Breath of Earth by Beth Cato is at once satisfying and disturbing. In a San Francisco with a subtly different history than our own, the great quake stBreath of Earth by Beth Cato is at once satisfying and disturbing. In a San Francisco with a subtly different history than our own, the great quake still happened, but for a much different reason than simple plate tectonics. We experience this magical place through a steampunk lens, while also examining the forgotten way things really happened. The author brings up feminism, racism, and lgbt rights, without being overly preachy. Yes, a genre novel that made me think.
The world is wonderfully built, using the scaffold of true history and coloring it with Asian influence, for well explained reasons. So why disturbing? As a person of Chinese descent it was uncomfortable to see “my culture” as the bad guys, or the ones that everybody looked down on. Intellectually I know that was the case in actual history, but no one talks about it. I'm pleased to hear about all the research that the author did to find the hidden history of the area, and her ability to combine the actual past with her magical world is refreshing and intriguing.
I enjoyed the characters in this novel. People acted in reasonable, realistic ways, while pushing back against the norms of the time. The worldbuilding is excellent, describing a historic place that feels true to its reality but delightfully embellished with magic and cultural elements that I could believe in. Topics that tend to fluster the less progressive among us are presented in believable context, talked about in a natural way, neither harped upon or shoved under a rug. Huzzah diversity in fiction! Highly recommended.
Received as a free digital ARC via Edelweiss and the publisher. I have also met the author at conventions but this did not affect my review....more
Disclosure: I've met the author as part of my role as the Municipal Liaison for the St. Louis NaNoWriMo region. I received the book as a free digitalDisclosure: I've met the author as part of my role as the Municipal Liaison for the St. Louis NaNoWriMo region. I received the book as a free digital ARC via Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL brings the magic of the stage together with magic of the world. Quinn is a stage magician about to get his big break in Vegas when he's approached with a very strange job offer. The world of Alissia lies just on the other side of a portal, and a megacorporation has been studying it for over a decade. They need his help to recover one of their people who has gone rogue, because Quinn would be an unknown to the man gone missing. Oh, and magic exists in Alissia, so they need their own magician. But it's not going to be easy, especially since impersonating a true magician carries a death sentence.
It's fun to see the juxtaposition of illusions or sufficiently advanced science against true magic. Alissia is a well-developed world, and has many secrets, quite a few of which aren't revealed, so there's plenty left for other books in the series. I'm a sucker for magic, stage or actual, and I always want to know how it works--it doesn't ruin the effect for me, so I would have liked to have known how Quinn does some of his more spectacular tricks that the R&D guys at the megacorp didn't have a hand in developing (and I want to know how long they worked on that laser sword). Quinn finds something about himself in Alissia, which I would definitely like to know more about!
There's good gender representation in this novel, which made me happy. The commander of the mission to retrieve the rogue is a woman, and the science officer is a female POC (huzzah!). It just goes to show you that diversity is possible in fantasy! It's an unfortunate fact that most people's default character design is a white male, so why not give readers a chance to change that setting?
I felt like the ending was a little rushed, with a great big aerial battle that I had a little trouble picturing in my mind. But the story wraps up nicely while leaving plenty of room for a sequel. Also, I would like some Valteroni Gold now.
This book started life as a NaNoWriMo novel, so it just goes to show you that actual published books DO come from this writing program. I better get writing on mine!...more
I haven't five-starred many books this year, but I feel like this one deserves it, especially for the latter half of the book. The beginning is prettyI haven't five-starred many books this year, but I feel like this one deserves it, especially for the latter half of the book. The beginning is pretty standard "throw the reader in the deep end" fantasy--except this takes place in the clouds, not the water. The second part, though, I couldn't read fast enough.
Can you imagine living in a place where you couldn't see the ground? Where every house is made of bone? Where everyone dreams of flying but actually has the means to do it? There are no angels here, but there are invisible monsters (which I didn't actually cotton on to until later in the book, but that could just be me. Besides, how do you describe something you can't see?). You'll read about flying, and it's so well described that it feels right. Sometimes the flying passages get a little bogged down in the physics of things, but the point is that the author did her research.
I loved the setting. There are still questions, like "why are all these people living in the sky, and what sort of animal is providing this ever-living bone?" but you should be able to picture the characters homes, or tiers, very well. The beginning is a little slow, with setting up the story and all, but the action ramps up once our heroine Kirit is forced to join the Spire--the home of those who keep the Laws and punish those who break them. It's a harsh world, but it's not so unrelentingly bleak as the post-apocalyptic settings that everyone seems to love nowadays. Obviously something happened to this world to make its people flee to the sky, but it's been long enough that they have adapted and aren't scrounging for every morsel of food. Unless you break the Laws, that is.
There are plenty of reversals and betrayals here, so fans of interesting conflict will like it. The action sequences are believable and fantastic at the same time, and actually serve to advance the plot in this world where flying means freedom--but carries its own ominous consequences. Readers will root for Kirit as she learns and becomes a woman. She makes choices that change her, and we don't know if it's for the better.
I was so pleased to find a debut author who wrote such a great story. I'm definitely interested in seeing what she's got in store for us next.
Received as a free digital ARC via Netgalley and the publisher. ...more
THE UNDYING LEGION picks up soon after THE SHADOW REVOLUTION, with the same cast of characters. If you liked the first book in the Crown & Key triTHE UNDYING LEGION picks up soon after THE SHADOW REVOLUTION, with the same cast of characters. If you liked the first book in the Crown & Key trilogy, you'll like this one too. It has the same action and sketches of world-building and the same moments that might make you squirm. These books don't dive into straight up horror, but there are definitely bits that made my stomach do a little roll. I didn't stop eating my dinner, but it was a close thing. The uncomfortable parts are handled well, like the instance at Penny's house, which doesn't play out the way it might in a scary movie.
As you might guess from the title, the dead rise in this one--steampunk zombies, of a sort. Our magical scribe Simon and his sometime-romantic-interest/alchemist Kate have to unravel some ancient hieroglyphic sigils found in old churches in London, and it was at this point that I wished ebooks incorporated more images. I really wanted to see these designs!
Thankfully, even though this is part of a trilogy, the story wraps up its major sequences. However, there's a completely new story started in the epilogue, setting up the third book. So I'll be looking for the next story, because I'd like to see how this ends. If you're looking for action with just a hint of romance/sensuality and a side of big pistols (and the attendant gore) check out this series.
Side note: the book I finished reading on my 35th birthday.
Received as a free digital ARC via Netgalley and the publisher....more
If you're an 80s child like me, you probably love the movie series BACK TO THE FUTURE (personally, my favorite is III, but I like them all), and thisIf you're an 80s child like me, you probably love the movie series BACK TO THE FUTURE (personally, my favorite is III, but I like them all), and this book will tickle all your nostalgic feels. I vaguely knew that Eric Stoltz had been cast as Marty because of scheduling conflicts with Michael J. Fox, but this book will tell you the whole story. And who knew BTTF was so big in Japan? If you like movie trivia and you didn't know that Mattel actually sold hoverboards (prop replica hoverboards that people still expected to work), you should check out this book.
Inside you'll find behind the scenes info on all three movies (I never knew the sequels weren't planned!) and tidbits on what's happened with the franchise in the 30 years since BTTF came out (geez, I'm older than the series). I'm really going to have a Back to the Future rewatch party--who wants to join? I can regale you with factoids about the series, or you can enjoy the book on your own.
Received as a free digital ARC via the First to Read program in exchange for an honest review....more
Recently I had the opportunity to see Naomi Novik speak on a panel at C2E2 (you could not escape the blue bags with her this book's logo gorgeously emRecently I had the opportunity to see Naomi Novik speak on a panel at C2E2 (you could not escape the blue bags with her this book's logo gorgeously emblazoned on them there), and that made me excited to read her new book UPROOTED. Honestly, I tried the Temeraire series and stopped after the first book--though that could have just been a case of "too many books, not enough time" syndrome. Resolved to give this very engaging author another shot after seeing her panel, I dove into Uprooted and was very glad to.
UPROOTED has the feel of an old story retold in a very good new way, one of those tales a bard would relate in front of a tavern fire surrounded by folks swaddled in fur. I guess it seems like it has roots in Russian or Polish mythology, with the character and place names. There are many twisty bits in this story--you may think our clumsy heroine is going to simply swoon at her unexpected mentor's feet, but you'll be wrong, to mention just one--and sometimes the action is so furious you might lose track of what's happening, like the first time you see a summer blockbuster (am I the only one who likes to see movies more than once at the theater?). But this is good; seems like quite a few books nowadays are all action, no plot, whereas UPROOTED has a very firm thread to follow. The author upsets tropes without it seeming strange. The story doesn't go where you expect, thankfully. And here, magic isn't easy, and it has a terrific cost.
Every so often I found myself calling Mary Sue with the way magic seemed to work, but that could just be me being overly sensitive to such things (a hazard of reading too much fantasy and commentary of such?). Other than that, I have no complaints. The cover is beautiful and appropriate for the story. The characters have roots (pun intended) and don't suddenly change their methods to suit the story. And the setting is at once bucolic and terrifying. Who doesn't like a walk in the woods? "Into the woods, you have to grope, but that's the way you learn to cope..."
Recommended for those folks who've had their fill of grimdark, want a fulfilling standalone tale, and some of what I heard another author call "pastoral fantasy," which I think is a very good name for this type of story.
Received as a free digital ARC via Edelweiss and the publisher....more
Every so often I get a yen to dive into the literary side of fiction, and this book satisfied that need. This one has a bit of a fantasy element, thouEvery so often I get a yen to dive into the literary side of fiction, and this book satisfied that need. This one has a bit of a fantasy element, though it's nothing overt--it could simply be illusion, or really good breath control...It's got old books, a nicely-unfolding mystery, the threat of the ocean come to wash away everything, and interesting characters.
Our MC is a librarian about to lose his job, when he is sent a mysterious book that first seems unrelated to him--but turns out to be so much more. THE BOOK OF SPECULATION is a diary of a circus, telling the reader of the circus' performers, specifically its mute wild boy/fortune teller and his love. The actions detailed within resonate in the present, in eerily similar ways. I was reminded of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS with its similar theme and volatile romance.
There's enough mystery here to keep me reading, and the interactions between the characters are believable even though there are some fantastic elements: the MC's family is renowned for their ability to hold their breath for astoundingly long times--I'll have to look up how true that is--and the wild boy seems to fade away from spectators' notice, while a curse seems to follow the circus. There's enough research on the historical times of the circus that I was able to visualize it well, and the scenes where flooding is imminent are pretty thrilling. Plot elements and characters are nicely interwoven and turn out to be connected in ways that don't seem to be contrived. Not a book to be read if you're afraid of the water, though.
Received as a free digital ARC in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley....more
STRANGE MAGIC gives us the story of Yancy Lazarus, a wizard of some note who has fought in wars, gotten on a lot of bad sides, drinks and smokes, andSTRANGE MAGIC gives us the story of Yancy Lazarus, a wizard of some note who has fought in wars, gotten on a lot of bad sides, drinks and smokes, and manages to piss off some mafiosi types AND a touchy sorcerer. For me, there's no way to read this without comparing Yancy to Harry Dresden. I'd say Yancy holds up his end pretty well, though I still have a preference for Harry.
If you're a fan of the Dresden Files, you'll probably like Yancy. There's the same wise-cracking hero who doesn't always know how to deal with what's happening, but he tries to do what's right anyway. YL is probably a little more morally grey than HD (at least the HD at the beginning of his series) and doesn't seem to have the problems with tech that HD has. There's also the same style of butt-kicking the bad guys (or the guys who are trying to deprive Yancy of his life), with lots of magic flying around. Yancy is a little rougher, there's more violence and death, and some pretty yucky descriptions that will possibly haunt you for a few days.
I like the Dresden Files a lot, so since this book is so similar, I'm predisposed to like it too. I'm curious to see where the story goes, and while the setting is typical urban fantasy, the author has a lot of nice touches (the dragon-owned bar, the Ways, the baddies from non-Western mythology) to make it the world unique. Sometimes there's a little too much focus on details (I don't need to know the name of every gun) but the story moves along and wraps up the plot while leaving plenty of room for more from Yancy. Maybe in the next installment we'll learn more about how Yancy got his powers.
Received as a free digital ARC in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley....more
Every so often I just want an urban fantasy that's fluffy and fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. JINN AND JUICE fits that description. Don't gEvery so often I just want an urban fantasy that's fluffy and fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. JINN AND JUICE fits that description. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of grit in here (it takes place in Pittsburgh, after all), but the main character isn't afraid to make fun of things, including herself. The supporting characters are interesting and diverse, if sometimes a little predictable in their actions.
This was a fast read, made possible by the frequent action scenes. Leila, our (almost) thousand-year-old jinn narrator, has just a week left before she can become human again--but only if she isn't Bound by a Magi at the time. So of course she ends up becoming Bound by a newbie Magi on a quest to save a girl he knows from the refugee camp. He promises to release Leila before the deadline, but there's all sorts of magic badness afoot...
I appreciated how the setting in Pittsburgh actually had a role to play in the story. There was a lot of cultural mixing here, with kitsunes and drag queens and trolls and mythology that most people probably aren't that familiar with. The Magi Oz isn't an alpha male like so many other UF heroes, which is a refreshing change (but rest assured he isn't a pushover). There is, of course, a master/slave relationship which is a little uncomfortable, but Leila isn't shy of making the best of any deal she goes into, whether Sideways (wouldn't your own pocket of magic be handy?) or in the bed.
The betrayal prior to the end was somewhat telegraphed, and the big bad sometimes seemed like he was having a temper tantrum (though our venerable narrator was also a little immature, so maybe it's a "I've lived so long I don't have to act like an adult" bit?), but this book made me laugh, and I appreciated the diversity of characters, so I'll be looking for the sequel. And yes, it is a beautiful cover.
Received as a free digital ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review....more