Waiting on Wednesday 04/19/17

“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 Fall of the Readers by Django Wexler (December 5, 2017 by Kathy Dawson Books)

While I don’t read a lot of Middle Grade books, this is one of the few series I faithfully follow. After all it’s by Django Wexler, one of my favorite authors, whose adult fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns I simply adore. Sadly, The Fall of the Readers will mark the final volume of the Forbidden Library series, but I’m definitely still looking forward to the story conclusion!

“The final book in the exciting fantasy adventure series featuring a strong heroine who grows from reader to leader in a world where magic is contained and controlled through books.

When Alice defeated her uncle Geryon and declared war on the totalitarian ways of the Old Readers, she knew she would have a hard fight ahead. What she didn’t anticipate was how ruthless the Old Readers would be. All the creatures she promised to help are being threatened, and slowly all of Alice’s defenses, emotional and physical, are being worn away. So when Ending (the giant cat-like creature who helps rule the magical labyrinth in Geryon’s library) hints at a dangerous final solution, Alice jumps at the chance, no matter the cost to her life. She and her friends—a fire sprite, Ashes the cat, and the other young Readers she met during her previous adventures—go on a quest to free the one creature possibly strong enough to overturn the Old Readers once and for all.

But Alice has forgotten one crucial thing: Ending is a cat, and cats are not known to be trustworthy. And Ending has plans of her own…”

 

Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book

toptentues

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. They created the meme because they love lists. Who doesn’t love lists? They wanted to share these list with fellow book lovers and ask that we share in return to connect with our fellow book lovers. To learn more about participating in the challenge, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!

This week’s topic: Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book

I had to put some thought into this list because I don’t really think of myself as someone who wants to “instantly read” many books, but thinking back on some of the books I have instantly added to my TBR and/or instantly read, I tried to capture what it was about the books that caused me to feel that way.

  1. A Diverse Cast of Characters/Situations – Books that feature characters that go beyond your cookie cutter standard heroes and heroines will always have a huge place in my heart. We need more diversity in books. We need to see diverse stories. This is probably one of the few things on this list that can really get me to instantly read a book because when I find diverse books, I want to read them and share my thoughts on them with the book community.
  2. Atypical Settings in Genre – This applies more to fantasy–especially high fantasy books–than any other genre for me. Even in worlds that aren’t necessarily the world we know, so much of it takes place in your generic European setting. When writers take something like high fantasy and have the world set in a non-European setting or create a world so compelling that I feel like it really could be a whole new world, I’m going to read it ASAP!
  3. A Really Great Cover – I try not to be that person that judges a book by its cover, but I’m actually a recovering cover snob. If I see a book that has a cover that catches my eye, I’m likely going to pick it up and read it soon.
  4. Ratings/Recommendations from Trusted Readers – No one can get me to read books more than the readers I trust. If they say I should check something out, I’m going to immediately check it out (or put it on my TBR in any event).
  5. Imaginative Retellings/Interesting Usage of Genre Tropes – This is a HUGE weakness of mine. I never get tired of retellings or tropes being explored in different ways. If I happen to get my hands on a book that is a retelling of another story, I don’t even try to fight it. It’s going home with me, and I’m going to neglect other books to read it. Aside from diversity, this is probably the only other thing that can get me to forsake all books and read it instantly.
  6. Fun/Interesting Twists In Genres I Don’t Read Often – I’ll read books in any genre, but there are a few genres that I don’t read as often such as Westerns. However, if I find a book that is set in a genre I might not read often and it offers something unusual/interesting/fun to the story, I’m usually all in.
  7. Books that Generate Interesting Discussions/Debates – I love discussing books almost as much as I love reading them. When I see readers/friends/the community having critical discussions about a book, especially if it hits on many of the social issues I care about, I’m drawn in. I have to read the book and join the conversation.
  8. Authors Who Put A Lot of Love into Their Story – There’s just something about a book written by an author who has put a ton of work and love into story that really touches. All (most) authors work hard on their stories, but there are some authors who really just go above and beyond with writing, researching, characters, plot, engaging readers, etc. that really speaks to me. I love writers who are overly enthusiastic about their work, and I’m often swayed to read their books because of their gushing.
  9. Narrated by a Narrator I Love – There have been many books I’ve added to my TBR pile or listened to because it was read by a narrator I love. If I’m on the fence about a book but find an audio version read by someone I really love, that’s usually enough to turn it into a book I want to consume even if it’s just to enjoy the reader.
  10. My Kids Liked It/Recommended It – As a mom to a son and a daughter who also love to read, nothing moves me to want to read a book more than getting a recommendation from my children. I try to keep up with what they’re reading. I like discussing books with them, and I think they appreciate that I actually show interest in the stories they like. It says so much when they make a recommendation for me based on something they’ve read. In fact, my 11-year-old son has introduced me to many sci-fi and fantasy stories that I enjoyed. He’s even helped me populate lists of genre books I want to read.

There you have it. These are some of the things that make me want to instantly read a book. What are some of yours?

 

Book Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

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

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor (April 25, 2017)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Brian Staveley returns to the world of The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne with this new standalone novel starring one of the most intriguing characters from his debut trilogy. When we first met Pyrre Lakatur, she was shrouded in mystery. Whether she was ally or enemy, it was hard to tell, but clearly, the imperturbable priestess of Ananshael was one capable, dangerous woman.

Skullsworn is her story. Just who is Pyrre? Where did she come from? What is it about her god that inspires so much of her love and loyalty? If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions, then this book is for you. But even if you haven’t read The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, this book would make a splendid introduction to Staveley’s work—especially if you want to get your feet wet with something that has a less intimidating page count before taking the plunge into the full trilogy. This book stands alone from the others, and is a prequel of a sort, taking place in a distant corner of the Annurian Empire.

When the story begins, Pyrre is still an acolyte, twenty-five years old and pledged to Ananshael—the God of Death. For years she has trained in the sacred arts of death, learning countless ways to deliver victims into her god’s embrace. But unless she can pass her final trial, she will never become a priestess…and the problem is, Pyrre isn’t sure she can.

It’s not the actual killing that has her worried, but rather who she has to kill—and not for the reasons you’d expect. The rules of the trial are very specific. In a span of fourteen days, Pyrre must make seven offerings to her god—no more, no less: one who is right, and one who is wrong; a singer snared in a web of song; a dealer of death; a mother ripe with new life; a giver of names; and finally, we come to the last one that gives Pyrre pause—“Give to the god the one who made your mind and body sing with love / Who will not come again.”

The trouble is, Pyrre doesn’t believe she has ever been in love. And if she hasn’t been in love, she can’t kill the one she loves, and if she can’t kill the one she loves, she fails her trial, and all those acolytes of Ananshael who fail the final trial offer themselves to their god. Now you see her problem.

Still, Pyrre is determined to pass the test, which means hitting the road with her two trial Witnesses in tow. Their destination is the swamp city of Dombâng, where Pyrre was born and where she first felt the spark of something special for a man she used to know. It is her hope that with proximity and maybe a little…encouragement, perhaps that spark could be rekindled again and grow into something more. However, it has been years since she last saw Ruc Lan Lac, the object of her probable affection. He is now the captain of the Greenshirts, the constabulary force charged with keeping order in Dombâng, and at the moment his hands are full trying to keep dissenters from tear the city apart. Pyrre intends to get close to Ruc by offering help—but in order to do that, she’ll first need to further incite rebellion.

And now I’ve probably gone and mucked up my summary by making this one sound like a romance. Well, it is. Kind of. In a…weird, twisted sort of way. Leave it to Brian Staveley to inflict the cruelest kind of cognitive dissonance, making you root for the main couple even knowing that no matter how the situation turns out, the end will be filled with blood, violence and death.

The fact that Pyrre appears more agitated by her seeming incapacity to love rather than the idea of actually killing a loved one should tell you something about her character. This is a woman who has given herself entirely to her god, and she also hates the idea of failure. In this sense, she is the Pyrre we knew and loved from The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. However, in Skullsworn we also get to see a more youthful and less confident side of her, which was fascinating; in time, we know she will grow into an even more deadly weapon, but right now her personality and skills are still in the process of being tempered.

Unlike the books in the trilogy, Skullsworn is also told from the first person perspective—a nice touch as that puts us right inside of Pyrre’s head, giving us a front row seat to all her experiences and tumultuous emotions. While this does take away some of her mystery, the wealth of knowledge we gain about her character and background is a much bigger reward. Don’t get me wrong; Pyrre is still bloodthirsty, insane and zealously devoted to Ananshael, but this book went a long way in making her feel more like a genuine person rather than just a cold, calm unstoppable killing machine. It shows she was once young, naïve and inexperienced, filled with self-doubt and questions about her god and her faith. It shows that she has a softer side to her that isn’t all about death and killing, a part of her that she wants to stay connected to because love has more to do with death than she expected.

I also want to talk a bit about the writing. It always amazes me to follow an author’s releases year after year and see their style evolve and grow, and clearly Staveley has come a long way since The Emperor’s Blades. His prose is fantastic and well-suited for the narrative mode, making a complex and nuanced character like Pyrre feel fully-realized and believable. The story also takes us into a very different part of the world, introducing readers to the hot, humid croc-infested marshes of Dombâng. It’s a city that holds many secrets, filled with shadowy factions and self-seeking individuals all operating to the raucous sounds along the bridges and canals. Despite being a dangerous place, Staveley’s incredible world-building and detailed treatment of Dombâng made me wish that I never had to leave.

So, do yourself a favor and pick up Skullsworn. Brian Staveley deftly weaves a fast-paced and compelling tale filled with excellent characterization, vivid world-building, and high personal stakes, making this one an outstanding novel on every level.

Audiobook Review: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

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

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Audio (March 14, 2017)

Length: 10 hrs and 43 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Mozhan Marno

In the near future, a private aerospace company called Prime Space begins preparations for their mission to put the first human beings on Mars. Within their timeline of four years, they have put in place a number of planned test runs and experiments, a key one of them being the 17-month long simulation to prove that a small crew of three can indeed survive the long and rigorous journey to the red planet—while remaining physically and psychologically healthy enough to work independently and with each other.

The company’s international team—made up of astronauts Helen Kane, Yoshi Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetzov—were not only chosen for their achievements and excellence in their field, but also for their personality profiles, backgrounds, and considerations into how well they would complement each other. Together, they will be held in isolation in a facility somewhere in a remote part of Utah, where the extremely realistic and immersive simulation will take place. During this test phase, Prime Space will be presenting the crew with all sorts of possible scenarios from technical malfunctions to personal emergencies to see how the astronauts will handle themselves in this environment. Their behaviors, actions, and conversations will all be monitored and recorded the entire time, with the data to be analyzed and evaluated by a team of psych experts.

But there’s a lot more to The Wanderers than just the story of Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei. Even people who live simple lives can have ripples of influence that spread far and wide, and for our astronauts, their ripples are especially large. Retired after decades of work at NASA, Helen Kane is almost a household name in America, but for all her fame, she cannot seem to bridge the emotional distance which exists between her and her daughter Mireille. Meanwhile, Yoshi and his wife Madoka are both very successful professionals in Japan, but because of the nature of their work, they can never be a traditional family, though neither is sure that is even what they want. And finally, there’s Sergei and his complicated relationship with his eldest son Dmitri. Following Sergei and his wife’s divorce and then his family’s subsequent move to New Jersey from Russia, Dmitri is coming of age at a very tumultuous time in his life, and he is searching for ways to tell his father who he really is.

As you can probably tell, at its heart The Wanderers is less a story about space travel and more a story about family—the complex relationships as well as the fundamental need to connect to your loved ones. The challenges that astronauts face are not limited to the endless training or the mental stresses of knowing how many things can go wrong in space, but also extends to the strain of being away so long from those nearest and dearest to them. By shifting back and forth between the perspectives of the astronaut characters and their family members, the author shows how deep some of those emotions can run. Torn between their love for spouses and children and their love for space travel and the work they do, Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei are shown to have a culture to themselves that Mireille, Madoka, and Dmitri cannot seem to understand. At times the bonds portrayed between the astronauts and their respective family members are tender, loving, and intimate; at others, the rage, guilt, regret and fear are so strong in the narrative that the negative energies are downright oppressive.

The other interesting element is Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei’s time inside of Prime Space’s simulation. Imagine being holed up in a small space with two other people for seventeen months, becoming familiar with their personalities and all their habits. Imagine knowing that 24/7 there are people watching you, recording you, making judgments on everything you say and do. Imagine being put through a simulation so realistic that after a time, the lines between what is real and what is virtually constructed become blurred to the point you can’t tell them apart anymore. As a reader, I found the implications of this very compelling, and the story does a great job making the effects on the characters disturbingly convincing.

In sum, The Wanderers is a different kind of space travel book, which made it both unique for me and also a little tough to get pulled into. While it’s true that I enjoyed quite a few things about this novel, there’s also a limit on the amount of drama and interpersonal conflict I can take. Admittedly, several times I felt this story push against those limits with its overbearing sentimentality or the characters’ angst, but on the whole, I would say I had a good time. Those would enjoyed Lily Brooks-Dalton’s Good Morning, Midnight might want to give this one a shot because I think both books explore some similar themes, though the edge probably goes to The Wanderers since it didn’t leave me feeling as gloomy or dispirited.

Audiobook Comments: I thought Mozhan Marno’s narration was very good, especially in her portrayal of the international cast of characters speaking in their respective languages with their varying accents. I would even go as far as to say her reading probably made the story better, making what might have been a 3-star read feel like a 3.5, so The Wanderers might be a good book to experience in audio if you’re interested in checking it out.

Book Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

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

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Titan’s Forest

Publisher: Tor (January 31, 2017)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Crossroads of Canopy could have been a brilliant debut; it almost hurts to have to talk about why it didn’t work for me. While Thoraiya Dyer’s vision of a vibrant and lush world high above the forest floor is nothing short of breathtaking, I found a curious lack of impetus behind the characters and the plot, and whatever potential the story had at the beginning simply failed to materialize by the end of the book.

The story introduces us to Unar, a young woman living in a destitute household in one of the thirteen kingdoms making up the realm of Canopy. Each kingdom is ruled by its respective god or goddess, and when they die, their spirit is reincarnated into a new human body, beginning the cycle anew. When Unar discovers her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery, she quickly hatches up a plan to supplicate herself before the temple of Audblayin, the patron deity of her domain, hoping to join their ranks as a Gardener serving the fertility goddess. But while she ends up being accepted, Unar’s curiosity and ambitions are a constant source of trouble for the temple, not to mention the frequent clashes caused by her willfulness. Because of her near escape from a life of slavery though, she does come to form a sympathetic bond with some of the temple slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees this as her chance to fulfill her dreams of becoming a bodyguard for the reincarnation. This leads her to descend into Understorey, the dark and dangerous realm beneath Canopy to search for her newborn god. However, in Understorey’s depths, Unar ends up finding way more than she bargained for, including new forms of magic, a revolution in the making, and perhaps something else she once thought was lost to her forever…

First, I’d like to begin with what I really enjoyed about Crossroads of Canopy because it’s always good to lead with the positives. The world of this novel is simply stunning. It’s impossible to read to this book and not be affected by its vivid descriptions of a realm nestled in the greenery of a giant forest. While settings featuring treetop civilizations may not be an entirely new idea, I have to say I’ve never seen something quite like Canopy. Dyer has created a living, breathing realm teeming with culture, religion, and language. Like any society, it also has its ups and downs—quite literally, in fact, in Canopy, where the elites living at the top close to the sunlight are in a position of privilege while those down below in Understorey and Floor live in shadow and poverty. But even knowing about its darker truths, Canopy was a place I wanted to spend more time in, breathing in its rich atmosphere and natural beauty.

In fact, my main problem with this book was not because it was badly written (on the contrary, the writing is gorgeous), but rather because I was disappointed that it never lived up to its promise. At the end of the day, Crossroads of Canopy feels very much like a book bursting with brilliant ideas when it comes to world-building themes and concepts, but when it comes to story and plotting, things start to look a lot less rosy. There was simply no hook beyond the novel’s extraordinary world; strip it down to its core, and what you get is another standard coming-of-age tale starring a heroine who borders on exasperating in her arrogant and foolishly staunch belief that she is oh-so-special. To be fair though, Unar was probably meant to grow over the course of the book, yet by the time she finally has a change of heart, I found myself so turned off by her character that it almost made no difference.

I also found myself frustrated with the story’s pacing. This book had what I call the “sandwich effect” (an issue which seems to be quite common with debuts), kicking thing off with a fascinating intro and closing with a relatively stirring and eventful conclusion, though everything in between was rather dull and meandering. My attention starting waning somewhere in the middle of Part Two after Unar ventures into the Understorey, and unfortunately I was never able to gain back my initial enthusiasm.

That said, I don’t regret reading this book. While it’s true that the story didn’t work for me, clearly Thoraiya Dyer has got some serious writing chops. If Crossroads of Canopy sounds interesting to you, I would still encourage you to look into it (and check out the reviews by others who liked it more than me) especially if you enjoy gorgeous prose and modern fantasy featuring innovative world-building. Though personally I will not be continuing the Titan’s Forest series, from what I saw in Crossroads of Canopy, I have a feeling the author will be going places.

YA Weekend: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (February 7, 2017)

Length: 436 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

For the second time this year, a Young Adult novel has disappointed me by starting off with a lot of promise, only to completely fizzle out in the second half. Gah, I just want to slam my head against a wall. After all, it’s one thing to read a book I did not like, but it’s quite another to watch incredible potential end up being squandered.

To its credit, Wintersong did have a great start. In fact the book had one of the most well-written and put together intros I’d ever read. The story begins in a simple 18th-19th century Bavarian village, where our protagonist Liesl and her family run an inn. All her life, she has heard tales of the mysterious Goblin King, a dangerous trickster who rules the Underworld and stalks the forests around their home, waiting to enrapture his next victim. An aspiring composer, Liesl has allowed these stories be her inspiration, even though she hides her talent from the world. In her family, it is her little brother who is destined for greatness, and all of Liesl’s efforts have gone into making sure that young Josef will get noticed and receive his apprenticeship.

But soon, our protagonist realizes she has made a mistake. With everyone’s attention on Josef, it is Liesl’s younger sister Käthe who has paid the price. One night, Käthe goes missing, stolen away by the Goblin King. Blaming herself for her sister’s plight, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underworld in the hopes of finding a way to rescue her. However, once faced with the Goblin King himself, she is reminded that in accordance with the Old Laws, Käthe’s freedom can only be bought with a sacrifice. The only choice Liesl has is to offer herself in her sister’s place, a trade that the Goblin King accepts.

While this is nothing terribly groundbreaking as far as folklore/fairy-tale inspired retellings go, I was initially impressed by Wintersong because of the writing. Whatever the story lacked in originality was made up for by S. Jae-Jones’ beautiful style, which is bursting with rich description and yet still incredibly easy on the eyes. For a debut novelist, she has a master’s talent for conveying a perfect atmosphere for whatever scene she is writing, and even a predictable plot could not prevent me from getting into the story. It helped that the beginning few chapters were so full of interesting conflicts, like the preparations for Josef’s once-in-a-lifetime audition or Käthe’s impending marriage to Liesl’s childhood sweetheart. Liesl herself intrigued me as a character, for even though she was the stereotypical bland and self-sacrificing older sister, I sympathized with her because of all that she’s had to give up for her family.

If I could have rated sections of Wintersong individually, I would have given the first half 4 or 5 stars—I just loved it that much. I was psyched. Imagine that, a book that has been described as Labyrinth meets Beauty and the Beast, actually living up to the hype.

But alas, it seemed I’d gotten my hopes up too soon. Around halfway, the story took such a steep nose-dive that I have to wonder if the second half had been treated to the same amount of scrutiny while in the editing phases. Barely anything happened. Liesl became a completely ineffectual, tedious character. The narrative spent an inordinate amount of time getting into the minutiae of musical theory. The story became an almost unbearable chore to read.

Once again I blame an awkward romance. While I can see how some readers might find the dark and sexy undertones beneath Liesl and the Goblin King’s relationship appealing, I believe a satisfying and realistic love story should encompass a lot more than that. What I missed from their entire courtship was a sense of chemistry or anything to convince me that there was something deeper, and unfortunately the longer the story belabored their hokey romance the more exasperated I became with everything.

It’s a real shame, because Wintersong could have been great, but sadly the promise shown in the intro did not extend into the rest of the book. At the end of the day, I simply wanted more to happen in the story, I needed more agency in the protagonist, and I needed a lot more conflict than just the cloying empty calories of a romantic drama. I do think that the author will have a long and successful writing career ahead of her though (because man, she can really write), and I am definitely open to the possibility of reading more of her books, but ultimately this one was just not for me.

Book Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

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

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 2 of Themis Files

Publisher: Del Rey (April 4, 2017)

Length: 320 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

While Sleeping Giants was not without its flaws, it did succeed in leaving me curious about where the story will go next. So when the opportunity to read the sequel presented itself, it didn’t take much convincing for me to jump on board.

Ten years have passed since the events of the first book. The world has accepted the presence of Themis, the giant robot first found buried in pieces all over the world, later assembled to become humanity’s greatest weapon. Ancient aliens had left her here to be our protector—or that’s what the Earth Defense Corps wants everyone to believe. Which is why when a second robot—even more massive than Themis—suddenly materializes from out of nowhere in the middle of London, the local population’s reaction to it is decidedly nonchalant and calm. Despite being larger, the robot’s appearance is familiar, and in a way…comforting.

However, with each passing day and with no further movement from the robot, its looming presence is quickly becoming a source of anxiety for the EDC and people are starting to ask some difficult questions. What is this second robot doing there? Where did it come from? Who is piloting it? What do they want and what are they waiting for? Before answers can be forthcoming though, the robot makes its move—and no one is quiet prepared when it finally happens. The resulting devastation in London is unspeakable, the death tolls staggering—and unfortunately, these horrors are just the beginning. As more of the giant robots start appearing in big cities across the globe, Dr. Rose Franklin and her team must figure out Themis’ secrets before humanity faces its impending extinction.

No question about it, Waking Gods is better than its predecessor. Like Sleeping Giants, it is presented as collection of journal entries, transcribed interviews and dictations, textual communications, etc. making it a very quick read, so if you enjoyed the structure of the first book then you should have no problems getting into this sequel. The ideas are also just as unique and imaginative. Second book slump? Nope, not here. From colossal robots of alien origin to conspiracies involving ancient factions on Earth, all these elements introduced in Sleeping Giants are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s simply so much more to this story to discover, and the shockers and plot twists here make the ones in the first book feel tame in comparison.

Thing is though, epistolary novels are not always that conducive to character development, so it’s a good thing that most of the main players from the first book also return for the sequel. The author has an incredible talent for writing dialogue (you sorta have to, in order to pull off a project like this!) but revealing most of the plot through interview transcripts also sacrifices a lot of emotional connection to the characters, which was one of my biggest issues with Sleeping Giants. Thankfully I found this “distancing effect” to be less of a problem in Waking Gods, or perhaps I simply needed at least two books to really get a feel for Rose, Kara, Vincent, and of course our mysterious unnamed interviewer.

That said, I still find the format limiting in certain situations. While the info-dumping is not quite as bad as it was in the first book, you still get the occasional awkward moment, especially in the sections with oral dictation. Imagine if you will that a giant robot was in the process of falling right on top of you. Most people in this situation would be running helter-skelter for their life, not stating ludicrous things like “I’m not sure I can outrun a twenty-story building!” or “I can hear it crumbling down behind me!” into a microphone while trying their darndest not to die. There’s a fine line between keeping things interesting and convincing when it comes to epistolary novels. Compared to the first book, Waking Gods may a strike a better balance in this regard, but I feel we’re still not all the way there yet.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I read it. If you had fun with Sleeping Giants, this sequel will be definitely worth your time. I have to say any criticisms I have are pretty minor; on the whole this book is an improvement over the first one, pushing the story and characters to greater heights while dropping plenty of surprises. I devoured Waking Gods and enjoyed every moment, and all I have to say about that ending is, there’d damn well better be another book!

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Sleeping Giants (Book 1)

Book Review: Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski

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

The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 5 of The Witcher (Novels)

Publisher: Hachette Audio (March 14, 2017)

Length: 20 hrs and 7 mins

Author Information: Website

Narrator: Peter Kenny

Eighteen years after its original publication in Polish, this concluding volume of The Witcher series finally has its official English translation. While fan translations have been around for quite a while now, honestly I thought it was well worth the wait, if nothing else because I got to enjoy the excellent audiobook edition. I started off by reading the books, but then on a whim decided to switch formats once I got to Baptism of Fire and never looked back.

Anyway, the final book of a series is always something special. By this time, the story has taken over your mind and the characters have wormed their way into your heart. While endings can be a delight, oftentimes they are also bittersweet, because you’ve had so much fun on this adventure but now it’s time to say farewell. You start to wonder to yourself what the long awaited finale might be like: will it be everything you ever wanted, or fall short of expectations?

Well, in the case of The Lady of the Lake, my thoughts were mixed. The story begins cryptically, with Sir Galahad of Arthurian legend fame stumbling upon Ciri bathing in a pond. After the knight mistakes her for the Lady of the Lake which causes Ciri to correct his error, the two of them start talking and she begins to recount the tale of what she has been up to since the Tower of Swallows. It seemed that the portal she entered there had taken her to a different world, one where the Elves reigned. Seeing that she was trapped and at his mercy, the Elven king had proposed a bargain: Ciri could have her freedom…but only if she would agree to bear his child.

Meanwhile, back in her home world, the northern armies and the Nilfgaardian forces are still at war. In the middle of all this, Geralt and his companions are also continuing their search for Ciri, but with the recent abduction and imprisonment of Yennefer, the Witcher now has even more troubles on his hands.

It vexes me admit this, but The Lady of the Lake was probably the most confusing of all the books. Not that any of them have shown much linear storytelling, but for this one Sapkowski takes devices like flashbacks, dream sequences, POV switches and time jumps to extremes. This not only made the book feel very disjointed and hard to follow, it also dampened my enthusiasm for the story especially when we went on wild tangents that added zilch to the main plot or followed characters I could not care less about. If it were up to me, I would also have axed much of the ending. In my opinion, too much of the fluff that came after the climax spoiled a lot of the impact.

Now that I’ve gotten my complaints out of the way though, here’s what I did like: 1) Pretty much any scene where Ciri or Geralt and any of his companions or key characters appeared was topnotch. These are the characters I’ve come to know throughout the series and I found it hard to stay focused whenever the attention shifted away to anyone else. 2) Despite all the jumping around we do, there was at least a sense that final volume was trying to pull everything together; whether it’s a nod to events in the previous books or tying up loose ends and bringing things full circle, the narrative made an earnest attempt at closure. 3) All the references to fairy tales, myths and legends. This was one of the aspects I fell in love with when I first picked up The Last Wish so long ago, and it just seemed so apt for this last book to bring me back to those memories. 4) The action sequences were amazing. Obviously, it’s great anytime we get to see Geralt or Ciri kicking ass, but there was also this one epic scene depicting a huge battle which I thought was really well done, transporting the reader into the thick of the fighting.

Overall the book’s strengths outweighed the weaknesses, ultimately making The Lady of the Lake an enjoyable if flawed read. It wasn’t my favorite book of the series, and as an ending, it definitely wasn’t as good as what I’d hoped for. Still, I don’t regret reading it at all. Taken as a whole, The Witcher is a superb series, and I would certainly not discourage anyone to try these books just because I wasn’t a hundred percent pleased with this concluding volume; after all, you’d be missing out on many more great moments on this epic journey. In spite of everything, it was well worth it to see this saga through to the end.

Audiobook Comments: As always, Peter Kenny brings his best. His narration was a big reason why I stuck with the audiobooks for this series, because when he reads he brings the stories and characters to life. The Witcher books are also generally pretty well suited for this format, I find, because of their nonlinear structure, and the stories just seem to flow more smoothly and are less distracting when I’m listening. So if you’re considering tackling this series with the audiobooks, I say go for it; truly I can’t recommend them highly enough.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Wendy’s review The Last Wish (Anthology 1)
Mogsy’s Audiobook review of Sword of Destiny (Anthology 2)
Mogsy’s Audiobook review of Blood of Elves (Book 1)
Wendy’s Audiobook review of Blood of Elves (Book 1)
Mogsy’s Audiobook review of The Time of Contempt (Book 2)
Mogsy’s Audiobook review of Baptism of Fire (Book 3)
Mogsy’s Audiobook review of The Tower of Swallows (Book 4)

Waiting on Wednesday 04/12/17

“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 Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey (May 2, 2017 by Orbit)

Not long to wait now; in less than a month we’ll be seeing the release of this companion novel to The Girl With All the Gifts. Judging by the vagueness of the description, I’m anticipating lots of surprises, just like in the first book. I’m hoping it’ll be just as terrific.

“From the author of USA Today bestseller The Girl With All the Gifts, a terrifying new novel set in the same post-apocalyptic world.

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.”

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten of the Most Unique Books I’ve Read

toptentues

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. They created the meme because they love lists. Who doesn’t love lists? They wanted to share these list with fellow book lovers and ask that we share in return to connect with our fellow book lovers. To learn more about participating in the challenge, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!

This week’s topic: Top Ten of the Most Unique Books I’ve Read

Mogsy’s Picks

This is by no means a comprehensive list. I have read many books that can be considered unique in and of themselves, and there have been plenty of standout titles with unique ideas, stories, settings, characters, or a combination of any of these factors. The books I’m featuring today are the ones I’ve decided are worth giving extra attention to though, because they all have one thing in common: In one way or another, they’ve all made me go, “Whoa, this is different.”

Sometimes it’s because the books themselves are weird, or they feature some very unconventional or original ideas. Sometimes it’s because the stories are unpredictable, and there’s just no way of telling how things will play out. A couple of these books are among my favorites, while there are also a few that did not work for me at all. If there’s one thing I know though, it’s that you definitely won’t find too many other books like them.

The Hike by Drew Magary

The best description I can come up with for my mind-bending experience with this book can be summed up in the words of Jerry Garcia: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” I had initially agreed to review The Hike with no small amount of trepidation, fearing that it might be too “weird” for my tastes. Can you blame me though? The summary I wrote for this book sounds like a lot like the mad ramblings of someone on a bad acid trip. To read this book, you pretty much have to throw everything you think you know about it out the window. That’s because it’s going to do its own thing. I doubt it’s coincidence that the moment I decided to let go of my preconceptions was also when I started enjoying myself. There is truly no guessing where things will go, and once you relinquish the reins and simply let this baby take you where it will, The Hike will delight and enchant you. (Read the full review…)

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

On the one hand, there were parts in Ninefox Gambit that made reading it a real struggle. On the other, there’s also no doubt it’s one of the most fascinating sci-fi novels I’ve ever read. First, just let me first state unequivocally that this book contains some of the freshest, most inventive ideas I’ve ever encountered in sci-fi. The story no doubt breaks new ground in combining elements from multiple genres, and it is extremely clever. Still, it’s easy to become confused and overwhelmed if you’re not paying close attention, and sometimes the ideas that make you gawp in wide-eyed wonder at its ingenuity are the same ones that will make you want to tear your hair out in frustration. As such, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but if you’re a sci-fi fan interested in something more innovative and unusual, then this might be exactly what you’re looking for. Ninefox Gambit might not be an easy read, but there’s also a lot to like if you’re willing to invest in it. (Read the full review…)

Touch by Claire North

For this list, I think I could have gone with any of the books I’ve read by Claire North, but I decided to go with Touch because of how much I loved it beyond just its inventiveness and ingenuity alone. It’s especially a great read if you enjoy what-if stories and thought experiments, though imagining possible scenarios based on the theories in this novel might take you places you don’t want to go. “Have you been losing time?” I don’t think I can ever hear or read this phrase again without getting a shiver down my spine. Touch was, in a word, fascinating. If you enjoy wild, mind-trip movies like Inception then you need to read this book. I adored the novel’s premise and I think the story would make an excellent movie, if only there was someone talented enough who could pull it off (quick, someone send a copy to Christopher Nolan!) (Read the full review…)

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

There’s nothing else quite like book, which I guess says a lot about the direction of much science fiction today. So The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet might not be your typical heart-pounding space opera, but it’s…it’s…well, it’s actually kinda hard to explain. Yes, it encompasses a number of familiar genre concepts like exploration and conflicts between alien cultures, and there are even a handful of tense situations thrown in. Still, what got to me was the heart, the love and “feel-good” vibes at the core of this novel. Even though many of its ideas are not new, Chambers’ story, characters, and worlds all felt like something I’d never experienced before, simply due to the way she presented them. I can truly say this book was nothing like I expected, but the end result was refreshingly beautiful and uplifting. Definitely one of a kind.

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

This is definitely one strange book, and difficult to summarize or classify because it is made up of so many perspectives and interconnecting parts. The overall concept behind the novel is certainly ambitious and ingenious, but the way the story is presented will probably make it seem unfocused. Still, I had a shockingly good time with this book. At once frustrating and rewarding, The Night Ocean is alternate history on a completely new and innovative level. Easily one of the more clever, intense, and haunting books I’ve read so far this year, and its ending will likely stay with me for a long, long time. Because of its tangled nature, I doubt it going to be for everyone, but I highly recommend it if the description interests you. Even though there’s a lot of ambiguity in the story—a fact that often vexes me—in this case, I believe it might actually add to the book’s mystique. (Read the full review)

The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

I have a feeling this book will pose a head-scratcher even for fans of time travel stories, which is a shame because there are some truly unique and riveting concepts in here. Still, it doesn’t matter how amazing a novel’s ideas are, they mean very little if readers cannot make heads or tails out of its story or what the author is trying to accomplish. That said, even though I can’t wholly bring myself to recommend the novel because of how confusing the story is, I have to admit that the ideas are cool enough that it might be worth picking up this book to experience them, especially if you’re into time traveling tales that are different, and if you’re feeling in the mood for a challenge. You definitely won’t be able to predict what happens! (Read the full review…)

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

In Beyond Redemption, the world that Michael R. Fletcher has given us is literally steeped in chaos, madness, and delusion. Individuals known as Geisteskranken are the unstable and insane individuals whose psychoses manifest as reality. Furthermore, under normal circumstances their powers are also shaped by collective beliefs, so the more people who believe in your delusion, the more those ideas become the truth. Let’s just take a moment to digest this, shall we? You’re essentially being thrown into a world where the “magic” is delusion, and all your magicians are batshit insane! Come on, doesn’t that sound amazing? Though I suppose if you think a book like this sounds too crazy and ludicrous to pull off, I don’t blame you. The thing is though, it works. It really does. Well, perhaps one has to be a little bit crazy to enjoy a book as dark, gritty and twisted as Beyond Redemption, but if that’s the case, then please pass me some more of that sweet, sweet insanity. (Read full review…)

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

You should have known I would try to work in something by Brandon Sanderson, master of world-building and creating unique magic systems that he is. So what am I going to go with? MistbornStormlight ArchivesWarbreaker? Nope, nope, and nope. I’ve decided to go with one of his YA titles, The Rithmatist. Rithmatists are a chosen group of magic users who can make chalk-drawn lines, circles and figures called Chalklings come to life and take on unique properties. They are trained at schools and sent on to the wilds where they defend humanity against hordes of dangerous and blood thirsty Wild Chalklings that threaten to overrun the territory. Rithmatists also battle each other for practice and for sport, and their matches are intense, with most strategies coming down to whether to spend the time drawing a strong defense, or mounting a fast and powerful offense. Admittedly, The Rithmatist isn’t one of the author’s strongest novels, nor is the magic and world-building in it the most robust – and yet, I love this book and its cool magic system is one of my favorites. Sanderson’s flair for fantasy and writing about magic is as usual unparalleled and something you absolutely won’t find anywhere else. (Read the full review)

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord

When We Were Animals may well be one of the most interesting book to ever hit my shelves. I’m still finding it difficult to categorize this unconventional coming-of-age tale, which combines elements from a variety of genres including mystery, paranormal and horror. Most of the story is told in retrospect, as the protagonist looks back on her childhood growing up in a small town with a big, dark secret. For a few nights every month during the full moon, the town’s teenagers run naked and free through the streets like animals, seized by a mysterious and uncontrollable urge known as “breaching”. Every resident of this town has gone through it and know to also expect it in their children, which typically coincides with puberty and lasts about a year. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to figure out When We Were Animals is an allegory for growing up, but it does it in an absolutely fantastic and well executed manner and does not flinch from the stark realities of human nature. I’m still reeling from the rollercoaster of emotions. (Read the full review)

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t often do well with “weird.” Personally, I prefer stories that are more grounded, and books that push the metaphysical boundaries or flirt with the abstract will sometimes give me pause. Comparisons of this book to Neil Gaiman were probably the first warning bells, and the second flag was raised when I read several reviews for this book mentioning a rampaging psychopath going on a killing spree clad in a purple tutu. So, I was definitely prepared for some bizarre WTFery. Ultimately though, I think The Library at Mount Char deserves to stand on its own merits as a uniquely imagined masterpiece. If I had any designs to become a writer, I would be completely green with envy at Scott Hawkin’s incredible imagination and creativity. If you want your mind blown by fresh, never-before-seen ideas, then you’ve come to the right place. While this book did test my limits, I will say at no point did I lose interest. (Read the full review…)