2015 in Reviews

It’s time for some 2015 highlights!  I was able to read 100 books this year, not all of which were reviewed, but I wanted to share some of the very best new-to-me books (in the order they were read).

Brimstone Angels: A Forgotten Realms Novel

A great start to a 4 book series* that follows Farideh, a tiefling warlock, and her twin sister on a harrowing adventure through the Dungeons & Dragons universe of the Forgotten Realms.

Erin had also agreed to sign some bookplates that I designed as part of my signature collecting mission 🙂

*There are 4 books that feature Farideh; however, books 3-4 are part of The Sundering.

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)

 

I had originally started reading this book when it first came out; however, I’m glad I finally had a chance to finish reading it as it’s a delightful mix of supernatural, academic, and mystery.  I truly plan to read the other 2 books in 2016!

Also, if you email the author using the address on her website, Deborah’s assistant will be in touch and you can request a single signed bookplate.

Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School, #1)

A fun MG fractured fairytale that follows an unknown fairy tale character, the daughter of the shoemaker, into a reform school for villains after she’s caught stealing for the third time.  Many of the well-knowns make an appearance, but I loved the subtlety of the narrative and the characters were a lot of fun.

I was able to collect this signature at ALA Midwinter earlier this year.

Red Queen (Red Queen, #1)

This world is full of people who have X-Men-like powers, where you actually get to see the powers put to use through training scenes.  The court intrigue was nicely done and kept me guessing to the end.  Expect an early review from me next month for the sequel, Glass Sword.

Of Giants and Ice (The Ever Afters #1)

So, I devoured this entire series this year since it was AMAZING!!  Junior high students that attend an after school program that trains them for their fairy tale, and it’s makes good use of the Snow Queen (unlike certain Disney movies).

Shelby is in the process of designing bookplates, and I can’t wait to get her signature for my collection!

Castle Hangnail

I almost missed out on this MG title, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it through work.  Several horror tropes were used in the worldbuilding without putting this in the horror category, but it’s strong anti-bullying message was not preachy and made sense based on the character’s strength and situation.  If I were a teacher, I would make sure that was in my syllabus.

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)

Here’s a popular series that I’m very behind on, which puzzles me as I was really interested in the premise when it first came out, but never pursued it until now.  The first book was a little slow for me, but based on spoilers, I hear it really picks up.

I acquired Sarah’s signature via my brother-in-law who was stationed with the Airforce near one of her signings.

Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega, #1)

Another series I devoured this year after receiving book four through the AceRocStars.  Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite authors, but I had never picked up Alpha & Omega.  Glad I did, though!  It’s an accurate representation of a woman dealing with and overcoming past abuse in an empowering, non-derogatory way.

Patricia has a standing offer on her website that if you mail her your book(s) as well as return shipping, she will sign and send them back.  I took advantage of this and sent bookplates instead (much cheaper!).

The Dead House

With this book, I deviated from my comfort zone of fantasy/sci-fi and delved into horror. A creepy psychological thriller, The Dead House shines some light on DID (disassociate identity disorder) through a multimedia format of diary entries, video transcripts, police interviews, and post-it notes.  Perfect for Halloween season or whenever you want a bit of mystery.

The Orphan Queen (The Orphan Queen, #1)

This book was well-written and fast paced.  I HATE that it ends on such a huge cliffhanger, but that’s apparently in with YA right now.  Luckily, I received a copy of The Mirror King through work, so my review of it should be up in March (since it releases in early April).

And now, my favorite read in 2015…

Well, I didn’t have just one, and I’m terrible at picking absolute favorites, so here’s a few books that I re-read in 2015 because they are awesome.

Green Rider (Green Rider, #1)Poison Study (Study #1)The Outstretched Shadow (Obsidian Mountain, #1)

Look for more reviews from me in 2016, many of them earlier than the books’ release dates, and have a happy New Year!

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Throwback Thursday-Queen’s Own by Mercedes Lackey

Queen's Own (Valdemar: Arrows of the Queen #1-3)

Arrows of the Queen * Arrows Flight * Arrows Fall

Recently, life has thrown me some curveballs, so I decided to re-read a character story that was similar to what I was going through.  I found Arrows of the Queen early in life (either junior high or early high school) and loved the story then for almost the same reasons I wanted to read it again now.  Also, DAW recently released the trilogy in a single paperback, which rekindled my desire to read the series.

The Complete Arrows Trilogy

I want to be honest here; I usually skip Arrows Flight in my re-read because not much happens.  As one of Mercedes Lackey’s earliest writing endeavors, this trilogy suffers in a couple ways.  First, the middle book is almost dead space with most of what is described being too drawn out.  This really could have been a beefier duology and been a bit better for it.  Second, the pacing is just a little off at times.  I like getting to know how Court and Collegium work, and I like getting to learn more about Talia’s friendships, but there aren’t quite enough pages devoted to the action sequences.  They read as very abrupt.

Readers who aren’t accustomed to older styles of writing in the fantasy genre may become frustrated or annoyed by the editing presented in the originals.  And, I haven’t had the opportunity to examine the new release to see if the editing was updated at all.  However, I think the story of acceptance, bullying, family, and adventure overcome these minor negatives.

The reasons why I love this tale are tied to the main character, Talia.  As a child, she was raised in a household that didn’t provide love or acceptance for who she was as a person.  Then, when she traveled to the capital to become a Herald, she was met with bullies and court intrigue from early on, plus she had to work through her issues of trust, friendship, and communication.  Mercedes Lackey shows a great deal of knowledge about the human psyche and emotions.  Anyone who wants more LBGTQ, female empowerment, and diversity in their fantasy should check out any of Lackey’s works as she was one of the originals to feature positive reactions and acceptance of what was mostly considered normal (in the worldbuilding) relationships of that nature.

Also, who doesn’t love horse gods 🙂

OVERVIEW from the publisher

Available in a single volume for the first time, Mercedes Lackey’s debut trilogy of Valdemar!

The Complete Arrows Trilogy contains the three extraordinary novels that launched Mercedes Lackey’s remarkable career and sparked the imaginations of millions of readers across the world.

The Arrows trilogy tells the story of Talia, a daughter of the repres­sive Holderfolk, who is Chosen by the immortal Companion Rolan to become one of the legendary Heralds of Valdemar.

Companions like Rolan are mystical horse-like beings with powers beyond imagining—including the power to sense an awakening potential for special talents of the mind in certain young men and women, like Talia.

With Rolan’s help, Talia will learn to master her unique mental abilities of telepathy and empathy, and will grow from an uncertain and inexperienced Herald trainee to become the most important Herald of all: the Queen’s Own.

And together, Talia and Rolan will fight to protect the queen, the heir to the throne, and the entire kingdom—from dangerous conspiracies, looming unrest, vicious treachery, and even an evil and ancient sorcery beyond the magic of the Heralds themselves.

Throwback Thursday: The Mountain’s Call by Caitlin Brennan

The Mountain's Call (White Magic, #1)

Published in 2006 by Luna

This was my second read through, but I had originally read it a couple years after its original release (back in 2008) when I was part of Luna’s mailing program.  It was also around the same time that I was reading Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books.  Both series feature magical white horses that have more sense than humans.  They also both feature gender inequality and bullying issues.  Caitlin Brennan presents an intriguing tale about a girl who just wants to follow her destiny, but the patriarchy of society wants her to either die or do what females have always done.  I liked the social commentary on both bullies and gender inequality, but there didn’t seem to be much of a reason besides tradition as the heir to the throne was female.  There was also graphic rape and sex scenes, which did fit the story but I found it disconcerting that they were graphically described multiple times.  In the end, the story was well-told and certainly fun to read.

The physical book is out of print, but the ebook is still available and is relatively cheap, so you should definitely check out this trilogy.

What the publisher has to say:

Tales are told of the mysterious, powerful Mountain where the gods — powerful beings in the form of white horses — live. But Valeria knows no woman has ever been called to the Mountain. Until she feels a strange pull and answers the call — as a boy…

When her secret is discovered Valeria loses all that she’s won. Her anger and frustration with the Empire might be enough to give the barbarians a way into the Mountain. And so the Empire now depends on the will, the strength and the loyalty of one Rider. A Rider who has been rejected by all but the gods…

Waiting on Wednesday: The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

The Impostor Queen (Untitled, #1)

Expected publication is January 5, 2016 from Margaret K. McElderry Books

This review is based on an uncorrected advance copy

The story took a while to warm up, but the storytelling was compelling, and eventually the characters grew into people the reader could care about.  However, I think the most interesting part of the story was the magical theory.  Magic takes on two forms: fire and ice.  Depending on how much ability one has with either determines the balance and/or control one has of either magic.  The Valtia is the queen of this country and has complete balance of both fire and ice.  The story is told through the upcoming Valtia, Elli, who has been raised in the palace since her discovery at a very young age; however, since she is so coddled and protected, she has no personality until the story forces her to grow-up.  Luckily, no love triangle grew out of the story, but it took forever to get answers to my questions, and the main story wasn’t resolved, so it’ll have to wait for the next book in the series.  Overall, I’m glad I read this book and I know lots of people will love it, but I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my permanent personal library.

Here’s what the publisher has to say about this book:

Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

Top 10 Tuesday: Fairy Tale Retellings

I’ve been busy with adulting, but I’m hoping that this is the start of weekly or bi-weekly posts featuring Top 10 Tuesdays, Waiting on Wednesday, and Throwback Thursday.  Top 10s will feature themed lists, but may include more than just books.  Waiting ons will be a mix of books I’m looking forward to reading and book reviews for upcoming books (my first review in this setup will be The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine).  Throwbacks are going to be reviews of books that I’m rereading or books that came out 2 or more years ago.  So, here’s my first Top 10!

Fairy Tale Retellings Through the (Reading) Ages
1. Holly Claus: The Christmas Princess by Brittney Ryan / The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan

Holly Claus: The Christmas PrincessThe Legend of Holly Claus

The young readers have so many fairy tales and their adaptations to choose from, but during this holiday season and point to a lovely little story about Santa Claus’s daughter, Holly.  Maybe not exactly a fairy tale, but it is a different look at a familiar tale 🙂  First released as a middle grade novel before being adapted into a picture book, the story of Holly Claus really hits on the topics of identity, self-worth, and sacrifice as well as what the holidays really mean.  I love both editions, but I was very happy when Laurel Long’s illustrations were colored for the picture book release.  (If you don’t know about Laurel Long, go Google her work RIGHT NOW!)

2. Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-Ups by Stephanie Clarkson

Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-ups

This story actually mixes up four different fairy tales as the current trend in retellings, but the art by Brigette Barrager works really well with the story and it’s rather humorous in nature.

3. Flunked by Jen Calonita

Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School, #1)

Here’s an early middle grade retelling that doesn’t have a well-known trope as the main character, but rather the shoemaker’s daughter.  Oh, there’s plenty of well-knowns in the background, but the story features a reform school where the teachers are famous ex-villains.  My last post actually featured a cover reveal for the sequel, which is definitely going to be a fun read!

4. The Ever Afters by Shelby Bach

This series was Awesome!  I loved the after-school program nature of it, and I loved that it played up the Snow Queen tale.  Four books, all well-written–it’s a complete set that you can go out and buy right now 🙂

5. The Storybook of Legends (trilogy) by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale introduced the world to Ever After High’s world and characters, and it was spectacular.  Ever After High is a spin-off of Monster High, but instead of the children of monsters, EAH features the children of fairy tales.  There is another series being written by Suzanne Selfors, but it’s definitely written for a younger audience (early middle grade) unlike Hale’s (young adult).

6. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)

The third and final book of the series just came out this past July, but, honestly, the first book was the best.  It really takes a look at what makes a character good and what makes them evil.  I loved how Chainani took fairy tale tropes and turned them on their head.  The second book focused on gender stereotypes in fairy tales, so that was fun.  But, book three was less satisfactory.

7. The Phoenix Dance by Dia Calhoun

The Phoenix Dance

A young adult retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses from the view of the shoemaker’s apprentice, who is suffering from bipolar disorder.  It puts the whole story into a new perspective while addressing a common problem that doesn’t get talked about much in popular fiction and fantasy in particular.

8. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

This was a great re-imagining of Cinderella set on a futuristic Earth.  Each consequential book adds a new set of characters and points of view storytelling based on another fairy tale, including Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White.  Amazing!  Any age reader will enjoy this four book series.

9. The Stepsister’s Scheme by Jim C. Hines

The Stepsister Scheme (Princess, #1)

Here’s an adult take on fairy tale retellings, where Jim Hines takes a firm stance on gender roles in fairy tales and delivers some great fun with a lot of action as well.  His other series about books and librarians is awesome as well, just saying.

10. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the Forest  (Sevenwaters, #1)

This series starts off with the Six Swans steeped in Celtic mythology and delivers a rousing tale that really captures the setting and the original tale.  Perhaps a bit more description than I usually like, but the storytelling is fantastic.

BONUS: The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey

The Black Swan (Fairy Tales, #2)

One of my favorite stand-along retellings that features one story: Swan Lake.  I love the music, the setting, the swans, the main character (Odile), and the ending.  I wasn’t a big fan of the prince, but Odette and Odile were strong, independent women.  And Mercedes Lackey is one of my favorite authors, so I might be a little biased 🙂

 

Tune in tomorrow for Waiting on Wednesday: The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine.