Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam MaggsThe Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Published by Quirk Books on May 12th 2015
Genres: General, Humor, Personal & Practical Guides, Popular Culture, Reference, Social Science
Pages: 208
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Fanfic, cosplay, cons, books, memes, podcasts, vlogs, OTPs and RPGs and MMOs and more—it’s never been a better time to be a girl geek. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life, a fun and feminist take on the often male-dominated world of geekdom. With delightful illustrations and an unabashed love for all the in(ternet)s and outs of geek culture, this book is packed with tips, playthroughs, and cheat codes, including:• How to make nerdy friends• How to rock awesome cosplay• How to write fanfic with feels• How to defeat Internet trolls• How to attend your first conAnd more! Plus, insightful interviews with fangirl faves, like Jane Espenson, Erin Morgenstern, Kate Beaton, Ashley Eckstein, Laura Vandervoort, Beth Revis, Kate Leth, and many others.

Geekdom has been both horrible and wonderful for geek girls lately, as the culture shifts from the white, cis, het, male norm to something a lot more inclusive. We’re not there yet, but with the help of the internet, fandom is becoming a far more inclusive place than it was fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago. This nonfiction volume would be a great guide for teens, parents of teens, and other fans who are new to fanfic, conventions, cosplay, or other aspects of geek hood. You can absorb most of this information by osmosis by just being on Tumblr for a year or so, but in the absence of that kind of time, this is a wonderful introduction to all things geek.

If you’re a super seasoned pro, you may not need this guide, but you might love it anyway for it’s feminist essays, gorgeous illustrations, and lists of definitions and recommendations. The author’s love for all things geek definitely shines through, so check it out for her boundless enthusiasm if for nothing else.

four-stars

Review: Infinity Bell by Devon Monk

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Infinity Bell by Devon MonkInfinity Bell by Devon Monk
Published by Penguin on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, General, Science Fiction, Urban
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Return to national bestselling author Devon Monk's heartpounding House Immortal series, where eleven powerful Houses control the world and all its resources. But now, the treaty between them has been broken, and no one—not even the immortal galvanized—is safe....Matilda Case isn’t normal. Normal people aren’t stitched together, inhumanly strong, and ageless, as she and the other galvanized are. Normal people’s bodies don’t hold the secret to immortality—something the powerful Houses will kill to possess. And normal people don’t know that they’re going to die in a few days.Matilda’s fight to protect the people she loves triggered a chaotic war between the Houses and shattered the world’s peace. On the run, she must find a way to stop the repeat of the ancient time experiment that gifted her and the other galvanized with immortality. Because this time, it will destroy her and everything she holds dear.Caught in a cat-and-mouse game of lies, betrayal, and unseen foes, Matilda must fight to save the world from utter destruction. But time itself is her enemy, and every second brings her one step closer to disaster....

I love this series. I apparently forgot to do a review of the first book in the series, House Immortal. Oops. Suffice to say that Monk is one of my favorite writers, since her Allie Beckstrom series. If you’d like a bit of a preview to this author’s work, I recommend her short fiction collection, A Cup of Normal. It’s quite good, only $4.99 in ebook, and you’ll see a very early version of House Immortal’s heroine, Matilda Case. Note that the story is no longer canon, but it’s interesting to me to see the changes that happened between then and now.

This world is a futuristic steampunk Frankenstein story with time travel. The world has suffered an apocalypse and is now controlled by feudalistic Houses, to which everyone must owe a fealty. Each House controls a different world resource: technology, healing, farming, etc. The Houses, of course, play their own politics and none of them are headed by very nice people: kidnapping, blackmail, and backstabbing are typical and expected.

The immortals of the story are a group of undying Frankenstein’s monster types, each having survived the explosive apocalypse generations before, each enslaved to a House by their own choice, to save the now underground and previously defeated House Brown from complete extermination. All of them except our heroine, Matilda Case. View Spoiler » This process is wanted desperately by the heads of most of the Houses, as who doesn’t wish to live forever?

This series is unique and wonderful and if you don’t mind that anguished feeling of reaching the end of the book and there still being mysteries unsolved, then you will love this one*. (*Series is not complete.) Monk is the Grand High Poobah of the Victory-Only-Makes-Things-More-Complicated Writers’ Association. She did it in the Beckstrom series and practice has only improved her skill. As soon as our heroes have achieved the victory they supposedly wanted, things get turned completely on their head and an entirely new set of problems arise.

This is a world we’ve never seen with supernaturals that aren’t cliche.  A story fraught with action, adventure, and tight with tension, a heroine you can root for, and Monk’s signature victory with a plot twist ending, makes this a can’t miss series. You won’t regret reading this one.

four-half-stars

Review: The Diamond Conspiracy (A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel)

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Diamond Conspiracy (A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel)The Diamond Conspiracy on 2015-03-31
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars
For years, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has enjoyed the favor of Her Majesty the Queen. But even the oldest loyalties can turn in a moment... Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun's emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun's street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately. But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro's dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally--a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself...

This is one of my favorite series, and the duo of (Wellington) Books and (Eliza) Braun is just delightful, both in reading and in wordplay.  I love the gender reversal of the male main character being the “Books” and the leading lady being the “Braun”.

Sure, it would have been delicious (for a while at least) if Welly had been truly helpless and not a crack-shot-in-hiding, but I suppose the dude in distress thing would have gotten old eventually. (Eventually.) Eliza, however, is by far my favorite: a trouser-wearing Aussie lass with an explosive reputation (literally) and a habit for naming her weapons, who takes no-nonsense from friends, strangers, or her love interest.

What I love particularly about a steam punk setting is that wonderfully strange mixture of science and the occult that pops up. It just gets so weird. I bet that says more about people today than about the real Victorian era, honestly, but as long as I get books like this one, I don’t care. I’d love to spoil it all for you by telling you what I enjoyed most, but I will do you all the favor of sparing you the details so you can read it yourself.

I will tell you that Warehouse 13 ruined any other depiction of H.G. Wells for me, but if not for that character, the one we find here in this book would be my favorite. I won’t tell you how or where Wells turns up, because that would be a major spoiler. Suffice to say that the revelation is giggle-inducing, and I’m still trying to decide whether that was a Natural Progression or a Jump the Shark moment.

I was honestly a bit lost there in the middle for a while. That tends to happen when the author(s) jumps a year into the future… But the story recovered quite well and the conclusion was satisfying while also promising a hint of more to come. You can’t really ask for more than that!

This series is fabulously written with real characters and I came to care about them very quickly. It’s a lot steampunk-y, a bit pulpy, very much girl-powered, and has a Jaeger-sized heart. (Read the book, you’ll understand the metaphor.)

four-half-stars

Reivew: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Reivew: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. SchwabA Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Published by Macmillan on February 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General, Historical
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Goodreads
three-stars
From V.E. Schwab, the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, comes a new universe of daring adventure, thrilling power, and parallel Londons, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic.Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London...but no one speaks of that now.Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see—a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—and that is proving trickier than they hoped.

I don’t typically write reviews for anything less than a full book, but I kept seeing this one around and I was intrigued. NetGalley only had an excerpt available for review so here we are. The excerpt was roughly the first ~150 pages of the book, so that’s what I’ll be basing my opinions here on.

This book is written in 3rd person, and we have 2 POV characters in this first part. The one with the most time devoted to him is Kell, the Red Ambassador and one of only two people that we know of that can walk across worlds. The second POV is Delilah Bard, who is a pickpocket and thief from Grey London. Despite the discrepancy in the time we have with each of them, I like Delilah much better than Kell. She may be unscrupulous in her ambition, but Kell is careless in both thought and deed. He also seems rather spoiled, to be honest.

In this story, there are 4 Londons located across space and time. Except not all of them are called London, and none of them are much alike at all, except for being generally in the same geographical area in their own worlds. First, is Grey London, which is magic-less and a close approximation (so far) of our own world. The second is Red London, where magic is a tool to be used and things are beautiful. This is where Kell is from. Third is White London, where magic is currency and everything is about having power. Magic is mined from the world like oil in ours and consumed. This drains the world and its inhabitants of color and vitality, which is why this London is White. The fourth London, only whispered about and currently only a memory, is Black London, where magic turned into a weapon of mass destruction and exploded. Black London, if it still exists in Kell’s time, is cut off from the rest, and because of that, taking more than letters from one world to the next is forbidden.

This directive of ‘forbidden’ Kell, of course, ignores as he has a nice side business set up carrying trinkets back and forth to sell on the black market. I told you he was spoiled. This leads to a dangerous artifact — perhaps from Black London — being given to him to deliver as a gift. Because Kell also seems quite stupid, without opening it, he takes the package  across the worlds and is then attacked in his super secret lair, forcing him to run to the one London without magic in order to escape. This is essentially where the excerpt ended.

Now, this book has some solid writing that really sucks you in. The premise is interesting — although I have one beef I will get to in a minute. In even the short excerpt, the characters were vivid enough that you really get to know them, albeit from Kell’s perspective of them. I’m pretty interested to know where Schwab is going with her aspiring pirate, magic coats, and strange magical artifacts.

Am I $12.99 ebook or $23 hard cover interested? Eh. Honestly, I’ll probably wait for a sale. This author is new to me, and while the excerpt was intriguing, it wasn’t rush-right-out-to-read-the-rest-of-the-book material for me.

Which brings me to my beef. WHY is it always London? Mirrored London, in fact. This has been done so many times that it’s practically its own trope. Schwab’s version is a twist, and I’m wondering if there’s a world-building reason for four Londons instead of the usual twin set. I’m also wondering why Kell would refer to them as “London” when only Grey London is really named London and he’s not even from there. Wouldn’t calling them all after the name of his own Red city make more sense to him? I don’t know, maybe there’s a reason for that, too.

I’ll be honest, I am probably being harder on this book then I would have been if I’d gotten to read the whole thing rather than an excerpt. That’s the problem with only getting part of a story. It’s like getting sand in your shoe. It’s not going to hurt you, and the journey to the beach was pleasant, but the grit rubs your feet and irritates to the point where you almost regret going at all.

I’m going to give this book 3 stars for pirates and magic coats and sociopathic white ladies who drink blood. If you have the book budget to spend and you like the elements listed here, give this book a try. I’d personally like to see a review from someone who’s read the whole thing. (There are 15 reviews on Amazon right now with a total score of 4 stars.)

 

three-stars

Review: Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Vision in Silver by Anne BishopVision in Silver on 2015-03-03
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
four-half-stars
The New York Times bestselling author of The Black Jewels Trilogy transports readers to a world of magic and political unrest—where the only chance at peace requires a deadly price…   The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.   Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.   For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…

This book is a lot of fun and is also deadly serious. Anne Bishop’s books are almost always layers of rainbow-colored confection hiding a sharp blade edge beneath.

Her Black Jewels Trilogy (which became much more than a trilogy, let’s be honest) was a magical coming of age tale filled with unicorns, dragons, and flying men. And if you looked closer, it was a cautionary tale of what a binary, divided notion of gender could do to a society**. It also had a lot to do with anger, fear of the different, and how the cycles of physical and sexual abuse can perpetuate themselves across generations.

Well, those same shades of fear, hatred, anger and their repercussions, are here in this series. This time it is about those things that make us human. What are the characteristics that make us what we are? At what point do our actions make us monsters instead of people?

These questions do, of course, stand out starkly when stood up against a dozen or more races of what we would consider real monsters. Vampires, werewolves, Elementals, and other shape-shifters — things that would eat us not only without problem, but who would enjoy the meal. Yet in this series, it is a small group of monsters, led by one wolf with a love which he refuses to admit for a human prophetess, who embody the most human of traits: kindness, courage, tenderness, and charity.

It is the Humans First group that become the monsters. They are willing to lie, steal, kill innocents, and even starve millions to get what they want. And what they want are the untapped resources in the natural wilds that the Others (the ‘monster’ races) control. They are willing to enslave generations (of which our protagonist is one) of prophetesses, rape them, breed them, chain and abuse them, to get what they want. {Note that, 3 books into the series, there has been no on-screen sexual assault, but we certainly feel and see the effects of it. And there is plenty of regular old violence besides.}

Now on to our protagonist.  Meg, our heroine, is one of the aforementioned women with the gift of prophecy. She is young, strong, and willful, which allowed her the strength to escape from her captors in the dead of winter and to enter a place where the rest of humanity feared to go — namely, the Courtyard, the single place in a human city where the Others live and humans survive on sufferance alone.

The place where I get squicky is that Meg’s gift of prophecy only appears when she cuts herself. Each prophetess is nameless while they are captive, known only by a serial number engraved on their own personal folding razor blade, which is used to cut their skin enough to scar. This triggers the prophecy. If they speak it aloud, they feel a euphoric orgasm of sensation. If they don’t – or can’t – speak, then all they feel is agony. Legend has it that each woman has only a thousand cuts — a thousand scars — and then she will go mad and die.

It’s not the blood that gets me, it’s that it almost feels like we are glorifying self-harm here. Bishop has enough of a track record with me that I’m so far willing to go along and see what the message is, but it’s honestly going to have to be a good one. Meg doesn’t want to die, so she tries to refrain from cutting, but she is addicted to the sensation, so we find her making excuses to justify her actions. It isn’t really until this book that Meg starts to understand that she doesn’t have to cut to get the warnings of the future she needs. It takes a lot of outside pressure from her new non-human friends to get to this point.

It was only in this 3rd book that I started to feel like maybe Bishop’s point wasn’t to glorify self harm after all. That is a long time to be unsure. It’s a lot of text devoted to the pleasant sensations for readers with a history of their own cutting to get through to see that message. I know I am getting older because I worry about this. Yes, young people mostly realize that media =/= real life. No, seeing something in fiction won’t lead to someone following in Meg’s footsteps. And yes, this is a subject that needs discussed. This is something that needs dragged out into the light so that we can all see. I still find the subject squicky and uncomfortable.

Some fiction is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. I just hope Bishop is pointing our discomfort in the right direction. I hope so. I think she is. We’ll see.

I really enjoy being in this world. I love Tess and Simon and Meg’s struggle to find her own way. I love the Elementals and the ponies. I am as repulsed by the Humans First group as I am with a lot of real-life headlines these days. This series throws light into shadowy places of the human condition. A condition that is afflicting us all pretty badly right now. Do I know that I agree with Bishop’s message? Does she have one? (Note: Authors always have a message, even if they don’t know it.) I’ll be waiting in line to find out.

**The whole thing, to me, read as a cautionary tale of the divisiveness of binary anything (dark/light, male/female, good/evil). But that's a whole 'nother essay.

four-half-stars

Most Anticipated Books of 2015

A new year means a new round of “best of” and “most anticipated” lists. This year, there’s been some noise about those lists being (as usual) too large a percentage of the White and Male variety. So out of my own curiosity, I thought I’d look at my wishlist so far for the upcoming year and see how my stats fell out.

In no particular order:

  • Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear – Steampunk in the wild west. Release date: 2/3/15.
  • Liesmith by Alis Franklin – Norse god gets an IT job. Gay main couple. Out now.
  • The Diamond Conspiracy  by Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine – More steampunk. Part of a series. 3/31/15
  • Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop – Alternate world fantasy. Part of a series. 3/3/15.
  •  The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber – Victorian fantasy. New series. 2/3/15.
  • Hunting the Dark by Karen Mahoney – Part of a series. Out now. (1/1/15)
  • The Hellsblood Bride by Chuck Wendig – NYC UF with demons and mobsters. Technically released 12/30/14.
  • Hit by Delilah Dawson – New series. Young adult. About a teenage indentured assassin trying to pay off her mother’s debt. Just in time for tax day in the US – 4/14/15.
  • Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – I honestly have no idea what this one’s about, but I want to read it anyway. 8/4/15.
  • The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs  – Nonfiction. About feminism in geek spaces, written by and for geek girls. 5/15/15. 
  • The Skull Throne by Peter V Brett – Epic fantasy. Part of a series. 3/31/15.
  • Kin by Lili St.Crow – Young adult. Part of a series of retold fairy tales. 3/3/15.
  • Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch – Part of a series. Has a male PoC protagonist. 1/6/15.
  • Servants of the Storm by Delilah Dawson – YA horror. HC is already out but I’m including because I’m waiting for the paperback releasing 6/2/15.
  • Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire – Part of a series. Go read it. Read it now. 3/3/15.
  • Dark Heir by Faith Hunter – Part of a series about a Cherokee shapeshifter. 4/7/15.
  • Gemini Cell by Myke Cole – Militiary UF. It’s billed as military sci-fi, but there’s not that much science in it. I think the UF label is shied away from simply because that’s seen as a “female” genre. (Tell that to Jim Butcher. I dare you.) 1/27/15.
  • Prudence by Gail Carriger – Technically I’ve already read an ARC of this but I’m including because everyone else needs to read it. Victorian UF. 3/17/15.
  • Unbound by Jim C Hines – Part of a series. Librarian mages. 1/6/15.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s what I have bookmarked right now. So there are 19 books on that list. 7 of them are written or co-authored by men. So my list is 58% female. That’s not bad, but I had honestly expected it to be overwhelmingly female, and it’s not. I see 2 authors that I’m aware of that aren’t heterosexual. That’s a little under 12% of the list. That’s kind of disappointing, honestly. And though there are 2 books about PoC, I only see 1 book where the author is a PoC (to my best knowledge). That part is… really disappointing, actually.

I have N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor on my radar, but I don’t know of any upcoming releases from the former and the latter’s previous work is still on my TBR list. Somewhere, I have bookmarked a list of fantasy works by PoC and I am going to go now and put my hands on it because honestly this is just pitiful.

Sometimes we have to actively SEEK OUT diversity. Sadly, some aspects of our current system mean that great books by people Not White and/or Not Straight (and yes, Not Male also) aren’t put in front of us to see them. It is our own responsibility to find these books and to be widely read. I have, obviously, not been doing a very good job of that. I hadn’t been looking for this when picking up new books. And sometimes “not seeing” race, or sexuality, or gender identity is just another way of saying you’re ignoring those people different from yourself. (Often times. Most times. 99.99999% of the times.)

I will be sure and share the list when I find it. In the meantime, if you have an upcoming or recently released fantasy or sci-fi novel on your radar by someone Not Straight/White/Male**, please share it in the comments section so we can all be aware.

**Written by someone other than yourself, please. This is a space for awareness, not self-promotion. 

[P.S. – I am also looking for suggestions for authors with non-binary gender identities, but I have personally not seen anyone in the SF/F genres “advertising” this information. So if you know of any, please list them. Thanks.]

Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z MartinDeadly Curiosities on 2014-06-24
Pages: 464
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Welcome to Trifles & Folly, a store with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun in 1670 – acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500-year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market.When a trip to a haunted hotel unearths a statue steeped in malevolent power, and a string of murders draws a trail to the abandoned old Navy yard, Cassidy and Sorren discover a diabolical plot to unleash a supernatural onslaught on their city.It’s time for Kincaide and her team to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.

Some of us have gotten more than tired of UF stories with extraordinary main characters. Super speed? Super strength? Y.A.W.N. The beasties are no fun when you can beat the hell out of them. Which is why, I think, I found Gail Z Martin’s new book so intriguing. Cassidy Kincaide has one unique ability: psychometry. She can read an object’s past by touching it. Usually this doesn’t amount to much except old memories… Unless the object has a particularly nasty history.

I also love the name of Cassidy’s shop: Trifles and Folly is just a hilarious name for an antique shop, especially considering the deviant nature of some of the objects she runs across. The “trifles” are sold to tourists as antiques and the “follies” are handed over to Cassidy’s centuries old vampire partner to be locked away before they do more damage. Vampires have been so generally overdone as to be boring, but at least Sorren is mostly a secondary character and not the focus of the story.

This book is why I had a strange dream about a malevolent, possessed kitchen table. Now, I’ve always had odd dreams and strange nightmares. I taught myself lucid dreaming as a pre-pubescent so I could realize when I was asleep and not wake myself and my little sister up by screaming. I can say, however, with 100% certainty that I had never before encountered sinister furniture before in any of my previous nighttime wanderings.

If you like your urban fantasy to lean less toward paranormal romance and more toward horror, Deadly Curiosities is a solid book with which to spend some time. The later half of the book is so drawn with tension that I was practically jumping at shadows. I also love a book where the setting is practically its own character, and Charleston certainly fits that bill. I’d give this a solid four of five stars.

four-stars

Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuireSparrow Hill Road on 2014-05-06
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
four-stars
Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea. It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running. They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her. You can’t kill what’s already dead.

Sparrow Hill Road has a unique format, in that it is more of a collection of shorts with most of the same characters and an overall theme than it is a linear book. This is mostly, I think, because the book started out as a series of shorts. However, I think the format is also a suggestion of the way a ghost might experience time. Namely, in strung together bursts of interaction with the living or their fellow dead. Sometimes convenience and storytelling work together, and it’s lovely when they do.

There is an over-arching plot, however. Rose Marshall died in 1952 due to a car crash on the way to her high school prom, a crash that was instigated by a man named Bobby Cross. Bobby sold his soul to live forever and must use the souls of the dying to fuel his existence. Rose is the soul that got away, and she’s been doing her best to thwart him ever since, sometimes directly and other times indirectly. These are her stories, and the stories of the souls she’s tried to save.

I’m pleased to see on Goodreads that this book is listed as Ghost Stories #1. I was originally a bit crestfallen at the book’s ending, but knowing there is supposed to be more makes me feel a lot better about things. (Please, DAW, don’t tease us! We need more Rose.) ((And readers, please buy this book! Sales = Life in the world of publishing, and I need Rose to live. Figuratively speaking.))

Sparrow Hill Road is a book that serves up ghost stories on a heaping slice of Americana. It is a testament to, and a warning of, the American highway system, and all the miles of road and the strangeness that has grown up around them. When I’m driving sometimes at night, I wonder if a dark road after dusk is what Purgatory is. I wonder if I would know if I can crossed over from the living into the world of the dead. Seanan McGuire has taken that spinal chill and extended it into a full body shiver of a ghost story. This book is an apt spiritual successor to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. (Spiritual. See what I did there?)

I wish McGuire’s writing got as many accolades as her work under the name Mira Grant does. It is justly deserved, regardless of which name is on the book. Sadly, I think it’s the genre that doesn’t get any respect. All I can say is — I pity the people who aren’t giving McGuire just as much attention as Grant*. The work is outstanding, regardless of subject matter or hot pink covers (as seen on Discount Armageddon, probably my favorite of the McGuire canon.)

*Full disclosure: I’ve only read part of one book from the Mira Grant list, and that book (Parasite) wigged me out to the point where I put it down and have yet to work up the courage to go back to it. 

four-stars

Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley ChuThe Lives of Tao on 2013-04-30
Pages: 204
Goodreads
three-half-stars
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.He wasn’t.He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…File Under: Science Fiction [ The Tug of War | I Was Genghis | Diary of a Slob | Spy vs Spy ]

I’m going to call The Lives of Tao an “urban sci-fi story”. Firstly, because that’s honestly what it is. This isn’t near-future, far-future or even “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away”, but actually set right now in our world science fiction. So I’m going to call it urban sci-fi because 1) It’s got all the elements of an urban fantasy except replace the vampires and werewolves with aliens and technology, and 2) I know it will drive the no-girl-cooties parts of the science fiction fandom absolutely wild. You’re welcome.

Tao is an ancient, immortal, sentient, parasitic being from a race that crash-landed on Earth pretty much at the dawn of man. He’s part of an in-fighting group of aliens that are now stuck here until they can get human society to be advanced enough for long-flight space travel. The two groups of aliens have been fighting amongst themselves since they argued over a small matter of policy eons ago.

The small matter they argued over? Whether human civilization really *needs* to continue on after the aliens get what they want. One group, the Prophus, think that humans are pretty handy people to have around and that they can get what they want without killing millions of people in the meantime. War is the fastest way to advance technology. It’s also the fast lane toward extinction. The other group, whose designation eludes me at the moment, and my book is all the way across the room so you’ll have to live with it, [Editor’s note: They’re called the Genjix.] thinks humans are necessary eggs for their interstellar omelette. They don’t really care if humans live or die, so long as the Prophus die with them.

Caught in the middle of this is a depressed, out-of-shape, programmer from Chicago. Tao, wise and immortal ancient being, is forced to take up residence in this hopeless lump of a man if he wishes to survive. Sure, Roen — the useless lump — gets a brand new diet and exercise regimen courtesy of the Prophus and Sonya, the woman tasked with training him. He also gets some bad ass hand-to-hand and weapons training. He also gets his ass kicked several times by bad guys, his View Spoiler » gets [spoilered] and View Spoiler » [spoils] [the spoils].

I honestly don’t know if I liked this book. It was well-written, at times hilarious, and the alien bits were fascinating — but the plot was mostly taken up with turning a fat guy into James Bond. Hoo. Ray. Although I’m not really surprised that I’ve heard whisperings of Wesley Chu one day being a big name is SF/F. [Editor here again: Since I originally wrote this review, Chu was shortlisted for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award.  So, plot twist! I was right!] This book dragged me all the way through it even as I insisted that no, really, I was bored and wanted to do something else. I honestly don’t know how the author managed that.

I will be looking at the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, with great suspicion in the near future. Of course, I WILL be looking at it, which means the author has done his job. N’est-ce pas?

three-half-stars

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway! Stone Cold by Devon Monk

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway! Stone Cold by Devon MonkStone Cold on 2014-04-01
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Goodreads
five-stars
The latest Broken Magic novel from national bestselling author Devon Monk. Marked by Life and Death magic, Shame Flynn and Terric Conley are “breakers”—those who can use magic to its full extent. Most of the time, they can barely stand each other, but they know they have to work together to defeat a common enemy—rogue magic user Eli Collins. Backed by the government, Eli is trying to use magic as a weapon by carving spells into the flesh of innocents and turning them into brainless walking bombs. To stop him, Shame and Terric will need to call on their magic, even as it threatens to consume them—because the price they must pay to wield Life and Death could change the very fate of the world...and magic itself.

I don’t know what to tell you except I loved this book. Okay, so I’m still a little bit traumatized by That Thing that happened in the first book, which, if it could have been overcome or maybe not happened so that Shame could’ve had a happier ending, I would have loved. I know I’m being vague, but we’re talking Major Spoiler for the first book, so deal with it. I realize that it wouldn’t fit in with Shame’s character for him to have a *truly* happy ending, but oh, man… Did I want that for him. I really did.

As much as I love Shame, Zayvion is still my favorite character in this world. I don’t think that will ever change. I just needed to say that. I mean Shame is bitter & snarky (which I love) but Zayvion is tall, dark, Zen, and snarky which just pings all my buttons. (Hello, let me introduce you to my husband…)

I honestly don’t know what else to tell you about this book that’s not a super-powered spoiler. This is only a duology, but honestly it wouldn’t make sense for me to urge you to read these if you haven’t read the Allie Beckstrom series. (WHICH YOU SHOULD ALSO READ.)

Basically, this was one of those rare books that made me resent absolutely everything that interfered with reading it: work, sleep, eating, showering, using the bathroom. I finished it in two nights and even that took too long because I had to Know! I was unhappy with one of the elements in the ending, but even I have to admit that the book ended just where it should have. Just because I wanted it to happen doesn’t mean that it was a good idea for the story. I find it fascinating that Devon Monk can do that. That ending was absolutely perfect and yet completely agonizing and I hate it and I love it and… and…

If there is ever an opportunity to hear Devon Monk teach about writing I will figure out a way to fly cross-country to do it. And the people who know that my first and last plane flight gave me anxiety dreams for six solid months know what it means to me that I would say that. (Note for the curious: it’s not the flying that gets me, it’s the airports. ::shudder:: Seriously. I never worried about the plane having problems, but having my ticket? Getting through security? Oh, yes! Basically, flying alone is the worst thing that can happen to someone with anxiety, in my opinion.)

The writing here is tense and flawless and I’m both envious and deliriously thrilled by that. If you haven’t read Devon Monk, we might need to seriously reconsider our friendship. Think about that.

Seriously though… Do you like that “dropped into the middle of a strange world with weird magic rules that haven’t been explained yet” feeling that you get from Sanderson’s Way of Kings? Then you will feel right at home here. Fans of the series shouldn’t need me to tell them to read it. This is a fabulous, and fitting, end to Shame and Terric’s story.

For those of you who sat through all that, we now have something special for you. Enter to win one of two copies of Stone Cold for your very own.

What: One of two print copies of Devon Monk’s Stone Cold.

When: Beginning at 8a.m. EDT on March 31st and ending approximately midnight on Monday, April 7th (Sunday night/Monday morning). End time subject to change without notice.

Who: Anyone with a valid US or Canada mailing address.

Details: You must be willing to share your email address for the contest and your mailing address if you win. Your information will be used by me for those purposes only. As prizes will be mailed by the publisher, you also agree to share your mailing address with them. As such, Waiting for Fairies cannot be held responsible for the shipping or arrival of prizes.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

five-stars