Naomi Novik’s UPROOTED

Sometimes all you need is a really good book to get you out of a reading slump.

I’ve been seeing mentions of Naomi Novik‘s new fantasy release around the blogosphere, but wasn’t that interested because I haven’t been that convinced by the more recent installations of her Temeraire series and wasn’t sure if UPROOTED would be worth the hardcover price.

But I just so happened to be in a bookstore the other weekend, and they had UPROOTED on their display stands.  The cover caught my attention (I admit to an unashamed bias towards the UK cover) and so I flipped it over and read the back cover blurbs.  Guess what sold me?

Uprooted Back

 

So – I’m a sucker for pretty covers and blurbs from my favourite authors… sounds about right.  I’ve been caught out before, but this time around, both were reliable predictors of a really good read.

Uprooted-The back cover description:

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

This was basically one of those books I gulped down, staying up very late to finish “just one more chapter…”.  Naomi Novik’s UPROOTED is that rare thing in today’s fantasy – a wonderful standalone novel that leaves you completely satisfied at the last page.

The story drew me in from the first, right from the point the Dragon made his surprising choice, and I was enthralled all the way to the end.  Novik manages to make UPROOTED feel familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time.  It was familiar enough that I had enough of an inkling as to how Agnieska’s story would unfold, but the various twists and turns – both in terms of plot and characterisation – kept this from being a tale I’ve read before.  The final reveal and eventual resolution managed to be both unexpected yet logical, tying together all the various hints dropped throughout.

[Slight spoilers follow]

I so appreciated the strong female characters in this book here, and loved the strong friendship between Agnieska and Kasia.  It’d have been so easy to set up Kasia and Agnieska to be on opposing sides and to paint Kasia in an unflattering light – I’m glad Novik didn’t choose that route.  Also, the Dragon – I don’t want to spoil too much, but I enjoyed seeing Agnieska’s perception of him evolve throughout the book as he moves from being the all-powerful Dragon to, well, still a very powerful magician, but also a human being.

Only niggling negative for me is the body count – let’s just say the numbers climb quite a bit.  Most happen (slightly) off-page to be fair, and create this atmosphere of ever-higher stakes as things reach a climax.  This contributed towards the fairytale-like aspects of the book for me – I always feel that fairytales have this veneer of pretty glossiness over some very scary and grim bits.

But this is probably one of the very few books where I’ve paid full retail price for a while (and hardcover prices at that), and I don’t regret that one bit.  UPROOTED is a really lovely fantasy, and without a doubt, one of my favourite books this year.

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Some Scattered Thoughts (and Links)

ARed_Rose_ChainI’m feeling slightly brain-dead at the moment, so you get some rambling.

First, some cover squee – I don’t think I’ll ever not be excited about a new October Daye cover.  Chris McGrath always gives good cover. A RED-ROSE CHAIN is out in September, and I’m looking forward to it – I only hope Toby doesn’t end up half-dead again.

Speaking of covers, I feel that we’re living in a golden age when it comes to cover art.  Ginger @ GReads posted a Top Ten list the other day (books recently added to the TBR pile) and there’s not one bad cover in the whole lot.  Seriously.  When did covers get so good?

There’s been some conversation recently around the (romance) blogging community and if there’s still such a thing (I paraphrase horribly, but bear with me).  Hils @ Impressions of a Reader had a great related post about why she prefers small blogs.  I’ve had this blog now for around eight(!) years – every now and then I wonder if I should put more effort into blogging, and then realise I’m really way too lazy.  This blog is my personal outlet for book-ish stuff and treating it as anything more than a hobby is very likely to backfire on me.

But I digress.  Going back to the romance online community question, my view is that things always evolve.  Remember when everyone just hung out at message boards?  Then blogs started taking off – I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure some posters at message boards got upset when people started linking to blogs, because they saw blogs as a threat to their message board communities.  And now there’s Twitter and Goodreads and Tumblr and Facebook and Instagram and well, a hundred and one other places to interact online.  I think it makes sense that communities become a bit more disparate because there’s so many places to hang out, and different people are spending their time at different places (or even offline…).  I’ve had conversations that started on blogs and continued on Goodreads, and I see that played out a lot across different social media platforms.

I’m most active at Goodreads after this blog (err… please treat “active” in a relative sense) – GR gets a lot of bad press, but I like it a lot.  I can quickly skim through and see what people in my “friends” list are reading, it’s really easy for me to comment on people’s reviews or status updates, or like a post – all without having to spend much time.  You could argue that’s a downside and that interactions there don’t have as much depth as elsewhere – I think that’s fair comment, but bearing in mind time pressures, it’s a bonus for me.  And I’ve also had some really interesting conversations there, so it’s more about the who and not the where for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I still love blogs, especially the more personal ones.  I’d say that I feel a lot of blogs have a more impersonal feel to them nowadays – though I don’t know, which way do you think my blog leans?  I like to think it reflects my reading personality pretty accurately, but I tend to keep things here to book-related bits on purpose so I’m aware it may feel a bit one-dimensional.

And so… I’m not actually sure what my point is, or even if I had one.  But that’s the whole beauty of having a blog – I can post whatever I like 😉

Three ummm… Lists Make a List?

This post is more of a bookmark for myself – but ICYMI, here are three themed recommendation lists, with quite a few additional recs in the comments.

Books for May

May =  a mix of new releases I definitely want and those that I’m not quite sure about…

The definites:

21900150Julie Cross & Mark Perini‘s HALFWAY PERFECT (YA romance): I’m a big fan of Julie Cross’s YA sport romances – this one is a bit different but still sounds rather fun.

Bestselling author Julie Cross teams up with Ford model Mark Perini to pen a poignant and gritty YA novel about love and the dark side of modeling and the fashion industry.

Eve’s time as a fashion model nearly destroyed her-now she’s determined to build a career behind the camera lens. But landing a coveted photography internship brings her face to face with her dark past-and her ex.

While Eve is snapping pictures, up-and-coming male model Alex is launching his career-which, for him, involves maintaining a fake relationship with his (secretly) underage co-star, Elana.

But Alex is falling for Eve, and Eve won’t let herself get hurt again. If Alex can pull off a fake love with Elana, can he convince Eve to risk a secret affair with him?

Out May 5

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20698530Jenny Han‘s PS I STILL LOVE YOU (YA romance): Did I mention how much I liked Jenny Han’s TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE when I read it last year?  No?  Well, I did – it had a charming and slightly quirky protagonist, it was about growing up and having a bit of romance, but most importantly, it was about sisterhood.  I’ve pre-ordered the sequel – that’s how much I really liked it.

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Out May 26

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24744875Astrid Amara‘s SONG OF THE NAVIGATOR (SF M/M romance): Sometimes I really like her stories, other times they leave me a bit cold.  The blurb on this one has me intrigued though.

Worst Possible Birthday: Being sold into slavery by none other than your lover.

Tover Duke’s rare ability to move anything instantly across light-years of space makes him a powerful, valuable asset to the Harmony Corporation, and a rock star among the people of the colonies. His life is luxurious. Safe. Routine.

He has his pick of casual hookups passing through Dadelus-Kaku Station. His one brush with danger of any kind—the only bright spot in his otherwise boring life—is Cruz Arcadio, a dark-haired, hard-bodied engineer whose physical prowess hints he’s something much more.

When a terrorist abducts Tover, hurling him into a world of torture, exploitation and betrayal, it’s with shattering disbelief that he realizes his kidnapper is none other than Cruz. As Tover struggles to find the courage to escape his bondage, he begins to understand the only way to free his body, his mind—and his heart—is to trust the one man who showed him that everything about his once-perfect life was a lie.

Warning: This story contains descriptions of extreme violence and assault. It also contains graphic sexual depictions. It also has a lot of birds. And pirate movies from the future. And romance.

Out May 26

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17261670 (1)Josh Lanyon‘s WINTER KILL (M/M romantic suspense): I think Josh Lanyon has said this is more suspense than romance, but hey, a new Lanyon – I love his writing.

Clever and ambitious, Special Agent Adam Darling (yeah, he’s heard all the jokes before) was on the fast track to promotion and success until his mishandling of a high profile operation left one person dead and Adam “On the Beach.” Now he’s got a new partner, a new case, and a new chance to resurrect his career, hunting a legendary serial killer known as The Crow in a remote mountain resort in Oregon.

Deputy Sheriff Robert Haskell may seem laid-back, but he’s a tough and efficient cop — and he’s none too thrilled to see feebs on his turf — even when one of the agents is smart, handsome, and probably gay. But a butchered body in a Native American museum is out of his small town department’s league. For that matter, icy, uptight Adam Darling is out of Rob’s league, but that doesn’t mean Rob won’t take his best shot.

Out May 31

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And then the maybes:

  • THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR anthology (romantic suspense): Charity anthology (The Wounded Warrior Project) with a Suzanne Brockmann contribution. I’d buy this if it was sold in the UK – at the moment, the ebookstores are showing it as geographically-restricted.
  • Sarah Dessen‘s SAINT ANYTHING (YA romance): I had a bit of a Sarah Dessen glom when I first discovered her, and then her books started to feel a bit same-y (yes, these may be related).  I’ll probably borrow this one from the library.
  • Lisa Lutz‘s HOW TO START A FIRE (women’s fiction?): I don’t know – I’ve liked her offbeat Spellman mysteries, but this one sounds a bit too women’s fiction-y for me.

 

I think that’s it for my May new releases list – any others on your list?

What Made My Week

Hey, look what arrived!

Curran2

Curran’s kind of cute.  And the books aren’t bad either…

Big thank you to Ilona Andrews and to Dear Author / Smart Bitches for organising DABWAHA.  I skimmed through the various winner announcements and totally missed my name, so the email was an out-of-the-blue kind of surprise.  A really nice one though.

(My bracket didn’t make it anywhere near the top hundred.  Or two hundred even.  I did choose both the Ilona Andrews books correctly as the top two.  And then backed the wrong one.)

Also, (bank holiday – yay!) weekend reading update: I’ve started Tammara Webber‘s new release SWEET.  I’m liking the protagonists and their connection, but the alternating POVs are, well, alternating a bit too much, and there’s too many flashbacks to the past for my liking.  We’ll see – I’m not that far into the book yet.