Recent Reads: July 2015 (Plus, I’m Back from #WDC15!)

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Recent Reads is a monthly reading wrap-up, with mini-reviews of all the books I finished in the past month. I’ll also share what I’m currently reading and any other books that are in the pipeline. Want to share your bookish happenings, too? Feel free to do so in the Comments section at the end!

Back from my blogging hiatus! 🙂 And WOW, Writer’s Digest Conference was AWESOME! I don’t even know where to begin with describing what an invaluable experience it was. So, all I’ll say for now is that I’ll be writing two articles’ worth (possibly three) of conference coverage for DIY MFA.  It sounds like a lot, but I’ve been so “in the zone” that each piece seemed to write itself in a fingersnap. Unfortunately, this means I won’t have time for a Field Trip post here at the blog – but I’ll do a special edition of Stacking The Shelves instead.  Stay tuned for that on Saturday!

Now, Recent Reads. Last month’s debut of the new format went amazingly well. I’m so glad that readers enjoyed the shorter reviews, and that you’ve been understanding of the change in format. Today I’d like to add one more feature that takes advantage of the shorter reviews: Read of the Month, which highlights my favorite book from the past month. That way, you won’t have to search for the highest rating or most positive review. 😉

So, what did I choose as my Read of the Month? What other books did I devour, figuratively speaking? Find out below!

Read of the Month: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Ironskin cover croppedIronskin (Ironskin Trilogy, Book #1) / Tina Connolly
Steampunk Fantasy / 302 pages
Rating:
4 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

Fey curses leave lingering, supernatural scars on their human victims in Tina Connolly’s Ironskin, a Victorian-era steampunk fantasy twist on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. This doesn’t follow the original classic verbatim. Rather, it takes the governess-employer love story and morphs into its own tale. Jane Eliot is a complex protagonist, fierce yet painfully insecure about the iron mask that hides her scarred cheek and keeps her curse-induced rage at bay. The girl in her charge may be fey cursed as well, but in a very different way. Their unique bond, along with Jane’s feelings for the girl’s father Edward Rochart, leads Jane on a series of discoveries about magic, beauty, and the price one is willing to pay to heal from the past.

It’s hard to summarize what I enjoyed most about Ironskin, because the highlights kept adding up. The subtle nods to the original story, Jane as a fascinating heroine, Edward’s tragic backstory and ghastly occupation (which helps to catalyze the plot), technology powered by fey magic… Where do I stop? Connolly’s lyrical writing style and impressive world-building also enhance the haunting atmospheres and gothic overtones. I wasn’t too crazy about the romance between Jane and Edward; I couldn’t tell why they were attracted to one another. But the rapport between Jane and little Dorie tugged at my heart, and really made Ironskin a joy to read. This may be less industrial than most steampunks, but if you like intrigue, dark ambiance, and character-centric fantasies, this one comes highly recommended.

Other Books I Read in July

Falconer coverThe Falconer (The Falconer, #1) / Elizabeth May
YA Steampunk Fantasy / 373 pages
Rating:
3.5 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

“An 18-year-old debutante in 19th century steampunk Scotland kills faeries to avenge her mother’s death.” How’s that for a one-sentence blurb? And this action-packed rollercoaster ride lives up to its promise for the most part. Elizabeth May does a fantastic job of painting a landscape of aristocratic life in a dreary Scotland winter with airships, steam-powered carriages, tea dispensers, and other contraptions. The various faery species come from Scottish mythology (and with Scottish Gaelic names!), making the world even more authentic. Aileana is also quite a fascinating protagonist. A budding inventress with a formal upbringing and a knack for sarcasm, she stumbles against society’s expectations as she maintains her single-minded focus to destroy the baobhan sith who killed her mother.

Even though The Falconer is marketed as YA, it has good crossover potential because its avoids many common YA tropes. The romance does border on “love triangle” territory, but never quite gets there. (Though I wasn’t thrilled with who Aileana eventually “chose.”) And apart from a desire to see some of the supporting characters fleshed out more, the only real problem I had with The Falconer was THAT ENDING. It’s like said rollercoaster from the first paragraph races to its peak – and then the track disappears, leaving the reader in complete and utter mid-air suspension. It’s abrupt, unfinished, and kind of infuriating. Yet it doesn’t kill my desire to know what happens next. I’ve heard the sequel, The Vanishing Throne, has a UK release date, so I hope North America gets one soon!

Wrath and the Dawn coverThe Wrath and the Dawn / Renee Ahdieh
YA Historical Fantasy / 388 pages
Rating: 
 3.75 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

A feast for the senses! Renee Ahdieh’s debut novel The Wrath and the Dawn whisks readers away to a Middle Eastern-inspired desert realm where a young king chooses a new bride each day, only to execute her by the next sunrise. Sixteen-year-old Shahrzad is determined to break the cycle, and volunteers to wed Khalid with the plan to avenge the murder of her best friend and all the other girls before. It’s loosely based on the epic Arabian Nights, with Shazi spinning two of its most famous tales early on. But it has a life of its own, one full of mystery, romance, and exquisite details that makes every aroma, flavor, and color rich and real.

The Wrath and the Dawn is more of a low fantasy love story than a true fantasy. Magic only comes in hints, and is never really explained. In hindsight, I would have preferred that over the emphasis on romance. But the sumptuous world-building just about compensates for it, and so does Shazi. What a spitfire! She’s gutsy, feisty, and as calculating as lifelong royalty, but with a soul teeming with emotion. She disappointed me a bit in the end, though; I would have expected her to put up more of a fight. But this was still was a riveting read that left me breathless – and eager for what’s to come in The Rose and the Dagger next year!

StolenSongbirdStolen Songbird (Malediction Trilogy, Book #1) / Danielle L. Jensen
YA Fantasy / 469 pages
Rating:
 3.5 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

I won Stolen Songbird from a giveaway at Books, Bones & Buffy earlier this year (thanks again, Tammy!), and I’m happy that I finally made time to read it. This first installment of the Malediction Trilogy follows burgeoning singer Cecile de Troyes as she’s kidnapped and sold to trolls who are cursed to live under the nearby mountains. At first, Cecile’s only focus is on her escape. But after she’s forced to marry the troll prince Tristan and learns about his people’s plight, the more she sympathizes with them – and the more she comes to understand her own powers as a witch.

I love fictional worlds that are captivating and unique, and Stolen Songbird delivers on that front with its French influences, illuminating magic system (literally!), and a focus on a supernatural race that’s not often covered in YA fantasy. The story was more of a romance than I was expecting, but not in a bad way. Cecile and Tristan’s disputes (sometimes a charade for political reasons, other times real) were often funny and offered a fresh dynamic to the plot. The pretentious yet deeply conflicted Prince Tristan also shocked me by becoming my favorite character. The writing was strong but felt rushed at times; and I wasn’t too keen on the ending, since Cecile didn’t get a chance to prove herself, IMO. But overall, Stolen Songbird is a solid, engaging story with plenty of surprises and potential to appeal to older readers as well as teens. Time to get my hands on Hidden Huntress now!

Tehran Moonlight coverTehran Moonlight / Azin Sametipour
Self-Published Contemporary Fiction / 268 pages
Rating:
 3.5 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

I discovered Azin Sametipour’s debut novel Tehran Moonlight at The Muse & The Marketplace back in May. Good thing I bought it based on its captivating blurb – because it won the conference’s Authors In The House Contest for self-published authors!

Set in Iran’s capital city, Tehran Moonlight follows 23-year-old violin teacher Mahtab as she falls for an Iranian-American man and struggles with her family’s rigid traditionalism via an arranged marriage to another man. This is not a love triangle story by any means. Instead, it’s about a young Muslim woman who wants to pursue her heart’s desires in both life purpose and love and experiences cultural oppression while doing so (the most graphic examples being a couple instances of sexual and/or physical abuse).

Tehran Moonlight was incredibly eye-opening for me. I know little about Iran except for what I hear on the news, and Sametipour’s portrayal is astonishing. It contrasts how some families remain strict about women’s rights with how others are more tolerant and open-minded, all while their country embraces a modern, consumerism-based society. Mahtab is also a fascinating protagonist. She’s outspoken, courageous, and persistent – traits that aren’t always respected by other characters. She also maintains a strong sense of self-respect and encourages others to follow their dreams. Sometimes the dialogue comes across as puerile, and many of the supporting characters are one-dimensional. However, Sametipour still excels with telling a jaw-dropping, heart-wrenching story with Tehran Moonlight, and delivers it with unblinking frankness and sincerity.

What I’m Reading Next

I was able to get a copy of N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy Omnibus at Writer’s Digest Conference this past weekend (!!!!!!), so I already dove in to the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I’m about halfway through, and so far it’s really good! My other priorities this month are Siren’s Fury by Mary Weber, Faerie Wars by Herbie Brennan, and Dolor and Shadow by Angela B. Chrysler.

How about you? What books did you recently read? Have you read any of the titles mentioned above?

29 thoughts on “Recent Reads: July 2015 (Plus, I’m Back from #WDC15!)

  1. Welcome back Sara! Can’t wait to read your recaps of the conference, and to see your book haul on Saturday:-) Oh I know what you mean about the ending to The Falconer…crazy! I haven’t seen a US release date (or cover) yet, but I’m chomping at the bit to get my hands on that book:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Welcome back! And I am totally looking forward to your write ups of the conference! I have no aspirations to be a writer, but I do write a lot for fun, so I’d be very interested to see any tips or interesting advice you picked up!

    And I’m so glad to see you enjoyed Ironskin so much, I’ve only read the sequel so I have to go back to read that one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mogsy! It’s a lot to sum up, that’s for sure. The articles will mostly focus on quotes that resonated with me (and there were a lot) and common themes that were discussed throughout the conference. In some ways they’ll only scratch the surface of what I learned while I was there… But I also don’t want to give away too much, only enough to entice writers into possibly going next year. 🙂

      What did you think of Copperhead, btw? I’ve heard it’s from Jane’s sister’s perspective, and she was the only character in Ironskin who got on my nerves a little. So I’m a little concerned what I’ll think of it when I read it…

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    • The Falconer is a good steampunk, too. If you don’t mind endings that feel like the rug yanked out from underneath you, of course… But that one really dug into the more technological side of steampunk more than Ironskin did, so it was super interesting. Ironskin was more about ambiance and atmosphere. Not that I minded, since I enjoyed that book more overall, but Elizabeth May went much deeper into the actual steampunk side of things than Tina Connolly did.

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  3. Looking forward to reading about WDC15 in due course and I enjoyed reading about your recent reads – and delighted you’re enjoying Jemisin’s first book. Ironskin does sound very tempting…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m really curious about the Ironskin, but with so little time to read (and a long backlog of books) I never got around to it (but you reminded me to put it on my “Want to read” Goodreads list – thank you!). The other books sparked my interest too, but I’m not very keen on YA novels, I think I’m not really a target for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmmm, somehow I meant to write a much longer comment than I did, so I’m not sure what happened to the rest of it…

      I can understand why some adults might hesitate to read YA novels. But some I’ve read over the years transcend their target age group expectations and appeal to older readers. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a beautiful example, off the top of my head. Its central character is a teenager girl, but the overall storyline (growing up in Nazi Germany during WWII) and some of its themes (war, death, friendship, love of reading, compassion / humanity) make it a very layered, emotionally mature YA story. Maybe that explains why it’s still on the New York Times YA Bestseller list for almost 130 consecutive weeks…

      If you are ever interested in reading more mature / upper-level YA reads, I’d be happy to offer recommendations.

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    • I’ve only read one of those books so far (well, one story from the Inheritance Trilogy Omnibus); the others I’ll spread out over the next couple months.

      Aren’t the covers pretty? 🙂 I especially like the covers from the M.J. Rose and N.K. Jemisin.

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