Book Review: The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Dominion of the Fallen

Publisher: Ace (April 4, 2017)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Ultimately, my second foray into the Dominion of the Fallen did not turn out the way I’d hoped, though to be fair, I did have a lot riding on this sequel. It’s true that the first book left me with mixed feelings, but I found the premise intriguing enough that I wanted to see where things would lead, and maybe give this series a another chance to sweep me off my feet. Regrettably, this did not quite happen—despite The House of Binding Thorns being a pretty decent follow-up. At the end of the day though, I simply found myself tripping over a lot of same hurdles as book one.

First of all, in spite of the suggestions that this can be read as a standalone, I would highly recommend against it. Definitely read The House of Shattered Wings first if you can; you will find the background information absolutely indispensable, especially in anchoring you to the setting. In the aftermath of the war between angels, the proud city of Paris is now only a ghost of what it once was, and the Fallen are now divided in several houses all vying for power among the crumbling ruins. Most of the characters here were originally introduced in the first book, including Madeleine, an alchemist suffering from an addiction to angel essence. Upon her return to House Hawthorn, their leader Asmodeus mercilessly purges that addiction from her, with the intention of sending her on a diplomatic mission to the dragon kingdom under the Seine.

Meanwhile, Philippe is also back, now mourning the loss of Isabelle, the fallen angel with whom he had shared a mental link. While searching for a way to resurrect her, he comes across Berith, another Fallen who claims to be Asmodeus’ sister. The exiled angel is currently keeping a low profile, hiding herself and her pregnant human lover Françoise from the chaos and poison of the clashing Houses. However, due to their familial connections, Berith may not be as well hidden from Asmodeus as she has led Françoise to believe, and in the escalating conflict between all the factions involved, it is becoming increasingly clear that no one will be safe from the violence.

Right away, I was struck by how little I remembered from the first book. I had to go back to my review of The House of Shattered Wings to remind myself who was who, and in doing so, I also noticed what I had written about the characters and how I’d struggled to engage with any of them. Unfortunately, this is a problem that persists; there are too many characters and not enough personality between them to justify so many, and the result is just a jumble of names and descriptions that I tried to but could not connect with on a deeper, emotional level. For this simple reason alone, the rest of the book fell apart for me, even though I admit from a technical standpoint, The House of Binding Thorns is probably a better book than its predecessor. However, I need to care about the characters to care about the story; without that foundation, it’s hard to get on board with everything else.

Furthermore, though I was impressed with the allegorical themes of post-colonialism, I’m not sure they came through well enough amidst all the noise. Paradoxically, the plot felt simultaneously too complicated and too superficial, overly simplistic. At times, The House of Binding Thorns felt very much like a “middle book”, in the sense that it is neither here nor there, striving to expand the story and characters beyond the first novel but ultimately falling short of achieving the desired result. Again, all the ingredients seem to be there—the history, mythology, philosophical discourse and world-building, etc.—and in many cases they even surpass their scope from the first book, but for the reasons I touched upon above, the story simply failed to “speak” to me.

In the end, I have a feeling that this might just be another classic case of “Good book, but not for me”. Still, despite not winning me over, I’m glad I gave this series another shot. Chances are I’ll probably sit out for the third book of Dominion of the Fallen, but I’m definitely not closing any doors to trying more of Aliette de Bodard’s other work in the future.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The House of Shattered Wings (Book 1)

Waiting on Wednesday 05/24/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker (August 1, 2017 by Orbit)

Who doesn’t love a story about assassins – or better yet, a story about assassins versus assassins! Not to mention, my pick for this week celebrates this month’s Tough Traveling theme oh so well…

The synopsis also makes this one sound like a lot of fun, in the style of a traditional epic fantasy. Plus, I’m always interested in trying debuts.

“TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN…

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.

Set in a world ravaged by magic and the ambition of noblemen, this debut epic fantasy features a cast of assassins, knights and fools which will delight any fan of Brent Weeks, David Dalglish or Robin Hobb.”

Book Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (October 2015)

Author’s Info: rainbowrowell.com

Wendy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading and/or writing fanfic is a fangirl/boy rite of passage and it’s the tie that binds Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl together. As the main character of that story made her way through the trials and tribulations of family life, relationships, and her first year at college, it’s Cath’s fanfic that helps her through it all, with each chapter starting with an excerpt from “Carry On.” Those little excerpts offered glimpses in a fascinating Harry Potter-esque world that is now the main focus of this new book.

I enjoyed the Harry Potter series, but it’s not my fandom of preference. There are many things about the series that trouble me, more so because Rowling never really addresses them. Carry On is not only an excellent story in its own right, it serves as a very creatively powerful analysis of those problematic areas in Harry Potter. At the top of the list is the real villain of the story, Dumbledore. His character is known simply as The Mage in Carry On and he is the orchestrator of all things.

Carry On stars Simon Snow as the proverbial Chosen One who, unlike Harry, actually is a powerful mage himself. Also unlike Harry, he is not the centre of this story. Well, he *is*, but the other characters get their fair share of attention with chapters told from many different points of view that remind us of how important each and every character is — even the minor ones — within Simon’s story and as part of the mysteries and the great mage family war that threatens. Rowell explores their feelings and their opinions on Simon and the situation through dialogue and descriptions that are always on fire.

Carry On takes place during Simon’s last year at school, yet Rowell so easily paints a moving image of Simon’s life and all the elements surrounding it — past, present, and future — all in a single book. Of course I’d like to read more about his battle with the Chimera, or their kidnapping and other encounters with the Insidious Humdrum – the great evil that haunts them wearing Simon’s face. Yet when Rowell tosses out these encounters through conversations and recollections, I don’t feel at a loss for not having read them fully. Rowell has managed to wrap so much in a single book through crisp and pithy writing that is often funny, endearing, and powerful.

What would fanfic be without some hot and heavy romance? Harry’s relationships were always so meh to me, but once again, Rowell brings the fire in true fanfic style by forcing Simon to bunk with his mortal enemy, Baz, a vampire who, on the first day back at Watford School of Magicks, does the unthinkable: Baz does not show up, leaving Simon to fear the moment when Baz will leap out from a corner and attack. But is there more to these feelings? OF COURSE THERE IS and that’s really what we’re here for right? Because just look at that gorgeous cover. unf.

Book Review: The Berlin Project by Gregory Benford

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Berlin Project by Gregory Benford

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Saga Press (May 9, 2017)

Length: 480 pages

Author Information: Website

It’s hard to be a fan of alternate history fiction these days without running across your fair share of alternate World War II stories, but from the start, it was clear to me that The Berlin Project was a different breed. With a heavy focus on the historical details and science behind the building of the atom bomb, I confess this would not have been my usual kind of read at all. That said, I’m glad I read it, and as you will soon see, certain revelations eventually came to light that made me see this book—and appreciate it—in a whole new light.

Like many of its genre, The Berlin Project offers a fascinating glimpse into a crucial point in our history and asks the question, “What if?” Because of its scope and significant impact, World War II is especially rife with these scenarios, but rather than approach the theme from a conventional standpoint, author Gregory Benford instead asks, “What if the United States developed the atomic bomb a year earlier, in 1944?” As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this is more than just a tagline for the book; a viable bomb at that time could have potentially set the US on a different path, and changed history in a lot of ways.

Through the eyes of the chemist Karl P. Cohen, a junior partner of the Manhattan Project, The Berlin Project tells the story of what might have happened had the Allies developed the first nuclear weapons in time to stop Hitler from killing millions of people. The book begins in 1938, following Karl as he returns from Paris, bringing home his new wife to meet his family. War is brewing in Europe, and the next few years sees Karl becoming more involved with the scientific community at Columbia University where he works. By the time the Manhattan Project is born, a number of famous scientists—many of whom were refugees from Europe—have already graced these pages including Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Harold Urey, Leo Szilard, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller and more. With Karl’s discovery of an alternate solution for creating U-235, the uranium isotope needed to sustain a fission chain reaction, the atomic bomb known as “Little Boy” became ready by the summer of 1944, and its intended target became Nazi Germany instead of Japan.

The publisher description markets this as a thriller, but in reality, all the gripping elements may be lost among the details. Rather than fast-paced excitement, I found instead an exhaustive narrative on the history of the early years of WWII, followed by an even more intimidating and lengthy account on the development of nuclear fission. The book’s first half covered events leading up to the formation of the Manhattan Project and the development of the bomb, a section which read more like a history textbook rather than science fiction novel (and the regular inclusion of historical photos and scientific diagrams did little to dispel this feeling, fascinating as they were). I didn’t dislike this part per se, but neither was I getting any sense that The Berlin Project was supposed to be a suspenseful thriller. Clearly a lot of research was put into this novel, with compelling pieces of trivia thrown in here and there, but I have a feeling readers with little interest in the historical or scientific subjects will have a rough time of getting into this story.

Fortunately, pacing improves in the second half. Let’s just say things don’t go nearly as smoothly as the Allies had hoped, following the bomb’s deployment in Berlin. Karl leaves the safety of the laboratory for fieldwork as a spy in Europe, and we finally come face-to-face with the horrors of war, which had been a background concern up to this point, happening far away from our protagonist’s life in New York. With this development, we are truly in unknown territory, as the war escalates and events spiral out of control. And yet, even with this change in tone, I still felt that there was a muted quality to the espionage and suspenseful elements, holding the story back from being a true thriller.

I did, however, mention in my intro about experiencing a turning point while in the middle of reading this book, and that was when I discovered the author’s connection to the protagonist and many of the other characters. As Benford writes in his Afterword, nearly all the people depicted in The Berlin Project existed. He met and knew quite a few of them. Karl Cohen was his own father-in-law! Suddenly, many of book’s idiosyncrasies which I’d noticed began to make a lot more sense, from its distinct tone of authenticity to certain quirks and habits attributed to the characters which sometimes struck me as too specific or out-of-the-blue to be made up. Every document featured in the novel is also authentic, including letters and other Cohen family correspondence. I found all this information to be extremely cool, and admittedly these revelations do have a way of lending a certain je ne sais quoi to this particular alt-history.

To be sure, The Berlin Project is different kind of book among its genre, and I think how you do with it will largely depend on your interest in its topics as well as a willingness to see the plot developments through to the end. All told, your mileage on enjoyment may vary, but it’s nevertheless a fascinating novel that I’m glad I got a chance to read.

YA Weekend: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone; Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (March 28, 2017)

Length: 14 hrs and 24 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I picked up A Crown of Wishes after the fantastic read that was The Star-Touched Queen, and I’m glad I did. This is despite the book being a companion novel rather than a true sequel, because while the two may feature different stories and characters, they are the same in all the ways that count – in their creative vision and excellence.

Once upon a time in a kingdom called Ujijain there lived a prince named Vikram. Known as the Fox Prince, he was offered a chance to compete in the mysterious Tournament of Wishes held in the otherworldly realm of Alaka, city of Treasures and Wealth. It is said that winner will be granted any wish they desire—and being the adopted son of the emperor and merely regarded as a puppet prince, Vikram thinks he knows what it is he will ask for should he prevail. But first, he’s going to have to find a partner.

Enter Gauri, a warrior princess who attempted a coup against her tyrannical brother and failed. Now she is in exile and a prisoner of war, captured by her kingdom’s enemies and facing death. In Vikram’s eyes, however, she is the ideal teammate—fierce, strong, and powerful, she’s the perfect complement to his wit and cunning. Gauri, on the other hand, is less than impressed with Vikram’s naiveté and lack of fighting ability, and yet, if it’s a choice between execution and going off on a wild goose chase with some strange fool prince, she knows which option she’s going to pick. So together they team up and head off to Alaka, with every confidence that they will emerge victorious. But upon their arrival in the otherworld, Gauri realizes that the two of them may have gotten in way over their heads. Things work differently here than in the real world, with dangers taking new forms. Curses and other magical or supernatural threats abound, twisting their aspirations into desperation and destruction.

While I was reading, I just couldn’t help but think this is the book I wish Caraval had been. Thematically they are very similar, each novel featuring an otherworldly, magical competition at its center. The difference is, The Crown of Wishes does it so much better. In contrast to the frenetic, almost random structure of Caraval, this one instead features an organized, well thought out plotline which gradually expands beyond the two protagonists’ personal stories. In some ways, it reminded me of a series of integrated folk tales, focusing on Gauri and Vikram as they discover more about themselves and each other with the completion of each challenge. Not surprisingly, the end result is a book that feels significantly more impactful and emotionally complex.

Ultimately I gave The Crown of Wishes the same rating as I did The Star-Touched Queen, because I enjoyed both books equally. But just as the original does some things better, there are likewise areas where the follow-up tops its predecessor. Those who thought the pacing was too slow in the first book will probably find this to be less of a problem in The Crown of Wishes, for example. It is a much more action-oriented and plot-driven book, with sustained high levels of excitement as the tournament progresses through its various stages.

I also preferred the relationship dynamics between the main characters here, over the one between Maya and Amar in The Star-Touched Queen. In a word, Vikram and Gauri were adorable. While a love story like theirs is in no way unique in YA, I feel Roshani Chokshi deserves a tremendous amount of credit for her gift in dialogue writing. On not once but several occasions, I found myself smiling at the cleverness and sharp humor in the characters’ back-and-forth banter, and that is a rare thing for me indeed. There’s a sense of real chemistry between them, making this a more satisfying YA romance than most.

The world-building was also wonderful. If you enjoyed this aspect from The Star-Touched Queen, then you’ll be even more thrilled with the level of detail here, as it is another step up from the author’s debut efforts. I loved Alaka, and the aura of myth and mystery that surrounded it. In fact, at times it felt like an information overload, simply because the strange and magical descriptions would keep coming and coming. The deluge got to be a little too much at times, but overall I appreciated the introduction to this rich and beautiful setting.

When all is said and done, A Crown of Wishes delivered everything I hoped for in a follow-up to one of the top YA novels I read last year, and I highly recommend both books in The Star-Touched Queen sequence. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the author’s future projects.

Audiobook Comments: Narrator Priya Ayyar did a fantastic job on the audiobook production of The Star-Touched Queen, which was I was so happy to see her reprise the role for the sequel. Her strong performance was one of the reasons why I decided to continue with this format for A Crown of Wishes, and I was not disappointed. Her reading was even better this time around, and once again she did great with the inflections and accents. I would not hesitate to recommend this series in audio.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Star-Touched Queen (Book 1)

Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every other weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I round up what I’ve read since the last update and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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Received for Review

As we head into summer, the activity in my mailbox has been crazy with ARCs and finished copies coming in hot and fast. I’m actually a little behind with cataloging all the newly arrived titles, but I’m definitely working on it. Thank you to the publishers for the following review copies received. For more details and full descriptions of the books, be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages!

Inspired by the future imagined at the 1939 World’s Fair, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenck was pitched to me as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis meets Futuramawhich is just too damn cool. I’m planning a review for June and there’s a fun giveaway in the works too, so keep your eyes out for that! With thanks to Tor Books for the ARC.

Up next, a couple of ARCs from the amazing folks at Ace/Roc/DAW: The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan is the sequel to last year’s The Waking Fire and I’m really excited to continue the series. The Cityborn by Edward Willett is also a new one to me, though I think I’ve read some of the author’s other books published under another name. From the description, it sounds like a YA/Adult crossover sci-fi standalone, so that should be interesting! My thanks to the publisher for putting it on my radar.

Vanguard by Jack Campbell – I’ve been meaning to read Campbell’s military science fiction for a long time, and with his return to the Lost Fleet world with the start of a brand new series, I saw this as the perfect opportunity. With thanks to Ace Books for the finished copy.

Thanks also to Simon and Schuster for sending me this surprise finished copy of The Only Child by Andrew Pyper – I definitely want to read it! The story sounds very different from the only other book I’ve read by Pyper, but I’m interested in seeing how things will play out.

This finished copy of The Berlin Project by Gregory Benford was another surprise, courtesy of Saga Press as well as the kind folks at Wunderkind PR. I have a review of this World War II alternate history scheduled for next week, so stay tuned!

Earlier in the week I also received an unsolicited ARC of Cormorant Run by Lilith Saintcrow. I’ve not had the best luck with the author’s books in the past, but I have a pretty good feeling about this one, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel featuring trans-dimensional rifts and aliens. With thanks to Orbit Books.

As well, you all know how much I adore Western fantasy/paranormal novels especially with a horror bent – enter In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson, described as a chilling tale of terror and suspense set deep in the Texas desert and recommended for fans of Joe Hill, Cormac McCarthy, and classic Anne Rice. My thanks to Skyhorse Publishing for the ARC!

Last week I also received this finished copy of Long Dark Dusk by J.P. Smythe, follow-up to the Arthur C. Clarke Award nominated Way Down Dark. I have the first book still on my to-read list, which I guess is getting bumped up now that the sequel is out. Maybe I’ll start it later in the week end even finish, since it’s such a short book. With thanks to Quercus.

Speaking of sequels, an ARC of Zero G: Green Space by William Shatner and Jeff Rovin also landed unexpectedly on my doorstep last week. William Shatner is well-loved for his role as Captain Kirk in this Star Trek-obsessed household, but I’ve not actually read any of his books. I confess I’m kinda curious about this series, and wouldn’t mind giving it a try if I have time. With thanks to Simon & Schuster.

I would also like to thank Pyr Books for this finished copy of Nebula Awards Showcase 2017 edited by Julie E. Czerneda – one day soon, I hope to check out one of these fantastic anthologies!

And finally, this is an interesting one: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and illustrated/adapted by Nick Bertozzi is a graphic novel of the 1931 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic about a Chinese farmer and his family in rural China. I’ve never read the original, so maybe I should do that first before checking out this adaptation, but I’m definitely intrigued. With thanks again to Simon & Schuster.

And hey, maybe luck is with me again. Granted, these days I’m not entering a lot of giveaways because of all the books I have on my to-read pile already, but last month I couldn’t resist entering this one for The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett and I actually won an ARC. It’s so shiny and I can’t wait to check it out.

The next two books I actually received a while ago, with thanks to Simon and Schuster for Young Readers. Unfortunately, I’m not a big reader of Middle Grade books and chances are I probably won’t get a chance to get to them. Before I donate to the Children’s Library though, I thought I would see if I can find them new homes with any of my fellow bloggers. So if you’re in the US, send me an email if you might be interested in reviewing Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan or The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi and I can send them your way!

  

  

Now quick, to the digital pile! I’ve been good, in the last few weeks the only NetGalley request I made was for The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. My thanks to Thomas Dunne Books for approving me.

Plus, more goodies courtesy of Tor.com, this time e-galleys for Null States by Malka Older and A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw. Both are sequels to books I have not read yet, I am so behind!

I also received several more audiobooks for review this week. I’m really excited about Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky because for so long I’ve wanted to read something by the author, and I’ve heard some excellent things about this book. Next is Injection Burn by Jason M. Hough, the start of his new duology set in the world of his Dire Earth Cycle. And finally, I was so happy when I found out that the Laura Elliston series was getting audiobooks, I couldn’t help but request book two Blood Oath by Melissa Lenhard. I have the eARC as well, but something tells me I might enjoy it even more in audio. With thanks to Audible Studios, Penguin Random House Audio, and Hachette Audio.

Reviews

Here is where I do a roundup of my reviews posted in the last two weeks:

The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Last Iota by Robert Kroese (4.5 of 5 stars)
Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon (4 of 5 stars)
Ararat by Christopher Golden (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger (3.5 of 5 stars)
Hunted by Meagan Spooner (3.5 of 5 stars)
Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh (3 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

 

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s a list of books I finished recently. Reviews for most of these will be up over the next few of weeks!

   

   

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: Plane

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

“When everything seem to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it ….”
~ a cover featuring a PLANE

Mogsy’s Pick:
The Three by Sarah Lotz

There were several books I could have gone with this week, and almost every one of them featured a plane crash on the cover, making this a very stressful topic for me as an aviophobe. But even if I hadn’t already had a fear of flying, this novel would have instilled it in me. The Three is a horror/thriller about four plane crashes that changed the world. They all happened within hours, on the same day, on four different continents. Terrorism, environmental factors, equipment failure and human error were all ruled out, leaving aviation experts baffled as to what could have brought the planes down.  Strangely though, in three out of the four crashes, a single child survivor is found amidst the wreckage.

It should have been impossible. No one could have survived those horrific crashes, but somehow, these children did. Dubbed “The Three”, some people claim that they are a miracle, while others are calling the mysterious plane crashes a sign heralding the End of Days, claiming that the children represent three out of the four horsemen of the apocalypse (but then where is the fourth? Might there be another child out there, waiting to be found?) Certainly, rumors of the disturbing things happening around the child survivors aren’t helping matters….

Okay. Deep breath, Mogsy. You can do this. Let’s take a look at the different covers I could find.

From left to right, top to bottom: Little, Brown and Company (2014) – Hodder and Stoughton (2014)

 

Spanish (2015) – Russian (2014) – Italian (2015) – Serbian (2014) – Arabic (2015) – Arabic

  

  

Winner:

I used to love the Hodder and Stoughton cover because of the subtle symbolism of the faded out “fourth tally”, but I have to admit, setting up this post and seeing the same motif used again and again on so many covers has somewhat dampened my fondness for it. I could have posted many more language editions, but they all pretty much this same image. So I’m going to go with the Little, Brown and Company edition this time, for its foreboding atmosphere. I like how the plane is so understated that you almost don’t even see it.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Audiobook Review Bites

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Genre: Autobiograpy
Publisher: Blue Rider Press (October 18, 2016)
Tiara’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Okay, I know that rating is kind of a middling rating considering that this is Carrie Fisher we’re talking about here, and she was only one of the most charming people in the world. But hear me out. Listening to this audiobook did a wonderful job of allowing listeners to see (hear) Carrie’s personality, and I did appreciate the sections of the book where her daughter (Billie Lourd) read directly from her diaries. Carrie narrates her own story with a humorous, sometimes self deprecating, honesty that Carrie was known for, and I loved the book for that. It was like having an intimate conversation with a friend about their life.

At the same time, I realize in retrospect, that I probably should’ve read/listened to some of her earlier memoirs before taking a plunge with this one. At the same time, though, the blurb for this book is a little misleading, making it seem like this might be an okay book to jump into before reading her other memoirs, which wasn’t the case for me. The blurb says this would be about things happening behind the scenes during the making of Star Wars, and while that is technically true this is more of a confessional about an affair she had during that time more than anything else.

In the end, I enjoyed this, but felt like this was missing something due to the nature of this book. I do have her other memoirs on hand that I’ll listen to soon for comparison.

Narrator: Carrie Fisher, Billie Lourd | Length: 5 hours and 12 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Penguin Audio (November 22, 2016) | Whispersync Ready: No

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The World According to Star Wars by Cass R. Sunstein
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Dey Street Books (May 31, 2016)
Tiara’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The World According to Star Wars is one fan’s analysis of the phenomena that is Star Wars and how it has impacted popular culture since the dawn of A New Hope‘s release in 1977. He examines how Star Wars has managed to have a cult following while being massively popular, and what he means by this that is, while there are many people who enjoy Star Wars, there is only a small percentage of the fanbase that are fanatical about it in a way that reminds you of the love that many lovers of cult classic books/games/movies/etc have. You know the ones who consume any and all media related to Star Wars and never tire of discussing the universe.

This book brought about quite a few mixed feelings in me. On one hand, I enjoyed listening to the many ways that the movies have been analyzed and the different theories that fans have about the movies and the universe that range from frivolous to deeply thoughtful. Sunstein even introduced me to some fan theories and ideas that I hadn’t considered before this book. On the other hand, sometimes this book can seem rather pompous and judgmental toward ideas that don’t seem to line up with the author’s own feelings about Star Wars. He seems to downplay the importance of the roles of some characters in favor of getting to the meat of his own opinion which could make parts of this book seem shallow.

In the end, this book reminded me of the type of fervent discussion you’d read on Tumblr. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve been part of some very good discussions on the site and often enjoy the thoughtful posts that people make regarding their fandoms on the site. However, they’re not the type of posts that I would necessarily say belong in a book.

Narrator: Kaleo Griffith | Length: 5 hours 44 mins | Audiobook Publisher: HarperAudio (May 31, 2016) | Whispersync Ready: Yes

Waiting on Wednesday: 05/17/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

The Speaker by Traci Chee (November 7, 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

Traci Chee blew me away last year with her debut The Reader, which became one of my top YA reads of 2016. With luck, the sequel will be just as well received.

“Having barely escaped the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are back on the run, slipping into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny. As Sefia begins to unravel the threads that connect Archer’s fate to her parents’ betrayal of the Guard so long ago, she and Archer must figure out a way to subvert the Guard’s plans before they are ensnared in a war that will pit kingdom against kingdom, leaving their future and the safety of the entire world hanging in the balance.”

Book Review: The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (May 16, 2017)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website

The Empire’s Ghost was a book that sounded right up my alley: an epic fantasy that touts a complex, multi-faceted story complete with a rich cast of characters and many points of view, not to mention the potential of a brand new setting filled with unique cultures and warring kingdoms—all set within a world where magic has once been lost but is ready to be found again. And indeed, it was a solid novel that delivered on all its promises, but it also had its share of stumbling blocks common to a lot of debuts—namely, that of trying to do too much.

The story opens on the empire of Elesthene, now just a ghost of its former glory. In the aftermath of the Ninist conquest, almost all traces of magic has been wiped clean from the world, leaving broken kingdoms behind to rebuild. However, it was only a matter of time until an ambitious leader like Imperator Elgar came to power and sought to create a new empire in his name, invading neighboring lands that have little hope of fighting back. In the kingdom of Reglay, young Prince Kelken clashes with his father on his idea for an alliance, refusing to risk his sister’s frail health in a political marriage. Meanwhile in Issamira, the richest and most powerful of the kingdoms, the royal succession is thrown into question following the disappearance of their crown prince. On the other hand, no such uncertainty exists in Esthrades where Lady Margraine has taken her father’s throne as his only heir—and is ruling with a determination to rival Elgar’s.

But far away from the royal courts and noble houses also stands the Dragon’s Head, an unassuming tavern tucked among the dank narrow streets of a rough and rundown Valyanrend neighborhood called Sheath. Its owner is a woman named Morgan Imrick who frequently gives shelter to the mercenaries and rogues in the area, and many of the regulars have become a group of friends. Not too many people in Sheath talk about their pasts, but when one of Morgan’s kitchen boys is arrested by the guard, certain difficult truths come to light. The Dragon’s Head crew inadvertently find themselves caught up in the tangled web of Imperator Elgar’s plans for domination, and are subsequently forced to carry out a special mission for him.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of perspectives involved, on account of the huge cast of characters. Normally, this would not be a problem—multiple POVs come with the epic fantasy territory, after all, and one of the advantages to writing a large cast is that you can quickly use them to create a rich and diverse new world. So, having a lot of characters in this genre is a good thing—but only if you don’t introduce them all at once. The first warning signs came early, when I felt I needed a dramatis personae to keep track of everyone in the prologue alone. It made getting into this novel difficult, mostly because so much of my energy was exerted towards trying to remember names without having to resort to building a spreadsheet.

With a large number of characters also comes a large number of plot threads. I enjoyed the story weaving Isabelle Steiger has done here, and by the end of the book I was really starting to appreciate how everybody and everything was coming together. Still, it took a long time for the big picture to come into focus, and while it was doing so, the narrative struggled to balance out the multiple plot lines. Some characters were parked for long periods of time, occasionally given short filler chapters (almost as if to remind us they still exist) while bigger, more important events were happening elsewhere. As the connections started to form, this also made some of the developments feel too convenient to be actually believable, what with all our key players encountering each other supposedly by chance in this vast empire.

Plus, in covering so many characters, the story may have spread itself too thin. Lady Margraine was probably the most fleshed out of everyone there, followed by perhaps Prince Kelken, while character development was disappointingly limited for the rest. Some, like Marceline, feel almost like a footnote. There were also others I would have liked to know better, like Elgar, especially since he is shaping up to be a formidable antagonist. Still, to the author’s credit, the characters that do stand out are superbly written. Lady Margraine, for all her irritating pomposity and claims to be bored, is a real force to be reckoned with and I am most excited with the future of her storyline. I’m sure the other characters and their individual plot threads will come to fruition in time, but for now, I find myself emotionally invested in only a few.

All told, The Empire’s Ghost is a solid entry into the epic fantasy genre and an admirable debut, though it does take bit of time and patience to realize the author’s vision for all her disparate characters and the great number of perspectives. The novel also has the distinct feel of an introduction, and a long one to be sure—many mysteries remain unsolved, and even with the big game changer close to the end, the final conclusion was underwhelming in the sense that no real resolution presents itself. That said, I will definitely be reading the next book, now that the basic setup for the series is complete. I expect the sequel will be throwing us straight into the action, and I’m looking forward to more revelations and answers.