Looking Ahead: Books of 2017

HAPPY 2017 FELLOW AMPERSAND-ERS!!

I hope your holiday and your New Year’s was amazing, memorable, and safe!

Have I ever told you that I write down book release dates in my planner? Well I do. And let me tell you…2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for both new novels and continuations of series I already read.

crossroadsofcanopyFirst up: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer
Release date: January 31st 2017

Gods and goddesses are reincarnated into human bodies in this fantasy world. Humans across thirteen hierarchal colonies serve these gods. Our protagonist serves one such god, and much go in search of her newest reincarnation in the dangerous depths of their world.

I like SO MANY THINGS about this synopsis already. I’m a sucker for polytheism stories, and the worldbuilding of Canopy and the lower levels of Understorey and Floor already sound complex and interesting.

caravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber
Release date: January 31st 2017

This might sound like just another magical circus story (think Night Circus, The Menagerie, etc.) but this magical circus depends heavily on audience participation. And when Scarlett’s sister, Tella, gets kidnapped by the ringleader, and a competition is set up to reward the first person to find her…things get more complicated. There is a lot of buzz for this story already. I’ve entered several giveaways for an ARC but so far to no avail. Regardless, I will be snatching up a copy the day it gets out.

allourwrongtodaysAll Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Release date: February 7th, 2017

A time traveler from a far-advanced, alternate 2016 finds himself in the 2016 that we all know… and thinks that it’s an apocalyptic wasteland. This sounds like a very topical book, seeing as how everyone and their mother hated 2016. It also sounds super intriguing – so thank goodness it’s coming out at the beginning of this year!

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
Release date: April 20th 2017

After 2016’s City of Blades’ cliffhanger ending, I was already eager for the sequel. AND THIS ONE IS ABOUT SIGRUD! FINALLY, YAY!! I could happily read more and more books in this series for years, the world is that complex and rich.

thesongoftheorphansThe Song of the Orphans by Daniel Price
Release date: July 4th 2017

Finally the sequel to The Flight of the Silvers, a great book I read back in 2014 about a select group of people saved from disaster and sent to an alternate world where they suddenly have supernatural abilities. I remember there being a lot of adversaries as well, and I will DEFINITELY have to re-read the first book to be properly oriented for this new book.

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Release date: May 2nd 2017

I am both unbelievably excited and nervous for the third book in this series. I fell so hard in book-love with A Court of Mist and Fury that I just NEED this third book to continue the amazing-ness that was that book. I am nervous because it could try to be another re-telling of some fable, or some of my favorite characters might get killed off, or it could just plain not be as good. But you can bet I will read it cover to cover as soon as I can get my hands on it.

downamongthesticksandbonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Release date: June 13th 2017

The sequel to the best book I read in 2016! I love that McGuire is going to tell Jack and Jill’s story. They were two of the bigger characters in the first book, and they seemed to have the darkest and most complex background in terms of the world they both visited. I can only hope it is just as beautiful of a story, and perhaps that McGuire will continue with other stories in this world.

Well, that’s it for now! I am excited for much more than these fine novels, but for the sake of your reading eyes, I will stop for now. What books are you looking forward to this year?!

& Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 2016

The Book Itself: Another illustrated woman, this time in an outfit akin to armor: this book’s getting more serious. No barbed wire this time, but a silhouetted city in the background under a stone archway that foreshadows this book’s new setting…

My Review: Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

Oh boy. This one’s really good, you guys. And I’m saying that coming off of this series’ first installment, which I found to be a little lackluster (review here).

It’s hard to know where to begin. And it’s hard to know how to keep this review spoiler-free. Although if you’ve read any other reviews at all, the rough plot line here will have already been ruined for you.

This is what I will do. The first part of this review will be for those of you who read my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses, maybe even read it as well, and are looking for a reason to continue. I will keep it as spoiler-free as I can. The second half will have all sorts of name dropping and fangirl squealing and itty bitty spoilers that will in no way diminish your enjoyment, I think, but proceed at your own risk, nevertheless.

This book illustrates the emotional aftermath of a traumatic event very well. Tamlin isn’t doing well with what he had to go through Under the Mountain. Feyre is definitely not doing well with what she had to do and who she had to do it to while Under the Mountain. Both of them are beset by nightmares and left directionless in the Spring Court. It feels weird for them to continue on with life as usual when it is so not usual anymore. The way Maas depicted that change, and these complex feelings alone had me knowing that this book was going to be better: better plot and character development, a darker tone, and hints at real action to come.

Also hanging over them is Rhysand’s bargain. Feyre has to honor this bargain while still struggling to maintain the façade that everything is hunky dory, both with Spring Court politics and in her relationship with Tamlin. Add to that her aversion to living life as a pampered princess, coddled in a life full of court happenings and pretty jewelry, and you have yourself some story conflict.

My favorite thing about this book is probably it’s pacing. Yes, it’s over 600 pages long, but I never felt as if it were dragging or wished it would go faster or slower. 600 pages is a lot. It’s enough to change everything in a story’s world, and this book does. I felt like I did when I was a kid and I had a new Harry Potter book in my grasp. I devoured this book in a matter of a couple days – it was so well paced and developed.

The character growth is very well done, too. We definitely get more out of Feyre as a character, and how time and events change her as a person. This book introduces several new, kickass characters as well, and all of them get the perfect amount of development: enough to care about them and flesh out their backstories, but not overdoing it, and making me want to come back for more in future books.

…Is that enough for those of you who haven’t read the second book, and don’t want it spoiled? Yes? Okay, I’ll put some space here between this non-spoilery part and the next part, which might spoil you a bit if you haven’t read A Court of Mist and Fury.

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I accidentally found out only a few chapters into this book that Feyre’s affections would turn towards Rhysand. And when I first heard that, I was genuinely upset. Why spend an entire book putting her and Tamlin together, why have her go through all of that crap, have her be on the brink of death several times, only to remove her from that relationship and have her get into another one? Sure, I liked Rhysand in the first book, and I looked forward to hearing more about him, but she was in love with TAMLIN! How could Feyre be so fickle? How could Rhysand steal her away?

And now that I’ve turned the final page of A Court of Mist and Fury? I don’t know why I even liked Tamlin and Feyre together at all.

But a lot of people took issue with this change. And I can see where they’re coming from.

The issue, I think, is that this book makes Tamlin seem SO controlling and awful, and Rhysand SO inherently good and generous, that it negates everything Maas spent the entire previous book setting up. Why make us fall in love with Tamlin, when he’s going to turn out to be kind of a bad guy? It did seem a little extreme to me, this shift from Tamlin being Mr. Misunderstood, and our leading romantic lead, to someone suffering so badly from PTSD that he physically lashes out to control those around them.

On the flipside of the coin, Rhysand is The Perfect Guy in this story. The façade he had to put on in the first book’s events is shattered during Feyre’s first stay at the Night Court. He’s not manipulative and sneaky and evil anymore. No, that’s all an act: he’s loyal, generous, and conflicted to the bone about the things he has to do and who he does them to. He’s a great foil to Tamlin, and even to Feyre. But his goodness seems a little overdone, like Maas wanted to soothe the rage she knew would come after Tamlin’s fall from grace, saying “No, wait, but look how great I’ve made Rhysand?! He’s perfect.

So it feels abrupt. But them Maas spends 500 pages or so convincing you – and Feyre – that it’s okay to change as a person, and to want and need different things than you wanted or needed before. There’s a maturity in this choice, even though the choice seems abrupt and jarring when you compare it to the first book’s lengthy setup.

I ate this stuff with a spoon. I LOVED it. I haven’t even touched on the plot or secondary characters that we get introduced to at the Night Court (I can’t see me being okay with Amren, Cassien, Azriel, OR Mor leaving the picture. They better all survive this entire freaking series). But if I went into all that, you’d be here for a thousand more words. And I’ve already waxed poetic enough. This book makes the first book’s inanity worth it. My god, is it ten million times better. It does make me fear for the next installment. Where A Court of Thorns and Roses was Beauty & the Beast, A Court of Mist and Fury was the myth of Hades and Persephone. I’ll cringe if the third book is another retelling, or if it’s told from a different character’s perspective (I’m all about it being dual-told from Feyre and Rhysand’s perspectives though. YES PLEASE). The characters are finally in place, and they are all poised for incredible action and story. I hope the next installment (MAY 2017 WHY ARE YOU SO FAR AWAY?!) lets them run with it.

My Grade: A

& Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's, May 2015

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s, May 2016

The Book Itself: It comes dangerously close to my pet peeve: using picture of pretty men and women, usually looking like they have no business being in this book, in order to sell a cover, and thus, a book. We get half of a pretty woman, and it’s a drawn picture at that. The dress looks rough, almost feral, which fits with the book. The barbed wire and the title do draw me in.

My Review: She stole a life. Now she must pay with her heart.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

This review is difficult for me because I have already read the second book, which, spoiler alert, is leaps and bounds better. I’m not going to say you should read this book only so you can read the second, but…yes maybe I’ll actually say that.

First, I’ll list my problems with this first installment, and then explain why I stuck around.

  1. It is too much like too many other things
    My (wonderful, beautiful, humble) best friend again recommended this to me. She had just finished the second book as well, and practically threw the book at me to get me to start it. She did warn me that this book “until about halfway through, IS Beauty & the Beast. And it is. Enter Tamlin, the Beast: in this iteration, he’s a faerie, a creature feared in the mortal realm because of a terrible war in the past. He can shapeshift, and his shifted form is literally the Beast. Down to the lion-like body and horned head. Enter our Beauty, Feyre: in order to support her family, she goes out into the woods in secret and shoots food with a bow and arrow. I won’t say who that reminds me of, but it rhymes with Patmiss Nevermean. Beast takes Beauty away (from her terrible family, mostly. Her sisters are literally the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella. Like, in their current situation, who the eff would act like they do?! They were flat, unbelievable characters to me because of their absurd bitchiness). Beast holes Beauty up in a castle and tells her she can’t leave. Beast gets controlling. Beauty gets impatient, and literally does the opposite of everything Beast tells her to do (which, like, good for her, because he’s being controlling, but after the first brush with death with supernatural beings, maybe take a break from being a rebel). Beast sends Beauty away only for her to realize that she loves him. Beauty finds out there is a Curse on Beast. The Curse here is the same exact curse as Beauty & the Beast. There is no surprise here! I take issue with retellings of myth and fairy tales when they feel like they’re not trying to do something different with it: they don’t try to illustrate some new theme or they don’t deviate from the previously written plot at all in order to make it new. A Court of Thorns and Roses didn’t feel new to me. It followed the plot of Beauty and the Beast to a T, and even the addition of faeries improved that for me.
  2. Things get good too late
    After Beauty – sorry, Feyre – finally figures it out, it is her turn to rescue the Beast/Tamlin. Her journey through the place where he’s been taken and the trials she has to face FINALLY pick up the pace in the story. Her relationship with a handful of secondary characters actually has me liking her more, and fleshing them out as people too. We meet Rhysand, who plays an integral part in the second book, and his character development in this book alone is done very well. But all of this takes place in the last third of this book. That seems like a lot of build up for a payoff that only takes up a hundred pages or so.
  3. Tamlin is kind of an ass/his purpose seems purely physical
    Unpopular opinion? Am I being influenced by the second story’s events? I don’t care. There were times in this first book where I didn’t really like our leading man. Yes, he was trying to protect a mortal human from the faeries and other forces in his world that could seriously harm her. But he clearly has some Edward Cullen abusive tendencies going on (yes, I just compared him to a Twilight character. It’s apt). He controls and commands his love interest in the name of affection and his vastly superior physical strength. Even his love and affection for Feyre is displayed only in physical attention. Yes, those love scenes are NOT YA. They’re steamy and hot and I’m not about to complain about them. But a star-crossed love should be based on more than sex, and here it doesn’t feel like it’s more than that.

OKAY. After all that, I liked it enough to read the sequel. Why?

 

 

 

  1. It’s well-paced, and for the most part, well-written
    There are no clumsy metaphors and similes crowding up things. Despite the plot being rather recycled, I still turned the pages to see what would happen to the characters.
  2. Secondary characters piqued by attention
    Rhysand is obviously set up in this story to become the focus in the second. But he’s set up really well. Introduced as a greasy enemy, he slowly becomes someone the reader can see has more depth than that mean façade. He’s helpful, wily, and witty. You inherently want to hear more about him. Lucien, Tamlin’s right hand man (Lumiere to the Beast) also gains a lot of development as the plot thickens. He has a great (sad) backstory, and his family is poised to present a lot of future problems.
  3. I rooted for Feyre and Tamlin as a couple
    Yeah, the Beast was controlling and Beauty was, at times, an idiot. But Feyre goes through a LOT of stuff to get what she wants (Tamlin). All that drive and affection have to mean something.
  4. Dang if that physical romance isn’t HAWT.
    I’m just saying.

 

 

 

 

It may not seem like a lot to go on, seeing as my complaint list is lengthier that my “I Like It” list, but it was good enough for me to see what would happen next. And thank god I did. My review for the second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury will be up soon. Stay tuned!

My Grade: C

& Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's August 2012

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s August 2012

The Book Itself: It’s an improvement from the book’s first cover release: a pretty blonde woman in full makeup with just a hint of a knife strapped to her arm. This one looks decidedly more badass, but the attention given to the long flowing hair is a little misplaced (if you were an assassin, anticipating close combat, wouldn’t you want your hair short, or at least up?)

My Review: After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her … but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead … quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Mark Twain had this idea that everything is plagiarized. He said “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” And it seems these days that a lot of complaints about movies and TV and books is that it isn’t original enough. Here are the same tropes and themes and characters, again and again, people cry. Give us something new!

Now, for me, I don’t mind the same old tropes and themes and characters. If they are well-written, if the story is paced well, if I feel like there are kernels of something in the story that I feel spice up the action and those same old themes. And unfortunately, Throne of Glass didn’t do it for me.

We’ve got a love triangle. We’ve got a dreamy prince and a bad boy captain of the guard. We’ve got a competition of wit and brawn. We’ve got a sassy female protagonist who ends up being super, unbelievably annoying, but who of course is the best in the land and can totally kick a bunch of guys butts in a deadly competition. Cool, okay. Badass female assassin sounds great. But we don’t really get that out of the bargain.

First of all, Celaena gets sprung out of the strictest prison in the land in order to be part of this competition, and she immediately becomes incredibly needy and spoiled. She refuses to get out of bed because she spent all night reading (and if the in love with reading thing is a bid to get us fellow readers to like her, I didn’t fall for it) even though hey, this competition is kind of important and can change your life so stop acting like a spoiled brat days after you’ve been sprung from a slave camp. And she doesn’t get any better. For the majority of the book, it felt like I was reading the adventures of an ugly stepsister (although she’s not ugly! Heaven forbid we go a chapter without being reminded that she’s pretty), and not the strong female role model protagonist I thought I was going to get.

The competition is almost pushed aside until the very last, fight-to-the-almost-death. In fact, there are whole paragraphs that say things like “the three Tests she’d had, the most exciting of which being an obstacle course, which she passed with only a few minor scratches and bruises.” Soooo…this is not the exciting, no holds-barred, winner takes all battle royale I was expecting. This sounds…boring. The competitors are tested in specific skills: archery, riddle-solving, apparently obstacle course completion…and the book hardly dwells on it. The tasks only serve to whittle down the almost faceless pool of competitors so that it’s just Celaena and an opponent (and even who that opponent is going to be is mindnumbingly obvious from the get-go).

And then let’s get to the central mystery…competitors for this competition keep dying, quite gruesomely in fact. And no one seems to really care. At most Celaena scratches her head a little, and then moves on with her life. In fact, here’s a sentence that boggles my mind: “But he’d been lucky: three other competitors had died. All found in forgotten hallways; all mutilated beyond recognition.” And then the scene moves on. What? So…three people died, and everyone’s just like “Meh, thin the herd.” Where is the agency or sense of urgency here? It’s like we wait around for spoiled Celaena to step up for once and do something productive.

Sorry. I just really dislike Celaena.

Maas tries to inject a little magic and mythology in there, but by that time it’s too late. I finished the book, but I will not be continuing on in the series. There are too many other good ones out there that do these themes better.

My Grade: D+