Thursday, October 24, 2013

Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders

Rating: 2 stars
Length: Lengthy and detailed (446 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: July 2, 2013 from 47 North
Premise: The world has ended, and a new one covered in snow has risen to take its place--humanity has fractured into rival factions that war with each other as well as the Martians. The mysterious Founders, who live in a city surrounded by the deadly mustard gas, have kidnapped several faction leaders in the middle of negotiations. Romulus Buckle, captain of the Pneumatic Zeppelin, has set out on a rescue mission to save them or die trying.
Warnings: deaths in battle, maybe xenophobia. This one is pretty tame.
Recommendation: If you're hard up for new steampunk or different spins on steampunk setting, this could be fun for you. If not, the dialogue and scattered character introductions make it difficult to stay engaged. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Take a close look at the cover on this one if you pick up a copy in person, and then another look after you finish the book; it's extraordinarily detailed.
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Fast and snappy (381 pages)
Publication: April 24, 2012 from Angry Robot Books
Premise: Miriam Black has been drifting across the country for years, trying to run from her visions. Whenever she touches people, she sees how they're going to die, and seeing that dozens of times a day has taken her close to the edge of madness. When she sees that a truck driver is going to die in thirty days while he calls her name, she's forced to decide whether she wants to fight a losing battle against fate again.
Warnings: sex with very dubious consent, gore, torture, dismemberment/mutilation, violent miscarriage
Recommendation: If you're looking for something dark and sharp-edged without an ounce of glamour, this may be exactly your cup of tea. The secondary characters don't always live up to Miriam's strength of presence, but it's a fun quick read.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Way of Kings

I reviewed The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson's young adult debut, for YA Summer a few months ago. I normally try not to do the same author twice in a year, but Misanthrope and Smartypants have been swearing up and down that this one is great for months, so I finally caved....and am very glad I did.

Not to be confused with The Way of Shadows, which is both half as long and half as interesting.

Rating: 4 stars
Length: Well into "imposing tome" territory (1258 pages)
Publication: August 31, 2010 from Tor Books
Premise: The world of Roshar is controlled by the highstorms that destroy the landscape even as they bring light and magic and by the long-forgotten secrets that place everyone in danger.
Warnings: battlefield gore
Recommendation: If you have the resolve for 1200-odd pages and don't mind a slightly slow start, give this one a try. It looks like this might be able to pull off a cast-of-thousands epic fantasy without slowing to a crawl-- the action is glorious, the world manages to be alien but comprehensible, and Brandon Sanderson has a deft touch for writing about ideals without becoming trite. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Night Circus

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Long and leisurely (516 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: September 13, 2011 from Doubleday
Premise: Two young magicians were bound into a competition they didn't understand as children. As adults, Celia and Marco find that the staging ground of their competition is a circus constructed of marvels in black and white. They draw people into their game, both deliberately and not so, and aren't sure how to find a way out.
Warnings: child abuse as magical training
Recommendation: If you're looking for something dreamlike and beautiful, this may be your cup of tea, but it's only fair to also mention that this book doesn't have action scenes as such. It's slow and elegant and puzzling, but trying too hard to make it fit with logical sense is a disservice to the book.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Love Minus Eighty

Rating: 3 stars
Length: On the long side (403 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: June 11, 2013 from Orbit Books
Premise: In the year 2133, people are connected to each other constantly via systems that bring them all the information they could ever want and then some. They also flee the fear of death by buying cryonic insurance, which ensures that their corpses will be frozen and others will have the option to revive them in the future. It's a narrow chance, but some women are offered an uncomfortable and different way out.
Warnings: implied sexual coercion, coerced marriage as indentured servitude
Recommendation: The interpersonal relationships are all over the map, but no one gets either a perfectly happy ending or a simple helping of just desserts. I suspect that the novella was better, but this was an intriguing read.

Spoilers for about the first fifty pages of the book, but the point I'm discussing tends to make it into any detailed summary text. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sixty-one Nails

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Hefty with detail (519 pages)
Publication: November 2009 in the UK; August 31, 2010 in America from Angry Robot Books
Premise: Niall Petersen is living an altogether ordinary life until he almost dies in a tube station. When he dazedly tells a strange woman who calls herself Blackbird that he's from London and not "the other lands," he wakes up to stream of things he can't quite believe: most importantly, he's descended from the Feyre and has to start running before members of the Seventh Court hunt him down and kill him. He's thrown into a new world only a breath away from the one he's always known, and he may even learn to appreciate it if he can live past next week.
Warnings: magical horror (nothing too graphic)
Recommendation: If you're looking for more magic in London or have a soft spot for Fae types, this may be your thing. It doesn't carry as much tension as it could with the exposition-heavy pacing, but for the most part it's an enjoyable read. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shifty Magic

I received a free review copy of the book from Judy Teel, the author, in exchange for an honest review; she was gracious about how long it took to produce the review, and I'm excited to be working from my first author-provided copy.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Compact (252 pages)
Publication: May 21, 2013 from Golden Angel Books
Premise: Addison Kittner has been struggling to make ends meet starting out as a PI/bounty hunder when she stumbles into a case far above her normal pay grade. She finds herself caught between the vampires, the Weres, the FBI, and darker forces that she's only beginning to understand....all while trying to grasp her own identity.
Warnings: gore, sexual harassment
Recommendation: While a few genuinely interesting moments set Addison apart, for the most part Shifty Magic doesn't have much that you can't find somewhere else. It samples from urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and YA-- the pieces work fairly well on their own, but they don't always blend.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Rating: 3 stars
Length: A touch dense (431 pages)
Publication: June 4, 2013 from Poisoned Pen Press
Premise: Medea, princess of Colchis, has been raised to the worship of Hekate and loves the goddess's dark mysteries, even though other ways of life draw her interest. When Jason comes to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece, she must struggle to choose the right course amid tangled loyalties. Her life becomes a myth even as she lives it, wrapping her truth in fear and mysteries
Warnings: rape, attempted rape (incestuous in one instance), gore, mutilation, murder of children
Recommendation: The premise really isn't bad, and if you like ancient Greek mythology or overt examination of gender roles, this may be your thing. It's light on fantasy, but that helps humanize Medea; the problem is that it sticks closely enough to earlier material to be choppy, not giving any individual scene enough time to develop.

Spoilers for things that are in the Euripides play of the same name. If you're looking to be surprised by material that is literally thousands of years old, you don't want to bother with this book in the first place. There are also spoilers for a big non-Euripides romance in the red pen section, but it's obvious almost immediately how that's going to go. Note: some of these spellings may not be ones you've seen before, but they match the instances in the book. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dreams and Shadows

Rating: 3 stars
Length: On the long side of average (464 pages)
Publication: February 26, 2013 from Harper Voyager
Premise: Ewan Thatcher and Colby Stevens both found themselves in the Limestone Kingdom when they were children and became friends immediately. Their meeting should have just been an adventure, but when Ewan is in danger, Colby tries to save him and finds himself irrevocably changed. Both of them are living out half-lives as adults in Austin years later when they find themselves facing dangers that they'd thought long forgotten.
Warnings: gore, graphic suicide, emotional abuse and attempted blood sacrifice of children
Recommendation: If you're desperate for fairies in America, you might enjoy this one, but it doesn't really seem to take off until the climactic final battle. There's so much promise in the tone and setting and narrative circles, but then it just gets too choppy to maintain that flow. 

Minor spoilers for Colby in adulthood and an edge of a hint about the conclusion of the book, but nothing that isn't common in summary text or other reviews.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Underwater release

Today I'm taking a look at the first self-published book I've edited to actually make it to the self-publishing stage (that I know of). If you're interested in self-publishing or in freelance editing stuff that isn't shooting for a publishing house, take a look behind the curtain. 

And check out Julia McDermott's post for the writer's view!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

White Cat

I really enjoyed Tithe and some of Holly Black's other work back in high school, so I thought I'd dip back in and check out her more recent work. 

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Moderate (336 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: May 4th, 2010 from Margaret K. McElderry Books
Premise: Cassel Sharpe is the only non-gifted child in a family of magical workers, and he's clinging to the safe normalcy of his school life....until he's found sleepwalking on the roof and forced to go home.
Warnings: mild gore, magical memory/emotional manipulation resulting in trauma, dubiously consensual drunken makeouts
Recommendation: The style of Whte Cat varies from a lot of YA stuff, from the worldbuilding to the character relationships; it may not be an all-time favorite, but it's worth checking out, especially if you like reading about mind games. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Rating: 3 stars
Length: Average (347 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: June 7, 2011 from Doubleday
Premise: Humans have been happily depending on robots for decades, but an artificial intelligence named Archos is determined to change the course of the world. Things start going wrong with small malfunctions, but when Zero Hour comes, no one is safe.
Warnings: fairly disturbing machine gore, nonconsensual body mutilation/modification
Recommendation: If you want to read about the robot apocalypse, go forth and read: this does a good job with both the machines and how the people recover from depending on them. It can be a bit uneven no the pacing and style counts, though, so I wouldn't recommend buying it new unless robots are really your thing. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Written in Red

Cookie Monstress and Smartypants sent this one my way because they both sort of enjoyed it but weren't sure it was a good book, per se. My short answer is....sort of: it has good ideas and worldbuilding but absolutely ridiculous characterization.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Expansive without dragging (433 pages in hardback)
Publication: March 5, 2013 from Roc
Premise: Meg Corbyn is running from dangerous people, so she retreats to a place where human law doesn't hold sway: a compound of the Others, the supernatural races who rule the world. That choice should be more dangerous than facing her fate with other humans, but she doesn't smell like prey to them and matters go well...until she could be the flashpoint of an inter-species incident.
Warnings: cutting, gore, attempted kidnapping
Recommendation: If you're looking for slightly different urban fantasy worldbuilding and can tolerate melodramatic characterization, check this one out: I really don't recommend buying it in hardback unless you're a hardcore Anne Bishop fan already.

There are mild to moderate spoilers in the red pen section to hash out exactly what was bothering me.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I'll confess that I jumped onto this wagon because the book was everywhere and I figured I'd get ahead of the movie buzz for once instead of waiting for months past the movie release to crack the book. Marketing makes me contrary.

Rating: 3 stars
Length: On the long side but doesn't feel like it (487 pages)
Publication: February 28, 2012 from Katherine Tegen Books
Premise: In a city where people divide themselves into five factions, Beatrice Prior is Divergent, with an affinity for more than one of them. She's having enough trouble finding her place in the adult world, but inter-faction tensions lurk beneath the surface and threaten to rip apart everything she's ever known.
Warnings: allusions to child abuse, attempted murder, sexual assault, suicide, mild gore
Recommendation: This is one of the best-paced YA books I've read recently, even though the worldbuilding could use a bit more detail. If you're looking for a great vacation read or fun way to spend an afternoon, this might be just what you're looking for, but I'd recommend finding it on sale or at the library. 

Spoilers for Beatrice/Tris's chosen faction, but it's plastered over quite a bit of the summary text I've found (and is kind of difficult to avoid discussing).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Corpse-Rat King

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Comfortably expansive (410 pages)
Publication: August 28, 2012 from Angry Robot
Premise: Marius don Hellespont has spent years robbing corpses for money and little treasures, but taking on Gerd as an apprentice just gets both of them into trouble. When Gerd is killed over the King of Scorby's corpse, Marius is left holding the crown and pulled into the underworld, where the dead want him to be their king. They are furious to learn that he is an imposter, but they allow him to leave on one condition: that he return and bring them a real king.
Warnings: gore in all its manifold expressions, implied prostitution of underage girls, offscreen torture
Recommendation: If you're looking for something gritty and odd and running over with black comedy, this might be your cup of tea-- if you're at all squeamish, especially about rotting flesh, do steer clear. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Shades of Milk and Honey

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Compact (320 pages)
Publication: August 3, 2010 from Tor Books
Premise: Jane Ellsworth has resigned herself to spinsterhood and lives in the shadow of her younger sister Melody. Despite Jane's remarkable skill with glamour, her future seems set. When Melody's desires and the introduction of several new gentlemen to the neighborhood upset the regular turn of her life, however, she finds herself forced to the center of events.
Warnings: none
Recommendation: If you're looking for Jane Austen with a light dusting of magic, this is your cup of tea. If not, you may want to pass it up-- it has less in the way of direct magic than almost any other fantasy I've reviewed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Office of Mercy

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Average (304 pages in hardback)
Publication: February 21, 2013 from Viking
Premise: Natasha Wiley has grown up in America-Five, safe and protected under glass with the rest of her community. She finds satisfaction in her Office of Mercy job, where the workers compassionately sweep those who live Outside. The primitive nomads would only suffer, and their existence threatens the immortal perfection that guides her world, but a mission to the Outside forces her to question everything she's been taught.
Warnings: non-graphic genocide, moderate violence
Recommendation: If you're looking for something post-apocalyptic and philosophical, this might be what you want, but it's also forgettable enough that I don't recommend buying it new, especially in hardback. 

Light spoilers in the red pen section, but it's largely either on the flap of the book or heavily implied from an early stage. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Average (379 pages in hardback with largish print)
Publication: June 18, 2013 from Philomel
Premise: Knox is a Patron, born to privilege and protection-- he even has a Proxy to take his punishments. When he steals or vandalizes something, Syd is beaten or given brutal manual labor in punishment. And when Syd thinks he's almost free to have his debt paid off, Knox crashes a car and kills a girl, leaving Syd sentenced to branding and over a decade in prison. Syd tries to run, but he soon finds himself caught between groups with their own shadowy goals.
Warnings: beating of children, branding, non-graphic torture
Recommendation: I'd say to just give this one a miss, but having an incidentally gay POC as one of the main characters sets this one apart from the almost aggressively white-bread vibe that threads through the majority of young adult novels. If you're going to try it, go in for Syd and try not to think too hard about the plot or worldbuilding.

Explaining the identity of the main characters would constitute major and distracting spoilers, so suffice to say that Knox and Syd are joined by an activist girl who hates the whole Patron/Proxy system.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Midnight Riot

I picked up Midnight Riot because I kept running across reviews saying that it was brilliant, unique, down-to-earth. And in some ways it is. In others, I perhaps should have been more nervous about the fact that one of the blurbs is from Mario Acevedo.

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Average (310 pages)
Publication: February 1, 2011 from Del Rey
Premise: Peter Grant is still a probationary constable in London's Metropolitan Police, but he dreams of being a homicide detective. But then he meets the ghost of a thief who can give him details about the murder, and he soon finds himself wrapped up in deeper mysteries than he ever knew were possible.
Warnings: gore of varying levels, magical possession as violation
Recommendation: If you're looking for a police officer instead of a freelance PI consultant or have a soft spot for London, this might be your cup of tea; it introduces some fun concepts, even if all of them don't quite mesh together.

Light spoilers along the lines of "these are characters who exist" are woven throughout the review, but the plot twists are largely untouched.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Passion Play

Passion Play caught my eye based almost entirely on the rich cover art colors and the various reviews: it had glowing notices from Patricia Briggs, Anne McCaffrey, and Sherwood Smith, as well as several authors whose stuff I haven't read yet.

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Detailed and somewhat on the long side (512 pages)
Publication: October 12, 2010 from Tor Books
Premise: Therez Khalina is a sheltered merchant's daughter, struggling to stay sane and happy in the luxurious trap of her father's home. When she is promised into a marriage not of her choosing at the age of only fifteen, she decides to run away from home and seek her fortune. Once she's out on her own, however, she has to struggle just to survive and come out the other side with her sanity intact. The city street of Tiralien lead her to a new and dangerous way of life that will either save or destroy her.
Warnings: rape, gang rape, violent miscarriage, magical and mundane castration, implied torture
Recommendation: Much though I wanted to like this one, it never really seems to come alive-- there's plenty of intriguing potential here in the espionage department, though.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Night School

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Long side of average (426 pages in hardback)
Publication: May 21, 2013 from Katherine Tegen Books (a HarperCollins imprint)-- released January 1, 2012 from Atom (a UK publisher)
Premise: Ever since her brother disappeared, Allie Sheridan has been kicked out of one school after another. After she's arrested for vandalism, her parents have had enough and send her to Cimmeria Academy, a mysterious private school in the countryside. She adjusts quickly, but soon she notices that her classmates won't tell her where they're going after dark....and she has to find out.
Warnings: attempted date rape, murder, detailed portrayal of panic attacks
Recommendation: If you're looking for a mystery-conspiracy set at a boarding school, this one is great-- some of the character interactions are too predictable, but it's a fun way to spend an afternoon.

There are some spoilers about the relationships, but I also consider them fair game because they might be triggery. The love triangle is obvious if you' a book or seen a movie with a love triangle in it. There's the polished sweet rich boy who wants Allie's attention and is easy to love, and then there's the brooding-and-sexy student who snaps at her a lot and has a tragic past. Go. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Six-Gun Tarot

This one caught my eye based largely on the title, and it met my expectations of being absolutely bizarre. Happy Fourth, everyone, and maybe you'll enjoy taking a look at this alternate take on the American frontier spirit.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Somewhat hefty (364 pages in hardback)
Publication: January 22, 2013 from Tor Books
Premise: The town of Golgotha sits in the middle of the desert like any other mining encampment with a dash of civility, but the mountain under Argent Mine hides secrets that modern humanity can't begin to comprehend. A ragged band of people who can't leave the town will be forced to step forward if they are to save their homes and their world.
Warnings: gore, platonic necrophilia, tentacle rape (hello there, tags that have never been necessary on this blog before)
Recommendation: If you don't mind reading closely, The Six-Gun Tarot can be quite fun. It's dark and strange and not infrequently disturbing, but that's part of what makes it so dramatically different from everything else.

I've tried to avoid spoilers, but there are a few light ones scattered throughout, mostly for things that occur in each character's first segment.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ready Player One

This one came my way via my father, Gamer Dad-- trading book recommendations has been one of our best ways of staying connected since I so cruelly went to college in another state and then stayed there. :P

Rating: 4 stars
Length: Moderate (374 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: June 5, 2012 from Broadway Books
Premise: Five years ago, an eccentric billionaire died and left his entire fortune, as well as control of the most powerful corporation in the world, to whomever could find the Easter egg hidden in his virtual reality. No one has found more than a scrap of a clue until an egg-hunter calling himself Parzival reaches the Bronze Key, kicking this half-dead world into a frenzy.
Warnings: offscreen murder and mass murder, suicidal plans
Recommendation: If you're at all a fan of 1980s pop culture, nerd subcultures in general, or virtual reality, pick this one up. It's a little black-and-white on the morality scale, but in a delightfully over-the-top way that it's hard not to love.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Rithmatist

I read Elantris several months ago and have been meaning to delve more deeply into Sanderson ever since, so I couldn't resist taking a look at his venture into the young adult section.

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Moderate (378 pages in hardback)
Publication: May 14, 2013 from Tor Teen
Premise: Joel Saxon wants, more than anything else, to be a Rithmatist, but he missed the opportunity to gain that mysterious power. He spends every free hour he can spare from classes in normal subjects to dream of fighting duels with chalk. When he becomes a summer research assistant to a Rithmatics professor, he finds himself helping in a murder investigation without the power to defend himself.
Warnings: fantasy violence that's horrifying but not gory
Recommendation: If you're looking for a lighter dose of Sanderson and don't mind the younger tone, give this one a try-- I whipped through it in the course of a long afternoon. This volume establishes a good magic system and springboards into what promises to be a fun series, though I wouldn't recommend springing for it in hardback unless you know middle-schoolers who need a good gateway to his work for adult readers. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rosemary and Rue

I came to this series by way of one my new video-reviewer addictions: Sursum Ursa, whose first review was of Grand Central Arena, also the subject of one of my own posts from last year. I think I'm a little pickier than she is, on the whole, but her commentary on really everything in the Stuff You Like series is on-point and funny. Give her a try!

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Moderate (346 pages)
Publication: September 1, 2009 from DAW
Premise: October Daye used to walk the line between two worlds as a changeling, but when the world of fae causes her to lose everything she loves in the human world, she withdraws from both. But the death of an old friend draws her back into the game-- the dying curse of Countess Evening Winterrose binds October to either find Evening's killer....or her own death.
Warnings: mild gore, implied torture, implied sexual abuse
Recommendation: The worldbuilding in Rosemary and Rue is quite strong, and the heroine realistically reads as older and jaded-but-hopeful. It can spend a little too much time getting lost in angst or side characters, but it's a solid series beginning and definitely worth a look.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Prince of Thorns

Recommendation thanks for this one go to Agent Churchill, who's been singing its praises to me for quite a while now. Starkiller (who previously recommended The Age of Ra) did me the favor of checking this over for spoilers and is plotting a worldbuilding debate at our next encounter.

Rating: 4 stars
Length: Thorough but concise (336 pages)
Publication: August 2, 2011 from Ace Books
Premise: Prince Jorg was nine when he was strung up on a thorn bush to watch his mother and little brother die. Now he's fourteen and in command of a group of ruthless mercenaries who he keeps under control by being more dangerous than they are. When he returns to his childhood home, he rejects comfort in favor of more brutal challenges.
Warnings: torture, threats of torture, non-graphic rape (both present and in backstory), mass murder, gore, cannibalism.....Look, the main character doesn't rape or murder children, or cross the line from massacre into genocide, but this is grim stuff. Make sure you have a strong stomach if you're going into this.
Recommendation: If you're looking for an antihero and are done having patience for the ones who angst, Princes of Thorns manages a tightly-paced and grim adventure with digressions into "so, that just went there." It's dark and uncompromising and just works once it gets going, though the first few chapters are a little rough. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


My "no hardbacks" policy has finally met its end. I had enough trouble waiting for The Rook to come out in paperback, and as I put more reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, I'd like to be able to stay current with new releases.

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Average (429 pages in hardback with ridiculously large print and line spacing)
Publication: May 7, 2013 from Little, Brown
Premise: When she was a baby, Dol lost her entire family on the Day. The Icons came from the sky and killed people everywhere, and she still has no idea why she's alive. When she's about to learn more about what makes her different, she and her friend Furo are ripped from their home in the wilderness Mission and brought to the Embassy, where they find few answers in comparison to the torrent of new questions.
Warnings: psychological and limited physical torture, sudden death
Recommendation: If you have a soft spot for stories about aliens suddenly descending from the skies of Earth and taking over, this might be your thing; it's a little generic, but not bad.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Fair warning that this review has gotten a little....emphatic down in the red pen section. This is far from the worst book I've ever read, but finishing it was a Sisyphean uphill battle wherein I was Sisyphus and the rock was yet another exposition-laden passage that made absolutely no sense.

Rating: 2 stars
Length: Exceedingly long (480 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: March 9, 2010 from Viking Press
Premise: Sister Evangeline has been living peacefully in St. Rose Convent for years, trying to find a quiet life and forget the strange happenings of her childhood. Then a seemingly ordinary research inquiry leads her to discover a strange letter in the convent's archives. When she meets the researcher and starts asking questions about her family's true business, she's drawn into forms of danger that she can hardly begin to understand.
Warnings: implied torture, gore
Recommendation: If you really, really need to read something with evil angels in it, there are worse alternatives. Otherwise, this might serve best as a sleep aid.

I did my level best to avoid spoilers, but a few vague ones have made it into the red pen section.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Gypsy

It's the fifth Thursday of the month, so I'm taking a dip back into the 1990s with this one. Many thanks to Longshanks for giving it to me years ago and to Misanthrope for reminding me to read it again. 

Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: Compact (272 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: July 1992 from Tor Books
Premise: The Gypsy is trying to remember what he was supposed to do before his memories were taken. Stepovich is trying to get the Gypsy's arrest record to make sense, but the man's knife won't quite leave him alone. Both of them, along with all those they love, are about to be attacked by the Fair Lady's schemes. Detective drama meets mythology meets a deep love for music, and it all works.
Warnings: mild gore, non-graphic attempted rape
Recommendation: Read this one and be patient with it, savoring the prose and soaking in every detail. It's cryptic and dreamlike and more than a bit odd, so not the best if you want action scenes, but it's beautiful in a way that very few novels are.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Little Brother

Rating: 4 stars
Length: Moderate with momentum (416 pages)
Publication: April 29, 2008 from Tor Teen
Premise: Marcus Yallow is content with bothering the school administration and hacking for fun until he and his friends are out in the middle of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. When he's in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is imprisoned and interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security. Even when he's released, the stain of it lingers with him, and he's driven to fight against the organization that claims to be trying to protect his city.
Warnings: moderate physical violence, psychological torture, one instance of waterboarding
Recommendation: This one is worth a try just because it's so very different from most things targeted at this age group: Doctorow enjoys teaching and explaining things but blends that into the narrative well, so it's hard to set this one down.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trading in Danger

This is a little older than my normal window, but Gamer Dad recommended it in high school and then the infamous Smartypants and Cookie Monstress passed it my way again. It was more fun this time around, and I'm tempted to hunt down the rest of the series.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Moderate (357 pages)
Publication: August 31, 2004 from Del Rey
Premise: Kylara Vatta was headed for a promising military career until a single mistake forced her to resign from the Academy and go home to her family of traders. They send her on a simple errand while the scandal dies down-- all she has to do is take an old ship away and sell it for scrap in another star system while working with an experienced crew. But she soon sees an opportunity for trade and finds herself in far more danger than she could have found with the Academy.
Warnings: one fairly nasty death scene
Recommendation: If you're looking for space opera that revolves more around trade and cunning than the normal running battles, give Trading in Danger a try.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dead Things

Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Short and snappy (295 pages)
Publication: February 5, 2013 from DAW
Premise: Eric Carter's magic gifts tend in the direction of the dead, and he's been using them on the run for fifteen years. When he gets a call saying that his sister is dead, he has to go back to Los Angeles and attempt to track down her murderer. But the most likely suspect has been dead for fifteen years, and it's almost impossible to know who to trust.
Warnings: gore, corpse mutilation
Recommendation: If you really need a protagonist with a bleak outlook on life or want necromancy front and center, this one might be fun. It sometimes wallows in Eric's guilt and self-loathing, but the magic comes with some great quirks.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Welcome to the start of YA summer reviews! I'm planning to do two young adult reviews per month from now until August, with a nice spread covering paranormal mystery, dystopian fiction, straight-up fantasy, and some of whatever seems fun. Drop me a line with suggestions!

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Comfortably brisk (404 pages)
Publication: May 8, 2012 from Katherine Tegen Books (a HarperCollins imprint)
Premise: Mackenzie is still mourning her best friend Amy's death in a werewolf attack when another death brings the Trackers to town. They're willing to kill any werewolf they can find, and they won't hesitate to hurt or kill anyone standing in their way. When Mac tries to investigate Amy's death for herself, she moves into the line of fire and learns that she can't trust anything that she thought she knew.
Warnings: gore, attempted murder of a child, alcoholism in a secondary character
Recommendation: If you're looking for a werewolf-centric mystery that takes genre conventions and gives them a half-turn to the side to make them interesting again, give Hemlock a try.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Troubled Waters

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Squarely in the average range (399 pages)
Publication: October 5, 2010 from Ace Books
Premise: Zoe Ardelay is still in the early hours of mourning for her father when a royal envoy arrives, saying that she must come to the royal city to become the king's fifth wife. She goes along on the trip because she must, but soon finds herself learning more than she ever expected about the city, the kingdom, and her own identity.
Warnings: implications that another country practices pervasive pedophilia
Recommendation: If you particularly like elemental magic or court intrigue on a smaller scale, this one might be fun; it does a good job of building the country's culture, though it takes a while to get moving.

I'd say that there's a minor spoiler about Zoe's identity in both sections, but it's printed on the back flap of the book, so don't worry unless you're an absolute purist about what you know in advance.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Mongoliad

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Solidly on the long side (434 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: April 24, 2012 from 47North (after being released in a serialized format at )
Premise: In the year 1241, the Mongols are gathering to attack Europe. A small group of knights has gathered among other warriors to meet the Mongol challenge of combat in the arena. When they are joined by a lone messenger, they decide to launch a desperate assassination mission into the heart of enemy territory. The land ahead of them is full of dangers from all sides, even from within their little group.
Warnings: gore, implied rape, fairly graphic descriptions of executions and massacres
Recommendation: If alternate history and excellent weapons research are your thing, give this one a try. It can be a little slow and oddly paced, though, so it's best if you're willing to be patient with it or read the chapters split into sets of odd-numbered and even-numbered to follow each character group in a more coherent way.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: On the long side of average (373 pages)
Publication: August 1, 2011 from Orbit Books
Premise: Oscar Wendell is a drug-addicted reporter, on the edge of losing his job, but he manages to pull the right strings to wind up on the front lines of the war in Kazakhstan. The Americans and their allies are fighting the Russians for the rare heavy metals that have been discovered there, but living in battle day after day makes the war into a world all its own.
Warnings: pervasive graphic violence/gore, substance abuse and addiction
Recommendation: If you really need a near-future sci-fi book told from the gritty underbelly of the people on the ground, Germline excels at portraying the day-to-day boredom, terror, and search for meaning. If you're not interested in military science fiction, give this one a pass.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kitty and the Midnight Hour:

This one is another recommendation courtesy of Cookie Monstress and Smartypants.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Tight and snappy (272 pages)
Publication: November 1, 2005 from Grand Central Publishing
Premise: Kitty Norville is a werewolf struggling to keep one foot in the human world with her midnight-shift DJ job. While bantering with her listeners and waiting for good song requests, she accidentally takes calls about the supernatural for her whole shift, and The Midnight Hour is born. The show is an immediate success with believers and skeptics alike, but it also makes Kitty a target among her own supernatural kind and makes it impossible for her life to stay the same.
Warnings: abusive pack dynamics, magically induced sexual coercion, non-graphic recounting of a past rape
Recommendation: If you're looking for brisk pacing and a realistic struggle to find an independent identity, give this one a try; one of its larger series-building arcs doesn't quite work yet, but it's a promising debut. Steer clear if you're easily triggered by sexual consent issues ranging from coercion to outright rape; Vaughn handles it well, but it's not a scene or two you can skim past.

There's a light spoiler in the favorable section, but it's implied on the back flap and is the preview scene at the front of the book, so I'm not overly concerned. If you are, feel free to skip down the red pen section or just to the conclusion.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Spirit Thief

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Solid but speedy (356 pages)
Publication: October 1, 2010 from Orbit
Premise: Eli Monpress is the world's greatest thief, and he's using his talents to deliberately drive up the bounty on his own head. His latest scheme is to kidnap the king of Mellinor
Warnings: minor gore
Recommendation: If you're looking for something light and witty with occasional dark moments and a solid groundwork for sequels, this one is a good bet. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Opening lines: dialogue and addressing the reader

Welcome back to the writing advice series on opening lines, in which I try to take apart exactly what makes a first line tick in a way that's likely to make a reader want to pounce on the second line. Part one (focused on exposition and physical movement) is here if you're stopping by for the first time.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

All Men of Genius

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Solid and leisurely (464 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: September 27, 2011 from Tor Books
Premise: Violet Adams has dreamed for years of attending Illyria College to refine her skills and inventions, but the school only accepts men, so naturally the solution is to disguise herself as her twin brother Ashton in order to gain admission. Keeping her secret at school is difficult, and that's before taking into account the automata in the school cellar, her feelings for a fellow scientist, a young woman's feelings for her male disguise, an intricate blackmail plot, or the sinister plans of one of the other students.
Warnings: implied threat of rape to a secondary character
Recommendation: If steampunk mysteries are your thing, absolutely give this one a try; it blends science, humor, gender issues, and literary references to create a lightly fun read.

I'm going to be a hair spoiler-brushing about the romantic relationships because they are well-nigh impossible to discuss without names, but there's enough love at first sight that it's easy to call who's going to pine after whom. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Editing Kelpie: a study in nuance

I'm breaking into several different types of posts these days, and today we're breaking into one for a happy occasion: the first book for which I did full co-editing passes is edging closer to release. Today, I hope to give you a view of what it's like to work with a manuscript from the editing end of things, particularly with my learning curve.

My work with Kelpie is mostly done, the author and I have had great conversations, and-- best of all-- I've finally seen the great cover art! Here's a teaser image of Heather, the main character. Trish's take (and maybe the prize you're seeking) are down below the cut.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Rating: 3 stars
Length: Snappily short (336 pages)
Publication: October 30, 2007 from Tor Science Fiction
Premise: Ahni Huang has been ordered to restore balance by killing her twin brother's murderer. The trail leads her to New York Up, one of Earth's enormous space stations, and people there seem uncannily able to predict her movements. She is soon caught up in a struggle where she can't see the sides or even all of the board, but the stakes for he future are dangerously high.
Warnings: murder of civilian children, onscreen suicide
Recommendation: If you're interested in space-to-earth sociopolitical relationships and tensions, this may be just the right thing. It can get a little confused in places, but it's tightly-paced, vivid, and often quite fun.