Saturday, August 12, 2017

Book vs Adaptation: The Magicians

The Magicians is a pretty irreverent fantasy series: the whole point of it is to be subvert common fantasy tropes, like the idea of a heroic Chosen One and magical boarding schools being joyful experiences. The books are so snarky and subversive, and I wasn't really sure if the TV show would be able to capture that without being grating and annoying.

I can't really say if I like the books better or the TV series better, because they each do some things better than the other. The TV series made the main cast of characters a lot easier to relate to, and the casting was absolutely perfect. I found Quentin a lot more likable in the first season of the show compared to the first book. In the book he is just so broody and directionless and depressed (which is the whole point, but it's still tough to get through a whole book of angsty Quentin). Quentin on the show is all of these things as well, but the faster pace of the show means he grows out of it quicker and it's less painful to watch. The first season of the show is also more dynamic, weaving in story lines from the first two books instead of only focusing on the first book. That means we get a lot more screen time with Julia early on, and I found her story more compelling in the books, so that was a welcome change. I also absolutely LOVE Margo (Janet) and Elliot on the show. They are so sassy and preppy and just absolutely perfectly cast.

Another thing the show does better than the book is being more explicit about how racially diverse the main characters are. Penny is played by Arjun Gupta, who is of South Asian descent, and Margo is played by Summer Bishil, who is biracial. In general the minor characters are also pretty diverse, and there are quite a few queer characters on the show. At the same time though, the show can sometimes miss the mark (in one episode, for example, a queer WOC is introduced and then dies in order to further the development of a white woman).

As much as I enjoyed the first season of the show, I feel like the second season started to grate on my nerves. It's tough to play a character like Margo or Elliot and still maintain a level of emotional complexity, and there were some scenes where the actors did a great job of that and other scenes where I just wanted Elliot and Margo to shut up. The same is true for Alice, I liked her initially but once she becomes a fixation/hallucination of Quentin's she's pretty painful to watch too. I think the sarcastic tone of the show just got too grating to me. It's so much more obvious and in-your-face when you're hearing quips from a bunch of characters instead of reading biting social commentary in between the lines of a book. 

There was also the whole Marina storyline which was so unnecessary. But if that storyline is the reason Kady is in the show, I'll deal, because Kady is easily one of my favorite characters. She's smart and resourceful and doesn't take shit from anyone. I loved seeing her relationship with Julia (best bitches forever!). 

The books grew on me and I liked each book better than the last, but I felt like I couldn't stick with the show after two seasons. Each book sees the characters grow up and make sacrifices, but on the show everything seems too flippant. Maybe this will change with later seasons, but I definitely need a break from the show for a while!
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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: Crooked Kingdom

28937572Title: Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, YA

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets—a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Okay it's been four months since I read this book, so forgive me for the vague review - I don't really remember details anymore :/

I really enjoyed Six of Crows, because I love stories about heists and morally ambiguous characters and friendships, and SoC had all of these things in spades. Crooked Kingdom was also pretty enjoyable for all the same reasons, plus it was easier to get into because I already knew the characters. Still, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as SoC. I felt like the book was a lot longer than it needed to be, and there were points in the middle where I was thinking to myself, "Okay, there's no way this plan is going to work because there's still 300 pages left..." Thinking about the page count was definitely a sign I wasn't totally sucked into the story. I did enjoy all the twists and turns though; it's nice to have a villain who is cleverer than you would expect.

I think a big reason a lot of people love this book more than Six of Crows is the cross-over with the Grisha series. I have only read the first book of that series and I didn't really like it, so I haven't bothered to continue with it. I missed all the references and characters that crossed over from the other series, so I didn't get to experience the fun of drawing connections between two connected worlds.

I really liked how all of the characters and their relationships developed in this book. Mild spoilers, but I'm glad Kaz doesn't magically get over his phobia of touching people with his bare hands by the end of the book. It's something he is working on, and I really appreciate that this is portrayed as a process and not a simple flip of a switch. I'm also thankful that the other character(s) involved don't push him and give him space to overcome his fears on his own terms. While I really liked that aspect of Kaz's character, he's just a bit too broody and self-hating for me to actually like his character as a whole.

Inej, on the other hand, continues to be my favorite. She has experienced a lot of pain and triggering events, but she powers through them because she won't ever let herself be held back by her past and the people who want to use her. And of course, Jesper and Wyland were adorable. One of my favorite parts of this book was Jesper's character arc and how his complicated relationship with his father develops. Nina's struggle with parem withdrawal was also really well-done and unsurprisingly painful to read about. I really liked seeing how Nina and Matthias' relationship was strained by the parem but they still found ways to love and support each other.

The ending was pretty shattering, and I'm glad that for once there wasn't some last minute deception or twist about the fate of a particular character. That's one of my pet peeves, when you mourn a tragedy that has befallen a character, only to discover that it was all a trick or that somehow the character has magically healed/escaped/been brought back to life. At the same time, I felt like the tragedy befell the least surprising character. The events that transpired are the direct result of actions that this character chose to take, so it's not like the consequences came out of nowhere. I wasn't actually upset about what happened to this character as much as I felt bad for the other characters dealing with its repercussions.

I think I would recommend reading the Grisha trilogy before reading this book, simply because I felt like I was missing a lot by not reading the other series. It's not my favorite fantasy heist novel, but it was still fun.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: Seveneves

22816087Title: Seveneves
Author: Neal Stephenson
Genre: Science fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:What would happen if the world were ending?
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
A writer of dazzling genius and imaginative vision, Neal Stephenson combines science, philosophy, technology, psychology, and literature in a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable. As he did in Anathem, Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, and Reamde, Stephenson explores some of our biggest ideas and perplexing challenges in a breathtaking saga that is daring, engrossing, and altogether brilliant. 

I absolutely loved the first 2/3 of the book, but the last part took some effort to get through. Overall an astonishingly inventive, profound, and entertaining piece of hard science fiction. I'm definitely going to be reading more by Neal Stephenson!!

Having been warned that Neal Stephenson really puts the science in "hard science fiction", I was expecting this book to be a lot more dense and pedantic than it actually was. His writing style in this book was really straightforward, with a wry sense of humor throughout. Many of the characters choose to face the end of the world with their sense of humor and sarcasm intact, which is a blessing because it made everyone seem more human in the face of global calamity. It's clear that Neal Stephenson knows how different kinds of people react in stressful situations, because every character responds to calamity differently, and yet they all have understandable motivations. My favorite part was all the tongue-in-cheek observation about sexism in our world. Mild spoilers, but when a man is chosen for a leadership position despite a very competent woman being a natural choice, it's explained along the lines of: "he was chosen because of his charismatic nature, ambition, and other words, because he was a man."

Another thing I loved about this book was how many diverse perspectives it incorporated. Sure, it is yet another sci-fi novel written by a white man, but at least half of the cast are POC characters and there are also a few queer characters. One of the annoying thing about "end of the world" TV shows, movies, and books is how it always ends up being a bunch of white people in space with a token POC thrown in. This book really makes an effort to include people of many diverse backgrounds, be it racial, cultural, or religious. The fun part is seeing how so many people with different ideas about the best way to preserve humanity's future compromise (or not) and manipulate each other to get what they want.

That said, the part that fell flat for me was the last third of the book, which takes place after a giant time leap of 5,000 years. I thought some ideas were really cool, like the language and different warring factions that developed. It was also cool to see how people we got to know in the first part of the book are perceived 5,000 years later. I wasn't sold on the whole genetic aspect of the future humans though. In some ways I felt like they had evolved too quickly, and in other ways I felt like they hadn't evolved enough (both biologically and culturally). I can't remember specifics, but I remember questioning many characteristics about the future humans. It was also tough for me to get attached to a whole new set of characters in the future. I did like how the people of the future tried to rectify the mistakes of the past, though. I also liked how the story ended in an open-ended but satisfying way.
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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bookish Eats: Soft Pretzels and The Queen of Attolia

In case you haven't been keeping up with me on Goodreads or Twitter, I recently re-read The Queen of Attolia (5 years after I read it initially). The first time, it was rough. I was bored, I was an impatient reader, and I didn't pay attention to the subtleties. I discovered after re-reading Name of the Wind that sometimes when you read a book years later, there's a chance you might like it a lot better! So I decided to re-read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia. Excellent decision, because now I am absolutely in love with the series, and King of Attolia is one of the best books I've read all year (and it's been a great year for books).

Image result for the thief megan whalen turnerImage result for queen of attoliaImage result for queen of attolia

So.... what does this have to do with pretzels?

Quite a bit, actually! Like with Queen of Attolia, the first time I made soft pretzels from scratch, I was pretty impatient and didn't pay any attention to the subtleties of pretzel-making. For example, I didn't wait quite long enough for the yeast to make the dough rise, so the dough wasn't quite as puffy as it could have been. That led to overall less dough, which means overall less pretzels :(

As for subtleties, I didn't pay attention to the amount of time you had to boil the pretzels in basic solution before baking them. I just kind of dipped them and took them out, so they didn't end up golden brown like pretzels are supposed to be. But despite these kitchen misadventures, the finished product ended up being pretty good!

But the second time I made pretzels, I went more slowly and actually paid attention to the little things (much like my Attolia re-read), and the finished product was SO MUCH BETTER. Much better than I expected, you could say ;)

Look, I actually left the pretzels to boil for a whole minute!

And for a less abstract parallel between soft pretzels and the Queen of Attolia: The Queen of Attolia is surprisingly quite a plot-twisty book, so it's only fitting that twisted up pretzels are my culinary tribute to the book. Just when you think you understand a character, revelations are slammed at you and you have to rethink everything you thought you knew. There's the obvious giant bombshell in the middle of the book, but there's also the less bombshell twist at the end, and all the twisty political intrigue from Attolia, Eddis, and the Mede.

look at those twisty pretzels :)

So yes, devour this series the way you'd devour freshly baked pretzels because this series is definitely worth immersing yourself in...just be sure to take it slow.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: Stormdancer

13538816Title: Stormdancer
Author: Jay Kristoff
Genre: Fantasy, steampunk, YA

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:(read at your own peril, I recommend picking this book up blind!)A DYING LAND
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.
But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

I haven't gotten this emotionally wrecked by a book since The Raven King, and that's a high standard to meet! I don't know how to accurately describe this book, but the closest thing I've got is "exquisitely painful." The characters endure so much physical and emotional pain, and some of the passages were heartbreaking (I cried, there was a particular scene where I literally had to put the book down and make myself some tea because I was so overwhelmed about the possibility of a certain thing occurring). Yet despite all the blood and fear and betrayal, you keep reading because the writing style is so absolutely lush, rich, and captivating that you can't look away.

That's quite a lethal combo.

I am always excited about sci-fi and fantasy set in Asia, because there are so many rich cultures and mythologies from the East that would lend themselves to those genres. So when I saw "Samurai Japan" and "steampunk" used to describe this book, I was completely sold! I had absolutely no idea what the book was about besides those two phrases, and I think that was a big part of why I enjoyed the book so much. I was as confused as Yukiko and had no idea what was coming next, and I loved gleaning more facts about the steampunk world with every chapter. Looking back at the blurb, I think it ruins far too much about the book. Do yourself a favor and go into this book blind.

For that reason, I'm going to be very vague about what I loved about this book. Other than the fact that I was incredibly emotionally invested and entranced by the writing style, I also really loved the political intrigue. There are a lot of fierce and smart women in this book, showing strength and power in their own ways. I love that about all of Jay Kristoff's books; he doesn't resort to stereotypes about "strong female characters", he sketches real people with his words and incidentally a large portion of them happen to be awesome women. In a genre so rife with objectification and stereotypes, I am immensely thankful for this book.

My favorite thing about this book is the incredible friendship at the heart of it. I am always a sucker for stories about the platonic equivalent of soul-mates - friends that truly belong together and would move worlds to protect and help one another. This friendship brought tears to my eyes :)

The one thing I didn't like about this book was the romance. Yes, it was great to see a young woman who had agency and wasn't waiting for the guy to make the first move, and yes it was great to see a woman who was unashamed about her desires. At the same time, I felt like the preoccupation with the "green-eyed samurai" weakened an otherwise incredible character. When she is dealing with actions and consequences that are literally world-shattering, it seems silly that she thinks of green eyes, even if she instantly chastises herself for it. The whole messy romantic situation did actually further the plot though, so I guess it wasn't completely irrelevant the way most YA romance subplots are?

I guess that's another thing, I wouldn't necessarily categorize this is YA even though it's marketed that way, because to me it read like adult fantasy/science-fiction. Sure, the protagonist is a teenager, but the way I draw the line in my head between YA and adult fantasy/science-fiction is the level of subtlety and complexity in the plot/characters/writing style. It's a perfect cross-over title, I think people who usually read YA and people who usually don't would all find things to love about this book.
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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Reading Quest: the journey begins!

While I'm in the middle of my year-long SFF challenge, I thought it would be fun to join a month-long challenge along the way! I'm not sure if any books will overlap, but both challenges encourage reading diverse authors and own-voice books so I'll have double the reason to pick up more diverse sci-fi and fantasy :)

I'm The Reading Quest by Aentee @ Read at Midnight (you can sign up here, sign ups are open until August 12!). I've chosen to be a Mage at first, but I'm hoping to finish the Mage squares and then do the Knight or Bard.

Here's my character card! I couldn't get the base image from the original link to work, so I made up my own. (Shout-out to  CW of Read, Think, Ponder for creating these characters, and for including characters of a bunch of different skin colors!)

The challenge starts August 13, so I have a bit of time to change my mind on these, but so far here's what I'm planning to read for Mage:

A book with one word title: Foundation by Isaac Asimov
A book that contains magic: A Flame in the Mist by Renee Adieh (bonus points for ownvoice and POC author)
A book based on mythology: Star-Touched Queen by Roshni Chokshi (bonus points for ownvoice and POC author)
A book set in a different world: Windwitch by Susan Dennard
The first book in a series: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (bonus points for POC author)

As you can see, I'm trying to make it a point to read all those books in the TBR that are by POC authors or feature diverse characters. I'm really excited about this challenge :D
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Assassin's Fate

30688013Title: Assassin's Fate
Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:More than twenty years ago, the first epic fantasy novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Now New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb brings to a momentous close the third trilogy featuring these beloved characters in a novel of unsurpassed artistry that is sure to endure as one of the great masterworks of the genre.
Fitz’s young daughter, Bee, has been kidnapped by the Servants, a secret society whose members not only dream of possible futures but use their prophecies to add to their wealth and influence. Bee plays a crucial part in these dreams—but just what part remains uncertain.
As Bee is dragged by her sadistic captors across half the world, Fitz and the Fool, believing her dead, embark on a mission of revenge that will take them to the distant island where the Servants reside—a place the Fool once called home and later called prison. It was a hell the Fool escaped, maimed and blinded, swearing never to return.
For all his injuries, however, the Fool is not as helpless as he seems. He is a dreamer too, able to shape the future. And though Fitz is no longer the peerless assassin of his youth, he remains a man to be reckoned with—deadly with blades and poison, and adept in Farseer magic. And their goal is simple: to make sure not a single Servant survives their scourge.

oh the emotional payoff of watching characters grow over 50+ years...

I loved this book so, so much! Robin Hobb is a master character writer. After all, she made me go from hating Malta's guts (reading about her made me cringe more than nails scraping on chalkboard) to respecting and even loving her by the end of the Liveship trilogy. If that's the sort of character development Robin Hobb can create in 3 books, imagine how much her characters can evolve over multiple trilogies! Full disclosure, I haven't read all of the Elderling trilogies/quartets, but I have read 3 of the 5, including the original trilogy about Fitz as a child.

I am going to be very brief with this review, because I do not want to spoil a single thing. I will just say that this book is very rich and ties together the events of nearly all the series before it. Many beloved characters make appearances (no pun intended), and it's so interesting to see how they interact with one another. I especially loved the interactions between Fitz and a certain ship. I have to admit that for the first half of the book, I found Bee's chapters kind of tiresome and difficult to get through. That all changed in the second half of the book; true to form, the final few hundred pages of the trilogy were action-packed and the characters had to make devastating choices.

Bee grew up quite a bit in this book, and looking back at the first book of this trilogy it's amazing to see how far she has come and how she has endured so much. The same can be said of Fitz, and the Fool. Their relationship is the focal point of this series, and I sobbed at the end of this book. It was an absolutely perfect ending, and as much as I would love to read more books about their relationship, I think this book's perfect ending would be ruined if there were any more. That isn't to say I don't want more Elderling books. I would love to see how things are coming along for Bee as she grows up, or to see what the kingdoms are like after a generation or two.

No one makes me feel as wide a range of emotions while reading as Robin Hobb. This book had me all over the place, from laughter and fond nostalgia to disgust and rage. This is a series I will probably come back to over the next few years, if not the next decades. No one else writes quite like Robin Hobb, and I am so glad there are so many of her books to enjoy!

A free e-ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

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