Recent Reads is a monthly reading wrap-up, with mini-reviews of the books I read. I’ll also share what I’m currently reading and any other books that are in the pipeline. Feel free to share your bookish happenings in the Comments section!
Last month I took a good look at my reading plan for 2016, which I shared back in January. While I’m doing well in some categories, others might have to roll over into 2017. But that’s OK. I’m just pleased with how many books I’ve read so far this year (36 in total). In fact, I’m on pace to read more books in 2016 than I did in 2015!
So, for this month’s Recent Reads, I’ll share my progress with this year’s reading plan. And of course, I’ve got book reviews! Let’s start with my pick for Read of the Month, which is…
Read of the Month: The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May
In The Falconer, Aileana Kameron was seeking revenge against the fae for killing her mother. Now, in The Vanishing Throne, she’s fighting for survival instead. Trapped in the fae realm due to her failings, Aileana is tortured by the sinister Lonnrach for memories and knowledge that might save his world. And when Aileana escapes with an ally’s help, her joy is short-lived: The Scotland she once knew has been demolished, and the remaining survivors (human and fae alike) hide underground. The only way Aileana can save both her home and the fae realm is by finally waking the dormant Falconer powers within her. But at what price? And can she do so before it’s too late?
I had enjoyed Elizabeth May’s first book The Falconer, but with some reservations. So, I was not – absolutely NOT – expecting to fall head-over-heels for The Vanishing Throne. The expanded world-building and Scottish fae lore, vivid writing, break-neck action sequences, laugh-out-loud humor (thank you, Derrick and Aithinne!) – in short, there was more of what I had enjoyed most about The Falconer, and marked improvements on what I hadn’t. I even found myself rooting for Aileana and Kiaran’s romance this time, especially since we learn more about Kiaran’s past and see him at his most vulnerable. It was also great to see other female characters like Aithinne and Aileana’s childhood friend Catherine rise to the occasion, and remind us that women don’t need to wield weapons to be “strong.”
What I loved most about The Vanishing Throne, though, was Aileana’s growth. She’s shed her desire for vengeance, and is now battling the demons in her head as well as the evil fae who want her dead. This lends to a darker, more mature, and ultimately more compelling story than The Falconer. I did miss Aileana’s tinkering with inventions from the first book, and her escape from the fae realm dragged on a little too long. Otherwise, The Vanishing Throne thrilled and captivated me from its harrowing first pages to its stunning last chapter. If you aren’t reading this series yet, you need to get on it – right now!
Other Books I Read in July
Geared to fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent, Marie Lu’s Legend imagines a war-ravaged Western United States (called the Republic) that has ceded from the main country. The two 15-year-old heroes come from vastly different backgrounds. June, born into a wealthy family, is already preparing for a military career, having received a perfect Trial score. Day is one of the Republic’s most sought-after criminals, eking out a meager existence on Los Angeles’ streets. When Day is accused of killing June’s brother, June vows vengeance and plunges into the investigation. But once the two finally meet, they inadvertently start unraveling the Republic’s secrets – and learn just how far the government will go to keep them.
I can see why Legend has been a hit with its audience. It’s fast-paced, action-packed, and succinct in describing a military regime marked by social inequality (rich vs poor) and deadly disease. The main characters are likable, too. Day reminds me of a young Robin Hood, stealing medication and money to help his family and other people in the slums, not for his own benefit. June, on the other hand, has the Holmes-ian ability to keenly observe and accurately infer, though she’s often out of touch with her emotions. Her sense of right and wrong tested by each discovery she makes about the Republic, which leads her to growing the most by story’s end.
When I finished Legend, though, I came away with a sense of “been there, done that.” It’s too similar to other YA dystopian stories I’ve read, with a plot that starting off exciting but wound up predictable. I was more shocked that I guessed the Big Twist so soon than by the twist itself. Plus, the amount of unshared world-building left me frustrated. Not much history or culture is revealed, and we never learn why or how the Republic came to be. This may be the first book in a series, and the characters won’t know everything for that reason – but in the end, I knew so little about the story world that it never felt real to me. Sure, Legend entertained me, but ultimately it wasn’t engaging or inspiring enough to convince me to continue with the series.
If Rachel Caine’s Ink and Bone introduced a steampunk future where the Great Library of Alexandria controlled the global distribution of published material, then Paper and Fire yanks out the first bricks for the Library’s fall. Jess and his former co-Postulants are now in their new assignments, guarding the Library’s goods as scholars-in-training or (in Jess’s case) in the army. When Jess discovers that a captured friend he’d feared dead may be alive, he rallies his allies and launches a rescue mission. But tracking down a Library prisoner is no easy task. And as Jess’s band makes plans that could break the institution’s grip on knowledge-sharing, they quickly realize they’re running out of places to hide – and out of time.
Paper and Fire featured plenty of what I had enjoyed about Ink and Bone. Character diversity, international locales, the dangers in serving or rebelling against the Library – it made a fascinating premise before, and it works again here. Caine expands on her world-building, taking readers inside the Library militia, prison system, and the Black Archives, where the most forbidden books are stored in secret. Also, Christopher Wolfe is an intriguing twist on the mentor archetype. Mysterious and at times caustic, he’s vocal about his views on the Library’s abuse of power and his suppor for his students’ ideas – because despite his tormented past, he remains a revolutionary at heart.
At the same time, Paper and Fire suffers from the same issues I had with its predecessor, and then some. The chapters are quite long, and Jess and Morgan’s romance still makes no sense to me. And the climax – gosh, was it chaotic and confusing. Plus, the official blurb pretty much spoils how it ends, so nothing about it surprised me. So, yes, I’m disappointed that Paper and Fire unraveled a bit after a strong start. But it was still a good read, and I’m curious to see how it all ends with Ash and Quill next summer.
J. Kathleen Cheney’s Dreaming Death whisks readers away to a world where some people possess psychic abilities that allow them to sense others’ emotions. Shironne is one such sensitive, with powers so acute that they’ve rendered her blind. But they also make her useful as an investigator for the Larossan army, and able to see the dreams of a young soldier named Mikael – dreams of victims’ deaths as they’re occurring. When a serial killer begins terrorizing their city with ancient, deadly blood magic, Shironne and Mikael must work with their mutual allies to identify and find the murderer. And what they discover teaches them more about their unique powers – and puts them in unfathomable danger.
I’d been meaning to read Cheney’s work for a while, so when I won Dreaming Death from On Starships and Dragonwings (thanks, Anya!), I was excited to check it out. And what a treat it turned out to be! It’s a murder mystery robed in fantasy, set in a richly imagined world ripe with culture and history, including one race that lives in massive underground dwellings. My only world-building complaint is that much of it is introduced early on. So, the first 70 pages felt like a slog through info-dumps and lengthy descriptions. But I’d read in reviews that the pace improves after a while, and my determination to stick with the story was later rewarded.
Because once it hits its stride, Dreaming Death is nearly impossible to put down. Cheney’s writing took my breath away, and the characters are all wonderful, especially Shironne. Her hyper-sensitivity to other people’s emotions and the focus on her four working senses made her POV a unique experience. And while there’s a clear psychic connection between Shironne and Mikael, their relationship remains refreshingly platonic. I could say a lot more about Dreaming Death, so just know that it’s a suspenseful, captivating tale that will appeal to fantasy lovers who also like a good mystery. The sad part is that Orbit Books has opted not to continue this series. So, whether we’ll see a new Palace of Dreams book is up in the air, but I’m even more motivated to read Cheney’s other books now.
How I’m Doing With My 2016 Reading Plan
As I mentioned earlier, here’s how I’m doing with my reading plan for the year, including what I’m hoping (or doubting) to finish before 2016 is over. But hey, who isn’t over-ambitious when it comes to their reading goals? 😉
- New / 2016 Books: I’ve been able to keep up with brand new books, with 16 read so far and two left in my current pile. But some of my most anticipated books of 2016 have yet to come out, so I’m expecting a busy autumn reading-wise!
- Fairy Novels for Market Research: I’ve read 9 out of the 10 fairy novels I’d planned for this year, which is pretty darn good. The last one in my Leaning Tower of Books is Tad William’s Shadowmarch. I’m also planning to buy and/or rent more from the library in the future.
- Andy Weir’s The Martian: Done! 😀
- Series To Continue: Also done! And I adored them both (Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms).
- Series To Start: I’ve read three of these books so far (Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass, Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King, Marie Lu’s Legend). Hopefully I’ll get to the last two (Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer, Morgan Rhodes’s Falling Kingdoms) before the year ends.
- Classics & “Backlist” Titles: Kinda doubting my chances of finishing this category. I’m finally hitting the first book now (Paulo Coelho’s Brida), but some of the others might have to wait until 2017.
What I’m Reading Next
As I mentioned aboved, I’m reading Paulo Coelho’s Brida, which is the first Coelho novel I’ve read in a couple years. But you know which books I’m REALLY excited for this month? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate! Two of my most anticipated reads of 2016, due out in the same month. YAY!
What books did you recently read? Have you read any of the titles reviewed above? Also, how are you doing with any reading plans or challenges you’re participating in this year?