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Yearly Archives: 2010
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
The basic premise to Stiefvater’s werewolves is simple- cold temperatures change them into wolves while warmer switch them back to humans. The change can only be sustained so long though, the human times become shorter and shorter until a were just doesn’t turn back to a human again.
Grace was attacked by the wolves that live in the woods behind her home when she was very young, but was saved by a wolf with golden eyes, a wolf that then watches her throughout the following years. That wolf’s name is Sam, and he is in his last bit of time as a human, and desperate to stay that way, by any means possible, to stay with Grace as something other than a watcher from the woods.
I was delighted to read this one. For a YA werewolf romance, it was visceral and not at all dumbed down or glossed over. There is very little that can be considered romantic to Stiefvaqter’s were’s. Melancholy and brutality, yes. Romance of the condition, not so much. The consequences of being a werewolf in today’s society are examined, both from a personal and social point of view, and both the characters and the relationships they form are stronger for it.
Underneath all of that, this is a book about falling in love and being willing to fight for that feeling and the person that inspires it. It is about the bonds we choose to make.
The Native Star by M.K. Hobson
I will start this review by pointing out I adore period pieces. I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. Urban fantasy set in a wonderfully rich historical setting? Sold.
The Native Star takes place in a slightly different late 1800’s America. Witches and Warlocks are standard fare and there are competing schools of magic. The schools themselves are amazingly well thought out and each have a fascinating culture of their own. Strong world building is what pulled me in to this novel, and a wonderful cast of characters kept me reading. Apart from the magical schools (credomancy being my favorite for the sheer brilliance of it’s design) there are the Aberrancies, creatures (and occasionally people) twisted by a dark matter the magical core of the earth exudes from time to time.
The protagonists are wonderfully human, with all the flaws and failings that implies, and the best of the villains are perfectly chilling. It is a love story worked very well into a grand tapestry of adventure, violence, and betrayal.
The book opens with a love charm gone terribly wrong, works its way through zombie miners that would kill to keep something buried, and the woman who unfortunately gets past them and winds up with an artifact of unprecedented power embedded in her hand.
And all of the competing magical schools would kill to have it in their possession.
What results is an excellent, fast-paced read that is very hard to put down.
The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente
There is something beautiful and utterly enthralling about this book. It is in the words, deftly woven together to paint such pictures as you have never imagined. It is in the characters, flawed in perfect ways and you cannot help but love them for it. Being interrupted while reading was like surfacing from a deep swim or a deep nap, and took time to reorient back into the world.
It is in the telling- there are is a fascinating mix of point of view characters, and the whole book reads like a diary, which in essence much of it is.
The beautiful and the grotesque walk hand and hand through this book, leaving a rich trail of prose that will keep the reader turning pages, both excited and dreading what will be revealed in the next paragraph, the next story.
The book is based on the legend of Prester John and the paradise he was supposed to have ruled, and a letter that started spreading around Europe that was supposedly from this legendary man. It takes all the magnificence and magic of the legend and suggests ‘what if it all were true…’
Part historical fantasy, part look into the human soul and the things we desperately want to believe in, The Habitation of the Blessed is a truly stunning work, and I cannot wait to read more.
Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
I had been looking forward to reading this one for ages. The premise interested me, and I had read enough other reviews stating the book was hard to read, in all the right ways, to make me anticipate seeing for myself.
All the things that seem to have bothered other reviewers didn’t phase me in the least. I think I came at the book from a different angle- I was not looking, precisely, for a supernatural YA novel, I was looking for a new and interesting approach to a serious health condition. Hunger provided a beautifully soul-wrenching view of eating disorders from the POV of a girl who just happens to be Famine. And that is the important thing- the role/power of Famine, while very important to the crisis point and resolution of the novel, is not the novel in of itself. This is less a book about a Horseman (woman?) of the Apocalypse, and more an accounting of a girl’s struggle.
This is also not a book for the squeamish or easily squicked. No punches are pulled. There are some patches that are very rough to read. At the same time, it is handled with a calm, straightforward attention to detail that not only makes the material believable, but really makes an impression on the reader. At the same time, it isn’t preachy, as some books with a Message can get. And it is rare that a book can get me grinning and tearing up at the same time. Kessler took some real hard material and presented it perfectly and accessibly.
That and Kessler’s incarnation of Death? Fantasic.
The supernatural elements were well done and fun as all hell to read. But it is the day to day struggles that were the most compelling to me. I sat down and read the entire book cover to cover. The writing and the story flow well, the plot is sound and well contained, and I am looking forward to reading Rage when it is released.
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett continues to amaze. ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ contains everything I have loved about the Tiffany Aching books, and Discworld in general, and managed to mature everything in such a wonderful, sneaky way I didn’t realize it until I was so caught up in the end I could do nothing but smile with the sheer pleasure of reading.
It was brilliant to watch Tiffany go from self assured girl to confident young woman, a proper witch in her own right. It didn’t happen all at once- in unfolded slowly, perfectly, as each page was turned. The Cunning Man was a frightening opponent, and a perfect match for Tiffany’s wit, second, and third thoughts. Most importantly, it was an opponent she had to face alone- to Feegle trick or band of witches could help her through this one. The Cunning Man rang relevant and true to me, as a reader, as well. He is the quiet, dangerous voice that whispers poison in people’s ears and urges them towards intolerance, distrust and hatred.
It really was the quiet sense of maturity that impressed me the most about the book, and about Tiffany. I love that it pulled thoughts from the previous books together into a wonderful whole. I have always loved the Tiffany books for the fun and the Feegles. ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ took that winning base and made it into something that is more than amusement- something that even the oldest ‘kids’ could get something lasting out of.
I admit to tearing up a bit at the end. I caught myself reading with open mouth and wide eyes. Smiles wriggled their way across my face, and I only noticed them when someone else passed through the room and caught me reading.
Simply, it is a stunning book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire
This is the most solid book to come out of this series yet.
And the creepiest. And topping “A Local Habitation” for chill factor was quite the feat in of itself.
I am attracted to the grotesque, the twisted and tainted, in books. I like antagonists who walk a fine line between evil and skewed, bits of humanity showing here and there, making the reader think. Blind Michael is an amazing example of this. Here is a creature so Old and so terrifying, who warps children into monsters, who plays by the rules of children’s games and rhymes…and every now and then there is a nuance that slips through, giving away bits and pieces of something deeper than just the monster.
And that, to me, is scarier than a mere bogeyman.
An Artificial Night had solid pacing, an enthralling storyline, and enough sarcasm to keep me happy for ages. For those who love a story of the Old fashioned Halloween, give this one a try. It is heavy with twisted woods, twisted children, and the Hunt that runs wild every now and then…
Toby continues to grow as a character, which I am enjoying. As always, I want more Tybalt (who wouldn’t?!) but the part he plays is well done as always. Connor I am still undecided on. He has a rotten marriage, but he seems to me to be a bit of a weak guy, and my opinion of him remains unchanged. Good looking, obviously, and a good friend to Toby, but he…copes poorly, and that coping puts Toby in a bad position.
What we find out about Raysel is chilling and perfect, and even Luna and Lily have gooseflesh-inspiring parts to play in this one.
The Luidaeg and Spike remain my favorites. The Luidaeg is everything I want in an Old Fae, and the idea of a rose goblin makes me adore Spike. Both of them have a LOT of stage time in this book, so all in all, An Artificial night was custom made to make me a happy reader.
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The Grimrose Path by Rob Thurman
I picked up this book expecting a continuation of Trick of the Light- and all the sarcasm and mayhem contained therein. I was not let down.
About halfway through I actually had to set the book down and applaud quietly. Well played, Trixa. Well played. That…was a plot twist to end all plot twists, and I should have seen it coming. But I didn’t, and therein lies the beauty.
Mayhem, casual violence, shenanigans, Gods and angels and devils and everything in between- Grimrose Path takes the promise of Trick of the Light and turns it up a notch. Whereas I had originally described the relationship between Griffin and Zeke as a clone of that of Nik and Cal from Thurman’s other series, that comparison proves superficial as I was hauled through Grimrose. My only problem with the series, laid to rest. What more could a reader ask for?
Maybe a fantastic incarnation of Loki? check.
An incarnation of Thor too delightfully wrong to ignore? taken care of.
An urban fantasy heroine that does not jump in bed with every sexxy were-thing or vampire in town? Trixa’s on it.
The politics of Heaven and Hell get even more complicated in this one, and our Trixa is right in the middle of it. As always.
This one does not let you down. It builds and builds and the payoff at the end is magnificent.
Blameless by Gail Carriger
Blameless will forever go down in infamy as the book that made me run to the store to buy some pesto.
Gail Carriger continues to amuse with cunningly crafted and original turns of phrase (my favorite from this one may be “pickled beyond the gherkin” to describe someone who was well and truly drunk). Much of my time reading was spent being thankful I was not on a plane, as my rather exuberant guffaws would most likely have troubled anyone sitting beside me.
Blameless finds Alexia dealing with being turned out of her husbands house (poorly), Lord Maccon dealing with having turned his wife out (poorly) and Professor Lyall and Foote dealing with their respective charges (very well, with a side of put upon resignation).
There are vampire plots, rove swarms, dashing werewolf heroics, and murderous ladybugs.
And pesto. Who knew Italy used pesto as vampire and werewolf deterrent. I thought it was innocently delicious.
For those following the series, this is another strong addition. Read on, my friends. Read on.
For everyone else, go grab a copy of Soulless, book one, and clear a good chunk of time. The books are more addictive than most controlled substances and you will not want to put it down once you have started it.
“Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings slouched reluctantly over to brace his pack leader from the other side, Together the Beta and the Gamma steered their Alpha down the hall to the central staircase, up several floors, over, and up the final steps to the earl’s tower sleeping chamber. They managed this with only three casualties: Lord Maccon’s dignity (which hadn’t very far to fall at that point), Major Channing’s elbow (which met a mahogany finial), and an innocent Etruscan vase (which died so that Lord Maccon could lurch with sufficient exaggeration).” Blameless, by Gail Carriger, page 29.
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
I was trying to figure out a way to explain just what it was about this book that made it so glorious. Then I found it, hidden away at the bottom of page 372. “With wonder and a growing absence of fear she realized, I am more than I was an hour ago.”
That sensation really does sum it up. “I am more than I was an hour ago.” It is a feeling that is woven through every page, colors every event. It takes something so tragic, a story about a child taken from her family and sent to live in the leper colony on Moloka’i and all the death and pain that can and does result, and transforms it. This is a story about growing and evolving, about living.
The writing is beautiful. The first few times the marks of leprosy were described in an almost nonchalant fashion, the horror and vague nausea they inspired, quickly faded. This was the background, the catalyst but not the story.
Apart from a story of the experience of lepers at that time, the late 1800’s moving forward, it is also the story of a culture in upheaval. It is the transition of Hawaii into a United States possession and the movement from traditional religion to Christianity. Absolutely fascinating was reading about the events of Peal Harbor from the point of view of a colony of quarantined lepers. The first time they saw a moving picture. How excited they were to get electricity.
Leprosy sets the scene, but does not color the story. It is always there, as Rachel grows to an adult away from her family, gaining new family on Moloka’i, but it is more about the people than the disease.
A beautiful book. I think everyone should give it a read. I am more than I was before reading.
Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb
Dragon Haven continues the trek up a wild, deadly river in the Rain Wilds in search of a fabled city the dragons only half remember. Food and tempers run short, and the book has a nice dose of murder and betrayal to go along with its well placed, well done flits of romance.
Most importantly, we see the Keepers and the Dragons themselves change. The Dragons are growing into their own, gaining in size, awareness, and lethality, and the Keepers are caught in the middle of it all. The Keepers themselves, cast offs of the human society, gain more confidence and their interactions are very true to a group of people coming into their own, the good and the bad.
As always, Hobb weaves a stunning world to cradle her story, and Dragon Haven wallows in a rich, wet world. The discomfort of the travelers is palatable- if you have ever spent time camping in the rain you will be sympathetic to the abject misery of the entire cast as they search desperately for dry land and the myth they are all so invested in.
If you like character studies as much as I do, this series is a must read. The real driving force of the books is a group of dissimilar people being forced to exist in such close quarters, each depending on the other for their survival. Characters grow and change, and I found myself cheering for folks in Dragon Haven that I had written off in Dragon Keeper.