Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron


Title: The Forgetting

Author: Sharon Cameron

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I didn't expect The Forgetting to become by favorite of Sharon Cameron's works when I picked it up. It's a complete 180 from her typical brand of historical fiction, for one, and for another, this novel is much more mature and dark from the beginning. I loved it. I haven't read a sci-fi/dystopian thriller in what seems like years, but is almost definitely a few months. Cameron's launch back into the genre, with a fresh new twist, surprised me--after all, I was quite sure we, as YA consumers, had exhausted everything this genre had to offer. I'm glad the era of Hunger Games look-a-likes and love-triangle infused tropes are over, though, so that a novel like The Forgetting can hopefully set the tone for future sci-fi/dystopian reads.

Nadia's world revolves around The Forgetting, an event that happens every twelve years and wipes away the memories of every human in her village. As such, her society is protected by walls--because who knows what's outside when no one can remember?--and no one ever leaves the house without their books, where they have written everything they can remember about each day. Their books are their truth and without them, they are no one. It's a shocking, dark realm but Nadia is seemingly the only one who can remember. As threats of food shortages emerge from the Council who governs Canaan, Nadia begins to use her memories and her knowledge of the world outside Canaan to solve the mysteries behind her town--and hopefully save her family, too.

Nadia is the heart and soul of this story and I loved her narration. It's unflinching and honest, in a world where no one remembers and lives could very well be built on lies. I was with her every step of the way as she uncovered the layers to Canaan and the plot twists were not ones I saw coming in the least. Nadia's relationship with her family--her mother, on the brink of craziness, her older sister, who believes she's an imposter, and her younger sister, who loves her dearly--were impeccably written. Many of the secondary characters truly came alive and I loved the romance with Gray, the glassblower's son, who becomes central to both the plot and to Nadia's growth. It's the perfect slow-burn with plenty of development but it takes a back-seat when needed to the action and plot at the core of this story.

My only complaint with this novel is that the ending felt a little too Disney-like for me. Just one villain, just one hero, etc. There are so many gray layers to the secondary characters in this story that I was disappointed by the black-and-white treatment of the villain. I love this world, though, and am so curious to learn more about Nadia's future exploits that I hope Cameron writes a companion novel, or the very least a few novellas to satisfy my curiosity. For fans of Cameron, or even those who haven't been charmed by her historical fiction/steampunk works in the past, The Forgetting is a completely new venture from her and one I think older readers, in particular, will appreciate. Cameron's previous works definitely read on the side of naivety, when it came to her heroines, so I love that she holds back no punches with Nadia's fierce personality. Believe me, you won't be forgetting this story very easily; not even in twelve years.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Review: The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon


Title: The Bird and the Sword

Author: Amy Harmon

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I knew nothing about this book before diving in and then, against all odds, I fell in love. The Bird and the Sword is one of the best fantasy novels I've read in a very long time and if this novel is anything to go by, Amy Harmon is swiftly about to become one of my favorite authors.

Our novel begins with a curse. Lark, our heroine, is a Teller; whatever she speaks will come true, by magic. As a young girl, she is caught making puppets fly with her mother, also a Teller, and when her mother takes the blame for the magic, the king kills her in front of Lark's eyes. But before she dies, her mother curses those around her. She tells Lark to remain silent, to keep her magic hidden within her. She tells her husband, next in line for the throne should the king's son die, that his life is tied to Lark's--if he fails to take of her and Lark dies, so does he. And lastly, she curses the king himself. Years later, Lark is mute and kept a prisoner by her father in her home, lest she accidentally harm herself or die and kill him in the process. Lark doesn't think much of her mother's curse, though, despite the faith that her father puts in it. It is only when the king's son, now the new King Tiras, arrives to whisk her off to his palace, that she begins to see that her mother's curse might still exist. And for this king, so unlike his father who murdered her mother, she just might want to try to break it...

This book is just pure magic, from beginning to end, and I loved how the plot twists and revelations all came full circle. Lark is a fascinating heroine, both because she is mute and because she possesses magical abilities. I wrote in my review of A Court of Mist and Fury that fantasy walks a fine line when it uses issues that exist in our day-to-day lives--abusive relationships, disabilities, etc.--and then explains those situations away with magic. In The Bird and the Sword, though, I really loved how Harmon made Lark's disability her strength. Lark grows immensely over the course of the novel and she learns to embrace her disability, never allowing it to inhibit her from anything else she wishes to do.

The fairy-tale writing and curse are, of course, the main plot to this novel but I appreciate that Harmon nevertheless expands upon the world-building and throws us into a world of complex court politics once Lark reaches the kingdom. There is little I love more than a fantasy world where magic and politics co-exist, battling each other for power, and the systematic slaughter of those who possessed magical abilities, even if they were Healers, brought forth powerful messages about race and inequality. Admittedly, I was not a fan of how these deep, complicated issues were resolved rather quickly by the end of the novel, but that's a slight fault to have with a novel so wonderfully crafted.

The Bird and the Sword shines, though, because of its romance. As a prisoner of King Tiras, Lark has more freedom than she had when she lived with her father and, what's more, Tiras personally teaches her how to read, giving her the words that her mother's curse stole from her. He helps her to harness her power and though he uses that power--she is his prisoner, after all--it's at the cost of slowly giving up his secrets and trusting her. Their relationship is a slow-burn, inching from enemies to tentative allies to friends and finally to something more but witnessing it all from Lark's perspective, from inside of her head as she falls in love with this king of contradictions, is beautiful. I'm in love with their love story and I know this is one I will read and re-read. It's all about navigating messy feelings and power imbalances until they've found and secured an equilibrium and I love seeing that progression.

The story, as I said, isn't perfect since the ending is a little neat, pieces fitting together at a rapid pace, but I loved this novel immensely. I cannot recommend it enough, particularly for fans of Kristin Cashore's Fire as this story reminded me of my favorite on more than one occasion. My only problem now is to decide whether to re-read this--and stay stuck in my book hangover forever--or move on to Harmon's other words and, possibly, be stuck in book hangover anyway.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Monthly Rewind: October

The best way to keep up with my travels this semester (and the next!) is through Instagram where I post quite frequently! All my pictures do not make it to the blog, sadly, but feel free to follow me on Instagram!! 

3 Things About My Life This Month 


Hydra, Greece
1. I did a LOT of traveling. It didn't feel like a lot, but in retrospect, I visited cities in five different countries! I went to Greece to visit my aunt and cousins who I've never met, but I adored my trip since I got to spend so much time in Athens as well as on a cruise visiting three different Greek islands, of which Hydra was my favorite. I was in Lyon, France for a weekend--the third largest city in France--and it was beautiful! Like Paris, it's surrounded by rivers and the old cobblestone streets, bridges lit up at night, and delicacies in all the windows made me fall in love. I also went to Barcelona, Spain for a weekend and was shocked by how much I loved it! Some of my favorite meals since arriving in Europe were had on this trip and the city, such a mish-mosh of modern and funky architecture, stole my heart. I must, I must, I must return.
Lyon, France
Lastly, I went to Italy with my mom, stopping by Venice for a day before heading south to Rome, Naples, and the smallest country in the world, Vatican City. I desperately fell for Venice, but I do have to admit that Rome took awhile to grow on me. The city wasn't as tourist-friendly as I imagined, with very few people knowing any English at all, and without an efficient metro system, my mom and I were clocking anywhere from 12-15 miles a day. It was exhausting. By the end, though, I think I did grow slightly fond of Rome but I doubt I'll be returning. Italy, though, I plan to visit again--probably with an Italian-speaker if I can, next time.

Venice, Italy
2. I've been restless, lately. I know this sounds bizarre, considering all the traveling I've been doing, but I feel as if I'm not doing enough; not using this time to its maximum ability. I think it's just a general feeling of anxiety that I'm not doing my study abroad the "right" way, but there is no "right" or "wrong" way to study abroad and I've been slowly coming to terms with that. Alternatively, it could just be that I've got the travel bug and after two decades of essentially never traveling, I'm now obsessed. I constantly want to go, go, go and just jet off to a different city, a different country. I hope I can find more meaningful ways to just enjoy the present, too, because--hey!--Provence is a pretty sweet place to be.

Pizza making class in Rome!
3. My traveling has given me a new appreciation for my life in Aix, this semester. I hadn't realized how much I'd come to rely on fresh croissants for breakfast or a crepe stand at every corner until I left the country. I've become so comfortable using French that I floundered while trying to communicate with locals in Spain and Italy. Somehow, against all odds, this place has started to feel like home and when I finally stepped into my room after eight days in Italy, I was relieved. I don't know where the transition between homesickness and feeling-at-home happened, but I find myself pleasantly surprised that it did! I'm sad to be leaving in just another month and a half and though I still want to go, go, go to other places, I'm contemplating slowing down a bit to enjoy the life I've built for myself right here.

Top 3 Books I Read This Month

pic name
pic name
pic name
Obviously, Crooked Kingdom was everything I wanted it to be and more. Bardugo just does not disappoint and I already want to re-read this perfect, perfect duology. Harmon's The Bird and the Sword was a fantasy stand-alone I had heard mixed reviews of, but I actually really, really loved it. It's part fairy-tale, part fantasy, part romance, and utterly beautiful in both its characterization and prose. Hopefully I will find time to write the gushing review this book deserves. And, lastly, The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. I contemplated putting The Midnight Star by Marie Lu up here, but at the end of the day, the latter felt like a peaceful conclusion while the former felt fresh, original, and just so mature. It's my favorite of Cameron's books--and I've loved her steampunk/historical fiction novels!--but this is a whole new level for her, I feel, and I really adored it. October was not a large reading month, but it was a goooood reading month.

Most Popular Post This Month


Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

(Only because I absolutely ADORE this series and the final book in the trilogy, which just released, was SO AWESOME. If you like fantasy at all, pick up this series--it won't disappoint!)

Post I Starred in my Blog Reader this Month

I adore this article about shaving and how it's not always a choice for women of color. As a feminist and someone who attends a women's college (when I'm not studying abroad, that is), this is something I hear and see a lot--that you are more feminist if you don't shave and conform to beauty standards that men have erected. I can totally see how that's a valid argument, but it's also not a huge deal if you're hair is light and barely noticeable on your skin in the first place. For a curly-haired girl like me, it's the same as someone with straight hair with the tiiiiniest wave saying that they're going to get rid of their hair straightener so they can have healthier hair; their hair is frankly straight already, so the sacrifice doesn't mean a lot. Obviously, this article delves deeper into this issue and does a better job of addressing it than I do, so give it a read; it's worth it.

Obsession of the Month

Um, Quantico, actually. I saw all of Season 1 in less than a week and am now waiting every week for a new episode of Season 2. I began Quantico back when the show first released, mostly because I was immensely proud of Priyanka Chopra (a huuuge Bollywood actress) for making it onto American television, but I found that the first few episodes of Season 1 were painful to watch episode-by-episode. I can now confirm that my initial thoughts, that this is a show that would thrive off of binge-watching, is correct. I returned to the first-half of Season 1 and then sped through the second-half within just two or three days and now I'm enjoying Season 2 episode-by-episode a lot more than I did Season 1. Anyway, I highly recommend the show! It's smart and the viewer is kept guessing till the end, which isn't easy to do. The characters, especially the secondary ones, have fascinating story arcs outside of the seasonal arc and the diversity on this show, not to mention the feminism, lack of slut-shaming, and female friendships, are all FANTASTIC. It helps that the men are quite cute, too. ;)

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. Going to London!!! I am SO EXCITED to go to London, you guys! I've read about this magical city in SO MANY BOOKS and I'm finally going there myself! I'll be meeting Jasprit from The Reader's Den, which is so incredibly exciting since she's one of my very first blogging friends and I can't believe I'll finally be meeting her in person! I'm also going to Oxford to visit my best friend of ten years and I'll be attending the choir concert of one of my best friends from the Wellesley College Choir (I MISS THE CHOIR SO MUCH!). I'm also (obviously) going to go to all the major touristy sites and, unfortunately for my suitcase, I have a looong list of books with UK covers that I want to own, so I'll definitely have to pack light so I can return with a suitcase full of books. ;)

2. Thanksgiving! Obviously, Thanksgiving isn't a holiday here in France but in my program, all the students make a traditional Thanksgiving dish with their host families and all of our host families come together to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I'm really excited for this to happen and it's going to be such a wonderful melange of cultures! I'm especially looking forward to meeting other host families since we've all been talking about our families so much, so I feel like I know them all already!

3. Sweater Weather! It's only now getting a tiiiny bit cold, here in Provence, so while I'm going to miss the warm weather, I'm ready for the weather to decide if it's warm or cold. Right now, we have cool mornings and HOT afternoons so I kind of just want to be able to wear my jacket without sweating in it and pulling on my tall boots without regretting wearing them that day. Plus, I miss the fall colors and fashion from the US so much so I'm ready to embrace that and skip the horrible winter part of it altogether. :)

What did you do in October? Any Halloween celebrations? I, for one, did not celebrate Halloween or the two biggest Indian holidays, Navratri or Diwali, so it was a celebration-less October for me, sadly, but I'd love to hear about you all did! Any exciting November plans? I want to hear in the comments below!! 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review: Wanderlost by Jen Malone


Title: Wanderlost

Author: Jen Malone

Rating: 2 Stars

I received an ARC of Wanderlost a few months ago and, after sampling a few chapters, I completely wrote this book off. Aubree, the protagonist, was a tad too immature and whiny for me to handle and her voice simply didn't speak to me. But when the raving reviews of Wanderlost began to flood in closer and closer to its release date, I dug out my ARC again and resolved to give this novel another try, with an open mind.

Well, it turns out my first instincts are spot-on. Wanderlost didn't improve much for me past those first few chapters and while I found redeeming qualities, certainly, this isn't a novel I would recommend. In fact, do yourself a favor a buy a copy of Kristen Hubbard's Wanderlove instead--similar title, relatively similar premises, but a much stronger plot and romance.

My number one issue with Wanderlost was Aubree. Elizabeth, Aubree's older sister, is whip-smart and determined--she always gets her way and she doesn't let anything stop her. When Aubree throws a party with underage drinking and Elizabeth covers for her, Elizabeth is arrested and can't leave the country to lead a tour around Europe as planned. Since Aubree now owes her, big time, Aubree takes her place and leaves her small town, for the first time, terrified to be traveling to Europe. Aubree is so ungrateful. I won't deny that Elizabeth isn't the most supportive older sister, but Aubree refuses to see the opportunity in front of her eyes. I found her inner monologues so frustrating and wanted her to open up, see eye-to-eye with her sister, and seize this experience.

Aubree gets there--eventually!--but it takes so very long and I found myself unimpressed by her growth arc. The tour itself is cute, with six elderly men and women and Sam, a sophomore in college who is added onto the tour last-minute to help his grandmother with her elbow injury. Sam is downright adorable and it's hard not to fall for him. Why he fell for Aubree? A mystery. Their romance didn't make me swoon in the least and the matchmaking going on between the grandmothers and grandfathers on this tour made me roll my eyes. It was so very cliche.

I appreciate that Malone really does develop Aubree and Elizabeth's relationship over the course of this novel and, what's more, she tries to add facts about different European cities. It doesn't feel atmospheric and the prose is unremarkable but it's easy to forgive that with Sam around. But, this novel fell so short of being wonderful for me. I wanted Aubree to really grow and change on her own but it felt as if so much of her opening up was due to Sam. And that isn't a bad thing, but I wanted more of her individual growth, too. And, perhaps I was comparing this too much to Just One Day and Wanderlove. (The latter, especially, features a 17-year-old girl on a tour in a foreign country for the first time, traveling alone, so the similarities were inevitable.)

Wanderlost isn't exceptional, new, or ground-breaking. It's a quick, simple read that will make you smile. The conflict isn't anxiety-inducing and though there was a particular plot point that surprised me quite a bit towards the end, this book is exactly what you imagine it will be--sadly, nothing more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

ARC Review: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst


Title: Of Fire and Stars

Author: Audrey Coulthurst

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Release Date: November 22nd, 2016

I want nothing more than to have the future of fantasy fiction become well-worn stories with women marrying women or men marrying men. I love the fantasy genre and I especially adore that Coulthurst is among the first to write YA LGBTQIA fantasy. But, sadly, I am disappointed to report that Of Fire and Stars is a novel I would recommend skipping, despite the female romance at its core.

For me, one of the main issues with Of Fire and Stars is how completely it throws the reader into its world. We are given no prior knowledge of world-building or character background before cutting straight to Denna's arrival in Mynaria as she prepares to marry Thandi, the prince she has been betrothed to since birth. Denna has had an affinity for fire magic since she was young and though Thandi and his people revile magic, she hopes to keep her abilities a secret for the rest of her life and successfully fulfill her duty to marry the prince and bring an alliance between their two reasons.

Why Mynaria hates magic is a mystery, as is the history of these nations which, very quickly, are upon the bring of war with another small country. Coulthurst tries too hard to create an intriguing political situation but she belittles her audience, failing to give them an adequate backstory or write a unique culture for any of these countries, with the exception of their stance on magic. Thus, the entirety of this novel feels...lacking. It is impossible to get a true grasp of the plot without solid world-building and though the reader becomes accustomed to switching between Denna and Mare, our two narrators, a little more backstory for both heroines would have been useful.

Speaking of Denna and Mare, I will admit that their romance is satisfactory. It is a slow-burn, classic hate-to-love tale and I enjoyed reading of their growing attraction and friendship. However, once again returning to the lack of world-building, neither Denna nor Mare fully explain why they cannot be together. It isn't forbidden to take on lovers or even marry within the same sex in this world but why Denna and Mare cannot form an alliance, instead of Denna and Thandi, is rather puzzling. While I greatly appreciated the fact that sexuality is so fluid in this novel and many of the characters are bisexual, I almost wonder if all of the characters are bisexual until proven otherwise. And while I have nothing wrong that assumption, it almost seems just as dangerous as the assumption that everyone is heterosexual. It fails to account for sexual diversity in a novel that seems as if it must do that, if nothing else.

Another disappointment, for me, is that at times these characters seem incredibly juvenile. And ignorant, perhaps? Both Denna and Mare have grown up in societies where homosexuality is normal yet they ignore their feelings for one another, passing it off as friendship, for most of the novel. While I find this to be realistic in a society where homosexuality is not accepted, I found it confusing in the society Coulthurst created. I find that this is an increasing issue with YA fantasy, in fact--a fantastical, fictional setting often means that issues that plague our world are non-issues within the novel. But I want fantasy to reflect messages and themes that we can learn from in our own worlds, despite the lack of magic, and Of Fire and Stars rather fails on that account.

I will not deny that this novel is fast-paced and entertaining. There are plot twists, sudden deaths, and of course the secrets of Denna's magic. Her blooming romance with Mare is exciting and their clash of wills, especially the manner in which they change one another, is rewarding. I enjoy both of these heroines, individually and together, but the world they've been placed in makes little sense and raises more questions than it answers. For a debut, this shows promise, certainly, but I hope for YA fantasy with LGBTQIA heroines where the plot is just as good as the romance and the diversity is not limited to that of sexual diversity. We have a long way to go in creating diverse, well-written novels but Coulthurst's debut is certainly an important first step in that direction.