Tough Travels #5: Strongholds

Tough Travels is a monthly meme that recommends fantasy books based on tropes, themes, and clichés cited in Diana Wynne Jones’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. The meme was created by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and is now hosted by Fantasy Faction.

Since I haven’t read many fantasy books, I instead create my list at the end of the month, after reading everyone else’s, and include recommendations from them that are interesting to me.

August’s theme (I’m late, again):


The Tough Guide offers information on various kinds of fantasy strongholds. For example, you might be looking for castles, complete with ‘frowning battlements, slit windows and multiple defensible spiral stairways inside’ and which ‘occasionally adorn the heights for pictorial effect’.

Or perhaps towers, which ‘stand alone in waste areas and almost always belong to wizards.’ Towers are often ‘several stories high, round, doorless, virtually windowless, and composed of smooth blocks of masonry that make them very hard to climb. The Rule is that there is also a strong no-entry spell, often backed up by a guardian demon.

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“Normal” by Warren Ellis

The cover made me to pick this up.

I’d seen it on a previous visit to the library. Thinking it to be a horror novel, I avoided it. On another visit, the cover again caught my interest and curious, I read the synopsis on the back. “Sci-fi,” I thought. “Pweh!” I don’t like sci-fi and sometimes the concepts discussed scare me more than the horror novels. Again, I didn’t bother to check out the book.

But the third time I saw it on the shelf, I was again curious, sci-fi or not, and decided to just read the first sentence:

“Hand over the entire internet now and nobody gets hurt,” she said, aiming the toothbrush at the nurse like an evil magic wand.

Since then I was hooked and hardly put the book down until I was done.

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Tough Travels #4: Adepts

Tough Travels is a monthly meme that recommends fantasy books based on tropes, themes, and clichés cited in Diana Wynne Jones’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. The meme was created by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and is now hosted by Fantasy Faction.

Since I haven’t read many fantasy books, I instead create my list at the end of the month, after reading everyone else’s, and include recommendations from them that are interesting to me.

July’s theme (I’m late):


The Tough Guide defines an ADEPT as ‘one who has taken what amounts to a Post-graduate course in Magic. If a Magic User is given this title, you can be sure he/she is fairly hot stuff. However, the title is neutral and does not imply that the Adept is either Good or Evil.’

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“The Fog Diver” by Joel Ross

Goodreads summary:

A deadly white mist has cloaked the earth for hundreds of years. Humanity clings to the highest mountain peaks, where the wealthy Five Families rule over the teeming lower slopes and rambling junkyards. As the ruthless Lord Kodoc patrols the skies to enforce order, thirteen-year-old Chess and his crew scavenge in the Fog-shrouded ruins for anything they can sell to survive.

Hazel is the captain of their salvage raft: bold and daring. Swedish is the pilot: suspicious and strong. Bea is the mechanic: cheerful and brilliant. And Chess is the tetherboy: quiet and quick…and tougher than he looks. But Chess has a secret, one he’s kept hidden his whole life. One that Lord Kodoc is desperate to exploit for his own evil plans. And even as Chess unearths the crew’s biggest treasure ever, they are running out of time… (Goodreads)

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“The Strain” by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain, the first book in its trilogy, is so many things. It’s a story about revenge, loss, the strive to survive, chaos and the destruction of society, fighting against evil. It’s a story about individuals driven by greed, anger, love. It’s a science fiction novel, both a novel steeped in science and fairytale. It’s dystopian. It’s a nightmare.

Quick summary:

On September 24, 2010, a flight from Berlin lands at New York’s JFK Airport, but no one disembarks and the pilots do not contact the control tower. It’s as if the plane is dead. When personnel from the CDC rapid-response team, doctors Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather and Nora Martinez, enter the plane, they find everyone dead, but no sign of how they died. However, there is a sinister feeling in the air, a tingle of fear, and as they unload the plane, they find a huge, ornately carved coffin in the cargo hold. This occurs at the cusp of a total solar eclipse with the city on edge waiting for something to happen.

Only one man in New York City truly knows what is about to happen because he has experienced it before — Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian. He tries to warn Eph and Nora, but no one believes him until it’s too late, until the eclipse starts and the bodies from the plane start to disappear and there are increasing reports of people attacking each other.

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“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenThere are a few reasons why I read this novel. The main ones: because of the hype and because Slate Audio Book Club had such a wonderful discussion on it. I was delayed in purchasing the book so I downloaded a sample, which took the edge off my craving for the story. It was a few days before I could buy and read the entire thing and during the wait, my anticipation and expectation of the story gradually grew. However, I believe I would have had a more positive reading experience if not for the break between the sample and reading the story in its entirety.

Quick summary:

“Time had been reset by catastrophe.”

It’s present day. You’re going about your life as you normally do. There’re news alerts about an obscure flu outbreak in a country or state not exactly close to yours. You listen to the broadcast but you’re not alarmed. The outbreaks don’t seem threatening, plus they are nowhere close to you. As days pass, you hear more announcements about outbreaks that seem to be happening more rapidly. Some hospitals are too understaffed to handle the cases; others are quarantined. Then you hear that the flu is in your city. Someone you know has the symptoms. People are afraid, even the usually unperturbed newscasters are shaken. People are getting sick and dying quickly. It’s an epidemic. But you have hope. You believe the government will sort all this out eventually so you barricade yourself in your apartment and you wait…

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“Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Not a fan of the cover 😦

At the end of April, I sought something new to read; something different from the genres and books I usually reach for. While perusing the e-books I downloaded from Early Bird Book’s daily deals, I found a copy of Jules Verne’s novel and decided to venture into science fiction, a genre I hardly read.

I began reading immediately and I could tell that it’s a wonderful and entertaining tale, but the language of the translation was clunky and laborious to read. As such, the story became a drag and I loathed picking it up. Luckily, I went to the bookstore soon after starting the story and there I found a Barnes & Noble Classics copy of the story. Michael Dirda’s advice from his Classics for Pleasure book flitted through my mind: It’s better to read multiple translations of a work* (memory foggy but I believe I read that in his book). So I decided to compare the translation of the e-book to the Barnes & Noble Classics copy. The B&N copy was fluid and so easy to read that I got swept up in the story without noticing though I was re-reading the beginning. It was not a question. I would buy it.

Quick summary:

The story is narrated by Axel, nephew of Otto Lidenbrock, a short-tempered, eccentric German professor of mineralogy. Axel tells us that one day in May 1863 his uncle ran home with an old book by Snorre Turleson, a famous Icelandic author. His uncle, a bibliophile, was glad about his find but became even more excited when an old parchment tucked within fell out. It had runes scribbled across it that, once deciphered, contained instructions of how to journey to the center of the earth through a volcano in Iceland.

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“Divergent” by Veronica Roth

The cover does make me think Hunger Games.
The cover makes me think of Hunger Games.

As with Vampire Academy and Beautiful Creatures, it’s the movie that sparked my interest in this book. I enjoyed watching the protagonist, Beatrice “Tris” Prior, develop from a shy, reserved girl into a confident, fearless young woman. I was drawn to the slow progression of her relationship with Four and, of course, I loved it when Four (played by actor Theo James) ripped his shirt off to show Tris his tattoo (…well, he didn’t exactly rip his shirt off but in my mind he did). Wanting to know how similar the novel is to the movie, I decided to purchase the book to find out.

Quick summary (spoilers):

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, where all that remains are structural skeletons of our present society. The city is surrounded by a huge, electric fence that’s guarded by a security patrol. Something beyond the city threatens it and citizens are warned not to venture far beyond its limits.

Within this barricade is a society organized into five factions—Dauntless, for the brave; Erudite, for the intelligent; Candor, for the honest; Amity, for the harmonious; and Abnegation, for the selfless. Tris’ family belongs to Abnegation but Tris yearns to break from the restrictions of her faction. She doesn’t feel as if she fits in. Instead, she is attracted to the Dauntless and often wishes to run free with them but her loyalty to her family leaves her ashamed of such thoughts.

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