Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Title: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
Author: Christopher Paolini
Publisher: Tor Books
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 880 pages
My Rating: ★★★.5
3.5/5 stars

Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .”

Review

The middle portion of this book became so incredibly intense that I actually had to take a break and read a fluffy rom-com book in the middle of it. If I was any other person, this would be a 5-star read. Instead, I am the person who gets so anxious about where a movie is going that I have to google the ending halfway through to even bear the crescendo of an intense plot. There are multiple episodes of The Office that, to this day, I cannot rewatch thanks to how overwhelmingly anxious they make me feel. Seriously – don’t make me watch Scott’s Tots. I try my best to not read ahead to the ending of books because I can take them at any pace I need to set my heart at ease. The pace I needed in the midst of this book just so happened to be an entire intermission period in which I finished One to Watch while trying not to daydream about evil, cancerous alien abominations, and how heavy the burden of keeping the peace and saving all known life in the universe must be. This book was so much that I don’t think I can break it down into a neat, three-part highlight of where the author did or didn’t shine like I typically do. It might take several rereads before I hit a point like that. On top of the fact I don’t know if I could make myself experience that emotional rollercoaster again so soon, I fear vastly oversimplifying an intricate web of moral quandaries, diligently researched physics, and intriguingly structured character arcs. 

Disclaimer for the faint of heart like me aside, this was an impressive book. Eragon was a long time ago, and I was curious to see what aspects of Paolini’s writing became a stylistic pattern, and what were habits he outgrew. On one hand I’m happy to say that this story arc and the approach to writing female characters are so. damn. amazing. There was depth, there was range, and it didn’t feel cliche or tropey in the slightest. On the other hand, I’m so happy for one specific character type he kept exactly the same: There’s an eccentric wise woman with a cat that I dearly wish had been named Solembum. This oddball potential space-witch (unconfirmed but I can dream, okay?) said arguably the most memorable quote of the whole book: “Eat the path”. 

Don’t like the choices laid out before you? Eat the path. 

Want to seize the day? Eat the path.

No idea what the hell you’re doing? Eat the path. 

It’s really quite a versatile platitude – I fully intend to adopt it into a daily mantra. 

So, pros of reading To Sleep in a Sea of Stars:

  • (possible) Space witch
  • empowered women empowering women
  • super cool, theoretically possible science
  • pretty cover
  • classic sci fi, raising thoughtful questions about what it means to be human

cons:

  • Incredibly intense if you’re a wimp like me
  • no really, spoilers but you read a scene where somebody cuts off their own limb
  • like please if you’re faint of heart maybe have a happy place or some ice cream easily accessible

So, long story short, this was a great book and I blame my own quirks for the fact I wasn’t wholeheartedly obsessed with it. If you’re into science fiction at all, you absolutely should read it. Even if you’re a wimp like me you should read it – just have something soothing available for when you need a break 🙂

Fun Friday: Arranging, and rearranging, and undoing everything

Now that I’ve finally settled into a more permanent, spacious living arrangement after four years of living the oddly transient lifestyle of a college student, I’ve begun slowly restarting my book collection. When I lived in sorority housing I shared a room that was so small I couldn’t even lay across the space between my roomates bed and my own – and I’m only 5’4! Plus, every summer we were quite unceremoniously sent to sublease or move back with our parents while the house shut down all operations for the season. With space at a premium and having to move boxes of my things twice a year for four years, I wasn’t exactly able to keep many belongings with me. This little shelf encompassed the only physical books I had with me, and most of those were gifts or impulse buys from Square Books

What’s crazy is that before college, I was absolutely guilty of being a book hoarder. Growing up I remember begging and pleading with my mom to not make me get rid of a single book, not even one. We counted once when I was in high school and I had over 200 physical books accumulated even with donating regularly to the library, selling some, and having many more stored on my Kindle.

As I’m sure you can imagine I was more than a little excited when I graduated and moved into a place where I could keep as many books as I wanted! Now that my collection is finally growing again, I’ve encountered an issue I really should have predicted.

I’m already running out of the room I’d set aside specifically for books.

See, I’d bought these two beautiful wooden bookshelves for such a good deal at HomeGoods right before I moved in. Aren’t they so cute on both sides of the bed?! This pic was taken on the day I moved in, in May.

They have a weight limit though and, as I learned from moving about 10 times in four years (thanks for the extra craziness, Covid!), books are incredibly freaking heavy. So I set aside some sections for books, some sections for decor, and bought even more shelves because I knew what would be coming. I also have my old school books and such in a box for the time being. I really thought it would take a while to fill them all to capacity.
This is what the overflow shelf looked like two weeks ago, shown with my dresser and some cute extra goodies I’ve found on sale – it’s so pretty, this corner relaxed me just looking at it! I even posted it to my bookstagram last week. And yes, I do have a minor obsession with pothos plants going on in my room.

But, I realized some of my new rows of books on the matching bedside shelves might be too heavy. So, I moved it… and now my backup shelf looks like the next pic. It’s gorgeous, it makes me happy every time I look at it. Until I received a super sweet, surprise gift in the mail today.

Two more books from a new friend.

Two more books that need a home somewhere in my room.

The best/worst part is that all those books I mentioned owning in highschool? They’re still sitting in California, waiting for me to ship them all from my parents house to my house. I’m going to need a place for all those stories, because I love them all so much! My dream is to someday have one of those houses with floor to ceiling books in one room. There are inspiration pics all up and down my Pinterest, stretching back years and years. I think I had bookshelves pinned before I even had a wedding board. I just somehow never imagined what that awkward phase would be like where I have a good number of books but not enough for one big statement section. I also just graduated and couldn’t afford floor to ceiling bookshelves without selling a kidney sooo, maybe I need to go buy some lottery tickets? Who knows. None of it matters anyway because I’ll probably reorganize again by Monday and buy new books by the end of the week anyway. I guarantee my bookshelf arrangements will be completely different by midwinter at the latest. Do you have a collection of anything? How do you store it?

Review: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

The book legendborn sits atopa stack of two other, untitled books. Beside it is. a white vase with eucalptus leaves in it and, on the other side, asun-bleached sunflower lays sideways. All of this rests on a wooden tray, surrounded by blankets and pillows.

Title: Legendborn
Author: Tracy Deonn
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry books
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Length: 490 pages
My Rating: ★★★★.5
4.5/5 stars

“After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.”

Review

Urban fantasy is so difficult to do right, y’all. It’s easy to suspend reality in a completely fake, made-up world because it’s the author’s world! They are god, and they can do whatever the heck they want with it to make everything make sense. Urban fantasy, on the other hand, has to walk the delicate lines of creating a new reality without suspending too much of our reality. In that sense, I think that’s where Tracy Deonn shone. She took the realities of our world and the realities of life for a young black girl in the South, and still managed to make it magical and empowering at the same time. Honestly, there wasn’t an aspect of the magic that pulled me out of my reading experience – it was the use of YA tropes that gave me pause. The initial timeline of this book only covers a few weeks with a lot of action all packed into a short timeframe. As a result, the love interest in the book had to develop at the same breakneck pace. Without giving too much away, it felt very insta-lovey and eventually gets a magical explanation which I am undecided on. You know what would’ve happened if I pledged my entire life to the guy I was dating at 16? I’d be a mess. A hot freaking mess. He was in a punk band and I distinctly recall the sweetest note he ever wrote me – a yearbook inscription that started out with “You’re really hot”. Young love at its finest. But, I digress. I’ll need to read book two before I can truly decide how I feel about that character’s relationship, so I’m only taking a half star off for it. 

This was an extremely inclusive and diverse book, which I adored. I think even when some books try to be inclusive, they tend to utilize tokenization or focus the entirety of a character’s arc on their ‘otherness’ instead of treating them like a whole, complicated, and nuanced human being. We need to show more characters living out their lives regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and Tracy Deonn did a great job of that. Though I can’t speak from a place of knowledge for some of the topics Deonn touches on, I appreciated how she handled them and think it was a well-balanced portrayal of a wide array of individuals. On that vein, I’m going to highlight some of the issues Deonn brings up and how they’re addressed. 

Profiling

In the first few chapters, an officer gives Bree and her best friend Alice a ride back from a student event gone awry. The scene itself goes – 

‘How ‘bout you, girlfriend?’ Norris’ eyes find me in the mirror. ‘I’m guessin’ need-based?’

Alice stiffens, and my hackles raise. I’m not his girlfriend and I’m not ashamed to have financial aid, but that’s not what he’s asking. ‘Affirmative action?’ is written all over his knowing sneer. 

‘Merit’ I bit through gritted teeth, even though it’s none of his business either way. 

He chuckles.  ‘Sure.’

Legendborn pg.30, Tracy Deonn

THIS. Regardless of how anyone feels about affirmative action, I think we all could agree that the assumption anyone gets into a competitive program for anything less than their skill is shitty. Assuming that just because someone is black they didn’t actually deserve to get into a good  program? Absolutely awful.This was well handled and well presented in the book, and I appreciated the inclusion of it. 

Gender

In this book, there is a character that is referred to with they/them pronouns. It was so meticulously and seamlessly done that I didn’t even notice the difference at all until I was two thirds of the way through the story. Greer was well presented and shown as more than just the sum of their parts – they were smart, caring, and a good friend. Again, Tracy Deonn did an excellent job of showing that a diverse array of characters are nuanced and contribute so much more than just their race or gender identity. 

STOP RIGHT THIS SECOND TO AVOID A MASSIVE SPOILER.

Have you stopped?

Are you really sure you want this?

Scroll past it real fast right now or forever hold your peace.

Bree’s Ancestry

Listen. A massive theme in this book is highlighting the privileged lives the Legendborn live thanks in part to the fact they can track their family lineage all the way back to King Arthur’s times. Juxtapose that with with Bree, who only knows that once upon a time her family was enslaved in this same land. It painted an amazing picture of the tightrope Bree walks in her newfound world. BUT THEN. Tracy Deonn, writer extraordinaire, hinges an entire plot twist on the fact that Bree’s ancestor is also King Arthur? That her great-great-something grandmother was a victim of rape by her enslaver? That her ancestress, pregnant and afraid, ran away because her enslaver would rather murder her than have the power of King Arthur pass to a mixed race heir? WOW. The depths this took the book to had me stunned. It was a painful and beautiful moment as Bree connected with her line of ancestors through magic and tapped into King Arthur’s legacy as his one true Scion. It left me stunned and absolutely speechless. I absolutely had not expected that and keep thinking back to it like “damn. That was… damn. Wow.”

So, 4.5 out of 5 stars for Legendborn. Would’ve been 5, but in my heart even an amazing ending and some phenomenally written characters cannot make up for the instalove that every 16 year old book character seems to experience.

Fun Friday: Comparing book covers from different countries

Happy Friday! A quick reading update – this week, I finished Legendborn by Tracey Deonn and just started To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini. I also read an ARC of Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro a while ago which released this week, so I’ll be trying to post a review of that soon! Now if you will, take a moment to consider Middle Earth, the land Tolkien created long ago. Majestic spaces, stunning sites, and merry hobbits living in the Shire. All things considered, the cover of The Hobbit shown below seems quite fitting. I have a similar edition, it’s quite stunning and vibrant in person.

In what I admit was over 22 years of being dumb I never really considered the idea that other covers of The Hobbit might not paint the same picture of majestic natural beauty. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an original Dutch cover of The Hobbit online, covered in fun hobbits that look nothing like I’d imagined! Below, you can drag and compare the two covers. If I was judging a book by its cover, I’d be imagining two entirely different types of book. I think I quite like the Dutch edition though, as it adds a different spirit to the book. This got me thinking: what other books do I love that might sell a different story based on the cover?

  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman
    Scythe is one of my favorite futuristic YA books. It raises a lot of great moral questions without feeling overly heavy or like it’s trying too hard. It flows quite naturally, and the cover represents. that to me. Yes, this book focuses on a lot of death, but it’s not an overly dark book. Shown first is the original United States cover – it’s bright, has a futuristic font, and feels quite mysterious. Shown in the middle is the german edition, published by FISCHER Sauerländer. It’s a lot more eery, though maintains the element of mystery and clearly shows the scythe. On the far right is the Indonesian paperback edition published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama. This one goes fully eery, with a full moon lighting a ghostly scythe’s path. The building surrounding the figure are worn down and cast in shadows, contrasting starkly with the scythe’s glowing white robes. It may be because I’m used to the United States edition, but I think it’s still my preference.
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
    Another of my all-time favorite reads is The Starless Sea. It came out quite recently actually and has a gorgeous cover that feels vintage and new at the same time, with symbolism from the book drawn in black and gold detailing. And yet, each other country I looked at doesn’t have the black and gold color scheme! On the far left is the US edition, with gold keys twined with gray ribbon resting on a black background. The three editions next to it are respectively the Waterstones edition sold in the UK, the Italian edition, and the Canadian edition. Each maintains a semblance of the gold tones present in the US edition, however all three have shades of blue instead of black. The Waterstones edition’s gorgeous gold bee painted over the marbled blue background is, frankly, amazing. I want it so badly now. The Italian edition feels like a vintage journal with the symmetrical design of keys and filigree, and the Canadian edition’s keyhole door revealing a ship at sea stands out from the rest for portraying a scene instead of symbols. Ultimately, though, I am obsessed with that Waterstones edition more than anything. It’s the type of cover that would make me buy the book without reading a description.
  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    The US cover of the wedding date gives me classic romance vibes, with the couple shown in drawn profile and the classic red, black, and white color scheme. Even the handwritten font with little swirls screams rom com – but the international counterparts don’t have that same vibe. The middle edition, published by Hachette UK, takes the cover in a lot more of a contemporary romance direction. Between the San Francisco skyline, the pink sunset fading to purple, and the cutesy flower garland bordering the edges I can’t help but get a much more cool modern feel. Plus, they used that same ‘casual’ calligraphy that’s become a trademark of modern weddings! The Croatian edition on the far right, meanwhile, doesn’t really strike home with me. The chess pieces imply a game, and I don’t think that fits the way the relationship in the book grows. If I’d seen this edition on the shelf I might not have picked it up… but then again, I’m not the target market. I’m not Croatian.
  • Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin
    The edition of Serpent & Dove on the left seems to be cover for all English language editions, and even some foreign language editions. I can see why – the dark feathery background, covered in that metallic gold snake and title, are all over Instagram. It’s a gorgeous book, and even prettier in person on the glossy dustjacket. I figured the alternative covers of Serpent & Dove wouldn’t capture me as much, but dang I do love this Spanish language edition. The title is changed to basically Witch Killer, and has that gothic purple design highlighting two red daggers and a three eyed raven. The small sigils peppered around the cover are a nice final touch. Though it’s a lot less slick than the US cover, there’s something I really adore about the Spanish edition. It feels like a real witch’s grimoire!

Which ones were your favorite? Let me know! Overall, I think I liked US Scythe, Waterstones The Starless Sea, US The Wedding Date, and Spanish language Serpent & Dove.

Have a great weekend & stay safe!

Review: Fable by Adrienne Young

The book Fable sits on a plush blanket. The cover features half of a woman's face, with the shape of a pirate ship reflected in her eye. Next to the book, minerals and gemstones spill out of a cup. On the other side, a green vine hangs down and obscures part of the book cover.

Book Review & Summary

Title: Fable
Author: Adrienne Young
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Length: 368 pages
My Rating: ★★★★★
5/5 stars

“As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

REVIEW

Adrienne Young has a special talent – she doesn’t just build a world, she throws you right into it and makes you breathe it in. From the first line Fable proves herself to be a smart, confident heroine. After losing her mother and being abandoned by her father, she has to spend the next four years clawing her way for survival on a legendary island of thieves and cutthroats. She is fierce, she is wise, and somehow she is still quite relatable. Don’t be fooled, though. This book is not a light adventure with swashbuckling heroes. Young manages to entwine an admirable heroine and an endearing ship’s crew with a grim story that pulls no punches. The realities of life among seafarers is readily presented throughout the book, but only to a point that’s necessary for building the world. I appreciated the well done balance between warmer moments and harsh realities. Fable follows five rules that her father ingrained in her before abandoning her:

  • Keep your knife where you can reach it.
  • Never, ever owe anyone anything.
  • Nothing is free.
  • Always construct a lie from a truth.
  • Never, under any circumstances, reveal what or who matters to you.

This list serves almost as a compass guiding the book itself. Fable and her newfound companions weren’t a perfect, mary-sue kind of team. They made mistakes, they kept secrets, and they paid dearly for it at every turn.

CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS (be warned – light spoilers lay ahead)

  • Fable & West
    • really the main event in terms of character relationships. Fable may keep her cards close to her chest, but West had her beat in terms of being a closed book at the start. They had a great rapport and fit together in scenes quite naturally. Seeing their interactions build and grow helped develop the characters as well, showing me more about their ultimate goals and what drives them to act. I absolutely loved this pair and am SO excited for more in book two! When he kissed her at the shipwreck, I think I literally felt my heart jump out of my chest.
  • West & Willa
    • ooh, ooh, ooh. At first I was fully expecting (re: dreading) some sort of love triangle. The actual state of this situation was SO much better, in my opinion. It really drove home the idea of rule 5: “Never, under any circumstances, reveal what or who matters to you”. Willa let Fable into this secret aspect of their life out of pure desperation, and once I understood the connection between West and Willa everything else clicked into place. They are integral to the Marigold, and now I can’t imagine one without the other; although I presume we’ll have to see that at some point.
  • Fable & Saint
    • Wow. If you read the dedication, Adrienne said this book was a goodbye to her father. Because of that, I was expecting a tender reunion when they met. Actually, I was expecting lovely father daughter relationship where everyone apologizes for their mistakes and comes out the other side with a deeper understanding of what family means… but this was so. much. better. Fable and her father, Saint, are a complicated pair. It’s clear that there’s a lot of love there in it’s own little effed up way, but it really is in an effed up way. From their very first meeting this dynamic had me absolutely enraptured. They are such a beautiful, frustrating mess. I’m intrigued to see what happens now they they’re going their own ways and will, inevitably, end up at odds with each other in book two.

Overall, I’d say the strong points of this book were the stunning world building, the complicated character relationships, and that absolute sucker punch of an ending. I would highly recommend picking up Fable as soon as you can get your hands on it! Have you read Fable? What did you think?