Fantasy, Fiction, Horror

The Vorrh by Brian Catling

Today my husband and I are celebrating the 7th anniversary of our first date so I figured I would review one of his favorite books, that I also read for our book club, The Modern Readers. 

3 - February 2016 - Vorrh

Synopsis

Outside the colonial town of Essenwald lies the Vorrh, a vast – perhaps endless – forest. Sentient and magical, a place of demons and angels, of warriors and priests, the Vorrh bends time and wipes memory. Legend holds that the Garden of Eden still exists at its heart. Now a renegade foreign soldier intends to be the first human to traverse its expanse. Armed with only a bow, he begins his journey. But some fear the consequences of his mission, so a native marksman is chosen to stop him. Around these adversaries swirls a remarkable cast of characters, including a tragically curious young girl and a Cyclops raised by robots, as well as such historical figures as protosurrealist Raymond Roussel and pioneering photographer Edward Muybridge. Fact and fiction blend, the hunter will become the hunted, and everyone’s fate will hang in the balance – in the Vorrh.

Review

Uhhhh, I’m still trying to figure this one out. Since finishing it and discussing it, I’ve sold more copies of this book by saying I hated it than I have sold books I loved to people by telling them how much I loved it. But I didn’t hate it… I think?

There are many stories working in tandem in this book and they are all confusing and befuddling and written in different styles based on the character’s perspective that we are currently viewing the world through. Told in at least four alternating perspectives, The Vorrh is the story first and foremost of the forest from which it gets its name and the people in the town right next to it. It bears similarities in equal parts to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Shelley’s Frankenstein. But it goes beyond that to discuss mental illness and paint pictures in the reader’s minds of things that are just downright unpleasant and, for some, upsetting. You have to have a strong stomach to undertake a serious reading of The Vorrh.

If anyone else has this book figured out, not just enjoyed it, but actually figured out the symbolism and intent, please do enlighten me.

Rating: 6 out 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.95 • 9781101873786 • 512 pages published April 2015 by Vintage • average Goodreads rating 3.51 out of 5 • read in February 2016

Brian Catling’s Website

The Vorrh on Goodreads

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Vorrh

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor

When I first saw the cover of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I fell head over heels – love at first sight. Blue hair, dynamic fonts, intriguing synopsis, Prague as a setting, fantasy world. I was just coming off the high of finishing City of Dark Magic and was very excited to find something that might be similarly fantastic. 

Synopsis

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she speaks many languages – not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

Review

I didn’t know much about the Seraphim/Chimaera trope until I finished reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Ben had to correct my pronunciation of “chimaera.” So for the majority of the book, I was greatly intrigued by the seemingly unique fantasy world – it was just new to me. That being said, Karou discovering of her place in that world and stumbling upon the unending conflict was revealed marvelously and magnificently as she rediscovered her past – and her past love, Akiva, a seraphim.

The “modern day” fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliet and the star-crossed lovers is common in most young adult literature, it can even be viewed as the ultimate love story, the tragic fated love of those who were never supposed to be together in the first place. Karou is brave and resilient, unapologetic for who she is (as soon as she discovers the truth) whereas Akiva is a spineless sniveling coward who just irks me to no end. Yes, he’s gorgeous. No, that’s not what you base an entire relationship on, give young adults a bit more credit. There is nothing other than wanton lust pulling these two towards each other and honestly, I’m tired of reading about hot people falling for other hot people just because they’re über-attractive. Nothing sells their relationship, nothing anchors the fantasy world of the second half of the book in reality and even the most wildly outrageous fantasy still has some sort of foot hold into reality – it’s the only way it can be relatable.

I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me decide to finish this series, given my lack of insta-love for Daughter of Smoke & Bone, but I am certainly glad I did. I enjoyed Days of Blood & Starlight and Dreams of Gods & Monsters infinitely more than I enjoyed the first book.

Days of Blood & Starlight and Dreams of Gods & Monsters take place immediately after the first book and Dreams of Gods & Monsters is set only over the course of a handful of days. They chronicle the renews war crimes committed by the chimera and the seraphim in the name of Eretz, their homeland, though further backstory reveals that the Seraphim were not always native to Eretz. As Karou takes up Brimstone’s mantle of creating new bodies for the slain chimera souls, Akiva is saving chimera in an effort to ingratiate himself with his blue haired love. The story is a rollicking adventure and the secondary characters, particularly Ziri and Liraz, and Zuzana and Mik, make the story worth reading.

Unfortunately, my lack-luster feelings for Karou and Akiva, our woeful star-crossed lovers, remain. I really struggled to connect with either of them and found their moping and whiny incredibly irritating and I really wanted to rush through their parts. But, with an audiobook, not possible, so thankfully Laini Taylor at least wrote those parts very well, even if the characters didn’t sell it for me. I tried to understand, I tried to appreciate the Romeo and Juliet nature of their relationship, but at that point, I would have realized that life is short (particularly theirs, being that they’re in the middle of  war) and therefore one shouldn’t waste any time going after the things they want and the things that will make them happy.

So overall, can I recommend the trilogy? Sure, why not. But that’s only half-hearted and rides more on the fact that Laini Taylor is a gifted wordsmith than anything else.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition (Daughter of Smoke & Bone): Paperback • $12.99 • 9780316133999 • 418 pages • first published September 2011, this edition published June 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.04 out of 5 • read in May 2013

Laini Taylor’s Website

Daughter of Smoke and Bone on Goodreads

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Daughter of Smoke & Bone (2)

Fiction, Mythology

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I have to admit, I’m a bit obsessed with the Norse. Since I first discovered the protagonist of my own novel, a Norse princess turned pirate back in December 2014, I’ve been trying to read anything I can get my hands on that might prove to be worthwhile for research. Add into it my love of everything Neil Gaiman writes, and it seemed like a perfect fit.

Synopsis

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredible strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki – son of a giant – blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman – difficult with his beard and huge appetite – to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir – the most sagacious of gods – is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

Review

Prior to doing any sort of research for my own story, the bulk of my Norse mythology knowledge came from watching the Thor Marvel movies. Not the greatest source of information, I’ll admit, but not the worst. I’d been looking all over for a comprehensive and easy to read book about the Aesir and Vanir, the two families of Norse gods, but had yet to find anything that really fit the bill.

When we first got word at the store that Gaiman was writing his own tome on the subject, my coworkers and I got very excited. I even more so when the books finally came in and I found the one signed copy the publisher had sent in! I started reading it straight away. Back in February. It’s July, and I just finished it.

Admittedly, I was going through a reading slump, but trying to get through Norse Mythology felt like slogging through the world’s densest bog. It has been the biggest chore of a read that I have undertaken in quite some time, and it’s not even 300 pages of prose. When I thought back on it, though, I realized that I actually don’t really like Gaiman’s writing. I love his stories and world building, but I don’t love his style.

Gaiman recounts the tales of the gods with prose that reads similarly to how a person would reasonably tell a story – the stories were oral traditions, and Gaiman clearly made a point to try to continue to honor that medium in print. As such, though, there are often times sentences and phrases that are clearly asides meant to be mentioned to those listening in the middle of a story – emphasis on the verbal component.

While I have not yet listened to the audiobook of Norse Mythology, I’m guessing that my review would read differently – it would probably be more favorable as then I would be hearing the stories in the manner in which I believe Gaiman actually intended – I would have been listening and not reading.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $25.95 • 9780393609097 • 304 pages • published February 2017 by W. W. Norton & Company • average Goodreads rating 4.13 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Neil Gaiman’s Website

Norse Mythology on Goodreads

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Norse Mythology

Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology, Young Adult

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

FUTURE RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2017

When I first saw the trailer for Wonder Woman, I couldn’t wait to see it. When I found out that Leigh Bardugo was writing a YA adaptation, I was even more excited about it! As as new-ish fan of Wonder Woman, I have been keen to get my hands on anything relating to my new feminist hero and when I found out there would be advanced reader copies of Wonder Woman: Warbringer, my coworker and I immediately set about pestering our publisher rep to send us some!

Synopsis

She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning…

Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law – risking exile – to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.

Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer – a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies – mortal and divine – determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

Review

I love Leigh Bardugo’s books and I love Wonder Woman. So this should have been the perfect combination of the two, right? Well, mostly right. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is the first of four books in the new DC: Icons series, and also the first book Leigh Bardugo has written that has not been published by the same publisher who did her last 5 books, all set her self-created Grisha-verse. These two facts lead me to wonder, is Wonder Woman: Warbringer truly all Leigh? Anytime one is adapting an already existing character and world, it never feels truly like it is fully the author’s own creation and having read all of Leigh’s previous books, Warbringer left me disappointed.

Comic book stories and superhero adaptations are infamous for having multiple timelines – i.e. Wonder Woman is originally set during WWII, the movie is set during WWI, and in Warbringer, Diana doesn’t leave her home, Themyscira, for the outside world until the 21st century. While many comic book and superhero fans accept multiple timelines, it does get confusing and a little frustrating to accept time and time again. I’m a fan of continuity and linear time lines, it can be difficult to accept three different timelines for the start of Diana’s story.

However, from the start of the publicity push for Warbringer, it has been made clear that this is a different, stand alone book that can be read both by existing and new Wonder Woman fans and I fully support that approach to promoting the book – it is absolutely true – if you know nothing about Wonder Woman, you will love it, and if you already love Wonder Woman, you will at least mostly enjoy it like myself.

The characters are textbook Leigh Bardugo – funny, beautifully diverse, and thick and well-rounded with details and unique qualities. Alia’s friends Theo and Nim are great supporting characters, her brother Jason has his own unique destiny to fulfill and Diana, well, she is a fully realized Wonder Woman. Despite the sense of feeling like we are going back to the beginning, there is nothing lacking in Diana’s character development. Her confidence and charisma are evident, as is her desire to protect human life, despite risks to her own self. The plot is fun and well paced, I flew through Warbringer in 2 days, it definitely kept my attention, despite my occasional frustration.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $18.99 • 9780399549731 • 384 pages • published August 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.27 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Leigh Bardugo’s Website

Wonder Woman: Warbringer on Goodreads

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Wonder Woman (5)

Fantasy, Fiction, New Adult

A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah J. Maas

#1. I will read anything by Sarah J. Maas. #2. It’s based on Beauty and the Beast. #3-#10. Repeat #1.

Synopsis

Books in TrilogyA Court of Thorns and Roses • A Court of Mist and Fury • A Court of  Wings and Ruin

A Court of Thorns and Roses Synopsis

Feyre is a huntress. She thinks nothing of slaughtering a wolf to capture its prey. But, like all mortals, she fears what lingers mercilessly beyond the forest. And she will learn that taking the life of a magical creature comes at a high price…

Imprisoned in an enchanted court in her enemy’s kingdom, Feyre is free to roam but forbidden to escape. Her captor’s body bears the scars of fighting, and his face is always masked – but his piercing stare draws her ever closer. As Feyre’s feelings for Tamlin begin to burn through every warning she’s been told about his kind, an ancient, wicked shadow grows.

Reviews

Original A Court of Thorns and Roses Review from May 2015

It’s no secret that I have become obsessed with Sarah J. Maas’ books. I’m going to BookCon in NYC next week for the sole purpose of meeting her. I flew through the first three books in the Throne of Glass series in a week – one week. When I found out A Court of Thorns and Roses would be more geared towards the “new adult” genre, I couldn’t wait to pick it up! While it still falls into the “young adult” realm, I think Sarah J. Maas is really starting to flesh out the middle ground between young adult and new adult to what I think “new adult” will eventually mean – slightly more mature young adult.

ACOTAR (I literally call is “ack-o-taar” which is, I admit, mildly annoying) is the story of Feyre (Fae-rah) and how she falls in love with a high fae lord, Tamlin. The plot is based loosely on Beauty and the Beast, and how Feyre must come to love Tamlin in order to free the land from a wretched curse. The story is told in two distinct parts – the first when Feyre comes to live in the realm of the Fae and the second when she has realized how she feels and discovered what she must do to save them.

My favorite part of the book, however, has little to do with Tamlin & Fae Co., but everything to do with Feyre’s older sister, Nesta. Nesta and Feyre have never gotten along and have resented each other for years for various reasons. When Feyre is taken to Tamlin’s court, she is not to see her family ever again and being rid of Nesta is perfectly fine by her. Later, however, she has the opportunity to see them and learns that Nesta came looking for her, had missed her younger sister. The two have the opportunity to connect and it is Nesta who ultimately helps Feyre understand what she must do to save the realm of the Fae (and the human populations as well).

Trilogy Review

It’s hard to go back two years later and read my review of the first book and kicking myself for not mentioning the character has become the book boyfriend to end all book boyfriends. Step aside Mr. Darcy, you’ve been replaced! It don’t want to spoil too much so this collective trilogy review will be brief.

Basically, the first book, ACOTAR is a world unto itself, and the second and third books are just spectacular. While the first book can be kind of slow and off to a rough start, the deeper you get into the world, and the books, the more it becomes clear what Sarah J. Maas was trying to do – the books are written in first person, through Feyre’s point of view, and as such, readers are only permitted access and information as Feyre is permitted access to information.

And then Rhysand saunters into the picture, which happens in ACOTAR, and things get all sorts of shaken up and spectacular. The second book, ACOMAF, is probably the closest thing to a perfect book that I have ever read, and Rhys plays a large part of that, but it has more to do with plot structure and the introduction of so many dynamic characters and finding out more information about the world.

It’s a wonderful series, and I understand it’s not for everyone, but I will recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who will listen!

Series Rating: 8 to 10 out of 10 stars

Best BookA Court of Mist and Fury

Edition for A Court of Thorns and Roses: Paperback • $10.99 • 9781619635180 • 448 pages • originally published May 2015, this edition published May 2016 by Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books • average Goodreads rating 4.29 out of 5 • read in May 2015

Sarah J. Maas’ Website

A Court of Thorns and Roses on Goodreads

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ACOTAR Series

Fiction, Mythology, Young Adult

Freya by Matthew Laurence

I don’t remember exactly how I wound up with the advance reading copy (ARC) of Freya, but it definitely had my name written all over it – from my obsession with Norse mythology, to a badass woman on the cover, I was definitely going to inhale this book.

Synopsis

Freya is myth. She is legend. And she’s about to make one hell of a comeback.

Sara Vanadi is more than she appears to be. In her prime, she was Freya, the Norse goddess of love, beauty, war, and death. Now all that’s left of her legacy is herself. Her power comes from belief, and for an ancient goddess in the 21st century, true believers are hard to come by.

She’s been lying low for a few decades, when all of a sudden a shadowy corporation extends an offer: join them and receive unlimited strength and believers—or refuse and be destroyed. Sara chooses neither; she flees with the help of a new friend named Nathan. With a modern power rising that wishes to bend the divine to its will, Sara decides to fight back—but first she needs some new clothes.

Review

First things first – Freya is a debut novel by a cool dude about a badass woman. I always check out reviews of books before reading them, but this time, I was the first to post a “review” of sorts on Goodreads and in going back to read the new reviews since the book was released in March (I read it in November), I have to say, I understand the complaints, but the pros outweigh the cons and the promise of more outweighs what the first book may have lacked.

Freya is the perfect book for young adults who spent their childhood reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and are looking for a mythology book that is a touch more grown up. The pacing is quick, the plot moves along at a steady pace, and the supporting cast of characters is richly described. While they may not yet be full realized, there is a lot of opportunity for them to grow and for the readers to get to know the various deities and mythologies better.

Sara/Freya is a fabulous narrator – in a debut, first in a series, YA fantasy, the most essential part of ensuring readership is to have a fully realized main character and Sara/Freya is such a character. And while some may complain about a pretty big structural point, that Freya is in first person, and there are certain things about Freya, what she is thinking, her background, and such that we as readers are not privy to, I personally enjoy the suspense and delight in the “not-knowing” aspect of the final plan to take down the big bad corporation. Freya marries the best parts of first and third person narration spectacularly.

I have only two complaints, and one is a silly one at that. The first, if Nate is going to be our main supporting actor, he needs a bit more of a role than simply “worshipper of Freya.” And the second, the silly one, the name Sarah, my own name, should always have an “H” at the end.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Edition: Hardcover • $17.99 • 9781250088178 • 352 pages • published March 2017 by Imprint • average Goodreads rating 3.42 out of 5 • read in December 2016

Freya on Goodreads

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Freya

Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grades, Mythology

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Just after I finished listening to the audiobook of The Lightning Thief, a good 8 years after my friend Iram told me I just had to read it, I found out it is part of this upcoming school year’s Reading Olympics lists! I now can recommend officially 1 out of 45 titles for the elementary schoolers!

Synopsis

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

Review

The Lightning Thief has been a bestselling book at the bookstore since I started working there in the summer of 2015 and it has been a perpetual favorite with 6th graders since I student taught 6th grade in 2013, and I’m certain this was the case even before I was aware of it. Since it was first published in the mid-2000’s, Rick Riordan has started 4 other series, finished 2 of them, and has had three of the five series adapted into graphic novels. Clearly, there’s widespread appeal, to the point where I was really starting to feel like I was missing out on something.

When I started writing my novel, which I lovingly call my Viking Story, it was around the same time Riordan announced his second newest trilogy, Magnus Chase, a series based on Norse Mythology and the first with a decided young adult slant. I was convinced it would be my first of his books, but one day, when browsing the audiobook section at the library, I decided to pick up The Lightning Thief. Usually I’m wary when the entirety of the 12 year old population loves something (hello One Direction…), but thankfully, I was not disappointed!

Percy is a “half-blood,” his father is a god of Olympus proportions, but he doesn’t know which one. Being such, puts him in a special position when it comes to quests, adventures, and fulfilling a heroic destiny. Basically, he’s fated to be a tragic Greek hero, not exactly the future most 12 year olds dream of. But he has the help of friends and allies, and the adventure is not one to be missed!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $7.99 • 9780786838653 • 377 pages • originally published June 2005, this edition published March 2006 by Hyperion Kids • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in April 2017

Rick Riordan’s Website

The Lightning Thief on Goodreads

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Lightning Thief