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T5W: Books Without Romance

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is books without romance. Sometimes, romance plots can follow certain cliches, and are, by their nature, usually quite predictable in their endings. For that reason, I don’t typically love romance novels, and prefer the romance to be a secondary storyline, or play a minor role, if any at all. Sometimes I love the cliches, and sometimes I want something new. This can be difficult to find, but it can be refreshing and if done right, can bring to light different themes that aren’t always explored as much, as well as exploring other relationship dynamics that characters have, whether they are friendships or family bonds.

Here we go!

1. The Red Abbey Chronicles – Maria Turtschaninoff

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When does this series not feature in one of my T5W posts? I don’t know if it ever won’t be here. I will find every opportunity I possibly can to talk about this. Romance is completely absent in the first novel, Maresi, and features slightly in the second, but never in the way that you expect it. Turtschaninoff’s writing is completely new and different, and so her exploration of love and romance is as well.

Read my reviews for the first two books in the series here and here.

2. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

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Romance features briefly at the start of this novel, but not for long. Before the story has even got going, Shadow Moon discovers that the love of his life Laura has died. From then on, he embarks on an adventure with the mysterious Thursday, discovering that gods are real, and that they are going to war. Although this isn’t a book devoid of romance, much like the Red Abbey Chronicles, this is not a story that is driven by romance.

Read my full review here.

3. The Way Back Home – Allan Stratton 

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The most important relationship in this novel is that of Zoe and her grandmother, who she runs away from home with to protect. I thought at one point that romance would feature, but it turned out to simply be a red herring. It was so satisfying to see a YA novel adventure that focused solely on the family relationships of the main character.

Read my full review here.

4. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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Another YA novel that focused on family bonds, Everything I Never Told You is one of the most interesting books I have read in this genre. In the very first page, we are told that Lydia, the favourite child of the Lee family, has died. Over the course of the novel, Ng explores not only the relationships between the characters, but the dynamics of interracial relationships, racial identity, the American dream, the pressures that children face, and guilt.

5. Uprooted – Naomi Novik 

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The whole way through this novel I expected there to be more romance. It just goes to show how conditioned we are to expect it. Although romance did feature, it only made an appearance two times, if I remember correctly. Other than that, there was so much more to the plot that it took a back seat, and it would have been just as good without it altogether, because the relationship between Agnieszka and ‘the Dragon’ is so complex regardless.

Read my full review here.

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T5W: Favourite ‘Unlikeable’ Protagonists

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s theme is unlikeable protagonists. I personally love a brilliant villain, but it can be difficult to have a good unlikeable protagonist. You have to take someone with serious flaws and make readers see some light in them. It’s difficult to do, and sometimes a ‘good’ unlikeable protagonist just becomes someone that you can’t stand, and the balance between flaws and strengths is lost. Here’s a list of examples where I think it’s been done right.

1. Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff

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I couldn’t just pick one of Naondel’s many narrators, but something that I think Turtschaninoff did really well was craft really complex characters. All of the women that narrate this novel are out to save their own skin, and largely remain so for most of the novel. They are selfish and ambitious out of need and form few friendships and bonds between them. However, you come to love them as characters because their lives and thoughts are so well presented and you see their distinct personalities coming together when they realise they should not be enemies any longer.

2. Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

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I chose the protagonist of the early books in the Throne of Glass series over that of the later books because Celaena was everything that I enjoy in an unlikeable protagonist. I loved how she toed the line between hero and villain. She was dangerous, a threat to everyone and not afraid to show it, proud of her strength and skill, scheming, and powerful, but at the same time we saw gentler sides to her. We saw her both as an assassin and as a friend, lover, and protector. While some people simply love Celaena, I actually often toe the line between love and hate in these books, especially in the later books. There are moments where I love her sassiness, her wit, and the double sides to her character, and there are other moments where I feel tired of it, and want her to just pick the a side, good or bad. I guess that’s what makes her such an intriguing protagonist.

3. Eva from We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

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Eva is far from a likeable character because of her crude honesty. She is completely open about not having wanted her first child Kevin, about her dislike for him as a child and uneasiness around him, about her resenting many of the choices that she allowed herself to be talked into by her husband. We learn that her son Kevin killed seven students and two adults in a massacre at his school, and we see Eva visiting him in prison and even preparing her house for his return, taking extra care to ensure he will be comfortable. Throughout the novel, I wasn’t ever quite sure about Eva, and I definitely felt uneasy reading this novel, but it was an unfamiliar feeling that I actually really enjoyed.

4. Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin

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I always get weird looks for saying that Cersei is one of my favourite characters in this series, but she is just the epitome of a great villain. What I love about Cersei, and about the characterisation in this series generally, is that you always see the characters’ motives for their actions. Cersei is undeniably selfish and cruel, but you also know that she does the things she does to protect her family. I also think she’s a fascinating character in how scheming she is and how she is one of the most dangerous characters in the series without being a warrior in the typical sense.

5. Pip – Great Expectations from Charles Dickens

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Reading this novel, I actually actively disliked Pip. I thought he was selfish and couldn’t see past his own desires, he was ungrateful to his uncle, and narrow-minded. I hated how he treated those who had helped him, and how quickly he seemed to forget all about him. However, it all fits into the story well, as it is about growing up and learning valuable lessons, which Pip definitely does. He learns that the things he had thought were wrong, and comes to realise the errors of his ways.

Do you like an unlikeable protagonist? How many flaws is too many flaws?

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

If you check out my review of Maria Turtschaninoff Maresi, the first book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, you’ll know how much I loved it. I had to read the second instalment in the series, and it was both more of what I wanted and something new and exciting. Maria’s writing is exquisite, and I love how she weaves her stories slowly and subtly, and the story in this book was so different to Maresi that it still felt new.

First of all, although this is the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel to Maresi and not a sequel. It tells the story of the first women who founded the Red Abbey, the women-only society on the island of Menos that Maresi is set in. The majority of the story takes place in the palace of Ohaddin and starts with Kabira. She visits the Sovereign’s palace and meets Iskan, the son of the Vizier who sweeps her off her feet. Iskan is intrigued and obsessed by the mysterious source of magical power in Kabira’s lands, the spirit of Anji, and tricks Kabira into marrying him for control over it. Over the years, we see Kabira as well as Iskan’s subsequent wives, concubines, and slaves, as they suffer mercilessly under his rule, until they finally decide to escape. There is a reason why the Red Abbey Chronicles are being hailed as ‘feminist fantasy’, and that is because these novels focus on women – their strengths, their dreams, their fears, and their stories.

The novel is told through many different perspectives and these various stories take us to many different locations in Maria’s world. Sometimes I am apprehensive when authors do multiple perspectives as it can often feel confusing and the characters can feel superficial, but Maria Turtschaninoff does not fall into this trap. I have absolutely loved the way that she writes since I first opened Maresi, particularly in that her novel’s form is that of written accounts by the characters, looking back on their experiences. This novel consists of the written account of the women once they have arrives on Menos, and it is easy to believe that these are real women remembering their lives. You really get a feel for them as human beings through this structure, and this way of telling the story means that the story builds up over time, just as the characters become clearer and more distinct to you as the novel goes on. I also love how this format means you get a really good idea of the characters’ personal journeys over time. For example, when the novel begins, Kabira is a teenager, and we see her age until she is an old woman, and we see her not only through her own eyes, but through those of the other women as well, so we get a really well fleshed out image of her.

I’m constantly amazed by how Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing seems so effortless. I’m sure that endless hours go into crafting her work to make it so perfect, but as a reader, I felt like every choice of word was perfect, and even though the words are simple, there were many passages that blew me away. She also expertly manages to craft a unique magical world whilst not making it feel overcomplicated or confusing using the different characters to teach us this. Instead of having a huge info-dump, we learn through each of the characters’ different skills. Kabira has grown up with Anji, Garai has grown up with a close affinity to the land, Orseola is a dreamweaver (one of my favourite stories), and Sulani is a warrior woman. They each bring their own knowledge, talents and skills to the story and to the team, so that by the end of the novel, we see women who don’t even all like each other that much form a strong community together.

I honestly feel like I could talk forever about how much I love Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. I enjoyed Naondel not only for the self-contained story within its pages but also because it adds another wonderful layer to the story that we see in Maresi. Learning about the origins of the Red Abbey and the way of life that Maresi lives was interesting and exciting. As I said with Maresi, I think a wide range of people could love this series. It has something for everyone, whether you are new to the fantasy genre or you have loved it for years as I have, whether you read adult or YA, whether you don’t read a lot at all. There is something in the Red Abbey Chronicles for everyone.

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T5W: Authors You Want to Read More From

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is 5 authors you would like to read more of, and it was actually very difficult to only pick 5! I tried to pick authors who have books out that I haven’t read yet, rather than authors I love who simply haven’t written more books yet, which made it a bit more challenging, but I thought it might be a bit more interesting to talk about the masses of literature out there already that I haven’t yet been able to experience.

1. Neil Gaiman

 

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I love Neil Gaiman’s mind. His work is always original, and he has this great way of mixing dark and funny writing together which I love. Even if I’m not head over heels with a book, I am always head over heels with the way his brain works. His settings and characters are always unique, and he can make everything feel new and different and slightly creepy. I’ve loved everything I’ve seen of his work, from novels to his Doctor Who episodes (The Doctor’s Wife is one of the best episodes ever – fight me.)

I admit, I am a little in love with Neil Gaiman’s brain. And the man.

2. Kazuo Ishiguro

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Never Let Me Go is one of my favourite novels of all time. I loved the delicate blend of different genres and Cathy’s voice as a narrator telling her story to the reader. Even though this novel isn’t exciting in the jam-packed-with-action type of way, I devoured this book in a day. I think that perhaps one of the reasons why I didn’t go straight to Ishiguro’s other novels is the fact that Never Let Me Go isn’t really a clear-cut genre story, so I don’t know whether the other books will be similar or not. I do know that I loved his writing and characters though, so I think I need to buckle up and give it a try.

3. George R.R. Martin

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I have read all of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and it is one of my favourite series. I haven’t read anything as expansive and exciting as these books, with such a vast array of complex characters. I love the moral ambiguity of his characters. Maybe the sheer size of this series, and the way that it feels like it is sometimes taking over my life, is the reason why I haven’t tried George RR Martin’s other books, but I would like to give them a try. I own a couple already, and I know that there is a lot out there to read across different genres and formats, from novels to short stories. There’s a lot to keep me entertained, it’s just a matter of time.

4. Maria Turtschaninoff

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Maresi was beautiful in so many ways. I loved the setting and world-building, the characters, the story, and the writing. It reminds me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing in Never Let Me Go, with the narrator telling you the story after the events have happened, and Maresi’s tone was calm and dream-like like Cathy’s was. It is so refreshing to find an author whose writing feels so comfortable and easy, so I can’t wait to read Naondel, the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles. I also know that Maria Turschaninoff has other books in Finnis. So, what do I have to do to get these translated to English?

5. Victoria Schwab

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I’ve read Schwab’s This Savage Song and am excited to see what happens in the sequel. Even though this book didn’t blow me away, I was impressed by her creativity and I have heard so many good things about her adult fantasy books published under the name V.E. Schwab, in particular A Darker Shade of Magic. From what I’ve read about these novels, I feel like I might get some Neil Gaiman vibes from Schwab’s writing, so I can’t wait to finally get around to reading these.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Maresi – Maria Turtschaninoff Review

 

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Rating: ★★★★★

This book is quite unlike anything I’ve read before. Everything felt different, from the setting, to the calm and soothing narrative voice of Maresi telling the story from her memory. I couldn’t recommend this more, whether you typically enjoy fantasy or not, this novel is so unique and wonderful that I wanted to disappear inside of it.

Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen after a harsh winter. Since then, she has settled into the women-only community and can’t imagine leaving the sanctuary of their island again. Life at the Red Abbey, with its routine, safety, and knowledge is all that she wants. Jai’s arrival, after fleeing a violent home, only reaffirms Maresi’s view that life with the Red Abbey is the best option. However, Jai’s past has come back to haunt her, and the island is no longer safe from intruders. The women must fight to protect each other and her way of life, and Maresi must find the strength within her to face up to her destiny.

My absolute favourite thing about this book is the writing style. Maresi is the narrator, and she is writing down the events of the story so that they can be kept in the Red Abbey’s library for future reference. I really loved the tone of her writing, it felt very calm and assured, but you could also sense the emotion running beneath her retelling. You get a feeling that as Maresi is telling you the story, she herself is dealing with the events themselves. There is also a lot of foreboding because of this, because you know that something so big and important has happened to Maresi that she is being asked to write about it, you know that Jai is at its centre, and that this has made Maresi change her view on life, but you don’t know what it is for a while. This means you’re eagerly waiting for the action to begin.

This book starts off quite slow and descriptive. You learn quite a bit about the way of life at the Red Abbey as Maresi guides the newcomer Jai through her first few months on the island. We learn about their traditions and their routines, and also about Maresi and Jai’s lives before they arrived at the Abbey. I can’t really describe how the writing style in Maresi made me feel apart from comfortable. Turtschaninoff has a great way of making everything feel magical and wonderful but also cosy and homelike, so that I jut wanted to jump onto a ship and visit this amazing island. When the action does begin to pick up, the magical atmosphere of the island really comes to life. By the end, I was amazed at the depth and reality with which this entire culture and community was brought to life.

Overall, I absolutely adored this book. The writing style really made the characters and the location feel real, and I was really impressed at how there was such a good balance between a calm and quite reserved set of characters and daring action. It was nice to read about women who don’t have to be bold warriors wielding weapons to win, and about women working together. I was completely enchanted by this book, so look out for my review of the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles: Naondel in the future!

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T5W: Books That Would Make Good Video Games

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is books that would make good video games. I’m not much of a gamer, but I’ve picked books that were filled with action and problem-solving from start to end. Here we go!

1. Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton

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There is so much travelling, running, fighting, and sneaking around in this book that it made me feel a little bit like I was in a video game! I felt like I was jumping off trains and trekking through the desert with Amani, and I really think the adrenaline of this book would translate well into a video game. The landscapes are great, and I can imagine little mini-games with the different magical creatures and powers.

2. Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

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I think that the first book in this series would make such a great game because of the tournament that Celaena is a part of. The game would include her training so that she is the best of the other candidates, the tournament itself, as well as the underlying mysteries around the palace, like when she discovers the secret tunnel in her room. Celaena would make a great video game protagonist because she is smart, adventurous, and completely badass. The location of the palace would work so well in a video game as well, and I would love to be able to explore all its different corridors and rooms.

3. Maresi –  Maria Turtschaninoff 

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When I read this book, I loved reading about the simple lives of the women in the Red Abbey. I imagine that this came would be less action-packed than my previous two choices, and instead would be a chilled out simulation game. We would play the role of a new arrival, learning the ropes around the Abbey, helping with chores and tasks, with the harvest and learning new skills. Then, we would become a novice and even a sister. Maybe this sort of game isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it might sound a bit boring to some, but I grew up playing Sims and the Red Abbey sounded great to me, so I would love it!

4. Red Rising – Pierce Brown

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There is so much to this world that I would love a chance to really be a part of it. Maybe we could be young Golds at the Institute, or a rebel infiltrator like Darrow, leading warships in space.

5. A Song of Ice and Fire – George RR Martin

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Okay, this is a bit of a cop-out, because I actually played a ASOIAF game once on my phone but didn’t get very far because my phone was too crappy to handle it. The graphics were so great, and you got to decide what house you were in, whether you were rich or poor, and make different choices along the way. The world in these books is so diverse that it really would need to be a story that you craft yourself, whether you want to be leading an army into battle like Jaime or Robb Stark, a schemer like Littlefinger, royalty like Cersei or just someone trying to get by like Sansa.