Thursday, June 30, 2016

"The Vagrants" by Yiyun Li

Two years ago, I read Farhana's review of The Vagrants at Digesting the Words- even then, I'd owned this book for a long time. I noted I wanted to read it soon, but somehow it got forgotten among the many (many) tomes that comprise my pile. Earlier this year, I decided to reorganize the unread books in my stash in an attractive manner that I thought might catch my attention better than having them sit in the windowless room that is my library. The Vagrants was one of the books I put at eye level on the shelf, and eventually it wore me down enough to pick it up.

Historical fiction is usually hard to crack into for me- the first fifty pages are an effort to acquaint myself with all the characters the author decided needed to be included. Although this book has many characters and points of view, it was easy to tell each of them apart- each had a distinct voice, reminding me somewhat of Alice Hoffman's penchant for including the main players of a village in a book. Although it's set in a city, it definitely is given the small town feel, where everyone seems to at least know of everyone else.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Brilliant and illuminating, this astonishing debut novel by the award-winning writer Yiyun Li is set in China in the late 1970s, when Beijing was rocked by the Democratic Wall Movement, an anti-Communist groundswell designed to move China beyond the dark shadow of the Cultural Revolution toward a more enlightened and open society. In this powerful and beautiful story, we follow a group of people in a small town during this dramatic and harrowing time, the era that was a forebear of the Tiananmen Square uprising.
'Morning dawns on the provincial city of Muddy River. A young woman, Gu Shan, a bold spirit and a follower of Chairman Mao, has renounced her faith in Communism. Now a political prisoner, she is to be executed for her dissent. Her distraught mother, determined to follow the custom of burning her only child’s clothing to ease her journey into the next world, is about to make another bold decision. Shan’s father, Teacher Gu, who has already, in his heart and mind, buried his rebellious daughter, begins to retreat into memories. Neither of them imagines that their daughter’s death will have profound and far-reaching effects, in Muddy River and beyond.
'In luminous prose, Yiyun Li weaves together the lives of these and other unforgettable characters, including a serious seven-year-old boy, Tong; a
crippled girl named Nini; the sinister idler Bashi; and Kai, a beautiful radio news announcer who is married to a man from a powerful family. Life in a world of oppression and pain is portrayed through stories of resilience, sacrifice, perversion, courage, and belief. We read of delicate moments and acts of violence by mothers, sons, husbands, neighbors, wives, lovers, and more, as Gu Shan’s execution spurs a brutal government reaction.
'Writing with profound emotion, and in the superb tradition of fiction by such writers as Orhan Pamuk and J. M. Coetzee, Yiyun Li gives us a stunning novel that is at once a picture of life in a special part of the world during a historic period, a universal portrait of human frailty and courage, and a mesmerizing work of art.'

Usually with books like this one, I edit the blurb from Goodreads because most of the few paragraphs I generally find overly gushy about the author's writing. This is one of those rare cases where I don't delete those large swaths- Yiyun Li deserves and earned that praise of her writing style with this book. I think the best word for her writing style is fluid- you aren't tempted to skip or skim anything, because most of the paragraphs in the book are necessary, and written in a way where you want to read and absorb every word.

I had preconceptions about the plot, being it's set in late 1970s Communist era China, but most of my ideas about what the plot might be like were wrong. It's less about the politics, and more about the people/characters, which I do feel is the right way to go about it. I do like idea books, but generally my five star ratings go to books where I felt I was the character, or identified with them. More than that, I got a feel for the changing atmosphere of the city of Muddy River as the book went on- as little as I've traveled physically, I do feel like this book took me to China.

The Vagrants is an elegantly written book that leaves you feeling satisfied with most aspects of it. However, some of the characters were so predatory and chilling, it was a bit difficult to enjoy reading about their exploits. Nonetheless, for the experienced adult reader, The Vagrants offers an alarming, yet somehow complementary look at the people of China during that timeframe.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a fluid historical that evokes a multitude of feelings.

Content: Ages 18+ for disturbing scenes not limited to violence (including to animals) or sexual assault.

Page Count: 349 pages

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fortnightly Update #13: Book Binging, a New Challenge, and a Tree Tragedy

Due to a book buying binge, I decided to join Rachelle @ Fortified by Books's Sci-Fi Summer Reading Challenge. If you've got a book stockpile of science fiction (or its sub genres) you want to reduce, you may want to join us. Other than that, I haven't been too busy online- most of my efforts have been focused on keeping things together in real life. Having three wild beasts/pets and a mother who's still recovering from hip surgery is eating up some of my time, though other things have also kept me on my feet most days.

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

the-pile Additions:

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
This is a very popular title that I decided to get just because it was cheap at my local thrift store. Also, it looks like a good summer read.

Chanur's Homecoming (Chanur #4) by C.J. Cherryh
I just ordered a bunch of books from Better World Books, with a trilogy of the Chanur series among them. I was a bit shocked to find the next in the series at the thrift store, but it was there, so I got it as well.

The Winds of War (The Henry Family #1) by Herman Wouk
A former pastor of my former church loved this book- and since it's historical WWII fiction, I thought I'd try it out, though my last WWII fiction left me unsatisfied.

the-invisible-pile Additions:

This series is interesting because the author wrote the last book of the series first, and then wrote others. Chronologically, Wild Seed is the first book, so I'll be starting with that one, even though she wrote it second to last of the series. I will hopefully be reading these this summer during the Sci-Fi Summer Reading Challenge.

I've seen most of the movie version of this, but it was a long time ago. I have wanted to read the book since then, but we'll see how I like it. I've actually never read a Diana Wynne Jones book before.

Currently Reading:

Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani
I haven't been reading this much, as I've been craving historical fiction, which leads us to the book below:

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
This is a historical set in the late 1970s in China. I've never read anything by this author before, but her writing almost reminds me of Alice Hoffman's due to her ability to make a large part of a city be characters for her book. You'd think it'd be too many characters to keep track of, but the way she's interwoven them is truly brilliant.

Finished These Books:

Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire #1) by Michael J. Sullivan
I'm excited for the next book in this series, but I wish this book's races had been more unique.

Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
I was wowed by the first half of the book, and let down by the last half. This was a Travel the World in Books pick for me this month.

In the Blogosphere:

Wendy @ Musings of a Bookish Kitty posts her Bookish Thoughts on The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling- another "male" pseudonym). This is one I'd like to read soon.

Rachelle @ Fortified by Books posts her #ShelfLove: Mid-Year Check In. She's done a lot with her TBR pile. Meanwhile, I have stacks of unshelved books all over my house (because I like them/may pick them up someday).

Isabell @ Dreaming With Open Eyes has a discussion on Why is a Good Graphic Design in Blogs Important?. I think she has a lot of good points.

Guinevere @ Twinja Book Reviews posts The Diverse Books Tag! The search for a diverse list of books!- which has a few new ones I haven't seen before, if you seek diverse titles like I do.

Guiltless Reader @ Guiltless Reading has her #Friday56 & #BookBeginnings: The Light Between Oceans {Who's joining the Readalong?)- about a readalong of The Light Between Oceans that I didn't even know was happening. If you'd like to join in, the start date is July 8th.

La La @ La La in the Library posts her inaugural Saturday Evening Conversations post featuring Jolene of Jo's Book Blog. This looks like a great way to get to know other book bloggers.

In My Life (Tree Tragedy):

I have been busy the past few weeks- we got our sprinklers fixed, my mom started driving again five-ish days ago (pretty early for after hip surgery), we've had guests over, and I've had to hunt for groceries all by myself (harkening back to summers I used to spend with my grandma). There was a local animal rescue group who wanted donations of baked goods for a combination yard sale/bake sale, and since I love baking, I decided to do that- making my mom's famous brownies (brownies with marshmallows on top, with a boiled chocolate frosting on top of that), my cupcakes (chocolate cake with a hint of coffee with white chocolate frosting), and my white chocolate chip cookies. Midway through my bakeathon on Friday, I looked out to our backyard and saw this:

We've had high winds (even for the area) and higher temperatures- combine that with my hand watering the lawn, and idiot squirrels over-burrowing into our trees, and you have a recipe for a falling limb. Although it fell on Delphine (our refurbished motorhome) there appears to be no permanent damage (that I can see yet). It was a shock to us, as the tree is fairly healthy compared to some of the others inhabiting our yard (quaking aspens = exasperated sigh). I'm grateful a branch didn't fall on the other side of the tree, as our power line runs past there. Hopefully we'll have some tree trimmer-people come by and give us a decent estimate on taking down the remainder of that cracked in half branch- clearly it won't be stable enough to remain, and it's even longer than the currently downed one (I estimate the one on Delphine is about 20-25 feet long).

How has your past few weeks gone? Are you doing any reading challenges this summer?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I'm Joining the Sci-Fi Summer Reading Challenge- Fashionably Late!

Rachelle @ Fortified by Books is hosting a Sci-fi Summer Reading Challenge (June 20th-September 21st) that I had originally not planned on joining. But then, I binge bought a bunch of sci-fi books, and the rest is history (and also, procrastination). Because I bought so many books, I'm aiming to meet the Viper Pilot level of the challenge (6-10 books). Here are some of the things I'm looking forward to reading:

Seed to Harvest: Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay's Ark, Patternmaster (Patternmaster #1-4 ) by Octavia E. Butler
I bought this on ebook because I've had it on my Amazon Wishlist and the price finally dropped- I'd read the author's Xenogenesis series, and I wanted to read more of her work.

The Chanur Saga (Chanur #1-3) by C.J. Cherryh
I bought this because SPACE CATS (well, sentient aliens/lions, but they are a form of cats). Also, I enjoyed C.J. Cherryh's Faded Sun Trilogy last year.

I have other sci-fi books to read, but it's always nice to have new ones on hand for a challenge.

Happy (Summer) Reading!

"Corelli's Mandolin" by Louis de Bernières

This is a book I've hauled around with me for a while now- I bought it when I lived in Montana, and then it languished on my shelf until I packed it for moving. I was a bit excited for this one because it takes place on an island, making it perfect for the TTWIB (Travel the World in Books) monthly theme (islands). As I've never, to my knowledge, read a novel set in Greece, I was excited to learn more about that region of the world.

There seem to be two camps of WWII fiction- those who loathe it, and those who adore it. I generally like it, but I think my only real issue with this book is it can't decide what it wants to be. The first half of it is the most eloquent imagery I've read in a long time, while the second half devolves into plot twisting (which I found unnecessary, given the first half was a slow and steady read). Once past the first chapters, it's hard to stop reading, but near the end I almost wanted to stop (to preserve the good parts of the story, in my eyes).

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn’t so bad—at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of “Heil Hitler” with his own “Heil Puccini”, and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. It isn't long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair--despite her engagement to a young fisherman, Mandras, who has gone off to join Greek partisans. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.
'British author Louis de Bernières is well known for his forays into magical realism in such novels as The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. Here he keeps it to a minimum, though certainly the secondary characters with whom he populates his island—the drunken priest, the strongman, the fisherman who swims with dolphins—would be at home in any of his wildly imaginative Latin American fictions. Instead, de Bernières seems interested in dissecting the nature of history as he tells his ever-darkening tale from many different perspectives. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin works on many levels, as a love story, a war story and a deconstruction of just what determines the facts that make it into the history books.'

There is a lot going on in this book, but as long as you remember the main characters' names, it's not hard to puzzle out. The characters I liked the most were (by far) Pelagia and her father, along with their pet pine marten. The rest of the characters were interesting, but not given enough backstory to give them depth, though Carlos is a slight exception in that aspect. Although I'd hoped to learn more about Cephalonia and Greece as a whole, much of the information and backstory given had to do with WWII.

As I mentioned, the ending of this book was painful to me- not only has it been done before, it just simply didn't match the beautiful beginning of this book. For that reason, this book was hard to rate- it does have some worthy stories to tell, but they are given an ending more suitable for some dramatic contemporary fiction- not historical fiction with light romance. Another reviewer had mentioned a similar dislike of the second half of the book, so I suppose it isn't just me.

Corelli's Mandolin is a beautiful historical with another book's ending. As much as I've pondered a reason why the book would end so weirdly, I just can't figure out why the characters would end up as they did, if it were actually meant to be their story. The historical cohesion of the story suffered as well. I only recommend this one if you have a pointed interest in anything set in Cephalonia, because as a story this book doesn't make much sense to me.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a beautiful book with a mismatched ending.

Content: Ages 18+ for sexual content, war crimes (violence- lots of violence), and an unsatisfactory ending.

Page Count: 437 pages

Sunday, June 19, 2016

SFF: The 5 Books You Recommend to Recent High School Grads

Sunday Fun Five #56:

A Countdown of

The 5 Books You Recommend to Recent High School Grads

5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This is both a coming of age book and vastly entertaining to those who love video games. If you happen to know '80s lore, it will make a bit more sense.

4. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (Daughter of Cambodia #1) by Loung Ung
I think at this age (18ish) human beings are at the height of the "it's all about me" stage. Sure, some people never grow out of it, but when you come into your own and start making your own decisions, you start to lose perspective on how easy a life most of us have. This is an easy, but hard to read book due to the emotional reaction from reading it- keep your tissue box close.

3. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
I think this is the only introspective novel I chose- a grown woman recollects pieces of her past from finding a cat's eye marble. It covers themes of self and who we are, but also, it's just a plain good read.

2. The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle #1) by Patrick Rothfuss
This is another coming of age book, but also one of my favorite fantasy novels. It's one of those books I had a bit of a reading slump after reading it (and its sequel) because it's a Thanksgiving dinner, not an appetizer (make of that what you will).

1. Lucky by Alice Sebold
This memoir is about college rape, but it is relevant to pretty much everyone due to the unnerving prevalence of sexual assault in our society. I highly recommend it.

Which books do you recommend to recent high school grads? Are there books you wish you read after graduating (or getting your GED as I did)?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Early Critique: "Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire #1)" by Michael J. Sullivan

Disclaimer: I was given a free advance ecopy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher, Random House/Ballantine Del Rey in exchange for an honest review. My opinion remains as forthright as ever.

Expected Publication: June 28th

I'm always a bit apprehensive trying out a book by a new-to-me, but generally well respected author, because there's always the possibility I'll be less than impressed. I had low expectations for this book because of that, though I knew there was always the chance that the author might actually impress me- and that's what happened in this case. Age of Myth has plenty of mythology to satisfy those who might consider themselves a bit of a mythology buff.

This book was easy to dive into for me- several things factored into this, but the main one I noticed was the author made each of the characters distinctive. Sometimes with fantasy, I am so awash with names, goals, and plots that I can barely wrap my head around which is which. From the beginning, I could differentiate characters, which given each character started in a different part of the world, helped a lot to hurry up the plot. Beyond that, the characters were fairly active from beginning to end- no endless travelogues or introspection (other than the few scenes needed for fleshing out the world).

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer, Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom, and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.'

I was pleasantly surprised to find the author had included plenty of heroines in the novel- generally, male authors tend to add a few female characters, then fill up the rest of the world with male characters. That wasn't so with this book- I'd say the female characters almost outnumbered the male. Suri and Persephone both proved their merit, though I prefered Suri of the two because she has a pet wolf(!) and she reminds me ever so slightly of Luna Lovegood (of Harry Potter fame). Persephone is a clear leader-character, but both she and Suri have moments where they aren't as clever as their smarts would suggest they are. Though Raithe was well-characterized, something about him seemed a bit dull- Malcolm was his more dynamic half.

If you've read a few fantasy novels, chances are you'll recognize many of the races in this fantasy world. I think that was one of the disappointing aspects of this book- although I've yet to "meet" all the races, most of them seem pretty much the typical ones you'd find in fantasy. The author does well at weaving lore around them to make them seem unique, but I can't help but feel a bit let down by the fact that they aren't that different. The magic in this book still puzzles me a bit, though I don't mind mysterious magic in fantasy. With the worldbuilding in this book being a bit mysterious as well, it seems to suit the ongoing theme.

Age of Myth came as a pleasant surprise to me- fantasy infused with great worldbuilding set at a quick pace is sometimes hard to come by for me. With passages that bring you straight to the action, while being subtly lyrical, Age of Myth has a lot to offer the vacationing fantasy reader. It's hard to say what might befall the characters in their continuing adventures, but needless to say, I'll be sticking around to read the next book. If you want to visit a land steeped in different cultures and myths this summer and can't afford a plane ticket, Age of Myth might be the book for you.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a mythology rich fantasy that isn't a slow read!

Content: Ages 16+ for violence, prejudice, and magic.

Page Count: 432 pages

Alternate Title: Agent Meth, bestowed by my mother, who always seems supportive of my reading habits, even when she actually misheard me say Age of Myth.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Fortnightly Update #12: The Life of an Unofficial CNA

This week will be another quicker update: I've been very busy since Monday, the day of my mom's hip replacement surgery. Although she spent two days in the luxury accommodations of her hospital room (which was actually a lot nicer than any she'd had in Montana), I caught a ride to the hospital to make sure they were treating her right. I should have actually berated them into treating her worse, because a hospital staff can take care of a lot, whereas one person can only do one thing at a time (nominally me). By the time she came home, I thought I'd have everything in hand, as most of the tasks looked easy enough for me to complete with time to spare...

But then we ran into some snags. Her prescriptions were a complete beast to get. Although we'd been assured beforehand by the nice staff of our pharmacy that there shouldn't be issues with me picking up prescriptions, one of my mom's prescriptions was one they didn't have. I waited an hour for the first round of pills, then I had to go down the street and wait another ten minutes on another bottle. When I got home, my mom noticed they hadn't given her one of the more important ones she had to have on hand for the next day. I called the pharmacy, who said they hadn't received a script for it. I looked through my mom's hospital folders for a number to the department she was taken care of at- they had one number on one of the materials, but only to the wrong department, which was unavailable. I looked up the hospital online, hunting through the website for the number, and made sure they sent a script. I again called the pharmacy, who assured me they had the prescription filled. I was prepared to tongue lash them, but they did have the prescription for me.

TL;DR: Pills are sometimes harder to get than you'd expect.

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

the-pile Additions:


the-invisible-pile Additions:


Currently Reading:

Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire #1) by Michael J. Sullivan
Despite fairly low expectations (I've never read anything by this author before), I've been impressed with this book so far- it has likeable characters and interesting worldbuilding. I'm only about 40%+ through, but I wouldn't be surprised if it exceeds 3.5 Stars.

Finished These Books:

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey
I wrote a review for this one, but the takeaway is, it didn't meet my expectations for any of the genres it could be listed as, I had high expectations for it, and the pacing was really great (it didn't take me long to read this one). I wasn't blown away, but it's a good read.

In the Blogosphere:

Becca @ I'm Lost in Books posts on #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks - I Finally Made an Update Post!

La La Toadstone @ La La in the Library reveals Why I Love Anime, with five tv show and five movie selections. It's great for those looking to jump into the genre if you're having a staycation this summer.

Michelle @ True Book Addict posts Cat Thursday - It's one of those weeks..., which is one of those features I always click on.

In My Life:

If you didn't notice from my opening paragraphs, I've been busy taking care of my mom. As a pre-reward to myself, I also finally broke down and got an Xbox One, without the creepy all seeing eye that is the Kinect sensor. I think I've actually read more than I've played it, despite having a bunch of games I've wanted to play for a long time (Fallout 4, Forza Horizon 2, among others). My mom living in her lift chair in the living room may have something to do with it- when I explained I'd struck some avatar in Fallout 4 over the back of the head with a tire iron, she was a bit appalled. She also was creeped out by how realistic the graphics were when I was creating a character (Jane Doe). I have a feeling if she saw me play the Sims 3 in front of her, she'd be more entertained.

Other than appalling her with my virtual life, I've learned to give my mom her injections (for which watching House MD all the time paid off). I was irritated with the syringes they gave me- no matter how hard I tapped, the air bubble didn't float to the top. I resorted to administering the med until the bottom, where the air bubble remained, not injecting it (injecting air is a no-go). Since it was one of the meds given more as an extra precaution than anything else, I think I did an okay job. I'm just glad I'm not a nurse, a profession that four other people in my family have been.

Much like most human beings on the planet today, I'm saddened and appalled by the senseless shooting of many people at a nightclub in Florida. Fifty beautiful people have left the planet today needlessly, and rather than spout my philosophies on how to stop such acts, I'd like to remember the victims. They aren't the only people to depart the world today, nor the only ones to leave as a result of violence, but my thoughts are with them and their families. We need to love each other and make the world a less hateful place in their honor.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Early Critique: "Spells of Blood and Kin" by Claire Humphrey

Disclaimer: I was given a free advance ecopy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My opinion remains as forthright as ever.

Expected Publication: June 14th

What this book suffers the most from is comparison. Unfortunately, someone decided to name drop some of my favorite authors in the blurb on NetGalley (Alice Hoffman and Anne Bishop, among others), which led to high expectations on my part. At this point, I'm unsure if my expectations were so high I didn't enjoy it as much as I suspected I would, but at the same time, something about this book didn't quite satiate my requirements for urban fantasy, magical realism, or dark fantasy (as it's labeled).

This book doesn't suffer from any pacing issues, which is a recommendation in itself. I often struggle to get into books, even those I truly enjoy, due to poor pacing and unnecessary blocks of description and worldbuilding. All of the text that was in this book seemed to be relevant to it, which makes it a quicker read. However, I didn't have any sections of text I highlighted to return to because (for one reason or another) they stuck out to me as indicative of the author's writing style.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'In her extraordinary debut, Spells of Blood and Kin, Claire Humphrey deftly weaves her paranormal world with vivid emotional depth and gritty violence. Bringing together themes of death, addiction, and grief, Claire takes readers on a human journey that goes beyond fantasy.
'When her beloved grandmother dies suddenly, 22-year-old Lissa Nevsky is left with no choice but to take over her grandmother's magical position in their small folk community. That includes honoring a debt owed to the dangerous stranger who appears at Lissa's door.
'Maksim Volkov needs magic to keep his brutal nature leashed, but he's already lost control once: his blood-borne lust for violence infects Nick Kaisaris, a charming slacker out celebrating the end of finals. Now Nick is somewhere else in Toronto, going slowly mad, and Maksim must find him before he hurts more people.
'Lissa must uncover forbidden secrets and mend family rifts in order to prevent Maksim from hurting more people, including himself. If she fails, Maksim will have no choice but to destroy both himself and Nick.'

You'd think being the heroine-lover that I am, the female characters in this book would be some of my favored ones. Instead, Maksim was really the only character of true interest to me in this book. All the other characters seemed almost unfinished or unrelatable, while Maksim stood out as different. Despite the potential for a large amount of action in this book, not much of it happened- a lot of it was centered in Maksim's past. Claire, who I thought I'd relate to as a fellow live-in granddaughter, seemed so static it was almost painful- though her stepsister tried to break her out of her shell, she changed only minutely through the course of the book. Though Claire's attitude and actions may have something to do with her grandmother's death, there was nothing interesting I found about her, other than the fact that she could do magic.

The magic in this book seemed more realistic than most of the magic you'd see elsewhere- in other words, don't expect lightning to shoot out of Claire's eyes. Her magic is performed with eggs during certain phases of the moon. I was deeply unsatisfied with some of the worldbuilding in this book- although it reeks of magical realism, usually in magical realism there's a more dynamic plot with regards to characters' relationships. I was left a lot miffed that there wasn't more to Spells of Blood and Kin, because it had pacing worthy of a more interesting book.

Spells of Blood and Kin is an excellently paced novel with a lukewarm plot. I'm not sure how the author did it, but I was hooked from the beginning to the end, regardless of my feelings toward the characters and world they inhabited. Although I was left disappointed there wasn't more to it, this is still a solidly good book that held my interest while I read it- I just doubt I'll recall much about it in a year.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for a good horror-tinged fantasy that didn't quite meet my expectations.

Content: Ages 18+ for adultish themes including gore, violence, swearing, and sexual mentions.

Page Count: 320 pages

Sunday, June 5, 2016

SFF: The 5 Books That Take You to Your Happy Place

Sunday Fun Five #55:

A Countdown of

The 5 Books That Take You to Your Happy Place

5. Tithe (Modern Faerie Tales #1) by Holly Black
This isn't really a happy book, but I think the memories associated with it make it one of my favorites, and also a book that takes me to my happy place. Tithe is an edgy YA urban fantasy, that remained a favorite of my teen years, helping me be a rebellious teen in plain sight. None of my teachers felt a book with butterfly wings on the cover could be anything but innocuous...

4. Fate's Edge (The Edge #3) by Ilona Andrews
A recent favorite that I still haven't reviewed, Fate's Edge may be my favorite of Ilona Andrews' books. Don't get me wrong, I love the Kate Daniels series too, but something about two people with gray morals falling in love while planning a con is just perfect.

3. The Hero and the Crown (Damar #1) by Robin McKinley
A book I wasn't sure I even liked at first, but later fell in love with, The Hero and the Crown is one of my favorite books to reread. I love that Robin McKinley wrote a kickass dragon slayer for me to look up to while growing up, because some of the other heroines just weren't my style.

2. My Man Jeeves (Jeeves #1) by P.G. Wodehouse
I read this last December, and it was an absolute joy-fest. I love books where the characters truly make the story, and that is the case with My Man Jeeves.

1. All Creatures Great and Small (All Creatures Great and Small #1-2) by James Herriot
This book is an absolute must for animal lovers, as long as you aren't too squeamish. Something about James Herriot's stories can make me simultaneously laugh and cry. For that reason, it's best not to read this one in public, unless you want to get a lot of side-eye.

Which books make you happy? Are there certain genres that brighten your mood more than others?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Month in Review for May 2016: Four Flowers

Find the four metal flowers in my mom's back garden. One of them is a little camouflaged.

This May was rather productive for me real life wise, and blog-wise, I still managed to publish more than one review (yay!). While I'm still trying to bounce back from our jaunt to Montana, I'm glad I got to see my grandmother and help her switch apartments. Since I can't carry much, I was put in charge of some of the china closet- with my left hand's poor grip, it was a little daunting, but I didn't break anything. It was an unusual trip because I was too tired to take any pictures, which I generally take lots of.

 Total Posts: 11
  Total Critiques: 3
    Classics/Historical: 1
    Fantasy: 2
    Part of a Series: 2

Most Popular Posts of May:
Fibromyalgia Awareness Day
In Other News #2, or All the Things I've Learned From George
"Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles #1)" by Intisar Khanani
"Sing the Four Quarters (Quarters #1)" by Tanya Huff
SFF: The 5 Choices You Made With Your Blog That You're Most Happy About
SFF: The 5 Books That Scream Summer (to You)
Fortnightly Update #10: Unfortunate Book Covers and Porch Sitting

Flashback Post (From May of a Previous Year):
"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

Pageviews for the Month: 1602
Comments: 19!

Reading Challenges Updates:

Travel the World in Books Challenge

Applicable Books:
"Peasant Tales of Russia" by V.I. Nemirovitch-Dantchenko (Russia)

Total for 2016 So Far: 8 of 15 Books, 5 of 5 Countries

Reading Stats:

Books read this Month: 7

Book Stats:
Has a Diverse Main Character: 0...
Doesn't Have a Diverse MC: 7
Female Main Character: 3
Male Main Character: 0
Pair and/or Group of Female/Male Main Characters: 4
 Fantasy: 3
 Urban Fantasy/Magical Realism: 1
 Folk Tales: 1
 Contemporary Romance: 1
 Historical Romance: 1
Published in 2016: 2
Published in 2000-2015: 2
Published in 1990s: 2
Published pre-1900: 1
Self-Published, Small Press, or Other: 1
Traditionally Published: 6
Series Books: 4
Standalones: 3
Ebook Version: 5
Paper Version: 2
Favorite of the Month: The Mad Ship (Liveship Traders #2) by Robin Hobb
Least Favorite of the Month: Anti-Romance (Anti-Romance #1) by Cassia Leo
Most Interesting of the Month (or Book I Learned the Most From): Peasant Tales of Russia by V.i. Nemirovitch-Dantchenko
From the-pile: 2
From the-invisible-pile: 3
Recently acquired: 2
Added to the-invisible-pile: 1
Books bought: 3
Pages Read in 2016 Thus Far (according to Goodreads): 14,757

5 Stars: 0
4-4.5 Stars: 3
3-3.5 Stars: 3
2-2.5 Stars: 1

Author Stats (1 = 1 book read by x author):
Male: 1
Female: 6
Male/Female Team: 0
Diverse: 0...
Not-so-Diverse: 7
Living: 6
Deceased: 1

Planning to Read in March:

I want to read an island themed book with the rest of the Travel the World in Books crew, but I'm not sure if I'll get around to it- I have several qualifiers in my pile. Other than that, I also plan on finishing Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire #1) by Michael J. Sullivan, which I'm enjoying so far. And, actually getting around to a diverse book because I didn't read any in May!

Upcoming Review:

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey
I finished this one in May, and while I did enjoy it, it didn't linger much with me.

Happy Reading!

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