Top Lists

Top Reads of 2014

Top Reads 2014

As the title suggests, it’s time to share my top reads of 2014! I read so many good books this year that it’s not a top ten, but a top fifteen… And now, in no particular order:

Lexicon by Max Barry Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Levene Jane Eyre

Lexicon by Max Barry was a wonderful surprise. Sent to me by Hodder, it took a little while for me to pick it up, but I’m so glad I did. It is insanely clever and unique and DEFINITELY worth a read. Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene was another surprise from Hodder (who spoil me!), a fantastic new start to a fantasy series, with a truly gorgeous cover. And Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë… oh this book. I am so SO glad I re-read it!

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor was one of those books that I’d heard such good things about, bought a copy of and still hadn’t read. Then I finally got to it at the beginning of the year, and was blown away. I even met Laini in April, when the third book in the series was released, but I still have yet to read that one. Perfect for my Borgia fascination, Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that I just devoured. It’s got everything you could ever want in historical fiction – backstabbing, court gossip, murder – and everything you would expect from a book about the Borgias. And The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, why did I take so long to get to you?? I have the second book in Leiden, and I’m looking forward to reading it in January.

Brideshead Revisited Insignia by S.J. Kincaid 2495562

Another classic I’m glad I tried, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is truly wonderful, and completely satisfied my taste for books set in Oxford (yes this is a thing). Insignia by S.J. Kincaid, on the other hand, completely satisfied my thirst for another book similar to Ready Player One. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is a fantastic, if rather long, follow up to The Name of the Wind. It is one epic fantasy series I will not forget.

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co #1) by Jonathan Stroud Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud was one of those books that took me completely by surprise; I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did and now I recommend the series to everyone. Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes was another wonderful library find, the first in a Young Adult fantasy series that I can’t wait to continue. And when it comes to autobiographies, I’m not sure if you can beat Cash by Johnny Cash. One of my favourite singers, his life was absolutely fascinating to read about and I loved the way it was written too – as if the reader is just sat having a drink with Johnny.

Seraphina Fangirl Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

A very recent addition to my list, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is another one that caught me by surprise. At first I wasn’t sure, but as I read more of the book I was utterly enchanted by her take on dragons. And once again showing that I really need to branch out and maybe not always judge books based on genre, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was an ABSOLUTE treat. I loved Cath and instantly identified with her. And finally, Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding pretty much satisfied my post-Firefly needs. SO GOOD.

What were your top reads this year?

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Review

Review: Smiler’s Fair (The Hollow Gods #1) by Rebecca Levene

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Smiler’s Fair is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. Opening with a rather gory and graphic birth scene, the gruesome detail continues without, showing the reader that this world is not an easy one to live in. Whilst ‘Smiler’s Fair’ may sound like a pleasant place, this is but a front for the grim reality. Prostitution, gambling, brawls and duels, all the seedy parts of life gather at the Fair. This is most definitely an adult fantasy novel, and all the more fun for it.

We meet each main character in their own introductory chapter – all start at Smiler’s Fair, and all begin this new page of their lives because of it. There is Marven, a man who loves killing a little too much; Nethmi, a young woman who is about to be married off to a minor lord; Krish, a goatherd who feels his parents are hiding something from him; Eric, a male prostitute who is tiring of his current lifestyle and wants something more permanent; and Dae Hyo, hellbent on revenge for the slaughter of his people. With such a variety of characters, the reader is bound to find someone they feel for. However, with the characters changing as they went on their own personal journeys, I found my own allegiances changing, and my feelings towards two characters radically reversing. It was well done and completely drew me in, one minute I was hoping for a success and the next I couldn’t believe I’d liked that character at all.

Each of the characters are united by both Smiler’s Fair, and death. Whether it be an outright murder, a revenge killing or a desperate attempt to free themselves, there is something they all have in common. And like some of the authors of current popular fantasy series, Rebecca Levene is unafraid to kill off characters, whether they be minor or major. For example, one character I really liked was fine and dandy one moment, and the next he was gone, just like that. When an author can shock you like that, and leave you feeling genuinely sad or upset, you know they’re doing something right. She also has a talent for creating a wide cast of characters, each with their own personalities and aims, and with their own clear tones of voice.

Some authors have a writing style that just flows off the page, allowing the reader to read quickly without missing a thing. Rebecca Levene is definitely one of those authors. Although the world building was not as rich in detail as some other fantasy series and I never got an all encompassing feel of the world, it was still enough to flesh out the lands and their inhabitants. Whilst the first half is a little slow, taking its time to weave together various storylines and paths, the second half really picks up in terms of action and pace – and the ending opens up for book two very nicely.

A fantastic beginning to a new, highly original fantasy series, and highly recommended for fans of authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch or Robert Jordan. I have a theory about a link between the various different pantheons and characters, and I’d like to see if the next book will confirm it in any way…

Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: July 2014

monthlyru16

Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

July 2014

Last month I read a total of twelve books: Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen, Ironskin (Ironskin #1) by Tina Connolly, New X-Men: Childhood’s End by Craig Kyle, Uncanny X-Men Vol 5: She Lies With Angels by Chuck Austen, Earth Girl (Earth Girl #1) by Janet Edwards, Camelot Burning (Metal & Lace #1) by Kathryn Rose, Ultimate X-Men Vol 14: Phoenix? by Robert Kirkman, Uncanny X-Men: Wolverine, Wanted Dead or Alive by Chris Claremont, Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Smiler’s Fair (The Hollow Gods #1) by Rebecca Levene, The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #4) by Dan Simmons and Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins..

I carried on reading more Marvel comics, although this will probably be the last month I’m able to for a while. Alias Hook was a great start to the month – a five star book as my first read of July! I also absolutely loved Marvel 1602, I mean you can’t really go wrong with Marvel and Neil Gaiman, right? Towards the end of the month I read Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene, which was kindly sent to me by Hodderscape. It’s a new epic fantasy series and WOW. Not only is the writing fantastic, but it also has a truly gorgeous cover. I also managed to fit in a re-read of Mockingjay, which I desperately wanted to do after seeing the new trailer for the film.

 

Challenge progress:

  • I read six books towards the Avengers vs. X-Men Challenge. I managed to recruit Cyclops and Nightcrawler, as well as successfully defeat Dr. Doom, securing extra points for my team. August’s villain is the hungriest creature in the world, Galactus!
  • I have currently read ninety-seven books towards my Goodreads goal. I may increase it to 125 for the whole year.

 

Currently reading:

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Off the blog:

I went to London Film and Comic Con/Young Adult Literature Convention on 12th July, but more on that later! I also spent three days in London with my mum and sister, which was lovely. We visited the Natural History Museum, Borough Market, London Zoo, saw lots of the sights such as Westminster, Big Ben, the Globe Theatre – and we saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy. IT WAS SO GOOD. SOOOO GOOD. My whole family absolutely love the film (can’t remember how many times I’ve watched it), and it worked so well as a musical. One word of advice – don’t buy drinks in the Savoy Theatre. £22 for three drinks? Nah.

I also saw Guardians of the Galaxy, which I’ve been wanting to watch since January or so – and IT WAS SO WORTH THE WAIT. Funniest Marvel film yet, so crazy and fun but still full of wonderfully built characters and emotions! Go watch it now.

They were also giving out postcards for Beaumont-sur-Mer with this view on it!
They were also giving out postcards for Beaumont-sur-Mer with this view on it!

How was July for you?

 

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #17: Mythology in Fantasy

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: mythology in fantasy.

It’s no secret that I love mythology. I just find it absolutely fascinating, no matter the culture. One of my focuses at university was ancient Greek religion, and I also wrote my dissertation on the Graeco-Egyptian god Serapis. So today I want to share some fantasy books that are based on or inspired by mythology. Some are set in their respective countries, others are more modern takes, and some invent their own mythology! I also plan on doing a post on various mythological creatures that appear in fantasy in the future.

I found LOADS of books based on Greek mythology, as well as Arthurian legend, but it was quite tricky finding ones based on Egyptian mythology, as most books based on Egypt were ‘historical’ fiction. I say ‘historical’ because the ancient sources and evidence from Ancient Egypt are a lot less concrete than say, the Tudor period.

I also found barely any books based on Roman mythology that weren’t, once again, historical fiction (this time without the speech marks, Romans wrote a lot more down!) – lots of Roman mysteries out there! – but I think that’s because Greek and Roman mythology are very closely entwined. The Romans took a lot of their myths and legends from the Greeks, albeit with different names – and when people talk about the gods they tend to use the Greek names. For example, Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon but he would be the son of Neptune if we were talking about it in terms of Roman mythology. So for this reason, I’ve grouped them together.

Greek & Roman Mythology:

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell Ilium by Dan Simmons King of Ithaca by Glyn Iliffe The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Heroes of Olympus series and the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan tell a modern day story of teenagers who discover they are demi-gods. The first focuses on the Roman gods, and the second Greek – implying that the pantheons are totally separate. I absolutely love Rick Riordan’s books, they’re just so much fun and are PERFECT for fans of mythology. David Gemmell’s Troy series is as it sounds – an account of the Trojan War, told from multiple viewpoints. I’ve had the trilogy for years and still haven’t gotten round to reading it… Ilium is the first book in a duology by Dan Simmons, a sci-fi/fantasy account of the Trojan War set on Mars. I loved Simmons’ Hyperion series, and The Iliad is one of my favourite classics, so I need to hurry up and read this one. King of Ithaca by Glyn Iliffe is the tale of Odysseus before the Trojan War – I read this one a few years ago and really enjoyed it. And oh, The Song of Achilles, you beautiful, beautiful book. Madeline Miller has written a haunting love story from the point of view of Patroclus, a Greek prince. Read it and cry.

Egyptian Mythology:

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White The Age of Ra by James Lovegrove

Yep, Rick Riordan has not only written about Greek and Roman mythology, but Egyptian too. His Kane Chronicles tell the story of two siblings with an archaeologist father, who discover that the Egyptian gods are real – and are pretty angry. I haven’t read this series but going on Riordan’s other writing, I really need to. Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White is a book that I spotted on another blog a while ago and promptly forgot about until researching books for this post. It follows a girl who is the human daughter of Isis and Osiris – and the cover is just gorgeous. The Age of Ra by James Lovegrove is another interesting sounding book – it works on the premise that all gods are real – or rather were, until the Egyptian pantheon defeated them all. They now have control over the Earth.

Arthurian Legend:

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

A true Arthurian epic, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon is told through the eyes of several women in Arthur’s court. There are actually seven books to the series, the last three finished by a different author, and the first book alone clocks in at just over one thousand pages. The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell takes a slightly different take on the familiar story, told after Arthur has been banished from his own kingdom, and Merlin has disappeared. And finally, Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper is, unlike the other two books, a children’s tale about siblings who discover clues to finding the Holy Grail. I remember reading this when I was younger, but unfortunately I don’t remember a lot about it!

Norse Mythology:

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson Ice Land by Betsu Tobin

Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki is a wonderful retelling of Norse legend, from the point of view of the trickster god Loki. With his tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, he recounts many familiar tales of Scandinavian mythology. The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson follows not Loki, nor any of the other gods, but a human man named Scafloc who must make deals with the ice giants in order to save himself, others and the gods. Now I have to admit when looking for books to fit into with Norse mythology, I was immediately drawn to Ice Land by Betsy Tobin by its gorgeous cover. It’s an epic quest to save the land sort of story, infused with Icelandic history and mythology.

Other:

American Gods by Neil Gaiman The Alchemyst by Michael Scott Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Levene

By ‘other’, I mean completely made-up mythology for the sake of literature, not based on one particular pantheon. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one such example. I want to read this one so badly, Gaiman’s writing is just outstanding and it comes very highly recommended! Whilst the life of Nicholas Flamel is not one of mythology, there are many rumours of his being a legendary alchemist that many stories, including The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. I got this book as a freebie from BristolCon last year, and it has a pretty high Goodreads rating. Unfortunately the author’s name always reminds me of The Office and makes me giggle… And finally, Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene is a new release from Hodder (who ever so kindly sent me a copy!), and features a story of gods reborn as humans. I’m so excited to read this one, so I’m hoping to do so before I go off to university.

Do you have any recommendations for fantasy based on mythology? Do you have a particular favourite branch of mythology or legend? There are so many more books I could have listed, but I just didn’t have enough time!