The Ten Thousand Doors of January – ARC review

“Doors are many things: fissures and cracks, ways between, mysteries and borders. But more than anything else, doors are change.

Author: Alix E. Harrow
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Genre: Portal fantasy, historical fiction, young adult
Rating: 5/5 stars

Reading this book is like walking through a capital-D Door, out of this world and into an adjacent one filled with so much heart, magic, and mystery.The Ten Thousand Doors of January is the sort of book that you finish and say, “I can’t believe this is the author’s first novel.” It’s a lyrical, lovely fusion of historical fiction and portal fantasy—a combination that, frankly, has no right to work as well as it does.

So, what is it about? Our story focuses on seventeen-year-old January Scaller, a biracial girl growing up in the early twentieth century. She lives with the imposing Mr. Locke, a collector of rarities who loves order but is not unkind. Her father Julian is largely absent from her life, traversing the globe to find treasures to bring back for Mr. Locke, and January spends her time split between reading fantastical stories and performing the duties expected of a proper young lady. But she is not entirely alone; she finds company in her friend Samuel, her governess Jane, and her dog Bad (short for Sinbad; both of these names fit him astoundingly well).

January’s childhood is sprinkled with small bits of magic—stumbling upon a Door to another world, writing words that magically come true, objects mysteriously appearing in a chest in Mr. Locke’s house—but she largely ignores them to please Mr. Locke. But when her father goes missing, presumed dead, January is dissatisfied with the explanations she is given. Armed with only a silver coin and a book that tells her stories of Doors like the one she found as a child, she sets out to escape from Locke’s influence and find out what, exactly, happened to her father.

I know, this explanation sounds fairly simple, but believe me when I say this is a story full of layers. It is an adventure, a girl traveling not just the country but multiple worlds. It is a coming-of-age story, a young woman discovering herself, realizing she isn’t a child anymore, but also that magic doesn’t have to go away just because you’ve grown up. It is a family story, a father and a daughter seeking each other across the globe and other universes. It is a love story, not just from its hint of romance, but from the fierce loyalties that its characters hold to each other, no matter how hard external forces may try to separate them.

“I happen to believe every story is a love story if you catch it at the right moment, slantwise in the light of dusk.”

These characters are so full of life and distinct personalities, I kind of want to hug all of them. The innocent but unflinching love Samuel holds for January, as a friend (and, later, more…) is so pure, it actually made me smile. He is the sort of boy who would go to the ends of the earth for someone he cares about, even if he didn’t have a plan or a penny to his name—he would try to swim the oceans, if that’s what he thought it would take. Jane, the governess sent by January’s father to take care of her, has a secret fierceness that emerges over the course of the book that is pretty damn amazing. January convinces her to start reading penny dreadfuls and other sensational pieces of fiction, and the two form a sort of friendship over their love of books. And as one of the only other people of color in January’s life, Jane also serves as something of a role model for her. Even Bad, though he is just a dog (definitely a Good Boi™) and therefore can’t speak, shows his love in his own way. A stellar judge of character, and armed with a bite that is just as strong as his bark, he is January’s constant companion and sometimes confidant.

“One does not fall in love; one discovers it.”

Of course, January herself, as the beating heart of the story, is a true force to be reckoned with. She grapples a lot with the idea of who she is—with being not-white-enough in a world where race is considered a big deal, with being a polite and demure foster child when she really wants to explore the world, with the conflict between loyalty to her family and loyalty to the man who raised her—and the resulting emotional dissonance feels incredibly real. Watching her grow from a barely-contained spark to a wildfire of a person, alive with her own dreams and goals, is a fantastic process to watch, and her narration is quirky-yet-elegant, perfectly bringing the story to life.

Oh, the writing! I don’t even fully know where to begin with it, except to say that it is gorgeous and vibrant, sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking, reading like something you would expect to find in an old fairytale or some classic work of literature. The images Harrow paints and the comparisons she draws are wholly original and wholly engrossing. From capturing the pain of grief —

“It isn’t pain or suffering that unmakes a person; it’s only time. Time, sitting on your breastbone like a black-scaled dragon, minutes clicking like claws across the floor, hours gliding past on sulfurous wings.”

to comically representing a bland butler’s personality —

“It was Mr. Sterling, sounding as usually like a typewriter that had somehow learned to walk and talk.”

— she makes words spring to life from the page. I had to restrain myself from digitally highlighting something on almost every-other page.

People often talk about feeling like a book transported them somewhere else, but in the case of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, it actually happens. I sometimes found it hard to believe that these words were just ink on paper, come from the mind of some other person, and not threads tapped from the fibers of the universe. That sounds cheesy, I know, but in the book, there is a city where written words carry actual power, and this book could have come straight from that world. I’m absolutely in love with Harrow’s use of language, and I think that is what made this book really stand out for me. She could write the ingredients list for bran flakes and I would read it eagerly, hanging onto every word.

There is so much to love about this book, more than I can convey in this review. Suffice to say that this is one of my favorite reads of this year, and I cannot recommend it enough—for lovers of fairytales, character development, beautiful writing, and above all, for those looking for an escape from this chaotic, often-disheartening world, into one with a little more magic—a little more hope.

A parting quote, embodying this sentiment—and this book—in more ways than one:

“How fitting, that the most terrifying time in my life should require me to do what I do best: escape into a book.”

Trigger/content warnings: involuntary hospitalization, self-injury (for purposes of magic)

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. As this review is from an advance copy, all quotations are subject to change in the final version.

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LOVER book tag

I’m not a huge Taylor Swift person. Some of her music is alright–especially her older stuff–but she isn’t really my jam most of the time. That said, when I saw there was a book tag going around, inspired by her new album, Lover, with tons of prompts based on character love stories (and a few other topics), I knew I had to get in on it. So I stole this from the lovely dinipandareads (go check out her answers as well!) and am happy to show off my own list now!

I FORGOT THAT YOU EXISTED: A book from your childhood that you don’t remember anything about
♪ it isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference ♪

When I was in elementary school, I won our school’s Young Authors Contest. As a prize, I got to go to this “conference” with kids from other schools and some published authors to basically talk/learn about writing. It was pretty cool. One of the things we got while there was a signed book by one of the authors there. The book when I was in 5th grade was Rosa, Sola. I know it was historical fiction, and I definitely read it, and I’ve reread the blurb, but…don’t really remember much about it.

CRUEL SUMMER: The worst book you’ve read this summer
♪ it’s blue, the feeling I’ve got and it’s… it’s a cruel summer ♪

I went into Again, But Better expecting to enjoy it–maybe not to LOVE it, but to find a cute, quirky story about reinventing yourself. Unfortunately, this one really didn’t deliver, and I was more than annoyed with it by the end. My review of it turned into something closer to a rant; you can read it on Goodreads here.

LOVER: A bookish relationship that’s perfect exactly the way it is
♪ can we always be this close forever and ever ♪

Oh boy, this is a tough one. I am notorious for finding parts of character relationships that seem potentially toxic or hard to believe. But I guess I’ll go with Vin and Elend  from Mistborn. They start off with just a little infatuation, but over the course of the series, their relationship becomes such a good and healthy one–the two push each other to be their best, take care of each other when need be, and above all, trust each other with anything and everything. It isn’t all cutesy, but it is definitely love.

THE MAN: A book with a badass female main character
♪ if I was a man, then I’d be the man ♪

There really is only one correct response to this one: Nevernight, featuring the indomitable Mia Corvere. The girl literally doesn’t feel fear most of the time because her shadowy not-cat companion feeds on it. You can’t get more badass than that. But I will give some honorable mentions to Inej Ghafa from Six of Crows, Vin from Mistborn, and Kateri from Tiger Queen.

THE ARCHER: A book with great character development
♪ I see right through me ♪

The development of Ari throughout Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is beautiful, as he comes to terms with his cultural identity, his family history, and his own sexuality.

I THINK HE KNOWS: Your fictional crush
♪ he got my heartbeat skipping down 16th Avenue ♪

This is a tough call, because there are the fictional boys I love but know would be bad choices for me, and then there are the boys who would make genuinely good boyfriends. For the former, my heart belongs to the twisted-yet-brilliant Kaz Brekker (man, I love morally gray characters with tragic pasts, especially when they’re also geniuses). But for the latter…Nick Young, from Crazy Rich Asians. Not because he’s phenomenally wealthy–though not having to worry about money is definitely a perk–or even because he is super smart and a total sweetheart. What really won me over about him is how well he deals with his best friend Colin’s mental illness. As someone who has a history of mental health difficulties, having someone who was sensitive, attentive, understanding, and supportive through both the highs and the lows is super important. For that, Nicky really takes the cake.

MISS AMERICANA & THE HEARTBREAK PRINCE: A book set in high school
♪ waving homecoming queens, marching band playing, I’m lost in the lights ♪

Earlier this year, I won a copy of The Exact Opposite of Okay in a Goodreads giveaway. Let me tell you, that book was fantastic. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, about a feminist, sex-positive aspiring comedienne named Izzy who finds herself caught up in a sea of rumors and internet-based slut shaming for a choice she made (and totally didn’t regret) at a party. It’s contemporary, highly readable, and so important and relevant today. Bonus points because it also addresses the problem with Nice Guys™.

PAPER RINGS: A book with a happy ending
♪ I like shiny things, but I’d marry you with paper rings ♪

Red, White & Royal Blue was an unexpected favorite of mine this year. The love story in it is so cute, and the ending is one full of hope for a better future, both for the main characters and for the world (especially the queer community) as a whole.

CORNELIA STREET: A setting you’ll never forget
♪ “I rent a place on Cornelia Street,” I say casually in the car ♪

Is it a cop-out to say Hogwarts? Because that castle is one I will never forget, from the assorted paintings to the wild staircases to the locations of classrooms and common rooms to the layout of the Grand Hall. The Harry Potter series was a huge part of my childhood, and I will never forget the school at the center of it all.

DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS: A book that broke your heart
♪ I can’t pretend that it’s okay when it’s not ♪

Flowers for Algernon. The last line gets me every time. It isn’t a book that breaks my heart romantically, but the ending is so profoundly moving and deeply sad, I find myself internally crying every time I finish it.

LONDON BOY: A setting that plays a big role in the story
♪ show me a gray sky, a rainy cab ride ♪

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian takes place in 1989 in New York City, during the height of the AIDS crisis. This city was hit especially hard, and the book focuses on three teens–two gay, one straight with a gay uncle–as they navigate the tricky waters of sexuality, romance, family, friendship, and so much more, while engaging in protests with ACT UP and trying to make the most of their remaining time in high school. The music of Madonna also plays a huge role in the book, which further heightens the significance of the setting in both time (near the 90s) and place (USA).

SOON YOU’LL GET BETTER: A book that made you cry
♪ what am I supposed to do if there’s no you? ♪

Trick question: I’ve never cried from a book (because I’m apparently heartless), even when they make me so incredibly sad that I feel like crying. The same goes for movies and TV shows, and I have only cried at one musical ever: a small independent one called Seven Ways to Sunday. So…I don’t have a good answer for this one. If you need the saddest a book has ever made me, see my previous comment on Flowers for Algernon.

FALSE GOD: A book with a well-written sexy scene
♪ I know heaven’s a thing, I go there when you touch me, honey ♪

Okay, this is a very tame shot of the couple (for the upcoming film/web series adaptation!!), but the book gives more than enough detail on the actual…you know…

Y’all, I have nothing against sex, but because I’m not really into it myself, I can’t stand most sex scenes. Unless they actually contribute to the plot or character development, they’re not appealing to me. But I guess, if I had to choose one…I know I’ve already listed Nevernight for another answer, but this time, it is truly the best answer. The sex scenes between Mia and Tric are so well done. Yeah, there’s the actual sex part, but more importantly, those scenes show two hardened, cynical people learning to let down their guard and trust someone else and maybe have some actual feelings. Bonus points because they really make an obvious point of consenting before they do anything. Affirmative consent is super important and often overlooked in fiction.

YOU NEED TO CALM DOWN: A book featuring an LGBT romance
♪ shade never made anybody less gay ♪

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden! This space epic/romance/graphic novel features not one, but TWO f/f couples, plus another major character who is nonbinary. It is sweet and gorgeously illustrated and really I could gush about this one all day.

AFTERGLOW: A great second chance romance
♪ why’d I have to break what I love so much? ♪

Nina and Matthias, in the Six of Crows duology. From two wildly different backgrounds that should have made them automatically enemies, the two fell in love, only for one bad decision to shatter everything. But when they join the ragtag crew to carry out Kaz Brekker’s impossible heist, the two come to realize that misunderstandings can’t really stop true love.

ME!: Your All-time favourite book
♪ I promise that you’ll never find another like me ♪

I refuse to answer this. Some top candidates include Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and anything written by Brandon Sanderson.

IT’S NICE TO HAVE A FRIEND: Your favourite friends-to-lovers book
♪ something gave you the nerve to touch my hand ♪

I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver was another unexpected favorite for me this year. Featuring a nonbinary main character who realizes they might be falling for their best friend at a new high school, this book is jam-packed with self-discovery, heartbreaking choices, and plenty of absolutely adorable moments.

DAYLIGHT: A book with a positive message
♪ you gotta step into the daylight and let it go ♪

I may be a sucker for books that emotionally devastate me, but sometimes I like some more uplifting stuff, especially when it’s nonfiction. Factfulness did a spectacular job of this, explaining how, even though there are a lot of things wrong in the world, and despite the fact that the media likes to paint a doom-and-gloom picture of the world, data shows that things overall are getting better in MANY areas. He emphasizes that saying things are improving doesn’t mean we don’t have any more to do, but rather that we need to keep doing what we are doing and develop even better ways to keep spurring more positive change.

Now, for my part! I tag Yolanda at Past Midnight, Susan at Novel Lives, Candyce at The Book Dutchesses, Amanda at Literary Weaponry, Books Are 42…and you, dear reader, if I haven’t tagged you but you still would like to participate!

Have you read any of these? Got any of them on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts on a Thursday 9/12 – TBR, Tours, and Things

Surprise, surprise, it’s once again a Thursday where I don’t have a designated post planned, so you’re going to get some more fun updates on me, my reading life, and my non-reading life as well.

First, my TBR for the remainder of this month:

Holy HECK I have so many books I want and/or need to read. I’ve got quite a few ARCs (which are entirely my fault—damn you, NetGalley), as well as some sequels I desperately want need to read. My copy of Darkdawn arrived earlier this week, and you better believe I will be devouring that one soon.

Part of my TBR this month was decided by the prompts we were given for Reading Rivalry this month. Here are the prompts I have not yet completed, along with the titles I plan to read for them:

  • Book Containing a Father Figure: The Ten Thousand Doors of January (currently reading, expect a review Saturday-ish)
  • Book in a 7+ Book Series: Sixth of the Dust (I consider the Cosmere books to be one giant series, and though it is a novella, this one is still above the 50-page minimum set by RR, so I say it counts)
  • Book Featuring Good vs. Evil: Serpent & Dove (I’m not 100% this actually works for this one, but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and say it does)
  • Urban Fantasy: The Water Dancer (yes, historical fantasy can still be urban)
  • Book with a 4+ Word Title: The World That We Knew
  • Author Highlight – Jay Kristoff: Darkdawn (obviously—have I talked about it enough yet?)
  • Book Involving Flight: Wayward Son (assuming I can get it right after it comes out)
I’m not going to subject you to pictures of all the books I just listed, but ugh this cover is so pretty!!

The rest of my TBR contains some ARCs that are coming out either later this month or on the first of October. Those titles are:

  • The Bone Ships
  • The Memory Thief (I do have an eARC, but I just applied for the blog tour for this one, so if they accept me, I won’t need that review posted until mid-October even though the book releases sooner)
  • Resurrection Girls
  • Crier’s War (I am especially excited for this one—fantasy with a f/f romance and some sci-fi-like elements? Count me in!)

Oh, and I’m listening to the audiobooks for the Caraval series right now. I just started Legendary, and it’s pretty good. I don’t quite get the obsessive love some people have for it, but maybe it’ll get there. We’ll see.

I know it will be all but impossible for me to finish all these books in such little time, but hey—I can be ambitious, right? I’ve finished five this month so far, which is way faster than my usual pace, so who knows?

Next item of business: BOOK MAIL.

I got two books in the mail this week (one purchased, one won on Goodreads) and just found out yesterday that I won another giveaway, so that one should be arriving soon as well. Expect a book haul post, hopefully with prettier pictures than last time. I also got a really pretty book a week or two ago that I want to show off, so…maybe I’ll include that, too.

So what’s new with me?

I’m so glad you asked! The short answer is, not much. The long answer is, I’m just working, reading (mostly on my commute), writing this blog, and doing more LSAT studying (do my prep books count for my reading goal?). Community choir rehearsals have started up again, so I also have a weekly dose of singing to look forward to…though we’re working on things for a holiday concert, so it’s mostly Christmas carols. At least some of the arrangements are fun? But dang, the version of Jingle Bells we have —originally performed by Barbara Streisand—is going to get very annoying, very fast. Look it up!

Finally, some upcoming tours I’m getting excited for:

  • Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House (already have my ticket, just deciding what 2nd book to bring for the signing line…)
  • Fierce Reads Fall Tour (no tickets, just show up. It’s in early October, but it is on my calendar–one of the stops is just 20 minutes from my house, and there are FOUR major authors coming!)
  • Felicia Day, Embrace Your Weird (I have access to presale tickets right now and am SUPER tempted, but not sure I can justify spending even more on books…even though I LOVE Felicia as an actress and general human being…)
  • Not for books, but HELLA MEGA TOUR. If you haven’t seen yet, there is an epic tour coming up next year featuring three rock legends: Green Day (my favorite band), Fall Out Boy, and Weezer. One of the stops is near me, and you’d better believe I plan on going.
This image is not my local bookstore’s, but it was the only one I could find with all the authors and their books

That’s all for now, folks! Any of these books on your TBR (or ones you’ve already enjoyed)? Planning on going to any of these events? Should I get the tickets for Felicia Day? And how do you feel about Christmas carols in September? Leave a comment and let me know!

House of Salt and Sorrows – review

Author: Erin A. Craig
Genre: YA Fantasy/Horror
Rating: 4/5 stars

Isn’t this cover beautiful and creepy??

A horror-infused twist on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig is a haunting and original debut novel.

I don’t like the blurb provided for this book. It gives too much away. Don’t read it; read mine instead:The book tells the story of Annaleigh, one of eight daughters of the duke on a small but prosperous island. There were once twelve daughters, but in the past six years—ever since their mother died—four of the girls have died, all in startling and gruesome ways. Rumor has it that the family is cursed, and the residents of the island want nothing to do with them as a result. So when Annaleigh’s childhood friend Fisher shows her and her sisters a magic portal that can take them anywhere, the girls are thrilled to be able to escape the mourning and rumors shrouding their house and travel to balls in far-off cities. But while sneaking off to dance every night provides a welcome reprieve, all is not well. Verity, the youngest daughter, is drawing horrible pictures in her sketchbook. Annaleigh suspects her sisters’ deaths may not have been accidental, and she is seeing terrifying illusions that disappear when she looks closer. And she is quickly falling for a mysterious new boy, but she doesn’t know whether she can really trust him.

So, let’s start with the easy part: this book was incredibly original. In a year where the book market, especially the YA market, has been flooded with fairytale retellings, Erin A. Craig has managed to dig up a less-popular one and turn it into something both creepy and magical. There is a distinct horror vibe alongside the more obvious fantasy elements of the book, and Annaleigh’s own terror and recognition of her unreliable senses only heighten this effect. The fact that it wasn’t a straight-up classic fantasy story made it immensely more enjoyable for me as a reader, and as someone familiar with the original fairytale, I was delighted by how many elements of the traditional story Craig managed to include in the story (including one cleverly inverted detail). The worldbuilding was quite well done,, with a fully-developed series of nations, their interwoven religions and traditions, and a unique interaction between people and their gods. Obviously the most attention is paid to the island of Salten, where the girls live, and the nautical vibes are constant and captivating. It’s like you are diving (pun intended) into this dark fairytale landscape.

For the most part, the characters worked well, too. Distinctly characterizing eight sisters, a dozen or so other side players, can be difficult, but for the most part, Craig managed to pull this off as well. Sure, she had some cop-outs—three of the girls are triplets who are very much in sync with each other, for example—but on the whole, the motivations and reactions of each person had at least a moderate level of complexity. Annaleigh is a likable enough protagonist, not too fierce but not a wimp either. Her sisters have distinct personalities, from dramatic Rosalie to sweet little Verity. The character of Annaleigh’s father was particularly interesting to me, alternating between doting husband, loving father, and angry drunk. I was enamored by Verity, six years old and innocent, but also haunted and sometimes disturbing. And Annaleigh’s mystery boy, Cassius, is enigmatic but incredibly sweet.

But, see, this is part of where my problem was. As you might expect, there’s a romance between Annaleigh and Cassius, because you can’t have a strange, dark, good-looking boy without him becoming a huge love interest. The problem was, the romance just didn’t work for me. I liked both of the characters in it, but they fell for each other a little too quickly, and it felt inorganic. The depth of their devotion after so little time together just did not make sense in my mind. Maybe it’s just because he was Annaleigh’s first real love, not counting a stray childhood crush on another boy, but it still didn’t feel right to me. And in light of certain explanations near the end of the book, their love became even weirder to me, though I think some people might find those reasons romantic.

Speaking of the end of the book: holy crap, those last 100 pages or so were a WILD ride. So many twists and turns, and while some of them I saw coming from a mile away, some of them were a genuine shock (and there was at least one I should have seen coming, but didn’t). I think I got a bit of mental whiplash, though, with too many twists in too little time. The direction that those twists took the story also pulled it away from the horror vibe, which I had loved so much, and more into typical fantasy tropes. It wasn’t bad, by any means; it just wasn’t the direction I had hoped for. And, in light of that shift in the final quarter of the book, I think the very ending—in the epilogue—was both appropriate and expected.

In conclusion: definitely a book worth reading, especially if you want a little spookiness in your fairytales. It’s not perfect, but it is compulsively readable, and especially for a debut novel, it is nicely done. I am greatly looking forward to whatever Erin A. Craig comes up with next!

Content/trigger warnings: death of animals (off-page, but the bodies are seen), discussion of suicide

Top Ten Tuesday 9/10 – Books On My TBR I’m Avoiding Reading and Why

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed post hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is one that always shames me a little: books on my TBR I’m avoiding reading, and why. I actually had SO MANY options I could have gone with here–my TBR is out of control. But alas, here we are. Here are my top ten, chosen only somewhat at random, with a bonus one at the end. Enjoy!

1. Infinite Jest

What can I say? This behemoth is over a thousand pages, including 80-something pages of footnotes, and it’s very literary/complex. I know I’ll love it when I actually get a chance to read it and really dig in, but right now, I’m not in the right mindset for it.

2. Crown of Midnight

At the risk of sounding like a blasphemer to some of you (because I know how many people worship the very ground Sarah J. Maas walks on), I liked–but didn’t love–the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. The first book in that series was particularly mediocre, and the others were good but not groundbreaking.  So naturally, I’m wary of the author’s other major series as well. After reading Throne of Glass, which I guess I enjoyed, I tried to move on to this, the second book in the series, but…I couldn’t make myself care enough to get past the first few chapters. I know everyone says it’s good once you hit book 3, but…I’m not sure that sticking it out would be worth it for me.

3. Shadowhunters series

Look, Cassandra Clare has created a huge fantasy world, which I love in theory. But the sheer number of books, and the number of pages in those books? I’m kind of scared of that commitment, not going to lie. (And yet I’m not scared of committing to all of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere books? I know. I’m a paradoxical being.)

That said, I got the first six books in this series, 4 paperback and 2 hardcover, all in great condition, for just $15 on Facebook Marketplace this summer, so I really ought to read them simply because they’re on my shelf… (Yes, the picture for this one is actually of the set that I own.)

4. Percy Jackson series

Some of my reluctance, as with Shadowhunters, is just that it will take a lot of time, but also…it’s a kids book. That shouldn’t hinder me–I’m all for encouraging you to read whatever you want–but I still feel sheepish about it.

Also similar to Shadowhunters, just a couple weeks ago, I got all five Percy Jackson books, all five Heroes of Olympus books, and that giant hardcover book of Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods–all brand new–for $30 on Facebook Marketplace. Maybe the real takeaway of this article is that you can find great book deals on Marketplace. Or that buying books is still not a guarantee that you will read them.

5. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I love Harry Potter. It was a huge part of my childhood, and those books were one of the first “big” series I ever read. I’ve heard such mixed things on this one, and I really, really don’t want to be disappointed. J.K. Rowling is already doing a number on the enjoyability of her wizarding world with all of her retconning (UGHHHH), and I’m trying to keep the magic of Hogwarts alive in my heart. At least until my curiosity gets the better of me.

6. The Book Thief

I don’t have a good excuse on this one. I own a copy of it. I know a lot of people who list it among their favorite books. It sounds so good. Maybe I’m afraid it won’t live up to the hype? I’m really not sure.

7. Illuminae

My reasons on this one are twofold. First, I seriously can’t decide whether to read it in its physical form or to listen to it as an audiobook. I’ve heard that both are awesome, and I don’t want to ruin my experience by choosing the “wrong” one. And second…please don’t rat me out for this, but I checked it out from my library a while ago. Shortly thereafter, something in their online checkout system must have glitched, because it suddenly was no longer listed under my checked out titles. I’ve kept it on my shelf, fully intending to read it, but without a due date to force my hand, I keep bumping it back behind other books on my list. Poor excuse, I know. Please shame me into reading this one ASAP so I can return it, even though the library has many other copies.

8. Girl, Wash Your Face

HEAR ME OUT BEFORE YOU JUDGE ME FOR THIS ONE. I am 99.99999% sure I will hate this book. My mom even hated it, and she rarely dislikes books. She actually wants me to read it so I can hate it with her, and I am so on board with that. I just haven’t been in the mood for a spite-read lately. One of these days, though, I’ll get to it and (hopefully) write a deliciously scathing review.

9. The Lord of the Rings series

I…I have literally no excuse. I’m just a procrastinator. I’m sorry. I’ll give up my nerd card and fantasy-lover card now.

If anyone wants to buddy-read this series with me sometime in, say, November or later (my September and October are pretty heavily booked, pun intended), let me know.

10. Lord of the Flies

Listen, I heard so many oral book reports on this one back in middle school. Never was required to read it, but I to this day can recall the major plot points (poor Piggy). I do want to read it, but I don’t feel as compelled to as I do with other books since I already know quite a bit about both the book itself and common analyses of it.

BONUS #11: Uprooted

I think this one only half-counts, because I did start it…as an audiobook. And the narrator was awful. It was like listening to a robot with a Russian accent–there was virtually no inflection, and it sounded so mechanical. I couldn’t get into the story because the narrator annoyed me so much, so I have it tabled for now, just until I can mostly clear my head of that god-awful voice.

That’s all for now, folks! Have you read any of these? Which ones should I stop procrastinating on and just read, already? Any of these I should keep procrastinating on because they aren’t worth it? Drop a comment and let me know!

The Harp of Kings – ARC review

Author: Juliet Marillier
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars

Prior to winning this book in a Goodreads Giveaway, I had not heard of Juliet Marillier. Apparently, her most popular books came out when I was still a little too young to read them, but after skimming some of her info on Goodreads, I realized she has quite a devoted fanbase. Now, having read The Harp of Kings, I can see why. Brimming with Celtic mythology, fierce warriors, passionate musicians, and memorable characters, this book feels like a classic quest fantasy in all the best ways.

So, let’s start with the main characters. I love them all, and they’re possibly the biggest thing I love about this book. They’re fully developed, and the book rotates nicely between their three points of view, each with a distinct voice (which, you know, can be a really hard thing for an author to pull off well). Here’s a snapshot of each of them:

Liobhan: tough warrior girl, talented whistle player, loyal sister, general badass with some impulse control issues.She’s our primary narrator, and, in keeping with a theme in recent books I’ve been reading, she’s exactly the sort of protagonist I like to root for. She is fiercely dedicated to her brother, Brocc, and she is determined to prove herself worthy at all costs—even though that sometimes involves breaking the rules and/or speaking out when she probably shouldn’t. Love this girl, and would totally be her friend, want to see more of her.

Brocc: sensitive soul, can hold his own in a fight, an unparalleled harpist and singer, has more than a few secrets. I had mixed feelings about Brocc early on in the book, but as time passed and some of his backstory came to life, he became the most intriguing of the characters, if not always the most interesting to read about. That’s not his fault—he gets pulled away from the main quest after a while, so his chapters have a bit less action and a bit more thinking. Still, he’s a smart cookie, and I love how his thoughts are often interspersed with sudden flashes of inspiration on songs he wants to write about where he’s going. He is truly a musician, first and foremost, even if he’s training to be a warrior/spy.

Dau: outwardly tough but inwardly broken, running from a horrible past, slow to trust, a fighter like no other, as dedicated as it is humanly possible to be. He’s my favorite, for sure (but then, I love characters with complex and traumatic histories, especially when you can just tell that they have a heart of gold under their prickly exterior). I don’t want to spoil too much about him, because his character evolves the most over the course of the story, and I don’t want you to go in with any false preconceived notions, but…man, I would take a bullet for this guy.

I don’t love the plot description that the publisher gives, so here’s my brief synopsis (no spoilers, of course): the kingdom of Breifne is in trouble. Prince Rodan is nearing his eighteenth birthday, when he is set to inherit the throne, which is currently being held by the regent Lord Cathra. There are just two problems: first, the Harp of Kings—a ceremonial instrument used to show divine favor for each new monarch—has gone missing. And second, Rodan is not really the sort of guy you want to be king. 

Enter the people of Swan Island, where warriors are trained for the most important of missions. Three of the island’s students (Liobhan, Brocc, and Dau), along with two of their instructors, set out for Breifne, disguised as traveling minstrels, a farrier, and a mute apprentice, to search for the harp and try to retrieve it before the coronation. Espionage is not always easy, though, and it soon becomes apparent that the problem is much bigger than just some malcontents opposed to the royal family. There are druids, fairies, wise-women, and court members, all conspiring and quarrelling in secret, while the lives and happiness of others are caught in the balance. 

I already gave you a rundown of things I loved about the main characters, so I won’t reiterate those, but I did love how their three very separate stories became increasingly more closely connected, especially as the individual clues they found gradually came together to resolve the mystery of where the harp went, and why. By the end of the book, the switching points of view were no longer jumps to different scenes; they were just different perspectives on the same narrative line, depending on whose insight was most relevant. The side characters they interacted with were vivid as well, from the innocent young Aislinn to the gentle-yet-respected Faelan to the mysterious-yet-helpful Mistress Juniper the downright awful Prince Rodan himself.

Speaking of the awful Prince Rodan, I should note that Marillier does not shy away from difficult topics in this one. The characters have been through some awful experiences, especially Dau, and those experiences don’t just magically disappear; they creep back into the characters’ thoughts and influence their future decisions. Dealing with difficult life situations also drives the choices of some of the side characters, which in turn shapes the path the main characters have to take.

A few more notes that don’t really fit anywhere: 
Marillier is a masterful worldbuilder. The history and politics of Breifne are well-developed, with complex family histories and mythologies that have evolved over time, as well as traditions whose roots are forgotten and groups who have been sidelined and are less-than-happy about it. The whole world really sprang from the page.
– There is not much romance in this book. Not that there wasn’t any, but it was subtle, and it was mostly buildup toward what I hope will be further explored in the rest of the series. I, for one, was pretty happy with that choice; it let us focus on the plot and characters, not just who we wanted to ship with whom.

I could keep going for ages, but it would probably just turn into an extended rant about things I loved about this book, so I’ll leave it at this: if you want a good old-fashioned fantasy with a beating heart and vibrant world, this is a great pick. 5/5 stars, would definitely recommend.

Trigger/content warnings: child abuse, sexual assault, mention of suicide, torture/killing of an animal. All handled very well, and none are too graphic, but they are not shied away from either.

I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher through a Goodreads giveaway (thank you!). This has not influenced my rating in any way.

Thoughts on a Thursday – TBR, upcoming review, and more

It’s been a long week (despite having Monday off for Labor Day, and the fact that it’s not even Friday yet). I have some more legitimate posts in the works, but for now, I thought I might share some scattered things I’m currently thinking about. Most are book-related; a few are not. All are intended to be very casual updates, so don’t expect anything too fancy, but here’s what’s up:

  • First, something I found tremendously exciting: Quichotte by Salman Rushdie made the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize. I was fortunate enough to read a digital ARC of this book before its release this past Tuesday, and I absolutely loved it. It makes me happy to see great authors continuing to get the recognition they deserve! Check out my review here.
  • This month, I’m participating in a group reading challenge on Facebook called Reading Rivalry. We get sorted into teams, we have book prompts and posts to respond to, and we get points for things we get read. It’s pretty fun, and it helps me prioritize my TBR a little. This month’s overarching theme is Harry Potter, and I’m on the Marauders team!
  • Speaking of TBR, I still have so many books to read this month! I have eARCs of The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman, and The Bone Ships by RJ Barker, and I’m currently working through The Ten Thousand Doors of January. And these are just the ones I need to finish before they release this month! Plus all the September releases I’m hyped about, which either just came out or are coming in the next few weeks–Darkdawn, Five Dark Fates, Wayward Son, The Testaments, Serpent & Dove…why must so many good titles all come out at once??
Three eARCs, all coming out in September!
  • I’m currently interning/clerking at a medical malpractice law firm in Chicago, and I’m really getting into the swing of things finally. The attorneys really like me, and I’m working on some pretty cool cases.
  • Also on the law front…the LSAT is in just over two weeks, so I need to step up my game as far as prep work. I’m feeling pretty good about it, but still, it’s a tad overwhelming.
  • Been listening to a few audiobooks lately, and I think I’ll do a series of mini-reviews for them. Stay tuned for Shadow of the Fox, The Alchemist, and Nevernight (yes, that last one was a reread in preparation for Darkdawn).
  • Also in reviews to expect soon, The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier. I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway, and wow. Just finished it last night. I hadn’t heard of her before, but found out she’s actually quite popular (many of her books came out when I was still too young to read them), and now I see why. Fantastic book, lovely characters, and great worldbuilding! Plus, like…musicians who are also kickass warriors? Totally my kind of story.

So…that’s all for now, folks! Have you read any of these? Of my three remaining ARCs for this month, which one would you most like to see a review for next? What did you have for breakfast this morning? Leave a comment and let me know!