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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A Court of Thorns and Roses by by Sarah J. Maas

When Feyre lets her ash arrow fly, she knows she might be killing a faerie. But she does not expect the beast that breaks into her home, demanding her life in return for that of the one she had taken. Her life, not her death. Thus begins Feyre’s time in the Spring Court of Tamlin, a High Lord of the faeries. As Feyre starts to sort out her new life she learns that not all is well in the land of faerie- there is a curse upon the land, upon Tamlin and his court. Feyre also learns that not all faeries are dark and vicious as her fear and antagonism towards Tamlin starts to shift to something warmer.

A Court of Thorns and Roses builds the familiar tale of Beauty and the Beast with elements taken from other corners of folk lore and fairy tale. It is the best sort of love story, the slow and natural coming together of two very different people. Feyre and Tamlin fit- the romance is not forced, Maas pulls them together with deft hands. It is also a story of curses and dark magics, the things that go bump in the night and cause you to stop and glance behind you in the woods. It is a wonderful book and will keep you reading far longer than you might have intended, needing to see how it all turns out.

A Different City by Tanith Lee

‘A Different City’ is a book containing three stories, each connected by their presence within the city of Marcheval. From demons slipping human skins, idols concealed in attics, exquisite monstrosities- Lee weaves a decadently horrifying tapestry.

The first story, ‘Not Stopping at Heaven’, tells of a marriage where both parties had different motives behind their nuptial vows. Sometimes the targets perceived as easy are not the ones you want to tangle with. The second, ‘Idoll’, tells of a discarded child growing up in the vast home of her relatives, and the unfortunate truths often faced by women of no independent substance. When backed into a corner, one will sometimes walk a path not considered before. The final story, ‘The Portrait in Gray’ is built loosely upon the armature of ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’. The prettiest of creatures are not always as beautiful as their exterior might suggest, and revenge is not always an overt undertaking.

To read ‘A Different City’ is to plunge into a world that slips so skillfully into your subconscious that it is hard to remember to come up for air. Lee’s prose is, as ever, deft and a pleasure to read. The world she builds within Marcheval’s walls is enthralling, terrifying, and impossible to ignore. Each story within ‘A Different City’ is unique, but works with the others to strengthen the feel, the tale, of the city as a whole. It is a living, breathing, stalking entity. And it is magnificent.

A Different City

Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green

Ishmael Jones is the sort of fellow who gets things that need doing done. He worked for the organization Black Heir, chasing down illegal Aliens (of the in from space variety) and covering up any messes they might have caused. The kill first, never get to the questioning part rubbed him the wrong way, considering the fact that Ishmael himself is not quite human. So he left his Black Heir days behind to work for The Colonel and his Organization. And when the Colonel asks Ishmael to come to his familial home for Christmas, Ishmeal starts driving.

But The Colonel is missing when Ishmael arrives, and all is very much not well in the massive, old home, or with its strange and often estranged holiday guests.

Green has written a sinister game of Clue, expertly crafted in his usual way of playing with words to make them do things you are pretty sure they did not want to do. The prose, characters you are not sure you want to like but somehow get maybe attached here and there, and the shadowy world Green has created work to bring what could have been a tired old plot to grim and uncanny life. Recommended for Green fans, mystery fans, or folks who want to leave the hall light on at night. Just in case.

Midsummer: Rituals, Recipes and Lore for Litha by Deborah Blake

Blake does a beautiful job dedicating a book to Midsummer, Litha- the longest day and shortest night. The writing is accessible and language cheerful, celebratory- appropriate to Midsummer itself.

Midsummer is welcoming to pagans of all Paths- Wiccans to Heathens to Druids and everything in between, group or solitary. That is the one thing that stands out the most about the book- its acknowledgement of the different Paths that look to honor Midsummer.

The second stand-out aspect of the book is that it takes into account that not all pagans are living in the country, able to grow their own food and celebrate around a bonfire at night. Midsummer takes into modern practicality without sacrificing any of the spirit of the celebration. Urban and suburban pagans will find Midsummer just as useful and accessible as rural.

The book contains a beautiful discussion of the lore and mythology associated with Midsummer, as well as the traditions and symbolism, across the pagan spectrum. Pagans can turn to Midsummer for ideas on how to celebrate the day, spells appropriate to the season, recipes, crafts…Midsummer goes well beyond a simple history and spell book. An accessible and welcoming section on rituals for solitary or group (of all sizes) use rounds out the book. Blake’s writing is a pleasure to read, and her knowledge and love of her Path is apparent while reading.

Highly recommended for pagans of all Paths looking to fully embrace and celebrate Midsummer.

Empire of Dust by Jacey Bedford

Cara has been in and out of trouble, and Ben is going to be her quick ticket out of the current batch. A very powerful man is very unhappy with Cara, and the things she is carrying around in her head.

It was supposed to be a quick ploy, a use and move on situation, leaving her and Ben far from entangled. But Cara’s past caught up with her far faster than she had anticipated and her need for Ben turns out to be a more involved affair.

Ben has a past of his own, but he is not trying to run from it- he is trying desperately to untangle a series of events that went so very wrong.

Empire of Dust is the first Psi-Tech novel from Bedford- a science fiction novel that holds the core of the genre close to its heart. That is a good part of what will keep a reader turning pages- a love of the genre. Bedford gives us dangerous space travel, colonization of new worlds, a conflict between those who embrace the trappings of the new era and those who reject them. She gives us a time when children are tested for psionic talent- children who show innate skill can be outfitted with implants to facilitate their use. Such implants are expensive, and Psi-Techs will spend their time working off the debt in the service of one mega-corporation or another.

Bedford’s vision of the future is well thought out, cohesive, and populated with a strong cast of diverse characters. Highly recommended for readers who are fascinated with psionic powers in all permutations, who enjoy stories about exploration and colonization, and those who love a good plot riddled with skewed motivations and sketchy pasts. I look forward to reading more from Bedford.

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.

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