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Author: Celeste

A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone, #1)

A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone, #1)

A Time of Dread by John Gwynne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Sometimes the only answer is blood and steel.”

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I loved getting to revisit the Banished Lands, which is among by favorite fantasy worlds. On the other, seeing the way this world has changed in the over a century since the events of The Faithful and the Fallen (TFatF) was painful. But that’s part of the point.

While Gwynne’s original series set in the Banished Land had a lot of warring and sadness and character deaths, I wouldn’t call it grimdark. There was a hopefulness to the story that in my opinion negated that genre. However, I would say that this first book of the followup series is undoubtedly grimdark. The brightness that managed to shine through in the first series isn’t present here, which made me sad. That said, I get the reasoning behind it. The world that the cast of TFatF fought for has been preserved, but at a high price. It has been undeniably altered, and not for the better. Looking back on the events of the first four books, this alteration saddens me because it makes the fight feel like it wasn’t worth the cost. But that’s not true, and I’m hoping that in the second installment of this followup series, we’ll see a bit more of the hope that defined TFatF.

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Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co., #1)

Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co., #1)

Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Be brave, be curious, be kind.”

I have the most wonderful friends. And those I talk to the most, I’ve never even met in person. There’s a group of us (most of whom now write for the blog we built together, Novel Notions) who talk almost every single day. For the past three years, we’ve sent each other birthday presents and Secret Santa gifts for Christmas. Almost always books, of course. We’ve been there for each other through both extreme hardship and profound joy. Even though I can’t give them a physical shoulder to cry on because of the distance, I know they’re always there for me, and I’m certain they feel the same about me. We love each other, and we share a common passion, the combination of which spawned our wonderful blog. Book friends are the best friends.

“I love thinking about other people reading the books I love, or why someone gave that book as a present – those names and messages are like tiny moments of time travel linking readers from different eras and families and even countries.”

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Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Little Fires Everywhere is a powerful story that I never would have read had I known what it was actually about. I’m glad that I read it, and I applaud Ng’s astute and canny characterizations. However, this book is the closest I’ve ever come to actually being triggered by something, which I’ll explain further below. I’ve read books in the past that were very dark or depressing, but I could recognize those elements and finish the book, knowing that the book wasn’t really for me but no worse off for having read it. But this book messed with my head and brought back to the forefront of my mind feelings I thought had been laid to rest.

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”

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The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Priory of the Orange Tree is among the most beautiful works of literature I’ve ever read. In an age of fantasy where grimdark is by and large the king of the genre, Priory breaks the mold by showcasing breathtaking beauty in its prose.

”We mean to reforge with love what greed has broken.”

If grimdark views the world through a filter of ashy sepia, Priory instead views the world through a filter that oversaturated each and every color, giving every inch of itself an otherworldly brightness that I’ve found in very few fantasy tales. The best comparisons I can think of in tone would be The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. In both of these books, as well as in Priory, there are terrible, nigh-apocalyptic happenings, as are found in nearly every fantasy novel that has captured the imaginations of their readers. The difference is that if you took a deep breath inside the worlds of these three books, you would fill your lungs with the heady scent of orange blossoms and lavender and life, as opposed to the heavy ashen air that would clog your throat in the worlds of their grimdark counterparts. I feel that the beauty of these worlds only increases the tension and the stakes if our heroes cannot find a way to save the day. It’s far sadder to me to watch something heartbreakingly lovely go up in smoke than it is something weathered and grimy. That’s my opinion, at least.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Literary fiction is very hit or miss for me. I’ve read quite a few that I desperately wanted to like, but I just couldn’t. There’s this level of pretension found in the writing of many such titles that I find difficult to stomach. However, I have been fortunate to find some absolutely gorgeous books in the genre, a handful of which are now among my very favorite books on the planet.

“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.”

So where did Sing, Unburied, Sing fall in this mixed bag of a genre? While it doesn’t rank among my favorite books ever, I did very much enjoy it. There’s something about reading a novel that shares your life in some way, whether that entails a shared heritage or setting or lifestyle, that just speaks so deeply to readers. For me, that comes in the form of novels set in the American South. Ward writes stories firmly rooted in the South, and though this was the first of her novels I’ve read, it won’t be the last, because she does a phenomenal job of capturing both the beauty and the repugnance of the rural South.

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Elevation

Elevation

Elevation by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Gravity is the anchor that pulls us down into our graves.”

Elevation is not your typical Stephen King book. First of all, it’s a tiny thing clocking in at fewer than 150 pages. Compared to most of King’s published works, that’s insanely short. He does have some wonderful novellas and short stories, but when a man known for publishing doorstoppers like IT, 11/22/63, Under the Dome, and The Stand publishes something that can be read in a day, it seems like a pretty radical difference. Second, this is not a horror story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely strange, but it didn’t strike me as horror. Instead, it was bittersweetly moving, focusing on friendship and its ability to get us through even the toughest of times.

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Foundryside (Founders, #1)

Foundryside (Founders, #1)

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“All things have a value. Sometimes the value is paid in coin. Other times, it is pain in time and sweat. And finally, sometimes it is paid in blood.

Humanity seems most eager to use this latter currency. And we never note how much of it we’re spending, unless it happens to be our own.”

Foundryside is radically different from Bennett’s Divine Cities series, which served as my introduction to his work. There was an almost flippant lightness to this book, whereas the Divine Cities novels had a philosophical weight to them that gave them immense power and a lasting presence in my mind. I thoroughly enjoyed Foundryside, but it’s not a book I’ll still be mulling over weeks or months from now.

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Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m going to be honest; this isn’t a book I really intended on reading. Contemporary and chick lit aren’t genres that I visit very often, unless they’re written by Nora Roberts. The only reason I decided to pick this up is because I want to watch the HBO series, and I have this thing about not watching a show or movie until I read the material that inspired it. Whatever my reason for giving it a try, I’m very glad I did. I would have been missing out. Big Little Lies is fun and insanely addictive, perfect for reality television junkies or anyone who loves watching train wrecks and happily ever afters in equal measure.

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Wild Country (The World of the Others, #2; The Others, #7)

Wild Country (The World of the Others, #2; The Others, #7)

Wild Country by Anne Bishop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“We are here. We are different but we stand united to protect our home. We are different but we protect our families by blood or by heart. We are different but not alone. Never alone.

We are here.”

Wild Country is a fun return to a world I came to love years ago, but from a side that felt fresh and new and even more dangerous than the original series. It was more vicious than preceding books, though it still maintained the simplicity that first made this world so appealing. However, the brutality and setting hardened some of the softness that made the original series so intriguing, and the inclusion of more sex and language than was used in previous books gave this new community a more jaded and less trusting level of interaction than the Courtyard that so entranced me in Meg Corbyn’s story.

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Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy, #2)

Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy, #2)

Finders Keepers by Stephen King
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I had no plans to pick this book up because I was so disappointed in Mr. Mercedes, the first book in the trilogy. (You can read my Goodreads review of that book here.) My major complaint with that book was its blandness; it just felt incredibly forgettable to me. Not so with Finders Keepers. In this story we have a much more multifaceted plot and, even better, a plot that revolves around books!

I’m a huge sucker for books about books. Even though Finders Keepers is at its core a suspense and a crime drama, fiction played a huge role in the story. A Salinger-esque author has hidden himself from the world, but continues to handwrite more stories and poems and essays, locking the notebooks away in his safe instead of sharing them with the public. When he’s murdered and the notebooks go missing, the author becomes even more cloaked in mystery.

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