Month: May 2014

It’s Time for #FridayReads!

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The Books:
Nihal of the Land of the Wind :
Ancillary Justice:

Places where you can find me:
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Review: Babayaga by Toby Barlow

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Title: Babayaga

Author: Toby Barlow

Publication Date: August 2013

Genre: Fantasy, Fairytale Retellings


For those who don’t know, Babayaga is a witch in Russian fokelore. She’s typically presented as your Hansel and Gretel like witch, punishing bad little children and eating them up. Babayaga also is known for being a fairly vengeful witch, destroying men who’ve scorned women. Think the Greek fates meet witch meets boogeyman. 

Babayaga in Hardcover

Barlow’s Babayaga follows a young man Will who is living in Paris during the end of the Cold War. He’s been working as a lower level intelligence gatherer and an advertising specialist. He gets caught up in an agency misadventure where he meets Zoya, a beautiful Russian woman who, unbeknownst to Will, is a serial murderer. For hundreds of years Zoya has been travelling Europe with her sister witch Elga killing men and conning their way in and out of riches. 

Zoya has most recently impaled a French man who had been sleeping with her on a barbed fence. 

Unfortunately for Zoya, the police are hot on her trail. She goes to Elga’s apartment, but leaves quickly after they have a fight. The police track Zoya to Elga’s home. Elga curses the two policemen, turning them into fleas, and must again pack up and leave. Elga, furious, decides that it’s time for Zoya to go. But first she must get help. No witch can be killed single-handedly. 

Meanwhile, Zoya is attempting to help Will to survive his encounters with the Agency. 

This book was an okay read. I wouldn’t say it’s great, but it isn’t bad either. I did enjoy the extensive backstory that both Zoya and Elga get. Though we could consider them anti-heroes at best, they’re at least anti-heroes with a history. It’s unfortunate that Barlow doesn’t explain why they seem bent on killing men without cause. Zoya throughout her history has picked men to seduce and swindle, then the two will invariably kill them. It’s made clear that Zoya hasn’t always wanted this, but that Elga has insisted and claimed it vital to their survival in a deeper way than someone simply finding out that they’re witches. What makes it so vital is never discussed. 

I thought Will was a fairly mediocre character. Though he is introspective, he’s ridiculously naive and doesn’t really gain in world experience throughout the story. This is a surprising feat for a man about to encounter conspiracy, the CIA, and witches. The inspector who follows the story throughout could have been cut entirely and the story would have been no worse off. 

What I didn’t like was how heavy handed that Barlow was with Elga’s man hating. It’s one thing to have her say and think that men are easily manipulated or that men seek power. Elga’s history has a great deal of precedence for this. But he lays it on pretty thick. He even goes so far as to have her rant about penises and power. I would suspect that a centuries old witch wouldn’t take too much stock in anyone who thinks they make the rules. Mostly, though, it was so frequently brought up without any real action on Elga’s part as to make the book drag and its pacing slow to a grind.

Rating: 3


BookCon 2014 and Critical Fans #WeNeedDiverseBooks

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I hope you all have a good time. Below are some videos and links that are really great on this topic.

RinceyReads on BookCon:
BookRiot on BEA:
Albinwonderland on being a critical fan:

Review: Nihal of the Land of the Wind by Licia Troisi

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Title: Nihal of the Land of the Wind*

Author: Licia Troisi

Publication date: 2004 in Italian, 2014 in English

Genre: YA/ Fantasy

This book is originally an Italian novel that has been translated to German and is being released next week in English.

Nihal is a young girl who wants to be a warrior. She’s raised by her father, an armorer who has always let her run wild. She’s a gifted swordsman and has some magic ability. When her town is raided by the Tyrant’s forces, Nihal leaves in defense of the Land of the Wind.

My problems with this book are many, so be warned.

First and foremost, Nihal is a highly capable fighter with great technique and anticipates her opponents well. She’s somehow managed to gain this ability not through rigorous training regiments and practice, but by running amok with village kids and occasionally (but not very frequently) sparring with her father. This was perhaps one of the most bothersome parts of the book. She’s an extraordinary fighter who bests seasoned cadets and mercenaries without any real battle training. This was ridiculously hard to buy.

Her relationship with magic is almost worse. Nihal leaves for her aunt’s home (An aunt she knows nothing about even though she’s less than a day’s walk away and her aunt and father speak frequently). There, Nihal must undergo a test before she can be trained in magic. She’s to go out into the woods alone and commune with nature. Nihal is terrified of the woods and, so, the challenge is supposed to be difficult. But at no point is Nihal ever alone. Her fellow student spends time comforting her and then wood sprites come and hang out. The wood sprites aren’t actually her communing with nature. They’re there to reassure Nihal that nothing is going to harm her in the woods. They then show her how to commune with nature. Yet another ability that Nihal does not need to work towards or fight for.

The only saving grace there is that Nihal is not a great magician. She only bothers to learn healing spells and some attack spells for battle.

Nihal’s relationship with her father was another point of contention. Nihal is thirteen and lives in a world where women are expected to stay home and care for domestic tasks. I can understand a father indulging the dreams of a young daughter and his only child. However, Nihal’s father doesn’t have any problem with her traipsing about in the woods with an older boy. He also doesn’t worry about her running around alone when there are enemy troops about who are known for terrorizing civilians and taking their women.

In a world where women are largely relegated to the home, it surprised me that Nihal’s father would have no concern for his daughter’s well-being or reputation. Let’s face the cold hard facts: Nihal would not be marriagable material and it’s mostly because he’s being permissive. On top of that, he’s risking her safety. He only expresses concern when he decides that he’s feeling lonely. This made absolutely no sense to me.

On the plus side, when Nihal does become a cadet in training to be a knight (after a series of battles to prove herself in which exhaustion and fatigue are not a factor for Nihal), she does get her pride smacked around by her individual trainer. He’s not going to settle for purposeless fighters and has some fairly decent lessons for Nihal to learn. Not that she really gives him the light of day.

Rating: 2.5

* This book was recieved as an eARC via

It’s time for #FridayReads!

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Let me know what you’re reading!

Spotlight on Graphic Novels: The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

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Zita the Spacegirl
The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is available here.

Overview: We open to Zita, a human girl of elementary school age, on trial for destroying an asteroid, stealing a spaceship, and interfering with the migration habits of an endangered species (All of these done in pursuit of good). Zita is sentenced to imprisonment and to working in the mines searching for a crystal that her warden will use to invade Earth and takeover. Zita must escape and defeat the warden before it’s too late and all of Earth is destroyed. The only way to do so will be to gather up her friends (quirky robots, some space pilots, and other animated objects) in order to save Earth.

The villain
Zita is an intrepid young girl with an immutable sense of good, easily a great role model for young children. However, she is questioned about how her good acts may impact others. When she’s brought up on charges, we see that even though she has been doing good, there have been repercussions: potentially endangering others, theft, harming a species. Though it’s clear that Zita has done good, I think it’s also a good reminder that we can’t always foresee the ramifications of what we do, but that thinking them through is still a necessity.

The humor is in the tradition of both traditional superhero stories and web comics. It’s nothing a younger child couldn’t understand, but it also appeals to a broader audience that includes adults.

Zita also has a focus on teamwork and collaboration with adults that I think is awesome. It’s not uncommon to see television shows and comics that downplay the role of adults and teamwork in a successful endeavor. Zita features a cast of characters that help her that includes two adults who, unlike many stories, are not blundering fools or overwhelmingly suffocating for the main character. Instead, the supporting characters are valuable and fun to meet and watch.

Zita's friends to the rescue!
The artwork in Zita is great. It features striking contrasted colors, high color saturation, and design that draws on webcomic and more traditional comic traditions.

Rating: 4
All photos in this post are creations of Ben Hatke.

Tic Tac Tome from QuirkBooks!

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Tic Tac Tome from QuirkBooks!

So, I haven’t beaten this yet, but I have tied it (after a good thirty minutes)! Ah hah!

Tic Tac Tome is a book that plays you in Tic Tac Toe. It allows you to play through a variety of boards that adapt as you play. I’m looking forward to bringing this to my family barbeques to see if any of my siblings or cousins can beat it.