January 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Recently Added To My TBR List

The Top Ten Tuesday meme is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week's topic is books we recently added to our TBR list. It's an easy one this week! 

The 10 most recent books I added to my to-read Goodreads shelf, from most to least recent:

1.) Caraval by Stephanie Garber — no cover, but here's part of the blurb (from Goodreads): 

"An original world. A legendary competition. A mesmerizing romance. An unbreakable bond between two sisters.

Welcome to Caraval—the spell-casting first book in a fantasy series that’s perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series and The Night Circus.

Before you enter the world of Caraval, you must remember that it’s all a game . . .

2.) The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass — this one sounds like a creepy YA psychological thriller, involving some sort of cult-like family?


3.) Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler — this is an adult contemporary retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, which I discovered in a WoW post at Through Raspberry-Coloured Glasses.


4.) An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet – I added this one because I read Cecelia's awesome review and it convinced me!

5.) The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely, Lost It by Lisa Shanahan — I actually have a copy of this one (which I still need to read), but somehow it hadn't gotten added to my Goodreads until the other day.

6.) Beside Myself by Ann Morgan — another psychological thriller, but this one's adult. Plus it involves twins, which are one of the bookish elements that float my boat


7.) The Midnight Spy by Kiki Hamilton — I read The Faerie Ring a few years ago, but although I enjoyed it for the most part, I haven't continued with the series. (I would like to check out the next book at some point.) This is the first book in a new series, which looks to be a fantasy set in another world.


8.) Replica by Lauren Oliver — No cover yet, but here's the Goodreads blurb: "Replica, the first of the two books, tells the story of Lyra, known by the number 24, a replica – human model – who was born, raised, and observed in a clandestine research facility called the Haven Institute. When Lyra escapes from Haven and meets Gemma, a stranger on a quest of her own, earth-shattering secrets are revealed."

9.) The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary — I don't tend to read much MG, but this one caught my eye because it's a fantasy set in Japan. And I couldn't really say no to that, could I?


10.)  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson — this is an adult novel involving reincarnation of the protagonist. It seems to get very mixed reactions, so if/when I read it, we'll see which side I fall on.


January 18, 2016

Bitter Greens: A Panoramic Review (Adult)

16595208"A Library Journal Best Book of 2014: Historical Fiction

The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love

French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens...

After Margherita's father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.

Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.
" (from Goodreads)
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

My reaction: I really enjoyed this one. This is essentially the Rapunzel fairytale embedded within the narrative of the writer, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, who is telling how she came to hear the story of Rapunzel (and Charlotte-Rose really is one of the authors of the versions of Rapunzel we know today). I definitely found the Rapunzel portion more interesting overall; the writer Charlotte-Rose's story involved a lot of gossip in the Sun King's court and trying to keep track of so many people who are related to each other in various ways (which I mostly failed at). A list of characters to refer to would have been very helpful!

Best aspect: the way the writing transports the reader into the historical setting. The portrayal of 17th-century French society feels very real — the fashions, the behaviour. It was quite educational, too, learning about what it was like to live in the Sun King's court, and about the persecution of Huguenots that happened at that time. (And also a little eye-opening to discover how much time the Sun King spent in...amorous relations with his mistresses. When he wasn't banishing Huguenots or shutting them up in nunneries, of course.) 

On the fairytale side of things, I very much appreciated getting the POV not just of the Rapunzel character, but also a snippet of her mother's story, as well as a richly developed backstory for the Mother Gothel character. 
If I could change something... I'd explain a few of the plot points better. There were some that just seemed too convenient, brushed off with a half-hearted attempt at explanation that didn't satisfy me (spoilers, highlight to read: like when Margherita could suddenly perform magic, explained away because she prayed to the Goddess, and so conveniently snoods were turning into nets and what have you) or stretching the bounds of credulity until they snapped (spoilers: Margherita not realizing she was pregnant — with TWINS — until she was giving birth??? Seriously? And the witch didn't realize either???). 

There was also a central element in the original Rapunzel tale (spoiler: Rapunzel's healing tears) that became almost an afterthought in this retelling, and I didn't like the way that it was done here. Maybe the author was trying to turn this element into something more realistic, but it just ended up making both Margherita, and especially Lucio, look foolish. Spoilers: his eyes were dried shut with blood, so he thought he was blind, and so did Margherita when she saw him (but really he just needed to wet his eyes so that he could open them again). I mean... huh?

If you haven't read it: and you're looking for a mature, dark, historical take on Rapunzel, you're going to want to read Bitter Greens.  

If you have read it: what did you think of the reveal at the end? I wasn't surprised since it had crossed my mind, but I still liked it because it made sense in connecting the narratives together. I also enjoyed the allusion to another version of Rapunzel and its author, and how Forsyth fit that into her retelling. 

Just one more thing I wanted to mention: I thought one of the ending scenes — what really should have been a higher-tension moment — fell short. In particular, I just didn't buy the change that happened in a certain character; it happened too quickly and without (to my mind) sufficient motivation. Spoilers: Selena suddenly repents, and I wish we had seen this from her perspective; it would've helped to have been inside her head, because as it was, I didn't understand what was triggering this apparent change of heart, and so I had a hard time believing it was genuine. Not to mention, Margherita and Lucio let her go and blithely expected she wouldn't do any more nasty stuff (without any guarantee), which hardly seems smart. 

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. A captivating, engrossing retelling and expansion of the Rapunzel tale that made it feel very real to me. In particular, I thought it was a neat premise to go about giving a possible explanation for the mystery of how a particular writer came to pen the fairytale that we all know so well (or at least, think we do...). 

I'm definitely going to be looking into other books by Kate Forsyth! (In particular, she has written a Beauty & the Beast retelling. I know I'm going to try to get my hands on that one!) 

Note: this is an adult novel, and contains mature content (including explicit sexual and violent content). 

January 14, 2016

Rants and Raves: Things In Books That Float My Boat

This is a feature that appears sporadically on the blog, whenever I have a bookish issue I need to rant or rave about. Feel free to comment with your thoughts!

 Earlier this week I blogged about things in books I'm just not that jazzed about. Now, it's time to talk about things in books that float my boat.

(Again, this is partly inspired by my recent paring-down of my Goodreads to-read list, and also by Small Review's similar posts Talk to the Hand and Give Me That Book!)

These are all things that hit the right notes for me, for whatever reason:

- Victorian/Regency era. I don't know that I really need to explain this, do I? The formalities. The balls. The perceived social slights. I drink it all up.

Gratuitous P&P picture.

- Anything with a psychological element, especially if it's used in an interesting way with the storyline. Caveat: mental health issues MUST be portrayed accurately. Otherwise this will backfire badly and probably cause me to get more aggravated than if there had never been any psychological element at all.

- Gothic anything, pretty much. Depends how much it falls on the side of horror (usually a NO for me) versus suspense/mystery/thriller (YES). Double points if it's a historical Gothic setting (not just a general sort of Gothic atmosphere in a modern-day setting).

- Historical fantasy/pseudo-historical fantasy. By the latter I mean, the story takes place in a world that FEELS like it's a medieval fantasy or whatever, but it's not actually set in the real world. Or maybe it is but you don't know because that isn't made clear. Whatever, as long as there are heroes and heroines off on quests, and princesses doing princess-y things, and maybe a meddling sorcerer or two, I'm happy.

- Witty banter and unresolved sexual tension. Hey, if it was good enough for Jane Austen, it's good enough for everybody.

"The Look," for everyone's appreciation.

- Star-crossed lovers/forbidden romance. Because if the couple isn't bickering (see above), then the conflict has to come from *somewhere*, so we must rely on external forces to part them! And nothing makes you want to root more for a couple to get together than if everyone else is trying to separate them.

- Non-human beings slowly getting in touch with their "human"/emotional side. I probably haven't read all that many books where this has happened, but I do like it when it does! Examples that spring to mind are Isabel in Mistwood by Leah Cypess, and Wanderer in The Host by Stephenie Meyer.

- Twins and clones. Twins because they can switch places and fool people, or have a special "twin connection" of some sort (which needs to be written well, mind you), and clones because they are a creepier version of twins. (Although clone stories are only interesting if the clone has a distinct personality; if it's just used as some sort of plot device in a sci-fi story and the clones are like robots, I'm out.)

- Fairy tale retellings. Love 'em. I prefer ones that are set in a historical/fantasy setting, however – I'm a little more iffy on modernized or sci-fi-ed fairy tales.

What elements/premises/tropes in books float your boat? Do you share any on my list?

January 13, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Masks and Shadows

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and features books that we just can't wait to get our hands on!
Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

Goodreads' description:

"The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy's carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus's mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband's death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace's golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress--a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet."
I believe this is Stephanie Burgis's first adult novel... and it looks awesome! That cover! That synopsis! "Music, magic, and blackmail..." Um, why YES, I *would* be very interested in reading that, please and thank you.
What books are you waiting for?

January 11, 2016

Rants & Raves: Things In Books I'm Just Not That Jazzed About

This is a feature that appears sporadically on the blog, whenever I have a bookish issue I need to rant or rave about. Feel free to comment with your thoughts!

The other day I finished going through my Goodreads TBR list and paring it down. It had gotten to over 2200 books and I'd seen another blogger (I think Jamie from The Perpetual Page-turner, perhaps?) saying that they'd been weeding out books they're not likely to read from their list, so I figured I'd do the same. (I am now down to below 1850 books, so I am feeling good about it! Even though that is still a massive amount of books, lol.)

Anyway, during this process, I've noted certain elements or aspects of books that make me go, "Ehhhhh I'm probably NOT going to like that" so I've compiled some of them in this blog post. (Don't worry, there are others that make me go, "oh YES I'm keeping this on the list, how have I not read it already?!", and they'll be catalogued in another post!).

This was also inspired by Small Review's similar posts Give Me That Book! (which I happened to stumble across recently and got me thinking, 'I should do a post like that too...') and Talk to the Hand.

So without further ado, here are things in books that will make me raise an eyebrow and think twice about adding to my TBR list...

- Trolls. I just... they're gross? Usually? Sorry, troll fans. Maybe point me to a book where they aren't portrayed as ugly, hulking, clumsy beasts who like to gnaw on unsavoury things. (Same thing with zombies, really, unless they are portrayed in a very un-gross way. Also not a fan of demons or goblins. I get creeped out easily, okay? :P)

- Cheating. This one depends a lot on the situation and how it's written, but as a general rule, I am not a fan of characters cheating on their boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses/what-have-you (I don't condone cheating in real life, so I am not thrilled to read about it in my books. It will definitely lower most characters in my opinion.) Similarly, I'm also not big on characters who lead on two (or more) people at the same time.

- Circuses. Clowns kinda freak me out and seeing poor animals forced to do tricks is not my idea of a fun time. Circuses always seem like they have a great capacity to go really WRONG.
I genuinely don't get why anybody LIKES clowns.
- Talking animals. These are hit-and-miss for me, but here's a detailed post explaining it.

- Nasty, mean-spirited, backstabbing characters who have no redeeming qualities and do not learn their lesson. Wuthering Heights, I'm looking at you. Also, the Luxe series. And Vicious.

- Really "zany" characters who are just TOO out there, and make a point of being quirky because they want to prove how different and special and unique they are. Believe me, if there was a convention for all the quirky/zany/"unique" YA characters, they'd realize really fast how many of them there actually are. (The blogosphere seems to be divided on these sorts of characters — half of it appears to love them, the quirkier the better, and the other half... doesn't. I usually fall into that latter half, particularly with contemporary books where there are just one or two zany characters, while everybody else is "appallingly" ordinary.)

- Superpowers/superheroes. I was never into Superman/Spiderman/Batman/whatever-else-there-is growing up (either the comics or the movies), so this sort of premise just doesn't tend to appeal to me. I don't read books for non-stop action-y fight scenes, and I feel like that is what most of these books would be.

- Computer hackers and virtual realities. Start talking code and you will see my eyes glaze over. Geeky discussions of technology hurt my brain. I can't visualize what's going on and I get really bored.

What are some elements in books that will make you go "uh, nope, not reading THAT"? Are any of them on my list?

Stay tuned for the next post, where I talk about some things in books that get my hearty stamp of approval! 

January 5, 2016

Flights of Fantasy & Retelling Challenges

Okay, adding a couple more challenges for 2016! Hopefully there will be some overlap with my #RockMyTBR challenge. Since I tend to read fantasy and fairy tale retellings anyway, I have some hope that I might get somewhere with these challenges!

Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge 2016 banner Alexa Loves Books Hello Chelly

The Flights of Fantasy challenge is hosted by Alexa from Alexa Loves Books and Rachel from Hello, Chelly. There aren't any specified levels for this challenge, so you can pick how many books you want to read for it. I'm going to go for 20 books — I figure with the overlap from my other challenges, this is... accomplishable? Semi-accomplishable? We shall see.

Retelling Challenge 2016

The Retelling Challenge is hosted by Mel from The Daily Prophecy. I'm going to aim for the Evil Queen level (10 - 15 books). It's a shame that I already read Bitter Greens in December, because that would have counted for this challenge! And for my TBR challenge too, lol.


January 2, 2016

#RockMyTBR Challenge

ROCK (1) 

Happy New Year, everyone! I'm going to try taking part in a few challenges this year, in the hopes of motivating myself to read more books than I did in 2015 (which was a woefully sad reading year for me, due to being in my last year of grad school and having no time for reading fun things).

To start off with, I'll be joining the #RockMyTBR Challenge! This challenge is hosted by Sarah at The YA Book Traveler, and it is perfect for me because a) there are a TON of books sitting on my shelves that *need* to get read, some of which were gifted to me over the past few years and I just have no excuse anymore, and b) it has a guitar/music theme because of the whole "Rock My TBR" name and I play guitar, so it's even better.

The challenge is pretty simple: read a (published) book a month that you already own.  

You can use the hashtag #RockMyTBR to tweet about the challenge, there'll be Twitter chats (and probably giveaways!) and you can update monthly about your progress on Twitter/your blog/a vlog/etc.

Sarah suggests making a list of books you hope to read for the challenge, to see if anyone else wants to buddy-read them with you, so here goes:

- Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith (I've just started this one but it is MASSIVE and scares me. I mean, it's almost 700 pages long. But I want to at least take a decent stab at it!)

- Deathsworn by Leah Cypess

- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (I know, I'm pretty much the last person on Earth to have not read this. I should just read it already.)

- Where I Want to Be and The Julian Game by Adele Griffin

- The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

- The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (I have tried to start this one a couple times and haven't gotten very far, but I think I need to give it a little longer before officially DNF-ing.)

- Split by Swati Avasthi

- The Distant Hours and The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (technically these are my sister's, but I borrowed them from her so they're on my shelves at the moment)

- A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

- Pivot Point by Kasie West

- In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Honestly, these are just a few of the many, many, many books I have sitting on my shelves that I need to read. But if you're doing the challenge and any of them are also on your list, let me know!!

If you'd like to join in the fun, you can read all the details and link up your blog post here on Sarah's blog.


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