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Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)
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Ironskin
Ironskin
by Tina Connolly
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.80

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre, Nov. 24 2014
This review is from: Ironskin (Paperback)
Pros: interesting world-building, great protagonist

Cons: banter between Jane and Rochart didn’t quite match Jane and Rochester

Jane Eliot has worn an iron mask over half of her face since the end of the fae war 5 years ago, when she was cursed with rage. The mask keeps the rage at bay, but marks her as an ironskin, a reminder of worse times, and shunned by society. Upon the engagement of her sister to an aristocrat greatly above their station, she takes a post as governess to a young girl who’s… different. Jane believes she knows how to reach the child, but Dorie is not an ironskin like Jane. And as Jane starts to fall for her brooding new master, she wonders if she’s the right person to help Dorie after all.

This is a fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre. But while the plot remains largely the same, there are a lot of major and minor differences. At times when she diverges from Jane Eyre, Connolly writes in a nod to the original. For example, Jane in this one never went to a boarding school, but she did teach at one and comments that she’s glad she never had to attend it, given the horrible conditions the girls faced. The ending is noticeably different, so don’t think that having read Jane Eyre will preclude your enjoying this book or remove all the plot surprises.

I really enjoyed the fae aspects of the book, from the war to the curse to learning about the dwarvven and their interactions with the fae. I liked that the fae had understandable reasons for the war (that you discover at the end of the book). And I liked that the book kept much of the traditional view of fairy stories (the Irish and Welsh versions where someone who know someone was kidnapped by the fairies and later returned), rather than modern literary fairy tales.

Jane, as with her namesake, was a great protagonist. Though young she’s determined and hard working, stubborn and loving. I didn’t feel the same connection between her and Rochart as I did between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, their banter not hitting quite the same notes, but the relationship did grow naturally over time, which I appreciated. Their ending surprised me as things got pretty bleak fast and I wasn’t sure how the author would be able to resolve things.

One of the main divergences from the original is the fact that Jane has a living sister with whom she has a complicated relationship. Both of them envy and resent things about the other. It was nice to see how things developed between them as well as Jane’s relationships with the other female members of the staff.

This is the start of a series and I’m curious to see where the author will take things, as book two is from her sister’s point of view.

The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1
The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1
by Kameron Hurley
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.26
23 used & new from CDN$ 5.76

3.0 out of 5 stars I loved some things and disliked others, but worth the read, Nov. 11 2014
Pros: lots of political intrigue, culturally diverse, brilliant world-building, interesting story

Cons: some issues with genders, several protagonists became unlikeable

The dark star of Oma is rising, infusing power into blood magics that were lost for 2000 years. Dhai on a dying world use that power to form gates to a mirror world they wish to conquer, one like theirs but where history went in a different direction, leaving the Dhai pacifists among more warlike neighbours. But not everyone wants to see their reflections on this new world enslaved, and as more and more people on the imperilled world learn what’s happening, they start fighting back.

There’s a lot going on here and a ton of characters to keep track of, many of whom have similar sounding names. There is a glossary of characters and terms at the back to help you if you forget who someone is. The different nations are all distinct, with vastly different governments, attitudes, cultures, and languages. It was fascinating reading about how each nation dealt with different problems.

The politics of the different nations, and how they interacted, was fascinating. I enjoyed how Hurley brought in past battles and showed that various nations’ wars helped shape the current political climate.

There were a wide variety of characters the story followed (several men and women at different levels of power and skintone). I started off liking most of them, though some of their choices as the book continued made me less sympathetic towards them. In a few cases I ended up respecting what they achieved, even if I didn’t much like them as people anymore.

The magic system of drawing power from stars/satellites, was pretty cool. I liked how that contrasted the satellite plus blood combination necessary for calling on Oma. The deadly flora of the world was also cool to read about.

I did have some issues with the world building, mostly with how gender was used/defined. The Dhai, we are told, use five genders: female-assertive, female-passive, male-assertive, male-passive, and ungendered. I couldn’t understand how being passive vs assertive changed your gender. I understand that you can have a linguistic marker of politeness or class (Japanese uses different pronouns to denote this), but again, how does it change gender? That leaves 3 genders, which is what the Saiduan use, denoting male, female, and ataisa. Why then does Roh, a Dhai, have trouble understanding which pronoun to use for the ataisa when his language has something similar (ungendered)? Yes, the two languages use different words (ze vs hir), but that’s a linguistic difference, not, necessarily a gender difference. I was left wondering if the ataisa and ungendered were in fact different genders, rather than different words for the same ‘doesn’t fit into male or female’ category.

I also disliked how the genders in Dorinah are basically swapped. Women are larger, stronger, better educated, assertive, domineering etc. than men. Men, meanwhile, are only around as possessions, useful for status, sex, and children. They’re weaker and powerless over their own lives, fully submissive to the women who own them (their mothers and wives). I was ok with the idea of gender swapping the country (making it matriarchal), but when you give the men all the stereotypical characteristics of women and all the women the stereotypical characteristics of men, you’re basically saying that traditionally female attributes are weak/useless and male ones are strong/worthwhile. Rather than pitying Anavha, Zezili’s husband, I found myself reviling him, and felt bad about it considering he’s basically a stand in for an 18th century British woman (stereotypically speaking, of course).

I did enjoy the sexual politics of the different countries, how many husbands/wives different groups had and whether that was a matter of status or openness of their cultures. Seeing the Dhai culture’s openness with regards to loving both genders freely was also refreshing. I’d have like to learn more of how the Dhai deal with marriages, as I imagine genealogies would be hard to track with multiple husbands and wives in the same marriage (and an openness to affairs), as would preventing incest (assuming that’s not allowed there, which isn’t a given, considering Ahkio and Liaro are cousins).

Lilia’s actions towards the end of the book felt rushed. While much of the book took time to thoroughly develop things, Lilia manages to take several important actions with little preparation or training, which didn’t seem as realistic as what happened earlier.

This was a slower read for me, mainly because so much was happening. I needed to take my time with the book in order to keep track of everything. It had some things I loved, some things I liked and some things that irritated me. On the whole, it’s a fascinating story with some great in depth world-building and some intricate real world style politics. I’ll be curious to see what happens next.

Ancillary Sword
Ancillary Sword
by Ann Leckie
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.00
25 used & new from CDN$ 10.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A great book, Nov. 4 2014
This review is from: Ancillary Sword (Paperback)
Pros: fascinating characters, interesting narrative approach, develops new world-building aspects

Cons: character driven

A week after the events of Ancillary Justice, Breq, now fleet captain and assigned to Mercy of Kalr, departs on Anaander Mianaai’s orders to Athoek to make sure the system stays safe. In addition to her experienced lieutenants, Seivarden and Ekalu (of the Kalr), she has a new 17 year old one, Tisarwat, to train. Once they arrive at the station, they find a suspicious captain, disturbed by the lack of communication after the attack on Omaugh Palace and the destruction of several gates, racial tensions, and minor issues covering larger problems that need to be addressed.

As with the first book, the real aspect of interest is in how Breq sees the world. You don’t get flash backs to when she was Justice of Toren, though that’s often in her thoughts, instead you get her trying to keep up with frequent run downs of the sort of information she would have have had instantaneously as a ship, sent to her by her ship, Mercy of Kalr. It’s an interesting way of seeing things, and allows Breq to pretend she’s still one part of a larger whole while also being a narrative means of showing the reader what’s happening in places outside Breq’s physical sphere. There is a plot, but in many ways this feels like a character driven novel because Breq’s presence is so overpowering. If you don’t like her unique way of seeing the world, you won’t enjoy this book.

Breq comes across as a tough as nails captain. Sometimes she’s too tough, pushing her crew beyond what she should, something I suspected would eventually cause her problems, but her extensive experience means she’s able to pull back at just the right moment. Even knowing what Breq was trying to do, I thought she was too hard on Tisarwat at times. Not only had the lieutenant been through a traumatic experience with little recovery time, she’s given little to no positive reinforcement when she does things right. So while Tisarwat was an interesting character, seeing her through Breq’s eyes made her less sympathetic than she probably deserved to be. It was fun seeing her grow up and mature.

I was a little surprised at the number of secrets she kept from her crew, her true identity as Justice of Toren and what happened with Tisarwat being the main ones, but it does make sense that the crew might balk at such things, so keeping them secret probably made sense.

There’s more information about how the military works and there’s a unique supporting cast. I enjoyed learning more about the military and political politics, both between the ships but also how it applies to a station and planet once they get to Athoek. I’m hoping we learn more about the Presger in the next book. What little was revealed here merely whet the appetite.

Waistcoats & Weaponry
Waistcoats & Weaponry
by Gail Carriger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.44
21 used & new from CDN$ 12.05

4.0 out of 5 stars Part 3 of a Really Fun Series, Nov. 4 2014
This review is from: Waistcoats & Weaponry (Hardcover)
Pros: fun, quirky characters

Cons: more action than plot

Sophronia and her friends are enjoying school a year after their last adventure when Sidheag receives a distressing letter. She disappears and when Dimity and Sophronia attend Sophronia’s brother’s engagement ball, they rejoin her and stumble upon several plots.

This is the third book in the Finishing School series, and it is best read in order as plot points from the previous books, specifically several direct consequences from book two, are important to what’s happening here.

As with the other books, the girls are all quirky and fun to read about. We see them apply their talents in different ways as they rise to the challenges they face. The book is a quick and enjoyable read.

Unlike in the earlier books where the girls come across something strange and decide to investigate it, actively looking for new clues, in this volume they’re helping their friend and stumble across the mystery purely by chance. They find out more of what’s going on in the wider political world and several of them have to make decisions that will greatly affect their futures.

Sophronia has several major decisions to make in this book regarding her future: whether she likes Felix Mersey, whose father is a pickleman (a political position Sophronia abhors) enough to form an attachment with him; what kind of future relationship she wants with Soap, whose social standing is far beneath hers but whose advice and friendship she greatly appreciates; and what patron she wants when she graduates, as Lord Akeldama’s been sending her gifts in an attempt to sway her in his direction.

I personally found the action on the train less interesting than what happened before it. I love the school and the dynamic there, and was a bit sad that so much of the book took place off of it. Having said that, the train did show off the girls’ prowess and contained some fun action sequences.

I’m really looking forward to book 4, Manners & Mutiny, which I believe will conclude the series.

Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel
Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel
by Chris Evans
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.38
23 used & new from CDN$ 9.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tough but educational read, Oct. 20 2014
Pros: real war feel, lots of slang and specialized vocabulary, superb world-building, varied characters

Cons: tough read, slow beginning

Join the Kingdom’s ‘finest’ as they fight to keep their colony, Luitox, free from the Forest Collective. But the FnC are hard to fight, hiding deep in the jungle and, though their arrows snipe the troops, they’re never there when the troops arrive. Manned dragons fly overhead, ferrying troops and flaming suspected hotspots. Some newly freed dwarves have enlisted but still bear hatred for their former slavers. New technologies are invented as soldiers face a mostly faceless enemy. The army must deal with privations and problems galore, even as the war finally rushes towards a conclusion.

This is a fantasy retelling of the Vietnam war. I don’t know much about the war, but this makes me want to learn more. If even a portion of what happens in this book is true it was a truly horrific event. The book touches on all sorts of issues - racism, demonizing the enemy, lack of communication, the incorporation of new and barely understood technology, the horrors of battle, losing friends, those back home not understanding the realities of what’s happening, and more.

It’s a difficult read in that no punches are pulled. War isn’t noble or heroic, it’s dirty, full of pain and desperation. You’ll be seeing blood, puke and all other bodily fluids. Don’t get too attached to any of the characters as the ones that make it to the end do so greatly changed by their experiences.

There’s a fair amount of slang to master, but aside from ‘rag’, short for dragon, which took me a while to figure out as there was no context for it the first time it was used, I picked it up pretty fast. The book jumps ahead frequently, allowing it to cover more time and give a broader look at the perceptions and realities of the war. You’re also getting several points of view: a grunt soldier, two thaums (a cross between a magic worker and a scientist), a dragon rider, people in different levels of command, a journalist, etc. This also helps give a more varied view of the war.

The opening is a bit slow. There’s an atmospheric prologue and some scenes with soldiers followed by a chapter that consists of a much needed info dump that explains the purpose of the war. Things pick up fast though and draw you into the lives of the characters.

It’s a compelling read, and sometimes its easier to come to grips with the horrors of reality when they’re presented as somewhat removed from it. History retelling aside, it’s a great book that will have you wishing that real wars were a thing of the past.

The Boost
The Boost
by Stephen Baker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.17
28 used & new from CDN$ 5.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Asks some relevant questions about access to information vs privacy, Sept. 29 2014
This review is from: The Boost (Hardcover)
Pros: thought provoking premise, interesting characters, quick paced

Cons: some world-building and logistical issues

Ten days before the national update for the boost, networked supercomputers implanted in people’s brains, Ralf Alvare, a software engineer, finds himself on the run after learning about an open surveillance gate in the program that would allow companies direct access to people’s thoughts and memories. His own boost chip has been ripped out and, newly ‘wild’, he’s heading to see his brother in El Paso, across the border from the infamous drug lord run city of Juarez, where no one has boosts. But John Vallinger, a lobbyist whose spent years working towards this chip update, sends one of his men after Ralf, intent on stopping whatever resistance the programmer can create.

I thought the story was very interesting, with a lot of good questions being asked about privacy vs access to information. Would you put a chip in your head that allowed you to be smarter and access information anywhere, effortlessly, if it meant that someone could track your every move, see what you’re buying, etc.? Would having a brain implant that can affect your thoughts make things better or worse? In the book there’s an app that you can apply to make the tasteless protein they eat taste like anything you program in. There were some great scenes where Ellen, for the first time without the use of her boost, gets to taste actual food and experience other sensations without recourse to a fantasy cover for it. Her observations that some things are better natural while others are better in her imagination, were very interesting.

Ralf’s family’s drama was also pretty fun to read, with the stories getting deeper as more information is revealed. I also liked that his family provided a grounding in how different people reacted to the Boost. His dad rejected and fought against it, his mother helped bring it to the US but then regretted the role she played in making it a ubiquitous thing, his older brother constantly struggled to use it and he spent most of his time in it and is lost without it.

I wasn’t a big fan of Suzy. Though she was a member of the Democratic Movement, she seemed unaware of security issues despite the domestic terrorism she could be accused of and made some odd decisions towards the end of the book.

There’s a scene towards the end of the book that may cause trigger issues for some readers. Though mostly off page, the scene is violent but necessary for the plot and the person attacked is shown as capable of defending themself earlier on. There’s a bit of follow-up in the epilogue that briefly mentions some of the ethical issues surrounding what happened, which I thought was well done.

As for the world-building, I did question, while I was reading the book, the idea that once a chip is damaged or removed that’s it, there’s no fixing or replacing it. Considering the importance of the chips (you can’t pay for things or direct cars without one), and how easily brain injuries can occur that might damage chips, it seems like there should be some alternate options available.

After I finished the book a few other questions came to me about how the world worked. For example, while it’s clear that Juarez isn’t easy to get to or leave, it’s unclear if the Amish wild area is equally blocked off, and if not, how the people there trade with their non-wild neighbours. And does Juarez manufacture all of its needs or does it get a lot of goods through the black market? And if it depends on contraband, how do its citizens pay for it when they don’t have chips and their money is worthless outside their city? I was also surprised by how far money went in Juarez. I would have thought fresh, tasteful food would be harder to grow/raise than the manufactured tasteless food the non-wilds ate. It should therefore be more expensive as the market for things like spices would be non-existent outside of the wilds and are time consuming to make.

The book is told in third person present tense (eg: Ellen blinks her eyes open.), rather than the more common past tense. I personally found the jump between events narrated in past tense and the present tense of the main text jarring. Most readers probably won’t have a problem with it.

This is a quick, entertaining read, and despite the complaints I had with aspects of it, the questions it raises - about letting a government and corporations have control over what information you can access - are relevant ones for our current world.

Memory Of Water: A Novel
Memory Of Water: A Novel
by Emmi Itäranta
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.51
30 used & new from CDN$ 6.16

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, introspective writing, Sept. 23 2014
Pros: lyrical prose, philosophical, characters face difficult choices

Cons: slow

In a world where water is tightly controlled by the military, Noria Kaitio is training as her father’s apprentice to become a tea master. Tea masters historically had a duty to preserve sacred springs, and her family has kept the knowledge of one in the fells behind their house secret for decades. But Noria finds it hard to keep the secret as her best friend Sanja and their village suffer under harsher and harsher conditions.

This is a novel about the importance of water and how people survive under challenging circumstances. It’a a novel that questions motives and wonders who’s trustworthy in a world where helping others will get you killed.

There’s very little action and the story is unravelled slowly. There’s foreshadowing of the ills to come and some gorgeous, lyrical prose. There’s also a lot of contemplative passages, mostly about water, but also about being in the moment, noticing the little things that always escape notice. It’s a novel about thinking deeply about life and appreciating the life you have, because life is always changing and you can never regain what you’ve lost.

Despite the slowness with which the plot unfolds, the novel is a quick read. The characters and the situations they find themselves in are intensely interesting.

It’s a beautiful novel, and sad. And while it contains hope, it acknowledges that sacrifices are required and that not everyone lives to see better days.

figma Character Vocal Series 01 Hatsune Miku Hatsune Miku 2.0 (non-scale ABS & PVC painted action figure) (japan import)
figma Character Vocal Series 01 Hatsune Miku Hatsune Miku 2.0 (non-scale ABS & PVC painted action figure) (japan import)
Offered by ABCTOYS4ME
Price: CDN$ 49.95
34 used & new from CDN$ 49.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Cool figure, Sept. 16 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I love how posable the figure is, and all the little pieces it comes with (extra hands, wings, microphone, etc.). It looks fantastic.

Full Fathom Five: A Novel of the Craft Sequence
Full Fathom Five: A Novel of the Craft Sequence
by Max Gladstone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
30 used & new from CDN$ 16.43

5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome series, Sept. 16 2014
Pros: complex plot, interesting characters, fascinating world

Cons:

Kavekana is an island with no gods of its own, where offshore interests can purchase an idol to store soulstuff. When the priestess Kai jumps into the sacred pool to try to save her co-worker’s created idol, Seven Alpha, her actions have many unforeseen consequences.

Izza is a thief. When the Blue Lady she worships dies, she realizes it’s time to leave the island before her age makes her eligible for her crimes’ punishment: being placed inside one of the stone Penitents that guard the island. But she’s soon pulled into the mystery surrounding a poet who’s lost his inspiration, and Kai’s investigation.

This is the third book published in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence series. While it stands alone, like the others, this one uses characters from the first two books and shows some aftermath from what’s come before. It’s storytelling that doesn’t alienate newcomers while giving more depth to those who’ve read the other books.

The world-building, as with the previous books - is top notch. Gladstone’s created a world of interconnected everything: trade, tourism, religion, law, war, history, etc. There’s always the sense that there’s more to know, that each book is only scratching the surface, and with each book more of the world and its past and people are uncovered. Because the protagonists are from very different social strata, we get to see a lot of the island - security, police, tourism, slums, offices, etc.

The characters are interesting. Kai and Izza are both challenged by what’s going on, attempting to solve several mysteries, if from different sides. The Penitents are a chilling - if effective - punishment, that evolves into a police force that’s 100% loyal. Even the poet has his moments.

The plot weaves around and eventually comes to a satisfying conclusion, though one that takes place in a world that continues on after the book ends.

These are fantastic books that take place in a fantasy realm with all the complexity of the real world. If you like well written fantasy with some mystery thrown in, and diverse characters, these are for you.

Curtsies & Conspiracies
Curtsies & Conspiracies
by Gail Carriger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.44
31 used & new from CDN$ 7.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A fun series, Sept. 9 2014
Pros: fun characters, interesting mystery, dry humour

Cons:

For Parents: minor violence, kissing

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality makes course for London after picking up some gentlemen from Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique. They’re to see the results of an experiment in navigating the aetherosphere, something that would greatly reduce travel times. But not everyone wants the experiment to succeed.

In many ways this is a light-hearted Harry Potter, if Harry went to a school for spies in a dirigible set in a steampunk Victorian England, cared more about fashion and Hermione was the protagonist. This is the second book of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, and it maintains the same level of propriety crossed with rule breaking as the first. The humour is dry, the sort you acknowledge with a snort rather than a guffaw, despite how unbecoming either action would be in polite society.

Sophronia and her gang of misfits are such fun characters, though due to exam results, she finds herself working alone more than she’d prefer, in this volume. It was also nice to see her encounter real consequences for the kind of work she’s training to do, making her wonder if this really is what she wants.

The mystery involves several threads, some of which harken back to the events of the previous book. There’s also the knowledge at the end that though things were resolved, there are still some questions to be answered.

If you haven’t read these books, you’re missing out.

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