Top Ten Tuesday (7): Top Ten All Time Favorite Fantasy Books

toptentuesday2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week we are talking about our Top Ten Favorite Books in a Genre of our choice, and I pick fantasy.  This list will be a mix of adult and YA books.  It will also probably lean toward books I’ve read more recently because if I didn’t review it on Goodreads, I might as well never have read it.

Top 10 All Time Favorite Fantasy Books

1. The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – This is the beginning of a series of a bunch of interrelated trilogies, but it’s the first one that really grabbed my heart.  Fitz is one of my favorite characters in all of fantasy. If you like communicating animals, dragons, a great underdog tale, and court intrigue, you will love this one. 

asassins apprentice

2.  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I feel like this is a popular one, but if you haven’t read it, I think it’s a great entry point into epic fantasy.  This book follows a guy named Kvothe telling his life story over the course of three days, and each book in the trilogy represents a day of the story. It’s so great and an excellent entry point into epic fantasy, even though it’s a chunker.

name of the wind

3. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan – This is taking a little bit of a risk because only the first book in the trilogy is out, but I instantly fell in love with this book as soon as I read it.  It is slightly reminiscent of The Name of the Wind in that it is a scribe telling the story of a guy known as The Hope Killer, but in many ways I actually loved this book even more. Shocking, I know, but you REALLY need to try this one if you like fantasy at all.

blood song

4.  The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavirel Kay – This is actually just a  placeholder for all of Guy Gavriel Kay’s stuff (except, oddly enough, the Fionavar trilogy, which I personally didn’t like).  But this one, A Song for ArbonneSailing to Sarantium, or Tigana… basically the list goes on and on. His writing is this gorgeous historical, magical prose with characters that you just must love. Lions is one of the only books that I have ever read, closed, and then immediately re-opened because I wasn’t ready to let go.

lions

5.  Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – This is kind of also a Marilliet placeholder because I totally love her works, but also this is such an excellent entry point to fairy tale retellings and fantasy.  This is a retelling of the Wild Swans fairy tale, but it completely stands on its own.  The romance is pitch-perfect, Sorcha is an amazing female protagonist, and man I just love love love this book.

Daughter of the Forest

6. The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson – This is definitely a Sanderson placeholder.  I am an absolute Fanderson – he basically can do no wrong in my eyes.  I absolutely adore the Mistborn trilogy, I love Warbreaker, I love Way of Kings, I love Steelheart, and you KNOW I love The Emperor’s Soul…. ugh, I just love them all. I think this one is probably the best entry point to Sanderson.  That said, The Emperor’s Soul would also be a great starting place since it’s a short story that I feel like gives a really good test to see if you like his writing style.

final empire

7.  Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor – This is where the YA fantasy recommendations start.  I love Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and I actually think it would be a great cross over into adult fantasy. The world-building is just freaking amazing, the realistic writing of Prague makes you feel like you are right there, and it’s one of my absolute favorite story that incorporates angels.

smoke and bone

8.  The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente – This is just so different than anything else I’ve ever read.  The language is so fantastical, the world is immersive, and the characters just stick right with you.  I get totally transported to this world when I read these books, and I highly recommend them.

fairyland

9.  The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner – This is a freaking amazing series that focuses on Eugenidies, who (as you might guess) is a thief.  He gets caught in a nearby kingdom and ends up being asked to go on a journey in order to help the king.  Gen is one of my favorite male protagonists for sure.  And for those of you who like The Winner’s Curse, the author of that said in a recent Twitter chat that this series was one of her inspirations.

theif

10. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – This is a throwback recommendation – it was a Newberry honor winner in 1983! It follows the story of Harry Crewe, an orphan girl, who has just moved to a border town that basically is the last defense against a tribe of people known as the Hillfolk.  For reasons that are not immediately apparent, Harry is kidnapped by the Hillfolk King and ends up learning a lot about herself.  The book was so enjoyable and I highly recommend it.

blue sword

11. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher – This is a bonus choice and is really representative of one of my favorite sub-genres in fantasy, which is urban fantasy.  I love the Dresden File series (though for me they get great starting at around book 4), and I also love the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.  These are great reading slump busters for me because they are characters I love in realistic settings with excellent magic and supernatural characters.  They also generally read as standalones, even though they are all related in one big series.  Just excellent.

So how about you?  Do you like fantasy as much as I do?  What are some of your favorites?  I had to leave off SO MANY that I really love, and chose to lean a bit more toward adult stuff since I think the YA stuff gets pretty good coverage in the blogosphere (at least the corner I hang out in).  Are any of these on your TBR?

Epic Recs (2): March with Danie!

epic-recssgif

Ok – I loved participating in Epic Recs so much last month that I am doing it again!  Epic Recs is a really fun online book club idea hosted by Judith at Paper Riot and Amber from Books of Amber.  Basically they recommend books to each other every month that the other one has to read and review.  And they’ve opened this awesomeness up to others to participate in and they will even pair you up with someone who’s reading taste they think goes along with yours.  Can we just talk for a second about how awesome this is?  If you’re interested in more info and the rules and whatnot, check out Judith’s post here.

This month I am teaming up with one of my best blogosphere friends Danie from The Bookish Brunette!  Danie’s blog is so amazing and a must visit for basically everyone.  If you like my blog, you will DEFINITELY love hers.

So what are we reading this month? 

VA madman

I was actually pretty torn on what to recommend Danie this month until I read her most recent Top Ten Tuesday post!  In that post, Danie mentioned that she had never read anything by Richelle Mead and I just KNEW I had to recommend Vampire Academy.  I think Danie is going to really love Rose and REALLY freaking love Dimitri.  Even better, Rose and Lissa have (at least in this first book) one of my favorite friendships in all of YA and so I knew I had to recommend this for Danie.  When I first read this book, I got so swept up in the series that I basically marathoned all six.  I really hope Danie loves this series as much as I did!

Danie suggested I read The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd.  Here’s what she had to say about it:

“I am choosing this one because it was my all-time favorite of last year. And everyone needs to read it. It was beautifully written, and the story itself was perfect. I honestly have so much love for this book. I wasn’t interested in it at all, until I got the sequel for review so I decided to try it. And became obsessed with it. I push it on everyone. If the time period isn’t your thing, or the subject matter bugs you a bit, keep reading. Go into it with a completely open mind.”

I am have had this one on my radar for so long and really keep meaning to get to it.  I mean, that cover!  I am super-excited that Danie pushed this one on me and I can’t wait to see what I think.  Come back at the end of the month to see how we liked these awesome books! And in the meantime, definitely check out Danie’s post here to see what she thinks of her rec this month!

Top Ten Tuesday (6): Top Ten Popular Authors I’ve Never Read

toptentuesday2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week we are talking about our Top Ten Popular Authors We’ve Never Read.

Top 10 Popular Authors I’ve Never Read

Ok, this is tough because I feel like I have at least read one book from many authors that come to mind.  That being said, there is always more to read, so here are the authors that stand out.

Young Adult Authors

1. Cassandra Clare – I know, I know. Everyone has read and seems to have enjoyed her Mortal Instruments series, but I read like 50 pages and could NOT get into it. I keep meaning to give it another try, but haven’t been able to bring myself to yet!

2.  Sarah J. Maas – I KNOW! I haven’t read Throne of Glass yet and I really really mean to.  I even had it out from the library at one point, but the back made it sound like it was a love triangle-y book and I just wasn’t in the mood at the time. That said, I’ve since heard that’s not really the case and really want to try again soon.

3. Tahereh Mafi – Confession time. I even own the entire Shatter Me trilogy. Signed. So what is my problem! The prose in these books is divisive from what I have heard, but if you love it you REALLY love it.  Because of that, I want to give these books a fair shot.  And come on, I OWN THEM ALL!

4.  Ransom Riggs – I also own both of the Miss Peregrine’s books, also signed.  I am a huge fan of Ransom Riggs the person, and I hear this set of books just keeps getting better.  I am annoyed by this one and will be trying these books out ASAP.

5.  Paullina Simons – I keep hearing such excellent things about The Bronze Horseman trilogy, and that sucker has been on my TBR for-freaking-ever.

Classics and Classic Adult Fantasy Authors

6. Charlotte Bronte – I keep meaning to read Jane Eyre. Everyone seems to really love and enjoy it, but I am not the biggest fan of that era of British literature and I keep avoiding it.  I need to make this happen at some point, though.

7.  Terry Pratchett – I’m not sure how I call myself a fantasy fan without ever having even TRIED Discworld, but there it is.  Hopefully soon – this one is on my definite to read in 2014 list.

8.  David Eddings – Similar to my feelings about Discworld, I feel like I truly must give The Belgariad series a try.  I think I own them all in two different forms – both standalones and a bind-up. I hear this is a really defining series in fantasy and I just need to get going!

9.  Ilona Andrews – I am a really big fan of urban fantasy — particularly Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  With this being the case, I KNOW I need to get some Kate Daniels in my life ASAP, but I just haven’t gotten around to it!

10. Mercedes Lackey – With this author, I admit I just don’t know where to start. There are so freaking many books in the Valdemar world and there seems to be debate as to which order to read them in.  But a well-known, female fantasy author who I haven’t read… I’m embarrassed.

So that’s my list! Which ones of these do I need to shoot to the top of my TBR? And which authors do YOU wish you had made time for already?  I can’t wait to hear!

My First Epic Recs!

epic-recssgif

I am so freaking excited!  This is my first time participating in Epic Recs, which is a really fun online book club idea hosted by Judith at Paper Riot and Amber from Books of Amber.  Basically they recommend books to each other every month that the other one has to read and review.  And they’ve opened this awesomeness up to others to participate in and they will even pair you up with someone who’s reading taste they think goes along with yours.  Can we just talk for a second about how awesome this is?  If you’re interested in more info and the rules and whatnot, check out Judith’s post here.

This month I was paired up with the AWESOME Kim from The Avid Reader.  Not only have I gained a really awesome book recommendation, but another really awesome bookish friend!  You should definitely check out her awesome blog if you haven’t already for some really amazing YA recommendations.

So what are we reading this month? 

poison study unwind

I checked out her shelves and IMMEDIATELY knew I had to push Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. It fit right in with her love for strong female leads, YA slow-burn romances, and desire to start a new series. I really hope she loves it – I sure did!

Kim suggested I read Unwind by Neil Shusterman.  Here’s what she had to say about it:

“For you, I was torn in at least three different directions… but then I read your review of The Darkest Minds, and your sheer enthusiasm for that book made me decide that I’m picking Unwind, by Neal Shusterman for you. You said that part of your love for The Darkest Minds stemmed from its close examination of Ruby’s character – how her past has shaped the person she has become. You’ll have a similar appreciation for Connor, Risa and Lev. This is one of my favorite books and I think if you like dystopian even a little you can’t help but love this one. It’s definitely one that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.”

I am super excited to dig into this one!  Come back at the end of the month to see how we liked them and in the meantime, check out Kim’s Epic Recs post here!

Book Review: Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

The Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Handbook

 

Book Summary

From GoodreadsTilda has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave.

 

Review: 4 out of 5 Stars

I recently finished Handbook for Dragon Slayers and couldn’t wait to review it, mostly because I just KNOW there are some of you out there who still have not read any Merrie Haskell and that truly pains me.  I sincerely credit her novel The Princess Curse with kicking off the most marvelous reading spree I’ve had in a very long time.  I read that novel and suddenly could not get enough of fairy tale retellings or female heroines or feel-good reads.  In fact, I am hard pressed to think of a book I had read before hers that was even a middle grade book, and since then I have been much more willing to browse that section of my library.  So when I heard Haskell had a second novel coming out I knew I would have to get my hands on it.  And while Handbook for Dragon Slayers probably won’t end up on my Best of 2013 List, it reinforced everything I loved about Haskell’s novels and firmly placed her on my Must Read list.  So in this review I plan to highlight what I thought was great about Handbook for Dragon Slayers, but also explore what I think is so great about Haskell more generally as well.

  • Strong Female Heroines:  Haskell writes some of the best middle grade heroines I have ever read.  Her characters are complex and full; they aren’t ever mere damsels in distress.  They are intelligent, and strong, and they overcome obstacles with aplomb.  This is not to say, of course, that they are flawless.  For example, in Handbook for Dragon Slayers, the main character is a princess named Tilda, who was born with a clubfoot.  This has always made her feel like an outsider, and the novel explores really well the various ways she has shut herself off from most of the world in order to protect herself from feeling too much.  Since the novel is written from her standpoint, you believe along with her that everyone is afraid of her and that certain characters are out to get her, and so as Tilda grows and learns to give people a second chance, so does the reader.  It’s so cleverly written that I was even surprised when some of the reactions I had expected — because Tilda had told me to expect them — never came.  The secondary female character, Judith, also displays a strong loyalty and love for her friends and family.  Plus Judith is a really kick-butt dragon hunter.  And no spoilers but there is an excellent twist at the end that allows this theme of female strength to really shine. 

 

  • Healthy Female Friendships: Nothing annoys me more than the trend in literature to constantly pit women against each other.  It is truly rare to see novels that explore the beautiful strength to be found in female friendships.  In both of her novels Haskell has spotlighted a female friendship without jealousy or competition.  Although Judith and Tilda have moments of discord, they are able to come back together and be truly stronger than when they started, usually through communication and apologies rather than some intermediary or some magical solution.  They are able to both be friends with a boy whom they obviously both like being around without much strife.  I loved that this example of friendship is being modeled, particularly in Middle Grade literature when the healthy female friendship can start to go the way of the dodo. 

 

  • Intelligent Mingling of Recognizable Fairy Tale Themes:  My one complaint about some fairy tale retellings is that they are so true-to-tale that there is no surprise or character development.  The princess is the princess, the prince is the prince, and we all know it will turn out well in the end.  What Haskell does so beautifully in both of her books is draw from multiple fairy tales and pull various elements together to make a really interesting mingling of familiar story lines packaged together in a new and completely fresh feeling and unpredictable way.  In Handbook for Dragon Slayers, we see elements of Bluebeard, the Swan Maiden, the Wild Hunt, and some great dragon lore.  I love that she does this, especially when taking into account younger readers.  I now have a really easy answer for a young reader who loves this book and asks me what to read next.  I think it also helps her stories feel familiar, like you’ve known them all of your life, without going down the path of the expected outcome.

 

  • Unexpected Main Characters: In both of her novels, Haskell writes from what in many other stories would be a secondary character’s perspective.  Because Tilda has a clubfoot, she is not physically able to be a dragon slayer.  In fact, there are many instances where her friends are shown literally carrying her because her strength has given out (more plus points for Judith).  And so Tilda becomes the scribe, which allows her to be the partner in crime to her friends, and to be a main player in the action without actually being the one doing the dragon hunting.  I love that Haskell chooses to highlight these “secondary” characters and I think in the end it makes for more interesting reading.

 

  • The Un-Lesson: One almost necessary part of a great Middle Grade read, for me, is the un-lesson, or the lesson that doesn’t feel like a lesson.  As we watch Tilda grow and develop, we see her learning to distinguish between what she thinks is important and what is truly important.  Learning this difference and the related difference between what we want in life and what we actually need is such an important part of growing up, and I love that Haskell chose to explore it in this novel.  But at no times did it feel like a morality play or like the lesson was being shoved down our throats.  It was just an important, understandable part of Tilda’s development, but I think we all walked away feeling like we learned something.

 

These are just a few of my favorite parts about Haskell’s novels.  I think that in Handbook for Dragon Slayers there were a few small issues that kept it from being a five-star read for me.  There was one particular shift in tone that didn’t all the way work for me in the middle of the book.  I wanted a bit more by way of depth — there were certain story lines or plot points that seemed to come out of nowhere and then everything tied itself up very neatly and very quickly at the end.  Some of this can just be chalked up to the age the book is directed at – these things stand out more to someone in their early 30s than someone in their tweens, but I still think it could have been developed differently.  That said, it did not diminish my overall enjoyment of the novel and I definitely highly recommend it. 

Bottom Line

Handbook for Dragon Slayers is a great, fast read that explores deep themes of friendship, loyalty, responsibility, self-esteem and growth, all neatly hidden away in a novel with a beautifully developed world and endearing characters that you want to befriend.  While there are some small issues, if you’ve read and liked middle grade novels before, I do not think it is anything that will keep you from enjoying this novel.  Perhaps even more importantly, though, Merrie Haskell has convinced me that middle grade novels are truly not just for kids.  Although I was an established reader of YA, it was Haskell who brought me into the middle grade world.  She writes intelligently and with such heart, you cannot help but fall in love with her characters.  And while there are elements of her novels that boys will also love, these books are such a good introduction to fantasy for young girls and, I feel, provide great examples in her heroines and her female characters generally.  Haskell is accomplishing so many important, necessary things with her writing and still managing to weave beautiful stories that stay with you long after you close the book.  I, for one, am excited to see what she comes up with next.

Weekend Discussion Topic: Series vs. Standalones

Weekend Discussion Topic? C’mon, Emily, that is not even an alliteration of any kind.  What kind of a book blogger are you? If anyone has a better idea of what to call this potential feature, please oh please let me know. The gist is that I plan to write slightly more lengthy posts that will go up on Fridays so that we can have a few days in the comments to consider/discuss/etc.

Today’s topic is the ongoing debate between series and standalones. If you read anything in the fantasy and/or YA genre lately, you can’t help but notice that virtually everything is a series. You innocently pick up a book that looks good and either realize, “Oh crap, this is the third in a series and I have NO idea what is going on,” OR “Oh, I really loved those characters, holy crap what kind of a cliffhanger was THAT and WHAT there are 10 more books to go?!” Both have happened to me.  But then again, sometimes when I am reading a standalone novel and it comes to an end, I am seriously disappointed.  I want two (or more) additional books with these characters!  I want to see more!  I need to return to this world!  Obviously I can’t have it both ways, and I’m not truly sure which I prefer.  I’m going to try to focus on the pro’s of both, but am happy to hear your pros OR cons in the comments.

Standalones

What’s so great about a standalone novel?

  • Story comes to a neat conclusion – usually no cliffhangers.  Sometimes you just want to read a book.  You want to pick up a book, read 300 pages or so, close that book and feel a sense of finality.  You want to feel like you accomplished something.  A standalone novel lets you do this – you read, you close the book, story over.  And there’s something really great about that.
  •  Tighter plotline.This is a major generalization, and I’m sure I’ll be pounded in the comments, but I often find that a standalone novel has a tighter plotline because the author doesn’t have the luxury of 3 more books to tie up all of the loose ends.  This is particularly true in the YA world, wherein books generally are shorter.
  • Focus on characters.  Again, a generalization, but the common thread in standalone novels that I love is that they each have one or two characters that I fell in love with and have stuck with me.  Not that series can’t do that, but something about the standalone novel, in my mind, lends itself to truly strong characters.  Maybe because the author knows that everything has to be wrapped up in just those 300 pages or so?

Favorite Standalone Novels

Some of my favorite novels are standalones!  Here are the first five that came to mind, but I’d love to hear about yours!

1.  Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys.  I talked about this one in my June Rewind post, so feel free to check that one out.  But what I love about this novel is the strong character development, particularly in the main character, Josie.  She was one of my top characters of the year so far.  Despite only spending the one novel with her, I feel like I can conjure up an image of her easily and I still find myself thinking about this book every so often.  This is Top 10 of the Year for me so far.

outoftheeasy

2.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Or really any novel by John Green – just insert your favorite here (and I know you have a favorite…).  While I’m a fan of all of Green’s works, this one is certainly top of the list for me.  The plot was not overly complex, there were not too many loose ends to tie up, and while there were certain things about the plot that kept me wondering, at bottom this book was just a story about two kids facing a tough time.  I wanted to go on that journey with them, and I was devastated when this book ended.  But the ending, in my mind, was perfect, and this is one that I thought was a perfect standalone.

fault in our stars

3.  The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman.  This is one of my absolute favorite examples of historical fiction.  Penman generally writes series – in fact, possibly every other book by her is part of a series or at least tied together in some way.  And don’t get me wrong, I really love her series.  But this book was just such a perfect example of a great historical fiction.  First, it’s well researched.  While I can certainly enjoy a less researched historical fiction, in order for me to truly love it, I have to feel like the author did her homework and that this COULD have been the way it happened.  Second, it is so freaking well written, don’t get me started.  By the end of this book, you love characters that you have seriously hated all of your life.  How does she do it?  I have no idea, but man I was so along for the ride.  If Out of the Easy or The Book Thief or Octavian Nothing have you wanting to check out a more hefty example of historical fiction, start here.  You will not be disappointed.

sunne

4.  The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay.  This one walks the line between historical fiction and fantasy.  It’s an epic story of war and friendship and strong women and bromance and duty and everything.  Seriously, think of a theme, it’s probably in here.  But it’s done well and beautifully.  Kay’s writing is always gorgeous, but to me this one is his top.  Oh and it’s also kind of set in medieval Spain.  This is possibly the only book I’ve ever finished, sat with it closed on my lap for 10 minutes considering the ending, and then re-opened it to begin again.  I just couldn’t help myself.  If you prefer things a little less war and a little more musical, you might also check out A Song for Arbonne.

lions of al rassan

5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  I have to give a shout out to the inspiration for my blog title, of course. This one is a completely underrated classic.  I don’t think I know anyone who has read this one and not loved it.  It’s a coming-of-age about a young girl growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the century in the United States.  And that’s kind of it, but it’s gorgeously done and brilliantly written.  Our protagonist, Francie, is a smart girl who loves to read and is always trying to find the beauty in her sometimes ugly set of circumstances.  I think you could read this a hundred times in life and take something different from it each time.  I implore you to pick it up if you haven’t read this one before.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

tree grows in brooklyn

And of course there are so many more (I really meant to talk about Eleanor and Park), both well-known and underrated.  What are your favorite standalones?  Do you seek them out?  What do you love about the standalone novel?

What’s so great about a series?

  • A well-developed world.  To me, this is one of the biggest pro’s for a series.  I love a book with a great setting, and series novels generally have enough time and ink space available to truly develop a setting.  Whereas the bread and butter of a standalone novel might be the character development, to me, the top thing a series can achieve is to draw me a new world that I can get lost in for awhile.
  • Lots of time with characters we love.  I love that feeling of closing a book and knowing that if I want more of the characters I was just reading about, I can go and reserve the next book in the series and jump right back in with them.  For this reason, I tend to prefer series about the same characters, rather than series with parallel story lines or new characters in the same world.  Part of the greatness of a series is being able to keep traveling along with characters I already know and love.
  • Opportunity for a shared experience.  For some reason, I find that series novels tend to bring people together moreso than many standalones.  Of course, there are authors that can achieve that sense of togetherness with a truly popular book, but the series experience gives you more time to read it and recommend it and still be living in the world of that book when your friend gets around to reading it as well.  If you think about it, fandoms tend to crop up around series more than standalones – Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc.  For me, this is part of the fun.

Favorite Series

I have been spending a lot of time in series this year.  These are some of my more recent favorites – how about you?

1.  The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.  I also talked about this one in my June Rewind post.  This series follows Mercy Thompson, a VW-mechanic/walker who dates a werewolf and is friends with fae and vampires and ghosts and just about anything preternatural you can imagine.  Even with so many different things going on Briggs has found a formula that really works.  There is a main conflict in each book that, for the most part, wraps up nicely, while the underlying story focusing on friendships and relationships and so forth carries on throughout the books.  I have been devouring these and just finished the fourth book in the series.  None have been given less than four stars and they are great, quick reads.  The first in the series is Moon Called, and I highly recommend checking it out.

mooncalled

2.  The Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor.  This is a supernatural YA about angels and demons, but also about love and betrayal, and forgiveness and the grey areas between right and wrong.  It’s absolutely gorgeously written and the world building is top rate.  I don’t know if I would say these books standalone – each left me salivating for the next in the series in order to know what happens to our two main characters, Karou and Akiva.  (This would be a perfect time for that “NOW KISS!” graphic out there on the interwebs…)  Taylor avoided the sophomore slump and the second book in the series is just as good as the first, moving the story along without feeling like filler until the end.  This is a perfect time to pick it up, because the third one is due to come out in early 2014, which gives you plenty of time to make your way through the first two (they are not short).  The first is Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

smoke and bone

3.  The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss.  This series.  I can’t.  Seriously, in my opinion, the best fantasy series in recent memory.  When the second book came out, I re-read the first and fell in love all over again.  Now, yes, we are still waiting for the final book, but please read this.  Please.  You will not be disappointed.  This does all the great things that a standalone can do with character development and applies it to a beautifully drawn world.  You know that our main character must somehow be a bad guy, but you don’t care because you love him so much.   The fantasy part is wizards, but not your Harry Potter type (though the first book does primarily take place in a boarding school).  It’s just excellent and well worth the investment.  Start with The Name of the Wind.

name of the wind

4. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.  Ok, it’s brave of me to put on this list a series for which only the first book has been released, but I just can’t help myself.  This was just wonderful.  This one is dystopian/fantasy YA wherein the children of the world are dying off in large numbers.  Those that survive turn out to have various powers and the government collects them and puts them in what are basically concentration-type camps.  A few escape and this is their story.  It’s X-Men meets Hunger Games meets I don’t even know.  It was amazing.  Top 10 of the Year for sure and I cannot for the life of me figure out why more people aren’t talking about it.  Ruby is a kick-butt heroine, the relationships are well-developed and understandable.  There is a romance, but it’s a slow burn and it makes sense in the context of the story.  Bracken writes so well and everything about this book is beautiful and heart-wrenching.  Read The Darkest Minds and suffer along with me waiting for the next ones to come out.

darkest minds

5.  The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.  This was a really tough fifth slot.  I even wrote a blurb about Heist Society, which I also love, before changing my mind.  And there are so many other great series I want to talk about here, but I have to stop somewhere.  This series is like the ultimate definition of a series book.  You read three, think you’re done, and then realize there are three more books in the same world with lots of the same characters.  So you mourn them, move on, and then find out there are three more books you missed along the way!  And now even more!  If you love this world, which I think you will, you have tons of books to choose from and there is something for everyone.  The series at first seems like it’s pretty stereotypical fantasy – outcast orphan who can talk to animals is given the opportunity to become more.  But … I don’t know.  I can hardly even put my finger on why this was so good, but I think partially it’s because I loved the main character so much.  And partially it’s because Hobb is not afraid to make tough decisions in her writing.  And partially just because this is one of those series I keep coming back to – it’s become familiar and well-loved, and that’s just the way I like it.  I recommend starting with The Assassin’s Apprentice.

assassins apprentice

 

Waiting On Wednesday (2): The Republic of Thieves

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is a chance for us to gush over those books we wish were already released!

republicofthieves

Title: The Republic of Thieves

Author: Scott Lynch

Expected Publication: October 8, 2013 by Spectra

Description:

Here’s the thing.  I cannot put the publisher’s description here because it contains spoilers for books 1 and 2 of this series!  This book will be the third in the Gentleman Bastard series.  Main characters Locke Lamora and Jean are thieves and con artists and privateers and all around amazing.  Basically, think Ocean’s Eleven meets Pirates of the Carribean (the first one only, of course) meets The Godfather.  The setting is kind of like Renaissance Venice, but if there was magic.  It’s NOT a YA book – strong language abounds – but I’m guessing older teens would totally go for it, so long as you’ve read it first.  And look!  The third one doesn’t come out until October so you have PLENTY of time to go read the first and second books in the series.

Why Am I Excited?

I have been waiting for this book since August of 2008 when I read the second book in the series, Red Seas Under Red Skies.  To say that one ended in a cliff-hanger would be the understatement of the century and I *need* to know what happens.  Plus, there is the promise of meeting a highly-referenced-yet-never-before-seen character and I am basically drooling.

Add to that the fact that the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, ranks up there in my all time favorite first-books-in-series of all time.  I became a Locke Lamora pusher, gifting and lending and recommending the book to anyone who would listen.  While I thought Red Skies dipped to a 4-star read, I still absolutely love the characters and world drawn by Lynch.  And finally we have a publication date and an AMAZING cover and I cannot wait to go back.  Writing this has also made me realize I desperately need to re-read the first two to prepare… off to do that!