Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley Reads

I have been terrible at keeping up with blog reviews ever since late last year, so I am playing catch-up now and make more of an effort! I felt like I was doing really well for a while, and then a whole bunch of things happened and my brain just kind of went blah and that was that. ANYWAY, onward to these short but sweet reviews.

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
Series: Lotus Kingdoms #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 367
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull is the start to a lush fantasy trilogy that felt a lot at times to be the fantasy counterpart to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness as it explores gender and identity against the backdrop of political intrigue and upheaval. I hadn’t realized it is the start to a sequel trilogy of a previous series of Bear’s. While I think that I probably could have benefited from being a little more familiar with the world before diving into this one, I don’t feel like I was alienated in any way from the enjoyment of The Stone and the Skull‘s story because this story is set several decades after the first trilogy. My only issue with the book was that it took too long for the heart of the story to really reveal itself. I was more than halfway through the book before I felt as if I could connect with almost any of the characters. My favorite characters, however, are the Gage and the Dead Man, so I’m looking forward to seeing how their story progresses in the rest of the trilogy!

Review copy provided by Netgalley/Tor; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Del Rey
Published: December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

After I finished reading The Girl in the Tower, all I could think was wow, what an amazing followup, because much like The Bear and the Nightingale, Arden’s second title in the Winternight Trilogy satisfies some of the questions left at the end of the first book and leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the upcoming final book. The writing and atmosphere is both foreign and familiar, like a fairy tale you’ve only heard on the peripherals of the familiar stories we’ve grown up with. Arden expertly weaves and subverts those familiar fairy tale tropes while managing to make her tale fresh and exciting. After such a stunning followup to the already incredible The Bear and the Nightingale, I’ll certainly be picking up anything Arden writes in the future without any hesitation.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Del Rey; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood turned out to be everything I’ve been hoping for lately in recent YA fantasy. Dark fairy tales, believable characters, and all of those twists and turns to keep you glued to the page. This is a fairy tale about a mother-daughter bond and the strange, wild lengths one goes for family and truth. The major issue I had with this, though, was the pacing. The first half is a little slower-paced, allowing for us as the reader to get to know Alice and the world in which she leaves and the world she was told to avoid, but the last half had so much going on in it that I felt a lack of development for the Hinterlands. Knowing now that this is the first in a series, I’m hoping we get to see more of the Hinterlands in later stories because I wanted to know more! This is going to be perfect if true-to-the-source dark fairy tales are your thing and for those who enjoy a well-crafted YA fantasy.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Flatiron Books; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel

BOOK REVIEW: Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain NeuvelTitle: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Series: Themis Files #1
Published by Del Rey
Published: April 26th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

An inventive debut in the tradition of World War Z and The Martian, told in interviews, journal entries, transcripts, and news articles, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by a quest for truth—and a fight for control of earthshaking power.

 If you fall in love with someone, there’s a good chance the person won’t love you back. Hatred, though, is usually mutual. If you despise someone, it’s pretty much a given they’re also not your biggest fan.

Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants is the story of a girl named Rose who falls into a pit in the middle of the earth in South Dakota, and when she wakes up, she discovers a piece that’s part of a very large robot. Told through a series of interviews, we see from different perspectives the discovery of more of those robot parts and the dawning realization that there is no possible way that humans built this thing. The question remains – who did? Where did this robot’s creators originate? Why was Earth chosen as a destination point for this machine? Are there more?

I enjoyed the style of this book. It reads quickly, and I was constantly turning the pages to see what happened next. The biggest frustration, and it seems relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, in reading stories through the eyes of interviews, articles, and detached narratives are that we’re forced to piece together what happens behind the scenes and who these characters are in relation to the story at hand. When the interviews jump ahead in time by months or years or whatever, I was left wanting to know more about the in-between times, which isn’t a bad thing in the end, because the jumps kept the story moving forward and I don’t think anyone wants a 700+ book of interviews detailing every exact thing. I just enjoyed Neuvel’s world-building so much that I wanted that extra stuff. I’ve got the sequel ready to go, so I’m hoping for more greatness!

It’s billed as something for fans of The Martian, but I think it’s more in line with Pacific Rim and any other machina science fiction. For a debut novel, I was impressed with Neuvel’s scope in his world-building, detail, and character development. It’s a solid novel that feels like it’s been written by someone who has been doing this sort of writing for a long time. I really enjoyed it, and I think it’s a thrilling read for people who love science fiction and for people who love a good thriller.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

BOOK REVIEW: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine ArdenTitle: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 322
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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.

Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale is a superbly magical fairy tale inspired by Russian folklore. The story is lyrical and engaging, and even though I’m not a reader who is familiar with Russian fairy tales and folklore, so much of it seems both familiar and strange that I felt like this story has both been part of that fairy tale lexicon of sorts and wholly new all at the same time. I love it when a writer weaves together the old and the new to make a new effortless-feeling tale that lingers in the mind long after the book ends.

Vasya, the main character, is lively and complicated, as fairy tale heroines often tend to be. Arden’s villains are nuanced and complex, making you think that perhaps villainy is only a construct of our perspectives rather than a factual thing. The atmosphere feels like a chilly Russian wilderness, and its distant enough in time and distance to be all the more enchanting.

And, like many traditional, “original,” fairy tales, The Bear and the Nightingale is beautiful and terrifying in a very Neil Gaiman-esque sort of way, and I love the sort of terror that sneaks up on you and faces you full-on, making you come to terms with the terror of your own reality in contrast to this fairy tale one.

If you are a fan of Erin Morgenstern and Neil Gaiman and enjoy reading terrifically beautiful fairy tales, this is one you need to add to your TBRs immediately!

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Red Rising, by Pierce Brown

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BOOK REVIEW: Red Rising, by Pierce BrownTitle: Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Del Rey
Published: July 15th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 382
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The Earth is dying.Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it.The Reds are humanity's last hope.
Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it's all a lie.
That Mars has been habitable - and inhabited - for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds.A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought. Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.
But the command school is a battlefield - and Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda.
Break the chains.
Live for more.

I read this book over the summer on the way down to Florida to go on a cruise. I found it a fast, fun, engaging read, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. It draws on a lot of popular series in fiction, and that’s all right, because I think Brown does an excellent job reinventing and reimagining those tropes. If you enjoy the Hunger Games and want something deeper and like the intrigue of Game of Thrones, I’m sure you’ll like Red Rising.

Darrow, the main character, is born on Mars and mines beneath the surface. He’s of a lower caste than others, but then he’s modified, becomes perfect in the eyes of the law, and is chosen to be sent to an arena-sized game board to fight for dominance. Through his transformation from someone of a lower caste to someone in a higher caste, we get an insight into the unfairness of class treatment and the effects it has on society as it trickles down. During Darrow’s transformation, we also get political insight into why the Reds are Trojan horsing themselves into the upper castes. For freedom, mostly, and that’s what a lot of the “lesser” people in any society tend to fight for.

It’s a little unbelievable sometimes, even for science fiction, but I liked how Brown didn’t take the time to explain all of the foreign details straight away. He uses words, phrases, technology, and ideas (like headTalk, helldiver, and frysuit), and incorporates them into the story, building upon them and expanding our horizons as he does so. Not everything should be explained right away. Good exposition does that for us. Sometimes the writing seems a little melodramatic and over-the-top, but I think it’s supposed to be that way. Upper classes often puff themselves up and make themselves seem more important than they really are, using frivolous language to embellish everything.

Brown does know how to write and how to keep the pace, and his editor does him a service. There wasn’t a time while reading this that I felt bored or felt that the story dragged on. It’s brutal and engaging, and it left you wanting more. It’s got great character development, great action, and an ending that will leave you wanting more (and thankfully there is more!). Definitely pick this up if you’re in the mood for some great science fiction