June 23, 2015

Review | Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I eagerly delved into Naomi Novik's standalone fantasy, having heard rave reports of her Temeraire series for years, but for some reason having not read them. It's often easier for me to dive into a standalone with a new author than it is a series it seems. The blurbs from luminaries such as Tamora Pierce and Maggie Stiefvater (and the comparisons to my beloved Robin McKinley) did not hurt things one bit. And the opening chapter is absolute perfection. I knew I was in for something special right off the bat. And, having finished Uprooted, I stand by my feelings that it is something special and absolutely worth your time and money investment, even if my overall impression came off not quite as glowing and awed as I might have hoped. It's worth taking a moment to admire that beautiful cover. My, how I love it. And the UK edition is glorious in a very different way. Lucky book, to be so beautifully packaged on both sides of the pond.
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.
And so opens Agnieszka's story. Hers is a Slavic-feeling fairy tale worthy of any Grimm wordsmith. The land and history are utterly developed and weighty with the years of folk tales, villagers, royalty, and political machinations that have shaped it into the place Agnieszka calls home. When she is chosen to apprentice to the legendary Dragon in place of her beautiful and fierce friend Kasia, she immediately fills with every fear every village girl has felt since the selection began. Her time in the ageless wizard's castle is a brutal education and the two get off to the rockiest of starts. His disdain for her plainness and disinterest in his lofty spells fairly drips from the page, mucking up Agnieszka's every waking moment. But when her uncanny ability with more organic magic comes into its own, their partnership begins to take on a more even and compelling nature. Of course, the aforementioned political and monarchical machinations come into play before they can really get off the ground, and the truly terrifying forest surrounding them begins to threaten the lives of every member of the kingdom.

There is almost nothing not to love about Uprooted. From its implacable protagonist to the hearty elements of horror embodied by the terrifying denizens of the Wood, the elements of Novik's fairy tale are woven together with love, care, and a meticulous attention to what makes up a riveting tale. To say nothing of the utterly brilliant homage to Robin McKinley's work itself in the form of the legendary Luthe's Summoning spell, which no one has successfully cast in fifty years. Be still my heart, people. That alone is worth the price of admission. My only quibble is that I felt a small but persistent lack of attachment to the main characters. Make no mistake, I was incredibly fond of them from the start. The Dragon himself reminded me in no small way of Diana Wynne Jones' Howl, which I know will endear him to countless readers. And the comparisons to McKinley and Marillier are there without a doubt. My heart ached with loss on a number of occasions, as Novik clearly understands the price that must be paid when playing with magic and hubris on such a grand scale. However. Unlike McKinley's and Marillier's characters, I struggled a bit to hang on to Agnieszka and the Dragon. I admired them, smiled at them, and worried about them. But I can't say I loved them. They didn't become a part of me the way so many of my favorite characters do. I'm not sure if the fault is with me (since mine may well be the only dissenting voice on this aspect of the book), but while I loved the experience of reading it and have gained a wonderful appreciation for Ms. Novik's skill as a storyteller, I can tell it will not make my regular rotation of rereads, which is possibly more a reflection of my particular taste these days (perhaps more pages with Agnieszka and the Dragon actually within at least five miles of each other would have ameliorated this feeling of emotional distance) and not in any way an indictment of the book itself, which is a thing of beautiful craftsmanship.

Buy

Linkage
Dear Author - "The set-up and the slow realization by Agnieszka of just what she was made for compelling reading."
The Book Smugglers - "The brilliant, beauteous, dark, and enchanting new fairy tale from Naomi Novik."
Ivy Book Bindings - " It's beautifully written, scripted to perfection, and unique in the sense that it reads like lore."
Fantasy Cafe - "This stand alone fantasy is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time!"
My Friends are Fiction - "I loved the writing, story and I had legit swoons though I’d hoped for a tiny bit more development for the relationship."

June 16, 2015

Lakeside Reading, or Angie's Top Eight Summer TBR Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted @ The Broke and the Bookish

So it's time tomorrow to head off for parts north. Every other year, DH's family gathers lakeside for a family reunion full of sand, sun, and late-night card games. I for one am eager to get out of town, kick back in a beach chair, and lose myself in some solid summer reads. These are the books I'll be taking with me, and I gotta say—I'm pretty dang excited about my prospects. Have you read any of them already? Yea or nay? Any of these on your TBR as well? 



 Three days, four nights, eight books. I call that perfection.

May 20, 2015

Review | Re Jane by Patricia Park

I was pretty excited when I first heard about Re Jane. A contemporary Korean American retelling of Jane Eyre? Yes, please. It's one of my favorite classics, and one I've had success (and some failures) with the retelling thereof. Authors do love to tinker with this tale. I've read every kind of version, from scifi and fantasy to steampunk and contemporary, and I am nothing if not up for another go. So I went into Patricia Park's debut novel with somewhat high hopes, even having heard that the Rochester character's wife was in fact alive and kicking and not at all locked up in their Brooklyn brownstone's attic. I decided to give Ms. Park the benefit of the doubt. I also love this cover. So modern, so bright, so full of promise.

Jane Re has thus far lived a lackluster life by most standards. She's spent her whole life under the thumb of her unloving and unmoving aunt and uncle, slaving away in the family grocery store at all hours and never quite managing to live up to expectations or fit into her Korean American Queens neighborhood. Finally, she graduates and, against everyone's better judgement (including possibly her own), takes a job as an au pair for a somewhat unorthodox couple in Brooklyn. The Mazer-Farley household is something of an enigma. Beth Mazer flits around bound and determined to be the most nonjudgmental of free spirits and insists her adopted Chinese daughter Devon and her fellow academic husband Ed follow suit. As Jane settles into her new home, she finds the workings of this unusual family fascinating, but the deeper entrenched she becomes, the harder it is to define just what role she is to play in their lives.

So. My favorite parts of this novel were unquestionably the early sections in which Jane describes her time in Queens, her interactions with her family, and her observations on how isolated she feels from everyone around her. I followed her willingly into the Mazer-Farley's house in her pursuit of something more, of a different kind of life. Her burgeoning relationship with the little girl Devon was, I thought, well-drawn and lovely. Unfortunately, when her relationship extended to falling in something with Ed Farley, my enjoyment came to a sound close. There was some attempt to portray how ill suited Ed and Beth were for each other, to pay lip service to the slow deterioration of their marriage, and to reserve any actual acting on their feelings for after the reader could "reasonably" be expected to have made their peace with the fact (if necessary). And the truth is that my main objections were not solely related to the fact that Jane and Ed were embarking on a relationship while all three adults (all three in possession of their right minds) were living in the same house together with an already conflicted (but brilliant) child there as well. I was actually most put off by the fact that Ed Farley was utterly lifeless and Jane seemed to lose vigor and presence in her own story (and in my mind) with every moment she spent with him.

I realize this is an updated retelling of the original, that it deviates in intentional and important ways, that it is much more about Jane's arc toward independence and self-fulfillment. But. She never resurfaces from her time with Farley. She escapes, feels remorse, and embarks on a journey to her homeland and yet her entire experience in Korea seems to whittle her down even further, until there is so little of the Jane I knew and loved in the beginning that she hardly warrants the name. She makes connections with her family and her past, yes, but it remains stubbornly unclear how these connections will inform her future life. Upon her return to America, I hoped for some revivification. I hoped for some of the wisdom and independence and control the narrative had led me all along to expect at some point. But it never came, or rather it came in name only, spelled out in so many words upon the page but containing in those words none of the actual emotion or heart one might expect to accompany a young woman coming full circle and taking up the reins of her life at last. I closed the book feeling . . . empty mainly.

Buy

May 11, 2015

Re Jane Giveaway!

I wanted to start the week off on a high note, and thanks to Penguin Books, I have a lovely giveaway of Patricia Park's debut novel Re Jane to share with you this morning. This is a contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre featuring a Korean American Jane and a whole new take on the classic tale. As you know, I am physically incapable of passing up a retelling of that particular story (my review should be up shortly), but first here's your chance to win a copy! This giveaway is open to those with U.S. mailing addresses. To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter. The giveaway will be open through Monday, May 18th.

April 23, 2015

Carry On Cover


And here it is! The cover for Rainbow Rowell's upcoming Simon Snow novel Carry On. I've spent a not inconsiderable amount of time wondering just what direction they would take this cover and I find myself both surprised and satisfied. In some ways it reminds of me the hardback Attachments cover. Rowell mentions that she wanted a cover that "made me feel a little nervous." Done and done, St. Martin's. I'm anxious, excited, nervous, pretty much all the emotions. Carry On is due out October 6th. Who else will be there the moment their bookstore opens (or conversely, have you already pre-ordered)?

April 21, 2015

The Books of My Numberless Dreams, or Angie's Top 10 18 All Time Favorite Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted @ The Broke and the Bookish

Normally I break out in hives when people ask me what my favorite book/s is/are or who my favorite author/s is/are. My oldest does this to me on a regular basis just to see me twitch. But (very) occasionally, I find myself tempted to see if I can survive having a go at whittling the giant horde down to ten or eighteen (shut up) absolute faves. Like would run back into the burning house favorites. And since this is authors and not single books, I'm not quite as close to hyperventilation as might otherwise be the case. So—despite the fact that not a one of these will surprise you, I mean my husband could probably rattle this list off with his eyes closed—my favorite authors of all time (in alphabetical order by last name). Do we share any?

See my Beloved Bookshelf for individual titles/series by each of these.


Lloyd Alexander

Jane Austen

Kristin Cashore

Susan Cooper

Charles Dickens

Madeleine L'Engle

C.S. Lewis

Juliet Marillier

Robin McKinley

Rainbow Rowell

J.K. Rowling

William Shakespeare

Sharon Shinn

Maggie Stiefvater

Mary Stewart

Megan Whalen Turner

Cynthia Voigt

Ellen Emerson White