The Angel of the Crows is Sherlock Holmes fanfic … if Sherlock were an outcast angelOn sale June 23! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
The Angel of the Crows is Sherlock Holmes fanfic … if Sherlock were an outcast angel called Crow, Dr. Watson (here named Dr. Doyle) had a paranormal affliction caused by an injury given him by an Afghani fallen angel, and Victorian England were filled with vampires, werewolves and other paranormal beings. In fact, Katherine Addison states in an author’s note at the end that The Angel of the Crows originated as Sherlock wingfic, a type of fanfic in which one or more characters have wings. It’s an idea with potential, but Katherine Addison squanders that potential by spending (I estimate) some eighty percent of the novel simply retelling several of Sherlock Holmes’ most famous adventures with a supernatural twist.
It begins immediately with the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, in which Holmes and Watson (Crow and Doyle) first meet and become flatmates, and works its way through four more adventures that will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s read many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. The least well-known one is “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” and that one would only be called obscure by non-Holmes fan. The framing device for all of this is the search for Jack the Ripper: his murders are happening right while everything else is going on. Crow and Dr. Doyle can’t help but be interested, and interest leads to involvement.
It’s a reasonably interesting novel, even if you’re familiar with the source material, and Addison clearly did quite a bit of research into the Sherlock Holmes canon and Victorian-era crime, with a focus on the Jack the Ripper cases. But I found myself earnestly wishing that Addison had written a more original novel. In The Angel of the Crows, proper angels are tied to a habitation, like a cathedral or even an inn; Fallen angels cause disasters on the level of bombs; Nameless angels have lost their individual identity and their will along with their habitation. Crow is none of these, unique among angels. All this is explained as part of the background and world-building, but Addison never delves deeply into this aspect of the story or unlocks the potential of conflict with Fallen angels. Focusing more on these original ideas would have made for a more compelling novel.
The first adventure of Crow and Doyle, based on A Study in Scarlet, took up the whole first fifth of this novel, and was such a straight retelling of the original (at least, the London-based half of the original) that my jaw was literally dropping by the end of it. The Angel of the Crows does get progressively more creative as it goes along, as Addison includes more twists to the plots of the original Holmes stories. Occasionally an unexpected connection would make me laugh, like this one:
“Introductions!” the vampire said briskly. “My name is Moriarty.”
“Doyle,” I said and, having observed the vampire’s long, curved nails, did not offer to shake hands.
I appreciated Addison’s spin on The Hound of the Baskervilles plot, and she also gave most of the racist, sexist and other outdated parts of Doyle’s stories a much more modern spin. Even gender identity come into play, which would probably make old Arthur roll in his grave. I found myself gradually getting more invested in the story as I got deeper into it.
Still, for readers who are familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories that Addison wove into this novel, much of the element of mystery and surprise will be lost. Addison should have done much more to transform and subvert the original Holmes stories. I found myself looking forward to the interim chapters about Jack the Ripper, since those events were less familiar to me. Coming from the author who wrote the inventive book The Goblin Emperor, The Angel of the Crows was a bit of letdown.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thanks!...more
Charlaine Harris’s GUNNIE ROSE series has already merged Old West, Russian magicA soft 3 stars here. Review first posted on www.FantasyLiterature.com:
Charlaine Harris’s GUNNIE ROSE series has already merged Old West, Russian magicians (called “grigori” in a nod to Rasputin), and alternative history; the setting is mid-twentieth century North America, in which the United States has fractured into multiple nations, including the “Holy Russian Empire,” with Tsar Alexei at its head, taking over what used to be California and Oregon. In A Longer Fall, the second book in the series, the pre-civil rights era deep South gets pulled into the mix.
Lizbeth Rose, a 19-year-old gunnie (gunslinger), is traveling by train with her new security crew from Texoma, the Texas region Lizbeth calls home, to Louisiana. Their crew of five is in charge of transporting and protecting a crate that contains … well, they don’t know, but it’s vastly important for some reason, and apparently everybody and their dog wants what’s in that crate. It’s all nice and boring — other than a gunfight that’s over as quickly as it began — until the train blows up. Their train car tumbles sideways, people with knives and guns and smoke bombs attack, and Lizbeth and her crew try desperately to save the precious crate from being stolen.
Now Lizbeth is stuck in the small town of Sally, Louisiana, trying to figure out how to complete her mission when all of the other members of the Lucky (or not) Crew are dead or injured. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, she immediately runs into Ilya (Eli) Savarov, the handsome grigori that she met and clicked with in the first book, An Easy Death … thus enabling Lizbeth and readers to enjoy a side of romance along with the grimmer task of tracking down the missing crate. But Eli’s own mission in Sally overlaps with Lizbeth’s in ways that Eli can’t or won’t explain.
Lizbeth’s task is made more difficult by the townspeople’s racism and sexism. While blacks are no longer slaves in Dixie, there’s segregation and widespread prejudice. Women are expected to fall within a certain mold; Lizbeth, to her deep disgust, finds that in order to be accepted in hotels and restaurants she has to wear a dress and nice shoes rather than her jeans and boots, and hide her guns in a purse or under her skirt.
I felt like A Longer Fall had a lot of potential that it didn’t quite reach. While the novel starts with, quite literally, a bang, the whole middle section of the story dragged badly, with Lizbeth and Eli just going from place to place, eating at restaurants (southern food impresses Lizbeth and she spends an undue amount of time describing her various meals), and having mostly-pointless meetings and lots of sex. What seems to be a friends-with-benefits relationship ends up much more fraught with feelings, but it’s never entirely clear why a deeper attachment has developed between Eli and Lizbeth.
Once I hit the three-quarter mark the plot started progressing more rapidly, but the ending carries its own set of problems. A “white Savior” theme that had been simmering since the mid-point of A Longer Fall reached full boil, complete with what’s arguably a resurrection scene. If that was intentional symbolism, it was oddly done, particularly since there’s such an incongruence between a public message of brotherly love and nasty private behavior. And after this brief pause for a rousing rendition of “All You Need is Love,” the plot jumps straight back to killing people. It’s cynical and muddled, and prior plot and character development wasn’t enough to fully justify the final twist. In fact, a lot of the key plot turns needed more foundation-building, fleshing out details and exploring motivations more deeply, to make them really work. As it is, the plot relies too much on coincidences and a critical bit of deus ex machina action to move it along.
While the main plot is wrapped up in the end (although I can’t help but wonder how permanent the magic-driven resolution will be), the romantic relationship is left hanging. It’s seemingly dead but since there’s at least one more book pending in this series, it’s safe to assume Eli will be back again. I’m still interested in seeing where the series goes next — the Holy Russian Empire is my guess — but my expectations are tempered.
One final comment: It’s never clear what the title of A Longer Fall has reference to, and when I contacted Harris on GR to ask, she demurred (“I’m having too much fun reading all the guesses”). Since I haven’t actually seen any guesses about this title online, even after searching, I’m hoping some other readers of this book will share their thoughts and ideas!
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC for review!
Content notes: gritty and violent, with torture and murder; sex scenes are non-explicit; a couple of F-bombs....more
The small colony of humans on the planet Pax, who left Earth a couple of hundred years earlierFull review, finally! First posted on FantasyLiterature:
The small colony of humans on the planet Pax, who left Earth a couple of hundred years earlier, have established a cooperative relationship with at least some of the sentient plant life on Pax, as well as a group of nomadic aliens called the Glassmakers, as related in Semiosis. Their technology now is more Stone Age than Information Age; Pax is deficient in metals. So it’s out of the question to return to or even communicate with Earth, which is 55 light years away. But Earth hasn’t forgotten about Pax.
In this sequel, Interference, a scientific expedition of thirty people from Earth makes plans to travel to Pax to see what has become of the colony. Different members of the expedition have varying reasons for going, ranging from scientific curiosity to a desire to escape the culture of Earth, where women are confined to submissive, secondary roles. But Karola has an especially compelling reason to escape Earth: she’s discovered that she’s a secret clone of a now-dead woman who is so hated on Earth for her crimes against humanity that men create clones of her for the sole purpose of psychologically torturing this woman in effigy, so to speak, until the clone dies. Karola is willing to do anything to get on the expedition to Pax and so escape the fate that the Earth government has in store for her … and she does.
It’s an intriguing beginning, but Karola has only a minor role in the rest of Interference, as author Sue Burke’s focus shifts to the broader question of how the arrival of the new group from Earth affects the inhabitants of Pax, and vice versa. Many misunderstandings ensue, as well as some understandings. Stevland, the highly intelligent rainbow bamboo plant who helps govern the Pax colony, considers whether to let the Earth visitors know of his existence, and how to arrange to send his seeds to Earth when the visitors leave. Meanwhile, the Earth group has its own in-fighting and drama to deal with.
Interference explores the relationships between various beings — plant, humans, and Glassmakers — but does so on a fairly high level. With the exception of its much-later epilogue (which opens the door for a third book that, according to Burke, may or may not get written), Interference doesn’t jump between different time periods and generations in the same way that Semiosis did, but Burke still frequently switches between different characters’ points of view. As a result, it’s difficult to feel particularly attached to any of the characters, with the exception of Stevland.
The SEMIOSIS DUOLOGY creates an intriguingly alien planet, and one does get a good feel for the many unfamiliar dangers that humans might face on such a strange world, as well as the difficulties that are created when people (or aliens) with different motivations, cultures and worldviews collide. Though there are some exciting scenes, the book felt overly long. I felt like it took forever to finish Interference. As I noted in my review of Semiosis, I find Sue Burke’s prose to be merely serviceable, and I didn’t see any noticeable improvement in Interference. Fans of Semiosis will likely be happy with this sequel, but if you weren’t all that enthusiastic about that book, Interference isn’t likely to change your mind.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC!...more
The Wayward Children books have turned into such a great series ... and here's #5! A strong 4 stars. Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
The Wayward Children books have turned into such a great series ... and here's #5! A strong 4 stars. Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children was an island of misfit toys, a place to put the unfinished stories and the broken wanderers who could butcher a deer and string a bow but no longer remembered what to do with indoor plumbing. It was also, more importantly, a holding pen for heroes. Whatever they might have become when they’d been cast out of their chosen homes, they’d been heroes once, each in their own ways. And they did not forget.
Come Tumbling Down, the fifth installment in Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN YA fantasy series, returns to the conflicted relationship between twins Jack (Jacqueline) and Jill Wolcott, in a some-months-later sequel to where we left them at the end of Every Heart a Doorway. (Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel that tells their story in much more detail, though it’s the second book published in the series.) To recap — spoiler alert for the first and second books here — as children Jack and Jill had found their way to a portal world called the Moors, where Jack was raised by a … if not mad, at least highly peculiar … scientist, and Jill was raised by a master vampire to be his daughter and heir, before they returned to our world and spent some time turning the Home for Wayward Children upside down. When they returned to the Moors at the end of Every Heart a Doorway, Jill was dead at Jack’s hand, but Jack was confident that she could resurrect her sister once they returned to the Moors and, perhaps more important, that because Jill had died and been brought back to life, she would no longer be able to be turned into a vampire.
But Jill is not in the least repentant of her lethal lifestyle, and she and her adoptive vampire father have thought of an ingenious way to get around this limitation. What she’s now done is beyond the pale — not only is it ruining Jack’s life, pushing her to the edge of a mental breakdown, but it’s likely to lead to an imbalance of power and deadly warfare in the Moors world. So Jack, with her girlfriend Alexis, returns to the Wayward Children home to get help from her old friends. Did Eleanor say “no quests”? Oh well!
Come Tumbling Down didn’t quite reach the heights of my favorite books in the series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones and In an Absent Dream, but it comes quite close. McGuire does a great job examining Jack and Jill’s deeply troubled hearts. Jack, brilliant but burdened with OCD, has found joy in the mad scientist lifestyle, at least until the most recent troubles. She calls herself a monster, and in some ways that’s true, but she’s more or less a good-hearted person, if obsessive and demanding. Jill, though, is on a whole different level.
Jill had always been the more dangerous, less predictable Wolcott, for all that she was the one who dressed in pastel colors and lace and sometimes remembered that people liked it when you smiled. Something about the way she’d wrapped her horror movie heart in ribbons and bows had reminded him of a corpse that hadn’t been properly embalmed, like she was pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside. Terrifying and subtly wrong.
Joining Jack on her quest to set things right again in Jack’s life and in the Moors world are several familiar faces, including Kade (the one-time goblin prince), Christopher (who longs for the magical skeleton world of Mariposa), Cora (the former mermaid with the blue-green hair) and Sumi. They all bring their unique characters and talents to the story. The most delightful was Sumi, whose flighty behavior and off-the-wall comments conceal a sharp mind. She calls the crimson moon in the Moors “the sugared cherry on the biggest murder sundae in the whole world” and is serenely confident that one day she’ll find her way back to the world called Confection, where the gummy worms will eat her body when she dies.
Come Tumbling Down is a quest type of adventure novel, mixing together friendship and horror. It’s lifted above the norm by the quirkiness of the characters, by the tragedy of the broken relationship between twin sisters Jack and Jill, and by Seanan McGuire’s insightful commentary. She muses on what would have happened if Jack had become the vampire’s protégé rather than Jill, and the ruthless business tycoon Sumi would have become if she hadn’t found the door to Confection as a young girl. And she shows us how wayward children can be heroes. Sometimes, even, the monsters are the heroes.
I received a free ebook for review from the publisher and NetGalley. Thanks so much!
Initial post: I HAVE THE ARC! *does happy dance* *throws confetti in air* Update: And I read the whole thing in one evening. #noregrets...more
This contemporary romance novel is ... a lot like The Hating Game. Except with most of the wit and humor sucked out.
26 year old Emmie Echavarre is a cThis contemporary romance novel is ... a lot like The Hating Game. Except with most of the wit and humor sucked out.
26 year old Emmie Echavarre is a copywriter at a power tool distributor called Nuts & Bolts. She's surrounded by men in the workplace, so she acts a lot tougher than she really is to make sure she gets respected ... and it works, mostly. But the hardest person for her to get along with is handsome Tate Rasmussen, who's in charge of the company's social media and treats her with unrelenting hostility. Until he doesn't, but by that time Emmie's got a LOT of residual resentment to work off.
A soft 3 stars for me. I enjoyed it well enough while I was reading it, but it's derivative and forgettable. I never completely bought into the relationship here, especially Tate's initial meanness, which felt really unwarranted and inexcusable in a work setting. Again, The Hating Game did a lot better job of making you understand the guy's point of view when he was acting rude, and I had issues with it even there.
On the plus side: diversity representation. Okay then! That's great, but not enough to bump this up to a "recommend" rating.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
3.5 stars. Sarah Eden, a well-known author of clean historical romances, shifts gears in this unusual twist on the genre: a cat-and-mouse game between3.5 stars. Sarah Eden, a well-known author of clean historical romances, shifts gears in this unusual twist on the genre: a cat-and-mouse game between Elizabeth Black and Fletcher Walker, two Victorian era authors of “penny dreadful” novels.
[image] Victorian-era penny dreadful novel
They really were a penny! And in all likelihood the writing was dreadful too, although I understand the dreadful part is actually referring to the scary villains and monsters that usually populated these thriller-type books. :)
Fletcher is trying to unearth the identity of a “Mr. King,” who’s overtaken Fletcher as the best-selling author of penny dreadful novels. It’s not just pride; Fletcher, who was once a street orphan himself, needs the money to help fund his secret organization of men committed to helping rescue and educate London’s street children. (What exactly Fletcher and this organization plan to do about Mr. King, other than maybe ask him to join their group, isn't entirely clear. It sort of seems like they have something ominous in mind but ... maybe not?)
Anyway, Fletcher asks Miss Elizabeth Black, headmistress of a respectable girl’s school and author of “silver-fork” novels, to help him track down Mr. King - never dreaming that Elizabeth IS Mr. King. Besides the socially-approved silver-fork novels, she has a fondness for writing the more sensational penny dreadful novels ... and plus they make her way more money, which she ALSO needs to help fund her girl's school. Elizabeth, determined to keep her secret from him - it would ruin her socially and professionally if it became known - agrees to “help” Fletcher, really intending to mislead him. Hah!
There's a subplot about people devoted to trying to improve the lot of poor children and teens in London (spoiler alert: the villains who prey on the poor take exception to having their schemes interfered with) and just a little romance, complete with the trope (view spoiler)["I'll resist falling in love with you and hurt your feelings by avoiding you with no explanation, because I'm not good enough for you" (hide spoiler)].
These chapters about Fletcher and Elizabeth alternate with chapters from the pulpy novels that the two of them are currently writing, in which monsters of various types abound. It’s occasionally a bit slow, the main characters are almost too altruistic to be true, and the other characters are pretty one-dimensional, but overall it’s a fun and quite different kind of book if you like light historical romances. I enjoyed seeing how the chapters from Fletcher’s and Elizabeth’s penny dreadful novels tied into the main plot ... especially when it happened on purpose. :)
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!...more
The Twisted Ones is a modern twist on an old horror classic! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
The Twisted Ones begins with mild constThe Twisted Ones is a modern twist on an old horror classic! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
The Twisted Ones begins with mild consternation: Melissa, who goes by “Mouse,” has the thankless task of taking a trip to backwoods North Carolina, with her loyal redbone coonhound Bongo for company, to clean out her late grandmother’s home. “It’ll be a mess,” her father says, in a massive understatement. Consternation shifts to deep dismay: Grandma was a hoarder. It’s even worse than normal, since her grandmother was a cruel and vicious person, and something of her evil still infuses her house, like the room full of baby dolls that looks like a “monument to infanticide.” Luckily, Mouse finds one bedroom that is clear of clutter, the bedroom of her step-grandfather Cotgrave, who died many years earlier. (If you’ve read Arthur Machen’s 1904 classic horror novelette “The White People,” you should recognize the name Cotgrave here. It’s no coincidence.)
Mouse moves into Cotgrave’s bedroom for the duration, while she works on cleaning out the house so it can be sold. In Cotgrave’s nightstand she finds his handwritten journal. In his journal Cotgrave was fretting over a lost green book that he’d obtained from a man named Ambrose. He was also troubled by a phrase that was stuck in his head, like a song that will never stop replaying:
I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones.
In fact, once Mouse reads this sentence in the journal, she has a hard time getting it out of her head herself. But as it turns out, the hoarding and the creepy journal aren’t the worst things about staying in her grandparents’ house. There are things in the woods surrounding the house, and they may not just stay in the woods. Mouse’s dismay at her situation evolves into terror.
The Twisted Ones is an inventive horror novel that takes “The White People” as its launching point and creates a modern-day sequel to it. Kingfisher takes Machen’s story in a different direction that I’m morally certain never occurred to him, but that I’m confident he would have appreciated. The Twisted Ones contains a more folkloric type of horror than its source material, and it’s lightened by the appealing voice and wry humor of Mouse, who narrates the story. Her job as a freelance editor informs many of her opinions about Cotgrave’s writing, almost distracting her from the journal’s deeper import.
Another source of both comfort and comic relief is Mouse’s hound Bongo. He’s a dedicated companion, loyal and loving, even if dimwitted at times, and he has an excellent nose.
I had the impression that he was thinking very hard about something (or more accurately, that his nose was thinking very hard about something. Bongo’s nose is far more intelligent than the rest of him, and I believe it uses his brain primarily as a counterweight).
These moments of lightness balance the chilling horror, which creeps up on the reader as much as it does Mouse. I read the last ten percent with my heart in my throat.
The most difficult section of “The White People” is the lengthy and hallucinatory quoting of the Green Book; The Twisted Ones has a counterpart to this tale-within-a-tale approach as Mouse dives more deeply into dissecting Cotgrave’s journal. It felt a little lengthy and difficult to unpack, though it’s not nearly as difficult to wade through as the Green Book, and after re-familiarizing myself with “The White People,” this section became much more interesting and readable.
If you’ve ever read “The White People,” The Twisted Ones is a must-read. If you haven’t, I’d recommend giving “The White People” at least a quick skim (it’s freely available online) before jumping into this novel. It’s well worth your time for any fan of the horror genre … and even for readers who — like me — aren’t normally into horror novels. I decided to give it a try because T. Kingfisher (a pseudonym of Ursula Vernon) is a fantastic author with a talent for making fairy tales and other old things new again. It was an excellent decision.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher for review. Thanks so much!...more
3.25 stars for this fluffy Renaissance Faire-inspired contemporary romance. Emily, fresh off a painful breakup with her long-term boyfriend - she drop3.25 stars for this fluffy Renaissance Faire-inspired contemporary romance. Emily, fresh off a painful breakup with her long-term boyfriend - she dropped out of college to put him through law school, spoiler: BIG MISTAKE - temporarily moves to the small town of Willow Creek in Maryland to help out her older sister April, who's laid up from a severe car accident, and April's 14 year old daughter Caitlin.
Right after she gets to town Emily finds out that Cait is dead set on participating in the town's amateur, six-weekend-long Renaissance Faire as a performer and - lucky Emily - a parent or guardian is required to participate as well. Which Emily wouldn't mind so much if the high school English teacher in charge of the fair, Simon, weren't such a critical, annoying stick in the mud. Maybe she's more interested in Mitch, the hot blond gym teacher ("Gaston mixed with Captain America")?
The weird thing (to Emily) is that when Simon starts dressing up as a pirate for the fair, it's like he gets a total personality transplant. What gives?
Well Met is a cute, sexy read. There's not too much really unusual going on here, as compared to other contemporary romance novels, other than the Ren Faire setting, and maybe Simon's struggles to deal with a tragedy in his past. But if you like the idea of the main couple acting like a pirate and a bartending tavern wench (yay?) during their spare time while they work out their love-hate relationship ... this should fit the bill.
I'm trying to figure out now what inspired me to ask for this on NetGalley? Probably one of my GR friends reviewed this and it just sounded cute. Recommended if you're a fan of light contemporary romances.
Thanks to the publisher, Berkley/Jove, and NetGalley for the ARC!
Content note: F-bombs and an explicit sex scene....more
Amazing book! This is really an excellent historical novel, with just a trace of fantasy. If you haven't read one of GGK's recent novels, you owe it tAmazing book! This is really an excellent historical novel, with just a trace of fantasy. If you haven't read one of GGK's recent novels, you owe it to yourself to give him a try. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Guy Gavriel Kay writes magical books. Not magic in the sense of mighty wizards and spellcasting with unicorn-hair wands and cauldrons bubbling with potions best not tasted. The magic in Kay’s novels is a more elusive thing. He takes a plot and cast of characters, ones that would be interesting enough even in the hands of lesser authors, and turns them into something extraordinary through his lyrical and profoundly thoughtful storytelling, his insights into human character and motivations, and his musings on life and its meaning.
We like to believe, or pretend, we know what we are doing in our lives. It can be a lie. Winds blow, waves carry us, rain drenches a man caught in the open at night, lightning shatters the sky and sometimes his heart, thunder crashes into him bringing the awareness he will die.
We stand up, as best we can under that. We move forward as best we can, hoping for light, kindness, mercy, for ourselves and those we love.
A Brightness Long Ago, like most of his recent novels, is what Kay aptly describes as “history with a quarter turn to the fantastic.” It’s a prequel of sorts (though a stand-alone read) to his equally excellent 2016 novel Children of Earth and Sky, set some twenty-five years before the events of that novel, in a slightly fantastical version of Renaissance Italy, here called Batiara. (I spent more time than I should have, researching to figure out the real-life counterparts of all the cities and historical characters that play a role in this story. Seressa is Venice, Rome is Rhodias, Sarantium is Constantinople, and so forth.) Inspired by the feud between historical figures Federico da Montefeltro and Sigismondo Malatesta, two great military leaders, Kay tells of the clashes ― both military and personal ― between Folco Cino, lord of Acorsi, and Teobaldo Monticola, lord of Remigio. Their lives, and that of Folco’s niece Adria, a rebellious duke’s daughter, are seen through the eyes of Guidanio (Danio) Cerra, the son of a tailor.
Danio, who narrates most of the tale as the reminiscing of an older man, is chosen to receive an education with the children of nobility because of his intelligence and quickness, raising him far above his humble beginnings. After finishing his schooling he obtains a position in the palace of Count Uberto, known as “the Beast” for his violent and even murderous sexual proclivities.
There were stories of youthful bodies carried out through the smaller palace gates in the dark, dead and marred. And good men still served him ― making their peace with our god as best they could.
Balancing acts of the soul. Acquiescence happens more than its opposite ― a rising up in anger and rejection. There are wolves in the world, inside elegant palaces as well as in the dark woods and the wild.
But Falco (admittedly for his own self-serving reasons) and his niece Adria have concocted a scheme to bring Uberto down. They set Adria up in a farmhouse outside of the city and eventually, almost inevitably, word of the attractive farm girl comes to Uberto and she is summoned to his palace. When Danio sees Adria being brought to Uberto’s suite of rooms and recognizes her as the duke’s daughter who once visited his school, that recognition could be deadly to either Danio or Adria. Or it might prove of immeasurable benefit to both of them.
A Brightness Long Ago follows Danio and Adria, Folco and Teobaldo, and others through the next year or two, as their lives touch and separate and then interweave again. Adria is a particularly bright spark, a spirited and courageous young woman who is doing her best to live a life outside of the normal restrictions on noblewomen, though she knows the freedom she’s found can only be for a limited time. Doors of opportunity open and then close. Her participation in a particularly unusual horse race in Bischio is a high point in the story, where multi-layered plans and schemes of various characters collide in a truly spectacular way.
In his narration, Danio frequently comments on “the random spinning of fortune’s wheel” and how chance occurrences can affect the entire direction of our lives. Our lives aren’t always in our control. But he realizes that personal choices have an equal impact on the path of our lives.
Fortune’s wheel might spin, but you could also choose to spin it, see how it turned, where it took you, and she was still young, and this was the life she wanted.
Kay weaves a pleasurably complex tale with a large cast of characters, but these characters are so vividly drawn and memorable that I never got confused. Kay’s storytelling evinces understanding and sympathy for even deeply flawed characters, even those who served the Beast and were aware of the terrible things he did to innocent youths.
I think, it is the best thought I have, that he was devoted to the idea of being loyal, in a world with little of that. That a man needed to drop an anchor somewhere, declare a truth, find a harbour… Perhaps in the darkest times all we can do is refuse to be part of the darkness.
In his later years, Danio recalls the unforgettable characters from this time in his youth, who still shine as bright torches in his memory. Their brightness will linger in mine as well.
I received a free copy of this novel for review from the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you so much!
Content notes: A few scattered F-bombs; a mildly explicit sex scene; attempted sexual assault....more
Recursion begins with a dual timeline4.5 stars, rounding up. On sale now! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
[image] A sort of memory chair ...
Recursion begins with a dual timeline in alternating chapters, a familiar literary approach, but then splinters into razor-sharp time shards as the characters deal with the explosive consequences of a new technology relating to personal memory.
In November 2018, detective Barry Sutton attempts to prevent a woman from jumping from the 41st floor of a New York City tower. The woman, Ann, tells him she has False Memory Syndrome (FMS), a new affliction in which a person remembers an entirely different past for themselves, like their memory branched at a certain point in the past. The memories, though vivid, are in shades of gray. Ann’s conviction that she’s lost a life in which she had a happy marriage and a nine-year-old son was so compelling that she searched for ― and found ― the man she remembered marrying, who said he didn’t recognize her, though Ann is convinced he did. Barry, deeply curious, begins his own investigation of Ann’s past, and it leads him to danger as well as a to a chance to rectify a terrible event in Barry’s own life.
In October 2007, neuroscientist Helena Smith, haunted by her mother’s gradual loss of her memories due to Alzheimer’s, has dedicated her life and career to researching ways to preserve memories. She dreams of building a chair that will incorporate technology to record and project memories. Unexpectedly, Helena is visited by a stranger who offers her millions of dollars in funding if she’ll come to an off-shore research facility (a converted oil rig) to continue her memory studies and technology development. She’s met there by Marcus Slade, a billionaire business magnate and investor, who takes a suspiciously deep interest in Helena’s research. Helena’s research takes a turn toward the ominous, as Marcus pushes her research testing in directions she hadn’t foreseen.
In Recursion, author Blake Crouch stretches the concept of memory preservation into a technology that affects the very fabric of reality, expanding that idea to explore its most chilling, unintended consequences. Barry and Helena’s race against both personal enemies and time itself are gripping. Although I couldn’t entirely suspend disbelief in the pseudoscience, Crouch does a laudable job of giving it a plausible basis in quantum physics.
“You really believe time is an illusion?”
“More like our perception of it is so flawed it may as well be an illusion. Every moment is equally real and happening now, but the nature of our consciousness only gives us access to one slice at a time.… Some other moment, an old memory, is just as much now as this sentence I’m speaking, just as accessible as walking into the room next door. We just needed a way to convince our brains of that.”
The pace of Recursion picks up steadily until terrifying events are occurring at breakneck speed. My other beef with the science is that the final resolution of the plot relies on a particular quirk of the technology that was a just a little too convenient, and doesn’t really stand up to close examination. These are fairly minor quibbles, though. It’s an outlandish plot, but you just need to suspend disbelief and roll with it.
Though the focus of Recursion is on the action and suspense, Barry and Helena are engaging main characters with difficult problems in their lives that motivate their actions. There’s also a brief cameo by Amor Towles (author of A Gentleman in Moscow), who seems to have an alternative life and career in the pages of this book, that made me smile (as well as wonder what the connection is between these two authors).
Readers who enjoyed Crouch’s previous techno-thriller, Dark Matter, will probably have just as much fun with Recursion. There are some distinct style and theme similarities between the two books, but the plots are different enough that Recursion doesn’t feel like a retread. It kept me glued to my seat and reading far, far too late into the night.
Thanks to Crown Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy!...more
$1.99 Kindle sale for this first book in a new YA SF series, May 14, 2020. The focus is on adventure + snark. The second book (which I'm currently rea$1.99 Kindle sale for this first book in a new YA SF series, May 14, 2020. The focus is on adventure + snark. The second book (which I'm currently reading) just went on sale this month.
A lot of YA fantasy and science fiction works follow teenager characters as they attend magic or spaceflight school (I would take either!), but not nearly as many follow the characters’ lives after graduation. Aurora Rising, a new YA space adventure from Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the authors of the well-regarded ILLUMINAE FILES trilogy, take the latter approach, following a diverse cast of older teens as they graduate from Aurora Academy in the year 2380, are divided into crews of six according to their specialties, and assigned their initial mission for the Aurora Legion.
Tyler Jones, age 18, is at the top of the senior class. A natural leader and stellar student, he’s earned the right to four of the top five picks in the next day’s Draft, where the “Alphas” or team leaders pick the five graduating students, each with a different specialty, who will be their crew. But Tyler can’t sleep the night before the Draft, so he takes off on a solo space flight into the Fold, the weird interdimensional part of space that allows interstellar space travel. Tyler’s about to head back to Aurora when he receives an SOS call from a legendary space ship, the Hadfield, which was lost over 200 years ago.
Tyler (barely) manages to rescue the single survivor of the Hadfield, a cryogenically frozen girl named Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. (Luckily she goes by Auri, sparing us from an overdose of Auroras.) But rescuing Auri takes too long and Tyler misses the all-important Draft. So his new crew is the rejects and misfits of the graduating class … except not all. Tyler’s twin sister Scarlett (a diplomat) and their lifelong friend Cat (an ace pilot), who were able to hold out from being drafted by other Alphas so they could be on Tyler’s crew, excel at their specialties. Joining them are Zila, a dark brown-skinned sociopathic scientist; Finian, their resentful alien tech who wears an exosuit to compensate for his physical disabilities; and Kal, their alien combat specialist who has a genetic predisposition to violent anger.
Tyler’s crew, Squad 312, takes off on their first mission, but their routine supply run quickly turns odd when they discover Auri stowed away on their Longbow spaceship, and then dangerous as the mission goes south and deadly forces close in. Soon Squad 312 is on the run from their enemies while trying to solve an ancient mystery that may have galactic consequences.
Aurora Rising is a fast-paced space opera adventure, overflowing with thrills and chills, and spiced up with romantic tensions between the various crew members and lots of snarky dialogue.
“But I do know you and I swore an oath when we joined the Legion. To help the helpless. To defend the defenseless. And even though the ―”
“Um, sir?” Finian de Seel says. “We might have a problem.”
“You mean aside from you interrupting my speech?” Tyler Jones asks. “Because I’d been practicing it in my head for an hour and it was gonna be great.”
There are fun if slightly juvenile details that help make the story more memorable for readers, like the color coding for the various specialties at Aurora Academy, the decorative and informative sidebars that bolster the worldbuilding, and the sarcastic voice of Auri’s “uniglass” (a handheld computer device):
“I’m top-of-the-line, new-gen uniglass technology, available nowhere outside the academy,” it shoots back. “I’m seventeen times smarter than him. And three times better-looking.”
Tyler’s crew is divided equally between men and women and includes some sexual diversity (one of the crew is bisexual) as well as racial diversity … not to mention a couple of aliens. The constant shift in point of view with each chapter can get a little dizzying; all seven of the crew members (including stowaway Auri) have multiple chapters from their POVs. Some of the characters are more memorable than others, but a few weeks after reading this I still clearly remember most of the crew members, a tribute to Kaufman and Kristoff’s success in creating distinct characters.
It’s convenient that the half of Tyler’s crew who were considered “the dregs” of their class doesn’t actually include anyone stupid or incompetent. They’re social outcasts with significant personality issues (which has the side benefit of adding interest to the story), but they’re all bright and talented at their specialties. Also suspiciously convenient is the fact that spaceship crews need to be under age 25 to withstand the mental pressures of entering the Fold, but at least there’s a plausible reason given for these youthful crews.
The basic plot elements of Aurora Rising ― a mismatched company of strangers trying to overcome their differences and become unified, an improbable heist (complete with a MacGuffin), and a journey to a destination that turns out to be far more perilous than expected ― will be familiar to anyone who reads a lot of sci-fi, but Kaufman and Kristoff sucked me right in and I couldn’t put this book down. Aurora Rising is a fun, quick read if you like your YA SF with lots of snarky banter. It’s almost guaranteed to appeal older teenagers who enjoy science fiction. It’s the first book in the new AURORA CYCLE series (thankfully its ending doesn’t leave you with TOO much of a cliffhanger). I’m definitely on board for the next book!
I received a free review copy from the publisher and NetGalley. Thanks!...more
Ordinary suburban marriage on the surface. Murder for thrills underneath.
It’s creepy and tension-filled, narrated in first person present tense by theOrdinary suburban marriage on the surface. Murder for thrills underneath.
It’s creepy and tension-filled, narrated in first person present tense by the husband, who you don’t know whether to sympathize with or despise. Well, actually, I know I should despise him, but author Samantha Downing does a good job of making him at least somewhat sympathetic. He just wants to keep his wife happy, y’all! He’s a considerate husband!
He (I’m pretty sure you never are told his name) adores his wife and kids, even though he’s had a couple of one night stands with women he’s picked up in bars, and even though he’s a little uncomfortable with his wife’s enthusiasm for finding young women to murder, and his conscience bothers him. But at the same time he finds their secret life exciting and sexy, in a kinky kind of way. Until things start to go wrong...
The tension builds slowly for the first 70% of the book. It’s an interesting setup, though it did feel a little slow-paced at times. But then crazy things start to happen and this was IMPOSSIBLE to put down until I was done.
Recommended if you like thrillers with killers!
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!
Content notes: So an observation that should surprise absolutely no one: this book is disturbing and somewhat gory, including after-the-fact discussion of torture. What is surprising is that it’s otherwise pretty tame, with no F-bombs or explicit sex....more
3.5 stars for this collection of the three Binti novellas, plus a new short story! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with several other3.5 stars for this collection of the three Binti novellas, plus a new short story! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with several other reviews from my co-reviewers there; we have a whole range of opinions on the BINTI stories):
As Binti, a mathematically brilliant, 16 year old member of the African Himba tribe, sneaks away from her home in the dead of night, I felt almost as much anticipation as Binti herself. Binti has decided, against massive family pressure, to accept a full-ride scholarship to the renowned Oomza University on a planet named ― wait for it ― Oomza Uni. (Perhaps the university sprawls across the entire planet? Certainly it covers several cities many miles apart.) Himba tribe members are technically advanced but socially isolated from other people, and Binti’s breaking away from her tribe evidences her courage, but leaves her isolated, an outsider.
On the spaceship, Binti has found several like-minded friends among the students traveling to Oomza Uni (and even a new crush) when disaster strikes in the form of a proud, militant alien race, the large jellyfish-shaped Meduse. The Meduse massacre all of the humans on the ship except the pilot, who is necessary to their plans, and Binti, who is not, but who is mysteriously protected against attack by her edan, an ancient metal artifact that she carries with her. Binti is forced to deal with the aftermath of this catastrophe and the constant threat of death from the Meduse who are lurking outside her room. As she searches for a way to not just survive but to resolve her deep anger and distress, Binti herself grows and changes as a result.
This theme of personal growth and change continues through the second and third novellas in this collection, Home and The Night Masquerade, as well as the new short story, “Binti: Sacred Fire.” In “Sacred Fire,” Binti is dealing with the emotional aftermath of the massacre that she experienced first-hand on the spaceship, and is experiencing rage incidents and trouble developing relationships with others. She takes on an impromptu personal retreat to the desert, searching for inner peace and understanding, and finds new friendships in the process.
Binti: Home follows Binti as she leaves the university for a period to return to her home on Earth, with her Meduse friend Okwu accompanying her. Trouble awaits them there, not just from Binti’s choice to attend Oomza University rather than accept the role her family intended for her, but from Okwu’s presence. The Meduse have a long history of war with the Khoush people, and though there is currently a tentative peace treaty, Okwu’s being in their territory has inflamed emotions. Meanwhile, Binti is also having issues with her ongoing PTSD and with new revelations about her life and ancestry.
At the beginning of Binti: The Night Masquerade, Binti has just found out that her family and home are under attack and is rushing home to her family and tribe as fast as possible. The Night Masquerade deals with what she finds when she gets home, and the fall-out from all of the problems that have been building up. It’s up to Binti, with the help of her friends (including the obligatory new love interest), to try to prevent an all-out war between the Khoush and the Meduse.
The first novella, Binti, won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, I believe largely on the strength of its highly unusual minority main character (who, to be fair, is a great YA heroine) and its incorporation of current social issues. Binti is amazing and complex, with mixed motivations and emotions that she doesn’t always understand. She felt real to me, though her continual emotional outbursts and PTSD did get tiresome to read about after a while. But it was delightful learning more about her tribe’s culture, including the Himba women’s practice of covering their skin and hair with otjize, a red clay mixture ― a practice Binti follows with dedication, even when she is lightyears away from her home.
At the same time, Okorafor takes on multiple social issues like cultural insensitivity, finding connections with those who are different, and standing up for yourself against social pressure. The Himba are looked down on by the Khoush, the Arab (per Okorafor) people who are the majority, and the Himba in turn look down on the Desert People, or Zinariya, who are actually far more advanced than anyone outside of their tribe realizes. Binti’s best human friend at Oomza Uni is Haifa, a Khoush girl who was born physically male and transitioned to female at age thirteen.
Binti also contains some intriguing science fictional concepts and devices, like the astrolabe, a multi-functional mobile device, and the living spaceships, which are closely related to shrimp and can give birth to new spaceships. It’s also got a little of the “Africa power” vibe of Black Panther ― high technology hidden from the view of outsiders ― which I enjoyed. There are the bones of some good world-building here.
But, other than the unusual minority heroine and the Africa setting, the BINTI trilogy struck me as a fairly standard YA fantasy/SF novel, with many of the typical tropes. There’s the special snowflake main character who saves a world (at least part of it) despite her youth, a love interest or two, the patriarchal establishment that the main character fights against, and more.
The science fiction plot is serviceable but has several rather noticeable plot holes in it. Some examples (warning: spoilers for the first novella are in this paragraph): Binti’s edan device mysteriously poisons the Meduse, thus saving her life … and then Binti’s otjize, a mixture of clay and plant oils, just as magically heals the Meduse’s wounds and scars. No good reason is ever given for either of these key plot devices. The Meduse keep the spaceship pilot alive so that he can get them through security and land the ship on Oomza Uni, but any ship pilot worth his or her salt would refuse to cooperate, perhaps even suicide or crash the ship, to avoid a worse massacre on the planet. Forgiveness for the Meduse’s terrorist murders of hundreds of innocent people on the spaceship is quickly given, with no lasting repercussions, because … their rage was justified by a thoughtless insult given the Meduse chief, a failure to respect his culture. Really? And in The Night Masquerade, two separate, deeply emotional crises occur … and then the punches are pulled, in both cases in rather far-fetched ways. Some additional foundation-setting or foreshadowing might have helped with my ability to accept these events.
Perhaps Okorafor’s focus on Binti’s internal growth and turmoil and on social issues led her to not think through the logic of the plot as carefully as she might have. Still, for me the delightfully unique heroine and her culture and story of personal growth more than make up for the plot’s weaknesses. Just don’t think about the plot too hard.
I received a free copy from the publisher for review. Thank you so much!
Initial post: The publishing gods love me!! I requested this on NetGalley and got a hardcover in the mail today!💕...more
A Pakistani retelling of Pride and Prejudice? And by an author born in Pakistan? I was all, sign me up!
So ... 3.66 stars. It's not perfect, and oftenA Pakistani retelling of Pride and Prejudice? And by an author born in Pakistan? I was all, sign me up!
So ... 3.66 stars. It's not perfect, and often it follows the original P&P plot a little too closely, especially with the characters' names and some famous lines and scenes from P&P that were a little too spot-on. Alysba (Alys) Binat as Elizabeth Bennet and Valentine Darsee are okay, but I draw the line at Jeorgeulla Wickaam and the "Looclus" (Lucas) clan. Humeria (Hammy) and Sumeria (Sammy) Bingla for the Bingley sisters was pretty funny, though. Mr. Collins is Farhat Kaleen, an older widower with three children; Charlotte Lucas is Sherry Looclus. The character makeovers of those last two were awesome, by the way.
I liked it best where it veered from P&P in some interesting ways; Sherry's point of view and subplot, for example, was really fascinating to me (view spoiler)[and ultimately happier than Charlotte's; I love that Sherry is happy with her tradeoffs and more affluent lifestyle, and is even enthusiastic about sex with Kaleen, and mothering his children (hide spoiler)]. The Elizabeth Bennet character, Alys, is strident in her feminism, enough so that the ultimate romantic wrap-up seems a little out of character. The traditional P&P plot is modernized in several ways, including her character (age 30, and fighting against some of the traditions of her country relating to marriage and the role of women), as well as a gay character and sympathetic discussion of abortion(view spoiler)[ (the Wickham character got the Georgiana character pregnant a year or so before the events in this novel) (hide spoiler)].
I really enjoyed the immersion into modern-day Pakistani life. The moral quandaries transfer pretty well into current Pakistani culture, including the obsession with marrying well and the near-disaster that Lydia ("Lady") causes her family. The food sounded like it was to die for. And fairly frequently the novel was quite insightful into human relationships, in ways that aren't entirely owed to Jane Austen.
I wanted to tell him about my kind and generous Jena, my fearless Alys, my artist Qitty, who holds her head up no matter what anyone says to her, and my Mari, who just wants everyone to go to heaven. Even my silly, selfish Lady, who doesn't know what is good for her and just wants to have a good time all the time. But I didn't tell him about any one of my daughters. He doesn't deserve to know a single thing about my precious girls.
The writing is sometimes a bit clunky, especially when the author is making a social point. But it was still an interesting story, as long as you don't mind that it toes the P&P line pretty closely.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley for review. Thank you!
Content notes: a few F-bombs (4, to be exact). Some innuendos, but no other sexual content....more
Vic James wraps up her hard-hitting DARK GIFTS fantasy trilogy with Bright Ruin, which picks up right where the second book, Tarnished City, left off. This series is set an alternative version of our world where a minority, called the “Equals,” has powerful magical gifts. What they are supposed to be “equal” to is a good question, since ― in England and several other countries ― they have used their powers to cruelly oppress the non-magical majority. Among other abuses, all “Skilless” are forced to spend ten years of their lives as slaves. Initially, the Skilless Hadley family, including older teens Abigail (Abi) and Luke, were planning to spend their slavedays in what they hoped would be relative ease, serving the powerful Jardine family. Their plans, predictably, fell into ruins, and the Hadleys have been scattered about Great Britain.
As Bright Ruin begins, Abi has barely escaped death in the Blood Fair, an old public execution tradition that has been unearthed by the Jardines. Luke, for his part, barely escaped death in the isolated Scottish castle of Lord Crovan, perhaps the most sadistic of the Equals, who delights in mental torture. Abi and Luke are now racing around England in different directions, each pursing their own part of the uprising against the tyranny of the Equals. Abi is supporting the main rebel group, which has support from a few Equals who have a conscience. Gavar, the oldest Jardine brother, has rather surprisingly thrown his support behind the rebellion, along with Midsummer, a young Equal woman with a pregnant unSkilled girlfriend, who has the power to bring stone statues to life. Abi’s goals begin to diverge from those of the rebellion leadership, as she concludes that a particular violent act may be the only way to effectively disrupt the rule of the Equals.
Meanwhile, Luke has fallen in with the enigmatic Equal Silyen, the youngest Jardine brother, whose main value in life is gaining knowledge, at almost any cost. Silyen is also interested in Luke on a personal, romantic level, but right now Luke is preoccupied with trying to rescue a friend from a Crovan’s castle of torture. To gain Silyen’s help with his quest, Luke promises to help Silyen find out more about the ancient, mythical Wonder King, a mysterious, near-forgotten figure who inexplicably still seems to be influencing Great Britain.
Vic James constantly surprises in the DARK GIFTS trilogy. The death toll is high, and nobody ― even main characters ― is safe. People develop and change, disclosing previously unsuspected facets of their personalities, or hidden agendas. Is Gavar trustworthy? Is the Speaker’s son, Jon, nurturing a relationship with Bouda Jardine to help the rebellion, or is he a hidden traitor? Is Silyen’s thirst for knowledge leading him to work for good or evil? There are nuances to the characters of people that make them multi-layered and unpredictable, and deceptions abound. Power corrupts, but sometimes the desire for power is just as soul-crushing.
The mystical Wundorcyning (Wonder King) provides a kind of Beowulf-flavored interlude that tickled my fancy. His scenes felt somewhat random at the time, but provide a key to the ultimate resolution of the story. There’s an odd element to it, though, involving death and its relationship to power, that challenged my ability to suspend disbelief. The ending of Bright Ruin, though exciting, leaves many loose ends and questions about the future of some key characters, not to mention Britain itself and even the world. While on the one hand that treatment is realistic, at the same time I was yearning for more explication, perhaps another scene or two to give a better sense of closure. Perhaps there might be future novels from James set in this world. One can hope!
I recommend the DARK GIFTS trilogy for fans of contemporary fantasy with a darker, dystopian edge to it, and who appreciate political machinations, social commentary, and unpredictable, well-drawn characters.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher and this is my voluntary review. Thank you!!...more
$1.99 Kindle sale today, June 14, 2020, if you're interested in YA fantasy with love triangles...
2.5 stars. I've been VERY slow about getting this ful$1.99 Kindle sale today, June 14, 2020, if you're interested in YA fantasy with love triangles...
2.5 stars. I've been VERY slow about getting this full review written (probably because I just wasn't terribly excited by this sequel to The Black Witch) but here it is! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
When Laurie Forest’s debut YA fantasy novel The Black Witch was published in 2017, there was a massive explosion of outrage in the Twitterverse and elsewhere online. Accusations of various types of prejudice — racism (albeit based on fantasy races), homophobia, white saviorism, ableism, lookism and more — were hurled against it. In my opinion those charges were unfair and based on a superficial reading of the text, missing the fact that the main character’s prejudices were clearly being shown as unthinking bias and bigotry, and in fact she does very gradually change her thinking over the course of the book. Still, I’m sure it was stressful for the author, so my assumption going into this sequel was that Forest likely probably worked overtime to make sure The Iron Flower wouldn’t offend anyone. It will come as no surprise to anyone that this assumption was correct. Unfortunately, what remains after the controversial elements have been removed is a run-of-the-mill romantic fantasy.
As The Iron Flower begins, Elloren Gardner and her friends at the University in the country of Verpacia have joined the Resistance, an underground group that seeks to undermine the Gardnerian conquest of neighboring lands and their violent bigotry toward other races. Elloren is one of the privileged Gardnerians, but with one brother who’s gay (forbidden sexual orientation!) and another who’s fallen in love with a werewolf (forbidden mixing of races!), and a set of friends that includes numerous other races, she’s now fully committed to battling Gardnerian oppression in all its forms.
It doesn’t hurt that Elloren is also falling in love with (or at least crushing hard on) Yvan, a Keltic young man who alternates between gazing at Elloren longingly and pushing her away for reasons he refuses to divulge. At the same time, Elloren is still having mixed feelings about Lukas Grey, the hot Gardnerian military commander that her powerful Aunt Vyvian has been pushing her to wandfast with (the Gardnerian version of marriage). Elloran has never had any magical power, but Lukas is certain that locked within her is the tremendous power of the Black Witch of prophecy.
The first half of The Iron Flower is slowish and muddled and I kept bogging down and setting it aside. Every moment that Elloren isn’t being OUTRAGED by the social injustices of her society, she’s obsessing about her feelings for Yvan or dithering about (and kissing) Lukas. Lukas is aware of Elloren’s rebellious leanings but still wants her, even though he “doesn’t believe in love.” Also, unless you remember all of the secondary and minor characters from The Black Witch, you’re going to find the large cast of characters confusing.
In the second half of the book, the plot finally snaps into focus and things get more interesting. The most intriguing character by far was Lukas, who turns out to have some unanticipated depths. However, the ending is, if not exactly a cliffhanger, very much just a mid-story stopping place, with the overarching plot left unresolved. More problematic, Forest’s writing style is basic and she uses first person present tense narration, which tends to come across as amateurish in less-skilled hands.
If you were an enthusiastic fan of The Black Witch, then you’ll likely enjoy The Iron Flower, though you may need to push yourself through the slower-paced first half. If you despised The Black Witch because Elloren was prejudiced in so very many ways, you can at least rest assured that she’s now fully woke.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!...more
3.33 stars. This 2018 Regency romance is sweet and clean, but deals with some darker issues. The chapters alternate between the heroine's and hero's P3.33 stars. This 2018 Regency romance is sweet and clean, but deals with some darker issues. The chapters alternate between the heroine's and hero's POV. Nora Ellsworth is under pressure from her family to marry well; their family estate is under an entail, with a grasping cousin anxiously waiting in line. Luckily (maybe?), Nora's mother made arrangements for her to marry a nice young man when they were both babies! Unluckily, she's never met the guy ... until now.
Devlin Fausett is an otherwise great guy dealing with a crippling gambling addiction. I didn't feel like the handling of that issue was realistic in the end(view spoiler)[when Love Conquers All (hide spoiler)], given the seriousness of his problem. Also, did they actually call gambling an "addiction" back in Regency days? I seriously doubt it, and it's one of several things in A Tangled Inheritance that struck me as an anachronism. Another example: a temperature is stated in Celsius degrees, and I'm pretty certain that in the early 1800s England was still using Fahrenheit.
The story itself is interesting, but the writing style is more "telling" than "showing," especially in the first few chapters, which struck me as prosy, like a diary in style. That was probably my main issue with this novel, but toward the end it began to engage me more fully and became much more enjoyable.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher and NetGalley for review. Thank you!...more
$1.99 Kindle sale, Oct. 30, 2019. Funny timing since I just finished reading the sequel, Problem Child, which will be published in early 2020.
3.5 sta$1.99 Kindle sale, Oct. 30, 2019. Funny timing since I just finished reading the sequel, Problem Child, which will be published in early 2020.
3.5 stars. Watch out for Jane Doe! She's on a revenge mission, and she gives no quarter. She's kind of Dexter in female form, but much less murderous ... just coldblooded. Like a shark.
Jane Doe is an intriguing new suspense novel about a self-described sociopath. Jane is plotting revenge against the guy who emotionally abused her best (really only) friend Meg, a kindhearted person who is now dead. Although Jane feels some guilt for not having been present more in Meg's life to help her, by and large Jane lays the guilt for Meg's death solidly at the feet of Steven Hepsworth. Killing Steven isn't enough; she wants him to really experience pain. What kind of pain, Jane isn't exactly sure yet, but she's sure she'll figure it out.
This relationship will be tedious and nearly unbearable, but the ends will justify the means. Maybe I'll destroy his family. Maybe I'll set him up for embezzlement. Maybe I'll kill him.
I'll find out what is most important to him and then I'll take it away. However that plays out is fine with me.
So Jane leaves her job as a high-powered international lawyer and takes a low-level data entry job at the company where Steven works as a middle manager. Jane remakes herself in the process, changing her last name, her hair and dress, and generally toning down her looks and behavior to match the vulnerable type of woman that appeals to Steven. It only takes three days for Steven to take the bait.
Jane has no problem using lies and sex to further her plans, but then things get unexpectedly complicated. There's someone who recognizes Jane from her past life ...
I had some issues with this novel. The author sets up Steven and his family as too-easy targets to hate: religious hypocrites of the worst sort. They pretty much have no redeeming qualities, and as such they're very thin characters. Jane takes several potshots at religion generally and the Hepworth's brand in particular. Jane has casual sex with several guys during the course of her escapade (some purely for her revenge plan), so if that's not your type of read, you won't care for this book. It's worth noting, however, that that kind of behavior is very true of sociopaths. And I thought the ending pulled its punches. (view spoiler)[I was wondering if the book was going to take the easy way out, and it did. The author's roots as a romance novelist showed here. (hide spoiler)]
Jane is a really interesting character, though. She's generally coldhearted and may be sociopathic, but she's not really the murderous type. She has no compunctions about using people, but she cared deeply about Meg. She adopts a cat (she loves its standoffish personality, of course) and doesn't name it ... but she still cares about it.
Overall I'd say the plot buildup is a little too slow, with some repetitive elements that could have been trimmed. Still, I have to say I couldn't put it down! I read the whole thing in one evening.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher for review. Thank you!
Content notes: The main character is unapologetically promiscuous; the sex scenes are somewhat explicit but not highly detailed. Scattered F-bombs....more
3.33 stars. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with my co-reviewer Kat's review):
Stars Uncharted is a breezy, fast-paced space opera adv3.33 stars. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with my co-reviewer Kat's review):
Stars Uncharted is a breezy, fast-paced space opera adventure. A motley space ship crew and a few desperate passengers are running for their lives from an evil mafia-like corporation, careening wildly from one near-disaster to the next. What it lacks in substance, it at least in part makes up for with an engaging plot and high octane escapades.
Nika Rik Terri, the top body modification artist (body modder) in this area of space, is forced to use her genemod machines to heal and disguise assassins and operatives of the Eaglehawk Company. When their top assassin threatens her life, Nika goes on the run, pulling another, younger body modder, Bertram Snowshoe, along in her wake. Josune Arriola is an engineer who’s been sent by the captain of another ship, the Hassim, to spy on the captain of The Road, who may have secret information about a planet with priceless minerals. The Hassim is late to reconnect with Josune … and when the ship finally appears out of nullspace (think: hyperspace) next to The Road, its crew is dead and unknown paramilitary operatives are in control of it. But the digital memory of Hassim is also immensely valuable ― enough that deadly forces are soon pursuing The Road and its crew.
Nika and Josune, whose paths soon merge, provide the two points of view in Stars Uncharted, usually in alternating chapters. As Kat points out, pretty much everyone on board the spaceship The Road to the Goberlings has a secret or a past that they’re trying to escape … or both. That’s a lot of secrets to juggle. The characters are engaging ― other than the villains, who are unremittingly villainous ― but are by and large recognizable types.
The technology in Stars Uncharted is also light and fluffy, reliant on distinctly handwavy pseudo-science. One of the focal points of the plot is the search for a mother lode of a fictional rare element called dellarine with near-magical powers. I was forcefully reminded of vibranium from the Marvel comics and Black Panther film. Another key plot element involves Nika’s pair of body modification machines that, it is disclosed in the first chapter, can switch minds between two people for 24 hours, after which the minds automatically switch back. Why? How? It’s never discussed at all. When Dunstall does get into the details of body modification, which combine both artistic and scientific components, it’s actually quite interesting, though it still requires a hefty suspension of disbelief.
On the plus side, Stars Uncharted ― again, rather like a Marvel superhero movie ― was a fun, exciting ride and kept me glued to my couch, eyes on my iPad, when I really should have been doing other more important things like, say, working on a lesson I had to give the next day. I have to give this novel credit for keeping me up until 2 a.m.!
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley and the publisher for review. Thanks!...more
3.5 stars. Loving Lieutenant Lancaster is a charming, sweet and clean Regency romance by Sarah Eden, a well-known author in the clean romance genre wh3.5 stars. Loving Lieutenant Lancaster is a charming, sweet and clean Regency romance by Sarah Eden, a well-known author in the clean romance genre who usually gives her main characters personal issues that make her novels a little deeper than the norm for this genre.
Arabella is a sweet but previously emotionally abused young woman who’s been taken in by the Jonquil family (from one of Eden's longtime series) as a companion to their elderly mother. Linus Lancaster (from Eden's other multi-book series) is a former Navy lieutenant who’s haunted by the death of his older brother eleven years ago, unhappy about being the family heir, and a little at loose ends. Arabella feels like she needs to act like a servant at the Jonquil home, despite everyone's inclusiveness. And Linus ... isn't sure how to treat her, but he knows he's interested in this quietly attractive woman. Meanwhile other people are trying to pull Arabella and Linus in different directions, relationship-wise.
Fans of Sarah Eden will rejoice in her bringing together the two families she’s been writing about for several years. It’s quite the house party at the Jonquil mansion! All the excitement and drama with secondary characters is fun if you're familiar with them from the prior books, but it will lose some of its resonance if you're a new reader to the two series that come together here. Unless you're invested in the characters already, this one is just a little bland. The main plot with Linus and Arabella is rather slight on its own, so I'd advise reading at least some of the prior books (especially Seeking Persephone and Friends and Foes, the first books in these two series) before jumping into this one.
There are a couple of key subplots with some of the secondary characters left open at the end of this book, so it'll be interesting to see what happens next with them in future books....more
(Recap of Book 1 in this paragraph; I've triedThis just-published sequel to Nyxia is a fun YA SF adventure! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
(Recap of Book 1 in this paragraph; I've tried not to be too spoilery) Emmett Atwater, a sixteen-year-old African American from Detroit, has spent the last year on board a spaceship owned by Babel Communications, lured in ― along with nineteen other disadvantaged teenagers from across the globe ― by Babel’s offer of immense wealth if he will travel to Eden and mine as much of the priceless mineral nyxia as possible on behalf of Babel for a year or so. Then he and the others can return home to a life of permanent ease. But Emmett and the other teenagers soon learn that the executives of Babel care only for their own power and wealth. During the year-long flight of the Genesis to Eden, the teens were pitted against each other in desperate competition for a place with the final group that would actually land on Eden. Manipulated by Babel, the competition became more and more ugly and deadly, until a final terrible twist just before the final group was dispatched to Eden in individual landing pods.
Nyxia Unleashed, the second book in Scott Reintgen’s NYXIA TRIAD series, picks up right where Nyxia left off, with Emmett soaring through the atmosphere of Eden and landing alone at night on an unfamiliar planet with two moons, and with no one else anywhere in sight. Emmett eventually is able to connect with a few of the other teens, and they make their cautious way cross-country to a supply center, where they meet up with the other teens from their spaceship, as well as a young corporal who’s been left in charge of Babel’s supply center (one of the Adamites’ demands is that the only humans allowed to stay on their planet must be children or teens). And they meet some representatives of the Adamites, who greet them with slightly unnerving good cheer. Soon the Genesis teens discover that, like Babel, the Adamites ― who actually call themselves the Imago ― have not been entirely forthcoming about their motives and plans.
I’ve always understood Babel’s reasons. More money, more nyxia, more power. That makes all the sense in the world, but I never thought about what the Adamites got out of the deal. It always seemed like we were an entertaining sideshow. A permission granted to Babel so the Adamites could witness a miracle they’ve lost. For the first time, it feels like more than that. Thesis and the others are looking at us like we’ve come to save them. I file it away under D for Dig Deeper.
The teens haven’t trusted Babel for many months, but are the Imago going to be any better? And how will the teens ever be able to get back home to Earth?
Nyxia Unleashed shifts away from the life-and-death game competition that marked Nyxia, which I think was a wise move by Reintgen. The focus shifts now to the Genesis teens’ efforts to learn to trust each other again after the many months of often bitter and deadly competition on board Babel’s spaceship while it was flying to Eden (called “Magnia” by the Imago), and to their exploration of Magnia and the Imago people and their culture.
Nyxia Unleashed is an interesting, solid follow-up to Nyxia, with some unexpected twists to spice up the plot. Each faction has hidden plans that shed new light on the entire book. The planet Magnia and its natives have some creative aspects to them, though they could have been much more fundamentally alien for my money. The Imago are described more like an unusual country of humans than a world of non-human aliens, with much that is familiar about their culture and society. Conveniently, humans and Imago are able to not only talk to each other (thanks to one of nyxia’s odd properties) but also breathe the same atmosphere and eat the same foods. But I doubt the intended YA audience will mind that, and it does act as a mirror for how we as a human society often behave.
I’ve grown quite attached to the main character and narrator, Emmett, who tries to balance his justifiably vengeful thoughts against Babel and its executives with the desire, instilled by his loving family, to be a good person and find a better way. The racially, religiously, and sexually diverse group of teens that form the Genesis group can’t all be distinct and three-dimensional personalities, but enough of them are that their interactions and relationships feel realistic. There’s a clever but poignant moment where one of the teens uses an ancient, rather obscure Biblical story as inspiration for an unexpected change in direction.
Nyxia Unleashed has a bit of a cliffhanger ending, but not enough to put me off in any way. I’m definitely on board for the third book, Nyxia Uprising, slated for publication in April 2019.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher and NetGalley for review. Thank you!...more
Magic is well and good, but bullets are often swifter.
Brief Cases (just published in June 2018) is a Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Magic is well and good, but bullets are often swifter.
Brief Cases (just published in June 2018) is a collection of a dozen short stories set in the world of Harry Dresden, a private investigator and talented wizard living in Chicago. Harry is the main character in most of the stories, but not all; a few other characters in Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES universe get their chance to relate their adventures in their own voices.
This is the case with one of my favorite stories, the first one, “A Fistful of Warlocks,” set in the American Old West in the late 1800s, long before Harry Dresden’s time. Anastasia Luccio is a wizard and a Warden of the White Council of Wizardry, sent by the Council to Dodge City to take a murderous warlock into custody. Anastasia is a woman with attitude:
“Charmed, Anastasia,” said the deputy. He squinted at my sidearm and said, “Webley. Lot of gun.”
He was not so very much taller than me. I arched an eyebrow at him and smiled. “I am a lot of woman.”
The warlock she’s been sent to apprehend turns out to be a lot more trouble, and have more friends helping him, than Anastasia anticipated. For her part, she gets some assistance from a näcken, a treacherous shapeshifting water spirit (usually in the shape of a horse) who lost a bet to her, and a particular deputy who will be familiar to anyone who knows anything about the Old West. I was tickled pink to meet him in this tale!
Another particular standout is the last novelette, Zoo Day, where the same period of time and overlapping events are related by Harry Dresden and two other characters, a young girl named Maggie (who will be familiar to readers of the series) and an enormous and magical dog ironically named Mouse. Harry, Maggie, and Mouse take a trip to the zoo one day, where several different magical threats turn up to disrupt what was supposed to be a pleasant outing. Each of these three characters offers his or her own perspective on the events of that day, building on each other’s stories. It was insightful and even touching.
“B is for Bigfoot,” “I Was a Teenage Bigfoot” and “Bigfoot on Campus” are an enjoyable trio of stories about the son of Bigfoot by a human woman, a six foot-four inch archaeologist. Irwin, their son, is an intelligent and (understandably) physically strong young man, but has typical growing-up troubles with bullies, school teachers, and first love. Of course, there’s a magical twist to all of these problems. These stories explore some of the problems and concerns of parenting, with a Sasquatch spin.
Another particularly memorable story was “Curses,” a tale with a distinctly Chicago flavor, which relates the “true” story of the Chicago Cubs and the infamous Billy Goat Curse of 1945. Bob the Skull makes an appearance here to good effect, helping Harry analyze the long-running curse. In addition, there are a couple of stories featuring Harry’s friend Molly (one of which, “Cold Case,” is a bleak and distinctly Lovecraftian tale set in Alaska); “Day One,” a story about Waldo Butters and his first outing as a Knight; and “Even Hand,” from the point of view of Gentleman Johnnie Marcone, a crime lord with ties to the magical underworld.
These twelve stories in Brief Cases are set at various points in the DRESDEN FILES series and, fair warning, there are some significant spoilers relating to things that happen to some key characters in some of the later books of the series. It’s also helpful to be at least somewhat familiar with the series before launching into reading these stories. I’m somewhat a newbie to Harry Dresden: so far I’ve read only the first and fourth books in the series, but that was enough to anchor me for these stories.
Though these stories are fairly light action and mystery fantasy tales, there are deeper themes running through them. Butcher touches on some of these themes in his introductions to each story.
The idea of the consequences of your actions coming back to you in the future is ingrained in the fabric of the Dresden Files ― and both your terrible choices and your more inspired ones engender consequences that will eventually come home to roost.
Other than Zoo Day, which is new, all of these stories have appeared in various previously published anthologies. Brief Cases is well worth reading for fans of the DRESDEN FILES series, but might be slightly confusing for readers who aren’t at least a little familiar with the Dresden universe and characters.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. Thanks!!...more
3.5 stars (more if you love YA SF with a good side of romance). On sale now! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Jay Kristoff’s YA post-apocalyp3.5 stars (more if you love YA SF with a good side of romance). On sale now! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Jay Kristoff’s YA post-apocalyptic novel LIFEL1K3 stars seventeen-year-old Eve as its tough, fauxhawk-sporting protagonist. Eve is a gifted mechanic who lives with her grandfather, her only relative, in a post-apocalyptic island version of “Kalifornya” called the Dregs. She has a cybernetic eye and a memory drive (“Memdrive”) implanted in the side of her head, with silicon chips behind her ear that give her fragmentary memories of her childhood and supply her with other useful life skills. Eve’s secret pastime ― at least it’s secret from Grandpa ― is engaging in robot deathmatches to fund Grandpa’s anticancer meds. Eve’s besties are a feisty redhead named Lemon Fresh, whose name comes from the box in which she was found abandoned as an infant, a cranky little robot named Cricket who has major self-image issues related to his short height, and a loyal cyborg dog, or “blitzhund,” named Kaiser who is internally armed with a powerful suicide bomb.
Eve’s latest robot gladiator battle goes badly: not only does her robot, Miss Combobulaton, get reduced to a useless heap of parts, but at the end of the battle Eve manifested a psychic power that completely shorted out the robot she was fighting. Now several factions are out to capture or kill Eve, including the dreaded Brotherhood that kills all mutants as a tenet of its faith, a stunningly powerful and physically augmented bounty hunter called Preacher, and the local greedy and bloodthirsty gang.
On the way home from her ill-fated robot battle, Eve and her friends see an aircraft crash land in a junk heap of old auto wrecks. They pull the remains of a handsome android, an illegal “Lifelike,” from the pilot’s seat. At Eve’s and Grandpa’s home, the android, Ezekiel, unexpectedly comes back to life. Ezekiel seems to recognize Grandpa and Eve, though he calls her by a different name, but can she trust him? Maybe she’ll be able to figure it out while they’re on the run …
Kristoff originally pitched LIFEL1K3 as “Romeo and Juliet meets Mad Max meets X-Men, with a little bit of Bladerunner cheering from the sidelines.” LIFEL1K3 is a cheerfully violent pastiche of those iconic works and more. There’s a Terminator type of character, an unstoppable bounty hunter cosplaying an Old West preacher. Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics play a vital role in the plot. Pinocchio is also expressly referenced several times by the characters, just in case any reader might have otherwise missed the allusion.
It may be derivative, but there’s creativity and enthusiasm in the pages of LIFEL1K3 as well. As our main characters quickly move from place to place, the pace moves swiftly as well. Robot battles and other armed conflicts are interspersed with the developing relationship between Eve and Ezekiel. The human (and android) drama element of the story is also heightened by flashback scenes of a mass murder that plays out at the beginning of the first several chapters, and by Eve’s gradual gain of knowledge about her past. Sometimes Eve overreacts to the new facts about her past; though she’s a volatile character, it seemed (especially at the end) artificially included for the sake of the plot and increased drama. I couldn’t quite believe and accept some of the characters’ actions and reactions at a few key points. The villains in this tale are also a bit cartoonish, with motivations that are understandable but rather simplistic and single-minded.
The romance, though it’s central to the plot of LIFEL1K3, never really took fire for me, perhaps partly because it involves sex (though not explicitly related) between a fifteen year old girl and an android. Despite the unusual and star-crossed partners, the romance itself remains firmly mired in standard YA romance land. More powerful for me was the depth and loyalty of the friendship between Eve and Lemon.
The cyberpunk-infused post-apocalyptic setting is, even if inspired by other novels and movies, well-imagined, with many gritty, vivid details that add to the realistic feel. Also adding to the pleasure of reading this novel were the twists and turns in the plot. Kristoff deftly threaded the needle here with twists that were surprising but had enough foundation in the previous events of the story that they didn’t come completely out of left field. My only quibble was with the very end of LIFEL1K3, which added one additional and rather unlikely twist of the knife to a cliffhanger ending. We’ll have to wait for the publication of the as-yet-unnamed sequel to see how it plays out, and I’m definitely on board for that.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thanks!
Content notes: lots of violence and some sexual content (non-explicit)....more
This contemporary mystery novel was IMPOSSIBLE for me to put down - I finished it in one evening. It's the fascinating story of a documentary maker diThis contemporary mystery novel was IMPOSSIBLE for me to put down - I finished it in one evening. It's the fascinating story of a documentary maker digging to the bottom of a ten year old murder on St. Lucia in the Caribbean.
We open with a chilling retelling of the murder itself, high up on a cliff overlooking the ocean, from the point of view of the murderer. The murderer is lying in wait for Julian Crist, who was planning a romantic meeting up on the bluff with his girlfriend, Grace Sebold. When Julian's body is discovered, Grace is soon arrested and convicted of the murder. She's been in prison on St. Lucia for the last ten years.
In what amounts to a last-ditch effort to prove her innocence, Grace writes a pleading letter to documentary filmmaker Sidney Ryan, an old college friend, who's previously made a couple of documentaries re-examining questionable evidence that resulted in the release of prisoners. Sidney gets a lot of these desperate letters from prisoners and their families, but she sees something in Grace's case that captures her attention. So Sidney convinces her network to allow her to make a real-time documentary about Grace, with each weekly episode outlining her latest findings in re-examining the evidence and interviewing witnesses.
As Sidney begins researching and producing episodes, the evidence that there's been a miscarriage in justice mounts, and a few stunning episodes capture the nation's attention. The public begins to demand that the case be reopened and Grace released from prison. But then Sidney gets a mysterious letter, telling her that there are things about Grace's case that she doesn't know ...
Don't Believe It is a gripping story that pulls you right along to the end. There are some major red herrings here, and I thought the ending veered into far-fetched territory. But it was plausible enough that it didn't bug me, and I definitely enjoyed the ride. I give Charlie Donlea props for fooling me to the very end. Definitely a worthwhile read for those who enjoy mystery novels!
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher for review. Thanks!!...more
Jim is visiting Manhattan, doing publicity for his blog, Gone for Good, and hoping to sell iA soft 3 stars. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Jim is visiting Manhattan, doing publicity for his blog, Gone for Good, and hoping to sell it as a book to a publisher. The point of Jim’s blog, and his sincere belief, is that things dying out and disappearing ― payphones, elevator operators, VHS tapes, and books nobody cares about ― is part of the natural order, a sign that society doesn’t need these things any longer. If society changes its mind, they can always be brought back. Books are generally digitized, after all. Or so Jim asserts.
When a meeting with a publisher gets cancelled, Jim wanders the streets of Manhattan until a downpour of rain drives him into an old-fashioned bookstore, Ozymandias Books, which appears to deal in rare titles. Jim wanders through the shelves, bemused at the odd variety of obscure books that he sees.
Promise Me Yesterday was cheek by jowl with A Traveller’s Guide to Salisbury Cathedral, Herman Melville’s The Isle of the Cross, and a 1928 Brooklyn phone book.
Jim ventures deeper into the bookstore, and ends up, Alice in Wonderland-like, following a beautiful blonde woman down a rabbit hole staircase (each step piled with books) to a hidden, cavernous warehouse beneath the streets of Manhattan filled with ― you guessed it ― millions of books, along with a mail chute that constantly spits out more books in a steady stream. Jim’s blonde reappears, conveniently, and Jim gets a personalized tour of this mysterious repository.
Despite abundant clues, including several not-so-cryptic hints from his tour guide, Cassie, Jim takes an inordinately long time to realize just what Ozymandias Books is really all about. The name of the bookstore, Ozymandias Books, is an intriguing symbol, but Willis pounds the symbolism hammer too hard here.
And all googling “Ozymandias Books” brought up was a headshop in Boulder, Colorado, and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem about a traveler in the desert who stumbles onto a monument to some forgotten pharaoh that has an inscription that says, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair,” even though whatever “works” he’d had have long since disappeared.
It leaves too little to the imagination of the reader (though I did find it amusing that one of the books Jim notices is called The Lone and Level Sands). Cassie’s name is a more subtle clue, though Jim does explicitly wonder if Cassie is a nickname for Cassandra.
I’m generally a big fan of Connie Willis‘s work, but this novella fell a little flat. Willis takes an idea ― the intrinsic value and irreplacability of printed books, even the most mundane ones ― and runs with it, wrapping the entire novella around this single concept. I Met a Traveller is simply too one-note and comes across as somewhat simplistic message fiction. Additionally, some librarians have complained in their reviews of this novella that part of Willis’s argument ― that librarians “cull” or discard old library books without checking for rarity or other available copies ― is simply inaccurate. And despite some creative details, including their filing “system” and an admirable mix of the titles of actual lost literary works (such as Sylvia Plath’s Double Exposure) with more mundane titles like a Tiger Beat issue, overall the story just wasn’t imaginative enough to completely engage me. Still, I’d love to spend a few days with this lost book collection!
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley for review. Thank you!...more
Theodora “Teddy” Cannon is hiding her short black hair and slight build under a long blonde wig, weighted underwear that adds thirty pounds, and cheap flashy clothing. It’s all in an effort to fool the security personnel and facial recognition software at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. There she plans to parlay her $5,000 bankroll (from selling her car) into enough money to pay back the $270,000 she owes to Sergei Zharkov, a vicious Vegas bookie, and her adoptive parents, who know Teddy has been living an aimless and trouble-strewn life but are unaware that she’s stolen $90,000 from their retirement account to make a partial payment to Zharkov. Teddy knows she has the talent to “read” other card players almost faultlessly ― it’s led to her being banned from all the casinos on the Strip ― and is confident that she can win big at Texas Hold ’Em if she isn’t spotted and kicked out. Her plan is working like a dream … until her talent suddenly abandons her in the middle of a crucial hand and she loses everything.
About that same time both Zharkov and the casino recognize Teddy ― apparently bad luck comes in threes ― and give chase. Teddy is mysteriously saved by a stranger, an NFL linebacker-sized man who springs several surprises on her: He knows who she is and how much money she owes, and to whom. Her ability to read other gamblers is actually a psychic ability. And he will pay back all her debts if she will come to the Whitfield Institute for Law Enforcement Training and Development, which is secretly a school for training psychically-gifted young adults.
Teddy is a rebel and a rule-breaker, but she’s smart enough to recognize a deal that shouldn’t be refused. A day and a plane and boat ride later, she’s at the Whitfield Institute on an island off the California coast, meeting other new students with a wide range of psychic gifts, from telepathy to animal-speaking to firestarting. So far so fun, but Teddy is also a loner with trust issues and has a hard time fitting in, especially when it becomes clear that she’s having difficulty getting a handle on her psychic gifts.
Stir in a hostile professor with a grudge against Teddy and the “Misfits” group she hangs out with, a couple of hot guys who are interested in Teddy, a conspiracy and a few mysteries, and you’ve got a breezy, fast-paced story that reads quickly. Unfortunately School for Psychics never really engaged me, for numerous reasons. The plot is somewhat choppy, occasionally skipping over periods of time or important events with a noticeable lack of subtlety or smoothness and glossing over elements that don’t really make sense (for example, how did Teddy manage to land herself almost $300,000 in debt when she had a near-infallible talent for gambling?). It’s also cliché-ridden, relying on over-familiar tropes like the misfits vs. the alphas and the main character who, initially at a daunting disadvantage talent-wise, develops ― surprise! ― an Extra-Special Super Cool Talent.
The characters are mostly one-dimensional and familiar types. Teddy, though more complex, isn’t particularly likable, though readers who appreciate rebellious and troubled protagonists may enjoy her more than I did. School for Psychics has a New Adult vibe (with no interest in a committed relationship, Teddy hops into bed with a couple of different guys) but the students at the Whitfield Institute act more like teenagers. It irritated me as a reader when Teddy and her friends made several poor decisions. In particular, there’s one mind-bogglingly bad decision toward the end that annoyed me so much that I couldn’t even make myself be interested in the details of how their caper went down. The far-fetched coincidences that enabled their scheme didn’t help. I skimmed through most of what was supposed to be a climactic scene, mentally rolling my eyes at the characters.
School for Psychics works reasonably well as the introduction for a new book series, if the concept interests you and if you don’t expect too much from it beyond set-up and character introduction. Reportedly the television rights to it have been purchased and the CW is now developing a drama based on this novel.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!
Content notes: violence and some sleeping around, not explicit....more
Jane Austen's Persuasion is rather loosely translated into a light contemporary romance, set among the faculty of Fairfax, a small California liberal Jane Austen's Persuasion is rather loosely translated into a light contemporary romance, set among the faculty of Fairfax, a small California liberal arts college. Anne Corey, a 32 year old English professor trying to get tenure, has to deal with Adam Martinez, her ex-fiancé from over ten years ago, becoming the president of the college. Rather than having one good heart-to-heart talk with him, (view spoiler)[which would have pretty much resolved everything immediately, (hide spoiler)]she avoids him and quickly gets involved with a suave author who's at Fairfax for a year as a writer-in-residence.
This main plotline shares time with a few interesting subplots: Anne's best friend Larry, a gay professor, falls for a handsome actor who's firmly in the closet; Anne and her sister deal with their aging father's health issues; and Anne is anxiously trying to get her literary criticism book published - if she fails, she'll probably be denied tenure.
It was a decent read but never fully engaged me. The writing style, plot and characters are all straightforward, without a lot of depth, and the romance felt a little underbaked. Frankly I was hoping for more from this book, but it's fine for a quick, breezy romance read, if that's what you're in the mood for. The author (who is an English professor) has some telling insights into the travails of life as a non-tenured college professor. Anne's - and by extension Julia Sonneborn's - love for libraries and the classic authors like Austen shines through in many parts of the story.
I read a lot of Austen retellings and fanfic (more than I probably should). This one seemed about par for the course, for a retelling set in our modern world, with how much it deviated from the original characters and plot. The one deviation that bothered me most: **spoilerish comments for both this book and Persuasion follow** (view spoiler)[In Persuasion Captain Wentworth is emotionally set against Anne at the start of the book, and much of the story is about how he comes around, eventually regaining his attraction for her and understanding/forgiving her for the choice she made to cut him loose years ago. In By the Book it's clear to the reader, if not Anne, that Adam is just waiting for the chance to make things right with her again and give their relationship another try. (hide spoiler)] It sucked a lot of romantic tension out of the room for me.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher and NetGalley for review. Thanks!
Content notes: There are a handful of F-bombs; all sex scenes are behind closed doors....more
Only Human wraps up Sylvain Neuvel’s excellent THEMIS FILES science f4.5 stars. The giant robots are back!! Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Only Human wraps up Sylvain Neuvel’s excellent THEMIS FILES science fiction trilogy with some surprising plot turns. *Expect some spoilers for the first two books, Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods*
At the end of Waking Gods, the robot called Themis was suddenly transported back home to her original planet by remote command of her alien makers, accidentally carrying along four people who happened to be inside of her: Vincent Couture, the only human capable of piloting Themis; his 10 year old daughter Eva; Dr. Rose Franklin, the brilliant and compassionate scientist who first discovered the immense, buried hand of Themis as a child; and General Eugene Govender, commander of the newly formed Earth Defense Corps. After nine years on the planet Esat Ekt, Vincent, Eva and Rose, together with one of the natives of Esat Ekt, commandeer Themis and travel back to Earth.
They land in Estonia, where the Russian government (which controls Estonia again) is delighted to take possession of both the robot and them personally. In Waking Gods, Rose had disabled another of the giant robots that the aliens had sent to Earth, and it turns out that the U.S.A. has been ruthlessly using this other robot, called Lapetus, to take control of many other countries around the globe. (How the U.S. was able to solve the tricky robot piloting issue is disclosed later in the book.) Vincent, a Canadian, is not happy to learn that Canada is now subject to U.S. control. The Russians intend to use Themis, Vincent, Eva and Rose to combat the U.S. and Lapetus. It’s an understandable strategy, though their methodology for convincing their "guests" to go along with the plan ― personified by the veiled threats of Katherine Lebedev, a major in Russia’s intelligence agency who is assigned as the prisoners’ handler ― is decidedly unpleasant.
Meanwhile, in a panicked overreaction to the events that occurred in Waking Gods, most countries around the globe have created internment camps for people whose genetic makeup includes more than a certain percentage of alien DNA … and even executing those with the highest levels. Our world is devolving into chaos and governmental oppression, with rampant mistrust. It’s not a happy or peaceful world to which Rose, Vincent and Eva have returned.
Neuvel includes a good amount of political and social commentary in Only Human. It occasionally gets a little clunky, but there are some incisive if rather pessimistic insights into human nature and our behavior when stressed … and the massive alien-caused deaths in Waking Gods have led to unprecedented levels of worldwide fear and uncertainty.
Only Human is a dual timeline novel: the current timeline describes what occurs after Rose, Vincent and Eva return to Earth, interspersed with flashback chapters that follow their lives during their nine years on Esat Ekt. I was delighted to see Sylvain Neuvel take on the challenge of creating an alien culture but, partly because Neuvel is still following the same file-based narrative structure as the first two books, we only get a limited look at the aliens’ world and its people. It’s mostly seen indirectly, through the discussions and journals of the four humans who are involuntarily being held there. The aliens’ world of Esat Ekt is, in many ways, a familiar one despite their vast technological superiority and unswerving dedication to non-interference with other cultures. But like humans, they also have political conspiring, large portions of the population who are dispossessed because of their race … and even soup kitchens. I would have liked to have sensed more alien-ness in their society, but it was interesting to compare and contrast the flaws in their world with those in ours.
Katherine Lebedev, the military officer in charge of Rose, Vincent and Eva during their time in Russia, is a quirky combination of threats and faux-friendly chirpiness who never quite feels real. As a handler, she was a distinctly unsatisfactory replacement for the nameless handler who was such an impressively dominant force in Sleeping Giants. However, the relationship between Vincent and his now nineteen year old daughter Eva makes up for this with its painful realism. Neuvel delves into the chaotic web of love, misunderstanding, anger and concern that can make up a relationship between parents and children … especially rebellious teenagers.
Only Human is an enjoyable, thoughtfully written conclusion to the THEMIS FILES trilogy. It’s one of my favorite recent science fiction series, deftly combining hard science with interesting characters and social commentary, not to mention the excitement of giant robot deathmatches. Overall I give it an enthusiastic recommendation!
I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher and NetGalley. Thank you!!
Initial post: THERE'S A DESCRIPTION AND A COVER! *flails* How soon can I get my hands on this??
ETA: The answer is: NOW. I have a copy from NetGalley in my hands now! *sweeps other books off the table*...more
This WWI era SF/fantasy novel is a 2018 book and a worthwhile read. A strong 4 stars. Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Many historical This WWI era SF/fantasy novel is a 2018 book and a worthwhile read. A strong 4 stars. Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Many historical eras ― particularly the Regency and Victorian, with World War II in the mix as well ― have been reimagined through the lens of fantasy and science fiction: alternative history, with magic or superpowers as the focus for recasting historical events. World War I has, I think, been underserved in this genre. Tom Miller’s The Philosopher’s Flight does a creditable job of shedding new light on the Great War era. Miller uses not only magic (here thinly veiled as a branch of science called empirical philosophy), but also the fact that these powers are primarily controlled by women, to enrich the story. Men are at a profound disadvantage in this science, with the women by and large extremely reluctant to allow men into their ranks, if not actively hostile.
Robert Canderelli Weekes is the eighteen year old son of Emmaline Weeks, a war hero and now a county philosopher in rural Montana. Philosophers in this world are not merely academics who study the nature of existence and knowledge; they are people who actually warp the laws of probability using sigilry, magical symbols that enable human flight, teleporting of groups, and other extraordinary powers. Robert has inherited the power of using sigils to fly, assisting his mother in her day-to-day work of responding to accidents and other local problems that require her services. He’s a decent flyer, not nearly as powerful or fast as his mother, but good enough to dream of following in her footsteps and joining the US Sigilry Corps, which assist in wartime evacuations and rescues. Emmaline is dead set against it; not only will the women in the R&E Department almost certainly reject Robert just because he’s a man, but the R&E wartime work has an extremely high death rate.
Robert finds a path that may lead him to his goal of joining R&E: the Contingency Act pays for philosophers to go to college, provided you serve an equal number of years afterwards in an area of the U.S. that’s short on philosophers. He applies and is accepted to Radcliffe College, a woman’s college that is now accepting a limited number of men as Contingency Act students.
So Robert heads off to Radcliffe in September 1917, joining a large group of women ― and a scant handful of men ― who are studying the philosophy and practice of flight. During his time at Radcliffe, Robert makes new friends, falls in love, and diligently works on improving his flight skills. He’s better than all but the fastest women, but still is faced with rejection and persecution from many women who don’t want men to join their ranks. This reverse sexism is a running theme in The Philosopher’s Flight, adding an unusual twist to the tale, particularly since women are the more militant group in this discipline.
On the flip side are the Trenchers, a stubbornly fundamentalist and bigoted group that rejects all brands of philosophical science and insists that women should return to hearth and home, leaving jobs to the men. The Trencher movement has gained power over the years since the Civil War, and its members are now engaged in a bitter and murderous feud with the philosophers. I would have preferred Christianity being left out of the Trencher’s belief system ― religion is too often used as a convenient punching bag in speculative fiction.
Miller makes liberal use of actual historical events throughout The Philosopher’s Flight, weaving them into Robert’s family history and as a backdrop for current events in the novel, sometimes with a few changes to fit the story. The Civil War’s Battle of Petersburg becomes a watershed event in the development of philosophical science and using it (and women) in wartime, when Lucretia Cadawaller used her powers to create a poisonous gas to kill 40,000 defenders of Petersburg. She intended to quickly win the war with a single, fearful blow … but she also inspired the rise of the Trenchers. I appreciated the way history informs the events of this story, with Miller frequently giving them a half-twist to shed new light on topics such as women’s rights and warfare practices. As gung-ho as Richard is to join the Sigilry Corps and the war effort, there are other characters cautioning him against the horrors of war and the likelihood of death or disability.
The Philosopher’s Flight is a well-paced tale, with the blend of magic and science giving it a somewhat retro feel that fits the time setting. Robert’s varied adventures and his developing relationships with others make this an engaging and original read. As far as I can tell this is currently a stand-alone read, but Miller has left the door wide open for a sequel.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley for review. Thank you!!...more