Uprooted

⇒Bet you’ll never look at the woods the same after this magical fantasy featuring a very unlikely heroine.⇐

by Naomi Novik
SmellRating3.5
(4.1 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 19, 2015, by Del Rey

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 435

#Uprooted

UprootedThere was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing and rage.

I know, I know. September is supposed to be Shelf-Discipline Month, but I had to take just an itty bitty detour to read Uprooted because it finally became available for me at my library AND because I really wanted to read it since I finished Spinning Silver a little while ago.

I am determined NOT to compare this book to Spinning Silver because I believe it deserves to stand on its own merit, but I have to say that I do understand why so many reviewers like one of these books and then end up not caring for the other – and the one they love is usually whichever one they read first!

I have to admit that is true for me as well; however, I give Uprooted all due respect for having me thinking I was about to read a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but instead, I read a clever fantasy that was – surprisingly in this day and age – a clever, original fairytale.

His name tasted of fire and wings, of curling smoke, of subtlety and strength and the rasping whisper of scales.

Uprooted is the story of Agnieszka (“Nieshka”), an average girl from a small village with no big dreams or aspirations. In fact, her biggest goal is to make it through one day without muddying her dress or tangling her hair. She isn’t anyone’s idea of a brave heroine.

Then The Dragon comes.

Sarkan, “The Dragon”, is a powerful wizard who comes to the village to select a young female who will serve him for the next 10 years. No one knows what happens to the girls who enter The Dragon’s tower – no one dares to ask. But this is the price required to keep the villages safe from The Wood – a forever encroaching force that would force them away from their homes and families if not for The Dragon’s magic holding it back.

Nieshka’s friend Kasia has been groomed to be The Dragon’s choice almost since birth. She is beautiful, poised, skilled, and ready. But Kasia is not who Sarkan has in mind this year…

What an unequaled gift for disaster you have.

I love, love, love books with unlikely heroes/heroines. I love it when the men are physically flawed in some way and the women aren’t always beautiful and perfectly put together. That is why I loved Agnieszka (even though her name is a b**** to type)! Novik’s descriptions of her remind me of myself as a child: torn, muddy clothing, hair falling out of braids, scuffed shoes, etc.

She becomes a heroine for the masses, not the elite. She battles the forces of evil with splotches of mud on her sleeves and her hemline half torn and dragging. That’s my kind of heroine!

I also loved that Sarkan stayed true to his innate character – a crotchety old wizard who prefers scowling and bitter insults to doe-eyes and niceties. It only made me love him more. Judging from both of her books so far, Novik really knows how to make an unlikable bad guy loveable.

‘You intolerable lunatic,’ he snarled at me, and then he caught my face between his hands and kissed me.

So why only 3.5 stars? you might ask. Well… the book was good, but in certain places, the story seemed to drag. I can’t put a finger on whether there was just too much detail or if we just “lingered too long at the party”. And there were other places (particularly toward the end of the book) that seemed out of place with the rest of the story – as if someone else came in and stuck in story parts that didn’t quite fit. But overall it was a solid book that kept me engaged and entertained – even if the ending was a little less “tied up” than I was expecting.

We may soon get to see Uprooted on the big screen as Warner Brothers has purchased the rights and Ellen Degeneres has signed on to produce this movie adaptation!

Read an excerpt of Uprooted (courtesy of npr.org): Click Here


About the Author

Naomi NovikNAOMI NOVIK

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An avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings, Naomi Novik is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.

Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers.

(Bio taken from Goodreads)


 

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Circe

by Madeline Miller
Rating: 
(4.47 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published April 10, 2018, by Little, Brown and Company

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Historical Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 400 pages

Circe… in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth.

Back in high school – which really doesn’t seem so long ago to me now – I had an excellent teacher named Ms. Willoughby. I may have been in the minority, but I LOVED Ms. Willoughby. She introduced us to the classics, to hidden gems, and to books that ultimately became some of my favorites.

But Ms. Willoughby’s face would light up and she would gain a new level of animation when she talked about mythology! Greek, Roman, African, or Asian – she loved to teach us about gods, demigods, monsters, and the privileged (or not-so) mortals that interacted with them.

Gosh, I wish I had paid more attention.

Too late for all the things I should have known. I had made so many mistakes that I could not find my way back through their tangle to the first one.

I remembered that Circe is a goddess, but here is what I just relearned: Circe is a Titan, but is still considered to be a lesser god. Her dad is Helios, the Titan god of the sun, and her mom is a nymph, Perse, a daughter of Oceanos, also a Titan.

Circe grows up in the earthen halls of her father and grandfather, but she’s an outcast. Her brothers and sister are favored in her parents’ eyes and she is eventually exiled to an island, Aiaia, to live out her immortality alone as a witch.

Only, she doesn’t exactly end up entirely alone.

You know by now that I hate spoilers, so I’ll refrain from saying too much; however, since Madeline Miller’s book is more of a retelling, I couldn’t actually give too much away especially if you’re already familiar with Circe, Greek mythology, or even Homer’s The Odyssey.

What was I truly? In the end, I could not bear to know.

I have a confession to make here: I was drawn in. I had cover art shock. I mean it, this book cover is GORGEOUS. Seriously, a standing slow-clap ovation to Will Staehle, the jacket designer. Do you do that – get drawn in by the cover and the hype surrounding a new release? Well, I have succumbed to those two enchantments more often in the past two years than any other time in my life. Sometimes it has served me well (Children of Blood and Bone), but other times not so much (The Rules of Magic and The Hazel Wood).

Circe’s cover is admittedly eye-catching, but when you remove the jacket (which I usually do when reading hardcover books), the book cover itself is really plain. And that’s what I felt about this story.

Circe is truly an underdog – a lesser god, ostracized from her family, exiled to a remote island, and hunted by powerful and dangerous deities. You can’t get much more underdog than that. And I usually root for the underdog! But for some reason, I never felt connected to her. Whenever I wanted her to stand up for herself, she submitted; and when I felt it would be better for her to take a step back, she charged forward. Maybe that’s the difference between gods and mortals – besides the immortality part.

The Fates were laughing at me… It was their favorite bitter joke: those who fight against prophecy only draw it more tightly around their throats.

Miller does do a great job of marching both mortals and gods through Circe’s life so that we can see her interactions with well-remembered favorites: Hermes, the trickster son of Zeus who acted as Circe’s social media consultant; Athena, the goddess of war and Zeus’ favorite; Daedalus, the mortal that first captured Circe’s heart; and Odysseus, the mortal prince of Ithaca who ultimately changed Circe’s immortal life in several very significant ways.

It was an entertaining read but it wasn’t a favorite. Some parts of the events depicted felt monotonous while some of the more interesting events were covered too quickly and then left behind. I saw Circe as sad and tragic for 88.8% of the book, and that’s a tough kind of MC to get behind. However, I don’t regret buying it, if for no other reason than it looks stunning on my bookshelf!


About the Author

Madeline MillerWebsite

Goodreads

Twitter

Instagram

Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She has taught and tutored Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students for more than fifteen years.

She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms.

The Song of Achillesher first novel, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. It has been translated into over twenty-five languages including Dutch, Mandarin, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic, and Greek. Madeline was also shortlisted for the 2012 Stonewall Writer of the Year, and her essays have appeared in a number of publications including the GuardianWall Street JournalLapham’s Quarterly and NPR.org. Her second novel, Circe, was an instant number 1 New York Times bestseller. She currently lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

(Bio from MadelineMiller.com)


 

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A Court of Wings and Ruin

by Sarah J Maas
Rating: 
(4.53 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published May 2, 2017, by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 705

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3)If he was the sweet, terrifying darkness, I was the glittering light that only his shadows could make clear.

If you’re not familiar with this fantasy series already, quick sum-up: Feyre was kidnapped from the human world and forced to live among the faeries in Prythian. These aren’t Tinkerbell fairies, no. These are otherworldly creatures with varied characteristics and deadly powers.
Feyre suffers a lot (that’s a bit of an understatement), there are a few love triangles, she meets some nice faeries, and then she meets some not-so-nice faeries.  And in an extreme effort not to spoil the series for you, I’ll just say that several relationships become more than a little strained in Prythian, and Feyre has a lot to do with it!

This series was not one that I initially set out to read. As you’ve read from me before, fantasy isn’t my usual go-to genre (although I have read more of it recently than in times past). YA also isn’t my usual go-to genre, so I can honestly say that I got influenced to read this series based on fan enthusiasm alone. And, overall, I haven’t been disappointed. I gave high marks to both Book 1: A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Book 2: A Court of Mist and Fury. However, sadly, my fan-love couldn’t push me to give this particular book in the series higher than 3 stars.

It was war.

I don’t really enjoy reading about war, and this book is filled with it – rumors of war, preparations for war, strategies of war, outright war, individual battles,  casualties of war, and the aftermath of war. Is there gonna be a fight? Are we gonna have to fight? Who is gonna fight with us? Who’s gonna fight against us? Are we gonna win? On and on and on. Because of that, there were some chapters that I found tedious and repetitive.

Remember that you are a wolf. And you cannot be caged.

Here is where I make a confession: In movies where there is a battle scene, I often fast-forward until it’s over. Yes, I know, I know. It’s sacrilege. But I get it. Two sides disagree, they battle, it’s gory, there are some heroes, there are some cowards, one side wins, everyone loses some people. Done. See? I don’t have to see all the guts to get the point.

Only, with a book, I can’t fast-forward. I can’t skip pages. I can’t leave it unread. I know some people are able to do that and be okay with it, but – even with a bad book – I force myself to suffer through it all. So I did. Every battle, every slash of every sword, every clang of ash arrows against every strong shield, and every heart-wrenching injury to characters I’ve come to know and care about over about 1,750 pages now.

So, battle lines are drawn in Prythian and, if I’m being honest, the motive isn’t really clear. Apparently, the residents of neighboring island Hybern (with King Hybern as their lead – yes, confusing) don’t want to be confined to their lands anymore and they want to be able to take humans as slaves again. Yet, when they begin the war, they invade the human territories and just kill everyone. Uh, question? And then their interests are torn because they also want revenge against Feyre for surviving being Under the Mountain and ruining Amarantha’s plans (Book 1). So Hybern is fighting on several fronts, battling several individual Courts, AND the humans, and none of it seems very advantageous or sane.

But it’s war.

But I can say that in 705 pages, LOTS of stuff happens in this book. New allegiances are formed – on both the good side and the bad. Many new characters are introduced, some of whom I have been eager to meet since Book 1. And, of course, Sarah J. Maas does not skimp on the detailed faerie love scenes. Intense. Everyone’s beautiful/handsome, everyone is deadly, and everyone, EVERYONE, has an ego.

Several strings that I thought were going to be tied up were still left dangling in the wind and one of them, in particular, became a little more frayed as it just hangs there (What’s going to happen with Azriel and Mor in light of everything now?) Ugh, so frustrating.

You’ve read my gripes about war and about the dangling threads, but don’t let that make you think that this is a bad book. Sure, it was slower than the others, but still packed with the action and risky adventures that this series is known for. I enjoyed it, just not as much as the others. AND, I’m still looking forward to the novella A Court of Frost and Starlight (Book 3.1) that gets release May 1st, another short novella (Book 3.2), and Books 4, 5, and 6 after that!

Get it here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-million | IndieBound | iBookstore | Kobo | Waterstones | Amazon UK | Book Depository


About the Author

Sarah J. MaasWebsite

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Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.

(Bio courtesy of Goodreads)


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The Hazel Wood

by Melissa Albert
Rating: 
(3.77 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published January 30, 2018, by Flatiron Books

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 368

The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood, #1)Look until the leaves turn red…

“Once upon a time…” It’s how so many fairy tales start. Then you go on to read about princesses and castles, dragons and unicorns, true love and happily-ever-afters. Those are the stories that taught me to believe in magic, in good triumphing over evil, and in happy endings.

It wasn’t until later that I learned about evil that seeps into the world outside of the pages of those fairy tale books. Evil that can’t be contained by a chivalrous knight or by a magic spell. Unexplainable things that occur even when you’re not reading, so you can’t just close the book and put it back on the shelf to make the monsters stop scaring you or make the bad things freeze in their tracks.

So what can you do when fairy tale evil follows you into the real world? Apparently, if you’re Alice Proserpine and her mother, Ella, you run.

Sew the worlds up with thread…

That’s what they had been doing all of Alice’s seventeen years – running from state to state, city to city, new life to new life. Though Alice thought they were just moving around to find a place where they fit; a place where their string of “bad luck” wouldn’t continue to follow them. Maybe finally moving to the place she’d longed to be for as long as she could remember: The Hazel Wood. Her grandmother was there – renowned fairy tale writer, Althea Proserpine, and Alice knew one day she’d meet this enigmatic woman who’d written a book that had made her famous (infamous?).

It wasn’t until Ella is abducted that Alice begins to see her world as it really is, and she realizes that she’ll have to leave everything she knows behind in order to retrieve Ella from a place where normal rules don’t apply. Accompanied by Ellery Finch, Althea Proserpine super fan and Alice’s only friend from school, she sets out to find the Hazel Wood, her mother, and, hopefully, all the answers to questions that she’s held close for so many years.

If your journey’s left undone…

I’ll pause here and say that I HATE unexpected spoilers. I love to let the story unfold on its own and be naturally either surprised or disappointed at the outcome. That’s why often my reviews contain very little of the story plot. I know that may be frustrating to some readers, but if you really want to know the plot of a story, you can find that anywhere. And, for this story in particular, I think it’s important for readers to not be exposed to too much of the plot beforehand. Giving it away removes some of the shrouded mystery of the book – and isn’t shrouded mystery what fantasy readers love about their books?

To review it though, I will share a story – a real-life story – that happened to me on a MARTA train (Metro Atlanta “subway” system) when I was a teenager. It happened like this:

When I was in high school, my friends and I took the MARTA train in order to get to school. It made us feel independent and mature knowing that our parents trusted us enough to get to school on our own every day. There were the usual cast of characters: The Reggae Man, who played Reggae music cranked up to its highest level on his Walkman so everyone on the train could hear it; The Toothless Woman, who went from one end of the car to the other asking for change while holding out a battered Styrofoam cup; The Business Man, who tried to ignore us all by burying his face in a newspaper as if he was better than everyone even though we were all taking the same train every day. We would often see the same people day after day. The cast became familiar. Regular.

Then one day, a large man entered the train car. A stranger. He was dressed in white from head to toe, almost like a chef. He even had a slouchy white hat cocked awkwardly on his head. You see all types of people on the train, so normally nothing about this man would have made any difference to my day at all. But there was something abnormal about this man. He was smiling. Not just a normal “Have a nice day!” smile either. A huge, gum-showing, 32-to-the-front, lips peeled back kind of smile. And he didn’t stop smiling that entire train ride. It was eerie. I knew I was being rude by staring, but it was like a creepy magnet that kept pulling me back. My friends were crying as they tried to suppress their nervous laughter (as we were sitting right across from this man). He seemed to be staring into nothingness. Just smiling and staring.

My mind was all logic, “There’s something special about him. You shouldn’t laugh. Just find another focus. Stop looking at him.” But it was like I was locked in and I couldn’t have looked away even if I wanted to. And the smile became more of a grimace and instead of a happy chef, he began to look more like a crazed assassin. (Note: Please don’t let my adolescent notions make you believe that I am insensitive to neurodiverse people or those who have unique physical features. Usually, I would never have behaved like I did that day, which is why it was such an odd experience).

After a few stops, the man got up and exited the train. When we started moving again, the volume of everyone, everything on the train (people talking, music, babies, etc.) seemed to be immediately louder. I realized that while he had been on with us, our train car had been almost deadly silent; as if everyone was holding their breath. And it wasn’t until he exited that we felt that life could continue as normal.

That’s kind of how I felt while reading this book: brain-warped.

Fear the rising of the sun

Melissa Albert tells a fairy tale about a fairy tale and once you’re in it, you can’t breathe again until that door is closed again. Although it has a rather slow start (things really don’t start to pick up until you’re more than halfway through the book), those who love weird goings-on and those who can imagine walking through their dreams will appreciate this trek through the Hazel Wood and its cast of dream-state characters.

I’ve seen some not-so-favorable reviews of this book from people who weren’t impressed with the story and the slow development of the plot. I can see where they are coming from. But I can also be appreciative that Albert has not given us a microwave story that is reminiscent of many other YA fantasy stories out there now – even though it does indeed contain princesses and castles.

This is absolutely a story that stands on its own – in all its individually abnormal glory. And if you can’t give a debut novel five stars for being a favorite, you can (or I can) at least give it four stars for definitely being original.

Get it here: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Half Price Books



About the Author

Melissa AlbertTwitter

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Melissa Albert is the founding editor of the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog and the managing editor of BN.com. She has written for McSweeney’sTime Out Chicago, MTV, and more. Melissa is from Illinois and lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Hazel Wood is her first novel. Her second book, a sequel to The Hazel Wood is as yet unnamed and is expected to be released in 2019. There is also a Hazel Wood 2.5 in the works, Tales from the Hinterland, that is anticipated for 2020.

(Bio adapted from Macmillan Publishers)


 

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Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi
SmellRating5
(4.49 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published March 6, 2018, by Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Pub. Grp, LLC)

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 525

#ChildrenOfBloodAndBone


Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)We are all children of blood and bone. All instruments of vengeance and virtue.

To say that I am enamored with everything this book has to offer would be a gross understatement. It easily earned every one of the five stars I willingly granted it. I was only disappointed that, by the “laws” that govern book rating, I couldn’t give it more. From the stunning cover (kudos Rich Deas!) to the heartfelt acknowledgments this book drew me in and refused to release me – even after the all-too-brief epilogue.

Tomi Adeyemi has birthed a world that instantly lives and breathes with some of the richest characters that have graced the fantasy genre. Orïsha is a land inhabited by the virtuous and the vengeful – each side holding their collective breath, awaiting a battle that will decide the fate of the kingdom and of magic itself.

Zélie Adebola did not ask for the battle to come to her. She only desired peace and for her family to be whole again – a fruitless hope since her maji mother had been slain by the king’s guard years ago. That’s when the magic disappeared and left Orïsha as hollow as her own heart. Since then, Zélie has seen people like herself persecuted, chained, beaten, and forced into the shadows of society – all at the hands of King Saran.

But when Zélie enters the capital city to trade a fish in order to pay her family’s taxes, her life is inexplicably and irrevocably changed forever. The events that follow will require more strength than she ever imagined she possessed, not only to attempt to bring magic back to her world but also to survive.

Her spirit swells through me like lightning breaking through a thunder cloud. It’s more than the feeling of breathing. It’s the very essence of life.

This is a story about a hope and determination that refuses to be quenched even in the face of extreme force and seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s a saga about learning who you are and opening yourself to trust others through life’s journey. It’s about recognizing that inner strength that is the essence of your very being and not allowing it to be suffocated by life’s circumstances.

Further, this is a story that is, in fact, a fantasy; however, its underlying topics echo real-world struggles of inequality, bigotry, and the overwhelming, invasive poison of corrupt government leaders. So, although this is a work of fiction, its themes are instantly recognizable and relatable to parallel current societal issues.

It doesn’t matter how strong I get, how much power my magic wields. They will always hate me in this world.

I recommend this book to fantasy lovers who appreciate an epic saga that is action-packed from the very first chapter. Fans of A Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings who love being able to follow the action along on maps included with the books will not be disappointed here. There are also descriptions of all the maji clans, their powers, and their deities (10 in all). All that is important because you’ll need it not just for this book, but also for… wait for it…

THE NEXT TWO BOOKS – because Children of Blood and Bone is only book #1 in the Legacy of Orïsha trilogy! And that’s not all. Fox is already adapting book 1 into a film!!! If I’m being honest, I hope they do a REALLY good job, because it will be hard to beat the images that played through my head as I read this.

…today I crave it. I’ve been practicing and I’m ready. I know I can win.

Twenty-three-year-old Tomi Adeyemi has written a book that I will not loan out. That’s big for me.  (Have you seen that cover? I’m taking NO chances with that beauty). She has also helped to renew my love for the fantasy genre again (I can thank Sarah J. Maas for that too). But it’s more than that too: This is The Black Panther meets The X-Men; It is Roots meets Indiana Jone;. It is Rosewood meets Harry Potter.

It is all those things and more. It is its own stand-out story of desperation, doubt, hope, and triumph in the face of debilitating hatred and destruction. It is its own story of failure, tainted victories, and questionable truces. It is like so many things, and yet like nothing else I’ve ever read before.

I have to say thanks to my Bookstagram community for hyping this book and inspiring me to read it. It’s one of the few impulse purchases that turned out to be totally worth it.

Get it here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Half Price Books


About the Author

Tomi AdeyemiWebsite

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Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. Her debut novel, CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, was released March 6th, 2018 and the movie is currently in development at Fox with the producers of Twilight and The Maze Runner attached. After graduating Harvard University with an honors degree in English literature, she received a fellowship that allowed her to study West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil. When she’s not working on her novels or watching Scandal, she can be found blogging and teaching creative writing to her 3,500 subscribers at tomiadeyemi.com. Her website has been named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest.


 

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