Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (The All Souls Trilogy, Book 1)

Synopsis: Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. (from the online description)

Review: My disappointment in this book comes as much from the book itself as my expectations.
This was recommended to me as an Urban Fantasy about a witch and a vampire who team up to protect a magical book. Sounds good, right?
I did not realize it centered on the romance between the two characters and not the mystery of the magical book. In fact, I would label this a paranormal romance and not an urban fantasy.
So much of the book was taken up by the two main characters talking (or in her case, sleeping and/or crying). It seemed to take too many of these conversations to move the story forward. The characters constantly talked about how it was forbidden for them to spend time together, but then constantly did with no consequences other than a few harsh words from their respective people groups. Brief spots of action (always followed by pages and pages of talking) helped a little, but the action often centered on the hero rescuing the heroine, and giving them more chances to talk (ugh!)
I’m also never a fan of insta-love. How are you willing to jeopardize the stability of the world, risk war among the supernatural groups, and endanger your families for someone you meet three weeks ago? Really? Shallow and unrealistic, to me. I was never able to connect with the main characters because of this, which made it difficult to finish the book.
The only redeeming quality was the history and lore and libraries – I loved reading about library built over centuries, the history of alchemy, etc. More of that and less lovey-dovey shit and the book would have been ten times better.
If you enjoy slow-paced paranormal romance, this is the book for you. But if you are looking for more adventure and fights and action – not so much. 

Bookmarks: 3 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-14-311968-5
Year Published: 2011
Date Finished: 6-10-2018
Pages: 577

Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire, Book 3)

Synopsis: King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations. His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.
Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg plans to change that. He’s uncovered the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.
But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King. (from the online description)

Review: The last in the Broken Empire trilogy, we’ve followed Jorg down a dark and bloody path. Here, we see the end.
Jorg has never hidden his ambition or his desire to rule over all. In this book, he sets out to use all his cunning and ruthlessness to achieve it. But the Dead King – the Dead King is coming.
As with the previous, we see the split time – following Jorg via the present and the past. Lawrence uses a deft hand, taking the reader from the past to the present, interweaving the stories.
The ending – no spoilers – but many people didn’t like it. However, I found it perfect for the story. It ended the journey in the only way it could, with redemption. This story, ultimately, was about redemption, about taking the sorry and death and suffering of the past and making it matter.
This is a fantastic series, worth reading. It is bloody and dark, to be sure, but that is what makes it the story that it is.

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-425-25654-1
Year Published: 2013
Date Finished: 6-7-2018
Pages: 399

Review: Black Magick. Volume II by Greg Rucka (ill. by Nicole Scott)

Synopsis: The trap around Rowan Black continues to close, with the Hammer closing in on one side and the Ascension now in motion on the other. But the ultimate wound may not be wielded by magick, but instead delivered via the heart.(from the online description)

Notes: Collects Issues #6-11

Review: The second volume in the dark and exciting Black Magick comic by Greg Rucka.This volume starts with Rowan as a child. We learn of her past and its connection to her current actions – and those of her enemies. Rucka takes us more in the world were witches and demons live, into how the magic works, and what makes Rowan special. Rowan is forced to confront her fears – and when her desires are exposed, she needs to make a choice about protecting those she loves. Fast-paced plot, creepy villains, and complex characters build a story that kept me enthralled.The art is perfectly suited to the story. Mostly done in black and white, with splash of red which brings the darker tones of the story to life.My only complaint is that during one scene, a character spoke German and no translation was offered. I had to look it up using Google Translate with was a bit tedious.I’m eager for more of this story! I sincerely hope more is planned, as this ends with all parties in peril!

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-5343-0483-3
Year Published: 2018
Date Finished: 6-6-2018
Pages: 81

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman (ill. by Eddie Campbell)

Synopsis: The text of The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains was first published in the collection anthology Stories: All New Tales edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. This gorgeous full-color illustrated book version was born of a unique collaboration between writer Neil Gaiman and artist Eddie Campbell, who brought to vivid life the characters and landscape of Gaiman's story. In August 2010, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains was performed in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House to a sold-out crowd—Gaiman read his tale live as Campbell's magnificent artwork was presented, scene-by-scene, on large screens. Narrative and art were accompanied by live music composed and performed especially for the story by the FourPlay String Quartet. (from the online description)

Review: With is usual touch of the macabre, Gaiman takes us on a journey through the highlands of Scotland.  Along with his words, we are treated to the murky, dynamic, and stylized art of Eddie Campbell.
Set in a twisted world of dark water and fading sun, full of ghosts and danger, this tale is perfect for a dark and stormy night. It’s a strange tale. Naturally, as the product of the mind of Gaiman, known for his creepy stories.
It reads like a folktale, with the central character being a strange little man of possible other-worldly origins, with a dark purpose that brings him to the Cave of the title. From there, he will find the tools he needs to enact his revenge. The plot twists, dark deeds are done, and you aren’t sure where the tale will lead you.
The art is fantastic – part graphic novel, part sketches, with a muted tones and rough lines. It matches the story perfectly.
Worth reading if you enjoy haunting dark tales with ghoulish art. 

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-06-228214-9
Year Published: 2010 / 2014
Date Finished: 6-5-2018
Pages: 74

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: The Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman

Synopsis: Elizabeth has just started working as a page at the New York Circulating Material Repository - a lending library of objects, contemporary and historical, common and obscure. And secret, too - for in the repository's basement lies the Grimm Collection, a room of magical items straight from the Grimm Brother's fairy tales. But the magic mirrors and seven-league boots and other items are starting to disappear. And before she knows it, she and her fellow pages - handsome Marc, perfect Anjali, and brooding Aaron - are suddenly caught up in an exciting, and dangerous, magical adventure. (from the online description)

Review: As a fan of anything fairy tale related (particularly any story where fairy tales are real) and a lover of libraries, this book held much interest for me.
Sadly, it did not live up to my anticipation. The world-building, while intriguing, was a bit…off? The idea of a library full of magic items held promise, but the idea that people could “check-out” these dangerous and deadly items made little sense to me. Even more so was the idea that they let teenagers run around with these items. This seemed implausible to me and I just wasn’t able to get into the story as I’d hoped. Perhaps it could have been saved by other elements, but flat characters, trite villain, and fast-paced (albeit predictable) plot round out the narrative.
As for the romance, while a bit cliché, held nothing questionable. It was sweet, built on friendship, and had a touch of honesty and realism about it that I found refreshing. Nothing more than a bit of kissing between consenting people, and that was described using rather tame language.
Over-all, this was an average read. If you enjoy fairy tales, you may enjoy this read, but it wasn’t for me. 

Bookmarks: 3 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-545-43652-6
Year Published: 2010
Date Finished: 6-3-2018
Pages: 325

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review: The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey

Synopsis: Helva had been born human, but only her brain had been saved—saved to be schooled, programmed, and implanted into the sleek titanium body of an intergalactic scout ship. But first she had to choose a human partner—male or female—to share her exhilirating excapades in space! Her life was to be rich and rewarding . . . resplendent with daring adventures and endless excitement, beyond the wildest dreams of mere mortals. Gifted with the voice of an angel and being virtually indestructable, Helva XH-834 antipitated a sublime immortality. Then one day she fell in love! (from the online description)

Review: This novel is actually a collection of five short stories, written between 1961 and 1969, strung together into a coherent single narrative. Although slightly choppy to read due to that, it does come together in the end, with each single episode contributing something the ending that matters.
This book also begins the series, some written by McCaffrey.
As for the story itself, it is excellent speculative fiction. What if the minds of people with severe physical disabilities could be taken from the body and put into computers, or in Helva’s case, into a space ship. How would those very real human emotions withstand a life so outside human experience?
Intriguing, with fast-paced plot, complex characters, and a balance between action and thought, this book is classic sci-fi at its best. At the center is Helva’s search for a true partner, her “Brawn” and what that means to a mind encased in a rocket ship – where walking on a planet is impossible but hurtling through the stars is the norm.
For anyone who enjoy solid sci-fi, this is a must read. 

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 345-24823-6-150
Year Published: 1961-1969 (See Note Above)
Date Finished: 6-3-18
Pages: 248

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: Witches: Wicked, Wild, & Wonderful ed by Paula Guran

Synopsis: Surrounded by the aura of magic, witches have captured our imagination for millennia and fascinate us now more than ever. No longer confined to the image of a hexing old crone, witches can be kindly healers and protectors, tough modern urban heroines, holders of forbidden knowledge, sweetly domestic spellcasters, darkly domineering, sexy enchantresses, ancient sorceresses, modern Wiccans, empowered or persecuted, possessors of supernatural abilities that can be used for good or evil — or perhaps only perceived as such. Welcome to the world of witchery in many guises: wicked, wild, and wonderful! (from the online description)

Review: A wide-ranging collection of short stories based on witches, this collection will have a story for anyone. Urban fantasy follows Fairy Tale follows Classic Horror. That isn’t to say every story is good. Some are boring, and a few are creepy and disgusting. But the overall average is good, with some rising above. I was unfamiliar with all the authors presented, although several (Tanith Lee, Elizabeth Bear, Ursula K. La Guin) are well-known.
My favorites include Walpurgis Afternoon by Delia Sherman, The Cold Blacksmith by Elizabeth Bear, Mirage and Magia by Tanith Lee (the story that made me buy the book), Lessons with Miss Gray by Theodora Goss, Ill Met in Ulthar by T. A. Pratt, The Way Wind by Andre Norton, and Skin Deep by Richard Parks (My Favorite in the Collection)
If you enjoy good stories about witches, both evil and pure, buy and read this anthology. You won’t be disappointed. 

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None (Although many of the authors have won awards)

ISBN: 978-1-60701-294-8
Year Published: 2012
Date Finished: 6-1-2018
Pages: 375