Recent Reads: March 2016

Recent Reads banner

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

Walk On Earth A StrangerWalk On Earth A Stranger (The Gold Seer Trilogy, Book #1) / Rae Carson
YA Historical Fantasy / 434 pages
Rating:
 4.75 out of 5 (Goodreads / Amazon)

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

Big Magic coverBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear / Elizabeth Gilbert
Nonfiction-Inspiration-Creativity / 273 pages
Rating:
 4.5 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

Wise Mans Fear coverThe Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicles, Book #2) / Patrick Rothfuss
Epic Fantasy / 1000 pages
Rating:
4.5 out of 5 (Goodreads / Amazon)

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?

37 thoughts on “Recent Reads: March 2016

  1. I’m delighted you found the Rothfuss such a fulfilling read – it certainly is remarkable, isn’t it? The other two reads look fascinating. I haven’t read Eat Pray Love – but I have read The Signature of All Things, which is a fabulous historical novel, beautifully written. I’m guessing anything she has to say on the subject of creativity would be worth taking notice of; and the goldrush fantasy twist looked thoroughly intriguing. Given It’s been a really good month for you! As for the Jacey Bedford – I attended a workshop on submitting work to agents that she ran at Bristolcon a couple of years ago. She is a really down to earth, grounded person who is very generous with her advice and I MUST get hold of her book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely agree with you on The Wise Man’s Fear, Sarah. I think I was scared of not liking it because of my previous experience with super-long books… But it has all the strengths of The Name of the Wind and then some. What also made TWMF so much fun was “buddy-reading” it with a friend. We’d chat about it on Twitter – speculate, ask for each other’s opinions on things, gush about what we loved, etc. We also might have developed an inside joke or two along the way… *lol*

      I’ve yet to read Eat Pray Love myself, but after reading Big Magic I might have to make the former a priority for 2017 (if I don’t get to it this year).

      Winterwood was just OK. I’ll go into more detail in my review next month, but IMO the story didn’t live up to its premise. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I LOVED Lament (and Ballad, the second book). And I’m a huge PR fan. I agree, The Wise Man’s Fear was much slower, but there are some simply wonderful scenes in that book that were so dreamy, I couldn’t help but love it. Glad you loved Walk on Earth too! I can’t wait to see what happens next:-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay! Now you’ve made me for excited for Lament. 😀

      I remember you saying that about The Wise Man’s Fear before. Have you read The Slow Regard of Silent Things, btw? I want to read that before the final Kingkiller book comes out (whenever that might be… ), and I’ve heard that it’s sort of a character study on Auri.

      Same here for Like A River Glorious. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Plus, THAT COVER. *loves it*

      Thanks for stopping by, Tammy!

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  3. I’m so pleased you enjoyed Walk on Earth a Stranger! I think one of your key points, that it didn’t read like your typical YA fantasy, was one of its greatest strengths and why I enjoyed it so much. I’m pretty burned out by the rebel-heroine-meets-her-prince-in-a-magical-land storyline so to have a down to earth historical novel with only a light trace of speculative element was a breath of fresh air.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Walk on Earth sounds really good. I love books that blend historical and fantasy. Another one for my TBR. 🙂 I keep seeing about Throne of Glass on varying blpgs and vlogs that I follow. I’ll be interested to hear your take on it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely agree with you on Walk On Earth A Stranger. It’s such a wonderful story – and in the end, the story itself is the most important part. Sure, magic gives it an extra sparkle, but it’s not necessarily crucial. I wouldn’t be surprised if Leah has more opportunities to use her powers in the sequel, though. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by, Alise!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m interested to see what you think of Lament. I’ve been considering reading it for awhile.

    And of course you know that I loved The Wise Man’s Fear and Walk on Earth a Stranger. I’m glad that you enjoyed all three books!

    I didn’t read much – I was too busy! I just finished The Star-Touched Queen, and I plan on reviewing it if I have time. (4 stars, just in case you wondered). I’m also reading a book on skin-care by a Korean American beauty blogger. It’s far more interesting than I anticipated, to be honest, 😛
    I have so many other books to read, I don’t know where to start!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I’m two books away from Lament at this point – after The Immortals, which will come after Sabriel (which I’m hoping to finish tonight). Thank you for recommending that last book, btw. I’ve really enjoyed it so far. 🙂

      I’d love to read your thoughts on The Star-Touched Queen. That’s one of the YA fantasies I’ve had my eye on lately… But after being burned by a few much-hyped books from that genre in the past year, I’ve been really hesitant to pre-order debut novels unless I know other people enjoyed them. :S

      Like

      • Here’s the thing about The Star-Touched Queen – I thought the writing was beautiful, I loved the MC, and I absolutely adored the Indian Mythology setting/elements. However, I have read SO MANY good Cupid & Psyche/Hades & Persephone/Beauty & the Beast/Bluebeard retellings that I’m still trying to evaluate this book on it’s own and not as one of those. They tend to get kind of jumbled together in my brain. To be honest, The Star-Touched Queen reminded me a lot of Cruel Beauty (since they are retelling the exact same story in a similar way). It didn’t blow my mind, but I think that the author deserves more than just being compared to similar books, if that makes sense? So I’m still processing. ;P

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gotcha. I haven’t read Cruel Beauty, or many Beauty & the Beast adaptations for that matter. But I’m definitely leaning toward checking out The Star-Touched Queen to find out what I’m missing. 😉

        Like

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