Sorcerer to the Crown Review

February 26, 2016

I kept hearing about this book. I kept meaning to read it. I finally got around to it. Now I get it.

Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown is the magical feminist fantasy novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s funny and fun and smart. Every time I thought there was something that was going to make me groan unhappily, it got flipped on its head. My only complaint is the continued use of “female” as a noun, and I think that might just be a pet peeve of mine.

The characters are strong and relatable and, occasionally, ridiculous. The plot is engaging and the writing is great. I wanted to keep reading — not only to find out what would happen next, but because it was an enjoyable experience.

Seriously, this book is delightful. It has something for everyone. I whole-heatedly recommend it. It’s the first in a trilogy and I don’t even care that I have to wait (OK, I care a little bit). I’m all in.

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So first things first, I have a confession to make: I haven’t yet read A Dance with Dragons (the fifth book in the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series). At first I was waiting until it came out in paperback. Then, with no paperback release in sight, I caved and bought the hardcover. And now it’s just been sitting on my shelf. I think I’ve put off reading it because   I know that once I read it, I’ll be like all the rest of you schmucks waiting in agony for the new one. Also, have you seen this? It’s old, but it never ceases to amuse me.

All of this to get to my actual point: I’m still putting off reading A Dance with Dragons (though my resolve is weakening), but I wanted to read some sort of crazy fantasy. Enter Tuf Voyaging.

Originally published in 1986, Tuf Voyaging is a collection of linked stories by George R. R. Martin following the exploits of Haviland Tuf —trader turned ecological engineer— and his cats. Really, I think all you need to know about this book is that there’s a dude (who kind of reminds me of good ole’ GRRM) who flies around in space with cats. I could tell you more, but I kind of don’t want to. These stories are attention-grabbing, hilarious, and so much fun, with little bits of social commentary sprinkled throughout.

Each story chronicles a different one of Tuf’s adventures, so they can certainly be read in pieces, but I tore through this. It was such a treat and I just wanted to see everything that he got up to.

So yeah, if you’ve run out of A Song of Ice and Fire books, or if you just feel like it’s time for some other sci-fi/fantasy, definitely pick this one up.

As some of you may recall, I read Garth Nix’s Sabriel, and while I really enjoyed it, I initially decided that I wasn’t going to continue reading the series. And then there was so much buzz about Clariel and the other two books (Lirael  and Abhorsen) were right there at the library and… yeah.

I enjoyed Clariel, but if I’m being honest, not as much as the other books in the series. I liked the concept behind the book and how it took a different direction than the other books, but somehow it didn’t all mesh the way I wanted it to. Some people were disappointed with Clariel  because they found the character to be unlikable in whatever way. I can see how she is not the most likable person, but I think much of it is a fair representation of a certain type of teenager — somewhat selfish and wrapped up in her own interests, but fiercely devoted to her family, despite any disagreements. Clariel reads like a hard-headed teenager for a lot of the book. That doesn’t necessarily make her actions any less infuriating though.

Even though Clariel takes place in the same world, it feels like such a departure from the rest of the series because of the tone and the way the story progresses in a different direction. I certainly would not discourage a fan of the other books from reading this, but they should be prepared for something a bit different.

Sabriel — Review

November 7, 2014

I initially decided to pick up Garth Nix’s Sabriel because it was one of those books that I kept hearing about every once in a while when talking about books and then we were coming up on the release of Clariel (which is part of that series) and there was so much buzz. So I got my act together and added it to my never-ending holds list at the library.

And I really liked it.

It has multiple forms of magic and a girl hero coming into her own and a snarky sidekick. What more could you possibly want?

There are hints of romance which I could really take or leave, but I get the impression it’s sort of important for plot things later on. In any case, the driving force of the plot in Sabriel is not the romance.

So here’s the thing. I enjoyed this book and went to find out which was the next book in the (then) trilogy (now it’s a series—Clariel is the fourth book). That’s when I realized it isn’t really a continuation of the story, though it is connected. At that point I decided that I wasn’t going to continue with the series.

Now if you follow me on instagram (which you should because I post all kinds of awesome book pictures … and sometimes pictures of my cat) then you’re calling shenanigans because you know that I picked up Lirael and Abhorsen in my last library visit. Well, everyone kept gushing about Clariel and as we’ve already established, I’m weak in the face of the giant monster that is book buzz.

So there you have it: I loved Sabriel and I buckled in my resolve to not read the rest of the series, so those reviews will show up at some point. Though I picked up four other books at the same time and have countless other ARCs and books I’ve bought that I should also be reading.

If we could just stop time for a bit so I could get some reading done that would be super.

The Bone Season — Review

November 19, 2013

Once again I’ve been accidentally MIA for a while. But I’m going to go ahead and use the graduate school/internship/regular work excuse because, well, it’s a good one.

Despite my insane schedule I have still been reading (just, y’know, not sharing my opinions in the usual public fashion). And so it’s time to make up for lost time and reviews.

Some time ago I read The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. It takes place in the not-so-distant alternative future where, for citizens of major world cities under Scion control, clairvoyance is illegal. Paige Mahoney lives in Scion London and works in the voyant criminal underworld. Even among other voyants her gift is unusual and she and her crew (known as the Seven Seals) guard her secret closely. Then one day she is captured and brought to the lost city of Oxford where she meets the Rephaim. The Rephs value clairvoyance, but something sinister is going on in this other society and Paige is determined to find out what that is and how to save her friends.

I initially heard about this book when I attended BEA. At first I wasn’t too interested, but the more I heard about it, the less I was able to deny my intrigue. Here’s the thing: as interesting as this book sounded, it’s over 400 pages and is the first in a series. Of seven books. I was not (and still am not really) ready for that kind of commitment. But I caved. I almost always cave.

I really liked this book and certainly recommend it, but I won’t blame you if you decide to hold off until all the books are out. Seven books. Why do I do this to myself?

I just finished reading The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker.

With a title like that, how could I possibly resist?!

This book was certainly not what I expected (though in hindsight, I don’t really know what my expectations were). It was by turns fantastic, bizarre, and exhilarating.

I do think that “bizarre” might be the best word to describe The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. The story takes a number of quite unexpected turns and after a while it’s just easier to sit back and enjoy the ride.

And what a ride it is. Nora, a PhD student, feels every aspect of her life stalling. When a rambling walk drops her into another world, a world with magic, she gets a glimpse of a glamorous life. But not everything with these new friends is as it appears and when the veil is lifted Nora will have to depend on a decidedly less glamorous friend and some new skills in order to survive.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is enormously fun and well-written. You’ll breeze through reading it in no time.

Many readers will enjoy this book, but I believe that it will particularly appeal to certain, well, “thinking women,” who have a taste for the fantastic.

The Arrivals — Review

July 13, 2013

I picked up The Arrivals by Melissa Marr at BEA and was immediately sold on the story. Chloe wakes up after a night of drinking thinking that the hangover and guilt of ruining five years of sobriety are all she has to contend with. Except she doesn’t wake up in Washington, D.C., but a different world called the Wasteland where there are monsters aplenty, but answers to questions about why Chloe is there and how things work in this new world remain scarce.

The other Arrivals — Jack and Kitty, brother and sister from the Wild West; Edgar, a Prohibition-era bootlegger; Francis, a former hippie; Melody, a trigger-happy 50s housewife; and Hector, a former carnie— take Chloe back to camp and teach her the ropes, but things in the Wasteland are changing and Chloe has to adapt quickly while the others try to figure things out.

The Arrivals has everything — engaging characters, twists and turns, and a different world with all manner of strange inhabitants. Marr’s storytelling keeps you reading and guessing.

I loved reading about these characters and this world. Even before I finished I was starting to cross my fingers for a sequel (there’s no reason to expect one, but a girl can hope).

The Arrivals is a great summer read. It moves quickly and the characters are people with whom you wouldn’t mind spending a few hours. By the time it’s done you might find yourself wishing you’d read a bit slower.

It came out earlier this month from William Morrow Books, so venture forth to your local bookstore or library or what-have-you.

Remember how I read Lev Grossman’s The Magician King and only realized that it was a sequel after I was 3/4 of the way through the book?

Remember how I then went back and read The Magicians, the first book, and promised that review would be forthcoming? I’m finally making good on that promise. Better late than never, I say.

Given my unorthodox sequence of reading, The Magicians filled in a lot of gaps for me. It helped me understand some of the characters and settings much better and put a lot of things into perspective. That being said, it also undermined and confused a lot of my perceptions.

There are some things I simply cannot reconcile now that I’ve read both books, and I’d be curious to see how others who read them in order feel about them.

Exhibit A: In The Magician King, Janet is snide and smug. Maybe not the most likeable character of the group, but decidedly part of it. In The Magicians, she is that and so much more. She is manipulative and conniving, and her actions nearly have some very dire consequences. How do things go from so bad to hunky-dory?

I said in my review of The Magician King that some parts just felt — for lack of a better word — improbable, and that observation carries through to The Magicians as well. The background, with the introduction of the school and the big players, as well as more of the back-story helped to some degree, but some aspects were lacking.

There’s a gap between the end of The Magicians and the beginning of The Magician King, and that could be a contributing factor to my lack of satisfaction and feeling of unease. They leave Fillory in shambles and The Magician King picks up with it as an idyllic fairy-land. Grossman needs to fill in the gaps.

Despite my whining, I really did like The Magicians, though I think I enjoyed the sequel more. If I could do it all over again, I’d probably read the books in order and maybe I’d be less confused/disillusioned? I suppose we’ll never know. Grossman managed to build a great premise though, and it kept me reading. I think the pros far outweigh my nitpicky cons.

O lovely readers, I promise I have not forsaken thee! I’ve just been easing (read: sinking) into my graduate studies. I know it hasn’t been that long, but I’m still working on re-learning how to be a student again… weird.

I’m in an Information Technologies class, and while my professor is beyond amazing, our most recent assignment involved designing a (albeit incredibly simple) webpage using HTML and CSS. In case you cannot accurately call to mind my fear of all things Technology, I will direct you back to this post.

And now I must dive back into my reading. Here’s a tidbit: antelopes are documents. But only some of them (the antelopes), and only in certain situations. Gotta love information theorists.

I do have things to review, but for now I leave you with an old one recycled from my now-defunct previous blog. Enjoy?

The Night Circus

     Most of the people I’ve spoken to about this book have very strong feelings about it. Love it or hate it, there are no feelings in the middle. I can kind of understand how it inspires those feelings, yet I am irrevocably indecisive, so I still find myself mostly in the middle of the road.
     I enjoyed reading the book. It held my interest and I didn’t really feel that the story lagged or the plot fell apart. That being said, I do take issue with some aspects of the book.
     Most of the story is supposed to be set in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Other than women wearing gowns instead of dresses and the characters speaking with fewer contractions there is really no sense of this whatsoever. I understand that this is a different side of that era and Morgenstern is trying to show us a bit of the fantastic, but if you’re going to go through the trouble to set that sort of scene, there needs to be more follow-through.
     The challenge concept was a good idea, but there wasn’t really the right balance of conflict throughout. At times there was so much focus on the challenge that there was a complete halt to the rest of the story, at others, the challenge seemed entirely forgotten. There was just a bit of a balance issue.
     I also wanted to know more about Poppet, Widget, and Bailey and more about Marco’s charms. These were the most interesting parts for me and I wish they had been developed more. It just felt like Poppet, Widget, and Bailey should have been played much bigger parts in the story. They were interesting and I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what it was like for Poppet and Widget growing up in the circus. And the magic: Celia’s is innate, but Marco’s is learned. I understood this to be at least partially the basis of the challenge, so I wanted to know more about Marco’s magic. I also wanted to learn more about the magic that held the circus together: what magic belonged to whom?
     All in all, Morgenstern has a flair for description, I’ll give her that, but at times I wondered at the things she chose to describe. It almost seems like everything I wanted might have been in there at some point, and then someone told her to edit for length and she took out all the wrong parts.

Review — The Magician King

September 2, 2012

I read The Magician King by Lev Grossman pretty quickly. I’d picked it up in the bookstore portion of the Center for Fiction when a customer was asking for recommendations. I remembered hearing about it so I glanced at the cover copy to refresh my memory and see if it was something in the vein of what she was looking for. The customer wrote down a few of my recommendations (but didn’t buy anything), but I ended up totally wanting to read this book. It was only in hardcover though, and I am too poor for that right now. Then I found it in the circulating collection, so all bets were off.

So fun fact: as I was reading this I didn’t feel particularly lost, but there were a lot of references to things that happened before in the past/before the point where this book starts. I found that kind of bizarre and kept wondering why Grossman hadn’t written a book about all of this since it sounded like there was a lot of action(!) and drama(!) involved. And then I found out that he had in fact written a book about all of that (The Magicians) and I was reading the sequel. I’m a truly impressive creature, I know. Anyway, I was more than 3/4 of the way through The Magician King before I realized this, so I finished it and am now reading The Magicians.

I’m almost done with The Magicians, so I thought about just waiting and then giving you the reviews in order, but what’s the fun in that?

I really enjoyed The Magician King, and I think that the fact that I was able to get so far into it without realizing that I was reading a sequel speaks volumes about Grossman’s ability to draw the reader into the story. As I said, I wondered why Grossman hadn’t written about the previous events. I was curious, but I was never confused.

As a writer Grossman doesn’t take himself too seriously, which can be refreshing and funny at times, but starts to get old and seem amateurish if used too often.

I also found parts of the plot…improbable? That’s probably not the right word to use given that this is a fantasy novel, but I’m sticking with it for lack of a better phrase. After the near-disastrous results of rushing through the first door opened with a magic key, wouldn’t Quentin be a bit more careful the second time around? I get that Grossman needs these characters who are all in different places to talk to one another, but getting stranded gets old fast. And the ending! In a game of lowly bureaucrat vs. royalty, shouldn’t royalty have the upper hand there? Why is there any talk of punishment coming from them?

The ending is unsatisfying for other reasons, but I do admit that had everyone gone back to Castle Whitespire to live happily ever after with everything all nice and tidy, that would have been unsatisfying and anticlimactic as well. Maybe I’m just difficult to please.

This makes it sounds like I have a lot of complaints, but over all, I really liked The Magician King. It had just the right amount of mystery and magic, with some humor and plenty of adventure thrown in. Yes, there are blurbs on the cover that mention Harry Potter. No, I will not make a comparison.

On an almost entirely separate note, am I the only one who wishes that the Fillory novels mentioned in the book were real? I want to read them. They sound like fun, sort of like the Magic Treehouse books, of which there are probably 60 by now.