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!
Huh? How did it become July so fast?! This year is flying by, and I’m sure I’m not the only one in denial about it. But time won’t slow down if I ask it to, right?
This month’s Recent Reads post has a little something extra. In addition to June’s book reviews and a preview of what I’m reading in July, I’ll also share some of my favorite reads so far in 2016. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get right to my choice for Read of the Month!
Read of the Month: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
In the second installment of her critically acclaimed Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin brings readers back to the world of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, ten years in the future. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, has the ability to see magic despite her impairment. She sees it in the godlings (children of the world’s three gods) who walk freely among mortalkind, and in the tight-mouthed homeless man she has taken into her home. Around the same time, Oree makes a gruesome discovery: Someone has found a way to murder the immortal godlings, some of whom are Oree’s friends. And as Oree and her guest find themselves drawn into the conspiracy, she learns more about the unique powers within her – and how her own existence could destroy the godlings as well as the gods.
I was floored by my first two Jemisin books (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and, from her latest series, The Fifth Season), so I had an idea of what to expect from The Broken Kingdoms. And, it blew me away as much as the others did, and then some. More of the world-building and god / godling mythology is revealed, and given a new perspective thanks to Oree’s “everywoman” role. The characters are once again fascinating, especially the new crop of godlings we meet. But Oree is my favorite character for her empathy, stubbornness, and no-nonsense attitude; and while it’s clear who her guest (whom she names Shiny) is if you’ve read THTK, watching him evolve into a more sympathetic, humane character was incredibly fulfilling.
I could go on about other aspects of The Broken Kingdoms, like Jemisin’s writing and the cleverness of her narrative twists… Just know that I loved this story from beginning to heart-breaking end, and convinced myself each night to read “one more chapter” before I went to bed. So, why a 4.75 instead of a perfect 5.0? Well, I’m more used to Jemisin’s style now than I was with THTK – but this book doesn’t quite hold a candle to The Fifth Season, which was beyond brilliant. But The Broken Kingdoms, with its magnetic prose, ever-layered world-building, complex characters, and unexpected humor? This comes pretty darn close.
Other Books I Read in June
In Keri Arthur’s City of Light, the survivors of a brutal war between humans and shape-shifters live in constant fear and artificial light. Bombs had torn the veil between worlds, letting vampires, wraiths, and other death spirits into Earth; and the light is the only means of keeping them away from the living. One of the survivors is Tiger, a humanoid super-soldier created to lure information from the enemy and intent on living the rest of her days in hiding. But when Tiger rescues a little girl from vampires, she learns that the girl and other children had been abducted by something that shouldn’t exist: a light-immune wraith. It’s a mystery that hits close to Tiger’s heart, and one that compels her to investigate the abductions – and risk her very life because of who she is.
Paranormal or urban fantasy isn’t my usual fare. But after reading a review of City of Light at The Bibliosanctum (and winning a giveaway copy – thanks again, ladies!), I was intrigued enough to check it out. And did it deliver! The world-building is robust and stunning, featuring several paranormal species, magic, sci-fi technology and weapons, and a post-apocalyptic Earth still reeling from the supernatural mess its inhabitants made. It really feels “lived in” and unique, especially since the creatures are portrayed in new ways without seeming unfamiliar. And, Tiger kicks butt as a protagonist. She’s analytical, independent, and fiercely protective of the ghosts she lives with. She’s also aware of the world’s negative perceptions of her kind, and her fight to keep her true identity a secret makes the story incredibly compelling.
As much as Arthur’s world-building impressed me, it could have been handled better. There’s a lot of information to take in, and a good deal of it is dumped at the beginning, which makes things overwhelming at first. Also, while I don’t mind sex scenes, the limited sex in City of Light was too detailed and manipulative for my tastes. I understand why they were written that way, given Tiger’s “lure” rank, but I didn’t enjoy them. That being said, I remained invested in City of Light through its heart-stopping (and heart-breaking) ending. It’s an exciting, engrossing read that defies paranormal or urban fantasy stereotypes and was a lot more fun than I expected it to be.
Mobsters, smugglers, and enchanted elixirs as potent as drugs – this is the wild, hypnotic world of Lee Kelly’s A Criminal Magic. Set in an alternate Prohibition era where magic is banned instead of alcohol, this edge-of-your-seat thriller thrusts two budding sorcerers into Washington, D.C.’s criminal underworld. Joan Kendrick is hired by the Shaw Gang to perform at their “shining room” (think magical speakeasy) so she can provide for her family; while Alex Danfrey, son of a mob-offed businessman, is assigned by the feds to go undercover and dismantle the Shaws. Soon, Joan’s and Alex’s paths intersect, and their hearts and motivations become entangled. And when the mob questions their loyalties, they realize – perhaps too late – that there might be no way out.
From the moment I opened A Criminal Magic, this book grabbed my imagination and refused to let go. Kelly’s unique spin on magic suits the rebellious spirit of the Roaring Twenties / Prohibition era perfectly, injecting more danger into an already dangerous setting. Her strong, cinematic writing certainly helped with this. It set my pulse pounding during fights and chase scenes, and made the illusions and spells gorgeously vivid. (The latter often reminded me of the breathtaking magic in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.) This also translated into the narrative voices for both POV characters, which Kelly nailed. She puts you in their shoes, minds, and hearts; and this helped me connect with Joan and Alex and further stoked my worry for them as the stakes kept rising.
Any critiques I have for A Criminal Magic are nitpicky. The use of first-person present tense took some getting used to (it doesn’t fit historical novels, IMO) and made for some jarring chapter openings. I also would have liked a stronger dose of the Roaring Twenties vibe. Mentions of jazz music and flapper girls would have made an already intriguing setting even more vibrant. Neither issue spoiled the ride that this book took me on, though – and was it a wild ride, especially with its punch-in-the-gut climax! I wouldn’t be surprised if A Criminal Magic sits near the top of my year-end list for 2016 reads. It’s suspenseful, entertaining, and utterly absorbing.
What if Adolf Hilter and the Axis Powers had won World War II? Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf explores this possibility and its haunting consequences with a vivid imagination and a supernatural vein. Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has developed shapeshifting abilities as a result of the wartime experiments performed on her. Now part of the resistance movement against the Third Reich, she enters the Axis Tour, a youth motorcycle race from Germania to Japan, under the guise of the tour’s first female victor Adele Wolfe. Her mission: Win the race and an audience with Hilter – and kill him. But with the other racers watching her every move, will Yael be able to complete her mission and keep her true identity a secret?
Wolf By Wolf is a loaded tale from the start, and it sucks you right in. Graudin’s envisioning of an alternate post-WWII world is viciously realistic, to the point that it’s frightening to think it could have actually happened. Her writing style enthralled me, too. Though choppy at times, it’s deft and sharp, bringing the heart-pounding action, international locales, and Yael’s flashbacks and battered psychology to life. Speaking of Yael: What a heroine. Her “eyes on the prize” focus, her vulnerability despite all ruthlessness, her identity crisis thanks to her shapeshifting powers – she’s an amazing character. I loved Felix Wolfe, too, for being the brother any girl would want to have. He’s loyal and incredibly protective, and his interactions with Yael-Adele are endearing.
Luka Lowe, though. I’m sorry, but I never warmed up to Adele’s former love interest. A friend who also read Wolf By Wolf described him as a “James-Dean-good-looks meets Thor-cockiness” – and not only do I agree with her, but I couldn’t stand Luka as a result. I also would have liked to know some of the Japanese contestants better, especially the other female rider, Ono Ryoko. Despite these critiques, though, I really enjoyed Wolf By Wolf. It riveted me with adrenaline, emotion, and hope, right up to the massive twist I didn’t see coming. Can’t wait to read its sequel Blood For Blood this fall!
My Favorite Reads So Far in 2016
This year’s reading choices have been interesting so far. Most of my favorite reads since January were published before 2016. As for brand new books, some I’d been anticipating have disappointed me, while others that aren’t typically what I read have really delivered. I don’t think this means a change in reading tastes. Rather, I’ve become more open-minded about what I read, and discovered some amazing novels in the process.
Speaking of which, here are my two mid-year lists for favorite reads:
Top 5 Books Published Before 2016
- Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson
- The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Top 5 Books Published in 2016
- The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky
- A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly
- City of Light by Keri Arthur
- The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
- Give In To The Feeling by Sarah Zama
What I’m Reading Next
I should be finished with Elizabeth May’s The Vanishing Throne by the time this posts (and OMG, has it blown away The Falconer so far!). After that, Rachel Morgan’s The Faerie Guardian and Rachel Caine’s Paper and Fire will be on deck. On the “writing craft” side of things, my pre-ordered copy of Gabriela Pereira’s DIY MFA arrived 2 weeks early, so I’m reading it now with the intention of writing a “promotional” post for it sometime in August. And why not? I’m part of the DIY MFA staff, after all. 😉
What books did you recently read? Have you read any of the titles reviewed above? Also, what are some of your favorite reads so far in 2016?