Recent Reads: January 2016

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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!

2016 is off to a good start reading-wise! Out of the four books I finished in January, I decided to review three – and two of them blew me away. Technically they received the same rating, but my choice for January 2016’s Read of the Month was no contest. In fact, I bet some of you already have an idea of what it might be! 😉

(FYI: I’m taking questions for an interview with one of my WIP’s characters through Tuesday, February 16th! Read here to learn more about Aurek and how to submit your questions.)

Read of the Month: The Martian by Andy Weir

Martian coverThe Martian / Andy Weir
Science Fiction / 434 pages
Rating:
 4.5 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

After loving the film adaptation, I had a feeling I’d enjoy Andy Weir’s novel as well – and in the end, “enjoy” was an understatement. 😀

I think most everyone has heard of The Martian‘s premise by now, so I’ll be brief. Mark Watney, an astronaut / botanist / mechanical engineer, is stranded on Mars after his crew is forced to evacuate while believing he’s dead. Now, Mark must restore communications with NASA and use his skills and science knowledge to survive on the frigid, desert-like planet until he can rescued – which, of course, is a very big “If.”

The Martian‘s greatest strength as a novel? Its narrative voice. Weir writes Mark’s perspective through mission log entries, chronicling every mishap and victory in (so to speak) Mark’s own words. It’s almost as if Mark is speaking directly to the reader; and from his choice of words and the attitudes conveyed, it’s clear this guy is smart, resourceful, relentlessly determined, and so, SO witty. Seriously. I lost track of how often Mark’s sarcasm and random expletives and quips made me laugh out loud. He’s also an accurate portrayal of how astronauts should operate in crisis situations. This article at Space.com (written by a former astronaut) sheds more light on how Mark’s conduct reflects the mindset that astronauts are trained to have should they encounter disaster while in space. And while the commentary is solely on the Martian film, it’s relevant to the book as well, because Mark behaves the same way in both mediums.

Apart from that, The Martian is somewhat omniscient, giving readers the big picture of the massive rescue effort via NASA and Mark’s Earth-bound crewmates. The scientific descriptions get pretty in-depth (which caused non-engineer me to skim those paragraphs), but they’re worded simply enough that most anyone would understand what’s happening. Other descriptions such as setting and character appearance were almost non-existent. That may sound odd, but for The Martian it works because it allows readers to imagine those bits on their own. Otherwise, the additional details would have bogged down an already highly detailed story.

I could go on, but my point is that The Martian is an awesome novel, and the film is one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve ever seen. If you loved the book, go see the movie. And if you loved the movie, read the book. 😉

Other Books I Read in January

Days of Blood & Starlight coverDays of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Book #2) / Laini Taylor
YA Fantasy / 517 pages
Rating: 
4.5 out of 5 (Goodreads / Amazon)

Days of Blood and Starlight finds star-crossed lovers on opposing sides of a centuries-old war. Human-chimaera Karou has replaced her mentor Brimstone as her people’s resurrectionist but feels their trust in her is cracking. The angel Akiva, on the other hand, returns to his army with embers of a dream and the beginnings of a plan. Unfortunately, the chimaera’s and seraphim’s leaders seem to have their own ideas for the war… So, when all is revealed and fate reunites Karou and Akiva, they must decide what they’re most willing to fight for: peace between their races, or ultimate destruction that could impact both Eretz and Earth.

This sequel is nothing like its predecessor. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a whimsical, incandescent tale of love and identity – with a knife-in-heart ending that told me not to expect the same next time around. Now I’m thankful for that mental preparation. Days of Blood and Starlight is dark, bleak, and brutally bloody and violent in parts. It’s a war story that shows how far one will go to save what and whom they love. The story’s world is greatly expanded upon, sweeping readers from the chimaera’s final hiding spots in Eretz, to the ominously beautiful seraph capital of Astrae, to Earth once again and the exotic kasbahs of Morocco. New points of view are brought in as well, allowing us to connect with new characters (I might be a tad in love with Ziri *blushes*), embrace old friends (Zuzana + Mik = HYSTERICAL), and see other returnees from a new perspective (it took a while, but Liraz grew on me).

What hasn’t changed? Laini Taylor’s imaginative flair, vividly rendered world-building, and stunning prose, of course. I had called her a sorceress of words in my review of Daughter, and I still stand by that title now. While I did miss the romance from the first book, my only real complaint about Days is how a couple chimaera attacks on seraphim were mentioned and then dropped completely. Why no reactions like horror, grief, or bewilderment from the victim race? Otherwise, this was a gripping second installment to a trilogy that’s quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites.

Dreams of Gods & Monsters coverDreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Book #3) / Laini Taylor
YA Fantasy / 614 pages
Rating:
 3 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

The war between the chimaera and the seraphim takes a frightening final turn in Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Jael, the new seraph emperor, has brought the conflict to Earth – to implore humanity for help against the “Beasts.” Now, Karou and Akiva find themselves on the same side again, and must maintain a tenuous alliance between their armies in order to defeat the enemy they share. Blood will be shed. Betrayals will unfold. Unfathomable choices will be made. And in the midst of it all, a mysterious stain bruises the sky, bringing a deep foreboding to Eretz – and a certain seraph might be its cause. Will Karou and Akiva’s long-held hope for a world remade – and for a love rekindled – be enough? Or will it all be in vain?

In some ways, I’m not sure what to make of Dreams. I still love the characters, Taylor’s writing is still breathtaking, and the humor is just as uproarious as before. I also like new POV character Eliza, who plays a much bigger role than being humanity’s eyes to the “apocalypse.” However, the literary style and frequent POV switches hindered the storytelling this time around. The first 100 pages dragged, later scenes were slow and overwritten, and some subplots seemed unnecessary. I also still can’t grasp the godstars concept; it doesn’t seem to affect the ending.

The parts of Dreams that did work, though, sparkled with magic. The paranoia on Earth as Jael’s angel army descends, the tenderness and tension between Akiva and Karou, the quivering suspense between their allied forces and how it could break at any moment – and, most importantly, an ending that allowed my heart one final leap of joy. So, yes, I enjoyed Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Not as much as the first two books in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, but it doesn’t change how grateful I am for reading – and falling madly in love with – this series.

What I’m Reading Next

On Friday I finished Maria V. Snyder’s Night Study, which continues her Study series and picks up right where last year’s Shadow Study left off. Now I’m reading an “ARC” of Give In To The Feeling, the debut novelette by one of my blogging friends Sarah Zama. After that… Gosh, I don’t know. *lol* Let’s just say I have quite a few options to choose from!

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

13 thoughts on “Recent Reads: January 2016

  1. Oh, I’m SO chuffed that you liked ‘The Martian’ so much! I, too, absolutely loved it and thought it was the characterisation spot on. I loved ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as a girl and read it several times, so found some striking similarities – particularly that of the nitty gritty detail of the day to day survival details, which really works in such a difficult situation. As for ‘Days of Blood and Starlight’ – I’ve just finished reading it – phew! Himself couldn’t get through it. He’s having a rather tough February work-wise and just found it too unremittingly bleak. I particularly love her writing, but the world has turned really dark, hasn’t it? I’ve got ‘Dreams of Gods and Monsters’ by my bedside and am giving myself a bit of a break before tucking into it. It was certainly a good January, though – what a strong crop of books you read:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • 😀 😀 It was impossible to not like The Martian, especially after loving the movie and seeing how closely they followed both the plot and Mark’s character. And the book’s first three lines… XD XD It didn’t matter that they contained profanity. They’re three of the best opening lines I’ve ever read in a book! *lol*

      Yeah, Days of Blood and Starlight is rather bleak, but I honestly wasn’t surprised, especially after how Daughter of Smoke and Bone ended. Second books in trilogies tend to be darker than the first book – though it still surprised me with how violent was in spots.

      Giving yourself a short break before Dreams of Gods and Monsters isn’t a bad idea. It’s not bleak or dark like Days, but it’s definitely… complex.

      Thanks for stopping by, Sarah! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked “The Martian” too, it was a very entertaining read! Aside the narrative voice, I really enjoyed the scientific part of it. I like when science in sci-fi feels “real”.
    As for the other books, I’ve been eyeing “Daughter of Bone and Smoke” several times, but ultimately I always give it a pass, I’m not a fan of either YA or urban fantasy (or I guess more contemporary fantasy in this case). But maybe one day curiosity will get the better of me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The science in The Martian felt real to me as well. I’m no expert when it comes to mechanics, technology, space, etc., so I had to “take the author’s word for it.” But the descriptions of what Mark Watney had to do in Mars to survive were so detailed, it was impossible to not believe it.

      Daughter of Smoke and Bone is actually one of those YA novels that has a strong appeal to adult audiences. Laini Taylor’s writing is a big reason why. It’s vivid, mature, fluid, ethereal… Did you read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus? The story is completely different from Daughter, but if you like the quality of Erin’s writing in The Night Circus, you might appreciate Laini Taylor’s as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard of The Night Circus, but haven’t read it yet. Though it’s not the writing that discourages me from YA (I read both, for having a literary feast and for sheer joy and entertainment 🙂 ). Lack of research, plot cliches, and MCs behavior are the things that discourage me from YA.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so thrilled that you enjoyed the Martian! I was actually really nervous when they announced they were making a movie because I was really skeptical they’d pull off that balance between humor and suspense, but they nailed it 🙂

    And I felt the same way about the DoSaB trilogy. Love it as a whole, but yeah the ending was a relative let down compared to how strongly the series started! I still love Laini Taylor though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I loved every minute of The Martian! Especially the first three lines. I laughed so hard because they’re so perfectly Mark Watney. XD

      Same here about Laini Taylor’s work. I really want to read Strange The Dreamer when it comes out this fall, and I need to get my hands on the second Faeries of Dreamdark book. Blackbringer was so much fun!

      Thanks for stopping by,Mogsy! 🙂

      Like

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