Saturday, December 28, 2013

Top Ten (Or So): Covers of Books Read in 2013

I had a more difficult time with this than last year. Generally I try to read books' hard copy first, and so the covers actually make a difference to my reading experience. This year, a huge chunk of the books I read were read on a two month trip to Europe, and thus all on my Kindle. I only ended up seeing the cover once or twice. But I'm going to give it a shot anyway, using the preferred covers I saw for each book on Goodreads. Note that I am not in any way a graphic artist or anything, so these are based purely on what I like in book covers.
So here they are, in semi-approximate order, favourite first:

It's rather sad I didn't get to see this awesome cover when reading Mr. Was, as it might have increased my reading pleasure considerably. I didn't like the book at all, but this cover has a lovely blue colour scheme, with light streaming through a slightly open door onto an intriguing title. And I must admit, the knowledge that the book is about time travel is another primary reason for me liking it so much. I don't like it as much as my favourite cover from last year, Anna Dressed in Blood, but it does make me wish I could buy it and stick it on my bookshelf and admire it.

Music, Language, and the Brain. I think this cover might actually be tied with Mr. Was, although the effect does not come through very well in the picture above. It's definitely better in person. Anyhow, the musical symbol swirly-ness and shimmery colours give hint of the immense complexity of language and music that is examined in this book.

Game. There's just something about blood that I really like on covers. It's something about the redness (usually if on a cover, contrasted strongly with another colour such as grey), and the fluidity. As an added bonus, the inside cover is all blood-splattered and lovely. I actually have it on my shelf without the dust jacket because I like the inside cover so much.

And speaking of bloody covers: Slice of Cherry. Oooo, just look at that--so creepy and pretty!

And for yet another one I like for its blood: Antigoddess. (I like blood, ok?) I don't think this one is quite as good as it could be, but I like it. It fits the story well.

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle. I put the cover of the first book on last year's list, and this one is just as good. I really do love illustrated character covers.

Ender's World. Look, it's all spacey and pretty!

Seraphina. Pretty town, pretty dragon--pretty, pretty. There's a new version of this cover that is weirdly blue and green, and completely destroys the effect, I think. This one is the best.

The Princess Curse was illustrated by the awesome Jason Chan, who I consider my favourite cover illustrator (although that doesn't really say much, since he is the only cover illustrator I know by name). Any cover by him pretty much automatically makes a Top Ten (Or So) cover list. He also did The Humming Room (from last year's list) and The Kneebone Boy (which would make a list of my favourite covers ever, I think) and Winterling (which I also read this year, and so is listed below).

And because it is also illustrated by Jason Chan, here is Winterling:

Runners Up (in No Particular Order): the infinity sign and general swirly-ness of Breath, the humorous suitability of the two Pirates! books, the black background and white geese of Goose Chase, the importance of the letters on Lexicon, the colourfullness and promise of Ordinary Magic, the simplicity of the silhouette on The Spark, the colour scheme and suitability of Unbroken, and the character illustration of Stolen Magic.

P.S. See also my list from last year: Top Ten (Or So): Covers of Books Read in 2012.


by Kendare Blake

Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Story summary: The gods are slowly dying--whether succumbing to a feral madness, being eaten alive from the inside, or having being choked by sprouting owl feathers, they are every one of them facing imminent death. But in one little town in America, there lives a girl who is a reincarnation of the prophetess Cassandra, who may just be the key to saving Athena, Hermes, and the other gods.

Thoughts: It wasn't actually that bad. I enjoyed it, and would recommend it to fans of Greek mythology. Odysseus, Hermes, and Athena played some of the most major roles, and they are among my favourite characters from the Greek mythos. Also the creepiness factor was pretty awesome--Athena's feathers especially, and Poseidon's madness. And spoiler (translate): Oynxr unq gur thgf gb xvyy dhvgr n srj punenpgref, juvpu V yvxrq.

But, it was also very...teenager-y. All the important characters were teenagers, and there was a fair bit of teenage angst. Not that there's anything wrong with teenagers, of course, but I would have preferred a better impression that these beings were actually thousands of years old. Also, Odysseus is definitely my favourite Greek hero, but his cleverness wasn't actually shown here, just talked about a lot. True, the descriptions of his cleverness could be rather cool, but all he actually really did was follow Athena around and admire her.

I think I was mostly disappointed because Kendare Blake's other book, Anna Dressed in Blood was so cool, so I immediately bought this one in hardcover when it was available, and it wasn't quite worth it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Pirates! In an Adventure With Napoleon

by Gideon Defoe

Grade: 3 stars (or maybe 2 1/2 stars?)
Story summary: When the Pirate Captain loses his longed-for prize of Pirate of the Year, he is so devastated that he retires to an island to keep bees. An island which just so happens to be St. Helena, of Napoleon fame. The bee plans don't last long.
Sequel to The Pirates! In an Adventure with ScientistsThe Pirates! In an Adventure with Whaling, and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists.

Thoughts: I didn't find this quite as enjoyable as the previous instalments. Perhaps it was the circumstances I was reading this under (it was basically the only thing I could read during a rather bad period), or perhaps I've simply got used to the style and don't find it quite as funny anymore. There were still parts I found immensely funny: the fake index in the back, the dedication (the joke in which was built up over all four books), and any time bees were mentioned, for example.

There is now a fifth book in this series, which I'm still planning to read. I've read some reviews saying it was better than this one, plus I enjoyed this one enough as light reading and I'm assuming the next one will be the same.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The View From Saturday

by E. L. Konigsburg

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: Four Grade 6 children are making history by beating the Grade 7 and 8 groups in the Academic Bowl. This is the story of how four individual children become a best man, save baby turtles, buy heart-shaped puzzles, and invite the others for tea, and how they came together to form "The Souls".

Thoughts: I'm not surprised this won a Newberry Medal. The themes of the story were woven through beautifully, and the structure was unusual and intriguing.

In general, I love stories like this, where learning (especially academic learning) is a primary focus. I also love smart kids, academic contests, and unique adult mentors who help smart kids with academic contests. So this was definitely up my alley.

The treatment of race did seem slightly strange to me. Everybody was commenting on the Indian (from India) characters, and how they were different and strange. This was a fairly long time ago, and in the States (which can definitely be different than Canada in that regard), so perhaps it's accurate. I don't know, and I don't really feel qualified to comment, but it did stick out to me, so I thought I'd mention it.

But it was a very good book, filled with interesting observations like: "The fact was that Mrs. Olinski did not know how she had chosen her team, and the further fact was that she didn't know that she didn't know until she did know. Of course, that is true of most things: you do not know up to and including the very last second before you do." I'm looking forward to trying more books by E. L. Konigsburg.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Music, Language, and the Brain

by Aniruddh D. Patel

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Thoughts: This was actually the textbook for a university class I recently took called "Language and Music". Normally I would never include textbooks on my book blog, but this was the exception for a few reasons:
a) I actually read it all the way through, cover to cover, without skipping sections. This is unheard of for me and textbooks.
b) It was more a book than a textbook, we just happened to use it as our textbook.
c) It could be quite fascinating, and I wanted to talk about it briefly.

The book is divided into six sections, each comparing an attribute that language and music both posses: sound elements (pitch and timbre), rhythm, melody, syntax, meaning, and evolution. Patel goes into great depth, discussing current thought, dispensing with outdated ideas, and laying out new areas to study further.

I'd like to share a few random little facts here that I picked up along the way. And they really are random--not the focus of the chapters or anything, simply a few things that struck me.

--There is this Amazonian tribe, called the Pirahã, whose language doesn't have numbers or fixed terms for colours, who don't have a creation myth or any drawing outside of stick figures, and yet they have music in abundance. (pg. 3)*
--There is evidence that children's rhythm is syllable-time (like French speaking adults), as opposed to the stressed-timed rhythm of English speaking adults. This doesn't really mean much to most people, especially if you haven't had "syllable-timed" and "stress-timed" explained to you, but I thought it was a super cool observation that made a surprising amount of sense. (pg. 134-5)
--There are important syntactic features of language shared by ALL human languages. There are very few of this syntactic universals in music. (pg. 242)
--When musicians and non-musicians are asked to draw something that visually describes short orchestral pieces, musicians tend to create abstract representations (focused on structural aspects such as repetition and theme structure), while non-musicians draw images or stories. (pg. 323-4)
--Simply overhearing a different language casually (if before the age of 6) will better your pronunciation of that language's phonemes when you're an adult. (pg. 362)

*All page numbers are for the 2008 paperback edition.


by Max Barry

Grade: 3 stars
Story summary: Basically, it's about a school for Slytherins. Clever and ambitious people go to a special school to learn about the art of persuasion. Also, there's a very ordinary fellow named Wil who's suddenly kidnapped, subjected to strange procedures, chased about the country, and generally being very confused as to why this is all happening. Gradually you see the connection between these two parts.

Thoughts: The premise of the book is lots of fun, and as language and words are things I've loved since a very young child, I was really looking forward to this. Unfortunately, I had issues. It seemed in some ways like a fantasy book trying to disguise itself as a scifi or thriller novel. The use of language and words by the characters in this book was so cool, and yet it required way too much suspension of disbelief for me. If it been treated slightly more like magic and less like hard science, I would have enjoyed it a lot more, I think. I usually don't mind mixing of genres either, but this time it just didn't seem to fit very well. However, it was very gripping, with an interesting structure, where you only very slowly begin to understand what's going on (I really enjoy books like that).

Sunday, December 15, 2013


by Alethea Kontis

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: Sequel to Enchanted, this time about the second youngest Woodcutter daughter, Saturday. She is the sister who has never been magically special, who spent her time chopping wood in the forest with her father and her brother. But everything changes when disaster strikes, and Saturday is off on the adventure she always wanted. Except this adventure, of course, ends up quite differently than she expected.

Thoughts: Strangely enough, for a book where the heroine decries romance, and wishes it didn't always have to "be part of the adventure", I actually liked the romance more than anything else. It was a highly unusual romance, which I tend to quite enjoy*. This was especially true in the case of Peregrine, the "hero". There are a fair many other books out there nowadays with slightly more masculine heroines such as Saturday. But rarely is anybody willing to go the other way and make their hero slightly more feminine. (Note, it can be interesting discussing gender as a Catholic (or as anything, of course), as the Church's thought and teachings differ both from modern day "traditionalists" and "progressives". But it seems to me (on quite limited analysis) that Saturday's "masculinity" and Peregrine's "femininity" are of the sort to be accepted by the more "traditional" and the more "progressive" alike.**)

The rest was quite enjoyable as well--it had a slightly less confusing plot with less random fairy tale references than Enchanted, and it had more of Thursday. (More Thursday makes everything better.) I think Kontis is a terrific "story-teller", meaning the books are best enjoyed if you don't try to fit everything together and understand everything, but delight in the strange events and interesting people and romance. Much like the original fairy tales.

Since Saturday was my favourite sister besides Thursday, I'm hoping I'll still like all the sequels as much as this book. Though I wouldn't be surprised if this ended up being my favourite of Kontis's books. (Unless perhaps it's Thursday's book. I hope to goodness there's a Thursday book some day. Did I mention I love her?)

*See The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer for another set of male and female protagonists (brother and sister this time) who are unusual in a somewhat  similar fashion.

**Sorry for the ridiculous amount of quotation marks I've used in this review. It seemed necessary--none of these words are the exactly the ones I want to use, but I'm not sure how else to put some of these things.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase

by Jonathan Stroud

Grade: 4 stars
Story summary: Lucy and her co-workers, Lockwood and George, own their own ghost-hunting business. (Yes, they are teenagers, but it actually makes sense in this world, as the young are they only ones who can see ghosts.) But their cases have gone badly recently and they're desperately low on funds, so they agree to take the case of one of the most haunted houses in England.

Thoughts: Normally horror, including ghosts and the paranormal, isn't really my thing. There needs to be something else (generally awesome characters) to allow me to enjoy it. Thus Anna Dressed in Blood was able to be one of my favourite books read last year, due to its humour, great characters, unusual romance, and gorgeous cover. Supernatural, similarly, is one of my favourite TV shows because of Sam and Dean and Castiel and mostly just how darned funny it is. But frankly, despite how essentially intertwined the ghostly elements are with the plot and story line of that show, I could actually do without them. But this book--this book is one of the only times I have actually greatly enjoyed that part for its own sake. Jonathan Stroud created a world which preyed on my Ravenclaw nature. I wanted to know how it all worked. The world building isn't completely original (it has many of the standard ghost-hunting tropes, although several new elements too), yet somehow it completely fascinated me.

And, as is normally the case with me and Jonathan Stroud, I really liked all the characters. George is really funny and grumpy and more complex that one might expect. I rather wish he was not looked down on quite so much, especially concerning his weight. However, you really do get the impression that it is Lucy's personal bias at work here (Lockwood doesn't have the same reaction to him). Lucy is talented and spirited without being a clichéd YA heroine. And Lockwood himself is charismatic and wears long coat. In a lot of cases I might decide this makes him to much of the kind of handsome hero I find fairly boring. But actually, I liked him immensely, though I wouldn't have expected to.

It's not quite up to the standard set by the Bartimeaus trilogy (spoiler warning for the Bartimeaus reviews, if you plan on reading them), but then very few books are. And even with the Bartimeaus series (as amazing as it is) you don't realize the greatness of the character arcs until you've read the whole trilogy. And this series has lots of potential already, so I am terribly excited to see what comes next.

Monday, November 25, 2013


by Lois McMaster Bujold

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: Miles solving a whodunnit mystery--in space! (Well, not really...It's another planet, but close enough.)
See the others I've read in the Vorkosigan series: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warrior's Apprentice, and The Vor Game.

Thoughts: I think for all my future reviews in this series, I'm going to have to refer you to The Warrior's Apprentice, where I expound on how amazing Miles Vorkosigan is for a while. In this book he, of course, keeps up the frantic wit and cleverness he showed in TWA. This one also had the benefit of letting Miles's cousin Ivan have his turn to be the secondary character that gets development (like Gregor in The Vor Game).

It was not quite as fun as the previous books in some ways, perhaps because the pace is slightly slower, and there is less winning over of mercenaries and winning space battles at tremendous odds. But it's still awesome. I think Louis McMaster Bujold can safely join the ranks of Diana Wynne Jones, as one of my favourite authors--one who never writes a book I don't like. A bad DWJ or LMB is as good as a good one by almost anyone else.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Giver

by Lois Lowry

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: Jonas is approaching his twelfth birthday, when children of the Community are given their life's work. And when the day comes, he is given an Assignment unlike any of the Twelves he's seen before. And...I don't want to give too much more away, because part of the enjoyment of this book for me was discovering details about the world as I read.

Thoughts: For ages I judged this book by this cover, even though there's a handy dandy proverb that tells us not to do that. Once I finished the book, I realized that it was more suitable than I had originally thought, and significantly better than some of the other covers out there. Still, it does not look that much like what it is: a dystopian novel, somewhat along the lines of 1984 or Brave New World, except for a younger audience.

Full of intriguing ideas and--as mentioned in the story summary above--great world-building details. I was a little unsure of my satisfaction with how everything concluded, until I realized how it could be interpreted with quite a different meaning than is obvious upon superficial reading. Perhaps one of my few criticisms is that I wish it had been slightly more fleshed out, especially near the end. Perhaps that would have ruined the impact of it, though.

I actually rather wish I had read it when I was a bit younger. Not that I didn't like it now, but I think it could have become one of my favourites that I re-read over the years. It didn't have quite the same impact at my highly advanced* age.

P.S. Apparently there are two companion novels, which I am debating about reading. If anyone has read them, would you recommend them?

*Yeah, not actually that advanced... but more than a decade older than the main character.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


by Michael Grant

Grade: 3 stars
Story summary: Endgame. The kids have gone through hell and survived pretty much the worst life could throw at them. And now the monster from the cave has taken human form and its greatest foe is slowly fading away. Also, for the first time, the outside world can see everything (hint: this is not a good thing).
Sequel to Gone, Hunger, Lies, Plague, and Fear.

Thoughts: Generally a great finish to a dark, intense, and really good series--although not quite as amazing as I had been hoping.
I'll give a couple not-too-spoilery thoughts about the characters here.

--Diana and Caine! Diana and Caine! I looooved their story and final outcome. My favourite thing about this whole book.
--The Breeze! I think this was my favourite book for her. Can't talk about it too much, cause spoilers. But she definitely grew on me. I found her kind of annoying in the first few books.
--Little disappointed that Lana and Sanjit didn't get a bit more screen time. They got a fair bit (well, Lana did), but they're both among my favourite characters, so what they did get wasn't enough.

And now some a couple SPOILERY notes about the final plot.

--I'm pretty sure there were several significant questions that weren't answered, which is one of the main reasons why I thought it was less of a spectacular finish than it could have been. The one that bothers me most is what happened to the kids after they died or vanished. Wasn't there this whole thing about it seeming like a bright comforting light, but then it was actually a monster? I can't remember anymore, but I remember it being a big thing when Mary committed suicide. And then there was this other part in another book where the barrier vanished for a moment, and they saw all the kids that had vanished? I can't remember anymore...but I'm sure there were unanswered questions in that area (among others).

--I was thankful that the end wasn't all fluffy happiness. Something like this is going to have seriously bad repercussions in the lives of the survivors.

--The last page made me happy. Can't argue with that.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories

by C. S. Lewis

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

Thoughts: It's C. S. Lewis. It's obviously going to be fabulous. The first section of this book is a collection of essays about writing, with an emphasis on speculative fiction. In the second section, there are four short stories, again with a SciFi/Fantasy bent.

The first part was especially good. These essays, among many other important things, defended views I've held for a long time, but never been able to defend very well. Such as: children's books can be as good and well worth reading as adult books, it is not lame to re-read books many times, speculative fiction is not worthless escapism, and SciFi is awesome. I could fill this review with quotes discussion, but that would deprive you of the pleasure of finding things out for yourself. (Plus it would be way too much work.) So here goes a much smaller selection (but still very long, compared to the rest of my reviews).

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often more) worth reading at the age of fifty--except, of course, books of information."
"On Stories", pg. 15
Hah! Take that, people who think people who read children's books as adults are weird and immature!
There's also some interesting discussion in this essay about film vs. "popular" fiction (in other words, the pretty badly written stuff). There's a section early on that is talking about excitement, and how the film of King Solomon's Mines lost what made the original book special by (among other things) exchanging the particular  and atmospheric fear of being shut in the dark cave, with general "excitement" and violent danger. I thought it very applicable to most modern action movies (although I do actually enjoy many modern action movies).
"If you find that the reader of popular romance--however uneducated a reader, however bad the romances--goes back to his old favourite again and again, then you have pretty good evidence that they are to him a sort of poetry."
"On Stories", pg. 15

"I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story."
"On Three Ways of Writing for Children", pg. 24
In this essay, he also has a whole defence of fairy tales being read to children, even though they can be terribly frightening. (Have you read the original fairy tales? They are dark.) "Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage." (pg. 31) It also reminded me of Doctor Who (the awesomest), and how people remember hiding behind the sofa whilst watching it, but loving it all the same.
Another fascinating discussion was concerning the idea that kids who read fantasy will lose themselves in escapism. I strongly disagree with this, and thankfully, so does C. S. Lewis. In fact, he basically argues the reverse, that love of fantasy makes people less inclined to escapism, especially compared to real-world stories.  "[A child] does not despise the real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted." ("On Three Ways of Writing for Children", pg. 29-30) He talks more about escapism, but from an adult perspective, in the essay "On Science Fiction".

I could quote so much more, sigh... But this is getting too long already, so I'll leave the essays and go on to the stories.

Somewhat unexpectedly for me, I didn't enjoy these as much as the essays. My favourite was actually the unfinished story, "After Ten Years". It had enormous potential to be the kind of story I would treasure for my whole life. And strangely enough, it was the least scifi of the lot, being about the aftermath of the Trojan war. The more actual scifi stories almost seemed a little dated, especially "Ministering Angels" and "Forms of Things Unknown". I liked "The Shoddy Lands" a bit more, but seemed to fit more with The Great Divorce (splendid book), and more interesting when you came at it from that point of view than expecting cool scifi stuff.

The Vor Game

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Grade: 4 1/2 stars
Story summary: Starts with a short, seemingly unrelated story about Miles being stuck in a position on a remote, frozen island. But of course, even on a remote, frozen island he can't help making enough trouble that he's sent far, far away on a secret mission. Here he just so happens to come across the emperor of his planet, who has run away in a fit of depression. So now he has to rescue the emperor and fulfill his mission, as well as defeat all the other complications that constantly spring up around him, and generally save everything.
See also Shards of Honor, Barrayar, and The Warrior's Apprentice.

Thoughts: Miles Vorkosigan is my new favourite character, and since I already waxed poetical about him on my review of The Warrior's Apprentice, I'm not going to do it again here. I'll simply make do with stating that he's brilliant and clever and I love him.

As in The Warrior's Apprentice, this features Miles flying by the seat of his pants, trying to accomplish six impossible things before breakfast, and generally being awesome. There was also, of course, much more of Emperor Gregor Vorbarra; I loved his character development here. And...I don't really know what else to say. I'm rather blown away by these books, and unable to express myself very well. Plus there are so many better analyses, reviews, and thoughts out there. If you are at all a fan of adult scifi; space opera; or brilliant, short, manipulative lordlings that run around being clever, you really ought to give these books a try.

To sum up the awesomeness, here is a spoilery quote from the best website ever, (helpfully encoded using so you don't ruin your reading experience):
"Va Gur Ibe Tnzr, Zvyrf naq Rzcrebe Tertbe chyy bss gur eneryl-nggrzcgrq Flapuebavmrq Gnaqrz Vaql Cybl, naq fbzrubj znantr gb pbzcyrgryl bhg-znarhire n Zntavsvprag Onfgneq bs n Purffznfgre juvyr hanoyr gb pbbeqvangr jvgu rnpu bgure ba bccbfvgr fvqrf bs n fgne flfgrz." (Taken from the Literature folder of the TV Tropes page on the Indy Ploy.)

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Warrior's Apprentice

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Grade: 5 stars
Story summary: Sequel to Shards of Honor and Barrayar (chronologically speaking--the order of publication is quite different), starring Miles, the son of the magnificent main characters from those books. Also features battles in space, manipulations, lies, and the "accidental" creation of an entire mercenary fleet.

Thoughts: Miles Vorkosigan. I am fully and completely in love with him.

He's the sort of person that will cover up his small lies by telling really massive lies, and then somehow, through all the plots and chaos and manipulations, the lies will end up true. He's one of the the few people that can match Moist von Lipwig (from some my favourite Discworld novels, Going Postal and Making Money) in pure, brazen audacity and "manic 'forward momentum'"*. As Moist himself says, "If I am going to fail, I would rather fail spectacularly".

He's the sort of person that has this strange effect on the people around him. In this way, he's one of the only people I've met (perhaps the only?) whom I feel like I can properly compare to Eugenides, from the Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. (You might not realize how important this is, but it really is! Eugenides pretty much tops everybody as a character for me.) There's a similar sort of charisma and presence. If he for a moment switches his entire attention on you--well, you're not going to come out of that the same.  And somehow, people find themselves following all sorts of insane schemes that they'd never dream of trying normally.

To sum up in the words of one of his men: "Your forward momentum is going to lead all your followers over a cliff someday. On the way down, you'll convince 'em all they can fly. Lead on, my lord. I'm flapping as hard as I can."

Really, this book is all about Miles. I could talk about the plot and secondary characters, as they are quite excellent. But the plot events are pretty much all brought about through him, and many of the great secondary characters are put into focus through his relationships to (and manipulations of) them.

There is one thing I want to discuss briefly that is a huge spoiler. Visit to decode it:
Obgunev...ubj pbhyq ur qvr fb rneyl va gur frevrf! Ur jnf fhpu n snfpvangvat punenpgre, naq znqr fhpu na vzcnpg ba gur punenpgref va gur svefg guerr obbxf. Fvtu. Vg vf irel fnq.

P.S. I've heard lots of talk about how horrible the covers for this series are. Are they really that bad? I mean, they could be better, obviously. But they never struck me as being that horrible... Anyway, I was just mentioning it in case anybody was turned off by the cover image up there. Please, in this case at least, follow the old proverb about not judging books by their covers.

P.P.S. I also want to emphasize that these are adult books, and widely acclaimed throughout the SciFi community (winning lots of Hugos and other awards). In other words, although you might get the impression that this is more similar to my usual fare of YA and children's SF/Fantasy, there is depth and excellent writing--especially as the series progresses. (Not that YA and children's don't have that, of course.) Basically what I'm trying to say is, they're fabulous and you should read them, even if it might not seem like your type of book. I keep getting terribly worried that something I say in this review is going to turn you off, and it really shouldn't!

*Quote taken from the Goodreads description.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


by S. J. Kincaid

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: Sequel to Insignia. Kids with computer enhancements in their brains train to fight in virtual wars. Also there's awesomely geeky geeks and star-crossed romance.

Thoughts: More computery goodness, more plot, more other things. But because this is my blog, I'm going to skip all that stuff and just comment on the characters.

Wyatt is simply the best. Genius programmer, socially awkward (really socially awkward, not the pretend kind you see sometimes), and often rather hilarious (usually accidentally). I love her enormously, and she is perhaps my favourite thing about these books.

Medusa. Love her too. Very unusual for a romantic interest, and is one of the primary reasons why I actually like the central romance. It reminded me a bit of Anna Dressed in Blood, actually. Main boy falls for brilliant, dangerous girl on the wrong side of the fight, who has a serious physical issue. Main boy doesn't fall for main girl who is his sidekick, and who would be his love interest in most books and movies. Medusa would be just as awesome without the romance, obviously. She's just not seen much outside of it, and it was different enough that I wanted to comment.

Yuri and Vik were great too--Yuri especially (I rather wished Vik had gotten a little more screentime). But the awesomeness is dominated by the girls, imho.

(Oh, and since I haven't mentioned him yet, perhaps I should say that Tom is good too? It can be harder for me to become attached to the main male character, so perhaps that's why I find myself not quite as fond of him as of the rest of the gang.)

Basically, it was loads of fun, and I'm greatly looking forward to the next one.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle

by Christopher Healy

Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Story Summary: Sequel to The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. The four Prince Charmings (or Princes Charming) have saved the day once already. But now the minstrels have got it all wrong so everyone thinks the princes are idiots (I mean, they actually sort of are...but that's beside the point). So obviously that needs to be fixed. Also Briar Rose has an evil plan, and is roping the princes into helping her.

Thoughts: Like THGtSYK, this was very funny, with great characters, and really great illustrations. Also like THGtSYK, it was a bit too long, and would have been much better cut down a bit. This time around, however, I couldn't overcome  the padding issue. I ended up very tempted to skim through a bunch of it, and basically forced myself to read through a bunch of it. Mind you, this could have been partly due to my particular mood at the time. (It does feel weird to have rated this one so much lower than the first one, even though they are quite similar in style and humour.)

Still, as I said, it could be quite funny in parts. I'll read the sequel when it comes out, and hopefully be in a better mood to enjoy it this time.

Saturday, August 31, 2013


by Barry Lyga

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story Summary: Sequel to I Hunt Killers. Jazz goes to New York to help the police with a new serial killer, struggles intensely with his inner demons some more, and unwittingly joins in a game of life and death.

Thoughts: Another great one in this series. Definitely dark and gruesome (this is a book about the son of a serial killer), but not as horrible and dark and weird as, say, Slice of Cherry. I liked the way the "game" was incorporated into the story-line.

Also, side benefit, I love the dust jacket cover, and there's a special bonus of a beautiful, blood-splattered inside cover as well.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists

by Gideon Defoe

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: I try not to do this very often, but I'm going to refer you to the Goodreads summary, for the same reasons described in my review below.
Sequel to The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Whaling.

Thoughts: Basically see the reviews for the previous books. I don't have much to say about this one individually. Partly because it's very similar in entertainment value and general hilariousness to the two before it. But mostly because I started reading this during my great crash into sickness and laziness after my two month European trip, and then continued reading it during the eight-day-long (and very intense) wilderness hike I went on right afterwards. These two things are not really conducive towards remembering details or taking notes or general comprehension or any such helpful things.

Stolen Magic

by Stephanie Burgis

Grade: 4 stars
Story summary: The Stephenson family is preparing for Angeline's wedding, and Angeline's new in-laws are doing everything they can to politely make things very unpleasant for her. Fortunately for us, she has a little sister named Kat, and Kat's plans to help her family always turn into mayhem, adventure, and lots of (illegal) magic.
Sequel to Kat, Incorrigible and Renegade Magic.

Thoughts: Yay! So fun! Kat is just... brilliant. I would love it if Burgis continued writing about her; she's one of those people that things just happen around. She's actually reminding me slightly, in that way, of Miles Vorkosigan, whose exploits and adventures I am reading right now and loving. They both come into situations which for normal people would simply end up mildly unpleasant. But somehow when they are there, the only thing that seems to be a possible solution is something completely audacious, involving disguise, manipulation, and great cleverness.

Her brother Charles also played a much more significant role in this book, which I was quite happy about. I always love it when all the individual members of a fictional family get enough time and attention to be interesting. (One of my favourite things about the Harry Potter series is how awesome the families and more minor characters are.) I'd felt a lack of him in the first two books, as he mostly just lay around all day and slept. Now, he's sort of pulled his life together, and like all people who have the misfortune of being close to Kat, is hurled into adventures he doesn't want to be a part of.

If I had a Top Ten (Or So) list of Clever and Audacious Characters, Kat would definitely be on it. I sincerely hope I some day get to read about her further adventures as she grows up--because one such as her could obviously not have a calm and normal life for long.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


by Jackie Morse Kesslar

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story Summary: Now we've done Famine, War, and Pestilence, and we're finally on Death. And he's seriously depressed. As in suicidally depressed. And it's all up to one also suicidal teenager named Xander to save everything.
Sequel to Hunger, Rage, and Loss.

Thoughts: I really love these books. They're "issue books", which isn't usually my cup of tea.'s the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! How could I resist?

This one delved much more into the mythological aspects of the series--finally. I'd been wanting a bit of background. Most of it was pretty cool, and there were some things that finally made sense. I still wish some things were slightly better explained, but the books aren't really supposed to be about that. So I'm ok with it.

Spoilers in the paragraph below.
I was, however, a little unhappy with the end. Unfortunately, I'm very behind on reviews and so I read this book about a month ago, and don't remember what happened exactly. I do remember that there seemed an indication that much of the story was in Xander's head--a bit of a cop-out. It seemed like it could still work in that Harry Potter way: "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?" But it wasn't clear enough, and I didn't quite approve.

P.S. Death shows up on my Top Ten (Or So): Anthropomorphic Personifications of Death.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Travel Reading Part 4

For the last two months, I've been gone on a backpacking trip to Europe. My cell phone was the only internet access I had, and the reception was often spotty. Plus I was just super busy. So TONS of reading, but no posts. There were too many books, and I read them too long ago to make individual posts for each one. So I'm dividing them up into a couple posts, and just writing a couple sentences for each. Here goes the fourth and last set:

"Goose Chase" by Patrice Kindl
Grade: 4 stars
Retelling of the fairy tale "The Goose Girl". The goose girl is stuck in a tower for her own safety, courted by two men she highly dislikes. She plans a daring escape, and that's when her adventures start. A light read, but I loved it. It was pretty much the perfect comfort read for this particular time. The geese were hilarious, the goose girl was bad-tempered and awesome, and the romance was unusual.

"Shards of Honour" by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grade: 4 1/2 stars
The first book in the Vorkosigan saga. Cordelia is the captain of a scientific expedition, and she gets captured by the captain of a military ship from another planet. She has to survive for 5 days on an alien planet with him, and then there's politics and  battles and more survival and stuff. Faaabulous book (my description SO does not do it justice), which I'm guessing is the start to an amazing and unforgettable series. Where has this been my whole life? One of my favourites parts of this book is a little difficult to describe in so few words, but suffice it to say: it's titled perfectly. I loved the way the theme of honour was dealt with. This book and then next (Barrayar, discussed a bit below) are contained in an omnibus called Cordelia's Honour; this is very aptly named, for truthfully, Cordelia "pour[s] out honour all around [her], like a fountain". Also--Bothari. He is...quite something. There's not enough room to describe it all here, but his story was one of my favourite parts of the book.

"Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities" by Mike Jung
Grade: 2 stars
A couple of fanboys of the superhero Captain Stupendous have to help him out when all of a sudden he's not acting as stupendous as usual. This books subverts some common tropes (girl power, non-white characters, and more), which I always like, however it didn't really manage to keep my interest very well. Maybe my time of loving Middle Grade fiction more than most other kinds is slowly coming to an end, because it seems that the complaint "this book is too young for me" has come up a lot recently. (There are of course important exceptions, like Ordinary Magic, books by Frances Hardinge, and by Stephanie Burgis, and more.) Or maybe the book is simply a bit too simplistic. Not sure.

"Barrayar" by Louis McMaster Bujold
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Begins right after Shards of Honour, so I don't want to discuss it too much because of spoilers. But there's a lot of Cordelia acclimatizing to a different culture, having lots of trouble with the horrific Barrayarian politics, and trying to save her unborn son. I liked it less than Shards of Honour, but it was still really good. My main issue might have been that it seemed to have less of a main theme and be less self-contained than Shards of Honour, but then I've read other reviews which have thought pretty much the opposite. So I don't know. What matters is that it has confirmed in my mind that this series is definitely worth reading. I am now going to go out and read as many Vorkosigan books as I can get my hands on.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Travel Reading Part 3

For the last two months, I've been gone on a backpacking trip to Europe. My cell phone was the only internet access I had, and the reception was often spotty. Plus I was just super busy. So TONS of reading, but no posts. There were too many books, and I read them too long ago to make individual posts for each one. So I'm dividing them up into a couple posts, and just writing a couple sentences for each. Here goes the third set:

"Strangelets" by Michelle Gagnon
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Reminded me a bit of the Gone series by Michael Grant: bunch of ethnically diverse teenagers wake up having no idea where they are. Struggle with each other and with the weird, dangerous place they've discovered themselves in. Lots of people die. Not as gripping as Gone, though, but good enough if you like that genre.

"A Corner of White" by Jaclyn Moriarty
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Great, original story by the author of many great books such as The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, The Ghosts of Ashbury High, and more. Unusual girl (maybe in a slightly Manic Pixie Dream Girl way--maybe?) from our world and a boy from the Kingdom of Cello somehow manage to send letters across to each other's worlds. Awesome characters (as always, my favourite part of Moriarty's books), but also great world building, and good writing (I loved all the stuff about colours). Really, really liked this one. Left some plot unattended to, so I hope to goodness a sequel comes out shortly.

"You Can Understand the Bible" by Peter Kreeft
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Short look at every book in the Bible, and its purpose and meaning. For me, it wasn't as informative as I would have liked, as I've gone through a class that was partly based on this book, and put on by a really awesome priest. This class went more in depth, and was much cooler (we watched "The Twilight Zone"!). But it would be great to give to someone as an introduction.

"Another Pan" by Daniel Nayeri and Dina Nayeri
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Sequel, of sorts, to Another Faust. Retelling of the Peter Pan story (sort of...) set in the same snooty New York high school as Another Faust. I actually can hardly remember anything about this one, which isn't really a good sign. I remember liking it well enough, though. The two authors do creepy temptation very well.

"Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers" by Kirsten Miller
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Sequel to Kiki Strike Inside the Shadow City and Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb. The girls pursue evil royals and meet cute French boys with a fascination with underground cities and try to defeat a horrid finishing school. Fun, though I seem to remember enjoying the previous books slightly more. Kiki's still an awesome character, though.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Travel Reading Part 2

For the last two months, I've been gone on a backpacking trip to Europe. My cell phone was the only internet access I had, and the reception was often spotty. Plus I was just super busy. So TONS of reading, but no posts. There were too many books, and I read them too long ago to make individual posts for each one. So I'm dividing them up into a couple posts, and just writing a couple sentences for each. Here goes the second set:

"Scarlet" by A. C. Gaughen
Grade: 1 1/2 stars (maybe 2 was that bad, I just didn't enjoy it)
Retelling of Robin Hood, but with Will Scarlet as a girl dressed up as a boy. The central love triangle annoyed me quite a bit, unfortunately. Also (this is totally unfair on the book and definitely my fault), I happen to be a big fan of Little John in all retellings. He was quite interesting in this one, so if there's a sequel about him I might read it, but he was also really annoying. Robin was rather boring (maybe I just missed something there because I was too caught up in how annoyed I was at the love triangle?), and Much wasn't in it nearly enough.

"Slice of Cherry" by Dia Reeves
Grade: 1 star
Creeeepy. In a bad way. At least for me. This is about two girls whose father was a serial killer, and they sort of take after him. There are a bunch of stories about serial killers (or those tempted to that sort of thing) that I like (like say Dexter or I Hunt Killers), but this one was just weird and unpleasant. There was a strange fantasy element incorporated as well that just made it all weirder.

"Juniper Berry" by M. P. Kozlowsky
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Good story about a lonely girl whose parents are famous actors with a secret. A bit young for me, but the illustrations were awesome. Like the above, there was a fair amount of creepiness, but I liked this creepiness quite a bit.

"Stray" by Andrea K. Höst
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
First of a young adult sci-fi trilogy, followed by Lab Rat One and Caszandra. The three books are very interconnected--the first ends very unresolved, and it would be really hard to read the second or the third without the first. It's really just one book divided into three sections. That being said, I did like the first "section" best out of the three. An Aussie girl, Cassandra, is suddenly somewhere else. She has to survive for a few days, until she's found by some people, and realizes she's not on Earth any more. The world building was intriguing here, and I was pleased to note that the diary format of the book is very true to life. In other words, Cassandra doesn't spend a lot of time explaining things that she wouldn't have written in her diary. Keeping track of all the various people's names can be quite confusing because of this, but it's worth it for the realism.

"Lab Rat One" by Andrea K. Höst
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Follow up to Stray. Basically see my thoughts for the first one. This one is slightly less exciting because everything is less new, but there starts to be some interesting plot developments (as opposed to simply exploring and discovering a new civilization).

"Caszandra" by Andrea K. Höst
Grade: 3 stars
Follow up to Stray and Lab Rat One. Good final section, although perhaps my least favourite of the three. It can be very difficult to properly write about someone who is settling down after having found their mate and home and all that. I'm not sure if Höst quite succeeds, at least for me. It was still interesting--I did like her children and her partner and the plot developments. It just wasn't quite as interesting as the previous two.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Travel Reading Part 1

For the last two months, I've been gone on a backpacking trip to Europe. My cell phone was the only internet access I had, and the reception was often spotty. Plus I was just super busy. So TONS of reading, but no posts. There were too many books, and I read them too long ago to make individual posts for each one. So I'm dividing them up into a couple posts, and just writing a couple sentences for each.
Here goes:

"Burning Blue" by Paul Griffin
Grade: 3 stars
Girl gets her face burned by acid and she and this hacker guy try to find out who did it. Kind of cool. I like the romance and the plot line. But my expectations were a bit too high going into this one. (It's about a hacker. It could have been really cool and computery.)

"Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator" by Josh Berk
Grade: 3 stars
Again, I liked this one less than the expectations I had. Maybe it was something to do with starting off a huge trip as opposed the actual books I was reading? (Mr. Was below had the same issue, and even Ender's World was a little less interesting than I expected.) This one is mostly recommended because it's quite funny--I can't actually remember the mystery story line anymore.

"The Spark" by Susan J. Bigelow
Grade: 3 stars
Good sequel to Broken and Fly into Fire, with Deirdre as the main character this time. The plot and the world were as detailed and interesting as the first two books. Bigelow's characters often don't appeal to me a lot, and this one was slightly less good in that regard than even the first two. But there is also a level of realism,  I think, in both the characters and the world-building, that makes this series decidedly worth reading.

"Mr. Was" by Pete Hautman
Grade: 1 star
I suspect the right person would really love it, and I don't think it was badly written, but I didn't like it at all. Partly, like Burning Blue and Guy Langman, it was my previous expectations. I heard it was a weird time travel story--which it was... But it was also mostly the story of a boy whose father beat his mother, and then eventually killed her.

"Ender's World: Fresh Perspectives on the SF Classic Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
Grade: 4 stars
Really interesting collection of essays all about Ender's Game. One of my favourite essays was "Ender Wiggin, USMC" by an actual marine named John F. Schmitt. Quite fascinating look at how Ender's Game was used and loved by group of US Marines. Lots of other cool essays too.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How to Lead a Life of Crime

by Kirsten Miller

Grade: 4 stars
Story summary: I'm in a hurry, so read the Goodreads summary for now. It's not terribly accurate, but it'll do for now.

Thoughts: I'm going away to Europe for two months tomorrow, so this is review going to be short and sweet. (As are all future reviews for two months.) But suffice it to say, I loved this book. It is pretty much exactly what I am looking for in a book. There are young, evil geniuses, plots, escapes, hidden goodness, and dastardly villains who seem rather innocent on the outside. It's kind of like a darker, older version of Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks, which is one of my favourite books.