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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.

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.

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 – 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.

How to Write Book Reviews

Since I haven’t finished either of the two books that I’m currently reading, I thought I’d step back and put together my thoughts on how to go about writing book reviews.

The first part of this is deciding which books to review. I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, so that is what I feel most comfortable reviewing. I do read in other genres and review some of those books, but in many cases, I’m not the right audience for those types of stories. My reviews may be less helpful to potential readers than a review by someone who actively reads in the genre. So generally pick a genre that you like and are familiar with.

Finding Books for Review

Once you decide more generally what to review, you also need to have books to read. I purchase a lot of them myself, but as you get more experience doing reviews, you may be able to sign up for a site like Net Galley, or get on lists from publishers where you will be sent advance copies. I’ve picked up bags of books at conventions – mostly World Fantasy Con or New York Comic-Con. Sometimes a few minutes spent chatting with a vendor will result in books for you! I also receive email offers for books to review, as well as having friends who will ask me to review their books. I’m never out of books to read!

Books

All that being said, if you accept a book for review, you should really try to read it and review it. Net Galley tracks your percentage of books reviewed and shows it directly on your profile. This also relates to whether you choose to write negative reviews. Different book review sites will generally have a policy about this. If you’re reviewing on your own blog or web site, then you need to decide this for yourself. If you aren’t going to write negative reviews, then it’s okay not to post your comments on a book that you didn’t like.

A Bit on Negative Reviews

I will write negative reviews, but when I do, it’s important for me to explain why I didn’t like the book. It shouldn’t be an attack on the author, but a professional and well thought out critique. Instead of:

This author’s ideas about space travel are stupid and I thought the plot was boring.

A different way of writing this could be:

The explanation of the faster-than-light travel was unbelievable to me, and the plot lacked tension because I never believed that the characters cared about their goal.

An example from a review that I published:

The plot never went anywhere either, and this may be a personal tic of mine. I prefer a plot-driven story, or at least a character-driven one in which the plot has some motion. I kept waiting for the antagonist or some conflict to appear. There were some interesting revelations near the end of the book, but their impact was minimal to me because I had stopped caring by that point.

What to Include

I don’t think that there is only one way to write a book review. I’m just going to explain my process here. You can write longer or shorter reviews that I do. You can go into greater detail about the plot or delve into symbolism and themes. Here is what I try to include:

  • Set the scene: I list the title, author, and any relevant associations, such as whether this book is part of a series, has been made into a television series or movie, or my history with the author’s other books. If I listened to the book as an audiobook, I usually make note of that because I find that the experience can be a bit different.
  • Picture of the cover: I put a picture of the book cover somewhere near the top.
  • Plot summary: I give the basics as far as genre, main character, and the conflict. Try to avoid spoilers. For a later book in a series, this can be tough, so give a warning if this is the case. The length of my plot summary will vary based on the size of the book and the number of point-of-view characters.
  • Likes/dislikes: At the end of my review, I’ll put some of my personal thoughts about the book. What was my favorite aspect? What was I most excited about? Was there an aspect of the setting or the magic that I found particularly unique? You can compare the book you’re reviewing to other books in the same genre.

That’s about it! In general, think about why you’re writing a review. For myself, I’m trying to write something that will help prospective readers decide if this book is something they’d like.

Have you thought about writing book reviews? Do you run an active book blog? Tell me what and where you review in the comments!

Book Review – Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is Book 2 in the All Souls Trilogy and is one of the books that I recently picked up at New York Comic-Con about 2 months ago. I had read the first book, A Discovery of Witches, back in the beginning of 2015, but with the recent release of the television show based on this series, I wanted to get back to the books.

First of all, I read the opening pages and realized that I had no memory of how the first book ended. I found some plot summaries online and was quickly up to speed. With the way that this book begins, it’s going to be impossible to avoid spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the first book, read on at your own risk.

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night is set in Elizabethan England (and other parts of Europe). At the end of A Discovery of Witches, Diana Bishop and her new husband and vampire Matthew Clairmont must flee the modern world. Diana needs time to find a teacher who can help unlock her powers of witchcraft, and their relationship is forbidden by powerful creatures who are trying to hunt them down.

One thing that Diana does know is that she is a Timespinner–a witch who can travel through time. She takes herself and Matthew into the past in an attempt to avoid their enemies, find herself a teacher, and to search for the mysterious alchemical book that started it all: Ashmole 782.

Once they arrive, Diana and Matthew meet with his friends from that time. This turns out to be a blend of historical figures and a few imagined characters. While they attempt to blend in at first, it is quickly apparent that they must divulge their secrets to this group. While it is safe for Matthew’s friends to know that version of the vampire is from the future, he must go on playing his established roles in Elizabethan society.

Diana’s relationship with Matthew meets several challenges as she learns about the secrets he has been hiding. In fact, much of this book’s secondary plot revolves around the growing relationship between the witch and the vampire. She must also deal with trying to figure out Elizabethan dress, manners, and etiquette. Danger also follows Diana, with historical witch trials taking place in nearby Scotland and a constant suspicion of anyone new or unusual.

The story takes them to other parts of Europe, and the details from this time period felt very accurate to me. That only makes sense, because the author is a historian who studies and teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California. This book was a lot of fun to read, and has several sections that deal with different aspects of the story. The overarching plot to find a teacher for Diana and search for Ashmole 782 is often in the background, but I don’t think that the book suffered for this, as the other events were entertaining on their own.

I’m hoping to get to book 3 in another couple of weeks and then watch the television show. Have you seen any of that yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Find my other book reviews here


New Releases – Collector’s Editions for the Fantasy Book Lover 2018

I love going into bookstores so much that I’m really no longer allowed to. It has always been hard to leave without a purchase, especially when I can pet all the pretty books. It’s easier to resist unneeded purchases if I simply browse online. E-books are more tempting because I don’t have to find them a place on a shelf, at least, but holding an e-reader still isn’t the same as clutching that physical book.

I’ve never been into collectibles, but I do appreciate special editions of some of my favorites books. I was thinking about that the other day, one thing led to another, and I found myself browsing Amazon endlessly, looking for pretty books. Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my finds here since many people are starting to shop for holiday gifts.

Book of DustIn no particular order, here are some of my most intriguing finds:

La Belle Sauvage is the first volume of the Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. Set in the same world as His Dark Materials trilogy, this book delves deeper into that universe. This collector’s edition contains illustrations and an interview with the author.

Also by Philip Pullman, I found this gorgeous 20th Anniversary Edition of The Golden Compass, the first book in His Dark Materials series. This new edition features a discussion on fantasy literature between Pullman and Lev Grossman (author of The Magicians), and a letter from the author to his fans.Golden Compass

As far as Lev Grossman goes, I also found a boxed set of his Magicians series. While this isn’t exactly a new release, and I was not a fan of his books, it is still pretty. The series is still growing in popularity with the success of the television show on SyFy.

MagiciansOn my adventures through New York Comic-Con last month, I listened in on a panel that was promoting a collection of artwork from the long-running role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. This illustrated history by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer, with a foreword by Joe Manganiello was released in October, but I was not aware of this Special Edition.D&DArt

This special set of Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana includes additional full-color prints, an unpublished version of an adventure module from creator Gary Gygax himself, and other ephemera.

AlphabetteryWhile Anne Rice’s books are more horror than science fiction and fantasy, there is always some overlap in these genres, particularly with more recent crossovers featuring both supernatural and fantastical elements. For fans of her Vampire Chronicles, I found the Alphabettery, a encyclopedic collection that details the many connections between her characters and settings. Read up on the lore and gaze at the illustrations in this book by Becket.

EarthseaNow going back for a few more classic fantasy picks, I discovered this huge volume (1008 pages!) of The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition.

This well-loved series by Ursula K. Leguin is illustrated by Charles Vess and includes: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, The Other Wind, The Rule of Names, The Word of Unbinding, The Daughter of Odren, and Earthsea Revisioned: A Lecture at Oxford University. Of all the books on this list, I think this is the one that I need the most!RedLotR

Lastly, one of my most cherished books on my shelves is the red leather bound version of The Lord of the Rings.

While this is hardly a new item (and I don’t think you can even get this edition any more), I did find a new boxed set of The Great Tales of Middle-Earth: Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin.

Great TalesThis collection brings together the most recent short novels published by the Tolkien estate and also features maps and color plates by famous Middle-Earth illustrator Alan Lee.

Are you aware of any neat collector’s editions for your favorites series or authors? Let me know in the comments!

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