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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.

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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.

Book Review – Unbound

Ooooh, look! This is another series where I’m working to catch up. Unbound is book 3 in the Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines. I listened to the audiobook version of this, narrated by David de Vries.

You can find my review of book 1, Libriomancer, here.

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

I first started to read this series because I loved the premise behind the magic. Libriomancy allows its users to harness the magic of books. If enough people have read a book, then a libriomancer can reach into the text and pull out items created by the readers’ belief. Now there are some limitations: whatever the libriomancer tries to bring into the world must fit through the pages, and some books deemed too dangerous have been locked.

Seriously, how cool is that?

The first two books in this series (Libriomancer and Codex Born) introduce us to Isaac Vainio, a member of the Porters who works a day job as a librarian. The Porters were formed by Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, creator of libriomancy, and immortal overseer of its use. Their goal is to make sure libriomancy is practiced safely and that the rest of the world never discovers the magical world.

By the beginning of this third book, Isaac has been thrown out of the Porters and had his magic stripped away by Gutenberg. At the conclusion of the previous book, his teenaged libriomancer student, Jeneta Aboderin, was kidnapped and possessed by an ancient sorceress, Meridiana. Isaac struggles to track down Jeneta while trying to come to terms with the loss of his magic.

Despite his banishment from the Porters, Isaac still has friends who can help him: dryad Lena Greenwood, and therapist Nidhi Shah. His pet fire spider, Smudge, hasn’t been affected by Isaac’s loss of magic and ignites when danger is near. Through persistence and research, he manages to learn that Meridiana is trying to find a bronze device created by Pope Sylvester II that would allow her to completely enter our world and bring the power of a ghost army under her control.

Isaac resorts to black-market magic from vampires, fellow outcast sorcerer Juan Ponce de Leon, and the students of Bi Sheng (another ancient book-magic group) in his quest to find the bronze artifact.

The action never stops in this entertaining story, with some surprising and darker twists than in the earlier volumes. The presence of the magical world is no longer hidden from the public, and the series feels more expansive as complications arise. While the main plot is wrapped up in this book, not everything is resolved. Book 4, Revisionary, will be up soon in my reading list.

See more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2017. You can find my review of the first book, The Fifth Season, here.


The story in this second volume follows two main point-of-view characters, Essun, who we know from the first book, and Nassun, her daughter, who we have only seen through Essun’s memories up until now.

The prose is written in the same unusual style as the earlier book, with sections of second person point-of-view told by an unknown narrator in staggered interlude chapters. (That narrator is revealed toward the end.)

The world-building continues to shine in this book. The geologically active continent has been broken, and a volcanic winter (what the people call the Fifth Season) is imminent. Certain people with the skill to use orogeny can pull the energy of the earth’s heat out to power magical feats. Additional aspects of magic are developed in this second volume, and I did get a little confused about which energy did what and how.

Essun has settled in at Castrima, where her ex-lover and mentor, Alabaster, tries to teach her to harness the power of the obelisks. His time is limited as he slowly turns to stone in the aftermath of breaking the world. As he petrifies, he is devoured by his companion stone eater. Essun’s own stone eater ally, Hoa, continues to protect her, but no one knows why the stone eaters have made their specific alliances or what their endgame may be.

The timeline for Nassun reverts to the first book’s events and begins immediately after her father, Jija, murders her brother for being an orogene. In The Fifth Season, I had wondered why Jija had not gone on to kill Nassun, knowing that she must also be an orogene.

The other main character in the book is Schaffa, Essun’s Fulcrum Guardian. He had been left for dead in the aftermath of the Guardians’ attack at the end of the first book. Schaffa succumbs to a deep and evil power to save himself and emerges with memory loss and a deadly ignorance of his own abilities.

This book was about relationships between individuals as well as classes and races. Much of the plot deals with how Essun and Alabaster learn to work together again, while Nassun deals with the dying relationship with her father as Schaffa replaces him in that role.

The setting of Castrima, an underground geode where orogenes live amongst non-orogene humans, provides a backdrop for conflict between the two peoples. Castrima’s life-preserving mechanisms will not work without an orogene present, but tensions rise and old prejudices drive people to violence.

Essun must control her own power as she becomes a target in this power struggle. She has to learn from Alabaster in a desperate attempt to save all the people and end the seasons forever.

I enjoyed this story a lot, but found the first book to be better. The action in this middle book felt like it stagnated a bit, but it was still fascinating to read about the world that Jemisin has imagined. I’m looking forward to the third book, The Stone Sky.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

I have been reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series for many years, so I don’t know how I didn’t see this book until just recently. I listened to the audiobook version (like I have for the entire series).

So… this is an odd book. Overall, I liked it, but it definitely won’t be for everyone. If you’ve never read any of the Vorkosigan books, this is *not* the one to start with. This review (and the book) will have inevitable spoilers from Cryoburn, so if you haven’t read that one, with its gut punch of an ending, then just go away now.

No, really. Don’t keep reading if you haven’t read Cryoburn. Spoiler right below the cover.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is set on Sergyar three years after the death of Count Aral Vorkosigan and follows two main characters: Vicereine Cordelia Vorkosigan and Admiral Oliver Jole. Miles, the protagonist for the majority of the books, does appear later, but this is not his story.

Cordelia reveals that both herself and Aral had stored their genetic material in case they decided to have more children in the future. After the difficulties encountered with raising Miles, they never followed through with this plan. Cordelia has now decided to fertilize several embryos and make use of the uterine replicators at the new reproduction center on Sergyar so that she can raise the daughters she had always wanted.

Complicating this scheme, Cordelia informs Admiral Jole of her intentions. While I don’t remember if the earlier books ever hinted at this, we learn that Aral was bisexual and had initiated a relationship with Jole decades ago, with Cordelia peripherally involved and accepting of this non-traditional arrangement. Cordelia offers Jole the use of some of Aral’s samples as well and lets him know that the technology could allow him to have his own children.

As Oliver struggles to make decisions about things he had never imagined to be possible, the story turns to the renewed relationship between himself and Cordelia. This entire book is more about the characters’ journey and their decisions for themselves and their families after a lifetime of political intrigue, violence, and duty, rather than any focus on the events of the plot.

Not much happens in terms of action, but for what this book tries to do, that was okay for me. Again, it will not be for everyone. I found that as I neared the end of this book, I dreaded the thought of something tragic happening. After Cryoburn, I half-expected Sergyar’s volcano to erupt and lead to catastrophe.

In retrospect, I think that it’s also great to have a book where well-loved characters can finally be seen to relax and deal with smaller crises. I don’t want to see them suffer any more heartache at this point. I think they deserve to be happy in the end.

The book also deals with the themes of family versus career, aging, and family secrets, so it was interesting to me in that way. Cordelia is in her 70’s, and although Betan people have a long lifespan, her children will be younger than her own grandchildren. Is there anything inherently wrong with this? Much of the story deals with how much is revealed to whom along the way, and how each person deals with those revelations. Will the secrets of the past impact the future?

See more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – The Book of Life

The Book of Life is the third book in the All Souls trilogy by author and historian Deborah Harkness. This final volume completes the story begun in A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, which I have also reviewed.

This series is set in our modern world, but with a subculture of witches, daemons, and vampires who are secretly struggling to survive as their powers wane and they are plagued by blood rage and madness.

Having finished this book, I’m pleased to say that I’m doing well with finishing up series that I’ve started, and this is going to be one of my main reading goals for 2019. So look out for plenty of book 2’s, 3’s, etc. here.

As this book begins, Diana and Matthew have just returned from Elizabethan England through Diana’s witch abilities as a timewalker. What they had envisioned as a happy reunion with their friends and family in our current time quickly turns tragic when they discover that Emily has died under suspicious circumstances, likely murdered.

All of the problems they had escaped by traveling to the past have returned with their arrival back at Sept Tours. Diana still needs to obtain Ashmole 782, the book which supposedly holds the secrets to the origin of all types of creatures. The Congregation has grown more suspicious of the de Clermont’s affairs, and Diana’s magic is stronger but still a bit beyond her understanding.

In addition, Diana is pregnant with twins, with no idea what her children will be like or how to keep them safe. Matthew’s son, Benjamin, reemerges from obscurity and is driven by blood rage and revenge, threatening both Diana and the babies.

The story takes Diana and Matthew to America first and then back to various parts of Europe. There is renewed focus on Matthew’s research on creature genetics, and additional characters appear to help solve their problems.

I thought that the plot of this final book meandered more than the earlier ones, and for the first half, this lack of focus weakened the tension. It seemed like the characters should have been in greater danger, but they didn’t face any immediate threats until later in the book.

My favorite aspect of this book was how Diana’s magic evolved and grew in response to her actions and changes. I enjoyed seeing her learn to use her strength and to use both her wits and her power to overcome challenges.

The end of the novel finally brought all the story elements together and was satisfying. While all of the main points are wrapped up, it still allows for the possibility of future books in the series. I would have liked more explanation of a few elements, but it’s possible that I read too fast and missed some of the details.

The author has recently released a new book, Time’s Convert. This novel is separate from the All Souls series, but has some overlap. It appears to detail Marcus’ backstory and delves further into his relationship with Phoebe. I’d like to read this novel also, but will not get to it just yet.

Have you read the All Souls trilogy? Let me know in the comments below!

See all my book reviews here.

Book Review – The Evolutionary Void

The Evolutionary Void is the third book in the Void series by Peter F. Hamilton, concluding the science fiction epic. I listened to the audio version of this book, read by John Lee.

This final volume in the Void series is a brilliant conclusion in which Hamilton somehow manages to wrap up all of the plot threads in a way that is satisfying, true to the characters, and answers all the questions that I had about the Void.

The story is told in two parts, like the previous volumes, with most of the scenes taking place in the Commonwealth, and suitably less of the novel taken up by Edeard’s story, as it concludes by making final connections to the rest of the series.

After Edeard learns to manipulate the Void fabric and roll back the events of his life, he decides that he needs to make all of the world’s problems right. His journey through different lifetimes shows us glimpses of how each decision turns out. Toward the end of the book, we finally get to see Inigo’s final dream.

Araminta has been revealed as the Second Dreamer and has fled Viotia on the Silfen paths as this book begins. She debates her options while continuing to stay one step ahead of Living Dream. She is one of my favorite characters in the book, with her creative problem solving in the face of overwhelming odds.

The nebulous conflict between the factions in ANA ramps up, with the Accelerator Faction taking a larger role. Gore Burnelli becomes a more prominent character in the aftermath of a devastating move by the Accelerators, and the nature of the Deterrence Fleet is also revealed.

Aaron, the mysterious operative with no memory of his past, and with a mission that only reveals itself in parts, is falling apart. Nightmares threaten his ability to function and push him into an even more violent and unpredictable state.

All the characters and plot elements are finally brought together as Living Dream launches its pilgrimage, Justine Burnelli nears Querencia, Gore Burnelli schemes, the factions reveal their agents and goals, and others attempt to stop the Void’s expansion.

Like in the previous Void books, the author blends science fiction with elements of fantasy in Edeard’s story and the existence of the elf-like Silfen. Even more subtle aspects of the world-building echo the fantasy genre, with the Knights Guardian resembling paladins in that they follow an ethos as they carry out their quest. Characters from the long-ago past also continue to appear in this last volume, so reading Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained before the Void series is helpful.

One of the biggest themes in this series is how the human race could evolve into another state, or a post-physical existence. While some think that the Void could offer this, others believe that it is up to each race to reach this potential on their own. Some species in Hamilton’s world have already done so, and humanity seems to be halfway there, with the ability to store one’s consciousness in ANA to later resume physical life in a cloned body, or to rejuvenate one’s body for a life that can last over a thousand years.

This is actually one of my favorite themes in science fiction and is not original to this book. However, the Void series does take a closer look at how humanity may go about reaching this post-physical ascension, whether it’s through technology of our own, that borrowed from alien cultures, or through a more metaphysical method in using the psychic powers granted by the Void.

One small quibble that I had with this book was that I think it delved into these metaphysical descriptions a bit too much toward the end, as well as some theoretical physics that read more like technobabble to me. For someone with more of a background in physics, the ideas may have been more interesting.

The ending of the series wraps up essentially all of the questions that I had, and is a fitting conclusion for the characters. I’m a bit sad that this series is over, but I fully intend to track down the author’s other books in the future.

Have you read the Void series? What about Peter F. Hamilton’s other books? Let me know in the comments below!

Find my other book reviews here.

Book Review – The Exodus Towers

Reposting this older review for The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough as I haven’t quite finished the last of the Void series yet.

The second book of a trilogy is critical, challenging the reader to recall the events and characters from the earlier volume well enough to be invested in the ongoing story, while also being tasked with maintaining that interest through subplots and twists that may yet have no clear path to resolution. In The Dire Earth Cycle, new author Jason M. Hough succeeds in this feat with the second installment, The Exodus Towers.

In a bit of an experiment, publisher Del Rey released all three books in the series in a short time span. In a publishing world in which several years may pass between volumes, this approach made it easier to take a chance on a new series and author. After reading the first volume, The Darwin Elevator, I was able to have the next book in my hands while my excitement and memories of the first one were fresh. For some readers, this may not be a concern, but I found that this has contributed to my enjoyment of the series.

While the first book was set in Darwin, Australia, around the space elevator sent by the mysterious alien Builders, The Exodus Towers jumps between that locale and the site of a new space elevator in Belem, Brazil. In Hough’s future world, most of mankind has perished in a plague, and those that survived the initial illness have either taken shelter in the elevators’ protective Auras, or have turned into zombie-like subhumans.

Scientist Tania Sharma is in an urgent race to decipher the Builders’ plan from her perch in the orbital habitats above Belem. She has determined the timing between alien events, and watches the skies, worried about what will come next. On the ground, Skyler Luiken is one of a handful of people immune to the plague and free to travel outside the elevator’s protection. Unfortunately, what he discovers near their newly formed colony endangers all of them while providing even more mysteries.

The antagonist from the first book, Russell Blackfield, has established himself as ruler over the Darwin elevator. In many ways, he fails badly in this role, but after his over-the-top antics in the first book, this made him a more believable character.

The plot that Hough has woven starts off with the same energy as the first volume. With added subplots and characters in the new locale, it did slow down through the middle. But in a similar fashion to The Darwin Elevator, my initial assumptions about where the story would go were smashed as new complications took everyone by surprise.

By having the characters discover the time frame of the Builders’ events, this also gave the novel an incredible sense of urgency. While the arrival of the space elevators was a boon, the other alien “gifts” that have arrived have certainly been more sinister. For myself, the mystery of the next Builder event and a heart-wrenching cliff-hanger ending has me both anticipating and dreading the story’s resolution in the final volume.







Find my other book reviews here.

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