Book Review: The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

The Magicians’ Guild byTrudi Canavan

Trudi Canavan is an author I’d been looking forward to read for a long time, which is why she’s pretty high on my list for the WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge. Thanks to my book hoarding habits, I found that I actually own the first books from both her Black Magician Trilogy and the Traitor Spy Trilogy and didn’t know which to tackle first. Then I found out that the latter series is a continuing story of some of the characters in the former, which ultimately decided it for me. I always I prefer to read things chronologically and in publishing order, so The Magicians’ Guild it is!

The book centers around the life of Sonea, a young vagrant girl caught up in the disturbance which occurs every year during the Purge, an event which expels all the city’s poor, homeless, beggars and other undesirables from within its boundaries. Sonea sees a group of children trying to annoy the guild magicians in charge by throwing stones at their magical shield, and decides for fun to join in. In a moment of anger, however, the stone she throws somehow manages to pierce the magicians’ protection, beaning one of them on the side of the head. Then everything explodes into chaos.

The Magicians’ Guild immediately launches a manhunt for the little girl who so effortlessly foiled their shield spell, because it must mean she possesses magical ability as well. No untrained magic user can be trusted to roam unchecked around the city, for the results of that uncontrolled power can be dangerous for all. Not knowing this, Sonea flees and goes deeper underground with the help of her friends, but a time will soon come when she won’t be able to escape anymore, neither from the magicians nor herself.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this. I spent a good chunk of the book wondering when the story will get to the part where the Magician’s Guild and Sonea meet up with each other, so that they can finally get on to training her properly in the ways of magic. That’s how these kinds of stories usually go, right? Then I realized that the hunt for her was actually the whole point for the entire first half of the novel, dashing any preexisting expectations I had for the plot.

Going to be honest here, the book still didn’t quite hook me until the Magicians do eventually end up finding Sonea, and that was around the halfway mark. Everything that occurred before this point detailing the search and Sonea’s struggle to control her magic felt like this huge, unnecessarily drawn out introduction, but the good new is, I started to enjoy myself a lot more. It’s almost like, “Okay, now that all that’s out of the way, we can finally get this show on the road.” The conflicts in the plot started to get more interesting, and I found myself drawn to characters like Rothen, for whom I previously felt nothing.

It also wasn’t until I finished this book that I heard this series had been re-marketed for the young adult market. If so, that actually made a lot of sense. Assuming that a YA audience probably wouldn’t be as critical as I’m being, I thought the story and characters were strong but could have done with a little more depth, especially since a few sections of the plot felt thin to me and not very convincing. As general fantasy though, I liked this book well enough and I think it can be appreciated by all.

Final verdict:
 3.5 of 5 stars

Book Review: Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

I really enjoy books about famous fictional heroes that aren’t actually about the famous fictional heroes.

Will in Scarlet is a Robin Hood story told first and foremost through the eyes of the young lord, William Shackley. Later, the voice of Much, the miller’s daughter turned son, is added. Their stories and the paths that lead them to the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest shape the lore around the infamous Robin Hood. But while we get a glimpse into the wanted bandit, it’s Will and Much who the reader gets to know and care about, though we do get to see Robin Hood through their eyes. Turns out, the leader of the Merry Men isn’t quite what we expect him to be.

It only took me a few pages to really like this story and the characters. I’ve never really Will Scarlet in a particularly positive light in the various mediums I’ve previously met him in, but this one sets out to give him heart and soul and easily achieves it. Robin might lead the Merry Men, but Will is the one who gives them their purpose and helps to define the vast division between nobility and the regular folk without being preachy or petulant.

I also liked how the Sheriff of Nottingham, while not necessarily a likable character overall, is one that I could sympathize with to some extent. His actions are given greater reasoning than him simply being a greedy and evil jerk.

This was a fun read, with well thought out characters, lots of interesting action and a fair bit of humour.

4 of 5 stars

Book Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter by

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

I picked up this book because I love the series. The premise of a serial killer killing other serial killers was just too interesting to pass up. You actually root for Dex, even though you know that he’s the bad guy as well. The beginning of this book was just like watching the series. The series mirrored it perfectly. I could hear Michael C. Hall in my head just as he sounded on that first episode while reading the beginning of this.

Dexter spends a great deal of time trying to make us believe that he is completely incapable of any kind of human emotion, even as he does express a certain amount of elation while he’s butchering others and while he’s admiring the work of this new killer, and while that seemed repetitive for some readers, I interpreted it as a mechanism to make himself truly believe that he has no feelings because many of his actions and thoughts say otherwise. Yes, I do believe that he’s partly right in his assessment of himself. It takes a certain kind of uncaring, broken person to do the things he does, even if it IS to others like himself. However, I don’t believe that he’s really as uncaring as he tries to paint himself to believe.

This book was like a personal look into the dark side of a person’s psych (same with the series). It makes you wonder if that bright smile from the mailman is really hiding something sinister behind it.

fbad2-4-5stars

Book Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars (Barsoom, #1)A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

John Carter is awesome. I know this, because John Carter told me so. Everyone is impressed by John Carter. I know this, because John Carter said so. Dejah Thoris is beautiful. I know this, because John Carter said so. Dejah Thoris is incomparable. I know this, because John Carter told me so.

And for these reasons of awesome impressive incomparableness, these two fine specimens of Earthan and Martian perfection fell in love. The fact that they wear very little clothing may also have had something to do with their fated romance.

Oh who am I kidding. I’d totally
fall for this too. Dejah Thoris by Artgerm

To be fair, this is pulp fiction and I assume the “story” told here is standard for the time and genre. Maybe if I read it back then, I’d appreciate it more. Maybe if read the comic version instead, I’d appreciate Dejah Thoris’ jewel covered pretty bits and John Carter’s manly manliness more. For now, I can safely confirm that  this style of writing just doesn’t work for me, though I’ll give credit to Burroughs’ rich descriptions of the planet and its inhabitants. Plus “Barsoom” (a.k.a. Mars) is really fun to say.

My husband and I watched the movie prior to me reading the book and it wasn’t bad at all. Clearly it suffered from Disney’s poor marketing decision, but otherwise, it was a passable film and thankfully it did not follow the story it originated from too closely, at least in terms of characterization. I don’t think it would have translated very well in our times. Instead, they opted to make the story a bit more interesting and slightly less about John Carter being awesome. Most importantly, Dejah Thoris got to serve a greater purpose than mere trophy princess.

5966d-new2stars

Cover Lover: Maggie Stiefvater Edition

Welcome to Cover Lover, a feature on this blog dedicated to book covers! For a long time, I’d wanted a place where I can share some of my favorite covers, or talk about any that might have caught my eye. So when I came across this idea on fellow gamer/book lover Angelya’s site The Oaken Bookcase, I jumped at the opportunity to adopt it as well. The “meme” was originally created by another friend of mine, Jaedia, on her book blog Once Upon A Time, so be sure to check out both their sites and take a look at some of the covers they have featured.

Today I want to share several of Maggie Stiefvater’s books that have had a way of attracting my attention by their cover images alone. My eyes immediately went to them amidst the dozens of other books the shelf, and I’m always amazed at how they all manage to do so utilizing a single color scheme.

Take The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, for example. Years ago I borrowed the audiobooks from the library, even though at the time I hadn’t even heard of the series, and I’ll admit it was all because I thought the covers were gorgeous, especially the first book Shiver. The first time, I almost missed that wolf silhouette in the corner!

Then there is The Scorpio Races. Between reprints and international editions there’s a whole slew of covers for this title, actually, but interestingly enough most of them tend to play on the color scheme red.

I’m actually not all that fond of the original hardcover image now that I’ve seen the others; it’s a little too Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron for me, I guess!

Now that I’ve seen the other versions, I think I much prefer any of those. But still, I gotta ask, that’s with the heart on this Scholastic paperback edition? Seriously.

My favorite cover for this book though, is probably the new one from Scholastic. Simply gorgeous.

If interested, you can check out my review for The Scorpio Races here.

Mogsy: Favorite Series

Oh whyyyyyyy, why must you make me choooooooose?

This is the reason I’m always chafing at these kinds of “What’s your favorite ______?” questions. Whether it’s movies, songs, books, etc. I don’t know how anyone can name just one. I know I can’t. A book series is no exception, but if I gotta pick just one…

Putting aside a whole slew of series I’ve fallen in love with just recently, or ones that still have too few books published in it to be included, I’ll probably have to go with this long-time personal favorite of mine — Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Universe, which is nine books split into three trilogies: Books 1-3: Phèdre Trilogy, Books 4-6: Imriel’s Trilogy, Books 7-9: Moirin Trilogy.

All of them are quite fantastic, even though I felt the Moirin Trilogy might have missed its mark, and Imriel’s Trilogy as a follow-up wasn’t really that bad at all. Still, it’s the Phèdre Trilogy that I completely adore. It’s the one that first introduced me to the wonders and beauty of Terre D’Ange, its magic and its people.

For a long time, many of the books in this series has ranked among some of the best I’ve ever read, and I always remember the reading experience fondly and with pleasant nostalgia.

The Brian K. Vaughaning

This one time, I admitted that I had not read very much of Brian K. Vaughan’s comics. The result was a Twitter deluge of my friends – some of whom were in the midst of dealing with current issues of Saga – expressing their Brian K. Vaughan love and all the feels that he invokes in them. Since then, I’ve been slowly working my way through his books and have pretty much come to the same conclusion about how incredible a writer he is.

If you break down the stories, they are almost simple. All stories that have been told before. Teens dealing with the betrayal of parents. Rebels who just wanted to belong. Caged souls seeking freedom. Love conquers all. But Vaughan takes these simple seeds and plants them in such diverse gardens. Environments, timelines, events and especially the characters are all woven together so magically. I really love the way that reading one of his stories in no way prepares you for reading any of the others. They are all so amazing. Credit also goes to the artists’ skills in capturing Vaughan’s unique (and sometimes veeery disturbing) visions.

Runaways, Vol. 1: Pride and JoyRunaways, Vol. 1: Pride and Joy (art by Adrian Alphona)

I’ve never been drawn to the comics about teenaged superheroes, even when I was a teen, but as the first series in my BKV adventure, I find myself wishing I’d stumbled on this one sooner. First of all, I love the entire concept of a group of teens who discover their parents are eeevil and decide to stop them. The kids themselves are more than just typical teens with typical mutant powers. In fact, some don’t even have powers at all, while one shares a psychic bond with a velociraptor. How cool is that? Actually, they are fairly typical teens, but Vaughn does a great job of fleshing each one out and helping them to work through the ultimate betrayal of discovering their parents are not what they seem.

“Yeah my parents were practically unconscious.
Satanic rituals must really wear a person down.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: No Future for You (Season 8, #2)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: No Future for You (art by Georges Jeanty)

I read this a while ago and couldn’t remember it well enough to know why I had given it a mere two stars on Goodreads. I know that I definitely fell out of love with season eight towards the end and even Joss had to apologize for where things went, but this was only volume two, so it shouldn’t have rated so low. I’ve reread it since and suspect that my two-starring was either accidental or perhaps because, by the end of the book, I was really mad at Buffy, Giles and Faith for being Buffy, Giles and Faith. Which means that Vaughan did his job well to make me feel such anger and frustration towards these characters. He did such a good job of digging into their broken hearts and souls, while maintaining the whimsy and cynicism we’ve come to expect of Whedon’s characters. This story was about inner demons and paying for the past and relationships and jumping to the wrong conclusions and loneliness and need and betrayal because you have no other choice. My only disappointment in this book is that we never get to see the further adventures of Faith and Giles…

“But those of us who refused to pay the piper during our adolescence have a responsibility to shoulder the most most unpleasant costs of adulthood.”

Pride of Baghdad (art by Niko Henrichon)

I remember reading an article in National Geographic about Baghdad just before America took its “War on Terror” to its doorstep. It spoke of the people and their everyday lives and how they understood the world’s views of Saddam Hussein’s reign, but for them, it was different. Their lives were not horrible. They were not entirely oppressed by the evil dictator. And they did not ask for the world to step in to liberate them.

This is what came to mind as I read this anthropomorphic story of a pride of lions who escaped the Baghdad Zoo during a military attack. Based on a true story, it follows Zill, Noor, Safa and little Ali as they come to terms with their world turned upside down. Is leaving their cage to fight for survival in a crumbling city truly freedom? Is freedom worth the cost?

“Is that a horizon?”

Saga (art by Fiona Staples)

In simple terms, Saga is a science fiction meets fantasy love story about two young soldiers on opposing sides who meet and fall in love and will risk everything to to keep their new little family safe.

In more accurate terms, the reviews from friends to convince me – or anyone – to read this book, go something like this: “Yes there is a lot of kinky, crazy sex (OMG don’t read this at work!) but it’s all contextual, I swear! And OMG this book is so amazing! My feeeeels! When does the next one come out? jakljdflkajfljafiu!!!”

How could I resist such glowing and intriguing reviews? And now that I have read volume one, I can safely say, “Yes there is a lot of kinky, crazy sex (OMG don’t read this at work!) but it’s all contextual, I swear! And OMG this book is so amazing! My feeeeels! When does the next one come out? jakljdflkajfljafiu!!!”

“It’s not like I grow up to become some great war hero or any sort of all-important savior…but thanks to these two, at least I get to grow old.”

The Private Eye (art by Marcos Martin)

The Private Eye’ is a pay-whatever-the-hell-you-want online comic that will make you question your online activities (like making online purchases) and just how much privacy exists in the ether. It is a futuristic throwback to classic detective stories where everyone has a secret identity after everyone’s information is exposed for all to see. I had some involvement in the #Nymwars that followed the release of Google+, so the concept really hits home for me. Toss in an intriguing mystery and off we go.

“I’m not a pervert. I just use this nym when I want to be left alone.”

Ex Machina (art by Tony Harris)

Mitchel Hundred is America’s first superhero, created by a freak accident that gives him control over machinery. With the help of his two friends, he dons the identity The Great Machine and takes of the responsibility of saving New York from evil. Only, unlike in the comic books, this — erm — comic book quickly points out that super heroes tend to cause more trouble than they think they do, especially for the authorities. Eventually, following 9/11, Hundred takes off his mask to run for mayor of New York, a position where he actually can do some good. A lot of the plot focuses on the daily political problems, including a major one at an art museum that impressed me for not pulling politically correct punches on the subject matter. Add to that a snow storm that cripples the city and the return of The Great Machine’s nemesis who is targeting snow plow drivers. I really loved how much information and detail was brought in through only five issues without being overwhelming or verbose.

“When people ask who saved you, tell them it was The Great Machine. Tell them everything’s going to be all right!”
 

Y:The Last Man (art by Pia Guerra)

I love the way sexism and misogyny are front and centre from the start, but all presented within the context of the situations where we meet the major female players in this story and the single male who survives the gender apocalypse. All male mammals but Yorick and his monkey suddenly and mysteriously die, leaving the world in sudden chaos. The statistics presented at the end of issue one are staggering. Forty-eight percent of the population is dead, but the number of males in various positions of power are near 100%. I really liked how the remaining women weren’t all stellar examples of humanity, meant to prove that women really can do things better than men. The Amazonian movement is frightening and the Republican reaction certainly reminds me of current events.

“Men. Can’t live with ’em…”

Tuesday Tea: The Garden of Last Days with a Sprinkle of Bloodlust





What I’m Drinking: A personal blend of blood orange, ceylon sonata, and pomegranate for a tangy, tarty taste that I’ve named Bloodlust.

What I’m Listening To: I Belong To You / Mon Cœur S’ouvre à Ta Voix by Muse

What I’m Reading: The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III


Quote: “But he has wasted time. And money. So much of it. It is this alcohol. He has become too fond of it. The feeling of freedom it gives to him, of floating above all that is here he cannot control. And it makes him more brave to talk to an uncovered kafir woman in a place of evil that holds him. When he approached her in the shadows, her body so close to his own, his heart was speeding and it was difficult to look at her face and into her eyes and request time alone with her. It was something he could not have done if he had not been drunk. Again the wisdom of the Provider and the Sustainer as taught by imams he had ignored. They know these vodkas and beer and cognacs and champagnes, they are the colors of water and earth but they have been made in the fires of Jahannam. They only cloud men’s minds and weaken their discipline and turn their hearts to caring only for the flesh that does not last.”


Note: Tea drinking, listening to music, and reading are some of my favorite past times, and I usually do them all at the same time. I’ve recently gotten serious about blending and brewing my own tea more often, so I’ll post these occasionally on Tuesday.

Graphic Novel Review: Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection by Gail Simone

Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection by Gail Simone

Full disclosure. I stopped reading the New 52 after four
comics. I read Mister
Terrific #1
, Justice
League #1
, Detective
Comics #1
, and Swamp
Thing #1
.

Out of those four comics, I was only impressed with Detective Comics and Swamp Thing. Justice League was only “meh” and didn’t feel like it was worth the trouble of continuing at that point, and Mister
Terrific
was terrible when it had so much potential to be great. Even
though I did enjoy Detective Comics and Swamp Thing, I still put them on the back burner in favor of other comics that I wanted to catch up on. Admittedly, I was one of those people who wasn’t that excited to see Barbara assume the Batgirl mantle again. I love Barbara. I really do, but I always felt that she was a more formidable hero as Oracle than as Batgirl. That’s neither here nor there now, and there’s no point in rehashing old thoughts. Moving on…

I decided to try Batgirl for two reasons. I wanted to try another comic from the New 52 to see how I would enjoy it, and I wanted to read more Gail Simone after sort of shying away from her writing because of a volume of The Atom I read that made me want to run away screaming. Friends and fans of Gail assured me that I would enjoy either Birds of Prey or Batgirl much more than I enjoyed The Atom. After some resistance, I finally decided it was time to close my eyes and step off this cliff again.
The Darkest Reflection follows Barbara Gordon who has made her return as Batgirl after an experimental—or at least it sounded experimental—medical procedure returns her ability to use
her legs. For those of you not quite familiar with what happened or only have a vague idea of what happened to her, refer to The Killing Joke pre-DCnU. After some downtime rehabbing while living in her father’s home, Barbara decides that it’s time to spread her wings, move out of her father’s house, and take up the mantle of the bat again. What Barbara didn’t count on was her survivor’s guilt and PTSD (which is triggered when she’s faced with guns) making her return to crime fighting more difficult than she’d expected.
I enjoyed this much, much, much more than I did The Atom. At first, I was a little afraid that I might have to put this book down because it started a bit campier that I like. Actually, no, I should explain that better. I love when writers use campy writing to their advantage, but sometimes, I feel like writer’s try too hard with it. In turn, that turns me off because it comes off feeling so artificial and forced and makes it hard for me to enjoy the story.  This was one of the main problems that I had with The Atom. There were points in the beginning of this story where I worried I might be traveling down that road again, but after a while, the story found its footing and turned into an enjoyable read.
Barbara is a survivor struggling with the thought of having her
legs back. She struggles with conflicting feelings that make her feel blessed for this miracle, but questions why did she, out of all the people in the in the world, deserve such a miracle. After thwarting a murder attempt on a family, Barbara’s next foe challenges her miracle as well and brings out deeper psychological fears.

 

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Barbara’s struggle. She’s of two minds for most of this comic. She’s a superwoman and a frail all in the same breath. One minute she’s praising herself for her strength and smarts, and the next minute, she doubts herself and if she’s even doing the right thing. She wonders if she’s squandering her miracle by pushing herself too hard, but then she feels that this miracle wasn’t given to her for her to sit by idly. A brief confrontation with Nightwing shows the feelings she stills hold for him  while punctuating that she doesn’t want the others to believe that she’s not capable–to the point that she lashes out at him in order to show that she isn’t helpless. She doesn’t want their help. She wants to prove herself, her strength and ability to overcome, to the bat family.

Let me talk briefly about the ending of this comic. No real
spoilers, but just some thoughts. When I realized that Barbara’s threat was eliminated in the fourth issues but there were still two issues left in this arc, I was thinking, “Okay?” It ended perfectly, and I was thinking that things were about to get odd since what could you possibly accomplish in two more issues? I was pleasantly surprised. You can say the next two issues in the arc were a mini-story, but still tied into the “reflection” theme showing Barbara what she
could’ve been if she hadn’t had family and support.
The first part dealt with accepting that miracles happened
to people whether they deserved them or not and that there’s no one who can decide that someone is undeserving of such a miracle, even if it’s a personal miracle. The second part dealt more personally with the idea that not everyone may see his or her miracle as a miracle. It showed how fragile the line between miracle and damnation is in some people’s mind, and it showed a thing about compassion and understanding, as well.
Overall, this was entertaining. There were some hiccups for
me, and I’m back to questioning why it’s so easy for some people to find out who the bat family is over other more intelligent criminals. That’s a general annoyance of mine with Batman and the bat family, not something that’s limited to Gail herself. However, I still
enjoyed the story and appreciated it for showing Barbara’s return as a struggle that she’s working to overcome for physical and psychological reasons. I’ll definitely read more of the Batgirl
758dc-new3stars