Feel-Good Fiction: Books to Read in Difficult Times

adobe_post_20200405_16413001746936178120369436.png

You’d have to be living under a rock to not be at least a little stressed-out lately. With everything that’s going on, I’ve been thinking of the books I read when things are difficult. I tend to reread books I like (I wrote a post about it, which you can find here). Here are a few that I go to when I need a little literary cheering up:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: There’s something so calming about following a hobbit on his journey. Smaug is fantastic, of course, and those dwarfs are a delight to read.

The Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters: I know that “cadaver” and “comfort” aren’t usually associated with each other, but these mysteries are so much fun! Amelia Peabody is a spunky, indomitable heroine, and the setting (Egypt in the late 1800s – early 1900s) allows for some incredibly entertaining mysteries.

Redwall by Brian Jaques: This book is charming. I love reading about little mice and squirrel warriors fighting against an evil army full of stoats and rats.

The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: This trilogy was my jumping-off point into adult fantasy. I credit my ongoing love of fantasy, my dragon collection, and my enjoyment of D&D to these.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich: Another mystery (weird), this series follows an accidental bounty-hunter (she just needed a job) named Stephanie Plum. She is such a disaster, it’s like watching a train wreck: you can’t look away. All the characters in this series are quirky and funny. This series always succeeds in distracting me from stress.

Have you read any of these? What books are your go-to comfort reads?

A Noble’s Path by I.L Cruz- Book Blog Tour

Blog Tour Banner (1)

Divided loyalties test Inez Garza. The infamous incident at the Academy of Natural Studies has forced her to work for the King’s Men while continuing to serve the hidden market.Supporting Birthright furthers the cause of Magical Return, but the cost may be the fall of the royal house and losing Zavier forever.And the strongest pull of all is her growing and erratic magic, which demands everything and offers only destruction in return.Inez must decide where her loyalties lie—saving Canto or saving herself. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Bosky Flame Press for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available for purchase on March 25th.

I enjoyed the first book in the series, A Smuggler’s Path, and I think this book was even better. It was a natural progression from the first, and felt as if there had been no pause at all. It’s always nice for a series to feel consistent.

Inez is the main character of this book, as she was in the first. She was tenacious and did her best to overcome her fears. At times she felt very naive to me, but that was well- balanced with some of the other characters, who were a bit more wise to the ways of the world. I’m still a big fan of Rowley.

I must say, I loved that Inez had to do what was basically a fantasy book’s equivalent to community service! It was such a fun way to continue the series. I feel that this series’ strength lies in its world building.

As with the first book, I feel that this will appeal to a large age range. I know my sixth grader would love this, and I enjoyed it as well. This book is a delightful foray into the kind of fantasy I loved when I was younger. It’s a fun book, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series.

About the Author

I.L. Cruz decided to make writing her full-time career during the economic downturn in 2008. Since then she’s used her BA in International Relations to sow political intrigue in her fantasy worlds and her MA in history to strive for the perfect prologue. When she’s not engaged in this mad profession she indulges her wanderlust as often as possible, watches too much sci-fi and reads until her eyes cross. She lives in Maryland with her husband, daughter and a sun-seeking supermutt named Dipper.

Find her on Twitter @ILCruzWrites
or her blog, Fairytale Feminista at https://fairytalefeminista.wordpress.com
And her website http://www.booksbyilcruz.com

A Smuggler’s Path by I.L Cruz

Image result for a smuggler's pathIn Canto, magic is a commodity, outlawed by the elites after losing a devastating war and brokered by smugglers on the hidden market. But some know it’s more–a weapon for change.

Inez Garza moves through two worlds. She’s a member of the noble class who works as a magical arms dealer–a fact either group would gladly use against her. Neither know her true purpose–funding Birthright, an underground group determined to return magic to all at any cost.
But the discovery of a powerful relic from before the Rending threatens her delicate balance.
Inez’s inherent magic, which lies dormant in all the Canti, has been awakened. Now the Duchess’s daughter, radical and smuggler must assume another forbidden title–mage, a capital crime. This will bring her to the attention of factions at home–fanatical rebels bent on revolution, a royal family determined to avoid another magical war, her mercenary colleagues at the hidden market willing to sell her abilities to the highest bidder–and in Mythos, victors of the war and architects of the Rending.
Evasion has become Inez’s specialty, but even she isn’t skilled enough to hide from everyone–and deny the powers drawing her down a new path. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Rachel Poli at Bosky Flame Press for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

This is the sort of fantasy that is a joy to read. It’s fun, fast-paced, and full of unique characters and a great history. I loved the way the author gave a bunch of history in the prologue, and managed to tell it simply and in a way that made the story seem even more intriguing.

Inez was an enjoyable main character. Her need to survive was often at odds with who she was, and I loved watching her character grow and evolve. While she was a strong character, she was strong in an atypical way. She’s not unfeeling, she doesn’t think she’s an island, and she doesn’t have a “chosen one” complex. It was refreshing.

The other characters in this book were equally enjoyable. I loved that Rowley is a talking dog. That just tickled me. I also liked the little nods I saw throughout the book: seeing “Jabberwocky” written is always fun.

It does take a bit of time to get going, but that setup is far from boring. The slower build-up gave me a chance to really get acquainted with I.L. Cruz’s world and showcased her excellent writing abilities. If my interest is kept during a slower beginning, I know the writer is talented.

This is the sort of fantasy that works well for pretty much any age group. It’s creative and fun. I recommend giving it a read!

Windward by S. Kaeth

Image result for windward by s kaeth
When dragons fight, mountains weep. In nests high in the mountains, dragons and dragonbonded share their lives, thoughts, feelings, and ambitions.Palon and her partner, the dragon Windward, are renowned among their nest for their flying skill. Their days are filled with everything she loves, especially riding the wind. Even being tasked with teaching their way of life to Tebah, a rebellious newly bonded teenager, can’t bring her down too much.But when treasures from the dragons’ hoards are found in Palon’s collection, her idyllic life comes crashing down. She battles to prove her innocence, while her every move is cast as further evidence against her. Tebah’s suspicion, homesickness, and defiance would be frustrating even in easy times. With Palon in the spotlight while her rivals smear her name at every turn and stir up plots of revenge, her teenage charge’s behavior proves dangerous.Dragon tempers shorten, and challenges and disputes shake the ground. Palon will have to trust more than just herself if she hopes to once more own the sky. (taken from Amazon)

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

Dragons!!!! Books are always better with dragons, in my opinion, and I absolutely loved how they were portrayed in this book. They didn’t take a back seat to the human characters; instead adding an extra layer of awesome. They were very tribal, and had a fully developed hierarchy, which was incredibly creative.

Another win for me with this book is how, instead of the dragons taking on human characteristics, their bonded humans instead became distinctly draconic. The humans each had their own hoards that they were very protective of, and they showed anger and submission just like their draconish counterparts.

The story-line was interesting, the main characters being Palon and her bondmate, the dragon Windward. Palon was impulsive and emotional, which made for an interesting read. She is accused of stealing from dragons in order to grow her own cache of treasures, and she needs to figure out who is framing her- and why. At the same time, she is tasked with training a new dragon-bonded pair.

The dragon Silver Spine, and the new bondmate were my favorite characters. They often gave a bit of a break from focusing just on Palon, just when she was in danger of becoming obnoxious. The differences in their personalities played off each other quite well.

If you like your fantasies distinctly draconic, read this book. It’s a fast read, and highly enjoyable.

The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer- ARC Review

Image result for the glass magician caroline
New York 1905―The Vanderbilts. The Astors. The Morgans. They are the cream of society―and they own the nation on the cusp of a new century.

Thalia Cutler doesn’t have any of those family connections. What she does know is stage magic and she dazzles audiences with an act that takes your breath away.

That is, until one night when a trick goes horribly awry. In surviving she discovers that she can shapeshift, and has the potential to take her place among the rich and powerful.

But first, she’ll have to learn to control that power…before the real monsters descend to feast. (taken from Amazon)

                    Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on April 7th.

In The Glass Magician, there are three types of castes: Solitaires, Sylvestri, and the top-rung, Traders. Thalia, the stage magician, is a Solitaire, meaning she has no special abilities- until the day she discovers that she is a Trader, part of the caste that can change into animals. That knowledge changes everything for her.

I enjoyed the idea of the three classes and how they interacted. The author obviously put a lot of thought into how things would work in her world. I do wish that the Sylvestri had been explained a little more- I’ve kind of inferred their function, but they weren’t mentioned quite as much as the other two.

I have to be honest, I spent the first third of the book incredibly bored. I kept waiting for something to happen, but not much did for quite a while. Thalia was an uninteresting character, so I struggled to keep my mind from wandering while I read. Thalia both hated and envied the money that others had, which was an understandable juxtaposition.  It was honestly the most interesting character trait she had.

Right when I was ready to give up, the book picked up a little. Thalia found herself swept up in a mystery which added a sense of fun that the first part of the book was missing. It kind of wound down again at the end, though. I really felt that the ending was lacking something.

Altogether, this book wasn’t for me. It felt like it was a great idea that just needed to be fleshed out a little more. A teensy bit of work on the pacing would go a long way toward making this book much more enjoyable.

The Netflix Book Tag

I saw this great tag on Reader Gal’s blog. Her blog is awesome, so make sure to check it out. Original credit for this tag goes to A Book Lovers Playlist. Since we all sometimes put our books on hold to binge a show on Netflix, I think this makes for a fun tag. Here goes nothing:Recently Finished- the last book you finishedIt was either Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls or Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan (my review). I actually think I finished them both on the same day. I really need to make more of an effort to mark my books “read” on Goodreads the day I finish them.Top Picks- A book that was recommended to you based on books you have previously readDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style was suggested to me by Irresponsible Reader (follow his blog!) based on my review of A World Without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age (review here).Recently Added- the last book you boughtI grabbed The Library of the Unwritten, which I’m dying to read. Have I started it yet? Um…Popular on Netflix- Books that everyone knows about (2 you’ve read and 2 you have no interest in )I read and loved both The Ten Thousand Doors of January and Daisy Jones and the Six. I think both of those are ubiquitous at this point. I have absolutely no interest in The Gilded Wolves or Gideon the Ninth.Comedies- a funny bookFowl Language: Winging It had me in stitches. That little duck really understands parenting.Dramas- a character who is a drama king/queenCity of Bones. Both Clary and Jace rate pretty stinking high on the drama-o-meter.Animated- a book with cartoons on the coverI’m not sure if this counts, but I’m going with Thornhill (click on book name to get review).Watch It Again- a book/series you want to rereadI reread both The Night Circus and The Dragonlance Chronicles every year.Documentaries- a non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyoneI loved For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and More . Okay, the name is a bit much. Actually, it’s way too much. The book is excellent, though.Action and Adventure- and action-packed bookKings of the Wyld is chock-full of action. It also has amazing writing, and a sense of fun that it seems a lot of fantasy has been missing lately. I highly recommend it.Well, there it is. What do you think of my answers? I’m not going to tag anyone here, but I’ll probably bug a few people on Twitter. Ha ha! If you do participate, please tag me,so I can see your answers.

Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan

Image result for hollow men by todd sullivan
Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

There was a lot more to the book than I originally expected. I made the mistake of thinking that, because it’s a short book, there wouldn’t be much detail. I was wrong. The world is fully formed, including customary responses to situations, histories, and even social expectations. I am incredibly impressed.

Sixteen-year-old Ha Jun goes on a quest. It’s expected of young men, as a way to earn honor and glory. However, sixteen is much younger than the usual age. His glory-hungry father has trained him for this-plus he has a glyph blade, so he’s sure to succeed, right? Hopefully? In his pursuit of honor, Ha Jun joins a monk, a knight, a solider, and the dark elf Windshine on a journey to destroy a demon. As all fantasy readers know, a quest can create the coolest of stories.

This book goes in unexpected directions, and is chock-full of action. Where this book stands out, however, is in the richness of its lore. For example, there’s a man-eating tiger mentioned at the beginning of the book. Instead of just being a tiger with unfortunate taste, more is added to make it memorable. If the author were to ever write a book of legends from his world, I’d be first in line to buy it.

I did struggle to adjust to certain things in this book. The last few fantasy books I’ve read felt less formal (for lack of a better term) so emotions, while definitely present in this book, seemed to be buried a little bit deeper. It took me a couple of chapters to get used to that. It added depth to the characters, seeing the small ways they conveyed emotion.

Lastly, I have to mention the cover. It has a Forgotten Realms feel to it, and definitely grabs the eye. This is a very well-written novella, and one I recommend to those who like their fantasy with a unique, diverse feel.

The Conference of Birds by Ransom Riggs


With his dying words, H—Jacob Portman’s final connection to his grandfather Abe’s secret life entrusts Jacob with a mission: Deliver newly con­tacted peculiar Noor Pradesh to an operative known only as V. Noor is being hunted. She is the subject of an ancient prophecy, one that foretells a looming apocalypse. Save Noor—Save the future of all peculiardom.

With only a few bewildering clues to follow, Jacob must figure out how to find V, the most enigmatic, and most powerful, of Abe’s former associates. But V is in hiding and she never, ever, wants to be found. (taken from Amazon)

                   A few things I mention below will be spoiler-adjacent. I don’t think they give away any important plot points, but reader beware.

I was disappointed with this book. That’s not to say it was bad; it wasn’t. It just wasn’t good. The entire book just felt like filler, a big breath taken between scene changes. It honestly seemed like a waste of time.

Ransom Riggs continues to improve as a writer. His skill wasn’t the issue here. It’s just that a good chunk of the book was spent trying to figure things out. It was a “hurry up and wait” situation, which left me wondering what the point was. I felt like a large part of the book could have been condensed and added to either the previous book, or the next book in the series.

I did enjoy seeing more of the entire group of peculiars again. Several of them were missing from A Map of Days (the previous book in the series), so I was happy to have them make an appearance this time. I also enjoyed learning a bit about Noor and seeing how she adjusted to her new life.

There were fewer photos in this book, which was an interesting development. They were what originally drew me to the series in the first place. They’re not necessary, but I missed having them scattered throughout the book.

I appreciated how the world was opened up. By adding new areas to explore, and new peculiars to meet, Ransom Riggs has created the opportunity to really build and expand his world. Unfortunately, he also did something that really bothers me in books: he reused villains. I loathe seeing a villain defeated just to have him show up again (Cassandra Clare, anyone?). It makes a series stagnant.

I hope that in future books. the author will test the boundaries he’s set for himself and introduce new scenarios involving different problems to solve, and – gasp!- maybe even a new villain or two.

I give this one a resounding “meh.”

The Dark Stalkers by Henry Bassett

I: The Dark Stalkers (The Dead Chronicles of Martha Railer Book #1)In a town not too dissimilar to yours lived Martha Railer; a solitary individual who lived by herself, yet enjoyed the company of her close friends whom she spent time with on days out. In a realm outside of human perception, something sinister had been put into motion, and inhuman dark figures arrived in her town. They stalked Martha on her day to day activities, but was she chosen or was it chance or, perhaps, even fate? However, a simple choice of a short cut home would change everything for her…& them. (taken from Amazon)

                               Have you ever seen one of those artsy films? You know, the ones where the story-telling is so different, and the camera shots are so distinct, that you know there will never be another movie like that made, no matter how many other people try to mimic the style? This felt a bit like that.

The story itself is a simple one, but the execution is so unique that the story-line in and of itself really doesn’t matter. I’m used to books that attempt to make the reader a part of the world. This one deliberately keeps the reader at arms’ length, allowing a glimpse into what’s happening, but never opening the door all the way. It lent the book a sinister vibe, like there was a secret being held which added a sense of urgency.

The point of view switches back and forth from that of Martha and the stalkers. Martha never really reveals much personality at all. Because of that, certain things that happened in the book didn’t hit me the way I think they were supposed to. This is one of six novellas and I wonder if possibly combining them all into one full-length novel might help the characters come to life a bit more.

I can’t sum up my opinion of this book in a neat “I liked it” or “I didn’t”. I’ll settle for this: the book is intriguing and will stick with me for quite a while.

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Image result for dark and deepest red by anna-marie mclemoreSummer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes. (taken from Amazon)

     Here’s the thing: I love The Red Shoes. The original story that I know, for those who aren’t familiar, goes a little like this: there’s a girl who’s adopted by a rich family. She’s very spoiled and she thinks she’s all that and a bag of chips. She’s given a pair of red shoes, which only adds to her arrogance. After wearing them to church, despite being told not to, she’s cursed by an old man (I think who does the cursing varies). The curse is that, once she starts dancing, she won’t be able to stop (also, the shoes will superglue themselves to her feet). Of course, the inevitable happens. She even chops off her feet- which stay dancing in the shoes and bar her way into the church. Eventually she learns her lesson, prays for forgiveness for her arrogance, and her heart bursts. It’s a real upper. Deliciously morbid.

The Red Shoes  movie is more about an obsession with dance (the ballerina is performing the Red Shoes ballet). Think The Black Swan, but done first, with better acting and no sex stuff. It’s brilliant.

Since I love this fairy tale so much, I had to grab this retelling. However, I wasn’t feeling it. There are several reasons for this, although I’m sure at least a couple of them fall into the “it’s not you, it’s me” category.

First of all, the chapters are incredibly short. Because of this, it feels like small staccato bursts of storytelling and it didn’t give me a chance to connect with the story-line at all. I don’t necessarily want super long chapters in every book I read, but more than a few pages per chapter would have helped, doubly so because there were multiple points of view.

The first point of view was that of Rosella, who makes herself a pair of red shoes using fabric left from her grandparents. The shoes take hold of her and she can’t control herself or stop dancing. There wasn’t really all that much to her personality, however.

Emil was Rosella’s sort-of boyfriend. He knows the history of “the dancing fever” because his ancestors were in Strasbourg in the 1500’s when a mysterious mass hysteria (curse?) caused many people to dance uncontrollably until their hearts gave out. Because of this, he is the only one able to help Rosella.

The third point of view was that of Lavinia, a girl from the 1500’s who is blamed for the “dancing fever” that grips Strasbourg. She’s blamed because she’s different, which is what this book boils down to; accepting and celebrating diversity. It’s an important message, but not one I was wanting in my fairy tale retelling. It eclipsed the actual plot of the book and, because the book focuses so much on Lavinia being “different”, she’s not given much of a personality. She’s a plot device instead of a character and I feel like that was a real missed opportunity.

Anna-Marie Mclemore used colors to great advantage in telling her story, and was able to paint a vivid setting for the dance fever, but the story in and of itself never felt fully realized to me. It turns out I’ve read another book that this author’s written, and that one wasn’t my bag either. I think it’s just one of those things where my reading personality and her writing just don’t mesh.

I have a feeling this book will get good reviews and become very popular, but it most definitely wasn’t for me.

I do highly recommend watching the 1948 movie, however. It’s fantastic.