Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird TrickSex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Sexuality

Collects: Sex Criminals #1-5

Publisher: Image Comics

Publication Date: April 29, 2014

Creator Infowww.mattfraction.com / zdarsky.tumblr.com

Matt Fraction dedicates this series to anyone who’s ever rubbed one out for the first time and the first issue opens with a couple having sex in the washroom, with the narrator, Suzanne, offering to explain and asking you not to judge. By way of explanation, she starts with her past and the death of her father, a seemingly random victim of a gun toting rampage. Her mother sinks into a life of tears and drink and Suzanne finds the only escape is underwater in the bathtub. One day, during her moments of seclusion, she makes an accidental discovery that involves touching herself—you know—down there. The result is not merely the incredible feeling of euphoria, but time actually stands still for her. She comes (lol) to call this phenomenon “The Quiet,” and tries to learn more about it. But there is little information available, and worse, no one seems to want to talk about it and asking the wrong people results in shame.

This might be a common experience for many. My birds and bees discussion was less discussion and more “here read this book,” wherein, This Book, had a blue cover, nice '70s attired young teens smiling sweetly, and a big chapter on why masturbation is evil. In my aged wisdom and experience, I will be working from this book instead when it comes time to get more in depth about sex chats with my kids, however, we still live in a surprisingly prudish society. We love sex, but we’re still too ashamed to admit it. If that’s how you feel about the down and dirty, then this book actually *is* for you. Because you’re not alone in your interest in sex and, while your orgasms might not stop time (or do they?), I love the way Fraction calls us out on our shame and politely and humorously asks why we gotta feel this way.

I’m most familiar with Fraction’s work on the Hawkeye solo series where he takes the Avenger out of his role as a superhero and introduces us to an every day, self-deprecating guy with a penchant for doing nice things for people who could use a break, and getting himself in trouble for the right reasons. That same casual, personable feel exists in Sex Criminals, with characters that you can really empathize with.

So the “criminals” part. Right. That comes in when Suzanne discovers that her ability isn’t as unique as she thought. She meets Jon, whom she actually has a lot in common with and falls for even before she discovers that he can enter The Quiet too, (though he has another name for it). He gets to tell of his discovery of his ability, which a lot of guys can probably identify with. Jon has been using his time stopping abilities to cause a bit more trouble than Suzanne has ever imagined, and he convinces her to try it out for the sake of saving her beloved library. Unfortunately, they discover that they really, really aren’t unique in their abilities, as their antics are halted by the sex police.

Fraction’s sense of humour is light and fun. It’s impossible not to laugh at yourself through the course of the book, as much as you’re laughing at the characters and their situations. I’ve also learned the importance of reading *everything* in comics these days, but most especially comics that Fraction works on. His cheekiness spills into all the pages, cover to cover, and it’s great to see that Zdarsky shares that sense of humour, making for a great team.

Technically speaking, the story telling process is a bit troublesome. It begins with young Suzanne going through her motions, with older Suzanne fourth wall narrating over her shoulder. In present day, Suzanne occasionally breaks the fourth wall as well, looking at the ‘camera’ to deliver some lines. It takes a moment to grasp that, since narrative word boxes are also used to speak to the reader. This is not a deal breaking concern for me, though.

This is yet another winner from Image Comics, which continues to produce great, off the wall comics that push the boundaries of both the medium, and our sensibilities. Sex Criminals even earned itself an Apple ban, which means Fraction and Zdarsky are definitely doing something right.

Still not sold? Check out the first issue for free on Comixology.

With thanks to NetGalley and Image Comics for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this graphic novel in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke

The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Forsaken Lands

Publisher: Orbit (March 18, 2014)

Author Information: Website

Mogsy's Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 

The word "spy" has such heavy undertones, especially when it comes to genres in fiction. When I first picked up The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke, everything I knew about it came from its description, so I was surprised when it turned out not to be the kind book I thought it'd be. Not that I had an inkling of how a story about a cleric-intelligencer was going to play out in a fantasy setting in the first place; still, if not a gripping page-turner, I expected at least something faster paced. But at the same time, I wouldn't exactly call this book slow, though it definitely had its ups and downs.

Case in point, it took a week to read the first third of the book, but the rest only took me about a few days. and I'd actually polished off the second third in a single sitting. For me The Lascar's Dagger was the type of novel with an ending much stronger than its intro; it may take its sweet time finding its momentum, but when it does, you'd better watch out. I know I could hardly put it down once the story got going.

The novel follows Saker Rampion, a priest who also serves as a spy for the Pontifect of the Va-Faith. On a routine information gathering assignment, he unwittingly stumbles upon Ardhi, a lascar up to no good. After a brief tussle, Saker comes away with the lascar's dagger, and its magical properties are revealed when multiple attempts to discard the weapon prove unsuccessful. Even after throwing it into the harbor, the dagger always seems to make its way back to Saker Rampion's side! 

Not long afterward, the Pontifect reassigns Saker on a new job to act as new spiritual adviser for the prince and princess of Ardrone. Meanwhile in another place, a young woman named Sorrel Redwing is on the run, charged with the murder of her husband. She ends up at the royal court too, after the Princess Mathilda takes Sorrel under her wing and offers her protection. At this juncture, the story is still in the process of evolving and has not reached its tipping point. However, once it becomes clear that Mathilda also has a larger role to play, the situation ramps up into a new and irreversible development.

In fact, for a spoiled princess, Mathilda had a lot to offer as a character, and was the one who stole the show for me, not least because the story might not have ever taken off if not for her actions. She also had by far the most interesting personality, even if at times she was a self-absorbed brat or even an airheaded ninny. Sorrel takes second place, impressing me with her strength and loyalty, and the fact she appears to have the patience of a saint. It's the female characters that really shine in this book, and they were the ones who drew me in despite Saker Rampion being the most prominent character. As it turned out, the fact that he was a spy didn't even play into the story all that much, at least not in the ways one would expect, and at times some of his shortcomings and naivete were positively cringe-worthy.

While I would not call this book action-filled or even an adventure, readers who love epic fantasy for the political intrigue and all that entails would find lots to like in The Lascar's Dagger. There are scandals, betrayals and plays for power, cleverly used to raise the stakes. Then there's the magic, an intriguing element that adds a sense of mystique and danger. There's not just one avenue of magical power in this world but several systems, one form of it being a "witchery" which relates to the spiritual sphere. I like that different people can be granted different kinds of abilities, as well as the idea of how a witchery power comes to a person in the first place. It's a very unique way of looking at magic, and raises plenty of questions about the evil and good forces of the world.

A while ago, I contemplated books -- especially firsts of a series -- that are slower to get started and realized that I don't mind a putting in a little investment if I think the payoff will be worth it. I have been pleasantly surprised like this before in the past, so I'm always reluctant to put aside a novel even if the introduction doesn't grab me right away. In this case, I'm glad I decided to stick with The Lascar's Dagger because the story eventually grew on me, and the ending presented a very tense situation in which the implications for the next novel are mind-boggling. I have to praise this book for its originality; there are ideas in here never seen before, and with really no way to predict what's coming next, I'm definitely on board with continuing this series.

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Orbit Books!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Apex Magazine Issue #58


FICTION: Waking by Cat Hellisen, Undone by Mari Ness, To Increase His Wondrous Greatnesse More by Sunny Moraine, The End of the World in Five Dates by Claire Humphrey, Actaeon by Jacqueilne Carey (eBook exclusive), Maze by J.M. McDermott (eBook exclusive novel excerpt)
NONFICTION: Invisible Bisexuality in Torchwood by K. Tempest Bradford, Author Interview with Claire Humphrey, Artist Interview with Julie Dillon, Resolute: Notes from the Editor-in-Chief by Sigrid Ellis
POETRY: Tempus by J.J. Hunter, The Parable of the Supervillian by Ada Hoffmann
Cover art by Julie Dillon

I confess, it wasn’t long ago that given the choice between a novel and an anthology of short fiction, I would always choose the former. Not that I was averse to reading short stories; if anything, I wanted more opportunities to explore this format but my unfamiliarity with what’s out there was holding me back. Even now, most of my anthology reads come from the recommendations of friends and other bloggers.

As it happens, in February I was introduced to ApexMagazine, thanks to the Book of Apex Blog tour hosted by Andrea of the LittleRed Reviewer. For the whole month I was treated to reviews of this short story collection, from a magazine that describes itself as a little offbeat and straying from the mainstream, featuring fantasy fiction of the darker, stranger and more surreal persuasion. All I had to say to that was, “Apex, you’ve got my full attention.”

So, needless to say I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to take part in Apex’s Operation Fourth Story their official digital magazine drive by reviewing one of their recent issues. I got to read my first Apex Magazine! I was so excited!

Admittedly, collections are always hard to review as there will always be stories I like more than others, and there were also a couple poems which made me feel completely out of my depth and ill-equipped to talk about. But while poetry might not be my thing, it could be yours – and what’s nice is there’s something for everyone in this magazine. I myself gravitated towards the short stories, and very much enjoyed Sunny Moraine’s “To Increase His Wondrous Greatnesse More” for the fairy tale touch. Another that stood out for me was the quirky yet powerful and emotional “The End of the World in Five Dates” by Claire Humphrey. I should mention as well that my review copy also included the ebook/subscriber exclusive story “Actaeon” by Jacqueline Carey, who is one of my favorite authors so I can’t tell you how excited I was to be able to read it! As you can see, readers are offered some pretty nifty perks if they subscribe.

At first I was also going to forgo the non-fiction, but in the end I just couldn’t help myself. I’m fascinated with social commentary in pop culture, which is probably why I found K. Tempest Bradford’s “Invisible Bisexuality in Torchwood” an intriguing and thought-provoking read even though I am wholly unfamiliar with the show. I even ventured to read the interviews and was elated to see the one with cover artist Julie Dillon. More attention to fantasy artists is ALWAYS a good thing, plus Dillon’s artwork is incredible (you might have noticed me gushing about her other Apex covers in my Cover Loverfeature earlier this week).

My final thought: this was impressive! As someone completely new to Apex, I was surprised to see such a wide range of content in a single issue – everything from short stories and poetry to essays and interviews. Like I said, my experience with reading short fiction is sparse and my experience with reviewing it is even more so, but I know something is special when I see it. The best part is, the issue delivers exactly what was promised, its various pieces featuring themes that are edgy, provocative and not afraid to push the envelope and explore beyond boundaries.

From April 3rd to 17th Apex Magazine will be showcasing guest posts, reviews, and interviews as part of their Operation Fourth Story digital magazine subscription drive. From now until the end of the event you can get a year's subscription for only $17.95 direct from Apex or through Weightless Books. Their goal is to get 250 new subscribers, which will generate enough revenue to add a fourth piece of original short fiction to every issue. What's more, if they reach their goal, one random subscriber will win a Kindle Paperwhite!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

YA Weekend: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Winner's Trilogy

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (March 4, 2014)

Author Information: Website

Mogsy's Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I admit it, I read this book for FORBIDDEN LOVE! Turns out though, it was not exactly the kind I had in mind. I expected a little more chemistry, perhaps? A little bit more of that "it's you and me against the world"? The Winner's Curse ended up giving me two lovers who actually spent more than half the book locked in conflict with each other, and so their romance lacked some of that je ne sais quoi which makes forbidden love so scandalous and delicious.

Meet the two star-crossed lovers in question: Kestrel, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a Valorian general, who one day visits a slave auction and spontaneously decides to buy Arin, a native of the Harrani lands her people conquered. Their meeting, however, was no accident. Unbeknownst to Kestrel, Arin is actually a high ranked member of a group of Harrani rebels, planted purposely at the auction to draw her in. As a slave in the Valorian general's home, Arin would be in a position to gather intelligence and plan his people's uprising.

What neither of them counted on was that their master and slave relationship would eventually evolve into friendship, deepening into love. But that journey was far from passionate for me; instead, it felt tepid and sometimes even bordered on awkward. It's tricky creating chemistry when both your characters are torn between their loyalties to each other or their own people, and the story never managed to convince me that there was ever really any trust between Kestrel and Arin. Seeing as The Winner's Curse is essentially a romance, that's a pretty vital ingredient to be missing for me.

Okay, so their relationship was not as swoon-worthy as I would have liked, but no matter. The world, the characters and the story soon won me over, and I enjoyed this book a lot. While it is what I would classify as "standard" YA, it still contained plenty of surprises within its pages. I did love the setting, with the flavor of a historical fantasy. A martial civilization like the Valorians which also encourages women in their army fascinates me. If anything, I wish the scope of the story was bigger to encompass more of the events in the wider world. There's a lot of potential for world building here; because of the narrow focus on Kestrel and Arin, we only get to see a tiny slice of what's happening.

Forbidden Love just happens to be a trope I can't resist, but the comments I made above notwithstanding, if you are a fan romance I would still highly recommend The Winner's Curse. But if it's excitement or a thrilling adventure you're looking for, you might want to reconsider. The pacing is a lot more quiet, with a decent chunk of this book dedicated to getting Kestrel and Arin together, and it's a gradual process not achieved through any wild or fierce means. There's perhaps a slight pick up in pace in the final handful of chapters, but keep in mind the story itself isn't about providing a lot of action, it's about character development and building a relationship. The careful way in which Marie Rutkoski does it is undeniably this book's crowning glory, and even though the romance itself fell a bit flat for me, I'm sure for many others it will be the most engrossing aspect.

Despite the shaky love story, I really liked this novel, and I'll no doubt pick up the next book when it comes out. I'm still holding out for an exception forbidden romance to emerge triumphant from this series, and I think it still has a chance, not to mention things end just as the story gets even more interesting.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review: Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Bloodsounder's Arc 

Publisher: Night Shade Books (May 1, 2012)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy's Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

If you want to see a cool way to tackle dark fantasy, look no further than this novel. It'd been sitting on my shelf for a while, and earlier this month I finally picked it up. It didn't take more than a few pages for me to realize I was looking at a very special book.

Jeff Salyards' approach to storytelling gave me a very unique experience. For one thing, I thought I had a pretty good bead on what I like in my fantasy -- you know, the things I enjoy and don't enjoy about the genre, etc. Well, that was before this book came along and turned everything upside down, making me rethink my own preferences.

Example the first: I'd always thought I preferred answers to any mysteries, but Scourge of the Betrayer was a book that provided scant detail about its story right from the start, leaving many questions open even once we were well past the midway point. But guess what? I found myself totally okay with this. More on this in a sec.

Example the second: Precious little words were wasted in the telling of this story, which didn't come as a surprise to me after taking in account the relatively modest page count. I usually assume this means the author won't be going into too much detail about the world or its characters. Of course, I was wrong with this one. What struck me was the fact that even though Jeff Salyards ever only gave just enough information for the reader to follow along, the world-building never suffered.

There was a good balance, plain and simple. What should have been a frustrating experience instead had me completely riveted. Not unexpectedly, the characters had a lot to do with drawing me in; after all, dark tales such as these tend to feature gritty, nasty personalities that nonetheless exude a certain charm. We have Arkamondos, a young scribe hired on to chronicle the exploits of a rough band of Syldoon warriors led by the formidable Captain Braylar Killcoin. Why Arki is there among this crew, or what the Syldoon are up to in the first place are questions that remain a mystery for quite a while, but the winning characters and the promise that I was going to get better acquainted with this crazy lot were reasons enough to stick around to find out more.

In a way, the players are more important than the plot. The story works well told from Arki's perspective in the first person, especially since Salyards doesn't hold anything back with his bold and unflinching style. We are privy to his protagonist's every thought and emotion, riding along in Arki's head as he experiences everything from his most awkwardly humiliating moments to the terror and disgust he feels towards the brutal violence of his Syldoon companions. The more ugliness this meek and bookish scribe gets exposed to, the more compelling his character becomes. Arki's personal growth takes center stage, and his relationships with Braylar and the inscrutible scout woman Lloi go a long way in also enhancing that journey.

The author took a huge gamble when he chose to approach the story this way, but it certainly paid off. The book is a refreshing change from the usual dark fantasy; it's fast-paced and energetic without sacrificing world building or character development. A lot of reviewers have compared it to The Black Company, and in truth I'd do the same except I honestly felt that Scourge of the Betrayer was a much better book. I liked Glen Cook's series, but didn't get into his characters or take to his writing the same way I took to Jeff Salyards'. Scourge hooked me right away, and even though the ending was somewhat abrupt, my overall feelings for the book are extremely positive. I'm glad the release of book two is just around the corner, because I can't wait to continue Arki's story.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cover Lover: Apex Magazine Operation Fourth Story!

Cover Lover was originally created by our friend and fellow book blogger Jaedia at Once Upon A Time, and since then we've adopted it as a feature here to talk about the covers that strike our fancy.

Today I'm going to be sharing some of my favorite covers from Apex Magazine. I'm really excited to be taking part in their drive this month in their Operation Fourth Story! For more information about it, you can also check out this post from the Little Red Reviewer.

Very soon I will be reviewing one of Apex Magazine's recent issues, but for now check out some of this awesome artwork which has graced their covers in the past. You can see more here, though I these ones are among my faves:

Underwater by Julie Dillon, Issue 49

There's just something about underwater scenes that draw me in. Maybe it's all the blue, oh I love blue. And mermaids too. Look at the gorgeous lighting and the atmosphere it creates in this one.

Cover art by Galen Dara, Issue 54
From the oceans to the forest, another favorite of mine is this one from issue 54. When looking through these covers, I notice so many of these images exude this creepy yet whimsical vibe that I just love.

Cover art by Bruce Holwerda, Issue 53
Speaking creepy and whimsy...I really do tend to lean towards the whackier side of things when it comes to art I enjoy. As an artist myself, my style is more realism, so I really admire those who can come up with seriously offbeat ideas.

Mistaken Identity by Ken Wong, Issue 46
While most of the subjects in these covers are fantastical in nature, I am amazed by the range and variety of styles and tones. I love the color contrasts in this, and the title of the artwork makes me wonder...

Surface by Julie Dillon, Issue 40
And finally, I just have to share this one. I hadn't even heard of Apex Magazine before Andrea's Apex blog tour back in February. This image was used in a lot of the postings and so I'm afraid it will always be forever associated with the magazine in my mind. Not that it's a bad thing at all! It's a stunning piece, and so evocative. The covers that so often catch my attention are the ones that make me think, "Just what the hell is going on here?!" and this one definitely fits the bill. It's also one of my absolute favorites. The artist Julie Dillon has done some amazing work for Apex, and there's actually an interview with her in the March issue. Check it out!

Book Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish (The Witcher, prequel)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Original Polish Title: Ostatnie życzenie (translated by Danusia Stok)

Genre: Dark Fantasy, Gaming

Series: The Witcher

Publisher: Hachette Book Group

Original Publication Date: January 2007


Author Infowww.sapkowski.pl

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories that introduces Geralt of Rivia, better known – particularly to gamers like me – as The Witcher. I’m just a few chapters into the first Witcher game, slowly preparing myself for the upcoming release of The Wyld Hunt, but through my limited play and my vicarious play through my friend, I have a pretty solid feel for the game in general, and for the character and his world, specifically.

A witcher is a man taken from childhood into the service of this group and forced to undergo all sorts of dangerous alchemical trials that leave the man not quite human. The result is a lethal, seemingly cold-blooded killer whose purpose is to hunt the monsters of the world. Only, there are not many monsters left now, leaving few options for a witcher to earn his keep, and resulting in a reputation as little more than a cold-hearted mercenary for hire.
Players will recognize the first story from the opening scene of the game, which features Geralt fighting off a deadly striga. The game has perfectly captured Geralt’s skill, his balletic grace, and his determination, as well as other elements such as his use of alchemy. But what the game misses is Geralt himself. Not that the game character is not interesting, but by the nature of the game system, where the player works with a Geralt who has lost his memories and must choose various options as the game progresses, the gamer misses out on the things that make Geralt a really, *really* interesting character. He is a man of few words – but only in certain situations where he deems the words unnecessary. He will deliver messages by the blade, but he is not a man without morals. In fact, his personal moral code is often called into question as he deals with lesser and greater evils – many of which are not actual monsters, but human beings.

It’s also very interesting to note that several stories are actually intriguingly re-imagined fairy tales. Sapkowski skillfully writes them to bare little similarity to their original or Disney versions at first, allowing the details to slowly fall into place for the reader. My absolute favourite was the Snow White retelling.

Some of my other favourite stories are the ones where Sapkowski simply allows Geralt to talk, which he tends to do only with people (or his trusty horse, Roach) who can’t respond. Sapkowski lets Geralt express doubt, to question himself, and to just vent. He also has many acquaintances, each of whom reveal a little something about a man who initially seems to be a loner. It becomes apparent through his actions and his relationships, that there is a significant amount of depth to the character.

One thing the game most certainly takes liberties on is sex. Geralt is able to sleep with just about any woman, with the added bonus of collecting trading cards for each bedding. This Pokemon approach to sex and romance is very far from the book’s Geralt. The witcher most certainly has a healthy appreciation for the female form, but any moments where he has relations with a woman are all tastefully (and even amusingly) done.

The book is translated from its original Polish, but I don't believed it suffered at all in the process.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review: Irenicon by Aidan Harte

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Wave Trilogy

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (March 29, 2012)

Author Information: Website

Mogsy's Rating: 4 of 5 stars 

The first time I heard about author Aidan Harte was last year when his novel Irenicon was shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar award for best debut. Talk about an impressive series starter. The book's historical overtones set in a fantasy world, along with a subtle touch of magic put me in mind strongly of the works by Guy Gavriel Kay, and if Harte's prose lacks Kay's poetic quality then he more than makes up for it with its boldness and intensity.

I also learned the meaning behind a new word: Irenicon, from the Oxford Dictionary "a proposal made as a means of achieving peace." The book's title is a reference to the river which cuts through the middle of the city of Rasenna, ironically named for so many reasons, least of all its brutal history. Blasted into existence by the Concordian Empire using Wave technology developed by their brilliant engineers, the new river effectively divided Rasenna both geographically and socially, sparking wars between powerful families and ensuring that the city will never be able to rise up against Concord. But the Wave also brought other unexpected consequences -- such as the river becoming sentient. And it doesn't seem to like humanity very much.

Central to the conflict is Sofia Scaligeri, future Contessa of Rasenna, brought up and trained by her mentor the Doctor Bardini. Her life changes forever with the arrival of Giovanni, the engineer from Concord tasked to build a bridge across Irenicon as a display of the empire's strength. Their meeting results in discord among all parties, and as the feuding between the different factions in Rasenna have always been at a fever pitch, the presence of a Concordian in their midst have not helped matters. But while the friction and dissension may be at the forefront of this narrative, what I also saw in it was a very twisty and poignant love story. Maybe I'm just a romantic at heart.

Sophia is a great protagonist. At first, I hadn't expected a teenage girl to be at the heart of this story; it just didn't seem to be that kind of novel. But I guess I should have taken a better look at the cover -- which is gorgeous and very dramatic, by the way -- which features a young female warrior at the head of a mounted army. I bring attention to it because it's a very accurate depiction of the character's personality -- strong, and a little stubborn perhaps, but also very skilled, having been groomed to become the leader of a city on the verge of tearing itself apart. But despite her age, this is still a very adult novel, full of complexity and deeper themes. I also wouldn't exactly call it fast-paced, taking a rather measured approach to setting the stage, but in so doing we get really well-rounded portrayals of all the characters involved.

I think the unique setting also bears mentioning. Very early on, we find out about book's world and its version of Christianity, where baby Jesus never escaped the clutches of Herod's forces and thus never grew to adulthood to spread his word. While the universe of Irenicon is home to magic and all sorts of uncanny technologies, there is a very powerful alternate history vibe. Take the names of the people and places, for example, which gave me a strong impression of Italy circa the medieval period. It's fascinating, and if anything I wish the setting could have been expanded further. There were several instances of characters contemplating religion, but those moments never extended very far, and I also wouldn't have minded even more world-building.

Nevertheless, the author did an incredible job providing a vivid backdrop for all the action and the emotion, deftly filling in the spaces with historical and cultural context. Harte has a very interesting biography, and no doubt his experiences in writing, art, and the media have given him a unique perspective with which to approach this trilogy. This first book is full of unexpected surprises, and how cruel is the last line, leaving me speculating! Distinctive and a little unconventional, this debut is a little tough to pin down, but I can also understand all the praise for it. I look forward to seeing how the writing evolves, along with how things will play out in the next book.

 A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Jo Fletcher Books!

Waiting on Wednesday 04/09/14

"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can't wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy's Pick: 

Defenders by Will McIntosh: May 13, 2014 (Orbit)

I hope this one will blow me away like Will McIntosh's Love Minus Eighty did. Looks promising, as i it looks like we once again return to social issues in science fiction, this time with story involving telepathic aliens and invasion.

"When Earth is invaded by telepathic aliens, humanity responds by creating the defenders. They are the perfect warriors--seventeen feet tall, knowing and loving nothing but war, their minds closed to the aliens. The question is, what do you do with millions of genetically-engineered warriors once the war is won?

A novel of power, alliances, violence, redemption, sacrifice, and yearning for connection, DEFENDERS presents a revolutionary story of invasion, occupation, and resistance."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Review: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Forbidden Library

Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books (April 15, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy's Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of Django Wexler's work. His adult epic fantasy The Thousand Names blew me away last year, putting him on my favorite author radar so I've been keeping an eye out for more from him ever since. This past year I've also read the first book of his new novella series John Golden, gone back to read one of his older published novels from a small press, and of course this one, The Forbidden Library, his upcoming middle-grade title.

Anyway, I think it's official: Wexler excels at pretty much any genre he tries his hand at. I was initially curious and maybe a little skeptical as to how he would handle a children's novel, but this book was truly excellent. The author shows his talent and versatility in The Forbidden Library, creating original worlds filled with all kinds of interesting creatures, bringing them to life with such rich and detailed descriptions. I have no doubt adult readers will be enchanted by the wonderful creativity and imagination found in here as well.

The story itself is fantastic, and as an avid bibliophile it's hard for me to resist anything to do with libraries or reading about the wonderful books that take us to faraway places. As you'll see,
the metaphor of books as portals to new worlds is actually quite literal in this case. The plot follows main protagonist Alice, a young girl who discovers she has a very special power. Called "Readers", people like Alice possess the ability to enter the worlds of certain books, which might seem great at first, until you realize these books serve as prisons to nasty creatures and the only way out again is if the Reader can defeat them.

However, if a Reader is successful in defeating and binding a creature, he or she will escape and also have access to its abilities. I thought this was a very sophisticated and inventive idea to explain how people like Alice derive their magical powers. Their spells are achieved by calling upon the creatures they control to channel it for them, and presumably a Reader can grow more powerful by defeating more creatures in "prison books" and taking control of their abilities. 
The plot also had enough mystery to keep me constantly guessing; I could never be sure what everybody's motives were. I felt for Alice and her predicament of being suddenly thrust into a strange environment where she couldn't trust anyone, though she was far from helpless and I'm sure she had no need for anyone's sympathy. Courageous and headstrong, Alice is a good role model for young readers, being a take-charge kind of girl who doesn't take obstacles or setbacks lying down.

In some ways, The Forbidden Library was more complex than I would have expected from a middle-grade novel. While it had its fair share of levity (Ashes the talking cat will be a joy to many, for example -- and not just to cat-lovers!), it also had its moments of darkness. Sometimes it's both light and dark at once, as evidenced by the "Swarmers", Alice's horde of bizarre bird-like creatures that have the physical appearance and consistency of a rubber ball with legs. I confess, reading this made me want an army of Swarmers of my own -- in spite of the fact they're essentially a black mass of razor-sharp pecking beaks and I'd probably lose an eye. Like I said, the magical creatures found in this book and the sheer imagination behind them are a pure delight.

It's moments like that which make me feel this is a book both kids and adults can enjoy. It certainly has that wide appeal! I've been trying to read a lot more children's books/middle-grade books lately, taking note of my favorite titles to share with my daughter one day (who's still a bit too young now, but it's never too early to start her library!) Without a doubt, The Forbidden Library will be one of them.

  My thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Be sure to check back next week for more about The Forbidden Library in our interview with Django Wexler!