My Year in Books (and more…)

It’s usual, at the end of each year, to look back at the books we read (and in my case at the shows/movies I watched and reviewed) to take a short stroll down the proverbial Memory Lane. In 2021 I did not read as many books as in previous years, but on the other hand it seems I gathered more hits than misses, and that’s always a positive consideration.

Here is the gallery of the books I read:

And since I’ve become fond of trying my hand at statistical charts, here are some (totally useless, but fun 😀 ) data about these books, starting with the subdivision by genre:

Science Fiction gathered the lion’s share, indeed, closely followed by Fantasy and, for me, by something of a “new entry” with Crime/Thriller, which used to be one of my go-to genres in the past and this year saw a rekindling of my interest in it.

When I looked at the overall ratings for the books I read I had a very pleasant surprise:

The lower ratings impacted only a small portion of my reading material, with a preponderance instead of the higher ones, from 4- to 5-stars: it would seem that I was very fortunate in my choices, with only one DNF book in a total of 55.

But this year I did not spend all of my free time with my nose in a book: I do love watching TV and in 2021 I enjoyed several series and one movie, once again seeing that SF proved the most attractive genre:

Behind Her Eyes (Thriller) – 4 stars
The Expanse (SF) – 5 stars
Shadow and Bone (Fantasy) – 3,5 stars
Squid Game (SF/Horror) – 5 stars
Sweet Tooth (SF) – 5 stars
Foundation (SF) – 3,5 stars
DUNE (SF) – 5 stars

So here it is, my 2021 in a nutshell. Any resolutions for next year? Well, to put my TBR on a diet and try to slim it down to a more acceptable size by reading some of the books that have been languishing on it for quite some time… But I know that good intentions often end up as paving stones for the road to Hell 😀 so I’d better wait and see what 2022 will bring.

Happy New Year, dear fellow book-lovers!


THE LAST KINGDOM (The Saxon Stories #1), by Bernard Cornwell

Several times I’ve been encouraged by fellow bloggers to read Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, and the first book of the saga, The Last Kingdom, had indeed been sitting on my TBR for a while, being always pushed down the queue by other titles, even though my curiosity had been heightened by watching the first season of the TV series with the same title. What finally prompted me to start was my choice of gifting the first five books in the saga to my niece, who loves historical fiction: at this point I felt I could not lag behind, and I finally picked up this first volume.

These novels follow the story of Uthred, the younger son of a Saxon minor noble: born as Osbert, he is once again baptized as Uthred – the name of every firstborn and inheritor of the title – once his older brother is killed by marauding Danes, or Vikings. At the tender age of ten, Uthred dreams of becoming a warrior and avenging his brother, but he is instead imprisoned by Danes and raised as one of them by his captor, Earl Ragnar, who quickly turns into a surrogate father.  When tragedy strikes his adoptive family, Uthred is compelled to go back to his Saxon roots, and determined to regain the rule of Bebbanburg, the home fief that was stolen by his uncle.  Pledging his services to King Alfred, who shrewdly understands the value of the young man, Uthred struggles constantly with his dual legacies as he grows toward adulthood and the land undergoes great upheavals when the two mighty forces – the Danes and the Saxons – battle for control of the territory and its resources.

As I read, the comparison between the beginning of this saga and the first season of the TV series became inevitable and of course the book proved far richer and more nuanced than its screen version, particularly where Uthred’s formative years are concerned: the book delves far longer on that time, showing how the boy’s evolving mindset does not come from a form of Stockholm syndrome, but rather from the huge cultural and personal differences between his birth family and the adoptive one.  What we are shown of Uthred Senior is the figure of a harsh, uncompromising man who does not seem to like his son very much and imparts what scant knowledge and advice he doles out with something approaching resentful reluctance – and very little shows of affection, if any.  On the other hand, Earl Ragnar, like most of his compatriots, is a larger than life individual, one who faces bloody battles or boisterous feasts with the same hunger for life, ready to enjoy it all to the fullest. And more importantly he becomes the kind of father figure young Uthred sorely needed, perceiving in the boy a kindred spirit from the moment when he’s ferociously attacked on the battlefield by this 10-year old boy he watches with a mixture of amusement and admiration for such pluckiness. 

Uthred is indeed a fascinating character, even in his early years: it’s easy to understand his fascination for Danes and their culture when we see his penchant for learning how to wield a sword and become a warrior, while he keeps dodging poor Father Beocca’s attempts at teaching him how to read and write.  One could say that the dichotomy is there from the beginning, even before he find himself torn between two worlds: Saxon society, as described by Cornwell, represents well the situation of the early Middle Ages, where poverty and harsh living conditions (not to mention the constant “barbarian” raids) met with the profound impact of religious beliefs which strictly regulated many of the everyday activities and often saw the trials faced by the populace as a form of punishment for people’s sins.  On the other hand, Dane society put its emphasis on personal deeds and the search for fame, allowing for a greater freedom than the one Uthred had enjoyed so far, so it’s easy to see how the call from both sides of his roots would be the ever-present theme of his life. 

Through Uthred’s constant search of a moral compass and a way of life we see the mirror of the struggle the world of those times was undergoing, between the drive for a more organized, and civilized, society united under common goals, represented by King Alfred in his pursuit for a unified England, and the unruly and fractured Danes whose wars of conquest focused only on gaining more territory in which to expand, with little planning for the future.  All this is shown in a quite immersive narrative where the background comes to life in vivid shades and through detailed – but never boring – description of bloody battles whose cinematic quality manages to always bring you at the heart of the action.  Moreover, other characters besides Uthred come to the fore with the same degree of depth and substance, gifting this story with a compelling, realistic quality that helped me fly through the pages with never a moment of boredom.

And what’s more important, this book encouraged me to learn more about the historical period it’s set in, which is something I always appreciate in a story and adds more value to my reading material – truly a win-win situation…

My Rating:


FINDERS KEEPERS (Bill Hodges Trilogy #2), by Stephen King

Not unlike what happened with the previous book in this series, Mr. Mercedes, I found myself thinking that Stephen King’s skills work better when applied to horror and supernatural themes, because this foray into crime/thriller territory seems to hinder a little his artistic flair, even though Finders Keepers still remains a good, quite enjoyable story. The ending of the novel made me wonder if the author did not entertain some thoughts along those same lines, because in the final portion of the story he introduces some supernatural elements that so far were absent from the overall narrative. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

John Rothstein is a once-famous author who chose to stop publishing his works a long time ago, although he has not stopped writing, pouring his thoughts and ideas into a series of notebooks he keeps sealed in a safe. Morris Bellamy is a young man obsessed with Rothstein’s works, and in particular with the protagonist of the novels – Jimmy Gold – whose character arc down the road displeased him immensely. Being the kind of fan who cannot take ‘no’ for an answer (in a sort of mirror image of Annie Wilkes from Misery), Bellamy breaks into Rothstein’s house, kills him and steals the author’s notebooks from the safe, together with a sizable amount of cash: the notebooks contain many unpublished short stories, and the final Jimmy Gold novel – a real treasure trove for the obsessed young man, who proceeds to store his precious findings into a trunk he hides near his house, intending to read them at his leisure. Unfortunately, a previous crime he committed catches up with him, so he’s arrested and jailed for a few decades – his thoughts never far from the cherished catch he intends to retrieve once he will regain his freedom.

Some 30 years later, teenage Peter Saubers comes to live in what used to be Morris’ house: the boy’s family suffers from financial hardships because his father was grievously wounded in the job fair attack described in Mr. Mercedes: when he finds a half-buried trunk containing a great number of notebooks and several thousand dollars, Peter decides to send the money to his parents in small installments, as if from an unknown benefactor, and reading the notebooks he discovers both Rothstein’s works and his own love of books and literature, which will shape his future life.  Peter’s troubles start when Bellamy is finally released from prison, and goes to unearth his buried treasure, only to find the trunk empty…

Bill Hodges, Holly and Jerome come into this picture much later, when young Peter finds himself facing Bellamy’s threats and dealing with something much greater and far more dangerous than he can handle: in this second volume of the trilogy, the three of them are more like side characters, while the focus remains mostly of Morris and Peter – and, of course, on books and stories and the love of reading. This was the theme that most appealed to me, unsurprisingly, and in the end I found myself caring less for Hodges & Co.’s investigations and reconstruction of the events than I did for what I perceived as the core story, i.e. the Journey of the Lost Notebooks 🙂

What’s fascinating here is the different approach to literature shown by Morris and Peter, who stand at the opposite ends of the spectrum: the former is a vicious, no good individual whose encounter with Rothstein’s works does not engender a moral uplifting but rather consolidates his outlook on life, to the point that he feels a sort of ownership toward the character, and when Jimmy Gold’s development does not meet his criteria, his rage toward Rothstein knows no bounds. Even though taken to narrative extremes by King, this is the kind of attitude shown by less-balanced readers when writers don’t move their stories toward the fans’ hoped-for direction, or when books don’t come out at an acceptable speed.  On the other hand, Peter is the incarnation of us book lovers, a person who enjoys getting lost in stories, being enchanted by the author’s voice and style, someone who finds in books the means of opening one’s mind, or to seek solace from life’s troubles.

While there are no trademark horror elements in Finders Keepers, it’s still possible to feel dread because the story moves at a slow but unrelenting pace toward the inevitable showdown between Peter and Morris, the first exhibiting all the characteristics of youthful wounded innocence so dear to King’s narrative, and the second portraying the kind of evil that needs no supernatural roots to prove chillingly scary.  They are indeed the zenith and nadir of the story, leaving little room for Hodges and partners who, in this installment, don’t seem to have changed much from their appearance in Mr. Mercedes: of course, Hodges is now living a healthier kind of life, thanks to the scare brought on by his heart attack; and Holly is moving toward a greater independence and self-assurance, as she deals with her psychological problems; and Jerome is less boyish and more mature – but they don’t get enough page space to truly show great changes. In this respect, they sort of suffer from a “middle book syndrome” that will hopefully be overcome in the final volume of the trilogy.

And about this, a few hints in the course of the book, and the last chapter, seem to point toward a return to a horror/supernatural element for the third volume, given the reappearance of Brady Hartsfield – the villain from Mr. Mercedes – and the ominous hints about the danger he might still represent. I for one will more than welcome Stephen King’s return to his old “hunting grounds”, hoping for a delightfully harrowing conclusion to this trilogy.

My Rating:


COMFORT ME WITH APPLES, by Catherynne M. Valente

Valente is an author I’ve seen quoted often by my fellow bloggers, and the impression I received from their reviews was that of a writer with a good number of narrative “voices” at her disposal. So far, my experience with her works had been limited to a short story, so that I did not know much about what to expect here: Comfort Me With Apples taught me, once again, that going into a book with no expectations whatsoever can give me much more than I hoped for.

From the very opening, this novella inspires a sense of ominous foreboding, listing the very strict regulations enforced by the gated community of Arcadia Gardens, where the main character, Sophia, lives: those regulations (which can be found at the start of each chapter) made me think more or a prison than a safe enclave where families could live their lives in comfort and peace, and once we are made privy to Sophia’s thoughts that sense of foreboding intensifies. Those thoughts are focused on how happy she is, how wonderful the life her perfect husband offers her, how beautiful her house and friendly her neighbors: it was impossible for me not to think about the Stepford Wives as alarm bells started sounding with increasingly loud tones, Sophia’s passivity and unquestioning acceptance of her situation making her look more like a well-programmed automaton than a flesh-and-blood creature.

And yet the perfect picture begins to crack, almost imperceptibly, as Sophia finds a lock of hair – clearly not her own – in a dresser drawer she had never opened before: a minor incident, granted, but one that keeps preying on her mind and starts to shatter her hypnosis-like complacency. The find is only the first of many, each one more sinister than the other, in a growing buildup that together with the husband’s prohibition of visiting the basement and the village dwellers’ seeming obsession with Sophia’s happiness made me think about some dark secret concerning that often absent, literally larger-than-life husband: at this point I was thinking more about Bluebeard than the Stepford Wives as the inspiration for this story, but once again Catherynne Valente was waving another series of red herrings under my nose…

The reveal is quite unexpected – with hindsight it’s easy to see how the author peppered the road with unobtrusive clues, like the names of Sophia’s neighbors for example – but it’s done with such skill that the solution really came out of the blue and if I have to pinpoint any problems with it, they would be in the swiftness with which the resolution comes along: given the measured buildup, I would have expected something less hurried, less… thunderclap-like, if I’m making any sense.

Still, I quite enjoyed this novella and I am in awe of Ms. Valente’s authorial skills, so this will certainly not be the last of her works I will visit.

My Rating:


THE LIAR’S KNOT (Rook & Rose #2), by M.A. Carrick

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

It’s been less than a year since I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, The Mask of Mirrors, so I was quite eager to see how the story of Ren’s “long con” continued, given the unexpected developments and the intrigue-laden background that made that novel such an enticing read. Well, I was quite enthusiastic about the way in which The Liar’s Knot moved the story forward, keeping the pace lively while at the same changing the stakes in the game.

Former street rat Ren succeeded in her goal of being accepted by House Traementis after posing as a long-lost relative, but she’s come to unexpectedly care for her adoptive family and the misfortunes that are slowly bringing it down, to the point that she’s risking much to unravel the longtime plots woven against them, and in so doing she discovers that the problem is far more widespread and possesses deeper roots encompassing the whole city of Nadezra. Juggling her three personalities – noblewoman Renata Viraudaux, fortune-teller Arenza Lenskaya and the mysterious Black Rose – becomes even more difficult as perilous currents threaten to upset the city’s fragile balance and her carefully constructed personalities are in danger of being unmasked.

Captain Grey Serrado is experiencing even more conflict than before: while it’s never been easy to be a Vraszenian officer of the Vigil in a Liganti-ruled city, other problems are surfacing that make his difficult path even harder, and his quest to avenge his brother’s death even more complicated. Moreover, his growing feelings for Renata/Arenza are adding another layer to an already burdensome mix…

Last but not least, crime lord Derossi Vargo, even after being accepted in Nadezra’s high society, struggles with his past and the burning thirst for power that has fueled all his endeavors, and that struggle starts to show some chinks in his apparently impenetrable armor.

Where the first book in the series was more focused on Ren’s daring gamble of passing for a noblewoman to finally gain some financial security for herself and her adopted sister Tess, here the story rests more on a deeper world-building and on the exploration of Nadezran society, a world where intrigue, appearances and ruthless political maneuvering make one’s life quite complicated – not to say dangerous.   At the end of The Mask of Mirrors the dramatic events in which Ren played a considerable part had left Nadezra shaken and its people struggling to recover a semblance of normalcy. In The Liar’s Knot we start to perceive that the corruption – both political and magic-related – runs far deeper and threatens to destroy the uneasy balance between the various factions, and that many of those in charge have little or no care for the consequences, as long as they can be assured more power.

The universe created by the authors (M.A. Carrick is the pen name uniting Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms) is a very complex, many-layered one and here we see much more of the magic system underlying it – both its wonders and its dangers – while the sense of impending doom, of time dangerously running out, becomes more and more tangible with each new chapter. And against that doom our characters fight with all their resources, to the point of forging unexpected alliances that would have looked impossible in the first book of the saga.  Ren, Serrado, Vargo and even the Rook (the masked avenger who has been righting the city’s wrongs for two centuries) come to team up against the evil threatening Nadezra, and even when that alliance feels uneasy they manage to work together well: given that all of the characters here are holding secrets (be they identity- or goal-related) the teamwork is at times fraught with suspicion, adding more fuel to an already tense situation, and proving quite entertaining for the readers who enjoy the privilege of holding all the information while the characters possess only a limited amount of it.

This fragmented knowledge also gives way to many misunderstandings that put at risk the fragile ties that some characters are building – one such case creates a quite dramatic scene between two of them (and no, I’m not offering any spoilers here…) – but the authors very wisely choose not to drag this situation beyond the breaking point: I very much enjoyed their choice of having the characters unburden themselves of some of their secrets, with the double effect of clearing the air and strengthening their alliance on one side, and of creating some poignant moments where they could be their true selves, even if only for a short while. I found this quite emotionally satisfying.

Character-wise, Ren here is stretched to the limits of her endurance: the drawn-out need to play many roles is starting to weigh on her, compounded by the distance she’s forced to keep with Tess – sister and confidante – because she cannot be seen to be too close to her “maid”. This forces her to rely on others – Grey and Vargo – for support and despite her understandable reluctance one can see how the choice is helping her to bring the better parts of her personality to the fore, particularly where her intrinsic kindness is concerned.

Grey Serrado was something of a mystery to me in the first book, and I perceived there were untapped depths in his character: here he’s given more space to grow and to reveal more of himself to the reader, so that he grew on me more than it happened before, even though I have to admit that he pales in comparison with Vargo, who appeared from the beginning as the more intriguing among the many figures of this story.  We see much more of him in The Liar’s Knot, and what we see fills out his personality in a wonderful way, particularly when we come to understand that under the thick skin of the ruthless crime lord there is a history of pain and vulnerabilities seeking redress from a society that always snubbed him.

And it would be impossible to talk of Vargo without also mentioning Alsius, the venomous spider riding on the man’s coat and telepathically linked to him: all of my questions from book 1 received an answer here – and some of those answers are quite momentous! – and the authors also gave him and independent voice that proved to be delightfully funny and quite enjoyable.

The Liar’s Knot is an intense, totally engrossing read that moves forward the series through quite dramatic developments and that keeps the reader enthralled with its many twists and revelations, very effectively giving the lie to the notion that a series’ middle book tends to be weaker: with the foundations laid by the saga so far, we can only expect an explosive conclusion, and I am more than looking forward to it.

My Rating:



When I see an interesting bookish tag I can’t resist, and this particular one – which I borrowed from fellow blogger Susy – had the additional attraction of featuring LOTR characters as inspiration for the tag’s questions. And as a big Tolkien admirer I certainly could not let this “challenge” go unanswered! 🙂

So here we go…



It taught me not to give up too easily on a series which looks interesting but does not grab my entire attention with the first book: sometimes it’s just a matter of “right book, wrong time”, and perseverance often pays off handsomely. I did not move forward immediately with this saga and my interest in it was only rekindled through the author’s sequel trilogy, which led me to retrace my steps and acknowledge that the Powder Mage series is indeed an amazing read.


When I discovered Martin’s ASOIAF saga, in 2002, I had not been reading fantasy for a very, very long time: after reading and enjoying Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings I looked for similar stories and had the misfortune of settling on Terry Brook’s first Shannara book, which proved quite disappointing, to be diplomatic about it, so I decided to stay off the genre. That is, until I kept finding mentions of Martin’s series on the Usenet groups I frequented and decided to give it a spin: this story was so different, so deeply involving, that my faith in fantasy was completely restored.


A story about nuns in space was intriguing enough, but once I started this very unusual novella where the “convent” is nothing less than a living ship – one of my favorite themes in SF – I could not put it down until I reached the end, knowing that I would have loved to read much more about these courageous nuns and their mission.


The friendship portrayed in this novel from the Vorkosigan saga is more than unlikely: Miles Vorkosigan discovers that his father’s enemies have created a clone of him for some dastardly plot and that the clone – who ends up getting the name of Mark – hates him because the poor guy was subjected to painful modifications to turn him into the exact copy of Miles. And yet Miles being Miles – and the product of his mother Cordelia’s teachings – feels compelled to extend the hand of friendship to Mark and show him that there is a family ready to accept him. It’s a long, hard road, but a very emotionally satisfying one.


Who would expect that the story of a siege would turn into an amusing, tongue-in-cheek chronicle told by a somewhat unreliable character who manages to fend off attack upon attack through sheer inventiveness? Well, that’s exactly the surprise that awaited me when I opened this… impulse choice that turned out to be a fantastic read.


Any book by John Scalzi is bound to contain a measure of his trademark humor, but this collection of short stories offers a distillation of his quirky way of making you laugh through the most unexpected narrative choices, like – for example – a mock interview with ex-planet Pluto, quite peeved at being demoted from planetary status.


This series about the reluctant vampire Fortitude Scott and his sidekick, the kitsune Suzume Hollis, did not move beyond the fourth book for the “simple” reason that the author did not seem able to find a publisher interested in the books, even though there were a few more already planned. Which made me wonder if publishers looks at online reviews by readers before making such scatter-brained decisions… 😦


Where thief Kinch is the undisputed protagonist of this first foray into fantasy by horror author Christopher Buehlman, I found that his traveling companion Galva, a skilled warrior on a mission of rescue, was not given enough room to expand as she deserved, and I hope that this situation might change in the next book(s) because she’s too intriguing a character and should be explored in greater depth. 


The cover for this breathless thriller does not give any indication about its story, and I’m painfully aware I might have missed it completely if not for the review of fellow blogger Mogsy who – as it often happens in our bookish community – pointed me toward a very engaging read, the first book in a quite promising series.


Having enjoyed my previous encounters with McCammon’s works – particularly with Swan Song – I had great hopes for this story of an alien invasion and of the humans’ struggles to survive and, if possible, fight back, but for a number of reasons the narrative and characterization felt flat and uninspiring, with some sadly cringe-worthy dialogues. A huge disappointment indeed… 


A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT (Harry Bosch #7), by Michael Connelly

This seventh book in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series was a strange experience for me: first because it is a sort of crossover with some of his other works, given that there is an extended cameo appearance for Jack McEvoy, who I previously met in The Poet, and a co-starring role for Terry McCaleb, retired FBI profiler who first appeared in Blood Work, a book I did not read but whose story I’m familiar with thanks to the 2002 movie, starring Clint Eastwood, which I happened to see some time ago. The other difference with previous Harry Bosch books I’ve read comes from the fact that here the LAPD detective has a less active role than usual and the bulk of the investigative process is left in the hands of McCaleb. Still, this odd combination works, creating a suspenseful framework that kept my attention riveted from start to finish, even though – as it happened with the previous books – I was aware of the general narrative threads thanks to the TV series that propelled me toward these novels since last year.

Harry Bosch is heavily involved in the trial of David Storey, a movie director accused of the murder of a young actress he strangled during sex, then taking her body home and staging an apparent suicide.  Meanwhile, Detective Winston of the LAPD is dealing with the murder of a lowlife named Edward Gunn, whose strangely ritualistic details have her so baffled that she seeks the advice of Terry McCaleb, once a noted FBI profiler but now retired after a massive heart attack and subsequent transplant.  When McCaleb discovers that Bosch had been watching Gunn for some time looking for the evidence of a crime, and that some of the grisly details of the murder link back to the works of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, after whom the detective is named, he becomes convinced that Harry murdered Gunn in an act of deranged vengeance – and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it, as the two narrative threads of the story become dramatically entangled.

As I stated above, this novel has a peculiar flavor if compared with the previous ones, mostly because Harry Bosch here looks more like a guest star and Terry McCaleb is the front and center character, and for once it’s odd to see Harry not taking part in an investigation, although I have to say that the courtroom scenes where he finally enjoys the spotlight are among the best segments of the book: Connelly takes us through the sometimes painstaking details of the judicial process with such a flair that these sections are as engaging and thrilling as action scenes and they actually infuse some vitality in what had been something of a slow start with McCaleb’s part of the story.  Moreover, this change in perspective allows us to see another side of Harry Bosch – or maybe the evolution of his personality that started with the previous book: even though he’s still quite determined (or dogged, some would say), he looks more grounded, less prone to stormy outbursts, and instead focuses more closely on getting things done the right way to insure that the guilty face the justice they deserve. He’s still somewhat cynical about the system and the loopholes it offers to offenders, but he looks better inclined than before to stay within the rules to get the desired results.

On the other hand, I was dubious about McCaleb as a character, given that for someone who used to be a successful profiler he seems to fall far too easily for what is clearly a frame-up: even discarding the fact that we readers know intuitively that Bosch could not have murdered Gunn, because that’s not his style, the clues left in Gunn’s murder scene, those references pointing toward Bosch the painter and the punishments for sinners depicted in his works, everything looks contrived and – as detective Winston points out – plainly foolish for Harry to leave such a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to him. But McCaleb is so determined to follow his instinct that he chooses to ignore the obvious: this led me to wonder whether he truly was such a great profiler or if he rather wanted so badly to be once again in the “game” that he preferred to shoehorn the evidence into his choice framework rather than collecting it and then, and only then, assembling the whole picture.  Or maybe he wants so badly to reconnect with the past he clearly misses so much, that he’s ready to ignore reason and listen only to that instinct that used to serve him so well once – a that now does not seem to work that well. This single focus that at times looks close to obsession did little to endear his character to me, and even later, when he understands he might have been barking up the proverbial wrong tree, I struggled to change my opinion and to see him in a better light.

Still, the conflict between these two different individuals drives the story just as much as the two narrative threads at its root, evolving into a novel that is compellingly fast-paced, its two halves merging into one another with effortless ease and showing once again the dark side of a city where glamor and glitter hide corruption and darkness more often than not.  Showing also how Michael Connelly’s writing and plotting skills kept improving as he moved forward with this series, which to date remains one of my go-to choices when I am in the mood for some engaging thriller.

My Rating:


TOP TEN TUESDAY: Great discoveries I owe to the community

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here. 

This week’s topic being a freebie, I chose to list the top ten bookish discoveries I owe either to the blogging community or to the publishers who so kindly promote the ARCs of their new issues: without them, I certainly might have missed a lot of amazing books, so this is my way to say ‘thank you’ for pointing me toward those new-to-me authors and stories.

These ten books are only a part of the whole list: first I had to limit it to the ten items required by the meme, and then there are other titles I already showcased in previous TTT iterations, so I wanted to leave more room to books from my reading archive that I have not mentioned yet.

Did you read and love any or all of them? I’m sure there are many favorite titles in the list… 🙂


THE QUICKSILVER COURT (Rooks & Ruin #2), by Melissa Caruso

I received this novel from Orbit Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

With her Swords and Fire trilogy, Melissa Caruso quickly became one of my read-sight-unseen authors, and the start of her new Rooks and Ruins saga, The Obsidian Tower, happily propelled me into a new adventure set in the same world.  In that first book I enjoyed discovering her new central character, Ryx, whose “broken” magic kept her from any kind of human contact because her touch drains any kind of living energy: at the end of The Obsidian Tower, Ryx had been accepted in the found family of the Rookery, a group of secret agents of sorts, dedicated to fighting unruly magic use, but had also unwittingly allowed the escape of some demons so far locked up in the prison guarded by Ryx’s ancestral home of Gloaminguard.

As The Quicksilver Court starts, the already tense situation caused by the demonic escape heightened the political turmoil between the long-time opponents of Raverra and Vaskandar, and the Rookery is tasked with the mission of finding a terribly powerful artifact that could be hidden in a realm where politics are a quite slippery affair and every move could lead to disaster. As Ryx and her friends try to deal with the delicate situation, they are made aware that the escaped demons are further complicating the already knotty circumstances and that the Summer Palace in the realm of Loreice might prove a deadly trap. I don’t want to share more of the story because The Quicksilver Court offers such an almost unending stream of surprises, revelations and twists that to anticipate even the smallest of them would be very unfair to potential readers.

Plot-wise, the backbone of this story feels like one of those escape games where the players must find their way out in a constantly changing maze where unexpected dangers lurk, and no one can anticipate what awaits around the next (usually dark) corner: the overall effect is quite sinister, conferring to the novel a suffocating sense of impending doom that’s made even more ominous by the contrast with the chiseled beauty of the setting and the elegance of the denizens of Loreice’s Summer Palace, a place where fashion is used as a political statement.   Faced with a set of equally impossible choices, the Rookery needs to deal with terribly high stakes that end up transcending the “merely” political and move over the treacherous and apparently invincible terrain of demonic power.

Indeed, Ryx and the Rookery are put to the test in the most harrowing ways imaginable, which brings the revelation of many long-held secrets that might fracture their bond, and as far as Ryx herself is concerned those revelations bring forth a discovery that affects both her past and her future: to say that I was completely floored by this epiphany would be a huge understatement and at the same time I’m eager to see how this will affect her involvement in the Rookery for the next book.

The trials our protagonists are put through offer however a powerful way of expanding their characters and showing us more of their personalities and their past: there are some heartbreaking moments in which I felt for them deeply, because so far Melissa Caruso had presented them in a light-hearted fashion, even when they were facing difficult circumstances and almost-impossible tasks – the affectionate banter between them was one of the delights of the story, and seeing them so exposed and deeply wounded was difficult and painful to bear.  And yet, nothing brings characters into sharper relief than pushing them to the limits of their endurance, and seeing what they are truly made of: all of the Rookery members came through with flying colors, their inner dynamics certainly changed but in an interesting way that promises intriguing developments for the future.

As for Ryx, if I felt great empathy for her in the previous book, here she had my total admiration because she showed once and for all that despite the cruel drawbacks life heaped on her she has grown into a strong, determined individual who is unwilling to sacrifice her personal integrity, no matter the cost. For someone who was forced to live a sheltered life, she keeps showing a degree of flexibility and strength in the face of adversity that promise to turn her into a formidable person whose unbreakable core of humanity can temper any negative influence she might suffer.

Once again Melissa Caruso confutes the notion that the middle book of a trilogy is usually the flimsy one: with The Quicksilver Court she considerably raised the stakes in a narrative background that was already delightfully complicated, all the while adding intriguing facets to her characters and their internal relationships. My expectations for the final installment in the Rooks and Ruins trilogy (and for her future production) are quite high and I know they will not be disappointed.

All I have to do is just wait…

My Rating: