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Book Review – The True Queen

The True Queen is the second novel by author Zen Cho, and is a sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown, which I previously reviewed here. I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Set in Regency England, this book features the protagonist from the first book, Prunella, now Sorcerer Royal of the nation, but in a secondary role. The main story follows Muna, a young lady from distant Janda Baik who was taken in by Mak Genggang, a powerful sorceress that also makes a reappearance from the Sorcerer to the Crown.


Muna and her sister Sakti awaken on a beach with no memories of their past. They soon find their way to the household of Mak Genggang, where Sakti becomes a student of sorcery. However, both of the sisters appear to have been cursed, and when their plans to fix their ailment themselves go wrong, Mak Genggang is forced to send them away to England for their own protection.

During their journey, the sisters travel through Faerie, and Sakti disappears. Muna emerges into England alone and swears to find her sister, but also doesn’t trust the English sorcerers enough to tell them exactly what happened. Muna still manages to discover Sakti’s location and launches a daring plan to save her, taking Prunella’s friend Henrietta Stapleton along in her adventures.

Muna is a charming and tenacious heroine, but her ignorance of the customs in England add to her challenges. Despite this, I found that I liked the earlier Sorcerer to the Crown better than The True Queen. The ending wrapped up the story, but I felt a little confused with how it turned out in regards to Muna. I’ll still look out for any more books in this series though.

Read more of my reviews here.

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Book Review – Uprooted

I had first read one of Naomi Novik’s books when I started the Temeraire series several years ago. I struggled to finish Tongues of Serpents and put that series down for some time. Then I kept hearing things about Novik’s two newer books (Uprooted, Spinning Silver) and I thought I’d give one a try.

Uprooted is a unique fairy tale story and I found it to be an enthralling read. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Julia Emelin. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the narrator’s accent, but once I became more involved in the story, it became easier to follow and fit the main character well.

Uprooted follows Agnieszka, a young woman in a small village near to the dread forest, where evil things live and sometimes emerge to bring magical blights and steal away the unwary. The Dragon, a mysterious wizard, protects the valley’s villages from the depredations of the wood, but every ten years, he takes a young woman away to his tower. While she is returned at the end of her service, seemingly unharmed, these women never stay in their former homes and leave for pursuits in distant lands.

This time, everyone knows that the Dragon will choose Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. She is beautiful, kind, and talented, and he always chooses the “best” the village has to offer. Despite this knowledge, Agnieszka cannot come to terms with Kasia’s fate, so she grasps her friend’s hand as the Dragon examines the girls on offer. The Dragon’s attention turns back to Agnieszka, and for reasons known only to the mage, he chooses her instead of Kasia.

Seemingly imprisoned at the top of the Dragon’s tower, Agnieszka tries to adjust to her new fate. Her days are filled with strange lessons and the Dragon is hardly hospitable. Yet her journey in this book is mesmerizing as she learns of her own powers. Kasia remains an important character through the book, and Agnieszka plays a careful game with the Dragon, princes, other wizards, and the dangers of the wood.

The entire novel felt like a fairy tale, but moved from a smaller story of a girl and a wizard to one that involved a greater struggle between good and evil and the entire kingdom. The character of Agnieszka makes a wonderfully stubborn and willful protagonist who values her friend Kasia and her village over rules and proper behavior. At the same time, the evil in this book was terrifying, but also with an undercurrent of melancholy.

Uprooted was one of the best books I’ve read this year, and so far is my favorite of Novik’s work.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Graphic Novel Review – Monstress Vol. 3 (Haven)

I’ve been gradually working my way through Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda and while I’m enjoying this series, the third volume was not my favorite. You can find my reviews of Volume 1 here, and Volume 2 here.

Monstress Volume 3 (Haven) follows our anti-hero protagonist, Maika, as she begins to come to terms with her demon and their shared powers. The plot resumes in the city of Pontus where a magical shield protects the inhabitants from outside dangers.


However, the Pontus shield is inoperable and Maika is enlisted to help repair it. At the same time, her companions explore the city. The fox-child Kippa discovers other fox refugees, and while she searches for her family Master Ren meets with his nekomancer bosses who have their own ideas about what he needs to do.

Pontus is attacked while Maika struggles to help protect the city. She delves further into her past and her heritage and I think she has grown more accepting of the demon inside of her.

Brief episodes of back story are interspersed with the main plot, as well as glimpses of conversations and events in other lands with side characters. It all became rather confusing, especially when taken together with trying to follow all the lore of the Elder Gods.

The spectacular artwork continued to draw me into this world, despite the muddled plot. I’m particularly enthralled by the variety of creatures.

While I intend to keep reading this series, this volume was not my favorite, mainly because I found the details hard to follow. Perhaps other readers would enjoy the mystery of it, but I like more concrete information.

Read more of my reviews here.

Race Report – Sandy Hook Time Trial 2019

I have been planning to race more cycling time trials when I had a chance, and I was finally able to make it to the New Jersey Time Trial Cup’s opening event on March 30.

Location and Course

This race took place at Sandy Hook, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. The course for the time trial is 7 miles of very flat roads. The elevation change is negligible, and the race follows a straight-forward out-and-back route.

The turn-around is wide and easy to navigate. I heard that some cyclists weren’t sure exactly where to turn, but it seemed clear to me.

There are several categories of entry to choose from for these races. They vary by type of bike, age, and category (how fast you are). Since I don’t own a TT bike, I entered the non-TT bike category. If you haven’t earned a higher category, then you’re a Cat 5 cyclist (this was me).

Weather Conditions

I am always cold, so one of the more off-putting aspects of an early season race is the prospect of chilly morning temperatures. However, one reason why I chose to enter this event was that the forecast didn’t seem too bad.

I had seen the wind forecast, but hadn’t given much thought to that. The sun was up and the temperature at the start was 52. As I checked in, it was clear that the southerly wind would be a huge factor in my race.

The road conditions were great with smooth pavement for the entire course. The road was not closed to cars, so riders had to still remain alert to passing traffic.

Check-In and Warm-Up

We found the parking lot easily and I made my way to the check-in table which was near the start. The process was simple – I just gave my name and they handed me my bib.

The event had waived the US Cycling license one-day fee for anyone who was a US Triathlon member which was a nice way to encourage triathletes to try out a time trial.

I returned to the car and started to get ready, assembling my gear and getting my bike on the trainer. I didn’t have a specific plan for my warm-up, but kept it to some easy pedaling followed by a series of progressively harder intervals.

I was definitely cold, so I kept my long-sleeved jersey on. My husband helped to pin my bib to my back, and I headed to the start.

Everyone who is racing is given a specific start time. It is the athlete’s responsibility to be at the start at the right time. Time trials are different in that a designated person holds your bike up so that you can be clipped in with both feet for a faster start. I had practiced this before my first TT 2 years ago and felt like I’d remember how to manage it.

While I waited in line, one of the other cyclists pointed out that my bib wasn’t oriented correctly. She re-pinned it for me, but it would have been helpful if that information had been more clearly available ahead of time.

My Race

Soon enough, my race had started! I felt like I had chosen an appropriate gear and I accelerated and built some speed.

I tried to keep my heart rate under control at the outset because I didn’t want to go out too hard. My plan was to divide the race into 4 parts. I would aim for steady effort in the first quarter, build to a stronger effort in the second and third parts, and then leave it all out there as I pushed hard to the finish in the last quarter.

I was able to keep my heart rate below 180, but also realized that I was moving at 22-23 mph due to a crazy tailwind. I think I ripped through the first mile in 3 minutes. This was a blast, but it meant that I was going to face that same wind head-on for the second half.

As I neared the turn-around, I started to see some of the earlier cyclists as they headed opposite me, toward the finish. I could tell from their expressions that they were no longer thrilled by the wind.

I made the turn and the wind wasn’t too bad to start with. However this part of the course was more sheltered than what lay ahead. My speed dropped significantly though, and my heart rate crept up.

I felt like I was making a steady effort, but as the course turned slightly, this brought the wind directly into my face. The sheltering brush grew more sparse. My speed fell further.

The last mile was grueling. I watched the distance on my computer tick away. I pushed harder than before and my heart rate soared.

Finally, I could see the finish. I gulped more air, kept my legs moving, and rolled across.

I shifted to my easiest gear and rolled back to the parking lot. I bundled myself back up in layers, stowed my bike, and headed home.

The full results for the event can be found here.

I finished in 24:46.6 which was close to my estimate of 25 minutes. Even though that put me at the bottom of my group, I felt like I raced as hard as I could and I’m happy with my day. I would like to do more TT events if/when my schedule allows it.

See more of my race reports here.

Book Review – Revisionary

Revisionary is the fourth and last book in the Magic Ex Libris series from Jim C. Hines. I haven’t read any of the author’s other series, but I found this one to be a lot of fun, so I’ll keep Hines in mind for future reads. I listened to the audiobook edition of Revisionary, narrated by David de Vries.

You can find my review of book 1, Libriomancerhere.

My mini-review of book 2, Codex Born, is here.

And my review of book 3, Unbound, is here.

Libriomancy is magic that is drawn out of books, and libriomancers study and catalog the contents of books so that they can access exactly what magic they need. By this fourth volume in the series, readers are well-acquainted with this form of magic and the array of supernatural creatures that co-inhabit our world.

Once secret, the existence of libriomancy and a variety of monsters was revealed to the public at the conclusion of the third book. In this next installment, our protagonist, Isaac Vainio, has become the public face of magic for the mundane world. Once a porter, his position has shifted to put him in a leadership role at the New Millenium center, a magical research facility outside of Las Vegas that focuses on humanitarian and medical uses of libriomancy. Part of his responsibilities include testifying before Congress about the role of magic in recent events and its potential use and misuse.

While Isaac and the Porters try to persuade the public of the benefits of magic, a group of inhuman assassins strike and take out several political advocates of anti-magic legislation. When Isaac and a close group of friends try to investigate, they must unravel a conspiracy that encompasses humans and libriomancers and threatens the entire world.

Isaac balances his investigation of the conspiracy and continues his research, all while staying in touch with his estranged brother’s family about his niece’s upcoming magical healing. Interludes in the novel show that his powers as a libriomancer have changed as he communicates with a reanimated Gutenberg by reading a secret autobiography of the Porters’ founder. As the story progresses, he must come to terms with his own identity as a libriomancer.

This book (and the entire series, really) was a lot of fun. The author’s familiarity and love of the fantasy and science fiction genres is clear whenever the characters use libriomancy. The plot brings together all the characters from the earlier books, some in new roles. The stakes were higher as the conflict had a more worldwide effect. The overall feel of a darker book that began in Unbound continues with more dire consequences, and not everyone survives.

The ending of Revisionary wrapped up a lot of plot threads and while it doesn’t rule out future stories in this world, I had to wonder about whether I could expect more books in the series or not. A quick search of the author’s blog revealed that he is not currently planning more after Revisionary. However, for completionist fans of the books, a short story (Chupacabra’s Song) and a novelette (Imprinted) set in this world are available.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Fencing Tournament Report – 2019 Veteran Sabre Slam

This tournament was held on March 10, so I’m a bit behind on writing a summary of the event, but I still wanted to get to it. This is another one of the tournaments in the Tri-State Veteran’s Cup. You can find my thoughts on some of this year’s events here and here.

Travel to the Event

This tournament was held at Sheridan Fencing Club in Manhattan. I was able to take the train into NYC and then grabbed a taxi for a quick trip across town.

The Venue

This was my first trip to Sheridan Fencing Club and I had a little trouble finding it. Due to the train schedule, I arrived earlier than I really needed to, and the club wasn’t open yet.

I didn’t see any signage to indicate the club’s location, even though I appeared to be in the right general area. It turns out that the entire front of the club is a large glass window. After hours, a metal door rolls down to cover the glass.

After only a few minutes, someone arrived to open the door and I found myself in a chilly but compact space. The heat kicked on and I tried to move around to warm myself up, but my hands and feet were cold for longer than I would have liked.

The fencing space only has six strips, but for the purposes of this event, that was adequate. One perk that I did not expect was that they were able to run instant replay for all of the direct elimination (DE) bouts.

While I was warming up, coffee and bagels arrived. I definitely needed that coffee and soon felt more prepared for fencing.

Tournament Format

This tournament was conducted in a standard format, with a round-robin style pool followed by 100% promotion into a DE tableau. The women’s event had 8 competitors and there were 25 in the men’s event.

The women fenced one large pool of 8, followed by a quick DE round. The men were divided into 4 pools (7, 6, 6, 6) and then DE’s.

Full results from the day can be found here.

One of my favorite aspects of this tournament was the prizes! The winners went home with a set of Japanese swords and a stand. It’s nice to have awards other than the standard fencing medals.

My Fencing

I had an uneven day in the tournament, going 5-2 in my pool. That made me seeded #2 for the DE tableau. Through my DE bouts I never really hit my normal stride and I struggled to do what I wanted to do. In the end, I finished in 2nd place, so it wasn’t really a bad day. I just felt like I didn’t fence terribly well.

See more of my tournament reports here.

Book Review – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

This book is outside of my normal genre reads, but I picked it up on a whim one day last month. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is a guide to help declutter and tidy your home. It has soared to prominence and recently inspired a Netflix series.

This book lays out a method to approach your belongings to help determine which ones to keep and how to organize them to have a more tidy living space. The concept is a simple one, but the author lays out her thoughts in a way that helps to focus the reader upon choosing which items to keep rather than which ones should be disposed of.

This was a particularly helpful way for me to look at my own things. I tend to accumulate items and I have trouble disposing of anything that may have a future use. I also like to make piles of papers and books which sit and accumulate dust while I tell myself I’ll sort and/or read them some day.

The author instructs you to hold each item and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy” or not. While this concept has been lambasted in cartoons and articles on social media, when you read the more nuanced descriptions of her process, it makes a lot of sense.

Part of the way to organized!

One of the other ways in which Kondo’s approach is helpful is that it divides your belongings into discrete categories, starting with clothing, then books, and progressing from there. This road map can keep you more focused and helps to see how much you already own in each category.

So does this process work?

Sort of. I began my tidying a few weeks ago, right after reading this book. The process can be as quick or as slow as you want, and the author even throws out a 6 month time frame as an average.

I began with clothing, but due to time constraints, I chose to break that category up into smaller sections (dresses, skirts, pants, etc.) so that it was manageable in short blocks of time. Oddly, the process was fun and I soon had whittled my clothing down by about 50%.

The second part of Kondo’s process is to organize what you have left by stacking items vertically as much as possible. She gives directions on how to fold clothing and guidelines on what should be hung up instead of stored in drawers.

So many bins for organizing!

I think that so far, the most challenging part of the process is figuring out what to do with the items that I have chosen to discard. I’m trying to donate much of it and while I’m waiting for my pickup date to roll around, the bags of clothing that I’ve set aside make my home feel more chaotic.

Overall I think it has been a helpful exercise to start, but I still have a long ways to go. I’m planning to read Kondo’s second book soon (Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up).

Have you read either of her books? Have you watched Tidying Up on Netflix? Let me know in the comments.

Find all my book reviews here.

Book Review – The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky is the third and final volume in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. I read this as an e-book, and while this wasn’t my favorite book by the author, I found it to be an intriguing series that finally brought the reader to an understanding of the strange world of the Stillness by the end.

The Stone Sky won the 2018 Hugo award for Best Novel, making Jemisin the first author to win this accolade in three consecutive years. Follow these links to find my reviews for the first book (The Fifth Season) and the second book (The Obelisk Gate).


This book begins immediately after the events in The Obelisk Gate, so it’s going to be hard to avoid spoilers if you aren’t caught up to that point. Read on at your own risk.

Essun has survived after activating the obelisk gate, but has found that she must now pay the same price as Alabaster when she uses orogeny at this point. Her body is being gradually transformed into stone. Each time this happens, she lets her stone-eater companion, Hoa, consume the inert flesh to relieve her of its weight.

Hoa features a greater part in this final book as he tells us of his origin. He was not always a stone-eater, but even in his previous form he had never been accepted as a normal part of society. Finally, we learn what happened in the distant past and how the world came to be the way it is.

The third part of this book follows Nassun, Essun’s daughter, as she comes to terms with her the ability to change the world and possibly end it for everyone. While her mother seeks to heal the world and repair the damage wrought by humans, Nassun sees salvation in complete destruction of humanity.

Once it is clear that mother and daughter have both similar but opposing goals, their stories converge, building to a final conflict. Schaffa exists as a father-figure to Nassun in this book, continuing his transformation and showing how even the Guardians have been victims through history.

I enjoyed this series, but I wonder if I missed some of the finer points while struggling to figure out how the world worked. One example is that I didn’t understand why Essun would partially turn to stone for using orogeny after she had activated the obelisk gate. I think it may be fun to re-read all of the books to catch those details on a second read, but I don’t often have time to do this. (Too many books, too little time!)

If you’re looking for fantasy with a unique setting, world-building, and realistic characters, then this is a great series. Themes throughout the books include looking at oppression of different races and classes, suppressing history, and a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – All the Birds in the Sky

I picked up this audiobook of All the Birds in the Sky on a whim because Audible had a 2-for-1 sale where you had to choose from a particular list. I’m really glad that I purchased this one because it was a great story. I was already aware that it had won the 2016 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and seeing as how I had never read anything by Charlie Jane Anders, I thought I’d give it a try.

All the Birds in the Sky is a novel about two main characters: Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead. At the beginning of the book, we see each of them as children as they discover their special abilities.

Patricia attempts to save an injured blue jay, losing herself in the woods where she speaks to a great tree and learns that she is a witch. When the tree poses an impossible question, she emerges from the episode as if it were a dream, doubting her powers and losing her memories of much of the experience.

Laurence tinkers with technology and successfully builds a 2-second time machine that help him escape embarrassment and bullying at school. He runs away from home to see a rocket launch, builds a supercomputer in his closet, and is always creating new gizmos.

When Patricia and Laurence meet in middle school, they end up as friends almost by default. They are both outcasts from the regular social scene and are harassed by the other students. Even their own parents find fault in their unique interests.

As the book progresses, there isn’t a set conflict or antagonist; it’s more like Patricia and Laurence against the world. They have their own personal ups and downs as they mature and try to work on something meaningful to society. The other main theme in this novel is one of magic versus science, with Patricia clearly on the side of magic, and Laurence the champion of science.

So far, I think this is the best book I’ve read for 2019. I did predict certain events in the plot, but those parts were foreshadowed and felt natural when they did happen.

The audio recording for this book was smoothly read and I had no problems maintaining my focus on the words. While the book is listed as #1 in a series of the same name on Goodreads, I see no clear need for a sequel. This book has a solid and satisfying ending that doesn’t leave any dangling plot threads. I’m going to look out for more books by this author.

Graphic Novel Review – Monstress Vol. 2 (The Blood)

Monstress Vol. 2 (The Blood) is a graphic novel written by Marjorie Liu, with art by Sana Takeda. I had read the first volume in November and my review of it can be found here. While I enjoyed the first book, this second one was even better.

Maika Halfwolf is possessed by a monster that may be a demon or a god, but is haunted by her mother’s past and pursued by familiar and unknown enemies. In this second volume, she arrives at the city of Thyria and looks for passage to the Isle of Bones, where she hopes to find answers about her mother.

Master Ren, a talking, two-tailed cat necromancer (or nekomancer), and Kippa, a fox-girl continue to risk their lives at her side, and Maika finds other friends amongst the pirates of Thyria, many of whom knew her mother.

This book is just as dark in its subject matter in some parts as the first one. Maika’s demon must feed, but she has learned to retain some control over the details. The world in Monstress is harsh and many of its inhabitants have long lives and old rivalries.

I enjoyed this book better than the first because I already knew the characters. It also felt more linear in its structure, with a more direct style of story-telling and fewer leaps to different locales and times. When the plot does show past events, these scenes felt more natural in this second volume.

The artwork in this book continues to be gorgeous. The sea and its inhabitants are brought to life with the same aesthetic as the earlier gothic structures. Simple conventions such as changing the background in text bubbles make it easy to follow a particular non-human conversation.

The next volume of Monstress is sitting in my to-be-read pile and I’ll be reading and reviewing the third book soon.

Find more of my book reviews here.

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