My Favorite Fiction Reads of Fall 2018

Is it really the last week of 2018?? How crazy is that? I could swear that not too long ago, I started reading my first book of the year. And now, 51 weeks and 53 fiction reads later, Christmas has come and gone and 2019 is around the corner. I hope you’ve enjoyed your December holidays so far, and any New Year’s plans you have are fun, warm, and safe. ❤

Out of the 11 books I finished reading over the fall, I’m highlighting my nine favorites in today’s post. The funny thing is, I’m also working on my Favorite Fiction Reads of 2018 post, which will go live in mid-January… and you’ll hear about some of these books again then. No spoilers, though – you’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out which books made that list. Until then, enjoy these reviews! And feel free to visit each book’s Goodreads page by clicking on its title.  Continue reading

The Creativity Corner: Summer 2017

Summer ends tomorrow, and what a busy season it’s been. Traveling, sightseeing, getting a head cold (OK, that wasn’t fun, but it did happen), and through it all I managed to get a lot of writing and reading done. So despite the busyness, it was a productive and satisfying summer. 🙂

Without further ado, let’s launch into the Creativity Corner for a recap of what I’ve been writing and reading, and other related happenings, since the end-of-spring edition in June.
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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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Recent Reads: June 2016 (+ My Favorite Reads So Far In 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!

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!
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Interview with Sarah Zama, Author of Give In To The Feeling

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I can’t tell you how excited I am to have Sarah Zama here today! We met last year during the A To Z Blogging Challenge, through commenting on Alex Hurst’s Japan photo-essay collection and then on Sarah’s own series about the Roaring Twenties. Now, Sarah, who lives in Italy, is preparing to release her first book. Give In To The Feeling is a fantasy noir / paranormal romance novelette set in Chicago during the height of the Prohibition era. I’ve already read an “advance copy,” and I really enjoyed it! In fact, you’ll see a review of it in next month’s Recent Reads. 😉

For now, I’ll let Sarah tell you more about Give In To The Feeling in her own words. We’ll also talk about fantasy literature, her favorite writers, the Roaring Twenties (of course!), and her advice to writers who aren’t published yet. So, let’s dive in!

(Also, click here if you’re interested in checking out the other dates on Sarah’s Give In To The Feeling blog tour.)

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Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 14: Writer’s Digest Conference Haul

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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.

Round #1 of #WDC15 coverage begins today! In addition to my articles-in-progress for DIY MFA, I knew I was going to do a Stacking The Shelves piece here. I mean, how can a writer go to a literary conference and not come home with more books? That would have been shameful, wouldn’t it? *lol*

So, here’s my haul from the event:

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Playing Harry Potter Spell Book Tag!

Sumaira at Hyper About Books recently shared her Harry Potter Spell Book Tag list and challenged anyone who read it to take part in the game. Well, I couldn’t resist – I mean, we’re talking about Harry Potter, folks! So, here are the ten books I’ve chosen for my round of Harry Potter Spell Book Tag.

1. Expecto Patronum — A childhood book connected to good memories

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Elizabeth Koda-Callan’s Magic Charm Books: Each story tells of a little girl’s struggle to believe in herself using examples such as learning to dance, being cast in the lead role of a school play, and coping with the birth of a new sibling. As a child, I felt connected to the main characters because they were about my age and I could relate to their experiences. What made the Magic Charm Books so special, though, were the necklaces that came with each book. Koda-Callan obviously knew that children often need something tangible to help them apply the lessons they learn. What better – and prettier! – way to help little girls remember the Magic Charm Books’ messages of courage and self-confidence than by offering a necklace with a charm that symbolizes each book’s unique story? Continue reading

Recent Reads: “Radiant” by Karina Sumner-Smith

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Radiant
Karina Sumner-Smith
Fantasy / Urban / Dystopian

Synopsis:

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

Rating: 3.75 / 5

I can’t remember how I first heard of Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel Radiant (most likely somewhere on Twitter), but the premise grabbed my attention right away. Even better, the persuasion worked twofold: a clever plot, but also an invitation to a world where a magic system exists alongside urban, paranormal, science fiction, and dystopian elements. Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? If your answer is “yes,” then Radiant will be a welcome addition to your bookshelf.

One of Radiant’s greatest strengths is the fantastic world-building. Despite what seems like a hodge-podge of elements – ghosts, magic, floating Towers above the impoverished Lower City, hovercrafts, ground-to-Tower elevators, night-walkers – Xhea and Shai’s world feels incredibly real. Everything fits the gritty, futuristic setting in tone or image. Sumner-Smith’s evocative writing style also enhances the reader’s experience in the City. It allows readers to picture the crumbling buildings and caving subway tunnels, hear the heavy breathing of the night-walkers (I swore those creatures would give me nightmares), and feel the bumps and shakes of the aircar ride (my favorite scene in the book!). Finally, I appreciated the fresh twists on trite fantasy tropes, particularly how magic is considered a form of wealth because of how commonly it occurs in the City – and how not having magic throws a resident into poverty.

Another aspect I enjoyed about Radiant was seeing a friendship between female characters as the primary relationship. This rarely happens in the fantasy genre. At the same time, Xhea and Shai aren’t just two young women gushing about boys, fashion, and superficial subjects. Instead, they’re struggling to protect each other as they navigate their hostile environment and thwart enemies from rival Towers. The fact that Shai’s a ghost – dead, compared to the alive and (literally) kicking Xhea – adds a whole other dynamic. What makes this friendship so believable despite that fantasy “difference” is the balance in personality. The homeless Xhea is plucky, feisty, and tenacious, while Shai retains the innocence, warmth, and grace she must have possessed when living. The two characters motivate each other as a result, and grow from their comradery.

One supporting character who intrigued me was Lorn Edren, one of the authority figures of Tower Edren and a man who Xhea rescued in the past. He’s fair and protective toward Xhea, yet the few hints of backstory offered suggest a troubling past. This duality of darkness and light makes me hope we’ll learn more about him as the Towers Trilogy continues and see him play a larger role as a second friend and ally to Xhea.

The only downside with Radiant is that it relies too heavily on narrative. Sometimes the story goes on for paragraphs of world-building, thoughts, or description of setting or action before a character speaks again. I think this angle can be justified: Xhea is used to being alone, so she spends chunks of time thinking to herself and observing during Radiant. However, without the normal dialogue-exposition balance, there were times when the pace should have urged my heart to pump with fear but didn’t. It does pick up for the middle and most of the final third, though, so don’t give up on this book too soon.

And in hindsight, I’m glad I stuck with Radiant. I came away from it feeling as battered as Xhea did (Sumner-Smith isn’t afraid of making her characters go through hell to achieve their goals) and with wide-eyed wonder. The world that Sumner-Smith has created here is riveting, with its mix of terror and beauty and the stark disparity between the City’s haves and have-nots. Plus, it’s impossible to not root for Xhea and Shai. Radiant allows both characters – especially Xhea – to evolve, and their teamwork is unlike anything I’ve read about before. Fans of adult and YA fantasy shouldn’t let this book slip under their radar. It’s a darkly immersive read with an ending that steals your breath and stays with you for days afterwards. I’m already looking forward to my next ticket to the City when Radiant’s sequel Defiant comes out next year.

Have you read Radiant? 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 whether you found my review helpful by clicking here to find it on Amazon and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”

Recent Reads: “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

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A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness
Fantasy / Paranormal / Romance

Synopsis:

When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.

For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.

Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.

Rating: 3.5 / 5, and *Unputdownable*

Well… How do you start a review on a 570+ page fantasy novel that combines witchcraft, vampires, forbidden love, Darwinism, alchemy, genetics, and boatloads of history stretching back for centuries? And that’s not everything readers will find in A Discovery of Witches, the first book of Deborah Harkness’ best-selling All Souls Trilogy. I’m a bit of a latecomer to this series (The Book Of Life, the concluding novel, was published in July), and a skeptical one because the paranormal genre doesn’t appeal to me. However, anyone I know who’s read the All Souls Trilogy adores it, so I figured I should give A Discovery of Witches a shot – and though I have some issues with this story, it really was worth reading.

When Discovery begins, historian and reluctant witch Diana Bishop comes across a long-lost alchemy manuscript known as Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Diana realizes the manuscript’s bewitched and returns it to the stacks that day, but her discovery has already set off sparks in the world of magic. Within days, Oxford is overrun by witches, vampires, and daemons, all eager for Diana to recall Ashmole 782 so they can discover its secrets. Among them is vampire-geneticist Matthew Clairmont, who positions himself as Diana’s ally and protector despite his skewed moral compass. Because some creatures have threatened Diana’s life over the manuscript – and as an unlikely romance blossoms between Diana and Matthew, those same rivals are willing to tear the two scholars apart.

Like with my previous review (Mary Weber’s Storm Siren), I’m going to start with criticisms despite the positive rating – because once again, I questioned whether I’d finish the book. Firstly, the pace of Discovery is excrutiatingly slow. The first chapter is crammed with backstory that could have been spread out more evenly in later chapters, and other scenes crawl because of the amount of unnecessary step-by-step details. Also, I was annoyed by the shifts in POV. Only four chapters are narrated outside of Diana’s perspective, and are written in third-person omniscient. So, the reader learns not only what Matthew’s thinking or feeling, but what other characters in the scene are experiencing. It was too jarring of a change for me, and thankfully the POV switches only a few times.

The final problem I had with Discovery was that I didn’t experience the conflict’s stakes with Diana. Instead of her being in the thick of the peril and dissention, the other characters (especially Matthew) often shield Diana or keep her at a distance from the villainy. When the antagonists do appear, their presence seems… random and convenient. The few fights and action scenes Harkness includes did take my breath away with their vividness and urgency, yet I wish more scenes like that existed in the story.

So, why did I keep reading Discovery? From Page 100 onward, I found myself completely sucked into the story (no pun intended because of the vampire characters). Golden nuggets popped up everywhere: the Bishops’ quirky and “alive” house, the incredible employment of the senses of taste and smell, the growing cast of unique and endearing characters, the symbolism of Diana’s name. Also, Discovery is quite funny at times! From certain one-liners or bits of dialogue (Matthew’s son Marcus and Diana’s aunt Sarah made for excellent comic relief) to the contrast between Harkness’ intellectual writing style and the absurdity of a given scene or flashback, I laughed with genuine delight throughout the story. Finally, I thought it was neat that Harkness tied much of the characters’ ancestry with historical events such as the Salem witch trials and various international wars. It added a richness and depth to the story that made it more authentic.

Ahhh, Diana and Matthew. Their courtship may have been why Discovery dragged on so long, but what a pleasure it was to watch them get to know each other and fall in love. Both characters are also beautifully developed. Matthew is charming, sophisticated, intelligent, and humorous when least expected – as well as evasive, overprotective of Diana, and struggling to rein in his unpredictable rage. Harkness has only scratched the surface of Matthew’s centuries-long life of emotional wounds in Discovery, and I have a feeling he’ll confront more as the trilogy continues. As for Diana, she’s the yang to Matthew’s yin. Her frankness, bravery, and ability to sponge-absorb all the information thrown at her make her a truly admirable heroine. Sometimes her childishness irritated me, and I hope Diana eventually outgrows it, but it didn’t prevent me from connecting with her.

So, yes, A Discovery of Witches was quite the discovery. While Harkness’ writing style could use some tightening and the story’s turtle-pace tried my patience, the characters and other redeeming qualities compelled me to keep reading. Hey, it’s not very often that I tear through a novel of this length in less than 2 weeks! That’s why I’m giving Discovery an *Unputdownable*. Hopefully the issues I had with this novel will be resolved in Shadow of Night (although the reviews I’ve read so far indicate they might not be). That news, however, won’t deter me from following Diana and Matthew on their search for Ashmole 782.

Have you read A Discovery of Witches? 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 whether you found my review helpful by clicking here to find it on Amazon and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”

Stacking The Shelves: Volume 2 – Post-Birthday Fantasy Haul

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Welcome to the latest volume of Stacking the Shelves! This meme is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may those books be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and e-books.

Volume 2 of Stacking The Shelves includes one gift (yay!) and three book purchases since Volume 1. Here they are! Continue reading