2017 Reading Review

I was fortunate that I got to read approximately 100 books this year (not counting re-reads).  Unfortunately, I did not find much time to review many of them.  I enjoyed another year of the bimonthly GeekyNerdy Book Club which expanded my reading selections (look for one last post for the year presently).

Here are a few books I’d like to highlight from this year’s reading.

Most-read author

8367225This title is awarded to Georgette Heyer.  This year I went on a huge Regency Romance kick (a plurality of the books I read fall into this category), and part of that was discovering this wonderful author whose wit and historical detail is unrivaled in the genre.  I read 21 of her historical romances, and I look forward to reading more in the future.  The Grand Sophy was the one that really got me hooked, and it’s a great place to start for anyone intersted.  I recommend her work to anyone who loves Jane Austen as I do.

YA trilogies:

I read a lot of YA fantasy, and I find the vast majority of it enjoyable.  However, it’s rare to find a series as well-written as Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy.  It wasn’t entirely my style, being a bit too dark and Gothic, but I really felt there was a depth to the story not often seen in YA fantasy.  In particular, I liked the author developed themes of free will, including the use of classic literature.  And the characters are surprisingly diverse considering it is set in a girls’ school in Victorian England.

This series was translated from the original German a few years ago, and it is one I definitely stayed up late reading.  Though nominally set in contemporary times, the main character is a time traveler trying to uncover a conspiracy, so we get to travel to several different time periods in the course of the books.  I was so impressed with how well all the time traveling fits together over the series; the author clearly plotted the whole thing out very well beforehand.  It’s also really fun for all the mysteries to be revealed over the course of the books.  The characters can be a bit emo at times, but hey, they’re teenagers.

Classic YA Fantasy:

8464112I can’t believe I had never heard of these two short novels (published in ebook format together), let alone read them.  The first book introduces the rebel Mel on her quest to overthrow a corrupt king with the help of her brother and their people…and some unexpected help along the way.  The second book sees brash Mel getting an education in the subtle politics and court life of the capital city.  There’s also a wonderful slow-burn romance.  Each book has a slightly different tone, but they work beautifully either together or separately.  The characters and wordbuilding in particular are memorable.  It really gave me vibes of The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, which is high praise indeed.

15722552I came across this series after it was recommended to me by Purple Pumpernickel on my Regency Romance post earlier this year.  I love Patricia Wrede, author of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, so I was excited to pick this up, and I was not disappointed.  There’s plenty of magic, mystery, adventure, and a bit of romance and whimsy.  It is told in epistolary form, as a series of letters between cousins Kate and Cecelia, with each author writing one character.  An unusual form, but it really works here, especially feeding into the Regency setting.

Non-fiction:

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For the GNBC I enjoyed reading As You Wish (Cary Elwes’s memoir of making The Princess Bride) and Carrie Fisher’s Shockaholic

The most affecting nonfiction I read this year was the best-selling Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  It tells of the author’s upbringing in rural West Virginia and Ohio, surrounded by poverty, family dysfunction, drugs, and declining jobs.  Vance eventually made it “out,” but in some ways these parts of his youth will stick with him his whole life.  I thought this might be a dry read, but it was anything but.  I read it as fast as a novel.

Much has been made of the divide in the US between urban and rural, blue state and red state, haves and have-nots.  This book does not do much to put forward ideas to solve any of the problems of drugs or lack of jobs affecting communities like Vance’s, but that’s not really its point.  Its point is to help us better understand why these communities live the way they do, and to have some empathy for them without judging them.  I can’t say it changed my political views or anything, and I already understood some of these concepts from living in Ohio, but it really did make me think and expand my worldview while being an engaging read.

You can check out the other books I reviewed this year with the Book Review category (click here) or the GNBC tag (click here).  There was a distinct lack of sci-fi on my reading list this year, so hopefully that will change in 2018.  I also read some contemporary YA and some comics, and hopefully I’ll be writing more about those in the future.

 

Here’s to more great books in the new year.  What books did you enjoy most in 2017?

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Regency Romance…with a bit of Magic

So I recently went on a months-long Regency Romance kick.  It’s been a wonderful escape from everything going on in my life and in the world.

The “Regency” period refers to a time in the early 1800s when Britain was ruled by the Prince Regent (later King George IV), because his father George III was deemed unfit. (This era also includes the Napoleonic Wars.)

Not actual Austen books

Jane Austen is of course one of the most famous authors of the Regency period, and I have read all six of her completed novels many times (my favorites being Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice).  So it’s no surprise that in the twentieth century a whole genre developed around writing similar novels, now as historical fiction.

Georgette Heyer essentially created the Regency romance genre, doing meticulous research to provide readers with accurate information about the period, using the same phrases people of the time would have used, and with the same worldview.  This has spun out into a large, varied genre whose books have varying degrees of historical detail, humor, intrigue, sex, and even sometimes a little magic.

Georgette Heyer

As I said above, for Regency Romance, there is no better place to start than the works of Georgette Heyer.  I am currently working my way through her thirty-some historical romance novels, and there are so many things to love.  She comes very close to Jane Austen in her dry wit and love of the ridiculous in her characters.  I am constantly laughing as I read them.  I love that she writes with 8367225such historical detail; I’ve learned so much about the culture of that time.

I also love that she has many varied plots and characters: she has some Gothic novels, some mysteries, settings in London and in the country, main characters that are young and silly, or older and more sensible, couples that have known each other forever or have just met.  Her romance is very clean, usually with some kisses at the end.

Here are a few of my favorites so far:

The Grand Sophy: The second of her novels that I read, and the one that got me hooked.  Sophy is a tour-de-force main character, the kind of person that can manipulate everyone around her into doing what’s best for them.  The ending gets a little ridiculous, 11727810but it’s so funny you won’t care.

The Quiet Gentleman: I liked that this one has some mystery in it as well as romance; the main character suffers several attempts on his life after returning home to claim his inheritance.  It was pretty easy to figure out who the culprit was, but I still enjoyed it.  I also liked that the heroine is very unromantic and sensible—a girl after my own heart.

Bath Tangle:  This novel features several couples, all with varying (but entertaining) 11689134personalities, and it is set mostly in Bath as the title implies.  I really enjoyed the interplay between as the characters as they all struggle to figure out what they really want.

The Alastair-Audley series: The three main books in the series (These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and Regency Buck) are absolute classics.  The heroes are not always particularly likeable, but the heroines are always capable of handling them.  These books probably have the most history in them, too, dealing with many important figures and events of the day.  The first two are actually set in the Georgian period just before the Regency which gives the series even great scope.

Lester Family series by Stephanie Laurens

The Reasons for Marriage • A Lady of Expectations • An Unwilling Conquest • A Comfortable Wife

24406970This is a series of “reformed rake” stories all centering around one family.  It’s not really necessary to read them in order, but I liked that they were all connected, and many of the same characters appear throughout.

The first book, The Reasons for Marriage, was probably my favorite.  It features an apparent marriage of convenience that turns into something more.  I particularly liked that the heroine Lenore was intelligent, independent, and even a little introverted; her eventual pregnancy is also part of the plot, which resonated with me currently.

These are actually the first Harlequin romance novels I have ever read, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed them.  Though more racy than Heyer’s novels, they are fairly tame in terms of adult content.

I also started reading Laurens’ Cynster family series, and those are much more explicit in a bodice-ripper style.  As I told my husband, I was 7% of the way into the first book and there was already a hot shirtless guy running around.  For reasons.  Anyways, the Cynster books are not as much my cup of tea, but also feature some entertaining characters.

Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstey

25320766I loved the intrigue and adventure in this recent, lighthearted YA romance.  It was just wonderfully fluffy and charming.  I also loved that the heroine Juliana is a scientist trying to get her work published!

The book was nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it was entertaining from the very first chapter.  The main couple was very cute.  There was quite a lot of stuff like Miss Telford had very nice eyes and a nice smile but Spencer wasn’t going to think about that right now.

The author also published another YA Regency title this year, Duels and Deceptions, which I have on hold at the library and hope to read soon.

Now…onto the magic!

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

24737347On my quest to read more of the authors from the twisted fairy tale anthology I enjoyed last year, I uncovered this gem (pun slightly intended).

This one has all of the charm of a Regency romance, plus dangerous magic, adventure on the high seas, and assumed identities thrown in, too.  It was a wonderful mix of genres; I think it leans a little YA also.

The first chapter, in which Lady Newtington’s (Newt’s) emerald is stolen, read a bit like a short story, and then the rest of the book kind of goes off in a different direction in searching for the emerald, with a bit of shift in tone.  It was a little weird, but the book was so entertaining it didn’t bother me much.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is the first in a series about a family of sisters that have some talent for glamour, aka8697507 magic, which is kind of considered a womanly art.  I really, really liked how the concept of illusionary magic was done here; it was interesting and could easily be explored further in the series.  Although the tone is more adult, I don’t recall anything more than a bit of kissing.

However, the characters and plot were rather average.  I read this several months ago and can’t even remember all that much about it.  The heroine Jane was interesting enough, but I did not take to the hero at all, finding him at turns boring and confusing.

So, in short, I don’t plan on reading any more of the series.

Do you guys have any favorite Regency stories (of any genre!) to recommend?

My Top 5 Versions of Beauty and the Beast

As I’m looking forward to the new Disney live action version of Beauty and the Beast (early reviews are vaguely positive), I recall the first time I read a Beauty and the Beast story: in elementary school, one of our Reading textbooks had among its folk tales a telling of the traditional French story, complete with illustrations and a pretty page border.

Since then, I’ve developed a great love of fairy tales and have seen and read many version of Beauty and the Beast.  Here are some of my favorites.

OUAT

Once Upon a Time (S1 Ep12 “Skin Deep”)

It’s been a few years since I watched Once Upon a Time, but the first season is particularly enjoyable, and BatB is one of the key fairy tales introduced.  Emilie de Ravin is a charming Belle, and they added some nice twists to the tale (Rumplestilksin is the Beast, and Belle becomes the town librarian) while keeping some nods to the Disney animated movie (Belle’s dresses, the chipped teacup).

Beastly by Alex Flinn

T544891his YA novel updates the BatB story to modern times and also follows the Beast’s perspective.  Kyle Kingsbury is cute, popular, and rich…until he manages to insult a real, live witch at his high school, who turns him into a beast.  His famous father stashes him in a NYC townhouse with only a housekeeper and a blind tutor (plus a chat room for other magically transformed teenagers) for company. Our Belle here is the bookish Lindy, which is short for Linda, the Spanish word for “pretty.”

I gave this book a 4/5 when I first reviewed it.  It’s not my favorite YA fantasy by a long shot, but Kyle is a compelling narrator and it’s a nice urban update on the tale.

Masque by W.R. Gingell

I just re-read this book again recently; it was one of my great 29481285finds of 2016.  The BatB story is nestled inside a murder mystery filled with magic and intrigue.  Lady Isabella “Belle” Farrah is one of my favorite protagonists of all time.  She has such quick wit and emotional control, yet still manages to grow over the course of the book.

This book will appeal to fans of historical romance, fantasy, mystery, or even steampunk genres.  There’s so much to love!  Check out my original review here, or you can pick it up for cheap on Kindle on Amazon.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

8084This is a classic fairy tale novelization and was key in my (and I’m sure many other’s) love of the genre.  It’s a very traditional, novel-length telling, and pretty much a YA book before YA was a genre.  There’s no surprises here, just a great story with lovely writing.

Beauty is currently available as part of a $15 Humble Bundle of  “Women Of Science Fiction and Fantasy.” 

McKinley decided to revisited BatB twenty years later with Rose Daughter, which is a more daring, quirky take.  I like it a lot, too, but it’s not quite the classic that Beauty is.

 

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

This movie came out when I was about five years old; consequently it was one of the first Disney movies I saw, and it has remained a favorite throughout the years.  The opening sequence contains some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen.  And the songs!  I can still sing them all.  It stands tall as part of the Disney Renaissance, and was even the first animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Image result for beauty and the beast 1991
I picked this movie poster for an image because we used to have a giant puzzle of it.

 

What’s your favorite version of Beauty and the Beast?

2016 Reading Review

Another great year of books is behind us.  As usual, I read a lot of YA fantasy, but I also read a good mix of other stuff, too (partly thanks to the bimonthly GeekyNerdy Book Club).

This year I read 35 books and graphic novels (not counting re-reads).  Here are some of my favorites:

YA fantasy/sci-fi:

Indie fantasy:

Non-fiction:

There are also a few other genre books that really stood out, but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing them yet, so I’m making some space for them here.

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology

Related imageThis was hands-down my favorite series of 2016.  I wrote previously about the first book, Six of Crows, and I’m now here to tell you that the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is an immensely satisfying conclusion.  The characters are still amazing, and continue to be challenged in new, different ways.  The fantasy aspects also continue to be developed.

It’s not an entirely happy ending, but there was never going to be a perfectly happy ending to this story, and honestly it was happier than I was expecting.  I’m even considering buying the hardcover set, which I never do, because the books themselves have the pages edged in color: black for the first and red for the second.

If you like YA fantasy, grey characters, and complex plots, this one is for you.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

There has been so much buzz around this book since22544764 it was published last year (it was nominated for a Hugo and won the Nebula), and I was not disappointed at all.  The story is a kind of original fairy tale, eastern-European inspired, and walks the line between YA and regular adult fantasy.  The main character Agnieszka is “taken” by the local lord, called the Dragon, and is eventually trained by him as a magical apprentice to help defeat the evil Wood.

There’s plenty of magic, and although the magic system is not well-defined, the book does give us an interesting sense of the different methods of working it (the Dragon is more precise and scientific, while Agnieszka works more based on feel and intuition).  There’s also a great female friendship at the core of the story, and some romance—it wasn’t my favorite ever, but I thought it was done well for the story.

The Wood is a surprisingly good villain, and the story’s resolution seemed very fitting.  Even after everything that’s happened, Agnieska can still empathize with the Wood and tries to work out a solution for everyone’s benefit (it’s very Wonder Woman ^_^).

Also, I pictured the Dragon as looking like Rumpelstiltskin from OUAT, so there’s that.

Rumple

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

25372801I’ve been reading CJA for years, as one of the founders of the website io9.com; her movie reviews are the most entertaining I’ve ever read (some of my favorites are Transformers: ROTF, Gods of EgyptThe Force Awakens, The Martian, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War).

I also loved her short story (and Naomi Novik’s) in our recent GeekyNerdy Book Club selection, The Starlit Wood.  So it’s safe to assume that I love her writing style, and it definitely carried me through this story, which was wonderful and memorable, though perhaps not perfect.

A witch girl and a tech-genius boy grow up together as school outcasts, grow apart, then meet again as adults, which is convenient because one or possibly both of them need to save the world from near-imminent destruction. I loved that there is both fantasy and science fiction mashed up here.  It was fascinating to me that the witches would have destroyed humanity to save the planet, while the scientists were willing to risk destroying the planet to save humans.  It was nice to see scientists wrestling with ethical questions, too.

Overall, this book is a little weird, which is why I loved it.  The narrative is a bit uneven, but you just kinda have to go along for the ride.

Here’s to more great books in the new year.  What books did you enjoy most in 2016?

The Lunar Chronicles/Sailor Senshi team

When I started reading Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, I knew that it was a sci-fi take on the Cinderella tale.  What I did not know was that it was also partly inspired by Sailor Moon!

I can’t say that I’m as obsessed with Sailor Moon as other girls my age (including Meyer!) because I was never able to watch it when it was first broadcast in the US.  But I’ve since read the manga and seen a few episodes of the dub and Sailor Moon Crystal.  It’s definitely a classic shoujo manga for a reason.

sailor-moon-crystal-group

As the Lunar Chronicles series progresses, Cinder picks up companions on her quest, eventually assembling a team that reminded me greatly of the Sailor Scouts, or Senshi: four girls all with Lunar heritage (and one very excitable android).  As I was reading, I had a lot of fun pairing up characters with the Sailor Senshi that they seemed similar to.

Mild spoilers ahead for all the Lunar Chronicles books.

Cinder — Sailor Moon

Image result for sailor moonOur protagonist Cinder is clearly the Sailor Moon equivalent of this story.  She is the heir to the Lunar kingdom, but has ended up on Earth (specifically in Asia) with no memory of her royal past.  Even her birth name Selene sounds similar to Sailor Moon’s other identities Princess Serenity and Serena (used instead of Usagi the Sailor Moon dub). (All these names have meanings related to the moon).

In terms of personality and looks, Cinder and Usagi don’t have too much in common, though sometimes Cinder’s ill-fitting prosthetics can make her as clumsy as Usagi.  (Meyer has actually said that Cinder is more like her favorite, Sailor Jupiter:tough on the outside, but soft and sensitive on the inside.”)

Random side note: I actually tend to think of Cinder looking like Princess Garnet from Final Fantasy IX.  I think it’s the gloves ~_^

Image result for ffix princess garnet

 

Scarlet — Sailor Mars

Image result for sailor marsScarlet was the next easiest to pin down; she is Sailor Mars through and through.  Her signature color, red, aligns perfectly with both Rei and the Martian planet that inspired her.  Sailor Mars wields fire, and as I mentioned in my review post, the bold and brash Scarlet fits the “fiery redhead” mold perfectly.  (Though I do think Scarlet’s physicality is also a bit like Sailor Jupiter.)

Scarlet is also the oldest of the group at 18, and her womanly independence and maturity reminds me a lot of Rei.  They both have limited contact with their parents, instead living with a grandparent.  They also share an affinity for shooting; Scarlet carries a gun her grandmother gave her, and Rei is an archer, which even features in some of her Sailor Mars attacks.

Rei is the second of the Sailor Senshi to be discovered by Sailor Moon; Scarlet is the second of the Lunar team that Cinder meets (Cress is the first, though only via vid link).

Cress — Sailors Mercury and Venus

Image result for sailor mercuryTo me, Cress is a mash-up of Sailor Mercury with a little bit of Venus thrown in.  As I said above, she is the first of the team to meet Cinder, and her geekiness with computer hacking skills, plus the way she experiences the real world through media, are very much like the shy, bookish Ami.

But there’s also another side to Cress shown in her effervescent crush on Thorne that reminds me of Minako, aka Sailor Venus, Guardian of Love and Beauty.  She loves to sing, and I can see her dreaming of being a J-pop idol, same as Minako. Venus actually has several attacks using the word “Crescent,” which is part of Cress’s full name Crescent Moon.  And the orange tutu that Cress wears to infiltrate the palace inImage result for sailor venus Winter gave me a little giggle as I recalled Venus’s orange skirt.

A few more characteristics also indicate Ami and Minako.  Cress’s hair starts off being very long and blonde (like Minako’s) but then is cut off short (like Ami’s).  Also, Cress enjoys video games and is very good at them from all her time spent playing them alone in her satellite.  Minako trains to be Sailor V by playing a video game of the same name, and Ami is later shown to be very proficient at the Sailor V game.  (Minako was actually already active as Sailor V before Sailor Moon even came along, and Cress had likewise being carrying on her surveillance and searching for Princess Selene well before Cinder knew her true identity.)

Winter — Sailor Saturn (with a little Pluto)

Image result for sailor saturnWinter’s beauty should probably qualify her as Sailor Venus, but the “other-ness” of her personality really stuck me as belonging to the Outer Senshi.  Specifically, she reminds me of Sailor Saturn, who has trouble getting close to any of her classmates because of her seizure-like episodes.  Winter does not have many close friends, because unlike most Lunars she does not use her powers and thus suffers from “Lunar sickness,” where she has periods of intense, crippling hallucinations.

Hotaru is the youngest of the Senshi, which pairs well with Winter’s child-like innocence, bordering on naïveté.  She also occasionally demonstrates healing powers, and Winter seems like she has a similar tendency: she cares for Scarlet during her captivity on Luna and sneaks her medicine disguised in apple candies.

Winter is only member of the group to have spent her entire life on Luna, which reminded me a bit of Sailor Pluto, who is kept stationed guarding the Space-Time Door.  And like Winter, Pluto is also depicted as having the darkest skin of the group.

Iko — Luna/Chibiusa

luna_2I almost stopped with the Lunar girls, but Iko is just as important a member of the team!

At first I thought of Iko as being like Luna the cat because she lives with Cinder and acts as her assistant in the repair shop.  She’s also small and has a very human-like personality despite being an android.  Though she didn’t always know Cinder’s true identity, I think she encourages Cinder to accept her destiny (she certainly wants her to go to the ball).

After Iko goes through some transformations, first as a ship’s AI and then getting anImage result for chibi moon humanoid body, I started to re-evaluate her role.  It was actually her continuing lighthearted crush on Kai that sealed my opinion of her as Chibiusa, the future daughter of Usagi and Mamoru, who appears during the second story arc of Sailor Moon.  Chibiusa and Usagi develop a relationship almost like sisters even as Chibiusa constantly tries to steal Mamoru’s attention away from Usagi.  Cinder and Iko are similarly close, and even though Cinder did not originally build Iko, she did help repair her (and continues to do so throughout) such that Cinder seems to have a bit of a creator/parent role.  Plus, Iko enjoys glomping on everyone and her android body sports an unconventional, brightly-colored hairstyle.

What do you guys think?  Do you agree with my interpretations, or did you see certain characters as different Senshi?