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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Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 20: Cheers for Bookmail!

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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.

After some big hauls from Writer’s Digest Conference and the Boston Teen Author Festival, and with Christmas not too far away, I haven’t felt the need to buy books lately.  But thanks to two giveaway wins, a pre-order, and a book I’ve been so eager to read that I needed it ASAP, I’ve got some new goodies to share with you! And really, what book lover doesn’t love bookmail? 🙂

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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?

Interview with Karina Sumner-Smith, Author of “Radiant”

Karina Sumner-Smith

You never know where a book is going to take you sometimes. That was the case with Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel Radiant. I guessed from the jacket copy that it would be a cross between urban fantasy and dystopian science fiction. But in the end, I couldn’t pigeon-hole Radiant because, well, I couldn’t. *lol* It’s imaginative, beautifully written, and too difficult to categorize – in a good way that’s equally hard to describe. Does that make sense? Anyway, if you’re looking for a futuristic fantasy that emphasizes world-building and focuses on friendship instead of romance as the primary relationship, Radiant may just sate your appetite.

Today I’m thrilled to have Karina Sumner-Smith here to talk about Radiant as well as her path to becoming a published author. What kind of writing did Karina explore before tackling novels? What YA fantasy novels does she recommend to fans of adult fantasy? And, what can readers expect from her forthcoming sequels to Radiant? Read on to find out the answers to these questions, and much more!

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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.”