Thursday, October 31, 2019

Review: THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE by Ruta Sepetys

Rating: 5/5 stars

This is the kind of historical fiction novel that reminded me why I fell in love with historical fiction in the first place. The story is rich in culture and setting, and it features beautiful prose, intimate characters, and lots of secrets. It’s absolutely worth the read.

Ruta spent eight years crafting The Fountains of Silence, during which time she traveled to Spain, interviewed people that lived during Franco’s rule, read journals from people of this time, and did all kinds of research to create the most accurate novel possible. Knowing this fact before starting had me wondering at every little detail: “Was this really how it was? Did she read about this thing in someone’s journal?” I bet most of it was real and taken from the influences and sources she talks about in the book. And her thoroughness definitely shines through. She splices the narrative with oral history commentaries, interview excerpts, and quotations from real people in the 1950s who had a view of and opinion about Franco’s Spain to really paint the picture for the readers of what life what like for Spaniards during this time.

Despite having owned all of Ruta’s books for years, The Fountains of Silence is the first one that I’ve actually read. I love historical fiction but I really haven’t been in the mood for it much this year. Because of that, and the book slump that I’ve been in for a few weeks, I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this book as much as I potentially could. However, I’m pleased to say that it really impressed me, in scope, writing, characters, details, you name it. Plus I wasn’t bored with it at all, despite not really having the desire to read during the weeks in which I read it. It completely surprised me and pulled me right out of my slump.

I love so much that this book had such short chapters. I’m talking 1-5 pages in length. It made me feel like I was flying through the book and like I could always fit in one more chapter. Because of the short chapters and multiple POVs, it can get confusing at first who is who, so here is a quick reference guide of the main characters:
Daniel—American tourist and photographer in Madrid for the summer; son of an oil tycoon
Ana—Rafael’s and Julia’s sister; maid at a hotel; hiding a secret
Julia—Rafael’s and Ana’s sister; matriarch of their family; works at a tailor shop
Rafael (Rafa)—Ana’s and Julia’s brother; works at a slaughterhouse
Fuga—Rafa’s friend who is training to become a bullfighter
Purificaci√≥n (Puri)—Rafa’s, Ana’s, and Julia’s cousin; works at an orphanage

I love how vivid the setting was and how fleshed out the characters were. I felt so connected to every aspect of this book. Every time Daniel took a picture I wished I could see it. He would explain the setting and the frame and the emotion he captured in each photo, and I so wish they were real. I can’t express how much I loved reading The Fountains of Silence. 

This book had one of the best love stories I’ve ever read in my life. It wasn’t hot and steamy, it wasn’t the type of story you typically read nowadays, but it was still so romantic and I was smiling from ear to ear nonetheless. It was beautiful and I loved it so much. I wish there was more book because I don’t want to be done with Ana and Daniel’s story yet.

Reading this book immediately moved Ruta up on my list of authors who I want to read all their works. I’ll absolutely be checking out her other novels, and I’m actually looking forward to getting back into historical fiction now. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough, and this review is so insufficient for how wonderful the story is.
He takes a breath, acknowledging the reality: a secret never stays secret for long.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY by Alix E. Harrow

Rating: 4/5 stars

Let’s be real, the cover is the first reason I picked this book up. But the synopsis also sounded amazing too, so it’s okay.

We follow January Scaller as a young child when she finds a blue Door in a field and decides to open it. As she grows up, she begins to forget this encounter, until she discovers a book called The Ten Thousand Doors and the magic in her life is revitalized as she begins to read it. This story is a book within a book; we see both January’s story and the story of Adelaide, the girl from the book.

I love the story-within-a-story aspect. I really came to care about both girls and their adventures. And they were different enough that I didn’t get confused at all during the audiobook.

It took me a bit to really get on board with this book, but I fell in love with it the longer I read it. It planted itself in my heart and grew like a seed into a large tree. There wasn’t a single point when I was like, “okay, I’m loving this story now,” but looking back, I gradually enjoyed it more and more the further I got. Especially what January had to say to the reader at the very end of the story, I loved that. The whole thing is beautiful.

At first, I thought this was going to be more of a portal fantasy: January going through various Doors and discovering different lands that lie beyond, but it’s not really like that. It’s much more historical than I originally thought, taking place around the turn of the twentieth century. While I do like historical fiction novels, I honestly haven’t been in the mood to read one for about the last year, so I’m glad I actually ended up enjoying this book. The fantastical element is very soft. Yes, there are Doors that are portals to other worlds, but this is more of a magical realism story than a fantasy, and the Doors are not the forefront of the story even though they are still crucially important to the story.

The book is more about family and friendships and trust and identity and cultural respect and living life as a grand adventure than it specifically is about traveling through Doors to new lands.

This book does a good job of talking about acceptance and race, in my opinion. The characters represent many different races, and it’s talked about what is “normal” for them. This obviously has to do with the time period the book is set in, but I’m mentioning it because it really stood out to me. January, being mixed-race herself, is often looked at suspiciously or treated differently, and it’s interesting to see how she deals with that in a primarily white society, especially in the early 1900s.

Harrow’s writing is beautiful and very lyrical. This is the kind of book that you could hang quotations on your wall from. I loved the way she weaved words together to create beautiful imagery and settings. The writing was definitely my favorite part.

I recently read a book called Eleanor, which was another historical magical realism fantasy that had a similar premise, not involving doors but instead involving time travel/teleportation. I didn’t really care for that book and ended up not finishing it, but The Ten Thousand Doors of January is what I wanted that book to be. It’s the beautiful, engaging, and important story that I wanted.

Although, I have to admit, this book is still not quite what I expected it to be. I thought it was going to be a whimsical and magical adventurous romp through Doors to other worlds, explorations full of carefree fun. Instead, however, the reasons why January and the others were going through the Doors were a lot more solemn and darker than I expected, and those misplaced expectations were what caused me to give this book four instead of five stars. It’s still a beautiful and magical and adventurous book though, and one that I definitely recommend and look forward to rereading in the future.
How fitting, that the most terrifying time in my life should require me to do what I do best: escape into a book.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Review: THE STONE SKY by N. K. Jemisin


Rating: 4/5 stars

This series has been so good. It’s been too long since I read this book for me to write a decent or accurate review at this point, so here are the notes I took while reading. There are spoilers ahead.

The prologue starts right off telling us that Hoa opened the Obelisk Gate and flung away the Moon. This sets up immediately for an intriguing story because I wanted to know what happened and why.

I didn’t really care for the Syl Anagist chapters because I didn’t understand their importance or what was happening in them. I knew they had to be there for a reason, and I read a review that said they give us more information about the obelisks, but I just didn’t see that. They were hard to follow, in my opinion. These chapters were the only part of the whole series that when I got to them I had to push myself to keep on reading.

I was also not very interested in Nassun’s viewpoint in this book, unfortunately. I much preferred Essun’s chapters to everything else. I just found myself a bit bored with Nassun’s POV and not really connecting to her character, which is unfortunate because I loved her in book two. I wish we had more Schaffa chapters in this book like we did in The Obelisk Gate because those were more enjoyable and informative to me. I was curious about Nassun’s story overall but her chapters just dragged in my opinion.

This conversation speaks volumes for some of the important and relevant topics covered in this entire series:
Nassun asks, “What is genocide?”
Schaffa responds, “Orogenes are essential. And yet because you are essential, you cannot be permitted to have a choice in the matter. You must be tools—and tools cannot be people. Guardians keep the tool . . . and to the degree possible, while still retaining the tool’s usefulness, kill the person.”
Then: “What can orogeny do against something like that? Keep her breathing, maybe. But breathing doesn’t always mean living, and maybe . . . maybe genocide doesn’t always leave bodies.”

Here are my overall thoughts for the whole series:
I think The Fifth Season was the strongest book, mostly because we get so much world-building and character development and everything is new and fresh. Plus I loved all three POVs in that book and loved the way they connected together at the end. That story also had the most enjoyable plot in my opinion.
The Obelisk Gate was much slower but we did get a lot more information about the world that I was hungry for and happy to learn. I enjoyed the three POVs in that book as well, though not as much as the first book.
The Stone Sky was back to being an active and faster-paced plot, although the only POV I cared about was Essun’s. I liked the continuation of the world-building and the ending and how everything came together, and it was a good conclusion, but it doesn’t compare to The Fifth Season in my opinion.
Ultimately, this series was dark and unique and a completely new take on the idea of earth magic, and I’m so happy I read it. It tackles many real-world themes and problems and doesn’t shy away from being gruesome and emotional. It’s definitely one I’ll be rereading in the future, and I’d also love to check out more works from N. K. Jemisin now; I love her writing.

Review: THE OBELISK GATE by N. K. Jemisin

Rating: 4/5 stars

I love obelisks, and I love even more the idea of floating obelisks in the sky, so knowing this book was called The Obelisk Gate had me very excited to read it to learn more about these mysterious objects introduced in The Fifth Season.

These are the SPOILERY questions and thoughts I had while reading:
—I’m questioning who writes the interludes. It’s clear they’re to Essun, and I was thinking maybe it’s from Father Earth, but also it says “we” about life and that made me think maybe not. Maybe it’s Hoa, but that would mean Hoa betrayed Essun and is planning to kill her.
—The interlude on page 75 also states that orogenes have “lost the moon.” How would they have lost the moon? Alabaster and Essun are tracking obelisks, so possibly the obelisks caused the moon to disappear, but how, and why?
—Did orogenes create the obelisks?
—Alabaster started this Season, right? Are all Seasons started by orogenes, or are some naturally occurring? And couldn’t the orogenes stop a Season? This one is caused by the rift, but couldn’t Essun shift something so the rift reforms or whatever and there’s no more problem and the Season ends? It must be too massive for anyone to seal up because closing the volcano at that coastal town was almost too much for Essun, so maybe they need the help of an obelisk to be able to close the rift.
—We learned that Alabaster using orogeny is what made him turn to stone. Why? Is it something to do with his stone eater, like is Antimony making it happen?
—Page 94 states: “The stories . . . imply there might someday be a way to end the Seasons, involving the obelisks.” Is this foreshadowing for the end of book three?
—Page 103 states: The Moon’s “‘loss was part of what caused the Seasons.’ Father Earth did not always hate life, the lorists say. He hates because he cannot forgive the loss of his only child.” So is the Earth himself causing the Seasons?
—Page 106: I love love love how Jemisin incorporated the use of magic into her story.
—Page 165: Something happened with the power in the obelisks that caused the Moon to migrate away from the planet, and that caused the Shattering, which in turn caused the Seasons. Orogenes are the ones who use the obelisks so it’s their fault this happened. Father Earth is sad about his child, the Moon, being gone, so he created the Guardians to control the orogenes; orogenes are Father Earth’s enemy.
—Nassun’s chapters are narrated by an “I” character to a “you,” who is Essun, but Nassun herself is referred to in third person, so who is narrating her chapters? Schaffa and Jija are also mentioned in third person in her chapters, so it’s not them.
—I really enjoyed reading about Nassun’s relationship with Jija, her father, even though it isn’t a good relationship, because I can completely relate to her in that regard. I understand her thought process and where she’s coming from and why she’s doing what she’s doing, and it’s heartbreaking but also so satisfying the brutal way she ends things with him.
—Page 313 states: “[Nassun] doesn’t answer because there’s no point. She cannot say what he wants to hear. It isn’t fair that he calls orogenes liars and then demands that she lie.” This is so relatable it hurts. I resonate so much with Nassun.
—I am very curious to know how Essun ended up with Jija. He, who hates orogenes, knows she’s an orogene and will likely have orogenic children, yet he marries her anyway? I guess it’s possible he didn’t know she was an orogene, but I still really want to know the story behind their relationship.
—I am also curious why Essun’s chapters switch between second/first person and second/third person when we already know it’s Hoa narrating them. Sometimes he refers to himself as “I” and sometimes he refers to himself as “Hoa,” and I didn’t understand why the distinction was important.
—Alabaster dies and turns into an alabaster stone eater—this broke my heart but also gave me hope for him still being alive in the “third” book.
—And now Essun’s turning to stone like Alabaster was? What causes this process to begin?
—So the ending with the grey stone eater, nicknamed Steel: he told Nassun to bring the Moon back. But I thought that was the same stone eater that was working with the Rennanis comm and wanted Essun to fail to bring the Moon back. Am I missing something?

The Obelisk Gate did a lot of great things: it prepares us for The Stone Sky, provides us with lots of pertinent information about the world and magic, answers some questions we had in The Fifth Season, builds more of this unique world, and deeply develops characters we both knew and didn’t really know when the book began, even going as far as to give them harrowing trials that are hard to read at times.

But it also did some things that made this installment less enjoyable than the first book (but only by a little bit): it’s mostly a character-driven story, so there’s not a lot of actual plot or action that happens; the narrative took place almost entirely in the same location for each character, where they just kind of talked about different problems the Season brings and about the politics of the world; the big reveals did have an info-dumpy feel to them because there is so much information we are getting; it wasn’t as developed as the first book; and I found it to be written at a slower pace, probably because of the reasons listed above. Plus this book is just weird at times. There was some stuff happening that I didn’t really understand and some stuff that I didn’t know (and still don’t know) was in the bounds of the world and their abilities.

Ultimately, I liked The Obelisk Gate a lot, although I did like The Fifth Season better. This book is mostly setting up for the obvious task ahead for Essun, which will take place in The Stone Sky. I’m happy for so many reveals that I’ve been waiting for, but I also wish we had a little more going on.

Review: SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin

Rating: 4/5 stars

Initially, I didn’t want to read this book. I got eight pages in and stopped. But it’s the book club pick at my job so I needed to finish it. I tried the first chapter again, this time with the audiobook. And it was more interesting, but it still didn’t have me hooked. So I read the first chapter a third time, and finally, after that, I decided I was excited to see what lay ahead.

We follow two perspectives: Lou and Reid, a witch and a witch hunter. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, they are forced into marriage with each other. They hated each other and neither wanted to get married—I loved the foreshadowing preceding this where they each said they’d never marry and then they ended up in this situation. The problem is, Reid doesn’t know Lou is a witch, and the motto he lives by is “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Lou has to hide who she is to stay alive.

I love how fierce Lou is. Way too often I read a book with a BA female protagonist who is all talk and no action, but Lou actually draws blood and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. She’s vicious in the best way, and I love it. She’s the hardcore female protagonist I’ve been wanting in my stories! I’m so happy with her characterization.

One thing that bothered me was that Lou always referred to Reid as “my husband” for the first half of the book, never by name, which I thought was a bit unnatural.

The enemies-to-lovers trope here is one of the main reasons I was interested to keep reading. I became so engaged in the story, excited to see what new ways they would torment each other.

I do think the plot got lost to the character developments and the relationship between Reid and Lou. We were introduced to the plot in the beginning and it picked up again in the end, but the whole middle of the book was entirely character-focused. I didn’t mind though because it was an entertaining book from start to finish.

Although this is a young adult fantasy, the characters are older and it has a more mature feel, which I appreciated. I think with a few tweaks it could even pass for an adult fantasy, which might contribute to why I liked it so much because that’s primarily what I read these days.

Serpent and Dove has a heavy French influence. This was actually one of the reasons I was turned off from it at the beginning because I don’t know any French and there were a lot of French words thrown in that I didn’t understand and I felt confused. Eventually, though, this became a non-issue and I actually began to enjoy the French. And of course my naturally curious mind couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn something new, so I had to look up the definition of every foreign word I saw. Let’s just say this book gives a new meaning to the phrase “pardon my French”: I learned more French swear words than other words while reading.

For a book about witches, I do wish we saw more magic and got more information about the witches. We know there are at least Dames Blanche and Dames Rouge, two different kinds of witches, but we don’t really know much about either of them and that’s what I’d like to know most. What are the limitations of their magic and are there more than just those two kinds of witches in this world?

I’m really glad I pushed through the first chapter because the book only went uphill from there. I ended up really enjoying the story, and this has become a series I will keep on my radar to read future installments when they are released. I do sort of wish this had been a standalone novel because I think it could have been wrapped up in one book and now I’m worried the next book(s) will drag on about unnecessary events, but we will see.

Overall, Serpent and Dove was entertaining from start to finish and continued to capture my interest as I read. It never felt slow or dragging, despite its length, and I appreciated that. The book definitely had its problems—it’s not perfect by any means—but it was certainly fun to read and that’s what matters.