Recent Reads: May 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!

You know what I realized while finishing this post? Next month is July, when writers and bloggers celebrate the year’s halfway point by looking past on their 2016 reads and achievements so far. I’m not ready for that yet! :S

Mind-boggles aside, I managed to read five books during May. Out of those five, I’m reviewing four, including two brand-new YA fantasies, an eerie children’s classic about the Fey / Fair Folk, and a novella collection set in one of the most popular fantasy worlds at the moment. Which one was my Read of the Month? Let’s find out!

By the way, I’m still taking votes and suggestions for next month’s blogoversary! Click here to check out the poll and share your feedback before Thursday, June 16th.

Read of the Month: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

Knight of Seven Kingdoms coverA Knight of the Seven Kingdoms / George R.R. Martin
Epic Fantasy / 355 pages
Rating:
 4.25 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

Before Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, and Ned Stark were born, there was A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Ser Duncan the Tall, a hedge knight with origins unknown even to him, travels the continent of Westeros in search of lords who need an extra swordsman. His squire is a mystery, too – a young, shaven-head boy who goes by the nickname Egg, but is really Prince Aegon Targaryen. And in this trio of novellas, which is complemented by Gary Gianni’s stunning illustrations, readers learn how this unlikely pair meets, watch their relationship grow, and discover what both characters are willing to do for one another.

I struggled with A Dance With Dragons last year because of its length, overabundance in detail, and the “grimdark” aspects wearing on me. Knight‘s novellas, however, are collectively a fresh drink of water. I loved both lead characters for different reasons. Ser Duncan (a.k.a. Dunk) isn’t the sharpest blade on the belt, but he’s humble, stubbornly loyal, and admirably courageous. And Egg is full of personality: bright, daring, and too outspoken for his own good. Together, they offer a candid, wide-eyed perspective into a land where morality and chivalry are often rejected for personal pleasure and agenda.

As for the novellas, each builds on the history that fans may already know about Westeros, with more insight into the reign of House Targaryen. And, each is delightfully entertaining thanks to Egg’s youthful bluntness (seriously, he can be so funny!) and Dunk’s knack for getting in over his head. “The Sworn Sword” is my favorite, with subtle romance and Dunk’s steadfastness despite being caught in a web of deception. The other two stories are also very good, though they suffer from long-winded description. And with few scene breaks (and no chapter breaks), sometimes it took too long to feel like I could come up for air. But the characters and the gorgeously detailed illustrations make A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms more than worthwhile. This is seriously the most fun I’ve had in Westeros in a while – unless you count the Game of Thrones TV show, of course. 😉

Other Books I Read in May

Rose and Dagger coverThe Rose and the Dagger (The Wrath and the Dawn, Book #2) / Renee Ahdieh
YA Middle Eastern Fantasy-Romance / 416 pages
Rating:
 3 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

In this sequel to last year’s The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh brings us back to the desert-land love story between a cursed boy-king and the wife who once wanted to kill him out of revenge. Khalid and Shahrzad are now apart, after Shazi was taken from him and forced to reunite with her family and a spurned lover who wants Khalid dead. With war against the neighboring kingdom (ruled by Khalid’s uncle) looming and her father playing with ancient, destructive magic, Shazi knows she can’t afford to wait. So, she strikes out on her own to learn more about the powers she’s discovered within her – and to find a way to break Khalid’s curse, once and for all.

Most everyone I know who’s read The Rose and the Dagger has loved it. Me? Well… I loved the first half of it. The tension between Shazi and her family, the increased presence of magic (and magic carpet rides!), the continued use of lavish sensory details that bring the Middle-Eastern inspired world to life – no wonder I had a hard time putting this down at first! There’s less room for romance as a result of the new conflicts, but I didn’t mind. And to watch Shazi refuse to be a victim, and proactively seek ways to learn about her powers and help Khalid, was both thrilling and consistent with her character.

The second half, though… I’m still shaking my head over it. Ahdieh resorted to a lot of telling and summarizing of intriguing “off-page” moments that would have been great to see “on-page” instead. Some of the time jumps between chapters were jarring, too, and forced me to re-read the previous page to reorient myself. What disappointed me most, though, was the book’s ending. It relied more on politics and secondary characters than Shazi and her magic. And after so much emphasis was placed on the latter, to see an climax that didn’t show her coming into her own – well, I felt cheated. So… yeah. I’m aware I’m in the minority, but The Rose and the Dagger didn’t quite deliver on its promises for me.

Girl From Everywhere coverThe Girl From Everywhere (The Girl From Everywhere, Book #1) / Heidi Heilig
YA Historical-Time Travel Fantasy / 443 pages
Rating:
 3.75 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere whisks readers through myth and time, from India to America, straight to the heart of a fraying familial bond. Nix Song, the daughter of the Temptation‘s captain, feels at home on his ship; the crew is her family, and any map is their road to a new destination. But every day, the end looms closer for her. Her father is bent on finding a map that will take them back to 1868 Hawaii, just before Nix’s mother died while giving birth to her – and going there could erase Nix’s very existence. What’s a girl to do when she feels powerless from stopping her father from saving his beloved?

It was hard to deny The Girl From Everywhere‘s pull the more I read it. Heilig’s smooth, eloquent writing immerses you in each setting, especially the still-untamed tropical wilderness surrounding Honolulu. The amount of historical research shines through, too; and the questions raised about family, friendship, and loyalty lend a more thoughtful, mature angle to this YA story. The characters are engaging, and Nix’s obsessive, unpredictable father was my favorite. Heilig has said that her experience with bipolar disorder informed Slate’s character, and her careful yet candid portrayal of his disorder made him believable and sympathetic.

At the same time, I struggled with the overall premise. Nix spends most of the book reluctantly helping her father, instead of thwarting his attempts to find the map. If a character is faced with her demise, wouldn’t she try to prevent it from happening? If Nix had put up more of a fight, I would have given The Girl From Everywhere a higher rating. Otherwise, this is a richly imagined, reflective tale that should satisfy most fans of time travel, pirates, and fantasies that blur the lines between myth and history.

Perilous Gard coverThe Perilous Gard / Elizabeth Marie Pope
Children’s Historical Fantasy / 280 pages
Rating:
4 out of 5 (Goodreads / Amazon)

Set in 1558 England, The Perilous Gard tells the story of Kate Sutton, a young maid to Princess Elizabeth who is exiled by Queen Mary I to a remote, countryside castle. Once there, Kate quickly grows suspicious of local rumors and the castle’s inhabitants. The mystery of a little girl’s disappearance and the peculiar behaviors of Kate’s guardian’s brother Christopher soon bring her face to face with the Fairy Folk and their strange, mystical ways. When the Fairy Folk decide to sacrifice Christopher so they reclaim their power on the world, Kate realizes she might be the only one who can save him – and the only one brave enough to stand up to the Fairy Queen.

I like a good classic now and then, and The Perilous Gard was a great recommendation. Kate is a fantastic heroine; she’s intelligent, logical, and bluntly honest. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself or follow her moral compass when characters try to sway her otherwise. The fantastical elements come courtesy of the Fairy Folk, from their ethereal underground realm to their practice of druidism (nature worship and blood sacrifice). This makes The Perilous Gard quite dark for a children’s fantasy, and some of the content (though not graphic) might frighten young readers. But the amount of research reflected and the weaving of Scottish and British folklore (especially the ballad of Tam Lin) makes this story absorbing and eerily authentic.

There were times when The Perilous Gard‘s lengthy passages and descriptions gnawed at my patience. But that kind of writing was acceptable in Pope’s time (TPG was published in 1974), and I understood that. Once I powered through those sections, I was able to focus on the story’s true gold – and there was plenty to be found. This is a must-read for fans of Fair Folk tales or older fantasy stories. But truthfully, anyone who’s curious about The Perilous Gard and its quietly courageous heroine should give it a try.

What I’m Reading Next

I’m about two-thirds finished with Keri Arthur’s City of Light,  and then I’ll jump back into N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy with its second book, The Broken Kingdoms. (You might remember that I met her at last year’s Writer’s Digest Conference… Well, guess who’s presenting there again this year?!) After that, maybe Lee Kelly’s A Criminal Magic? Or Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf? I’m also waiting on Elizabeth May’s The Vanishing Throne, and recently won Sarina Langer’s Rise of the Sparrows in a giveaway. So, I’ll see what I’m in the mood for as June goes along. 😉

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

33 thoughts on “Recent Reads: May 2016

  1. I refuse to read your review of THE ROSE AND THE DAGGER because I’ve yet to read it 😄 I’m kind of nervous; the first one was wonderful and a big problem I usually have with reading sequels/final books in a series is my fear of whether they’ll live up to my expectations. Given that, if/when I read it, it has to be before mid-August (when I start my MFA), so we’ll see if that ever happens 😄

    I *adored* THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, though, for many of the same reasons you did: Heilig’s prose is so effortless it’s like it’s not even there, and in addition to the historical research I adored the subtle tone and elements of fantasy (the ghosts and mythological creatures that pop up and become a part of our “reality”). It was all woven together so well, and it had a classic adventure feel.

    I definitely recommend Graudin’s WOLF BY WOLF. It’s not at the top of my list of favorite books, but as an alternate history of WWII (my favorite piece of history to study) it’s definitely intriguing, and managed to consistently keep my interest, if not surprise me. Let me know how you like it 😀

    I’ve read so many books recently O_O My gym books have been a zombie apocalypse series by Sara Lyons Flemming. It’s toted as both “zombies” and “chick lit,” which left me unsure of how to approach it, but it’s entertaining. I’m also reading a book of short stories by Jac Jemc (I’m going to focus on reading short stories in the next two months, to prep myself for my MFA; my life revolves around that thing XD), and I’ve also picked up two new authors I find I enjoy: Helen Oyeyemi (I’m reading her novel BOY, SNOW, BIRD), and Lisa See (I just finished her novel SHANGHAI GIRLS, and I’m about to start the sequel, DREAMS OF JOY). As you can tell: I haven’t been reading much YA, which hopefully I can fit a few titles in (I really still want to read Carson’s WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER, McGinnis’s A MADNESS SO DISCREET, and Stiefvater’s THE RAVEN KING), but I’m content as long as I’m enjoying the books I’m reading 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, well, then DON’T read the Rose & Dagger review. At least not yet. 😉 I did my best not to be too spoiler-ish, though!

      I wanted to love The Girl From Everywhere. I really did. But Nix was a more passive protagonist than what I’m used to. I can understand why she’d defer to her father and feel obligated to help him… but that didn’t help make the story more compelling for me. :/

      Nice! And hey, you can read whatever kinds of books you want (or in your MFA’s case, whatever books you need to prepare). I’m going through an adult-fantasy spell at the moment, thanks to George R.R. Martin, Keri Arthur, and next with N.K. Jemisin. Going through phases is part of being a bookworm, I guess?

      Wolf By Wolf is definitely coming soon. Three other bloggers I know recently read it and loved it, so that’s why I’ve moved it up on my list of reading priorities. 😉

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      • Haha, I trust that you don’t have spoilers; better safe than sorry, though 😉

        I remember being really torn with how to rate THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE on Goodreads. Because I couldn’t put it into words, but something just felt lacking in it. I settled on 4 stars purely because there was that huge hook in my heart, something so endearing and memorable that, well, I also couldn’t put it into words. I think when a book touches your heart, you can’t ignore it, even if there were some elements that weren’t quite all the way right you know?

        Going through phases is SO part of being a bookworm. And it’s all about growth, I find; the more you read the more you can identify which kinds of books you love to read. I mean, me: I’m partially reading some of the books I’m reading so I can prepare for beginning my program, but the major perk is that I absolutely adore the books I’m choosing to read. I think it’s hard, sometimes, because as bookworms it’s also really easy to get pulled in a more “status quo” or “labeled” direction (what I mean is: you write YA, so you’re expected to read more YA than anything else), but it’s really freeing when you allow yourself to explore outside of that genre focus, whether because it’s simply entertaining or because you want to study it; as long as you enjoy it, y’know? (Plus: there’s so many strategies and tricks and novel elements that can be pulled across genre lines for uses in other novels; great way to improve writing!)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your reviews! Yesterday I finished The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson, which I liked in spite of myself. Nonfiction, it’s very theory based, and I generally hate theory but she wove in enough memoir and anecdotes to keep me engaged. But I hated the first paragraph, and it took about fifty pages for me to get over it! It’s also definitely a niche audience. I can’t really recommend it broadly. Now I need to poke around my shelves for something good to read on vacation. (Probably something lighter =) )

    Liked by 1 person

      • I actually read a pretty wide variety of books, from YA to contemporary lit to memoirs to short stories to old (1910s-60s) children’s and YA books, and anything else that catches my fancy. Recent reads include Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Cold Comfort Farm, What Alice Forgot, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. I also spend a lot of time in the car during my commute, and wind up picking up books I hear reviewed on NPR.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It seems that you had a really good month! I haven’t read any of the books you completed, but you certainly did a great job of giving your thoughts about each one – I do like the sound of The Girl From Everywhere, in particular. Do you find your reading tastes change at all with the change in weather from winter to summer?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sarah! The Girl From Everywhere was pretty good. Like I said, though, my biggest issue with it was that the protagonist was passive about her conflict for most of the story, so it took me a while to feel engaged in the story despite everything else that appealed to me.

      I don’t really notice a change in reading tastes from season to season. Part of it might be because of my reading plan, so I take more of a “systematic” approach to what I read and when. How about you? Do the seasons influence your reading tastes?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Both A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms and The Rose and the Dagger are books I’m hoping to get to this year. I actually started the former but I struggled to keep focused so I was forced to set it aside. I know I have this issue with not being able to connect with short stories, but I was hoping it would be different with GRRM! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There are so many books on that list that I have to read! Thanks for giving me reason to expand my already exploding TBR 😉 I hope you do enjoy Rise of the Sparrows! It’ll be on the way tomorrow 🙂
    I finally did get a copy of the first in Jemisin’s trilogy and can’t wait to start on it! Hope you enjoy the next installment 🙂
    Happy Reading ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really like reading your reviews. Even though it’s mostly YA, every once a while I’ll find something for myself in them. 🙂
    I also vaguely recall Dunk and Egg from a novella published in the “Legends” – a collection of famous writers returning to their worlds with new stories. This was my first contact with Martin, and even though it was quite positive, I never got into GOT (see what I did there? 😉 ) when I started reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Joanna. 🙂

      That might have been The Hedge Knight (the first Dunk & Egg story) that you read in Legends. It definitely has a different tone than A Game of Thrones and the other novels, probably due to Dunk’s and Egg’s personalities and perspectives. So I can understand why some readers who didn’t care for GoT might prefer the novellas. And now that I’m thinking of it… I may have rated the novella collection higher than any of the GoT books. 😮

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t recall the title (and it was in Polish >.<), but I think you're right, it did feel like the first story, "the origins" of Dunk.
        I've read GoT some 15 years ago and at the stage of my life where I didn't need more depressing things. Maybe, if I read it some other time, I'd like the novels more, but as a result, when Ned Stark died (should I even mark it as spoiler? 😉 ), I finished the book and never felt like reading it again (or any other book from the series).
        But I'll keep the novellas in mind then, since they're different. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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  8. Glad you enjoyed “The Perilous Gard.” It is definitely old fashioned, but that actually made it work better, in my opinion. But then, I have a strangely old fashioned streak (that’s what gobs of Brothers Grimm and Victorian novels will do to a child). I also loved the (kind of freaky) illustrations. I think more books should have illustrations!!

    The Girl From Everywhere is staring at me from my TBR pile, but I’ll probably just read “Blood for Blood,” since I can’t really hold out anymore. I almost reread “Wolf by Wolf” the other day, but then I gave a guilty look at the piles of books around my living room, and didn’t do it 😛 And honestly, with all the packing, working, and sorting, I really shouldn’t be sitting down to read too much! (Other than the minimum amount required for my sanity, lol).

    Happy reading!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for recommending The Perilous Gard in the first place! 🙂 Like I said, I was OK with the “old fashioned” aspect of the writing, since I knew the book was published in the ’70s. And I agree – more non-map illustrations, please!

      Wolf By Wolf will probably be my first read for July. I’m so, SOOOOOO close to getting to it, but I’m alternating between brand new books and older books so I can keep up with the 2016 releases I have.

      I’d be curious to know what you think of The Girl From Everywhere if you do read it. I love how well-written and richly researched it was… but Nix’s lack of motivation as a protagonist is already making me wonder whether I’ll want to read the sequel next year.

      Like

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