BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Tower, by Ann LeckieTitle: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Published by Orbit
Published: February 26th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Gods meddle in the fates of men, men play with the fates of gods, and a pretender must be cast down from the throne in this breathtaking first fantasy novel from Ann Leckie, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven's Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven's watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo--aide to Mawat, the true Lease--arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven's Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself...and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

Give me all, and I mean all, of the unconventional narrators in fantasy and science fiction, please. I read this right after finishing Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and these two books will always be paired with each other in my mind. Each are different from what’s often expected out of fantasy, and both of these are game changers on what I personally will expect from fantasy from now on.

Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower is told from the perspective of a god who resides in stone and who has lived in their particular stone for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. The Raven Tower takes some time to unfold, as the god in the rock spends their time thinking about everything in the grand scope of everything from the beginning of time. It had a very Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead approach to a Hamlet-like fantasy, and I loved that. I’m the kind of reader who loves that sort of thing. Give me the perspective of someone not directly involved in the action of the story.

Because the god is a rock, The Strength and Patience of the Hill, the narrative is exploratory, and you must be patient, because patience pays off in the end, like a rock rolling downhill and gaining momentum. The final quarter of the book is unputdownable and made my patience in letting the narrator tell Eolo his story, this story they have heard, well worth it in the end.

If you’re ready for something new in your fantasy, something for your mind to chew on and think about, and something a little philosophical about what it means to be involved in a story and what it means to be a god, pick this up. It’s already one of my favorite reads of 2019.

Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a complimentary finished copy of this book to read! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle

BOOK REVIEW: The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. BeagleTitle: The Unicorn Anthology by Peter S. Beagle, Jacob Weisman, Garth Nix, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carlos Hernandez, Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Yolen, Nancy Springer, Cailtin R. Kiernan, Margo Lanagan
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: April 19th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

“What a treasure trove!”—Sarah Beth Durst, author of Queen of the Blood

Unicorns: Not just for virgins anymore. Here are sixteen lovely, powerful, intricate, and unexpected unicorn tales from fantasy icons including Garth Nix, Peter S. Beagle, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carrie Vaughn, and more. In this volume you will find two would-be hunters who enlist an innkeeper to find a priest hiding the secret of the last unicorn. A time traveler tries to corral an unruly mythological beast that might never have existed at all. The lover and ex-boyfriend of a dying woman join forces to find a miraculous remedy in New York City. And a small-town writer of historical romances discovers a sliver of a mysterious horn in a slice of apple pie.

I love unicorns. The mythology surrounding unicorns is so intriguing to me, especially when the traditional concepts of unicorns are broken down, dismantled, and challenged, and the idea of innocence and purity is explored in so many of the stories in this volume. What does it mean, ultimately, to be innocent and pure? How can one take the familiar myths of unicorns and subvert them?

This is not an anthology for younger readers, as there are references to bestiality (didn’t finish this story), references to sexual acts, and references to heavy-handed violence to people of all ages. This is a collection of stories that will make you reconsider the unicorn trope, and the collection includes a wide variety of stories to appeal  Overall, it’s a solid collection of stories, and I found myself wishing for a few more at the end.

My favorites were “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlín R. Kiernan (the lesbian unicorn noir you didn’t know you needed to read until now), “Ghost Town” by Jack C. Haldeman II (brother of Joe Haldeman!, and I also love western-esque stories about rogues being changed by chance encounters in nearly-abandoned towns), “The Highest Justice” by Garth Nix (I love anything Nix writes), “Survivor” by Dave Smeds (a Vietnam soldier gets a unicorn tattooed on his chest and therefore cannot die), “Homeward Bound” by Bruce Coville (he wrote a series of unicorn books for middle grade readers that I thoroughly enjoyed and was happy to see another unicorn story by him!), and “The Transfigured Hart” by Jane Yolen (anything she writes is pure magic and pure joy).

This collection comes with a recommendation from me, especially with the introduction by Peter S. Beagle himself.

This releases April 19, 2019! Thank you to Tachyon Pub and Netgalley for a complimentary copy to read and review. All opinions are my own

BOOK REVIEW: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

BOOK REVIEW: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa SeeTitle: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Published by Scribner
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

Lisa See’s new book, out March 5, is a stunning story of two women separated by tragedy. Set mostly on Jeju Island before, during, and after World War II, See explores the strength and tribulations of women in all aspects of their lives — from their work as haenyo (deep sea divers), mothers, daughters, sisters, friends — and brings history to life through the lives of two friends: Young-sook and Mjia.

Told through interweaving timelines, from the more distant past of pre- and post-WWII to the more recent past of 2008, See takes us to Jeju Island through the eyes of Young-sook as she grows up, learns to dive and provide for herself and her family, marries, starts a family of her own, and struggles to survive through WWII and its aftermath. It’s a brutal history, devastating from all angles, that See weaves into the life of Young-Sook, but it’s incredibly empowering and a pleasure to read as the book is a testament to the strength and resilience of women.

I will admit, before reading this, I had very vague knowledge of Korea’s involvement in WWII (as I grow older, I realize how much of my history education stopped around the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the century and didn’t seem to focus much on the World Wars or anything after, and this is something I am actively rectifying!), and I no prior knowledge of Jeju Island, the matriarchal culture, and the haenyo. After reading this and being so intrigued by these women’s lives, I definitely want to read more about it. See’s book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s been several years since I revisited her work, and I’m delighted by the relationship between two women and their families in The Island of Sea Women. I now want to go back and read the books of hers I haven’t read yet because I think See is a master at weaving in the personal, private lives of women with extraordinary circumstances in history.

The Island of Sea Women is already one of my favorite books of 2019, so don’t miss it!

Thank you to Scribner Books for sending me a complimentary advance copy to read and review. All opinions are my own.

2018 Reading Reflections

2018 has come and gone, and I realize now that I never posted my reading goals on the blog for 2018! I wrote them all down in my book bullet journal, but now I kind of wish I had made a post outlining what my yearly goals were. I have a post coming up this week about my goals for 2019! Since January 1 was in the middle of the week, I decided that my 2019 “goal year” would start this week.

These are the goals I wanted to reach in 2018:

  • Read 12 Star Wars books
  • Read 12 Star Trek books
  • Read 12 classics
  • Read 12 nonfiction books
  • Read 12 science fiction books
  • Read the first 80 Penguin Little Black Classics
  • Read 180 books total for the year

Here are the end results of those goals:

  • Read 4/12 Star Wars books
  • Read 0/12 Star Trek books
  • Read 8/12 classics (every 10 LBCs I read counted as one “classic”)
  • Read 12/12 nonfiction books
  • Read 8/12 science fiction books
  • Read 80/80 Penguin Little Black Classics
  • Read 180/180 books for the year

Overall, I think I did a really great job, and if I could redo the year, I’d make more of an effort to read more classics and nix the Star Trek list all together. And possibly reading all 80 of Penguin’s Little Black Classics. I’m going to do a post reviewing the entire box set, but honestly, I don’t think the entire box set is worth it unless you like having them look pretty in bookish photos or on your shelf. All that time I spent stressing over reaching a monthly quota of reading those Little Black Classics stressed me out and often put me off reading. I also realized that consistently being part of big marketing campaigns took a toll on my reading as well. I loved being part of them and wished I could have chosen more specific titles to feature and review, but ultimately, I felt like my blog and Instagram became advertising channels, and I know I lost a lot of engagement that way because who wants to deal with someone advertising at you all the time?? I’m not a hustler by nature, and it was draining and demotivating me more than I realized.

On the flip side, I did get to work with some amazing publishers and imprints, I read a lot of books out of my usual zone (a post on my attitude toward romance as a genre coming soon too!), and I learned a lot about myself, my reading styles and habits, my social media output and expectations, and the world. 2018 was definitely a year of turbulence and change socially and politically, and I have such good vibes already going into 2019.

What goals did you have for 2018? Did you reach them?

BOOK REVIEW: The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden

BOOK REVIEW: The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine ArdenTitle: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #3
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: January 8th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 372
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

“I am a witch,’’ said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. “I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.” She caught his knife on the crosspiece of hers, hilt to hilt. “I have crossed three times nine realms to find you, my lord. And I find you at play, forgetful.”

Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy have been some of my favorite fantasy books in recent years, and I find myself recommending them to friends and readers everywhere because of their world building, their characters, and the fairy tale qualities upon which each book explores. The first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, has a slower start that builds into a magnificent, magical Russian setting. The second book, The Girl in the Tower, continues Vasya’s story and sets up for the satisfying conclusion in The Winter of the Witch.

I loved the intersection of fantasy and Russian history, the strength of the female characters, the quiet scenes interspersed with the highly emotional or violent scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Vasya and Morozov, because their dynamic is a deep, dark, frisson. The scenes between Vasya and Morozov are intense and beautifully written, and I wish there was more about him, too. Vasya by herself, this time, seemed to be a little distanced from the character in the first two books, but I also wonder that it’s because she has been through so much that she’s in dissonance from herself, too.

Overall, I was highly satisfied with the story, and I think it’s rare that the third book in a trilogy holds up and is even better than the first two installments. It’s an excellent meld of fantasy and history and how a single person can unite a country, for better or worse.

Thank you to Netgalley and Del Rey Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.