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.]

The 2015 Urban Fantasy Zodiac

So a couple of years back, I did a tongue-in-cheek Urban Fantasy Zodiac with a similar structure to the Chinese zodiac. All my respect to the original astrology, and if you’re not familiar with it, this is a good starter guide. I’m not really a believer in any version of the zodiac, honestly, but I’ve always appreciated what these beliefs teach us about mankind’s early attempts to explain astronomy, the world, and ourselves. In any case, for some reason that post has remained one of my most popular. So I thought this year I’d revisit that and give you your 2015 Urban Fantasy fortunes.

Come with me as I look into the stars and give you a little glimpse of what’s in store for you this year. [Don’t know your UF Zodiac sign? Check the original post.]

Created by Waiting for Fairies.com
Created by Waiting for Fairies.com

Sign of the…

Zombie

I won’t lie. This year is going to be challenging for you, especially throughout the summer months. But don’t fall apart! By October, you’ll be back in your groove.

Fairy/Fae

The year is going to start slow for you, but keep your wings busy by helping others. In springtime, you’ll be everyone’s favorite dinner guest. Party hardy, but drink responsibly!

Dragon

January and February are going to be big months for Dragons. You’ll be happiest at home with your horde for most of 2015, but try to get out and about periodically.

Ghost

This winter leaves you feeling pale and wan, so why not plan a summer vacation to somewhere tropical? All a Ghostie really needs is some palm trees and one of those little umbrella drinks.

Griffin

Griffins won’t hit their stride until late in the year, but keep on keeping on! Some people may try to bring you down, but you can soar above it all. Try helping out the less fortunate when you’re down or blue.

Demon

It’ll be a frantic year for demons, and it’s unclear yet whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Brace yourself, because there are mighty changes coming.

Dryad

2015 is going to be a quiet and peaceful one for Dryads. Friends of yours are going to have a hard year, though, so listen up! They may not be upfront about their needs, but you’ll be able to provide just what they need at the right time. By December, your patience and caring will blossom into a great event!

Shape-shifter

This year is going to be all ups and downs for you shifters, I’m sad to say. Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of things, they’ll change again. Hang in there. Things always get better.

Selkie

Family will be big for selkies this year. Stay close to home and don’t get distracted with things beyond your control. Someone is going to need your advice in August.

Incubus/Succubus

2015 is all about variety for the incubus/succubus crowd. You’ll be happiest when you’re getting out there and trying new things. When the urge to travel hits in April, give in to it. You won’t regret it.

Druid

Springtime travel will be great for Druids. Don’t forget to bring your meds, because you’re really going to need them! Make an effort to be social — you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did!

Vampire

Vamps will be having a great year when it comes to fashion. Take care of your appearance and everything else will fall into place. You’ll be looking cool in September when someone special finally takes notice of you.

[Disclaimer: We here at WFF make no pretense toward having any sort of psychic abilities. Remember, this is just for fun, so don’t take us (or yourself!) too seriously!]

Wrapping up 2014

[Disclaimer: I have blatantly stolen the idea for this post from Chuck Wendig. You should probably go read his blog. He’s way wittier than I am, anyway.]

  1. Favorite novel of the year: Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things
  2. Favorite non-fiction book of the year: Chuck Wendig’s 30 Days in the Word Mines
  3. Favorite short story of the year: Seanan McGuire’s White as a Raven’s Wing
  4. Favorite movie of the year: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  5. Favorite TV show of the year: Whose Line Is It Anyway? 
  6. Favorite song of the year: Halestorm Here’s to Us
  7. Favorite album: Halestorm The Strange Case Of…
  8. Favorite video game: Pokemon Omega Ruby on Nintendo 3DS
  9. Favorite app: Trackthisforme
  10. Favorite [something else] of the year? Rat Queens, a comic written by Kurtis J Wiebe, former artist Roc Upchurch, and current artist Stjepan Šejić

Further discussion:

  1. I read much more in 2014 than was focused on here. An awful lot of it was fantastic, but Rothfuss’ surprisingly thin volume focusing on his elusive and mysterious character, Auri, was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. Beautifully and lyrically written, Auri reminds us that we can still have meaningful lives even when we’re feeling broken and that there is wonder in even the darkest, most forgotten places — in the world, and inside ourselves.
  2. Chuck wins by default here, as his National Novel Writing Month-inspired book was the only non-fiction, not related to work volume I read for pleasure this past year. And as fascinating as I find business analytics, I doubt many people here would feel the same.
  3. Seanan releases a lot of shorts on her website, but this recently released story is my favorite of the year. This glimpse into the world of Istas (a minor character from her Incryptid novels) is a quick, efficient killer, just like the waheela herself. This is ultimately the story of a woman striving to become her best self after a lifetime of being told she was nothing but a monster. I am not being sarcastic when I say: who can’t relate to that?
  4. Proof that a movie doesn’t have to pass the Bechdel test to give us strong, capable, fully envisioned female characters. (Though, we wish it still would.) Complete with eye candy enough for everybody and a blu-ray full of Anthony Mackie’s hilarious outtakes, this is my favorite movie of the year. We’re still quoting that car scene outtake at our house.
  5. We’ve been fond of Whose Line since the Drew Carey version here at Casa de Fairies. The upgrade to Aisha Tyler and additional diversity in this newest incarnation is our favorite yet. We really wish they’d go back to using the audience more instead of ‘special’ guests from other TV shows we don’t watch, but I guess you can’t have everything…
  6. I don’t know when exactly this Halestorm album dropped, but my 2014 musical year was all about the girl powered rockers. I hope to carry that trend forward into 2015. (Leave your recommendations in the comments, please!)
  7. If you haven’t heard of this band, look up their cover of Get Lucky. Pure awesome.
  8. Yes, I am a giant nerd. No, I don’t care. Pokemon hits all the completionist/collector buttons in my gamer girl psyche. If you’re not one for beating up on cute animals, though, you can try my second favorite: Fantasy Life. Part RPG, part Glitch the Game, all adorable. **
  9. You may have noticed from other entries that I am both a giant nerd and into analytics. Charts and graphs are my wonder drugs. This app lets you track anything, anywhere, and with a small in-app purchase you can export it anywhere. And it’s pretty, too. I’m currently using it to track books read, words written, and my current moods, among other things.
  10. Despite the issues which led to the original artist being dropped, I still love the all-girl D&D ass-kickery in this series. Looking forward to new issues! I’m happy to be able to say that, with the new artist, I can continue to support Rat Queens with a clear conscience.

** Are you a gamer, too? Want to trade friend codes? Mine is 1435-4938-8444. Leave yours in the comments and I’ll add you back.

Review: The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2

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 Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2 on 2014-05-06
Pages: 160
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
five-stars
Filled with more than 300 images, the official illustrated tie-in to the second chapter of the DreamWorks Animation critically acclaimed Academy Award® nominated How to Train Your Dragon trilogy is based on the characters in Cressida Cowell’s bestselling series and features an introduction by the voice of Stoick the Vast, Gerard Butler.Mirroring the style of the bestselling The Art of How to Train Your Dragon, this outstanding insider’s guide introduces fans to the creative process behind the film, from the story and the characters to the visual development art and animation, to the rigging, surfacing, and lighting. The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2 includes more than 300 concept sketches, preliminary drawings, architectural plans, and digital artwork that reveal how teams of artists bring the Dragon and Viking worlds to life with modern cinematic energy.Starring the voice talent of the original cast—Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T. J. Miller, Kristin Wiig—along with Cate Blanchett, Kit Harington, and Djimon Hounsou, this action packed comedy adventure continues the story of Hiccup and Toothless five years after they have successfully united dragons and Vikings on the Island of Berk. While Astrid, Snoutlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island’s new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds.When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. Now, Hiccup and Toothless must unite to stand up for what they believe while recognizing that only together do they have the power to change the future of both men and dragons.

I’ll be honest: I don’t really know how to review an art book. Much to my artist husband’s sorrow, my appreciation of art is usually limited to such devastatingly acute thoughts as, “Wow. Pretty.” I’m still training myself to read comic books. If I don’t stop to think about it, my eyes go right to the text and completely pass over the art.

When this book arrived in the mail, it was difficult for me to see anything but the gorgeous art. In fact, I had a hard time not completely devouring all the pages right there. I tried to set the book aside until I’d seen the movie (spoiler alert: I still haven’t), but that didn’t work. After a week or so, I saw it sitting there next to my usual work space and couldn’t resist. Yes, that means that I’ve read all of the spoilers the book contains for the movie. Whoops.

Toothless

I’m going to tell you a secret: the only degree I have to my name is an AAS in Multimedia Technology. What does this vague description mean? It means I spent two years and way too much cash studying GUIs, web design, and… 3D animation. So when I tell you that this book contains line drawings, characters sketches, and full renders of landscapes that just boggle the mind, I actually do know a little bit of what I’m talking about (unusual for me,  I know :P).

I decided, when it was far too late financially to extricate myself, that 3D animation was not for me. Despite the fact that I had a desperate dream of working for Pixar, when I realized that 1) I could not draw. At all. And 2) 3D animation requires hours upon hours of teensy, tiny, painstaking tweaks to every single aspect in every single dimension for even the smallest of objects… Well, at that point, I was out on animation as a career.

What it does mean is that I can appreciate the thoughtful work behind these gorgeous, full-color renders of not only dragons and Viking ships, but strange northern landscapes covered in icebergs like giant, glittering knives. It’s beautiful, and sometimes scary, and seeing the progression of the character sketches is amazing.

This hardcover has heft, too. Even the cover is thick and glossy, slick and beautiful in the hands. If you have an appreciation for animation or even just love How to Train Your Dragon (there are some character sketches from part 1 as well as those from part 2), then this book is worth a look through. It’s certainly built to make it worth the hefty hardcover price. I even sold a copy myself, as after showing a co-worker the book, she immediately put it on her wishlist to buy for her son.

I’m extremely grateful to the publisher for sending me this hardcover book to review. It isn’t something I would have picked up on my own, but I’m certainly glad I had the opportunity to see it. Five of five stars for people who love art or dragons or these movies in particular.

five-stars

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 by Gail Z. Martin
Published by Solaris on June 24th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban
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

Ghostbusters vs. Ghostbusters II

So my husband and I were debating the opening scenes of the two Ghostbusters movies, as one does, and we determined that Peter’s introduction in the first movie is not the same as Egon’s opening scene in the second. Stick with me, for all shall be revealed.

ghostbustersdvdart
Ghostbusters DVD art

Venkemen’s opening scene is him, in his office, with a pair of presumably undergrad volunteers. He is in the midst of an experiment, as he states it, to determine what the result of stress (in our case, electric shocks) is to human precognitive — or perhaps telepathic– abilities. We see Peter lie to the male subject when he gets both incorrect answers and correct ones, giving him shocks for both. He appears to be making no notes or documentation. And as Mythbusters told us, science is only science if you write it down! After he drives away the man, he proceeds to hit on the woman, shamelessly. Were these things all part of the experiment? I think not. We all know Pete was being douchey and using his experiment to score himself a date with a much younger woman.

Contrast this with Egon’s first scene in the sequel. Here, also, is science! We could also make a case that Egon is being douchey here. After all, he’s had his assistant lie to a poor couple about their marriage counseling appointment, which seems likely to break their marriage permanently. He even alludes to taking away a little girl’s puppy!

However, I think there is a difference here that makes Peter a jerk but not Egon. That is because Peter was a jerk for his own ends, to score himself a date. It probably doesn’t help that he spends half the first movie throwing himself at Dana, putting him farther into creeper territory than I prefer my heroes (and even my anti-heroes) to be. I appreciate his not taking advantage of Dana while she’s possessed, but let’s be real: You don’t get special points for being a decent human being.

Egon, on the other hand, does what he does not for himself but for SCIENCE. It may be bat shit crazy or, a term I saw on Tumblr the other day – “guanomental” – science, but he’s trying to ascertain truth, not get himself laid. Intent, my friends, really can make all the difference!

So, in conclusion, Peter is a bad man. Egon is awesome. And if you haven’t watched Ghostbusters, we can’t be friends.

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