Michelle’s Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2015-05-19
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 432
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I have only read the first book in the Temeraire series but it was enough to make Naomi Novik one of my ‘must read’ authors. His Majesty’s Dragon was such a fun fantasy and while I plan on reading the rest of the series eventually, when I heard about Uprooted, a standalone novel, I definitely wanted to read it.

Uprooted was such an intense read. Every time you think things are starting to get resolved, things get crazy again. It’s extremely action-packed. The fantasy world is that of an alternate historical Poland, a world that feels real given that it somehow resembles the fairy tales kids are fed on. Yet there’s a very dark layer to it that sticks with you.

Agnieszka is an unlikely heroine and the Dragon isn’t what you think. The Woods are an evil that stick with you even when you go to sleep. I definitely had a lot of Uprooted-tainted (or corrupted, haha) dreams while reading this. They even stick with me after finishing it.

My biggest complaint is that I felt like I was missing some details or sentences. It could have been that it was a review copy. But you know when you are reading something particularly exciting you may skip a few sentences to see what is going on? That’s how this book sometimes read, even though I would go back and see if I did skip a sentence or two. There were some scenes that could be hard to follow, but I was able to get through them with a good idea of the point and still thoroughly enjoy the book.

I would recommend it to someone who is looking for a good standalone fantasy novel with an ending that is completely satisfying.

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Christina’s Review: Vicious by V.E. SchwabVicious by V. E. Schwab
Published by Macmillan on 2013-09-24
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Fiction, Superheroes
Pages: 364
Format: Paperback
A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers.Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end? In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.“A dynamic and original twist on what it means to be a hero and a villain. A killer from page one…highly recommended!” —Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Marvel Universe vs The Avengers and Patient Zero One of Publishers Weekly's Best Fantasy Books of 2013

Before I continue, let me first mention Michelle has previously reviewed this book. Check out her review here. Her take on Vicious is different than mine and one I think you will enjoy… be sure to share yours!

I loved where the book started. Vicious first began with two characters in a graveyard about to unbury a person. The identity of this person was yet to be seen. The relationship of these characters was also a mystery to be uncovered as the story unfolded. V.E. Schwab developed a small cast of characters with a lot of mystery behind each of them, particular their past and the events that drew them together. In short (which really does not do them justice, but I do not want to give away much) the characters were:

  • Eli – a curious and arrogant young man
  • Victor – a friend of Eli’s who does not want to fall second
    • Together, they are ambitious, daring, careless college guys out to cheat death
  • Sydney – a young girl who crosses Victor’s path
  • Serena – Sydney’s sister
  • Mitch – a friend of Victor’s… a guy who tends to be in the wrong place at the wrong time

The small cast of characters kept the book and the unfolding plot straight-forward with a set purpose. The chapters were short, making this book a quick read. Schwab bounced back and forth across a period of ten years to show past versus current events. I loved the flash backs or crossing of time comparison she utilized… this added a unique element to the book that kept me entertained. Whenever I started to feel lost or curious on what changed the relationship of characters or made a person who they were, the next chapter tended to be a flashback that added background or an explanation.

The story-line revolved around the existence of “EOs” or Extra Ordinary people: Did EOs exist? If so, who were they? Were they born and EO or did they become one later in life? If they became one, how? Were there different types of EOs?

As the concept of EOs were introduced, I started thinking of X-Men or other Marvel characters/super-heroes. Meeting Eli and Victor and seeing their characters develop, I felt like I was reading about the life of Professor Xavier and Magneto. This made the story-line somewhat unoriginal in my opinion, but still a fun, casual read, and one that will be great for our book club with a promising discussion. A few questions I started asking myself about the book as I reached the end: Was there a hero or a villain, and who do I think was the hero or the villain? How did the characters justify their actions? Was there a right or wrong? What would I do if I was in each of their situations?

One area I did get caught up on early was Eli’s and Victor’s fascination with EOs and the concept of death. It just felt unrealistic to me that a person would behave the way they both did in the first few chapters looking back “10 years ago.” It made the book hard for me to relate to and created an unrealistic world for me to escape to, which is what I usually look for in a book.

Despite this, I felt the read was good overall (above average, hence the 3.5 rating). I also think it was a great book club read since it was thought-provoking. I believe people will have differing interpretations or opinions of the characters, their actions, and the events. I recommend this book as a great for-fun read, or casual read-by-the-pool.

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Christina’s Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. MartinA Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2011-07-12
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 1051
Format: Paperback
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW THE ACCLAIMED HBO SERIES GAME OF THRONESDon’t miss the thrilling sneak peek of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Six, The Winds of WinterDubbed “the American Tolkien” by Time magazine, George R. R. Martin has earned international acclaim for his monumental cycle of epic fantasy. Now the #1 New York Times bestselling author delivers the fifth book in his landmark series—as both familiar faces and surprising new forces vie for a foothold in a fragmented empire.  A DANCE WITH DRAGONSA SONG OF ICE AND FIRE: BOOK FIVE In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance—beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys’s claim to Westeros forever.Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone—a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.Praise for A Dance with Dragons   “Filled with vividly rendered set pieces, unexpected turnings, assorted cliffhangers and moments of appalling cruelty, A Dance with Dragons is epic fantasy as it should be written: passionate, compelling, convincingly detailed and thoroughly imagined.”—The Washington Post   “Long live George Martin . . . a literary dervish, enthralled by complicated characters and vivid language, and bursting with the wild vision of the very best tale tellers.”—The New York Times   “One of the best series in the history of fantasy.”—Los Angeles Times From the Trade Paperback edition.

I have finally done it… I have caught up on the Song of Ice and Fire series and finished the fifth book. Now I can reward myself by watching seasons four and five of the TV series on HBO and eagerly wait until Martin releases the sixth book, pre-ordering it when possible and eagerly awaiting its arrival with everyone else. Until then, I wanted to try something different in my review of this book by highlighting my initial reactions broken up throughout the book approximately every 250 pages. Enjoy, and please share your reactions and thoughts as well:

Going into the book:

  • I was not totally thrilled with the fourth book. I enjoyed it, but I felt there was less action and suspense compared to the previous three books which I had come to expect. Entering the fifth book, I was hoping Martin would make up from this lack of action.
  • Book five started with the events that were happening beyond King’s Landing with characters who were not in the fourth book, including: Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon, as well as others in the north and far south.

Through page 250

  • Some of the early chapters, particularly those with Jon at the beginning, were repetitive to chapters from book four. There were a couple of cross-events and repeated dialogues, such as one conversation between Jon and Sam that was almost word-for-word from the fourth book. I am sure this was meant to show the overlap of the events between the two books to bring the reader back to the time at the start of the fourth book and the different interpretations of conversations. However, I felt this made the start of book five long and dragged out. I was hoping the rest of the book would not continue this way.

Through page 500

  • At this point of book five, I felt it was more eventful than book four. (YAY!)
  • There were some new character perspectives introduced whom we had not read before. (For example, there is a chapter from Melisandre’s view) While it was unique, there were almost too many new character perspectives introduced compared to before. Was this to show the complexity of the “game”?
  • On this same point, there were chapters that were not titled directly with the person’s name so the reader had to figure out who the characters were. This was similar to what I started seeing in the fourth book, however, I was not a fan of this design change from the first three books. It almost felt misleading… (examples early in the book included chapters titled: “The Merchant’s Man,” “Reek,” and “The Lost Lord.”

Through page 750

  • The time covered in book four catches up through the overlap of time in book five. I was so excited when I started reading about characters who were in book four again, particularly the chapters on Cersei and Arya, which I found most interesting.

Through the book’s end

  • There was definitely more suspense at the end of book five compared to book four. Some shocking deaths and “what will happen… Martin release book six now!” reactions… The twists could have been predictable, but I still did not expect them and was stuck with my nose glued to the book the last 100 pages in suspense.
  • I think Cersei chapters were still some of my favorite to read because I always expected something dramatic to happen and was not disappointed
  • I wish there was more on Bran in book five… he felt forgotten. Same for Jaime, although I am sure Martin will bring them back with a bang in book six (at least that is what I hope will happen!)

Now that I am caught up on the series, I am eagerly awaiting the release of the sixth book. Martin did a nice job ending the book with suspense… in fact, he did too well of a job, it’s not fair! Book five ended in the same style as book three, with suspense, unfair events, and death. Stick to the series, and get excited. I sense A LOT of suspense and a big turn of events coming in book six, The Winds of Winter. And o yeah… winter is coming.

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

Christina’s Review: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. MartinA Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2005-11-08
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 978
Format: Paperback
THE BOOK BEHIND THE FOURTH SEASON OF THE ACCLAIMED HBO SERIES GAME OF THRONESFew books have captivated the imagination and won the devotion and praise of readers and critics everywhere as has George R. R. Martin’s monumental epic cycle of high fantasy. Now, in A Feast for Crows, Martin delivers the long-awaited fourth book of his landmark series, as a kingdom torn asunder finds itself at last on the brink of peace . . . only to be launched on an even more terrifying course of destruction.A FEAST FOR CROWSIt seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears. . . . With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King’s Landing. Robb Stark’s demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist—or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out. But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead. It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes . . . and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.From the Hardcover edition.

Now that I have finished graduate school, I have more time to read the books on my to-read list. First up was to finish the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and book four: A Feast for Crows. Before I started this book, I had a good friend warn me to not watch the series and to not get upset if I did not read about certain characters because Martin divided the characters amongst books four and five, which are supposed to take place about the same time. Book four, which I just completed, was set in King’s Landing and the surrounding region. Judging by the title, I was expecting war and death… leaving behind a “feast” of bodies for crows to gather and feed on.

Book four featured particular emphasis on the characters of Cersei and Brienne, as well as Jaime. Martin also incorporated chapters on characters such as “The Prophet” and “The Captain of Guards,” some of which I had met before in earlier readings and some new to the game. Martin plays on the series understanding of the “game of thrones” and explains this game and aspirations further in this fourth book. As mentioned, the book focuses on the events of King’s Landing primarily, as well as the surrounding region with emphasis on the Iron Islands, Dorne, and the Eyrie.

Compared to the other books, I felt that this book was uneventful in the end. Maybe this is because the third book featured climactic events like the Red Wedding? Either way, the first 500 to 600 pages of A Feast for Crows was building up the game and characters’ travels. There were deaths (like every Martin book to-date) but none that surprised me or caused my jaw to drop. In addition, there were a few new characters introduced that I did not fall in love with or was anxious to get back to their story. However, these new characters do show just how expansive and complex the game of throwns actually is. One feature I did enjoy in the book was the overlap of characters who crossed paths but did not know who the other was. This added for a little more thrill to see how close these characters were and if they would make that connection with each other or keep moving on along their personal journeys.

Keeping this short and sweet so I do not reveal any spoilers, this book was good. However, it felt like it was an entire book dedicated to setting the stage for events stewing. I am looking forward to reading A Dance with Dragons next… there were some hints to events that may take place in the north during the same time as the events throughout A Feast for Crows. I hope some are true, and others not what they seem… hopefully this next book features more shocking events than the last!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: Half a King by Joe AbercrombieHalf a King by Joe Abercrombie
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2014-07-15
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fantasy, Fiction, Sagas
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

The book’s beginning does not set up Half a King’s true story. Because right away, things get turned on their head and the main character, Yarvi, is sent on quite the journey, literally and figuratively.

I have never read Joe Abercrombie before, but his reputation for the dark and gritty had reached my ears. Half a King is a young adult book though and despite some darker elements, it never strayed too far from material suitable for its intended audience.

My biggest complaint was the ending. I know that this is something that is perhaps stylistically typical of Abercrombie, but the end made me feel hopeless. It was not the type of happily ever ending that I would hope for after a long book.

Half a King is a grand journey fantasy novel, where Yarvi and his companions travel a great distance and undergo great hardships to reach their goals. Sometimes with journey novels I get bored, sick of the journey myself, but this did not happen with this book. I was excited to read it and read it at a very fast pace.

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

Christina’s Review: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. MartinA Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2003-03-04
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 992
Format: Paperback
THE BOOK BEHIND THE THIRD SEASON OF GAME OF THRONES, AN ORIGINAL SERIES NOW ON HBO.Here is the third volume in George R. R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. As a whole, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, bringing together the best the genre has to offer. Magic, mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure fill these pages and transport us to a world unlike any we have ever experienced. Already hailed as a classic, George R. R. Martin’s stunning series is destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.A STORM OF SWORDSOf the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King’s Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. . . .But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others--a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords. . . .From the Paperback edition.

Continuing on through the third book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin still does not disappoint. There are mouth-dropping, page-turning, “WHY?!” yelling’s, and tears throughout the book. As I continue through the series, I am learning to like characters I was not a fan of before, and I have found other characters I once liked to be weak and not my favorite reads as the series progresses. As with the previous two books in the series, Martin’s style of writing and story-telling is right down my ally and has continued to make this series one I recommend for those who enjoy the writings of Ken Follett, J.R.R. Tolkien, and similar epic-adventure series.

Some notes about A Storm of Swords: the action in this book was jam-packed, with major events stacked on top of each other, giving me a “book hangover” at times, as Michelle has called it. The book is a long and heavy read… definitely not one to casually pick up unless you are ready to commit (just as the others in the series). I have found I no longer have to look up characters relationships and houses in the back of the book anymore… Martin has done a great job carrying on characters’ identities and allowing the reader to relate and remain on-track with who is who. This is slightly surprising since there is a lot more on-the-go travels in this book as the reader follows characters through their journeys from castle to castle, along the roads, in the woods, and beyond the wall.

A few notes on character development: Catelyn became one of my least favorite characters when it came to reading her chapters. Martin made her appear to be a hopeless, woe-is-me character. She almost felt pathetic and lost some of that strength from the previous two books that I had admired. Jon became one of my favorite characters to follow during this third book. Before, I felt his chapters had adventure, but were not near the action I was entrapped with that other characters had experienced. In the third book, Martin followed Jon beyond the wall more and surrounded him with adventure, romance, and mystery. Arya is still one of my favorite characters, and her chapters left me on edge as I cheered for her to overcome the odds. Daenerys’ chapters became more adventurous and seductive in the third book, and I was happy to see the attention being drawn back to her more, including connections made in her chapters back to Westeros and previous events. The second book, you may recall in my review on this, I felt her chapters were weak and few between. Martin has done a great job keeping emotions going with highs and lows throughout the book for the characters. As many people who have watched the series and seen the “Red Wedding” may know… do not get too hooked on your favorites. I still stand by my assumption that everyone dies in this series…

On a side note, I have finally started watching the HBO series for the first time on DVD. I’m only half way through the second season, and intend to remain behind my readings with my viewing to keep the surprises to the book. Unfortunately, I will not be able to start the fourth book until I finish with my M.A. in December and have the time and attention to commit. However, as soon as I am able, I intend to jump into the fourth, fifth and sixth books in the series and read through. Can’t wait!

pj - christina