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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction

Changing World: Origin: A LitRPG Saga (Book 1) by Sergei Katz

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Unable to see color, smell, or taste, Dave longs for a more vibrant life. So when he learns of a Japanese company seeking beta testers in a unique full-immersion game, he jumps at the chance to escape his bland monochromatic world. But when a code-error causes him to skip the tutorial, he’s thrown into play with no skills—racing to restore his health points.

With only weeks remaining before he loses access to the project and the vivid senses he’s finally gained, Dave teams up with a young archer and a clever shapeshifter. Desperate to extend his playtime, the trio quests for a magical stone. But while battling madness in a bizarre fairy forest where killer spirits want his head, he must fight for his very identity.

Can Dave expand his gameworld abilities and defy the gods themselves?

Changing World: How It All Began is the first book in the thrilling Changing World LitRPG fantasy series. If you like well-developed worlds, heroes leveling up, and realities blending with magic, then you’ll love Sergei Katz’s amazing universe.

Buy Changing World: How It All Began to enter an exciting virtual dimension today!

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
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Changing World: The Fast Flow by Sergei Katz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was so good! Loving LitRPG, a subgenre I had no idea I loved so much. Love Nintendo so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but still, reading role playing games is a whole different experience I never really desired so much before.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Tom McLean who is absolutely amazing. His voice is so versatile, he can do so many impressions. I want all my books to be narrated by him. He adds diverse, dynamic quality to all the characters. I can’t wait to hear the rest in series. Every time he introduced a new character I was so impressed, not thinking he could outdo himself by how many voices he can do, then there was more. From a witch to a little girl, to a giant sounding voice to accents of all sorts.

I’d highly recommend this one to anyone, especially those who enjoy video games or just plain magic or fantasy adventure because it was just so lively and accessible, especially on audio, get it in audio.

The Story
Mirroring a video game, with all the quests and levels, completion was so satisfying.

Also absolutely hilarious. Laughing aloud. This naive understanding, green character developing along with a POV that sustained his character traits all the way through.

The Writing
It was easy to follow, easy to differentiate character and their action, especially in the audiobook version. Overall the style was enjoyable, especially from the perspective of the main character, for ease of taking something from a point of simplicity to a lightbulb moment of situational perspective that everyone can relate to, takes talent and skill to find subtleties in what makes for a good one liner or funny aha moment or for furthering the plot in a way that grabs your attention.

Looking forward to the next one, especially if the narrator remains the same.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

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From internationally acclaimed author Haruki Murakami – a fantastical short novel about a boy imprisoned in a nightmarish library. Ted Goossen (Translator),  Chip Kidd (Illustrator)

A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from the nightmarish library of internationally acclaimed, best-selling Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination.

Opening the flaps on this unique little book, readers will find themselves immersed in the strange world of best-selling Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination. The story of a lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plotting their escape from a nightmarish library, the book is like nothing else Murakami has written. Designed by Chip Kidd and fully illustrated, in full color, throughout, this small format, 96 page volume is a treat for book lovers of all ages.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
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The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was certainly strange, felt very experimental. Symbolism I guess. Symbolism I appreciated when explained in the ending note.

I’d recommend it to those who aren’t afraid to try reading something peculiar and different. I like peculiar, I like different. So I suppose anyone looking for some inspiration or a break in thought, a unique approach to writing and story concept will appreciate this one. It’s short so not exactly a complete waste of your time if you don’t like it. I say that because as I read it, I was like, “Uhhmm ok… what is this… creepy…” Thought about putting it down, worried about what would be next to stomach. Concerned it would be too dark in a dissociative way or reference inappropriate conduct towards a child that I didn’t want to read about.

Looks like it is for kids, it’s super enticing and cute, but not really for kids. Perhaps that is the point, in a paradoxical way. In a tormented, horrid way, but as a child you might actually perceive it that way, in a strong, overwhelming emotional expression, if that makes sense?

I wasn’t sure where the story was headed, but the very last lines made a more complete read for me. It became a deeper connection that I wasn’t expecting and my appreciation for it as a whole was satisfied on a more personal level.

I forgot about card catalogues.

I enjoyed the illustrations, changes in font, and the tactile features done with the paper. It was a unique read for me and I liked that about it, made an impression on me in a way I can’t describe right now.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction

The Wandering Inn: Volume 1 (The Wandering Inn #1) by Pirateaba

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It’s a bad day when Erin finds herself transported to a fantastical world and nearly gets eaten by a Dragon. She doesn’t belong in a place where monster attacks are a fact of life, and where Humans are one species among many. But she must adapt to her new life. Or die.

In a dangerous world where magic is real and people can level up and gain classes, Erin Solstice must battle somewhat evil Goblins, deadly Rock Crabs, and hungry [Necromancers]. She is no warrior, no mage. Erin Solstice runs an inn.

She’s an [Innkeeper].

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This novel is the e-book version of the free web serial. You may read the entire ongoing story at wanderinginn.com free of charge.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Wandering Inn: Book 1 by Pirateaba

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this so much. Started this 3 years ago, my first web serial, and I didn’t want it to end. It’s a literary RPG and I’d recommend it to anyone who appreciates the subgenre. It is an easy read, one I could put down and easily pick up again, between other books, at any moment without feeling taken out of it, so I think anyone looking for the same experience will enjoy this one.

The Story and Writing
At over 1,000 pages, I went into it a bit overwhelmed initially, but after reading the first 25 pages, I was no longer worried about rushing my way through or dreading how many pages were left every time I picked it up. Instead, slow and steady was my approach, read like Mark Twain river boat, taking my time to enjoy the scenery, no pressure on myself to move onward with my thoughts toward any other book and no pressure to get it over with within any timeframe. All of which made my reading experience all the more enjoyable.

It’s one that is easy to find pace with no matter the happenings in the book. It’s the consistent structure with variable adventure/setting that makes this ease.

The strength is in its simplicity with adventures about minotaurs and goblins, leveling up, meandering around the countryside, villages, and forests, ultimately returning to The Wandering Inn. Somewhat predictable patterns which made it easy to go in and out of, but enough curious characters and scenario differentiation to keep it interesting.

Funny too.

And there’s more to come which I’m eager to enjoy.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fantasy Fiction

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

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France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever―and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

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Rating: 1 out of 5.
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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Ugh. Loved the concept but I’m sad that it was so boring and slow for me. Really a snooze, having spent so much time on a book that ended with such little yield. I didn’t enjoy this one for many reasons.

Readers looking for a fantasy escape, with a dual timeline, willing to give something a try that covers a lot of concepts about growing up and unconventional relationships may enjoy this one more than I did. Those who enjoy a lot of description in their reads will likely find it more compelling as well.

I listened via audiobook, narrated by Julia Whelan who was good. I loved her French pronunciation. I was fond of her calling out voice, the higher pitches of her voice, felt those registers brought out the characters more. Or perhaps a much needed awakening back to the story.

So sadly, to my surprise, overall this book was just tedious over uninteresting matter. I thought I was going to love this book because the concept explored in the storyline was incredibly appealing; however, there was just not enough substance to make a complete and satisfying story. The characters and plot had so much potential but felt dull to me. The details didn’t add a lot to the characters or the plot, in fact they often overshadowed them.

Grab a snack and beverage, this is probably going to be a long one. I’m being reminded and impassioned as I write this. Mostly just my notes lined out.

The Story
The progression was painfully slow.

Not enough pull or interest to keep me excited for the main story or the side stories, no desire to root for the main character and her hopes, never mind the sexual escapades and successive mentioning of freckles which felt were overemphasized, overdone, and I was over it at the third mention.

Repetitive scenarios.

I never really figured out what the main character wanted in life, this freedom described was without any real definition.

I supposed what it came down to was that our protagonist was never called to do something, I felt I completely missed the call to action, even after having restarted it twice.

The plot danced around action. I was hoping for an evoking battle scene. But without much supporting emotion, I felt disconnected and less invested in what was to come when responses came around.

A lot of density packed into one book for such little in return. Way longer of a book than I felt it needed to be.

The ending, all that plowing through and this is how it ended, no twist to quench my imagination?

Tone
Came off as trying to be deep when sometimes things aren’t that deep.

Desperate to be counter culture, just comes across as difficult and antagonistic, less relatable to me.

Doesn’t dive deep into emotional complexities and humanistic qualities such as mixed emotions, but rather too black and white for my taste.

This book stole my energy.

The Writing
I enjoyed the dual timeline as an idea and many aspects derived from that in parts sounded promising, though that amount of cumulative life experience didn’t add anything amazing or unique to the story as a whole like I’d hoped.

Detailed, not precise language, my most disappointing factor.

Pacing
Too slow for my taste.

Descriptions
The imagery was lost because of so much detail. Much like this and like that, simile that would have stood strong without the noting comparison.

The imagery started strong but then it was followed by an explanation, making it lackluster, losing the effect originally intended, more clarification and detail which drowned out the simplicity of words. Example, mention of Venn diagram, then explaining the circles overlap. The impact would have been so much more without a supporting description in my opinion.

The Characters
Main character was dry and portrayed as what I felt was too idealistic. It was hard to know what she valued. More oppositional to being a wife and having children which would have made a less traditional path on life for the time/setting, but lacked any compelling notion because the definition of freedom and having a life her own was never defined and never truly developed aside from the vague statements.

I’m finding myself favoring more straightforward description and more subtleness in the message and delivery these days, I may look forward to checking out another story sometime in the future.

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Heart Coffee | Erica Robbin
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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Science Fiction

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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Simon Schuster Logo | Erica Robbin

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Featured in the Netflix series Love, Death & Robots

Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his multiple award-winning stories for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This mesmerizing collection features many of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon Award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Insightful and stunning stories that plumb the struggle against history and betrayal of relationships in pivotal moments, this collection showcases one of our greatest and original voices.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really appreciated this one. I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club. I’d recommend it to anyone. I’d say those looking for something different, as self-described in the book toward the end, it portrays collected works. Genre distinction of science fiction, alternate history, magical realism, fantasy, noir. Makes for an excellent book club read.

The Story
I suppose from reading the description there is not much really telling about the book apart from accolades so I’d say that this book reads like a sampler variety of writing, anthology of sorts of different writing styles. Speculative fiction, some literary fiction, essay like, sometimes thriller. The telling of historical events, war crimes like U731, the surrounding denial and silence. Cultural nuances, love, human relation, humor, random insight. The future of technology and human response to it.

The book made much more sense to me in the end. Themes described as delving into the past, speaking for the dead, recovering their stories. Forms of telling stories from ideograms and papier-mâché. Storytelling, translation, memory, identity. Mentioning this because it would have helped me understand what the whole collection was and likely would have helped me understand it even more.

Some stories didn’t really have a plot or characters, happenings that I cared as much about, some heart-wrenching. Others, as often with essays, there’s always certain ones that resonate with me more than others, as opposed to a collective whole. Certain ones I was more invested in than others, in this case and overall, I thoroughly felt grateful for this one for its unique approach and the heavy topics it mentioned. And these were told without apology or over-explanation which was key appreciation for me as far as past, present, and future speculation and transparency goes.

The Writing
All the parts of the collection were quite different from each other so it’s difficult to comment on, but I’d say as a collective piece, the running themes, the writing, as story I should say, were all like an interesting experiment tied together in an aha moment for me at the end.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Humor Science Fiction

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

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Simon Schuster Logo | Erica Robbin

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Maui Island | Erica Robbin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So entertaining, I laughed the entire time. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Bill Irwin who was great. Not always his most enthusiastic self, but when he gets into character, the storytelling becomes so dynamically amusing. He has a wonderful, commanding voice, an occasional fade that I had a hard time picking up on from time to time, still very enjoyable anyway. Loved the whale sounds, a nice touch. I’d recommend this one to anyone who is looking for something funny and lighthearted.

The Story
Moore, a comedic genius. Outlandish, but makes perfect sense at the same time.

The Writing
Again, Moore, a comedic genius. Not pretentious or try-hard, just telling it like it is which is my favorite style.

And I learned some things about the whales.

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Blue Whales Breeching | Erica Robbin
Blue Whales Breeching, Maui, Hawaii | Erica Robbin
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Maui Sailing | Erica Robbin
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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A bit disappointed sadly. I read this one for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Club. I think people who swoon over descriptive, flowery writing may like this one. I however just don’t have patience for books like this unfortunately, just not my preference.

The Story
I was looking for a fun adventure, lyrical or deep-spirited, world-mesmerizing, child-hood memory retrieval, challenging, mysterious, riddle-like, realistically-unrealistic reach into my appetite for a good escape book. Loved what the premise was going to be.

Instead this was an incredibly slow, portal type fantasy that came off as loaded, with hidden agenda, moralizing, teachable lessons from mundane actions of everyday life when the main character had a much more interesting story to tell. Often read like a mash-up of fan-fiction with unnecessary depictions of social commentary, meditations on life, fantastical romantic relationships that didn’t really mesh well together nor move the story forward enough for my particular taste.

By page 130, I realized that this story was not going much of anywhere. My mind wondered. Thoughts of needing to vacuum the house turned into full on chores. Took me way too long to finish it because boredom became distraction.

My favorite parts were about the dog and the sea, though not much action was really going on with the sea scenarios like I had hoped.

Some loosely inaccurate historical events. A new president in 1903. Grocery carts.

POV and Tense
Combination of present and past/retrospective. Timeline was sometimes hard to gauge because character growth and age-appropriate observations/language didn’t shape them enough to shine through.

Pacing
Progress was too slow. In my mind, each door was going to be a clue, instead they stood independently. Independently toward a mismatched agenda/goal that was not clearly identified in the beginning. By the time the middle picked up, I was already less invested.

Descriptions
Verbose in every way. It said a lot without really saying a lot. Too many color adjectives. A good example of where less would be more. A handful were very insightful though.

Characters
I started out enjoying the initial engagement with the main character and everything she had to offer; however, she came up very short. In fact all of the characters sort of got lost in the minutiae toward the end.

Overridden by the descriptions of the environment without much development on a personal level considering all the things happening around them. As a result, I didn’t find any connection to them or purpose of excessive detail in the story. The comments about race and origin didn’t have a strong base or unifying factor, very loose presuppositions, and therefore their triumph ultimately lacked wonderful achievement.

Oh well, next time I will look forward to checking out another from this author.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Mystery

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was exactly the book I’ve been craving. I enjoyed it as audiobook, narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was amazing. His tone and voice inflection was where I anticipated it to be, even when the characters were self-reflective, asking questions, or talking amongst themselves. Never mundane or fizzling out. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially for readers who like meandering around, experimental literature, metafiction, and especially because it is rather short and inviting, visionary and puzzle-like.

The story
I liked the life reveals and philosophical questions. This riddle-like presentation, matching the cover of this half man, half beast, was intriguing. I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, so this was long awaited publication from Susanna Clarke. This book is a bit different in content and style. I love C.S. Lewis so the ties to the story through certain characcatures were on an another level for me.

The writing
The descriptions, atmosphere, and innocent perspective was where it was at. These rooms, sometimes described so bluntly with obvious purpose, other times more lyrical with deeper meaning, evoked mystery, playing on emotion, making me think there was hidden mystery lurking around every corner, sometimes more complex than what I could understand at times.

Like if a brick was pushed, it would reveal a hidden staircase leading you into a completely different world.

It got me to thinking of Narnia of course and this movie called Labyrinth I watched as a child. Putting lipstick on a brick, marking it with an arrow, and after turning away, hidden creatures would reposition it, making the girl lose her way. Then it got me to thinking of the weird but awesome David Bowie concert at the end. David Bowie, George Lucas, Jim Henson, what a creative trio for a movie. I’d like to see this book as a movie.

Characters
Anyway, the strong visuals were there and I really enjoyed the trajectory of the characters, Piranesi especially. The timeline, the personal documentation with diary keeping, each piece titled out, The Year of the Albatross. Sometimes monotonous parts hovered around a little longer than I wanted for the moment. But the fantastical elements kept it intriguing and the unacquainted lessons with the world kept it in check with human experience and nature.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Classics Fantasy Fiction Humor

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

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As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was so weird and I loved it. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Ralph Cosham, who was great. At just about 2 hours long, I’d recommend this to anyone open to a strange, clever read because it’s exactly as described.

The story
Originally published in 1915, this book is an entertaining and insightful look into literally what the blurb describes. A traveling salesman who turns into a bug.

The writing
Tells of what was and what is now seamlessly, from mundane tasks to complex predicaments, not droning on as a comparative analysis, but integrating him from a bug’s perspective and him from human notion at the same time.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Childrens Classics Fantasy Featured Fiction

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter, #1) by J.K. Rowling

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Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

See it on Goodreads

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t believe it! I finally read Harry Potter! The first one anyway.

Goodness. I started it over 20 years ago. I was in high school at the time and I was so happy to see something of interest on the NYT Best Seller list at my library that wasn’t political, wasn’t about war, or police procedural.

I never finished it though. My parents made me return it for being too dark (yet Stephen King was ok, go figure) and I wasn’t really sure I felt drawn into it by the first couple pages anyway.

And I don’t think my opinion about the first tastes of my reading experience has changed much actually after picking it up again. It definitely reads more middle-grade to me, which was hard to warm up to. The sentence structure was not very fluid, in fact quite rigid. I stumbled over it much of the time especially at the beginning.

Content-wise though it was definitely super quick with sharp descriptions and inferences, which I adored, especially after the strengths of adventure plot and tension started to really drive the story and connections into the world and each character were being made. Feelings were rarely conveyed though but it was the witty observations that made up for this lack of sensing and feeling.

I’m not sure how invested I am in the series at this point, but I’m part of the “I read Harry Potter” world now, ask me anything. I don’t know which Hogwarts House I belong to though, the kids say I’m probably Hufflepuff, so we’ll go with that.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
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Categories
Book Reviews Books Fantasy Fiction

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang

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When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

See it on Goodreads

Check it out on Amazon

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grab a coffee, grab a snack, this is going to be a long one…

Organized by the story, descriptions, and characters.

And some photo/video footage of a garden experience that I was reminded of while reading the book.

The story.

Addressed deeper perspective and problems associated with combat/war, specific ones at that, in a thoughtful way as an overarching theme built within a fantasy genre, namely a school of magic, which interestingly enough was likely not completely separate from certain cultural aspects that were being portrayed. I loved that this story was unique to me in this sense and wasn’t just an academic info dump, nor too fantastical to ignore historical realities.

The beginning of the story set the geographical and political scene clearly which was great since there were so many places, tribes, characters, and character roles to keep track of. Unfortunately there were many more to come and they became less integrated into the climax and ending. Perhaps they will all come back later in the series.

It’s a serious book with serious subtopics of historical significance. Initially I wasn’t sure about using such dark events in this one. It crossed the line of to inform vs entertain by merging nonfiction with high-fantasy realm, yet made a point of either coping/escapism as a result, depiction of other social/cultural traditions, or perhaps to bring a younger reader into such subject matter through genre appeal, of which I had to really think about. In context. I didn’t know enough of the history coming into it to probably fully appreciate it nor am I into fantasy enough to fully embrace these types of tropes.

Sometimes it was more difficult to take such seriousness with the parts of juvenile insults, occasional comedic tone, and the jarring overuse of more modern-day swearing, but maybe I am just not the main target demographic for this book.

The second half focused more on real time war details, employing previously learned war training tactics, which were interesting from a martial arts perspective and I appreciated the action. The exuberant amount of power struggles with “just in time rescuing” droned on a bit and became too repetitive for my taste.

I really liked the side stories that took time to explain the backstory, the puppet show, the parade. Very well done, I like to see clever, yet subtle integrations like this.

There was a lot to unpack in the this book. Drug users, drug dealers, supply and demand with war trauma and tactics over the use of it, military school and martial arts, sterilization procedures, losing yourself in war, role confusion, love, loyalty to the party, loyalty to the system, loyalty to roots, culture, yourself. Being called to action at a moment’s notice, feeling ill-prepared, violence, savagery, greed, all of it, changing you as a person. However it was hard to see that change in the characters. It was something I expected. I wanted to see growth, regression, change, anything.

Descriptions.

I liked the author’s uncomplicated descriptions. And I liked how she transitioned the turning of events, especially those involving combat. She had a knack for scene changes and carrying action scenes forward.

The characters.

Navigating through a world of fragmented social discord, postwar oppression, and everywhere rumors and indoctrination. I would have liked the characters to have been a little more connected with their own emotions and displayed in various ways, adding value to their actions, their rationales, and ultimately show enough self-awareness to understand others. To empathize, see beyond, the big picture, the future, the outcome as well as the nuances and details to give them purpose, something worth fighting for whether it was an internal or external motivator. Even if it was a mechanical force. Anything to shape their journey and pave the way for a more dynamic ending or to add dimension to their existence in a more personal way.

I had major issues with the characters, particularly the main one. I would have liked to have seen more character consistency. Her inconsistent characterization disrupted to the flow.

I liked how the author set the tone for the main character. Depicting attributes such as strength, stubbornness, yet also not without feeling, her plunging into despair, feeling alone, like a foreigner. Building her up as a survivor with capacity yet unknown to the character and as a reader.

However, I had a hard time understanding her. She was inconsistent, wavering, wishy-washy. She was unearthed yet defaulted to unmotivated and lacking charisma. I never found what made the main protagonist happy. Never found what made her tick. It was frustrating. Characters living (or dying) through this type of subject matter are really important for me. This character, however, ruined it for me.

There were questions of source and determination, whether training versus heritage, but nothing innate about her in either case was convincing.

She had a lot of character flaws, sure, ones that make her unlikeable to readers of her story and less favorable among her instructors and peers in the story. She was stubborn, struggling her way through life, navigating at will. Her personality, an off-putting, know-it-all novice that stemmed from humble, yet forgotten roots, not very self-aware.

It just didn’t make sense how she studied and trained so much but misunderstood the very foundation, origin, and fundamentals, leading the narration to be more of a telling as Rin went along than solidarity in showing of character. Overall it was a bit of a disconnect, making it difficult for me to get into her head. She was supposed to be gifted but wasn’t consistently depicted as either book or street smart so I wasn’t sure who she was supposed to be or who she was supposed to become in the process. Then the end came and I felt like I knew nothing about her as a person.

She embraced certain concepts but then had total disregard for others, trained by an absolute scholar yet had little respect for the art. She vacillated between working hard and having natural abilities, but by the end I wasn’t sure which given or earned characteristics she held or whether it was a brain, heart, or courage she was supposed to be seeking out. As the book went on, her character identity became increasingly difficult to pinpoint.

A risk-taking, insecure female protagonist, who sought out a path in life that she later found out was perhaps built on belonging, the accolades, general curiosity, determination, impulsiveness, and a hunger for technique still without the actual discipline, which to me, not completely knowing undermined everything that built her up to be.

She was impatient, overly complex, difficult, manipulative, and had this antagonistic personality you just want to hate, yet have hope for when you realize you still have half a book to read. So you keep reading. But time and time again, she was dismissive of people who’ve helped her, naive and green, yet headstrong without clear direction or purpose. She became an unloveable underdog with unreliability in both narration and deepest depiction of character. She was all confusion and incredibly contradictory.

And ugh, a phrase so overused in writing “Rin let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.”

And then we have Nezha, who was just snide, expectant of better luxuries, then slated as having snobby pretentiousness smoothed out by the war just a few paragraphs later, only to flip-flop as well, picking up pretentiousness again, and again it was confusing to not know if there would be any turning point or self-recognition, life decision, some introspection or event that would be a guide to character enrichment and ultimately frame the plot, making it not only a great story, but a solid, resourceful, and believable one.

And then there’s Atlan. I’ll stop my thoughts on other characters here though.

All in all I was ready for this book to be over. Yet in its uniqueness I also appreciated it for what it was.

My biggest issue was with the main character who was the deal-breaker. Heartless and less justifiably so, especially for a plot that was built upon actual crimes against humanity. Perhaps it was just not the style I wanted to feed my mind with, with such wavering characters. I do recognize that I’m more of a nonfiction reader when it comes to stories like this. Maybe first person narration would have helped me embody more of what she embodied in seeking clear insight into her value as the main character. I don’t know.

I haven’t decided if or when I will be reading the next in series, but I’ll be curious to pick up more from this author outside of this particular story because the other writing aspects are ones I would like to look forward to.

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Glad to see you’ve made it this far!

I had some flashbacks as I read a few passages and thought I’d share!
Ant in my garden

I’ve come into contact with several kinds of ants in my life, from the docile sugar ants to fire ants to the fuzzy red velvet ant, even the ferocious Dorylus, also known as driver ants, safari ants, or siafu.

The ones that marched into my garden, taking over without warning are coming up as Megaponera annals or pondering ants. They are similar to carpenter ants.

Ant wandering in my backyard

They are raiders, filing in by the 100s, feasting on termites, carrying larvae.

They are bold and aggressive, following me around as I pulled weeds.

And they bite. Really hard!

Once they take hold they DO NOT let go.

She thought of the warrior Bodhidharma, meditating for years while listening to the ants scream. She suspected that the ants wouldn’t be the only ones screaming when she was done.

Hissing of ants in my backyard

They poured through like a swarm of ants, like a cloud of hornets; unstoppable and infinite, overwhelming in number.

Mass migration of ants in my backyard

Have you read this one, what did you think?

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Katherine Arden

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At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I really enjoyed parts of this one, for very specific reasons.

The story was one that took me back to my absolute love for Grimms’ fairy tales. The lure of folklore, fantastical creatures, the mystery of forests, unfolding into an almost creepy, dark parade of characters that share how they came to be with a startling past, connection to the present, and some sort of unsought wisdom and knowledge being imparted to those who interact with them. And then the excitement is waiting to see what the protagonist does with their new found friend/knowledge and follow them along as they fall into traps of deceit, conquests, and satisfying endings. And offer something valuable, entertaining, precious, insightful in the meanwhile.

I enjoyed the ideas put forth in this one, being set in Russia, the atmosphere of village life in winter, the author was great at creating a lovely, solid opening scene for the characters to live in. For me, this was the driving force and bulk of joy I found in the book. The fantastical characters, intelligent and fierce, they had drive, they had something to offer.

In this book, bits of the story seemed to be more of a retelling of certain folklore, which was great, but the more I read on, I found myself longing for either a completely original piece of work or a retelling of just a few known fairy tales into one, like Into the Woods for comparison. This was because the number of characters to keep track of became a bit too much. The focus seemed to change from following an intriguing young girl’s story to a compulsion to include numerous characters that were less important in her journey and this took the book in tangents that were less supportive in her development, and for me, really started to become quite boring half way through.

I loved the writing style in the beginning, presenting characters with a balance of intriguing descriptions and dialogue, going into a trajectory where I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen. I couldn’t put the book down. However about the 3rd-4th/5th way through the book, there wasn’t much being added to the overall characterization and storyline to keep my interest and drive to move the plot forward. It became more of an introduction of these multiple characters and I had to put the book down for several weeks because the story became incredibly slow and quite dry at these points.

It was becoming less reliant on character development, which I thought at the beginning was going to be really strong and something I was looking forward to, but instead, it simmered down to an excellent opening, a heavy reliance on atmospheric description which was a major strength at the beginning, followed by introductions of multiple characters with nowhere to go.

The main action was a major, abrupt shift in the story and overtook the plot, the book as a whole. It was characters upon characters interacting with each other on the sidelines, power struggles again and again, like the game of Final Fantasy, battle scenes, sword clinking with sword, sword clinking with sword, and more sword clinking with sword.

And what I really wanted to do is walk around the village more and talk to people. The main characters I got to know, I wanted to know, sort of became lost in the mix and therefore there was this disconnect to the main plot and that’s where I lost most of my interest. The atmospheric presentation, though amazing, was’t enough to carry the story through and the action scenes became somewhat redundant, missing opportunities for character development, building overall trajectory, or solidifying plot.

And then the book just ended. I suppose much was a pacing issue, like an erratic, brake happy driver. It was fine and smooth when getting on the freeway, but the journey became a bit rough, a little dull, and didn’t end with much satisfaction. Upon reading, I didn’t realize it was a trilogy, but still, I wanted more. I wanted justification, I wanted reason, I wanted forethought fleshed out.

But kudos, kudos, kudos to the amazing opener, tempting ideas, and fanciful, luring setting and scene descriptions.



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