Wednesday, April 27, 2016

REVIEW | The Raven Boys + 2 by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Awards: None
Format: Audio (CDs from Library)
Narrator: Will Patton

The Raven Boys (#1) - Publication Year: 2011 
The Dream Thieves (#2) - Publication Year: 2013
Blue Lily, Lily Blue (#3)- Publication Year: 2014


I'm timing my review of the first three books in this series to coincide with the very exciting April 26th release of the fourth and final installment of the series, Raven King!  I haven't read it yet but, as it will become apparent below, I can't wait to get my hands on it!

Last year I met and fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater.  Well, at least her books. I didn't meet her personally and am not sure whether I would have amorous feelings towards her or not though if she in anyway is the embodiment of her books...maybe. Anyhoo. I specifically started reading The Raven Cycle.  This series tells the story of four teenagers who are on a quest to find a dead (or is he just sleeping?) Welsh king and wake him up.  It is set in the fictional rural(ish) Virginia town of Henrietta where Aglionby Academy, a very exclusive boarding school for rich boys, sits uncomfortably among the blue-collar mountain-folk townies.

The cast is as follows:
First the so-called Raven Boys (the raven is the Aglionby Mascot hence the moniker)...
Richard "Dick" Gansy, III, aka Gansy, is the leader of a small band of misfits while he himself manages to be the the very epitome of an Aglionby Raven. At least on the surface.  Deep down he is a very unique soul and it is his obsession that at first that drives the search for Glyndower, a Welsh king who is said to be only sleeping. Gansy is very proper, can be patronizing but is also extremely loyal, curious and active.
Ronan Lynch is one of Gansy's first friends at Aglionby and like Gansy he comes from a rich family but we are given to understand that the recent death of his father has changed him into the very epitome of an angry young man.  Ronan is rude, crude, brash, quick-tempered, uninterested in school but he also has a surprisingly soft heart and he almost worships Gansy.
Adam Parrish is a townie who has secured himself a position at Aglionby despite being from a very poor home. He has also managed to earn Gansy's respect and friendship though the difference in their social station is a constant strain.  He is smart, driven, proud, funny and sweet but he is also very damaged by a violent and rocky home life.
Noah Czerny is a part of the group but no one is sure how.  He lives with Ronan and Gansy at a big converted warehouse called Monmouth Manufacturing and he has a huge secret.
Now for the Non-Aglionby Cast....
Blue Sargent is a non-psychic living in a chaotic house filled with psychic women including her mother Moira and Moira's two best friends Calla and Persephone. Generally she is disdainful of the boys from Aglionby Academy and avoids them like the plague.  However she strikes up a friendship/flirtation with Adam after meeting him while waiting tables at the local pizza joint. As Adam starts to invite her to hang with the four of them, she gets pulled into the quest for Glyndower as eventually do all the women in her household.

Now for the individual books:

The Raven Boys

The story kicks off with Blue.  All her life she has been told that if she kisses her true love he will die.  As a result, at 16, she has mostly avoided boys so she has not been in any danger of killing anyone.  Then one night she accompanies her Aunt to a nearby graveyard to help her record the spirits walking along a special path which represent those who will die in the year to come.  Blue can't usually see them but she serves as an amplifier of psychic power for the gifted in her family.  On this night Blue does see someone, a boy in an Aglionby uniform.  Her mother and Aunt believe she was able to see him because a) he is her true love or b) she will be responsible for his death or c) based on the prediction about her, possibly both.   It is therefore ominous when shortly thereafter she meets and begins to hang out with a group of four Aglionby boys.  It seems to be her destiny because her entry into the group is a catalyst for forward momentum in the search for the Welsh King Glyndower who is rumored to be sleeping among the hills around Henrietta.  She educates the boys about Ley Lines which are thick around Henrietta, and soon they discover an enchanted living forest that seems to blink in and out of existence and is called Cabeswater.

It is a little odd how much I love this first book because the supernatural and magical elements are actually pretty subtle so what your left with is contemporary drama amongst teenagers.  This is not usually my thing but Stiefvater's writing has a way of making everything seem somewhat magical and dreamy even if the actual occurrences of magic are rather slim.  She uses language so beautifully that it is sometime poetic but it's also really slyly humorous which keeps it from being stuffy or bloated.

I love how she depicts the teenagers even though one of the main complaints I read about the series is that the teenagers aren't very realistic.  Certainly they are pretty odd and unique and their dialogue is perhaps a little too sophisticated but their interactions and reactions felt very real to me.

This first book is probably my favorite.  It totally sucked me in and got me invested in the characters.

READ THE QUOTES!

FINAL VERDICT:  Funny, compelling, dreamy and the perfect introduction to Blue and the Raven Boys.  LOVED IT.  4 out of 5 Stars


The Dream Thieves


The drama and angst really kick into high gear in this second book of the Raven cycle and not always in a good way in my opinion.  The Raven Boys was a lightly fantastical story of Welsh myth and unlikely friends.  The Dream Thieves introduces some strong magic, some ambiguous bad guys and LOTS of CW drama between the friends.

Thankfully, Stiefvater's writing, which is unique, beautiful and so cleverly and dryly witty, somehow converts much of the drama into meaningful character and relationship development.  Adam and Blue both take it on the chin a bit which was hard to take because they are my favorites but both characters are at an interesting place by the end of the book.  I could've easily hated Blue for hurting Adam (who I just want to cuddle like a kicked puppy) but Stiefvater is mistress enough that I still love Blue and I believe in how she and Gansy are slowly drawn to each other.  She leaves me staunchly on team Adam but still loving Gansy and Blue.  How does Stiefvater do that???

This book also gives us the opportunity to get to know Ronan more intimately and it is a wild and mostly fun ride.  I enjoyed the added character of Kavinsky though the way Will Patton read him was a little ridiculous (very over-the-top New Jersey - very wise guy sounding). I felt like he gave me a look at what Ronan could be without Gansy which once again emphasizes the magic of these friendships.  I also really enjoyed the addition of the enigmatic Gray Man and even though it is a little cliched, his character arc was great.
“And Ronan was everything that was left: molten eyes and a smile made for war.”
 “She wore a dress Ronan thought looked like a lampshade. Whatever sort of lamp it belonged on, Gansey clearly wished he had one. Ronan wasn't a fan of lamps.” 
In the end the book tells a very interesting story but it did only feel only loosely connected to the first book and the quest for Glyndower.

FINAL VERDICT: While I didn't at first think I liked this book as much as book 1, by the end and upon reflection it had captured my heart maybe just a smidge less than book one.



Blue Lily, Lily Blue

I still loved this book but of the three it definitely fell down a (small) notch. I really enjoyed the ride but it did feel a teensy weensy bit unfocused and it left me with so many questions.  Questions like:

Why exactly, between The Dream Thieves and this book, did Blue's mother Moira go marching off into the caves to get lost for months?  I know she has been somewhat curious about the whereabouts of Blue's father but not rabidly enough to abandon her daughter and newly found love, and possibly kill herself looking for a man that disappeared 17 years ago.  But maybe I missed something?  Since Moira's disappearance and rescue drives a lot of the action in the book I wanted it to be a bit better explained especially since abandoning her daughter doesn't really seem like Moira's style.

Why did the kids plus Calla/Persephone take so long to find Moira (months) when Greenmantle's wife Piper finds her in a matter of days?

And what's up with Piper?  What is she even after?  Her motivations are very unclear and the fact that she, and not her husband, ended up being the real danger, just felt like a cheap misdirection.

What was the point of Mallory in the story?  Comic Relief? To offend all British citizens?

How does Ronan get out of the cave with the dead mirror lake?

Okay, I'll stop just asking questions though if you think you can answer any of them, I would love to be enlightened.  Ahem.  Despite its lack of focus the book does make some relatively significant progress in the search for Glyndower and sets up the final book really well.

I totally ship Ronan and Adam now.
“I know when I'm awake and when I'm asleep," Ronan Lynch said.Adam Parrish, curled over himself in a pair of battered, greasy coveralls, asked, "Do you?""Maybe I dreamt you," he said. "Thanks for the straight teeth, then," Adam replied.” 
I was very saddened by certain events.  Beware.

FINAL VERDICT:  Though a little unfocused I still really enjoyed the book and felt like it made some good progress towards the end game and the final book in the series.  3 out of 5 stars.

Before I wrap things up I should take a moment to speak about the narration of the audio books which is how I consumed the whole series.  I can't decide if Will Patton is the perfect narrator or an odd choice. He's definitely got a unique voice and I grew to really like it but there were times when he made some not so great choices like how he voiced Kavinsky.

I highly recommend this series. I have fallen in love with Maggie Stiefvater's writing and I will definitely be checking out everything else she has written after I have voraciously read The Raven King!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Bookworm Delights

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

A quick list of bookworm delights!

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1) Libraries - One of the few things in the world I actually enjoy shopping for are books.  Libraries give me the experience of shopping for books but with no money involved! This is a uniquely book wormy pleasure.

2) When the book blurb looks like the book was written just for me and the book actually lives up to that promise!

3) Getting inside a character's head - There is nothing like a book to really lean about other people and discover that most of us share more things than not.  People are interesting and books are the perfect way to explore that!
4) Quiet time lost in a book - As an introvert, I truly relish and need times of quiet, alone time and a perfect companion?  Books!  Item 4, part B - Read-a-thons. Since getting involved with blogging I've participated in a couple of these and it is amazing to drop everything and focus on reading for a chunk of time.

5) Lists of Books - Reading them, making them; lists in general are a favorite thing of mine and book lists are the tippy top best type of lists.

6) Book Hoarding - This may not seem like a good thing but if I'm going to have piles of anything lying around the house, books make the best piles.  They're pretty and create a flat surface.

7) Reading Age Inappropriate Books - This is a relatively new delight for me and I'm so glad I not only got over my snobbery about reading YA and Middle-Grade but also have honed my abilities for finding the books in these categories that will most delight me.  It's all about stories - awesome, complicated, simple, fantastical stories.

8) The Goodreads Book Challenge -   I know this kind of challenge doesn't work for everyone but my yearly reading challenges have really pushed me, in a good way, to read more.  And more books read = delightful.

9) Enjoying a book and its TV/Movie incarnation:  This doesn't happen all the time but it sure is delightful when it does work.

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What are your particular book delights?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | Save the Dandelions!

OUTSIDE

So my plan is to spend a good deal of tomorrow cleaning up the mess above.  Finally, time in the garden. It's gonna happen.  After brunch.

I also want to make a plea for dandelions, the scourge of the suburban lawn.  They are also one of the earliest plants to bloom in the spring (like right now) and are one of the few nectar sources for pollinators this early.  I took a short little walk mid-week and found bees on every 5th dandelion I checked.  So don't pull him all.  Do Less Work - this is what I am telling you!

Also this week - Bald Eagles!
And Blueberries!

LIFE

My brain is dead tonight and I got nothing.


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

Nothing new or special.  Which is annoying because I seem to be going into yet another reading slump.  I'm in book crisis, people. My book reading is broken. Ahem...  But this is the "Watching" section.  I did start to try and watch The Flash as a follow up to my recent Arrow obsession and while I find Grant Gustin as Barry Allen very charming and fun, I once again find the romance subplot insipid and boring.  And romance subplots are important to me.  I've decided based on admittedly minimal data, that superhero comics are crap at romance subplots.  Perhaps that shouldn't be a big surprise BUT you'd think TV producers would pick up on that and decide to go a different direction from the get go.

Reading

Finished Last Week:
  • Timeless (Parasol Protectorate #5) by Gail Carriger: The final book in the parasol protectorate.  It was a lovely ending 

Currently Reading:

  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximizing food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).   
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich:  I started this in D.C. on my kindle and it pretty immediately sucked me in despite the brutality of the subject matter (violent rape against a minority).  
  • The Wicked and the Divine, Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen, Jame McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia DeLuce #6) by Alan Bradley: This is a fun historical mystery series that I thought had a planned end but looking and there are two more books listed.  I wouldn't mind but I'd actually like Flavia DeLuce to move forward and grow up a bit.  I'd rather she not be a perpetual 11 year old.
  • The Last Ever After (The School for Good and Evil #3) by Soman Chainani:  Final book in this trilogy questioning Fairy Tale tropes.  

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!

Nada this week.

Blogging 

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday | Unpopular Character Feelings
THURSDAY: What Does "Having Chemistry" Actually Mean?  Some musings on why some TV couples work so well and others...don't.

Have a Good Rest of Your Weekend!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What does "having chemistry" actually mean?

I'm not talking about real life here.  Who cares about real life?  I'm talking about this phrase, "having chemistry" when it is used to describe the relationship between two actors and/or fictional characters.  I know what it is, I recognize it when I see it but what exactly is going on here?

Some of my favorite on screen couples are a great example of having fantastic chemistry - Scully and Mulder (The X Files), Sam Carter and Jack O'Neill (Stargate SG1), Veronica and Logan (Veronica Mars) and most recently Oliver and Felicity (Arrow) and Clarke with everyone (The 100).


In many cases, the "chemistry" takes the show runners by surprise.  I've read that Chris Carter abhorred the idea of Mulder and Scully being romantically involved but the tension between the  two characters just begged to go there.

The powers that be seemed to include some mild attraction between Sam and Jack from the very beginning but the show's loyalty to following realistic military protocol precluded going anywhere so they couldn't have suspected it would become the phenomenon that it was.  And that they'd be reviled for all time for never GIVING ANY CLOSURE OR PAYOFF.  Ahem.... Not that I'm bitter.

Felicity wasn't even a regular on Arrow to begin with and the show runners clearly intended Laurel to be Oliver's end game love as is the case in the comics the show is based on.  But Oliver and Laurel?  Boring and Irritating (with a capital I) right from the get go while folks shipped Oliver and Felicity as soon as they had exchanged three brief lines about "spilling" a "latte" (Oliver's explanation for why the bullet-riddled laptop he is giving her won't work) on a computer.  Their immediate "chemistry" changed the whole trajectory of the show.

I'm not sure what Rob Thomas had in mind with Veronica and Logan; if he intended Logan to become the character he became and be Veronica's one true love?  I suspect it was all part of his devilish plan - the man's a genius after all - but even though Logan was an epic asshat, the chemistry between he and Veronica was immediate.

Finally there's the situation with Clarke which is kind of new for me.  Usually I give my devotion to one ship but with Clarke, I'm all addlepated.  Clarke and Finn?  Hot! Clarke and Bellamy? Hot! Clarke and Lexa? Hot!  I'm beginning to think I'd 'ship the girl with a sofa cushion.  If they had sofa cushions in post-nuclear war America.

So all of these are very different situations and show but they are all defined by the chemistry shared by their characters/actors.  So what's going on here?  What creates this chemistry?   Here are some possible explanations I could think of:

  1. The actors are good friends/really like each other: This doesn't work.  While Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny like each other, they famously had times where they were not getting along behind the scenes and Anderson was busy falling in love and getting pregnant by one of the crew members during the first season of the show.  However, their on screen chemistry never failed to be breathtaking.
  2. They are just really good actors:  I'm not sure this is the whole picture either.  One couple that I didn't mention above was Buffy and Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who has immediate chemistry as well though, quite frankly, in the beginning, David Boreanaz couldn't act himself out of a paper bag.  With them maybe it was...
  3. The couple represent a particularly attractive trope: Certainly a vampire slayer coupled with a vampire is intriguing, this doesn't particularly work for all of the above.  Logan is a serious jerkwad  - he's not just an adorably hot bad boy.  He is actually really terrible so how does that make him a hot match for V?
  4. The actors have charisma:  The problem with this is that I have the same problem with defining charisma as I do "having chemistry".  It's a mystical intangible quality which is confusing.
  5. Good character writing:  Now this has promise but also ... problems.  I do think this definitely plays a role.  I think all the characters above really work as representing interesting and real people.  However, why do I ship Clarke with everyone?  Is she just such a spectacularly written character that her attractive force is undeniable?  Maybe, but there may not be any character I love more than Veronica Mars.  She is SO well written but the only person for her is Logan.  Oh sure, she has a little chemistry with some other guys along the way but it only goes incandescent with Logan. 
What have I forgotten?  My list definitely feels incomplete.  I think if I was to make a guess I would say that "chemistry" is a combo of a few things just like the science of chemistry.  My vote would be a combination of good writing and good acting.  Having two characters that feel real in how they are written and two actors who play them naturally feels like it is what defines most of those mentioned above.  David Boreanaz sneaks in here and causes problem but I think in that case the situation is helped by the uniqueness and intrigue of the pairing and carries along until Mr. Boreanaz grows into his own.  And maybe you only need one of the actors to be really really good like Sarah Michelle Gellar.  But then you have some pretty good actors that have trouble finding romantic chemistry with anyone.  For example, the talented and beautiful Mr. Jensen Ackles who has WAY more chemistry with his brother Sam (Supernatural) than any lady they try to match him with.  Well, he and Castiel are also pretty adorable together.

If you want more of this adorableness you must immediately check out this list!
And then what about all those folks that don't "feel" the romantic chemistry? Or see the chemistry between a different pair than most others? What's up with the anti-shippers who think all this OTP and OTL stuff is a load of hogwash.  They think the 'shippers are reading into things and inventing and forcing a romance where none exists?  What's up with these folks - are they missing something or is seeing chemistry more a personal thing, that is really more about the viewers mindset and values and not about the actors/characters at all? Whoa.....  I think I just broke my brain.

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear them because I am still very puzzled by the concept and am not convinced I know what I'm talking about.  Let me know!

P.S.  I realize that I only dealt with one kind of chemistry here - romantic chemistry - and that there are many other kinds of chemistry.  Exhibit A: Sam and Dean Winchester on Supernatural.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Unpopular Character Feelings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So I do know this is not ten books that will make you laugh but I did that topic as a freebie a few weeks ago. Please check it out if you want to stay within the regularly scheduled programming!
Instead I'm going to do a post on a topic that I was disappointed to miss a few weeks ago.  That would be:

Ten Characters Everyone Loves But I Just Don't Get or Ten Characters I LOVE But Others Seem To Dislike

I will of course be focusing on my negative feelings because that's just fun.  Here Goes.

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1) Celaena Sardothien from the Throne of Glass Series by Sara J. Maas

I've only read the first book in this series and I understand that Celaena may improve on further acquaintance, but in book one she didn't feel like a real person to me and there was far too much tell vs. show in her characterization.  

Impulsive/Reckless Characters stress me out and the next two fall into that category:

2) Prunella from Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho

I don't hate Prunella but she was definitely a black spot for me on an otherwise fantastic book!

3) Agnieszka from Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I liked neither Agnieszka nor The Dragon so this book didn't work as well for me as it did for most.

Ron asks: Why does ANYONE like me?
4) Ron Weasley From Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

My dislike for Ron was realized during my re-read of the entire HP series last year.  He's really kind of an ass and I hate that he and Hermione end together.

5) Molly Carpenter from The Dresden Files Series by Jim Butcher

Molly becomes Harry's apprentice, his student when she's a teen - she's like a teen boys fantasy of a woman.  She has grown up a bit in recent books but I still get skeeved out by the idea of her and Harry becoming romantically involved and I hate that Butcher always describes her, from Harry's perspective, with an almost lecherous eye.   

Source
6) Karou And Akiva from Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I think I am the only person on the planet that really didn't like this book and it was mostly because of Karou and Akiva.  Neither felt real and Karou is a serious Mary Sue.  

7) Paksenarrion from Sheepfarmer's Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

Paks feels like a barren husk just meant to be a storytelling vehicle.  She is one of the least interesting and most personality-less main characters I've ever encountered. 

8) Vin and Kelsier from Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

I want to love Brandon Sanderson but I feel like his strengths (based on only the two books I've read) are in deep world-building and developing interesting premises.  Characters?  Not so much.  I think Kelsier is meant to be a charming rogue with a heart of gold but I found him dull.  

9) Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont from A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Once again, Diana suffers the fate of being a Mary Sue  - too perfect and too boring to be real - and Matthew's an overbearing, controlling ass. Blech.  I refuse to post a picture of these folks because apparently there is a HUGE push on the internet for "casting" Richard Armitage as Matthew. Just...No.  You will not sully my Armitage.

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Okay, I think I've insulted enough fictional characters for one day.  What character makes you scratch your head wondering why everyone loves them?


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | Butterflies in April!

OUTSIDE
It's a gray Sunday morning (the photo above was from yesterday) which is actually kind of nice.  It seems more peaceful than a normal morning.  The dog park in our town is ridiculously scenic and I was noticing that the trees are finally starting to leaf out after they had become kind of frozen in time by the recent cold snap.

This last week brought a surprise with a good number of butterfly sightings.  In April! The only butterflies we usually see this early on are those that overwinter as adults like Mourning Cloaks and Question Marks.  This year I've already seen quite a few sulphurs, cabbage whites and red admirals.  No pictures of any of them of course:(.

I've been super duper lazy about the garden this year.  I haven't really done anything to  clean up the yard, prepare beds or plant much of anything.  I've got kale, chard and green onion seedlings that could go in and lettuce and carrot seeds that should really be sowed.  I usually do most of my garden work on the weekends and I've had to work a lot and had social things going on each weekend so whenever I get a weekend totally free I just want to nest.   #weekendgardenerproblems

LIFE

TWOP! TWOP is coming back!  What the hell is TWOP?  Television Without Pity was my absolute favorite place on the web when I was feeling particularly obsessive about a TV show.  It featured hilarious, snarky, well-written recaps of  episodes and well moderated forums for discussion (on which I mostly just lurked).  It was closed down by its corporate owner a couple of years ago but I got a note in my facebook feed this week that it is coming back!!  Very excited to see what they do with it!


So I get really frustrated with myself when I don't post regularly on the blog especially since I compose at least 5 posts a week.  The problem is that most of this composing happens in the car.  I have to be on the road a fair amount for my job and this week I had 7 hours in the car during which I wrote several blog posts in my head.  I want the technology that translates this into digital written words which I know exists at least at some level.  Okay I know there is nothing that could turn my thoughts into text but there are talk-to-text programs.  Do any of you all use anything like this?  I need to get my multi-tasking on!

WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

Oh man.  I have descended into quite the obsession this week.  It all started with a review of Cress (by Marissa Meyer) on the Story and Somnomancy blog.   The review compares Cress with Felicity Smoak from Arrow, the superhero show on the CW based on the Green Arrow comic books.  I had actually tried watching the show once and only got through the first episode and a half before turning it off in boredom.  However, I was intrigued by the comparison of this character on the show to Cress because I love Cress and became even more intrigued when I read up on the show and found out that this goof ball computer geek, actually becomes the main love interest on the show :o!   So that's where I've been this week :/.  I will likely finish all three seasons that were on Netflix today because I have been sucking down episodes like nobody's business.  It's a lot of fun and I would go so far as to say that Oliver (the Green Arrow) has more than a few characteristics in common with our delightful Captain Thorne.  So live action Cress romance?  I'm way into it!

Reading

I was making progress on catching up with my Goodreads Challenge and then Arrow happened.  I got very little reading done this week, sigh....

Finished Last Week: 

  • A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab: I've been wanting to read this for ages. Yay me!  It totally met my expectations!

Currently Reading:

  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximizing food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).   
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich:  I started this in D.C. on my kindle and it pretty immediately sucked me in despite the brutality of the subject matter (violent rape against a minority).  
  • The Wicked and the Divine, Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen, Jame McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia DeLuce #6) by Alan Bradley: This is a fun historical mystery series that I thought had a planned end but looking and there are two more books listed.  I wouldn't mind but I'd actually like Flavia DeLuce to move forward and grow up a bit.  I'd rather she not be a perpetual 11 year old.
  • Timeless (Parasol Protectorate #5) by Gail Carriger: The final book in the parasol protectorate.
  • The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz:  This is a Christian romance novel - quite a bit out of my comfort zone but I have my reasons and I am enjoying it, mostly.   BOTH this and the next book are on hold because I was too slow and I had to return them to the library. I love the library but this aspect of it really sucks!
  • A Fatal Grace (Inspector Armand Gamache #2) by Louise Penny:  This was a mystery series I discovered last year and loved.    ON HOLD

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!
  • Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt:  I actually bought this one immediately after reading Mogsy's review on The Bibliosanctum because it sounds really freakin' fantastic.  Historical fiction about a lady doctor in the the late 1800s in America who heads west.  

Blogging 

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

SUNDAY: TV | Glee - Season 4.  Some thoughts on Glee's fourth season.
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday | Ten Books Every Anglophile Should Read.
THURSDAY: REVIEW | Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.  Great book! 4 out of 5 stars.

Well I am frightfully behind on my demanding Arrow Binge Watching schedule so I'm going to sign off.  May you find entertainment to delight you today:).  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

REVIEW | Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History
Series: Sorcerer Royal #1 
Awards: None
Format: Hardback from Library
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  It seemed like a book written expressly for me - alternate British history with magic and a Jane Austen-esque style.  Pretty much everything I've ever wanted in life.  Plus it has gotten lots of love from book bloggers.

Synopsis: Regency Era England.  Zacharias Wythe is a young man and magician, freed from slavery as a child by the Sorcerer Royal of England who adopted and taught him the art of magic.  He's a very dutiful and honor-bound gentleman and so when his mentor dies suddenly and the mantle of the Sorcerer Royal is passed to him, he accepts it with reluctance but also with a powerful drive to do his duty well.  Also reluctant to accept Zacharias as the Sorcerer Royal is the Society of Magicians who don't like a black man yielding magic nor being a leader in their very snooty community.  Despite much opposition, Zacharias does his best at his new job, including traveling to the border of Faery to try and figure out why England no longer has much magic at its disposal.  Along the way he stops at a girls boarding school meant to suppress the abilities of  magical females who may be even more disliked by the magical community than Zacharias.  He immediately sees that his assumption that women had only weak magic is wrong and takes on one of the strongest students as his apprentice in order to reform magical practice in England.  Hijinks ensue.

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I'm not going to be coy - I adored this book!  I have a particular affection  - being an Austenite and a Regency romance junkie - for this particular era of English history during the Napoleonic war.  I've heard others say that this is what they wish Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell had been and I endorse that feeling as well. This book captures the societal quirks and formality of the time while also telling a page-turning story (something JS and MN lacked).  It is a perfect balance of historical fiction and fantasy.

As you can probably tell from the synopsis, this book also tackles a few hefty social issues; racism, slavery and sexism.  It once again does a great job of balancing this weightier material with plot.  As with Austen, which was undoubtedly one of the book's influences, it casts a critical eye on society while also being slyly funny. Also while the issues are dealt with, sometimes quite affectingly, the book never stops being a good story.  Sir Stephen is Zacharias' mentor and someone he looks on as a father with affection but his feelings for his adopted family and country are far from simple.
" ...'She foresaw what would occur if Europe were to discover her people's wealth: the interference in their affairs; the miserable increase of bloodshed and oppression.'
Sir Stephen went white, then red.
'Need I remind you that you are England's Sorcerer Royal?' he said 'Your title will on occasion demand the exercise of power - even, where necessary, what you are pleased to call oppression and bloodshed. But that is the nature of your office. You are called upon to advance the good of this nation, and none other. Your allegiance is not to magic alone, nor to all humanity, but to your own portion of humanity, to the country that nurtured you - '
'And enslaved my parents?' said Zacharias."
And Zacharias?  I really really loved him. He is smart and sensitive, a thinker, and he has this strong sense of duty and a moral fortitude to do the right thing even when it is hard.  He is a little too respectful of society's conventions, but he thinks he can be most effective working within those conventions to bring about real change to the things that really matter.  He's reserved and formal and also a fearless magician.  I think one of the main things that attracts me to him is that he is a true blue introvert. True introverts are one in a million as fantasy novel protagonists so I just really connected with him.
"But Zacharias knew himself to be unfitted for public life by both disposition and inclination. The role of secretary to Sir Stephen fitted him perfectly, for it comprised what was, in his judgment, the most interesting parts of the work of Sorceror Royal: research, the invention of new formulae , and the working out of technical problems presented by the government an society, all carried out with a minimum of intercourse with the outside world."
Despite being forced to operate outside of his comfort zone, he does his job so he can work towards true change and justice.  Sigh.... He's awesome and pretty dreamy.

Sadly I did not find it all puppies and rainbows but most of my niggles, but one, were small like the fact that the prose at times seemed a little forced as if the author was trying a little too hard to capture the Regency era language.

The big niggle for me was that as much as I loved Zacharias, I did not connect with the female protagonist, Prunella.  I'm a big a fan of a strong female character and Prunella is definitely that.  However, she is also impulsive, reckless, mercenary almost to the edge of sociopathy, rude and thoughtless.  I think the two characteristics that rubbed me the wrong way is the reckless and impulsive.  I tend towards the other end of the spectrum of these traits and when a character displays them and in a way that hurts other characters,  I am completely turned off.  Prunella is not completely sans feelings and she does in the end make things right but I spent the majority of the book wanting to slap her.  As a result I also really didn't buy into the romance between she and Zacharias.  Not connecting with Prunella was a pretty personal thing for me so I don't think it will be a problem for most readers AND it didn't ruin the book for me, not by a longshot.

FINAL VERDICT:  If you like fantasy and stories set in England during the Napoleonic wars, this book is a must read.  Even if you aren't a fan of those things, this book has a lot to offer with an active story, a fantastic and complex protagonist and a unique handling of race and gender politics. 4 out of 5 Stars.

Other Opinions Are Available: NPR | The Bibliosanctum | Sarah Felkar