Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Review

Cover- Strange the Dreamer

Published: March 28, 2017

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Strange the Dreamer #1

Pages: 544 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Synopsis:

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.


“He read while he walked. He read while he ate. The other librarians suspected he somehow read while he slept, or perhaps didn’t sleep at all.”

Strange the Dreamer was my introduction to Laini Taylor’s writing and storytelling skills and boy, what a stellar first impression! I was hooked by the first chapter- the idea of a lost city with a lost name is such an enticing concept. I’ll admit, I turned into a starry-eyed dreamer myself for awhile there.

When people blather about authors having “lyrical prose” I typically call BS and go on with my life. HOWEVER, Laini Taylor really does have prose that practically sings to you- it’s enchanting! I would place Strange the Dreamer in the top tiers with my favorite fantasy novels despite it being categorized as a Young Adult novel because it’s definitely of a higher caliber than the usual YA fantasy. The world as a whole is somewhat underdeveloped, but the city of Weep and its culture are well-defined. The whole world is enchanting and promises new discoveries around every corner, but the real treat here are the characters.

Lazlo Strange was orphaned as a young child and grew up in the care of first monks and then librarians. You may consider him an expert on the city lost in the sands of a distant desert that is now called Weep, though Lazlo recalls when it had a different name. How is it that a name could simply disappear? His quest for knowledge and his kindheartedness has led him to become an integral part in the stories of others, but Lazlo has a chance to be present in his own story when a man leading the Taizakain warriors of Weep arrives and requests help with an unnamed problem. The second perspective is that of Sarai, a Mesarthim girl of terrible power that is trapped along with four other children in the Citadel with only ghost for company. Each of them has command of a unique power, but none of their powers are enough to allow them to escape their lonely prison and even if they did, they would be slaughtered on sight, for their sires enslaved the people of Weep for two centuries. Sarai and Lazlo end up having one of the most beautiful relationships I’ve ever encountered in literature, perhaps because 95% of it occurs in Lazlo’s dreams. Yes, dreams. Sarai can enter into dreams and meddle with the visions therein, but is never seen… that is, until Lazlo sees her.

I could literally blather on for several more paragraphs and give you an entire in-depth summary of the story, but honestly that takes all the fun out of reading the story in the first place. Trust me when I say that this is the best thing to happen to YA fantasy in years and it absolutely floored me with its depth, the blurred lines between good and evil, victim and victimized. Laini Taylor crushed my heart at the end of this book but at the same time I was also cheering. When you get to that point, I think you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Strange the Dreamer will be going in my top ten favorite books of the year (unless 2017 astounds me with masterpieces). If her other series is half this good, I’ll be reading it ASAP.

Waiting on Wednesday: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where bloggers feature a book that we just can’t wait to get our hands on!


Cover- Blackwing

OH MAN. First of all, Blackwing has been receiving a fair amount of buzz among my fellow fantasy readers (especially the Grimdark people) and because of that I decided to give it some further attention. I had given a cursory sort of acknowledgement, but decided to actually read the synopsis and… here we are. They synopsis makes it out to be a post-apocalyptic fantasy with magic and swords and maybe some mercenaries. I’m excited enough to feature it here and I also sent in that NetGalley request *crosses fingers*. Blackwing will be released in July 2017 for UK readers and October 2017 for US readers.

Also, as I typed this I was listening to Hurt by Johnny Cash (from the Logan movie), which seems to be an appropriate accompaniment to Blackwing. Kind of like a wine and cheese pairing, but for a book.

The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis – Review

Cover- The Guns Above

Published: May 2, 2017

Publisher: Tor Books

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk

Pages: 336 (Hardcover)

Series: Signal Airship #1

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupris can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.

She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?


The Guns Above is the debut novel of Robyn Bennis and somehow I didn’t know about it until Tor emailed me about a review! Such a large volume of SFF books are released every year that I always miss an astounding number of good books. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this sort of Napoleonic-war era steampunk fantasy!

The characters were what really made this book stand out. Josette Dupre is the first female airship captain in Garnian history and as such, she’s under enormous pressure to succeed. Lord Bernat is under orders from his uncle General Fieran to make certain that Dupre looks like a failure in the public eye, no matter how successful she is. The two are at odds from the very beginning – Josette would truly like to throw Bernat overboard, but ballast is valuable and not to be wasted even if it does cause trouble. Bernat’s (or Bernie) observations of Josette’s decisions are slanderously inaccurate I found myself affronted on her behalf for the first quarter of the novel. Eventually things settle down between the two and Bernie is a crack shot with a rifle, which makes him useful as more than just ballast.

The plot is also quite good, though without the quality characters and dry humour, I think it would have felt a little stale. The Garnians are in the midst of a war with a neighboring kingdom and the airships are a valuable commodity. Dupre’s ship Mistral is a new design and as the crew runs it through the standard battery of tests, they end up on the front lines of the second front of the war (which isn’t supposed to happen). Enemy engagement, terrifying aerial maneuvers, and a few subplots keep things interesting for much of the book.

Overall, this was good debut and I hope the rest of the series (however long that may be) will be equally good, if not better. I didn’t feel a strong connection to the characters until the latter part of the book which was somewhat disappointing, but by the end I was cheering for the Mistral and her crew. I think the improvement in characterization and story pacing as the book progressed speaks to the potential Robyn Bennis has as a writer and The Guns Above was a debut to be proud of.

Currently Reading: 5/1/17

Cover- The Summer Dragon

The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood

I have plans to start on this one asap, as I’ve been looking forward to it since it showed up in my mailbox a couple weeks ago. I missed out on The Summer Dragon‘s debut last year, but now I can catch up before the madness of my June schedule hits!

 

 

Cover- The Republic of Pirates

The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard

The only logic here was “it’s 1.99” and “I like pirates”. Plus, I always feel like I should check out more non-fiction. Reviews are mixed between really interesting and really boring, so we’ll see won’t we!?

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett – Review

Cover- City of Miracles

Published: May 2, 2017

Publisher: Broadway Books

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Divine Cities #3

Pages: 464 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And perhaps most daunting of all finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.


RJB man, this book made me SO SAD. City of Miracles was a very strong installment in the Divine Cities series and I was so happy to finally have a book largely about Sigrud. I wasn’t really expecting what I got from this book and in no way do I mean that negatively. I didn’t have anything specific in mind… but what I read was surprisingly introspective.

Sigrud je Harkvaldsson has been through much in his life. From a painful stint in the worst of prisons to the loss of his daughter and everything in between, Sigrud had begun to feel that he deserves the punishment he has endured and that he would remain in exile the remainder of his life. When news that Ashara Komayd, his former partner and friend, has been assassinated, Sigrud chooses to leave his exile and avenge her death. This is a simple enough task, but it is of course complicated by the fact that a new god seems to be rising in Bulikov and threatens the existence of the only two people Sigrud cares about in this world- Tatyana Komayd and Ivanya, her adopted aunt.

City of Miracles had a good storyline and I thought it was a much more personal story than perhaps the first two simply because there seemed to more of a focus on Sigrud, Tatyana, and Ivanya. There were some emotionally charged scenes and RJB had my eyes welling up with tears on a few occasions throughout. The plot and the new divine villain were done well as expected, though it felt somewhat more shallow than the plot of City of Stairs and City of Blades.

Overall, I thought City of Miracles was a fine installment and think it makes for a nice conclusion to the series (I haven’t been able to find definitive answer on whether this is the final book, but it felt like a conclusion). I would also like to mention that I read this in print/ebook format whereas I had the audio format of the first two books. For me, it worked just as well in print as in audio except now I have a better grasp of how all the names and locations are spelled! I’m pretty pleased with how things turned out and I wholeheartedly recommend this series to anyone who hasn’t had the good fortune to pick it up yet!

RoadFood by Jane and Michael Stern – Review

Cover- Roadfood

Published: March 7, 2017

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Genre: Travel

Pages: 480

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

First published in 1977, the original Roadfood became an instant classic. James Beard said, “This is a book that you should carry with you, no matter where you are going in these United States. It’s a treasure house of information.”

Now this indispensable guide is back, in an even bigger and better edition, covering 500 of the country’s best local eateries from Maine to California. With more than 250 completely new listings and thorough updates of old favorites, the new Roadfood offers an extended tour of the most affordable, most enjoyable dining options along America’s highways and back roads.

Filled with enticing alternatives for chain-weary-travelers, Roadfood provides descriptions of and directions to (complete with regional maps) the best lobster shacks on the East Coast; the ultimate barbecue joints down South; the most indulgent steak houses in the Midwest; and dozens of top-notch diners, hotdog stands, ice-cream parlors, and uniquely regional finds in between. Each entry delves into the folkways of a restaurant’s locale as well as the dining experience itself, and each is written in the Sterns’ entertaining and colorful style. A cornucopia for road warriors and armchair epicures alike, Roadfood is a road map to some of the tastiest treasures in the United States.


This is more of a featurette than review, but here goes. Roadfood is a nice tome of cool restaurants ranging from roadside eateries to more upscale locals around the country. I read through a significant portion of the book, which succeeded in making me ravenously hungry for lobster rolls and tex-mex from the source. Each entry has a neat little description of what’s worthwhile, along with hours, price range, website, and other contact info. If you’re into roadtrips and eating, you might want to check this out, though it’s a bit large for toting around in the car, especially if you’re short on space. I do wish it had some picture of the restaurants and signature dishes, even if they were just scattered around. A few states (especially Nevada) and some areas of states (Virginia and North Carolina) were lacking in options. Overall, this was a neat book and at the very least it gave me some dish ideas.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman – Review

Cover- The Invisible Library

Published: June 14, 2016

Publisher: Roc

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 330 (Paperback)

My Rating: DNF

Synopsis:

Collecting books can be a dangerous prospect in this fun, time-traveling, fantasy adventure from a spectacular debut author.
 
One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.

London’s underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself…


Sadly, The Invisible Library was one book about books that didn’t work for me. After loving Ink and Bone, I wanted to check out something similar and this was my choice. Unfortunately, this particular book was not as well written and it was far too absurd for my tastes. That’s really saying something because I like quirky books and an odd sense of humor. The Invisible Library had far too much going on, with little explanation. I almost immediately DNF’d this because the narration was atrocious. Sorry dear narrator, but you instilled every single sentence with a misplaced sense of drama, your cadence was off, and I’m not actually sure you tried to give the characters unique voices at all. I pushed on through and nearly finished but I concluded that I couldn’t force myself to finish a book that I hated.

Waiting on Wednesday: Soul of the World by David Mealing

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where bloggers feature a book that we just can’t wait to get our hands on!


Cover- Soul of the World

Soul of the World has a synopsis that strikes me as good, classic fantasy and that means tropes. In this case I’m looking forward to them. A new series from a debut author holds such potential- will the tropes make me roll my eyes or will they be done subtly? I’m always down for a chunky new fantasy book and this is high on my radar for June 2017!

Blogger Stats Book Tag

This is a brand new tag created by Stuart from Always Trust In Books, you can find a link to that Stuart’s own tag !!HERE!! Consider checking out his blog if you haven’t already!

The rules as per Always Trust In Books:

This tag is 20 quickfire questions regarding your very own book blog. There are very few rules. Just answer the questions, nominate as many people as you want and have fun doing so.

1). The Last three books you read:

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (review to come)

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (Review)

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett (review to come)

2). Spoilers or Spoiler free?

Mostly spoiler free, but if I get really really excited about a book, I’ll include a spoiler-y section, but with plenty of warning ahead of time.

3). How long have you been book blogging?

It will be 2 years in June 2017

4). A book you read in one sitting?

Cover- Brother's Ruin

There have been many books I’ve read in one sitting…. I think Brother’s Ruin might have been the most recent.

5). Your favourite genre?

Fantasy!!

6). Preferred book size? (novella, tome…etc).

I love a good doorstopper of a book (Words of Radiance), but I generally go for 400-600 pages.

7). Amount of books on your TBR pile?

Unknown – definitely over 30. THE TBR TOWER WILL TOPPLE SOON!

8). A book you have DNF’d?

Cover- The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman is my most recent DNF (review to come). This happens so rarely to me and it’s a little disappointing, but there’s no point in wasting valuable time on something you don’t enjoy.

9). Recent awards or milestones?

I recently had a month with over 1000 page views, which was a huge deal for me!

10). Best interaction with an author you enjoy?

I’ve always had great interactions with Michael J. Sullivan, usually via Goodreads. It’s also great when authors give feedback on reviews of their books whether it’s via Twitter or in another manner.

11). Average number of books you read per month?

9 is about average for me. Yes, this sounds like a TON, but 2-3 of these are audiobooks that I zip through pretty quickly at work and on my commute.

12). Top three publishers?

Tor, Orbit, and… Ace/Roc/DAW because all of these are wonderful to work with!

13). Social media sites your blog uses?

GoodreadsTwitterFacebook

14). Average amount of time you spend networking?

30-45 minutes per day but I wish it were more!

15). Most comfortable blogging position?

Generally in a chair, though I prefer having a table nearby also :p

16). Music or quiet when writing reviews?

It depends. Sometimes I need absolute, perfect silence (think the quietest room in the world) and other times I need something epic like Audiomachine or Two Steps from Hell. My general music taste is more like The Oh Hellos and Kodaline but I can’t listen to words and write. :p

17). Can you sum up your blogging style in 5 words?

What am I even doing? (seriously, I can’t think of adjectives to describe this)

18). A blog you looked up to starting out?

I didn’t have one. I just decided that I wanted to share my reviews, so I made a blog. It wasn’t until I had actually started blogging that I began checking out other reviewers. The gals at Bibliosanctum were really inspiring to me and made me strive to improve!

19). The best book you have reviewed so far?

This is the toughest question- for 2017 I’d have to say Sins of Empire and Kings of the Wyld. For 2016 I think Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series.

20). Best piece of blogging advice?

Before you ever post your first review read and review several books and always have a few reviews lined up. This helps to eliminate the feeling that you’re behind or that you need to rush through books. Quality is important!

I’ll refrain from nominating anyone, but if you’d like to participate feel free to do so!!

Currently Reading: 4/24/17

Cover- The Guns Above

The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

I wasted no time diving in to my newest acquisition from Tor- airships, battle, etc. are all very appealing! So far it’s great and the characters have a droll sense of humor which I really like. At this point I’d also like to go ahead and throw Bernat off the ship and save the drama.

 

 

I’ll also be finishing up Paper and Fire this week and (hopefully) starting another book that’s due for a review!