About me

I am a bookseller-turned-librarian with a deep love for reading fantasy, and all of its sub-genres. I have also been known to dally with a historical or literary novel or two now and then. I review for Library Journal and Netgalley, and have my nose into all manner of books, large press and small. If there is something you would like me to take a look at, please do drop me a line. aprilmsteenburgh @ gmail. com

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Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

There have been stories about fae creatures and children since we started telling stories. Those stories rarely end well for the children.

When a Gray Lord lets free one of the monsters in their closet, Charles’ trip to visit his old friend Joseph is dramatically altered. Joseph’s daughter-in-law Chelsea is hit by a fae compulsion while picking her children up from daycare- a compulsion to kill her children. Looking into the source of the fae compulsion opens a door into the darker, less-friendly side of the fae. A side where children are kidnapped, used for a year and a day, and then discarded. Charles and Anna need to locate the fae responsible before more children are targeted. Before more families are torn by anguish. Before the fae responsible comes back for the child that got away.

Dead Heat is heavy with an Old World sense of the fae, the danger to their magic. It is also a story wrapped carefully with a sense of the importance of family, across generations. Briggs pulls the reader through a fast-paced, emotionally involved story that will keep readers up well past their bed times, checking in on family- those of blood or choice. And checking to make sure they have some cold iron nearby. Just in case.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Dragon lives in his tower, defender against the maliciously aware Wood. Every ten years the Dragon takes a girl to his tower. Every ten years a woman is released from his tower, but returns home…changed. It was always going to be Kasia who was taken- everyone knew it. She was beautiful and clever and kind. So it came as a surprise when Agniezka, perpetually dirty Agniezka, was chosen and taken away from everything to live in the Dragon’s tower. She has no idea why she was chosen, what is expected of her, what she will do.

She definitely didn’t expect the story to revolve around her. But Agniezka is skilled in ways baffling to the Dragon, fascinating and infuriating them both as time passes.

While they fumble along and learn from each other, the Wood is moving.

Uprooted is a gorgeous tale, folklore and fairy tale all twisted in and around threads of the story of a young girl coming into her own. Agniezka is a protagonist that seems terribly out of place in a Wizard’s tower, in fancy clothes, pulling the lines of story behind her. her own befuddlement as to how this happened draws the reader to her. She is a protagonist that is easy to relate to, for readers to see bits of themselves in, and that is part of the magic of the story that draws the reader in and refuses to let them go. Taking a break from reading is like coming up from air- you need a moment to reorient and resettle back into the mundane.

It is also a dark book, and will have you wondering just what that was skittering just at the edge of your field of vision as you read at night. It is dark in the way of the best folk tales- a living, breathing sense of danger, a pressing threat, but with a glimmer of a solution, of a way out.

Strange Magic by James A. Hunter

Yancy Lazarus belongs in a blues club- smooth music, smooth liquor, smooth conversation. He fits the rambling gambler stereotype on the nose. There is the pesky part where he is wanted that may encourage his moving from club to club, town to town. And there is the small issue of his being able to tap into the Viz, the energy that runs through all things, that makes him a prime target for people looking for help as well as people looking to get rid of a potential threat. It’s not his fault he leaves a trail of some truly impressive collateral damage- if only people would just leave him alone and his sense of ethics and morals would let him leave other people alone.

Its a bad situation Yancy finds himself in, chased out of a seedy hotel by a determined monster, seemingly to blame for the murder of the families of tight-knit mobsters. It is a pretty good set up, whoever is responsible for it. And he really needs to sort out who is responsible, to stop a demon ripping its way through families, to untangle the he-said, she-said that has him tussling with separate gangs.

Yancy hates that he has gotten stuck with the nickname “the Fixer”, but sometimes that is the role he has no choice but to play.

Strange Magic is a pleasantly rough-around-the-edges urban fantasy with bite. It snaps and snarls and drags you along for the ride. Yancy’s narrative is a strange and fascinating place to find oneself, and will keep you flipping pages. So put a blues album on, pour some of the good stuff, and settle in to read.

Being Small by Chaz Brenchley

Michael lives with mother and his dead brother Small.

They were twins, Michael and Small, until Michael absorbed Small into his stomach before being born. Small was removed to allow Michael to thrive, but that does not mean he has gone away.

Small is accounted for at meals, on birthdays. He is Michael’s main playmate, chess opponent and extra space to store memories and knowledge. Small has been twinned throughout his personality and circumstances since Michael was born. But when Michael makes his first friend he starts to drift away from his dead twin. On his 16th birthday and with a chance meeting with a dog and its owners, Michael starts to change.

But Small cannot change. He is dead. And he is not accepting of changes with and distance from his twin.

‘Being Small’ is one of the most human things I have ever read. From Michael, who always wants to be bigger and cannot handle being called small and his nomadic and very specifically mad mother, to the household of adults and the ill man that is the center of their lives it is a stunning look at the struggles that fill growing up, dealing with loss, trying to survive. It is rich with humanity, all the terrible tragedy and utter joy that makes up the human experience.

Being Small‘ is a coming of age story thick with ghosts. It is a look at identity, at learning, at human relationships, at coping. And it is beautifully written. Highly recommended.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

“This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.

I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me.” – Patrick Rothfuss, Author’s Endnote, Slow Regard of Silent Things

 

Pat warns his readers, in the Author’s Forward, that they might not want to but this book, that it is a strange story, and deals entirely with a side character from the Kingkiller Chronicles. It is a strange story, but it is strange as a result of all the perfect and beautiful ways one can use words. How one can look at a character and get so snug inside their head one starts to look at the world differently.

It is a book that is hard to wake up from. You break out slowly, your head still thick with and tangled in words. It is beautiful and it is perfect.

It is not a book for those looking for grand adventure, action, dialog. It is a novella that sneaks up on you, quietly draws you in and is loath to let you leave. A lot of that is Pat’s words- the way he plays with them, coaxes them into new configurations and meanings. Part of that is the character of Auri herself, enthralling, exceptional, unique, and so very broken.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is for anyone who wants to know more about Auri, not necessarily how she fits into the grand scheme of the Kingkiller Chronicles- you will not get plot advancement or hints here- but just…Auri. Herself. What she does and why and how she does it. It is a look at seven days of her life, in her head. And it is magnificent.

It is, indeed, a strange story. But it is exactly the story I wanted.

Bronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre

In a world where a great war devastated both human and Ferisher populations, the Ferisher Architect closed the paths between the mundane and fae worlds, stranding some Ferisher on the mundane, human side. Bloodlines mingled in a world changed by the Architects work, and humans with Ferisher blood, and Ferisher magic, exist alongside their mundane compatriots.

It is in this world that Mikani and Ritsuko work for the Criminal Investigations Department. Ritsuko is the first female in the department, and determined to both earn her keep and prove her ability. Mikani is rough around the edges, and in possession of (possessed by) a bit of a uncanny second sight with proves useful on the job.

A murder involving an obscene and intricate machine sets off an investigation that will turn the city Mikani and Ritsuko call home inside-out. From dance halls to criminal dens, they rush to solve the puzzle before the body count gets too high.

Bronze Gods is a fantastic bit of steampunk, flavored with noir, that flirts with just enough romance to be subtle. The world build is an interesting one- the split between the straight human-blooded and those with a bit (or more) Ferisher in their lineage makes things interesting and has shaped a fascinating sort of culture for Aguirre to work with. Crisp prose and an engaging, enthralling plot keeps this one moving. Recommended.

Transgression (Sovereign Series Prequel) by ER Arroyo

Earlier this year I had the privilege of reading Sovereign and The Offering, the two books that make up the Sovereign Series proper. Last month I was lucky enough to get to read Transgression, the prequel that promised to tell me just how everything happened. So I sat down, excited to get more background on the world, ready to cheer for familiar names, even as I prepared to boo and stomp for the usual suspects.

Oh wow was I not prepared for this one.

It takes a talented writer to turn a point of view so perfectly on its head while keeping so true to the story and the characterizations that were established, that the reader expects. Reluctant sympathy and compassion were pulled from me through the sheer skillfulness of how the history of the series was explained, described. Experienced. I cannot say I decided to like anyone I had already developed a dislike for- but I can definitely say I understand. And that is so much more powerful.

Well played, Arroyo. Well played.

There is nothing as brutal, as dangerous, as the desire to be loved. There will never be anything as complicated as family. In Transgression we get to see it all come tumbling down, shuddering in horror and from the terrible, tangible, humanity that started it all.

Read it after you have read Sovereign and The Offering. It may be a prequel, but it packs a beautiful punch as a postscript.

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