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Reviews Written by
Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

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The Bands of Mourning: A Mistborn Novel
The Bands of Mourning: A Mistborn Novel
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.50
24 used & new from CDN$ 19.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Some great twists and character development, Jan. 26 2016
Pros: variety of action, new settings, character development

Cons: Wayne started to grate on my nerves, some predictable events

Waxilliam Ladrian and Steris Harms' wedding day has finally arrived, but things don't go as planned. Against his desires, he's roped into helping the kandra recover one of their fellows' missing spikes. He's also given the whereabouts of his kidnapped sister.

This book changes location several times, and the plot shifts from one connected goal to another, so while my synopsis may not sound that interesting, the book itself has quite a good number of twists and turns.

I loved the growing relationship between Wax and Steris, which again felt realistic. I also liked how several characters developed, questioning themselves and coming to know themselves better.

Wayne started to grate on my nerves, especially at the beginning of the book. His dislike of Steris annoyed me, both because I like her as a character and because he disregarded the growing attraction between Steris and Wax. Towards the end he felt more like the loveable rogue from the previous books.

There are some plot twists that I found predictable, but others that changed the direction of the book in unexpected ways. But even the predictable moments were fun, as they didn't stay predictable for long.

From what I've been reading there's an upcoming 4th book, which is good, because the ending wasn't as neatly tied as I was expecting.

This is a great series with a unique magic system and interesting characters that are so much fun to read about. Can't wait to see what comes next.

City of Blades
City of Blades
by Robert Jackson Bennett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.80
24 used & new from CDN$ 10.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book, Jan. 26 2016
This review is from: City of Blades (Paperback)
Pros: brilliant world-building, fascinating characters, intricate plot, thought provoking

Cons:

Prime Minister Shara Komayd calls General Mulaghesh out of retirement to ostensibly do a ‘vacation tour’ in order to keep her pension. In reality, she’s being sent to check out a mysterious metal discovered in Voortyashtan that has potentially Divine qualities, and the disappearance of the last operative who was sent to investigate it. Voortayshtan’s harbour is currently being cleared out by a company from the United Dreyling States, who need this contract to keep their struggling economy afloat. Meanwhile, the commander of the military base there, a man Mulaghesh served under during the Summer of Black Rivers, has to navigate through local tribal politics. Then a grisly murder takes place.

This novel is set several years after The City of Stairs, but while some characters overlap, you don’t have to have read the first book to understand and enjoy this one (though the first book was absolutely brilliant, so you really should read it). You’re told in broad strokes what Shara’s been up to in the intervening years, but this is really Mulaghesh’s story. Sigrud becomes a big player later in the book, but again, nothing from the first book is required to understand this story or the characters.

A LOT happens in this book. There are numerous plots interwoven, and they’re all fascinating. The world itself is wonderfully real. The politics are complex - in every nation - the characters are products of their lands, cultures, families, and pasts - especially their regrets.

Mulaghesh is a wonderful protagonist, and not one seen very often. She’s an older woman, one who’s had a hard life and who understand the difficult choices made in war. She curses, she drinks, she smokes cigarillos and she’s forthright and honest. She’s also quite clever, figuring out several difficult mysteries. And she has nightmares about the time she served and the things she did during her years of service.

Signe, in command of the harbour reconstruction, is also a great character, dedicated to her job and helping her nation rise above its recent past of piracy. She’s another hard and clever woman, but very different from Mulaghesh. She’s also had a difficult life, but has chosen to use her time to make a better future for everyone.

It’s great seeing non-European based fantasy. This book is engrossing and will make you think about war, soldiers, politics and more.

The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes
The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes
by Hannele Klemettilä
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 49.08
31 used & new from CDN$ 30.11

4.0 out of 5 stars Great reference guide, Jan. 22 2016
Pros: comprehensive, lots of great sidebars with extra information, mentions numerous sources, lots of illustrations, recipes to try

Cons: text is dry

This is a well organized book on what people in the (predominantly later) Middle Ages ate. The author presents information from a number of sources, including cookbooks, archaeological finds, artwork, health guides, and manner guides. Chapters detail bread, vegetables, meat, fish, spices, milk/egg/cheese dishes, desserts (including fruits and berries), and drinks. She’s careful to remind readers of foods that were unavailable at the time as well as mentioning where certain foods and spices originated (when they were obtained through trade - like the fact that peach trees originated in Persia). The author also points out differences in menu and preference between regions - due to what’s able to be produced there, costs involved in importing goods, and other factors.

While I found the text somewhat dry, the information was interesting. The side bars, where a lot of the social information was relayed, were particularly interesting (with segments on food in fantasy literature, candles, ergotism, vegetarianism, etc.). I also found the segment on medieval drinks interesting (and I think it’s cool that the book has recipes for making hippocras, claret and mead).

While I haven’t tried any of the recipes - yet - some of the over 60 recipes sound very appealing while others… less so. It’s very true that tastes have changed. Some ingredients will be harder to acquire than others, especially depending on your geographical location.

The book is beautifully illustrated with over 100 images from manuscripts, paintings and illustrations.

If you’re interested in medieval food, this is a great reference guide, with a good variety of information and recipes to try your hand at.

Traveler
Traveler
by Arwen Elys Dayton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.24
27 used & new from CDN$ 15.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than Seeker, Jan. 19 2016
This review is from: Traveler (Hardcover)
Pros: several fight scenes, more background, quick moving plot

Cons:

For Parents: some sexual content (nothing graphic), some swearing, some violence

Mere weeks have passed since John’s airship home crashed and Shinobu is slowly healing. When he and Quin are attacked by two feral boys and her father, they head for safety in Hong Kong. The Middle Dread’s plans put them in danger and they search the diary of John’s mother for clues to what’s happened to Seekers in the past in order to avoid the same fate. Meanwhile, John has found someone willing to finish his Seeker training.

The book alternates through several viewpoints, including the new point of view of Catherine, John’s mother, from the time of her training until her pregnancy with John. I personally found her chapters the most interesting, as they shined light on what the previous generation of Seekers were up to, and showed how she’d changed - or warped - into the woman John remembered. She begins her scenes quite like Quin, idealistic and believing in the nobility of the Seekers. It’s her research into the actions of the Middle Dread and the journal she writes about it, that guides this book, as both Quin/Shinobu and John search through the entries folysr clues in the present.

I really liked all of the protagonists in this book. Shinobu’s arc made me a little sad at times, given the substance abuse he fell into in the first book. John’s training was interesting and I would have liked to see more of it. Quin doesn’t change much, but I suspect that’s because she started this book in a better place than the other two.

The bad guys, while somewhat comical in their ineptitude, are also kind of terrifying with regards to the implications surrounding them. The Middle Dread has, apparently, been busy while the Old Dread slept.

There are a couple of good fight scenes as the plot speeds along. There’s just enough down time to appreciate the revelations that come before the characters head to the next problem or the point of view changes.

I liked that more of the Seeker families make an appearance, and that their history feels more grounded in this book. I also liked that a few more Seeker tools make their appearance. From the sounds of it, there are a couple more to discover in the last book as well.

Traveler’s a fun book. It’s a quick read that builds on everything that was good about the first book, and then adds more to it. While it’s not a cliffhanger ending, it did leave me wishing the third book, Disruptor, came out this year rather than next year.

Shadows of Self
Shadows of Self
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.37
27 used & new from CDN$ 18.91

5.0 out of 5 stars Fun western style fantasy with some excellent magic, Dec 22 2015
This review is from: Shadows of Self (Hardcover)
Pros: complex mystery, great characters, more mythology

Cons: didn’t touch on one of the unresolved plot points from the first book

The past year has brought economic trouble to the city of Elendil. When a creature from mythology starts a series of terrorist attacks, targeting the governor, whom Marasi believes to be corrupt, Waxillium and Marasi become more and more convinced that these problems are related.

Wax and Wayne make for a fun team. Wax is driven, with a strong moral compass while Wayne has a crude sense of humour and loose beliefs with regards to ownership. Their different abilities complement each other, making them powerful. Wayne’s ease with accents, dialects, and costumes gets a good workout.

I found myself liking Steris more in this book, and wishing she had more page time. While her relationship with Wax isn’t a love match, I do think they’re a couple that could work, given how things progress.

I also like how Marasi is developing as a character. She faces different kinds of challenges in this book and acquits herself well.

While you don’t technically have to read Alloy of Law to understand and enjoy the events of this book, it does help. Certain events have more weight if you know what’s happened, and you’ll have a sense of missing information during a few conversations (I ended up skimming the first book half way through this one to remind myself of what’s happened). There’s also a lot more mythology in this book, making me want to read the original Mistborn trilogy.

I love how Allomancy and Feruchemy work and the skills the powers allow the characters to use. This book also uses a third type of metal magic, which was cool to learn about.

I was somewhat surprised that one of the major unresolved plot points from the first book wasn’t really touched on or dealt with in this one. I’m assuming it will come back in the third book.

This is a fun book and while the ending isn’t a cliffhanger, it is designed to have you reaching for the next book, The Bands of Mourning, which luckily comes out in January.

Karen Memory
Karen Memory
by Elizabeth Bear
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.49
23 used & new from CDN$ 10.77

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wild west steampunk romp, Dec 15 2015
This review is from: Karen Memory (Hardcover)
Pros: great world-building, fun characters, interesting plot

Cons: some crude language

Karen Memery works as a ‘seamstress’ in Madame Damnable’s Hotel Mon Cherie. When two women knock on their door running from one of Peter Bantle’s cribs by the pier, Karen stands up to him and the roughs who’ve come to take the women back. Bantle’s got a special machine and he’s running for mayor, and things in Rapid City start to go downhill fast for the ‘seamstresses’, especially when U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves rolls into town, looking for a killer.

You get a wonderful first chapter explaining how Karen’s a ‘seamstress’ and a seamstress, making her own dresses for her, ahem, actual work. You also get a great introduction to her co-workers and the environment they work in vs environments other ‘seamstresses’ have to work in. So when a ‘seamstress’ from a much worse environment show up, you’re already sympathetic towards her.

The world is basically a decent sized town in the wild west, if the wild west had dirigibles and other steampunk accoutrements - like a souped up Singer sewing machine that straps on. There’s also a wide variety of characters, from the black marshal (patterned off of a real man), a lot of spunky women (not all of whom are white), some Russians, a native man, and others. The cast makes the city feel real - and remembers the history of the Western coast, with China towns, escaped slaves, indentured servants, and more.

Bear’s prose is fun, seeing through Karen’s eyes, though it takes some getting used to as the grammar’s atrocious. There’s a lot of period - and character - appropriate terms (including derogatory terms for people of other races/nationalities) and swearing, which some may find offensive.

The plot rambles a bit, as Karen isn’t always at the centre of things, but is quite interesting and coalesces in a series of fights that make for an exciting climax.

This is an excellent book. Highly recommended.

Out of Tune
Out of Tune
by Christopher Golden
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 25.26
13 used & new from CDN$ 17.22

4.0 out of 5 stars High quality dark fantasy stories based on ballads, Dec 8 2015
This review is from: Out of Tune (Paperback)
This is a short story collection of horror and dark fantasy tales based on old ballads. The audio book is narrated by Peter Bishop and Lesley Ann Fogle. Each story is followed by a short commentary on the folklore associated with the ballad by Nancy Keim Comley.

I found Mr. Bishop’s narration pleasant to listen to, while his voices didn’t change much from the narration. Ms. Fogle’s voice was too monotone for my tastes, though after a few minutes I was generally enthralled by the story and it didn’t bother me anymore. I loved her character voices, which were excellently done.

I didn’t find any of the stories particularly scary, though some were creepy and unsettling. Familiarity with the ballads increased my enjoyment of the stories. Having said that, I didn’t feel any detriment when I wasn’t familiar with the ballads, and in a few cases I’m sure it helped with suspense.

The stories are all excellent quality, though individual tastes may have you disagreeing with my ratings.

***** “Wendy, Darling” by Christopher Golden
This story combines a ballad theme about mothers with Peter Pan as Wendy prepares for her wedding. - I wasn’t familiar with the ballad theme this riffed off of, so it was delightfully creepy learning Wendy’s secret and the truth of the Lost Boys.

**** “Sweet William’s Ghost” by David Liss
A woman cheats on her fiancee and comes to regret it. - The story is told from the lover’s point of view and he’s quite a piece of work. There’s black humour in his beliefs about women, though his sentiments and swearing may offend.

**** “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair” by Del Howison
A man must make a difficult decision when the daughter he wanted so badly turns out to be as prophecised. - While I would have liked more background information on the wife, I found this story quite creepy with a horrifying ending.

***“John Wayne’s Dream” by Gary Braunbeck
The unnamed narrator arrives for their AA meeting only to find it cancelled and a special concert being shown instead. - The story is slow as it mixes what’s happening in the present with flash backs of the protagonist’s childhood. I’m not a fan of cowboys or ‘real men’ rhetoric, and while the story shows their potentially caustic nature, it wasn’t a story I particularly liked.

**** “Bedlam” by Gregory Frost
Tom, captain of The Bedlam, journeys home with his crew to find the woman he loves but hasn’t seen in years. - This story changes part way through, making it feel like two stories. While the change took me a moment to comprehend, it made the story something other than a prose retelling of the ballad it’s inspired by.

**** “Awake” by Jack Ketchum
A jazz musician struggles with a respiratory disease and marital problems. - It starts slow and ends dark.

*****“John Henry, the Steel Drivin’ Man” by Jeff Strand
The bigger and bigger exploits of John Henry are told. - This story’s a lot of fun. I was left thinking that the few hints you get of the narrator’s story sound creepily interesting and might make a great story too.

**** “Fish Out of Water” by Keith R. A. Decandido
A dive tour operator helps find a missing vessel that reported seeing a mermaid before losing contact. - This is a short story featuring Cassie Zukav, a character Decandido has written about several times. No knowledge of the other stories is necessary to understand this tale as everything is explained, though some mention is given to previous events. In addition to mermaids, expect some Norse characters.

**** “Making Music” by Kelley Armstrong
A female lyrics writer gets a commission to write for a famous musician. - An entertaining story with a great ending.

***** “Tam Lane” by Lisa Morton
A young architect in training’s father buys an old haunted house she greatly admires, where she has an unusual encounter. - Knowing the ballad this was based on meant I could better appreciate the ways the author subverted the story.

***** “John Barleycorn Must Die” by Marsheila Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte
A recovered alcoholic is sent to do an interview with three sisters who have started their own brewery. - Highly descriptive writing. While it’s easy to figure out where the story’s ultimately going, it’s interesting seeing the protagonist struggle with his own demons first.

***** “In Arkham Town, Where I was Bound” by Nancy Holder
Edgar Allen Poe visits some rich ‘relatives’ in hopes of some money or a loan to help with food and medicine for his dying wife. - A sad story of love, trust and betrayal.

**** “Driving Jenny Home” by Seanan McGuire
Lee has trouble letting go of her dead girlfriend. - Another sad story, this time one of grieving.

**** “Hollow is the Heart” by Simon R. Green
A reporter is trying to get his job back by writing a story about a local legend. The hollow women are mysterious women who prey on unattached men. - A few things about the story were predictable, but it’s well told and the hollow women legend is quite interesting.

Mystic
Mystic
by Jason Denzel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.99
32 used & new from CDN$ 10.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun debut, Dec 1 2015
This review is from: Mystic (Hardcover)
Pros: fun protagonists, good world-building, interesting plot

Cons: immersion broken at times

Pomella AnDone is astonished when she’s invited by the new High Mystic to compete for an apprenticeship. Though Pomella has a book with mystic symbols and songs from her grandmhathir, and has always been able to see wispy animal shapes no one else can, she never dreamed that a commoner would be allowed to apprentice. Defying her Baron, her fathir, and custom, she sets out. Pomella wants to start her new life by leaving her old life behind but her potential beau Sim, follows after, wanting to make sure she gets to the meeting place safely. And others aren’t keen on a commoner rising above her station.

It took me a little while to get into the story. While I appreciated the attempt at making some words sound ‘fantasy’, I kept tripping over ‘fathir’ and ‘grandmhathir’. There were also a few early scenes that bumped me out of the story - particularly when Pomella starts reading her grandmhathir’s book in the rain - and the book somehow doesn’t suffer any damage (nor does it suffer much damage after being left out in the elements - open - for 2 days). I also had a few issues with light sources that other readers probably won’t notice or care about. In one scene Sim tries to pass time by reading - under a wagon, when the sky’s dark with clouds, with no candle or other named light source - and yet he’s able to see the colour of the ink on the page.

Those minor nitpicks aside, this is an enjoyable book. A lot of effort was put into the world-building. My favourite aspect was the wide variety of world - and character - appropriate exclamations and expressions. Sim, an apprentice blacksmith, uses a few that reference metal-working. It was also cool to see sumptuary style laws in place, stating what people of different classes were allowed to do, along with specific written languages for each class. The multi-racial make-up of the continent vs the island where the book takes place, was also cool to see.

Pomella, as a sixteen year old, isn’t sure what she wants out of life, and so questions her decisions often. She’s feisty but she also realizes she can’t do everything on her own. In one scene that made me want to cheer are these sentences; “Now, faced with the first Trial, she needed someone. Not because she couldn’t succeed by herself, but because the thought of being in this alone made her sick” (p122). Too many books assume that for a protagonist to be strong they have to do everything alone. But they ignore the reality that friendship is important, and we all need help and support to achieve our dreams.

The plot is interesting, and the ending is quite exciting. I really enjoyed how things pan out. While it wasn’t a perfect book, it was a good debut.

Ancillary Mercy
Ancillary Mercy
by Ann Leckie
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.34
27 used & new from CDN$ 14.10

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced trilogy conclusion, Nov. 17 2015
This review is from: Ancillary Mercy (Paperback)
Pros: fast paced, shows results of addiction and mental illness, interesting story

Cons: surprised Seivarden kept her position

New problems regarding the undergarden on Athoek Station and Queter’s interrogation on the planet occupy Breq, fleet captain, commander of Mercy of Kalr, last ancillary of Justice of Toren, One Esk Nineteen. When she gets word of four ships entering the system she suspects they’ve been sent by the enemy version of the Radchaai’s split ruler, Anaander Mianaai.

Picking up immediately where Ancillary Sword left off, this book begins with Breq trying to clean-up the loose ends of the previous book. When the enemy ships arrive in the system, things heat up fast, with several desperate plots to even the odds and take out this clone of the Lord of the Radch.

While the opening’s a bit slow, reminding you of the events of the previous book, things pick up quickly and propel you through the rest of the story. It’s a fast read.

I was impressed that the author dealt with more repercussions of Seivarden’s addiction and depression and the results of Tisarwat’s manipulations. It’s great to see a book show that traumas leave scars that take years to heal, and that someone can have good and bad times, depending on circumstances. Having said that, I’m surprised Seivarden was able to keep her position, considering the breakdown she has. It’s obvious she’s not capable of dealing with the pressures of command.

While this book can’t wrap up everything going on in the universe, it does give a sense of resolution for the primary characters of the series.

Against a Brightening Sky
Against a Brightening Sky
by Jaime Lee Moyer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.09
24 used & new from CDN$ 25.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Great mystery in a unique historical setting, Oct. 27 2015
Pros: interesting murder mystery, wonderful relationships

Cons:

The year is 1919 and a riot and explosions rock San Francisco’s St Patrick’s Day parade, the perpetrators targeting a young woman in the crowd. Captain Gabe Ryon tries to figure out the connection between the attack and the growing number of murdered Russian immigrants. Meanwhile his wife, Delia, is haunted by the ghost of a European princess.

The novel is split between Gabe and Delia’s efforts to understand what’s happening and stop the murders. It’s great seeing how the investigation covers both procedural and spiritualist methods. The mystery is intense, with a lot of twists.

It’s a real joy seeing a book that has several loving couples and deep friendships. While you can read this book independently of the previous two in the series (Delia’s Shadow and A Barricade in Hell), you’ve definitely got a deeper sense of the relationships and how the characters have come to trust and rely on each other if you’ve read the other books.

Perhaps that’s why the books, though dealing with disturbing subject matter, leave one with a feeling of positivity. There’s a good amount of death and darkness, but the stories read more like cosy mysteries than hardboiled detective fiction.

It’s a fast paced book that makes good use of an interesting time and setting. This is a series I highly recommend.

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