TTT: My Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2015 (So Far)

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So, once more, I was off having adventures* apart from my computer, and I have neglected my blog. But you just can’t blog and drive. Not yet. But I digress (as usual).

I am nearly always confused about what day it is, but my computer decrees that today is Tuesday, which means it’s time for the Top Ten Tuesday meme with The Broke and the Bookish. If you’d like to participate, click here.

The theme today is Top 10 Favorite Books I’ve Read So Far In 2015. Despite my busy work schedule, writing, and marathon driving, I have actually read a lot of books this year. So this might be hard. But I always try, I do.

MY TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2015 (SO FAR)

1. Both Thorn and Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

You may have read my review of Thorn here (if not, do it, or better yet, just read Thorn,) and if so, you know I loved this book. However, I liked her novella, Sunbolt, even more. Though I haven’t reviewed it here yet, I fully intend to, but you need to know that I liked it even more than Thorn. From the gorgeous prose to the fabulous world building, Khanani is a talent to watch, and her heroines are both strong and realistic. Do yourself a favor and read her books. Now.

“Absolutely. Justice served with a side of pineapple. That’s what I’m here for.”
Intisar Khanani, Sunbolt 

 

 

2. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

The Princess Bride is one of my all time favorite movies, and I really enjoyed this genteel, humorous, and thoughtful look behind the scenes. As a bonus, Elwes really comes off as a gentleman and a thinker, which was nice. From backstage anecdotes to touching tributes, this book is a must read for any Bride aficionado.
And seriously, if all of that background stuff on the “Greatest Swordfight of All Time” didn’t make you pull out your DVD again, I don’t know what will.

“like a good wine without iocane powder, it seems to get better with time.”
Cary Elwes, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

 3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Shakespeare, viruses, aging actors, Michigan locales that I recognized, and so much more made me love this dreamy, nostalgic, and beautifully written novel. It’s basically a literary post-apocalyptic novel with real depth and imagination. The way every little detail ties into the plot gave me a severe case of writer’s envy. This was the first book of Emily St. John Mandel’s that I ever read, and it will not be the last.

“He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light. This was actually the main difference between twenty-one and fifty-one, he decided, the sheer volume of regret.”
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

4. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

 I tend to avoid most R-rated movies**, so I never saw the movie, but I did pick up the audiobook for one of my long drives last week.  I had no idea what to expect. However, I was utterly disarmed by Pat’s narrative after only three sentences. Quick’s depiction of mentally “different” characters is spot on, sensitive and never patronizing. From Pat’s endless repetition of certain phrases and ideas, to his obsession with staying fit and Eagles football, I loved every bit of this book. It was so funny, yet so sad, and one of the best contemporary novels I have read in a looooooong time.***

“Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life can be.” “Why?” “So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one’s mind.”
Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook 

5. Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

Another book I recently reviewed, BW:FR was a fun spy novel that featured one of my favorite Avengers.
As an added bonus, my copy is a signed ARC that I got at BookExpo, which made it extra special.

“Natasha Romanoff hated pierogies—but more than that, she hated lies.
Lying she was fine with. Lying was a necessity, a tool of her tradecraft. It was being lied to that she hated, even if it was how she had been raised.
Everything Ivan used to say was a lie.“—Margaret Stohl, Black Widow: Forever Red

 6. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

This was one of those love it or hate it books, I think. Everyone was reading it, there was so much hype, yada yada.

Fortunately, I avoided most of that, and didn’t read any reviews, so I read Red Queen with zero expectations. The fun X-Men vibe and treacherous characters made for good reading, and it was far better than a lot of its fellows.
I really liked that the romance wasn’t the ultimate plot. (Power, betrayal, family, revolution, and all of that interesting stuff supplanted it).****

“It’s our nature. We destroy. It’s the constant of our kind. No matter the color of blood, man will always fall.”
Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen

7. Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

I met Christie at BookExpo. She was a lovely person who made time to sign my book, even though she was tired and it was ten minutes after her official signing.

Where Women Are Kings was not a “fun” book — but it was a beautiful, compassionate, heart-rending story about a little boy with a tragic past, his troubled Nigerian birth mother, and the English family who just wants to love him.

“Your story begins in Nigeria, which is a place like heaven . . . Nigeria
is brightness and stars, and earth like the skin of your cheeks: brown-red,
soft and warm.” — Christie Watson, Where Women Are Kings

8. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

I just wrote a post about my love for Cupid and Psyche/Beauty and the Beast retellings, so I’m sure that this isn’t a surprise. What is surprising is that it took me so long to get around to reading it!
From the romance***** to the world to the writing to the concept, I loved pretty much everything about this book, and I can’t wait to read more of Hodge’s writing.

“Why is he scared of the dark?”

I meant the words for a joke, but Shade nodded seriously. “Like all monsters. Because it reminds him of what he truly is”.”
Rosamund Hodge, Cruel Beauty 

9. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The only thing I really didn’t like about this was the ridiculous swooning woman cover. I was too embarrassed to read it until I found out that it was more like a romantic drama in the world of The Thief.

 Honestly, what’s with the ball gowns in a world based on Ancient Greece and Rome? Naturally, since it’s on my list, I really liked it anyhow. It was fluffy but not stupid, romantic but not soppy, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding.

 “She saw, yet again, that her friend’s compliments were just bits of art and artifice. They were paper swans, cunningly folded so that they could float on the air for a few moments. Nothing more.”
Marie Rutkoski, The Winner’s Curse 

 However, nothing prepared me for how epically horrible the sequel’s cover would be.


Just LOOK AT THIS FOR A MINUTE———–>

YOU DON’T/CAN’T HOLD A SWORD LIKE THAT, WOMAN!!!

 I won’t be able to read this one for awhile, no doubt.

10. William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher

I love both Shakespeare and Star Wars, so obviously this silly series is a hit with me. It’s hilarious and brilliant, and I have loved every installment. I can’t wait for the Attack of the Clones one, I’m anticipating more side-splitting humor of this variety:

“QUI-GON: I know not who you are or what you want, Yet I do have skills most particular, Acquir’d throughout a Jedi’s long career. These skills do make me nightmarish to such As you. Surrender now, and you shall live— If not, you shall be dead, and there’s an end.
MAUL: I’ll not be taken by you, man naïve; Your feeble skills are naught when match’d to mine. This is the moment I have longèd for: Two Jedi to assuage mine appetite.”
Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First

Footnotes:
*I drove up and down the country 4 times. Parts were fun, parts were dreary, but I felt like a trucker.
**I can easily count the R-rated films I’ve seen. Most of them just weren’t good enough to be worthwhile, but this is a matter of opinion. For the record, Slumdog Millionaire and The Fall were two of the worthwhile ones.
***The language is foul, often coarse or crass, and there is a lot of cursing. Just an FYI. 
****I swear I’m not anti-romance, really. I just get tired of it (especially the shallow faux-love in YA novels), and want exciting swashbuckling things to happen.
*****See, this book is basically a romance, and I loved it. Point. Proven.

Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (No spoilers)

Because I have not had time* to do a BEA review post, and now it would be sort of pointless, I’m going to review the first ARC (that I have finished) from my BEA haul:

DRUMROLL PLEASE

Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red 

it’s so (appropriately) mysterious that the Goodreads blurb is only this:

“This novel features all the thrilling adventure readers will expect from the Marvel brand, backed up by the young-adult cred of #1 New York Times bestselling author Margaret Stohl. Uncover a new side of the Marvel Universe, accessible to old fans and new readers alike, as Stohl weaves an unforgettable story through the world of the Black Widow.” 

First: This cover is GORGEOUS. My cover is sort of boring (still cool though), without this fabulous artwork ——->

<——–But more importantly, it’s a signed copy 😉 I can forgive it for lacking the awesome art.

  And yes, this ARC was generously given to me by the lovely people at Disney and Marvel press in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Gifs are from Tumblr.com and belong to respective copyright holders.
When I first heard this was happening, I was so excited. Natasha Romanov a.k.a. Natalia Romanova a.k.a Natasha Romanoff a.k.a you get the picture, is one of my favorite Marvel characters (comics and movies) in both the classic and modern Marvel storylines. Her no-nonsense efficiency, her awesome skills, and her troubled past make for a fabulous character in the right hands.
Which leads in to the next part: I read three chapters of Beautiful Creatures once. Suffice it to say that I am not a fan.
I don’t do sappy, drippy, really drippy witch/teenage-angst novels. Period. So I was all, Marvel, really
But then I met Margaret Stohl at BEA. She was fabulous – humble – and filled with trepidation about the general populace reading her take on Black Widow. That made me feel a little better. And she geeked out with us about how awesome Black Widow is in the comics, and then she signed my book.

And honestly, I shouldn’t have worried so much, because I really liked the book.

So people of the world, here is a brief, spoiler free summary of Black Widow: Forever Red

Forever Red starts in Ukraine, 8 years in the past (you can actually read the beginning online). The Black Widow is hunting down her old mentor/trainer, Ivan Somodorov. The mission goes south, but not before Natasha rescues the girl that Ivan was experimenting on, turns the girl over to S.H.I.E.L.D., promises she’ll come if the girl needs her, and leaves.
8 years later, we are introduced to the primary characters (other than Natasha): teenagers Alex Manor and Ava Orlova. Ava is, of course, the little girl that Natasha rescued eight years earlier. Ava had been living in a (dreadful sounding) secure S.H.I.E.L.D. facility before she escaped, and she currently lives in the bottom of a Brooklyn YWCA. Both of them have strange dreams, but Ava’s are about Alex (she’s never met him). Ava has also nurtured hatred against the woman who saved her life, and then left her to fend for herself in a strange world.
But children are disappearing again, and the Black Widow suspects that Ivan survived their confrontation. That means he is after her, and after Ava, so Natasha heads back into the field, and back into Ava’s life. However, things are far more tangled than Natasha realized: her memories are leaking into Ava’s head, thanks to Ivan’s experiments in “quantum entanglement.” Ava absorbs Natasha’s skills, and the Black Widow can’t feel it. As frustrating as this is, it’s also incredibly dangerous. They aren’t the only Entangled pair that Ivan left behind.
To disentangle themselves, Ava and Natasha must find Ivan, face their childhoods, and go back to where it all began. And what does Alex Manor have to do with everything?

My thoughts – without spoilers

5 things that worked:

1. I loved the book’s format. Each present-day chapter is followed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. Line-Of-Duty Death (L.O.D.D.) case document. They are interviews (often with Natasha) and other files that tie into several plot threads. I love how these were worked in to the story
2. Margaret Stohl does a great job with Natasha’s character. She’s the hard edged, sensible, and capable assassin/spy we all love, but she’s also human (but with a very messed up past).
3. Ava and Alex were both likable (surprisingly so), and I was interested in their character arcs. Ava as Natasha’s “mini-me” provided some humor and insight into the Black Widow.
4. The plot. It was old-school spy stuff with gadgets, disguises, mad scientists, and chase scenes, but with an awesome heroine instead of a suave, suit wearing James Bond type.
5. The covert peeks into Natasha’s classified past. Black Widow is mysterious, and that’s one of the things I always liked. I was worried that a novelization would take away too much of that mystery, but it didn’t. Natasha is given just enough history, just enough name-dropping (I didn’t grin stupidly at everyone in the airport when I read a certain case note**), to both reconcile her comic/cinematic character, and leave a lot of interesting openings. Oh, and Coulson is in there a bit 🙂
BONUS: The Russian. I never forgot that I was reading about Russian characters, and it gave both realism and grounding to a book with a crazy mind-meld plot.

5 things that didn’t work as well:

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1. While I liked Ava and Alex, and was rooting for them, but they weren’t why I was reading the book. I just didn’t care as much, and I was far more engaged when Natasha was on the scene.

2. This was a minor part of the book, but the predictable Alex/Ava romance (while believable) didn’t do anything for me. Sure, they were cute and not annoying, but (see above), I didn’t really care. But hey, they’re kids.

3. I felt like it occasionally suffered from trying to be too cryptic and mysterious. There were a few details that needed further explanation/examination for the plot’s sake. The only major example of this was all the disappearing children.***

4. Ivan. He had a bit of Marvel Movie Villain Syndrome: Ivan was evil, sadistic, and had quite the past, and yet he felt a little flat. But again, only Loki and Wilson Fisk (Daredevil) have truly escaped this.****

5. This one is 50/50 for me (because sometimes it worked better than others): the constant reminders that we are in a very normal, modern, but alternate Earth where superheroes are an acknowledged thing and Avengers destroyed/saved New York once.

Overall:

4 out of 5 Spiders. 

I’m just one of those annoying people who wanted more Black Widow. Maybe a novel that takes place in the past now? With Winter Soldier or Daredevil cameos?<—YES

Footnotes:
*I know that having time and making time are directly related.
**(not really a spoiler but just to be safe) Black Widow’s file has her age redacted. And there is a footnote that says to reference the files of Rogers, Steve and Barnes, James. Which means that they haven’t thrown out her backstory from the comics. There is still a chance that Natasha will be more like her real age (just rewritten every time) and has trained under the Winter Soldier. So I grinned at strangers ( I was reading in a busy airport, people).
***Seriously, where did all those kids go? If this was really addressed in the book, I must have missed it. I think it was just mentioned in passing toward the end.
****If you count the Winter Soldier as a villain [which in CA:TWS he technically is), then that makes three.

So, have you read this? Will my review be whisked away into secret S.H.I.E.L.D. files even though I avoided spoilers? 

Do you love Black Widow, or think she was less deserving of a novel than other Marvel ladies? 

How do you feel about her treatment in the movies? Would you like to see a Black Widow and Daredevil or Winter Soldier team up in the cinematic/novel/TV universe?