Empire of Storms

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius as war looms on the horizon. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.

With her heart sworn to the warrior-prince by her side, and her fealty pledged to the people she is determined to save, Aelin will delve into the depths of her power to protect those she loves. But as monsters emerge from the horrors of the past, and dark forces become poised to claim her world, the only chance for salvation will lie in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

In this breathtaking fifth installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, Aelin will have to choose what—and who—to sacrifice if she’s to keep the world of Erilea from breaking apart.

Oh boy. This book broke my heart six ways to Sunday. It took me forever to finish it, but that was because I couldn’t stop reading it when I picked it up. Not ideal for someone who primarily reads before bed. Luckily I was traveling a lot this month and was able to knock out this monster on a couple of plane rides.

I’m glad I waited to read this book until the paperback came out. I’m also glad I haven’t been waiting as long as everyone else for Tower of Dawn.

Empire of Storms is decidedly more grown-up than earlier books in the Throne of Glass series. A lot more sex, a lot more graphic sex in particular, a lot more romance, and even more violence. Though I have to say Empire of Storms has some epic battle sequences. I believe I read somewhere there’s a show in the works for the Throne of Glass series. Though unless HBO is doing it, I can’t help, but feel that it might be a disappointment.

I think every character who’s not Aelin is my favorite. I do find her (as do most of the other characters in the book) more than a little insufferable. But she is balanced by her more redeeming qualities. My favorites are Rowan, Manon, Elide, and Lysandra.

Which makes me impatient to read the conclusion to this series! On Maas’ website, the seventh book is expected out on May 1st, 2018 and Goodreads reports that it will be the final book in the series. I hope so – I don’t think my heart can take any more cliffhangers only to wait months for the next book!

Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

Neil Gaiman is the undisputed king of creepy, yet comedic dark fantasy and Neverwhere is no exception.

Richard Mayhew himself is a bit dull, but the book would lose something if Richard weren’t playing the straight man to the unfolding craziness of London Below and the people and creatures that live there. Richard serves as a proxy for our own feelings and makes Neverwhere so much the better for it. He is rounded out by Door, an unflappable girl with the power to open any door.

Neverwhere is even creepier than I remember American Gods or Anansi Boys being. Croup and Vandemar are two truly dark individuals and Gaiman seems to draw no lines when it comes to describing the full extent of their evilness.

I’ve had Neverwhere on my shelf for awhile and always thought it was a newer book, but I see it was actually published in the 90’s. Which makes the recent news that there will be a sequel to Neverwhere that much more interesting. The ending of the book and the mysteries unearthed in its pages make it seem that a sequel was inevitable. Yet twenty years have gone by and there is only the whisper of another book in the works. According to Goodreads, Gaiman is at work on The Seven Sisters, with no publication date set.

Jade Dragon Mountain

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.

Li Du was an imperial Chinese librarian. Now he is an exile. In 1780, three years of wandering have brought him to Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border. He expects a quiet outpost barely conscious of its place within the empire, but Dayan is teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. The crowds have been drawn by the promise of an unmatched spectacle; an eclipse of the sun, commanded by the Emperor himself. 

Amid the frenzy, Li Du befriends an elderly Jesuit astronomer. Hours later, the man is murdered in the home of the local magistrate, and Li Du suspects it was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can’t keep his own story straight. 

Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the pass over Jade Dragon Mountain that will take him out of China forever. But he cannot ignore the murder that the town is all too eager to forget. As Li Du investigates, he begins to suspect that the murderer intends to kill again. The eclipse is coming. Li Du must solve the murder before the sun disappears. If he does not, then someone, perhaps Li Du himself, will never again see its light.

This was my suggestion for book club this month, but I actually chose it because I almost bought the second book in the series, The White Mirror, in a book shop in Estes Park, Colorado. When I realized there was another book, I bought News of the World instead. I was pleased when my book club chose my suggestion of Jade Dragon Mountain because I was still thinking about this series and how interesting it sounded.

I loved this book from start to finish. A historical fiction mystery set in China? Yes please. This book delivered on all fronts and was really even better than I had imagined it would be. The world Elsa Hart created was absolutely beautiful, elegant, and exotic. The mystery didn’t feel forced, but natural and I neither suspected the culprit, nor saw the final twist coming.

I learned a great deal reading this book, which is always fun. I can’t think of any others books I’ve read that are set in China except for those by Amy Tan. It was fun to discover a new author and one with as intoxicating a style as Elsa Hart.

My edition of this novel had an interview with the author and well as information about some of her source materials for the book. She has really lived an interesting life and I enjoyed reading about that as well as the books that helped with her research…including some that made it into the pages of Jade Dragon Mountain!

I’m excited to keep reading about the adventures of Li Du in The White Mirror – now on my short list of books to purchase (though I’m at that point again where I should really not be buying more books….)

Also, I really, really, really love dumplings and tea. The descriptions of both in this book ignited some major cravings! Anyone have a favorite place for dumplings in San Diego?

News of the World

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

I don’t remember how I first heard of this book, but when I found myself needing to go to the bookstore on vacation to buy another book, I picked this one up because I remembered wanting to read it. Also can we talk about how great of a title News of the World is?!

I really enjoyed News of the World. I read it pretty much in one sitting on the plane ride home. It’s a lovely little historical fiction novel. In fact my only real complaint is that it was over too soon and I wish there was more to it!

The time and place of this novel is so well researched you definitely feel as if you’re there. I haven’t read any books set during the Reconstruction era, at least that I can remember. It was a nice change of pace to be reading about something that is rarely explored in historical fiction.

The two main characters of Captain Kidd and Johanna were just wonderful. I hope this book gets made into a movie at some point…I’d love to see these two come to life!

Funny side note about this book: When I was doing my research for my WPW on the colors of lightning, I kept finding references to a book called The Color of Lightning. Turns out the Paulette Jiles is also the author of that book!

This was my first book by this author and am interested in reading some of her others – does anyone have recommendations for me?

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove By Fredrik Backman

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

This one was on my TBR for what felt like forever! Several people recommended I read it, but it wasn’t until my bookclub picked it that I actually got around to reading it.

I loved this book from the moment I read the first chapter head. I felt instantly in love with Ove and had a hard time putting it down. In the paraphrased words of my boyfriend the first night I picked it up:

“I thought you said you were just going to read for a little bit before bed.”

“I did read for a little bit!”

“Babe, it’s been an hour.”

Oopsie. Sorry love!

It is a rare book that legitimately makes me laugh out loud. Most of the time, a funny section of the book only elicits a smile from me. I laughed multiple times during my reading of A Man Called Ove, the kind of real, bellyshakin’ laugh that brings tears to your eyes.

Cat Annoyance.

It still makes me laugh! I have two Cat Annoyances myself and I have to say the author perfectly captured the nature of cats.

In fact, every single character from Ove to the Cat Annoyance to the Pregnant One was absolutely amazing and so well characterized. I wish I could read a whole series about these people!

If you’re on the fence about reading this one, do it. It’s a rare jewel among the sea of books out there.

Has anyone watched the movie? I am wondering if it loves up to the pure wonder and delight of the book. Leave me a comment if you’ve seen the movie or read this book or both!

Dragon Teeth

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate America’s western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.

Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the west to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition.  But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. William is forced to join forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions.  With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and William’s newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the West’s most notorious characters.

It’s always interesting reading a book published posthumously. You always have to wonder how much of the book was “found” and how much was ghostwritten. Since Michael Crichton died, there have been three novels of his published posthumously: Pirate LatitudesMicro, and now Dragon Teeth. I’ve read both Pirate Latitudes and Micro as well as Jurassic ParkThe Lost World, Congo, Prey, The Andromeda Strain, Timeline, Rising Sun, and Next.

I had pretty low expectations for Dragon Teeth. I liked Pirate Latitudes, but not as much as Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Prey, and The Andromeda Strain, which are my favorite Crichton books. I did not like Micro much at all. So coming off of that, I was not expecting much. But this one proved me wrong.

I’ll admit that with the writing of my own novel, my brain has been permanently stuck in the later part of the nineteenth century. So take that as you will. But I really, really liked this one. It was a little rough around the edges, but the concept was fantastic and manages to deliver. Hunting for dinosaur bones in the Wild Wild West? Sign me up!

The story rattles along at a great clip, managing to blend the speed of a thriller with true history and scientific fact. My only criticism is that the narrative voice in this one is a little weird. The introduction purports that the narrator is someone from the future telling the story of William Johnson. Which, ok, that’s fine. It gives a little narrative distance to the story. But it also means that the narrator sometimes delivers a page of straight historical fact or does some really heavy-handed foreshadowing that feels at odds with the story. It wouldn’t be so bad if the narrative came full circle back to whomever this distant narrator is, but the narrator kind of fades out from the story. And the author’s note states that William Johnson is entirely fictitious. So the issue of the distant narrator is never satisfactorily explained.

Aside from these momentary oddities, this is a very solid novel. According to the afterward from his wife, it seems Crichton might have been working on this book as early as 1973. So possibly some of the stuff that’s rough around the edges is merely the work of a less experienced writer that didn’t get edited out because they wanted to leave the story intact as they found it? I have no idea, but I think it’s a plausible theory.

I will say though, in my opinion while Dragon Teeth does not squeeze out any of my top four Crichton novels, it’s earned itself the last spot in the top 5. It’s a fun ride from start to finish.

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood By Margaret Atwood

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners–a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life–has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God’s Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Have others survived? Ren’s bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers . . .

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo’hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can’t stay locked away . . .

I actually purchased this book prior to getting Oryx and Crake, even though Oryx and Crake is the first book in the series. I think it was because a lot of people say you don’t have to read Oryx and Crake to understand this novel. While that’s true, I think you would miss a lot if you did that and I’m glad I didn’t in retrospect.

The Year of the Flood is a novel that runs parallel to the events of Oryx and Crake rather than building upon it. It provides a different perspective on the world and expands it. Oryx and Crake is a little more enclosed and gives more explanation of things to the reader, but The Year of the Flood assumes you know the basics of the world-building. You could probably figure things out in context, but you could also just read Oryx and Crake first and not have to do that.

This series is definitely dark, violent, and gritty. There is nothing beautiful about Atwood’s dystopian vision, not even in that tragically beautiful way that some dystopian novels are. The MaddAddam world is lonely, cruel, and nasty and made that much more so by the apocalypse that rains down on it. It’s like the Game of Thrones of the dystopian genre.

I enjoyed seeing the female perspective on the world in this book after seeing the male side of things in Oryx and Crake. Both of the primary narrators are female and their story is told in alternating chapters along with the letters from Adam One to the God’s Gardeners and selections from the God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook. I saw in the acknowledgements that someone actually set the hymns to music. You can find information about that here.

I’m interested to see where the story goes in the third book, MaddAddam. Clearly, this is not a traditional trilogy so I don’t know really what to expect. I don’t know anyone who has actually read this series, so I have not had even a hint of how the series ends!