Recent Reads: January 2014

Yikes! Six months since my previous Recent Reads article? I guess I really am a slow reader. (*lol*) Anyways, I have five more books to review, and I think you’ll notice a pattern with the genres. Here we go!

Tolkein Children of Hurin cover 

The Children Of Húrin
J.R.R. Tolkein
Fantasy
3.5 / 5

One of Tolkein’s many unpublished works completed by his son and literary executor Christopher, The Children of Húrin is a dark, bleak tale of loyalty, family, and prophecy that takes place over 6,000 years before the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, captures Húrin at the end of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. When Húrin defies the Dark Lord, Morgoth curses Húrin’s children, son Túrin and unborn daughter Niënor. The novel mostly follows Túrin’s life from adolescence through adulthood, as he eludes Orcs, the dragon Glaurung, and other Dark creatures for years. What proves to be his downfall, though, are the choices he makes that often result in pain and suffering for those around him. It’s interesting to read a Tolkein novel after reading so many works by contemporary fantasy authors. Tolkein’s mythic style of storytelling is simple and lacks the expressiveness and suspense that I’ve grown accustomed to. But that doesn’t lessen The Children of Húrin’s impact on the reader: What happens after Túrin and Niënor finally meet will haunt you for days.

 Wesley The Owl cover

Wesley The Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl
Stacey O’Brien
Memoir
4.5 / 5

After seeing this book on store shelves several times and wondering why I hadn’t caved to buy it because of its adorable cover, I finally bought it. And I loved it. Wesley The Owl is the story of former Caltech biologist Stacey O’Brien and the barn owl she adopted (he couldn’t be released into the wild because of nerve damage in one wing) and named Wesley. For 19 years, O’Brien cared for Wesley and studies his vocalizations, mannerisms, and quirks. I’m not kidding when I say “quirks.” This little guy truly had a personality: curious, stubborn, and loving and fiercely protective of his owner. Readers will fall for this beautiful creature with a big soul and absorb every fact and tidbit they learn about barn owls. The only reason why I didn’t give this book a perfect grade were the odd grammatical problems and choppy paragraph transitions. Otherwise, Wesley The Owl is a heartwarming read about the deep bonds that humans can share with animals and will make you laugh, cheer, and cry right to the very end.

A Storm Of Swords cover

A Storm Of Swords
George R.R. Martin
Fantasy
3.5 / 5

Where to begin? So many plotlines intertwine throughout A Storm Of Swords, the third installment of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy saga Song Of Fire And Fire, that it’s impossible to review the book in one paragraph. Readers dive head-first into a continent riddled with war, secrets, lies, dirty politics, broken alliances, betrayal, and – yes – corpses rising from the dead. Not to mention the vulgarity, sex, and shocking deaths that make this series so bloody fun (no pun intended). Jaime Lannister has joined Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Tyrion as one of my favorite POV characters in the series. His voice exudes sarcasm and passion (in the broad sense, not just passion for Cersei), and you never quite know what to expect from him. And now that his character arc is finally progressing, I can’t wait to see how Jaime continues to evolve.

Why only 3.5 stars? The story overwhelms me too much. Every time I read another chapter, I have to remind myself that the series is far from over. Yet, both my logical and imaginative sides crave closure already. How will Martin tie together all these lives and storylines in the end? Or will the entire cast except for Lord Varys die in a gory mess and he become the new king? (With all those “little birds” he claims to have, you never know.) This is probably the opposite reaction of what most other Martin fans experienced after finishing A Storm Of Swords. It’s my honest opinion, but with four books to go (only two of them published) I can’t and won’t give up on this series yet.

I Knew Youd Be Lovely cover

I Knew You’d Be Lovely
Alethea Black
Short Stories
5 / 5

And what a lovely surprise this was! Sometimes I buy a book because its title or front cover calls to me. (Of course I read the back cover summary and flip through the book as well before purchasing.) Alethea Black’s I Knew You’d Be Lovely may be one of the best book discoveries I’ve made using that method. It contains thirteen short stories with memorable characters, effortless prose, and common threads of love, search for the self, and life-changing decisions. Each story, however, is a world of its own. A struggling songwriter reunites divorced hitmakers to write one more tune together while he mulls over his own relationship. A father takes his emotionally detached teenage son on a camping trip in hopes of reconnecting. A Briton still in love with his ex spends New Year’s Eve at a friend’s party in NYC. Black presents these and other conflicts of the heart with grace, insight, and edge. Her mature yet easy-to-read writing style allows the reader to root for and sympathize with her characters. Even if you don’t usually read short stories, I highly recommend I Knew You’d Be Lovely. You won’t be the same when you finish reading this book, and you’ll be grateful for that.

Storm Glass cover

Storm Glass
Maria V. Snyder
Young Adult Fantasy
3.5 / 5

Storm Glass is one of Maria Snyder’s many books to take place in the fantasy realms of Ixia and Sitia. In this book, gifted glassmaker Opal Cowan struggles with her seeming lack of magical powers as well as an increasingly deceptive world. When the Stormdancer clan’s glass orbs have been sabotaged and their most powerful magicians killed, Opal is tasked to find out why and to prevent such disaster from happening again. However, no mission ever goes according to plan, and not everyone is who they seem to be. Gradually, Opal learns to trust herself and to stop belittling herself for her “limited” magical capabilities – which turn out to be much more potent that she could have ever imagined. What I personally like about Storm Glass, and Snyder’s writing style in general, is Snyder’s use of “showing versus telling” at the right moments. She illustrates emotion through characters’ actions as well as Opal’s internal sensations. Plus, Storm Glass is told in first-person instead of third-person, as most fantasy novels are. I’ve been looking for first-person fantasy novels for ages, and the use of this POV in Storm Glass allows the reader to experience Opal’s doubts and conflicts with her.

Where Storm Glass cracks is its plot. It’s like a patchwork quilt with uncoordinated squares: The events of Storm Glass are pieced together, but it’s difficult to understand how until the very end – and even then, some plot points still seem episodic. Other plot points seemed unnecessary (Opal’s torture scenes do nothing except make one’s stomach churn) or made no sense (if the young Stormdancer Kade is such a pivotal character, why leave him out for 150 pages and then have him embark on a disappearing-reappearing act?). Also, Snyder never hints at whether Storm Glass takes place in the past, present, or future. The settings had a primitive / medieval feel, while the characters’ speech suggested a time more modern. All that said, Snyder still transported readers to a fascinating land of seacoast cliffs, blacklist markets, and northern ice shafts, and where glass holds the key to both magic and danger. I look forward to reading the rest of Opal’s journey in Sea Glass and Spy Glass, but I really do hope their plots hold together more sensibly.

Coming Soon: Check back here tomorrow for the start of Mini-Review Mondays!

6 thoughts on “Recent Reads: January 2014

  1. Pingback: Recent Reads: “A Feast For Crows” by George R.R. Martin | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  2. Pingback: Recent Reads: “Poison Study” by Maria V. Snyder | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  3. Pingback: Recent Reads: “The Silmarillion” by J.R.R. Tolkien | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  4. Pingback: Recent Reads: “A Dance With Dragons” by George R.R. Martin | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  5. Pingback: The Liebster Award Challenge | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  6. Pingback: A Writing Study on Assassins, Flashbacks, and Emotions (A Guest Post & Giveaway by Fantasy Author Maria V. Snyder) | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

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