Book Review – Harrow the Ninth

Harrow the Ninth is the second book in The Locked Tomb series by New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir. Like my read of the first book (Gideon the Ninth – review here), I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Moira Quirk.

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Here is the blurb:

She answered the Emperor’s call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.

In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

I really wanted to like this book, but it was hard to follow and I found myself confused for much of it. The story is told in the present day, written in second person, and also has flashbacks that appear to be an alternate version of the events of Gideon the Ninth. The characters are superbly drawn and their interactions are fascinating, even if I didn’t understand the relevance of much of it.

The unique portrayal of necromancy continues in this volume with wonderfully creative descriptions of bone and blood magic. The narrator provides each character with a slightly different manner of speech and subtle differences in accent which helps to follow more complicated conversations.

I just wish more was cleared up by the end of this book. The confusion was the worst at the very beginning and then in the end. Don’t expect any resolution or explanations in this series yet. It looks like two more books are planned, with the next one (Nona the Ninth) releasing later this year.

Have you read anything by Tamsyn Muir? What did you think? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Dune Messiah

While I have been a fan of Dune for decades, I have never delved beyond the first book or a few different movie and miniseries versions of the story. After seeing Denis Villeneuve’s recent cinematic masterpiece, I decided I needed to read the core six books of the series that were written by the original author. Dune Messiah is book #2 in the series.

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Here is the blurb:

Dune Messiah continues the story of Paul Atreides, better known—and feared—as the man christened Muad’Dib. As Emperor of the known universe, he possesses more power than a single man was ever meant to wield. Worshipped as a religious icon by the fanatical Fremen, Paul faces the enmity of the political houses he displaced when he assumed the throne—and a conspiracy conducted within his own sphere of influence.

And even as House Atreides begins to crumble around him from the machinations of his enemies, the true threat to Paul comes to his lover, Chani, and the unborn heir to his family’s dynasty…

This was a hard book to read, but was at turns fascinating and confusing. Not much happens in terms of a plot, but the commentary on power, religion, and government that twisted itself together with Paul’s prescience and struggles with his predetermined fate made for a captivating read.

I did find that I had some prescience of my own when reading this. As events in the book unfolded, I half-remembered them from the SyFy Channel’s Children of Dune miniseries. Even so, Paul certainly foreshadows enough of the events that nothing was terribly shocking in this book. But it still kept me reading in a trippy series of visions of unavoidable tragedy.

This was a book that I couldn’t read when I was tired, but I’m ready to move on to the next volume after I finish something a little more straight-forward (The Dragon Reborn).

How much of Dune are you familiar with? Did you start with the books or one of the movies? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

March Reading and Writing Updates

Wow! Somehow it got to be March already! And of course I’m behind schedule from where I wanted to be on my reading, but I’m not surprised, given that I set a bit of an unrealistic goal.

Looking back at February, here is how it went: I managed to finish Magical Midlife Madness by K. F. Breene (review here) and All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (review here). I just finished Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert this past weekend (technically in March) and I have a review coming up on that book later this week. With some work-related projects and other obligations, I got bogged down and didn’t get through all the other books I wanted to.

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The other books I’m currently reading are The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. With a long drive this weekend, I’m making solid progress on Harrow the Ninth because I’m listening to that as an audiobook. I also pulled out The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett (my physical non-e-book read) after I finished Magical Midlife Madness, but then decided I needed to catch up on The Dragon Reborn before starting it.

I haven’t given any writing updates recently. I hardly made any progress in February, but I’m expecting that to improve in March. Current projects include the first draft of a hard sci-fi stand alone novel with a working title of East of the Sun, continued work on a stand along sword and sorcery novel called Daughter of the Sun, and a rewrite of a short story involving dream magic. I don’t know why both novel projects involve the sun, but I think East of the Sun will get renamed at some point.

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Brandon Sanderson sort of shamed all writers out there in regards to productivity last week. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out his video here. So clearly I need to up my writing game.

Are you reading as much as you had hoped this year? Are you a writer? Tell me about your projects in the comments above.

Book Review – Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary is the newest book by Andy Weir (author of The Martian). I read this last year but wanted to still review it here. This book is a stand-alone hard science fiction story set on a space ship. Like The Martian, it features a lone protagonist who must survive his predicament, but in this story, he also must save all of humanity.

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Here is the blurb:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

I enjoyed this book a lot and found it took several surprising twists that kept me guessing at the outcome until the end. Being a fan of Andy Weir’s earlier books (The Martian, Artemis), I did go into this with certain expectations. While parts of the story are told in a non-linear fashion, it worked out well to fill in the gaps in Ryland Grace’s memory and give the reader the full story.

The ally that he meets was a wonderful character and I found their initial interactions believable despite the need for fiction to speed these types of challenges along. And I know that I’m being intentionally vague here because I don’t want to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet.

Overall this was one of my favorite reads of 2021! It won the Goodreads Choice award for Best Science Fiction for 2021 and is under development as a movie.

Did you read Project Hail Mary yet? Let me know in the comments above. Have you read The Martian or Artemis (my review here)? How do they compare to this new book?

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Magical Midlife Madness

This book was gifted to me and I’ve had it sitting on my desk for a while now, taunting me with it’s pretty cover. Magical Midlife Madness is the first book in a paranormal romance series (Leveling Up) by K. F. Breene. It appears to be self-published, which isn’t necessarily a strike against it as I used to do book reviews for “indie” press books and am open to the idea of reading books that aren’t a product of a major publisher.

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Here is the blurb:

A woman starting over. A new house with an unexpected twist. A cape wearing butler acting as the world’s worst life coach.

“Happily Ever After” wasn’t supposed to come with a do-over option. But when my husband of twenty years packs up and heads for greener pastures and my son leaves for college, that’s exactly what my life becomes.

Do-over.

This time, though, I plan to do things differently. Age is just a number, after all, and at forty I’m ready to carve my own path.

Eager for a fresh start, I make a somewhat unorthodox decision and move to a tiny town in the Sierra foothills. I’ll be taking care of a centuries old house that called to me when I was a kid. It’s just temporary, I tell myself. It’ll just be for a while.

That is, until I learn what the house really is, something I never could’ve imagined.

Thankfully forty isn’t too old to start an adventure, because that’s exactly what I do. A very dangerous adventure that will change my life forever. I have a chance to start again, and this time, I make the rules.

This book had a fun premise and while parts at the beginning were a bit awkwardly written, it got better in the middle. Jessie is an entertaining character that takes a risk on a new chapter in her life and discovers strange magic in a small town and within herself.

There is a romance aspect to the story and a larger threat that is not fully explored in this book, so don’t expect any resolution to either of those parts of Jessie’s tale. I don’t know if I’ll keep reading this series or not. It was easy and fast to read, but didn’t grab me as much as some other books.

Have you read any books by K. F. Breene? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – All Our Wrong Todays

I’m not sure how I heard about this book, but I ended up reading it for a book club, or rather, I listened to the audiobook version. All Our Wrong Todays is written and narrated by Elan Mastai.

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Here is the blurb:

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

This is a book about time travel and what can happen when you try to change the past. Tom Barren starts out as an unlikeable character in a utopian society where you can infer that no one is truly happy. When he ends up in an alternate time line, he must decide if it’s right or wrong to try to put things back the way they were. And what if he continues to make the world worse?

The opening of this book was a big turn off for me because of the way in which it is written (all exposition, with Tom essentially writing about what had happened), but also because I didn’t like Tom. Once he used the time machine, the story was easier to read. I did find some of the concepts interesting. Some examples include the author’s take on what happens to your consciousness when you time travel and have changed your own past, and also the horrifying experience of the traveler in one form of time travel in this story.

Elan Mastai is also a producer and writer on the television series This Is Us. Have you watched that show (I have not)? Does it share any themes with this book? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Reading Update – 6-ish Weeks In

I wanted to stop to check in on my reading progress, given that I set a rather ambitious reading goal for the year of 89 books. It felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all for much of January. But part of that was because I tend to read several books at once.

How do I sort out what I’m reading when I’m tackling multiple books at once? I actually don’t have a good system, but I’m trying to come up with one.

For this year, I’m trying to choose my books partly by how I’m reading them. So at any given time, I’m going to read one e-book on my Kindle, one e-book on my phone, one physical book, and one audiobook. This graphic above shows what I have already read for the year.

I’m also trying to be a little more intentional about my reading. What I mean by this is that I’m using Goodreads to create multiple shelves. I already have a 2022 books-to-read list (and a 2023 one, but that’s a separate problem). But now I’m dividing it out into monthly shelves as well. I’m hoping this will help keep me on track with longer series by seeing how long it will actually take me to get through those books. Look below to see what is on my February 2022 list:

So you can see from these books that I’m gradually working my way through several series. One goal I have is to read one book from The Wheel of Time every month, as well as one Dune book each month. That by itself will keep me busy! And then there’s this darn Demon Cycle (The Skull Throne) I really want to finish but have a hard time continuing.

I also have set this up to work with the different formats. I have The Wheel of Time as e-books on my Kindle and Dune is an e-book on my phone. Harrow the Ninth and Instinct are audiobooks, and Magical Midline Madness and The Skull Throne are physical books. If I finish up by the end of the month I’ll throw in another short book or start on my March list.

This plan still doesn’t get me to my goal of 89 books for the year, but that’s okay! I do have a lot of long books frontloaded in my plan for the year. I’ll have to add some shorter novels or graphic novels as I go. I also delete books from my list once I’ve read them so I feel like I’m checking them off.

How do you organize your reading? How is your reading year going? Let me know in the comments above.

Read some of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Neverwhere

This was the second time that I read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. One of my book clubs had decided to read it and since it had been quite a while since I read it the first time, I picked it up again.

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Here is the blurb:

Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

I found this to be an odd little book. Richard Mayhew is cast into a secret fantastical world beneath London after he stops to help an injured girl on the street. He encounters rat-speakers, a fierce bodyguard, and numerous other strange beings in his pursuit of the girl named Door. Trying to reclaim his former life, he is caught up in Door’s quest and the mystery surrounding the death of her family as they flee enemies with an ever-changing agenda. I enjoyed this book, but I felt like I never quite knew what was going on. It lacked tension until the end but was otherwise enjoyable to read.

I’m always torn on Gaiman’s books. I really didn’t like American Gods, but found this book readable and intriguing, despite its flaws. Many years ago I read some of the Sandman graphic novels, but I don’t remember them well. So, I’m going to try to read The Graveyard Book soon because that is one that’s been recommended to me a few times.

Have you read Neverwhere? Do you have other books by Neil Gaiman you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Midnight Sun

I was looking for something easy to read to break up the longer, more complicated novels I had been recently reading and grabbed this only to discover it was over 600 pages long. Oh well! Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer is an odd story. It is basically a rewrite of Twilight but told from Edward’s perspective rather than Bella’s.

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Here is the blurb:

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

In Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer transports us back to a world that has captivated millions of readers and brings us an epic novel about the profound pleasures and devastating consequences of immortal love.

I don’t know that this book lives up to the hype of it’s blurb, but it did keep me reading. I also don’t think this book would make much sense if you haven’t already read Twilight, since much of that story isn’t communicated from Edward’s perspective. Jacob is barely mentioned and while there are some scenes and dialogue between Edward and Bella that I don’t believe were in the original book, there simply isn’t a lot of conflict outside of Edward’s own head.

If you are already a fan of the series, then this book will probably add a little more dimension to the story you already know. But if not, then you can skip this one. I enjoyed it for what it was and I appreciated that it poked a little fun at itself as well.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Great Hunt

With the recent television adaptation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, I’ve decided to finally read/re-read the entire series. Many years ago, I had read up through book 7 or 8, but then found myself forgetting key details of the story while waiting for the next book to be published. I told myself that someday I’d go back and read the entire 14-book series. I started this last year with the first book – The Eye of the World. I didn’t have time to write a review of that one (and I still may go back to do it), but here are my thoughts on book 2 – The Great Hunt.

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Here is the blurb:

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

For centuries, gleemen have told the tales of The Great Hunt of the Horn. So many tales about each of the Hunters, and so many Hunters to tell of…Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages. And it is stolen.

So this blurb doesn’t really describe much of what this second book is about. Readers of the series will recognized that first paragraph as the repeating intro that starts each book, a reminder of the theme of a cycle to the events of the world that is integral to this story.

The Great Hunt follows our main character, Rand Al’Thor as he follows (and at times leads) a group of Shienaran soldiers in pursuit of the Horn of Valere after it is stolen by Darkfriends. His internal conflict about his newfound powers continues and ostracizes him from his friends who don’t know his secret.

The characters are introduced to several new enemies (Selene/Lanfear and the Seanchan), threatened by old ones (Padan Fain, the Children of Light), and betrayed by those once thought to be friends. This book splits up some of our characters as well, with Egwene and Nynaeve starting their training at Tar Valon. But this division doesn’t last and by the end, the story threads all converge, bringing the tale to another semi-conclusion.

I’ve already started the third book, The Dragon Reborn, and I’m hoping to get through one a month. Look for my next review soon!

Have you read the series? How far did you get? Are you watching the show? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

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