T5W: The Middle Was Best

After a few weeks off (and a lovely whirlwind vacation to New York City where I ate some fantastic food and saw some wonderful shows), I’m back with another Top 5 Wednesday! This week’s topic: Second Book is Best. While I’ve tried to stick to series where the second book was my favourite, I’ve tweaked the definition slightly for one choice, selecting a book that is the third in a (currently) five book series.

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

TheDreamThieves1. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (Book 2 of The Raven Cycle)
I enjoyed Stiefvater’s first book in this world, The Raven Boys, but it’s The Dream Thieves where the series really gets going. Part of the reason for this is that The Dream Thieves is Ronan Lynch’s story. For the first time, the reader gets a vision of what makes Ronan tick and the stew of feelings and fears that lie under his rough exterior. Although there’s a vein of magic running through the books courtesy of the quest to find Glendower, ley lines, and Blue’s psychic family, it’s not until the very end of The Raven Cycle where Ronan’s abilities are first mentioned, and The Dream Thieves is where they come into focus. This second book in the quartet deepens the story and reveals more about each of the characters. I really enjoyed The Raven Boys, but I devoured The Dream Thieves and this is the book where I knew I would re-read this series until the day I die.

2198112. The Virtu by Sarah Monette (Book 2 of The Doctrine of Labyrinths series)
Like The Raven Cycle, Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths books take a bit to get going. To begin with, one of the two P.O.V. characters spends half of the first book quite literally insane! I love the whole series, but The Virtu is a better written book. The plot seems to wander a little less and since Felix Harrowgate is sane(r) in this volume, the sometimes antagonistic and complicated relationship between Felix and his half-brother Mildmay makes for a more interesting read. The reader also gets a lot more of Mildmay’s inner thoughts in this book and he is one of my favourite characters period, so I loved spending more time in his distinctive voice. Monette is a master of worldbuilding, and having established Melusine in the first book, she’s able to expand on and deepen the reader’s knowledge of this fantasy world. It all makes for a captivating second volume. You could definitely make an arguement for the third book, which is also fabulous and offers both a strong female P.O.V. and a heartbreaking plot, but the fourth book, while still worth reading and a worthy conclusion, is less interesting than the previous volumes.

2r7nc603. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (Book 2 of The Grisha Trilogy)
The Grisha Trilogy is a perfect example of The Second Book Is Best because it’s the only book in this trilogy that I gave a full five stars to on Goodreads! It’s often difficult with a fantasy series because there is so much worldbuilding that has to occur to set up an interesting and believable setting for a series. Bardugo’s first book in the series suffers a little from this set up, but Siege and Storm kicks into gear and also features the introduction of my favourite character in the series, Nikolai. Nikolai’s swagger and wit instantly grabbed me, and I’m not alone – he’s a fan favourite for a reason! While I was actually fairly pleased with the way the series I ended (I know that’s a fairly unpopular opinion), I also didn’t find the final book of the trilogy as gripping as Siege and Storm, so this series naturally deserves a place on this week’s T5W.

63079644. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire)
Although not the second book in the series, A Storm of Swords is smack dab in the middle of the five books currently published of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. It’s the finest book in the series so far, and includes THAT scene which makes people hurl their books against the wall. Although it’s a long read, coming in at over 1,000 pages in paperback, I found it the most gripping, as it contains plotlines with most of the major characters we know and love (compared to AFFC and ADWD, which divides point of views by geography) and some truly phenomenal plot twists and climaxes. This was the book I couldn’t wait to see adapted on screen, and although I have some (many) issues with Game of Thrones, like many book fans, I enjoyed the true initiation of show fans to Martin’s world and brutality when the Red Wedding appeared onscreen.

cityofblades5. City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett (Book 2 of The Divine Cities Trilogy)
I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did. The first book, City of Stairs, featured one of my favourite female characters in literature, Shara Komayd, as the protagonist. This glasses-wearing, tea drinking, petite woman of colour torn between her love of history and mythology and her occupation as a spy won me over quickly. When I heard that the second book would feature this beloved character in only a minor role, I was skeptical. Instead, Jackson Bennett gave us Turyin Mulaghesh, a disabled, middle-aged, WoC General who swears like it’s going out of style for a protagonist, and a plot that was even better developed than the first book. City of Blades cemented this series as one of my favourites of all-time. I wasn’t as enchanted by the third book in the series, City of Miracles, which focused on a protagonist who couldn’t carry the story as well, but it was still an interesting read and a wonderful series.

What are some of your favourite middle books in a series?

T5W: Books That Aren’t Set In The Western World

This week’s Top Five Wednesday is one that I have been looking forward to – Talk about books that are set outside of the Western World (so outside of North America and Western Europe) or if they are SFF, books that aren’t inspired by those places (so no medieval setting fantasy!)

Admittedly a lot of the fantasy, YA, and historical fiction I read is set in North America or Western Europe, but I’ve been making an an effort to read more diversely (and would love recommendations if there are books with diverse settings you think I should check out!) recently. In fact, some a few of the best books I’ve read this year are set outside of these places! For this week’s countdown, I’ve stuck to books that are very clearly inspired by or set in places outside of North America and Western Europe, not books that don’t seem to be inspired by anywhere in particular.

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

Pachinko1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Japan/South Korea)
Setting and history figure heavily into this multigenerational family saga, which takes place between 1910 and the late 1980s. Lee’s novel follows four generations of an ethnic Korean family living in Korea under Japanese rule and then in Japan itself. It’s a beautifully written book that doesn’t shy away from depicting the discrimination and hardship that Koreans living in Japan during this period, who were seen as foreign residents and shut out of many traditional occupations, faced. Knowing as little as I did about this time and place before I picked up Pachinko, the opportunity to learn about this period in history was part of the appeal for me. I was not disappointed. Lee has a wonderful ability to make history come alive on the page, and the details of a myriad of twentieth century Korean and Japanese settings are richly rendered in elegant but simple prose. What I really love about Pachinko though is how realistic its characters are. Although they make mistakes, most of them are hardworking people trying to make good, and it’s incredibly moving to be taken on a journey through their successes and failures. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction!

15q8eaf2. The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Russia)
Rarely am I hooked by a novel as quickly as I was by Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. This gorgeous debut, a medieval Russian folktale/fairytale about the winter king and a brave and wild maiden absolutely enchanted me. Arden writes with lyrical prose and uses imagery to richly recreate the world of medieval Russia with all of its magic. It’s a style of writing that appeals to the senses, and you can almost feel the residual warmth of the giant oven on which the family sleeps and the cold foreboding of the nearby woods as winter approaches. As someone who enjoys mythology and folktales, I love the way that she brings the spirits, from the meek domovoi and the steady vazila to the more mercurial rusalka, to life. Additionally, this book contains a new favourite character of mine in Vasya, a free-spirit who is happier riding a horse or playing in the forest than she is performing needlework. Watching her grow from an impulsive child to an honest, compassionate, and bold young woman, is a joy as a reader and I look forward to returning to medieval Rus’ and to Vasya’s story when the sequel arrives early next year!

5yghvd3. The Dreamblood Duology by N.K. Jemisin (Fantasy inspired by Ancient Egypt)
As much as I loved The Fifth Season and Obelisk Gate, my favourite N.K. Jemisin books so far belong to this lesser known duology. Set in the desert city-state of Gujaareh, loosely based on Ancient Egypt, the plot deals with Gatherers, who are Priests of the dream-goddess. Gatherers maintain order in this peaceful city by harvesting the dreams of citizens, healing the injured, and guiding the dreamers into the afterlife… whether they’re ready to die or not. When Ehiru, the most famous of the city’s Gatherers, is sent to harvest the dreams of a diplomatic envoy, he finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that threatens to drag the dreaming city into war. Fantasy that is based on a non-Western setting is still uncommon, and I have an interest in mythology, so I loved this unique duology. If you’ve never read anything by Jemisin before, she’s one of the best worldbuilders around and writes beautifully, so this series is worth checking out.

251507984. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (China)
This was my first Lisa See novel and I cannot wait to read more of her books! The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane tells the story of Li-yan, an Akha ethnic minority girl in Yunnan, China and her family, who align their lives around the farming of tea. The arrival of a stranger in a jeep (the first automobile anyone in the village has ever seen) it marks the entrance of the modern world into the lives of the Akha, and Li-yan begins to reject the superstitions and rules that have shaped her existence. Setting is a huge part of Lisa See’s work of historical fiction, and she describes the Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, with care and in rich detail. Again, this was a place and time in history that I knew nothing about before reading this book, but I found it an engaging read and I rooted for Li-yan through her joys and her hardships.

271906135. And I Darken by Kiersten White (The Ottoman Empire)
Set in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey and beyond), this gender-swapped YA alternate history of Vlad the Impaler sees Lada Dragwlya and her younger brother Radu held as pawns by the Ottoman courts. While Radu begins to adapt to their new setting, Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Part of the appeal of this duology for me was the fact that I’d never seen anything quite like it before, including the setting. Sure enough, I enjoyed the first volume in this series and will be reading the second part later this month.

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any recommendations for me on books set outside the western world that I should read? Let me know in the comments!

T5W: Children’s Books

For a nostalgic generation like mine, I can hardly think of a better topic for Top 5 Wednesday than Children’s Books. It’s easy to get sucked into the trap of recommending the same favourites week after week, so what a refreshing change to take a trip down memory lane and discuss some of my childhood favourites! In fact, I loved this topic so much that I’ve cheated (a little) and counted down my top 5 children’s series and listed my top 5 books that standalone as well. In no particular order, here are my selections:

Top 5 Series

90wtpzThe Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
This quartet of books that turns fantasy tropes on their heads is one of my favourite childhood series. In it, Princess Cimorene, who is everything a princess isn’t supposed to be (tomboyish, tall, black haired), tries to infuse her life with more exciting pastimes than embroidery and dancing lessons by eliciting instructions from the kingdom’s chef, fencing instructor, latin instructor, and court magician, but when her parents decide that she must marry, Cimorene takes her destiny into her own hands by running away to become a dragon’s princess. Featuring secondary characters like Kazul, the intelligent female dragon Cimorene lives with, Kazul’s assorted dragon friends, Morwen the practical witch and her several cats, and later the somewhat preoccupied but good King Mendanbar, these books are a delight for any unconventional girl who would much rather live a life of excitement with a dragon than be a proper princess. The final book in the series, told in first person perspective (rather than third) with a different narrator, is a bit of a let down, but it’s still a great series overall.

zvtzzaThe Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander
It’s still baffling to me that other than the terrible Disney adaptation, no one has made these fabulous books into a feature film yet. Based loosely on Welsh mythology, the first novel in the series, titled The Book of Three, features Taran of Caer Dallben, an assistant pig keeper who wants to be a hero. Over the course of this coming of age saga, he grows up, seeks out his heritage, and confronts the Horned King and his terrible Cauldron-Born. The characters in this series are fabulous. Taran is a believable youth, rash and full of ideas about what it means to be a hero that he slowly sheds as he matures, the Princess Eilonwy of the red-gold hair is one of my favourite characters in literature, outspoken and honest she speaks mostly in unusual similies and metaphors, and beloved other characters like loyal Fflewddur Fflam, wise Prince Gwydion, and even Doli the dwarf. It definitely reads like a middle grade Lord of the Rings, but the elements of Welsh mythology are really interesting and I loved these characters and the journeys they go on together.

5p3ga9Redwall by Brian Jacques
Redwall was one of my favourite childhood books. I devoured this series about English woodland creatures for a couple couple of years at least before losing interest. I was also fortunate enough to attend a reading and signing in my hometown by the author Brian Jacques, before he passed away. I remember being impressed by his ability to recite multiple paragraphs off of a randomly chosen page of his novel verbatim. The first book in the series, Redwall, features a young apprentice monk mouse named Matthias, and his quest to recover a legendary lost weapon and save his tranquil home Redwall Abbey from the savage bilge-rat warlord Cluny the Scourge. I have no idea how these stand up years later, and I remember finding some books in the series stronger than others, but they were a huge part of my childhood and at the time I loved them.

el7fi9The Silver Brumby books by Elaine Mitchell
I read a lot of horse books as a kid, some of them probably less objectively good but enjoyable to a girl going through a horse phase, like The Saddle Club by Bonnie Bryant, and the Thoroughbred books, and other genuinely really good books like Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague, and this more unique take on the genre. The Silver Brumby is part of a series about the wild brumbies of Australia, and particularly a rare silver brumby stallion named Thowra (“the wind”) who eludes capture by man through his speed and strength. I’ve seen another goodreads reviewer describe it as a bildungsroman – but for a horse – and I think that’s very apt. If you too were once a horse girl (or boy) I imagine you’ll enjoy this series about the wilds of Australia and the wild horses who use their knowledge of the land to evade capture by man.

8133190The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
I know I just wrote about these books for Canada Day but, like many Canadian girls, they played a large role in my life. I was about eleven when I fell headfirst in love with this series about a precocious orphaned redhead named Anne with an “E” who is accidentally sent home with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who wanted a boy to help out on their Prince Edward Island farm. Anne’s presence livens up their farm, bringing shy Matthew out of his soul as these two “kindred spirits” form a bond, and even practical Martha grows to love Anne. The rest of the series follows the maturing of this intelligent, dramatic, and adventurous girl as she becomes a teacher, falls in love, has a family of her own, and experiences heartbreak as World War One intrudes on their lives.

Top 5 Standalone Books

s5z18gThe Grand Escape by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Animal lover that I am, young me was enchanted by this cute story about two indoor tabby cats, Marco and Polo, who can’t resist the temptation of an accidentally left open door and escape into the outside world. Their search for food leads them to the cats of the Club of Mysteries, but before Marco and Polo can become members of the club, they each have to prove themselves by learning the answer to a great mystery, such as where do humans go when they’re not going to the vet? Or what is inside Betram-the-Bad’s dog house (Bertram is a cat-chasing Mastiff). Told entirely from the cats’ perspectives and illustrated, this is definitely meant for the younger set and I don’t know that it would hold any interest as an adult, but I loved the feline perspective on the human world and the adventures of Marco, Polo, and the Club of Mysteries cats.

2itslcyD’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire, Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
I think I was about ten when I received this book as a gift, and I can honestly say that it changed my life. My beautifully illustrated copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is quite literally falling apart it is so well loved. This was my introduction to Greek mythology, a love that has stayed with me even now, at age thirty. I remember being a shy first year University student who, at the suggestion of a particularly kind professor, a woman who valued participation but understood that not all students were as comfortable with speaking out loud as others, said she wasn’t comfortable with speaking, and then I learned that the first book we’d be doing in class was The Odyssey. Up shot my hand for lecture after lecture. This book is why. I can’t think of a better introduction to mythology for children and I wish I had a more intact copy to flip through nostalgically from time to time!

28wkxvmThe Borrowers by Mary Norton
I first read The Borrowers as a child, but had the happy chance to return to it as an adult for a Children’s Literature course I took in University. The Borrowers falls into that wonderful category of fantasy where, as children and sometimes even as adults, we long for something hidden to be true. That desire to find an entrance to Narnia at the back of a closet, or a family of little Borrowers living under the floor. Focusing on Pod and Homily Clock and their daughter, Arrietty, The Borrowers sparks the imagination by imagining that little household items that go missing may, in fact, have been “borrowed” by a tiny family. In the Clock household, matchboxes double as roomy dressers and postage stamps hang on the walls like paintings. Although the life is comfortable, daughter Arrietty finds it boring and wishes she, like her father, could venture into the human world, but borrowers who are spotted by humans are never seen again…

i6kohtCharlotte’s Web by E.B. White
An obvious choice certainly, but it’s hard to put together a list of childhood favourites without Charlotte’s Web on it. I’m pretty sure this was a book that my mom read aloud to me and my younger brother, and as much as I loved reading independently, I always really enjoyed listening to my mom read to us. The book tells the story of a spider named Charlotte who decides to save her pig friend Wilbur, the runt of the litter, from the slaughterhouse by spinning words of praise into her web. Some Pig. Humble. Radiant, she writes, and Wilbur gains renown within the county. It’s a beautiful story of cross-species friendship and one that deserves its place among the classics of children’s literature.

2qm2o2hThe Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks
When a rebellious fairy named Tiki accidentally meets Jan, a human woman who desperately wants a baby daughter, Tiki finds it impossible to resist fulfilling Jan’s wish. But the Fairy Queen has strictly forbidden fairies from using their magic powers on humans. Already in trouble for breaking the rule against wearing jeans, Tiki risks the wrath of the Fairy Queen to grant Jan’s wish, and becomes the girl’s godmother. Every year on her birthday, Tiki leaves Bindi a special magical present, but this can’t continue undetected forever and Jan and Bindi must go to war with the repressive Fairy Queen to rescue Tiki. I remember being delighted by the special magical presents that Bindi receives each year, and by the magic of this story, which advocates individually.

Did you read any of these books as a child, or as an adult? What are some of your favourite childhood books?

T5W: Books Without Romance

Alright, I’ll admit it. This topic was harder than I thought it would be. Top Five Wednesday this week challenged us to come up with five books with almost no romance in them and yes, if you’re not choosing all children’s books, it’s difficult. I’ve tried to go for books that have as little romance in them as possible, and definitely not books where romance is a major or even a significant minor plot point.

Here are my choices:

11925514Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
A rare example of YA where romance is not a major part of the book, Code Name Verity is centered around female friendship instead. Set during World War II, the novel tells the story of Maddie and Queenie, young British women who undertake a secret mission behind enemy lines in occupied France. Framed as Queenie’s written confession to her friend as she is being tortured by the Gestapo, Code Name Verity is not short on love, but it is short on romance. This is a book about friendship and bravery in extraordinary circumstances, and I’m so glad that romance plays such a minor role in the book because it’s not needed. The true love here is between this pair of friends who would do anything for each other and, in fact, are forced to.

2657To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of a slim list of books I read for school that I actually thought deserved to be read in schools, To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of a trial in a sleepy Southern town. I don’t remember there being romance in this book, and if there was it certainly wasn’t prominent enough to overshadow the importance of the book, which sheds light on themes of racism and justice. There are several wonderful relationships portrayed in this novel, from Scout and the family’s relationship with Calpurnia to the father-daughter relationship between Jean-Louise Finch and her moral father, Atticus. The lack of romance is certainly helped by the fact that protagonist Scout is a child, but I think romance would only have diverted from this book anyway and I’m glad it exists in the form it does.

7937843Room by Emma Donoghue
A natural choice for this topic, Room is told from a five-year-old boy’s point of view. To Jack, the one room he lives in is his entire world and he has never known otherwise. To Ma, the room is her prison, the place where she has been held captive by Old Nick for seven years. Room is a story about a mother’s love and I admired the way Ma keeps Jack active, educates him, and engages in play with him as though their existence is normal. One of the interesting things about choosing a child narrator is that it eases some of the blunt horror of the situation. The reader knows that when Ma shuts Jack in the wardrobe to protect him from Old Nick’s visits, that she is being raped by her captor, but Jack doesn’t. Emerging from such circumstances in the later half of the book, and beginning the painful process of dealing with that’s happened to her, romance is the last thing on Ma, or anyone’s, mind.

76620Watership Down by Richard Adams
Watership Down, Richard Adams’ classic tale of a band of English rabbits fleeing the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home, was a childhood favourite of mine. The lack of romance here stems mostly from the fact that while the beloved main rabbit characters, including Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig, do take on some human qualities and have a mythology, they are very much still rabbits. This means that they view women (does) mostly in terms of breeding potential rather than romantically. In a story about humans it would be offensive, but in a story about rabbits who are trying to ensure the survival of their band, procreation would be the chief concern. It’s a mindset that doesn’t lead to any romance, but I don’t remember thinking that the story suffered for it.

25488299The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd
As someone who had a lengthy “horse phase” when I was a girl, it was only natural that I would love this quick read about a girl in a WWII children’s hospital who sees winged horses in the mirrors of the building. When she discovers that an injured Pegasus has arrived in a secret garden, Emmaline performs tasks for the Horse Lord, collecting a rainbow of items to shield the injured horse from evil until the Pegasus has recovered. It’s a children’s book, but one that is so charming it will enchant adults and children alike (especially those who love horses). Of course a lack of romantic subplots is more common in Children’s Lit, but even though it’s short, the protagonist is a child, and there’s a charm and magic to this book, it deals with weighty enough background issues of illness, loss, and the World Wars, that it doesn’t always feel like a children’s book.

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

What are some of your favourite books without romance in them?

T5W: Books for Your Hogwarts House

Ravenclaw_Crest_1 (1)
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind.

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday topic is Books For Your Hogwarts House and yes, you guessed it, this Librarian is a proud Ravenclaw! Like many book bloggers I suspect, I have always loved books and learning. I pursued first an undergraduate degree in English, and then a graduate degree in library and information science, and I value and admire creativity and intelligence in others.

This winter my parents and I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. Before we went, all of us took the house percentage quizzes and it turns out we’re a family of Ravenclaws (except for my brother, a Slytherin)!

Without further ado, here are the five books I think represent Ravenclaw well:

JonathanStrange1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
When I began to consider books that represent Ravenclaw, Susanna Clarke’s historical fantasy about English magic during the Napoleonic Wars immediately came to mind. Although magical history and theory is studied, practical magic is believed to be long dead, until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his ability. He becomes a celebrity overnight, and takes on a student in another practicing magician, the young and dashing Jonathan Strange, but their differences in style strain the partnership.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
Obviously the subject matter, the history and revival of English magic, is a perfect fit for the intellectually curious Ravenclaw, and readers will enjoy Jonathan Strange’s somewhat unconventional uses of magic. The author’s wit has been compared to Jane Austen, and this well-researched novel even includes footnotes about the history of magic and texts for further study!

1226382. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde is surely synonymous with the word wit by now, and for good reason! My favourite work of his has to be the brilliant comedic play, The Importance of Being Earnest, which satirizes Victorian ways. Featuring mistaken identities, double lives, and a misplaced handbag, this popular farce is well worth a read.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
Although the play is over a century old, it still manages to be funny and the infamous scene with the muffins always makes me laugh. Wilde’s works are perfect for the Ravenclaw reader who values “wit beyond measure” as man’s greatest treasure.

162993. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Although I enjoy a good mystery, I have to admit that I’m one of those people who rarely puts it all together before the end. Because of this, I have immense respect for anyone who can write an engaging mystery, and Agatha Christie is the master of this genre. I haven’t read many of her books yet, but I found And Then There Were None, a story where ten strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island begin to be killed off until there is no one left, incredibly atmospheric and clever.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
Christie shows ingenuity in bringing all of the characters’ deaths in line with the ten little soldiers poem. The way in which she paints a psychological portrait of each of these people with a dark secret and the way she keeps the reader guessing until the very end with red herrings and plot twists is brilliant to read and sure to draw admiration from the Ravenclaw reader.

ioj8xt4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is one of my favourite books. It’s perhaps a more controversial Ravenclaw choice, but I love the central theme in this soft post-apocalyptic novel, “because survival is insufficient”. I feel like it’s a very Ravenclaw concept, this idea that civilization and life is more than just getting by and surviving, there has to be a preservation of art and knowledge and a purpose to existence. This is demonstrated in the ways in which the characters carry on after the world as they know it ends. Kristen joins the travelling symphony as an actress, performing Shakespeare with its enduring appeal, to survivors of the pandemic. Clark opens the museum of civilization at the airport to preserve the way of life before and hold objects that no longer have any practical use, like high heels and a motorcycle, and a minor character begins printing a newspaper.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
Station Eleven features culture and creativity and preservation of knowledge, told through beautiful prose in a story that is completely unique in setting the action during the pandemic, in its first days, and then fifteen years, entirely skipping the early days following the end of the world and the mayhem and brutality to tell a story about the new culture that begins to emerge and hope for the future.

2983175. Sandman by Neil Gaiman
(Art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III)
I was a little stuck on exactly which Neil Gaiman book belongs on this list, but ultimately went for his critically acclaimed Sandman graphic novels. For me, Sandman (and Neil Gaiman in general) represent that wildly imaginative, original, and eccentric part of Ravenclaw, much like Luna Lovegood. The Sandman comics are stories about stories. They’re not always linear, they’re not always easy to understand, but they’re always incredibly creative and interesting. The stories focus on Morpheus, the anthropomorphic personification of dreams, one of seven Endless, along with Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium–who was once Delight–and Destruction, and blend history, mythology, and horror.

Why should Ravenclaws read it?
The Sandman comics are unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and in that way represent the eccentricity and uniqueness of this house. Neil Gaiman’s brain is a fountain of original thought, which is perhaps at peak weirdness in Sandman. The series won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s definitely worth checking out for the sheer imagination and creativity of the work.

Which Hogwarts house would you be in? And which books do you think represent your house?

T5W: Favourite Minor Characters

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

I took a bit of a detour the last few weeks to do a few Top Ten Tuesdays, but I’m back to Top 5 Wednesday with a list of my Favourite Minor Characters! I think the hardest part of compiling this list was trying to determine which characters counted as minor. This week’s topic defines minor characters as ‘less than a sidekick or a side character’ and uses the example of Ron and Hermione being side characters, while Lavender Brown, Oliver Wood, and Dean Thomas are minor characters. I’ve tried to keep to characters who are less than a sidekick, so hopefully I’m not too far off base here!

Without further ado, here’s my list:

3511981. Danny Hislop (The Lymond Chronicles)
I could probably make an entire top five list of my favourite minor characters from The Lymond Chronicles, but Danny Hislop is definitely at the top of it! I’m pretty sure it’s actually impossible to dislike Danny. From his first appearance as a soldier of Saint Mary’s he provides a much needed lightness to the series, asking why the men follow Francis Crawford of Lymond and assuming (correctly) that he’s gorgeous. Upon meeting Francis for the first time he actually moans, and proceeds to follow Lymond as much for the drama and out of curiosity than anything else.
Here are a few of his best lines:

“Gorgeous I called him and that he is…..And nasty I called him, and that, Maeve, was a shrewd piece of insight, for nasty he certainly is. And a clever bastard, I called him…Not to his face, dear. We’re not all born to be heroes. But what he may not know, Maeve, is that I’m a clever bastard as well.’

“As a reward for… what is your principal characteristic, would you say?”
“Treacherousness,” said Danny, gloriously.

“‘Do you think he will notice?’ Danny said. ‘I sometimes feel if I placed myself nude on the floor between the Voevoda and one of his meetings, he wouldn’t even walk round me.’”

173785082. The Women of 300 Fox Way (The Raven Cycle)
It feels only right to consider this formidable set of women as one (although if I had to pick a single woman it would be my favourite, Persephone). Blue’s family consists of her mother, Maura, Estonian psychic Persephone with her cloud of pale hair, confident Calla, Maura’s sister Jimi, and her daughter Orla. Growing up in this environment, surrounded by psychics with distinct but strong personalities, has clearly shaped Blue to be the self-assured individual she is, and I love that there is this sisterhood feeling to 300 Fox Way. All of the women are fully-realized despite the fact that they mostly play minor roles in the story, and I would happily read a collection of short stories about these ladies.

“Persephone said, “What an unpleasant young man.”
Calla let the curtains drift shut. She remarked, “I got his license plate number.”
“I hope he never finds what he’s looking for,” Maura said.
Retrieving her two cards from the table, Persephone said, a little regretfully, “He’s trying awfully hard. I rather think he’ll find something.”
Maura whirled toward Blue. “Blue, if you ever see that man again, you just walk the other way.”
“No,” Calla corrected. “Kick him in the nuts. Then run the other way.”

72601883. Finnick Odair (The Hunger Games)
Oh Finnick. Introduced as a somewhat cocky flirtatious male victor from district 4, as Katniss gets to know him, she and the reader discover that there’s more to Finnick than meets the eye. He is close to Mags, an elderly woman who was his mentor, and he is deeply in love with “mad” Annie Cresta, who is also a former victor. As an ally to Katniss and Peeta in the Quarter Quell, he helps to keep them alive and is an integral part of the story in Mockingjay where he falls into depression over Annie’s captivity by the Capitol, but assists in creating rebel propaganda, where it’s revealed that he was prostituted to wealthy citizens by President Snow, who threatened the people he loves. Probably my favourite character in these books besides Katniss herself, I have all kinds of feelings about Finnick Odair.

“Finnick!” Something between a shriek and a cry of joy. A lovely if somewhat bedraggled young woman–dark tangled hair, sea green eyes–runs toward us in nothing but a sheet. “Finnick!” And suddenly, it’s as if there’s no one in the world but these two, crashing through space to reach each other. They collide, enfold, lose their balance, and slam against a wall, where they stay. Clinging into one being. Indivisible.
A pang of jealousy hits me. Not for either Finnick or Annie but for their certainty. No one seeing them could doubt their love.”

226373584. Cardenio (Doctrine of Labyrinths series)
Cardenio is a true minor character. A cade-skiff who drags the river under the city for bodies, he’s shy, quick to blush, and perhaps the best listener Mildmay has ever met. His role in the plot is minor. Cardenio sometimes offers information, but for Mildmay who is chronically underestimating himself and who has been used by some of those closest to him for their own purposes, including Kolkiss who raised him as a thief and assassin and took sexual advantage of him, and his brother Felix who often treats him poorly, Cardenio is the one person who wants nothing from him, who is just a good friend. (Ignore the truly awful cover that makes this look like a paranormal romance with a tattooed redhead, it’s actually a dark fantasy quartet.)

“Okay?” I said.
“Yeah. Really okay.  I mean, nobody’s ever given me this good a present before. Thanks.”
“Hey, you’re the only person I know’s ever made it to journeyman cade-skiff. That’s gotta be worth something.”
He blushed like a girl, and I let him off the hook by asking him to tell me what kind of thing he was learning this decad. We talked the way we always did, about everything under the sun. Cardenio was maybe the best listener I’d ever met. With him I didn’t feel like I had to worry about my scar.”

crookedkingdom5. Nikolai Lantsov/Sturmhond (Crooked Kingdom)
Okay, I’m sort of cheating since Nikolai is a character who had a larger role in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, but he appears more briefly in Crooked Kingdom. A snarky pirate king with a heart of gold, how could I not love Nikolai? I might have squealed a little when he popped up in Crooked Kingdom. I’m fascinated by characters who are malleable/able to code switch when in different company (like Prince Hal in Henry IV) and Nikolai is one of these characters, using his persona as Sturmhond the pirate to negotiate in situations where he cannot go as King of Ravka. Seeing him match wits with Kaz Brekker in Crooked Kingdom was a particular delight. Should Ms. Bardugo ever write more of Nikolai’s story I’ll be among the first in line to read it!

“Ravka is grateful for your service,” Sturmhond said as they turned to go. “And so is the crown.” He waved once. In the late afternoon light, with the sun behind him, he looked less like a privateer and more like… but that was just silly.”

Honourable mention to:

Jaqen H’ghar (A Song of Ice and Fire)
A girl is fascinated by Jaqen H’ghar, from his unusual manner of speaking to his relationship with Arya Stark, to his mysterious past.

The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life. This girl took three that were his. This girl must give three in their places. Speak the names, and a man will do the rest.

Margaret Erskine (The Lymond Chronicles)
Anyone who puts up with Francis Crawford deserves a medal really, but especially Margaret Erskine. Overshadowed by her glamourous mother, she is often overlooked or pitied, having been widowed twice by age 19 (I think?), but Margaret is intelligent and uses her ability to be unnoticed to watch everything around her and use it to her advantage. At the end of Queens’ Play offers Lymond some advice that sticks with him through the rest of the series. Also she has this gem:

“Silently, Margaret Erskine held open the door. Lymond’s eyebrows shot up. ‘My dear, have patience. My wounds are to be salved.’
‘Go away and bleed to death,’ said his onetime savior sharply. ‘On behalf of the female sex I feel I may cheer every lesion.’

Who are your favourite minor characters?

T5W: Favourite SFF Cover Art

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

When it comes to reading science-fiction & fantasy, you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Some of the best books I’ve read have terrible covers, like most of the books in Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series (why the half-naked man?!), the pulpy Lois McMaster Bujold Vorkosigan Saga covers that completely go against the smart science-fiction writing within, and Carol Berg’s Rai-Kirah series, which does at least include a flying male character, but this still isn’t a series I would buy based on the cover alone!


Fortunately, there are also some fabulous science-fiction and fantasy covers out there! Here are my top 5:

1. The Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab
I suspect this series will wind up on a lot of people’s lists and rightly so! I LOVE the cover designs for this trilogy. The colour scheme matching the 4 Londons (Red, Black, Grey, and White), the art that includes part of the map of London’s streets in it, and the stylized design of the characters and concepts is just gorgeous. Vivid, unique, and playful, it’s very appropriate for this fast-paced series about magic and travel between worlds.

22055262     gatheringofshadows     AConjuringOfLight

2.  The Dreambloods duology by N. K. Jemisin
I love the covers on most of N.K. Jemisin’s books (her Broken Earth series also has beautiful cover art), but I especially love the art on The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. The colours are vibrant, the titles are clearly legible, and the moon and sun imagery is a beautiful contrast. The duology is less well known than her two trilogies, but may actually be my favourite Jemisin works. I loved the characters and the world-building, as well as the choice to base the religion on ancient Egypt.

5yghvd     55m36

3. The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
I have yet to get my hands on a copy of A Closed and Common Orbit, but I love the covers for both it and the first book in the series, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. The cover art is very simple, which I think is fitting for this series about a long journey through space, but illustrates both the beauty and the loneliness of space.

huq5on     2qir5w7

4. The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
The Traitor Baru Cormorant has a theme running through it of masks. Baru’s goal is to infiltrate the Empire of Masks, who colonized her island, rewriting her culture and criminalizing her people’s customs, including disposing of one of her fathers. Yet to do so, she has to wear a figurative mask of her own, burying her sexuality and her true feelings about the empire she’s attempting to gain access to. The cover not only represents this well, but is striking in its own right.

barucormorant

5. The Grisha series by Leigh Bardugo
Since I was a little girl I have always loved St. Basil’s Cathedral. I don’t know what it is about the onion domes and the bright colours that appeals to me so much, but is is one of my favourite buildings and I would love to be able to visit it one day. So to see it, or at least a St. Basil’s inspired building, on these covers really drew me in. It also serves as a quick hint that this is not your typical Western Europe set fantasy book. I loved the Russian-inspired setting and thought it was part of what made this YA fantasy series so unique, and I think the covers clearly convey that.

20s6hdv     2r7nc60     2q07ic6

Those are some of my favourite science-fiction and fantasy book covers. What covers make your list?

T5W: Authors You Want to Read More From

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

When I first saw this week’s topic, Authors You Want to Read More From: Talk about some authors that you’ve only read one or a few books from, and you NEED to read more, I thought it would be a piece of cake. Don’t we all have authors we’d like to read more from but whose other works are just slightly further down on the tbr list? It turns out when it comes to authors I’ve already read, my tbr mostly falls into two categories:

1. Authors such as Dorothy Dunnett, V.E. Schwab, and Leigh Bardugo. I’ve read more than five of their books already, but sooner or later I want to read everything else they’ve ever written!
OR
2. Authors who have only written one or two novels. I’ve read what they’ve published so far and I can’t wait to read whatever they publish next!

This second category seemed more in keeping with this week’s theme, so I’ve made an effort to keep this week’s Top 5 to authors who I have only read one or a few books from, and who I would buy new works from tomorrow if they were on the shelf, that’s how excited I am about the prospect of more!

alittlelifeHanya Yanagihara
A Little Life was one of the best books I read last year and a new all-time favourite of mine. First of all the writing is absolutely exquisite. In a lesser writer’s hands I’m not sure this grim sort of reverse fairy tale would work at all, let alone as well as it does, but in Yanagihara’s capable hands the book soars. Although it’s a hefty 720 pages, I read the book in about half a week because I couldn’t put it down! It’s also the type of book that appeals to me: dark and sometimes bleak, yet with glimpses of compassion and love that make you feel that all is not lost. The author’s prose and gift for storytelling, as well as her memorably flawed and broken characters had such an impact on me that I would buy her next book regardless of what it’s about. I can’t wait to devour more of her writing!

15q8eafKatherine Arden
As you could probably tell from my review, Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale sucked me in quickly and never let me go. I was enchanted by the lyrical prose, the strength and compassion of heroine Vasya, and the weaving of folktales into this rich historical fantasy. It took me all of about 50 pages of The Bear and the Nightingale before I clicked Want to Read on the second volume in the series, The Girl in the Tower on goodreads. It looks like The Girl in the Tower isn’t out until early 2018, so there’s a bit of a wait ahead, but I am really looking forward to diving back into this magical medieval Rus’ setting and reuniting with Arden’s cast of strong characters. Her enchanting prose alone is enough to guarantee that I will happily pick up more of her work in the future.

barucormorantSeth Dickinson 
At times it felt like Dickinson’s debut novel, The Traitor Baru Cormorant was written just for me. I love books that feature political maneuvering and power, and I usually find stories featuring characters with a grey sense of morality engaging. In Baru, Dickinson creates a protagonist whose motive and reasons are understandable but the lengths she goes to in order to achieve her goals are sometimes difficult to stomach. It makes for a fascinating character study in a book that is brutally effective and completely engrossing. I also found the depiction of colonial empires and the methods colonizers use to stamp out undesirable traits in the colonies, (like Baru’s home island of Taranoke) such as criminalizing homosexuality, both disturbing and thought-provoking. Dickinson is currently working on the sequel, tentatively titled The Monster Baru Cormorant, and I CAN’T WAIT to get my hands on it! When an author manages to make detailed descriptions of economic policy not only understandable, but even interesting, you know he’s one to watch!

cityofbladesRobert Jackson Bennett
The exception to my list of authors who have only published one or two novels, I believe Robert Jackson Bennett has a few previous works that I have yet to check out, but the reason I’m a devotee is definitely his Divine Cities trilogy. I’ve read the first two volumes, City of Stairs and City of Blades, and absolutely loved them. As someone who enjoys epic fantasy, and who has always had an interest in mythology, these were right up by alley. I loved the detailed and rich world-building, his prose, and the fact that he uses a fantasy setting to explore themes of colonialism and racism. The number one reason to pick these books up though is definitely the strong female WoC protagonists in Shara and General Turyin Mulaghesh (the later a middle-aged, disabled, WoC general who swears. A lot.) The third volume, City of Miracles comes out next week (I’m already screaming about this!) and I can’t wait to finish the series, and then to see what Robert Jackson Bennett will do next, because I will be there!

everythinginevertoldyouCeleste Ng
Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, was one of my favourite reads last year. Days and even weeks after finishing it, I found myself reflecting on the book, despite the fact that it was such a quick read I finished it in under 24 hours. I’ve since recommended the book to a few people and bought it as a gift for another. The author’s prose is absolutely exquisite and I found the book really well structured with characters who were real and flawed, as she explored themes of racism and sexism in 1970s small-town Ohio. I believe Celeste Ng’s next novel, Little Fires Everywhere, is scheduled for publication this fall, and I will definitely be picking it up!

Have you read any of these authors? Which authors do you NEED to read more from?