Mogsy: The Best Book I’ve Read This Year

 

This is where keeping track of my books on Goodreads comes in handy. To narrow down my options for Best Book I’ve Read This Year, I went straight to my 5-star reads. Still, 2013 isn’t even half done yet, and according to my stats I’ve already racked up quite a few of those. Looking over the list, it was a tough choice, but in the end I had to go with Heir of Novron for overall best read.Why? Well, Heir of Novron is actually an omnibus that collects the last two books (Wintertide and Percepliquis) of a six-part fantasy series called The Riyria Revelations. The first two omnibuses are Theft of Swords (collecting The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) and Rise of Empire (collecting Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm), and it’s the gradual building up of the over-arching story in these books that made the stunning conclusion such a joy to read.

This is a delightful down-to-earth fantasy series, filled with adventure, action, and a cast of great characters. Once you start the first book, you just can’t help but keep going; each installment has its own self-contained story, but the series is also meant to be read a whole. As you make your way through it, you will find that the author has dropped hints of what’s to come in the earlier books, WAAAAAY before you even realized it was happening, which is what made Percepliquis such a mind-blowing experience. So many twists and turns, and shocking reveals. Let’s just say the word Revelations in the series title is certainly apt.

And the icing on the cake is that the author is such a nice guy. After you finish the series, Michael J. Sullivan asks that you contact him for bonus material. So I sent him an email about it, along with my thanks and comments about how much I loved his books. This led to a back-and-forth email conversation which lasted a couple days where we talked about the themes of the series and he answered all my questions. To be able to discuss a book that I loved so much with the author right after reading it was one of the coolest experiences ever.
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All Female Cast for the New X-Men #1

The much hyped new X-Men #1 is out today! Be sure to grab a copy! No, we’re not going to review it just yet because frankly, while the art was fantastic and we’re loving seeing our favourite ladies doing their thang, the story isn’t quite there yet. No matter, we’ll definitely be back for the next issue to find out what happens!

The (Sort of) 30-Day Reading Challenge

There are many 30-Day Challenge memes for every point of interest out there,which means of course there would be one or ten related to books! They are enjoyable activities that allow people to expound on their love or hate for a particular topic and the various elements that comprise it.

They can also be rather time consuming and difficult to manage for people like us who really enjoy sharing our feelings, but can’t be bound to the implied daily commitment. So we have altered the requirements a bit to post our individual responses to the questions below whenever we please! Look out for our random 30-Day Reading Challenge posts under the “Reading Challenge” category.

Day 01 – The best book you read this year
Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan (Mogsy)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Wendy)

Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Mogsy)  

Day 03 – Your favorite series
The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell (Wendy)
Kushiel Universe by Jacqueline Carey (Mogsy)

Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series

Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (Mogsy)

Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
11/22/63 by Stephen King (Mogsy)

Day 07 – Most underrated book

Day 08 – Most overrated book
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Wendy)

Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (Wendy)

Day 11 – A book you hated

Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore

Day 13 – Your favorite writer

Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer

Day 15 – Favorite male character

Day 16 – Favorite female character
Vergere (Wendy)

Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Wendy)
Sula by Toni Morrison (Tiara) 
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch (Mogsy)

Day 18 – A book that disappointed you

Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (Tiara)
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (Mogsy)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Wendy)

Day 20 – Favorite romance book
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (Wendy)

Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood

Day 22 – Favorite book you own

Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read

Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most

Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something

Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending

Day 28 – Favorite title
Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind by Nicole Knepper (Tiara)
Sweet Dreams are Made of Teeth by Richard Roberts (Wendy)

Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked

Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Having really enjoyed Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist, I became interested in checking out the author’s other works and decided to pick up his new young adult book The 5th Wave.

The book tells the story of an alien invasion, happening over a period of time in a series of planned attacks called “waves”. The 1st wave was an electromagnetic pulse-like burst that knocked out electricity and almost everything that runs on power. The 2nd wave wiped out all cities on the world’s coastlines. The 3rd wave was a plague that decimated the human population. The 4th wave made those still alive mistrust and turn on each other. Cassie is one of the few lucky (unlucky?) survivors, believing that striking out alone is the only way to stay alive. Those that are left now prepare for the worst; they know “the Others” aren’t done with humanity yet, and a 5th wave is on the horizon.

I was really excited when I found out the premise behind the book, hoping to see a new take and fresh ideas on the alien invasion concept. Going on a tangent here, but I think most of us today take movies like Alien for granted; the image of the chestburster exploding out of a human chest cavity is a familiar one to us now that it’s been propagated in pop culture, but can you imagine actually sitting in that theater seat watching that scene play out for the very first time on the big screen back in 1979? It was before my time, but I can’t help but think it must have been one crazy, horrifyingly mind-blowing experience, simply because no one then could have expected it.

You could say I’m trying to I’m chase that feeling, I guess. I live for those moments when I’m surprised by my science fiction, those OMG-I-can’t-believe-that-just-friggin’-happened moments. Anyway, I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately it didn’t quite get me there. Even so, it was great read. Never mind that some of the waves were based on familiar ideas, and there were themes reminiscent of stories like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing (TRUST NO ONE!), the horror of their relentless assaults was very well done, making the characters’ fears seem very real.

In fact, I only have a very few minor gripes, and they mostly stem from the things the author threw in to make this book feel more mainstream YA, almost like he was deliberately trying for a Hunger Games vibe. There’s that aspect of the young girl struggling in a survivalist situation, complete with a sappy romance with a cute boy with a lop-sided grin. Arrgh, seriously, why do they always always ALWAYS have to have the lop-sided grin?! Spare me!

I know it’s a stereotype, and as usual there are going to be exceptions, but some male authors just can’t seem to pull off writing convincingly and realistically from the point-of-view of a teenage girl. Some of Cassie’s thoughts about crushes and boys are either giggle-worthy or cringe-inducing, and I get the feeling Rick Yancey simply used general ideas found in mainstream movies and books when it came to writing Cassie. She definitely didn’t come across as naturally compared to his characterization of Will Henry in The Monstrumologist.

I only mention this because YA romances that feel corny or awkward have a tendency to drive me absolutely bonkers, but thankfully it was only mildly distracting here. Ultimately, there really wasn’t much in this book that took away from my overall enjoyment. Despite incorporating a lot of elements I feel like I’ve seen
before, I really have no complaints in terms of the story. It was
entertaining, full of action and suspense and all I could ask for.

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Audiobook Review: Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Curse continues the adventures of Moirin mac Fainche, now on a quest to find her lover, Bao, who has run off to determine his own fate after their Master Lo sacrificed himself to help Moirin unwittingly bring Bao back to life. Half of Moirin’s soul spark, or diadh-anam, now resides with Bao, guiding her towards him, but making him uncertain of whether or not his feelings for her are genuine.

Leaving Chin behind, Moirin travels through many of the lands of Carey’s world, all of which are based on the real world. Carey seems to be making a point of covering the entire world in her books, with this one crossing Mongolia and India and the next book completing the world tour with the west.

This is, first and foremost, a love story that speaks to the lengths Moirin will go to for those she loves. To be clear, Moirin loves just about everyone. She remains committed to Bao, but Moirin falls in love with the inner beauty and positive traits of many of the people she meets on her journey. As a child of Namaah, Moirin is heavily influenced by desire and believes in the D’Angeline consensual tenet of “Love as thou wilt.”

Through the Alban side of her heritage, Moirin is also a child of the bear goddess, the Maghuin Dhonn.  The gifts from these goddesses are manifest in Moirin and this brings her to the attention of a particular Yeshuan Rebbe intent on cleansing her of all those sins and lead her and other sinners to salvation. When this occurs about a quarter of the way into the book, it got my back up. In the second book of Carey’s adventures in Terre D’Ange, readers are introduced to the Habiru, worshippers of Yeshua and the One God. Due to my Christian upbringing, I tend to balk when I have to deal with the religious beliefs I rebelled against in my youth (unexpectedly) showing up in my entertainment and taking a very prominent role. It’s clear that the cultures and religions in this series are all based on actual cultures and religions and it is very easy to identify them all, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to me to find the Christian god’s involvement – especially since the gods of Terre D’Ange are birthed from that very faith. My prejudice usually isn’t enough to make me turn away, and I appreciated the way Kushiel’s Chosen presented it as something more for its main character, Phèdre, to learn and comprehend in order to achieve her goals. In fact, as the books progress and more cultures and religions earn some focus, Carey does so with great care and respect through her characters. But, unlike the previous adventures with Yeshua where I could get over my religious prejudice because the telling was never delivered with preachiness or condemnation, Moirin’s introduction to the Habiru, it is nothing but preachy and condemning.

As Moirin tries to justify her religious beliefs and subsequent actions to her captors, it felt a lot like it was Carey herself trying to unapologetically validate the “love as though wilt” principle and the licentious behaviour of her D’Angeline people. As if Carey had suffered criticism from some right wing Christian group and needed to vent her frustrations within the story. Later, when Moirin travels to Bhodistan, Carey’s disguised opinion piece moves to the condemnation of the caste system and the Untouchables of India.

I would have liked to avoid comparing Moirin to her predecessor, Phèdre no Delauney, but Moirin does it often enough herself. Moirin also spent a lot of time reiterating events from past books. In her travels, she frequently is asked to tell her story from Namaah’s Kiss, so if you haven’t read that one, you almost don’t need to. But she also goes into a lot of detail about certain events that took place with Imriel de la Courcel, who had his own trilogy in Carey’s Terre D’Ange series. Everything is raised within context, but I found the repetition tedious.

There is a heavy reliance on magic. Originally, the gods’ involvement in the world was clear, but not as heavy handed as it has been with Moirin. All of her decisions are based on the commands of her diadh-anam and plans rely on her ability to “summon the twilight” or make use of her many other abilities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that has struck me since the Imriel Trilogy, becoming almost the entire focus in Moirin’s Trilogy. The theme is that the gods use their chosen hard, as established with Phèdre   but Phèdre made choices that in some cases, meant defying the gods. I don’t expect Moirin to be Phèdre   but I grew disappointed in the way Moirin seemed to be the sum of her god-chosen status, without actually making decisions herself or really even questioning her destiny.

I was disappointed that we really don’t get to spend enough time with Bao and Moirin being together, though I know that was a necessary part of the story of Moirin’s love traversing all obstacles to be with him. I guess that just means I’ll have to read the third book in Moirin’s Trilogy to get my satisfaction!

My final complaint goes to the narrator, Anne Flosnik. I was not fond of her slow speech and the voices she affects for the characters other than Moirin, who tells the story. I particularly did not enjoy the drawn out, hoarsely whispered voice she uses for Bao. It did not match my image of Bao (as portrayed by Godfrey Gao in my head) at all. Not to mention that Flosnik pronounced all the words I’ve been reading for the past seven books entirely *wrong*, of course. Otherwise, the narration was tolerable, but I will definitely be reading the next book myself.
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Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist by

Brandon Sanderson

Huge fan of Brandon Sanderson here, which is why I was all over this book even though I knew it would take place outside of his Cosmere universe and be a little different from his usual epics. I admit I was mostly curious as to what reading a young adult fantasy novel by him would feel like, since I’ve never read any of his Alcatraz series books for teens.

On the surface, it didn’t feel too different, thanks to Sanderson’s unique brand of world-building and magic system creation. The Rithmatist is about 16-year-old Joel Saxon who goes to school at the prestigious Armedius Academy, one of just a handful of Rithmatist schools in the United Isles of America. He is somewhat of an outsider at the school; unlike a lot of his fellow students who are the sons and daughters of politicians, the rich, or other people of influence, his mother is a cleaning lady at the academy, and his father, who died
eight years ago in a springrail accident, was its resident chalkmaker. Neither is Joel a Rithmatist, though he desperately wishes to be one.

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 like Armedius, then sent on to the wilds of Nebrask where they defend humanity against hordes of dangerous and blood thirsty Wild Chalklings that threaten to overrun the territory. When several Rithmatists students go missing, Joel is assigned to be an assistant to Professor Fitch, the Rithmatist expert tasked to investigate the disappearances.

My first thought while reading this was that the writing is less subtle than I’m used to when reading Sanderson’s adult books. Instead of the letting details of the magic system trickle through as you make your way through the plot, there were a couple of pretty big info dumps near the beginning where one character explains Rithmatics to another.

Even then, I didn’t find the magic system or the world building to be as robust as it could be, though of course I’m not expecting Sanderson to go on in detail about such things in a young adult novel compared to the the way he does it in a 1000+ page fantasy epic. Still, I found myself asking a lot of questions about Rithmatics; it just felt like a magic system I could poke a lot of holes in without thinking too hard about it.

Rithmatics by itself sounds like a lot of fun, though. Is there something wrong with me that when I think about Rithmatist battles with their defense strategies and Chalklings, my mind immediately went to Pokemon? Or, okay, let’s say Magic: The Gathering, or Starcraft, or really any kind of game which involves a fundamental set of rules, strategic gameplay, a combination of chance and skill, and limits that force a player to think quickly and creatively when trying to defeat their opponent.

For Rithmatists, the decision comes down to whether to spend the time drawing a strong defense, or mounting a fast and powerful offense. Despite my skepticism, it really is quite cool. The technical aspects like circles, lines, and ratios didn’t interest me so much, but the idea of Chalklings attracted me more speaking from an artist’s point of view, since I suspect passion and talent for drawing Chalkings will end up playing into their effectiveness. Obviously, I’m looking forward to seeing more on Chalking theory. Also, I have to mention I really liked the art and diagrams which preceded each new chapter in this book.

Basically, as YA fiction goes, this was amazing. It’s like Brandon Sanderson took the crash course on how to write a good YA novel and threw in the works, complete with the teenage protagonist attending a school of magic in an alternate-reality-steampunky kind of world (with a whacked-out archipelago version of the United States and a Europe that has been taken over by invaders from Asia called the JoSeun).

There are even wonky things happening in this book like the lead investigator of a murder case simply taking a 16-year-old at his word, and of course the requisite potential for a romance along with the feel-good Karate Kid-like ending. Still, I loved it all. The last chapter and final scene was just so great, and I’m glad to see there will be future books in this series. Sanderson’s flair for fantasy and writing about magic is as usual unparalleled and something you absolutely won’t find anywhere else.

Final verdict:
  4 of 5 stars

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Wendy: The Best Book I’ve Read This Year

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

This was actually  my favourite book of 2012, but after reading the ebook, I had to have it (and all of N.K. Jemisin’s books) on my bookshelf. When it arrived early in 2013, I intended only to skim through to dog ear and highlight all the moments and quotes that had kept me up at nights during my initial read. Instead, I got sucked in all over again. It was even better the second time through, knowing what I did from my first read through. All the little things suddenly had that much more meaning.

Aside from the images and thoughts spilling across Tumblr, one of the things that really attracted me to the book was the author herself who is a woman of colour. It is rare to find people like yourself creating the things that you love so, while I try not to dwell on the paleness of science fiction and fantasy, it increases my enjoyment to be entertained by something that far better reflects life as it could and should be, rather than the reality that sometimes is. It disturbs me that science fiction and fantasy of all things remain bound to our prejudices when the worlds and creatures you can create within these realms should be limitless. It turns out, Ms. Jemisin has much to say on this subject herself:

This genre is rooted in the epic — and the truth is that there are plenty of epics out there which feature people like me. […] So given all these myths, all these examinations of the possible…how can I not imagine more? How can I not envision an epic set somewhere other than medieval England, about someone other than an awkward white boy? How can I not use every building-block of my history and heritage and imagination when I make shit up?

I have not yet written what I would consider a proper review for this book because my thoughts are just too muddled with emotion, speculation and lots of spoilers. I haven’t started the next book in the trilogy because I’m not quite ready for the emotional commitment. Both times I read THTK, it encompassed my thoughts for long hours – days afterward, which is enough for me to say that it is most definitely  five star book in my eyes. I’ve recommended it to everyone I know!

Book Review: City of Dragons by Robin Hobb

City of Dragons by Robin Hobb

This is the third book of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles series and unfortunately also my least favorite installment so far. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, but I’m also sensing a definite slowdown compared to the first couple of novels (see my review of Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven).

The book picks up from where we last left our group of dragons, their keepers and their crew. After overcoming the dangers of the Rain Wild River, the expedition has finally found the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra. And yet, due to the eruptions and bad flooding, the city can only be reached by flying — a problem, as despite growing bigger and stronger since the start of their journey, many of the dragons’ wings are still stunted, deformed and non-functioning. So close and yet so far!

And so, we watch as the characters spend much of their time in the book doing…not much of anything. About a quarter of the book blows by before I felt the story picking up, like something interesting was actually happening. It was definitely a slow start, lots of setting up and reintroductions to characters and past events to get the reader up to speed.

I’m notoriously forgetful of things that happened in previous books in a series (especially if it’s been a while) so normally I would appreciate it when the author throws in the casual reminder here or there. But that left the remainder three-quarters of this book to blow me away, and honestly, it just didn’t. I still enjoyed it, nonetheless…but the truth is I would have enjoyed it even more if it didn’t feel so much like a “transition book”, i.e. filler.

There were some high points, of course. I liked that we finally got to see more of Hest and his perspective, despite the fact that he’s a scumbag of a human being, but it was a nice change from our constant focus on the river and the dragons. And let’s face it, sometimes it’s the scumbags’ perspectives that are the most interesting to read about! There were also large sections featuring Reyn and Malta who are starting to get more attention in this series, though I think I would have been more excited about that if I’d read some of the previous books in Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings universe in which they also appear.

There continues to be interesting and dynamic developments in the relationships between the characters. Couples are pairing off, people are sleeping around, jealousy abounds, etc. etc. etc. More secrets are uncovered about Elderlings and Kelsingra. The dragons and their keepers are all growing and moving forward as characters go. All that’s great, because it means there’s still a point to this novel. But still, I can’t help but feel that the book lacks a certain direction.

And the ending! I’m not sure what to make of that. Let me go on the record to say that I think Robin Hobb is a great writer and that I love her style, but there really doesn’t seem to be much logic when it comes to where and how she ends her books. This one was abrupt, but not not exactly a cliffhanger. It makes me wonder if this book and the fourth and final book in the series were meant to be read as one, but then split into two for whatever reason. That could also explain its relatively short length. In any case, I did not expect the book to end this way, limply dangling in the breeze like that.

Regardless, I have one more book to go in this Rain Wild Chronicles series and I’m looking forward to see how it all ends.

Book Review: Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

This book could have been a story arc in a comic book, and I mean that in a good way. In fact, I’m thinking that could be why I liked this book so much. You have British warlocks versus Nazi Germany’s engineered super soldiers in an alternate history of World War II.

At this point in the story, the U.S. is still out of the picture and the Soviet Union only gets involved later in the book. The British have discovered that Nazi scientists have been developed a technology to create a group of “supermen” — there’s a guy who can manipulate fire, a woman who can turn invisible, another dude who can walk through solid matter, etc. The British know they’re screwed unless they come up with something fast, so they end up recruiting a bunch of their warlocks to counter the enemy.

But the story is a lot darker than it sounds, or at least that’s how I felt. There are parts that were really emotionally disturbing and/or upsetting to me; the whole book just has this heavy, gloomy vibe surrounding it, which isn’t uncommon for books that explore the theme of whether the ends justify the means — because there’s a catch to the warlocks’ power. Apparently, it comes only from a group of omnipotent extra-planar beings called the Eidolons, demon-like creatures who demand a “blood price” for their services.

Not to mention that the book’s main antagonist, the Nazi’s super-soldier pre-cog named Gretel is one crazy scary bitch. She’s even crazier and scarier than the Nazi’s mad scientist. The people on her own side are afraid of her. Heck, her own brother thinks she’s nutters. And yet, her personality is handled just subtly enough so the reader doesn’t simply brush her off as just another cookie-cutter psycho supervillain. Personally, I found her fascinating in a creepy, discomforting sort of way, because you’re left wondering what could anyone with the perfect ability to see the future and manipulate events possibly have planned for the world? It hurts my head just to work out the paradoxes, and quite frankly I don’t really want to think about it at all.



Like I said, there were parts of this book that really disturbed and upset me, but not in the way that would make me want to put it down. Most of the time, it was the penetrating feeling of dread that hit me as I was reading, the anticipation of impending disaster or of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a good, suspenseful fear, and I suppose it speaks well of the author that he was able to make me feel this way, because it doesn’t normally happen unless I get emotionally invested in the story or the characters. 

I don’t want to make this book sound all doom and gloom, though. It’s beautifully written and Ian Tregillis has clearly done his homework on the historical period. Despite the occult paranormal and science fiction elements, you get a highly realistic sense of the war setting. The main characters are also very well done; we see the story play out through three main narratives — Marsh the British agent, Will the warlock, and Klaus the Nazi super soldier — and between them I got a pretty clear picture of what’s happening on all sides.

It’s probably true that the ideas in this novel aren’t completely original; you can probably recognize elements of them from other works, but the way Tregillis has mashed them together and the context he uses made this a really intriguing read. I’m really looking forward to picking up the rest of the series if it means I’ll be getting more of that good stuff.

Science fiction fans with an inclination towards alternate history should definitely check this out, especially if you have an interest in the WWII era.

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