Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Within the Sanctuary of Wings

The conclusion to the thrilling memoirs of Lady Isabella Trent and her legacy of dragon evolutionary research and anthropological adventures.

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.

After years of awaiting the conclusion to one of my favorite series, it has finally come. The Lady Trent series is now complete. 

I have been so torn over losing the character Isabella that I've gone back and forth between looking forward to the final book, Within the Sanctuary of Wings, and wishing Marie Brennan would write just a little bit slower and stop being so damn productive... 

Either way, Within the Sanctuary of Wings was the release to beat this year, and sadly, it fell far from expectations.

I can't discuss the ineptitude of the novel without going into specific details so:


Certain background info is crucial to a story, a scientist and her team can't go charging across the world without sufficient reason or evidence to draw them into the subzero climate Isabella and the others faced, but the beginning of the book contained too much detail. It was slow going, bordering on boring, like the author (and in this sense I mean Isabella as she is the persona writing her memoirs) knew this was her final installation and her audience would read the 'exciting' conclusion no matter what. She already has her fan base, no need to keep them hooked.

As a huge fan of Lady Trent and the fantastic story of her life, I should have been much more captivated by anything she had to tell me. In this case, her story became much less research and feminist based to more political. 

I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that Tom and Suhail are missing from the story. When she becomes separated from them, the story avoids all personal attachments--for the obvious reason of attempting to keep her wits about her while her loved ones could have, at worst have perished, at best, thought her dead and were grieving--and in this state of mind, her journal became stoic. She stated the facts, got through the ordeal, and came out the other side weary and homesick.

Kind of like the way I felt upon finishing the novel. 

All of this wouldn't have been so terribly disappointing, it is still such a well written and imaginative account, had it not been for the big reveal that sent my head spinning in all the wrong directions.

Draconeans? In the final book? Where does that leave us? 

In the very final novel we're told the Draconeans are real, actually still alive, and not just still alive, they can farm and speak and do all things human and I just can't find a place for that in my head. Suddenly, the Lady Trent books have gone from a beautiful account of the mysterious species of dragons around the world, to a high fantasy novel with talking dragon humanoids in a world built around the singular existence of humans.

I wasn't excited by the reveal, I was confused and felt a bit betrayed. A new element was added to the books only to end the series completely and rob us of the chance to immerse ourselves in this new world.

I suppose that was my main issue, I felt betrayed and somewhat lied to?

I don't know. I don't think the discovery of real and alive Draconeans was a necessary addition to the series. Dealing with Isabella having to learn their language, survive her ordeal, and then become the political go-between for Draconeans and the outside world, it left no room for the research based findings I loved so much about the books. There was no research, just shock and coping and working towards an alliance that I have zero belief would actually keep the species safe from the extreme religious types that would do all within their power to finish the destruction of an abomination to their deity.

I can't say the book was bad, it is still a fascinating idea in an imaginative world--Marie Brennan is fantastic at creating a detailed and believable world with all the quirky behaviors and belief systems one would never expect traveling the globe--it's just that as a final conclusion to a book series, this didn't make the cut.

About the Author

Marie Brennan holds an undergraduate degree in archaeology and folklore from Harvard, and completed graduate coursework in cultural anthropology and folklore at Indiana University in Bloomington. She now misapplies her professors’ hard work by using it as inspiration for her fantasy novels and short stories.
At present she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spends her time playing piano, studying shorin-ryu karate, dabbling in amateur photography, and playing a variety of role-playing games. 

Her first novel was published in 2004. Since then she has sold a dozen books and more than forty short stories. 

Connect with Marie Brennan
Twitter @Swantower
View Marie Brennan's Photographic Works 

Saturday, April 22, 2017


1985. The death of Eleanor's twin sister tears her family apart. Her father blames her mother for the accident. When Eleanor's mother looks at her, she sees only the daughter she lost. Their wounded family crumbles under the weight of their shared grief. 

1993. Eleanor is fourteen years old when it happens for the first time... when she walks through an ordinary door at school and finds herself in another world. It happens again and again, but it's only a curiosity until that day at the cliffs. The day when Eleanor dives... and something rips her out of time itself. 

And on the other side, someone is waiting for her.

When I first saw Eleanor on Blogging for Books over a year ago, I was dying to read it. As you can guess with this late review, Eleanor ended up on my extended TBR list while the first copy I requested to review was cancelled (Blogging for Books offered the book months in advance before they received copies to disburse, so in order to review other books in that time, they had to cancel my order), so they cancelled my request, put me on a waiting list, then subsequently forgot to send a copy when they finally arrived. Several emails, many months, and quite a few book requests later, my copy was on its way. 

And it got lost in the mail. 

Basically, it took an entire year to get my hands on this book and this is my excuse for just now reading and reviewing Jason Gurley's not-so-new-release, Eleanor.

*As a side note, the cover photo I chose to use in this post is the UK cover version and is not the cover I have on my copy. It's just too gorgeous a cover not to use.*

There are so few fictional characters I truly connect with, only a small handful have arrived just when I needed them and stuck with me through the years, growing and learning together as we pass through similar phases and face what our lives have become. Marie Brennan's Isabella Camherst in her Lady Trent series is one of the few. Her sudden loss of the husband she depended on, her isolation from society for her ideals and ambition, and then suddenly discovering she would be facing motherhood alone-it was exactly the place I was in my life, and her thoughts and struggles to connect with her son and hope she wasn't a complete failure at being a mother reflected my own troubles and worries so perfectly.

I have a deep appreciation for Marie Brennan and her honesty with discussing her characters lack of connection and bluntness toward motherhood.  (The final book of this series, Within the Sanctuary of Wings releases this month btw)

I've spent years reading and reviewing books and hadn't found anything close to the closeness I've felt with Isabella, until I read Eleanor.

Eleanor, our main character, shares her name with her grandmother on her mother's side. It was her grandmother who first touched me in this book. Her grandmother could have been a champion. She could have followed her dreams all the way to the top and had everything she ever wanted. But she fell in love. And then came Agnes.

Her story is heartbreaking and all too familiar to me and I couldn't have understood better what she was feeling. You love your little one, but that dream of the life you could have had if they hadn't come so soon never fades, it never stops haunting you, and when you think you finally have this motherhood thing under control, you start to think you can have both. That you can go back and reach those goals you spent your life trying to achieve.

The emotional struggles of Eleanor are so real, so true to the struggles I've faced. Jason did an absolutely outstanding job at revealing the depth of depression and hopelessness someone with a mental illness faces every day and what can happen when life throws a curveball into the false contentment you'd settled into. Emotions amplify, hopelessness overtakes you, you need to find the quickest way out.

Then there's Agnes. Struggling with the loss of her mother and being raised by a father who's entire life remained about Eleanor. Agnes's childhood was ruined by the memory of her absent mother, and has made her own attempt at motherhood impossible. She struggles with the idea that she can never be good enough to raise young girls. She never had a mother, how could she ever be one to them? She resents them for having a mother when she didn't, even though she herself believes she's a terrible mother figure, and then the loss of one of her girls sends her to that place we all fear to go. The pain and the anger and the complete loss of self because a piece of you will never return. Every parent fears losing a child and this is a very terrifying look into what awaits those who can't overcome the pain.

I know half this review doesn't even include our main character, but this is important.

Eleanor is a great piece to understanding loss and mental illness. Seeing my own struggles and fears unfold before me, watching Agnes sink into the darkness and lose her life to pain and anguish, it's what all of us struggle with depression and anxiety and any mental illness fight against every day. It's what we all fear, it's what we all run from.

The inner worlds Jason has created, and when you read the book you'll understand what I'm talking about, are so perfectly imagined. The inner workings of this book unfold into something beautiful and inspiring and though we can't go back and change our pasts, we can still look to the future.

Eleanor is so well done and so well laid out. It's a beautifully heartbreaking read. I am so thankful to authors like Jason that don't hold back and show the real struggles of mental illness.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Red Sister

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

Alright. So I've been gone for awhile.

I said I was taking the month of December off... and just kind of extended it through March. Nice, quiet little vaca from blogging, right?...

Right, anyway, I read Red Sister months ago, in February of this year to be precise, as soon as Netgalley finally allowed me to download a copy after the 5000th time trying to send it to my kindle. 

I don't blame them, but I will hold a grudge against their sharing system for the rest of my life.

While I was reading Mark Lawrence's newest work, I'll admit I was tired. I was in a slump (that's what we'll call it) and I hadn't picked up a book since this one until a couple days ago. So I haven't been secretly reading soon to be released, popular novels and stowing away my opinion just to spite all the readers anxiously awaiting release day (which is tomorrow btw), I simply haven't had any opinions to share. My brain quit working, I'm still not quite back yet, and that has made writing this review incredibly difficult.

I was actually, really, really excited to read Red Sister. I love Mark Lawrence's other works and I was really hoping to be a great reader and spread the word on his soon to be released novel Red Sister (again, releasing tomorrow), but I've failed miserably and I didn't even take all these months gloat about my ARC like my usual selfish self.

Let me say, first and foremost, this is a really good book. Mark has created a solid concept with a new, refreshing take on fantasy, and it's a strong piece of feminine heroism. And what more could this Trump ruled world need than a good old ass kicking heroin to look up to? These girls work their asses off, and then they fight their asses off and it is epic.

I enjoyed seeing the world through a non-chosen-one perspective. Nona isn't anyone special, she's a normal girl with a terrible past and a hard life to look forward to, but she takes the opportunity she's given to learn and to grow and to become something more than the simple farm girl she would have been had she not been thrown into the convent with the other sisters. This book isn't about being special, it's about becoming special, about becoming empowered and confident in your abilities and it's really a fantastic look at the world.

Everyone who has been fretting, waiting, biding their time, kicking themselves for not being a blogger to get their hands on an advanced copy and cheating the system... Trust me, it is worth the wait. It may start off a bit slow, but I know Mark will grow this world into the epic tale he intends it to be.

About the Author

Mark Lawrence was born in Champagne-Urbanan, Illinois, to British parents but moved to the UK at the age of one. He went back to the US after taking a PhD in mathematics at Imperial College to work on a variety of research projects including the ‘Star Wars’ missile defence programme. Returning to the UK, he has worked mainly on image processing and decision/reasoning theory. He says he never had any ambition to be a writer so was very surprised when a half-hearted attempt to find an agent turned into a global publishing deal overnight. His first trilogy, THE BROKEN EMPIRE, has been universally acclaimed as a ground-breaking work of fantasy. Following The Broken Empire comes the bestselling RED QUEEN’S WAR trilogy. The BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR trilogy, in an entirely new setting, commences with RED SISTER in 2017. Mark is married, with four children, and lives in Bristol.

Buy the Book

Friday, January 20, 2017

Not Your Typical Dragon

This is not your typical review you'd find on my blog ( <--- See what I did there), I don't typically review young children's books, but this one deserves a bit of attention.

My son receives books from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and this month's book was Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-el.

I've not had great luck with the Imagination Library, they're book choices are... odd... usually overly wordy and lacking in, dare I say it, imagination. They're not the greatest books. But, they're free entertainment, plus they come in braille for my son who will always need large print if they decide not to teach him braille skills.

We both took one look at the cover and decided we loved this book, we read it right away, and what's more exciting is after reading it we love it even more!

There's such a powerful underlying message to this story. My son sees a dragon breathing out funny things and giggles wildly at his misfortune and I have to admit it's incredibly adorable, but beneath the sillyness is a message of acceptance and love that's just so beautiful.

Yes, Crispin is different, and maybe his family was disappointed at first with having an abnormal family member, but all that dragon-societal pressure to conform to match the perfect, fire breathing dragon code of normality means nothing in the end because Crispin's family loves him just the same.

There are thought provoking questions for kids at the end, which my son is too young for, but this is a fantastic book to share with your kids. It may not be the best writing I've seen, but definitely a 5 star read for kids.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Cooking for Picasso

Look at me! I'm back!

I took a nice winter break and now I'm here for a (very) short review before diving back into Red Sister.

And I know, there's no photo this time, but I'll explain why... I'm using my phone and can't get to a computer at the moment. Why wait for the convenience of internet when I've got words to say!

Anyway, Cooking for Picasso isn't my typical read, but it sounded promising. Girl With the Pearl Earring is in my top favorite books. I love art, I love romanticizing artists, so I figured I'd give this one a try. There's no harm in hoping...

It didn't quite hit the spot, but it's a great book (4 stars) I'm racking up my audiobook count and I'm glad I gave this one a go.

See? Short and sweet. Blogging for Books gave me this copy, but I have Red Sister waiting on me from netgalley so I will be reviewing that one next. And I promise that review will be much longer 😉