Mogsy: A Book That I’ve Read More Than Three Times

Okay, I’m going to cheat a little for this question. The thing is, I don’t typically reread books. If I were to read a book again, it would be a book that I love, and generally books that I love, I remember very, very well, and that’s why rereading isn’t something I do a lot. Unfortunately, life’s just too short (or more accurately, my TBR list is just too long) for it, so you can see why it would be kind of a challenge to come up with a book I’ve read more than once, let alone more than three times!

But…there is a book that comes close. In the fourth grade, I had a fantastic teacher called Mr. Smiley. And I am so not kidding, that was his real name. Mr. Smiley was a fun guy who was also Australian, so he had this really cool accent which made class story time even more amazing with his ability to do these great voices. One of the books he read to us was The Hobbit. And that, dear readers, was my very first exposure to this fantasy classic and the name J.R.R. Tolkien. I loved it.

Fast forward a couple years, in Grade 6, at another school in another country, my fellow students and I were assigned The Hobbit to read for English class. I’ll admit, reading the book for a school assignment was definitely not as fun as listening to Mr. Smiley do his Gollum voice, but eh, what can you do? I remember having a great time returning to Middle Earth, nonetheless. It was just as good the second time around.

I have, of course, read The Hobbit again since my school years. But even if you count that along with the first couple of times (which I do, even if it was read to me the first time around) that’s still just three times. But I included this book in my answers to the 30-Day Reading Challenge anyway, because as you can see the adventures of our beloved Bilbo Baggins played a big role in my childhood reading experiences which ultimately lead to my love for the fantasy genre in my adult years.

Eventually, I hope to be able to read The Hobbit to my own child, when she is a bit older. When I do, I suppose then it will be a book I have read more than three times, but too bad we’re not counting future reads! In any case, I can’t think of a better title to introduce my daughter to the world of fantasy books, and who knows, maybe it’ll be the one that leads her down the road to become a fantasy fiction fan, like it did for her mom. The thought warms my heart.


Mogsy: WOGF Update

As you know, last week I decided to jump aboard the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge. Seeing as we’re already halfway through 2013, I figured I’d better get cracking.

Since my last update, I’ve already managed to finish a couple of books, so keep an eye out on this blog for their reviews over the next few weeks.


I’ve also started on two more since, which when I’m done reading should — at an average of one book per month — get me up to speed for this challenge.

Kind of weird how it worked out to me reading two books about dragons at the same time, but the way the creatures are portrayed are so different in each. Both books are quite good so far. I guess I’ve been lucky in making my choices for this challenge, because I haven’t yet come across a book or an author I couldn’t stand.

Speaking of which, I also wanted to mention that I made a last-minute change on my list of books and authors. I’d forgotten that I ordered a copy of Marie Robinette Kowal’s Glamour in Glass a couple weeks ago up until the hardcover practically showed up on my doorstep. It was one of the 2012 Nebula Awards nominees and I really wanted to check it out, so when I saw that Kowal and her book fit the challenge requirements, I switched them in. I’ve updated my original post to reflect the change.

Audio Book Review: City of Lies by Lian Tanner

City of Lies by  Lian Tanner

Okay, let’s see if I can pull this review off without making it another gush-fest on my love for Claudia Black. As usual, her narration is fantastic, but for this second book of The Keepers Trilogy, I want to focus on the story because that’s what I think really shines.

After the events of The Museum of Thieves (my review here), Goldie Roth has been offered the chance to become a Keeper of the Museum of Dunt. But then her new friend Toadspit’s little sister Bonnie is stolen away, and so the two older children take off after the kidnappers. After a journey upon the seas, Toadspit ends up being captured too, and they all end up at the city of Spoke where the much-anticipated Festival of Lies is about to begin. Now Goldie has to save her friends while trying to survive in the middle of this bizarre place, made even stranger by the nature of the festival, where every day is “Opposite Day” and no one can be trusted.

This series is targeted at the middle-grade audience, so younger readers would probably appreciate it more, but I found this book to be quite enjoyable all the same. The story is a lot of fun — short, but very cute. I think children will like that characters have to speak and act in a way that is the opposite of what they mean during the Festival of Lies, but it isn’t done in such a juvenile manner that adults can’t find it all very entertaining as well.

There’s also an aspect of make-believe, role-play and “playing pretend” in this book that kids would probably enjoy, which also involves a very abstract magical idea that I’m still trying to wrap my head around (though I’m sure children would probably take for granted and wouldn’t question too much). There just seems to be a lot more going on in this sequel in terms of fantasy elements and ideas, some that are just more intriguing and appealing to all readers.

The focus is mostly on the adventures of Goldie and Toadspit this time around, with the other adult keepers back in the city of Jewel and given an obligatory side plot to keep them in the series. Quite honestly, I didn’t mind the story’s greater emphasis on the children because in my opinion they’re a lot more interesting to read about. The audiobook narration also does a good job of bringing them to life, along with the crazy city of Spoke.

Once again, if you can get your hands on the audio version of this book, I highly recommend doing so. This series would not have made even made it onto my radar screen if it weren’t for Claudia Black’s name being attached to the project, since it’s not a regular habit of mine to pick up children’s books (but maybe I should make it one, since my toddler is growing up so fast). Black’s voice work is always top-notch, and so far these books have been great. I’ve already put my name on the waiting list for the final installment of this trilogy from my library.


Book Review: Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

Playing Tyler by  T.L. Costa

Expected Date of Publication: July 2, 2013

Thank you to Netgalley and Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry for providing me with an e-ARC of Playing Tyler in exchange for an honest review. When I read the synopsis for this young adult novel, it was the video game angle that initially piqued my interest. Being an avid gamer myself, I was immediately drawn to the story.

It begins with just a typical day for 17-year-old Tyler MacCandless. Tyler has ADHD, but has long stopped taking his medication because his older brother Brandon kept stealing it before landing himself in rehab for drug abuse. School’s a struggle when none of the other students or his teachers understand what’s going on in his life. Tyler’s father is dead and his mother isn’t dealing too well with the problems at home, so the only person Tyler can turn to is Rick, his friend and mentor at the Civilian Air Patrol.

Tyler loves playing video games, so it was a dream come true one day when Rick asks him to beta test a new flight simulator, which may also be Tyler’s chance to get into flight school if he scores well enough. Even better, the designer behind the game is teen prodigy Ani Bagdorian AKA Slayergrrl, legendary International League Gaming champion. It doesn’t take long for the two of them to strike up a romantic relationship. However, just as Tyler think his life is finally on the right track, Brandon goes missing from rehab and it appears there is more to the simulator game than meets the eye.

Right away, I liked that this was a story about two teenagers who fall outside conventions when it comes to YA protagonists. Video gaming as a hobby is still often made a subject of ridicule in mainstream pop culture, with its enthusiasts portrayed as weirdos who don’t get out much, which is why I love how the hero and heroine of this novel are both hardcore gamers. When you try to picture someone who is good enough to win championships at international gaming competitions, you don’t typically think of a smart and beautiful 16-year-old female Yale student, which is why I think Ani is especially kick-ass.

Still, at first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get into this book. It begins with Tyler’s perspective, whose ADHD made his narration a little confusing to follow, since the writing style is so abrupt to convey that his attention is all over the place. The positive side is that it’s also very effective, because it made me feel like I’m actually inside his head. Tyler’s sections do get a bit easier on the eyes after a while, once you start getting used to it. Ani’s point-of-view, which alternates with Tyler’s, also helped change things up a little and gave me the breaks I needed.

The story itself was a little predictable, perhaps, and yet still quite suspenseful, especially once you reach the final chapters. But one thing I wasn’t a big fan of was the romance. I’m aware that having the element of a love story is a big thing and a wise decision in YA fiction these days, but quite honestly, I felt Playing Tyler could have been much stronger and better as a straight-up thriller suspense story.

Even just the gradual build-up of the relationship between Tyler and Ani would have been sufficient, without the first third of the novel devoted to getting them together. I felt that bogged down the beginning of the story somewhat, and that’s really where I’m looking for a book to hook me and pick up momentum. Though, I do have to admit I found some of the awkward “first date” moments oddly enjoyable to read, especially with Tyler’s penchant to say the wrong things at the wrong time. It was sort of funny and cute in its own way.

I would say this book would be perfect for its intended audience, which includes readers who like YA fiction as well as older teens, since it does contain mature themes and some instances of strong language. There’s a good combination of thrills and intrigue, a very strong debut novel from a new author and an engaging read over all.


Mogsy: Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge

As always, I feel lucky and grateful to be writing for The BiblioSanctum along with my fellow blog contributors, because between them they are a boundless trove of book recommendations, new authors to discover, and interesting things to learn. Earlier this month, Wendy posted about the 2013 Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by the fan-fun community site Worlds Without End. So naturally, I’ve decided to join the fun.

So I realize the year’s already almost half over, but I figure at the rate I devour books, realistically this is something I can still manage to do. Not to mention I already have a couple books that are eligible for the challenge under my belt, so I wouldn’t be starting completely from behind.

The process of selecting the authors and books was easy; wouldn’t you believe it, but when I went over my Goodreads account for my list of books I’ve read this year so far, as well as books on my to-read list, there are EXACTLY 12 female authors who 1) I haven’t read prior to 2013, and 2) are also on the author list provided by WWEnd! Is this a sign or what?! As for the one random author pick, well, their random author picker was still under construction, and I figure most of the books I choose to read are pretty random anyway.

If anything, I’m with Wendy on this being a great way for me to polish off some titles from my TBR pile, some that have been on there for a while but I still really want to read. Here’s my progress so far:

  Completed Reviews:

And my plans for the rest!

Book Review: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

A shadowy curse hangs over the royal family of Chalion and it falls to a broken man to save them from the curse and the political viper pit that threatens to bring them down.

I fell in love with Cazaril not long after he was introduced. When he first appears, he is a broken man in both body and spirit. He has some how survived betrayal that led him into the hands of vicious slavers and is slowly making his way back to the royal family he serves. His restraint when he encounters arrogant soldiers is impressive. His humility when he presents himself to the Provinsara and requests the opportunity to return to the service of Chalion in some way is a little bit heartbreaking. Despite his wounds, inner and outer, the Provinsara knows him as a loyal, noble person and it becomes increasingly clear to the reader that he is a true hero, though not one that necessarily proves his valor with sword and shield. He is a soldier though and fully capable of fighting, in spite of his increasing health problems. What I respect is that he only resorts to the sword when necessary, relying more on his wits, which is exactly why the Pronvinsara appoints him as secretary-tutor to her beautiful, strong-willed niece, Iselle and, by default, Iselle’s equally beautiful and strong-willed handmaiden, Beatriz.

When the ladies first appear, they are impetuously disobeying the rules and they seem to be the typical bratty princess types, but, as with many things in the book, they move quickly past expectations and predictions. This happens with both characters and plotlines, where I would make immediate assumptions about a person or the what-happens-next, only to have them step in a completely different direction, without any time wasted to get to that direction. A lot of authors add extra details and sometimes completely unnecessary words, perhaps to build tension or perhaps just as filler, but I really appreciate the way Bujold gets to the point without the preamble. Everything is artfully detailed and characters are all wonderfully fleshed out, but there is no detritus to sift through. Just a pure story that was a very engrossing and enjoyable read.

I very much liked the portrayal of women in the book. This is a patriarchal society where women are used as pawns through marriage for political gain. Due to the curse and circumstances, two of the women we meet, Ista and Sara, are seemingly downtrodden and, in Ista’s case, considered mad. But there is far more to them that Bujold presents early on and recognizes clearly in the end. Heroes come in many forms and one who is able to endure should not be overlooked.

Iselle understands the role of women in this society, and she is also intuitive enough to determine how best to work within the rules to achieve her own happiness, and more importantly, what is best for Chalion. She is able to play the game of thrones, if you will, without compromising morals or herself.

Cazaril is definitely a favourite character, but I ended up appreciating almost all of the characters and appropriately disliking the not so nice ones. Everyone plays an important role in some way.

The other aspect I really enjoyed was the gods. Sometimes when a story includes gods, the gods are much like our reality: other than a few of their followers performing parlour tricks, there is no real evidence of the gods’ existence. That is how it seems at first, but again, Bujold quickly proves otherwise in the form of some interesting miracles and saints. Not that these gods are all thunder and lightning. They are very subtle, but their workings and how involved they are in certain lives comes as a surprise each time. I loved the way everything was intertwined seamlessly, start to finish.

“The gods’ most savage curses come to us as answers to our own prayers. Praying is a dangerous business.”

By the last twenty percent of the book when everything seemed to have fallen into place, my George R. R. Martin tainted mind was screaming for fear that something would go wrong and and everyone would die! I’m not opposed to unhappy endings, but this was definitely a nice change for me. If you do like happy endings that aren’t contrived, then this book is an excellent choice.


Book Review: Triptych by J.M. Frey

Triptych by J.M. Frey

The worst part about Triptych is falling in love with Kalp, just as the humans, Gwen and Basil do, all the while knowing that he dies. No, that’s not a spoiler. His murder occurs right in the first few pages of the book and I was impressed by the way Frey’s clipped and intense descriptions conveyed Gwen and Basil’s emotional turmoil.

Unfortunately, the next chapter was a bit problematic with Basil seeming to suddenly develop a British accent and affectations, too much focus on the inside jokes that result when people from the future visit the past, and far too much time spent with the use of parentheses mid-sentence to redundantly point out the actual (obvious) intent and emotion of a particular character’s thoughts. Fortunately, while annoying, I could get used to Basil’s poor British representation as time passed, and the parenthesized thoughts were confined to that one section.

The next section introduces Kalp and is the highlight of the book. The few remaining aliens of Kalp’s world who escaped its destruction have arrived on earth, welcomed by the Institute (formed by the UN or such) with integration as the goal. Kalp is teamed with Gwen and the brilliant science-type, Basil. I enjoyed reading about Kalp’s awkwardness and seeing humans and humanity through his eyes. Frey did an excellent job with this and with the creation of this alien race and their physiology and customs. This part of the book clearly defines it as a bittersweet love story.There is some tension created in the knowledge that triptych is fated to fall apart and the knowledge that perhaps it could be saved with some convenient time travelling, but I felt the conclusion of the book fell a bit flat. As expected with alien encounter stories, fear and prejudice is a prominent theme, but I did not enjoy the dastardly plan revealed at the end in a rather clumsy series of “action” sequences and a villain who was rather two dimensional.

Overall, not a bad book and certainly very impressive for a first novel.


Book Review: The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick

The Red Wolf Conspiracy by  Robert V.S. Redick

This is a story of The Chathrand. Built six hundred years go, the great ship is a towering palace on the seas and the last of her kind. Now she sets sail on a mission of diplomacy, carrying the only daughter of the Emperor’s Ambassador to a marriage that will ensure the peace between two nations. The rest of the passenger list is diverse, including the ship’s psychotic captain, a tarboy with a magical gift for languages, a spymaster and his six deadly assassins, a hundred imperial marines, and a small band of gremlin-like Ixchel stowaways. All look on with wonder and pride as The Chathrand embarks on this most important voyage…and then the great ship goes missing.

The Good

I loved how this book started — right away, the reader is informed through a “special notice” that the great ship has vanished at sea, along with the 800 souls she was carrying. (Souls…the choice of that word in the report had a chilling effect on me). Immediately, you’re drawn into this mystery and you’re flipping to the first page of the first chapter, eager to start the story which would tell you what happened. 

I was also impressed with just how much is in this book. There’s so much magic and different races and different creatures in this book. Everyone seems to have an element of fantasy surrounding them, like Pazel the tarboy who has been blessed/burdened with a gift/curse that allows him learn and understand any language after only being exposed to them for a short time. But this power, however, also frequently gives him debilitating fits that interferes with his job aboard the decks. 

Then there are the Ixchel, a race of tiny people that sailors often consider nothing more than pests because their tendency to stow away aboard ships. There are also the Flikkermen, Murths (like mermaids), and a race of gigantic, enormously strong humanoids called the Augrong, among others. Not to mention the presence of special animals that are “awakened” with self-awareness and the power of intellectual thought and speech. The book is a trove of new and interesting ideas for people who love fantasy fiction.

The So-So

There is such thing as too much of a good thing. The plus of having so much going on in this book can also be seen as a minus. There are a lot of ambitious ideas in this ambitious story set in an ambitious fantasy world, and sometimes it can all get just a little too overwhelming. 

The first few chapters were done really well, telling a sequence of events through the eyes of several characters, with each point-of-view picking things up right after where the last one left off. Unfortunately, it also made me feel so disoriented that I had to go back and read through them again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. At this point, there were still a lot of things I didn’t understand, but I just made do with telling myself to trust the author, that hopefully there will come a time when everything will be made clear.

Ultimately, everything was explained, which was good, but I still thought it was a lot in the intro to heap upon your reader so quickly. 

The Not-So-Good

This is more of a personal preference, really, but I just don’t think “maritime fantasy” is for me. Reading about great ships and pirates and the ocean and sailing and all that puts me more in mind of historical fiction, and so I had a really hard time bringing myself back to the fact I’m actually reading a fantasy. It’s just really weird. No matter how long I’d been reading this, there was always a moment of discombobulation and confusion when I picked up the book again to continue where I left off.

Unfortunately, it really kept me from being immersed in this book and enjoying it fully. That said, those who love maritime settings and stories about ships would probably really love this. But even though that aspect wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, I do have to say I was completely enchanted by the book’s fantasy elements.


Book Review: Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

This is the fourth and final book of the Rain Wild Chronicles series, bringing a close to the story of the dragons and their keepers…for now. In the last book, we saw the characters arrive at the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra, only to find it accessible only by flight.

At the start of Blood of Dragons, many of the dragons have managed to learn to fly, with the rest well on their way to achieving it. The dragonkeepers have also been transformed, becoming beautiful Elderlings. Expeditions have been made into Kelsingra; every day more artifacts are discovered, and more memories are lifted magically from the city’s stones. It’ll all be for naught, however, if the one thing the dragons and their Elderlings need to stay healthy and survive cannot be found — silver, a substance that has the power to heal and rejuvenate, among other mystical properties.

I think I’ve finally gotten into the flow of Robin Hobb’s writing. I love her style, but what I’ve discovered is that her books are not so traditionally structured, which can sometimes make them feel lacking in direction. But unlike the three previous books in the series, this is the first one where I can distinctly identify a climax and a definite ending. Well, this being the last book and all, I would have certainly hoped so.

As a series conclusion, I was pretty satisfied. Still, maybe it’s just me, but so much of it felt driven by pure relationship drama. Of course, there’s a positive side to this; I was extremely looking forward to see how this book will end up dealing with Hest Finbok, for one. Despite being jilted by Alise, he’s still a despicable human being and needed to get his due. There were also the usual conflicts, but the love triangle between Thymara, Tats, and Rapskal seemed to dominate a lot of it. Even the dragons were are getting into the action with their mating quarrels.

And on the topic of the dragons, even after four books I have to say I still haven’t managed to find much sympathy for the arrogant, belligerent creatures (with only a couple exceptions). Take the least flattering stereotypes about cats, and dragons are like that but about a hundred times worse. Is it horrible of me, that I actually wanted to see doom come to Tintaglia when she was caught in the trouble with the human hunters? I definitely wouldn’t fault this against the book though; it’s to Hobb’s credit that she was able to give her dragons such severe qualities and evoke these reactions from me.

My main issue, however, was probably with the subject of the silver wells. I don’t remember them being an important factor in this series at all until this book. All of a sudden, there’s this need for silver, and why is this matter just coming up now? Wouldn’t something like this have been helpful for everyone to know earlier in the expedition? Seems weird that it only came up once the characters are actually in Kelsingra. It’s possible I’m missing something because I haven’t read all the books in the Realm of the Elderlings, but the problem with the search for silver still feels like it came out of nowhere, thrown in as a conflict at the last minute.

Speaking of which, I probably should read the other books. I definitely have the interest and the desire to after reading this series, plus I should really try and finish off the Farseer Trilogy since the second book has been in my to-read list for almost two years. However, Liveship Traders probably interests me more at this point.


Book Review: Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

I have to praise Nazarian’s artistry when it comes to the written word. She seems to enjoy the language and it felt like she was painting with her words. But after about thirty pages, it started to very much feel like the canvas was growing much larger than necessary and the painting started to get very, very repetitious.

As the story goes, Death appears to a dying monarch and demands his Cobweb Bride. The monarch, who should have breathed her last when Death arrived, instead rattles on. Simultaneously, he visits a battlefield and the warring soldiers find themselves missing blood and body parts, but they are not officially dead. Then there is a celebration for the sixteenth birthday of the Infanta. Celebration turns to murder, but the dead won’t die until Death finds his Cobweb Bride. And there is another dying woman, this the grandmother of our heroine, Percy, who is able to see the shadows of Death, who visits Percy’s grandmother and makes his demands there as well.

In case we missed all that, we get to revisit all of these places and go through the details of the undead and the conversations of those around them several more times before all come to the conclusion that Death won’t let anyone die until he gets his bride. Buuuuut just in case it wasn’t clear, let’s also throw in one butchered pig that continues to squeal.

After 100 or so pages … I get it. Death. Cobweb Bride. Or else zombies forever.

Someone finally figures out that the solution must be for eligible ladies to make their way to Death’s Keep. One of these young women is Percy – Persephone, whose name, from Greco-Roman mythology, should already link her to Death. Percy is, apparently, a rather plain, perhaps even ugly protagonist. I point this out, because it is repeatedly pointed out within the story. I am all for heroines (and heroes) not being typical beauties, but I was disappointed in the need to have her appearance juxtaposed with her beautiful sisters who are the favourites of her beautiful mother and her formerly beautiful grandmother. I feel that if a writer wishes to portray a “plain” heroine, there shouldn’t always be a need to point out how plain or even ugly she is, by ensuring that there are always paragons of beauty available for comparison. If the point is that heroes can be everyday people who aren’t gorgeous examples of humanity, then why not allow everyone in the story to reflect reality in that way.

But I digress. As does the story, which moves on to the women traveling to Death’s Keep. Many of them band together, but their journey is hindered by the soldiers who have decided not to die. As with the earlier encounters with Death, this section drags with repetition and a collection of unmemorable characters (save for Percy, and two others whose relationship takes an interesting turn.)

About fifty pages from the end of the book, we finally get the plot twist that is actually quite interesting. It sets  up nicely and obviously for the second book in the planned trilogy, but after slogging through the other 200+ pages, I am convinced that three is not a magic number. This story likely would have done well as a duology or even a longer single novel, if it had more focus and less repetition.