect data on the redshift of light and spatial distortions. Time horizon: 1,000 years. 

Before ISV Intrepid can return to base, something goes wrong. There is an accident. The ship is later salvaged but its pilot is missing, its copilot in a coma. 

The probes collect their data with uneventful regularity. 

Fast-forward to 526,880. A sole-surviving probe still sits in the darkness at the outer edge of the universe. Now, unseen to the naked eye, the space around the probe begins to stretch and distend. Then, the probe disappears, engulfed by an energy of unknown origin and unknown composition. However, it manages to transmit one final message. 

CD3C has monitored the disappearance of each probe over the last three years. While the interpretation of the data remains a mystery, speculation is that something has invaded the universe and is moving a superluminal velocity. Its effects could be manifested in as little as the next thousand years. To the Celesti, this is one lifetime. 

What can be done? 

The one person who might be able to solve this problem is the copilot of ISV Intrepid. He has been lying in stasis suffering from mental trauma. He has been this way for the past century, the longest recorded case in medical history. His unchanging condition has been a convenient solution to stall any inquiry into the accident that put him there. 
This threat changes everything. Now, he is needed. 

Is it possible to unlock his mind? 

The task falls to Auberon, a career nobody inhabiting the lower level of the hierarchy of the Ministry of Science. Can something be awakened in him to allow someone ordinary do something extraordinary? 

Universe: Awakening answers this question. In the process, it explores the world of the Celesti, a highly evolved humanoid species with advanced technology, physiology and a unique way of procreation. It blends science and political intrigue to reveal the interplay of storyline and character development that forms the staging ground for the Terra Nova Series. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion.

This book is smart. Like, “stop and ponder every few pages” before moving on smart. It’s a sci-fi unlike any other, more intent on making you think than giving you aliens and spaceships (although it has those too). And let me tell you, it definitely succeeded.

This book was incredibly interesting, although be aware that this isn’t the sort of book you’ll read in an afternoon at the beach. It’s introspective and well written. I found myself pondering the relationships between characters and thinking about how tough times can change or build relationships (I’m being deliberately vague so that you can form your own thoughts).

Give it a go and tell me what you think!