Review Bites: DNF

I make a point of finishing every book I pick up. There have been some that I haven’t made it through in the past, but since founding a book club and working on this site, I’ve felt compelled to make sure I get through every book, even if it sometimes means skimming pages of the less enjoyable ones.

But lately, I’ve had a few that, even after a significant chunk of pages under my belt, have failed to pull me in. I’m certainly not alone on this. Goodreads recently polled members on their “did not finish” reading habits. You can see the results here. It’s not uncommon for books to start slow and end extremely well, but in these cases, my problem has been as much with style as with content. The content might become more interesting later on, but can I endure the style for 200+ more pages?

Reading is supposed to be an enjoyable hobby. If the thought of picking up that book on my currently-reading shelf is weighing on me, it means I have to reconsider my life choices. My to-read mountain is filled with lots of other books that are demanding my attention, so why should I waste my time on books that are not pleasing me?

The particular books in question are all critically acclaimed, but acclaim does not mean they are for everyone and no one should ever feel obliged to finish, much less like a book just because the rest of the world does. I’d intended these books to be part of my Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, but I’d rather free up their slots for more enjoyable reads.

These three books all have one thing in common though: They are unique entries into their genres – in fact, their individuality might even transcend their respective genres and for that, I can appreciate the acclaim they receive. But at the end of the day, they just aren’t for me. As LeVar Burton says, “Reading is a trip,” but these aren’t trips I really want to take.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan

This is actually the book that made me decide to write this post and create a DNF shelf on Goodreads. A recent Nebula Awards nominee, it won the vote as this month’s read for my bookclub. While I like the concept of a haunted schizophrenic girl and the way art and fairy tales play so heavily in her memoiors of her own madness, I just could not take the writing. I didn’t even mind the moments where Imp seems to stop and instruct herself. I just didn’t enjoy the meandering, long paragraphs of her stream of consciousness.

This book is heading to my library for donation. hopefully someone else will find and enjoy it far more than I did.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

This is as far away from urban fantasy as you can get, which is what made it appeal to me. Zinzi December lives in Zoo City, a slum for criminals, easily identified by the animal familiars emotionally/psychologically bonded to them. The creatures are manifestations of their guilt, though not necessarily their culpability. Somewhere along the way, we eventually learn that Zinzi’s sloth is the result of her guilt over her brother’s death that she did not seem to have caused, which makes it a little difficult to understand why she was imprisoned in the first place.

Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things but the first client in the story ends up brutally murdered and Zinzi is suspected. Only, that is not the main story line. In fact, the story walks away from this entirely and I had to go back to see if I actually had skimmed pages without intending to. But nope. Apparently, we’ve moved on to Zinzi finding a lost pop star despite her usual refusal to track people.

Where things go from there, well, I’m curious, but not enough to continue for now. I also have issue with the writing style, which contains a lot of local (Johannesburg) vernacular that is difficult to comprehend as the context rarely offers clarity beyond a word being an obvious insult, in some cases.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale in highschool and recently rereading and loving it made me want to finally try out one of Atwood’s other books. Unfortunately, this one resulted in disappointment. I actually did finish The Blind Assassin, but I did skim a lot of pages. Or, I should say, I loved The Blind Assassin, but I skimmed the pages that weren’t telling that story. This is a story within a story and I loved how everything tied together, but got tired of the monologues surrounding the story of the blind boy and tongueless girl. I just wanted to read about the latter!

An All New Red Sonja by Gail Simone

I love the movie Red Sonja. It’s a hunt-through-bargain-bins treasure that has been with me since the ‘80s, yet I’ve never read or even been inspired to read the comics. Until I learned that Gail Simone was going to be penning this issue (Does she have a thing for redheads?). This means no more excuses not to read about the metal bikini adventures of Red Sonja. It’s only fair, after recently checking out the other pulp fiction warrior princess, Dejah Thoris.

The book was introduced this Wednesday with six fantastic covers by female talents in the industry. These are my favourites, by Fiona Staples, Amanda Conner and Jenny Frison:

In a recent ComiXology interview, Gail Simone explained that this reboot presents a Sonja that is no longer the ice queen of the past. She’s still the woman that will kneel to no one, but earn her respect, and she will keep her promises. Save her from a captivity of fighting for her life everyday, then she’ll be willing to train your kingdom to defend themselves against a pending attack from a deadly enemy.

In her re-introduction, the deadly swordswoman is clearly deadly, her sword poking menacingly from the ground, but she is also clearly drunk, something that the previously stodgy Sonja would likely never have allowed. Her stupor is interrupted by would-be thieves and the predictable display of her prowess, in spite of her condition is revealed. It’s a fantastic scene though, perfectly hinted at in the second cover above, by Amanda Conner. At the end of issue one, we also get a look of this scene through the revelation of Gail Simone’s writing process for the first few pages.

Now that I’ve checked out both pulp princesses, the differences between them really are striking to me. Despite the similarities in barely there metal costumes, Red Sonja has always worn hers with far more nobility than Dejah Thoris ever thought she did. The new Dejah Thoris comics seem to have tried to make her more of a warrior woman, but they still rely on the damsel in distress/every male wants to get with her storyline. Sonja has always denied men, believing them unworthy of her time. In the reboot, she seems to be less about the misandry, but she remains a woman that I can respect. As in, metal bikini and deadly sword aside, her demeanour is of a person who takes and gives no quarter, demands respect and expects you to earn hers. Just because she has impressive cleavage (which is praised by her admiring twin acolytes) and is comfortable with her body and blade, doesn’t mean it’s there for anyone else’s purposes but her own.

3.5 of 5 stars

Manga Review: Deadman Wonderland, Volume 4 by Jinsei Kataoka

This manga. I can already tell that this is going to be one of my all time favorite mangas. It may even beat out my current #1 favorite manga, a title held by Bleach. It just seems to be the perfect combination of horror, thriller, mystery, drama, and humor. I’ve also found myself tearing up quite a few times because it manages to capture intensely emotional moments so well. One minute I’m laughing over something funny, such as Crow’s ridiculous awkwardness around the opposite sex, and the next I’m tearing up during the death of a character or angry to the point that the sound of my pounding heart fills my ears.I’d been reading the English version, licensed by the now defunct Tokyo Pop. There are 5 official English releases of the manga. Imagine how I felt when I found out there were 11 volumes available in Japan , and that there was no new English distributor releasing the manga. I’m using fansub (scanlation) sites to catch up with the rest of this series. When I first started read manga, I often had to read fansubs because not many series were being licensed for English reading fans. Should the rest of these be released in English, I’d be glad to purchase them for my collection.

Ganta has gone through many changes since arriving at Deadman Wonderland and has overcome many challenges, but I was completely blown away by the story about the Scar Chain gang, which is yet another community within the prison. Their goal is to not escape the prison, but to destroy it completely. However, they’re hindered by betrayals and a person who seems to be immune to their powers. To me, this arc was flawless, a real masterpiece that brought a powerful emotional punch, and it’s a story that will stay with me long after I’ve finished reading this series. I wasn’t too thrilled about the introduction of the “rock super-monk” Genkaku or the Scar Chain gang when I first got into this, though. I thought things were going to take a schlocky turn. I didn’t think I was in for bad writing, but I didn’t expect it to be as well executed.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong. As I learned more about Genkaku and the Scar Chain gang leaders, the story just really culminated into a beautiful disaster of a narrative with so many complex issues weaved around each other to tell the story. Once I finished reading it, I needed a moment to process and reread parts that hit me the hardest, which were basically all of Owl’s parts near the end of the story. He was the breakout character for me, and later in that same arc, the brief glimpse of Genkaku’s background really added something intricate to him that made me reflect on who he was. Excellent volume.

Final Verdict:
5 of 5 stars

Wendy: Favourite Classic Book

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22.”

Comic Review: Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman by Brian Azzarello

Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman by Brian Azzarello

This book is a series of mini-arcs giving a glimpse of a world where Bruce Wayne’s Batman doesn’t exist. It asks: “What kind of ripples would’ve been made in the world if Bruce had been the one to die in that alley and not his parents?” Initially, I read “Batman: Knight of Vengeance,” and that was it. That’s all I wanted to read, I said vehemently. However, I finally decided to dive into the rest of the story and see what Bruce’s death changed beyond his parents lives.

In “Batman: Knight of Vengeance,” Thomas Wayne has taken on the mantle of the bat, and he is far more brutal, unforgiving, and decisive than Bruce. While Thomas subscribes to hyper-vigilantism and toes the line of being crime boss, Martha’s response to Bruce’s death is far more extreme than Thomas’. This story was heartbreaking in so many ways. From the Waynes to Selina to Commissioner Gordon, it was so poignant and painful to read. I have to say that this is my favorite story in the book.
“Deadman and the Flying Graysons” answers the questions of what happens to Robin (Dick Grayson) if there is no Batman. Dick’s parents live and they continue to tour with the circus. However, Aquaman and Wonder Woman war violently with each other, and the circus travels through war-ravished Europe, eventually finding itself on the receiving end of Wonder Woman’s fury. This was an okay story. Loved the basis for it with Wonder Woman and Aquaman’s war, but it wasn’t fully realized, in my opinion.

“Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager” follows the dread pirate Deathstroke who plans to profit off the turmoil that Wonder Woman and Aquaman have created, but first, he has to rescue his daughter, Rose, from his rival. To do any of this, though, they have to sail to Aquaman’s angry seas. What could go wrong there? I liked this more than I thought I would to be honest. It made Deathstroke very likable.

These two cause so much trouble in this book.

The last story “Secret Seven”… was maybe a little beyond my frame of reference. All I know is that a team is being formed to deal with the chaos on earth. I don’t want to call it a terrible story because it wasn’t… I don’t think. I just don’t have much experience with the character(s). It was a little offbeat, which I definitely don’t mind, but because I don’t have any real point to fix these characters, too, it was just… I’m not really sure how to describe it to be honest. I had way too many questions after reading this one, and I blame this on my ignorance of the characters.

Some would argue that these stories have no real connection and deal so little with Batman, but I disagree. They show that Batman, Bruce’s Batman, is both a blessing and a curse to the villains and heroes of the DC universe. It shows how his existence/non-existence shapes that world in broad terms. For instance, many of the villains lead drastically different lives. Some of them are already dead by Thomas’ hand. Some of the heroes are hardly what you’d call heroes at all. I do think that there needed to be more meat to this. The idea of what the world would be like without Bruce Wayne is a very fascinating question that this series only half-answered. However, I still mostly enjoyed this book.

Final Verdict:
3.5 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

Apparently, I love “flintlock fantasy”. The phrase, which according to Wikipedia has been around since the 1990s to describe a sub-genre of fantasy “set in a Regency or Napoleonic-era period”, admittedly only entered my lexicon just this year. But all this time, I knew deep in my gut that there simply had to be a term out there for this incredible and distinctly unique brand of fantasy with the musket-era setting that I so adore; I just never knew the name for it until now.

There’s just something so attractive to me about fantasy inspired by this period, mostly because of the fascinating historical ideas and imagery that immediately come to mind, themes like revolution and war, battles waged with gunpowder weaponry, discovering new worlds and colonialism, etc. That’s what first drew me to Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names. Just the first sentence in the blurb was enough to make me add this to my must-read list, and the positive reviews it received only made me bump it up to the top.

The book is mostly told through the perspectives of two soldiers, assigned to a sleepy desert colonial fort out in the fringes of the Vordanai empire. However, a recent uprising and subsequent takeover of the city of Ashe-Katarion by a local sect called the Redeemers has resulted in the outpost not being so sleepy anymore. Now the king of Vordan has sent reinforcements, and Captain Marcus d’Ivoire finds himself welcoming a whole new garrison of inexperienced recruits to join his Old Colonial troops. Then there’s Winter Ihernglass, a low ranking soldier who unexpectedly earns a promotion and comes into command — except getting more attention is the last thing Winter wants, given the fact she is actually a woman who masqueraded as a man in order to enlist and flee her past.

With the Colonials on the march to take back the city, both Marcus’ and Winter’s lives are in the hands of the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a military genius whose demeanor and tactics are unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. But despite the confidence and aptitude Janus exudes, it soon becomes clear there is a lot more to the mysterious commander. Marcus begins to suspect that his colonel’s objectives — and ambitions — may extend beyond simply defeating the Redeemers, encroaching into the realm of magic and the supernatural.

My experience with this book pretty much played out like a fast-paced and passionate relationship. The Thousand Names practically came out of nowhere for me; I’d probably only heard about it around a month before its release, leaving me not much time to anticipate it. Nevertheless, I went into this with higher-than-high expectations, and ultimately I have to say even those were met and exceeded. I fell in love with this book really quickly, probably within the first few chapters, especially after the two main characters were established. This might make me sound silly, but I won’t deny after turning the last page I actually couldn’t help but feel slightly lost and a bit melancholy, finding myself caught in a sort of “oh crap, I’m finished, what the heck do I do with myself now?” kind of fugue. I was just that addicted to this book.

Obviously, I loved the setting and the world-building. The writing had a way of putting you right there with the colonial garrison, so it wasn’t hard to sympathize with the characters and the foreignness of their situation or the awkwardness of being strangers in a strange land. I was also fascinated with the idea of this ragtag colonial army that’s made up of one-part green recruits and one-part jaded-and-couldn’t-care-less old veterans, and all the rules of warfare go out the window. The Redeemer forces may vastly outnumber the Vordanai, but the fact that the former is made up of mostly militia and over-confident Auxiliary troops gave their clashes plenty of suspense, and the detailed battle scenes in the desert are worthy of any military fantasy.

But the highlight of this book had to be the characters. I absolutely adored Winter; she was probably my favorite character, but Marcus wasn’t far behind either. What’s great about these two characters is that they feel deep and real, and are immediately the kind of people you want to like and to see succeed. Beyond that, everyone in this book also has secrets and mysteries, and so you just want to keep reading to find out more.

This even applies to the supporting cast. Most of them are pretty well fleshed out too, and I think the fact that Colonel Janus is my second favorite character in this book despite him not being a point-of-view character is a testament to that. The author also focuses briefly here and there on Jaffa, a character inside the city of Ashe-Katarion, giving insights into what’s happening on the side of the Redeemers. I felt this was important, as it gives us a look at the opposition, or else it’s easy just to think of them as a faceless enemy army.

All told, this book was hard to put down. For its length, I finished it in really good time, and it was one of those rare gems where I knew it would go straight onto my shelf of favorites even before I had reached the quarter-way point. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year so far.

Final verdict:
5 of 5 stars

Comic Review: Dragon Age: Until We Sleep by David Gaider

Dragon Age Volume 3: Until We Sleep by David Gaider

In the final volume of the trilogy, Dragon Age‘s King Alistair Theirin continues the search for his father Maric, accompanied by the pirate queen Isabela and the storytelling dwarf merchant, Varric. They are aided by the Tevinter mage, Maevaris, as they track down the evil Titus who has captured Maric for the dragon’s blood that runs within the Theirin veins.

I love this story. I hate this story.

There are so many secrets revealed, ideas introduced and of course the presence of some of my beloved characters from Dragon Age:Origins and Dragon Age II. But even with the combined twelve issues, including Dragon Age: The Silent Grove and Dragon Age Volume 2: Those Who Speak, there was simply not enough room to fit everything in. In other words, despite the excellent artwork, I really wish this had been written as a novel instead.

Gaider does such a fabulous job with character development in his novels but, while the characters here had some powerful moments, I felt that the page limitation of the comic book format didn’t allow the writing to go far enough with them. Moreover, the time that was spent with them seemed to cut into the plotting, causing the adventure to skim along like point form notes. I was disappointed with how abruptly certain elements, such as Yavana, the witch of the wilds, and the Qunari, were handled.

I wanted more, dammit!

Yet, I am reasonably content with what I learned from the series and appreciate that the conclusion brought closure to the mystery of Maric’s disappearance and his promise to Flemeth. It also gave some interesting insight into Isabela, the character some would write off as merely a sex-crazed thief, and answered a question about Varric and his beloved Bianca thanks to a trip into the glorious Fade.

And even though I’m claiming disappointment with the format, there was still enough here for my imagination to set to work on my headcanon. And damn Gaider and his bittersweet endings. I’ll just be quietly sobbing in the corner while I wait for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

3.5 of 5 stars


Character Appreciation Post: Nahadoth

Nahadoth by sorskc

Who is Nahadoth?

Nahadoth is the first born of the Three gods of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. He is chaos and darkness incarnate; a true weapon of mass destruction that would consume all if he could. But when we first meet him, he is only a fraction of himself, imprisoned within mortal flesh by day, bound to the whims of the ruling mortals.

“The Nightlord cannot be controlled, child. He can only be unleashed. And you asked him not to kill.”

But who is he?
“Face like the moon, pale and somehow wavering. I could get the gist of his features, but none of it stuck in my mind beyond an impression of astonishing beauty. His long, long hair wafted around him like black smoke, its tendrils curling and moving of their own volition.”

Nahadoth oozes sexuality and seduction as much as he does darkness, violence and chaos. He inspires these kind of thoughts and reaction GIFs, but, while I appreciated the tastefully done erotic moments, I loved more the tenderness, the pain, the loss, the loneliness, the heartache.

“…and when I lift my head to scream out my fury, a million stars turn black and die. No one can see them, but they are my tears.”

The rage and violence had their place too, but it was the moments spent as a father to Sieh,  and the moments of peace that Yeine coaxed out of him that had that much more meaning for me. The image I hold in my head is of him comforting her through her tears or letting her fall asleep on his shoulders.

Mogsy’s Book Haul

Okay, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to control my to-read list or limit my book acquisition by now. To be fair, it’s been an incredible summer for reading, lots of books popping up on my radar and catching my eye and such. Actually, I think I’ve been pretty good with sticking to my current batch of books in my summer reading list so far, even though I’ve stuck in a couple impromptu additions here and there.

But of course, in true bibliophilic style, I’m already planning my next batch of books.

Speaking of which, I made a pretty big change in my reading habits recently. For the longest time, I have been predominantly an ebook reader, but earlier this year saw a few ARCs coming in to me as hardcopies, so I’ve slowly made the shift to picking up physical books again. Admittedly, I do miss buying hardcovers and seeing them looking all pretty and lined up on the shelves, and what do you know, BookCloseouts is all too happy to oblige me, ain’t I lucky.

Eyes to See and Thieftaker are two books I have on my TBR, so I was pretty happy to find them both at bargain prices. And for a couple of bucks, I couldn’t resist The Rogue since I already have the first book of the Traitor Spy trilogy.

Emperor of Thorns was a complete surprise that the post left on my doorstep yesterday. The book won’t be out until next month, but I had put in my name when the author said the publisher was calling for US book bloggers interested in reviewing it, and I guess fortune and Jorg Ancrath has smiled upon me. I was still so shocked at what I saw when I opened the package that I almost dropped the damn book. Really looking forward to reading this next.

And finally, in celebrating my return to reading dead-tree books, The Thousand Names was a totally indulgent present to myself. AND IT’S FREAKIN’ AMAZING SO FAR. I’m already almost done the book with only about 100 pages to go and I’m already pretty confident in saying it’s going to be a 5 star read from me. Up there amongst my top reads of 2013.

eARCs currently reading or to review include:

I really really really need to ban myself from requesting any more books from NetGalley until I catch up a bit on my reading list. We’ll see how long until I crack.

Book Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

I can’t get enough of Miriam Black. I just can’t. I thought the initial delight of discovering this twisted and refreshingly candid series would have worn off a bit by now, but it hasn’t. If anything, I think I’m finally starting to sense of who Miriam is and the direction in which these books are going. Or that might just be wishful thinking. Regardless, I’m still having a blast.

Some time has passed since we last left Miriam and Louis in Blackbirds (book one of the series, my review here). For the sake of their relationship, Miriam has attempted to settle down, living in a double-wide trailer and working as a check-out girl at a local grocery store. No more drifting around the country, and no more utilizing her morbid ability to see and how and when someone is going to die simply by making skin-on-skin contact with them. For Miriam, it means a new life filled with lots of tedium, grin-and-bear-it moments, and constantly wearing gloves.

But a girl can only take so much. Fed up, Miriam packs up and gets ready to hit the road when Louis tells her about Katey, a contact of his who is convinced she is dying and wants to pay Miriam to confirm her suspicions. Eager to be herself again, Miriam readily accepts the job, which is how she finds herself dropped off at a prestigious boarding school for troubled girls where Katey is employed as a teacher. Very soon, Miriam finds herself caught up in much more than she bargained for, when she encounters Lauren, a student at the school whom Miriam’s death visions tell her will die brutally at the hands of a crazed serial killer.

With Mockingbird, I think I feel a little more confident in describing the Miriam Black books as less of a traditional Urban Fantasy series, and more of a Thriller-Suspense with paranormal elements. Given the dark nature of Miriam’s power, I would throw in a bit of horror, too. There are some intensely graphic and frightening scenes in this book worthy of the goriest slasher flicks, and if you’re anything like me, at certain points while reading you’ll likely find yourself squirming in your seat in an uncomfortable-yet-not-too-entirely-unpleasant kind of way.

Though, that’s sort of what I’ve come to expect with Chuck Wendig. His writing and stories can make you desperately want to turn the page and be scared to do so at the same time. His characters and dialogue can induce me to laugh my ass off yet at once make me feel like a terrible person. And I love every minute of it. Why do people go and watch scary movies anyway? On a certain level, we do it for the express purpose of being terrified out of our wits. Similarly, that was why I was so eager to pick up this second installment of Miriam Black — I wanted what I got out of Blackbirds the first time around, to again be shocked, scandalized and enthralled by Wendig’s particular brand of dark humor and suspense. I was not disappointed.

Mockingbird also gave us a better look at who Miriam is as a person. I mentioned in my review of the first book that I know deep down beneath that snarky rough exterior she is good person with a good heart, and here I think we see that a little more in her determination to help the schoolgirls and her refusal to simply walk away from the situation. The origins of her mysterious power are still largely unexplained, but we do get a bit of that too. The best part, though, is this book provided a lot of insight into Miriam’s past, like her childhood and her relationship with her mother, which gave me a better idea of how she became the way she is.

Overall, a very suspenseful and chilling novel which I could barely put down. As a special treat, I bought the Whispersync Kindle/Audible bundle so I was able to listen to parts of this in audiobook format too. The narrator Emily Beresford is fantastic as Miriam Black, her talent coming through especially when she sings the “Mockingbird” song, the serial killer’s rendition of the folk song “Wicked Polly”. The song earwormed itself into my head for days, which I have to say made the book even more memorable and creepy.

Final verdict:
4.5 of 5 stars