Monday, November 30, 2015

Reading Wishlist: December 2015

 Dec. 1

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3) by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Their Fractured Light (Starbound, #3)

Oblivion (Lux #1.5) by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Oblivion (Lux, #1.5)

Your Beauty Mark : The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour by Dita Von Teese
Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
Not If I See You First

Dec. 8

Inherit the Stars (Inherit the Stars #1) by Tessa Elwood
Inherit the Stars (Inherit the Stars #1)

Dec. 15

Frozen Tides (Falling Kingdoms #4) by Morgan Rhodes
Frozen Tides (Falling Kingdoms, #4)

Dec. 22

This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
This Raging Light

Dec. 29

First Touch (First and Last #1) by Laurelin Paige
First Touch (First and Last, #1)

Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen
Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov


Synopsis: Humbert Humbert - scholar, aesthete and romantic - has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady's gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs. Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.

Date Published: 1955
Published By: Olympia Press
Number of Pages: 331
Rating: 4/5

Lolita is a beautifully written, compelling story - and also one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. Reading from the point of view of a pedophile is bound to be unsettling but what's even more disturbing is that, after awhile, I actually found myself feeling kind of sorry for the guy.

Let's be clear - Humbert Humbert is a sexist, misogynistic, predatory, egotistical, self-loathing asshole - even if he wasn't a pedophile, he'd still be an asshole. What ultimately makes him sympathetic is just seeing how pathetic his lust for Lolita makes him. It drives him to the point of near insanity. Watching Humbert fall apart is both heart-breakingly sad and incredibly satisfying. 

I love Lolita's character and how much she differs from Humbert's initial idealistic fantasy - far from being an innocent 'nymphet' Lolita is at times brash, rude, crude, whiny, temperamental, introspective and always honest. In short, she's a complex young girl. I noticed while reading that Humbert becomes increasingly annoyed with Lolita whenever she deviates from his sexual fantasy of a young, innocent girl. Humbert refuses to see any woman as a human being, describing various older women as 'ugly,' 'sluttish,' or simply calling them whores. The only value any woman has, in Humbert's view, is how 'nymph-like' she is. Thankfully, Lolita refuses to play the part of the damaged victim, survives Humbert's abuses and eventually escapes.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Lolita (apart from the taboo subject matter) is the delightful word play throughout. It's almost like an even creepier version of Alice in Wonderland. Humbert's descriptions of Lolita are particularly captivating and the reader almost feels complicit in Humbert's mad obsession.

But maybe that's the point of Lolita. Maybe it's endured for so long because it is so morally reprehensible and outrageous and titillating and just so wrong - but that's why we love it. We're drawn to things that outwardly offend us but secretly thrill us. When reading Lolita I was at times disgusted - but also fascinated. When I got to a particularly squeamish part, I didn't put the book down - I kept reading.

Lolita is definitely not for everyone - there's a reason it's been challenged and banned throughout its publication history. I encourage mature readers to give it a try - it may not be an easy read, but it is an important one. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer

 Winter (The Lunar Chronicles, #4) 

Synopsis: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won't approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn't as weak as Levana believes her to be and she's been undermining her stepmother's wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer's nationally bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.

Date Published: November 10, 2015
Published By: Feiwel and Friends
Number of Pages: 827
Rating: 5/5

I am going to try really hard not to gush too much in this review but, goddammit, it's going to be hard.

I loved this book so. freaking. much.

I can't even comprehend how good Winter is. It wrapped up the Lunar Chronicles so perfectly that I had this big, stupid smile on my face after I turned the last page. 

There are so many amazing moments in this book - tons of great, riveting action scenes that are begging to be put on the big screen. And, this being the Lunar Chronicles, there were some really sweet romantic moments as well. I don't think I've ever swooned so much over a book before. I love how each couple is so unique and they all have these different dynamics between them, yet they are all paired so perfectly. My favorite pairing is definitely Cress and Carswell Thorne and I wish they had a few more moments between them in the story, but then again, I can never get enough of Thorne/Cress and there is a lot of other stuff going on. But the moments they did have were so fantastic and gushworthy that I think I died a little from total happiness.

Winter is truly an epic conclusion to the series. Queen Levana really ramps up the crazy and the eventual showdown is brutal and bloody, and no one emerges completely unscathed. I'm not going to spoil the ending but I will say that, for a series based on fairy tales, it does follow form...

The Lunar Chronicles is now one of my all-time favorite series and all I want for it is to blow up. I want everyone to read these books and then I want film adaptations and graphic novels and special limited editions and a theme get the idea. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review: It by Stephen King


Synopsis: It's a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry, the haunting is real...

They were just kids when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them back to Derry to face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name.

Date Published: September 15, 1986
Published By: Viking
Number of Pages: 1093
Rating: 5/5

You know you're reading a good horror novel when the first 15 pages scare the crap out of you. I started reading It just before bed, and I am telling you, it was a mistake. Pennywise the Clown will go down in literary history as one of the scariest, most disturbing monsters of all time. 

I love how Stephen King's books don't just scare me - they make me feel other emotions, too. Throughout It, I laughed, cried, squirmed, and, in certain moments, became very depressed. King writes so viscerally that you don't just read about what's happening to the characters - you feel it. 

I loved all of the main characters (Richie's my favorite). They are so well-developed that I feel that they could emerge from the pages and stand in front of me as living, breathing, human beings. I think this is important in a horror novel, especially. I'm not going to feel terrified for these characters if I don't care about them. 

It is an epic tale about a town that has something rotten living in it. King really fleshes out the history of Derry and all of the horrifying things that have happened there. But even more frightening than the supernatural entity that lives in Derry are the horrors that human beings inflict upon each other. King demonstrates this again and again throughout the novel, depicting abusive husbands and fathers, maniacal bullies, violent racism, murderous homophobia; the list goes on and on. This is what makes It especially disturbing -  childhood monsters, while powerful, can eventually be defeated, but the monsters that haunt humanity are not so easily overcome. 

The ending is bittersweet - it broke my heart a little. Still, it was a fitting one and I don't think I would change it for something happier. 

It is not just King's most terrifying novel - it might just be the greatest work of horror literature of all time. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)

Synopsis: This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Date Published: October 20, 2015
Published By: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 599
Rating: 5/5

Illuminae is one of the most suspenseful, creative, imaginative, awe-inspiring, compelling, mind-blowing works of sci-fi that I have ever read. That might seem a little hyperbolic, but I honestly think this book deserves the highest of praise. Its nearly 600 pages flies by as you race to discover the truth behind the lies - and, also, you want to know if Kady and Ezra will get back together. 

When I first started to read Illuminae, I thought it was a little confusing at first but within about 20 pages or so, I was able to grasp what was going on, and from then on, I was hooked. I absolutely love the format of this book - it's told in documents, emails, interviews, etc. It's a tricky way to tell a suspenseful story - but Kaufman and Kristoff pull it off, and pull it off well. 

The personalities of the characters really shine through in their email exchanges - Kady is a sarcastic, risk-taking, badass while Ezra is slightly more reserved but still has his own self-deprecating sense of humor. I love how they start out as exes and are forced to work together to figure out what's going on - I'm not going to spoil anything but it's clear that Ezra and Kady are struggling with some unresolved feelings for each other. 

By far, my most favorite character in this book isn't even a person - it's a computer. AIDAN, the superintelligent computer in charge of the lead ship, starts out as a villain. There are definitely some references to HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But when one of the main characters starts to interact with him, AIDAN...changes. And it's so cool to see because it happens so gradually that it's believable. 

The ending was spectacular - intense and heart-breaking and uplifting all at the same time. Illuminae has everything - it's funny, scary, action-packed, sad, and it has moments of real beauty. I am so blown away by it and all I can think is I WANT MORE! I highly recommend this book to EVERYONE. If you need me, I'll be over here, madly anticipating the next two books in the trilogy. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Gap of Time: The Winter's Tale Retold by Jeanette Winterson

 The Gap of Time: The Winter's Tale Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare) 

Synopsis: New Bohemia. America. A storm. A black man finds a white baby abandoned in the night. He gathers her up - light as a star - and decides to take her home. 

London. England. After the financial crash. Leo Kaiser knows how to make money but he doesn't know how to manage the jealousy he feels towards his best friend and his wife. Is his newborn baby even his?

New Bohemia. Seventeen years later. A boy and a girl are falling in love but there's a lot they don't know about who they are and where they come from. 

Jeanette Winterson's cover version of The Winter's Tale vibrates with echoes of the original, but tells a contemporary story where Time itself is a player in a game of high stakes that will either end in tragedy or forgiveness. It shows us that however far we have been separated, whatever is lost shall be found. 

Date Published: October 6, 2015
Published By: Knopf Canada
Number of Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5

This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Initiative , where contemporary authors write modern retellings of Shakespeare's plays. 

The Winter's Tale is considered one of Shakespeare's 'late' plays and not one of his most celebrated. I had never even really heard about it until I learned about the Hogarth Shakespeare Initiative and decided to read the play before reading The Gap of Time. It's an odd little play - it features jealous tyrant kings, and statues coming to life, and someone gets eaten by a bear (which is awesome.) It feels like a fairy tale. It's very entertaining and deserves to be read (and performed) more widely - but I was definitely skeptical about a modern retelling - how would it work?

Jeanette Winterson did a brilliant job of retelling The Winter's Tale. She managed to devise modern day counterparts for all of the main characters - Leontes, the jealous tyrant king, becomes a jealous, high-strung businessman. Autolycus, the con man becomes Autolycus the used car dealer. The bear becomes two thugs. 

It was so much fun to read The Gap of Time and see all of the references to The Winter's Tale - not just the characters and the structure of the plot but the lines that were slightly reworked and sprinkled throughout the story. Jeanette Winterson writes beautifully and there were sentences in this book that took my breath away, like this one:

'I discover that grief means living with someone who is not there.' p.19

I live for sentences like that.

The question is: can you read The Gap of Time without reading The Winter's Tale first? The answer is: sure. But I don't recommend it. Without reading the play first, you'll be missing out on the full richness of the story  - like seeing a movie without reading the book that it's based on. 

I highly enjoyed this first installment of the Hogarth Shakespeare Initiative and can't wait to read all of the future retellings. 

Review: The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1) by Patrick Rothfuss

 The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) 

Synopsis: Told in Kvothe's own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet's hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

Date Published: March 27, 2007
Published By: DAW
Number of Pages: 722
Rating: 4/5

Despite my conviction that I love epic fantasy, I haven't actually read that many epic fantasy series. Case in point, until recently, I had never read The Name of the Wind, one of the most critically acclaimed fantasy novels of the 21st century. And now that I've read it, I want more, not just of this series, but of epic fantasy in general.

There are so many things about The Name of the Wind worth raving about that it's hard to know where to start.

So let's start with what I liked most: unlike a lot of epic fantasy stories with huge casts of characters, brutal wars, and people flinging magic around left and right, The Name of the Wind is a much more personal story. It focuses on one main character, Kvothe, and how he came to be the most notorious wizard in history. Starting from his childhood as a member of his parents' traveling theater troupe and onto his adolescent years as a student of magic at the notorious University, the first installment tells of Kvothe's early years. There are thrilling moments to be sure, and dark forces to be conquered (or at least learned about) but The Name of the Wind is more character-focused than plot focused. Kvothe became a real person to me - I celebrated his triumphs and grieved over his setbacks. When something bad happens to Kvothe (and that happens fairly regularly) I took it personally, as if it had happened to a friend of mine.

One of the reasons why this story seems so real is because the author does not allow any easy fixes for his characters - Kvothe is brilliant and cunning and resilient but he also suffers from devastating poverty, always scraping by, never seeming to make enough money. He's not always heroic and gets into his fair share of trouble.

Kvothe soon learns that magic isn't the answer to everything, either. Yes, it's powerful but it follows strict laws that take years of study and hard work to master. I loved how the magic system was so logical and consistent - even fantastical creatures like the draccus (wingless dragons, basically) made a biological sort of sense in the world.

Fantasy stories really boil down to the worldbuilding - if your story is set in a world that I don't believe in, how am I supposed to believe in your story? Thankfully, Patrick Rothfuss has proven to be a master worldbuilder, layering stories within stories, carefully shaping his fantasy world to be as believable and realistic as possible - but still tinged with enough magic and mythology to make it a fantastic reading experience.

Another thing to marvel at is Rothfuss's elegant prose. There were so many times I lingered over a particularly well-written phrase or stopped at the end of a paragraph thinking to myself 'that's so true!' Rothfuss's unreal world is inhabited by incredibly real people that you can't help but believe in it.

After this first installment, I consider myself to be a rabid fan of the Kingkiller Chronicle and I cannot wait to see what happens next. If you're a fantasy fan, you need to read this book!