The Song of Achilles

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The Song of Achilles

By:  Madeline Miller
Published: 
2011
# of pages: 
352
Challenges: Full House (historical fiction)

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Goodreads description:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

My review:  I can’t remember where I stumbled upon this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a few months.  It doesn’t sound overly fascinating, but since I’m interested in mythology and want to learn more, I decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I read it because it was great!  Miller has a true talent for taking an ancient story of a time and place that are foreign to me and made it interesting and real.  I cared about the characters and learned a lot about the story of Achilles and the Trojan War in the process.  I visited Greece many years ago and was excited to read about some of the places I’ve seen with my own eyes.

We’ve all heard of Achilles, but this story is about Patroclus, a prince who was exiled from his home to the court of Achilles’ father.  Patroclus is an awkward character and definitely doesn’t fit in with the other men of Greece who live to fight for all sorts of different reasons, including the kidnapping (run away?) of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.  Patroclus is also very thoughtful and for the most part, he sticks with his values.

I loved how his story and the story of Achilles is realistically woven into the mythical aspects.  The gods are a regular part of men’s lives, especially Achilles, whose mother is the sea goddess Thetis.  I don’t feel like this review does the book justice, but The Song of Achilles is now one of my favorite books and I’m eager to read more by Madeline Miller.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:

Firstlife

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Firstlife

By:  Gena Showalter
Published:  2016
# of pages:  467
Series:  Everlife (#1)
Quote:  “That’s not our way,” Archer says. “Death isn’t the answer. Where there’s breath, there’s hope.”

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Goodreads description:

Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live — after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, long-time enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms that will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t where the boy she’s falling for lives? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…

My review:  My husband listened to this on an audio book and went on to listen to the rest of the series.  He really enjoyed the story so I decided to check it out as well!  This is a fun beginning to what will probably be a fun series.  While the concept of the book is thought provoking, this isn’t an overly emotionally deep story.

At the beginning of the book I found myself frustrated over how silly the whole concept of choosing a realm during life seemed.  At least, to the extent of sending your kids to be tortured to ensure they choose the “right” side.  But as the book progressed I began to understand it more and I realized that for some people, this isn’t neccessarily a fantasy.  There’s plenty of religious people in the real world who manipulate, persecute, discriminate, and even kill all because of a belief that their belief is more important than other people’s beliefs.

The down sides were that at points it became hard to track who was Ten’s current “favorite” and who was rescuing her from the numerous bad situations in which she found herself.  Back and forth, back and forth, it all kind of ran together.  But overall this was an entertaining story that I recommend to fans of YA fantasy.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting story idea, fast paced, entertaining.

The Fifth Season

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The Fifth Season

By:  N.K. Jemisin
Published:  2015
# of pages:  496 (Kindle edition)
Series:  The Broken Earth (#1)

 

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Goodreads description:

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

My review:  I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy novel!  The world building was extremely unique and so were the characters.  The timeline was written in such a great way, it really meshed together in spite of the difference in years.

The story begins with Essun, a heartbroken mother who is mourning the violent loss of her youngest child.  Her discovery of the child’s murder coincides with a nationwide disaster that will have far reaching consequences.  Essun is forced to leave the town she’s peacefully lived in for years to set out on a dangerous journey to find her daughter.  Essun has lived in secrecy for years, but knowledge of her power starts leaking through the cracks as she meets other people along the way.

The reader also meets the young and scared girl Damaya, the strong young woman Syenite, the broken man Alabaster, and the confident and boisterous man Innon.  Other characters pop up throughout the novel.  They are all written so well, you can just see them in your mind.  After I finished reading the book I immediately started looking up fan art because I wanted to see what other people thought of the characters and their descriptions.  Here’s my Broken Earth Pinterest board.

I’m eager to read the next two books in the series.  I highly recommend this book to fantasy fans.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Awesome world building, great characters, unique fantasy series.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon

By: Kelly Barnhill
Published: 2016
# of pages:  400
Challenges:  A to Z, Full House (coming of age)

Goodreads description:

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

My opinion:  This was such a great, fun book to read!  It’s a children’s book that I think would be great starting around 4th or 5th grade.  It’s a great fantasy/fairy tale with good characters, evil characters, fantastic creatures such as a dragon and swamp monster, and an intriguing setting of a sorrowful town, large cities, and a dense forest with a bog and restless volcano.

The story follows Xan, a gentle witch who lives in the forest and rescues the children the sorrowful town abandons.  One year Xan rescues a baby and starts to fall in love with her on the journey to the cities.  She ends up feeding the baby moonlight instead of starlight, which fills the baby with magic.  So Xan decides to keep the baby and names her Luna.

Luna grows up surrounded by love in her forest cabin, but unfortunately the town she leaves behind isn’t so lucky.  Years pass as the reader sees what happens to Xan and Luna and also the slow changes that take place in the town.  Everything builds up and Luna needs to take action before it all explodes.

I appreciated the way the author wrote this book to be entertaining but also thought provoking.  It would be easy for kids to read, but it doesn’t “talk down” to them.  It’s beautifully written and children and adults alike can appreciate the descriptions.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Beautifully written story with a great message.  Appeals to both children and adults.  Realistic characters.  A little too wordy at times for my personal tastes.

Sunbolt

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Sunbolt

By:  Intisar Khanani
Published:  2013
# of pages: 
142
Series:  The Sunbolt Chronicles (#1)
Challenge:  Monthly Motif (Feb. – 1 word title), Full House (<250 pgs)

4Stars

Goodreads description:

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

My opinion:  Wow!  An author friend of mine recommended this book to me a few months ago and I put it on my TBR list.  I put off reading it because it wasn’t available at my local library.  Now that I have a Kindle I was able to buy it for 99 cents so I went ahead and bought it.  I wasn’t expecting too much.  The book doesn’t have many reviews on Goodreads and it isn’t very well known.  However, I was very pleasantly surprised by this novella that takes the somewhat overdone young adult fantasy genre and slightly twisted it into something more unique.

The story is about a teenager named Hitomi who works with an group that secretly fights back against the corrupt ruler who has taken over Hitomi’s land.  Hitomi soon finds herself caught up in more than she bargained for when she joined the Shadow League.  She’s far from home, surrounded by dangerous strangers, and is forced to use her hidden powers more than she ever has before.

I loved the relationships and interactions in this book.  Hitomi is reckless, but you can see her growth throughout the novel as she becomes more thoughtful while still retaining her bravery.  I also liked that she isn’t perfect.  In one part of the book she makes a choice that haunts her afterwards.  I completely understand why she made the choice, but also why she later regrets that choice.  I think it’s what most of us would do in her situation.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, but I’m very sad that the series isn’t complete even though this book was published 5 years ago.  I recommend to adults and young adults, especially if you’re a fantasy fan.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Unique story, understandable and likable characters, well written.  I just wish it was longer!

Rhapsodic

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Rhapsodic

By:  Laura Thalassa
Published:  2016
# of pages: 
326
Series: 
The Bargainer (#1)
Challenges: 
A to Z

3Stars

Goodreads description:

Callypso Lillis is a siren with a very big problem, one that stretches up her arm and far into her past. For the last seven years she’s been collecting a bracelet of black beads up her wrist, magical IOUs for favors she’s received. Only death or repayment will fulfill the obligations. Only then will the beads disappear.

Everyone knows that if you need a favor, you go to the Bargainer to make it happen. He’s a man who can get you anything you want … at a price. And everyone knows that sooner or later he always collects.

But for one of his clients, he’s never asked for repayment. Not until now. When Callie finds the fae king of the night in her room, a grin on his lips and a twinkle in his eye, she knows things are about to change. At first it’s just a chaste kiss—a single bead’s worth—and a promise for more.

For the Bargainer, it’s more than just a matter of rekindling an old romance. Something is happening in the Otherworld. Fae warriors are going missing one by one. Only the women are returned, each in a glass casket, a child clutched to their breast. And then there are the whispers among the slaves, whispers of an evil that’s been awoken.

If the Bargainer has any hope to save his people, he’ll need the help of the siren he spurned long ago. Only, his foe has a taste for exotic creatures, and Callie just happens to be one.

My opinion:  I originally rated this 4 stars, but I changed it to 3 after thinking about it for awhile and starting the second book in the series, A Strange Hymn.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun read, but too many things didn’t make sense and there was too much repetition.  I can tell that when the author didn’t quite know what to do, she just had the main characters think loving or dirty or insecure or unsure thoughts.  I wish that there had been a little more action and real progress in the book.

The story follows Callie, who is a human, but a supernatural human.  She’s a siren and is able to glamour other humans and make them do whatever she wants them to do.  Her entire life changed as she found herself in trouble 8 years earlier.  She met the Bargainer, a Fae creature, and soon after that she went to a school for supernatural humans.  Now that she’s out of school, she puts her abilities to good use as a private investigator and tries to ignore the fact that she owes hundreds of favors to the mysterious Bargainer.  However, her life is once again disrupted as she becomes reacquainted with the Bargainer.  He says he needs her help so he must claim the favors she owes him.

This sounds like a really cool story, but like I said earlier, it’s mainly just Callie obsessing about the Bargainer.  At the end, the reader discovers that perhaps he didn’t really need her help and that explains why she didn’t ever really do anything the entire book.  Callie is a fun narrator so I’m disappointed that her physical appearance is always more appreciated than her wit and intellect.  If you don’t mind graphic sex scenes and want a fun read that doesn’t require much thought, I would recommend this, but otherwise I think there are books with similar plots that are more worth reading.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Fun narrative, but not enough substance or action.

Shattered Blue

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Shattered Blue

By:  Lauren Bird Horowitz
Published:  2015
# of pages:  336
Series:  The Light Trilogy (#1)
Challenges:  Full House (fantasy)

4Stars

Goodreads description: 

For Noa and Callum, being together is dangerous, even deadly. From the start, sixteen-year-old Noa senses that the mysterious transfer student to her Monterey boarding school is different. Callum unnerves and intrigues her, and even as she struggles through family tragedy, she’s irresistibly drawn to him. Soon they are bound by his deepest secret: Callum is Fae, banished from another world after a loss hauntingly similar to her own.

But in Noa’s world, Callum needs a special human energy, Light, to survive; his body steals it through touch—or a kiss. And Callum’s not the only Fae on the hunt. When Callum is taken, Noa must decide: Will she sacrifice everything to save him? Even if it means learning their love may not be what she thought?

My opinion:  This book started out with some moments of deja vu.  I was taken right back to Twilight when Bella and Edward meet in a high school.  The male character, Callum, acts almost identically to Edward by seeming drawn to the female character (Noa) but also trying to initially avoid a relationship.  I was feeling a little disappointed at the similarity to the Twilight series and the teenage high school angst, but thankfully Shattered Blue picks up the pace and changes course just enough that I enjoyed the reading experience.  I’m actually surprised this book isn’t more popular.

The story is about Noa, a 16 year old high school student who isn’t new to her school, but is new to being a commuter student instead of a boarding student due to a family tragedy.  Noa feels lost as she returns to school after the tragedy and the only thing holding her together is her little sister Sasha.  However, she meets Callum and her life drastically changes.

Callum is from the Fae realm and has been banished to the humans’ realm.  The world he comes from is complicated and Callum also feels lost as he navigates a new world with new rules in addition to dealing with his own family’s tragedy.  Soon, Noa discovers that Callum isn’t the only Fae in town and their lives are further complicated as they face danger on several fronts.  Nothing is simple and Noa finds her confidence crumbling yet again as she works to discover the truth and save the lives of her friends and family.

I was impressed with the writing style and the poetic descriptions that felt natural instead of forced or out of place.  Sure, there are things I took issue with (Like seriously, why would you send kids to boarding school when you live within commuting distance!? If Noa’s family was that rich you’d think it would come up, but we are supposed to think that’s normal apparently.  End rant.)  The book is definitely geared towards young adults, but even adult fans of YA fantasy will enjoy this story.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Fun book with interesting story lines and characters, a little immature at times and some characters were slightly annoying.