Archive for September, 2014

This week has been a quiet week in terms of reading.  It’s been the start of the new TV season which might have had in impact…  (on that topic, I’m watching Forever and Gotham as new shows.)  I finished Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling’s) second mystery novel, The Silkworm and you can expect my full review next week.  Sneak preview: I liked it.

I’m also continuing with the audiobook of Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel.  It’s not grabbing me in the way that The Silkworm did, but it is very intriguing and I am enjoying it.  Also being listened to is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  I’m just at the wedding night scene.  Yum.  Especially when you add Mr. Sam Heughan into the equation…

For once, I didn’t add any books to my library this week!  Incredible, I know.  I will make up for it next month, trust me…  I have been waiting for the next book in Anne Robillard’s A.N.G.E. series, Tribulare, to hit Kobo.  The hard copies have been out for a while, but this series is only now being released in electronic format.  I see it’s available on prologuenumerique.ca and archambault.ca, and even amazon.ca but I have the rest of the series in Kobo format so I’d like to be consistent.

Upcoming releases in October

Oh boy.  October is a whopper of a month for book releases.  There are no fewer than eight books being released next month which I am anxiously anticipating.

My most eagerly awaited release of October – on October 7th to be specific – is the finale to Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, The Blood of Olympus.  Do I really need to introduce this series?  Riordan was kind enough not to leave too much of a cliffhanger at the end of House of Hades, instead choosing to clear the stage for this final confrontation with Gaea.  There is a definite prospect that at least two of our heroes may die, but even so I am really looking forward to hearing how this ends.  I have this on both Kindle and Audible preorders.

Also on the 7th we have the release of Unraveled, the third and final book in Gennifer Albin’s Crewel World series.  This is a YA fantasy/dystopian series with an interesting magic system and politicking. I didn’t enjoy book two as much as book one in which the world building was excellent, but I am still interested enough to want to read the end of Adelice’s story.  I have this on Kindle preorder.

In a change of scene on the 7th we have the release of A Midwinter’s Tail by Sofie Kelly, the next in her series of cute cat mysteries. I am a sucker for these and this is a good series.  I have A Midwinter’s Tail on Kindle preorder.

The fourth and final book I’m anticipating on the seventh is Silverblind by Tina Connelly.  This is the third book in her Ironskin series, the first one being an excellent adaptation of Jane Eyre with fae.  The world building in this series is wonderful.  I skipped on book two, Copperhead, because it was from the point of view of a character in Ironskin whom I really didn’t like.  Book three focusses on a different character, one whom I found more interesting.  I am waiting on Silverblind to become available for preorder on Audible.  Ironskin was narrated by Rosalyn Landor and I found her narration excellent.

On October 27th we have the release of In the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken, the final book in The Darkest Minds YA dystopian trilogy, another excellent one.  I particularly like the characters in this one and I can’t wait to read how their story ends.  I have preordered this on Kindle, but may add the Audible audiobook later.

Also on later in the month on the 28th we have The Slow Regard of Silent Things (The Kingkiller Chronicle) by Patrick Rothfuss.  Now, it’s been over three years since The Wise Man’s Fear, and sadly this isn’t a continuation of Kvothe’s story but rather a companion novel telling more of the story of Auri.  Sure, I’ll check it out.  I had only ordered it in Kindle format, but I see that Rothfuss himself is narrating the audiobook which sounds kind of cool, so I’ve ordered that one as well.

The first in a new series by Julie Kagawa, Talon, is released on October 28th.  I really enjoyed her writing and narrative in The Iron Fey series and this new series sounds intriguing – dragons masquerading in human form as modern teens.  I will check it out on Kindle format.

Whew, almost there!  The final book in which I am interested in October is Emma, a Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith.  This is the third in the Austen project, modern retellings of Jane Austen classics.  I’ll admit that from the snippet I read I wasn’t all that impressed.  In all fairness, McCall Smith is going to have a hard job living up to the excellence of other such modern retellings of Emma such as the YouTube series Emma Approved and Clueless.  I am happy to take a look though, and it will be downloaded to my Kindle on October 28th.

There you go!  Those are the books in which I am most interested in October.  Did any catch your eye?

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Deviation by Christine Manzari – ReviewDeviation by Christine Manzari
Series: The Sophisticate #1
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Format: eBook
Pages: 436 pages
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four-half-stars

Deviation by Christine Manzari is the first in an independently published YA dystopian trilogy. In Manzari’s world, following a devastating terrorist attack the US government set up the Sophisticates program of human genetic engineering to produce smarter, faster, better soldiers in the war on terror.  The Sophisticates are divided into two groups, the Vanguard who are the intellectual ones, groomed to be the country’s next leaders and the Mandates who are those designed to be physically strong.  We follow the story of teenager Cleo, who is the product of such engineering as she learns more about the truth of her conception.

I really enjoyed this novel.  I felt it was well written with an interesting protagonist, intriguing setting and good character development.

What I liked

Good concept well executed. The basic concept of the genetic engineering was very well done and interesting.  There was the added interest of Cleo’s special abilities and what that means for her.  I look forward to seeing where Manzari goes with this in future books.

Nerds vs jocks.  It was an interesting take that our protagonist who was raised as a Vanguard suddenly finds herself in a school for Mandates.  There is some fun exploration of a fish out of water nerd in a jock environment.

Twist at the end.  I really didn’t see this coming and, with the amount of YA novels I read and my familiarity with the tropes, that’s not easy to do.  Yet it was well within the scope and concept of the world that Manzari has developed – no deus ex machinae here.  Nicely done.

Pacing.  We learn more about the Program and its secrets as Cleo does.  The narrative kept me turning the pages, and I look forward to reading more.

What I didn’t like

Interesting themes not fully explored.  There were a couple of themes that would have loved so have seen developed further.  Some of these include the reaction of non-Sophisticate people who find themselves pushed out of leadership and other prime positions in favour of the Sophisticates.  I would also like to have read more of Cleo’s attempt to deal with the fact that she has never known her parents and her attempts to find out more about them.

However, as this is the first in a trilogy, I’m prepared to give Manzari a pass on this in the expectation that these will be explored further in subsequent books.

As soon as I finished Deviation I immediately went ahead and downloaded book two, Conviction, to my Kindle, which is a good indication of how much I enjoyed this book.

I gave Deviation four and a half stars out of five.

 buy from Amazon

Last night Amazon announced its 2014 lineup of Kindle ereaders and tablets.  I will direct you to Amazon’s main Kindle page to get the full specs.

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Looking at the eIink ereaders first Amazon announced that the basic Kindle now comes with a touch interface.  This will retail for CAD79.  This looks a really nice entry into the ereader market and you could do a lot worse.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the new Kindle Voyage, which is smaller, lighter and with a higher resolution than ever before.  It includes page turn functionality in the bezel – something many people seem to have been requesting – as well as enhanced reading features such as an expanded X-Ray, greater integration with GoodReads.  This all seems excellent, but it does come with a hefty price tag.  The Kindle Voyage retails from USD 199.  It has optional 3G.

However, for us Canadians, we’re out of luck.  The Kindle Voyage is not yet available on the Amazon.ca store.  I asked customer service and was told that they had no timeline for when it might be available.  It is available in the UK, Germany and Japan so why not Canada?  I seem to be asking this question each time.  In any case, it looks like I will be obliged to undertake my regular pilgrimage across the US border to pick one up.

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?t=scotbookinq03-20&o=1&p=48&l=ur1&category=kindle&banner=03P504H7KH1CGWSMW7R2&f=ifr&linkID=MI5R2FS5UQMRNEQ4

In terms of the tablets, Amazon brought out a low end 6inch model, the Fire HD6.  This will retail at CAD 134.  This is actually of great interest to me personally.  I have a Fire HDX, but I like the idea of the smaller form factor to take with me. I have an iPad 3 which lives at home for larger tablet needs.My needs for a tablet on the go are pretty basic; books audiobooks, internet, email, basic games.This might do the trick as long as it plays audiobooks and I can still play The CATch to which I am addicted. I will see though how it compares to the HDX.  I have placed an order and I will let you know.  I find lately that I’ve been doing more and more of my reading/audiobook listening on the Fire rather than the Paperwhite, so maybe this smaller entry level tablet will replace it.

It appears that Amazon isn’t upgrading the hardware of the Fire HDX 7inch this year, although it will get a software upgrade to the new Fire OS 4 named Sangria. One of the key features of this software is the addition of profile support so that various family members can use the same device and family library so that they can share content.  That will be a nice to have.

They mention some UI enhancements, too, but they have not specified these yet.

I’m not certain if Firefly will be coming to the HDX – the information is a little unclear.  In any case, while that’s a nice to have I’m not worried about not having it.

The final Fire announced by Amazon was the HD Kids’ Edition.  This is a specially toughened version of the Fire with inbuilt Kindle Freetime and a two year guarantee.  This is again not available in Canada.

So, what are your thoughts on the new releases?  Any of them catch your eye?

Let me know in the comments.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – ReviewAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Genres: Cutesy romance, New Adult
Format: eBook
Pages: 400 pages
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four-stars

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is the first in a loose trilogy of contemporary, cutesy young adult romance novels.  It is followed by Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After.  It tells the story of Anna Oliphant who is spending a year studying in Paris at the fictional School of America in Paris.  She makes friends and has a romance with Etienne St Claire a young Londoner also studying at the school.

What I liked

The setting.  I adored the setting.  The school sounded fantastic and I loved Anna’s and Etienne’s strolls through Paris.  I’ve only spent a couple of days in Paris myself, and I would have liked to have spent more. Perkins really brought out the sense of the city in her writing.

The character development.  I loved seeing how Anna grew in self confidence during her stay in Paris.  The Anna at the end is a very different person from the one who spent her first evening in the school crying into her pillow with homesickness.  I also felt that the development was earned.  Her experiences in Paris and the friends she makes there allow for such a progression to be possible.

The cutesy romance moments.  These were squealably cute.

What I didn’t like

The romantic development itself.  I know that is kind of contrary to my last comment, but let me explain.  I loved the cute date moments Anna and Etienne spent together, but I felt that they were their own worst enemies in terms of their romance.  All their problems came from their own actions and lack of communication.  I felt if they’d sat down at the beginning and really communicated, there would have been nothing coming between them, which really frustrated me.  All too often I wanted to bang their heads together.

I did enjoy Anna and the French Kiss, but I didn’t adore it as much as many reviewers seem to have done.  I will read the other two in the series at some point, though not immediately.

I gave Anna and the French Kiss four stars out of five.

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The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Back – ReviewThe Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare, Holly Black
Series: Magisterium #1
Genres: Children’s, Contemporary Fantasy
Format: eBook
Pages: 304 pages
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four-stars

In my recent reading roundup I mentioned that I felt The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black is a poor man’s Harry Potter.  I stand by that opinion.  It is almost impossible to read The Iron Trial without comparing it to Rowling’s masterpiece.

Let us review;  a young infant born towards the end of a magical war is the sole survivor of a massacre which leaves him motherless and with a physical mark of the attack.  There may or may not be some shenanigans involving souls.  This massacre is the prelude to a decade of truce.  Eleven or twelve years later, the young boy starts to attend magic school where he becomes best friends with a boy and girl, and makes an enemy of another rich and arrogant student.  He is taught by a kindly if eccentric Master and they have lots of adventures.  The one with the power to defeat the enemy has been revealed to the wizarding world.  There is a confrontation at the end, and it seems the enemy may not be as dormant as he seemed.  Heck, the story even closes with the protagonist in the infirmary having a heart to heart with said eccentric professor and being showered with goodies by his grateful classmates.

Does that sound familiar?  It could apply to both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and The Iron Trial.  The parallels are too obvious not be deliberate.  What is interesting though are the differences.  First of all, the protagonist in the Iron Trial, Callum Hunt, is aware of magic before his entry into the school and, unlike Harry, has to be dragged there kicking and screaming.  This means that we lose the sense of wonder and excitement that Harry feels on his discovery of the wizarding world which is a significant part of the charm of Philosopher’s Stone.

Secondly, the two protagonists are very, very different.  Harry Potter is decency and courage personified (a true Gryffindor).  One of his first acts on entering school is to defend a fellow student from bullying.  He is direct and open hearted.  He typifies the theme of the series which is about doing what is right as opposed to doing what is easy.  Callum, on the other hand, is a little more complex.  He is less open and trusting and far less inclined to act.  He seems to consider the consequences before acting and frequently has to be prodded into doing so. On the other hand, he is less impetuous than Harry and is more likely to look at the bigger picture.  He is also much more capable of focusing on the task at hand without being distracted.

These changes obviously impact on the way the protagonists relate to their friends and mentors.  Callum is less of a leader in his trio than Harry is in his.  There is a significant power shift in his relationship with Master Rufus compared to Harry’s with Dumbledore.  Dumbledore is the archetype of the wise old mentor and Harry is often left frustrated that he has not been given the answers he was seeking.  In comparison, Callum is the one in possession of information which he must choose to share with his mentor, or not as the case may be.

What I liked

Complex protagonist.  I found Callum as a protagonist interesting.  I appreciated that, unlike Harry, he doesn’t just see things as black or white, there are shades of grey involved.  The same is true of other characters, too.  I enjoyed the way this impacted their relationships.  It was interesting to see what Ron Weasley might have become in different circumstances though the Aaron character.

Pacing.  I thought Clare and Black kept the story moving along briskly and kept me reading.

Chapter art.  Each chapter is headed by an image encapsulating what is going on in the chapter.  These were gorgeous.

What I didn’t like

Harry Potter comparison.  This book is no Harry Potter.  It’s missing Rowling’s warmth, humour and imagination.

Despite suffering in comparison to Harry Potter, I did actually enjoy this book.  I was interested in Callum’s story and will probably continue to follow it in future books.

I gave The Iron Trial four stars out of five.

This week I have been reading shorter books so I feel I have been making excellent progress compared to the epic fantasy behemoths I’ve been reading lately.  I finished the cutesy contemporary romance Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.  I will be doing a full review next week, so I won’t say too much now.

I have also been dipping in and out of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.  OK, at 640 pages or 33 hours audiobook, that’s not exactly short…  I’ve been listening mainly to Davina Porter’s excellent audiobook narration.  As I am Scottish born, I appreciate her rendition of the Scots accent.  I was reading the series, but I became stuck in the middle of book three.  The major TV adaption by Starz has inspired me to start rereading.  I’ll probably just keep dipping in and out rather than reading it in a block.

Since I’m talking about the series, I would just like to say how much I’m enjoying it.  We in Canada are a couple of weeks behind our US cousins.  I knew the series was in safe hands with Ronald D. Moore who helmed the wonderful Battlestar Galactica.  He is very skilled at creating worlds while retaining the human core of a story.  The casting is pitch perfect.  Catriona Balfe is amazing as Claire Randall and Sam Heughan – phwar.  Not only is he exceptionally easy on the eye to say the least, he has the acting chops to bring out Jamie’s personality.  Where do I get my Heughligans tee-shirt again?  I’d only seen Tobias Menzies as the milksop Edmure Tully in Game of Thrones, but he is doing a fantastic job of distinguishing between the dual roles of sweet and studious Frank Randall and the dastardly Black Jack Randall.

My one gripe about the series is Claire’s voiceover.  That is so annoying.  The script and the actors are perfectly capable of portraying what’s going on and the characters’ emotional reactions, thank you very much, without having to listen to a voiceover.  It seems to have lessened the further on in the series we go, which is a relief.  I’m happy to hear Starz has already renewed it for a second season – yay!

Added to my library this week

The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.  I didn’t know much about this book before I bought it – I purchased it purely on the names of the authors, whose work I like very much.  I’ve started reading it and so far my opinion is that it is a poor man’s Harry Potter.  We’ll see if my opinion remains the same.  Look for my review next week.  I bought The Iron Trial in both Kindle and Audible formats.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel has been on my radar for a little while now.  This seemed an interesting concept.  An actor’s death links several characters and we follow them through civilisation’s collapse in the wake of a devastating pandemic.  I read the Kindle sample and found it intriguing and well written.  I picked this up from Audible.

Do you listen to audiobooks?  Which ones are you listening to right now?  Let me know in the comments.

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks – ReviewThe Broken Eye by Brent Weeks
Series: The Lightbringer #3
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Simon Vance
Length: 29 hrs and 33 mins
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four-stars

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks is the third and penultimate in his Lightbringer series following on from The Black Prism and The Blinding Knife.  It continues the story of Prism Gavin Guile and his illegitimate son Kip and their attempt to stop the Seven Satrapies from collapsing under the pressure of the Color Prince and his new gods.

My impression of this book was that it was very much a middle book – concentrating more on positioning the characters for the final assault.  It concentrated more on character development than moving the plot forward.  While there were a couple of eyebrow raising moments for me, but nothing compared to the couple of WTF?!? moments of the previous books.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.

What I liked

The magic system.  For this series Weeks has created a wonderfully developed magic system.  I usually consider Brandon Sanderson the master of magic system development, but with this colour-based system Weeks could give him a run for his money.  In essence, Weeks’ magic system works in the opposite manner to a candle.  A candle takes a physical substance – wax – and converts it into light.  Weeks’ magic users (drafters) can take light and convert it into a physical substance, luxin.  Different drafters can convert different colours of the spectrum, red, green, ultraviolet etc – and each colour of luxin so produced has different properties.

Like any good magic system, it has clear limitations.  Drafters need to be able to see the colour they draft.  In Weeks’ world, you can cripple a drafter by limiting his or her access to that colour.  Additionally, it is believed that drafters can only draft a finite amount of luxin in their lives before they “break the halo” and become dangerously emotionally unstable.  This means they must give serious thought before using their magic.    Although drafters can create luxin, that luxin subject to normal physical laws.  More skillfully drafted luxin is stronger and more stable, but lack of skill can be compensated for by amount of luxin drafted.

The character development.  There is some great character development in this book.  Without going into spoiler territory, Kip, Karris and Teia are all becoming the people it looks as though they will need to be for the final book.  On the other hand, Gavin’s character arc has hit rock bottom.  In a standard fantasy, that would mean that his fate is going to take a large upswing.  However, this is a Brent Weeks series we’re talking about here; anything thing could happen.

Setup for final book.  It’s actually really clever that we’re three books into a four book series and Weeks could still go anywhere with his storyline.  That makes it wonderful for speculation.

The narration.  The audiobooks of The Blinding Knife and The Broken Eye were narrated by Simon Vance.  The combination of Weeks’ witty writing style and Vance’s narration is pure gold.  I just ADORED the narration.  In fact, Vance’s narration of book two, The Blinding Knife, was a major factor in my becoming so hooked on audiobooks.  If you’re thinking of checking out this way of enjoying books, you could do a heck of a lot worse than Vance and Weeks.

What I didn’t like

Spot the antagonist. A fantasy series needs a strong villain, and we saw very little of the Color Prince in this volume.  I’m going out on a limb here and assuming the Color Prince is the series’ big bad.  That’s by no means certain when you’re talking about a Brent Weeks series.  The antagonist role in The Broken Eye was played by Andross Guile and for Teia Murder Sharp.  Don’t get me wrong; they’re both nasty pieces of work, but they both operate primarily on the mundane plane.  When you’re getting into territory of new gods being born, you need an antagonist operating in the same sphere.  In some cases it could also be said that the characters’ biggest challenge was their own emotional baggage.  That is fascinating in terms of character development, but less so to create dramatic tension.

In summary then, I would recommend the Lightbringer series – especially in audiobook format.  I gave this particular volume, The Broken Eye, four stars out of five.

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There are some critics who claim that fantasy literature is in some way a soft option; that in choosing to write in a more fantastical world, telling emotional character truths can take second place to worldbuilding. This post is my attempt to debunk that myth.  There have been several scenes in fantasy literature which had me bawling like a baby.  These aren’t necessarily death scenes, but simply beautiful writing illustrating the deep impact the situation has had on the character.

Olver’s story in A Memory of Light, the last book of the Wheel of Time.  This particular section was just so powerfully emotive.   For those of you unfamiliar, Olver is a young orphan – around eight years old – in the Wheel of Time universe who was adopted by Mat Cauthon and his warband.  Being brought up in a war camp, he exhibits a lot of his “uncle”’s enthusiasm for battle and the band has a hard time keeping him away from battle.  In the particular scene that had me sobbing, Olver has become separated from his friends and is being attacked by bestial Trollocs as he desperately tried to hide.  All of his bravado is stripped away and you see him for what he is; a young child confronted with the reality of war and of his own impending death.  But the beautiful thing about this scene is that, despite the horror and apocalyptic situation – the world is seriously turning to custard by this point – help does come to Olver and in the most awesome way.

The Grey Havens, The Lord of the Rings. Yeah, this one had me a blubbering mess.  By this time we’ve spent around 900 odd pages (or  nearly 10 hours of extended Peter Jackson movie time) and we’re down to the core hobbits and Gandalf who started the whole adventure. We have had more than enough time to understand the depth of the love these four little hobbits share.  The realisation that the Shire has been saved but that Frodo can no longer be at peace to enjoy it and that the Fellowship is truly dissolving is hard.

The Prince’s Tale, The Deathly Hallows.  In this particular scene, Rowling finally reveals Snape’s true motivations.  The whole emotional beat of the chapter is encapsulated in the revelation of Snape’s Patronus and his response to Dumbledore’s query about his love and loyalty “Always”. <sniff>

The Walk to the Forbidden Forest, The Deathly Hallows.  Basically that whole section of Deathly Hallows is pure weep territory.  Coming as it does after the first great Battle of Hogwarts and its casualties and the Prince’s tale, Harry’s walk to his fate is so moving with the ghosts of his parents and the Marauders.  The words he shares with them are just so moving, especially his query about whether death hurts.  Poor, brave Harry.

The ziplining epilogue, Allegiant.  For me, this epilogue was far more moving than a certain earlier scene which I personally felt was robbed of its impact by the way it was written.  This epilogue however was beautiful.  The group’s decision to honour fallen comrades in this way was a lovely throwback to an earlier time where they were all relatively carefree.   It shows how much the deaths meant to Four in particular in that he would face this fear of his one more time in their honour.

Epilogue, Clockwork Princess.  This was simply gorgeous.  The Infernal Devices contained one of the most moving love triangles I have read and this epilogue brings it all to a perfect resolution.

Ending, Emperor of Thorns.  This ending hit me emotionally like a ton of bricks.  The character development of Jorg Ancrath is so wonderfully written.  The fact that he makes the choices he makes at the end shows just how far he has come from the little prince trapped in the thorns of the first book.

What most of these scenes have in common is that they have real resonance for the characters involved, and for me at least, the author has done his or her work well to have me care for these characters.

Which scenes do you find most moving in fantasy literature?

Let me know in the comments.