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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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.

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.