Recent Reads: July 2016 (+ How I’m Doing With My 2016 Reading Plan)

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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

Vanishing Throne_final front cover.pdfThe Vanishing Throne (Falconer Trilogy, Book #2) / Elizabeth May
YA Steampunk Fantasy / 449 pages
Rating:
 4.75 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

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

Legend_Marie_Lu_Book_coverLegend (Legend Trilogy, Book #1) / Marie Lu
YA Science Fiction-Dystopian / 305 pages
Rating:
 3 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

Paper and Fire coverPaper and Fire (The Great Library, Book #2) /
Rachel Caine
YA Steampunk-Alternate History / 359 pages
Rating:
 3.5 out of 5 (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

Dreaming Death coverDreaming Death / J. Kathleen Cheney
Fantasy / 412 pages
Rating:
4 out of 5 (Goodreads / Amazon)

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? 😉

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. Andy Weir’s The MartianDone! 😀
  4. Series To Continue: Also done! And I adored them both (Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s FearN.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms).
  5. 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.
  6. 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?

26 thoughts on “Recent Reads: July 2016 (+ How I’m Doing With My 2016 Reading Plan)

  1. It sounds like a really good month for you, Sara. I really enjoyed your intelligent, perceptive review of Legend, which had initially caught my eye. I had more or less decided that it probably wasn’t for me – but your review convinced me. To be honest, few of the books that have pitched up in the wake of The Hunger Games have come to close to the gritted excitement, clever worldbuilding and edginess of Katniss. I’ll be interested to see what you make of Stormdancer:). And like you – I’m now very excitedly awaiting The Obelisk Gate! Have a great reading August:))

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a good month reading-wise, yes. Not as mind-blowingly good was June was, since all of the books I read that month were at least a 4… but I can’t complain, especially having been stunned by The Vanishing Throne. I can’t wait for the trilogy’s final book to come out next year!

      I would never tell anyone to not read a book; we all have different opinions about the same stories. But if you choose not to read Legend, I don’t think you’re missing out on much.

      Stormdancer is getting close to the top of my Leaning Tower! I think I’ll finally get to it in the next couple months. And yes yes YES about The Obelisk Gate.! 🙂

      Thanks for commenting, Sarah. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting reaction to LEGEND. I read it many years ago and loved it! Perhaps because I read it before I read most other dystopian novels, I didn’t experience the “been there, done that” feeling. Also, though I appreciate world-building, I don’t like too much of it bogging down the story, so I really enjoyed how LEGEND paints the picture but lets the reader wonder about the rest. As for the twist, I wouldn’t consider that plot point a twist because I think the reader was supposed to see it long before June did. It was more about dreading the moment June figures it out.

    Anyhoo, I find your book reviews so interesting because they remind me how people can have totally different reactions to books based on their tastes and expectations. Something we writers should all keep in mind when reading reviews of our own stuff. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yeah. I knew early on that I was going to be in the minority with Legend. But it just didn’t resonate with me. *shrugs* At least I gave it a try.

      You made a good point at the end, btw. Everyone responds to the same stories in different ways; and though we both might love one book, we might have opposite opinions about another. It’s fascinating, I agree, and good to remember for when people read our own work.

      Thanks for commenting, Heather! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Vanishing Throne is on my list! I’m also with you on Paper and Fire. On top of the confusion and chaos, the ending felt rushed, somehow. Everything in that last bit in London took place over a few pages, but at least I’m pumped for the next book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay! Definitely looking forward to your thoughts on The Vanishing Throne once you get to it. And yeah, after I read your review of Paper and Fire, it seems like we share many of the same thoughts about that book. But it’ll be interesting to see how things end.

      Like

    • How was The Falconer audiobook? Did the narrator have a Scottish accent? (I hope so, because it would sound more authentic that way.)

      Anyways, I hope you get to read / listen to The Vanishing Throne soon!

      Like

    • It’s going to be my next read after Stephanie Burgis’s Masks & Shadows. (Wait – wasn’t M&S the book I won from your giveaway?) And as much as I’m excited about it, I’ve heard a few things that I’m not too crazy about. So I’m going in simply with the joy of reading another HP story, but with caution, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m impressed with the amount of books you’re reading. I’m already falling behind with my challenge and my TBR list is ever-growing. *sighs* And on top of that, I’m considering adding your recommendation, Dreaming Death, to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love all these goals, it makes me want to be more organized xD I still need to read a lot of these but it looks like I have some good reads to look forward to. Legend is one I might skip though, because as you said, I’m not sure it’s really bringing anything new to the table. You’re doing awesome with your goals – keep it up! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • *lol* Thanks, Alise! I still think a few of the goals are over-ambitious at this point. But yeah, they’ve helped me stay on target with the kinds of books I wanted to read this year.

      And honestly, I know a number of people who loved Legend. So it could just be me; you might like it more than I did.

      Like

  6. You’ve done great with your reading goals! 36 books is a lot when you stop and think about it. I’d like to reach that goal one of these years. 🙂
    Dreaming Death really intrigued me, but I’m sad that the publisher is considering not continuing the series. I like to dive into a book knowing that more in the series will come. I might give it a try anyways though, or read the author’s other books.
    What did you think of Throne of Glass? I might get to it after Mistborn and Vanishing Throne.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, E.! 36 is definitely a lot of books compared to my reading “speed” a couple years ago. But I know many people who read even more books than that per year – sometimes over 100. 😮

      Honestly, I recommend Dreaming Death despite the fact that the series might not continue. It works well as a standalone, actually, so don’t let that prevent you from checking it out.

      I got about 130 pages into ToG and quit it. :S I can either email you or DM you on Twitter, if you’d like. But so many other readers have loved it, so maybe you’ll look at it differently than I did.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s amazing that some can read over 100 books a year! I’m glad they can too, since it means more book reviews for us. 🙂
        That’s good to know. I might give Dreaming Death a try. It’s on my tbr list.
        I would like to hear more about ToG; I think you still have my email address? If not I can send it to you.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. 36 books! I’m yet to hit the 30 mark yet (but I will get there someday). Your review of Dreaming Death was enough to get that book on my TBR list. 🙂 A murder mystery set in a fantasy land is exactly the kind of marriage between genres that I’d like to read (maybe even write).
    I think I’m going to steer clear of dystopia for a while. Right now, I’m powering through The Wise Man’s Fear and I can’t seem to put it down. I love it when a book grips me that much and yanks me away from reality. Your review and buddy reading idea gave me the nudge I needed to pick this one up, and for that I’m grateful. 🙂
    I finished The Cursed Child in one sitting and I think I will be reviewing it soon on my blog (tentatively the 22nd). Perhaps you’ll be ready to share your thoughts on it by then. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I still can’t believe I’ve read that many books so far. (I’m now on my 39th.) It’s probably because I purpose set aside time for reading most days, more than I used to. But like I’ve said in other replies, I know other people who’ve read even more books than I have so far this year…

      Yay for Dreaming Death! It’s really a great mix of fantasy and mystery / crime drama, so definitely check that out if you can.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying The Wise Man’s Fear! I think I said in the buddy-reading post that its length intimidated me at first, but I’m glad it didn’t stop me in the end. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on it when you finish. 😉

      I’ve only read Act I of Cursed Child so far, so it’s too early to pass much judgment on it. But I should finish it before your review goes live, so we can discuss it then.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Stormdancer has been on my list forEVER. I’ve just never gotten around to it. I don’t know how many books I’ve read, but it’s a sad little number 😦
    Dreaming Death sounds fascinating (I love crime drama and fantasy mixed), and I really need to read that Falconer series.

    Congrats on all of the reading progress!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stormdancer is most likely going to be the next book I read. (I’m currently reading The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin.) If I like it, you’ll see a review for it in a future Recent Reads. 😉

      And yes, definitely check out The Falconer and Dreaming Death if you can!

      Liked by 1 person

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