Book Review Roundup

Hey Folks! This is a quick review of the books I read in March and April. No lilypad ratings here, just a quick blurb!

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This was definitely a break from my usual sci fi/fantasy reads. Its the story of a family in Shaker Heights, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland) and the drama that ensues when a free spirited artist and her teenage daughter move into a rental home owned by a prominent Shaker Heights family. There’s secrets, lies, interracial adoptions, and more! I really wanted to read the book because of the interracial adoption angle, but the story is less about that and more about the examination of a dysfunctional family. Since that’s not really my thing, the story, while interesting, didn’t seem to have a resolution. I think I need a concrete problem or issue that needs to be solved by the end. Even something as straightforward as a “will the couple break up or stay together?”. I understand why the book has received the accolades it has. It was very well written, just not what I was expecting.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I was disappointed by this book. It kept showing up in my Amazon recommendations, so I caved in and gave it a try. I also got the audiobook to help me get through it. It just never clicked for me. It was definitely a break from the medieval fantasy and dystopian stories that I usually enjoy, and that’s a good thing. I could never really connect with the main character, and I wasn’t able to invest in the world. Maybe the stakes were not high enough, I’m not sure. I read it and promptly forgot about it. I wouldn’t say it was bad, it just wasn’t engrossing. Not very helpful, I know, but my overall feeling was…meh.

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey

This is the 8th and penultimate novel in The Expanse. I really enjoyed it, but I would have enjoyed it more if I had re-read Persepolis Rising, which is book 7. The action starts right up, without much review or exposition about what went down before. I gradually remembered stuff, but re-reading really would have helped. Plus, as usual with The Expanse, I was so caught up in the plot and the characters that I love, that I probably read it too fast! I highly recommend the series as a whole. I also recommend the Amazon Prime TV show, The Expanse, which is based on the book series. You can watch all three season in preparation for season 4, which is due later this year.

A Time of Blood by John Gwynne

This is the second book in the trilogy, Of Blood and Bone. I liked this one more than the first book, A Time of Dread. There were a few more callbacks to the events in the original series, The Faithful and the Fallen. You don’t need to have read The Faithful and the Fallen to enjoy this series, but its nice to get the real stories behind the legends. If you enjoyed the first series, definitely get your hands on this one. Now the long wait for the conclusion!

So that brings you up to date. The next book on my list is Empire of Grass, by Tad Williams. The book comes out on Tuesday, May 7th. Its the second book in The Last King of Osten Ard series. This new series takes place roughly 30 years after the end of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Can’t wait!

Happy Reading!

2019 Expectations!

Its been awhile but I’m back. Happy New Year! I feel like January was just an extension of 2018, so the new year is really kicking off in February!

There are lots of new releases coming in 2019. Here are some of the ones I am most looking forward to (in no particular order):

  1. Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian (February 5)
  2. Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons (February 5)
  3. Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey ( March 26)
  4. Empire of Grass by Tad Williams (May 7)
  5. Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi (June 4)
  6. Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan (July 9)
  7. Winds of Winter by George R. R.  Martin (??) Yes, I know this is unlikely, but it always goes on the list. 🙂

There are some other books that I’d like to read this year. Here are few that I didn’t get to last year, or when they were first released, but I’d like to add to my list for 2019. Again, in no particular order:

  1. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessamyn Ward
  2. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  3. City of Bones by Martha Wells

I finished A Time of Dread by John Gwynne a few days ago. This is a trilogy that takes place about 100 years after events at the end of The Faithful and the Fallen Series. It took me a little bit to remember the events and characters of Faithful and the Fallen, but once I re-oriented myself, I found myself deeply emerged in the world all over again. The characters from the first series are long dead of course, but we do get glimpses of what happened to them, and how those events have shaped the world today. Definitely recommend it . Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

I am currently reading King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist. It has been a long time since I’ve read anything from Mr. Feist. I happened to see this on an Amazon recommendation list, and I was excited to dive back into his works. I am enjoying it so far. The world building is almost too detailed. That is quite a bit of info dumping in these early chapters, but I’m invested enough at this early stage to keep going.

What’s on your list for 2019?

 

An Ember in the Ashes (Series) by Sabaa Tahir

This review will cover the first three books in the Ember series (An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night and A Reaper at the Gates). The fourth and final book in the series is due in 2019.

This is the story of Laia, a young woman in a slave class that finds her world destroyed, and ends up in a band of resistors who are looking to finally free themselves of the Martials, who are the ruling class of the empire. There is also Elias, who is student at a military school, which trains the best and the brightest to become Masks, an elite fighting force that serves the empire. Eventually, Laia and Elias’s stories intertwine, and we begin our grand adventure to destroy the empire. But of course, the threat is much deeper and our “heroes” discover a threat that is bigger than anything they could have imagined. The fate of the world is at stake!

The story is full of the familiar tropes that we all know; the bastard of a powerful family who wants out; the unrequited love of a best friend; the conspiracy that is bigger than first thought, etc. It makes some plot developments predictable, but, there are enough plot twists that are not conventional, that really elevates the story from being typical fantasy cliches to an interesting story that doesn’t always go the way you’d think.

My one quibble with the novel is my utter lack of interest in the main protagonist, Laia. Especially in the first book, I constantly found myself getting annoyed with her. She was so indecisive, so naive and didn’t really seem to think things through. Granted, it can be just as frustrating when the main character seems to do everything perfectly, even when its something they have never done before, but this almost made me not want to finish the book. What saved me was the story of Elias. I found his character to be much more compelling. Sure, there are some major tropes going on with him as well, but I just found his journey to be the more intriguing of the two. His inner turmoil about being turned into this amoral fighting machine, fighting for an empire he really didn’t care for, while not groundbreaking, was just plain old interesting. The cast of characters surrounding Elias at the school helped as well, although I wish there was a bit more character development there. They weren’t quite distinctive enough for me to really tell them apart, but I think there would have been more time for that sort of development if the book was focused on Elias, and not Laia.

Another reason for me to continue with the series was the twisting and turning of the plot, which I found made up for my lack of interest in Laia. I won’t reveal those twists of course, but we also get some new point of view characters starting in the second book that really beings to round out the overall story.

I did find that once I finished the second book, I really thought that the third book would be the conclusion. Then I read that this was a quartet and not a trilogy. I really think the story could have been condensed to three books, since there were some plot shenanigans that were going on to stretch out.

I know I seem fairly critical, but I did come to enjoy the characters and the story, especially when the new point of view characters were introduced in book two. I am looking forward to the fourth installment, and discovering the ultimate fate of the characters.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPad1/2 out of 5

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation is an alternate history set in the aftermath of the American Civil War. A civil war which ended in part because of zombies. Sounds like fun!

Well, not quite. Just because the dead aren’t staying dead, that doesn’t mean some form of subjugation and oppression of blacks and Native Americans would go away. It just takes a different form. In this timeline, slavery is abolished, but there are still shamblers to fight. So, former slaves and native peoples are forced into combat schools where they are trained to fight shamblers in order to protect the white population. Our main character, Jane, is a young black girl who has been trained at Miss Preston’s School of Combat to be a shambler fighter. It is supposed to be her greatest hope to be chosen by a white lady from high society to be her “Attendant”.  These “Attendants” are basically body guards for their lady, and are meant to protect them from shamblers. Of course, things go horribly wrong for our heroine, and our adventure begins.

I enjoyed the point of view of Jane, who is not only one of, if not the best fighter at the school, but she is rough around the edges to say the least. She is brash and somewhat unapologetic. Its refreshing to have her as the protagonist rather than being the sidekick.   She is reminiscent of the “charming roguish thief”, that you see in many fantasy series. I liked the characters themselves, but I’m not sure how I feel about the actual plot. I liked it when they were at the school, and when they were able to get out of the school and into the surrounding areas (Baltimore, to be exact), but once the location changes, then I began to lose a bit of the connection I had to the story. I still enjoyed it, but the story was expanding a little too quickly for my taste. I had just gotten into that particular corner of the world, and then I was taken out of it. This is the first book in a series, so if there were going to be other books, I felt more time could’ve been spent in their original location. (I’m being vague because I am avoiding spoilers).

I was also concerned about the timeline. I kept thinking it was closer to the end of the civil war than it was (the story takes place in 1880, the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865). I would read a story about what happened at the Battle of Gettysburg when the dead on both sides began to rise.  Maybe that can be a prequel!

The writing had a sharpness that was appealing, with an economy of words that I think worked well overall. Just enough description, but not too much.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and I encourage others to pick it up. The author also has a list of resources in her “Author’s Note” about the history of industrial schools, and how the United States government sent Native children there to be “civilized”. These schools were the basis for her “combat schools” in the novel.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 out of 5

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

I think I heard about this book through io9’s monthly article about books they are anticipating. I’ll leave the link here. They have a really good list. I’m also interested in Dread Nation and Night Dahlia.

Ash Princess is about a princess, Thora/Theodosia, of the conquered nation of Astrea, who is held hostage by her nation’s conquerors, the Kalovaxians.  Thora is used as a tool to keep the Astreans in line. Step out of line, and the princess is beaten. She is the princess of ashes only, and is treated at times like an honored guest, and at other times like a criminal. Of course, rebellion is in the air, and Thora soon becomes involved in a plot to overthrow the Kalovaxians and take back her kingdom.

As I was reading along, I thought this was a stand alone novel. The plot moved along at a very brisk pace, with just enough information about the characters, culture and circumstances to advance the plot. There were breaks in the story for exposition about the use of gems in the Astrean religion, a little bit of background on the Kalovaxians, and the destruction they have wreaked not only on Astrea, but other nations in this world. But it all seemed pretty surface, no real depth. Which I expect when a story is a stand alone. More emphasis on plot and less on character development. This isn’t a criticism, it was just the impression I got while reading. As we get nearer to the end, it becomes obvious that this won’t get resolved by the end of the book. And I find that I don’t mind that. I am actually curious about what will happen next. I like a good story about the oppressed rising up against the oppressors!

That would be the main criticism I had. I wished that this felt like a first book in a series, rather than a stand alone novel. This may be my own fault for not researching more on this book, but I would like to have seen more world building. The Kalovaxians have a history of concurring and pillaging other countries, so I would like to know more about that. This will probably (hopefully) happen in the next book (or books), but more world building now would have made the story a bit richer, for me.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This book showed up on several lists of anticipated books of 2018. I added it to my own list because I was in the mood for a Young Adult (YA) story. This is not a dystopian YA story, which is a good thing.

This is the story of a country in what appears to be an African-like continent, where magic has been eradicated (or has it??), and the people who used magic were almost wiped out. Their descendants are an oppressed people who are shunned, ostracized and brutalized by the current regime. They are often used as servants/slaves to the upper classes, including the royal family. This purging of magic took place about 11 years ago. Of course, our young heroine, Zelie, is descended from magic users, and the story focuses on her discovering her destiny to bring magic back.

You can definitely pick out the epic fantasy influences. There’s the hero’s journey, where Zelie denies her destiny, then accepts it. There’s the loss of the wise mentor. There is also the formation of the rag tag group of heroes who will help her on her journey. There are tales of gods, wars, magical objects, and of course romance. There are references to places with similar names to ours (Britaunis, Porltoganes, etc.) This is definitely the same way in which more traditional fantasy infuses medieval English or French cultural influences into the world building.  There is also the use of the Yoruba language that lends even more grounding in cultures here on our own earth.

What this story does so well, is dramatizing a real underlying sense of fear, hate and oppression. There is a heavy sense throughout the book of the depths of hate and intolerance and the lengths people will go to in order to oppress those who are different. The hate and animosity runs deep, and some characters are overcome by it, while others clearly struggle to rationalize what has been done to the magic users, all in the name of  protecting the people. The Author’s Note at the end of the book gives more insight into how this story reflects modern day issues.

I have a few nitpicks, but the one I will mention here is the setting, or timing of the current story.  I would’ve liked this story to take place maybe another generation or two from the eradication of magic. Seeing how wounded this society would be after so many years, would make the stakes a bit higher. How would the descendants of the magic users feel? Would they have sided with their oppressors and believed that magic was bad? Would they mostly be in hiding? Everything seemed so new and raw. I would like to have seen the toll this event has taken on the society, another generation or two later.

Overall, this is a very engaging story, with characters you can root for. There is so much more to this story, so I am looking forward to part two!

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2