Required Reading: February 2014 + January Recap

Hello, and happy February! How was your January? I hope it was filled with joy and lots of good books. :)

Before I go to the books I read in January, and the books I will read for February, let me talk about some things first. You know, for a change, to shake things up. :D

First off: the Bloggy Birthday Giveaway Winner!

I meant to announce this earlier, but life and work got in the way. Eeps, sorry about that! But thank you to everyone who greeted and left recommendations in my blog’s birthday post. You just made my wish list longer! :) Here are the recommendations:

  • From Goldie: I Want to Go Home by Gordon Korman, Airport by Arthur Hailey, Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella, and The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • From Maria: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley
  • From Louize: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • From Bennard: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  • From Monique: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • From Lynai: Hinds’ Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard
  • From Tin: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • From Chris: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  • From Kat: The Devil and Miss Prym by Paolo Coelho

Thanks so much for the recommendations! :) I will find a way to read all of sometime (probably not this year, but I will find a way :P). Thank you so much for the well-wishes for the blog, too.

And now the winner, thanks to random.org:

Chris

Yay, congrats, Chris! I will send you an email about this soon (and figure out what will go in the package :D).

Second: First Book Club Discussion for 2014 + Book Club Feature

Our book club had our first discussion for the year last January 18. We talked about The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and we dared each other to read books. It was a fun afternoon, as always, except that my immune system gave in the middle of the discussion, so I started to get sick by the end of it. Massive headache, followed by my voice going away, perhaps as a sign not to speak! ^^;

TFG's F2F25 - Photo c/o Joy

TFG’s F2F25 – Photo c/o Joy

Thanks to everyone who attended, and thanks to The Appraisery in Cubao X for the venue! :)

Speaking of the book club, we were featured in Wanderrgirl! :)

TFG at Wanderrgirl

TFG at Wanderrgirl (And that photo there is so family-ish)

My friend Isa asked if I could write about the book club for Wanderrgirl last December, so of course I said yes. :) It was an absolute surprise to see it posted yesterday. Click here to read the entire post (and yes, I may have gone a bit sappy there :’) )!

Third: January Required Reading Recap

I did say that I read more in January, and true enough, I finished 8 books. 10, if you count the rereads. Of course, two of them were pretty short, but still. :) I was quite surprised that I finished two nonfiction books, too. And wrote a bit more reviews than I did in the past months. :D

  • History in English Words by Owen Barfield (3/5) – My first Barfield was an interesting reading experience. I promised I’d write a review, so I’ll save all other thoughts for that. :)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (5/5) – just as lovely as the first time.
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (4/5) – So, so powerful. This made me laugh, nod, and cry at so many parts.
  • The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (4/5) – I really missed reading contemporary YA, and I’m so glad I had Sara Zarr to fall back on. Really liked this one. :)
  • Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews (3/5) – A fun romp back into Kate Daniels’ world. :)

I’ve managed to get ahead with my quantity reading goal, so I can sort of rest easy for a while. I think. :D

Fourth: February Required Reading

February 2014 Required Reading

And now we go to my February reading list! I used to always go for the love theme for February, but this year I sort of decided not to go too much into it. Oh, there’s still love in some of the books I will read, but I won’t go all sappy and read too many romance novels this time around. Like I said, just to shake things up a little. :)

feb2014books

  • The Zigzag Effect by Lili Wilkinson – I’ve tried to read this before in previous challenges but I never picked it up because I lagged behind from the other books. Oops. :D
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver – Our book club is reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love this month, but since I’ve already read that, I thought of picking up this book instead.
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – And there’s my “love” book for February. I’ve heard rave reviews about this book from book club friends, so I’m pretty sure I will be in for a treat.

And there you go. This is quite a long post! I hope you all have a delightful, love-filled February. :)

Gunmetal Magic

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona AndrewsGunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews
Kate Daniels # 5.5
Publisher: Ace
Number of pages: 326
My copy: mass market paperback, from Book Depository

After being kicked out of the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, Andrea’s whole existence is in shambles. She tries to put herself back together by working for Cutting Edge, a small investigative firm owned by her best friend. When several shapeshifters working for Raphael Medrano—the male alpha of the Clan Bouda, and Andrea’s former lover—die unexpectedly at a dig site, Andrea is assigned to investigate. Now she must work with Raphael as her search for the killer leads into the secret underbelly of supernatural Atlanta. And dealing with her feelings for him might have to take a back seat to saving the world…

* * *

I’ve had Gunmetal Magic on my shelf for a long time now, and but I don’t really know why I never picked it up as fast as I ought to, especially since I love the universe this was written in. But I guess I was too busy to pick it up, and I didn’t feel the need to hurry, because the next Kate was far from the release date when I got this, and frankly, I wasn’t really sure if I would like being in Andrea’s head as much I liked being in Kate.

Andrea Nash is Kate Daniels’ best friend, a former member of the Order of the Knights of the Merciful Aid, loves her weapons, and a beastkin. Oh, and she also has a broken heart because her boyfriend, Clan Bouda’s male alpha, Raphael Medrano, left her after a particularly bad fight. So now Andrea tries to pick herself up by working with Kate on their private investigative firm. When shapeshifters were found dead, Andrea takes on the case. Never mind that these shapeshifters were working for her ex-boyfriend, and never mind that Andrea was never over him. She has work to do, and her feelings are just secondary…right?

As with all other Kate Daniels books that I’ve read in the past, this one was fun. It was fun to be back in this version of Atlanta, to watch the magic rise and fall and technology fighting against this. I was more into the world of shapeshifters here, being that Andrea is sort of one, except that others view her as an abomination of sorts. Andrea is a tough girl, and there were a lot of reasons behind this toughness. She’s not just the girl who likes guns — she had reasons why. I liked Andrea from the previous books, and it was interesting to read a story from her POV. She’s just as snarky as Kate, and I guess best friends really rub off on each other because they sort of sound a like at some point.

The story was just what I expected from Ilona Andrews: myths, strange people and lots of crazy other things that all of them had to deal with. It was well thought out again, and there were always a lot of things at stake here, especially for Andrea. I loved that Roman the volhv was back — he’s such a crazy fun (and yeah, quite hot) character, and I wish he’d be in the other books, too. Doolittle was also fun here, especially the headbutt part! Hee.

Gunmetal Magic just felt a tad long at some parts, and I wasn’t completely gripped as I am with other Kate books. I liked Andrea, but after some time, I kind of wished I was back in Kate’s head again. I missed her brand of snark, I guess, plus I liked her sparring with Curran more than I did with Andrea and Raphael. Perhaps it’s different because the latter were both shapeshifters?

Overall, I enjoyed reading Gunmetal Magic. It’s a good addition to the Kate Daniels series, and I guess if I read this the moment I got it, it would have been enough to tide me over while waiting for the next Kate book. But since it took me a while to pick it up, I don’t have to wait too long to read the next Kate book because it’s already waiting for me in my TBR. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 10

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

“That’s a lesson for you – when you get a chance to be happy, you take it and you treat the other person the way they deserve to be treated. Don’t take things for granted.” (p. 58)

“If it was sharpened and shorter, it might be a variation of a karambit, a curved knife from the Philippines.” (p. 140)

Rating:

rr2014-01

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Kirkus Reviews

Tigana

tiganaTigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Number of pages: 692
My copy: Kindle edition

Eight of the nine provinces of the Peninsula of the Palm, on a world with two moons, have fallen to the warrior sorcerers Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Brandin’s younger son is slain in a battle with the principality of Tigana, which the grief-stricken sorcerer then destroys. After sweeping down and destroying the remnants of their army, burning their books and destroying their architecture and statuary, he makes it so that no one not born in that province can even hear its name. Years later, a small band of survivors, led by Alessan, last prince of Tigana’s royal house, wages psychological warfare, planting seeds for the overthrow of the two tyrants. At the center of these activities are Devin, a gifted young singer; Catriana, a young woman pursued by suspicions of her family’s guilt; and Duke Sandre d’Astibar, a wily resistance leader thought dead. Meanwhile, at Brandin’s court, Dianora, his favorite concubine and–unknown to anyone, another survivor of Tigana–struggles between her growing love for the often gentle tyrant and her desire for vengeance. Gradually the scene is set for both conquerors to destroy each other and free a land.

* * *

I don’t read a lot of high fantasy novels because I’m more of a contemporary romance kind of person. And because of that, it takes me a while to really get into a world, especially one that required maps and had different names of people with powers and such. I noticed that a lot of high fantasy novels often had a lot of characters, too — with odd names to boot — so sometimes I feel like I need to get into a different kind of mindset before I take on a high fantasy novel.

Hah, I feel like I sounded like such a wuss there, especially since two of my closest friends in the book club are fans of high fantasy novels. So when they moderated the high fantasy discussion for our book club in 2013, I can’t not be too whiny about it. Especially since the book was about 800+ long. But I’ve finished Les Misérables this year, and while it’s not a high fantasy novel, it had a lot of characters. This shouldn’t be that hard, right? *cracks knuckles*

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay is a standalone high fantasy novel set in a place called Peninsula of the Palm. Two people rule eight of the nine provinces in the Palm — Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Sometime in the past, Brandin’s younger son is slain in Tigana, and in his grief and anger, he flattened Tigana and cursed everyone to forget that it ever existed, except for those who came from Tigana itself. Some years later, some survivors banded together in hopes of destroying Brandin to get Tigana back, and also to overthrow the other tyrant in the Palm. What follows is a long story of magic, psychological warfare, political intrigue, hidden identities and a story layered with so many complexities that it’s hard to pick just what side you want to win at the end.

First off: Tigana was an easy to read book. Far from, say, Tolkien’s LotR, Tigana had such an accessible language that it wasn’t so hard to get reading. It helped that our moderators provided a guide to their naming conventions and who owns what province because it helped adjusting to the novel a lot easier and listing the characters in the head easier, too. And speaking of characters, I really liked Devin from the start — he seemed like a very interesting character, and I knew, even if I have essentially no idea what was going to happen in the novel (I didn’t read the back cover blurb before I started reading) that he was in for an interesting ride. I liked how he changed from a simple musician to something else, and how he had learned to accept the discovery of his roots and defend it. The other band of people surrounding Devin were so fun to read, too — they played off each other’s characters perfectly, and I liked how they all formed a tight-knit group that were there for each other throughout the story.

But I’m making it sound like it’s all light and fluffy. Truth is, it wasn’t. Tigana is a book filled with so many twists and turns for the characters to get to a certain goal. The interesting part of this is we don’t see just one particular point of view, but several. In Tigana, we also sort of get into the mind of Brandin and Alberico, and the things that surround them. We see their motivations, and how they changed from being this person to another, to the point that it was really kind of hard to choose which side to pick at the end. This gives another layer of depth to the novel, and somehow make it a little more realistic as far as how it parallels real life. Nothing is ever black and white, and even people we have pegged to be a certain kind of person. In a way, I wished there was some sort of happy ending for everyone…but then, you can’t always get what you want.

In the end, Tigana brings about a pretty satisfying ending…and then GGK suddenly brings another thing into the mix, and then it’s over. This is the first time in the longest time that I wished there was a sequel to a novel, and a high fantasy one at that, that I would totally read. I mean, that ending! How can I not want to know what happens next?

Overall, Tigana was a really great read. I think there were just some parts that seemed unnecessarily long, but like what I said in Les Mis, those parts make up for the novel’s background and gives it a richer texture, and I think that’s what makes chunkster novels different from the usual 300-400-page books. While I still think that I’m a contemporary girl at heart, I wouldn’t mind reading more high fantasy + chunkster novels if they’re as good as Tigana.

Number of dog-eared page(s): 21

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

The beauty we find is shaped, at least in part, by what we know the morning will bring.

He could guess, analyze, play out scenarios in his mind, but he would never know. It was a night-time truth that became a queer, private sorrow for him amid all that came after. A symbol, a displacement of regret. A reminder of what it was to be mortal and so doomed to tread one road only and that one only once, until Morian called the soul away and Eanna’s lights were lost. We can never truly know the path we have not walked.

“My third glass of a night is blue,” Alessan said. “The third glass I drink is always of blue wine. In memory of something lost. Lest on any single night I forget what it is I am alive to do.”

But time was not rewound, neither in the heart nor in the world as they knew it. It moved on, and things changed, for better or for worse; seasons changed, the hours of sunlit day went by, darkness fell and lingered and gave way to light at dawn, years spun after each other one by one, people were born, and lived by the Triad’s grace, and they died.

Words were power, words tried to change you, to shape bridges of longing that no one could ever really cross.

In this world, where we find ourselves, we need compassion more than anything, I think, or we are all alone.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Rabbitin
Angieville

The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by: Scholastic
Number of pages: 404
My copy: hardbound, gift from Scholastic Philippines

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

* * *

I’ve had The Scorpio Races on my TBR for a long time now, and I even planned to read it last year but I never got around to it. After a series of non-YA books from the latter part of the year, diving into Maggie Stiefvater’s standalone book felt like a breath of fresh air.

The Scorpio Races is set in the small island of Thisby, in November, when and where Capaill uisce — commonly known as water horses — come out from the ocean and sort of terrorize the town. But the people of Thisby has learned to adapt, and they have the Scorpio Races, where men capture these horses, try to tame them and race them without getting killed or pulled into the water (and still get killed). In this little island is Sean Kendrick, the returning champion who works in the local water horse ranch, whose only real friend is his red capall uisce, Corr. And then there’s Puck Connolly, who never meant to ride the races but ends up doing so, to keep what’s left in her family. She’s the first girl to ever join the race, and it’s ruffled the feathers of the other men…but then again, who says she’s going to survive it?

I remember liking Stiefvater’s Shiver mostly because of the beautiful writing. It was a “mood” read. I was in the mood for something cold because it was December, and that book delivered it perfectly. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to feel when I picked up The Scorpio Races, but like Shiver, it had a certain mood in it because of the writing: dark, mysterious, dangerous, and probably tinged with a little despair, too, because of Puck’s situation.

The book was a little slow in parts, and it feels like forever before the real show — aka the race — happened. But even so, I liked how the author built it all up. I got to know Puck and her family and her relationship with her younger brother Finn was one of my favorite parts of the book. It was a sad thing, too, because of how each of them were driven to do what they had to do, but you have to admire Puck’s courage to do what she did in the book. And then there’s Sean Kendrick, who seems to be the epitome of the strong, silent type in fictional guys that I’ve read so far. I liked him a lot, and his chapters were really a delight to read. Granted, the fascination with the horses — especially Corr — was a little creepy, but I try to think of it as how some people are very close to their dogs. It’s basically the same, right?

Oh and I must mention the swoon in this book. Oooh, I really liked how that played out. Again, it sort of took forever, but I liked how the two main characters danced around each other that sometimes I wasn’t really sure if there’s really something going on between them that isn’t about their horses. Their growing friendship and the romantic tension were so well-written that I was really happy there weren’t any third parties involved because it would be just too much if there’s still one. They have to race killer horses and figure out a love triangle? Please, no.

I liked The Scorpio Races, but I think I would have liked it better if I was more of a fan of horses. I can see why people would like it, but I’m just a horse person, like how I’m a dog person. Does that make sense? But still, I really enjoyed this book, and I will definitely read another Stiefvater book soon. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 13

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

This island runs on courage, not blood. (p. 198)

It’s easy to convince men to love you, Puck. All you have to do is be a mountain they have to climb or a poem they don’t understand. Something that makes them feel strong and clever. It’s why they love the ocean…When you’re too much like them, the mystery’s gone. No point seeking the grail if it looks like your teacup. (p. 252)

“I will not be your weakness, Sean Kendrick.”
“It’s late for that, Puck.” (p. 337)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook

Required Reading: December 2013

I thought I missed writing a Required Reading post for November, but it turned out I just put it together with another post. Oops. :)

Anyway, November has come and gone and the blog is silent again. I’m sorry about that. It was a busy month, a month where I actually kind of hardly read books, too. Sometimes all I want to do when I go home is lie down and sleep, especially when my weekends are filled with all-nighters and sleeping at five in the morning when you woke up at six the previous day. I am really getting too old for this.

But here, a report for November! I managed to finish both books I set out to read so it wasn’t really so bad. Reviewing them is another matter, though. :D

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (3/5) – I enjoyed this book for the lush setting and the writing and the entire idea of the killer horses and Sean Kendrick. :3 I enjoyed it, but I’m not really much of a horse fan for this to be a 4. But I realize how relaxing it is to read a Maggie Stiefvater novel. Good thing I have two more on my TBR. :)
  • The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (4/5) – Okay this one just…befuddled me. It’s a good book, but also quite confusing and a lot mind-bending. Haha! I finished it hours before our book discussion, and even after the discussion there were still some parts of the book that aren’t clear. But perhaps it was meant that way.

And now we go to December. But wait — can you believe it’s already the last month of the year? Wasn’t it just January yesterday???

rr2013-12

Just two books again this month, even if I am 9 books behind on my reading challenge. December is going to be really busy again, with the new ReaderCon date and the parties and all that. I will still try to reach the 75 books after all the festivities have ended, though.

Anyway, for December, I’m reading something philosophical and something about a philosopher’s stone:

rrdecember

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling – a reread! For our book club’s discussion this month and for the Christmas party! :D We’ve got a lively start to the online discussion — care to join us? :)
  2. History in English Words by Owen Barfield – Back in June, we gave one of our good friends, JL, favors that he can claim from us for the entire year as a birthday gift. One of the favors I gave him was that I’d read anything he lends me, write notes (and now a review) and we’d discuss it (over coffee and lemon squares, I think). He has come to claim this favor and lent me this book. This isn’t something I would normally read, really, but since it is a favor. I’ve finished Chapter 1 today and it’s interesting, so far. Must not forget to write notes.

Wait. 9 books before this year ends. HUH. Crazy…but maybe doable. Maybe. I can do that. Time to bring out those short books and comics. :P

Have a happy December everyone!