Book Review – In a Garden Burning Gold

When this book was released, I was immediately attracted to it by the gorgeous cover, but I wasn’t familiar with the author, Rory Power, at all. This isn’t her first novel, but she is a relatively new author, so I thought I’d take a chance and pick up In a Garden Burning Gold.

This is the first book of The Wind-Up Garden series, which appears to be a duology. I read this book in 2022 and this is one of my back log of books to review. I also want to thank Net Galley for providing this copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Here is the blurb:

Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity helping their father rule their small, unstable country, using their control over the seasons, tides, and stars to keep the people in line. For a hundred years, they’ve been each other’s only ally, defending each other and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger.

Now, with an independence movement gaining ground and their father’s rule weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep their family—and their entire world—from crashing down around them. But other nations are jockeying for power, ready to cross and double cross, and if Rhea and Lexos aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other across the battlefield.


The world found in this novel contained some fascinating magic, where certain rulers have magically enhanced lifespans and gain powers in a very specific sphere that help to run their world. Rhea’s power is that she helps to bring on the change of seasons by choosing a consort for a short time, then eventually murdering them. While it is supposedly an honor to be chosen as her consort, politics also plays a huge role in this system.

I enjoyed seeing how this story unfolded, and the plot took some surprising twists. However, I felt like these long-lived nobles (especially Rhea) acted far more naive than I would have expected for people with so much worldly experience. I probably won’t read the next book.

Have you read this book or any of the author’s other works? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Books to Read in 2023

I like to start my reading year by updating my Goodreads lists with all the books I want to read for the year ahead. Usually this means taking the list from the previous year and pushing it over into the next one since I never get everything read that I had wanted to.

This is how I started my plan for 2023, but there were just too many books! I solved this problem by creating lists for 2024 and 2025, and then rolling some books onto those. For the rest of my 2023 choices, I am continuing a past theme of trying to finish some series. Of course, I tend to start a lot of new series, so this keeps the list continuously growing.

In the end, here is a graphic of all the books I’m hoping to read in 2023:

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Looking at overall numbers, last year I read 39 books from my Goodreads goal of 89. That was 44% of my goal. For this year, I’m not backing down! I set my goal for 100 books for 2023. My current 2023 list stands at around 90, so I can even add a few more.

To break that goal down, I’ll need to read 8.3 books per month, or roughly 2 per week to meet that goal. I’ve already picked out the first month of books I’m planning to read and these are my January choices:

I’m already a third of the way in to The Lady of the Lake, the final book in The Witcher series, and I’ve been listening to these as audiobooks. I also have Season of Storms queued up next for audio – this is a prequel in The Witcher universe.

I’d like to read more graphic novels this year, so I’ve put Demon in the Wood on here as a stand alone from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, and then the next volume of The Sandman (vol. 2) since I just finished volume 1. Noor is for a book club discussion in about 2.5 weeks so I started to read that yesterday. I need to get back to my read-through of The Wheel of Time, so I stuck the next book (#4 – The Shadow Rising) on here for January.

For the rest of these, I’ve been staring at Stephen King’s recent release – Fairy tale – since I picked it up at NY Comic-Con a few months ago. It is a longer book, but likely a fast read. Since I also just finished a re-read of The Silmarillion last year, I’d like to continue working my way through the less well-known Tolkien stories, so Unfinished Tales is up next.

The last one on here (Never Say You Can’t Survive) is a series of essays by Charlie Jane Anders about how to write when the world is seemingly falling apart. I grabbed a copy at an earlier NY Comic-Con (2021?). I started this book yesterday and I think it may provide a helpful perspective to get my fiction writing back on track for 2023.

Forging further ahead from January, I’m excited to get back to the Dune series, NK Jemisin’s The World We Make, the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal, and the second two books in the Scholomance by Naomi Novik.

Lastly, I just received my first backer reward from Brandon Sanderson’s secret projects where he confessed to writing a ridiculous number of extra books during his pandemic confinement. The first one is Tress of the Emerald Sea and seems to have an interesting premise.

What are your reading plans for 2023? Have you read any of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments (above).

Books Read in 2022

Every year, I start out with a list of books I’d like to read. Inevitably, that list evolves as the year progresses, and I never get to read everything I had wanted. But however it turns out, I like to look back at what I did read during the past year. Here is my graphic showing all 39 books I read in 2022:

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I became too busy to get all the reviews written that I had planned to. But overall, here are my favorite books that I read in 2022:

While I loved the unique story of Gideon the Ninth (review here), I wasn’t as enamored with the sequel, Harrow the Ninth (review here). I am still planning to continue the series with the latest release, Nona the Ninth. This is the kind of series where I may need to read it a second time to understand all the nuances.

Dark Matter was the first book I have read by Blake Crouch and was an exciting science fiction thriller (review here). I believe this is getting made into a series or movie. I liked it enough that I’d definitely read something else by this author.

The River of Silver is a book for fans of the Daevabad Trilogy and is a collection of short stories that is meant to be read after the first three books. However, if you have read The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, and The Empire of Gold, then this book reads like a director’s cut of missing scenes from the main trilogy.

With the release of The Rings of Power, I had to reread some Tolkien and it was time to delve into The Silmarillion. This book also isn’t for everyone, but if you want to read all of the myths of Middle Earth, this is an essential volume. I recently ordered the new edition of The Silmarillion that contains Tolkien’s own illustrations and I can’t wait for it to arrive.

Lastly on here is a book I just finished a few weeks ago – A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. I have been a fan of her writing for some time despite the faltering ending on her Temeraire series. Her latest stand-alone novels (Uprooted, Spinning Silver) were some of my favorites reads and I still recommend them to people. In A Deadly Education, she ventures into a magic school tale, but this place is very sinister, and the school is a character of its own. I’m planning to post a full review soon.

I also read much of The Witcher series of books in 2022, but I’m going to reserve judgement on those until I find out how it ends.

Coming soon – my reading plans for 2023!

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.

Reading Goals for 2022

Looking ahead every year, it’s nice to set goals, right? I feel like I always want to be reading more, but it’s so hard to keep that to-be-read list under control.

For 2022, I have decided to let all self-control go in creating my books-to-be-read list. First I took all those books I had intended to read for 2021 but failed to get to and rolled them over to 2022. Then I added more books! I have a few series that I’m trying to finish so the list keeps growing. That leaves me with 89 books for 2022.

Can I actually read 89 books in a year? I don’t think I ever have. But why not try?

Here is the current list for 2022:

And here are the books I’m starting out the year with (already included in the list above):

How do you plan out your reading? What books are you most excited for in 2022? Let me know in the comments!

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.

How I Organize My Books to Read

We are well into 2019 and as the end of January approaches, hopefully you have started turning resolutions into habits. I’ve been blogging here consistently for the past few months, but I haven’t quite finished reading a book to review for this week, so I wanted to write a bit about how I pick which books to read for the year ahead.

Last year I realized that I am easily distracted by a new author, new release, or new series. I often enjoy the first book in a series, but then never go back to finish the rest.

One example of a shiny new series that I plan to read this year.

In an attempt to get to some of those books that I keep telling myself I want to read, I built a Google doc To-Be-Read (TBR) list. At the same time, I decided to alternate between a physical book and an e-book, with an audiobook going at the same time (a long-standing habit).

At first this was straight-forward, but then 2019 began and I decided join the Goodreads Reading Challenge where each member picks a number goal for books read for the year. I had failed at 50 books in the past. How many books did I truly think I could read?

I thought this through and settled on 36 for the year – one book every two weeks and an additional audiobook every month. That gives me three books a month x 12 months = 36 books! Simple, right?

Next I decided to lay out which books those would be. I used Goodreads and created a new shelf for the purpose. From there, it was easy to place my chosen books on the shelf. I couldn’t help myself and a few new series snuck in there. But for the most part, this plan would have me finishing several series this year, as well as keeping up on some of my favorite authors’ new releases.

I discovered that Goodreads also gives me the option to view my shelf by showing just the book covers. This made a nice graphic and let me see my goals all in one place.

My initial TBR shelf for 2019, using Goodreads.

After a few days, I realized that my list lacked any classics and was light on non-fiction, both genres that I do try to read. It was also heavily slanted toward fantasy, but I do enjoy science fiction also – anything from space opera to hard SF. I have added to this list since its creation and it’s at 45 books now.

Some of the books I’ve chosen will be quick reads, but I expect those to be balanced out by longer ones (notably GRRM’s Fire and Blood and Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon).

I already own several of these books, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stick to my alternating physical book and e-book regimen. Only two of the authors on this list (and three of the books) are ones where I typically read the audiobook versions for their books. I may have to adjust my picks because I’m not going to get the audiobook version for any of these if I already own it in another format.

By doing book reviews, I’ll sometimes get specific requests to review a book, and my list also takes that into account. I may also pick up books unexpectedly that will need to be added.

Who knows? Maybe I will hit 50 books for the year! What are your reading goals? Do you use Goodreads? Let me know in the comments section.

See my book reviews here.

Book Review – Thin Air

Thin Air is the latest release from Richard Morgan, author of the Takeshi Kovacs books which were recently adapted for television as the Netflix series Altered Carbon. This new novel is set on a dystopian future Mars, filled with corporate corruption, organized crime, and a dissatisfied and sometimes violent population. Morgan wrote an earlier stand-alone novel set in this same world – Thirteen.

I received a copy of Thin Air through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Thin Air

The story in Thin Air follows ex-corporate enforcer Hakan Veil as he awakens from his annual genetically mandated hibernation cycle. His life is simple at the outset as he takes jobs with a variety of not-so-legal organizations to pay for his existence on Mars, hoping someday to be able to return to Earth and the job he was born for. Veil had worked as an overrider, essentially a security officer who would stay in cryosleep on board a ship unless there was a problem. After a disastrous mission, Veil lost his career and has been marooned on Mars.

When he awakens, Veil is running hot–a state in which all of his functions are amplified, but with poor impulse control and a tendency to leap at any chance for violence and sex. He initially takes his revenge on a local establishment for what they had done to a client of his prior to his hibernation. Veil is arrested by the Bradbury PD, but while he awaits release, Earth oversight launches an investigation into widespread corruption on Mars.

Veil is released early by the police to help keep an eye on one of the investigators, Madison Madekwe. Mars runs a lottery in which the winner gets a free trip back to Earth, but one of the most recent winners vanished before claiming his prize. Veil is charged with keeping Ms. Madekwe safe while she looks into the disappearance of the lottery winner.

Before Veil can discover much about his charge, an unknown party attempts to assassinate him at the same time that Ms. Madekwe is abducted. From there, the plot becomes more convoluted. Veil pulls in favors and meets with old friends to try to discover Ms. Madekwe’s location, solve the mystery of the missing lottery winner, and hopefully earn himself a trip back to Earth.

This book was an exciting read, but I found myself wanting a little more explanation of the technology and this semi-terraformed Mars. I had trouble orienting myself to some aspects of this world. For example, I never really figured out how much Mars had been terraformed and why or how certain parts were inhabitable when it sounded like other places were not.

I think that the ending of the story could possibly be seen as a deus ex machina, but I didn’t mind it. Veil has a large enough part in the concluding events for it to be satisfying. However, this is also not a story about a moral victory, and the outcome of the book is more neutral in that sense.

If you liked the Takeshi Kovacs books, you’ll probably like Thin Air. The high level of violence, language, and sex is similar to Morgan’s other work. He writes a similar character with Hakan Veil, and the plot is full of twists, betrayal, and action. So while this is not my favorite book by the author, I did enjoy it for those aspects.

Have you read any of Richard Morgan’s books? Did you watch Altered Carbon on Netflix? Let me know in the comments.

Find my other book reviews here.


Book Review – The Temporal Void

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

Temporal Void

I enjoyed this book more than the first volume (The Dreaming Void) in the series. I think this was because I had already struggled to regain my familiarity with the world of the Commonwealth in the first book, and now felt more comfortable with the details and characters by this second installment. You can read my review of The Dreaming Void here.

The plot in this book picks up right after the events at the end of the first. I think that reactions to this book will depend upon how much you like Edeard and his story, as his life and its challenges feature as the central plot of this volume. His adventures as a constable in Makathran take on more serious stakes as new enemies and conspiracies emerge. It is also clear that Inigo’s dreams that inspired the cult-like Living Dream movement in the Commonwealth are the episodes of Edeard’s tale, watched and relived by the its citizens.

Throughout book one, I wondered about how Edeard’s plot would fit in with the rest of Hamilton’s characters and ideas. When I discovered that these were what had inspired Living Dream, I still couldn’t figure it out. I enjoyed Edeard’s tale, but at its heart, it was nothing more than a coming-of-age story. I didn’t believe that it would lead a semi-religious group to mount a feat as great as the pilgrimage into the Void, especially in the face of the risks to themselves and the rest of the universe. By the end of this book, I understood why Living Dream was enamored with Edeard, and through him, the Void. I appreciate the ideas that the author is using, but I don’t want to go into this more because of spoilers.

The rest of The Temporal Void consists of two other main plots: 1) that of the factions who are making secret moves to hinder the pilgrimage or exploit its distractions for their own gains, and 2) the story of Araminta, a young entrepreneur who has recently discovered herself to be the second dreamer, a person prophesied to lead the pilgrimage into the Void.

I found myself less interested in the different factions, and more excited by Araminta’s story. She manages to stay one step ahead of Living Dream and the faction agents who want to use her for their own ends, using her ingenuity to avoid capture. I’m not sure what she will end up doing in the end, but I find her to be a well-drawn character who persists in trying to live her own life in spite of her situation.

Overall, this was a great book and I’ve already started the final volume. I enjoy this narrator as well, and always appreciate it when the same person narrates one author’s books.

Have you read anything by Peter F. Hamilton? Which are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

Find my other 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!

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