The nitty-gritty: An irresistible mix of steampunk and Scottish faery lore, a feisty heroine with depth, a yummy male love interest, just enough violence for the boys, and just enough romance for the girls.
I’m about to double back to the gardens when the full taste of the faery’s power hits me. My head snaps up and I briefly savor the sensation. Honey and dirt and pure nature, a thousand flavors that are difficult to describe. The taste of the wild—running through trees with wind in my hair as my feet pound soft dirt. The sea on a misty morning, with sand and water swirling around my legs. A taste that conjures images that look real and significant. There is only one faery I’ve ever met with that signature.
The title of this blog post sums it up: Aileana is Buffy, except she’s Scottish and she kills faeries instead of vampires. Kiaran is Angel, but he’s actually more like Angelus, the bad Angel. (Apologies to those of you who are going “Huh?” right now.) In addition to all that Buffy goodness, May has the language of Austen down pat, and she somehow manages to add sprinklings of steampunk elements to the mix. And the entire thing works, believe it or not. I had the best time reading The Falconer, and if I could sum up this book in one word, it would be “charming.” Aileana’s first person voice was charming, May’s unique Scottish/Steampunk/fantasy world was charming, and the growing romance between faery killer Aileana and her bad boy faery mentor Kiaran was, yes, charming! In many ways this book reminded me of my reading experience with Stolen Songbird, two cases where the authors just got it right. They managed to pull all sorts of elements together in just the right way, and because of this, their books stand out from the crowd. (Although what’s up with the cliffhangers, ladies?? More about that later…)
We meet Aileana Kameron at a party straight out of Pride and Prejudice, as she is trying to blend in with the other girls her age, while stalking and killing an evil faery before he attacks. She is a Falconer, the last in a line of faery killers, and she’s out to avenge her mother’s death by hunting down the faery that killed her. But Aileana’s life is complicated by many things, including a father who wants to marry her off as quickly as possible, a faery named Kiaran who saved her life and now trains her to kill other faeries, and an annoying yet lovable pixie named Derrick who lives in her closet and mends her clothes.
But when a mystical seal that is preventing faeries from spilling out into this world begins to weaken, it’s up to Aileana to fix it, and she only has six days to do so. It’s a race against the clock as she tries to stop the end of the world, kill her mother’s murderer, and try to keep her secret life secret, all while battling her growing feelings for a decidedly improper man who just happens to be a faery himself. It is any wonder she’s exhausted?
The faeries in The Falconer are not of the Tinkerbell variety at all. They are vicious, evil creatures who come in all shapes and sizes and whose sole purpose is to kill humans and absorb their life energy. Most of them have long pointy teeth that can rip out your throat in an instant, as well as all manner of disgusting facial features that put them firmly in the “monster” category. And there is certainly no shortage of blood in this book. May’s fight scenes are almost gleefully violent and bloody, and Aileana spends most of the story trying to recover from one injury or another. I loved that one moment Aileana is a proper young lady in a billowing ball gown, and the next she’s ripping off her skirts to go chase after faeries.
At first I was a bit thrown by the steampunk bits, but May made them work. In addition to everything else Aileana is doing, she is also an inventor, and she spends her free time tinkering with mechanical devices to make weapons. I especially loved her flying machine, an odd contraption like a flying car that resembles a large bat as it flaps through the skies. I know what you’re thinking: Flying cars? Swords? Magical faery realms? High society? How could all these things fit into one story? Trust me, they do.
May incorporates the Scottish element by throwing in lots of terms from Scottish mythology, like the types of faeries that Aileana hunts. She clearly did lots of research, and even though I couldn’t begin to pronounce terms like baobhan sith or sgian dubh, I didn’t mind because they made the story that much more authentic.
But even though I loved May's unique world-building, it was the characters that really stood out for me. I adored Aileana’s grit and sass, but I have to admit that her pixie friend Derrick was the character who stole my heart. He was like a male Tinkerbell who is loyal to his mistress but gets drunk when he eats too much honey. I mean, who wouldn’t want their own Derrick sitting on their shoulder, invisible to everyone else?
Yes, there is a romance in this story, because hey, it’s young adult. But I loved the subtle way the author handled it, and I’ve never said this in a review before, but I completely shipped Kiaran and Aileana. Kiaran is a delightful blend of bad-ass/dangerous/mysterious/loyal/protective/gorgeous, and I knew the moment he walked onto the page that I was going to love him.
Other reviewers have complained about the cliffhanger ending, and I’m no exception. It does end abruptly and right in the middle of the action, leaving us to wonder how on earth our characters will survive long enough to make it into book two. But other than that, and a few too many instances of Aileana biting her tongue (I actually started highlighting them because she does it so often!), there is little not to like in The Falconer. May’s writing is polished and practically dances across the page, and I fear it’s going to be a long wait for the next book in the series. Until then, watch your back and don’t get lured by a faery who may be after your life energy. And why don’t you read this book while you’re waiting? Please excuse me while I go binge-watch my Buffy DVDs...Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ from the finished version.(less)
This is going to be one of my favorite series, and getting a glimpse of Cecile's early years, before the events of STOLEN SONGBIRD, was just what I ne...moreThis is going to be one of my favorite series, and getting a glimpse of Cecile's early years, before the events of STOLEN SONGBIRD, was just what I needed. Although brief, Jensen is brilliant at setting up a scenario and nailing characterization in only a few pages. If you haven't started the series yet, this is the perfect place to begin!(less)
The nitty-gritty: A delectable family tale with heart as well as bite, and a cast of larger-than-life characters that will make you laugh out loud.
The boy shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
“We could always eat her,” he suggested.
Titus closed his eyes for a moment more than a blink.
“Ivan, we have no idea where she’s been.”
“But we have to do something,” he said.
Grandpa eased himself down to take a closer look.
“It would be a shame to let her go to waste,” he said, and gently grasped her bicep as if to evaluate the flesh. “At least that way we know there’ll be no evidence left.”
Titus glanced at his wife. Angelica looked down at the body, but Kat was back in her arms and wriggling to be set on the tiles.
“Normally this takes planning,” she said. “I’m all out of onions, for one thing.”
What’s a girl to do when the hottest boy in school asks her out? Why, bring him home to meet the parents, of course. But when your boyfriend is a vegetarian, and your family…isn’t, well things are bound to get interesting. Meet the Savages, a close-knit family with long-standing traditions and a taste for…human flesh? Yes, you read that right. The Savages may seem normal on the outside, but their celebrations at home include carefully and lovingly prepared meals of the cannibalistic variety. When sixteen-year-old Sasha Savage decides to go vegetarian for a month in order to impress Jack, the family will never be the same again. The Savages is full of black humor of the hysterically funny kind, and will no doubt end up one of my favorite reads of the month.
In order for mom Angelica Savage to afford her expensive shopping sprees, she’s agreed to rent their house out to film crews for commercials. An unfortunate freak accident in the guest bathroom leaves actress Lulabelle Hart dead, and the Savage family wondering what to do with her body. When a private detective becomes suspicious about Lulabelle’s disappearance, the Savage family will need all their wits to stay one step ahead of the law.
Whyman’s writing style is snappy with perfect comedic timing. He does dialog so well, that despite the absurdity of the story line, I could easily see this story playing out on the big screen. Each character adds something special to this book, and I loved all of them, even the bumbling and inept PI Vernon English, who spends most of the story trying to figure out exactly what the Savage family is hiding.
Grandpa Oleg was one of my favorite characters, a man who fretfully wanders the house in a state of confusion (he can never remember where the bathroom is). But he has a heart of gold and a soft spot for his granddaughter Sasha, who tries to explain to him why she doesn’t want to eat meat anymore, to which he replies: “If giving up meat makes you truly happy, then so be it. Just so long as you don’t give up on family.”
I also loved Sasha’s younger brother Ivan, a misunderstood boy whose talent is devising elaborate (and often dangerous) pranks that usually get him in trouble. And baby Katya, who is about to be initiated into the family’s carnivorous traditions once her teeth come in, has some very funny moments of her own, one of which involves a large chunk of tofu.
But as hilarious as the story is, Whyman throws in some social commentary about vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, but makes it all part of the plot without really taking sides. I’d love to hear from some of my vegetarian/vegan friends about whether there is actually a rivalry between the two groups. Sasha does pretty well when she decides to give up meat, but when her boyfriend Jack turns hardcore and gives up dairy and eggs, their relationship takes a turn for the worse. Whyman manages to poke fun of just about everyone in the story without going too far, which makes for a lively and highly entertaining tale.
Reading The Savages might just make you hungry for a perfectly prepared steak, or it might turn you off meat altogether. Whichever side you fall on, I guarantee you’re going to have a blast. Highly recommended.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. (less)
The nitty-gritty: Over-the-top violence, killer clowns with more to them than meets the eye, and a slew of carnival misfits that leave the carnival an...moreThe nitty-gritty: Over-the-top violence, killer clowns with more to them than meets the eye, and a slew of carnival misfits that leave the carnival and venture out into the world, leaving chaos in their wake.
The bouncy ball named Louie had rolled further away and was watching from a safe distance and under the cover of heavy shadows. It was darker on this end of the block, but darkness suited Louie just fine. The congestion in front of Kurt Sadler’s house was as good a sign as any that it was time to move on from this place. But the limbo between haunts was the most agonizing part of being alone. Appeasing his lecherous proclivities was becoming secondary to finding a permanent haunt or, dare he dream, legitimate acceptance.
Author Andre Duza says in his bio that he is a leading member of the Bizarro movement in contemporary fiction. I’ll admit I had never heard of Bizarro until I read Technicolor Terrorists, but I won’t soon forget these odd and violent stories. This book is certainly not for everyone. The graphic violence is almost comical, it’s so ridiculously over-the-top, but it is graphic violence nonetheless, and reading it made my stomach heave more than once. What Duza does to justify this violence is frame it in a story about carnival clowns and other oddities, and seen in that light it works extremely well.
A collection of loosely connected stories, Duza starts the book with a tale about a traveling carnival, whose disgruntled clowns and the few remaining sideshow freaks are about to be thrust out into the real world. From there, we get to see the various characters out of their element and trying to survive without the constraints of the carnival. Some of the same characters pop up again and again, and I did like the fact that the first and last stories focus on the same character, a large stone statue of a weeping Jesus. I thought the stories ended rather abruptly, however, as though Duza was trying too hard to be clever by giving us a shock ending. And although each story features at least one character from the opening tale, I did miss the cohesiveness that a novel gives you. These stories are more like vignettes, snapshots of some very bizarre characters that are more mood pieces that a complete story.
But overall this is a well-written bunch of stories that will certainly go under the “new and different” category of genre fiction. Here’s a quick break-down of each one:
The Holy Ghost Claw—Harley Cooper, the head of the Toxic Brothers Traveling Carnival, has just acquired a new side-show act, one that he thinks is bound to get the carnival back on its financial feet. But the carnival’s clowns, a family group known as the Ton brothers, don’t like the way Marley’s been running things, and they want payback. The story starts out innocently enough, but soon turns horrific as the reader begins to realize that these are not your ordinary clowns.
Paper Cuts—After the terrible events at the end of The Holy Ghost Claw, the carnival freaks have been set loose on the world. One of them, an odd character named Louie 2D, turns up in a suburban real estate development called Utopia Springs Estates and begins to terrorize the people who live there. It doesn’t take long for this story to turn bloody, and after reading this you’ll never look at a rubber ball the same way again.
Technicolor Terrorists—The longest story of the bunch, this one focuses on the Ton brothers clowns, a bunch of the weirdest and scariest clowns I’ve ever met in fiction! A detective named Officer Mars gets caught up in a bizarre murder investigation and realizes—too late—that he is in way over his head. This whacked out story is crowded with murderous clowns who have more than one face, the mob, guns, and buckets of blood. Duza keeps the reader off guard by leaving us to wonder what is real and what isn’t.
Indo and the Killer Rockstar—This story features another oddity from the carnival, a creature named Indo who can turn into mist at will. Indo sets out to help a rock star named Jason Sykes, whose music causes people to turn on and rip each other to shreds. When Jason is framed for a club fire that kills everyone inside, he finds himself on the run from various demented groups of people who want to bring him to justice. No clowns in this story, but plenty of Duza’s brand of graphic violence.
Drug Runnin’ Blues—The final, and shortest, tale in the collection, this is the only story that I didn’t really enjoy. Maybe it was just too short and ended way too abruptly. A man on a drug run is contemplating whether or not to finish the job—he’s worried about getting caught and going to jail—when some key events on the road help him make his decision.
Bizarro indeed. Technicolor Terrorists will pull you out of any reading rut you happen to be in, if only by shocking you with its blend of horror, dark humor and violence. Duza’s stories are an unfocused everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mixture that seems like it shouldn’t work at all. But in the end, I looked back over the book as a whole and caught a glimpse of the author’s vision. I’m not sure I understood everything he was trying to accomplish, but it was a fun ride.
Big thanks to Andre Duza for supplying a review copy.(less)
The nitty-gritty: A strange and magical look at some very unusual animals, a narrator with an insatiable curiosity, no plot to speak of, but beautiful...moreThe nitty-gritty: A strange and magical look at some very unusual animals, a narrator with an insatiable curiosity, no plot to speak of, but beautifully written.
Imagine, however, some unlucky person who would die without ever having encountered a flower, a person whose footfalls regularly met cement, whose raised eyes bumped off a dead layer of clouds, whose hopes consisted of daily crusts, and whose fears were so familiar they couldn’t be bothered to wear faces. Smelling the Parfumiers’ honey, that sad soul would know precisely what a flower was and what it meant—the heart of change that makes hope possible. Our bees had become like the invisible sisterhood of the Muses: their honey was pure poetry.
Invisible Beasts is described as “fiction,” but honestly it felt more like non-fiction to me, a scientific and clinical look at our natural—and unnatural world. Muir has crafted a character named Sophie who comes from a family of people who can see invisible animals, and what sounded like an awesome premise for a story was instead a mostly dry observation about different types of invisible animals, all with their own odd names, as seen by a woman with an eye for very detailed descriptions. This book is meant to be a journal where Sophie writes down details of all the invisible animals she discovers, but unfortunately, there is no plot to this book at all. For a girl who loves a good story—I mean, who among us doesn’t?—it was a bit disappointing.
However, Muir is a lovely writer and I enjoyed many of her made-up creatures. I believe most, if not all, of these stories appeared in literary journals prior to being bundled together into this book, and on their own, some of them are perfectly crafted short stories. Sophie is a playful and wry character who infuses subtle humor into her observations of the creatures that only she can see. Her sister Evie is a biologist who knows her secret, and together they have many lively discussions about the natural world. And even though the talent of being able to see invisible beasts is supposed to skip a generation, Evie’s son Leif has the ability as well (although he only makes one appearance in the book).
Of all the creatures in this story—including the Fine Print Rotifer, the Wild Rubber Jack, the Glass Kraken, and the Feral Parfumier Bees—my favorites were the Truth Bats. Truth Bats are able to detect whether a person is telling the truth or not by the timber of their voice. They are small fuzzy creatures that hang around in honest people’s hair, but a lie will send them flying away. Sophie “loses” her Truth Bats when she lies to her sister, and the only way she can get them back is to tell her the truth.
I also loved the Grand Tour Butterflies, whose wings show beautiful designs of vistas and cities. When the butterflies flock, they can join together and mimic their surroundings just by changing the pattern on their wings. I found myself wishing that some of these creatures were real, so I could see them for myself, although some of them were just too strange and horrifying, and I wanted nothing to do with those.
The story ends with an odd Epilogue that for me, strayed from the topic of animals and biology and dealt with the nature of love. It felt completely out-of-place, but then perhaps I just didn’t understand what the author was trying to say. By that time I had grown bored with Muir’s fascinating creatures and I was ready to read something else.
If you are the sort of reader who loves science, and animals in particular, I believe you will love this book. Don’t get me wrong—it was fascinating to read Sophie’s descriptions of “her” animals, especially when she delves into the stories of how they evolved. Invisible Beasts is a love letter to animals, and Muir’s poetic and fervent writing even made me see the beauty of spiders (at least as long as that chapter lasted!). The obligatory cautionary message about global warming and destroying our environment was subtle, and while I normal cringe at such “messages,” in this case I whole-heartedly agreed with the author. Quirky, odd, and at times beautiful, this is definitely a book that will make you think.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version.
I read the first book in Horn’s series, The Line, earlier this year and loved it. And while many of the same elements are present in book two, it didn...moreI read the first book in Horn’s series, The Line, earlier this year and loved it. And while many of the same elements are present in book two, it didn’t have quite the same punch as the first book. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast reading The Source and revisiting Horn’s family of southern witches, but I feel as if it suffered from Second Book Syndrome—it didn’t feel as tightly edited, as finely plotted, or as carefully focused as the first one. In many places I felt as if there was just too much story, and that Horn was trying to include every awesome idea he could think of in one book.
But what it did have were some pretty amazing characters and wonderfully developed relationships, and for me, this took precedent over the over-stuffed plot. I loved reacquainting myself with Mercy Taylor, young witch and newly appointed “anchor” of the line, a magical force that keeps bad things from crossing over into the human realm. I won’t give away too much of the plot (although it’s almost impossible not to include some spoilers if you haven’t read the first book), but I will briefly set the stage for you.
At the end of The Line, Mercy has discovered that she is pregnant with Peter’s child, and she now has something very important to protect, as her life is once again starting to spin out of control. When she runs into her presumed-dead mother Emily, Mercy’s world is turned upside down, and everything she’s been told by her aunt and uncle seems to have been nothing but lies. Emily says she wants to help and protect her daughter, but suddenly Mercy doesn’t know who to trust. A battle is about to be waged by those witches who uphold the sanctity of the line and those (like Emily) who want to destroy it—and Mercy and her unborn son are caught in the middle.
We are introduced to a whole slew of unsavory characters in The Source, many of whom mean to harm Mercy. First there is Emmet, an odd creature who was “made” from magic at the end of The Line, a man who has been tasked with protecting Mercy and teaching her how to use her magic abilities. On the surface he seems benign, but as the story progresses, I started to distrust him more and more. Plus there was the slight creep factor of his crush on Mercy (he’s one of those annoying men who just can’t take “no” for an answer.)
Then there’s Tucker, another creepy guy who stalked Mercy in the last book, and who is now dating Mercy’s Aunt Ellen (much to her disgust). I didn’t like Tucker then, and I still didn’t like him this time, although he surprised me (in a good way) and I ended up understanding him better by the end.
Once again, one of my favorite characters is Mother Jilo, an old woman who practices root magic and has become one of Mercy’s most trusted friends. She’s a tough old bat who seems mean and unpleasant on the outside, but who has a heart of gold buried underneath. Jilo and Mercy clearly love each other, and I loved that Jilo stands in as Mercy’s surrogate mother and becomes the one person in her life that she can trust.
Mercy herself is a wonderful character, and I thought Horn handled her pregnancy very well. She’s unmarried and not even sure how she feels about Peter, and despite everyone around her pushing for the two to get married, Mercy holds her ground and refuses. Even Peter’s mother Mrs. Tierney can’t persuade Mercy to do something she doesn’t want to do—and believe me, that woman was very opinionated on the subject!
In my review of The Line, I used the expression “soap opera on steroids,” and that’s exactly how I felt about The Source. The complex family relationships made my head spin at times, and they were even more confusing because I could never tell who was lying and who was telling the truth. Horn’s enormous cast of characters didn’t help with my confusion, and I think the story would have been tighter if he’d focused on fewer of these larger-than-life people.
But the author’s imagination is alive and well, and I loved many of the small details Horn brought to his story. He uses the color “haint blue” to great effect and incorporates many details about witchcraft, magic, and the fae. There is also a large house where some very unsettling but fascinating things take place—and the movie that came to mind as I was reading these sections was Eyes Wide Shut—I was alternately cringing and unable to look away.
This series isn’t over. The third and final (?) book, The Void, comes out this fall. I may not have loved this one as much as the first, but you can bet I want to finish this series to find out what happens to Mercy’s baby and the rest of the characters!
Big thanks to 47North for supplying a review copy.
The nitty-gritty: An unsettling story full of subtle magic, dark deeds, and the living dead, beautifully written, but confusing in some par...more3 1/2 Stars
The nitty-gritty: An unsettling story full of subtle magic, dark deeds, and the living dead, beautifully written, but confusing in some parts.
But how horrid to be glad, even for a moment, that her mother was gone, just so she had time to try on new hats. Mother’s words kept haunting her. I know he is alive! Suppose she was right all along. Suppose Father had lived through the battle, and the vision was a sign? If there was any chance at all, she had to find out. She owed it to Mother, who was now trapped behind the asylum walls, losing her precious memories.
If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be “atmospheric.” There is a dark and brooding quality to this story, and it’s made even more dark and brooding by Dolamore’s beautiful prose. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started reading, as I had heard all sorts of words bandied about from “zombies” to “magic” to “LGBT characters.” Dark Metropolis has all of these things—sort of—but I certainly wouldn’t classify this as your standard zombie story, nor did the LGBT aspects stand out as such. (Which disappointed me a bit. I would have liked to see a more developed relationship between Sigi (the gay character) and Nan, the girl she falls for.) Although parts of the story were confusing and not nearly developed enough for my taste, what I did love about this book were the emotional situations the characters find themselves in as they try to cope during a very dark and depressing time.
Dark Metropolis is based on the 1927 movie, Metropolis, a movie I haven’t seen, yet felt compelled to research. There are definite similarities in the story lines, but why the author chose such a depressing subject to write about is anybody’s guess. The story takes place in an alternate history 1930s Germany, where the war has caused many people to fall on hard times and magic has been outlawed. Thea is a young girl who works as a hostess at the Telephone Club, an upscale venue where the rich enjoy extravagant stage productions and are served by beauties like Thea. But Thea’s real life is anything but exciting. Her mother is suffering from “bound-sickness” since her husband died in the war, but she insists that he isn’t dead at all because she can still “feel” him.
One evening Thea meets a young man with silver hair named Freddy, and when she accidentally touches his hand, she has a disturbing vision of her father, rising from the dead. Shortly after, her best friend Nan stops coming into work, and Thea knows something is terribly wrong. With Freddy’s help, she is about to discover a world she never knew existed, a dangerous world where the dead are forced into hard labor and will never see their loved ones again.
From the outside, this doesn’t really seem like a story about magic. So when the first offhand mention of it came up, I was caught off guard. It turns out that since the war, magic has become illegal, and we discover early on that Freddy has a very rare gift: he can bring the dead back to life with only a touch, although whether these people he brings back are actually alive or not, well, you’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself. (I did love Freddy’s magic because it reminded me of Torchwood and the resurrection glove—anyone?) But Freddy isn’t the only one with magical abilities. Thea’s friend Nan also has some magic in her, but here is where things fell apart a little for me. Nan’s magic is hinted at but never really explained. We also learn about a spell called “marriage-binding” which magically links two people together so that they can always find each other. It seems like a good idea but it has terrible consequences. I guess my feeling about the author’s use of magic is that it just didn’t feel as if all these types of magic belonged together in the same story.
The pacing felt slow to me in the beginning, as we’re introduced to all the characters and trying to uncover the mystery of why so many people are disappearing, but it picks up in the last third of the book, and I was racing to turn the pages (of my Kindle) to see what would happen. Dolamore gives us lots of emotional and melancholy moments, like Thea’s mother going crazy from the bound-sickness because she wants to find her husband, and the consequences of Freddy’s reviving magic and how he comes to terms with accepting that his “magic” isn’t natural and is only causing pain. Many of the characters are downright sad, lonely, and simply trying to get by in a harsh city, and it was sometimes hard to read page after page of misery with very little happiness to break up the sadness.
Dark Metropolis is the first in a series, although honestly I can’t figure out where the author will go next, since this book wrapped up quite nicely (and no cliffhanger in sight, thank god!). If you love your stories dark, your characters tragic, and your magic subtle, then this book may be just what you need.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.(less)
The nitty-gritty: A short but powerful introduction to Midnight Thief, with a compelling and very focused story that made me ache for more of this wor...moreThe nitty-gritty: A short but powerful introduction to Midnight Thief, with a compelling and very focused story that made me ache for more of this world.
He handed her a stiletto the length of her hand and molded her fingers around the handle. Her hands were slender and her nails were delicately rounded, though her palms were calloused. The two of them stood in the cramped space between his bed and the window, holding the blade between them.
Poison Dance is a prequel novella to Blackburne’s upcoming Midnight Thief, which will be released in July by Disney Hyperion. I was thrilled when Livia contacted me and asked if I would review it, and I’m happy to say it exceeded my expectations. Not only does the author quickly suck us into her world (and at eighty-six pages, that’s a difficult feat to pull off), but she has written a short story that has so many elements that you will walk away thinking you’ve just read a full-fledged novel. Saying I’m salivating to read Midnight Thief is no exaggeration. I can’t believe July is so far away!
Obviously I don’t want to give any spoilers for this story, but I will attempt to briefly give you a synopsis. The story revolves around two main characters. James is a hired assassin and a member of the Assassin’s Guild. Thalia is a “dancing girl” who performs at a local tavern. One night after her performance, she corners James and asks him to help her kill a rich nobleman, and offers him a way out of his dangerous life as an assassin in return. James agrees to help her, and the ensuing story explains what happens as James and Thalia prepare for this perilous mission.
What I loved about Poison Dance was the emotional depth that Blackburne was able to achieve in such a short piece of work. She immediately puts her characters in danger and gives them a near-impossible task to complete, which pulls the reader into the story and keeps us there until the end. It didn’t take long to read this novella, but the emotional impact stayed with me for a long time.
Both James and Thalia are strong, independent people with tragic pasts, and I immediately connected with them. Their time together is agonizingly brief, but they make the most of that time. And despite its length, the author still manages to flesh out the secondary characters really well, and I thought each one added something important to the story.
Poison Dance didn’t have any overt fantasy elements to it (except for the poison of the title, which is not a real type of poison), although I think Midnight Thief is categorized as fantasy. But the world-building suggests a time and place that could be magical, so I’ll be interested to see how it’s developed in a longer piece.
This short glimpse into Livia Blackburne’s world is so tantalizing, you’ll probably be as anxious to read Midnight Thief as I am. Don’t hesitate. Grab your copy today and see what I’m talking about. If the author can create such a vivid world in only eighty-six pages, imagine what she can do with three hundred and sixty-eight. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.
The nitty-gritty: A magical history of Brooklyn, filled with mysteries and monsters, written in Alice Hoffman’s incomparable style.
It was hard to beli...moreThe nitty-gritty: A magical history of Brooklyn, filled with mysteries and monsters, written in Alice Hoffman’s incomparable style.
It was hard to believe that the teeming streets of lower Manhattan were less than a day’s walk from what was still a sort of wilderness. The wild tulip trees were two hundred feet tall. There were said to be bear here, come down from the Palisades in the winter, crossing the Hudson when it froze, along with wild turkeys, fox, muskrats, and deer. I thought of the forests of the Ukraine, where cuckoos sung in the trees and owls glided through the dark. My father and I had stopped to make camp for several nights on our travels. I was only a small child, but it was there, listening to the voice of the forest, that I had lost the ability to sleep.
Alice Hoffman used to be one of my favorite authors before I started blogging. I’ve read many of her books (although not all—she’s written over thirty!), but as book bloggers know, once you start accepting books for review, many of your favorite authors fall by the wayside. But when this one came up on Edelweiss, I knew it was time to make time for Hoffman again. And I’m so glad I did. Reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things was like a balm on my soul. Hoffman’s familiar writing style is so comforting, and even though this book lacked the magic realism that she’s known for, I found myself loving every word.
The story takes place in Brooklyn, New York in the year 1911, but flashes back to the early lives of the two main characters, as we get to know more about their family histories. Coralie is eighteen and has been part of her father’s Museum of Extraordinary Things as a sideshow attraction for nearly half her life. She is the “human mermaid,” forced to wear a fake mermaid tale and swim in a tank of water for hours a day. At night, Coralie practices swimming in the freezing Hudson River in order to increase her lung capacity, while dreaming of an easier life that doesn’t include being exploited by her strict father.
Parallel to Coralie’s story we meet Eddie, a refugee from the Ukraine who has become adept at taking journalistic photographs of crime scenes. When Eddie is hired by a stranger to find a missing girl named Hannah, Eddie’s and Coralie’s lives become linked through a series of events. As Hoffman reveals bit by bit what happened to Hannah, the paths of Eddie and Coralie slowly come together, before the mystery is solved.
Hoffman has clearly done tons of research for her book. One of my favorite things about the story was the amount of historical detail she wove into the narrative. Clearly 1911 was a great year for story fodder, because a lot of horrific (but interesting!) things take place. Focusing her writer’s lens on Brooklyn, and in particular on Coney Island, the author includes such historic events as the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the opening (and closing!) of the ambitious amusement park Dreamland, and the battle of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union to secure safe working conditions for girls and women in factories. Let’s just say I learned a lot reading this book! You can tell that Hoffman loves New York and is passionate about the dangers young factory workers faced near the turn of the century. Some of her descriptions of the city are so detailed, it’s almost as if she herself had stepped back in time to take notes.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced book, however, you need to keep looking. And this is not a criticism by any means. One of Hoffman’s skills is her ability to develop her plot and characters slowly in such a way that the reader never gets bored, but instead savors each discovery, knowing that the mystery will eventually be revealed.
The story construction was hard to get used to at first, I’ll admit. Each chapter focuses on either Coralie or Eddie, and switches back and forth between the two. The first part of the chapter is told in first person, as the character tells us about his or her past, and the second part switches to third person and takes place in the present. This jumping around confused me at first, but once I understood what the author was doing, it all made sense.
Hoffman is brilliant at introducing small details, and then pulling them through the story. For example, when Eddie is a boy working as a tailor in a factory, he steals an expensive pocket watch from the factory owner’s son. This watch pops up again and again during Eddie’s story, as he struggles with the idea of whether or not to return it. Hoffman is such a seasoned writer (she’s been writing books for over forty years!) that it’s no surprise that nothing in this story is random. Every item, every detail, and every character is there for a reason.
As with most of Hoffman’s novels, romance eventually blooms between Coralie and Eddie, but it’s agonizingly slow (until they actually meet—then it almost feels like instalove!) and things don’t go quite the way you expect them to. The author often writes about love and how it can be found in the most unexpected of places, and this novel is no exception.
There are so many things to discover in this book, and I’ve barely scratched the surface with this review. Simply put, The Museum of Extraordinary Things was a treat to read. It made me happy—despite the unhappy moments—and I am anxiously awaiting Hoffman’s next book. Don’t miss this one!(less)
Enter my international giveaway for a copy of Peacemaker here: Books, Bones & Buffy. Ends Friday May 23!!
The nitty-gritty: A quirky mix of old wes...moreEnter my international giveaway for a copy of Peacemaker here: Books, Bones & Buffy. Ends Friday May 23!!
The nitty-gritty: A quirky mix of old west and sci-fi, a kick-ass heroine who can’t seem to stay out of trouble, and just a bit of romance, in all the right places.
Heart without the smile was a good looking guy with a great body. With the smile he became a weapon of mass destruction.
I was immediately intrigued by this book when I first saw the eye-catching cover by Joey Hi-Fi, an artist who has done many of the Angry Robot covers. And can I just say, this cover perfectly captures the tone of Peacemaker. It’s a kick-ass western/sci-fi/urban fantasy that was unlike anything else I’ve read, and I had a blast reading it. Marianne de Pierres has a compact and finely honed writing style, filled with snappy dialog reminiscent of great noir fiction. Not only is this story an awesome genre mash-up, but it takes place in Australia, which for me, added to its charm. I’m happy to say that this is only the first book in de Pierres’ new series, and I am anxiously awaiting book two.
Virgin is a park ranger who patrols and cares for Birrimun Park, one of the last sprawling natural parks around. Her father taught her to respect the land and its natural resources, and she’s taken that lesson to heart, especially after his suspicious death inside the park. But a new Marshall named Nate Sixkiller has come to town to monitor some suspected drug trafficking, and now he’s Virgin’s responsibility. When Virgin witnesses a murder in the park after dark, all hell breaks loose, and she and Nate must figure out why they’re being targeted by a group called Korax. Virgin suspects that Nate knows more than he’s telling her, and he may even know what happened to her father. When an imaginary eagle from Virgin’s past named Aquila shows up unexpectedly, she knows things are only going to get weirder. With so many mysteries to unravel, what’s a girl to do?
My favorite thing about Peacemaker was Virgin’s first person narration. She’s sassy and quick with the snarky retorts, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. Virgin has a lover—not a boyfriend, mind you—who she spends one night a week with, a hot male stripper named Heart. I adored their relationship, mostly because I loved the way Virgin only wants Heart for sex, and nothing else. It was such a great way to turn the tables on what is usually a stereotypical male relationship scenario. Virgin is the type of woman who knows what she wants, and doesn’t let anyone stand in her way.
When Sixkiller comes into the picture—and boy, do I love his name!—I thought at first a love triangle might be brewing. And in a way, there is one, but it was skillfully done and didn’t take over the story. This is most decidedly not a romance, but it had romantic elements that felt natural and fit within the fast-paced mystery without bringing the action to a screeching halt. Sixkiller is one of those characters with lots of secrets, and it was fun watching Virgin try to figure him out.
de Pierres’ dialog is so good, I just have to share a snippet with you, like this scene between Sixkiller and Virgin’s friend Corah:
“Caro Jenae, and Marshall Nate Sixkiller,” I said by way of introduction. “Meet…um…Corah.”
“Marshall Sixkiller. What a shame…all the best men are always in law enforcement,” she said, completely ignoring Caro.
“Well I take that as a compliment, ma’am,” said Sixkiller in his broadest drawl. “And hope you don’t hold it ag’in me.”
“I’d like to hold many things ag’in you Marshall. Perhaps I could make you a list.”
The genre mash-up I mentioned earlier really makes Peacemaker stand out from the usual fare of science fiction. The story has an overall feeling of a western, what with all the pistols and gun-toting characters. But small sci-fi details remind us that we’re not in the old West, details like the invisible force field that covers Birrimun Park, and the dissolving gloves that Virgin uses in one scene.
The city itself, which lends an urban fantasy vibe to the story, is divided into small factions that employ their own methods of law enforcement, rather than rely on the government to help them. Society is slowly falling apart, and parts of the city are downright dangerous, such as Mystere, a place where you can go to get your tarot read, but if you wander too far off the main road, you’re likely to be shot for looking at someone the wrong way.
The story has many funny moments, and I found myself laughing out loud more than once. One particular running gag was perfectly done. When someone breaks into Virgin’s apartment and Sixkiller saves her by killing the intruder, the police tape outline of the murder victim almost becomes a character itself, when Virgin names it “John Flat.”
My only issue with the book is that there is a lot going on, and I lost track a few times of what the characters were doing. But there is so much to love about Peacemaker: colorful characters, references to mythology, lots of mysteries to solve and some complex relationships that leave lots of fodder for book two. Several surprises are revealed near the end, which makes me want to read the next installment even more. If you are ready for a story that stands out from the crowd with a unique feel all its own, Peacemaker is truly worth your time.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.(less)
The nitty-gritty: A fascinating take on the werewolf tale, wrapped up in an emotional story about complex family relationships, with some much-needed...moreThe nitty-gritty: A fascinating take on the werewolf tale, wrapped up in an emotional story about complex family relationships, with some much-needed character diversity and lots of cool magic!
Natividad thought the girl couldn’t be more than thirteen or fourteen years old. Her father’s elegant features were, in her, a fragile delicacy. She didn’t look like a girl who could survive disasters. She looked stunned and blank, like she had not yet figured out whether she ought to feel grief or rage or despair or terror. All those emotions would crash in on her at once, Natividad knew. Soon. Probably as soon as Harrison locked her in the cage downstairs to wait, alone, for her corrupted shadow to rise.
Whatever you do, don’t call black dogs “werewolves,” because they’re not. But it’s hard not to think of these creatures this way, because black dogs and werewolves are similar: they look human until they shift into their wolf form, and they are driven to kill. Neumeier has taken this idea and created something unique. Her black dogs not only shift into wolf form in a new way, but they live in complex packs that seem to closely resemble those of dogs and wolves. Neumeier has gorgeous writing skills and uses them to her advantage, creating a story that flows beautifully and is equal parts violent action and focused family drama.
When the story opens, fifteen-year-old Natividad and her two brothers, Miguel and Alejandro, are on the run. They have left their beloved Mexico after their parents were brutally murdered, and are on their way to Vermont to look for the Dimilioc tribe of black dogs, where they hope to be granted refuge from the enemy who killed their parents. But finding the Dimilioc black dogs could be more dangerous than they realize, because pack leader Grayson Lanning is wary of any black dog who isn’t already part of his pack.
With the Dimilioc’s acceptance comes great responsibility, as Natividad and her brothers are about to find out. Because their nemesis, a cruel and dangerous black dog named Vonhausel, is about to make his presence known in the worst way possible. As Grayson’s black dogs and the newcomers slowly start to trust one another, they must join together to destroy Vonhausel once and for all.
I think my favorite part of Black Dog was the incredibly detailed world-building. I loved the idea of the black dogs, who are born that way (not changed by a bite). When a black dog changes to wolf form, it’s their shadow that creates the change. It takes over the human body, much like a storm cloud passing over the sun. A black dog can control his shadow and keep it back if he doesn’t want to change, but this skill requires great strength. Just like the classic werewolf, a black dog is constantly at war with his alter ego.
When I said the family relationships are complex, I wasn’t kidding. Alejandro is a black dog, but his brother Miguel is human and Natividad is something else entirely, a “Pure.” Pures are always female and have magical abilities that can calm a black dog and keep his shadow from rising. Pures are highly valued in the black dog world for this ability, but unfortunately, they are also desired for breeding purposes. This was the one part of the world-building I wasn’t crazy about. My feminist side couldn’t help but protest the fact that all of these tough and dangerous black dogs were salivating over Natividad, even the gray-haired leader, Grayson. Some of Natividad’s interactions with him had me raising my eyebrows, and at one point I was worried Neumeier was about to have them hook up romantically (and yuck!). But when I stepped back and simply observed the reactions of the black dogs, it made sense in a way. The author has set up a realistic “pack” that behaves like domestic dogs do. Even as I was wincing as the males started literally sniffing around Natividad, I tried my best to distance myself and just go with it.
Natividad has a potential romantic love interest (and yes, he wants her just as much as the other males!), but the author wisely puts the romance on the back burner. One of the strongest black dogs is a man named Ezekiel who practically stamps his name on Natividad’s forehead when he meets her. But as the story progressed I grew to really like him, and he never went beyond a stolen kiss or two with her, which I thought was appropriate, especially because of her age.
Neumeier did a great job of showing just how hard the life of black dogs and Pures are. Pack life is always uncertain at best, and downright deadly when someone gets out of control. Everyone must obey and look up to Grayson, which was hard to read about at times. The Dimiliocs in particular have hard and violent lives, because Vonhausel wants to kill them all. A thrilling climactic scene reveals some interesting things about evil Vonhausel, but before things are resolved, get ready for lots of bloodshed.
What didn’t work for me were the scenes between all the action, when the characters were sitting around talking about what they were going to do next. There seemed to be way too many of these talky scenes, at least for me. They served the purpose of conveying information about the world of the black dogs and their customs, but after a while I felt they were just repeating themselves.
But other than that, I found Black Dog to be a fascinating and utterly original story. Amidst the violence of pack life, Neumeier shows us beauty in the smallest details: Natividad’s protective magic, the times when the characters comfort each other, and the joy Natividad and her brothers feel when they see snow for the first time. These moments balance out the blood and grief, and make this a story of hope.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
In a word: A futuristic city on the brink of collapse, full of dangerous and broken characters,...moreThis review first appeared on Books, Bones & Buffy.
In a word: A futuristic city on the brink of collapse, full of dangerous and broken characters, and perfectly honed writing that paints a gloomy, yet hopeful, vision of the future.
He walked to her, and her eyes remained focused on whatever spot they had found. He reached for her, but she had nothing for him. Nothing save that cold and dry stare, a deep chasm of blue or black; a colour indescribable, indecipherable.
He was holding her shoulders, now. They felt brittle, like ice, and he was worried that even by pressing his hands against them that he might break her. Or break her more.
He let go of her and she drifted away from him, down the hallway and out the front door.
This is the second book I’ve read from the small UK-based Salt Publishing, and I’m very impressed with the high quality of writing and story-telling I’ve seen from them so far. Wayne Simmons has quite a few books under his belt, but this is his first foray into science fiction. You may recognize him as the author of Doll Parts, Flu and Fever, which are all horror stories. Plastic Jesus is set in an unspecified future, after a Holy War has changed the face of the world as we know it. Simmons takes the idea of a future where religion has died, but one man has a vision to reinvent Jesus and capitalize on his come-back. Plastic Jesus reminded me of the moodiness of Blade Runner and the drug-fueled plot and stylistic writing of Jeff Noon’s Vurt, but with a unique quality all its own. Dangerous and atmospheric, Plastic Jesus is a futuristic thrill ride with unexpected heart.
Johnny Lyon is a coder for Alt, a company that provides hydropower to Lark City. But Johnny’s wife Becky has just died, and he’s taking some time off work. His boss, a man named Garcon, has a brilliant idea and needs Johnny to come back to work: he wants to create a virtual reality Jesus and stage a resurrection, and he wants Johnny to write the code. Johnny agrees to do it, but things don’t go quite the way he expects. As Johnny writes the program and tries not to think about his wife, the denizens of Lark City go about their sordid business, including the Reverend Harold Shepherd whose church is the last one in the city, a cop named Rudlow who is trying, and failing, to shut down the illegal drug trade, and the drug lord himself, Paul McBride, a nasty character who rules Lark City and is feared by just about everyone.
Plastic Jesus is written in short chapters that at first seem to jump around as Simmons introduces his large cast of characters, but then slowly take shape when the reader realizes that all these characters are connected in one way or another. His writing is precise and as sharp as the blade that McBride uses on one of his victims. The people in Plastic Jesus are mostly unhappy, and many of them are either drug addicts or “wireheads” who link directly into the world of VR to escape their miserable lives. I loved the small details of the not-too-far-in-the-future technology, like cell phones that sync to each other when you step into a room, and the use of hydropower in lieu of electricity (fossil fuels are gone). On the surface this is science fiction, but it’s also a gritty crime story populated by prostitutes, drunks, drug dealers and thieves. I loved the way this story felt both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, which I’ll admit made me feel uneasy while reading it.
Simmons brings his characters to life with very little effort. In just a few words he makes you hate McBride, a violent and controlling man who was one of the most terrifying characters I've ever run across. McBride’s daughter Kitty is a very young girl who is always strung out on drugs but shows her vulnerable side by attending church. And Johnny simply wants to forget the pain of losing his wife and make his boss happy by finishing the VR Jesus on time. Nearly every character in the story is trying to forget something horrible from their past, but not all of them are succeeding.
It may seem as if Plastic Jesus is nothing but despair and pain, but the author gives some of his characters short glimpses of hope. I was worried at first that there were too many characters to keep the plot from falling apart, but Simmons manages to tie up all the dangling story lines in the end. One such story line with Johnny and an unopened email, which the author carried throughout the entire book, finally resolved into an emotional punch that gave me goosebumps. Wayne Simmons is definitely a writer to watch, and I can't wait to read his next book. Violent and shocking, but filled with hidden pockets of humanity and heart, Plastic Jesus is highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.(less)
The nitty-gritty: A thrilling, terrifying and shockingly gruesome story that held me under its spell until the bitter end.
We walk past the living room, where the sleeping bags are rolled and stacked next to the pillows in a corner. None of the tea lights are lit, and it makes this place feel emptier than before. I realize how alone we are out here, with nothing but dirt and the skeletons of half-built houses surrounding us. Wind rattles the plastic at the windows. I imagine it rolling over miles of empty land to press against this house, and suddenly it seems strong enough to rip off walls.
As I’m preparing to write this review, I’m glancing over the notes I took while reading The Merciless, and they are very scant indeed. This was one of those rare reading experiences where I was so caught up in the story that I forgot to take review notes. This book will grab you by your throat and it won’t let go, even when you’re gasping and about to faint from lack of oxygen. Readers beware: on the back of the book is a warning that states “For Mature Audiences Only.” Take heed! I would not let my thirteen-year-old read this, and probably not even my fifteen-year-old. No, there isn’t any sex to speak of. But there are some extremely scary and heart-racing slasher-type scenes that are not for the faint of heart. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot, other than to briefly set up the story. Going into this book blind is the best way to experience it, and I wouldn’t want to ruin anything for you. In fact, try to avoid reading the story blurb if you can (I feel like it gives way too much information.) Danielle Vega takes mindfuckery to a whole new level with The Merciless, and I can honestly say I was surprised by the twisty turns of events in this story.
We’ve seen this set-up before—the new girl in town awkwardly tries to fit in her first day of school—but you’ve never seen it done like this before. Sofia has just moved to a small town in Mississippi and is trying her best to make friends. She meets an interesting girl named Brooklyn, a cute boy named Charlie, and a group of queen bees named Riley, Grace and Alexis. All of these characters come together one very fateful night, and no one will ever be the same again.
And that’s all you're getting from me, as far as the plot goes. Vega’s writing is as sharp and honed as a knife’s edge. Her present tense narrative is told in first person from Sofia’s POV, and even though each character is well-developed and I honestly would have loved to read this story from other points of view, I thought giving Sofia the reins was a good choice. Sofia transitions from “innocent new girl” to someone who is forced to make snap decisions that could mean life or death, and I loved her growing realization that her normally boring life has just become a nightmare.
Vega knows how to write a suspenseful story. Each scene builds steadily from innocent to slightly creepy to downright terrifying. It’s one of those reading experiences where you finally look up from the page and wonder “How in the world did we get here??” In the beginning I tried to guess where Vega was headed with the story, but after being wrong several times, I decided to just sit back and enjoy the ride. And boy, what a ride! Besides the build-up of suspense, she plants small but effective details into the story that make the reader uneasy—but you don’t realize why you feel that way. For example, at one point Sofia is walking up to her house after school, and a garden snake crosses her path. It’s not a big deal, but it seems to suggest that there are bad things to come.
At its heart, this is a story about secrets, and each character is hiding something. Riley, the girl with the perfect hair and make-up who is the instigator of most of the horror in this book, believes that each girl should confess their sins before God, in order to be cleansed. This religious fervor simply made the story more creepy for me, hence my comparison to Stephen King's Carrie.
For the most part, this is realistic thriller fiction, although I was surprised at the end to find a twist that I wasn’t expecting. About three-quarters of the way through the story I started to wonder how Vega was going to wrap things up. The characters find themselves stuck in one dire situation after another, and I couldn’t think of any scenario that didn’t end tragically for everyone. But she surprised me yet again by taking the story in a direction that had me gasping and saying “WTF??”
There were only one or two plot contrivances that seemed more convenient to the story than realistic (and I can’t even tell you what they are!), but they are easily forgiven. If you love thrillers, and especially if you love horror, The Merciless will blow you away. I can’t wait to see what Danielle Vega has in store for us next.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version.