Review: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Rhythm of War
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: TOR
Genres: Fantasy
Length: 1232 pages
My Rating: ★★★★★
5/5 stars

Summary

“After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained an advantage, and the threat of a betrayal by Dalinar’s crafty ally Taravangian looms over every strategic move.

Now, as new technological discoveries by Navani Kholin’s scholars begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength.

At the same time that Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with his changing role within the Knights Radiant, his Windrunners face their own problem: As more and more deadly enemy Fused awaken to wage war, no more honorspren are willing to bond with humans to increase the number of Radiants. Adolin and Shallan must lead the coalition’s envoy to the honorspren stronghold of Lasting Integrity and either convince the spren to join the cause against the evil god Odium, or personally face the storm of failure.”

Review

If you have not read the first three stormlight archive books, don’t you dare keep reading. Everyone deserves the magic of reading the Stormlight Archive for the first time spoiler-free and spinning with crackpot theories about where Brandon Sanderson is leading you. But if you have, then please: read on.

First of all, the book itself is gorgeous. I got a signed copy from Barnes and Noble. The dust jacket has a beautiful full-color map of Roshar, and the end sheets have full-color art of the heralds! I wish I could frame all of it. It’s amazing. 

As for the book itself, it pulls no punches in a myriad of ways. I’m going to break it down by  highlighting characters or arcs that especially shone in this book: 

  1. Navani
    1. Right from the very first viewpoint with Navani, it tore at my heart. Rhythm of War felt like the first books that highlighted her thoughts and emotions. In doing so, it completely changed my mind about her. I used to think she was kind of one dimensional. Rhythm of War completely changes that. I adored watching Navani come into her own! I will not speak a lot on her arc because there are many spoilers; however, I will say she continually blew me away. I cannot wait to see the impact she has on future books. Navani Kholin is a certified badass. 
  2. Adolin
    1. Adolin Has firmly cemented himself as a steady glue for all of the other characters around him. He is a source of positivity; I love watching him interact with both Shallan and Kaladin. He was in the shadesmar storyline, and I like that because Shallan was stressing me out this book. He provided a breath of fresh air and a distinct viewpoint on the crazy things around them. He is opening up to an exciting storyline because of the unique bond he shares with Maya the deadeyes.
  3. Kaladin
    1. Kaladin chapters were challenging for me to read. They were a great representation of the impacts of PTSD and depression. Some of the steps Kaladin takes to help others and do what he does best were 10 out of 10; I absolutely loved it. However, it does hurt to see a character I care about so much going through so much internal pain and not seeing their own value. His growth in this book looked quite different from previous Kaladin viewpoints but led to some great pay off watching him grow and learn to accept all the different sides of himself.
  4. Shallan
    1. Shallan’s chapters had me biting my nails. She is going through a lot. If you remember from the previous book, she was starting to fear a formless thing in her mind. Her existing triad of personalities are intriguing and scary at the same time – there’s a push and pull to their coexistence that keeps me on edge. I can’t personally speak to how accurate the representation of Dissassociative Identity Disorder is. However, I felt like she was an accessible character that I could understand even though I couldn’t relate. I’ve heard many great things from people who do suffer from DID about how Brandon handled Shallan’s experiences. 

Review: Burn This City by Brenda Poppy

Title: Burn This City
Author: Brenda Poppy
Publisher: Glass Fish Publishing
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 303 pages
My Rating: ★★★.5
3.5/5 stars

Summary

Kasis is an uninhabitable planet, yet there they were – inhabiting. It’s no wonder that prolonged colonization produced…side effects. Or gifts. But with a militarized government that persecutes people for being different, using such a gift could mean certain death.

Auburn Alendra is one of the gifted. Her power allows her to hear into the deepest corners of the polluted city, gathering secrets and using them to her advantage. When one of those secrets threatens her very existence – along with thousands of others throughout the city – Auburn must do everything it takes to fight back.

Along with a resistance force known as the Lunaria, “Burn” races against the clock to infiltrate the government’s Peace Force in search of answers and discover a way to avoid all-out warfare. Join Burn on a thrilling adventure as she navigates the perils of a scarred dystopian landscape and discovers the true cost of survival.

Review

Burn This City did not go the trajectory I had anticipated, and it was all the better for it. All too often in dystopian or science fiction reads there’s an imbalance between an intricately designed setting and some rushed together characters or plot but that was not the case here. In fact, by the end, most of the questions I had revolved around the world itself! I felt like I understood the characters, their motives, and their relationships quite well in the ending. The concept of powers in the world was really interesting, and I like the balance it provided through the idea that more exposure to pollution equates to more individuals with powers, effectively balancing the privileges that those in less polluted areas have. This book was also excellent with foreshadowing – there were things laid out so clearly in the very beginning that I hadn’t even realized tied together until the end reveals. This is a good light read and I’m intrigued to see where book two goes! 

What I especially liked was how unique the gifts in this book were, so I’m going to highlight three of those

  • Burn (Auburn)
    • Auburn has enhanced hearing, to the point that she can hear people several city blocks away. Despite living most of her life with this gift there’s still room for her to explore it. We get to see that growth during that book and the payoff from the growth is great to see. 
  • Scar (Scarlett)
    • Scarlett is kind of a cyborg, in a way? She was born partly metal, which I try not to think of the science behind too deeply because in practice it is freaking cool. She’s like a mechanical savant, fixing and inventing anything she can. 
  • Coal 
    • Can impersonate anyone, but they’re not a shapeshifter. It vaguely reminds me of how Lightweaving from the Stormlight Archive novels works. 

————

Thank you so much to the author, Brenda Poppy, for a copy of Burn This City! It’s out today if you’d like to grab a copy.

Fun Friday: How I’m Preparing for my First NaNoWriMo

 

Obviously, it is October at the time of my posting this. National Novel Writing Month (otherwise referred to as NaNoWriMo) is not until November. If you’re wondering why the heck I’m writing about my experience before I experience it… congrats! You’re in the exact same shoes I was in a few weeks ago. But I’ll get to that point.

When I graduated from college a few months ago, I set a few goals for myself. I’d always loved writing but hadn’t quite had the time to write for fun. In my final semester I took a creative writing class that reignited my love of it. What it did not reignite, though, was my motivation and the ideas I’d once overflowed with. Creativity is a muscle just like anything else. Unfortunately, it was a muscle I hadn’t flexed it in years. It was initially quite difficult for me to justify writing with no clear goal. That class challenged my boundaries and I wanted to do more – so I set myself to writing more! I took baby steps. First, I started reading more. That’s all documented on my bookstagram (@Paiges_next_pages) and also here on my website! Though I read a fair amount prior, I read more mindfully now. I ask myself why something made a story more or less enjoyable. My Fun Friday posts are also a practice in giving myself a prompt, instead of writing to what somebody tells me. That all, though, was very light prep. I felt like I’d stretched for my marathon… but at the start of October, I realized I still didn’t know the route I’d be running.

And thus, I learned that the best practice for NaNoWriMo success was the work done in Preptober. Frankly, my prep is highly likely to fail miserably. I have never charted a book out before. The longest story I’ve written for a class was about forty pages. I absolutely do not expect that, at this time next month, I’ll have anything even remotely resembling a publishable novel. 

But what I do expect is to learn a lot. 

I expect to learn what I should’ve been doing this past month that I overlooked.

I expect to learn more about my own time management methods.

I expect to learn what I did this month that helped my life go more smoothly. 

Most importantly, I’m hoping to cement into my brain something I have learned but never quite managed to internalize. It is so, so much better to have something flawed and clunky to edit than to have never written anything at all. 

So, what have I done for prep this month?

First I had to get an idea. Maybe I’ll decide I hate it and make a game-time change, but for right now I plan on writing something to get myself in the Christmas mood! A fluffy romance that’ll give me plenty of opportunities to watch Christmas and rom-com movies for research. 

The next step, which has been the main focus of my month, was trying out a new planning style! For classes, I flew by the seat of my pants. The issue is that that made me slow and hasn’t worked well for longer pieces. I get too distracted and end up down a Wikipedia hole every time. Instead, I’ve written out the skeleton of what scenes I absolutely want to happen. I’ll focus on writing those first, and if I finish all of them (Ha. I can dream) then I’ll circle back around and write the connections – whatever it takes to reasonably get from one scene to the next and explain any background I missed. 

Again, this is an experiment. I might fail miserably. I am actually very likely to fail miserably at the actual goal of 50k words. But if you think I’m going to fail miserably with this method… maybe wait to let me know until after I learn that lesson for myself? 

Have a great weekend and Happy Halloween! 

Review: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Title: The Once and Future Witches
Author: C.L. Polk
Publisher: Redhook Books
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Length: 528 pages
My Rating: ★★★★★
5/5 stars

SUMMARY

“Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?”

REVIEW

As mentioned in my review of The Once and Future Witches, I am absolutely loving the way authors this season have tied together magic and women’s empowerment in new ways. The Midnight Bargain takes a more individualized, romantic approach to a similar theme. I absolutely adored it! It’s a rare occasion in which I can pinpoint the exact scene where a book becomes a five star read for me – but in The Midnight Bargain, I already knew from the ballroom scene that I was enamored. This doesn’t mean it’ll be a five-star read for everyone, though. I have read some valid criticisms of the pacing in this book. As a fast reader, I tend to charge through those sections anyway but if you’re a slow reader it may impact your opinion. This spellbinding read did an excellent job portraying that feminism in any world is not black and white – progress has gray areas, and though those gray areas are better than the alternative we can still fight for more. Ianthe was a delightful love interest, and their struggles as a couple felt so real despite being of magical origin. Beatrice and ysbeta were the perfect example of the idea that strong women don’t all have to want exactly the same thing. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for magic and empowerment wrapped up in a world of social politics. Spoiler ahead, but I’m going to highlight the three ‘solutions’ people have to the issue with women and magic in the world of The Midnight Bargain

  1. Permanent Collars

For many women in this world, they are collared as soon as they’re wed.  Typically, these women aren’t even fully grown when they marry: they’re still just teenage girls. Beatrice describes the collar as a light going out. The world becomes gray and drab, and it feels like her soul was sucked out of her body. With this alternative, women have to spend their lives from their teens to past childbearing age (so, somewhere between 30 and 40 years) in this state. Their husbands control their lives and they go through the world as a shell of themselves. 

  1. Pregnancy Collars

In the world’s existing “radical” option, some societies only collar women when they’re likely to be pregnant. Though this is slightly better, the way magic develops in The Midnight Bargain means that a woman could still never become a fully achieved Magus. The collar cuts off their access to the magic, leaving them unable to ever fully bond a greater spirit. 

SPOILER

SPOILER 

SPOILER

  1. Collar-Free

At the end, Beatrice and Ianthe learn that all of these methods existed to erase the actual, existing safe method used in the past. In ancient societies where women were equal, a sorcerer father and sorceress mother would both send their greater spirits to defend the fetus while it grows. In this way, neither spirit would be able to possess it and turn the child into a dangerous creature. By hiding this method and erasing it from common knowledge, men were able to subjugate women and prevent them from ever reaching full equality. By bringing it back into the world, Beatrice gives the choice back to women. I really appreciated this ending, instead of Beatrice coming to terms with sometimes being collared. It did a wonderful job of representing an actual, real-life problem. Just because a society is slightly better to oppressed groups of people doesn’t mean they can’t still improve. 

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Be sure to check out my instagram for some moore bookish posts and photos @paiges_next_pages ! I’ll be doing a giveaway on there quite soon.

Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow

Title: The Once and Future Witches
Author: Alix Harrow
Publisher: Redhook Books
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Length: 528 pages
My Rating: ★★★★★
5/5 stars

SUMMARY

“In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.”

REVIEW

Between this book and The Midnight Bargain (review coming soon!), I think my new favorite oddly-specific subgenre of books is “ultra-feminist witches fighting the patriarchy with books”. 

More specifically in The Once and Future Witches, three sisters caught up in the suffragist movement in their alternate United States reawaken magic that had long been erased. This book felt so real that, on several occasions, I had to stop and ask myself if some of these characters were real historical figures. They weren’t, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t feel like they absolutely could have been. Even the most fleeting of side characters had a personality that felt lifelike and multifaceted. Coming from a family of three sisters myself, I loved the focus on the sibling relationship and the power that can come from it. This book was beautifully written, smartly plotted out, and carries a message like every good fairy-tale should. Instead of analyzing three aspects of the book, I’m just going to highlight some of my favorite quotes that I earmarked throughout my read!

“Witching and women’s rights. Suffrage and spells. They’re both…” She gesture in midair again. “They’re both a kind of power, aren’t they? The kind we aren’t allowed to have.”

pg 47

Except she doesn’t get to choose for herself anymore. She smooths her blouse over her belly. “I can’t start any trouble. For her sake.”

Juniper looks down at her hand. “Oh, I think you’ve got to. For her sake.” She meets Agnes’ eyes, challenging. “Don’t you want to give her a better story than this one?”

pg 126

“I wonder sometimes where the first witch came from. If perhaps Adam deserved Eve’s curse.” His smile twists. “If behind every witch is a woman wronged”

pg 222

In short, I really loved this book. I’m fully ready to go take up witchcraft and smash an oppressive patriarchy. On that note, I will also leave you with one of my favorite tumblr text posts of all time and a reminder to my American friends: GO VOTE.

Fun Friday: The 5 Ways I Started Listening to More Audiobooks

I know, I know. The audiobook debate is a very touchy topic in some circles – but studies have found that in brain scans, the regions and intensity of brain activity while reading books or listening to audiobooks are indistinguishable. Don’t let any debbie downer get in the way of you enjoying more books – it’s the same thing either way!

I’d always been turned off from trying audiobooks because I figured I’d be too distracted to listen properly. I simply couldn’t think of times where I would reasonably sit still and listen instead of sit still and read. Maybe this is something everyone else knows… but there’s a lot more of those moments in my life than I realized. Some moments were very specific to my own life and hobbies, but taking advantage of those moments has helped me read so many more books! I’m absolutely an audiobook convert now. Right now I’m in the middle of Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff on Audible. So between all the rest I have going on in my life when the heck do I listen to audiobooks? I approached it by thinking about the times I listen to music or would be chatting with someone on the phone.  If I can focus on that, why couldn’t I also focus on a book?

  • In the car –
    • I’ve been listening to audiobooks on the drive to work. This was initially where I would solely listen since it was the lowest hanging fruit. Obviously, I don’t recommend this if you’re in bumper to bumper traffic and just trying to get in the next lane without dying (something I’m familiar with, having grown up in Southern California) but if your drive anywhere is a nice open road like we have here in Mississippi, it’s the perfect recipe for some easy listening.
  • Cooking meals –
    • Normally if I’m cooking, I’ll listen to music or call a friend up. Sometimes I’ll listen to podcasts but I’m not a podcast person. The only one I listen to is Writing Excuses, which I would HIGHLY recommend if you have even a passing interest in writing fiction of any kind. But I digress. Lately, I’ve been popping my headphones in and listening to books instead!
  • Working on hobbies –
    • I do a lot with my hands besides cooking. I am very true to my personality type and tend to pick up a new hobby for every passing moon. Embroidery, gardening, painting… you name it, I’ve probably tried it. A lot of those tend to lend themselves to turning on music. Lately, I’ve been interspersing that music with books and it’s been so nice! Having a story to listen to has also boosted my creativity in times where I worry I’m falling into a rut. I just switch back and forth from music to books whenever it seems like my brain is starting to idle.
  • Doing Chores –
    • I recently had a rude awakening when I moved out of my college dorm room. There I was only responsible for cleaning up my small postage stamp of personal space. Now, though, I’m living in a house where I have to, you know, mop and vacuum and dust and scrub and all manner of basic chores around common spaces outside my bedroom that weren’t my issue before. Do you know what makes realizing you’re an adult with responsibilities hurt much less? Listening to a nice fluffy romance novel and pretending you’re not scrubbing a toilet. Trust me, try it.
  • Falling asleep –
    • I am guilty several times over of falling asleep with a book next to me, all the still lights on and the pages irreparably bent. What Iove about audiobook apps is I can lay my phone next to my bed and set the sleep timer on. I’m a lot less likely to stay up way too late on a weeknight that way, and I don’t have to worry about damaging my book if I happen to pass out on top of it. I just shut the lights off and let someone read me to sleep.

So, if you’re looking to get into audiobooks give one of these times a try and let me know what you think! If you’re an audiobook listener as well, please drop a few of your favorite times to listen in the comments as well for myself and others to. learn from!

Have a great weekend!

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab

Title: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: VE Schwab
Publisher: TOR
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
Length: 448 pages
My Rating: ★★★★★
5/5 stars

Summary

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name

Review

This was arguably my most anticipated book of the year. I was enamored with the cover and the description also had me intrigued. You would not believe how badly I’d hoped my NetGalley request would be approved. I only became more excited to read this after reading the article VE Schwab shared with The Oprah Magazine earlier this week. Her story was poignant, touching, and relatable for anyone who has struggled with an aspect of their identity. Schwab mentioned that as she’s grown, her characters have grown with her. She said, “They take up space in the world, space they deserve”. Taking up space she deserves in the world is something Addie LaRue excels at, even while being forgotten by everyone she meets. She’s a delightful character and her craving for the world, for new experiences, is something I think everyone can relate to. She’s a modern-day princess Belle, seeking out the great wide somewhere. Though this story is framed by her romance with Henry, a modern-day man that inexplicably can remember her, the true focal point of the story is following Addie’s romp through the last 300 years as she discovers how an anonymous, essentially voiceless woman can still make her mark on the world at large. Even the ending was exquisitely handled in a story where there weren’t quite perfect heroes. As I mentioned in last week’s Fun Friday post… I may or may not have Kim Kardashian cried for several chapters straight. Each character was real, flawed, and simply trying to make the best of the path they wander. Addie drinks in life like it’s a glass of champagne – delightful, a little bitter, but ultimately exhilarating. I adore the way VE Schwab presented this and really let her language change as Addie grew older (only mentally – who wouldn’t kill to forever look like you’re in your mid twenties?) and saw the world through an immortal lens. 

1.  On leaving her village for the first time – “And by the time they return home to Villon, she will already be a different version of herself. A room with the windows thrown wide open, eager to let in the fresh air, the sunlight, the spring.

Addie starts out idealistic and in love with the world. This would normally set me on edge because I feel like so many authors take this as a chance to make their main characters grow into cynical, dark people. Addie is delicate and excitable and headstrong and I was sincerely hoping she’d hold on to that over the years. 

2. On learning to read – “It will be a grueling journey, full of starts and stops and myriad frustrations… it will take time, but time is one thing Addie has plenty of. So she opens her eyes, and starts again.” 

A century or so later, and Addie is still discovering new and beautiful things. She is learning and filled with an incomparable craving for everything the world has to offer. I am, to put it lightly, obsessed with this character. 

3. On endings – “But Addie cannot bear the thought of giving up, of giving in, of going down without a fight” 

If Addie wasn’t still so in love with the world, she wouldn’t have hit the point of feeling like this. I appreciate that her time has made her even more headstrong and willing to stick to her guns. Her love of life isn’t a weakness, it’s her best trait and it pushes her to fight for people that might forget her in the next instant.

Overall, I think this book was amazing. VE Schwab never disappoints and this might be her best story yet! 5/5 stars, and if you’ve read it already – what did you think of that ending?!

Fun Friday: 18 books that’ll get the tears flowing

Happy Friday!

This week, I read VE Schwab’s new book The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I’ll be posting a full review on Monday, but WOW. I was a mess throughout the whole ending. May or may not have been crying through most of the last couple of chapters. But, this week’s totally theoretical ugly crying aside, I realized there’s really not many books that can get to me like that. Are you a crier? Because I’m not. I can watch Up with a totally straight face, even once read the end of Marley & Me just fine with my yellow labrador sitting right next to me. That’s not to say I never cry (I actually do quite often) but it’s always over unexpected stuff. Like seeing a cute puppy, or my boyfriend surprising me with dessert.  So, I started thinking about books that have really gotten to me and asked my friends and Instagram followers what books have made them cry. 

The responses covered a wide range to say the least. Though they mostly were YA or women’s fiction, which is to be expected considering my followers are mostly women in the YA age range, not a single person overlapped with someone else about which book makes them cry! 

So, without further ado, here is the exhaustive list of books in alphabetical order, with goodreads links if you’d like to see more about any of them. 

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
    “Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.
    When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.
    Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever. “
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
    “So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one…Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Abdullah, Pari – as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named – is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. Each night they sleep together in their cot, their heads touching, their limbs tangled. One day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand. Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, with profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, the ways in which we help our loved ones in need, how the choices we make resonate through history and how we are often surprised by the people closest to us”
  • Beach Read by Emily Henry
    “Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
    They’re polar opposites.
    In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
    Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.”
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama 
    “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
    In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.”
  • Bridge to Terabithia by  Katherine Paterson
    “Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He’s been practicing all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys’ side and outruns everyone.
    That’s not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.”
  • The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare 
    “In a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments series.
    The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them”
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
    “Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
    Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..
    But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
    Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
    Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”
  • If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern
    “Elizabeth Egan’s life runs on order: Both her home and her emotions are arranged just so, with little room for spontaneity. It’s how she counteracts the chaos of her family—an alcoholic mother who left when she was young, an emotionally distant father, and a free-spirited sister, who seems to be following in their mother’s footsteps, leaving her own six-year-old son, Luke, in Elizabeth’s care.
    When Ivan, Luke’s mysterious new grown-up friend, enters the picture, Elizabeth doesnt know quite what to make of him. With his penchant for adventure and colorful take on things large and small, Ivan opens Elizabeth’s eyes to a whole new way of living. But is it for real? Is Ivan for real?”
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson 
    “An unforgettable true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in America — from one of the most inspiring lawyers of our time.
    Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned.
    Just Mercy tells the story of EJI, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.
    One of EJI’s first clients was Walter McMillian, a young Black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he didn’t commit. The case exemplifies how the death penalty in America is a direct descendant of lynching — a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.”
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
    “They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .
    Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
    Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.”
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
    “Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
    Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.”
  • Separated by Jacob Soboroff
    “Donald Trump’s most infamous decision as president, to systematically separate thousands of migrant families at the border, was in effect for months before most Americans saw the living conditions of the children in custody at the epicenter of the policy. NBC News and MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff was among the first journalists to expose the truth of what their lives were like on the inside after seeing them firsthand. His widely shared reports in June 2018 ignited public scrutiny that contributed to the President reversing his own policy by Executive Order, and earned Soboroff the Cronkite Award for Excellence in Political Broadcast Journalism and the 2019 Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism.
    In Separated, Soboroff weaves together his own experience unexpectedly covering this national issue with other key figures in the drama he met along the way, including feuding administration officials responsible for tearing apart and then reuniting families, and the parents and children who were caught in the middle. He reveals new and exclusive details of how the policy was carried out, and how its affects are still being felt. 
    Today, there is still not a full accounting of the total number of children the President ripped away from their parents. The exact number may never be known, only that it is in the thousands. Now the President is doubling down on draconian immigration policies, including threatening to hold migrant families indefinitely and making tens of thousands applying for asylum wait in some of Mexico’s most dangerous cities. Separated is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how Trump and his administration were able to carry out this inhumane policy, and how so many missed what was happening before it was too late. Soboroff lays out compassionately, yet in the starkest of terms, its human toll, and makes clear what is at stake in the 2020 presidential election.”
  • Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
    “Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
    Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.”
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    “It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
    By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
    But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
    In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.”
  • The Fault in our Stars by John Green 
    “Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
    Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.”
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thompson  
    “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
    Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
    But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”
  • the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu
    “What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
    From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.”
  • The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
    “Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.
    Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts. “

Have any of these gotten to you? Or do you have a book that you think should absolutely be up here? Let me know in the comments! I’m considering making a page on here with a whole guide linking to cry-worthy reads.

Fun Friday: Recent(ish) books that remind me why books are magic

There are a lot of books that have strongly influenced the way that I think, the way that I write, and the way that I approach other books when I read them.  Not all of them are Timeless Classics that are beloved worldwide – a lot of them have come out quite recently and aren’t in genres that are constantly lauded on the internet. I was thinking more about that today because one of those books is just having its fifth publishing anniversary and the author is revisiting it for a couple of online events. 

The book that got me back into reading critically back in high school was a YA book called A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston. What I love about it is it took an ancient story and managed to turn it into something completely fresh and new that told a very different message than the original myth did. Johnston did especially well in that she doesn’t name any of the normal characters. While that sounds like it could be confusing, in this case, it lent itself to the idea that any small insignificant person could completely change the course of history. It was excellently done and when coupled with the rich, poetic language in the book it felt like a journey. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and I always highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read. 

Another one that I always gush about and am SO thankful an internet fandom exists for is, basically, the entirety of Brandon Sanderon’s Cosmere universe but especially The Stormlight Archive. That series is a lot to summarize spoiler-free, but what I love about it si that Sanderson doesn’t shy away from deeply flawed characters. Jasnah Kholin is also so intriguing for me, as an atheist character who sticks to her beliefs and logic despite being in the middle of basically a war between the gods she scorned. The world-building is astounding, the characters are all wonderful, and Sanderson far surpasses the (sadly low) bar for white, male fantasy authors depicting women, people of color, etc. in thoughtful and realistic ways. Nothing in the book is overly gratuitous – it all serves a purpose and lends itself to a branching but tightly interwoven narrative. 

On a much more gratuitous and violent note, The Power by Naomi Alderman still haunts my thoughts sometimes even though I read it several years ago. It’s a modern Handmaid’s Tale. This book explores what happens when the standard gender roles in the world flip exactly 180 and goes on to highlight the danger of ideals that maintain the same power structure with new people at its head as opposed to creating a newer, more balanced structure. Alderman does not pull her punches. This book is not for the faint of heart, but I also wholeheartedly believe this is a book anyone who feels strongly about gender politics should read. 

On another light note, I recently read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman for a creative writing course and completely devoured it. It’s quick and light and could easily be read to children. Something in its simplicity makes it all the more enchanting. Gaiman doesn’t feel a need to explain how any of the magic truly works, nor do you feel much of a need to ask – while reading, you’re simply too swept up into the story. It feels nostalgic and fun and somehow incredibly haunting at the same time. Neil Gaiman obviously has a multitude of excellent books, but this one has claimed a special place in my heart. 

What books first made you fall in love with reading? And what books have kept you in love with it to this day? 

Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Title: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
Author: Christopher Paolini
Publisher: Tor Books
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 880 pages
My Rating: ★★★.5
3.5/5 stars

Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .”

Review

The middle portion of this book became so incredibly intense that I actually had to take a break and read a fluffy rom-com book in the middle of it. If I was any other person, this would be a 5-star read. Instead, I am the person who gets so anxious about where a movie is going that I have to google the ending halfway through to even bear the crescendo of an intense plot. There are multiple episodes of The Office that, to this day, I cannot rewatch thanks to how overwhelmingly anxious they make me feel. Seriously – don’t make me watch Scott’s Tots. I try my best to not read ahead to the ending of books because I can take them at any pace I need to set my heart at ease. The pace I needed in the midst of this book just so happened to be an entire intermission period in which I finished One to Watch while trying not to daydream about evil, cancerous alien abominations, and how heavy the burden of keeping the peace and saving all known life in the universe must be. This book was so much that I don’t think I can break it down into a neat, three-part highlight of where the author did or didn’t shine like I typically do. It might take several rereads before I hit a point like that. On top of the fact I don’t know if I could make myself experience that emotional rollercoaster again so soon, I fear vastly oversimplifying an intricate web of moral quandaries, diligently researched physics, and intriguingly structured character arcs. 

Disclaimer for the faint of heart like me aside, this was an impressive book. Eragon was a long time ago, and I was curious to see what aspects of Paolini’s writing became a stylistic pattern, and what were habits he outgrew. On one hand I’m happy to say that this story arc and the approach to writing female characters are so. damn. amazing. There was depth, there was range, and it didn’t feel cliche or tropey in the slightest. On the other hand, I’m so happy for one specific character type he kept exactly the same: There’s an eccentric wise woman with a cat that I dearly wish had been named Solembum. This oddball potential space-witch (unconfirmed but I can dream, okay?) said arguably the most memorable quote of the whole book: “Eat the path”. 

Don’t like the choices laid out before you? Eat the path. 

Want to seize the day? Eat the path.

No idea what the hell you’re doing? Eat the path. 

It’s really quite a versatile platitude – I fully intend to adopt it into a daily mantra. 

So, pros of reading To Sleep in a Sea of Stars:

  • (possible) Space witch
  • empowered women empowering women
  • super cool, theoretically possible science
  • pretty cover
  • classic sci fi, raising thoughtful questions about what it means to be human

cons:

  • Incredibly intense if you’re a wimp like me
  • no really, spoilers but you read a scene where somebody cuts off their own limb
  • like please if you’re faint of heart maybe have a happy place or some ice cream easily accessible

So, long story short, this was a great book and I blame my own quirks for the fact I wasn’t wholeheartedly obsessed with it. If you’re into science fiction at all, you absolutely should read it. Even if you’re a wimp like me you should read it – just have something soothing available for when you need a break 🙂