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I’m back! Plus, a (very) mini-review

3 Jan
Well, four months later and I’ve returned to blogland. Let me tell you, having a baby really takes it out of you. What a complete and total turnaround of your life, your time, your energy…I’m still adjusting. However, I’m finally feeling like I can read some books and venture out into the blogosphere again to see what the rest of the world is up to. How I’ve missed it all! So get ready for me to post some more reviews and share some thoughts as this new year gets rolling!

son of the shadows_juliet marillierAs far as my reading goes, there hasn’t been much of it, unfortunately. Endless feedings and lack of sleep have made me more receptive to reruns of Hoarders than to reading, but I’m getting back into it. I did just finish the second book in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series, Son of the Shadows. Honestly, why is she such a fantastic writer? She’s the kind of author that could make the back of a cereal box mysterious and moody. It’s been about a year since I read the first in the series, Daughter of the Forest, which is brilliant and lovely, and I instantly was catapulted into Marillier’s world of fairy tale retellings, strong heroines, and beautiful atmosphere. Seriously, if you love fairy tales or well-written fantasy, try this series.


Tinker by Wen Spencer

2 Aug
I love it when this happens and I hate it when this happens: after finishing Wen Spencer’s Tinker, I knew I’d found another “repeat” author (where you’re immediately interested in any book they write because you trust that the author will entertain you). The bad part? I’ve looked at Spencer’s backlog and nothing else is really grabbing me. Bummer, right? Tinker is the first in the Elfhome series, of which there are three or four now, I believe. So immediately, I should have two more to read, but here’s a secret about me. I rarely like series – it takes A LOT to get me to move on from the original book I fell in love with and allow the characters to change, grow, form new relationships. I know, it’s weird. It’s like, when I find a story I love, I want it to just stay frozen in time forever so I can revisit it without any surprises. Of course, I have exceptions: Both The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series bring me delight in each book. Now that I’m thinking about it, this might just be a problem for me when a) there’s a romantic relationship in the book, and b) when I like the book more because of the characters than for the plot or setting. Yes, I think that’s it. When it’s the author’s voice that I love, or the universe they’ve created (not just in SF/F, but all fiction), or the feelings they evoke, I don’t have that weird, obsessive attachment to the characters remaining unchanged and unspoiled (in my mind). Wow, clearly I don’t like change.

Okay, enough exploration about why I need therapy and on to the book! Tinker centers on Tinker, a brilliant inventor who lives on a salvage lot in Pittsburgh and messes with magical gadgets in her off-time. This alternate Pittsburgh is a part of Elfhome, a magical fairy realm exposed by a portal invented by Tinker’s own father. Whereas magic doesn’t exist in the “regular” world, anyone can encounter it in Elfhome. When an elven lord seeks refuge in her salvage lot from an assassination attempt, Tinker gets pulled into the political machinations and intrigues of the elven court and fairy governmental agencies. There is tons of action, with lots of dramatic escapes, along with a fair amount of romantic flirtation between Tinker and her rescued elven lord, Windwolf. Bits of fantasy and sci-fi intermingle here, and there was just enough of each to keep me fascinated.

The world-building here is extremely intricate and detailed, and I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I got lost. But more in a “man, I need to read more so I can understand this” kind of lost. I just loved the originality of this book – I honestly haven’t read anything quite like it before. The romantic development between Tinker and Windwolf was an obvious treat for me, since I am a sucker for any kind of love story, though there was a potential love triangle situation, which is dreaded and loathed by me at all times. I just….don’t like it. Never have. How can I truly believe that two characters are meant for each other when a third character poses a real appeal? Also, I just really liked spending time with Tinker – she’s not overly smartass in that annoying urban fantasy heroine way, but she does have flaws. Real, human flaws, the kind that make you shake your head at her rather than throw the book across the room in annoyance. Spencer has another series, the Ukiah Oregon series, that’s highly regarded – maybe I should just take a leap of faith and try it?

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

21 May

I was laid up in bed this past week with some pregnancy-related not-fun-stuff, so I had oodles of time to myself. What does someone like myself do when they’re prone with a lot of time on their hands? Yup, I read (as I’m sure most of you would do as well in a similar position). It was a perfect time to tackle Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, a book that had been on my TBR list since I first heard buzz about it a year or so ago. I’d also recently emailed with some close friends about our next book pick (we refer to ourselves as a “book club,” but for the most part, we get together and eat and cackle, and sometimes books come up). A Discovery of Witches came up, and I jumped on the bandwagon. After pounding through this big boy (579 pages), I’m really glad I crossed this one off my list. It wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be, but that’s not a bad thing.

*Brief interlude: Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up just came on the radio and I’m rapt. If my ovaries could request a song, it would be this one. Ok, interlude done.*

Diana Bishop is an American scholar, a witch who suppresses her gifts, and is currently in a lot of danger. While spending a year as a visiting professor in Oxford, she stumbles across an enchanted alchemical manuscript while in the library. No big deal, except that as soon as that happens, she starts to notice some very mysterious characters following her about, including some off-kilter daemons, some seriously scary witches, and a vampire by the name of Matthew Clairmont. As a witch who has shunned all magic from her life, Diana can’t figure out why both the manuscript and these creatures have come into her life. Soon, though, she realizes that her life is in danger and she can only seem to trust a very unlikely ally – Matthew Clairmont. Together they thwart attacks and creatures of varying degrees of sinister intent, all while discovering exactly what kind of connection they have to each other.

You know what I didn’t realize? This is book one of a trilogy. Major duh. Four-fifths of the way through, I was getting all impatient, thinking “come on! We need resolution to all this, don’t we?” Um, no, that’s why it’s part of a trilogy. But once I figured that out, it was smooth sailing. There were parts of this book that I loved, and others that weren’t my favorite, but didn’t detract from my enjoyment. For instance, Matthew is a scientist, Diana is a historian of science, and a lot of the mystery of the book centers around an alchemical manuscript: hence, a lot of science talk. That’s cool and all, but sometimes I got lost. Science is not my forte. Also, I felt like this book actually consisted of two books: a mystery/literary thriller that took place in Oxford prior to Matthew and Diana going to his ancestral home in France, and a paranormal romance that took place after Matthew and Diana commit to each other in France. I mean, I like both kinds of books, but I was kind of on board with the whole literary thriller thing. Diana was pretty awesome during the first half of the book – she is a master in her field, not intimidated by the various creatures of the night spying on her, and relies on herself to get herself out of trouble. Once she and Matthew go to France, however, it got a little Twilight-esque for me. Maybe I’m just a little over the urbane, sophisticated, incredibly controlling vampire boyfriend. Oh, I sound like I’m all down on this book, and I’m really not – I completely enjoyed Matthew and Diana’s commitment to each other, the entire cast of minor characters was great, and I definitely want to know what happens in the next book. And Diana does do some pretty amazing magical things in the latter half of the book…I guess I just got bogged down with all the relationship talk. Now that I’m writing this, I can’t believe I got impatient with relationship stuff – that’s what I’m all about! Must be an off week for me.

Looks like the second in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, is coming out this July. Well, color me pleased. Can’t wait.

Among Others by Jo Walton

6 May
This is the first book by Jo Walton I’ve read, even though I’ve heard of her for ages now. I’ve been trying to track down a used copy of her Tooth and Claw but haven’t met with success yet. I snagged a copy of Among Others using my Christmas gift card this year and am so glad I did. Among Others is such a thoughtful, slow-burning, and unique book and it’s really impressed upon me how many shades of feeling and experience fantasy can cover. I think I’ve been focusing too much on one kind of fantasy – the swashbuckling kind – and this slow and meditative examination of girlhood was just what I needed.

Mori is a fifteen-year-old identical twin, but she’s alone. Rather, she’s now alone with a father she’s never known and is being shipped off to a boarding school in England. Mori has recently lost her twin, though we don’t know until close to the end of the book what exactly caused Mor’s death (the twins are named Morwenna and Morganna, I think – I know their full names were used several times but they’re not coming to me right now). Mori practices magic and sees fairies – these are normal, everyday parts of her world – and her mother is an evil witch. We come into Mori’s life immediately after some kind of epic battle between the twins and their mother. They defeated their mother, but the consequences were dire: Mor died during the battle, and Mori’s leg was crippled. Now Mori must navigate her new life alone amongst a family and schoolmates who know nothing of magic and its effects.

I’m not going back to read anyone’s blog posts about this book at the moment, as I want to get my gut feelings out without influence, so I may not be picking up on some of the subtext here. I have to admit, as soon as I finished, I was a little bewildered. I mean, I really liked it, but I wasn’t sure about what the author wanted me to pick up on. As it stands, Among Others is a bit like reading a diary – the reader is following Mori’s diary entries, so we’re getting all of our information straight from her. That being said, I’m always a little suspicious and intrigued when I’m only getting the facts from one source. And, though there is definitely a ton of magical element here, we’re not witness to a lot of description. Mori has grown up with magic, and her matter-of-factly telling the reader she called for a karass (a like-minded community of friends) or set up a protection against her mother is a new spin on the typical flash and bang of magic in fantasy.

In fact, for me, much of the book was focused on Mori’s development, her coming-of-age from a damaged, slightly antisocial young girl to a teenager able to connect with others through books. Mori has a deep and intellectual love of books, and I ADORED her ruminations on reading and specific authors and titles. This book is a fantasy and SF lover’s dream in that it’s just like talking to another bookworm, one who finds emotional safety and intellectual stimulation through reading. Her love of books eventually allows her to connect with others, which in turn lets her begin to move on not only from her sister’s death, but also from that secret bubble of twinhood she had been living in for so long. I am an incurable bibliophile at heart, so I completely identified with her absolute need for reading in her life. It was almost eerie at times – Mori even mentions how When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit impacted her as a child. Um, that is an extremely important book to my own childhood and I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere else. Spooky.

It seemed to me that the climax at the end of the book happened a little quickly. For the last thirty pages or so, I kept thinking “ok, so when is it all gonna go down?” When the book finished without the pomp and circumstance I had been expecting, I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed or not. But maybe that was the point? Maybe the story was more about Mori’s chance to reconcile magic and her past with her own future, than it was to revel in spells and battles? I’m not sure I’ll figure that out right now, but this book will definitely stick with me.

Can I just end with the moment I raised my fist to Mori and said “hell yeah, girlfriend?” Mori says “The thing about Tolkien, about The Lord of the Rings, is that it’s perfect.” She had me at “perfect.”

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

27 Apr

I’m back, y’all! This is proof that I survived moving while pregnant – not the best timing, but what can you do? It took me a bit longer to get back into the swing of things than I thought I would. I lie – I’m totally not back into the swing of things, but I’m gonna fake it til I make it. The house is in chaos, my cat is pissed, and I don’t even know where to start to get things in order, but I feel like if I get back into my schedule, things will fall into place.

I haven’t had the wherewithal to read much these past two weeks, so yesterday I grabbed a book I had read previously off my bookshelf and dug in. I know I’m in for something good when I go to my bookshelves, because I only keep the books I really love and want to reread. Everything else, even quite good books that I liked plenty, get traded in at the used paperback store. I’m telling you, that place is genius.

I first read The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook, a steampunk-ish alternate history, about a year ago, I’d say. I didn’t remember too much about it, only that I liked it very much and was really impressed by the author. After a few pages, I remembered why. Lady Wilhelmina Wentworth is a police inspector in an alternate London, one that has been enslaved for the past two hundred years by some vaguely Eastern people called the Horde. Recently freed by the heroics of the Iron Duke, a pirate named Rhys Trahaearn, the English people are carving a new future while carrying the baggage of their history, the invasion of “bounders” (recently returned Englishmen who fled to the New World while the Horde was in power), and the presence of nanoagents, or bugs, in their blood. These bugs had been implanted in them by the Horde and, while they allowed “buggers” to be stronger and heal faster, they also contained the key to their enslavement. With the flip of a switch, the Horde could control the emotions of the buggers, lock their bodies immobile, and force them to participate in Frenzies, or sanctioned mating. When Mina gets called to the Iron Duke’s estate to investigate a recently-found corpse, her world collides with pirates, mysterious and sinister underground movements, lady airship pilots, adventurers, and kraken. Sounds like a blast, no?

Brook is so, so good at world-building. I was impressed anew at her ability to not info-dump, but to gradually let you learn about this somewhat dystopian new future, complete with hydraulic body parts, bigotry, and airships. Mina was fascinating – not too tough, not too badass, but in complete control of her career and confident in how she sees herself. She doesn’t take any guff, you know what I mean? But she’s a warm person who has had to learn to stifle her emotions, both to combat the Horde’s control over her and to deal with some of her personal history. The Iron Duke is not dissimilar – his past was damaging at best, but he learned how to use the tools at his disposal to gain control over his life. Neither is used to trusting in the goodness of others, but working together on this case, they discover an eerie connection to each other.

I just loved this book. So much adventure, so much PLOT, every page was something new and exciting. I’m a sucker for steampunk anything, but Brook has a decidedly unique spin on things. Nothing ever seemed wacky or far-fetched – she had a reason and motive behind every character and twist in the plot. Good stuff.

***I know the cover is beefcake-y, but it’s really not a reflection on the true nature of the book. Look past it, or if you like bare man chest, consider it a bonus.

Cold Fire by Kate Elliott

27 Feb

This is going to be a hard one for me to recap because I find it so intricate and complex. There’s A LOT going on Cold Fire, and the trilogy as a whole. You’ve got the political intrigues of an outcast and defeated warlord looking to reclaim glory, the struggle between “artificial” technology and “natural” magic during a time of industrial revolution, questions of emancipation and pseudo-slavery, and the more personal plotlines of Cat, Bee, and Vai. It’s a ton to process, but it is so, so good.

After joining Cat and Bee on their quest to find a safe place to recover from their escape for the Four Moons House at the end of Cold Magic, I immediately realized that there was going to be no let-up in drama or adrenaline for Cat and Bee. The chase begins anew from the very first page as Cat and Bee, along with Cat’s brother Rory, flee to Adurnam to seek aid from the lawyer trolls they met earlier (sounds weird, but “lawyer trolls” totally works). But shelter, as the reader realizes pretty quickly, is not something that will be afforded to these characters throughout the book. Cat, Bee, and Rory are chased throughout Adurnam and are eventually separated by the spirit world. Cat must contend with learning who her true father is, deal with issues of control and independence, and search for a way to save Bee from the Wild Hunt, an annual event on Hallows’ Eve where all the souls destined to die are gathered by the Master of the Hunt, a terrible and frightening figure. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job gathering all the various threads of plot here, but it’s really a wild ride.

One thing that should be pointed out is that The Spiritwalker Trilogy, of which Cold Fire is the second book, exists in an utterly unique world. Elliott has created an alternate history of the Victorian world that is fascinating and thoughtful. I was grateful that Elliott put so much effort into grounding the reader in the world and what had happened to Cat, her infuriating and arrogant husband Vai, and her cousin Bee in Cold Magic. It’s been many moons since I read Cold Magic, and I was happy to get up to speed during the first 100 pages or so. A huge part of the conflict in these books is the struggle for precedence between science and magic. Steampunk elements are mixed in, but honestly, I hardly notice them because the world feels so real to me.

I really loved Cat’s journey in this part of the trilogy – she’s learning to adapt to her surroundings, to adjust her behavior to what she’s learned, rather than acting on simply instinct alone (though that trait has made her pretty badass). She became more rounded and layered to me in this book because she learned to think through her actions a bit before making a call. Vai even says to her at one point that she “thinks with her feet”, which is great for action-packed moments, but not always the best way to go when dealing with matters of politics, or of the heart. Cat and Vai’s evolving relationship takes center stage in Cold Fire, while Bee and Rory take a bit of a backseat. Kate Elliott is apparently hard at work on the last of this trilogy, and I just know I am going to be amazed.

Bonus: you wouldn’t want to read this until you’ve finished Cold Fire, but Kate Elliott has released an “extra chapter” for Cold Fire on her website. She explains that it wasn’t included because it was not written from Cat’s point of view, and also for the explicit sexy times. If you’re curious, check it out here.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

13 Feb
Wow, this was an incredible book. Incroyable. Increíble. Whatever language you want to say it in, it’s true. I’d heard about His Majesty’s Dragon for several years now, and finally picked it up on a recent trip to the used book store. For series especially, I like to try them out used first so I can make sure I like the books before I invest my dinero. I am a happy girl after reading this book, because I have several more books in Novik’s Temeraire series to look forward to.

Captain Will Laurence is an officer in England’s navy during the Napoleonic Wars and has built his career on diligence, honor, and duty. When his ship overtakes a French vessel and captures it, he claims all of its property, including a rare and valuable dragon’s egg. Dragons are highly valued weapons of war, and taking this egg from the French is a high honor. However, it soon becomes apparent to the English crew that the egg is about to hatch, and by extension, it will need to claim a rider. Laurence realizes that someone among his crew will need to forgo his naval career, give up all semblance of a civilized life, and join the Aerial Corps, rumored to be an isolated and ragtag group of military men. Through a twist of fate, Laurence unexpectedly finds himself chosen by the dragon when it hatches, who he then names Temeraire. Laurence and Temeraire must now learn what it means to be a precise military team as they form their own bond, and their newfound ties are tested through both emotional and physical trials.

I’ve never read Patrick O’Brian’s famous naval series, but I imagine that His Majesty’s Dragon is closely akin to it. There’s a ton of military strategy and the ins and outs of what it means to serve your country during this time in England. I didn’t know I’d be interested in flying formations, or how a group of smaller dragons might transport and protect a larger dragon while under attack, but I absolutely was! Novik shares that unique skill of Susanna Clarke, where they are able to completely immerse the voice and tone of their novels in the setting, enabling the reader to completely lose herself in the atmosphere.

Likewise, Novik’s characterization is perfect. Laurence is so…himself. He’s a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, as he’s very concerned with propriety and the proper way to pack a bag and dress oneself. On the flip side, he’s fair-minded and open to new experience. His relationship with Temeraire is so loving and trusting, and they have a real meeting of the minds. Temeraire is insatiably curious and adventurous and loves Laurence to no end. Far from being “just a dragon”, he is erudite, witty, and playful. In fact, I love how Novik portrayed the dragons in this book. They’re not your standard dragons, ready to breath fire and be impressive. They are their own beings, with a culture and psyche completely unique to themselves. A dragon and its rider are a true partnership, and the realistic and completely logical way dragons have been integrated into early 1800s Europe is truly amazing. I honestly can’t wait to read more of this series.