Thursday, August 30, 2012

Across the Nightingale Floor

It's time for another look at slightly older books. Two friends of mine who we'll call Misanthrope and Longshanks recommended Across the Nightingale Floor to me five years ago, promising that it was unusual, vivid, brilliant at alternate-Japan historical details, and above all cool. I just read raced through this book and am delighted to say it: you were right.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: Beautifully complex, but tightly paced (287 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: June 3, 2003 from Riverhead Books
Premise: A youth who has grown up in a small village learning only the religion of peace is forced into violent adulthood when his village is burned by the forces of Iida Sadamu, a warlord. Otori Shigeru, one of Iida's rivals, rescues the youth and renames him Takeo. They soon discover that Takeo possesses the powers of the Tribe, spies and assassins who use their remarkable gifts to move and kill in secret. Obligations and treachery threaten to upset the fragile life he is building, especially when Shirakawa Kaede, a young woman with a unsought reputation for death, steps into the dance.
Warnings: fairly gruesome treatment of prisoners, two brief and non-graphic attempted rape scenes
Recommendation: If you enjoy assassins, feudal Japan, political wrangling, tragic love affairs, or really just good writing, give this one a try. It somehow lands precisely in the YA/adult divide, showing gruesome fates and hard choices without either flinching away or wallowing in them.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The quick and dirty:
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Long, but smooth (416 pages)
Publication: September 29, 2009
Premise: Fifteen years ago, the scientist Leviticus Blue destroyed downtown Seattle with his digging machine. The hole released Blight gas, which kills some people and turns other into rotters, zombies who run in packs around the city. Today the year is 1880, and the Widow Blue is struggling to raise her son Ezekiel in the shadow of the walled-off ruins of Seattle. Zeke goes into the city in an attempt to clear his father's name, but his plan to be in and out by sunset doesn't go as planned.
Warnings: quite a bit of gore with the rotters
Recommendation: Despite some slow spots, Boneshaker provides a fresh spin on steampunk, combining the best of the quirky technology with the building horror of a zombie movie and echoes of a dusty Code of the West. Give this one a try, especially if you can find it on sale or at your library.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Solidly average (352 pages)
Publication: November 6, 2007 from Simon & Schuster
Premise: Years ago, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies reached an agreement: children cannot be touched from conception until age thirteen, but from thirteen to eighteen they may be "unwound," reduced to their component parts and donated to people who need those organs. Connor, Risa, and Lev are all scheduled for unwinding before they are pulled away from that path, and they will have to struggle for life and understanding.
Warnings: mild attempted rape scene, fairly gruesome extended murder/surgery
Recommendation: Not many teen novels examine the debate abortion in any real detail; this one doesn't go terribly deep, but it does move beyond "such a bad thing" or "it's a necessity" to at least acknowledge nuance.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

Rating: 2 stars
Length: Somehow both cramped and repetitive (269 pages)
Publication: May 6, 2008 from Roc
Premise: The angel Remiel walked away from his angelic nature after the war in heaven, eventually becoming a private investigator called Remy Chandler. He fell in love with Madeline, a mortal woman, and has been unhappily dealing with her aging and inevitable death when his former angelic comrades track him down. The five scrolls that can start the apocalypse have gone missing, the Angel of Death isn't doing his job, and only Remy can track him down and avert the end of the world.
Warnings: Some of the violence can be gory or disturbing, but as a whole this is pretty mild.
Recommendation: Give this one a miss unless you're absolutely desperate for something with an angelic protagonist-- even then, you can probably find something better.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


The quick and dirty:
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Middling (368 pages)
Publication: June 9, 2009 from Tor Books
Premise: A child who has forgotten her own name is sold into luxurious captivity, trained to be an elite courtesan for the pleasure of rulers. She is forbidden to even speak her own language, but she secretly holds on to rebellion, never losing hope that she can find her way back. Her nightly lessons in silent movement are to a greater purpose than she knows, and conspiracies catch her up in ever-deeper layers.
Warnings: Several attempted rape scenes, treatment of children as prospective sexual objects, mild whipping, dramatic age gaps in sexual encounters
Recommendation: It's hard to muster up much emotion for this one either way, honestly. The plot feels scattered and distracted, but the initial character building is quite vivid. All in all, this one is probably a good library or discount bet if you're looking for sort of a mythic or dreamlike tone.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Trim but thorough (384 pages)
Publication: March 22, 2011 from Simon & Schuster
Premise: Rhine Ellery has been struggling to survive in New York with her twin brother Rowan when she's kidnapped to be a bride. A genetic virus caused by the first wave of gene splicing means that women die at age twenty and men die at age twenty-five, so people are forced into marriages to reproduce before they succumb to the virus. Rhine is sixteen and doesn't want to spend a single day of her four remaining years on a locked compound in Florida, but she is trapped in a marriage with Linden Ashby. Trying to escape is hard enough, but her sister-wives and her husband's sinister father make it all the more difficult.
Warnings: Offscreen murder, implied dissection of human corpses of non-consenting people, attempted rape, dubious-consent underage sex
Recommendation: If you're interested in jumping on a very different flavor of the dystopian train, take a look at this one. Lots of books are worried about the danger of life, but this one is defiantly determined to make the most of every day before the inevitable end.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hell Train

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Locked in a tight race along the tracks (319 pages)
Publication: January 1, 2012 from Solaris
Premise: Shane Carter, a recently unemployed America script writer, is invited to Hammer Films to discuss writing a script. He is given a week to finish it, and turns to an old board game in the studio's library for inspiration. The script seems to take on a life of its own, combining the suspense of any good story with the flavor of an old horror film. Carter's players must confront their weaknesses on a train bound for a destination scratched off of every map, and the stakes are nothing less than each rider's soul.
Warnings: All the gore you'd expect from an older horror movie; everything from bloody bodies to rotting corpses grabbing at the living to suicide.
Recommendation: Give this one a go if you're looking for a very different framework. If you're really into Hammer Films or just classic horror, definitely pick it up.