Sixteen Ways to Defend A Walled City by K.J Parker – Review

Cover- Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

Published: April 9, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 384 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

A siege is approaching, and the City has little time left to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all.

Their only chance rests with a colonel of engineers – a despised outsider, a genius, a master of military and political strategy with the wrong color skin. He is the City’s only hope.

But nobody, rich or poor, wants to take orders from a jumped-up Milkface. Saving the City from itself might be more difficult than surviving the coming siege.


I’d never read a K.J. Parker book prior to this one so I had no idea what to expect other than what little the synopsis gave me. What I got was a wildly entertaining book with a narrator that both kept me on my toes and in stitches from laughter.

Orhan, Colonel of the Engineers, is one of the first to realize something dreadfully wrong is going on in the Empire and by the time anyone listens to him, the city he’s in is under siege and no one can save them. Orhan is the ranking military man in the city and is in charge of the defenses when an army shows up on the doorstep. No need for excessvie detail here – if you’ve been reading fantasy (or history for that matter) you know how things work in a city under siege. The book is basically his firsthand account of how things went down and as such it’s heavily influenced by his personality and humor. I loved every page of it and thought it was downright hilarious at times without lessening the severity of the situation.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this book other than to highly recommend it to fantasy readers who want a good Roman influenced siege book that doesn’t have a fusty old narrator. There were a few delightful plot reveals that I won’t dare discuss further in order to avoid spoilers. This has left me with a great impression of K.J. Parker’s writing and I look forward to checking out some of his other books – recommendations would be appreciated!

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Currently Reading: 4/15/19

cover- age of legend

Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan

I’m pushing back some other books in my TBR so I can read this RIGHT NOW! Where will this book take us after the shocking events in Age of War? I don’t know (well, I have a vague idea) but I can’t wait to find out.

 

 

 

Cover- City of Lies

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

This has been such an excellent audiobook! I’m about half way through and it’s made commutes to my field work locations feel so much shorter. This book has really kept me on my toes throughout and I’m already planning on reading the sequel whenever it comes out!

The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone – Review

Cover- The Food Explorer

Published: February 20, 2018

Publisher: Dutton Books

Series: Stand alone

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Pages: 397 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

The true adventures of David Fairchild, a late-nineteenth-century food explorer who traveled the globe and introduced diverse crops like avocados, mangoes, seedless grapes–and thousands more–to the American plate.

In the nineteenth century, American meals were about subsistence, not enjoyment. But as a new century approached, appetites broadened, and David Fairchild, a young botanist with an insatiable lust to explore and experience the world, set out in search of foods that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater.

Kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and hops from Bavaria. Peaches from China, avocados from Chile, and pomegranates from Malta. Fairchild’s finds weren’t just limited to food: From Egypt he sent back a variety of cotton that revolutionized an industry, and via Japan he introduced the cherry blossom tree, forever brightening America’s capital. Along the way, he was arrested, caught diseases, and bargained with island tribes. But his culinary ambition came during a formative era, and through him, America transformed into the most diverse food system ever created.


LOOK AT ME, I’M READING NON-FICTION! I picked up a couple food-related non-fiction books during an Audible sale last month and I was pretty excited to read this one. This is the story of David Fairchild, a young up and coming botanist that went to travel the world searching for plants to send back to the United States. This man lived an absolutely fascinating life and his travels resulted in SO MANY DELICIOUS FOODS being popularized in the United States.

I can’t imagine how bland the culinary arts were before the introduction and hybridization of many of the foods mentioned in this book. While the food is fascinating, Fairchild’s travels, acquaintances, and the political nightmare of the USDA were the real showstoppers. Originally from Kansas, Fairchild moved to the east coast to live with family and hopefully start a successful career. He ends up crossing the Atlantic, meeting the wealthy Barbour Lathrop, and beginning his career of plant piracy (it wasn’t always theft). Fairchild and Lathrop became fast friends and ended up travelling together for years, circumnavigating the globe several times and sending back thousands upon thousands of plants to the Department of Agriculture. The USDA would cultivate the plants and distribute them to farmers across the country in hopes of having successful money-making crops. Mangos, avocados, dates, new varieties of cotton, and superior hops from around the world drastically changed agriculture and diet in the US.

This was a fascinating (if not always thrilling) book documenting Fairchild’s work and I’m really glad I picked it up. I honestly couldn’t stand Barbour Lathrop for much of the book because good grief, he was bossy and self-centered. As Fairchild grew more confident during his travels and experiences the interactions between the two became more of a peer to peer thing rather than a student and mentor relationship. Fairchild eventually has mentees of his own and they were even more adventurous than he was. One guy spent years travelling around China during severe political unrest and he was robbed and beaten on SO many occasions. Wild times, man, wild times.

If you’re looking for an interesting non-fiction book to check and you like botany/science/knowing where your food comes from or are just interested in American history, you may want to check this out. The audiobook was a solid performance and helped to maintain my attention, whereas I think as a print book this may have been a little less attention grabbing.

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes – Review

Cover- Seven Blades in Black

Published: April 9, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Grave of Empires #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 608 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Sam Sykes returns with a new fantasy that introduces to an unforgettable outcast magician caught between two warring empires.

Among humans, none have power like mages. And among mages, none have will like Sal the Cacophony. Once revered, now vagrant, she walks a wasteland scarred by generations of magical warfare. The Scar, a land torn between powerful empires, is where rogue mages go to disappear, disgraced soldiers go to die and Sal went with a blade, a gun and a list of names she intended to use both on. But vengeance is a flame swift extinguished. Betrayed by those she trusted most, her magic torn from her and awaiting execution, Sal the Cacophony has one last tale to tell before they take her head. All she has left is her name, her story and the weapon she used to carved both.

Vengeance is its own reward.


If you’re looking for a fantasy vengeance story with a dash of Clint Eastwood thrown in, this might just be the book you’re looking for. This is a gritty world both literally and figuratively and the characters are a wild and dangerous bunch. I was intrigued by the synopsis, appalled by the cover, and remain curious about Sam Sykes’s other books so overall, I have a good impression.

Sal the Cacophony is a vagrant mage and bounty hunter. She takes on jobs that involve killing other vagrant mages hailing from the empire she used to call home and trust me, these are the most dangerous of jobs. Stripped of her magic and out for revenge, Sal totes her trusty sword named Jeff (not kidding) and the Cacophony, a massive and ancient gun with a mind of its own. Sal has a list of names, those who wronged her most directly, and she has her sights set on ridding the world of them at any cost… thus is the gist of this tale.

Sal is a mouthy, angry woman narrating the path that led her to be sitting in a cell at the very beginning of the story. You end up wondering things like, did she get her vengeance? Is she giving up? Is this where the story ends, with a firing squad?  Well, if I answered any of those it would spoil all the joy of reading a 600 page book. WORK YOUR WAY THROUGH THAT TOME AND GET THOSE ANSWERS! I liked Sal well enough, though her flaws were frustrating at times. Liette was a masterpiece and in my opinion her talents were a far sight more interesting than those of the traditional mages. Don’t get me wrong, the mages were pretty darn cool as well – the whole trade of power was an excellent touch, but this bookish yet tough woman makes excellent explosives and uses freaky healing potions made out of dead mage dust. WAYYYY COOLER. Did I mention the birds? Sal basically rides a dirty, furious, meat eating chocobo.

There is so much epic darkness from this book and I could see this working as a dark fantasy (with a dash of western) movie. Saloon doors slamming open, Sal stalking in with her luck scarf and the Cacophony whispering for blood at her hip…. Yeah I can see that working. Do yourself a favor and check this out.

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne – Review

Cover- The Naturalist

Published: October 1, 2017

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Series: The Naturalist #1

Genre: Mystery

Pages: 380 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop.

As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students. As more details, and bodies, come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly gone rogue… or Theo himself. Racing to stay one step ahead of the police, Theo must use his scientific acumen to uncover the killer. Will he be able to become as cunning as the predator he hunts—before he becomes its prey?


I SPENT SO LONG GOING “GET A LAWYER IDIOT AND STOP TALKING” throughout the entire book and the whole thing was rather harrowing and I just couldn’t stop listening, so that was definitely a plus. This was also a delightful departure from my usual fantasy or scifi reads. I find it refreshing to stray into different genres from time to time and always enjoy these new finds.

Theo Cray is a computational biologist working on research in Montana, minding his own business when he gets pulled into a murder investigation as a prime suspect. A former student of his, one Juniper Parsons, was found dead in the woods and while Theo is initially suspected it turns out to have been an unfortunate bear attack. OR WAS IT? Theo has reason to believe that there’s actually a sadistic and clever serial killer in the area who’s been active for decades and he’s determined to prove that Juniper’s death was not the work of a killer grizzly.

This was an intense story and man, Theo Cray stressed me out. He was CONSTANTLY on the brink of getting himself arrested or looking like a lunatic in front of important people. Heck, I thought he was crazy for a while myself. Theo and even the side characters were really well written. Everything about them was plausible, from motive to character flaws to dialogue.

Like I said, this was a thrilling read and I liked the characters and the overall mystery quite a lot. I plan on continuing on with the series this year though perhaps not quite immediately. I admit, I was almost expecting a supernatural element to this book because the synopsis made it sound as if the murderer could have been a not entirely human monster. Rest assured it was not supernatural, just a good old fashioned murder thriller.

Kellanved’s Reach by Ian C. Esslemont – Review

Cover- Kellanved's Reach

Published: April 2, 2019

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: Path to Ascendancy #3

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 352 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

The conclusion to Ian C. Esslemont’s epic fantasy Path to Ascendancy trilogy–a prequel story set in the New York Timesbestselling Malazan Empire series–co-created by Steven Erikson.

The incessant war between the bickering city states of Quon Tali rages. So engrossed are the warring lords and princes in their own petty feuds that few notice that an upstart mage from Dal Hon has gained control of the southern seas.

Kellanved could not care less about any of this petty politicking or strategy or war. Something other and altogether more mysterious has caught his attention and he – together with a reluctant and his decidedly skeptical friend Dancer – traverse continents and journey through the Realms. But this ancient mystery that has so captivated Kellanved is neither esoteric nor ephemeral. It involves the Elder races themselves, and more alarmingly, the semi-mythic Army of Dust and Bone.

Surely no one in their right mind would be so foolish as to embark on a journey from which none have returned? Well, no one except Kellanved.


I’m going to be blunt here – I was expecting more out of this book than I received. I’m a huge fan of the Malazan universe and I think the Path to Ascendancy series has been Esslemont’s strongest performance yet. I absolutely loved the first two book, but for some reason this one didn’t resonate as strongly with me.

It felt rushed and I didn’t properly care about the new POVs. Even Kellanved and Dancer’s chapters didn’t give me the satisfaction I expected. This being said, it was still a pretty good book with a cool plot. For those familiar with the Malazan world, the cover gave it away – the wily duo were out searching for the T’lan Imass and the means to control them through the First Throne. An undead army would provide the newly formed Malazan throne the means to become the conquering empire it’s seen as in the Book of the Fallen. A good chunk of this book focuses on the warring Quon Talian city states which I found mostly pretty dull, though the characters were slightly less dull.

Overall, I wasn’t crazy about this book and I wish it were longer so perhaps things wouldn’t have felt so rushed. Some of what considered to be the “main showdowns” resolved incredibly quickly and with minimal fuss. Kellanved’s Reach fell somewhat short of what I had expected after the resounding success of the previous two books.

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie – Review

Cover- Last Argument of Kings

Published: September 8, 2015

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The First Law #3

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 605 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Synopsis:

The final novel in the First Law Trilogy by New York Timesbestseller Joe Abercrombie. 
Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him — but it’s going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the king of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy: it’s time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no one is safe, and no one can be trusted. As his days with a sword are far behind him, it’s fortunate that he’s deadly with his remaining weapons: blackmail, threats, and torture.

Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is too painful an undertaking and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too — and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.

The king of the Union lies on his deathbed, the peasants revolt, and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is about to fall across the heart of the Union. Only the First of the Magi can save the world, but there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, than to break the First Law…


Maaaaan, what an awesome way to conclude the First Law trilogy! This book was satisfying on many levels and I’m about 100x more excited to read A Little Hatred when it comes out later this year. I have to see what the Union has turned into after a couple decades.

First of all, the character arcs concluded excellently, though obviously not in a final sort of way since there will be another series set later on featuring many familiar characters. Glokta remains a clear favorite of mine. I NEVER thought I would like his POV so much going into this series, but his internal monologue (and what he says aloud) is one of the funniest (yet dark) things I’ve ever read, provoking bouts of actual laughter.  Jezal dan Luthar, who I thought may have been a redeemed man, remains a clueless, self-centered babe in most circumstances. He has occasional bouts of rage or good sense that miraculously work out well most of the time. Ninefingers…. Well, I like him a bit more in the previous books, but he has quite a strong character arc. And Bayaz is a power-mad magi, but are we really surprised? Oh, and Collem West is possibly the most stressed out man in all the Union.

This was an excellent book with many layers of plot. Too many, really, to begin to go into. The Gurkish threaten from the south and Bethod’s northmen are still at war with the Union in the northern reaches. The Union is threatened from all sides and internal politics threatens from within, making for troubled times.

This was a fantastic book and a fantastic series as a whole. If you’re looking for some intense fantasy reading and somehow haven’t read Joe Abercrombie (or this series in particular) you should consider putting it in your TBR pile. This is a perennial favorite amongst fantasy readers and is so frequently recommended on every bookish site I visit that I decided to give the series a read. I had read the first book (a ratty, used library copy) 6 or 7 years ago and I must have been younger and less wise, because I didn’t binge read the series right then. I have now remedied that error and couldn’t be more glad.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine – Review

Cover- A Memory Called Empire

Published: March 26, 2019

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: Teixcalaan #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 462 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.


A Memory Called Empire is something I’ve wanted to read since I first saw the cover. I mean, the star feature is the sci-fi equivalent to the Iron Throne and I just couldn’t resist. And then the synopsis…. A murdered ambassador and deadly secrets? Say no more!

This book basically shoves you off a cliff into a convoluted alien culture which isn’t necessarily a negative. I like piecing things together as I read along and info dumps are rarely an elegant addition to any story, so in many ways this worked for me. The learning curve with this book was quite steep though and I can see that this probably won’t work for everyone.

For me the biggest thing that kept me from getting maximum enjoyment (a 5 star rating) was that it took me fully half of the book before I cared about the characters or the plot. I wasn’t tremendously invested in them and I pondered putting the book down and trying again later but I pushed onward. I’m really glad I continued because things really picked up in the latter half – THE PLOT THICKENED! I cared about what happened to the new ambassador Mahit Dzmare and her assistant/liason Three Seagrass. There was rebellion in the streets, attempted assassinations, and even illegal technological enhancements. I would say this book is in the category of slow-burners. Not everything starts off with a bang – good things can take time.

Overall, this was an intriguing and ambitious book with an exotic culture. The Teixcalaanli (how do I even pronounce this???) culture is one of poetry and power. The names were interesting – Three Seagrass, One Lightning, Six Helicopter… you kind of see where this goes. I didn’t love this book, but it was one that prodded the imagination and the city and people are subjects I would love to see in painting.

Soulkeeper by David Dalglish – Review

Cover- Soulkeeper

Published: March 19, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Keepers #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 704 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

In the first book of USA Today bestseller David Dalglish’s epic fantasy trilogy, a warrior priest must answer the call and protect his world from monsters, when ancient magic suddenly returns to his land.

Devin Eveson is a Soulkeeper, travelling through remote villages as a preacher and healer. But when a dragon awakens – the size of a mountain and leaving great chasms in its wake – the veil is torn, flooding the land with ancient magic and forgotten races. Now Devin must set aside his words of peace and accept his new role: slayer of monsters and protector of the human race.

But not all the creatures that have re-awakened mean humanity harm. And as Devin slowly befriends people of these new races, his discomfort in his role grows. But Soulkeepers must slay without mercy. And even sympathisers risk their wrath.


I took this absolute chonk of a book on vacation with me a few weeks back and read it in TWO DAYS. It’s over 700 pages and I was hooked the whole duration of the book. I was thoroughly taken with the story, the characters, and the idea of a world where magical creatures have suddenly reemerged long after they had become mere myth.

Devin Eveson is a soulkeeper, essentially a travelling preacher and healer that also sort of shoos souls from the deceased so that they may be burned rather than buried. When a sudden change washes through the world (somewhat literally in places), Devin is in a remote mountain village. His location affords him an up close and rather horrifying encounter with the newly returned magic and he swiftly travels to the town where his borther-in-law resides to see if he survived. They two then travel to the main city, where things have changed just as drastically, though perhaps not as obviously at first. Some humans have acquired powers of healing and elemental control and a dragon the size of a mountain – one that I actually imagined as a mountain sized hermit crab – has parked itself outside the city gates. A green-clad murderer is stalking the streets and turning his victims into ghastly “art” and monstrous owls hunt the streets at night. This book was quite the amalgam of supernatural entities and plot threads.

There were quite a few POVs in this book, the majority of which I greatly enjoyed. I thought some of the dialogue was a little cheesy and things felt a bit “extra” or over the top at times, which is really saying something because this is a fantasy book and that practically guarantees something a teensy bit ridiculous. There was so much going on in this book that it was a bit overwhelming, though not difficult to keep up with if that makes any sense. I was pretty invested in this book by the end and I’ll definitely be reading the next one, meaning this was good enough for the time investment to be worth it!

Overall, this was a fun book that went extra heavy on the fantastical creatures, though their sudden presence was justified well. It wasn’t a perfect read for me though it was a solid one and honestly lived up appropriately to my expectations. For me this was a perfect vacation read – not too serious and one that could easily keep me occupied without my attention wandering at all!

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence – Review

Cover- Holy Sister

Published: April 9, 2019

Publisher: Ace Books

Series: Book of the Ancestor #3

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 368 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

The third installment in a brilliant fantasy series from the international bestselling author of Prince of Thorns.

As a young girl, Nona Grey was saved from the noose by the Abbess of Sweet Mercy. But behind the convent’s walls she learned not a life of prayer and isolation, but one of the blade and the fist. Now she will serve as the convent’s fiercest protector as the emperor moves to destroy the last bastion that stands against him.


The epic, much anticipated finale to the Book of the Ancestor trilogy is here at last and WOWEEE it was great!!! Battle nuns, armies at the city’s doorstep, and oh yeah, THE MOON IS FAILING AND THE UNFORGIVING WALLS OF ICE ARE CLOSING ON THE CORRIDOR. ICY DEATHS AWAIT ALL THOSE WHO DWELL UPON ABETH. Whatever shall they do?

That’s easy, Abbess Glass did some plotting (did she ever stop?) and Nona did some thieving, and there was deception and risk involved. So, not actually that easy or simple. It was pretty epic though, watching all that unfold like one of those perfect little tea leaf flowers submerged in hot water. So elegant. The most jarring thing was the split timelines. One immediately follows the events at the end of Grey Sister and the other is three years later. At first I didn’t really get the purpose of the split timelines, though I quickly got used to it and towards the end everything comes together. This book focuses primarily on the events unfolding in the world at large – ie. The invading armies – and not as much on life at the Abbey, including class time and such. The battles were epic and the bloodshed fierce enough to break the readers heart at times.

Mark Lawrence continued to build on the world he had begun to create in the first two books. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to read more books set on Abeth, whether merely in another country or in an era other than the one Nona’s story is set in. As it is though there is plenty of delightful mystery surrounding the past and those who first populated Abeth. That undefined era lets my imagination and speculation run wild. I liked that there were a few new locations explored in this installment. Imagining a trek across the ice of a frozen planet chilled me to the bone… or maybe that was just February on the East coast.

Overall, Holy Sister was an excellent conclusion to what has been my favorite of Mark Lawrence’s trilogies yet. Following Nona’s journey from childhood to adulthood and up through the ranks of students has been a delightful adventure with heavy doses of action and mischief. 10/10, would read again.