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!
At first glance, March might not look like it was a productive reading month. (That’s what happens when you read a 1,000-page book!) However, all three books I finished were nothing short of AMAZING, so I can’t wait to tell you about them. 🙂
That, of course, made picking my Read of the Month a real challenge. All three are deserving of the title for different reasons. But in the end, I chose…
Read of the Month: Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson
One of the most authentic historical fantasies I’ve ever read, Walk On Earth A Stranger brings a touch of magic to Gold Rush-era America. Leah Westfall has the unique ability to sense gold – and only her immediate family knows she has this ability. But when Leah’s family is murdered and her uncle Hiram reveals that he knows her secret, Leah disguises herself as a boy and flees west for California, where gold has just been discovered. The trek will be dangerous, though. One could run into thieves, disease, starvation, or wild animals – and anyone could be hunting for Leah to bring her back to her uncle. Can she and her best friend Jefferson survive the journey while hiding her gold-sensing and her true identity?
In some ways, Walk On Earth A Stranger differs from a typical YA fantasy. The main antagonist (Leah’s uncle) is out of the picture for most of the story. Thus, most of the “antagonism” comes from supporting characters and the harsh wilderness Leah travels through. There’s also a greater focus on relationships and interpersonal conflicts than action (as in fighting or violence, though a couple injury scenes are a bit graphic); and the only traces of romance is a slow-burning promise for later books. As a result, this story is mostly about survival, trust, and proving one’s worth. And if you can look past the expectations you typically have for YA fantasy, you’ll discover this tale’s true beauty.
Because oh my goodness, Walk On Earth A Stranger is wonderful. The historical details bring mid-19th century Midwestern American to life and ring true to my memories of adventure games like Oregon Trail and Yukon Trail. I absolutely loved Leah, too. She’s hard-working, tenacious, and fair-minded; and her narrative voice is flavored with a genuine Southern twang without an overly strong dialect. Rae Carson also writes in a way that allows readers to experience Leah’s journey with her. I felt her fears, joys, anguish, and terror, to the point that I almost cried three-quarters of the way through. This really is a beautifully written, thoroughly researched book, and one that stands tall and proud in its uniqueness. Readers who are fans of Oregon / Yukon Trail and Little House on the Prairie or don’t mind history with a brush of fantasy shouldn’t miss out on this.
Other Books I Read In March
Creativity can be a vast and elusive topic to explore. Yet in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert (best known for Eat Pray Love) embraces the subject with passion, humor, and boundless joy. Each section brims with wisdom from Gilbert’s own experiences (successes, failures, and lessons from all) and the perspectives of other creative individuals, from fellow authors to artists, musicians, and teachers. At the core of it all, though, is the idea of “magic” – a nebulous yet fulfilling blend of curiosity, courage, and spirituality. And by taking Gilbert’s guidance to heart, readers can find their own ways of incorporating more “magic” into their lives and become their most empowered, creative selves.
It’s difficult to review a book like Big Magic, since its material is so subjective and its audience so specific. However, as a writer pursuing her dreams on the side, I can relate to Gilbert’s messages. So. MUCH. Reading Big Magic was like seeing many of my own feelings and attitudes about creativity acknowledged in print. I also love a number of the new insights Gilbert offered, and how she structured the book into sections based on traits that can help readers foster their creativity. Her frankness takes some getting used to, but her enthusiasm, grace, and sincerity gives the writing a warm, sparkling energy that beckons you to laugh, smile, or gasp in wonder.
Not all readers will agree with Gilbert’s wisdom. A couple of her points don’t align with my own beliefs on creativity. Some reviewers have also misinterpreted Gilbert’s spirituality angle, saying that she calls creativity a kind of religion. I understand Gilbert’s stance, since I too feel a spiritual connection with my craft – and not once did I feel like she was deifying the subject. So, while I highly recommend Big Magic, it’s not a book for everyone. The right people, however, will glean gold and gems from this meditation / coaching session / treasure trove, and come away feeling inspired and ready to embark on their dreams.
I was terrified of reading The Wise Man’s Fear at first. My luck with 900+ page books tends to be hit-or-miss; and after loving Patrick Rothfuss’s first Kingkiller book The Name of the Wind, I didn’t want to stop loving the series because of a drawn-out case of “second-book syndrome.” Now I’m relieved, because I enjoyed The Wise Man’s Fear more than I’d anticipated.
The Wise Man’s Fear continues Kvothe’s first-hand account of his life, with sporadic interludes bringing us back to the present. We learn more about Kvothe’s first year at the University, the friendships and rivalries he formed there, and his stumbles with the one girl he loves but can never have. Life turns upside-down, though, when he’s forced to take a temporary leave from school. But that doesn’t mean the year Kvothe spends on the road isn’t interesting. In fact, he gets embroiled in courtly politics, leads a band of mercenaries along the King’s Road, is lured into the Fae realm, and learns the Taoist-like ways of the Ademre fighters. All the while, Kvothe searches for information on the Chandrian (who had killed his parents in Name), acquiring whatever skills and knowledge might help him in the long run – and carving his name into his world’s legendry.
To keep this brief: I loved The Wise Man’s Fear just as much as I loved The Name of the Wind. The world-building continues to be deeply layered; and Rothfuss’s writing is still lyrical and brilliant, brimming with wisdom, emotion, and laugh-out-loud humor. The pacing slows in spots, hence the less-than-perfect rating. But with every twist in Kvothe’s life, there’s a sense that everything he learns and does, and everywhere he goes, is bringing him one step closer to his destiny. The back-to-present interludes where Kvothe isn’t telling his story carry their own suspense, too. It’s hard to explain without giving away spoilers – but I have a feeling that big things are coming, in both Kvothe’s past and present, for Book 3.
So. Yeah. The Wise Man’s Fear was awesome. Don’t let its length scare you. 😉
What I’m Reading Next
I finished Jacey Bedford’s Winterwood two nights ago and am starting Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass next. I’m also hoping to fit in Jordanna Max Brodsky’s The Immortals and Maggie Stiefvater’s Lament this month. Maggie is actually stopping at a local indie bookseller for her Raven King book tour in May, so if I like Lament I might try to attend that event.
What books did you recently read? Have you read any of the titles mentioned above?