Review Revisited: DARKER STILL by Leanna Renee Hieber

You may remember back in December when I reviewed Leanna Renee Hieber’s newest novel, Darker Still. At the time, I had one lingering question that had bothered me.

A Novel of Magic Most Foul

If I could ask the author one question, though, I would want to know why Natalie needed to be a mute. Maybe that’s a factor that comes to play more of a role in the sequels, but our heroine’s background at a Victorian-era “school for the deaf” is mentioned several times but seems not to make much of an impact on the story line itself.

Yes, this really bothered me at the time because it seemed like an arbitrary handicap thrown in for possibly non-story-telling reasons. Well, I’m happy to tell you that I recently found out that I’m a complete idiot (about that anyway).

Here’s a quote from a recent guest post from Leanna at WORD for Teens:

The fact that my heroine Natalie suffers from a disability, Selective Mutism, proves another hurdle in a time period full of brick ceilings. Her condition is, I dearly hope, a reminder for all women, no matter what age, to literally and figuratively “find your voice” amidst a patriarchal society where women still struggle for equal pay, equal rights, equal power. 

Click the link above to go read the rest of the article, which has a lot more insight into the book than just this bit.

Now: about me being an idiot. Well. There’s not much I can say, I guess. I wasn’t expecting a metaphor that serious in a YA novel. I failed to make the connection, in a way that would make my AP English teacher very disappointed in me.

That said, this revelation makes me even happier and more excited for the next installment in the series, which incidentally is called The Twisted Tale of Miss Natalie Stewart and is scheduled for US release from Sourcebooks Fire on November 1st according to Goodreads.

How to Miss Out On Great Books

I said in a recent review that I would come back and tell the story of how I came so late to the Retrievers novels and Laura Anne Gilman‘s Cosa Nostradamus world.

Retrievers #1

It’s really quite simple and easy, but if you’re curious, here is Kiara’s Guide to Missing Out On Really Great Books™ .

  1. Hold tight to your tropes.
    • When I first picked up Staying Dead back in 2004 or 2005, I was really big into Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. (We’re all youthful and naive at one point or another.) The genre was just getting big on vampires and werewolves and kick ass chicks in leather pants. Staying Dead had none of these things. Here was a book with a nervous heroine whose “super power” was being ignored. What kind of kick ass chick was THAT?
  2. Scoff at anything outside the “norm”.
    • Electricity as a magic power? That was just too… normal… to be fantasy. Fairies that weren’t tall and coolly elfin and romantically aloof? A heroine who not only had never killed anyone – or even beaten anyone up, from the look of it – but who was afraid of guns?
  3. Dis the romance. Overlook the other relationships.
    • One of the major elements, I think, in the Cosa Nostradamus series is the relationships. Sure, Wren and Sergei have “a thing” blossoming, and that’s the only place I looked at first. “Romance,” I thought to myself, disgustedly. “Who has any use for a heroine who can’t even figure out her love life? Or one who even NEEDS a love life?” But the beauty of this series is that it looks at the ways different people interact with one another. I mean – I’m sure the author didn’t give her main character the ability to be overlooked because she thought it would be FUNNY, you know? Sure, it’s useful for a thief, but what does it do to the person inside – the one who’s being ignored? That’s just one of the incredibly subtle ways that Gilman makes a statement in this series.
  4. Dismiss anything unique as “silly”.
    • A demon who looks like a polar bear? I admit it, I scoffed. Sure, it was cutesy. But he was supposed to be a “fucking demon” (to quote Jason Lee in Dogma). Never mind that this gives a character who could very easily become one dimensional a depth and richness that moves his story from trite to significant. No one takes a monster who looks like a cuddly stuffed animal seriously, after all. So neither did I; I didn’t look any deeper.
  5. Don’t give a decent book a second chance. Or even a first chance, if you can help it.
    • I’m ashamed to admit that I only read Staying Dead a second time because I won a signed copy in a contest and – after months of seeing it still sitting on my shelf – I guiltily decided that I’d better at least READ the damned thing before I found another home for it*. That, and because I agreed with so much of what the author was saying on her website. SURELY, if I liked her non-fiction blogging so much, there must be SOMETHING to like in her fiction too, right? So I decided to read it again.

This was in fall of 2010 and I was in a much different place than I had been. When I first read these books, I was single and bitter about it. I was lost, lonely, and was just starting to gain back some of the confidence and self-esteem that had been destroyed by a bad relationship. Now, I have been happily married for a handful of years and have learned to say things like “No” and “I don’t need you in my life”. Back then, I was happy with a two-dimensional heroine who had what I thought I wanted in life (ruthless ambition, a pair of leather pants, and the power to make sure no one ever hurt her again). The more mature me of now has decided she’d like a little real life (a little moderation, a bit more than a wee taste of fun, and most definitely no chafing from leather pants) in her fantasy, please, kthxbai.

Moreover, now that I have grown a bit older (no comments from the peanut gallery, please) and have begun to take myself more seriously as a writer, I can look deeper into the story and see the grace and finesse. Now, I can appreciate Gilman’s obvious experience as an author and what she’s trying to do as an artist. I had previously (idiotically) been dismissing the very things that make this series so interesting and unique. I’m now three books into the series and I’m waiting to get my hands on the fourth. The only reason I took a break is because my TBR shelf was giving me sullen stares when it thought I wasn’t looking.

So, kiddies, don’t be like me. Just because you’re not in English Lit anymore and just because genre novels aren’t the usual college fare doesn’t mean that you have to turn your brain off when you’re reading a novel. (Although that’s fun sometimes, too!) So pay attention, be on the lookout, and don’t forget to eat your Wheaties. Oh, and give the Retrievers a look. You might be as surprised as I was on your first (or second) time through.

*And in case you’re wondering: no, you can’t have my copy. I’ve changed my mind. It’s not going anywhere.

 

Wishlist: Upcoming Titles

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks [website]

by Brent WeeksRelease: August 26, 2010

Published: Orbit, Hardcover

ISBN: 9781841499031

Blurb: Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals.

But when Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he’s willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

My Thoughts: Weeks’ Shadow Trilogy, though well-written, was,  sadly, something I just couldn’t connect to as a reader. However, I read the first chapters posted on the publisher’s website and I was enraptured. I’ve already ordered this book, and B&N at least is already shipping. I can’t wait to receive it! By the way, I got Green on the quiz. I always seem to get Green, for some reason.

Take The Black Prism quiz. Or buy the book: Amazon | B&N | Indie Bound

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson [website]

by Brandon SandersonRelease: August 31, 2010

Published: Tor, Hardcover

ISBN: 9780765326355

Blurb: It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable. [Read more at GoodReads.]

My Thoughts: Sanderson’s magic systems alone are reason enough to read everything he’s ever written. I’m buying this book sight-unseen* (I haven’t even read the sample chapters. It’d be torture!), and I’m 100% confident that it’ll be great. That’s how much faith I have in this author.

*I also won an ARC of this book from Tor via Twitter. I hope it gets here before Dragon*Con, as I’d love to get my copy signed!

Pre-order the book: Amazon | B&N | Indie Bound

Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen [website]

by Jesse PetersenRelease: September 1, 2010

Published: Orbit, Mass market

ISBN: 9780316102865

Blurb: A heartwarming tale of terror in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Meet Sarah and David.

Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they’re on the verge of divorce and going to couples’ counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things – the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that their counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client’s throat.

Now, Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. But, just because there are zombies, doesn’t mean your other problems go away. If the zombies don’t eat their brains, they might just kill each other.

My Thoughts: Just a couple of months ago, I was bewailing the fact that married couples are rare in urban fantasies. Now I seem to have gotten my wish. It warms my heart to think of a husband-and-wife team beheading zombies together. Everyone say, “Awwwww!”  I know that’s just what my husband and I would be doing during the Zombiepocalypse. I’ll be shambling off to pick up this one as soon as it’s released!

Pre-order the book: Amazon | B&N | Indie Bound

Blameless by Gail Carriger [website]

by Gail CarrigerRelease: September 1, 2010

Published: Orbit, Mass market

ISBN: 9780316074155

Blurb: {Beware: This blurb contains spoilers for book 2!}

Quitting her husband’s house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season.

Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London’s vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.

While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires — and they’re armed with pesto.

My Thoughts: Carriger effectively hooked me with the end of book #2. And I returned the favor by getting a friend addicted to the series, too. Luckily for my friend, she just finished Changeless last week. I’ve been chomping at the bit for Blameless for months. I’m so glad we’re finally getting close to the release date!

Pre-order the book: Amazon | B&N | Indie Bound

Upcoming Releases 2010

Here are some things I’m looking forward to in ’10. Have something to add? Put it in the comments.

February

23 – Blood of the Demon (Kara Gillian #2) by Diana Rowland

Black Magic Sanction (The Hollows #8) by Kim Harrison

March

2 – Shalador’s Lady by Anne Bishop

RoadKill (Cal Leandros #5) by Rob Thurman

30 – Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2) by Gail Carriger

Mage in Black (Sabina Kane #2) by Jaye Wells

April

6 – Changes (Dresden Files #12) by Jim Butcher

27 – The Darkly Luminous Fight For Persephone Parker (Strangely Beautiful #2) by Leanna Renee Hieber

May

25 – Early to Death, Early to Rise (Madison Avery #2) – Kim Harrison

June

1 – Chimera by Rob Thurman

8 – Cheat the Grave (Signs of the Zodiac #5) by Vicki Pettersson

14 – Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

July

6 – Red Hood’s Revenge (Princesses #3) by Jim C Hines

August

17 – The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Top 10 Reads of 2009

As I posted on Twitter:

Let’s start with #10: Hands-down Best Cover Art of 09 is @nicolepeeler ‘s TEMPEST RISING.

#9 for Best Paranormal Romance & Gratuitous & Mysterious Use of Octopi in 09: @gailcarriger ‘s SOULLESS.

#8 Our Runner Up (really, it’s a tie) for Best YA of 2009: @lilithsaintcrow ‘s STRANGE ANGELS.

#7 is our other Best YA of 2009: Kim Harrison’s ONCE DEAD, TWICE SHY.

#6 Flat-Out Best Superhero(es) of 2009: @caitkitt & @jackiekessler ‘s BLACK & WHITE

#5 Runner Up Best Twist Ending @dianarowland ‘s MARK OF THE DEMON

#4 Best New (as in, not already incredibly over-done) Supernatural Being:: Faith Hunter’s SKINWALKER.

#3 Best Twist Ending (Um. EVER!) @rRob_Thurman ‘s TRICK OF THE LIGHT. (Also check out Cal & Niko’s series!)

#2 Forget sparkles! The Best Vampire of 2009 was @jayewells ‘ RED HEADED STEP CHILD!

#1.5 (OK, I lied about there being only 10) Honorable Mention for just plain being a cool story: @PVBrett THE WARDED MAN

And #1: The Best Traditional Fantasy of 2009: Patrick Rothfuss’ THE NAME OF THE WIND!

July Review Round-Up

So many books… So little time! I still have 59 on my TBR shelf – with 3 more on the way! Here’s a brief round-up of the books I’ve read recently. The following books aren’t listed in the order I read them – frankly because I can’t remember the order in which I did!

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson – I really hate Brandon Sanderson. No, not really. But Sanderson’s worlds are always so smoothly built and unique that I turn green and purple with envy. Warbreaker is a solid, engaging read. It plods a bit at the beginning until it can pick up a good pace and then tumbles you headlong in a breathless rush to the conclusion. I only have one beef with this: Why incorporate colors into your magic system and not give each color a different attribute? A bit more ‘oomph’ could have gone into that aspect; but as the whole thing was so involved already, I’m giving Sanderson a pass on this one. [Link][xrr rating=4.0/5 imageset=tiny_star]

Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey – I loved all of Carey’s Kushiel books, so I was excited to see another series in the same world. This one takes place several generations later, so we – sadly – won’t be seeing any old friends. The main character, Moirin, doesn’t have the allure and sexual heat that Phèdre did. It’s still an engaging tale, though, as Moirin’s growing destiny leads her from Alba through Terre d’Ange and into Ch’in – a new and exotic place for readers to visit in this rich and enchanting world. [Link] [xrr rating=4.25/5 imageset=tiny_star]

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter – Hunter is another favorite of mine. I picked up her Rogue Mage series just as the first book was coming out and I’ve been hooked ever since. Jane Yellowrock is a skinwalker – the only one of her kind. She uses her unique shape-shifting abilities and a mysterious passenger on her soul known as Beast to hunt and kill rogue vampires. Hunter’s worlds are always immersive and intriguing. I found myself liking Jane’s world even better than Thorn’s – mostly because there’s no religious mythology to leave my head spinning. I recommend this for all fans of urban fantasy. [Link][xrr rating=4.75/5 imageset=tiny_star]

Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland – I promised the author herself via Twitter that I would buy and read this book – because it has autopsies. Some bookstores are shelving this in romance – and that element is there – but it’s mostly a rough and tumble ride through the world of Kara Gillian, summoner of demons. Just when I thought I had the mystery solved, Rowland threw in a twist that left me panting from the exertion of trying to keep up! If you love CSI, crime, or autopsy shows on television, then boy is this the book for you. Very highly recommended. [Link][xrr rating=4.75/5 imageset=tiny_star]

Night Life by Caitlin Kittredge – This was my first foray into Kittredge’s solo writing. (See my review of Black & White here.) She’s created a dark world that sinks its teeth in and doesn’t let go. Luna Wilder is an Insoli werewolf – a loner without a pack, the bottom rung of werewolf society. A police officer investigating a series of grizzly murders, Luna teams up with a hunky alpha to find the killer. I’m still trying to figure out whether the name Luna is supposed to be sarcastic, though. It seems like a too-appropriate name for a werewolf. Other than that, I loved the writing and I can’t wait to read more of Kittredge’s work! [Link][xrr rating=4.0/5 imageset=tiny_star]

Salt and Silver by Anna Katherine – This book had a bigger romance element than I typically read but I gave it a chance because it was being so highly recommended. There were times when I wanted to strangle Allie because, hello, you’re in Hell! And there are things that want to eat you! Would you please stop ogling the man cookies and pay attention to staying alive? On the other hand, I loved the idea of Doorways into Hell and the demon hunters who protect them. The resolution to the end battle seemed just a tiny bit forced, but I’d jump at the chance to read a sequel anyway. Overall, Salt and Silver is a great piece of fun fluff reading. [Link][xrr rating=3.5/5 imageset=tiny_star]

Norse Code by Greg von Eekhout – I have to admit that I felt a little lost here. I know the basics of Norse mythology but there were times when the references in this book went over my head. I’m a Greek mythology buff, myself; but I tried not to let my lack of study detract too much from the story. The sheer disaster movie epic-ness of the plot kept me rolling headlong toward the end. I loved the premise and the events of the book. I didn’t fall in love with the characters. As much as I wanted to root for Mist and her murdered sister, Lilly, I just couldn’t bring myself to get too excited. I ended up with that “It’s not you, it’s me” kind of feeling. If you’re a Norse mythology fan, I urge you to disregard what I’ve said and read this book. In fact, give it a shot anyway. Because I honestly think the problem was more where I was at when I read this book then it was the actual book. [Link][xrr rating=3.0/5 imageset=tiny_star]

Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells – If you have not read this book  yet, RUN, don’t walk to your nearest store (or website) and pick it up now. This is the most unique take on vampires I’ve seen possibly ever. And believe me, I’ve read a lot of vampire stories. I actually finished this book awhile ago so I won’t make any plot points.  I’ll just say that I’ve fallen in love with Sabina Kane and I want more. I can’t wait for the sequel! My only concession will be to say that yes, the title does seem unfortunate at first. But when you read the book, it all becomes clear. Now if only I could get my husband to read it and stop laughing… [Link][xrr rating=4.85/5 imageset=tiny_star]

Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of anybody. I get nothing from your purchase of any of these items, except the pleasure of seeing someone pick up a good read. I’ve only linked to the first place to get them that I could Google. I also purchased all of these books myself and have received no compensation for anything written here. I also find it a shame that I need such a disclaimer. Happy reading!

Looking Ahead – New Releases in 2009

Below is my personal shopping list (so far) for 2009!

January 5th – Karen Miller – Hammer of God (Godspeaker, Book 3)
January 27th – Gail Z Martin – Dark Haven (Necromancer, Book 3)

January 27th – Lois McMaster Bujold – Horizon (The Sharing Knife, Book 4)

February 26th – Kim Harrison – White Witch, Black Curse (The Hollows, Book 7)
March 3rd – Anne Bishop – The Shadow Queen (The Black Jewels, Book 7)
April 7th – Jim Butcher – Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, Book 11)
April 7th – Karen Chance – Curse the Dark (Cassandra Palmer, Book 4)
May 26th – Kim Harrison – Once Dead, Twice Shy (YA) (Madison Avery, Book 1)
June 24th – Jacqueline Carey – Naamah’s Kiss(Kushiel, Book 7 – New series)
June 30th – Vicki Pettersson – City of Souls (Signs of the Zodiac, Book 4)

Top 10 Fantasy Series To Watch

Please note that since these books are fantasy series “to watch”, this list does not include any series that is already complete.

1. The Hollows / Rachel Morgan series by Kim Harrison – Always my favorite author, and not just because she set her books in my home town.

This series follows ‘Runner’ (a sort of private investigator) Rachel Morgan in her quest to take down the bad guys in Cincinnati. With her partners, Jenks – a pixie – and Ivy – a living vampire – Rachel does her best to thrive in a dangerous world where supernatural races live openly and demons show an interest in making her their personal familiar. Begins with Dead Witch Walking.

2. Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher – Another favorite of mine, particularly for Harry’s dry wit and sarcasm.

Harry Dresden is the only Wizard listed in Chicago’s yellow pages. He spends his time rescuing damsels in distress, fighting off vampires, and trying to avoid becoming entangled in Fairy politics. Sometimes he’s successful, and other times decidedly not. With his wickedly lecherous sidekick, spirit-stuck-in-a-skull Bob, Harry at one point even manages to resurrect a T-Rex’s skeleton and rides it rampaging through downtown. A hilarious and intriguing ride. Begins with Storm Front.

3. Rogue Mage series by Faith Hunter – An intriguing tale of post-apocalyptic America.What happens if Armageddon happens but God never shows? Too bad the demons did.

Thorn St. Croix is one of my favorite characters, a rogue mage hiding from the rest of her people in a small town in Appalachia. Knowing she’d be reviled, beaten, and quite probably killed by her neighbors if they found out what she was, Thorn still goes to battle on their behalf against the forces of evil. A great re-readable series; I feel smart just for reading it. Begins with Bloodring.

4. The Godslayer Chronicles by James Clemens – Clemens is one of the best authors out there, in my opinion. He’s never afraid to look full in the face of evil. His books always grab you by the throat and don’t let go.

In the land of Myrillia there are a hundred Gods, all bound to the land to keep it safe and prosperous. When Tylar de Noche, crippled and disgraced former Shadowknight is implicated in the murder of one of them, he is dubbed Godslayer and forced to go on the run to prove his innocence. And perhaps save the world from a bigger disaster than the death of a God. Begins with Shadowfall.

5. Chronicles of the Necromancer by Gail Z. Martin – These books are huge, over 600 pages each. I think I read both of the available books (to date) in less than a day each. An intriguing read.

Prince Martris Drake is the second son of a King, and he’s never wanted to be anything more. But when his elder brother kills their father and seizes the throne, Martris is forced to run. With only a handful of loyal friends, he goes on a journey to gather enough resources to rid the world of the evil his brother has unleashed. His task is complicated by the realization that he can speak with the dead, and his burgeoning talent wreaks havoc on his plans. Begins with The Summoner.

6. The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher – Yes, I know Butcher is already on this list. I can’t help it if he has two excellent series. Alera is Butcher’s foray into more traditional fantasy (Something he was told he couldn’t write. They were wrong.).

Tavi is a teenage boy living in a world where it seems that everyone can call elementals – called Furies – to their aid. Everyone, that is, except for him. Through sheer wit and ingenuity, however, Tavi manages to uncover a creeping invasion by his country’s enemies to the north and is also able to assist in repelling the attack. This summary does not do the series justice, however. I highly encourage you to give it a shot. Begins with Furies of Calderon.

7. Godspeaker by Karen Miller – This story is so captivating that I lack words. So here’s the back cover blurb:

“In a family torn apart by poverty and violence, Hekat is no more than an unwanted mouth to feed, worth only a few coins from a passing slave trader. But Hekat was not born to be a slave. For her, a different path has been chosen. It is a path that will take her from stinking back alleys to the house of her god, from blood-drenched battlefields to the glittering palaces of Mijak. This is the story of Hekat, slave to no man.” Begins with Empress.

8. A Song of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin – What series list would be complete without ASOIAF? Especially since fans have been waiting over a decade for the series’ conclusion; and we’ve still got two more books to go.

I have to say that I have a love/hate relationship with this series. Martin is cruelly brutal to his characters; no one is safe from being psychologically harmed, physically maimed, or even killed. It’s a heart-rending, breath-stopping, can’t-wait-to-see-how-it-turns-out kind of ride. I am simultaneously furious as the events unfold and fascinated by the intricate weavings of the story. Begins with A Game of Thrones.

9. Signs of the Zodiac by Vicki Pettersson – Comic book superheros crossed with high society socialites written by an ex-Las Vegas showgirl. Who knew?

This is not your Marvel superhero universe, let’s just say that. Each city with enough population warrants their own Zodiac – twelve superheros fighting for good against their twelve dark opposites. This series focuses on the Zodiac in Las Vegas and the trials of the prophecied Kairos, Joanna Archer, who is destined to carry within herself both the powers of Light and Dark. Begins with The Scent of Shadows.

10. Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman – Tired of all those new ‘urban fantasy’/’preternatural romance’ type novels where the heroine falls into the arms of the dangerous vampire/werewolf/whatever after knowing him three days? Then this is welcome relief.

Meet Cal and Niko Leandros, half-brothers trying to make it in New York City. They escaped from their abusive mother to the big city, but there’s just one problem. Cal’s nightmarish Grendal father is looking for him to be the key in bridging their dark and evil world with ours. A very dark, wild ride. Begins with Nightlife.