Series Review: A Court of Mist and Fury (Book 2)

ACOMAFSome spoilers in this review because I want to discuss some of the key topics in this series: relationships and abuse. Trigger warning, but I think this series does a nice job with the topic.

A Court of Mist and Fury (Book Two)
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Form: Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Love, Relationships, Trauma, Abuse, Recovery, Sacrifice

Summary from Goodreads (Book 2): Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

My thoughts:
Again this series has a huge following with abundant fan art and Etsy merchandise. I’d heard so much about the series–and had to see what all the fuss was about. However, I’d also heard that the second book in the series, not the first, is is the best in the series. (And yes, it’s very much necessary to read ACOWAR first in order to appreciate book two.)

In the first book, the author sets up a romance that ultimately becomes an unhealthy relationship. The author is forcing the reader to question and consider how relationships are portrayed in fiction.

Sarah J. Maas is flipping expectations and stereotypes:

“You think I don’t know how stories get written–how this story will be written? … I am the dark lord, who stole away the bride of spring. I am a demon, and a nightmare, and I will meet a bad end. He is a golden prince–the hero who will get to keep you as his reward for not dying.”

The golden prince, Tamlin, is controlling and abusive. In the first book, he is portrayed as protective, generous, and handsome with a hint of danger. But these traits evolved in book two–protective became controlling; generosity stemmed from misogyny; and that hint of danger became actual violent outbursts.

The dark lord and demon, who we disliked in book one, morphs into someone who deeply understands the value of freedom and the depths of emotion. Rhysand, the bat-winged lord of the Night Court, is an ally and supporter of the women around him. Not only is he comfortable with powerful women, but he encourages them to take center stage.

This flip was not something I was anticipating, and it was executed beautifully. We witness the slow and painful realization by the main character, Feyre, that something isn’t right about her relationship. Part of the book’s exhaustive 600+ is giving Feyre the time she needs to heal after both emotional and physical abuse. And by the book’s end, Feyre has discovered what true love is and should be–an equal partnership of mutual respect.

I realized how badly I’d been treated before, if my standards had become so low. If the freedom I’d been granted felt like a privilege and not an inherent right.

This novel forces readers to consider heavy issues, such as abuse, trauma, and recovery. I went into this series expecting a fantastical world and love triangle romance. But what I got was a heroine who battles PTSD to discover her own inner strength and redefine her self-worth. I had some issues with Feyre in book one, but I am certainly a big fan by the end of book two.

Side note: The settings in this book are stunning. I love the world-building and descriptions of the various courts.

Overall: This book was a pleasant surprise compared to the first book. It twisted the story away from our conventional expectations and explored difficult topics such as abuse, recovery, and identity. Definitely worth reading if you are a fantasy/romance fan.

For mature teens–sex, violence, language, sensitive topics.

I am currently over half way through book three, A Court of Wings and Ruin. Look for a review of the final book in this trilogy soon!

How I’m Resolving to Read More Books

BookshelfI used to read closer to 70 books a year, but it’s been well over 5 years since I’ve achieved my goal of 50 in the Goodreads challenge. It’s frustrating because reading is my favorite hobby. Some of my best memories are devouring books in the summertime whether under the hot sun on a beach towel or lounging on an air-conditioned couch.

I spent some time reflecting on what had changed between now and 5 years ago to result in such a decrease in the number of books I read in a year.

  • I cook more now. I used to eat a lot of microwave meals, and now I cook from scratch most nights. Much healthier, but time consuming.
  • Five years ago, I used my Kindle a lot. It was new and I enjoyed reading on it. I have since stopped using Kindle, and read more paper books. I do have a Kobo eReader that I use now, though less often.
  • I was single. In the evenings, I entertained myself rather than spend time with another person. But my boyfriend is pretty great, and I like spending time with him 🙂
  • My commute was only 10 minutes rather than 35-60 minutes, giving me more time for hobbies.
  • Social media was a less constant presence in my life. I looked up when the Facebook App for iPhone was introduced–2010-2012. The last year I completed my Goodreads goal: 2011. Coincidence?

If I’m going to reach my goal of 50 books, some things will have to change. But there are things I’m willing to change, and things I’m not. Here are the ways I plan to read more this year:

Always have a book with me and use even short periods of time to read. My Kobo eReader will come in handy here. It is small, light, and easy to carry with me. Instead of pulling out my phone while I wait in the checkout line, I’ll pull out a book. On my lunch break, instead of checking Facebook, I’ll read a chapter. When I’m waiting for a pot of water to boil, I can knock out a few pages.

Utilize library apps, especially for free audiobooks. Audiobooks are pricey. But they could be the biggest advantage I have in reaching my goal this year. I started listening to more audiobooks last year during my longer commute. And audiobooks totaled about a third of my finished books last year. My two favorite library apps are:

  • Libby (by Overdrive): This app has the biggest selection of books, including popular titles. But there is often a waitlist for the books I want, which can be frustrating.
  • Hoopla: With this app, I get 10 borrows per month. I mostly use my allotted 10 for audiobooks, but they also have eBooks, movies, TV shows, music, and comics. The selection isn’t as wide as Libby, but I can usually find something to listen to while I am waitlisted for another title on Libby.

Restrict social media use: This is the hard one. The best method I’ve found for restricting my social media use is to not have my phone within reach. If I plug my phone in upstairs, I’m unlikely to check it while I’m down in my office. Using social media once or twice a day (morning and/or evening) will be my goal. An hour of social media scrolling is beginning to feel like binging a whole pint of ice cream. Fun in the moment, but I feel kind of gross afterwards. I feel more at peace, healthier, when I use it less. And reading a good book is the best use of my time!

Set concrete goals: Using Goodreads, I analyzed some of my reading numbers. I want to set a daily page goal–something to achieve daily. I read 9,673 pages for a total of 24 books in 2017. If I want to double my goal, I should double my pages. If I divide 9,673 by 365 days a year. I was reading 26 pages a day. Doubling that–I should be reading 52 pages a day. That’s my concrete goal. It also allows me to calculate deadlines for when I should have books read by with a daily page goal in mind. I’m using an online calendar (Asana) as well as a reading planner (from my December OwlCrate) to keep track of my reading goals.

Are you resolving to read more? How are you planning to achieve your reading goals this year?

Books as Windows and Mirrors

Windows MirrorsA friend of mine introduced me to the idea of books as windows and mirrors. She introduces the idea to her students at the beginning of the school year as a way of discussing book selection.

A book that serves as a mirror is one that we see ourself in. These kinds of books can help us get a better understanding of who we are, what we value, and how we navigate the world.

For me, a mirror book would be about a white girl who loves books and words. A recent read that was a mirror book for me was A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. While reading that book, I posted something about how the book was “speaking to my heart” because the main character resonated so powerfully with how I see the world.

A book that is window allows you to view a world outside your own. These books are the kind that let you step into another person’s shoes, however briefly, and see the world as they see it. These books promote empathy and understanding for people and situations outside our own experience.

For me, a recent window book was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book allowed me to see and understand the world from a black teen’s perspective. The book gave me empathy and understanding for all that a black teen might be dealing with, from code-switching, to police brutality, to interracial relationships, and more.

As you set reading goals for the new year, I encourage you to think of books as windows and mirrors. We need mirror books to become more self-aware and understand ourselves.

But we also need window books. Oh boy, do we need window books. We need to push ourselves to better understand other perspectives. With the understanding and empathy that window books provide, perhaps we can create a world with more love, more peace, and more kindness.

And if you want to watch a great video on the power of reading and empathy, check out this gem from the channel Just Write:

My Year in Books 2017

My Year in Books 2017

Overall, I wish I’d read more books and hit my goal of 50. I tended towards lengthy books this year and tackled several series, which definitely slowed me down. Audiobooks were a little over a third of my reading.

Goals for 2018: Decrease social media use. Set weekly reading goals. Read 3-4 books a month. I’m going to keep my overall goal at 50 books, despite not reaching it this year. I know it’s an achievable goal for me, especially now that I’m more savvy at checking out free audiobooks from the library via Hoopla and Libby (by Overdrive).

How was your 2017 in books? What are you pleased with? What do you want to change in 2018?

Series Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book 1)

ACOWARMinor spoilers in this review because I want to discuss some of the key topics in this series: relationships and abuse. Trigger warning, but I think this series does a nice job with the topic.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book One)
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Form: Hardback and Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Painting, Love, Relationships, Trauma, Abuse, Recovery

Summary from Goodreads (Book 1): Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

My thoughts:
This series has a huge following and the fans are intense. There is abundant fan art, candle scents in honor of characters, book-inspired jewelry, clothing, and more. I’d heard so much about the series–to the point where I even recognized the characters names without having read the books (Feyre, Tamlin, Rhysand).

However, I’d also heard that the second book in the series, not the first, is what really blew people away. But with book one being over 400 pages and book two being over 600 pages… this was a big investment of my time. Was the second book really going to have the payoff to make it all worth it? (And yes, it’s very much necessary to read ACOWAR first in order to appreciate book two.)

The first book is loosely based around the story of Beauty and the Beast. It was a slow read for me. I enjoyed the main character’s love of painting. The world and descriptions were vivid and interesting. And this author can write action really well! There were some really memorable fight scenes.

But the relationship/romance made me cringe, and the logic of some plot points left me confused. I couldn’t understand why Feyre felt forced into certain positions or made certain decisions.

But what the author is setting up in the first book is an unhealthy relationship. But you won’t necessarily know the relationship is unhealthy as you are reading it right away. Something about it just feels off–yet it’s so similar to a lot of relationships you read in novels (YA or adult). She creates a character who is strong and worthy of love, shows them falling in love, and then shows how the character changes–but changes in an unhealthy way as a result of her relationship. And yet, there were a lot of readers supporting this relationship when this book first came out. The author is forcing the reader to questions and think about how relationships are portrayed in novels.

What makes the second book in this series so excellent is how Sarah J. Maas is flipping expectations and stereotypes, and forcing readers to consider some very heavy issues.

Stay tuned for my next post where I tackle book two: A Court of Mist and Fury

Homeland by Cory Doctorow

HomelandHomeland
by Cory Doctorow

Published by: Tor Teen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Technology, Freedom, Elections, Protest, Corruption

Summary from Goodreads:
In Cory Doctorow’s wildly successful Little Brother, young Marcus Yallow was arbitrarily detained and brutalized by the government in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco―an experience that led him to become a leader of the whole movement of technologically clued-in teenagers, fighting back against the tyrannical security state.

A few years later, California’s economy collapses, but Marcus’s hacktivist past lands him a job as webmaster for a crusading politician who promises reform. Soon his former nemesis Masha emerges from the political underground to gift him with a thumbdrive containing a Wikileaks-style cable-dump of hard evidence of corporate and governmental perfidy. It’s incendiary stuff―and if Masha goes missing, Marcus is supposed to release it to the world. Then Marcus sees Masha being kidnapped by the same government agents who detained and tortured Marcus years earlier.

Marcus can leak the archive Masha gave him―but he can’t admit to being the leaker, because that will cost his employer the election. He’s surrounded by friends who remember what he did a few years ago and regard him as a hacker hero. He can’t even attend a demonstration without being dragged onstage and handed a mike. He’s not at all sure that just dumping the archive onto the Internet, before he’s gone through its millions of words, is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, people are beginning to shadow him, people who look like they’re used to inflicting pain until they get the answers they want.

Review:
What I enjoy about Doctorow’s books is very much present in this one. I enjoy that the narratives take place in the near-future, and therefore, make you think about the current society and your own role in shaping the future. I also enjoy that Doctorow manages to teach you things in his books–whether it’s tech terminology or why cold-brew is superior. Sometimes these info-dump passages can interrupt the pacing of the narrative, but he does it with humor and within the voice of his protagonist–so I let it slide.

The audiobook is well-done and narrated by Wil Wheaton, who is a great reader and there’s some humor to it since he is an actual character within the narrative.

This book is incredibly relevant to what is going on in the world at present–all Doctorow’s books are–in truth. If you haven’t read any of his work, he’s worth paying attention to.

Overall: Four stars. Incredibly relevant to what we currently face in our country in terms of corruption and elections and protest. Story pacing can be interrupted by info dumps at times, but I also like how I learn something while reading Doctorow’s books.

Series Review: The Selection (Part Two)

Selection Series2

The Heir (#4)
The Crown (#5)
by Kiera Cass
Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Falling in Love, Identity, Royalty, Competition, Reality TV

Summary from Goodreads (Book Four): Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she’d put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess’s life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can’t escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Eadlyn doesn’t expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn’s heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her . . . and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she’s always thought.

Review:
Eadlyn is not as likable a character as her mother, America, was in books one through three. She is spoiled, self-centered, narrow-minded, and determined. Not all those traits are negative. But it’s the way she treats others that really made me dislike her. She does some callous things that will make you cringe during the Selection process. Eadlyn does grow and change over the course of both books, and makes some wonderful, redeeming choices in the end.

The book has some great positive messages for girls. Both books examine double standards of women in leadership positions. And I wonder whether part of Eadlyn being an unlikable character stems from her being not a traditional, submissive female figure.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy these two books as much as the first three, but I’m still glad I listened to them!

Overall:
The first three books in this series are more fun. Eadlyn’s story is tough to get through at times because of her unlikable nature, but there are great feminist messages for girls who want to be leaders someday. Three stars.