In My Mailbox #7

*If you caught this post yesterday, that’s because my brain fried and couldn’t differentiate SATURDAY from SUNDAY. In other words, I scheduled it for the wrong day. This post is virtually the same, but with the ~pretty~ addition of graphics. Enjoy.

In My Mailbox is a book meme hosted by The Mod Podge Bookshelf. Click here to read more and participate!

In My Mailbox is a book meme hosted by The Mod Podge Bookshelf. Click here to read more and participate!

Earlier in the week I had a five-page, single-spaced research paper due. High volumes of absolute panic shot through me all last weekend–courtesy of procrastination–and I sank into Hermit Mode. I survived on ramen noodles and peanutbutterchocolatebanana shakes, and not a soul dared to disturb me. The only outside contact made was through Skype, which mostly consisted of one-sided research paper complaints–from my end, anyway.  For hours and days, I sat and sat in front of the computer: typing, sitting… typing, sitting. And so on. This cycle repeated for what must have been five days. Five days. Now, with my paper handed in and only finals left to worry about, sitting and typing at the computer is the very last activity I have in mind.

But books arrived in the mailbox and at my doorstep, and I then I found myself creeping through bookstore shelves… Which means one thing: I have new books! All of which I’m eager to share, and so here I am: sitting and typing…

Siege and Storm

I remember when I first read Shadow & Bone and how excited I felt to read a copy. As it happened, the book was released a few days before spring quarter ended, and Shadow & Bone was my reward for surviving pre-calc. This year I figured I’d save Siege & Storm for after finals (June 11th/12th), too. I figured I’d be adult-like and prioritize responsibly, which meant nothing but test prep. Siege & Storm proved too great of a temptation for me, because I read the book anyway. (Expect a review. But after finals. You see me prioritizing?) I delayed study time and blew off a night’s worth of sleep to finish Leigh’s book, and I have no regrets. The second book is a huge improvement from the first–not that I don’t like both–but the series grew up in Siege & Storm. I’m pining for Ruin & Rising already, and how could I not with an ending like that? Instead, I’m settling for a Bone & Shadow re-read.

S&B and TES

I was dumb enough to clump in my order of Shadow & Bone and Sanderson’s book with my Siege & Storm pre-order — otherwise these two would have shown up months ago! I’d hoped to re-read Shadow & Bone before Siege & Storm, but that didn’t work out. I intend to finish off the first Grisha book a second time before writing up  my S&S review, and besides… Since I finished S&S, I am left with a giant, gaping hole of nothingness wondering what to do in life now that I’m out of Grisha reading material. A re-read is exactly what I need.

The Emperor’s Soul has me particularly excited, though. I first learned of it after reading Carl’s convincing review from Stainless Steel Droppings. His commentary urged me to check the story out, and after reading many reviews on several of Sanderson’s other books, it’s difficult to think I’ll feel disappointed. The Emperor’s Soul sounds like an imaginative novella, and I even plan to read The Rithmatist afterward.

The Sweetest Dark

Pretty girls in pretty dresses aren’t exactly my favorite forms of cover art, and I admit that The Sweetest Dark‘s jacket discourages me. It’s the book’s summary, however–aside from the “girl-meets-two-handsome-boys/love triangle” aspect–that caught my interest. Mostly due to the books historical fantasy genre, Shana Abé’s series reminds me of Robin Bridge’s Katerina Trilogy. I can’t say Bridge’s The Unfailing Light impressed me (review to come later), but I did enjoy The Gathering Storm. I have my doubts about The Sweetest Dark, but I hope Abé will prove those doubts wrong.

Recommend a… (book by a debut author)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Published June 5th, 2012 | Henry Holt and Co.

Summary from GoodReads:

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.

I admit that I would like to give Shadow & Bone a second read, because I’m almost — almost! — embarrassed to say that I love the Darkling. Go ahead: you are free to make fun, but I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone. Bardugo does well in getting readers to like the villain, and while I would hate for this news to spoil anyone, I don’t believe it’s difficult to pick up on the Darking’s intentions. I spent time thinking about his character — his future role, how it would clash with Mal’s position, and not to forget how the Grisha age is dying. Where does that leave him? It leaves him as the antagonist, and dammit, I like him. So maybe I was infatuated (ahem), but new perspectives come with second readings.

Regardless, Shadow & Bone took me on a light fantasy adventure, and I would readily read it a second time.  Bardugo sucked me into Alina’s story quickly and with ease, and I maintained interest until the last page. This is a book I didn’t want to end, although it is not difficult to get so absorbed into the text that, in consequence, I didn’t realize the speed at which I stormed through it.

If Shadow & Bone has at all roused your interest, you can read an extended preview of the book: Chapters 1 – 5. In relation to Bardugo’s Grisha world creation, The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale is something else to read as well.

Find my review here, and check out the book trailer below!

Now, one book recommendation is to be expected, but I could not resist the temptation to suggest a second book:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Published July 10th, 2012 | Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary from GoodReads:

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.

In 2002, Rachel Hartman did publish a comic book, Amy Unbounded — which takes place in the same universe as Seraphina — but the debut fantasy is the author’s first novel. What can I say about Seraphina that I haven’t said already? Even before the book’s release, pure excitement radiated off me in frightful blasts, and it has only worsened now that I have read it. Much to the dismay, perhaps, of everyone around me — and to my wonderful followers — I enjoy praising this book (a lot). In contrast to Bardugo’s novel, Seraphina is undoubtedly much more high fantasy. (It is also, I would like add, more developed in world-building aspects than Shadow & Bone.)

Rarely do I ever stray into high fantasy, as I prefer grounding myself in worlds similar to my own. Throw too many strange creatures and made-up languages with odd pronunciations my way, and my brain says it is time to step away. The likes of J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis were as deep as I dared to venture into the fantasy genre for years, and even then: our primary world still exists. As a result of reading Seraphina, I am more friendly with this genre. Hartman crafted an entire world I think readers will enjoy exploring, and I am quite fond of the Vulcan-like dragons.

My review can be read here. I warn, however, that Hartman’s pace is indeed steady and slow. Seraphina takes some time to read, which appears to be one of the chief complaints among reviewers.

These are my recommendations this week! If you have read either book, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Seraphina is out!

Hello on a Tuesday (July 10th, and so many book releases today!) — I hope everyone’s week is going well.

I hear a mighty fine book strutting around, and it just got its glamor shelved for reading. Unless you live in the future or were one of those lucky readers who grabbed an early copy, Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina is officially out. In case you somehow missed the pre-release hype and you’re wondering What is a Seraphina? then check out the book trailer:

Just when you thought there was nothing new to say about dragons, it turns out there is, and plenty! Rachel Hartman’s rich invention never fails to impress — and to convince. It’s smart and funny and original, and has characters I will follow to the ends of the earth.
Ellen Kushner

You can also watch Rachel Hartman read a one-minute excerpt or read part of it here (Hartman’s out-loud reading can do with a little more pause, I think).

I’ve been told Seraphina has the power to spike your day with a little more cheer, so: if your week has been more nasty, rotten, and sleep-depriving than my upstairs neighbor, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a good book inflate a bad mood.

Cheers and happy reading!

Grab your sword, grab your bow! (Let’s kill a wight!)

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

My rating: ★★★★

If I chose one thing I dislike about describing things I love, I would have to pick fabulous, phenomenal, fantastic, extraordinary, and so forth. I will do my best not to OD this review in a gaudy (oh-ho) adjective-spree, but this story exhibits a certain unique quality. For a debut novel, Ransom Riggs does indeed present something peculiar. I happened to find it so peculiar smack on page one that this happened before I reached the end:

“You must” — (arms wave mid-air in wild motions toward Riggs’s book) — “read this!” Muscles contort my face into a deranged wide-eyed, ear-to-ear grin expression, which looks like I’m living in great satisfaction of five stimulants too many or I’m a psychopath plotting your demise. I may down enough caffeine equivalent to the Atlantic ocean, but what my creepy face says is, “Too much enthusiasm is swelling inside, and I must share it or explode.” I prefer the first option. Besides, sharing is caring, and I care about sharing great stories.

Meanwhile, everyone shoots a blank, disinterested look and proceeds about their business. (I am surrounded by people who often fail to see the fortune in reading books. “Reading sucks,” said Dad’s Facebook profile. I retort: “I officially disown you as a blood relative. I hope dictionaries smother you for the rest of your every miserable birthday and Christmas. What an embarrassment.” I walk away, solemn, shaking my head.)

I do not think Riggs crafted a 100% original story spouting ideas and creations that cause jaws to drop in reverence. The idea of “peculiar” people (e.g., individuals with inhuman abilities — levitation or invisibility, for example) is repeatedly done time and time again. Just take a nod in the direction of X-Men, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (any superhero chronicle for that matter), or — dare I compare it? — Harry Potter (yes, I do dare). However, Riggs’s talent, storyline, and (most of all) direction separates Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. These ‘peculiars’ are not superheroes, and Jacob is certainly no brooding Harry.

It begins quite promisingly:

I had come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After. Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.

Jacob, our narrator, describes his grandfather’s stories, which are derived from none other than this mysterious home for peculiar children — “a girl who could fly, a boy who had bees living inside him, a brother and a sister who could lift boulders over their heads,” and invisible monsters with tentacles writhing out from inside their mouths. I will estimate that a good ¼ or so builds suspension about these people and creatures — do they exist or don’t they? Well, clearly they do. This should not alert anyone as a spoiler since it’s evident in the near-beginning, but the surrounding excitement is, I think, a general give-away.

Before I say anything else, I want to defend Riggs’s word choice and narrative. Here’s the thing: my favorite books are almost as precious to me as my cat. They’re like my adopted children, only more endearing because they aren’t germ-spewing factories that shout, cry, and scream. It’s like when someone declares the smallest of a semi-but-not-really-insult about your mother: “Jeez, your mom’s lisp is terr—“ “SHUT. UP.” (My mom is quite articulate and lisp-less, if you are now wondering.)

I read one-star Amazon reviews where the biggest complaint seems to center on Jacob’s narration. It’s either “too obscene” for readers, “too sophisticated” for a teenaged protagonist, or Riggs’s writing lacks a certain elegance. I oppose!

For those who agree some of the language is offensive: read John Green lately? Or better: read any teen books? Most authors don’t withhold cursing and rampantly fluctuating hormones because those are part of a teen’s world. I’m not about to skim through this book and compare the number of profanities, but Riggs, I think, writes appropriately and modestly from a reclusive sixteen-year-old’s view point. To add: this is no Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia. In other words, this book is meant for an older audience to enjoy and not nine year olds. If you want outrageous character behavior to pick at, then I kindly point you in the direction of Stephenie Meyer literature — you don’t want me to get started on that.

As for the sophistication and supposed lack of elegance and imagery: Jacob comes from a wealthy family, so I think it’s likely that his education is well satisfactory. It’s also noted that Jacob tutors is one-and-only friend in English. I have known many teens who possess an abundant vocabulary — they love reading and they love words — so I felt comfortable in respect to Riggs’s word choice. Not to sound condescending (which I probably will), but if one does not know the meaning of misanthropic, there is a dictionary on the shelf if one cares to look…

I’m quite sure that anyone who’s heard of this book knows: pictures play a heavy role as part of the book. Some are calling them “creepy” vintage photographs to which the writing fails to match. The pictures aren’t particularly eerie, though they are interesting and do well as visual aids that embellish the story. But what of Riggs’s writing? I disagree with everyone who says it’s somehow impaired or inadequate.

A vast lunar bog stretched away into the mist from either side of the path, just brown grass and tea-colored water as far as I could see, featureless but for the occasional mound of pile-up stones. It ended abruptly at a forest of skeletal trees, branches spindling up like the tips of wet paint brushes, and for a while the path became so lost beneath the fallen trunks and carpet of ivy that navigating it was a matter of faith.

Given that not every sentence is this lengthy, it is very well descriptive. Riggs succeeds in writing enough indulgent detail to paint fluid scenes balanced by effective dialogue. He could have gone into more vivid detail when making reference to the photographs; however, that would be overkill, as I believe the pictures serve their purpose.

Now, I frown at the average rating (presently 3.70 here on GR), because many reviewers sound disgruntled by the absent air of spookiness. Somewhat off-base, I’m reminded of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. That movie was advertised like an eerie spectacle rich in fright. If you have seen the movie you will know it’s not creepy at all. Interesting, yes, but not haunting.

Similarly, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not a book that will have your spine tingle in fear. The first quarter of the book did well in making me think a fascinating story of thrills, horror, and peril would ensue. In this regard, the story becomes anticlimactic as Jacob travels to Cairnholm in hopes that Miss Peregrine can shed light on Abe’s true past. (But is she alive?) I can’t say if Riggs intended for the uneasy apprehension to last or not (although the jacket does say, “spine-tingling fantasy”…), but this book is affluent in upholding mystery and intrigue.

What may seem like a wimpy, upper-class boy searching for proof that his grandfather wasn’t a paranoid old man with a collection of well-crafted tales is only half the story, I promise you. Suspense makes a final appearance near the end amidst some danger and concludes with a cliff-hanging adventure, which sets the premise for the next book… which is a problem. This books ends on a cliff-hanger that strikes me as more suitable for a TV show’s season finale.

Clearly, Riggs is setting us up for the next Peculiar installment, but this is like ending in the middle of a sentence. I reached the end and said, “Is my copy missing a page? …There are no more pages? What. Excuse me, but what do you mean ‘this is the end’?”

For the sake of an example, I’ll compare the ending to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:

And, grinning broadly at the look of horror on Uncle Vernon’s face, Harry set off toward the station exit, Hedwig rattling along in front of him, for what looked like a much better summer than the last.

Or how about Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning:

The Blaudlaires bunched up together against the cold night air, and kept waving out the back window. The car drove farther and farther away, until Justice Strauss was merely a speck in the darkness, and it seemed to the children that they were moving in an aberrant—the word “aberrant” here meaning “very, very wrong, and causing much grief”—direction.

Both books end with a conclusive feel because there is a final thought, yet they are thoughts that propose an ongoing sense of adventure. Riggs instead left me feeling completely lost at the end, but he made an impressionable mark for his first novel.

And thus concludes my extremely long-winded review! I only expect his writing to produce great things and to continue improving as more peculiarity is published.