Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reading Challenge: Reviews on Half the World, Beastkeeper, Bitter Greens and Invaded

I really need to get back to my reviews faster. Honestly, the new year has started and I promised to read 150 books this year. Only problem is, I'm still catching up on last year's reviews.

Ah well. Live and learn.

Now for a review on Half the World by Joe Abercrombie.

So here's the thing. Once upon a time, I read great reviews for a book called Half a King by Joe Abercrombie. No really, that's the honest truth, I saw so many glowing reviews for that book back in 2014, to the point that when my library ordered it, I reserved a copy for myself.

And then proceeded to NOT read it.

I'm not sure what it was a the time. Maybe my head just wasn't straight that summer. Either way, I kept getting stuck around the second chapter. Then I'd put the book down, forget about it, then go back and try to read a little more. Eventually I just gave up on Prince Yarvi and his troubles and returned the book unread to the library. Then, a little over a year later, Half the World, showed up on the library order list. I could see that it was the sequel, but as it followed different characters, I thought why not? Just give it a go.

Well, color me speechless, because Thorn Bathu was definitely a character I needed to read about. I didn't expect to stay up late trying to finish this book. Hell, I'm sure I was caught the following morning trying to finish it when my guy took off for work. The characters hooked me from the start with Thorn and Brand and their skills and strengths and family and dreams for the future. I wanted these characters to grow, to find where they fit in. Even the secondary characters made a lasting impression on me, to the point that when they left the story, I mourned their loss.

The majority of this story focuses on a journey across the world in search of allies. Thorn was labeled a murderer after killing a sparring partner. This leads to Father Yarvi offering her a chance to save herself by swearing an oath of loyalty to him and leaving her home to travel on a ship. While crossing the world, she's trained by Skifr, a woman who is even more skillful and formidable than Thorn. Thorn also has to learn how to interact with others, including Brand, a young man who had trained alongside Thorn to fight and be a warrior and who was also brought along on the journey. From there, the crew learn to get along, how to fight, how to survive and where they belong.

I loved this book and I bought my own copy as soon as I could. This book has a special place on my favorites shelf and yes, I've re-read it several times in the past year.

Rating: 9 Stars

Next up, Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen.

Basically, whenever there are hints that a story is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, I will try to get my hands on it. While there were enough elements of that fairy tale in Beastkeeper to make that claim for me, the point is that this book managed to twist in a way to make a new tale, a story about a girl willing to do what she could to understand her family and herself.

The story follows Sarah, a young girl who spent years moving around with her parents until one night when her mother decides to leave them. Her father begins to change but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to an old castle where her grandparents live. And that's where the story takes off. Sarah meets her hard as nails grandmother and her quite literally a beast of a grandfather, who is kept locked up in a cage. Sarah learns that a curse caused her grandfather's transformation and her father's transformation. And when Sarah falls in love for the first time, she too will change.

The story is very short. That's my biggest complaint about it. I would have wanted more detail, more time for the development, and as a result, it felt a little rushed in terms of Sarah needing to figure out the particulars of her family's curse. However, the writing style and sense of magic in the story do manage to catch the reader's attention. It's a strong story that could possibly be extended if Hellisen ever chooses to do so.

Rating: 7.5

Now for Bitter Greens: A Novel by Kate Forsyth.

Maybe the more complete truth is that whenever there is a fairy tale re-telling available, I usually try to read it. Therefore, the fact that Bitter Greens was supposed to be a version of the true tale of Rapunzel made it a given that I'd try to read it.

Emphasis on the word try.

The story has several different points of view. Originally, we follow Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a young woman banished to a convent. While trying to come to terms with her new state of affairs, she begins to work in the garden with an old nun, Seraphina, who tells Charlotte-Rose the tale of what the reader recognizes to be Rapunzel. Then the story switches to Margherita, a young girl whose parents are forced to give up their daughter to Selena Leonelli after her father was caught stealing parsley from Selena's gardens. Margherita is locked away in a tower, alone with barely enough food to last her until Selena returns to see her. The reader also sees events from the witch's point of view, Selena. It goes through the usual expectations of the fairy tale while immersing itself in historical detail, rounding out and filling in the the fairy tale in ways to make it seem like this was the story that started everything in the tale of Rapunzel.

And I found it all just a little boring.

I usually really like historical fiction and I usually LOVE fairy tale re-tellings but something about this book seemed to drag for me. I kept trying to get invested in the story but it never really inspired any feeling for me. I finished the book because I wanted to know what happened to the characters and how it all tied together in the end. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be reading this again any time soon. I'm glad to have read it because the skill and the knack for detail and research are really very impressive but there was a disconnect for me with this book. For that reason, I caution readers to go to this book with an open mind. You may love it; you may hate it. I'm in that camp where I could go either way for this book.

Rating: 5 Stars

Last but not least for today's post, Invaded by Melissa Landers.

I took a chance and read Alienated back in 2014 and was surprised at the development, the characters, and the general plot of the book. It wasn't stupid or anything else I was kind of expecting it to be. Some parts were a little, well, silly is probably the best word to describe it. It's not "wow, so mind-blowing", but after the struggle I had trying to finish Bitter Greens, I wanted something light-hearted to read. I actually rather enjoyed the book and made sure that Invaded was on my to-read list.

Except Invaded wasn't what I expected it to be at all. The plot follows Cara as she works to adjust to living on L'eihr while Aelyx had to stay behind on earth in an attempt to make up for the things he helped instigate during the events of Alienated. Cara has to struggle to be accepted and Aelyx has to work to improve relations between L'eihr and Earth. Basically, the entire book felt like a lot of filler to me. The things that Cara had to endure seemed too over the top for me to accept and the treatment she received made me frustrated. I almost feel that a lot of the pertinent details in this book could have been dispersed into books 1 and 3 so that this would have been a duology.

It felt like it took ages to get anywhere and even when the action picked up, the book ended before anything really developed. I kind of want to read the final book but it's only because I want to know what the big deal was that's been dangling over reader's heads. When I manage to get a copy and actually read it will remain a mystery until further notice, however, as I'm not that eager to get the book.

On the other hand, I am going to be getting a copy of Starflight, the first book in a new series by Melissa Landers, just because I'm sometimes an optimist and I want to see if it's any good.

Yeah, I know; it doesn't make much sense to me either. I just go with it. Books are books; I can't afford to be picky.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I'll be back soon for the next round of reviews.

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