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review 2018-03-01 21:40
Tigana / Guy Gavriel Kay
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana is the magical story of a beleaguered country struggling to be free. It is the tale of a people so cursed by the dark sorceries of the tyrant king Brandin that even the very name of their once beautiful home cannot be spoken or remembered. But years after their homeland’s devastation, a handful of men and women set in motion a dangerous crusade—to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the world the lost brightness of an obliterated name: Tigana.

Against the magnificently realized background of a world both sensuous and brutal, this masterful epic of a passionate people pursuing their dream is breathtaking in its vision. A spellbinding novel in which myth comes alive and magic reaches out to touch you.


Those of you who read my reviews regularly know that Guy Gavriel Kay can do no wrong in my eyes. I adore his novels and this one is no exception. The bonus this time? I met Mr. Kay at a convention last August and I can now hear his voice in my head, reading the novel to me (he has a very nice voice).

Tigana is a kingdom under a curse: the people were conquered and the name of their country can no longer be heard or remembered (except by those who lived through the conquest). When a former citizen says “Tigana,” others hear only a garble or an empty spot. Can those who remember find a way to break the curse and restore Tigana to its former glory? Their lives get braided together in some convoluted and heartbreaking ways.

As with any sweeping tale like this one, there are casualties along the way, some expected, some surprising. The ending was a bit messy, something I appreciate in a book, as I find that real life endings are rarely neat. I read most of the novel on a long plane flight and it was the perfect distraction—I was able to submerge in this fantasy world and ignore the passage of time.

Book 271 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project

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review 2018-01-11 14:44
A Promise of Fire / Amanda Bouchet
A Promise of Fire - Amanda Bouchet

Catalia "Cat" Fisa lives disguised as a soothsayer in a traveling circus. She is perfectly content avoiding the danger and destiny the Gods-and her homicidal mother-have saddled her with. That is, until Griffin, an ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, fixes her with his steely gaze and upsets her illusion of safety forever.

Griffin knows Cat is the Kingmaker, the woman who divines the truth through lies. He wants her as a powerful weapon for his newly conquered realm-until he realizes he wants her for much more than her magic. Cat fights him at every turn, but Griffin's fairness, loyalty, and smoldering advances make him increasingly hard to resist and leave her wondering if life really does have to be short, and lived alone.


Okay, I admit that I enjoyed this little paranormal romance. I almost missed a meeting at work because I unwisely was reading it on my coffee break (oops!). Yet I had a few issues with it. Let me tell you about them.

So there are heaps of the usual romance tropes—Griffin’s an exasperating alpha-male, Cat is a kidnap victim, so there’s the whole enemies-to-lovers thing going on. On the plus side, until Cat actually gives consent there is no sex--no rapes for our hero. Cat doesn’t think of herself as a beauty (but of course she is) and Griffin shouldn’t be ruling a kingdom by the norms of the day (and yet he is). So really, just part of the background radiation, romance-wise.

Here’s what bugs me—the time period of the book (old type Greek gods intervening in lives, fighting with swords & bows and arrows, plenty o’ magic) versus the modernity of the banter, language, and general attitudes. For me the two things just scream at each other “this is wonky.” I mean, this kind of banter works in Ilona Andrews novels because they are set in a modern, urban world. The combination made this historical-fantasy-world feel off-kilter for me.

Speaking of Ilona, there are almost more Kate Daniels parallels than I can detail in one short review. Heroine with powerful magic? Check! Powerful parent lurking in the background to screw with her life? Check! Can’t leave her blood lying around to lead the predatory parent to her? Check! Heroine has been trained in strategy & martial arts since childhood? Check! Caring deeply about anyone is seen by the heroine as giving said parent a way to manipulate her? Check! This is very much a Kate Daniels clone.

Having said that, it’s still an okay story. If I wasn’t already familiar with Kate, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Despite that, with the cognitive dissonance between the setting and the dialog, this novel can’t rate higher than 3 stars for me. I’d never dissuade someone from reading it, but probably wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it either. However, if you’re suffering Kate withdrawal (that re-reading won’t assuage) this might be your book.

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review 2018-01-10 16:49
Lincoln in the Bardo / George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.


The format of this book will mean that its not going to appeal to everyone. It is told in multiple voices—book excerpts, newspaper quotes, and numerous ghostly voices. It can feel a bit chaotic and I often found myself searching to determine who was speaking.

Despite that, if you can live with the writing style, this is a tale of grief and love. Not only between Lincoln and his son Willie, but the love of all the poor souls who inhabit the bardo in hopes of being “just sick” instead of dead. Saunders’ vision of what this half-life would be like is original and interesting.

I found it curious that Abraham Lincoln, a respected president today, could be so reviled during his tenure. The brutality of the Civil War, of course, was the reason for the mixed opinions, leading me to muse a bit about how the leaders of the last number of decades will be remembered.

This novel touches on all the big themes—love, death, politics, religion—sympathetically but with humour too.

Read to fill the PopSugar reading challenge—a novel based on a real person.

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review 2018-01-03 18:05
Vivid worldbuilding with vintage vibes like a Wes Anderson film in book form.
The Wonderling - Mira Bartok

Disclaimer: reviewing a pre-publication digital proof via Netgalley, so not all images were available, some formatting and text may have changed,etc.


Reading like a classic children's novel, The Wonderling takes you on an illustrated, Dickensian journey of adventure, discovery, and identity.


The character who eventually becomes known as Arthur is a nameless groundling (a talking, humanoid fox child) in a nightmarish prison of an orphan's home. He's essentially good and proceeds through his adventures by being so pure, goodhearted, kind etc. etc. etc. that he wins out over the fiendishly unpleasant and evil cartoonish villains. So, like I said, classic kids lit. Think anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but with animal hybrids. Arthur is a bumbling but well-intentioned naif who goes about making friends and allies and more or less sailing through some admittedly hairy situations without much real danger or tension. Creepy settings, but not terrifying. Shoutout to his best friend, a tiny flightless bird-creature - she's an engineer-inventor and consistently saves the day and moves the story along.


The art is pretty, delicate, pencil-shaded drawings (though, as noted, not all of it was present in the proof copy). The story is slow, meandering and dreamy in a probably-intentional way. It's long (again, kids lit of the past-style), with masses of description, and will get varying mileage depending on the reader. If you adore illustrated classics, fantastical worldbuilding and simple, traditional stories, or your kid prefers dreamy fantasies of the past over fast-paced modern thrills, it'll be right up your alley. If you're an impatient reader, or giving it to a kid who's a reluctant reader or has trouble focusing, I doubt it'll hold your attention. Some good ideas around art, music, and hope expressed in a very simple style that either lacks in sophistication and depth, or is child-appropriate, depending on your perspective/age. I didn't adore it, but ten-year-old me probably would have happily spent the time to push through.

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review 2017-12-04 19:39
The Mummy Case / Elizabeth Peters
The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters

Radcliffe Emerson, the irascible husband of fellow archaeologist and Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, has earned the nickname "Father of Curses" -- and at Mazghunah he demonstrates why. Denied permission to dig at the pyramids of Dahshoor, he and Amelia are resigned to excavating mounds of rubble in the middle of nowhere. And there is nothing in this barren area worthy of their interest -- until an antiquities dealer is murdered in his own shop. A second sighting of a sinister stranger from the crime scene, a mysterious scrap of papyrus, and a missing mummy case have all whetted Amelia's curiosity. But when the Emersons start digging for answers in an ancient tomb, events take a darker and deadlier turn -- and there may be no surviving the very modern terrors their efforts reveal.


“Catastrophically precocious”—this is how Amelia Peabody Emerson describes her young son, Walter Emerson (better known as Ramses, for his demanding nature). Several times during this novel, a chill runs down her spine when she wonders just where her darling son is and what mischief he has found in which to embroil himself!

The fact that the author herself is an Egyptologist really makes these books fun. She uses all the historical archaeologists as characters for Emerson to roar and bellow at when he is not debating archaeological issues with vicious thrust-and-parry.

I still love Amelia, armed with her parasol, seeking out clues. Ramses is lawyer-like in his reasoning, endeavouring to manoeuvre around her prohibitions. But “da cat Bastet” really steals the show in this installment—somehow I picture her as a haughty Siamese.

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