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.
Fantasy

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
Fantasy

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.
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Book Review: Seraphina (Seraphina #1) by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

My rating: ★★★★★

I am sensationally drunk on admiration. Some books exist in this world that — once I read them — leave me wishing a simple “in awe” would suffice as a complete review. For all the years I’ve lived: where, oh, where has Rachel Hartman been? I sat for days staring at the computer as my review didn’t write itself, like my brain was sucked dry of words. An unintelligible but love-struck sigh came out instead, and I began to wonder how I’d get my vocabulary back.

Impressionable for its descriptive world and striking characters, Hartman gives one of the most refreshing stories I’ve had the pleasure to read. Divided between voice, structure, and artistry, clever allure runs equally. Out of all the reading I do, high fantasy is not a genre I typically aim to read often (let alone get excited for). Like a bug, I caught the pre-release hype and couldn’t help but force this book onto other people’s to-read lists.

(This consisted of discrete advertisements, such as inserting a Seraphina-related link in an e-mail about Why My Day Sucks, or quick mentions in between sentences concerning weekend plans. Various tactics of peer pressure, slipping ear buds on while someone innocently slept — audio repeating a particular chant — and propaganda (can lead to victories). No one was safe. I was a spam-bot and do not apologize.)

Then, once the book was released and I started reading, my tongue threatened fireballs of rage to anyone who dare disagree that Seraphina is enjoyable. My goodness, God forbid people think different thoughts and have different tastes than me, because that’s wrong.

I remember being born.

In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music; joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe.

Then my world split open, and I was thrust into a cold and silent brightness. I tried to fill the emptiness with my screams, but the space was too vast. I raged, but there was no going back.

Thus begins Seraphina Dombegh’s venture into life. Banned from the outside world by an overprotective father, the young protagonist grows into an exceptionally smart and curious individual. Keen hearing and inborn talent, one out of many rules she is expected to obey becomes the source of stewing irritation: she is forbidden to play music. “Half lawyer,” Seraphina “always noticed the loopholes.” Realizing that no one forbade self-instruction, lessons began. Determined, Seraphina intended to shame her father into allowing music lessons by an “impromptu performance” — a thought and hope that resulted in a broken flute and a terrified, upset Mr. Dombegh.

Soon after, truth behind her father’s fear and unwavering vigilance surfaces as her life undergoes an irreversible change. In that moment, Seraphina realized how different she truly is and the lengths she must go to keep it secret. Disgusted by what she is and forced to conceal it, Seraphina locks in a constant struggle between separating herself from others but feeling desperate to withdraw from loneliness. Highly intelligent and often bold, she doesn’t crouch in fear. She rises to the occasion and willfully takes courageous first steps when others hesitate.

Finally free, however, to develop her knack for creating musical beauty, Seraphina trains under the saarantras Orma. (Saarantras: a dragon in human form.) As her ability blooms, a reputation steadily builds, and anonymity is no longer an option once she gains entry into castle walls. Assistant to Viridius, the court composure, and tutor to crowned Princess Glisselda, word of the greatly talented Seraphina spreads.

Due to her younger years of home-bound isolation and instinctual reminder of self-protection, this musical prodigy presents herself as socially aloof. Regardless, her oddities and status work hard for the very attention she wishes to shy away from. Interests rouse, and with it brings Prince Lucian Kiggs: friend or foe?

Sometimes the truth has difficulty breaching the city walls of our beliefs. A lie, dressed in the correct livery, passes through more easily.

Dragons are not majestic, beautiful creatures that instill fear by the sheer power they possess. Instead, dragons are animals of nonchalant, calculating, and cunning nature, detested by many humans. Likewise, humans are also thought as loathsome: stubborn to die, humans multiply and scatter and ruin a dragon’s hunting ground. Yet emotions (messy as they are and foreign to the indifferent dragons) and the human aptitude for art make people interesting. Hence, these qualities lean in favor of establishing an agreement between the species.

After forty years of peace among dragon and humankind, the body of Prince Rufus is discovered and seemingly decapitated by a rogue dragon. As Treaty Eve draws near, tensions rise and jeopardize the union upheld by Comonot’s Treaty. Heading the murder investigation is Prince Lucian, who — intrigued by her knowledge — wraps Seraphina inside the mystery as a fellow partner-of-justice. Together, as they work to solve the case, the two discover that Prince Rufus’s death is only the first tipped domino in a plot designed to capsize the peace.

But the question remains: as reasons behind her knowledge on dragons become strapped under scrutiny, how far can Seraphina’s lies stretch without becoming too entangled? Should the secret she bears see light, it could mean execution and endangering her family.

Seraphina is a richly enchanting debut novel that plants the reader right next to the heroine’s side. Hartman’s creation proves itself a complex, delicately built world plagued by hostility and discrimination that undermines peace. This book explores what it means to be different in an intolerant environment, a place predisposed to greet with prejudice. Delving beyond self-acceptance, Hartman touches on deserving respect not for what you are, but because you are sentient. Seraphina questions the inner make-up, the actions and beliefs that define someone, and turning away from societal bias to accept the self.

The world inside myself is vaster and richer than this paltry plane, peopled with mere galaxies and gods.

For those who have yet to discover the prequel: read away! At 19 pages, you can read The Audition quickly — but! The Audition is less of a prequel to the series. Rather, it is a story that narrates how Seraphina gains entrance into the palace by becoming Glisselda’s music tutor. For anyone who read Seraphina and fell in love with Hartman’s craft and characters, additional appreciation for the quirks of Orma, Glisselda, and Viridius will be felt. I recommend reading the prequel after Seraphina for this reason, but The Audition can still be read, understood, and enjoyed by people who have not read book one.

Meanwhile, I wait on seconds to tick by, months to pass, and the new year to swing full-force like a bulldozer coming to shatter 2012. Come at me, Dracomachia, because my bookmark is ready.

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!
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July book releases (and literary lust)

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
— Desiderius Erasmus

Desiderius and I know how to prioritize. Do you?

I get nerdgasms just thinking about reading, and it’s true. The giddiness and anticipation form an overwhelming emotional growth–a blood-rush, a feel-good high. The same phrase is also displayed on my GoodReads profile, plastered across the screen for all eyes to peer at in book-nerd pride.

I spend a good chunk of free time perusing books and tossing their titles into my ever-growing to-read pile. To think about holding any of these books, let alone read them, jump-starts my pulse from a resting rate of 65 to 150. Booksbooksbooks. I admit it: I’m obsessed, sometimes weird, annoyed with life, and a genuine book nerd. Bibliophile, however, is a kinder term.

It happened perhaps a month or two ago: me, gasping in excitement while surveying the book shelves. The Hunger Games attracted my attention, and I thought the lusty glint in my eyes gained the ability to create sound: My oh my oh my what a wonder! (“The Stars and the Trees” by The Lighthouse and the Whaler.) No, it was my phone.

“Mom,” I said. My tone absorbed petulance.

“Minerva,” she grumbled. (Note that no one in my family refers to me by my birth-given name with the exception of my grandmother.)

“Do you think I should by The Hunger Games trilogy?” I didn’t need to ask. I could have bought the books if I really wanted to (and I really wanted to), but asking my mother of all people is my way of setting myself straight. I asked because I know money can be spent on more “important” things, and I know that my mom will scrutinize my life and slap a NO in my face each time.

“No,” said my mom. “Why are you asking me?” (I never did find out why she called me, but I digress.)  This later evolved into an argument concerning my “lack of responsibility” and “poor prioritizing.” I swatted her criticism out the window and reminded her: I would rather buy a book and go hungry than buy myself a meal.

“Well that’s just stupid.” Eyes rolled, my mother huffed, and I read a book.

But I’m always reading a book, and as if I didn’t have a smothering amount already, I have an eye on several upcoming July releases… Continue reading