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

A Not-Really Review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

A Not-Really Review of The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane on June 18, 2013
Pages: 181
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

Warning: There will be vague spoilers in this post. I will put them under a spoiler cut for the blog, but if you are reading this elsewhere (via RSS) then you might want to skip this until you’ve read the book. 

This is going to be more of a reaction piece than an actual review, so keep that in mind. I don’t think you actually need my analytic brain to convince you to read Neil Gaiman. At least I hope you don’t.

I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in just a handful of hours late one night. There’s nothing quite like finishing a book at one in the morning, sitting in the middle-of-the-night silence with your thoughts boiling with new elements. I’ll share with you my initial reaction to the book as I wrote it.

I think, like the ocean, this book is supposed to be just a little bit mysterious, just a tiny bit unknowable.  I saw some early reactions.  No spoilers, no details even.  Just: “this book is for readers”, “this book made me cry”.  And reading through the front bits of it, it didn’t seem at all that way to me.  It was like all of Gaiman’s work.  A little bit surreal, a little bit threatening.  Something that speaks on so many levels that you just have to accept that you’ll never quite hear them all, no matter how badly you want to. 

A bitter little voice inside me started whispering: Maybe you don’t get it.  Maybe you are flawed.  Maybe you’re not like the rest.  And my heart felt a little hollow, because who wants to be that alone? 
 
Then, twenty pages from the end, the light refracted off the waters at just the right angle.  I sat, stunned, staring off into space with real tears standing in my eyes.  Finally, it hit me and I understood.  Gaiman reached straight through his story and with words alone plucked my soul like a harp string, setting the very particles of my being ringing with a Truth so profound I don’t think, in these early minutes, that I can quite grasp it yet. 
 
Have you ever felt that maybe there was a hole in your chest?  A secret wormhole of a tunnel that leads to *somewhere else*?  Do you read books to try and fill that hole?  To somehow connect the ends and turn it into a pathway you could walk through to something magical?  Are you afraid of that path, just a little bit?  Do you long for it and fear it equally?  Maybe it wasn’t yours to begin with, and you would get rid of it if you could, but you can’t now because it’s a part of you and maybe you wouldn’t really give it up at all if you were given the chance? 
 
I’m not even sure where I’m going with this.  I just know that this vibrating, humming thing has been set alive inside of me and I don’t know what to do with it yet.  It has a magic, that this little story has awakened but that doesn’t belong to the story at all.  It is mine.  It’s me. 
 
My magic.  A tuning fork to the Other that lives inside. 

Reading this book was surreal. Now the memory is so much like a dream that I can barely remember the details, but what follows are the insights that I have brought out of the experience.

At first, after I had come down from the shaking state of post-book high, I really struggled with the message that I thought I had grasped. Because what struck me so hard was the bit where View Spoiler ». And I said to myself, “Wait, that couldn’t be what Gaiman meant, because View Spoiler » Why would I feel such longing for that?”

Then I realized that this is Neil Fucking Gaiman we’re talking about. (Fucking is his married name.) So of course View Spoiler »must be a metaphor for the part of our souls that long for something Other.

Every reader carries that little tunnel to another world inside themselves, and it opens every time we read a book. The tragedy is that we never get to stay there. As soon as the pages close, the tunnel is gone and we can’t ever really keep the connection open. Sometimes that tunnel leads to good things. Sometimes it leads to bad things. But it always leads to awesome things (in the original sense, as in awe-inspiring, whether great or terrible.)

That first character we ever identify with in a book, the one who becomes our friend, is our Lettie. We can really only remember them like we knew them as children when we have the book open. But while we know them, they save us. Whether they save us from abuse or bullying or loneliness or something so mundane as boredom, they save us. That’s what it means to be a reader. Sadly, once those pages close and in the midst of all our adulthood, we don’t even remember them accurately but the best thing is that we can always go back. That’s the best part of books — the best bit of fandom in general, really — we can always revisit those worlds we love and they will always, always be there for us.

I decided not to read any spoiler-y reviews until I had all my thoughts on this sorted out so as not to bias my own opinion before it had completely formed. I did read a few before I came to post this though, and I can tell you that my interpretation isn’t the only one. I don’t even know if I’m correct, but that’s one of the great things about being a reader. We can take whatever we want to out of the story because once we’ve read it, it no longer belongs to just the writer but also to the world. Some people got statements of feminism out of the story. Others got a theme of childhood innocence versus adult longing. The thing is… I think we’re all correct. The Ocean at the End of the Lane incorporates all of these things and I believe there to be many more layers as well. It’s why this book seems to be so loved by so many people.

This book pinged the part of me that has a whole entire other Universe in my recurring dreams. I feel like this book is a reverberation from that subconscious space. I think Neil Gaiman is in my head.

four-half-stars

Review: Hot Blooded by Amanda Carlson

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: Hot Blooded by Amanda CarlsonHot Blooded on April 23, 2013
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
It hasn't been the best week for Jessica McClain.

Her mate has been kidnapped by a Goddess hell-bent on revenge --- but Jessica is playing for keeps.

Because she's the only female werewolf in town...it comes with its own set of rules...and powers.

Aided by two vamps, two loyal Pack members, and one very reluctant human, Jessica must rescue her man while coming to terms with what being a wolf really means.

All in a day's work for a girl.

The second novel in the Jessica McClain series is a full on action adventure featuring one angry Goddess and plenty of monsters, demons, and a few newly risen beasties...

This book kept me company a few weeks ago during a very long (2.5 hour) wait to have a flat tire repaired. The tire was fixed just fine, in case you’re wondering. I chose to read and review this book because I’d been hearing the name Amanda Carlson in my twitter feed quite frequently. Praise was coming from quarters that I generally pay attention to, and so when I came across this on NetGalley I of course requested it.

I’m not sure why I expected this to be more of a paranormal romance, since it’s marketed as an urban fantasy and has the words “action adventure” right in the blurb. I think I just see the word “mate” in a description and my brain shuts down in a sigh of cliche exhaustion. I’m so tired by books with a “fated” couple who were “meant to be together” by some otherworldly force. Ugh. Can’t people date just because they like each other? Or how about a couple who dates for awhile and then breaks up and their worlds actually don’t shatter and they go on to be perfectly happy people?

This… isn’t one of those books, but if you can overlook the cliche of “meant to be”, it’s not a bad story. Honestly, since it’s the second in a series and I haven’t read the first, I probably don’t have room to complain about the main couple. It’s possible that this aspect was addressed when Jessica and Rourke first got together. At least, for now I can hold out for that hope.

I think “action adventure” is probably the most apt term for this book. It’s Indiana Jones with an ensemble cast of vampires and werewolves and instead of Nazis we get flesh-eating bats, trolls, river nymphs, demons, and evil… goats. It’s a spun-sugar page-turner. There’s not much substance, but it’s delicious. Just beware of being left slightly sticky by the time you’re finished. …Okay, that metaphor really broke down there at the end, didn’t it?

Anyway. This book was a great way to spend a couple of hours when I didn’t have anything better to do. I doubt I’ll become a fan of the series, as I prefer to wait for those stories with the truly unique twists. This is simply a way for me to manage my own time, however, and if you need a good summer read, you won’t be wasting yours with this one.

three-stars

Review: The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

Review: The Red Plague Affair by Lilith SaintcrowThe Red Plague Affair on May 21, 2013
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
The service of Britannia is not for the faint of heart--or conscience...

Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime in service to Queen Victrix, has a mission: to find the doctor who has created a powerful new weapon. Her friend, the mentath Archibald Clare, is only too happy to help. It will distract him from pursuing his nemesis, and besides, Clare is not as young as he used to be. A spot of Miss Bannon's excellent hospitality and her diverting company may be just what he needs.

Unfortunately, their quarry is a fanatic, and his poisonous discovery is just as dangerous to Britannia as to Her enemies. Now a single man has set Londinium ablaze, and Clare finds himself in the middle of distressing excitement, racing against time and theory to find a cure. Miss Bannon, of course, has troubles of her own, for the Queen's Consort Alberich is ill, and Her Majesty unhappy with Bannon's loyal service. And there is still no reliable way to find a hansom when one needs it most...

The game is afoot. And the Red Plague rises.

I almost feel bad reviewing this book, because I didn’t love it nearly as much as I wanted to. I adore Bannon and Clare. I love that their relationship is a platonic love and not romantic. The parallels with all the various modern interpretations of Sherlock Holmes make me very happy. The fact that Bannon is a kick-ass damsel who is very rarely in distress (and when she is, she is most likely to get herself out of it rather than being in need of rescue) is one of my favorite things about this series.

Saintcrow’s worlds are like dream-scapes, almost familiar but not quite: Londinium, Britannia, Queen Victrix. These things are almost history, but instead serve to disorient the reader and further immerse them in a world of ephemera. The reader is set adrift in this world with only the occasional touchstone of familiarity to acclimatize themselves. This isn’t a problem for your typical fantasy reader. I’ve had plenty of practice forging ahead with a story despite not knowing what the hell is going on in all the deeper layers of the world. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Sanderson.)

Plenty of mysteries still remain: why was View Spoiler » ? What is the secret of Mikal’s past that Emma is so determined not to know? What about Ludo’s past? Or, for that matter, what exactly has led to Emma’s current dissatisfaction with her service to the Empire? I think the problem with this story in particular was that most of the mystery either happened in the past, or has yet to surface, which makes for a frustrating read.

I love the characters. I love the steampunk-fantasy amalgam of the world. It’s only that something about this particular plot was pedestrian. It feels like a stepping through of routine that we must endure to get somewhere significant but that doesn’t make much impact itself. Since a  highly viral plague gets released into the middle of Londinium in this novel, it’s rather stunning to me that this book felt so… well… boring.

I kept waiting for the emotional impact to hit but it never did. I don’t even know if I can say why it didn’t. I felt absolutely no connection to a couple of characters that I love in a world that I find fascinating with a plot involving a race against time to keep thousands of people from dying horribly.

I honestly can’t say if the problem with this book even IS a problem or if I just wasn’t in a good place to appreciate it when I read it. I am completely bewildered that I didn’t love this. That said, I won’t be abandoning this series because of said adorable characters and alluring world. I look forward to the next installment getting back on the usual exciting track.

three-stars

Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck WendigThe Blue Blazes on May 28th 2013
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
Meet Mookie Pearl.
Criminal underworld? He runs it.
Supernatural underworld? He hunts in it.
Nothing stops Mookie when he’s on the job.
But when his daughter takes up arms and opposes him, something’s gotta give…

The Blue Blazes – the first in a new urban fantasy series in which lovable thug Mookie Pearl must contend with the criminal underworld, the supernatural underworld, a new drug that makes the invisible visible, and a rebellious teen daughter who opposes him at every turn.

Oh, Mookie Pearl. Just an average boy living in a mafia world. One populated by creatures of the Great Below: goblins, snake-faced men, demon gods and other things that would sooner eat you than look at you.

Mookie’s got problems. He’s addicted to a (supernatural) underworld drug, his boss is ill, his daughter hates him, and he hasn’t seen his ex-wife in years. To top it all off, his boss’ grandson, heir to the (criminal) underworld throne has asked him to complete an impossible task: find the potentially mythological supernatural cure for Mafia Grandpa’s sickness. But when Mookie starts searching through both underworlds for this magic elixir, he starts to become aware of — and opposed by — other factions with their own sinister goals. Now more than his boss’ life and his daughter’s love are on the line. Now, the entirety of New York City is in jeopardy.

Let’s be honest here: Mookie Pearl is not the kind of guy you’d really want to entrust with the fate of an entire city. Oh, he’s honorable enough in his own way. If Mookie says he’s going to do something, he damn well does it. But he’s also a mafia grunt, a bruiser, a guy who maybe doesn’t enjoy killing but it certainly doesn’t seem to keep him up at night either. He’s the guy we all have nightmares of becoming. He’s the guy who made all the wrong choices in his youth: wrong job, wrong priorities, wrong people in his life.

Now he’s woken up and realized that all the things he should have spent his life fighting for are the ones he’s neglected into dust. Mookie’s whole life is rotten. It’s as filled with holes and demons and monsters as the rest of New York City, and one wrong move forward could blow the whole thing to hell, collapsing it into a big pile of rubble and blood and bodies. Extend this metaphor farther, and on bad days you can wonder if this isn’t the problem with the whole damn world.

This book kicked a big face-full of sand into my teeth and here I am days later still spitting out grit. It’s not for the faint of heart (Wendig’s books never are). While you’re looking up at that one dazzling ray of hope at the end, you’re also getting a knife in the chest. I’m not even sure yet if I even *liked* this book, but that’s not really the point. What we have here is a new flavor of urban fantasy in a genre that was starting to get a bit bland. There are interesting, full-fleshed characters whose choices drive the narrative into believable consequences. We have some interesting new monsters for a change built into an intriguing world with it’s own complete mythology.

The Blue Blazes is an iceberg kind of book. There’s so much going on under the surface (in more ways than one) that you are quite dazzled by it. And Wendig takes advantage of that bedazzlement to give you several swift kicks in the gut.

(Ed Note: Edited from original because repetitive word choice is repetitive.)

four-stars

Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

This is the first book in the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger, released February 5th, 2013.

The Blurb

It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

e&eFourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners—and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage—in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.

Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail Carriger’s legions of fans have come to adore.

The Review

First, I want to remind you that this is a YA series. That means that this book has a totally different feel than the Parasol Protectorate series. This book lacks Alexia’s acerbic wit (I’m sure Sophronia will develop hers in time) and the more adult themes of love/sex/marriage (at least for now). Most YA series focus on the problems of becoming an adult, and Finishing School is no different. The only difference is, Sophronia will become an adult knowing how to curtsy properly, sneak appropriately, and how to poison one person specifically at a dinner party for fifty.

I also love the name Sophronia. Probably because it’s like Sephrenia and when someone asks me what my middle initial stands for, I tell them Sephrenia. (I like to be mysterious.)

It is a genuine pleasure to, in this book, see some familiar characters at younger stages in their life. You may recognize such people as Sidheag Maccon, Niall the werewolf, and Genevieve “Vivi” Lefoux. I’m still trying to figure out if we’ve seen Sophronia anywhere in the Parasol Protectorate series and we just don’t know it (or maybe I don’t remember it), but if so she wasn’t ever mentioned by her first name.

I didn’t fall in love with Sophronia the way I did with Alexia. Sophronia is missing an element of snark that I love a lot. I assume, however, that since she’s young she’ll grow into it. (I imagine that quite a lot of Victorian ladies dealt with their world with snark. I know I would.) So this book doesn’t quite rate as highly as it’s predecessor series. However, if you’d enjoy seeing a Victorian Hogwarts with steam and gears instead of magic (and on a dirigible!) then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

Review: The World Of Tomorrow Is Sadly Outdated by Leanna Renee Hieber

Review: The World Of Tomorrow Is Sadly Outdated by Leanna Renee HieberThe World of Tomorrow is Sadly Outdated on February 9, 2013
Pages: 52
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-half-stars
New York City: The Year is 1889. 
New York City: The year is 2089. 
In 1889 a group of bold pseudo-scientists discover the "temporal current" and begin to view the distant futures that await the Empire City. In the future, all life as we know it has crumbled, leaving New York City a ghost town with a populous scrabbling to survive underground. 
In the past it's up to an unlikely group of Victorian heroines and heroes to preserve something of their world to save their future generations. In the future it's up to an unlikely group of survivors to take a leap of faith; discovering what their ancestors left for them with no more guarantees than love and hope.

A new Leanna Renee Hieber book is a delicacy to be sipped. It took me so long to finish this relatively short novella. You have no idea. The time I spent reading this is in direct proportion to how much I loved it. I would read a couple of pages, usually only one of the rather short alternating points-of-view. Then I would put the book down (figuratively, as this is a digital release). Then I would chew over the scene thoughtfully, ruminating, absorbing the beautiful (as always) word choice. I would go off and read something else for a day or two, until the brass gears in my head had revolved sufficiently toward the soft ping that pulled me back into this world. Or worlds, I suppose. Even though both timelines in this novella are really one, even though this world is our world — our past and our future — they are so starkly different from each other that they may as well be completely different worlds.

And yet. (And yet.) One thread remains the same throughout. It is a bright, shining cord of striking strength and femininity. Two very different and far separate generations of daring, willful women (and yes, a few men, too) determined to save the world. Maybe not their own world, not exactly, but some semblance of a world. I finished this novella at exactly the correct time, because I needed this. I needed to grasp that silver thread and hold it fiercely in my hand, to cup it gently in my palm and whisper, “See? This is our future. Our present. Our past. These are the kinds of heroines who really lived, who are living, who will rise in days to come. These are the women we need so desperately. These are the women WE ARE.”

Imagine a world where not only *can* women save the world, but that they MUST. Buy this. Get it. Read it. Absorb it. And then go out and create that world. That is what Leanna is giving us here: a gentle pride of the past, a small hope for the future. It’s a precious gift. Don’t waste it.

four-half-stars

Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose ClarkeThe Mad Scientist's Daughter on January 29, 2013
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars

“Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”

Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more.

But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world. 

I didn’t like this book, yet I read every single word from cover to cover. Why did I do this if I didn’t like it? Honestly I have no idea. I tried to put it down, but every time I tried it would burn and itch at me from the back of mind. It was as if the story infected me, got in my head and rattled around tearing up the place until I threw my hands in the air and gave it what it wanted.

At first blush, it makes sense that I’d like this book. A coming of age story in the far distant future where robots are about to take on all the trappings of full human hood? Yes, please. I expected a mishmash of I, Robot and Chester 5000 XYV. What I got was more like Twilight, but with a robot instead of a sparkly emo-kid. Don’t get me wrong, this book is much more well-written than that one, but our main character is about the same: vain, selfish and shallow.

I appreciate that lots of teenagers are able to make the journey through vain, selfish, and shallow and grow to be a better person. The problem is: I don’t think Cat every really grew into anything. I empathized with her a lot as a lonely kid to distant parents who never took the time to really know her. I even had sympathy for the reckless teenager. What I disliked was the selfish young woman who grew into a careless, deceitful woman. She spends her whole life lying: to her parents, her tutor, her friends, her eventual husband — and, worst of all, to herself.

Maybe it’s my fault for reading this book with a mind toward the past. I thought of things like segregation and voting rights for women and minorities (especially minorities). I heard echoes while reading of white plantation owner’s daughters having illicit affairs with slaves. (Spoiler alert: those affairs very rarely ended well for the slaves.) Could the slave ever really say no, without suffering consequences? Does Finn, by the end of the book, really love Cat or is it just that this connection was foisted on him somehow by his programming and circumstance?

I suppose that’s a bit like asking if the people in our lives *really* love us by design, or if they love us merely because we were convenient in the moment when they needed to fall in love. It’s an interesting conundrum – certainly something to think about. I think this question is really what kept me coming back to the book. It seems intolerably cruel to me that the first robot capable of love is doomed to love someone so completely – in my eyes at least – unlovable.

I have to give the author props for realistic characters and a well-thought-out political progression. The world, what we get to see of it, was fascinating. I wish we would’ve seen a lot more of it, but Cat doesn’t spend much time thinking about anything but herself, unfortunately. The writing itself got into my brain like an infection and I couldn’t get the voice out of my head. Obviously, this author has a lot of skill. It’s too bad that ultimately, skill doesn’t win out over an unlikable protagonist.

This is not a book to be read strictly for entertainment, but could – and I say this grudgingly, but it is true – be read for the expansion of the mind. If I could rate this separately, I would give it four stars for skill and two for ability to entertain. So I will rate it a three and be done with it.

three-stars

Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

This is the fifth book in the Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne. It will be released November 27th, 2012 from Del Rey.

The Blurb

After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.
 
Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists. [Goodreads]

The Review

The leap past twelve years of training is understandable. I’d wondered how Hearne was going to work around that. On the other hand, as a fan of the series, I find myself gnashing my teeth at twelve years worth of stories that have just been skipped past.  I’m holding out hope that we’ll get to see more of them later. Maybe in some more short stories? (Yeah, why don’t you get on that, Mr. Hearne?) 😉

I honestly can’t believe that we’re already five books into this series. I’ve devoured everything so quickly that the story doesn’t seem long enough to have taken five books. (I think Atticus, our poor abused hero, would disagree with this.) Part of that is also the fact that the volumes themselves have been released fairly rapidly. The story seems quick because I haven’t had to wait and wait (and wait) for subsequent tales to be released. (This is a good thing.)

I won’t go into the plot on this one, since it is the fifth installment. However, I will tell you that the pacing is frenzied and the writing keeps getting tighter. I love it when a writer seems to find their rhythm and things really start booking along. Atticus’ story manages to fit the genre mold while still remaining unexpected and fun. So many books have gotten formulaic and tired, but the world-building here is fresh and charming without being bizarre.

If you’re a fan of Hearne, I’m sure you’ll be picking up this volume. If you’re not already, but you’re a fan of Jim Butcher or urban fantasy in general, you should give this series a shot. Click here for my review of the first book.