Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor || 4.5 Stars

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Title: Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer #2)

Author: Laini Taylor

Published: October 2, 2018

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: 

*If you’re new to the series. Please see my review of book one. Synopsis contains spoilers for book 1 and is taken from Goodreads.*

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

Note: I received buttons and signed sample chapters of book one from the publisher. I bought both books myself. Opinions are my own.

Bluejay feather quill pen.

Review

Initial Thoughts

When I first finished Muse of Nightmares I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Upon reflection, I’ve decided that love it.

Why the skepticism?

The reason for my initial skepticism has to do with the fact that the first time I read the book, I was debating whether or not I was satisfied with the novels confrontation scene between our main characters and the antagonist. It seemed that the antagonist didn’t interact with the main characters until late in the book and when they did, everything seemed to happen at once.

The final confrontation scene resolves rather quickly, with several major characters not needing to do much of anything to resolve the problem.

Why the change of heart?

Despite these initial qualms, the more I thought about what I’d read, the harder it became to stop thinking about it. So much so that it got to the point where I’d reread the whole book, and have reread most of it one time more and still this book lingered in my thoughts. For a while, I had a hard time determining why. Eventually, I came to the realization that this was because it’s not really the plot that I love about this book.

It’s the characters; the thought provoking exploration of human nature, even though a fair number of the characters aren’t fully human; and the beautiful, poetic writing that I love. Because, the heart of most books isn’t their plot: it’s their characters’. And, what beautiful characters we have here.

With this in mind, I’ve changed my initial assessment that this book should be rated 4 our of 5 to a 4.5 out of five.

The Characters

This book juggles too many points of view for me to count, yet I was never confused as to whose perspective I was reading because all the characters have such unique voices. Lazlo didn’t get nearly as much time to narrate here as he did in book one, but he was still ever present on the page.

Sarai took center stage in this one, hence the book being named after her, and the book features more of the side characters from book one. Also added to the mix are Kora and Nova, whose story initially seems unrelated to the book as a whole but whose connections to the main plot eventually become apparent.

What’s Next?

The way this book ended makes me wonder if we’ll be seeing more of these characters in a future series. Fingers crossed, because I would love that. 🙂 Only time will tell.

Rating

This is one of the few times when I’ve liked a book more with distance. Yet, there is no denying that I loved this book beyond the extent I usually enjoy books I would rate 4/5, so I’ve settled on 4.5/5 instead.

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If you haven’t read Muse of Nightmares yet, are you planning to? Have you read the first book? If you’ve already read it, what was your favorite part? Do you think there will be some sort of continuation?

Please disclaim spoilers in the comments.

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Top Five Reasons To Read The Vorkosigan Saga

Five Reasons to Read The Vorkosigan Saga Blog Header (1)

My break from blogging is because of something I’m sure many book bloggers will relate to none the less: spending all my free time binge reading a series of books.

Before we begin, I’d like to disclaim that my reviews typically point out my criticisms of books even when I love them, but this time I’ve decided to write a post that’s almost 100 percent positive for once. While I do see some criticisms I’ve seen for this series as valid, and haven’t even given all of the books five stars myself, this post is positive due to my enjoyment of the series.

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What is the Vorkosigan Saga?

The Vorkosigan Saga is a series of science fiction novels that follows members of the Vorkosigan family, primarily Miles Vorkosigan, but also sometimes Miles’ parents, his cousin, his love interest, and his sibling. It also takes occasional forays into stories of characters who exist in the same universe as the Vorkosigans but otherwise have nothing to do with them at all. The first few books in the series were released in the 1980s, and the series has continued into recent years.

Due to Miles’ nature as the primary main character, the series is sometimes called the Miles Vorkosigan Adventures while others call it the Barrayar Saga on account of it being the planet most of the characters call home and the title of one of the books.

5 Reasons to Read The Vorkosigan Saga (1)

1)  So Many Books

There are 16 books, several novellas, and content is still being written.

I love finding series with a lot of existing content. And, not only is the content of this series still being written but each book, at least that I’ve read so far, concludes in a satisfying enough way that you could stop reading there if you can repress the urge to continue.

2) Miles is Awesome

Miles is such an awesome character with a complex personality.

Miles has flaws like his controlling nature, but that’s part of what makes his personality jump off the page. I love reading about Miles, his adventures, and the messes he gets into. He’s also happens to be one of the only disabled protagonists I’ve read about in all of science fiction, especially in series that began in the 1980s.

3) So Many Different Subgenres

These books are all science fiction, but their plots can focus around everything from mystery to romance.

With all the different plots, there’s practically a novel for everyone. No matter if you love military science fiction, space opera, or even genres like romance that aren’t typically part of science fiction, you’ll find a book with a plot focused on those elements here.

4) Award Winning

The series has won and been nominated for several Hugo awards.

It’s hard for me to find an exact count, but books in the series have been nominated for about ten Hugo awards, won at around four times, and been nominated for the Nebula award about seven times.

5) It’s Addictive

I started this series skeptical of whether I would like it but ended up hardly able to put them down.

As stated at the beginning of this post, I was so caught up in this series that I didn’t have free time left to blog. That speaks for itself.

Where to start?

I started with the Warrior’s Apprentice and it worked well for me. Others start with the prequel novel, Shards of Honor, which follows Miles’s mother. Others still start from just about any book in the series; the books were all written with the intent that they could also be read as standalones.

It should be noted that the author writes out of chronologically, so there is an ongoing debate about how they should be read– often the debate comes down to whether chronological or publication order is best.

What I’ve Read So Far. . .

I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer to the ongoing debate about this series reading order, but this is the order I’ve read them in so far, and it’s worked for me: The Warrior’s Apprentice, The Vor Game, Cetaganda, Boarders of InfinityBrothers in Arms, Mirror Dance, Komarr, Memory, A Civil Campaign, and Winterfair Gifts.

I’ve currently gone back to the beginning to read the prequel novel Shards of Honor and plan to read its sequel Barrayar when I’ve finished.

And, there are still more I haven’t read yet!

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Have you read the Vorkosigan Saga? Are you planning to? Should I turn infographics into a regular feature on this blog? Should I create an infographic for “Five Reasons to Read The Stormlight Archives” next? 

Please share your thoughts in the comments and follow me on social media!

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First Half of 2018 in Review || Statistics About What I Read so Far

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So, I’ve been slacking on my wrap-up posts. As in, to the point where I haven’t written one in 6 months. I kept trying to write something to make up for this, but kept getting overwhelmed by the shear number of books I needed to cover. So, I decided to write this post instead.

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What I Read

The first half of this year proved a great reading experience. I read 27 books. I gave 2 books a 5 star rating and 16 received a 4 star rating. Two of these 4 star books were rereads from previous years. (The books themselves are listed at the end of this post.)

Books Read Per Month

I read between 6 and 2 books each month of the year so far. Or, between 1 and 3 books if I exclude this month, which isn’t over yet. This averages to 4 and 1/3 books per month.

Most Read Genres

I’ve read 11 fantasy books, 10 sci-fi books, 4 contemporaries, and 4 historical fiction novels. Note that some books fall into multiple categories. I’m very satisfied with this. I read more diversely in terms of genre than I have in just about any time period I’ve recorded so far.

In terms of age groups 20 out of 27 were young adult and 7 out of 27 were adult. I read no middle grade novels. These statistics are a bit more disappointing, because I generally have a more even split and read a few middle grade novels. However, with how busy I’ve been this year, I can see how my reading habits might favor YA novels, which tend to be shorter than adult novels on average.

Fun Facts

    • 20 books had at least one female point of view (POV) character. 18 books had at least 1 male POV character. 1 book had a character who didn’t identify as a male or female (they were someone who got a different body everyday).
    • 3 of the books I read were published before my birth.
    • 20 of the books I read were set on Earth, either in full or in part. Of those, only 5 took place somewhere outside of the US. Only 3 of those 5 took place somewhere other than the United Kingdom.

Read in 2018

Should I make infographics like the one at the top of this post more often? What did you read in the first half of 2018? What are your thoughts on these statistics? 

Please share your thoughts in the comments and follow me on social media!

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Keeper || An Advanced Review

Keeper (2)

34871966Title: Keeper

Author: Kim Chance

Publication date: August 30, 2018

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

*Disclaimer: I was provided a free, advanced copy of this book from Netgalley and Flux Books/North Star Editions in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own.*

Synopsis: Lainey wants more than anything to get a high score on the SAT and go to a good college. Unfortunately for her, a 300-year-old witch has other plans.

When Lainey discovers her life is more tied to the supernatural world than she ever imagined, it seems those college applications might have to wait.

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Review: This book may well mark the beginning of a return for urban fantasy/paranormal romance. It’s been so long since I’ve read an urban fantasy from a debut author, but this book has the feel of a YA fantasy from the height of the paranormal romance craze.

I know several people who’ve been longing for this comeback, especially for witches. If you’re one of these people, this may well be the book for you.

That said, it drew a little too much inspiration from the books written during the paranormal romance craze for my tastes. There were a lot of tropes used in familiar ways, and it reminded me of a lot of books I’ve read in the past.

A great deal of the aforementioned tropes used are not favorites of mine either. For example, I’m not a fan of novels where a character discovers they’re special because of something an ancestor did centuries ago.

Yet, despite this, there were some elements of the book I enjoyed. It seemed atmospheric with a good sense of place, and I enjoyed that Lainey was worried about things most teenagers worry about, like the SATs.

I think this would have made the book a lot more relatable when I was a teenager. I would have loved this book around seven years ago.

As it was, I had difficulty motivating myself to keep reading. I suspect this was due to the story’s familiarity and the fact that I didn’t connect with Lainey as well as I would like.

Rating: People who who’ve been longing for YA paranormal romance and those who are looking for a gateway book to the genre may well love this book. However, it was not memorable or engaging enough for me to give it a high rating.

2.5 blue jays

What’s your opinion of paranormal romance? What’s the best urban fantasy you’ve ever read? Are you planning to read Keeper? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Should books make us happy? A Discussion || The Empress (Diabolic #2) Review

The Empress Discussion

Okay everyone, today I’m trying something a little different and writing a discussion post followed by a review. The discussion is spoiler free. Unlike my usual reviews, this review will contain spoilers. You have been warned!

Also note that this discussion is only my personal opinion. Feel free to disagree.

Not too long ago, I finished reading The Empress (The Diabolic #2) by S.J. Kincaid. It left me conflicted.

The root cause of this confliction is this: I regard good books as books that make me feel emotion, but how many of these emotions need to be positive for me to consider a book good?

Discussion

Extreme tragedy is more realistic. People experience constant ups-and-downs. Fiction reflects this reality, but it is not reality. Therefore, it doesn’t necessarily need to reflect the level of tragedy experienced in real life.

People in real life don’t often make a single decision that changes everything and leads to action. People in real life repeat themselves, are grammatically incorrect, and speak in run-on sentences.

Try as writers might, words on a page cannot and never will reflect every aspect of the world around us. Good thing too: if it did, novels would bore us all to tears.

And, yet, this makes the reality writers present in fiction no less important. Movements like “#ownvoices,” which promotes books written by someone belonging to an underrepresented group about a character from that same group, show how the reality presented in fiction might shape others perception of our own.

Herein we have the root cause of my dilemma: fiction cannot reflect all aspects of reality but the reality that is presented is of critical importance.

I suppose, then, the answer to my question depends on whether or not the depiction of extreme suffering depicted in a way that the reader feels some of the character’s emotions because they have come to care about this character so much is critical to what people need to experience in fiction to sympathize with the experiences of our fellow humans.

To this, I have no answer.

There is also the question of whether this matters in a work like The Empress, where the characters’ problems are ones we of the 21st century do not experience . . . At least, I hope there are no genetically modified bodyguards out there because if there are, I must be living under a rock.

Conclusion

In the end, it depends on the reason we’re reading. If we’re reading for escapism, books should, most likely, make us happy. If we’re reading for authenticity, then books probably won’t make us happy because life isn’t the most happy of places.

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Review

Please check out my spoiler free The Diabolic review or skip to the “Rating” section if you do not want to be spoiled!

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Last warning: spoilers ahead.

As you may have guessed from my discussion, I am still not sure how I feel about this book.

The first half is super awesome and I loved it. One of the things that bothered me about the world building in the last book was that the characters have all of this advanced technology but no one knew anything about science because science was forbidden.

In this book we have an answer. It’s explained so well, and I love the author’s idea for a space-faring society that regressed to the point where a ten-year-old today might know more about physics than the society’s emperor.

It’s the second half that left me conflicted.

It was so heartbreaking to first see Tyrus during the second half, mostly because it was hard to see Nemesis’s heart breaking. It made me realize how much I’d come to care for her, but it also hurt to see her so distraught.

I think the other thing I didn’t like about the way this book ended is that the second half almost seemed to undo the progress made in the first half. The characters made so many discoveries, but those discoveries were invalidated when most of what they discovered got destroyed.

I’m also surprised by how much I disliked the romance ending the way it did. Usually, I would love the female protagonists to have more agency and realize they don’t need a guy or, in some cases, that the guy is essentially abusing them, but seeing such a drastic change in the love interest just hurt too much.

Yet another example of how much I’ve come to care for these characters.

In the end, I suspect much of how I feel about this book will be influenced by the course book three takes.

End of Spoilers

Rating

Despite my misgivings, I will give this book a good rating because a book that can make me experience so many emotions is a well executed one.

4 blue jays

Do you read books that make you unhappy? Have you read The Empress? What is your favorite book that has left you emotionally torn? 

Please remember to flag spoilers in the comments!

I believe this is my first discussion post on my blog. If you would like to see more in the future, let me know in the comments!

 

Invictus || Time Traveling Teenage Thieves

Invictus Book Review Image
This image is derivative of “Silver Vintage Mist Overlay” by Pink Sherbet Photography from Utah, USA. “Silver Vintage Mist Overlay” is CC BY 2.0

33152795Title: Invictus

Author: Ryan Graudin

Published: September 26, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Far is the son of a gladiator and a professional time traveler. The first baby born outside of time. Top of his class. At least Far was, before his failed final exam shatters Far’s dreams of following in his time traveling mother’s footsteps faster than his cousin’s gelato can melt.

Far’s only hope is a handwritten note from an unknown sender promising him a second chance. Far’s present is not a time of second chances. The sender could be anyone, yet Far knows this is the sole remaining possibility to fulfill his time traveling dream.

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Review: This was a great light read to pick-up between the dense epic fantasy novels I’ve been reading and the additional ones I’m planning to read in the future.

That said, the novel itself contains several common time travel tropes. Having consumed my share of time travel related media, the world-building and plot twists, for the most part, weren’t all that surprising.

The heart of this novel was instead the characters and its addictive nature. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump as of late, but I found this to be a hard to put down read.

While I do stand by what I said about most of the plot’s elements being ones I’ve seen before, there was one plot-twist that surprised me. This has more to do with this twist introducing tropes from a sub-genre that I didn’t expect to be incorporated into this novel than anything else.

Still, mixing sub-genres is a legitimate strategy, and the details of this twist fell into place once the author explained it.

Returning my attention to the characters, they have a great dynamic that only tends to come about in third-person-multiple point-of-view novels (which this is). Funnily enough, this is a characteristic I’ve noticed also reoccurs in novels centering around a heist. This novels characters also happens to be thieves. I don’t know what it says about fictional criminals that they have such great group dynamics.

This novel is one of those hard to pull off cases where the many points of view remained distinct and never got confusing despite the several main characters and the frequent shift in perspective.

This leads me to another great aspect of this novel: it is easy to follow. So many time travel novels have timelines that are difficult to keep track of. I didn’t have that problem at all with the main story here. I remained clear on what was happening in the story itself even throughout times when the characters weren’t sure themselves.

The other greatest aspect of this book was that the main characters have a domesticated red panda. Too bad domesticated red pandas don’t exist. The rest of us will have to keep observing from afar.

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Rating: This book was great fun, but it wasn’t anything revolutionary. 4 out of 5 blue jays. If you’re looking for a fast paced time travel heist novel this might be the book for you.

4 blue jays

Have you read or plan on reading Invictus? What’s your favorite time travel trope? Are red pandas cute or aren’t they cute?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Please add a disclaimer if your comment contains spoilers.

Monsters of Verity Duology Review

Our Dark Duet

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Titles: This Savage Song, Our Dark Duet

Author: Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: 2016-2017

Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Synopsis: In Verity, people’s crimes manifest as monsters.

August is one of these monsters. He doesn’t want to be but didn’t have a choice in the matter. Besides, Verity doesn’t need another human. It needs a monster. It needs him.

Kate is the daughter of the man who controls these monsters. All she wants is his approval, but approval is hard to get from a man who deals with monsters.

Together, they make up two halves of a divided city. A city where both halves hang on the edge between order and chaos.

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Thoughts: Without a doubt, I liked and at times even loved this duology. That said, there are also some aspects I’m not sure how I feel about.

I’ve read the first book multiple times in both physical and audiobook formats. I only do that with books that I adore.

What I liked most about This Savage Song were our protagonists, especially August. I love reading about characters who long to be someone they can never become. I don’t know why this is because this is not the case for me personally, unless the person I want to become is a successful novelist, but that’s not unachievable, just unlikely.

In any case, I recognize that this is a personal bias towards a particular character archetype as opposed to something other readers will feel the same way about.

I flew through the second book in a single day and found it difficult to put down just like the first one. That said, I don’t think I enjoyed Our Dark Duet as much as This Savage Song. 

It’s difficult to determine the cause of these feelings.  I think part of it stems from the fact that the protagonists undergo significant development between books one and two and at the beginning of Our Dark Duet. 

August and Kate have become very different people by the time Our Dark Duet starts. On one hand, the development is believable. On the other hand, I miss who the characters had been.

August and Kate develop a great dynamic in book one. It took a while for the two to start interacting with one another at the start of the book.

A similar amount of time is spent with the characters apart in book two as in book one, but I found myself wanting them together more. I feel like August and Kate lacked some of the synergy they gained in book one throughout book two. The reason for this is explained, but I still found myself missing their interactions.

I also felt like there was a plot-line introduced at the beginning of book two involving the other countries in this universe that was never concluded. This makes me wonder if the author is planning a separate novella or spin-off set in this location.

Part of my lack of satisfaction with book two might involve reading this book so soon after finishing the finale in the Shades of Magic series. Our Dark Duet and A Conjuring of Light had similar plots. 

I can’t go into many details without spoilers, but suffice to say that the similarities stemmed from the nature of the antagonists. Both Our Dark Duet and A Conjuring of Light contained what I consider to be two of Schwab’s least nuanced villains.

This Savage Song, on the other hand, had a plot that felt more different from Schwab’s other novels, though it felt more similar to other books I’d read.

Verity was something I loved in both books. I loved the idea of having monsters appear as a result of people’s sins. The world-building manages to feel simple and complex at the same time. My main complaint about the world-building is that I wanted to see more of it.

Rating: While, I didn’t personally love Our Dark Duet  as much as This Savage Song, I’m putting most of this down to personal bias and giving the series a 4/5 overall rating with 4.5/5 for This Savage Song and a 3.5/5 for Our Dark Duet. 

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Have you read this duology? What did you think? Do you want to read this duology? Have you read any of Schwab’s works in the past? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!