Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fortnightly Update #38: On an Upswing

I've had a couple trips lately, but I have luckily had a lot of energy to manage that as compared with earlier this month. Although the hot temps aren't exactly ideal for me, the storm systems seem to be keeping away (storm systems make my pain and fatigue jump- I no longer really like rain). I'm excited about a few new books I've acquired and I feel like I'm on an upswing in terms of reading.

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

the-pile Additions:

You may recognize this book- these are the special 20th anniversary editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I kind of want to get all the House colors, but I decided to start with Gryffindor since it's my house. My copy of this book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) was originally my brother's, until he outgrew Harry Potter (I know, who could do that?) and let me have it. So this copy is my first new copy of it.

the-invisible-pile Additions:

Theft of Swords (The Riyria Revelations #1-2) by Michael J. Sullivan
I've only read Age of Myth and Age of Swords by this author, so I decided to branch out and buy this set for future reading.

Currently Reading:

Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona Andrews
I actually have the paperback edition of this, but I'm a bit crunched for time so I won't take a photo (yet). This is the conclusion to the Hidden Legacy series, however the authors seem willing to do more books for it (which would make me a very happy reader).

Finished These Books:

Rating: 2 Stars
I was disappointed with this one, as I had bought it because I liked the second in the series. I guess something about the heroine continuing to reject her old sweetheart who jilted her prior struck me as kind of sad instead of romantic.

Rating: 3.5 Stars
I had a lot of nitpicks with this one, but it still came out on the plus side, as you may have gathered from my review.

Rating: 4 Stars
I've linked to my review (which has been written) but I have to wait until my computer's feeling up to accessing some of my old rating images to publish it. Basically, you can't judge an author by their popularity- I assumed Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb wouldn't be for me because she is such a popular author and book/author popularity doesn't always ring true for me. However, this futuristic romance sci-fi was a winner for me- I rated it four stars in a month when every other rating seems to be three stars or less.

The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser
Rating: 3 Stars
I billed this as a "Freaky Friday" type tale, but with time travel, and in some ways I was very right about that. However, instead of a semi-light read it ended up being a very dark one- and I usually enjoy that. It was also very dated- and I am loath to label older novels with that description. But there's no hiding the fact that this would have been much more enjoyable had I believed in the concept that women in the '70s were totally liberated and radically blessed- even then there were things that weren't working for women. The parents of Shay in this novel make me want to scream. Anyway, I found the first half (which is set in the early 1900s) much more palatable than the last parts of it.

In My Life:

Torbor listening to the voice of the forest (AKA squirrels)
We went camping for a few days and luckily we got a nice spot. I reserved one online based on the campsite map- it was the most isolated, which is nice for us and others since our pups don't take kindly to strangers (Leia is a barkhound, and Torrie follows suit with a howl). It was also the only one with creek access and plus it was near the amenities. They had an "accessible" camping spot that was a bit of a joke- it had a steep slope to it, and no ramp to the parking space. As far as I could tell, you would've been better off where we were because there was a slight slope that went up to the parking space, and the area was mostly level. I learned that unless the ground is level, I have a hard time walking places as I couldn't get to the end of the campground (which wasn't that large to begin with), even with the dogs "supporting" me.

It was really nice to just sit around and listen to the creek, which was right next to the campsite. There were no animal sightings save for a red squirrel that was taunting Torrie, and the far off moos of a herd of free range cattle. Apparently there were a few that kept straying from the rest of the herd, which was why we heard a lot of mooing. Even though it wasn't quite the adventurous camping that I'm used to (AKA hiking more than a few campsites over), it was a pleasant trip.

Have you had any summer adventures?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

New Release: "Age of Swords (The Legends of the First Empire #2)" 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.

A review of the first book in the series, Age of Myth is here.

Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself, "I like this, but things are happening too easily"? That was my thought halfway through Age of Swords, and it haunted me as I read the final pages. This book has great characters, adventure, action, and new locations, but it doesn't have enough friction in the politics or between the characters to make it feel like something that could happen feasibly, even in a fantasy world, unless humans are suddenly without fierce convictions, grudges, and all suddenly decide on being agreeable. Sure, there is conflict, but mostly between races: if you've read a comment section on the internet (that wasn't on this blog) in the last ten years, you'll know that people are attached to their opinion, even in the face of facts. The humans of Age of Swords get along in a way that makes the bulk of us look like contrarians.

As I mentioned, there are new locations in this book, but some of those locations were a tad stereotypical for my complete enjoyment. I found the Fhrey side of the story much more interesting, which I hadn't expected given my love of Suri, Persephone, and Roan. Even on the Fhrey side of things, I found a few inconsistencies/annoyances of mine- a leader of a group kept saying the same phrase every time he popped up. It would've been okay, but the phrase was, "Am I right?"

Am I right, people?

Am I right?

Am I right?

Aren't you annoyed yet? And thinking of old television shows in which that catchphrase may have been more suitable? Instead of imagining Orlando Bloom in his Legolas role, winking slightly as he says, "Am I right?"

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Raithe, the God Killer, may have started the rebellion by killing a Fhrey, but long-standing enmities dividing the Rhune make it all but impossible to unite against a common foe. And even if the clans can join forces, how will they defeat an enemy whose magical prowess makes the Fhrey indistinguishable from gods?
'The answer lies across the sea in a faraway land populated by a reclusive and dour race who feels nothing but disdain for both Fhrey and mankind. With time running out, Persephone leads the gifted young seer Suri, the Fhrey sorceress Arion, and a small band of misfits in a desperate search for aid—a quest that will take them into the darkest depths of Elan. There, an ancient adversary waits—an enemy as surprising as it is deadly.'

One major negative for me was the focus on fleshing-out characters that had already had enough backstory attached to them. One character in particular is singled out for this, and I was reminded of the logic behind the song A Boy Named Sue. If you've heard the song, you'll know what I'm talking about- as a song, it's okay. But does that logic make much sense in real life, with real people?

I know I've done a thorough job listing the irritating qualities of this book, but I do believe this series is still well worth reading. The reason? Despite indulging in many tropes, there is a lot to enjoy here- a mystery surrounding some of the characters, characters that are enjoyable to read about (despite being too darn peaceable), and various political plots that move the book forward. However, if you're averse to traditional fantasy elements (elves and dwarves- need I say more?) you will want to find a different series.

Age of Swords isn't quite what I had hoped for- and it was on my list of most anticipated books for 2017. It still has the magic of the first book, but perhaps I've become a bit more immune to its charms after the extra pages in this one. Still, if you enjoy traditional fantasy with a wealth of female characters and without the traditional fantasy placement of said female characters, The Legends of the First Empire series may be for you.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great sequel that doesn't quite match the first book's magic.

Age Advisory: Ages 18+ for violence (that includes brutality against vulnerable people), prejudice, and a surplus of annoying catchphrases.

Page Count: 512 pages

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fortnightly Update #37: In the Heat of the Summer

Last week, I attempted to make this post happen, but unfortunately it was just too sweltering upstairs (even at night) for me to write it up. I have a plain ol' desktop computer which has served me well for the past 6 years, but when it's in the 90s (F) consistently for a week, the upstairs is pretty well uninhabitable, even with fans and A/C blasting. I considered writing the post up by hand first, but most of this post involves linking to Goodreads and uploading book images, which takes a while sometimes. A while during which I could melt from the heat!

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

the-pile Additions:

Technically not for the pile, but I think I will be rereading it in the future:

Thorn by Intisar Khanani
I read this last year, followed shortly after by Sunbolt, which isn't a standalone like Thorn is. I won one of Intisar's giveaways and I'm so grateful to have a lovely signed copy of this, as it's a beautiful book. If you like fairytale retellings, you should definitely check it out.

the-invisible-pile Additions:

Camber of Culdi (The Legends of Camber of Culdi #1) by Katherine Kurtz
I actually bought the whole trilogy for what I usually spend on one book, but this is the first book. I'm always up for fantasy, especially if it involves more than one race of beings.

The Prisoner by Omar Shahid Hamid
Normally, thrillers are the last book I'd ever buy because I've been burned by too many of them. However, given this author is writing from experience (he served with the Karachi police of Pakistan for 12 years) I was interested enough to click the buy button. And plus, I don't think I've ever read (or even have) a book set in Pakistan yet.

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson
This is a magical realism book (or at least it sounds like it) written by an indigenous author from Kitamaat, British Columbia. From the reviews on Goodreads, it sounds like my kind of book.

The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser
This sounds like a delightfully female-centric time travel book (with possible Gothic influence, from the sound of it). The premise is similar to Freaky Friday, but with time travel, which makes it freakier.

Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie
I'm not exactly sure why I bought this hyped YA fantasy right after reading and reviewing a hyped YA fantasy that disappointed me, but I guess it must've been too cheap to pass on. It will be interesting to read, as I know Joe Abercrombie's adult fantasy books are on the darker shade of morality.

Nova by Samuel R. Delany
This one is a space opera that was more highly rated than other books by Samuel R. Delany, and also a lot shorter than some others. It's been only recently that I've realized the value of a shorter book.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
There is a reason I put these two covers for this book- a lot of old sci-fi covers have women in positions that are... rather sexist? These two, though, even with the woman on the right in her space bikini, have women in positions that aren't so vulnerable. I was surprised that I liked the space bikini one, but she's actually a realistically sized woman, which is hard to find on many covers, at least now. If she'd had her hand on her hip, she would be even more my favorite. Of course, I don't think I've ever seen a vintage sci-fi cover with a man in a space bikini, but I guess maybe that wouldn't be as popular with the nerd set.

Babel-17 seems to be a sci-fi about language more than anything else- and since I do respect the power of words, I picked it up.


The Rules of Magic (Practical Magic 0.5) by Alice Hoffman
Expected publication: October 10th 2017
La La and I had a bit of an adventure trying to procure the digital ARCs for this book- basically, we requested it on NetGalley, the publisher pulled the listing (which gives an auto-denial to anyone who requested) and then they re-listed it, but it was un-requestable for those who'd been "denied". La La applied for it on Edelweiss, which I don't use so I didn't apply for it, though I was entering every giveaway for the ARC that I saw. Then the publisher sent emails to those who'd requested/read Faithful on NetGalley (which included La La and I), offering one of those approval links which lets you read the book. Thus, we now both have it, which is great because I really, really want to read this one as a Hoffman fan who reads almost everything she writes.

Currently Reading:

I haven't made much progress on this, since I was doing a buddy read for Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Sower will give you nightmares about the future (fair warning). But I plan on finishing this soon so I can review it on its release day (July 25th) or sooner.

Finished These Books:

I had read another historical romance by Christy Carlyle before and I'd been disappointed by it, but this one was more interesting to me, I guess- the heroine, Sophia, is a mystery writer who gets pulled into her brother's best friend's own mystery. Despite the setup being rather far-fetched, it worked- I am rather severe in rating romance novels (4 stars are a rarity in that genre) but this had enough action and enough backstory to keep me interested and not whining about heroines who have too much angst/drama in their romance.

This is the darkest book I recall reading by Miss Butler, who takes dystopia to the max and presents a heroine (Lauren) who may have an idea to change the world, or at least some parts of it. Although Lauren is a young adult, I would say this is definitely an adult book because of its grim and (at times) graphic content. 

In My Life:

I forget the name of this area, but it was near one of my mom's garage sale haunts
U of Utah finally got back to me and said since my SSEP results were normal, they didn't know what to do with me other than send me back to my primary care doctor and suggest physical therapy. Although I have been helped by some physical therapy (I have occipital neuralgia, and my PT basically taught me how to hold my head up straight to help it from flaring), I don't have that high of confidence that it will help with my knees/ankles/hips giving out, as I have been walking lots in addition to using a stationary bike in hopes that my legs will suddenly go back to where they were about a year ago.

I had PT for fibromyalgia, and it ended up giving me more arm pain (in the left arm, which seems to be a troublemaker). I'm hopeful that someday my symptoms may lapse, but at the same time, doubtful due to my past experience. The weirdest thing about my legs is I had began to have trouble with them buckling last June, but I just stopped walking so much and traded it for using the stationary bike, since I usually took Torrie for walks.

I frankly don't know what's causing my symptoms, but I do know my syrinx, which was tiny when I was 16 (and only in my cervical spinal cord), is now a big fat worm in my spine (C3-T12-ish now) that I'd rather not have. Given that the only treatment for syrinxes seems to be shunting them surgically (shunts which may move and/or cause more damage than they prevent), I don't really even want to find a doctor willing to "treat" my syrinx, unless it starts growing again on my MRIs. I'm at a medical impasse, but I'm still able to do some of the things I like, like reading, writing, and complaining about contemporary books having endings that seem too resolved.

Meanwhile, George has been ordered to be put on diet cat food by his doctor. He apparently gained one pound over the course of a year, which is just too heavy and not "stocky" any longer. George is less than thrilled about this, but hopefully with the new food and Leia chasing him, he'll lose his extra pound.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

New Release Review: "Hello, Sunshine" by Laura Dave

I wasn't too sure about the beginning of this book or the premise of most internet "celebrities" being inauthentic, but I was willing to look past my misgivings and delve into the meat of this book. Sunshine is a woman whose past is catching up with her in a very public way- everything goes to crap when a hacker puts sensitive information about her online. Although she makes attempts to salvage what she can, she ends up in her hometown meeting with her sister who she hasn't been in contact with for a very long time.

Initially, I was turned off by Sunshine's character- she was so busy keeping up on her work that her "real" life seemed to fall by the wayside. The other characters that cropped up in Hello, Sunshine proved to be more entertaining for me- particularly her rival, Amber of The Toast of the Town (quite frankly, I'd hope a show that insipid [cooking simply toast with toppings] would never work, but you never know). I appreciated that Sunshine wasn't one to linger in the self-pity stage, but I found it a bit cliche that she went back to her roots to try to rebuild from there.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'From Laura Dave—the author of the “addictive” (Us Weekly), “winning” (Publishers Weekly) and critically acclaimed bestseller Eight Hundred Grapes—comes a new novel about the secrets we keep…even from ourselves.
'Sunshine Mackenzie has it all…until her secrets come to light.
'Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.
'And then she gets hacked.
'When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.
'In a world where celebrity is a careful construct, Hello, Sunshine is a compelling, funny, and evocative novel about what it means to live an authentic life in an inauthentic age.'

This book has wonderful pacing that helps it go quickly. I wish I had more to say about the writing, but I just didn't find sections that appealed to me. What this book does have is a heavier-than-average plot for your beach read and one that doesn't end on a sour note. I must confess that the ending didn't appeal to me particularly, which is why I didn't rate it higher despite it's brisk pace. I feel like some endings are better left more abstract than defined.

Hello, Sunshine had me reading enthusiastically until the end, where most of the good feelings I had about the book abruptly imploded. I have a feeling more people will like this book than not, because although I did feel disappointed with it, the flow of the writing kept me reading and satisfied when I'm not usually content with reading contemporary fiction. If you like your novels with more than a dash of drama, this book might be for you. For me, it was a touch too neatly packaged for my enjoyment.

Rating: 2 of 5 Stars for an ending that soured my contemporary fiction appetite.

Age Advisory: Ages 18+ for marriage woes, sexual content, and family feuds.

Page Count: 256 pages

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Month in Review for June 2017

Leia pretending to be cute and innocent in an Independence Day dress
June wasn't that great thanks to a sudden absence of a medication I've been on for years, but I still managed to get some reading done while dealing with my increase in pain. I hope to review more than a few of them, especially Hello, Sunshine, which will be out in a week or so.

 Total Posts: 6
  Total Critiques: 2
    Fantasy: 2
    Part of a Series: 1

Most Popular Posts of the Past Month:
Fortnightly Update #35: George's Obsession
"The Emperor's Soul" by Brandon Sanderson

Flashback Post (From a Previous Year):
"Corelli's Mandolin" by Louis de Bernières

Pageviews for the Month: 1323
Comments: 6

Reading Challenges Updates:

My Goal: 6 Books
What I've Read So Far:
Firstborn & Defending Elysium by Brandon Sanderson (Sci-fi Short Stories, 160 pages)

Reading Stats:

Books read this Month: 10

Book Stats:
Has a Diverse Main Character: 3
Doesn't Have a Diverse MC: 7
Female Main Character: 7
Male Main Character: 3
Pair and/or Group of Female/Male Main Characters: 0
 Contemporary Fiction: 1
 Sci-fi: 1
 Fantasy: 1
 Historical Romance: 2
 Historical Magical Realism: 1
 Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy: 1
 Urban Fantasy: 1
 Superhero Graphic Novel: 2
Published in 2017: 4
Published in 2000-2016: 5
Published in 1990s: 1
Self-Published, Small Press, or Other: 1
Traditionally Published: 9
Series Books: 5
Standalones: 5
Ebook Version: 10
Paper Version: 0
Favorite of the Month: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, which was so refreshingly magical to read.
Least Favorite of the Month: Unfortunately it was my review request book, Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave. I generally don't like contemporary fiction, or at least the endings of contemporary fiction books. I'm sure others would find this book more to their taste.
Most Interesting of the Month (or Book I Learned the Most From): The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo again, because everything about it I found interesting.
From the-pile: 0
From the-invisible-pile: 5
Recently acquired: 5
Added to the-invisible-pile: 11
Books bought: 1
Pages Read in 2017 Thus Far (according to Goodreads): 11,833 pages

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

Author Stats (1 = 1 book read by x author):
Male: 2
Female: 7
Male/Female Team: 1
Diverse: 1
Not-so-Diverse: 9
Living: 10
Deceased: 0

Planning to Read This Month:

I'm reading both Age of Swords (The Legends of the First Empire #2) by Michael J. Sullivan (to be published July 25th) and Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler- and that's all I'm sure I will finish this month.

Happy Reading and Have a Happy and Safe (U.S.) Independence Day!

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