Monday, January 25, 2016

CBR 8 Review 2 : Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles

"Life is a big, long free fall, and the sooner you can embrace what is beautiful about that, the sooner you will start to enjoy the ride.” 

Some important information before I dive into this review. I'm a singer, I have a degree in Music with a concentration in musical theatre, and I love Sara Bareilles' music with my whole heart. This memoir, as Lani Diane Rich from StoryWonk would say, was made to delight me. I went into this book (which was a gift from our Cannonball Read Book Exchange in December - thanks Nate!) prepared and expecting to love it.

I was not disappointed.

Sara has a beautiful voice, and in this case, I'm not referring to her music (though that's certainly true, too). She's honest, unflinching, funny, self-deprecating, and soulful. I love the formatting for this as well. Sara frames the stories of her life using her music, with song lyrics opening each chapter. They also provide a unifying theme - either the chapter is about the creation of that song, or focuses on the things reflected in the song. Often it's both. 

Sara tells a lot of great stories, from childhood straight up to working on Waitress, which I cannot wait to see in March when it opens in New York. It's always fascinating to me to see how much I have in common with the artists I love, and I feel like we're very much kindred in spirit, if not in specifics. She was a happy, imaginative child who loves her family and musical theatre. She had a lot of problems with her self image in her youth, which was true for most of us, myself included. She's lived abroad and struggled with identity while doing so, which I've also done. She's been challenged by what it means to stay true to herself in an industry that wants nothing more than to shape you into whatever product they think they can sell, which is my daily life.

And through it all is the music. I love her connection to her music, and it makes perfect sense with the way her heart seems to pour out of every song. Everything feels better and more centered when she can process it through music, and it's beautiful and lovely. I feel like she worked really hard to put all of this to paper. She does it brilliantly. It felt very much like sitting down and sharing a bottle of wine together, personal and real.

Basically, what I'm saying is this - Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) in Song is a fabulous read and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

CBR 8 Review 1: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas

“She was fire, and light, and ash, and embers. She was Aelin Fireheart, and she bowed for no one and nothing, save the crown that was hers by blood and survival and triumph.” 

I have completely failed to review any of this brilliant series on this blog. You'll have to head over to Cannonball Read to find some other reviews. Suffice it to say that while I will not discuss major spoilers from this volume here (or will properly hide them if I feel a need), I will absolutely discuss things as they fit into the larger narrative. So if you haven't read the first three books in the Throne of Glass series (Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire), you may want to skip this, or tread very lightly.

Queen of Shadows picks up where Heir of Fire left off. Celaena, now only identifying herself as Aelin Galathynius now that she has accepted her heritage, arrives back in Adarlan with several important goals to accomplish. A lot has changed in the months of her absence, including a great deal about her former paramours, Chaol Westfall and Prince Dorian. It's a festival of bad news for Aelin, as she discovers Chaol is no longer Captain of the Guard, due to his connections to the rebellion started in her name, and Dorian...Dorian is being used as a vessel for the horrifying Valg that she barely survived battle with in Wendlyn. Stripped of her Fae powers and form due to the towers restricting magic, Aelin has to figure out how to save her friends, rescue the beloved cousin she didn't realize was alive or supporting her cause, free magic, and start the journey to recover her kingdom, not to mention getting a little long overdue revenge on the man who sent her into slavery - Arobynn Hamel, King of Assassins. 

Aelin isn't the only protagonist we're following. Manon, Wing Leader of the Thirteen, Heir to the Blackbeak Clan, may have secured her spot at the top, but she's not sure what exactly she's supposed to be doing there. Witches don't take orders from mortals, and the chain of command in Morath chafes. Conflicts with her second, demands to use witch clans like chattel, and the discovery of a mixed blood chained and abused who may be of use to them all keep Manon busy, while her grandmother creates a terrifying weapon for the King of Adarlan.

We also get glimpses into Dorian's internal battle with the Valg Prince occupying and controlling his body, the earlier mentioned half witch whose name I cannot currently recall, and our beloved, conflicted Chaol.

The last volume didn't do a lot for me, but this one really did. I think a lot of Heir of Fire suffered by being building blocks for what was to come; a transition from one set of storytelling to the next. Queen of Shadows hits the ground running, adding more characters that we can love (Lysandra, Nesryn) while allowing the ones we already love to grow into better, more complex versions of themselves. The stakes amp up, while still allowing more room to build in the next books. One of the things that made the biggest improvement between volumes was Manon's storyline. I'll admit, the last time 'round, every time a chapter opened in her POV, I set the book down. I just didn't care about her or the witches. This book did a much better job of earning my attention as far as they were concerned. They served the greater story in a more obvious way, Manon as a character got significantly more nuanced, and the addition of input from Asterin helped a lot. Connecting the Thirteen to Kaltain, who we already knew from previous books, was another smart move.

The storytelling in general was tighter and faster paced, while still allowing room for everything to breathe. There's some great work filling in character histories, especially with Lysandra and Arobynn. I could have done with less alpha male posturing between Rowan and Aedion. I understand the function, and that it's a characteristic of the Fae, blah blah blah. It was leaned on too often and for too little payoff. Having Aedion hurt and jealous that someone other than him was allowed to swear the blood oath to Aelin is appropriate; having the two of them try to out-dick each other every time anything happens got old. As did the "we're men that need to protect the woman" thing, even if it was used to show how stupid that is as a concept.

Overall, a really fantastic entry into the Throne of Glass series. I'm incredibly interested to see where we go from here - the ending did a LOT of things, and really shook up the world in an interesting way. There are two more books proposed for the series, which gives Maas plenty of time to play around in the new circumstances she's set up. I adore these characters, which is always the biggest selling point for me, and I like the idea of seeing what they do now that so much has changed, both in the world, and between each of them.

If you like the series, you'll love this book.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Maybe this year will be better than the last


Ahem. Now with that out of the way...

Another year means another Cannonball Read. We're at 8 this year, I started with 3, which is a lot of years of reading. Over those 5 years, according to this blog, I've managed to read 187 books. I've managed to do reviews for 113 of them (the last two years have been *rough* on me and actually submitting my reviews). That's a lot of reading. And reviewing. But the last two years have taught me that I'm really bad at this reviewing business, and as such I'm setting my bar low. Instead of a half cannon, this year I'm only committing to the quarter cannon. That's 13 books, ya'll.  Now, obviously, I have no trouble *reading* that many books. I can reach a half cannon easily that way. However, the whole point of this endeavor is to share, which means reviews. I'm hoping if I keep the number low, maybe I'll be less defeated by it.

I'm already one book in, and plan to write and post my review tomorrow (as I approach the ends of books 2 and 3). Here's hoping for a more successful year!

Please check out Cannonball Read for more reviews by brilliant people, and to read the history of this fantastic group of people and what we do.