On the Shelf: Summer Reading Updates & Mini Reviews

I’ve decided to switch up my On the Shelf this week.  Instead of one big review, I’ve done some mini-reviews, followed by some chit chat about other books I’ve been reading.  (Also, apologies for being a day late on this post…)

The Heir by Kiera Cass

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

A few weeks ago, I finally picked up the fourth book in Cass’s The Selection series.  The thing about Cass is that she isn’t a breathtaking writer–her post-apocalyptic America is relatively boring and her characters lack depth–but I somehow still love her books.  They’re like a mashup of The Hunger Games, The Bachelor, and all my favorite fairy tales.

Taking place after the trilogy ends, the book centers around Eadlyn, the first female heir to the throne.  Although the caste system has been dissolved, the country’s problems aren’t over.  Citizens are increasingly unhappy and are beginning to turn on the royal family.  In attempt to lift morale, another Selection begins and male suitors begin pouring into the palace from all over the country, determined to win Eadlyn’s hand.

For the most part, Eadlyn isn’t very likable.  She’s stubborn, proud, and stuck-up.  She’s pretty high and mighty, but her many flaws are partially forgivable because of the amount she gives up for her throne.  The book makes clear that, given the choice, she wouldn’t choose to rule the country.  But she throws herself into it anyways and, throughout the book, sacrifices her personal desires for her position.  That doesn’t wholly redeem her, though.  She still is annoying at points.

What I love about this book is that it takes us on the other side of the Selection.  In the first three books, we see it all from the point of view of one of the participants.  In this story, we get to see the process from the heir’s point of view.  What would it be like to balance dating 30 young men and learning to rule an unstable country?

The other thing I love is that it brings out a lot of double-standards.  Being a feminist, I LOVE seeing double-standards exposed.  Before this, it was always a male heir surrounded by female suitors.  Boys, though, respond differently to the competition.  While girls got into spats, boys brawl.  With a female heir, sexual assault becomes an issue.  While it’s okay for male heirs to get physical with the candidates, a female one is looked down upon as loose.  While the press was all about praising Maxon in the first series, it seems out to get Eadlyn–painting her as a prideful, spoiled, ice queen.

Is The Heir the best piece of literature out there?  Nope.  Is it enjoyable?  Definitely.

The Kingkiller Chronicles: The Name of the Wind & The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Summary: Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature.

I picked up this unfinished series at the high recommendation of a book lover friend.  It’s been a while since I picked up a massive fantasy novel and thought I’d give the highly-acclaimed series a try.  What I can say is that Rothfuss is a very gifted writer.  His prose is truly excellent.

What I can’t say is that I enjoyed these books.  Although they’re entertaining/easy reads, I didn’t feel myself loving these books.  The way they’re set up bothers me.  The premise is that there’s one story taking place present-time regarding a civil war with mysterious monsters on the loose.  The main character, Kvote, is the stuff of legend, but has taken cover as an innkeeper and thought dead.  When discovered by a recorder of stories, Kvote decides to tell his.  The majority of the books follow the course of his life–tracing his childhood in a troupe of traveling musicians to years living as a street urchin to living as a student at the university.  In the second book, Kvote continues his studies, helps a king woo a wife, tracks down bandits in the woods, winds up in the fairy world and shacks up with a fae temptress, and spends time with an off-the-map society where he learns to fight.  All the while, Kvote looks for information on the Chandrian–a group of killers out of legends who killed his parents.

The story, ‘though intriguing, feels like it’s going nowhere.  Kvote isn’t very likable.  He goes from adventure to adventure and is amazing at everything he does.  He’s an amazing musician, student, lover, fighter, and magician.  There’s nothing he can’t do…  And he’s a smart-ass.

Then there’s his love interest, Denna.  Ugh.  She’s one of the worst female characters I’ve ever encountered.  I’d go into how awful she is, but a Goodreads reviewer has said it better than I ever could.

If you’re into fantasy, you might like these books.  If not, skip them.

Other Books I’m Reading…

I’m still plugging through The Silmarillion by Tolkien.  It’s breathtaking, but extremely thick.  I can only manage thirty pages a week.  This afternoon, I finally breached the 200 page mark.  It’s slow going, but I’ll have it finished by the time summer ends!

At work, I’m listening through Harry Potter again.  This week, I reached Order of the Phoenix… so my hours are filled with lots of angst.  I plowed through Goblet of Fire last week and, in the wake of Voldemort’s return, I’m once again annoyed by how unpleasant Harry is in this book.  But it’s okay.  It just makes me thankful I’m out of the teen years.

Recently, I picked up Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.  Yes, more fantasy.  It’s the first of Marillier’s Sevenwaters series.  I’ve read the whole series already, but it’s been a few years.  The first is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Wild Swans”.  I love a good fairytale retelling and am looking forward to this read.

That’s it for this week’s On the Shelf.  What books have you been reading lately?

On the Shelf: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marilier

Because I’m not quite ready to discuss Bleak House (which I finished last night), this week I’ll be revisiting another old favorite–one of Juliet Marillier’s few forays into YA lit.

My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads | Amazon

Summary: High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.
But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.
When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

My Thoughts:

This was a book that I read in one sitting my first time through and loved so much that I proceeded to read it two more times in a row.  I adore the way Marillier combines The Frog Prince and The Twelve Dancing Princesses with Romanian folklore.  If you, like me, are a sucker for fairy tale retellings, this one is top-notch.

I purchased this audiobook several years ago and have listened to it countless times since.  Last week, I picked it up for another go-around.

You may be wondering, though… if I profess to love it so much, why give it such a low rating?  Let me explain… I decided to give the story a 3.5 mainly because I’ve grown up since I fell in love with this book.  I don’t see the world the way I did when I was sixteen–and, frankly, some of the romance in this story is hard to believe.  For the majority of the book, the main love story exists between Tatiana (the eldest sister) and Sorrow, a man from the Other Kingdom.  As I listened to their romance unfold, all I could do was roll my eyes–mainly because Tati is underdeveloped and boring, making her hard to relate to.  This is countered well by Jena’s love story, but I won’t go into ’cause I don’t want to spoil too many things.

I’ve always loved the protagonist of the novel, though.  Jena is intelligent, capable, and willing to go to any lengths to protect and preserve those she loves.  This time through, I kept wondering… what is her Meyers-Briggs type?  I normally don’t try to figure this out about characters, but Jena has always left such a lasting impression that I couldn’t help pin her as a ISTJ.  (Full personality description here)  After doing some digging, I realized that my prediction was spot-on.  Jena is ruled by her sense of duty and follows common sense without fail.  One of her main areas of growth is learning to trust her instincts and learn to go by her feelings, not by logic.  This struggle is a real one–there are times when I want to reach into the book and shake her.  She learns her lessons slowly, which is frustrating because things would be so much better for everyone if she just stopped over thinking herself.  All in all, Jena is an enjoyable character to spend time with and, above all else, her growth is the most interesting.

Marillier is one of my favorite fantasy writers–I’ll read anything published with her name on it.  Even though my original zeal for this book has faded with age, it’s one that I know I’ll always return to.

Sample Quote:

“Death is final. The felling of trees is final. What we ask of you is simply the recognition of change, Jena. Yours is a world of constant change. You must learn to change, too. You spend a great deal of time worrying about others: trying to put their lives right, trying to shape your world as you believe it should be. You must learn to trust your instincts, or you are doomed to spend your life blinded by duty while beside you a wondrous tree sprouts and springs up and buds and blooms, and your heart takes no comfort from it, for you cannot raise your eyes to see it.”

You Will Like This Book If: You love fairy tales, cute romance, folklore, and vampires

Stop by next week for my thoughts on Bleak House by Charles Dickens!

Friday Favorites

I’ve been trying to get myself back in the blogging habit since camp is over… what better way than with another edition of Friday Favorites?

So… the Friday Favorites are…

1. PR 6

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During the last week of camp, there were no churches in need of Shamineau Day Camp.  What were two Day Camp directors to do?  Easy.  Become counsellors!  It was like returning to my roots.  I was reminded how much I love counseling, but at the same time, why I don’t do it anymore.  It’s exhausting!  But oh, so rewarding.  We had ten campers.  They were wonderful–silly, creative, and fun, and loved learning more about God.  I had some of the best one-on-ones that I’ve ever had.  And, at the end, we won Cabin of the Week!

2. Juliet Marillier

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I first discovered Marillier’s greatness in her Young Adult novel, Wildwood Dancing.  I loved it so much I read it about five times in a row.  Since then, she’s become one of my favorite fantasy writers.  It’s to the point where I will read anything she writes.  (Yes, that includes grocery lists.)  Her novels usually feature a smart, independent heroine with deep connections to family who gets swept away on some kind of adventure.  They’re heavily steeped in folklore, which I adore.

In the past week, I’ve read two of her novels–the final two of her Sevenwaters series.  They were so good I read them in a day each, staying up well past midnight to read the final chapters.  Best feeling in the world right there.

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3. This Song

After my early summer Cloud Cult obsession faded, it was replaced by a deep love for Rend Collective.  They’re a folksy Christian band with a passion for authentic, joyful worship.  Normally, I’m not one to listen to Christian music, but I make an exception here.  They capture the heart of what it means to worship–the rawness, the joy of coming before God.  They recorded their first album around a campfire, which is pretty awesome.  And they’re Irish!

And… that’s all for today!  Stay tuned for more posts!  I’m hoping to be writing more frequently now that I actually have consistent computer access.