January in Retrospect

The first month of 2015, gone already. And because of the insane amount of stuff I’ve been trying to do during it, it’s passed both very slowly and very quickly, all at once. Funny how time does that.

In non-bloggy things, I, erm, don’t have a job at the moment. Long story, but ultimately what it’s done is pushed ahead my moving plans so that instead of my roommate moving to PEI now and me following in a few months, I’m following in a couple of weeks. Which is why parts of January have been crazy. We’ve been trying to pack as much as possible to just get it over there, and then anything left here will be stuff to either throw out or donate. We have this place until the end of February, so I’ll be staying behind for a bit and cleaning and getting the last bits done, and then in the middle of February, I’ll be hauling the remainders over to the Island and settling into the new house.

What will  do for work after that? Look for it. The roommate will be pulling in more than enough money to get us by, and we’ve already discussed how this is going to go, so work for me isn’t an immediate high priority. So I’ll have my focus on domestic stuff, mostly, until I find a new job. I’m not complaining in the slightest.

Anyway, on to more bloggish talk!

Reviews

Larque on the Wing, by Nancy Springer
Owl and the Japanese Circus, by Kristi Charish
The Just City, by Jo Walton
Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone
Libriomancer, by Jim C HinesThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North
We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory
Atlanta Burns, by Chuck Wendig

MOVIE REVIEW: Beautiful Creatures

8 books reviewed, and 8 books read! I’d say I’m off to a decent start for the year, wouldn’t you?

Other stuff

I celebrated 5 years of bookblogging with a contest (which is now closed and the winners have been chosen, just in case anyone thinks to try sneaking in some very belated chance).

I got to be part of the unveiling of the cover art for Danielle Jensen’s upcoming Hidden Huntress, which I can’t wait to read!

Upcoming

I admit it, February’s going to be a slow month, since I’ll likely be taking the first 2 weeks off blogging so that I can help set up stuff in the new house and then come back to the old apartment to finish up every last little thing that needs finishing. So for the first little while, it’ll be pretty quiet around here.

I guess the upside to that is that I still plan to get some reading done during that time, when it’s took late at night to work without disturbing neighbours or when I’m riding the bus to and from places, so I’ll end up with an okay backlog of reviews to keep everyone happy once I’ve returned. I wish I would’ve thought ahead to see if anyone wanted to do a guest post or two to keep things going while I’m gone, but eh, things were crazy enough as they were without me having to remember that too!

Since it’s a short month, I’m going to aim for 7 books read instead of the usual 8, and 5 reviews once I’ve returned from my hiatus. So a rather slow and quiet February, but one that will allow me to come back full steam in March.

So, how was everyone else’s January! Read any good books you want to recommend to me?

Atlanta Burns, by Chuck Wendig

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 27, 2015

Summary: You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.

Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it—until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead—by an apparent suicide—Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault.

You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.

Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.

Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?

Thoughts: Atlanta Burns has a problem. Many problems, in fact. Chief among them is that she has the kind of personality that can’t take anything lying down. When she’s kicked, she kicks back.

Or, to be more accurate, when she’s molested, she takes a gun and blows the sack off the man who touched her.

That’s how Atlanta gets her reputation. A reputation that gets her the attention when she’d rather have none, and puts her in the orbit of two other teens with serious problems of their own. And while Atlanta tries to keep her own company, to avoid getting drawn in to other people’s problems, she can’t escape them. Abuse cries out for vengeance, and that’s exactly what she’s going to serve.

Atlanta Burns is not a comfortable read. It’s not meant to be. It’s brutal, it’s cruel, and some scenes can leave you with a heavy sick feeling in your stomach. This isn’t an after school special where the bullies are just misunderstood awkward kids who lash out because they’re secretly lonely and want friends. This is a novel where the bullies will burn a boy with cigarettes because he’s openly gay, will kidnap and torture small animals, would rape a girl if given the chance of no repercussions. Where it’s not just teens who are bullies, where sometimes cops are crooked, where sometimes parents are stupid, where racist homophobic bigots have power and respect. In short, it’s the real world, and Wendig doesn’t attempt to sugar-coat any of the large piles of crap that are out there. Atlanta Burns is what happens when one person decides to get retribution for all the hell suffered by herself and those she knows. It’s not a novel about justice. It’s a novel about vengeance.

Wendig’s writing is brilliant as usual, and the narration reads very much the way people think and speak. Slang. Wit. Observation. Sentence fragments all over the place. And true to what I’ve come to expect from Wendig, plenty of swearing, again adding to the realism of teenage life. That’s a major part of what causes this book to hit home. You real a lot of fiction meant for teens, and the worst half of them say is “damn,” and the most they think or talk about sex is in vague romantic terms. And from my experience being a teenager, things really aren’t like that. Teens can have fouler mouths than adults, simply because they’ve hit that age where they’re not longer likely to be punished for cursing. So it’s f-bombs all across the board, for the novelty of it and because there are few better ways to express what you’re feeling at that time. Wendig’s teens talk and think like actual teens, utterly unsanitized and not dumbed down for anyone’s sensibilities.

Which makes sense, given the subject matter of the novel.

Atlanta Burns is a novel sure to generate a lot of talk, because it rips the pretty veil off life and exposes the brutal reality beneath. It deals with a lot of things that some people would rather close their eyes to, because it’s painful and difficult and sometimes it feels easier to close your eyes rather than face another day of hell. It’s the kind of book that both teens and adults need to read, though do keep in mind that it can be incredibly triggering and it might not be the sort of thing that can be read in a single sitting. I had to put it down a few times just to give myself a break from the imagery and the emotions that it generated, and I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who had this reaction. I felt a little bit sick more than once. Readers are reminded at every turn that “it gets better” doesn’t happen in a vacuum; people have to work to make it better. And just in case that doesn’t quite hit hard enough, those words are stated in no uncertain terms right at the end.

This is a book better experienced than explained, because by this point, I honestly don’t think this review can do the book justice. I rate it so highly precisely because it’s painful to read, because it calls attention to old wounds that I can relate to a little too well in some cases. If you’re lucky enough to have never been bullied, to have never been driven to the point where you seriously consider harming or killing yourself, if you’ve never felt that silent scream stuck inside you because you’re on the outside and the world seems impossibly set against you and any scream you let loose will just be mocked or ignored, then this book will give you a glimpse into what it’s like to live that kind of life. And if, like me, you have felt those things, this book might give you hope that there are people out there who see it, who see the problems, and who will launch themselves into action to make sure that brutality stops.

It’s uncomfortable. It’s emotional. And it’s worth every word.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – July 21, 2014

Summary: Harrison is the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. Now he’s in his mid-thirties and spends most of his time not sleeping.

Stan became a minor celebrity after being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara is haunted by the messages carved upon her bones. Greta may or may not be a mass-murdering arsonist. And for some reason, Martin never takes off his sunglasses.

Unsurprisingly, no one believes their horrific tales until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer. What happens when these likely-insane outcasts join a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within and which are lurking in plain sight.

Thoughts: A group therapy session. A support group for survivors, only these aren’t your average survivors of terrible events, if anyone in such a situation could be considered an “average” survivor. Each one has faced supernatural horrors and has come out the other side, not whole, definitely damaged, but still alive to tell their stories. But when nobody wants to hear those stories, when nobody believes the truth behind the events, who can they turn to but each other, after meeting at a very specialized group put together by Dr. Sayer?

The stories of each of the group members are horrific, ranging from Stan’s experience of being partially dismembered and eaten by a family of cannibals, to Martin’s experience of augmented reality games allowing him to see beyond and come into contact with terrifying creatures. And bit by bit, all their stories do come to light over the course of the novella, and I’m probably not the only reader who thought that it would have made for incredible reading to go deeper into the events themselves, to get a closer look at everything that landed everyone in that therapy group to start with. That Gregory managed to tell such complete stories in such a short space is a real testament to his ability as a writer; as much as I would have loved to have seen more, the important parts of the stories were told, giving you more than enough to appreciate what everyone went through.

I often end up thinking things like this when I read novellas. I’m so used to novels that when I read something shorter, I want more. I want to read it all fleshed out and bigger and long enough to allow me to completely immerse myself in it for days without coming up for air. Novellas are so quick, it feels like I just have a chance to get my feet wet before it’s over. But that perceived weakness really is a strength, too, since the author has such a small space to cram a coherent story into, and the very fact that Gregory can do this just blows me away. We Are All Completely Fine doesn’t just tell the backstories of multiple characters, but also the overarching story that ties them together and keeps things moving forward. It’s multiple stories combined into one, and just take a moment to contemplate the skill that takes to accomplish.

All of the stories fit so perfectly together, with one exception. I found that Dr. Sayer’s story seemed to come out of left field. There were small hints trickling through the cracks, and it was obvious that she wasn’t undamaged by strange events, but the way her story tied back to Stan’s just seemed tacked on. It wasn’t supposed to be obvious until the end, which makes sense since any revelation earlier would have ruined everything, but when her story comes together, it just seemed overdone, like it wasn’t enough for her to have some supernatural connection and be touched by weirdness herself, to be connected to them all by what had happened to Barbara (which affected all the group members, in a way).

But this is entirely a subjective thing and other people may have had no problem with that aspect of her story. It certainly did tie everything up in a neat package, no threads really left dangling except those that were supposed to dangle.

One aspect of the way the story was told that did interest me was the narration, and I’m left puzzled but intrigued by the choice. The first paragraph or so of each chapter is presented as though it’s being told by the same person, using “we” and “us” to indicate the group, so you think that it’s all being told by a member of the group itself. Then it switches to the third person, each chapter highlight one character or another, never going back to the same sort of first-person pronouns until the next chapter begins. It takes a while to realise that eventually, all of the group members have been talked about (and you’re sure that it’s all of them, because the story’s clear to point out the number of males and females in the group very early on), and this mysterious voice who calls everyone “we” isn’t actually going to get talked about. It’s one of those things that can hit you out of nowhere, and once I realised it, I couldn’t help but start to speculate on why. Was there somebody else there after all, an invisible someone watching everything? Was one of the members of the group split, in a sense, to think of themselves in the third person to prevent getting too close to trauma, and if so, which one? Or was it just a cool storytelling trick to hook readers and provide a little more interest? (Not that it needed it, because the story was fantastic even without that as a hook!)

What this all comes down to is that if you’re a fan of horror, or of anything Daryl Gregory has written elsewhere, or just of fantastic novellas that demonstrate exemplary storytelling, then you ought to read We Are All Completely Fine. The pacing is tight, not a word wasted, and for all that most of the immediate action occurs at the end, it never once feels slow or ponderous. Masterful writing and a sensational set of intertwining stories keep you reading, keep you pushing for details, and it’s a great thing to whet your appetite for more of Gregory’s superb writing. It’s early days yet, but this is already a strong contender for Best Novella in 2015’s eventual year-end Best Of lists!

(Received for review from the publisher.)

MOVIE REVIEW: Beautiful Creatures

Note – I’d like to stress right from the get-go that I haven’t read the novel that this movie was based on, so any commentary I make comes straight from the movie itself, not a comparison between the movie and the book. Thus if I give praise or make a complaint about something and you know it to be different in the source material, that’s not relevent to what I’m doing here. I have not read it, and so I will not comment on it.

With that aside, let’s jump right into the review of…

beautifulcreatures

The story revolves around Ethan, your average attractive high school student, and Lena, new to town and part of a family with a long and despised heritage when it comes to their involvement with the small town of Gatlin. They’ve both been dreaming about each other before they ever met, and naturally, as is par for the course in just about anything, they’re destined to fall in love and be together. It’s a foregone conclusion; even other characters talk about how they’ve been tied to each other since birth, even though they only have known each other for a few weeks.

Which I’ve expressed my distaste with in the past, so I won’t bother going on about it again at length here. The Instalove trope has never entertained me, and it find it painfully overdone and trite. That being said, I do think the actual relationship aspect of the romance was done pretty decently. They’re kind of adorable as a couple. For all that Lena calls Ethan charming and that he could fit in anywhere, I think he’s a somewhat awkward kid who speaks before he thinks and that leads to some very realistic conversations between them. In the early stages of them knowing each other, he tries to impress her and comes out with some corny lines that come across, well, as a teenage boy trying to impress a pretty girl. It’s not eloquent or containing any insight into her secrets or his soul, but awkward and silly and they both realise it. So for my part, I do think that was actually done rather well. So when the focus is on that and less on how meant for each other they clearly are, I enjoyed the two of them far more.

The crux of the story centres, however, on Lena, as she is from a family of casters, magic-users, and as per tradition, on her 16th birthday, she will be claimed for either good or evil, with no choice in the matter. Males in the family have a choice, but for females, it’s all decided for them, in accordance with their inner natures. Lena fears, because she has a hard time controlling her powers when her temper flares, that she’ll be claimed for darkness, though she doesn’t want to be. Picture the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, only with 2 Houses and it doesn’t give a crap about your choices and desires. And that Lena has fallen in love means she won’t be able to resist being claimed for darkness, something which I don’t think was explained very well though it was brought up quite a bit as the movie advanced.

The family patriarch, Macon (played by Jeremy Irons, whose southern accent had more than a strong touch of British to it), declares that Lena is no longer allowed to see Ethan, ever again, to try to avoid darkness as best she can. Which is something that baffled me and seemed a bit over the top when you consider that it really only mattered until her 16th birthday had passed and she had been claimed. After that, the danger would have passed and they could be together without risk. But that didn’t seem to occur to anyone; it was an all-or-nothing deal. I don’t know, maybe in the book somebody points out this flaw in the logic, or there’s a better reason for it, but there was certainly nothing in the movie to indicate why they couldn’t just wait for a while.

I was quite pleased by what eventually happened with Lena’s claiming, though it wasn’t a surprise thanks to an earlier scene hinting very strongly at it. But it’s nice to see balance portrayed as a good alternative to the only choices being at either end of a spectrum.

I do want to take a moment to talk about a particularly painful scene, though, and by that I mean it caused by insides to shrivel a little from all the demonstrated hate, rather than it being a poor scene. The church scene. Half the adults in the town turn up to discuss expelling Lena from school due to rumours of Satanism surrounding her family and the fact that classroom windows exploded while she was being bullied. I admit I did have a hard time believing the realism of this scene, since nobody seemed to want to stand up and ask, “So how are you claiming that this girl blew out a room full of windows without being near them?” But maybe that disbelief comes from the fact that I live in a place where this sort of religious fervour doesn’t really happen much, and I know the American south is rather known for it. Maybe it was realistic to have people behaving that way, I don’t know. Either way, it hurt to watch it, watching that kind of small town mentality meeting to decide a kid’s future based largely on the fact that they disagree with what they think she believes.

bcchurchscene

It was chilling to watch. Honestly, it was more chilling to watch before the spirit of a dark caster possessed the woman doing most of the speaking. Mundane terrors can hit so much harder than supernatural ones, sometimes.

When you get right down to it, I found that Beautiful Creatures was a pretty good movie, quite a bit more so than most novel adaptations I’ve seen recently. The story was reasonably well crafted and with very few small exceptions, made good sense, which is something I find actually gets missed a surprising amount in adaptations. A lot of books-to-movies seem to get made on the assumption that any watchers have already read the books and know the story, so their job is just to put some shiny visuals up and not bother to keep the plot coherent. Beautiful Creatures didn’t fall into that trap. The acting, too, was quite good, most notable in the case of Alden Ehrenreich (playing Ethan), who did a fantastic job and whose work I look forward to seeing more of in the future. Definitely an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, especially if you enjoy supernatural YA flicks.

By Ria Posted in movie

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – April 8, 2014

Summary: SOME STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME.
Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Thoughts: It was an interesting coincidence that I read this book when I did, picking it at random from my To Read pile, since at that time I had been considering revisiting an old story idea that was very similar to the concept in The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. The idea of living your life, then going back and doing it all over again, memories intact and being fully aware of the fact that you’re living it all over again… What would you change? What would you keep the same? What responsibility would you feel to society and to the world, preventing damage and creating gains, and is it really your right to decide?

This is what Harry August experiences. Every time he dies, he is born again into the same life, still himself, still in the same circumstances forced on him by childhood, but always with the memories of his previous lives intact, always with the awareness that all of this has happened before. And because of these memories, his life is different each time. He’s able to use past knowledge to advance himself further, to skip past the tedium of a typical life that he has already lived in order to improve himself. Then he discovers the Cronus Club, a world-wide organization of people just like him, who are reborn time and time again with their memories intact, who live their lives over and over again and who have vowed, among other things, to not alter the course of history so drastically that the future becomes unrecognizable.

The end of the world is coming. But now it’s coming faster than ever before.

Someone has broken that rule.

Claire North is an absolutely amazing writer, able to take small things and extrapolate the consequences and make a fantastic story out of them. Not only that, but the story forces you, by its very nature, to stop thinking in a linear fashion, A then B then C, and to contemplate cause and effect in a way that I don’t see done very often. Reading it twists your mind in interesting new directions, trying to keep track of timelines and relative perception and really, I need more books in my life that give my brain such a good workout, because it’s both entertaining and thought-provoking. For all that the premise for this book is relatively simple, it’s not a light read, and it’s worth taking the time to puzzle over and properly digest.

But it’s also for that very reason that I see a lot of people talk about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August just wasn’t to their taste. If you’re expecting a light read, you won’t get it. If you want something that’s just fluffy and straightforward, you won’t get it. If you want something that’s fast-paced and full of tension and good action, this isn’t the book you should be picking up. It’s one of those books that I highly recommend people look into reviews of first, because this isn’t the book for everyone, no matter how good it is. Whether you enjoy it is probably going to be based very much on what you expect when going into it.

For my part, though, I loved it. The characters were beautifully real, flawed and selfish and diverse as anything! People like Harry, whether you call them ourobourans or kalachakra or non-linears, can occur anywhere, at any time, and thanks to memories of the future and the assets of the Cronus Club, they’re able to live comfortably wherever and whenever they are. So you’ll see the years of Harry’s life, from the early 1900s onward, in different countries, different regimes and governments, different ways of living and thinking, and it gives you a great perspective on world history, looking at the large from the viewpoint of the very small. It’s such an intelligent novel, well-researched and amazingly written, even if it’s a little bit dry at times.

So, long story short, if you’re in the mood for thought-provoking smart novel that takes an interesting approach to history and perception, then get your hands on a copy of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. It may not be the kind of novel that everyone will enjoy reading, but if you’re the right type, it will trip so many of the right triggers and be a very satisfying literary adventure.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Libriomancer, by Jim C Hines

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 7, 2012

Summary: Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.

With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic…

Thoughts: Imagine all the times you’ve read something in a book and thought, “I wish I had that. I wish that was real.” Imagine being able to magically reach through the book’s pages, into the story itself, and pull out whatever that thing was, so long as it was no larger than the page of the book you were reaching through. This is what a libriomancer can do, and I suspect the very concept will excite long-time bibliophiles, because really, who hasn’t wished for this ability at some point in our lives?

Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer, in forced retirement from field duty and instead working as a librarian and researcher, searching through library books for any technology or other items that can be plucked from books that would be beneficial to the organization of others like him, known as the Porters. It’s not the most exciting life, or so he thinks until he’s attacked by a group of vampires, meets a dryad, and gets thrown headfirst into a conspiracy set to bring down the Porters, those guardians of bookish magic founded hundreds of years ago by Johannes Gutenberg himself.

This is the first book I’ve read by Hines, but I could quickly see why he’s such a popular author. His writing is very accessible, and it’s easy to sink into the story and hard to pull away. Hines has a good knack for stringing readers along on an exciting mystery and for telling a complex story in a way that’s not hard to understand. The mystery he writes is multilayered, too, appearing at first to be one thing but actually being more complicated that I first expected it to be, and for that I was very glad. I do love to sink my teeth into a good mystery, it turns out.

Hines also has a great talent for dropping book-related in-jokes in just the right proportion, to give the reader a grin without making the book feel like it’s getting too bogged down in name dropping or attempts at humour. Poking fun at sparklepires by having a branch of vampires known as Sanguinarius Meyerii was comedy gold, as far as I’m concerned, and that’s the kind of humour you’re in for when you read Libriomancer. Isaac’s viewpoint and observations are witty and amusing enough otherwise to carry the levity for the rest of the story. And there’s an extra layer of fun in playing Spot the Reference, for not everything that gets magically lifted from books is said outright, and not every novel or author mentioned are done in connection to each other. It’s a little added bit of amusement for avid readers, to try to see which pieces of which stories Hines is lifting and combining in his own wonderful way here.

Isaac on his own was an interesting character, but for my part, I was far more interested in Lena. Not to give too many spoilers, Lena is a creature from a book universe, caught up in extraordinary circumstances that allowed her to be born and to grow in this world. Her nature is to be largely a sexual companion to whoever she becomes attached to, her own personality shaping over time to best fit that of her partner. And while that’s a problematic concept, it was quite interesting to see the way she had come to grips with that aspect of herself. She didn’t try to suppress it or deny it, but learned about it, accepted it, and grew comfortable with it, as much as any of us can grow comfortable with our own natures. And she was far more than just some sexual conquest for Isaac, I have to say, because even though she accepted that it was a big part of herself, she was defined by far more than just her relationship to the leading man. She kicks butt in her own right, and I loved reading about her. She’s got an underappreciated strength, I think, the sort that doesn’t show itself by constantly kicking ass and taking names and always doing so with a sarcastic comment on her lips. Honestly, I love characters like Lena, because they feel far more real to me than most characters who strive to fit that “strong female role model” archetype (which I personally find about as narrow as the “housewife” archetype, but that’s a rant for another day).

The Magic Ex Libris series is one that I can easily see myself getting hooked on, not just for the cool concept of taking things from books and the implications thereof, but for the characters, whose stories are just starting to unfold and I want to see more of them. There are clearly more mysteries to be solved, more information to uncover about Gutenberg and about Isaac’s role in things, and I can’t wait to dive into the next book and see what it has in store. Definitely worth checking out if you want a good and light urban fantasy that plays with so many bibliophile dreams in new and exciting ways!

COVER REVEAL: Hidden Huntress, by Danielle L Jensen

Last year, Danielle L Jensen’s Stolen Songbird impressed me with its take on troll myths, and I found myself pretty quickly looking forward to the sequel. Lucky for me, the end of my waiting is now in sight, and I’m pleased and privileged to be able to present to you the cover art for the anticipated Hidden Huntress!

hiddenhuntress Hidden Huntress, by Danielle L Jensen
(Description taken from GoodReads)

Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…

 

Hidden Huntress has an anticipated release of late spring 2015, coming from Angry Robot, and I’m very excited to be able to read it soon so that I can continue my exploration of an interesting YA series!

Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 2, 2012

Summary: A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Thoughts: As much as I always end up enjoying a good mystery, it’s never a genre or subgenre that really springs to mind when someone asks me, “What kind of books do you like to read?” Possibly because most mysteries I come across are contemporary, set in modern times in the real world with no supernatural elements to spice up the story. Just people doing what I can see people doing every day. So while the mystery may be good, it often takes the inclusion of a more preference genre to really get me willing to sink my teeth into the story.

Fortunately, Three Parts Dead does just that.

The god of fire has fallen, dead by mysterious means, and it’s up to 2 magical lawyers and a priest to uncover why. Hampering their investigation is a rival lawyer, the same man who got Tara literally thrown out of the Hidden Schools after she reported him for unethical conduct and who had a major hand in transforming a previously dying goddess into the cold and blind Justice that runs the city of Alt Coulomb. Throw in an agent of Justice who is also a vampire-junkie, and a vampire ship’s captain, and you’ve got a weird and diverse cast of characters that provide plenty of interest and intrigue, even if they weren’t involved in the investigation of a dead deity!

I love the world that Gladstone has created. There are a few hints that it’s actually a parallel world, a branch-off from our own world and timeline at some unknown point in history, and the world that has evolved is as complete and complex as our own. Deities arise from belief and feed on it at the same time, growing in complexity and sentience the more people believe in it. There are vampires, there is magic, there are lawyers that can raise the dead if they so desire, there are people who use magic to stay alive for centuries or more, albeit often at the cost of their humanity. It’s beautifully crafted, multi-layered and rich and unlike most alternate worlds or even straight-up fantasy novels. If you want a world that feels so real you could step out your front door and find yourself in it, then that’s exactly what you’ll find in Three Parts Dead.

I can’t stress enough how utterly complete this whole world feels. From the details surrounding the creation of deities and the parts they play in society, to dark pastimes after night falls, to how news is spread differently depending on where you live in the world, it really feels real. It’s plain that the author did a tremendous amount of worldbuilding, and that it’s a large talent of his. It’s the little details, too, the casual comments that get dropped about how things work, that make it all fit together. Yes, this book does have a fair bit of exposition, characters explaining their jobs and specialties for the benefit of other characters, but some degree of that is always necessary when writing a secondary world, and at least it gets done here in dialogue, and at appropriate times and situations, rather than in the narration. It gets a little bit wearing after a while, with characters always explaining, “And then this happens, which is why I do this and get this result,” but it still at least has a purpose, and comes across relatively naturally.

While the reason for Kos’s demise will likely be surprising to readers, the fact that a certain character played a large role in the whole thing (albeit in some ways inadvertently) won’t be anything resembling a surprise. The characters here are very real, each with their own flaws, motives, interests, agendas, but they also are exactly what they appear to be. Tara is eager to prove herself. Elayne Kevarian is cold and calculating (though I think she has the most running below the surface). Abelard is devoted to Kos. You’re not going to find many instances where you think, “I didn’t expect that from them.” And though this leads to a twist ending that isn’t as twisty as it could be, it does leave you with a very strong sense of knowing who these people are, a good sense of familiarity where you’re certain of the characters and their place in things. Gladstone writes very vividly, both in regard to worlds and people, and they all leave a strong impression.

I can see why this series receives such praise from readers. It’s a world that pulls you in, that’s richly detailed and beautiful and ugly and it doesn’t let you go once you’ve fallen into it. I’m very eager to read the other books in the Craft series now, to step back into that world and to see what other magic Gladstone can create with words. This is a series that you shouldn’t miss, and I can tell that just from having read the first one. If the rest of the series is like this, with the same flair for mystery and intrigue and amazingly interesting characters (whether I love them or hate them, I have to admit that they’re interesting), then I’m going to end up a very big fan.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website| Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 13, 2015

Summary: Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge,  ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Thoughts: It only takes reading a couple of Jo Walton’s books to get a feel for the author’s passions and interests. Since reading Among Others, I’ve found repeating themes in her works, to the point now where little surprises me and I feel fairly sure of what I’m getting into when I start. The main character in Among Others, in fact, makes mention of reading Plato’s Republic, and how it wouldn’t really work because 10 year olds aren’t actually blank slates to edit as one sees fit. So when I heard that Walton was writing a full book based on that very idea, I was excited to read it.

The premise is that the goddess Athene, for whatever reason, has decided to see if Plato’s idea will really work, or at least to discover how well it will work. Apollo, puzzled over why someone would rather die than sleep with him, decides to enter the world of humanity and be part of Athene’s experiment, being born into a mortal body though keeping his divine knowledge and memory so that he is fully aware of the implications of his actions and of the experiment. The masters running the Just City, as it’s known, are scholars and philosophers plucked from all over the timeline, people who would not be missed for various reasons (unappreciated women, those sentenced to die, etc) rescued from unfortunate circumstance and placed in a position where they make use of their love of knowledge and learning. Those locked in the experiment are the children, bought from slavers and rescued and given homes in the Just City, cared for and given educations so long as they’re willing to follow the meritocratic city’s laws. To keep masters and children from wasting time in menial labour, robots from the future are also brought in, to do tasks like cleaning and cooking and general upkeep.

But as with any idea of a utopia, things do not exactly go as planned. Most of the children were happy and grateful to have been rescued from slavery and are glad to adopt the City’s ways, but some are bitter and resentful, and not at all willing to go along with the plan. There is friction between some of the masters, differences of opinion and interpretation on how the City should be run, and the situation forces them to deal with things Plato never laid down rules for because, well, let’s face it, Plato’s Republic didn’t originally involve robot servants or the intervention of a deity. Then the robots start to show signs of emerging sentience…

Jo Walton has this amazing talent for writing a story in which there is little to no action but so much intrigue. She can make mundane life seem interesting, she can make pages upon pages of dialogue discussing the hypotheticals of a situation seem like the most engaging thing ever. I suspect that I could read an entire book of her describing what she did yesterday and I wouldn’t get bored, because she’d include dozens of insightful observations and speculative thoughts and witty commentary. She’s a wonderful writer and manages to put such life into this story, such diversity of opinion and character that it all feels very real. The Socratic debates alone, asking questions until you come to all the answers, could hold my attention for ages, because they’re all about issues that I find myself connecting with.

It’s a fascinating idea behind The Just City. Not a terribly original one, since Walton is building off notions already set down by people in the past. It’s a though experiment about a thought experiment, and a tremendous work of fanfiction. And I say that without any negative connotations on the term, either; fanfiction is, at its purest, the notion of taking someone else’s idea and running with it in new directions, asking “What it?” and seeing where the idea leads. But even within the context of the story itself, interesting questions are being asked. How much should someone break the rules to keep the spirit of a place intact? Is buying children from slavery in order to free them just another way of keeping slavers in business? (A similar modern question could be asked about buying clothes made in sweatshops: if we stop buying those clothes, the sweatshop goes out of business, the workers are out of jobs and don’t make any money at all, so is it a greater evil to buy or not buy?) Will there ever be a society that will satisfy everyone equally? Is it worth a few malcontents in order to improve the lives of the majority? So many questions, and even if none of them get answered definitively (how could they?), Walton touches on them and highlights the issue. There’s a lot of thought-provoking content in here.

Having Apollo incarnate as a mortal also allows for an exploration of humanity, the kind that really can’t properly be written about when you’re already human and that’s all you know. I admit, I’m a sucker for stories involving incarnated deities, and with Walton’s ability to reflect on complex issues in a manner that still entertains and doesn’t beat you about the head with heavy-handed morality, I knew I would, at the very least, enjoy the sections of the book from his perspective. There are some issues you can only see clearly from the outside, and I find this sort of scenario is really good for identifying them. And with consent and equality being major recurring themes, Apollo’s perspective was a good one by which to gain another view on the matters.

I could go on and on about how good a book this is, how intelligent and insightful and entertaining it is, but like many of Walton’s books, any review I give really doesn’t seem to do the experience justice. It’s definitely a book for people who like to explore the “what if”s behind ideas, those who like to follow thoughts to whatever conclusion they end at, those who like to have their preconceptions challenged, and for that, I think very highly of this book. It’s not a book filled with action and fight scenes and high tension, but it’s still a book that keeps you turning the pages to see what develops next. Definitely for fans of Walton’s earlier works, and for speculative fans looking for something that’s different and thought-provoking.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Blogiversary giveaway winner!

It’s been great seeing the comments on my 5-year anniversary post just pour in. I won’t lie; you guys kinda fluffed my ego a bit there. :p

But let’s get to what you’re here for: finding out who’s going to get that $25 Amazon.com gift card! And that winner is…

Jamie, from Mithril Wisdom!

Congrats, and may you spend it on awesome books!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and also those who didn’t. Thanks to everyone who’s ever stopped by and read even a single one of my posts, because it’s you folks who keep me from feeling like I’m just reviewing to an empty room, as it were, and I love interacting with you all!

Here’s to another half decade of wonderful books!