Showing posts with label Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Show all posts

Saturday, March 7, 2015

This n That: News, Minis, Reads

Hello everyone! I've been MIA, but truthfully behind the scenes trying to come up with a few reviews and / or minis while having a heck of a hard time getting my thoughts together. So, I thought a "this n that" post was called for since my reviewing mojo has taken a break.

First, a couple of days ago the 27th Annual Lambda Literary Awards Finalists were announced. As always, I check out the list to find out if any of my favorite reads or authors are included, or if there are books that may interest me. I was very happy to see a few of my favorites among the finalists: (Click on titles to read reviews)
Regretfully, the list of books by finalists still sitting in my TBR is longer than the list of books above. It was one of those years. I am going to try to read a few before the winners are announced in June.

Congratulations to everyone!

In February I read a few sff novellas, novelettes, and other shorts works. I reviewed two separately here and here. The two novelettes below are very different in content and structure. I liked one more than the other. Yet, they have something in common. Both stories made an impact and stayed with me long after I read them.

Of the SSF short works I read in February, my favorite was Kai Ashante Wilson's 2014 SFF novelette The Devil in America, a free online read at that has been nominated for a Nebula Award. Last year, this author's short story Super Bass was among my favorite.

With "The Devil in America," Kai Ashante Wilson introduces fantasy elements while making a strong social statement. He combines ancient African magic with the left over legacy of slavery in America. The central story, where the fantasy elements of the story are focused, takes place in a post Civil War South. Small sections, depicting racially motivated crimes committed against African Americans throughout US history and to contemporary times, are inserted throughout to punctuate consequences of events occurring in the magical section of the narrative. This excellent novelette is short, to the point, and packs a punch.

I am also familiar with Dale Bailey's short works through his contributions to Asimov's Magazine. His novelette The End of The End of Everything is not nominated, however, in my estimation it is one of the best I read in February. Think of a dystopian earth where everything in the world is slowly dying from a sort of darkness, described as ruin, that is killing everything it touches: man-made structures as well as all living things, including man. When a couple moves to an exclusive artists' colony with a friend, his latest wife and her child, they find the wealthy, famous, and semi-famous indulging in end-of-world free-for-all dissipation and suicide parties that result in carnage. A mutilation artist becomes the ultimate horrifying temptation for the main character, a philandering poet who questions the mediocrity of his life.

This story has excellent sff elements that are utilized throughout the story as a whole. The central character works as both the focus and narrator, and the world-building although murky in its inception, is clear enough for the story's purpose. This novelette, however, is sff/horror, one that is filled with the kind of violence, blood, and mutilation that is horrifying and truthfully not for everyone. That aspect of story did not bother me personally. What this very well-written, fascinating novella was missing for me, was a real representation of the psychological torture that the living should have been experiencing. Instead everyone is portrayed as very sophisticated and for the most part clinically detached. Yet, this novelette stayed with me and I will probably reread it. There is so much going on in this story that I may have missed something. Check out that great cover illustration by Victo Ngai! Free online read at


I also read Radiance, Grace Draven's latest release, Part 1 of her Wraith Kings fantasy romance series. Draven's fantasy world-building is as attractive and compelling as her characters. Imagine two cultures and peoples so different in customs and physical appearance that the other appears to them as 'monsters.' Then imagine the royal houses forging an alliance through a marriage where the bride and groom find each other so physically repulsive they have a problem looking at each other without flinching. What are the chances that they will find a happy ever after?

This fantasy romance has some gushingly sweet lines between two people who find each other physically repellent. That's because Ildiko and Brishen genuinely like each other from the moment they meet.
She drew a circle on his chin with her fingertip. "Your skin color reminds me of a dead eel I once saw on the beach."

Brishen arched an eyebrow. "Flattering, I'm sure. I thought yours looked like a mollusk we boil to make amaranthine dye."
Draven does a fantastic job of utilizing a growing friendship and understanding as a building block to romantic love. Political intrigue is well integrated with both the fantasy and romantic elements of this novel. But there are also battles of wit as well as physical battles, warriors, magic, dark, light, and more. My one niggle is the overly formal dialog that creeps in between the main characters even during intimate moments. But that was not enough to spoil my enjoyment of this story or the beautiful romantic ending to Radiance. That is until you get to the epilogue, which almost serves as a prelude to what promises to be a more politically complex and fantasy-filled series. I will not miss the next installment.


What have I been reading recently? I just finished Vision in Silver: A Novel of the Others by Anne Bishop. More of Meg, Simon, Lakeside Courtyard and Thaisia intrigue. I'm hoping to review this book next week. I'm also trying to catch up with Patricia Brigg's Alpha & Omega UF series and finished Hunting Ground with the hopes of reading books #3 and #4 in March. Maybe I will write one of my series overviews for this one? Let's see if I get going on that!

Right now I'm attempting to read a few books: Echopraxia by Peter Watts, a hard sci-fi novel (stuck at 17%); the contemporary novella Snowed In (Kentucky Comfort #3) by Sarah Title(almost done), and We Are the Cloud by Sam J. Miller, a free online sff novelette at the Lightspeed Magazine site (just began).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reading Update & Additions

My reading momentum is holding. I've read three books this month, but as in January they are books released in previous years. So, I have added a few 2015 releases to my eReader and/or my coffee table, and a couple of upcoming releases I'm looking forward to reading. It's about time! Three of the books highlighted are written by favorite authors Elliott Mackle, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Bear. The rest of the books are written by new-to-me authors.

Here are six of my latest additions:


Stealing Arthur by Joel Perry (January 10, 2015 - Bear Bones Books/Lethe Press) Print Edition

In this hilarious novel based on an actual event, author Joel Perry tells of fifty-five of Hollywood's highest awards--the Arthurs--have been stolen, setting in motion the kind of crazy only turn-of-the-millennium Los Angeles can provide. Intrigue, murder, comedy, sex, romance, celebrity dish, and ultimately redemption play out for characters from Skid Row to Hollywood's Walk of Fame, including all the desperate wannabes in between. In a town where people would happily kill anyone for a part, what would they do for a gilded Arthur statuette?

Joel Perry is the author of Funny That Way; That's Why They're in Cages, People!; Going Down: The Instinct Guide to Oral Sex; and The Q Guide to Oscar Parties and Other Award Shows.

Sunset Island (Caloosa Club Mysteries) by Elliott Mackle (January 10, 2015 - Lethe Press) Print edition

February, 1950. Lee County, Florida. In the freewheeling, celebratory aftermath of World War II, survivors and veterans are starting new lives, resuming old ones, or just picking up the pieces. Former Navy officer Dan Ewing feels safer than any gay man might expect in a segregated, dry county where the Ku Klux Klan is still strong. Managing an ultra-private club-hotel in Ft. Myers with a mixed-race staff, untaxed alcohol, high-stakes card games and escorts of both sexes, he's been acting like he has nothing to lose: business is good and his romantic life is better. Lee County Detective Bud Wright, a former Marine sergeant and Dan's secret lover, is outwardly strong and brave, but uneasy with the knowledge that, every time he and Dan get naked together, they're breaking laws he's sworn to uphold. It's nothing that a few drinks can't get him past, especially when moonlighting as security for Dan's hotel. Both men have their work cut out for them, however, once a hurricane evacuation brings to the hotel wealthy, well-connected non-members who happen to own Sunset Island, a secluded resort fronting the Gulf of Mexico. Their arrival sets in motion a turnover of hotel staff, sensual and sordid seductions, brutal assaults, the discovery of looted art from Holocaust victims, and, of course, murder. After drowned men start washing ashore on nearby beaches, Dan and Bud must set to work unraveling war-related mysteries and exploring the implications of a rapidly changing society in those postwar years.


Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (February 3, 2015 - William Morrow)

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction—stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013—as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story—a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year—stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (February 3, 2015 - Tor Books)

“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It's French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, beggin sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

The Mermaid's Sister by Carrie Anne Noble (March 1, 2015 - Skyscape)

2014 Winner — Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award — Young Adult Fiction

There is no cure for being who you truly are...

In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions. By night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphan infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.

One day, Clara discovers shimmering scales just beneath her sister’s skin. She realizes that Maren is becoming a mermaid—and knows that no mermaid can survive on land. Desperate to save her, Clara and O’Neill place the mermaid-girl in their gypsy wagon and set out for the sea. But no road is straight, and the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening mermaid.

And always, in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?
The One That Got Away by Simon Wood (March 1, 2015, Thomas & Mercer)

Graduate students Zoë and Holli only mean to blow off some steam on their road trip to Las Vegas. But something goes terribly wrong on their way home, and the last time Zoë sees her, Holli is in the clutches of a sadistic killer. Zoë flees with her life, changed forever.

A year later and still tortured with guilt, Zoë latches on to a police investigation where the crime eerily resembles her abduction. Along with a zealous detective, she retraces the steps of that fateful night in the desert, hoping that her memory will return and help them find justice for Holli. Her abductor—labeled the “Tally Man” by a fascinated media—lies in wait for Zoë. For him, she is not a survivor but simply the one that got away.

With an unforgettable heroine, a chillingly disturbed psychopath, and a story that moves at breakneck speed, The One That Got Away is thriller writer Simon Wood at his finest.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

December 2014 Recap: Books Read + Minis

I am finally going to close 2014 by posting my December recap. I was on vacation throughout the holidays and took the opportunity to read a few books that had been lingering in my TBR. As you can see below, there is only one new holiday book included in my least of reads.

Total books read in December: 11
Contemporary Romance: 1
Paranormal/Urban Fantasy: 1
Science Fiction/Fantasy: 3

1) City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett: B+
2-4) Provoked, Beguiled, Enlightened (Enlightenment Trilogy Books 1-3) by Joanna Chambers: B+
5) Turnbull House (Porcelain Dog) by Jess Faraday: B+

My favorite December reads were City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, a SFF book that has received positive responses from readers. I meant to read it earlier in the year, unfortunately City of Stairs was the last book I read in 2014 and did not get a chance to review it. I plan to review it this month.

The other December favorites are Turnbull House (Porcelain Dog #2) by Jess Faraday, and Joanna Chambers' Enlightenment trilogy. Both were included in my LGBT Favorite Books and Authors list -- one as part of a duology and the other (all 3 books) as a highly recommended trilogy.

6) The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: B
7) Night Shift with Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Lisa Shearin, Mila Vane: B
8) Between the Sheets by Molly O'Keefe: B
9) Comfort and Joy with Joanna Chambers, Harper Fox, L.B. Gregg, Josh Lanyon: B

My B reads are all on the strong side. My thoughts about The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers are outlined in my review. However, I also enjoyed the PNR/Urban fantasy anthology Night Shift in its entirety. Although I do admit that my favorite story is "Magic Steals" by Ilona Andrews. I mean who doesn't love Jim and Dali?

The contemporary romance Between the Sheets by Molly O'Keefe deserves a better title. The content just goes so much deeper than that title implies. There is sex (seldom between the sheets), and it is the hot kind, but there are other, deeper issues going on in this story that make this contemporary by O'Keefe a strong read.

And, the Comfort and Joy m/m romance holiday anthology is quite solid and one I'm keeping on my reread pile. I gave two of the stories a higher grade, but all four are enjoyable! These were my minimalistic (rushed) comments at Goodreads:
Rest and be Thankful by Joanna Chambers - Great! (4.5)
Out by Harper Fox - Solid (4.0)
Waiting for Winter by L.B. Gregg - Cute (3.5)
Baby, it's Cold by Josh Lanyon - Yummy (3.5)
Overall, a solid anthology that may become a "comfort" holiday reread in the future. Recommended.

10) The Boy with the Painful Tattoo by Josh Lanyon: C
11) Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta: C-

The Boy with the Painful Tattoo is the third installment of Lanyon's Holmes and Moriarity romance/mystery series. I have really enjoyed this series and the characters thus far. So I hate to say this, but this installment, although good, did not quite do it for me. Chris and JX do not spend enough time together or working on their relationship, and the level of Chris' neurosis is so high that it hurts to read it. All of the above interfered with my enjoyment of the mystery which, taken on its own, was good.

And Memory of Water is a young adult speculative fiction novel by Finnish author Emmi Itaranta. This is the English translation of the novel. I gave it 2 stars at Goodreads because frankly the writing is beautiful, but my enjoyment of the book was next to nill. Here are my comments such as they are: "I wanted to love this book. The writing style is beautiful and the world-building interesting [enough]. Unfortunately, I ended up reading it in fits and starts. It just became a tedious, slow read and I forced myself to finish it. Obviously not for me." This is an award-winning book, loved and lauded by some readers and not-so-loved by others. Obviously, I fall under the latter.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review: Chimera (Chimera, Book 1) by Rob Thurman

A sci-fi thriller that asks the questions...

What makes us human...
What makes us unique...
And what makes us kill?

Ten years ago, Stefan Korsak's younger brother was kidnapped. Not a day has passed that Stefan hasn't thought about him. As a rising figure in the Russian mafia, he has finally found him. But when he rescues Lukas, he must confront a terrible truth-his brother is no longer his brother. He is a trained, genetically-altered killer. Now, those who created him will do anything to reclaim him. And the closer Stefan grows to his brother, the more he realizes that saving Lukas may be easier than surviving him...
I read Chimera by Rob Thurman as my Goodreads Sci-Fi Romance March Book of the Month. However, if you want romance you won't get it in this book. This is a sci-fi thriller as it says above, and as such it's excellent. You'll find lots of action and enough futuristic details to place it firmly into the contemporary thriller sci-fi category.

Chimera is narrated in the first person from Stefan's perspective. The story itself is really good when it comes to both plot and action. That action is relentless as Michael/Lukas and Stefan find themselves on the run after Stefan rescues young Michael and there's a dangerous pursuit involved. The two find themselves in danger from two fronts: Michael's kidnappers and the Russian Mafia.

The building relationship between the main characters takes precedence in the story, though. Thurman does a great job of depicting male bonding in this book as Stefan slowly gets Michael to reveal what was done to him in the compound, and in the process reveals himself. She digs deep into background and deep emotions to do this, creating some excellent characters and a believable bond between the two men. However, that's not all she does. While the characters are bonding and the focus is placed squarely on these two characters, the plot also unfolds through their conversations and finally through the action and danger around them.

What makes us human...What makes us unique... And what makes us kill? These are key questions that are very much a part of Michael and Stefan's lives and that are answered in Chimera. I loved going along with these characters on their wild emotional and dangerous ride. This story is complete in the sense that Michael and Stefan's story is taken to a surprising, emotional and somewhat satisfactory conclusion. However, there are questions left unanswered at the end... I know the second book, Basilisk, is releasing in August and hope the answers are there.
Goodreads SFR
March Read

Category: Sci-Fi Fantasy/Contemporary Thriller
Series: Chimera, Book 1
Publisher/Released: Roc, June 1, 2010 - Kindle Edition
Grade:  Grade B+

Visit Rob Thurman here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Releases: March 2011

It is time to highlight a few of the new releases I'm planning to read next month! I can't believe February is almost over and March is almost here. Well, I'm actually featuring one late February release, but since I just finished the first book of the trilogy and plan to read books 2 and 3 in March, why not, right? Here they are:

Grail by Elizabeth Bear
Jacob's Ladder Trilogy (Book 3)
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Rife with intrigue and betrayal, heroism and sacrifice, Grail brings Elizabeth Bear’s brilliant space opera to a triumphant conclusion.

At last the generation ship Jacob’s Ladder has arrived at its destination: the planet they have come to call Grail. But this habitable jewel just happens to be populated already: by humans who call their home Fortune. And they are wary of sharing Fortune—especially with people who have genetically engineered themselves to such an extent that it is a matter of debate whether they are even human anymore. To make matters worse, a shocking murder aboard the Jacob’s Ladder has alerted Captain Perceval and the angel Nova that formidable enemies remain hidden somewhere among the crew.

On Grail—or Fortune, rather—Premier Danilaw views the approach of the Jacob’s Ladder with dread. Behind the diplomatic niceties of first-contact protocol, he knows that the deadly game being played is likely to erupt into full-blown war—even civil war. For as he strives to chart a peaceful and prosperous path forward for his people, internal threats emerge to take control by any means necessary.
Okay, I just finished Dust, Book 1 in the Jacob's Ladder space opera trilogy by Elizabeth Bear and am totally hooked! I'm reading Chill next and have GOT to find out what happens to the Jacobites when they get to Grail. This book is going to be a definite read for me during the month of March.

A Lesson in Secrets (A Masie Dobbs Novel) by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 22, 2011
It's the summer of 1932 and Maisie Dobbs has been wondering lately whether she is descending into the doldrums. Those bracing fears are jolted away when she receives an official request to begin undercover work probe activities "not in the interests of His Majesty's Government." After accepting a position as a junior lecturer in the Cambridge philosophy department, she begins observing as students and faculty members vie for political dominance. Matters reach a flash point, however, when her college's controversial pacifist founder and principal is murdered. As officials fumble on with their investigation, Maisie focuses on the Nazis in her midst. A breakthrough book for an award-winning British author whose popularity has grown steadily with each new release.
Besides fantasy and science fiction, I seem to be in the mood for mysteries! This series is set in the UK during the post World War I era, and it looks really interesting. I'm picking up the new release first (this is the 8th book in the series), and if I like it, I'll get the backlist. I DO love the cover, don't you?

It Happened One Season Anthology
Release Date: March 29, 2011
We asked our readers what story they would most like to see from four bestselling authors. They responded . . .

A handsome hero returns from war, battle-scarred and world-weary. But family duty calls and he must find a bride.

A young lady facing yet another season without a suitor never expects to find herself the object of his affections.

It Happened One Season

Four amazing talents: Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro, and Candice Hern have come together to create one of the most unforgettable events of the year. The results are spectacular—each story is as unique as a lover's first kiss.
Ohhh, and I've been waiting for this book for a long time! Did you see that first line? We asked our readers... ? Well, they did! They asked readers to choose a story and the authors would write the romance. Our own blogger friend Phyl from Phyl's Quilts and Books, a Balogh fan, won that contest! I was very excited for her and am really looking forward to reading all of these stories, particularly the Balogh. :D

Children of Scarabaeus (Scarabaeus, Book 2) by Sara Creasy
Release Date: March 29, 2011

The crib is everywhere . . .

Edie Sha'nim believes she and her bodyguard lover, Finn, could find refuge from the tyranny of the Crib empire by fleeing to the Fringe worlds. But Edie's extraordinary cypherteck ability to manipulate the ecology of evolving planets makes her far too valuable for the empire to lose. Recaptured and forced to cooperate—or else she will watch Finn die—Edie is shocked to discover the Crib's new breed of cypherteck: children. She cannot stand by while the oppressors enslave the innocent, nor can she resist the lure of Scarabaeus, the first world she tried to save, when researchers discover what appears to be an evolving intelligence.

But escape—for Edie, for Finn, and for the exploited young—will require the ultimate sacrifice . . . and a shocking act of rebellion.
Children of Scarabaeus is the conclusion to the story that began with Song of Scarabaeous, a science fiction romance book I read and reviewed this month. The first book was highly enjoyable and I can't wait to find out what happens to Edie and Finn in this second book!

The Sweetest Thing (Lucky Harbor, Book 2) by Jill Shalvis
Release Date: March 29, 2011

Two Men Are One Too Many . . .

Tara has a thousand good reasons not to return to the little coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington. Yet with her life doing a major crash-and-burn, anywhere away from her unfulfilled dreams and sexy ex-husband will do. As Tara helps her two sisters get their newly renovated inn up and running, she finally has a chance to get things under control and come up with a new plan for her life.

But a certain tanned, green-eyed sailor has his own ideas, such as keeping Tara hot, bothered . . . and in his bed. And when her ex wants Tara back, three is a crowd she can't control-especially when her deepest secret reappears out of the blue. Now Tara must confront her past and discover what she really wants. If she's lucky, she might just find that everything her heart desires is right here in Lucky Harbor.
And last, but certainly not least, I finally, finally, read Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis. The first book in the Lucky Harbor series about three very different sisters who end up in a small town, and really enjoyed it! The Sweetest Thing is the second book and I have a feeling I'll be enjoying it just as much, if not more, than the first one.

I'll definitely be reading other new releases, and I might add more later if something else catches my eye! How about you? Anything you absolutely have to read in March?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

ARC Review: The Sea Thy Mistress (The Edda of Burdens Series, Book 3) by Elizabeth Bear

This direct sequel to Elizabeth Bear’s highly acclaimed All the Windwracked Stars picks up the story some fifty years after Muire went into the sea and became the new Bearer of Burdens.

Beautiful Cathoair, now an immortal warrior angel, has been called back to the city of Eiledon to raise his son--Muire’s son as well, cast up on shore as an infant. It is seemingly a quiet life. But deadly danger approaches…the evil goddess Heythe, who engineered the death of Valdyrgard, has travelled forward in time on her rainbow steed. She came expecting to gloat over a dead world, the proof of her revenge, but instead she finds a Rekindled land, renewed by Muire’s sacrifice.

Book Summary:
It is fifty years after Muire sacrificed herself and became the Bearer of Burdens. Cathoair is an einherjar and lives a life of service on the road helping others, as an almost dead world slowly comes to life due to Muire's sacrifice. But Cathoair returns to Eiledon after he's informed that he and Muire had a son. Raising Cathmar gives him a reason to settle into a quiet life by the sea.

A few years later, their idyllic life is disrupted when Cathmar becomes a teenager and dark changes befall them. The goddess Heythe has returned just as promised when she abandoned the world she destroyed and as the Children of Light fought their last doomed battle by the sea. She travelled through time to find proof that her destruction was complete. Instead two thousand years later, Haythe finds a renewed world saved by Muire, the new Bearer of Burdens. Heythe the destroyer won't stop until this new world is erased from existence. Unbeknown to Cathoair and Cathmar, she targets and torments them in the hopes that the Bearer of Burdens will come to their rescue. But Mingan, the Grey Wolf, knows his old nemesis Heythe has returned and this time he'll do whatever is necessary to defeat her.

Impressions of The Edda of Burdens Books 1 & 2:
In All The Windwracked Stars, an unforgettable book that captured my imagination, Elizabeth Bear began this series of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic endings and new beginnings by focusing on Muire's quest and weaving a story that was both dark and full of hope. There, Muire witnessed an apocalypse and the destruction of her brothers and sisters, the Children of Light. In a renewed world that was again dying, she fought an old evil in the Grey Wolf and a new one in the Technomancer and through battle, sacrifice and forgiveness saved the world from a second apocalypse.

In the second installment, By The Mountain Bound, Bear goes back in time and writes a tragic tale worthy of Norse mythology giving the reader a better understanding of her world and characters. Although the events unfold through all three central characters' points of view -- Muire the Historian, Strifbjorn the Warrior, and Mingan the Wolf -- it is the invaluable in-depth insight into the Grey Wolf's motivations and history that resonates in this story. By the Mountain Bound ends where All The Windwracked Stars begins giving the reader a complete understanding of events past and present and making it a darkly emotional, compelling tale of love and betrayal, particularly as the reader already knows how the story ends.

With The Sea Thy Mistress, Elizabeth Bear concludes The Edda of Burdens trilogy by going forward in time to about fifty years after Muire's sacrifice and completes this post-apocalyptic trilogy by returning -- to a lesser extent -- to the cyberpunk fantasy style and atmosphere found in the first book. She seamlessly joins the story lines from the two previous books and focuses on Cathoair as the central character.

As with the first two books in the trilogy, there's a dark, doom-like sense and atmosphere that permeates the story. But unlike what happens in By the Mountain Bound, there's hope and light by the end. Having said that, the journey to the light is a tough one. These are tormented characters and in this book Cathoair's past as an abused child and male prostitute come back to haunt him. Bear doesn't stint when it comes to digging deep into this man's damaged soul, his guilt, self-loathing or pain. She thoroughly explores that pain and in turn the sensitive subject of abuse. The characters' internal struggles parallel those of the world that surrounds them. Losing would mean a final end to Valdyrgard.

The story is told in short chapters and shifts from character to character, as seen from their points of view. This gives the beginning of the story a choppy feel and slows the flow and pacing until about page 74 where the points of view are reduced and the plot begins to concentrate on Cathoair and Cathmar. This is also where the pacing and my interest in the story picked up. Even with the choppy beginning, I was surprised when I found myself fully emerged in the story, wanting to know more about Cathoair and getting what I wanted.

In-depth characterization is also found in secondary characters and knowing what ultimately motivates them provides a sense of completion to the book, and in turn the trilogy. Most important of these characters are the Imogen, Selene the moreau with the soul of a Valkyrie, and Aethelred, with Cathmar thoroughly developed as a new, key character. Heythe's need for revenge and destruction are explained, however her real motivations seemed both obscure and rather futile to me. There is no further development for Heythe, making her the weakest character of this story.Bear also gives the reader a full, final view of a redeemed Mingan. He and Cathoair again share deeply emotional moments, bringing the story to a fully closed circle.

Ms. Bear's talents for in-depth characterization, while weaving a fantasy tale with mythology, are impressive. These characters, although obviously patterned after those of tragic Norse mythology, are unique and Bear's own. A tale where everyone seems to win by losing what they love most, by acceptance of self and others and ultimately through forgiveness, The Sea Thy Mistress is a deeply nuanced story and a solid conclusion to this trilogy.

Category: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Speculative Fiction
Series: The Edda of Burdens Series, Book 3
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Source: Tor/Forge Books
Grade: B

Visit Elizabeth Bear here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day

R.W. Day's beautiful prose, characterization, the post-apocalyptic fantasy world she created and the young adult, coming-of-age story in A Strong and Sudden Thaw caught both my attention and imagination from page one and I couldn't put the book down until it was done.

Approximately one hundred years after the Ice nearly ended civilization, the people of Moline, Virginia are still recovering from the catastrophe. The cold and snow still plague the north, but Virginia is a place where people can live, if not thrive. In some respects there's a regressive quality to life in Moline, as the people lead a life comparable to that lived in early 1800's America, with no electricity or running water, a one-room school house, a healer instead of a doctor, and the communing having adopted hardworking and god-fearing conservative values that at first glance seem quite familiar, but that later are revealed to be reactionary and extreme.

Using a beautiful narrative voice I fell in love with, A Strong and Sudden Thaw is told from David Anderson's point of view. David is the son of a Moline farmer and almost 17 years old. In Day's world, as in olden times, when David turns 18 he'll be considered a man in his community. When we first meet him, he's conflicted about his future and his straitlaced mother's plans to marry him off to the schoolteacher's daughter. David is part of a beautiful family -- all of them key secondary characters that complete this story.

David meets the new healer's assistant, Callan Landers, during a visit to the healer's house and they forge a bond through their love of reading and books. As the friendship grows, David slowly begins to feel a confusing attraction for Callan. During one of his visits to Callan, while accompanied by Elmer, a combination town bully and liar, he's shocked when he surprises the local artist, Taylor, performing oral sex on Callan. Elmer immediately runs to the authorities and Taylor and Callan are arrested for sodomy.

Following a painful trial, Callan is paroled with the condition that he will have no further personal contact with David. This is where David's loyalty and strength of character come to the forefront and we begin to see real character growth. He finds ways to see his friend Callan, and during this time both discover their love for each other. But a relationship between them is dangerous, if not impossible, and as they face dangerous situations and self-doubts, they also discover other sinister events that will have a profound effect on the people of Moline and their surroundings.

David is a well-defined central character. The reader follows David as he struggles to discover his strengths and becomes who he wants to be, an honest, independent-thinking David. Callan is also a well-drawn character, although as seen from David's point of view he doesn't come across as clearly defined. Besides David's family, Day develops other secondary characters within Moline's community to give this story depth.

Although R.W. Day maintains the focus of the story on David and Callan, there's a lot more to this book. The people of Moline are dealing with different threats: a pair of dragons have mysteriously appeared and are killing livestock and small children; the local representative from the Department of Reintroduction and Agriculture denies the existence of the dragons and refuses to help; and a neighboring town is suddenly abandoned without explanation. Day integrates all these threads, including Callan's sodomy arrest and trial, to create a cohesive story.

A Strong and Sudden Thaw was a page-turner full of adventure and one that drew deep, conflicting emotions as the author swept me to the end and a partial resolution to the conflicts. Although those resolutions are satisfactory, it is obvious that there will be a continuation to the overall story arc. The sequel Out of the Ashes will be releasing soon and I personally can't wait to read it.

Genre: LGBT YA Sci-Fi Fantasy/Speculative Fiction
Sequel: Out of the Ashes (coming soon)
Re-released:  January 30, 2009 by Lethe Press
Grade: A-

Visit R.W. Day here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear

“At the closure of the slaughter, there remained upon the strand
One who fled, one who lived, one who chose not to attend…

So the Children singing came all to the slaughter
Stars and shining suns, sons and shining daughters…
And all the windwracked stars are lost and torn upon the night
Like candleflames they flicker, and fail to cast a light.

To begin with there was darkness, darkness, Light, and Will
And in the end there’s darkness, darkness sure and still.”

There is something about a post-apocalyptic/apocalyptic, Sci-Fi Fantasy story that does it for me – mix in some Norse mythology and it’s a win-win situation. Elizabeth Bear’s All the Windwracked Stars has all of the above and more. She uses mythology loosely to construct her world and if you are familiar with Odin’s crew of Gods and immortals, you will recognize their integration into Bear’s world, her characters and usage of language.

Our fantasy adventure begins with the end. It’s the end for the Children of Light and their world – survived only by Muire, a waelcyrge (valkyrie), and Kasimir, a valraven (two-headed, winged, war-steed). Muire, who thinks of herself as the “least” of all her sisters, is not a warrior; instead she is a poet, historian and artist. She survives by fleeing that final battle where all her sisters and brothers – the einherjar or immortal warriors -- die. That single act of cowardice, the guilt and shame Muire carries with her, become the driving force behind her actions throughout this story.

Fast forward twenty three hundred years later and the world is again dying. This time, surprise, surprise it is a world of men, who after rising and inventing medicine, philosophy, space flight and metallurgy now live in an era known as the Desolation, under the Defile – a contaminated earth full of deserts and bleached bones, un-breathable air and a dead sea killed by bio-weapons and never ending wars. Only one city remains, Eiledon.

When Muire finds a truman dying in the shadows of darkness, with no traces of blood or bodily harm, she recognizes the manner of death and knows the killer. An old, powerful evil from long ago has returned and she must hunt it and kill it, or die trying.

The gloom and doom that permeate the world Bear constructs makes this a tough read through the first third of the book. Muire’s self-recrimination, guilt and sense of worthlessness, while understandable, were tough to deal with at times. Thank goodness for Kasimir who serves as her conscience and represents the hope and promise of a possible future. He has the faith in Muire that she doesn’t have in herself, and recognizes the courage and Light she possesses. Although Muire is the main character, and a strong one at that, once Bear’s well-developed and fascinating secondary characters start to emerge, I became immersed in her world. They were the ones that made this story work for me.

Thjierry Thorvaldsdottir, Technomancer of Eiledon, is known as the savior of the dying city. A combination techie/witch, she reigns supreme in the Tower, a floating bubble-like city she created – a city above a city -- adored by her students and guarded by loyal servants, the moreau or unmen -- animals with human-like abilities. Thjierry and Muire might be the only hope left for Eiledon. The unmen play a small, if key, part in the story. Selene, the cat girl with her claws, whip and smarts, is the most memorable of the unmen characters. I was touched by her toughness, vulnerability and courage – a definite reminder of H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

Mingan, the Grey Wolf is a tarnished predator, traitor to all, but most of all to himself. He is a dark, fascinating character that took hold of my imagination and didn’t let go, even after the book was finished. Possibly my favorite in this book, his is the character that brings us the closest to the tragedy and duality that we often find in Norse mythology. Based on a cross between Fenrir the Wolf and Hati, the sun-eater, Mingan, together with Cathoair, a young male prostitute and bar fighter, take over the page whenever they appear. Theirs is a complex relationship --Mingan hunts Cathoair, whom he both loves and hates and in turn, Cathoair haunts Mingan. Cathoair is both more and less than he appears to be. By becoming important to both Muire and the Grey Wolf, he also becomes a catalyst and central to this story.

As the story unfolded, defining the Dark and the Light became difficult, gray areas expanded and I found myself reading slower, savoring every moment, not wanting the book to end. And as I concluded my journey with Muire and her ragtag group of friends and foes, after experiencing depths of despair and selfishness, the power of friendship and love, I found that in the end, this book was mostly about redemption and self-sacrifice.

There is potential in this world for other great adventures. Hopefully, Elizabeth Bear will give us more. If you like Fantasy, Sci-Fi and mythology, this book is certainly for you.

Solid B

Visit Elizabeth Bear's site here. Read an excerpt from All The Windwracked Stars here.

Originally posted at Musings of a Bibliophile April 17, 2009

All the Windwracked Stars: A year later, a prequel, some thoughts & questions

A whole year ago, I reviewed All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear. It was my first ever review in blogland. I remember giving this book, the review and my grade a lot of thought. Not only because it was my first review, but because I was quite conflicted at the time. (I posted the review below for your convenience)

This was my first read by Elizabeth Bear and a fantasy book and I remember loving it for a lot of reasons. I didn't want the book to end. It's post apocalyptic/apocalyptic fantasy and it has mythology as a base, two devices I really enjoy in a book. Bear also throws the reader right into her world from the beginning, and that's something I appreciate when reading fantasy. The rest you can read on my review. However, the way she used mythology concerned me at the time and that was reflected in my final grade.

Bear uses Nordic mythology in All the Windwracked Stars, and her usage of it is subtle and well done -- if you are familiar with it. She uses mythological composits to create her characters, as in the case of the Grey Wolf, that I thought were brilliant. However, although I enjoy this type of subtle mythology-based fantasy story, I remember being concerned that those readers unfamiliar with Nordic mythology would pick up this book and would end up hating it. I thought that for them, some of the language used and even part of the story would be confusing and the subtleties would be completely missed. When I wrote my review, I even thought of recommending that readers might want to check out a book that I use as a tool to refresh my memory about Nordic mythology, The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths by Padraic Colum. This is not a heavy mythology book, but a fast read and easy to use as a tool. At the last minute I deleted my recommendation, thinking that my review was already too, too long, lol! This is not something that would concern me now. :)

Interestingly enough, a couple of months ago while looking for a sequel to this book, I found that Elizabeth Bear wrote and released a "prequel" instead, By The Mountain Bound. And guess what the book is about? She addresses the mythology-based part of her world. When I first began reading By the Mountain Bound, I felt almost as if I were reading stories right out of The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths, except that Bear uses her characters and still manages to tell her story. And yes... as with the Grey Wolf, she often uses composits of stories and characters.

However, you'll be surprised to hear that I was disappointed with By The Mountain Bound, even though I initially thought it was would be helpful for those readers who needed a deeper understanding of the mythology used in this series. The book itself is well written and the story is good on its own, heavy on the mythology. My concern is in how By the Mountain Bound effects All the Windwracked Stars as a prequel.

All the Windwracked Stars has a mysterious atmosphere, full of sensuality and sexual tension between the female and two males, and a subtle homoerotic connection between the males, plus a darkness to the book that keeps the reader turning the pages and guessing what's coming next. By going back in time and writing a prequel, Bear not only gives her readers a deeper understanding of the mythology, but she explores the backstory of the three central characters from All the Windwracked Stars. By telling their backstory, part of that mystery is voided and the sexual tension is released because the reader now knows the dynamics that drive the relationships between the central characters.

When I began reading this series, my hope was that the characters, their story and world would be developed and explored in subsequent installments. I wondered how Bear would reveal the characters' pasts as she moved forward with their future. I hoped that the confusing parts of the first book would be addressed in the second installment. After reading the prequel, where she went back instead of forward with the story, I now wonder how it would feel to read this series in a different order -- By the Mountain Bound first and All the Windwracked Stars second. I'm sure it would be a totally different experience. I would certainly view the characters in a totally different light.

What do you think? How do you feel about prequels? Do you enjoy getting the backstory on already established characters in prequels? Or, do you feel authors often use prequels as an easy way to further develop their characters or world? Do you read prequels first when you begin reading an already established series? In this case, which book would you read first?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review: The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald

The Outback Stars is the first book in a military science fiction series by Sandra McDonald and her debut novel.

In The Outback Stars, McDonald introduces Team Space, a military organization in charge of inter-planetary space travel. Team Space travels through alien-built space passageways called the "Alcheringa." The route allows space ships to travel between worlds -- think wormholes.

McDonald's world is based on native Australian mythology. Everything from planets, objects, to the alien race have Australian names and are based on tribal Australian culture. I'm not familiar with this mythology or culture and cannot attest as to its authenticity in this book or lack thereof. I can tell you that her world is definitely an interesting one.

Lieutenant Jodenny Scott is our principal character in what turned out to be a large ensemble of characters. Jodenny is still recovering from the traumatic loss of her last ship, the Yangtze -- a disaster being blamed on colonial separatist terrorists. Although physically recovered, and despite her heroic actions during the tragedy, Jodenny still suffers from both the trauma of having seen her loved ones die and survivor's guilt.

Jodenny procures a berth on the Aral Sea where she's placed in charge of Underway Stores or supplies. She finds a dysfunctional ship and a troubled department full of inadequate, unprofessional and inefficient staff. There are problems with thefts, rape accusations, beatings, fights, accidents, gangs, missing inventory and everyone seems to have a secret. Jodenny is expected to straighten it all out. On top of that, she also has to deal with shipboard politics -- intrigue abounds.

This is where I think McDonald excels. She weaves the shipboard politics and the nitty gritty detail about military life on a ship beautifully. She takes her time outlining protocol and other details that would otherwise seem unimportant and makes them part of the plot. The author herself was in the military and this is made obvious by how well these details are incorporated into the book.

However, the whole story doesn't take place on the ship. While on leave at Mary River, Jodenny and Sargeant Terry Myell stumble on a discovery that could change the way everything works in their world. The plot thickens as Jodenny and Terry are catapulted into an intriguing, dangerous and often mystifying situation. In the process, they fall in love creating a career-ending situation for themselves, as their relationship is forbidden by military rules.

I thought The Outback Stars was quite the ambitious undertaking and wasn't too sure about it for a while. McDonald introduces the reader to her worldbuilding quite slowly, but certain aspects of it kept my attention and I got into it. Her world was interesting, it bordered on fantasy and that part was a surprise. Although creative, I wasn't entirely satisfied with McDonald's worldbuilding. Too often I felt as though I were left in the dark for far too long about certain details, and that made for a frustrating read. Also by the end, there were either unanswered questions that should be answered in the next book, or confusing answers -- few conflicts seemed resolved or clear.

What I really enjoyed was McDonald's attention to detail when it came to the military side of the book and the humanity of her characters. She doesn't portray the secondary or central characters as super-heroes. Instead, they display the joys, fears, pride and jealousies you might expect of everyday people. That was a nice touch.

As you can see The Outback Stars was a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed the characters and am thinking of getting the next book in this series, The Stars Down Under, to see where Sandra McDonald takes them. Grade B-

The Outback Stars
The Stars Down Under
The Stars Blue Yonder

Visit Sandra McDonald here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

As a "Jumper" who navigates ships through grimspace, Sirantha Jax is used to kicking ass. So why is she suddenly chosen as an ambassador of peace?

Ah, Jax. I've been anticipating Doubleblind's release impatiently for a year. Wanted, needed that Jax fix. I'm afraid I didn't really get it, at least not the fix I was anticipating.

I'm not going to go into too many details about this book since it's the third book in the series already. A quick recap... Jax has been assigned to Ithiss-Tor as ambassador representing the Conglomerate. They need the Ithtorians to fight the Morguts, an alien race humans cannot fight alone. Meanwhile, "mommy dearest" --Jax's mother -- who is the head of the Syndicate is doing everything she can to disrupt Jax's negotiations and making a power play against the Conglomerate through a publicity campaign.

Doubleblind, the third installment in the terrific Jax Sci-fi/Fantasy series by Ann Aguirre, was a totally different kettle of fish from both Grimspace and Wanderlust. Both those books were fast paced and so full of great action and characters my head was left spinning at times. Not so this book.

This book slows down the pace and Ms. Aguirre gives us three quarters of a book full of political intrigue and creative world building. The whole story takes place in Ithiss-Tor, Velith's home planet, where Jax has been sent as ambassador to gain the Ithtorians as allies. The world building was not only tight but excellent. Ms Aguirre weaves in some amazing cultural, environmental and physical details into the Ithtorian world that I found fascinating and it is what made this book stand out for me.

Velith's character development was also worth waiting for. Finding out more about him personally, where he comes from and what happened in his past was fascinating. And yes, I'm still in love with him. I think his is the one character I most enjoyed, along with some of the secondary Bug characters. On the other hand, Jax's crew was really missing in action in this book. Their wonderful dialogue, witty give and take and overall contribution were not only missing but sorely missed in Doubleblind.

I also missed Jax -- the real Jax -- we only get a glimpse of her in the last third of the book. The rest of the time, she comes off as this woman who is trying very hard to be perfect and who is so radically changed from our dear, chaotic Jax, I almost didn't recognize her. She was wonderful! Amazing! An incredible politician! She was... not Jax. Character growth? Maybe. But that radically different? That much of a change? Hmm... Chip induced behavior? Maybe those many perfect poetic wa...s were. But the rest? No. Not unless that chip stopped working toward the end of the book. Her behavior was just so different, I didn't quite buy it. Jax's relationship with March and his psychological situation in this story were tough to resolve and I thought Ms. Aguirre was quite creative in reaching the solution there.

Doubleblind was not my favorite book in the series so far, although I really enjoyed some parts of it. Even the end of the book seemed predictable and easily resolved and not what I've come to expect after the previous installments. But with the plot thickening... I'm expecting this crew to get some real action in the future, and who knows what Jax will do next? I'm still looking forward to that next book and my Jax fix!

You can visit Ann Aguirre here.