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…
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The Book Courtship Tag

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I haven’t done a strictly bookish tag in a while. So when I saw this adorable Book Courtship Tag at Ayunda’s Tea and Paperbacks a couple weeks ago, I knew I wanted to squeeze this in before Valentine’s Day. 🙂

The Book Courtship Tag “follows” the different stages of courtship and challenges bloggers to pick one book that fits each stage. These picks don’t have to be romances. In fact, they can be anything you choose from your bookshelves. So, let’s see what I picked…

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Recent Reads: December 2015

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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!

Well, I can’t post my 2015 favorite books lists without sharing what I read in December, can I? 😉 I managed to squeeze in four books in December and have decided to review three of them. And beware – there’s all kinds of magical, mechanical, and speculative fiction goodness to follow, starting with my Read of the Month!
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Recent Reads: June 2015

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Welcome to the revamped Recent Reads! As previously mentioned here, I’ve switched to a new book review format to accommodate a change in blogging priorities. Recent Reads will now be a retrospective of the books read over the past month, and will consist of multiple, shorter reviews. Now that I’m reading faster that I used to, I’m hoping this will be a more “economical” way of sharing bookish thoughts. So, in addition to any comments on the individual books, let me know what you think of the new format in the Comments section at the end.

So, onto the books I read last month!

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Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 12: Long Ago and Far Away…

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Stacking The Shelves is a weekly event hosted by Tynga’s Reviews that shares the books (both physical and virtual) that you recently purchased, borrowed from a fellow reader or the library, won from a giveaway, or received as gifts. Stacking The Shelves will post on Saturdays as new books are added to my shelves.

All of the books in today’s stack have one thing in common: They take place in times or places very different from my own (and perhaps yours, too). It’s a mix of fantasy, science fiction, romance, and exotic cultures. Murder, mystery, magic, and family. Freedom, power, secrets, and friendship. Intrigued? Then what are you waiting for? 😉

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Waiting On Wednesday, Vol. 5: “Defiant” by Karina Sumner-Smith

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Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine that spotlights upcoming book releases that I’m looking forward to. My WOW postings won’t be weekly, but they’ll come on Wednesdays when my blogging schedule is open and when I add a yet-to-be-published book to my wishlist. 

These Waiting on Wednesday posts are going to come “furiously” over the next few weeks, since a number of 2015 releases I’m looking forward to are coming out this spring. 😉

This Wednesday, I’m waiting on Defiant, the second installment in Karina Sumner-Smith‘s Tower Trilogy. The first book (and Sumner-Smith’s debut) Radiant was one of my favorite reads of 2014. Mostly because of the world that Sumner-Smith has created: It’s a fantastic mix of futuristic / dystopian science fiction with magic, ghosts, and night-walkers – all things I’ve never seen together in one book yet make complete sense here. Plus, I really enjoyed the friendship that developed between Xhea and Shai. So I’m excited to see how the world expands (or rather, starts crumbling to pieces) as Xhea learns more about her magic and the powers that be start coming after the heroines again. This series is worth checking out if genre-bending speculative fiction sparks your interest.

Defiant cover

Defiant (Towers Trilogy, Book #2)
Karina Sumner-Smith
Fantasy / Science Fiction / Dystopian
Publication Date: May 12, 2015
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Goodreads

Synopsis:

Once, Xhea’s wants were simple: enough to eat, safety in the underground, and the hit of bright payment to transform her gray-cast world into color. But in the aftermath of her rescue of the Radiant ghost Shai, she realizes the life she had known is gone forever.

In the two months since her fall from the City, Xhea has hidden in skyscraper Edren, sheltered and attempting to heal. But soon even she must face the troubling truth that she might never walk again. Shai, ever faithful, has stayed by her side—but the ghost’s very presence has sent untold fortunes into Edren’s coffers and dangerously unbalanced the Lower City’s political balance.

War is brewing. Beyond Edren’s walls, the other skyscrapers have heard tell of the Radiant ghost and the power she holds. Rumors, too, speak of the girl who sees ghosts who might be the key to controlling that power. Soon, assassins stalk the skyscrapers’ darkened corridors while armies gather in the streets. But Shai’s magic is not the only prize—nor the only power that could change everything. At last, Xhea begins to learn of her strange dark magic, and why even whispers of its presence are enough to make the Lower City elite tremble in fear.

Together, Xhea and Shai may have the power to stop a war—or become a weapon great enough to bring the City to its knees. That is, if the magic doesn’t destroy them first.

What book(s) are you waiting on this Wednesday? Are you also looking forward to Defiant?

Recent Reads: “The Night Butterflies” by Sara Litchfield

Night Butterflies cover

The Night Butterflies
Sara Litchfield
Science Fiction / Dystopian / Self-Published
209 pages

Synopsis:

It is always dark. Warmer than it should be. The sun is a dull glower of reproach, only sometimes visible through the fallout. A once-majestic university town is crumbled, ashen and divided. The Men have made their home the Facility, where they develop the medication to combat the radiation that would otherwise kill those left alive.

Another day at school for Teacher. Another morning of bullying and torment from a batch of doll-like triplets more violent and unbalanced by the day. They are the nightmare product of Project Eden, the operation devised by Leader for the survival of the community, seeded in the Mothers without their consent.

Teacher has hope. She has a secret. When it is uncovered by Jimmy-1, a triplet who might be different, what will it mean for his future and hers?

Not just another dystopian novel. New author Sara Litchfield explores what it means to be a child, a mother, and a monster in a chilling world devoid of comfort.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Genetically engineered babies, mind-numbing medications, and an incinerator where rebels and children are burned alive – that’s the post-apocalyptic Britain that readers will visit in Sara Litchfield’s debut novel, The Night Butterflies. If the book title or the author’s name sounds familiar, it might be because I’ve mentioned both here before. I already knew Sara from being one of the beta-readers for The Night Butterflies last year. So I was thrilled when the final printed version arrived in the mail so I could read it again.

One thing that the above synopsis doesn’t reveal about The Night Butterflies is that it’s told from five POVs: three adults (Teacher, and Jimmy-1’s parents Karen and Nick), and two children (Jimmy-1, and Teacher’s daughter Ellie). It’s impossible to be more specific about each character without diving into too much backstory. What I can say, though, is that each character has a unique perspective on the story’s events. Readers will see the entire scope play out and gain a chilling understanding of how everyone in this small, isolated community will be impacted. Also, under Litchfield’s elegant yet visceral prose, the voices of each POV character are unique from one another. Jimmy-1’s in particular is choppy and direct, reflecting his learning disability as well as glimmers of intelligence and empathy. Creating a quintet of distinct characters is an ambitious feat for a debut novel, yet Litchfield pulls it off beautifully.

Like any speculative fiction novel, dystopians need a solid world-building foundation so the story can hold up. Holy mama, does The Night Butterflies deliver on this. Take the totalitarian regime of The Hunger Games (minus the Games), plunk it in the post-nuclear landscape Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (minus the cannibals), and add dashes of bio-engineering with twisted results. It’s desolate, it’s scary, and it’s staggering. Fortunately, Litchfield doesn’t overwhelm readers with her backstory. Instead, she drops hints of it throughout The Night Butterflies. Readers gradually learn about what happened in the past, how it led up to current times, and how the community functions (or rather, cowers) under a mad scientist’s iron grip. So, everything makes sense despite the chilling nature of the “status quo,” and you find yourself absorbed in its many layers.

Having read an early draft of The Night Butterflies, I can now compare what I remember from last year to the final version. It’s amazing to see how much has changed, yet how much of it remained the same. For example, in the final copy, Litchfield allows certain POV characters who were originally mere observers to jump deeper into the conflict, and brings in new scenes that filled in previously gaps in the story. The world is better explained and more deeply fleshed out as a result. At the same time, much of what I loved about the original version – especially Jimmy-1’s character arc – is still there.

Despite enjoying The Night Butterflies, I wasn’t satisfied with its narrative style. It leans heavily on exposition; and as a reader who enjoys strong dialogue and character interactions, I often wished there was more of both elements and less thinking from each POV character. (Other reviewers didn’t seem to mind this, so maybe it’s just me.) I also thought that certain scenes and descriptions were rushed, which jarred the story’s flow at times and made it difficult to picture what was happening. The epilogue in particular could have gone into more detail about how the town and the lives of the POV characters I’d grown to care about had changed since the climax.

Overall, though, The Night Butterflies is a plunge into the human soul that reader won’t soon forget. It shows the risks that everyday people are willing to take to do what’s right, and the questions they’re willing to ask so they can understand the science and morals (or lack thereof) of their dilemma. And despite its bleak world and weighty subject matter, its message of hope and humanity will buoy your spirits like its namesake. I know not everyone is keen on reading self-published novel, but if you’re willing to give one a chance, try this haunting tale by Sara Litchfield. The amount of depth it possesses and thought it provokes will challenge – and perhaps change – those perceptions.

Have you read The Night Butterflies? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.

Acts of Compassion in Literature – A Special #1000Speak Edition of “Theme: A Story’s Soul”

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On February 20, 2015, 1000 Voices For Compassion will take to the blogosphere and share their thoughts and stories about compassion in all its forms (love, kindness, understanding, empathy, mercy, etc.). Many of these “Voices” are also posting articles on the subject in advance of the big day. Since I’d been debating between two ideas I like equally, I decided, “Why not pursue both, and make one the lead-in article?” 🙂

As an avid reader and a novelist-in-progress, some of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned have come from literature. So, for my lead-in to #1000Speak, I’m doing a literary “exploration” of compassion that aligns with my DIY MFA column “Theme: A Story’s Soul.” Below are some acts of compassion from books I’ve read over the years. As you read the examples, think about what you can learn from each character, as well as the impact their decisions or actions may have on other characters, their world, and the story’s audience. Maybe you’ll want to add some of these books to your wishlist if you haven’t read them yet. Either way, I hope you’ll find this sampling of literary compassion as inspiring as I do.

NOTE: Some of the following examples contain spoilers (either major and minor) that are necessary for discussing the topic at hand. Continue reading

Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 7: The Lucky Number Seven

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Stacking The Shelves is a weekly event hosted by Tynga’s Reviews that shares the books (both physical and virtual) that you recently purchased, borrowed from a fellow reader or the library, won from a giveaway, or received as gifts. Stacking The Shelves will post on Saturdays as new books are added to my shelves. 

First of all, a quick apology for the recent inactivity here.  Life offline has been hectic lately, so I’ve had to re-prioritize things to focus on the WIP, a couple outside articles that have deadlines, and necessary relaxation. Posts for this blog have slipped as a result. I hope to catch up over the next couple weeks, so bear with me for a little bit.

Now – more books. Yes, I’ve gotten heaps of books for Christmas and from Barnes & Noble recently, but certain titles I was looking for at B&N weren’t in stock. *gasps* So, I promptly decided not to wait to get them. *lol* Today’s Stacking The Shelves therefore includes my latest Amazon haul, as well as a book gifted by its author. And if you noticed the title, this blog’s seventh edition of STS will feature seven books! How about that? Continue reading

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2014

It’s here finally: the list of my 10 favorite books I read in 2014! I held off on posting this as long as I could, thanks to a last-minute contender I flew through just before year’s end. Now I feel confident about which books made the final cut – and to be honest, my pick for #1 was a super-easy choice. 😉

With one exception, each entry contains a link to my full review and an excerpt from said review that best explains why I enjoyed the book. I was going to write a new paragraph for each entry, but then I realized I didn’t have anything new to add apart from what I had already said before. So, why repeat myself?

One important note: This list contains books I read this year, regardless of the year they were originally published. I didn’t read enough novels that were published this year to create a Top 10 solely of 2014 releases.

So, here they are, starting with…  Continue reading