Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Novik_SpinningSilverSpinning Silver
Naomi Novik

Publisher: Macmillan
Publishing year: 2018
Pages: 474
ISBN: 9781509899012
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Ever since discovering the Temeraire series through His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik quickly became one of my favourite authors. Her detailed, intricate world building and writing of endearing, layered characters was also present in her stand alone fantasy Uprooted, which along with His Majesty’s Dragon is among my favourite novels. Naturally, expectations for Spinning Silver were high. Very high.

Spinning Silver is about three young ladies who take matters into their own hands. Miryem is the daughter of a family of moneylenders, but her father is pretty terrible at collecting debts which leaves his family in poverty. Miryem, resentful of her poverty and the selfish people who owe her father money but refuse to pay, decides to collect the money herself — and she’s very successful. Unfortunately, her ability to make profit draws the attention of the King of the Staryk, effectively the King of Winter. Wanda is a poor girl with an abusive father who ends up working for Miryem to pay off her father’s debt, but ends up on the run when one of her brothers commits a crime by accident. Finally, there is Irina, the daughter of a noble who weds her to the cruel Tsar — who harbours a secret that could have disastrous consequences. These three stories become intertwined as the girls need to negotiate their respective dangerous situations by being clever, and it was definitely engaging to watch the girls grow in the face of adversity, so to speak. Novik has written very strong and layered female characters here.

These three stories have a recurring theme: Spinning Silver is very much about paying off debts and owing something. Novik very loosely based this novel on the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale, and you can definitely trace its origins and themes despite the author putting her own spin on the famous story. There is also a fairytale-like quality to the story; even excluding the Staryk (which are kind of like winter fae), there is also a lot of mysterious forests and magic present in this book. Though Uprooted had a much more enchanted feel, the magic is still present in Spinning Silver. Finally, there are also some surprising twists and turns along the way, though to mention them in any detail would spoil them.

No story is perfect, however, and neither is Spinning Silver. With all these different perspectives, I had some initial difficulty with connecting to the story and characters. I also didn’t like that one of the main confrontations was written through the perspective of Wanda’s little brother. Though his voice is suitably distinct and childlike, I didn’t feel very strongly about this character and I felt that the final confrontation in his voice dampened the scene a bit. Finally, I felt that the romance between Miryem and the Staryk King felt forced. Though I see why she made certain choices (because the consequences would be terrible), I don’t think the romance was particularly needed, especially because the Staryk King was still a massive jerk. It kind of felt like a throwback to Uprooted‘s The Dragon, but not as well done.

Still, this is nitpicking. If you have enjoyed Uprooted, or enjoy fairytale-like fantasy in general that has well-written female characters and intricate world building, you’ll definitely enjoy Spinning Silver as well!

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Review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

LastNamsara_CiccarelliThe Last Namsara
(Iskari #1)
Kristen Ciccarelli

Publisher: Blossom Books
Publishing year: 2017
Pages: 209
Translation: Maria Postema
ISBN: 9789463491303
Genre: Young Adult, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

Asha is a princess, but also a badass dragon slayer. However, despite the fact that she’s feared and brings her father the heads of the dragons she has slayed, she’s to mary the cruel Jarek, commander of her father’s army. There is but one way out: bring back home the head of Kozu, the most powerful and eldest dragon of all who has destroyed her home town in the past. Driven by both her hatred for dragons and the desire to escape her betrothal, Asha is relentless in her hunt. However, she only has a few days before her time’s up. Will she succeed? And is there, perhaps, more to the situation than meets the eye?

Despite being the fairly angry type, Asha is a very likable character. She’s badass, tenacious, defiant, and the type of person who takes matters into her own hands. Despite this, there’s also an air of vulnerability around her. The old stories can be used to summon dragons, and by telling them she unwittingly caused Kozu to burn down her town. Her burns, her guilt, the fear with which the people regard her… all of these have resulted in her building a wall around herself; it protects her, but at the same time, it’s lonely. Yet, she cares fiercely for her niece Safire and brother Dax. She’s not perfect, initially treating slave Torwin with contempt. She’s even reluctant to save his life and only does it because her brother asks her to. She kills dragons without a second thought, because she’s driven by hatred. During the course of the book, however, Asha’s view points are challenged and her foundations of what she believes in crumble. The Last Namsara is a great example of a strong female character with flaws, who actually grows throughout the story, done right.

I also really enjoyed the world building in this book. As mentioned before, one can lure dragons by telling stories. The narrative is sometimes interrupted by these stories, which give insight in the world, its history and legends, and the beliefs of the characters within. This runs the risk of interrupting the flow and pacing of the story, but I felt it gave the narrative much more depth. The relation between dragons and the stories was also a nice touch. Nonetheless, the dragons are dangerous yet impressive, and I definitely wanted to know more about them while reading (and that’s not only because I’m generally biased towards dragons).

I did feel the romance wasn’t entirely necessary. I realize that the interaction between Asha and her love interest was important to the plot and her growth as a character, but I think the same could have been accomplished by having them remain friends. I really don’t like this ‘obligatory romance’-thing in YA. Thankfully, this wasn’t a big part of the plot and at least the characters growing closer seemed natural enough. Some elements of the story were also a bit predictable, such as the whole ‘killing dragons is wrong’-bit, but Ciccarelli’s writing style and world building were so engaging that I didn’t mind at all.

The Last Namsara is a fun YA fantasy involving dragons and a badass female character. I feel that Asha’s story ended nicely, but I’m definitely excited about The Caged Queen later this year which features a character already present in The Last Namsara as the protagonist.

Unhauling Books: Why it’s a Good Thing

When you’re in the middle of a move, getting rid of some stuff is inevitable. My own case was no exception, so I ended up bringing a pile of books (and some DVDs, along with several other items) to a nearby thrift store. I no longer wanted to keep the books in question, so this was simply another opportunity to prune my bookshelves a bit. I periodically do this (and not just with books), so today I wanted to talk about unhauling books.

A few years ago, I used to hold on to practically every book I bought. This was partly because I majored in English; getting rid of a book you didn’t like only to have to buy it again for class sucks and is a waste of money. Another reason was because I liked having them on my shelf out of a misplaced sense of…pretentiousness, I guess? It looked good to others, or so I thought. I barely got through Ulysses by James Joyce with my brain in tact (whatever you do, don’t read 150 pages a day of this book in the space of a week; at least not if you want to try to appreciate its literary merit and not have your brain leaking from your ears by the time you’re finished). I won’t read that book again even if Hell freezes over, but hey, bragging rights and ‘oh look I’m so smart because I have it on my shelf’, right?

Of course, nobody is going to look at my shelf and judge me for having or not having Ulysses on it. It’s a very silly thing to be concerned with, which I thankfully realized when faced with space constraints and…basically being overwhelmed by my own bookshelves. Ulysses was just taking up space, collecting dust, to never be read again! I could use the shelf space for books I liked better! So Ulysses, along with a ton of other books I held on to but weren’t actually my thing, had to go. Most of them went to friends, who hopefully enjoyed those books more than I did.

And I wasn’t finished! Over the months, I kept pruning my book collection and got rid of a lot of unwanted books. Interestingly, a lot of ‘maybes’ during my first unhaul ended up being unhauled later. I began bringing them to thrift stores or free libraries because it’s more convenient and faster, rather than holding on to them until a friend wants it and is able to pick it up.

As of today, nearly two years after unhauling Ulysses and its fellow undesirables, I still find myself unhauling books. Not so many at a time, and I hardly get rid of everything, but I still unhaul frequently enough. Here are some of the reasons I unhaul books, and why I think it’s a good thing.

Space!
This is obvious. When you git rid of books, you get shelf space. Of course, this shelf space doesn’t remain empty, but I get to fill it up with books I actually appreciate it and/or are interested in (re)reading. I also believe this is a very necessary thing if you, like me, will not stop buying books and don’t want to become a hoarder. Space isn’t infinite and I very much appreciate being able to walk through my home. In the end, you have two choices when you run out of room: stop buying books, or get rid of some books you already have.

I no longer want to read it
Most of the books I unhaul are ones I’ve read but am pretty sure that I won’t read again, but occasionally there’s an unread one. I sometimes buy something because, at the time, I wanted to read it. Sometimes, I never get around to it and eventually lose interest. Should I hold on to it because I’ve paid money for it? That’s a bad reason to keep something. If I’m not going to read it, it’s wasting shelf space, and I’m not getting my money’s worth even if I do struggle through the book anyway. Tastes and interests change over the years, and that’s entirely normal. I just unhaul it and learn from it.

Others get to enjoy the book
I might not have enjoyed a certain book, or even if I have, I might not want to read it again. Some books just aren’t my thing, or they might be the type of book that is only interesting to read once. Rather than the book collecting dust on my shelf, never to be read again, the book might be meaningful to someone else. I also just like the idea of passing on books to others.

My book collection reflects my tastes and interests
My bookshelves aren’t cluttered with books I didn’t like, felt ‘meh’ about, or will never be read (again). Instead, my shelves contain books that I love and hold a lot of meaning to me, or books that I want to read in the foreseeable future. My bookshelves are a reflection of my tastes and interests, and to me, that’s the whole point of a collection.

Right now, whenever I finish a book I wonder how much I liked it and if I’m likely to read again. When I won’t, then in most cases I get rid of it. Sometimes I know whether to get rid of a book immediately, but occasionally I also need a bit more time to think about whether to unhaul it or not. And that’s fine, too! Unhauling is nice, but it’s not a contest to end up with as few books as possible.

But what if I regret having gotten rid of a book? Thus far, I haven’t even missed the titles I’ve unhauled. Even if I do want to read it again, there’s always the option to buy it again, possibly second-hand for a euro or two, or borrow it from a library or a friend. But frankly? This hasn’t happened a single time and I’ve unhauled a lot. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

What about you? Do you tend to unhaul books, or do you prefer to hold on to all your books (and why)? Where do you bring your unhauled books? Please let me know in the comments!

Review: The Boy Who Grew Dragons by Andy Shepherd

theboywhogrewdragons_shepherdThe Boy Who Grew Dragons
Andy Shepherd
Illustrations by Sara Ogilvie

Publisher: Leminscaat
Publishing year: 2018
Pages: 209
ISBN: 9789047710684
Genre: Children’s (middle grade), fantasy
Rating: 5/5

Note: I’ve read the Dutch version of this book, ‘De jongen die draken kweekte’, which is translated by Jesse Goossens. The Dutch translation is published by Leminscaat, who kindly provided me with a copy through my work. 

Tomas often helps his grandfather in tending his yard. When he finds a strange tree in the yard, he gets quite the surprise when he takes the equally strange fruit home. A dragon hatches from it, which is of course the coolest pet ever! However, Tomas discovers that raising a dragon is definitely not easy — especially when you don’t want your parents to find out!

Getting and raising your own dragon is a childhood dream (one I, unfortunately, haven’t yet been able to accomplish), so I was really excited to read this when a coworker/friend pushed an ARC into my hands at work. This book is mainly about all the antics Tomas’s scaly friend Fikkie (Flicker in the original version) is up to and how Tomas deals with the ensuing chaos while learning about dragons on the fly. Fikkie is a pretty curious creature who breathes sparks and drops flammable poop, so the situations Tomas finds himself in are humorous and adorable.

What I especially liked is, despite the relatable everyday setting, the sense of wonder you get when you discover more about Fikkie and his kin along with Tomas, and the way you see Tomas’s relationship with his dragon develop. There is also a lot of depth in the relationships between him and his family — especially his grandfather and his little sister. This resulted in a very heartwarming story with a positive portrayal of dragons and family relations, which only added to the book’s charm.

Finally, this book has adorable illustrations by Sara Ogilvie. They’re in black and white and might be simple, but they’re expressive and underline the whimsical feeling you get from the book.

This is apparently the first installment in a series, and I honestly can’t wait to read the second one (I liked what I believe is the sequel hook!). In the mean time, I can’t help but wonder where I can get my hands on one of those dragon fruits!

Friday Five: Five Books with Awesome Plot Twists

I’m in the middle of patching up my new home, so I completely neglected the whole Friday Five hosted by NerdyGeekyFanboy. This week’s theme is my own idea, however, so I figured I’d need to find some time to write a contribution of my own.

So, without further ado: Five books with awesome plot twists!

Note: I’m trying to be as vague as possible regarding spoilers, but read at your own risk anyway. Something might have slipped in anyway. Also, with ‘awesome’, I mean devastating, heart wrenching, or otherwise stuff that had me reeling or left my mind blown. Basically stuff, I hadn’t seen coming.

 

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
An obvious one if you’re familiar with either the book or the movie, but this book starts out as a ‘simple’ disappearance of a woman. Her husband claims innocence but his behaviour makes him seem very guilty. Without spoiling anything (or at least trying to), I can say that this book deals with unreliable narrators, a media circus surrounding certain crime cases, a very toxic marriage, horrible people, and an ending that leaves you…disgusted.

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey
There are two in this book; one somewhere in the first half that I hadn’t quite seen coming, and another at the ending. It’s very difficult to say anything about this book without spoiling anything, but it’s about a girl who, every single morning, is taken out of her cell, strapped in to a wheelchair to attend class with other kids — also strapped into wheelchairs. The staff seems to want to steer clear of them, except for one of their teachers.

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
I suspect most would mention The Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords, but I hadn’t fully caught up with either the books or the series yet, so getting spoiled by the internet outrage at the time was inevitable. As a result, it didn’t have as much impact as it could have. Instead, I’m going to list the first book, because I hadn’t been prepared for the ‘everyone can die’ thing. In my innocence, I hadn’t expected a certain character to actually die. Up to the last moment, I expected he’d be saved. Surely, such an important POV character wouldn’t die? He wasn’t, and I learned the lesson that, in A Song of Ice and Fire, no one is safe.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
Despite having read all books available in The Song of Ice and Fire series, I don’t necessarily expect others to pull a George R.R. Martin, especially not in the first book of a series. Though I expected something to go south, I hadn’t expected that it would go south to the extend it did.

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
I suppose I can’t not mention this one on a list like this. It’s about a man who is the last human who hasn’t yet succumbed to the vampire plague, and the resulting isolation and loss of humanity. I didn’t love it as much as some other people do, but I definitely appreciate the twist at the end (which had me reeling) and what the author was trying to do with this.

There we have it, five books with awesome plot twists. Are there any you feel I’ve missed? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Review: Burying Leo by Helga Gruendler-Schierloh

BuryingLeo_GruendlerSchierlohBurying Leo
Helga Gruendler-Schierloh

Publisher: Laurel Highlands Publishing
Publishing year:
 2017
Pages: 346
ISBN: 9781941087374
Language: English
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 3.5/5

Note: I’ve received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way. 

Ingrid could no longer sing after an audition as a singer led to traumatizing sexual assault. Having fled her home country Germany in a marriage with a guy named Joe she barely knew, she clings to the hope of starting a family. When her hopes crumble, she turns to singing — but in order to do that, she will have to deal with her own past.

This type of book is way out of my comfort zone, but Gruendler-Schierloh’s pleasant writing style made this a good read nonetheless. The narrative was also well paced, avoiding information dumps and scenes that didn’t really contribute to the narrative or the character development.

Speaking of which, I think Ingrid was a very developed character. She started out as the type of character who would conform to her husband’s wishes in hopes of getting pregnant to someone much more empowered and independent. Though I do not really relate to Ingrid as a character, I did sympathize with the her and the terrible things she had to go through. I couldn’t help but root for her when she finally took some steps to gain some independence and to deal with her past. The flashback in the novel really helped in portraying how Ingrid became the person she is at the start of the novel. She is not without her flaws — I even considered her a bit hypocritical and passive at times — but that only made Ingrid feel like a person.

I should warn that, considering the subject matter, the book contains a graphic rape scene. I felt that Gruendler-Schierloh handled this sensitive issue quite well, however, focusing on Ingrid’s turmoil and the very lasting effect the experience has had on her life. Burying Leo is very much about Ingrid having to come to terms to what has happened to her rather than stowing it away in a dark corner of her mind. Music, and by extension the musician friend Mick she made through music, play a significant role in overcoming her obstacles Furthermore, the book also tackles other heavy themes such as marital discord and infertility.

I did feel some the flashbacks were a bit unclear initially, confusing me the first couple of lines before realizing the chapter took place several years in the past. I also felt that Joe’s portrayal could have been a bit more nuanced — though he started out as ‘simply’ a driven character who saw his wife as more of a business asset than… well… his wife, his character would fluctuate to ‘suddenly’ caring to being an unlikable piece of shit, as if Ingrid’s doubts and her eventually leaving her husband had to be justified by however Joe behaved. We already knew the marriage wasn’t a good one; there was no need to underline this by throwing all subtlety out of the window. However, these issues are fairly minor.

Burying Leo was out of my comfort zone and I couldn’t fully relate to the main character. That said, Ingrid’s growth from an obedient wife burdened with what has happened to her into a more empowered and independent woman was very satisfying to read.

Friday Five: Five Happy Books!

This week, I’m participating in Nerdy Geeky Fanboy‘s Friday Five again! Thank you for hosting this, by the way!

This week’s theme of mentioning five happy books was….difficult for me. Still, if you want to ready something that makes you happy, this list might be just the thing!

While putting together this list, I realized how many of my (favourite) books don’t qualify. Sure, they have happy moments. Even happy endings, occasionally. Unfortunately, they also come with character deaths, heavy themes and/or issues the character(s) have to overcome — or just flat-out stuff that will have you reach for a pack of tissues. I don’t really read comedies or fluffy (love) stories, I suppose?

Regardless, I’m happy to say that I’ve succeeded in putting together a list! Without further ado: five happy books!

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This one came to mind first when thinking of which books to put on this list. This book left me with warm and happy feelings after finishing it. The ending was so cute! I also really enjoyed Albertalli’s writing and the fun characters she had created. I definitely want to see the film, Love, Simon, so hopefully it’s still being shown after I’ve finished moving!

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
An apocalypse has never been so hilarious! The novel puts a hilarious spin on typical apocalypse tropes (such as misplacing the antichrist) and witches. It also has very charming main characters. Also, there’s a Hell hound named Dog.

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci vol. 1 by Diana Wynne Jones
This book might not be necessarily funny, but there’s a certain lighthearted sense of wonder in the first two stories (‘Charmed Life’ and ‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’) that made this first installment quite enjoyable. I have yet to read the other stories, though.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
I feel like I’m cheating a bit by including another Pratchett, but this Discworld-novel proved to be hilarious as well. The books are satirical, using fantasy fare to put a hilarious spin on issues prevalent in our own world. Why this one? Well, it’s the only one I’ve read. Yes, I know, I need to continue reading them.

Golden Age and Other Stories by Naomi Novik
This one is only fun if you’re familiar with Novik’s Temeraire series, but it contains some pretty lighthearted and even heartwarming short stories set in its alternative universe. My favourite is the titular ‘Golden Age’, which is an alternate retelling of the meeting between Laurence and Temeraire, which gave me the same warm feeling as their original interaction in the series did. There are some very short drabbles as well that are hit-and-miss.

There we have it: five books that at least made me happy. What about you? Any books that made you happy? Do feel free to leave the titles in the comments!