A Pakistani retelling of Pride and Prejudice? Sign me up!
3.75 stars. It's not perfect, and often it follows the original P&P plot a little too clA Pakistani retelling of Pride and Prejudice? Sign me up!
3.75 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 culture. 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
This sequel to The Black Witch, which caused a massive explosion of outrage on Twitter and Goodreads when it was published last year (IMO the accusatiThis sequel to The Black Witch, which caused a massive explosion of outrage on Twitter and Goodreads when it was published last year (IMO the accusations of various types of phobias/prejudice/White Saviorism/etc. leveled against it were mostly unfair and not based on a true read of the text), will be published next week, Sept. 18, 2018. It's queued up in my read list.
The big question in my mind: how hard has the author and her publisher worked to make sure this won't offend ANYONE? Pretty hard, I'd guess. We shall see....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
3.5 stars. Watch out for Jane Doe! She's on a revenge mission, and she gives no quarter.
Jane Doe is an intriguing new suspense novel about a self-des3.5 stars. Watch out for Jane Doe! She's on a revenge mission, and she gives no quarter.
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.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...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 aFinal 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 liberalJane 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
4.5 stars. The giant robots are back!! On sale today, May 1, 2018. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Only Human wraps up Sylvain Neuvel’s exce4.5 stars. The giant robots are back!! On sale today, May 1, 2018. 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
$1.99 Kindle sale, April 13, 2018. This WWI era SF/fantasy novel is a 2018 book and a worthwhile read. A strong 4 stars. Full review, first posted on$1.99 Kindle sale, April 13, 2018. 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
On sale now, as of March 6, 2018! A solid and enthusiastic four stars. Full review first posted on Fantasy Literature.
Burn Bright is the fifth and latOn sale now, as of March 6, 2018! A solid and enthusiastic four stars. Full review first posted on Fantasy Literature.
Burn Bright is the fifth and latest novel in Patricia Briggs’ ALPHA AND OMEGA urban fantasy series … actually, it’s more mountainous wilderness fantasy, but it does involve werewolves and witches living amongst humans. Burn Bright, though it has different main characters, also intertwines nicely with the main MERCY THOMPSON series.
Bran, the grand-Alpha or Marrok of most of the werewolf packs in North America, is still out of town due to the events in the last MERCY THOMPSON book, Silence Fallen. He phones home and tells his wife Leah and son Charles that he’s leaving them in charge while he takes a trip to Africa to see Samuel, his other son. In Bran’s rather mysterious absence, Charles and his wife Anna try to manage his pack of werewolves and the pack’s finances, and to not get into too many arguments with the irascible Leah.
This effort gets a lot trickier when Charles gets an urgent phone call from Jonesy, one of the so-called wildings. These are a separate, outlier group of werewolves under Bran’s protection and leadership who live near but apart from the Marrok’s main pack. The wildings are broken beings, fragile and often particularly dangerous, and are rarely seen by anyone except Bran himself. Charles and Anna, an “Omega” werewolf with the helpful talent of calming dominant werewolves, head out to check on Jonesy.
Jonesy turns out to be a powerful fae who lives in isolation with his werewolf mate, Hester. Hester has been captured by a secretive armed task force that is trying to kidnap ― or kill ― some of the wildings. And the evidence indicates that someone among the wildings or Bran’s main pack is a traitor who is working with these attackers. With Bran incommunicado for some reason, it’s up to Charles, Anna and other members of the Marrok’s pack to try to neutralize the invaders, warn the wildings of the danger they’re in, and find the traitor.
The mystery in Burn Bright is distinctive, though ultimately it didn’t gel for me as well as in the best of Briggs’ books. The plot is somewhat disjointed, though the threads come together fairly well in the end. The logic is occasionally strained. For example, there’s a significant rule involving cell phones not being allowed in wilding territory, where the explanation simply didn’t make sense to me, and a key development involving eye color that seemed highly unlikely under the circumstances. The plot involves both extreme long-term planning by the villain and some improbably rushed action and coincidences. However, as Briggs has frequently done before, she pulls in plot threads from preceding books in the series, weaving in the consequences of earlier events and decisions made by the characters. Though it’s not necessary to have read all of the books in both interlocking series to understand and enjoy Burn Bright or any other particular book in these series, it’s certainly conducive to a greater appreciation.
The highlight of Burn Bright is the characters and their interrelationships. Briggs creates well-rounded characters in a fantasy setting who are realistically flawed and believable. It was fascinating to get to know some of the members of Bran’s pack of misfit werewolves better, both characters we’ve met before as well as some new ones. Some poignant moments for several characters add to the depth of this urban fantasy. There was a fascinating aside in the form of an insight into Mercy and Bran’s relationship, and even the detested, hard-hearted Leah becomes a character that the reader develops more understanding and even sympathy for.
Burn Bright is a solid entry in one of the better ongoing series in the urban fantasy genre. If you haven’t read the previous ALPHA AND OMEGA books, I would recommend starting at the beginning, with Alpha & Omega and Cry Wolf, but fans of Patricia Briggs and her werewolves will relish this new adventure.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. Thanks!!
Original post: I love Patricia Briggs' urban fantasies, and this Alpha and Omega series interlocks very closely with Mercy Thompson's. I'm having trouble keeping my mitts off this one (I got halfway through it last night in one long reading session that lasted until 1 am) even though there are other books I really need to read and review first. I should probably feel worse about that than I do. :D...more
YES! I finally got the ARC of this last book in this trilogy (which began with The Bear and the Nightingale)!! Now can I keep my hands off it for a coYES! I finally got the ARC of this last book in this trilogy (which began with The Bear and the Nightingale)!! Now can I keep my hands off it for a couple of weeks while I read a few other books in my urgent TBR pile? We'll see ......more
Alice Proserpine has always led a drifter’s life with her mother Ella. They scrape by onOn sale now! Final review, just posted on Fantasy Literature:
Alice Proserpine has always led a drifter’s life with her mother Ella. They scrape by on the edge of homelessness, constantly moving from place to place, staying with friends until they wear out their welcome, bad luck relentlessly dogging their footsteps wherever they go. And they never speak about Ella’s mother Althea, a reclusive author who lives in a grand, nearly impossible to find estate called the Hazel Wood, and who was famous for Tales from the Hinterland, a mysterious, nearly impossible to find collection of dark and bloody fairy tales. All Alice knows about this tantalizing book (before her mother snatched it away from her, never to be seen again) is the titles of the stories, including the intriguingly named “Alice-Three-Times.”
When Ella gets word that Althea has died, she’s determined to stop running from life. She marries a rich New Yorker after a whirlwind courtship and she and Alice try ― or not ― to adjust to a different lifestyle. Alice is seething with anger and frustration most of the time, and Ella’s marriage rapidly begins fraying.
Then their lives get upended again, but in a way that blindsides Alice: Ella is kidnapped by two people who say they are from the Hinterland. She disappears without a trace, leaving behind only a message for Alice: “Stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood.” Which message, of course, Alice has absolutely no intention of heeding. Alice enlists her friend Ellery Finch, a longtime fan of Tales from the Hinterland, to help her in her search. But she has no idea where to find the Hazel Wood, or what awaits her there.
The Hazel Wood begins as a quirky, bleak urban fantasy set in our contemporary world. In the first half of the book the plot unrolls at a leisurely pace, enlivened only by Ella’s kidnapping, Alice’s search for the Hazel Wood, and some occasional run-ins with suspicious dark characters. But the murky horror of the Hazel Wood and the Hinterland cast a gloom over every page, reinforced by Finch’s occasional retelling of some of the stories from the copy of Tales of the Hinterland that he read long ago.
The pace picks up in the second half when the novel suddenly shifts gears to a dark fairy tale type of setting. I enjoyed the creativity and fantasy of this part of the novel much more than the first part, though I was underwhelmed at a couple of key points: the climactic scene and the ending both struck me as weak.
Melissa Albert’s writing, though Alice’s first person narrative voice, was a major plus for me. Her language is lush and evocative, though I’ll admit it sometimes sidles toward purple prose:
There was a funny glitter in [Ella’s] eyes as she watched herself in the mirror. I thought of that later, when she came home with a twin glitter on her ring finger: a rock as big as the Ritz.
My memory of that night is tattered, a movie screen clawed to pieces. The glint of the ring lodged in my eye like a shard of demon glass, and the anger overwhelmed me.
The main character, Alice, is rude, inconsiderate, foul-mouthed and, more often than not, angry; certainly not an easy character to appreciate. She's not at all politically correct, so readers sensitive to those nuances have an additional reasons to be perturbed with her point of view. Alice's main good point is her deep devotion and love for Ella. I wasn’t as irritated by her as Ray and Jana (my FanLit co-reviewers) were, partly because the reason for her irascible nature, when finally disclosed, was an unusual and compelling one. Still, the amount of swearing (a Kindle search informs me that there are 22 F-bombs in this book) was a definite turn-off for me for a YA fantasy.
At one point Finch tells Alice:
"I got my hands on Althea’s book. And it was perfect. There are no lessons in it. There’s just this harsh, horrible world touched with beautiful magic, where shitty things happen. And they don’t happen for a reason, or in threes, or in a way that looks like justice. They’re set in a place that has no rules and doesn’t want any."
Much the same could be said of this book: It’s harsh and flawed but there’s creativity and beauty in it. Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed The Hazel Wood.
I received a free copy from the publisher through NetGalley for review. Thanks!
Original post: Cheers! NetGalley just approved me for this YA fantasy, and I'm really excited about it! I was puttering around on NetGalley a few days ago and this book is at the very top of their "most requested" list. The first six chapters can be downloaded for free on Amazon, so I did. Melissa Albert's writing style pulled me right into the story, and I requested this book as soon as I finished reading those chapters.
Now to find time to fit this into my overstuffed reading schedule ......more
Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature. Ironclads was published on November 7, 2017 in a special limited hardback edition; the Kindle editioFinal review, first posted on Fantasy Literature. Ironclads was published on November 7, 2017 in a special limited hardback edition; the Kindle edition will be published on December 31, 2017.
In Ironclads (2017), the gap between the haves and have-nots has become drastically wider in this near-future novella, especially in the military, where it’s become popular for rich young men, called Scions, to engage in war, battling foes in high-tech, weaponized and near-impenetrable suits of armor paid for by their wealthy family corporations. It’s a little like having Iron Man, Iron Patriot, and several of their friends in your military, though without, apparently, the flying ability. In contrast, the regular army “grunts” are underpaid and denied most of the high-tech protections available to the Scions, who always outrank everyone else.
Sergeant Ted Regan of the U.S. 203rd Infantry Division and two of his men, Sturgeon and Franken, are on two weeks leave in England (now a territory of the U.S.), preparing for battle against the Nords (formerly Scandinavians) when they are called to London and given a special mission: One of the Scions, Jerome Speling, has gone missing on the Nord front, and his cousin assigns Regan and his men to a covert mission and rescue Jerome, or at least find out what happened to him. Since Scion armored shells are supposedly infallible, the Speling family is concerned. Regan’s team is joined by two others, a weasel of a man named Lawes and a black woman named Cormoran who’s a drone specialist, but they’re still severely understaffed and ill-equipped for such a dangerous mission.
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s new SF novella dishes up imaginative, fast-paced military science fiction in the form of a rescue mission against long odds, with a large side of social commentary. Tchaikovsky takes some of the more worrisome elements and trends in our world today, and extrapolates from there. Global warming has caused the oceans to rise and wiped out many coastal cities, with Thailand and the Netherlands gone the way of Atlantis. Fundamental religion, sexism, and discrimination play an increasingly large role in society. Corporate interests and wealthy families rule, with the Scions’ role in the military being expressly analogized to feudal days, when the sons of the rich would go off to battle in armor unavailable to the common men, protected by the fact that if they ran into trouble, they were more likely to be captured and ransomed than killed. Now the military technology has brought them back to the battlefield:
They were like gods: human figures head and shoulders over the soldiers around them, made of gleaming silver and gold and darkly menacing black steel. And they were gods, in a way. This was what human ingenuity could achieve, when price was no object. The corporations wouldn’t shell out to give us common grunts that sort of protection, but it was only the best when their sons wanted to play soldier.
Sergeant Regan, an everyman type of character, is the jaded but still somewhat idealistic narrator of Ironclads. He’s a fairly standard military type of character, but some of the others in his group are more memorable, particularly Lawes, whose many illicit connections are helpful but untrustworthy, and Cormoran, with her fleet of small, high-tech drones and a past history that she eventually discloses to Regan, causing him to reevaluate her role and even the entire mission.
The twists in the plot are intriguing, doubling down on the social themes that Tchaikovsky explores in Ironclads. In fact, there’s a subtler meaning to the use of “ironclad” in the title, suggesting the protections that money and secrecy bring to the privileged few. On one level this novella is enjoyable as a straight-up military SF adventure, but it has additional depths and implications that are worth pondering.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley and the publisher. Thanks!
Content note: Scattered F-bombs and violence....more
This is one for the old-fashioned romance fans, where handsome dukes, love at first sight, and ladies subsiding meekly into strong, manly embraces areThis is one for the old-fashioned romance fans, where handsome dukes, love at first sight, and ladies subsiding meekly into strong, manly embraces are a plus. :) Snowdrift and Other Stories is a lighthearted and sweet anthology of fourteen Georgette Heyer short stories for fans of traditional Regency romances, including three newer stories that haven't been published in many years.
There are grey-eyed heroes and heroines galore ... seriously, what was GH's thing with grey eyes? I started highlighting them in my Kindle and wound up with like eight different grey-eyed characters, and also one gray-eyed one, just for a change of pace. Also there's a little cross-dressing, some amateur boxing, a trip or three to Gretna Green, Scotland (the Las Vegas of the Regency era) for hasty marriages, second chance love (yay!), some misunderstandings (boo!), rampant instalove and even insta-engagements (if you abhor instalove, this collection will NOT be your cuppa tea), and all of the other Regency tropes.
The fourteen stories:
"Snowdrift" - The passengers in a post coach heading to Bath include a young woman and a "thickset young man with small eyes" (so, obviously the villain of this tale) who are spatting with each other. They're stranded when the coach crashes into a deep drift of snow. The pair are in a race to reach Bath first, but why? The young man takes off on one of the horses, leaving the woman in tears. Luckily a gentleman in a curricle happens by and is willing to take Miss Trent and her maid along with him, but what awaits everyone in Bath? ... besides instalove, I mean. It's actually quite funny. One of the better stories in this collection.
"Full Moon" - Lord Stavely meets a rather drunk young gentleman at an inn, who confides in Stavely that he's rather reluctantly planning to elope with his childhood friend Annabella, so she won't have to marry some "old fogy" that her father has picked out, sight unseen. You can kind of tell where it's going from there, but Lord Stavely's plan runs into an unexpected hiccup or two.
"Pistols for Two" - Tom and Jack, lifelong friends, become rivals when Miss Marianne Treen comes back into town, unexpectedly grown up into a dazzling beauty. Tempers flare over a slight, and a challenge to a duel results. Can their friends and a suave gentleman from London dissuade them? A tale that's more funny and poignant than romantic.
"A Clandestine Affair" - Elinor Tersilian, who's about thirty years of age and thus "on the shelf," is the guardian for her lovely young niece Lucy. Lucy wants to marry one Mr. Rosely, but it develops that there's a problem: Mr. Rosely's trustee won't give his permission for the marriage ... primarily because he and Elinor have some kind of mysterious but bitter History between them. Lucy is not planning to give up so easily, though, and a mad chase to Gretna Green results.
"Bath Miss" - Sir Charles Wainfleet, newly and rather reluctantly engaged, is prevailed upon to escort a young schoolgirl from Bath to her grandfather's house. But the schoolgirl turns out to be not quite a young as he was given to understand, and somehow gets herself (and Sir Charles) into one problem after another.
"Pink Domino" - Miss Wrexham has a lovely new rose-pink domino (hooded cloak for a masquerade) and plans to wear it at the rather scandalous Vauxhall, if only she can evade her domineering older brother Giles. Giles Wrexham has been in a particularly uncertain temper ever since he met a lovely sweet-faced girl on Bond Street, but he has no idea what her name is or how to find her again.
"A Husband for Fanny" - Honoria Wingham, a young widow, is busily engaged in trying to find the best and wealthiest husband possible for her daughter Fanny, during Fanny's first London season. Mrs. Wingham has her eye on the Marquis of Harleston for Fanny, even though her friend Lady Pednor assures her that it's a hopeless cause. I saw the twist coming here, but it was still a very sweet story. And no instalove, which is cause for rejoicing in this collection of stories. :)
"To Have the Honour" - Young Lord Allerton has returned home from the war upon inheriting his father's estate, but it's in very sad financial estate. Everyone in his family expects him to solve the problem by marrying his cousin Hetty, who is an heiress. But Lord Allerton doesn't want Hetty to marry him out of some feeling of obligation, so he lets her off the hook. This story features some amusing scheming behind the scenes by interfering relatives.
"Night at the Inn" - For a change of pace, we have a mystery/suspense story here, with just a slight tinge of romance. There's something suspicious going on in the gloomy inn, and an ominous-looking man who has been watching young Mr. Cranbrook all evening.
"The Duel" - In this second duel-based story, a young woman sneaks into a gentleman's house. It's not the house she was looking for, but she ends up telling the gentleman her sad tale of a drunken brother who unwisely insulted one Lord Rotherfield and ended up getting challenged to a duel, which her brother will surely lose. Perhaps the gentleman might be able to do something about this? Another twist that was easy to spot, but it was still a charming story.
"Hazard" - Miss Helen Moreland has the misfortune of being under the guardianship of her half-brother Sir Ralph, an unworthy gentleman whose latest misdeed is to gamble Helen away in a high stakes card game. Carlington, a Marquis, is the lucky/unlucky winner of Helen ... but what will he do with her?
"Pursuit" - The Earl of Shane is out of sorts: his rich young ward Lucilla, who he intended to marry because it it was the wish of both their fathers ('How elevating it is to encounter such filial piety in these days!' observes Miss Fairfax soulfully), has taken off for Gretna Green with a soldier. So the Earl grabs Lucilla's governess, one Miss Mary Fairfax (age 29), and commands her to accompany him in his curricle as they take off to hunt down the runaway couple. Some interesting discussions between the Earl and Miss Fairfax ensue. The plot thickens when the Earl and Miss Fairfax are in turn chased down by his aunt and her son, the Earl's cousin and heir, bent on preventing what they think is the Earl's hasty marriage to Miss Fairfax. Another of my favorites.
"Runaway Match" - Yet another runaway pair heads to Gretna Green, young Mr. Rupert Morley and Miss Paradise, a young lady with a taste for drama. At an inn along the way they meet up with Sir Roland, the man Miss Paradise's father wants her to marry. Misunderstandings, adventure, and a rather one-sided swordfight. Miss Paradise made me roll my eyes a little, but otherwise I really enjoyed this one.
"Incident on the Bath Road" - The handsome, wealthy and bored Earl of Reveley is on his way to Bath when he picks up a young (and suspiciously womanish-looking) gentleman whose chaise carriage had broken down, who tells the Earl a long and fanciful tale about planning to rescue a lovely young woman who is being forced into marriage by her heartless relatives. But the relative is hot on the trail...
These stories are delightful and humorous confections. Perhaps they're not great literature for the ages, but the light historic romance fans will enjoy these. Heyer has some great witty dialogue and it was all good, fluffy fun.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher and NetGalley for review....more
Blackwing (2017) begins in Misery, but things will get far worse before they get bOn sale this week! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Blackwing (2017) begins in Misery, but things will get far worse before they get better. This gritty fantasy is set on a world where there are three moons ― red, blue and gold ― whose light can be woven into magical power and stored in canisters for use by sorcerers. Two unimaginably powerful magical forces face off against each other across the terrible void called the Misery ― a magic-blasted wasteland. On the side of mankind are the Nameless: ancient, unseen wizards who are nearly godlike in their powers, but who have mostly disappeared from the lives of men. On the other side are the Deep Kings, dark and malevolent powers that corrupt men into enthralled warriors, called the drudge, and other slaves.
Ryhalt Galharrow, our narrator, is a captain of a ragtag group of mercenaries, far fallen from his once-noble life, a jaded fighter who lives mostly for his next drink. He’s also, reluctantly, an operative of Crowfoot, one of the Nameless. Ryhalt has a large raven tattoo on his arm through which Crowfoot occasionally sends him messages; a painful and bloody process, since the tattoo temporarily rips itself from his flesh to become a bird that shouts orders at him. His latest order: get to Station Twelve and ensure “she” survives. (Crowfoot’s orders tend to be brief and cryptic.)
“She” turns out to be Ezabeth Tanza, a noblewoman Galharrow once loved many years ago, who is now a powerful sorcerer. Greater powers have brought Ezabeth and Galharrow together again in the fight against the Deep King’s armies, and against hidden treachery in their own society. Lady Ezabeth is also investigating a hidden problem involving Nall’s Engine, a vastly powerful magical machine that originally created the Misery, killing thousands but protecting men from the Deep Kings. Galharrow is, with very mixed emotions, drawn into her investigation. At stake is the survival of their society: if they can’t solve the problem soon, the Deep Kings’ armies of drudge and evil childlike sorcerers (ironically called Darlings) will overrun their land, murdering and enslaving the population.
Ed McDonald tells a gripping, well-plotted tale in Blackwing, his debut novel and the first book in the new RAVEN’S MARK trilogy. The world-building is imaginative and ambitious, and it’s a credit to McDonald that it didn’t remind me of other post-apocalyptic novels. It’s also occasionally a bit hard to grasp, with unfamiliar vocabulary that isn’t always explained right away, but that issue lessens as you get deeper into the story. There’s the occasional phrase that’s arguably overwritten or clichéd, like “My past was like a cruel grandmother: nasty, lacking in wisdom, and better off buried,” but the occasional dark humor helps to leaven the plot. Overall, Blackwing flows smoothly, with lots of action and tension. It’s a vividly imagined and well-plotted novel, with a creative ending that I didn’t foresee.
Blackwing is a tough-minded fantasy set in a blighted, war-torn world where magic is more often used for dark purposes than positive ones. Even the positive uses of magic have, almost invariably, a huge, ugly downside. Galharrow, fittingly, is somewhat of an antihero, as well as a slob and a habitual drunk. Despite all, he still has something of a moral compass, and that becomes more apparent as his story unfolds.
Blackwing can be intensely bleak and violent, with its high body count, adult language, irrevocably damaged lives and lost dreams. Because there are some moral underpinnings to our main characters and some threads of hope in the narrative, I wouldn’t call this grimdark fantasy, but it skirts the edges. It’s not for sensitive readers, but for those who like darker, grittier fantasies, Blackwing is well worth your time.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. Thank you!
Content notes: Countless F-bombs, lots of violence (some pretty disturbing), heavy drinking, crude language. It's a pretty hard R-rated novel and was out of my comfort zone, so I don't plan to continue with the series. But for the right audience this will be a great read....more
A CIA counterintelligence analyst investigating Russian sleeper spies finds a face she never expected in a hiddThis spy thriller novel is now on sale!
A CIA counterintelligence analyst investigating Russian sleeper spies finds a face she never expected in a hidden file, and her world is immediately turned upside down. And it only gets more tense from there...
Vivian Miller has been happily married to Matt, a software engineer, for almost ten years, with four young children. She works full-time for the CIA, trying to uncover a network of Russian sleeper spies. Viv has developed an algorithm for identifying people who are likely suspects for being Russian spy handlers, based on education, their banking practices, travel to and contacts with Russia, and so on. Then she tries to hack into their computers to see if she can find any evidence of spying.
Her current lead, Yury, seems a likely candidate. And in fact, once she's able to hack into Yury's laptop, she finds a file labeled "Friends" in Russian, with five images of people who could be in Yury's cell of sleeper spies. When Viv opens the third image, she's shocked to her core, and her first impulse is to hide it. But her finding will impact her life in ways she never imagined, and as everything comes crashing down around her, she doesn't know who she can trust.
I was traveling cross-country when I started this book, and it was the only thing I could read. There are hidden plots and subplots, wheels within wheels. Karen Cleveland does a great job of making you feel sympathy for Vivian and the impossible choices she's facing, including the difficult choice of working full-time when you have young children. It's a fast-paced read that's incredibly gripping and almost impossible to put down until you get to the end.
I received free copy of this ebook from the publisher and NetGalley for review. Thanks!...more
3.75 stars. The Stolen Marriage is historical fiction with a mystery/romance element, set in North Carolina during WWII. In Brooklyn, 1944, Tess DeMel3.75 stars. The Stolen Marriage is historical fiction with a mystery/romance element, set in North Carolina during WWII. In Brooklyn, 1944, Tess DeMello is deeply in love with her fiancé Vincent, a doctor working out of town. But Vincent keeps extending his trip and Tess is getting perturbed, so one weekend she and her bestie Gina take an overnight trip to New York City to see the sights.
They go out to dinner with a couple of guys staying at the same place, Tess drinks far too much, and she and one of the guys end up sleeping together (it falls just short of date rape, IMO, but they're both very drunk). When Tess winds up pregnant, she writes a letter to Vincent breaking off their engagement and disappears from his life. She finds the guy, Henry Kraft, in Hickory, North Carolina, to ask him for money to go live somewhere new. Henry, who is from a wealthy family, unexpectedly offers to marry Tess, and she agrees.
Life in Hickory is difficult for Tess: Henry is kind but standoffish, and inexplicably hardly touches her again; they're living with his resentful mother and spoiled, hateful sister; and all the socialites in town hate her for stealing Henry away from the lovely girl who expected to marry him. Plus Tess has completed her schooling and wants to become a registered nurse, but Henry and his mother are appalled at the idea of her working.
When a terrible polio outbreak hits Hickory, it changes life for Tess and everyone in the town. The townspeople come together to set up a hospital within just 54 hours from when it was first publicly proposed. Tess finds several doors unexpectedly opening to her as a result, including that her nursing training may finally be put to use ... but there's a lot more.
Diane Chamberlain did a lot of research for The Stolen Marriage, and the polio outbreak and near-miraculous creation of a polio hospital there are based on actual history. Here's one account with pictures, and here's another more detailed written account. This subplot about the polio epidemic and the polio hospital in Hickory was the most interesting part of the book for me.
The rest is a serviceable though rather soap opera-ish historical fiction novel, with a romance subplot and a mystery. I had a few issues with it: The writing is competent but very straightforward, and the characters are pretty one-dimensional. There's a spiritualism subplot that I never warmed to; while I am of the "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio" camp and I think that spirits of those who've died can and occasionally do visit the living, I'm also strongly of the opinion that anyone who is a practicing spiritualist (i.e., one who contacts the dead for other people, usually for money, though that's not the case here) is almost certainly a fraud. There's also some moral relativism of the end-justifies-the-means type in the later part of the book that didn't sit well with me.
Still, it was an interesting story, and it does do a good job weaving in issues of the time, like the role of women and discrimination against blacks and other minorities (Tess is of Italian descent). I think it will appeal to readers who like light and somewhat romantic historical fiction.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley for review. Thank you!!...more
A lovely Regency romance, to be published in November, that I downed whole in one evening. It's by one of the better-known authors in the field, MaryA lovely Regency romance, to be published in November, that I downed whole in one evening. It's by one of the better-known authors in the field, Mary Balogh. The unique plot point here is that the heroine, Wren, has a large purple birthmark on one side of her face that she considers disfiguring, and she's been a hermit for many years, always wearing a veil in public. Notwithstanding that, she's also an intelligent, accomplished businesswoman who's taken over her uncle's glassworks business.
Now her aunt and uncle (her beloved adoptive parents, who took her in after a distressing childhood that Wren refuses to discuss with anyone) have passed away. Wren is lonely, almost 30, and very rich, and so she comes up with the idea of essentially bribing some nice, respectful man to marry her, treat her well and give her babies and sex (not, however, in that order :D), and put up with her isolated ways.
Enter Alex, who's unexpectedly inherited a title and needs lots more money to whip the accompanying estate into shape. He's young and handsome, and he's not sure why he should even consider Wren's offer to him. There are lots of other rich heiresses around, and with his title and looks he shouldn't have any trouble finding a wife. She's clearly a very damaged soul, which is far more distressing to Alex than the mark on her face. But Alex is also a kind and thoughtful man. Perhaps something might be worked out? They decide to get to know each other slowly, with lots of bumps in the road along the way.
It's a heartwarming story, if a little facile, especially in the last half. Alex is a paragon, and a man who feels bound by his duties to the people working on his estate. He very much wants to make life better for them, and is willing to set aside his own desires in order to achieve that. Wren is a more memorable character, trying to muster the courage to do things -- meet new people, go out in public, kiss a man -- that she's never done before.
Lots of references and characters from the prior books in this Westcott series. It was a little distracting for me since I haven't read those books, but if you've read them you should be pleased to catch up with those characters.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review. Thank you!...more
This collection of nineteen fantasy short works, edited by Peter BeaglOn sale as of August 22, 2017! Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
This collection of nineteen fantasy short works, edited by Peter Beagle, is definitely worthwhile if you like speculative short fiction. Many of them left an impact on me, and a few are true standouts. These stories are by relatively new authors in the speculative fiction genre and are all fantasy; otherwise there’s no discernable overarching theme.
These stories have almost all been published previously over the last seven years, and several of them are Hugo or Nebula winners or nominees. While a dedicated reader of online short fiction can find many of these short works in free online magazines, it’s convenient to have them gathered together in one volume with other stories that aren’t as readily available.
A brief summary of the short stories and the novella in The New Voices of Fantasy and my ratings:
4 stars: “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong. A disturbing vampirish story with an Asian main character, lesbian overtones and highly evocative language. Nebula winner.
4 stars: “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar. When selkie women find their sealskin and go back to the sea, what about the children they leave behind? I appreciated that it explored a different point of view without minimizing the selkie women’s initial lack of consent. Hugo and Nebula nominee.
2.5 stars: “Tornado’s Siren” by Brooke Bolander. A tornado falls in love with a young girl, following her with devotion over the years. I don’t know, it just struck me as kind of a one-note story, with a few too many strained similes (“The sidewalks sweat like her father after a jog.”).
3 stars: “Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” by Sarah Pinsker. Every once in a while, people who dive into a pond in Shay’s small town never resurface, and their remains are never found. We never do find out why people keep disappearing, but the question Pinsker is really concerned with is, why do people still jump in?
5 stars: “A Kiss With Teeth” by Max Gladstone. Vlad the vampire is married to a human (in fact, the woman who was originally hunting him down!). They have a young son, and Vlad tries to live like a regular human, denying his darker self and powers. It all starts to break down when his son starts having problems at school, and when Vlad starts meeting regularly with his son’s teacher … who starts looking incredibly appealing as a victim. One of my favorite stories in this anthology, for its wry look at the question of what it means to be yourself.
5 stars: “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon. When grumpy Grandma Harken’s grandson catches a jackalope woman by stealing her skin and partially burning it, it’s up to her to try to fix things. Vernon’s writing in this story is fantastic, evoking a Native American-inspired mythology and mixing in humorous but sharp observations about human nature. I’ve read this short story at least five times and adore it more each time. Nebula winner.
2.5 stars: “The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” by A. C. Wise. This is a humorous manual advising witches on the best way to get a house (buying, taming, breeding …). It’s a more complicated process than you might think! Cute, but a little weak and one-note for me. No plot.
3.75 stars: “The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley: One February evening in 1938, the Chrysler Building gets the romantic itch and takes off for a walk to go flirt with the Empire State Building. A sweet and warmhearted fantasia of a story; again, not a whole lot of plot.
4 stars: “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” by Hannu Rajaniemi. A old spacesuit, haunted by the spirit of the astronaut who once owned it, takes its new (and illicit) owner for unwanted excursions. This is a deeper and more thoughtful story than I expected from the initial premise.
4 stars: “Here Be Dragons” by Chris Tarry. A couple of medieval con men, who made a good living for quite a while pretending to save villages from nonexistent dragons, are now having a difficult time settling down with the wives and kids. It’s told from the point of view of one of the men, who sees his friend’s and his own personal shortcomings, but tries to justify (or at least explain) their behavior. It’s amusing in parts, but also sobering and even appalling.
4.5 stars. “The One They Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval. Kayla feels a compulsion to check out want ads that speak of magical portals, faerie queens and mysterious disappearances. As the pattern builds up, it gradually becomes apparent why.
2 stars. “Tiger Baby” by JY Yang. Felicity has a disappointing job and an isolated life, but deep down she's certain that she's really a tiger, and one day will morph into her true tiger self. This one didn’t quite work for me.
2.5 stars: “The Duck” by Ben Loory. Another fable type of story, this one about a duck who falls hopelessly in love with ... a rock. Told in a deceptively simple fashion, it has some nice insights into friendship. Sadly, this duck just didn’t particularly rock my boat.
4 stars: “Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar. A lovely and very short story about books, and secrets, and people who truly understand you. There’s an intriguingly mysterious element in the small, thumb-sized book that the girl wears around her neck.
3.5 stars: “The Philosophers” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs. This work is comprised of three separate but thematically related stories, just a couple of pages each, about fathers and sons. They’re oddly whimsical and philosophical tales, reminiscent of stories by Jorge Luis Borges. Originally published in the New Yorker magazine.
3.5 stars: “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers” by Eugene Fischer. An explorer-scholar takes a journey to visits a remote, isolated people who have the ability to breathe air that solidifies enough for them to temporarily walk on it. This people, known as the Bridge Blowers, are very leery of visitors, since their society has been deeply damaged by colonial practices. It’s like reading a more enlightened Rudyard Kipling adventure, and what the narrator unknowingly reveals about himself and his prejudices is telling. However, I wasn’t a fan of the inconclusive ending. This is the only brand new story in this anthology.
4.5 stars: “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado. A disturbing, sexually explicit and well-written take on the old horror folk tale about the woman who always wears a ribbon around her neck. Machado weaves in urban legends and some meta aspects, where she addresses the reader directly. This is a strong and overtly feminist tale that takes a dim view of men generally. Nebula nominee.
4 stars: “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik. This novella begins as a folk-type tale of the old days, involving a dispossessed Pakistani princess and a jinn who lived in a eucalyptus tree, as told by a Pakistani grandfather to his grandson. It evolves into mind-bending metaphysical science fiction with cosmic implications. Nebula nominated novella.
I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher and NetGalley. Thanks!
Content note: These stories are mostly clean, but a few (most notably "Hungry Daughters" and "The Husband Stitch") have strong sexual content and/or lots of F-bombs....more
On sale today! 3.25 stars - sadly, I'm dropping down from my initial "soft" 4 star rating, on further reflection. Review first posted on Fantasy LiterOn sale today! 3.25 stars - sadly, I'm dropping down from my initial "soft" 4 star rating, on further reflection. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Life in Artemis, the only human city on the moon, is rough for Jasmine Bashara, a 26 year old delivery person, smuggler, and would-be tourist guide. She fails her EVA (extravehicular activity) Guild exam in, literally, breathtaking fashion; she’s somewhat estranged from her welder father, to whom she owes a huge personal debt; she’s living alone in a tiny, claustrophobia-inducing capsule room; she barely gets by on her payments as a porter (supplemented by some judicious smuggling activity). But Jazz wouldn’t want to live any other place ― certainly not on Earth ― and she’s determined to make a success of her life, with no help from anyone.
So when Trond Landvik, one of the wealthiest people on the moon and a regular customer for Jazz’s smuggled luxuries, offers her a million “slugs” (moon currency) to do a highly illegal sabotage job, Jazz can’t resist. Trond’s intention is to disrupt Sanchez Aluminum’s production of oxygen for long enough that he can take over the business, for reasons he’s cagey about. The job requires Jazz to sneak out of the domed city of Artemis (tough when all comings and goings out of the city’s four airlocks are constantly monitored) and take out four massive anorthite harvester machines. Jazz is both brilliant and determined, and comes up with a complicated scheme worthy of Mark Watney. But the plan doesn’t work out quite the way she intended, organized crime elements get involved, and suddenly it’s a life-and-death situation for Jazz.
Artemis (2017), Andy Weir’s just-published second novel, didn’t engage me nearly to the extent The Martian did, but it’s action-packed and ― once the crimes finally get rolling ― compulsively readable. There’s a complex crime caper on the moon and lots of geeky hard science details. The domed moon city setting is laid out with a great deal attention to detail; Weir’s world (or moon)-building is fairly elaborate, if not fleshed out quite as completely as I would have liked. I suppose something had to give to work in all the science facts and the too often cringe-worthy jokes.
The cast of characters in Artemis is highly diverse, beginning with Jazz herself, a rebellious Arab young woman protagonist. She’s Muslim in heritage, though non-religious and sexually active. Artemis’ government is controlled by Kenya, with a female administrator, and its population is a cross-section of several Earth nationalities. One of Jazz’s friends is gay, though their relationship’s been on the rocks since he “stole” Jazz’s former boyfriend away from her ― ouch. Jazz also has had a Kenyan pen pal since she was nine years old; their mildly interesting letters provide interludes at the end of each chapter, giving us some background information regarding Jazz’s past, and gradually tying back into Jazz’s present circumstances.
Unfortunately, characterization isn’t otherwise a strong point in Artemis. Jazz’s juvenile, snarky personality frequently irritated me. She’s a genius ― when motivated, she picks up electronics design and the chemistry underlying high-temperature smelting with a few quick hours of study ― but she often acts in childish, petulant ways because of her pride and rebelliousness. Her character and fondness for crude jokes makes Jazz read more like a teenage boy than a woman in her mid-twenties. Her mantra in life seems to be “nobody can tell me what to do.” Jazz gradually gains a sliver of wisdom and redemption, but it’s limited. The secondary characters are (mostly) appealing personalities, but easily recognizable and one-dimensional types.
Artemis’s crime caper plot is also a more standard and familiar one; the novel as a whole just isn’t as fresh or compelling as The Martian. While the hard science details aren’t given short shrift, they flow less smoothly in Artemis than in The Martian, bogging down the pace somewhat. However, Weir is clearly making an effort to expand his horizons: along with the greater diversity, the reader is also treated to lessons in wealth inequality, economics, and sciences like welding and smelting. Duct tape even makes a brief but memorable appearance in the plot, in a mic drop scene sure to be appreciated by fans of The Martian.
In the end, Artemis was a reasonably engaging story, but Weir’s shortcomings as an author are more apparent here, with the less gripping plot, than they were in The Martian. Whether you’ll enjoy Artemis depends, I think, upon your affinity (or tolerance) for complex crime caper plots, immature protagonists, and an abundance of technical science.
I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher and NetGalley for review. Thanks!
3.75 stars for this rather subdued, introspective SF post-apocalyptic novel, based around a murder mystery. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Lite3.75 stars for this rather subdued, introspective SF post-apocalyptic novel, based around a murder mystery. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
In Bannerless (2017), Carrie Vaughn ― perhaps best known for her KITTY NORVILLE urban fantasy series inhabited by werewolves and vampires ― has created a reflective, deliberately paced post-apocalyptic tale with some detective fiction mixed in. It’s about a hundred years in our world’s future and after an event simply called the Fall, when civilization collapsed worldwide. The cities are now ruins, abandoned by all but the most desperate people. Climate change has resulted in, among other things, deadly typhoons that periodically hit the California coast, the setting for our story. What’s left of humanity is living a far simpler lifestyle than most of their twentieth century ancestors.
Along the Coast Road, a largely agrarian society has developed in which people have a reasonably good way of life. People live in small communities, and in group households. They have extremely strict restrictions on use of resources and on population control, which they view as a way to prevent the events that caused the Fall from reoccurring. Childbearing has become a privilege, one that must be earned; official permission for a household to have a child is evidenced by a green-and-red woven banner. Having a “bannerless” child is a major violation of the rules and social code that govern Coastal society. That, like other violations of rules such as overfishing or overplanting of fields, generally lead to the breaking up of the violator’s household and social shunning. A few traces of pre-Fall technology still survive, like (conveniently enough) birth control implants. It’s an interesting world, well-built by Vaughn.
Enid is an Investigator, one of a limited number of people with a law enforcement job that combines the roles of detective, police and judge. There isn’t a lot of crime in their area; bannerless pregnancies and people cheating the system by planting unauthorized crops are far more common than murders or crimes of violence. But Enid and her partner Tomas are called to the community of Pasadan to investigate a questionable death. The death of Sero, a man who lived alone, appears to be an accident … but he had no friends in Pasadan, and the people there are suspiciously close-mouthed about what they might know of Sero and the circumstances of his death. In Pasadan, Enid also unexpectedly finds her former lover Dak, a wandering minstrel with whom she spent a few months traveling the Coast Road some ten years ago. How is Dak involved in Sero’s death … if he is?
Bannerless alternates between two timelines: Enid and Tomas’ investigation into Sero’s death in the current day, and flashbacks from Enid’s youth, particularly her time with Dak, journeying up and down the coast with him and his cherished (and rare) guitar. He lives the life of a traveling bard, singing old and new songs, including one about dust in the wind that he learned as a child from an old man, who told him the song came from “a place called Kansas.” Dak’s renewed interest in Enid, when they meet again after so many years, didn’t seem realistic to me. Enid thinks it’s because she was the one who left him rather than the other way around, but it struck me as just as likely that he was acting charmed by Enid mostly to promote his own self-interest.
Bannerless has a restrained tone throughout, despite the main character’s investigation of a possible murder. It’s not as exciting as some novels about more harrowing dystopian societies, and may not keep you on the edge of your seat with gladiator-like fights to the death or zombie attacks. But it’s a more plausible and even hopeful future. Bannerless emphasizes the positive traits of human cooperation and care for our environment, while at the same time being clear-eyed about human shortcomings and weaknesses. Vaughn is rather mysterious about the particular causes and events of the Fall for the first half of the book; actually, it was a bit underwhelming when the Fall was finally explained.
Bannerless expands the world Vaughn created in the excellent Hugo award-nominated 2010 short story “Amaryllis,” which she’s explored in at least a couple of other short stories. If you’re a fan of contemplative post-apocalyptic novels like Station Eleven, Bannerless may appeal to you; while it’s not as deep and complex as Station Eleven, it’s still quietly appealing.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. Thank you!...more
I've read several of Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes works in the last few years, as weFinal review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
I've read several of Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes works in the last few years, as well as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. In my college days (not long after the Victorian age) I also read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. Would it be sacrilege to say that I enjoyed this delightful pastiche and tribute to Holmes and other Victorian era fantasy better than most of the originals? What The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter lacks in literary depth, it makes up for in humor and accessibility.
Mary Jekyll, daughter of Dr. Jekyll, who has been gone for many years, is facing a penniless life on her own after her mother’s death. Mary comes across some mysterious papers in her mother’s desk that lead her to believe that Mr. Hyde may still be around (she has no idea he was her father’s alter ego). The reward for Hyde’s capture for his murder of Sir Carew many years ago is very appealing, but Mary’s not certain whether that the reward is still being offered, or who she can trust with her potentially valuable information. So she decides to go to 221B Baker Street, to enlist the help of Sherlock Holmes.
One thing leads to another, and gradually we assemble a very appealing and fascinating cast of characters: Diana Hyde, a wild and irrepressible 14 year old; Beatrice Rappaccini (from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini's Daughter”), with poisonous breath and a burning touch; Catherine Moreau, a woman with disturbingly cat-like qualities; and Justine Frankenstein, an extremely tall and gentle woman who was assembled to be the bride of Frankenstein ― all women who might be considered monsters by society.
These young women, with the help of Sherlock Holmes and some additional characters (it’s nice to see a servant play a substantive role in the plot), work together to solve a series of creepy murders, in which young prostitutes have been found dead with various parts of their bodies missing. To make matters worse, the murders are tied to a secretive society of scientists, the Société des Alchimistes, to which all of these women have a connection as well.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is, on a higher level, faithful to the Victorian era and the works that inspired, but takes some intriguing (and necessary) liberties with the original stories: Mary Shelley deliberately misled her readers when she wrote that Dr. Frankenstein had destroyed his woman creation before giving it life, and Beatrice relates a different ending to “Rappachini’s Daughter.” While these women are generally well-grounded in Victorian times, we see aspects of that society that often don’t appear in literature: Beatrice supports Votes for Women and Dress Reform, Catherine’s atheism is counterbalanced by Justine’s deep religious faith, Diana has been raised by prostitutes and mistrusts men on principle, and Mary finds herself wondering how much more women could accomplish if they were permitted to wear trousers.
These women are a diverse group, each with a distinct and memorable personality and unexpected talents. Though they’ve experienced rejection and cruelty in their lives, and some of them even sexual and other types of abuse, in the process of working together they find support and friendship. They eventually name their group the Athena Club (“We claim the wisdom of Athena, but we identify with her dubious parentage”). It’s refreshing to see these familiar stories through the eyes of the female characters, rather than the men who used and mistreated them.
The sometimes dark plot of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is lightened by the humorous banter between these women, especially as ― in a rather meta feature of the book ― they continually interrupt Catherine’s writing of their story with snarky comments and arguments about how the book is being written. These side conversations do sap a little of the tension from the story, since it’s clear that all of these young women have survived the investigation and are still together, but they add a fun and creative twist to the story.
Though a part of the mystery is resolved, there are lingering questions about the the Société des Alchimistes, and another mystery raises its head in the end. Here’s hoping for many more adventures and mysteries for the Athena Club!
I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley. Thanks!...more
$1.99 Kindle sale, July 16, 2018. (The second book in this YA SF adventure series, Nyxia Unleashed, is being published tomorrow.) It's kind of a "Hung$1.99 Kindle sale, July 16, 2018. (The second book in this YA SF adventure series, Nyxia Unleashed, is being published tomorrow.) It's kind of a "Hunger Games in space" type of read, except with more attention to diversity. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
A group of teenagers, engaged in a deadly serious game-like competition. Life-changing fortunes are at stake, if not life itself. An ominously secretive corporation pulling the strings.
Many of the elements in Nyxia are familiar, but Scott Reintgen combines them with some more unusual plot features ― a worldwide cast that is primarily of minority races and nationalities, an appealing urban black young man as a protagonist, and a trip through space to a distant planet, rather misleadingly called Eden, that is clothed in secrecy. The result is an adventurous page-turner of a YA book.
The mysterious Babel Communications has gathered ten teenagers for a trip to the planet of Eden. As they begin their trip to Eden on the spaceship Genesis, Marcus Defoe, an executive of Babel, explains to the teens that wealth beyond their imagining will be offered them ― fifty thousand dollars a month for life, free top-grade medical care for their families, and more ― if the teens sign on the dotted line and, by the way, agree to a gag order on the secrets they’ll be learning. All sign.
Defoe explains to the group that they are traveling to Eden to work there for Babel for a few years, mining a near-magical, incredibly valuable mineral called nyxia found only on Eden that responds to your mental commands and morphs into (almost) anything you mentally ask of it. Why teens? There are dangerous natives living on Eden who are deadly enemies of humans, but culturally they reverence children and young people, putting them in a safe zone. So Babel has picked teens in desperate circumstances and offered them incredible boatloads of money to go to Eden and do the nyxia mining for them. Apparently non-interference with alien races is non-existent as a guiding principle for Babel Communications.
During the year-long trip to Eden, Babel puts the teens through brutal training, turning it into a competition: points are awarded and scores are kept and cumulated, and the bottom two teens will be sent home, missing out on most of the incredible financial benefits. But Babel has much more up its sleeve than its personnel are saying, and you can’t believe everything you hear from them.
Emmett, the main character and narrator of the novel, is complex, bright, and sympathetic enough to be an engaging protagonist. He struggles with anger and resentment against injustice, but diligently strives to follow the moral guideposts that his loving parents and others have helped him to form. Emmett habitually works to control his anger, channeling it into mental filing cabinets (“I file the thought away under P for Power”). There are also several very strong, intelligent and capable female characters. The multi-ethnic cast is a plus, particularly since the diversity is handled in a way that it makes complete sense for the storyline.
Scott Reintgen, a debut author, has created a gripping and compelling read in Nyxia, the first in a planned trilogy. There are a few minor inconsistencies in tone and characterization. Nyxia itself is a fantastical, near-magical substance that has so many diverse, amazing uses that it veers close to fantasy, requiring some suspension of disbelief. Additionally, the competition-driven plot may strike some readers as overfamiliar. Nyxia distinctly reminded me of both The Hunger Games and Ender's Game. Still, I think fans of those books will find Nyxia hugely appealing. Not just a paler imitation, Nyxia is a book that adds to the genre. I highly recommend it if you like young adult science fiction adventures, and I’ll be anxious to pounce on the next book in this series.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher for review. Thank you! ...more