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.

This Crumbling Pageant by Patricia Burroughs

Regency England is divided into two worlds, that of the Ordinary that we are familiar with and the one of the Magi, filled with those who are graced with the gifts of the Gods. Persephone Fury is the youngest of a family graced with the gift of music, descendants of the man who originally pulled the Magi world from the Ordinary, to keep them safe. Apart from music that can twine through the soul, Persephone’s magic shifts and twists with shadows, something dark and unfamiliar, too strong and untamed for fine Magi society.

But in a time of unrest, when the old Magi king steps aside in favor of a regent and both lowborn rebels and court Magi frantically try to use the prophecies of Merlin to support their cause, perhaps something a bit dark, a bit wild, is exactly what is needed.

This Crumbling Pageant is an exhilarating blend of court politics, folklore, romance, and mystery- the threads all woven together into one expertly designed tapestry. Persephone is a balanced, intriguing, and honestly fun female protagonist. She is not the prettiest, she is not the tomboy stereotype, instead she is delightfully difficult to pin down and define. The whole Fury family breathes life into the setting, pulling the plot through its paces.

Burroughs has also given us an antagonist we can hate with abandon and a sense of evil that will have you keeping a light on in the evening.

This Crumbling Pageant has a bit of something for everyone. It is a brush of period fantasy with the trappings of a mystery/thriller, a bit of regency romance rolled in for a splash of color and a refreshing light flavor.  It is a brilliantly unique and enthralling read.  Highly recommended.

The Offering (Sovereign Series) By E.R. Arroyo

Cori is free. She is free of Antius, where she had been raised and keep as a medical oddity and resource. She is free of all the experimentation and oppression. She is free to get to know Dylan. She is free to finally starting sorting out just who she is. If only everything else would stop getting in the way.

The Antius citizens they managed to liberate are suffering from infection and a particular sort of withdrawal, keeping Mercy colony from dispersing before Antius can retaliate. The proposed solution is not something Cori is ready, or willing, to face. So she flees to The City and its efficiently feral inhabitants, seeking her friend Tyce and comfort away from expectation.

Finding out she fits right in, and that The City boys are far from the overall hardened killers everyone assumed might not have been what she expected, but she welcomes it. It is a different sort of freedom in The City, and one she finds herself growing quite comfortable with as she grows a bit more comfortable in her own skin.

But stories rarely end so easily. The threat of Antius and its armies looms large and when Tyce returns to The City he brings with him news of abduction and death. Learning more about herself,her parents and where she came from, and pulling together her City boys and colony allies, Cori will once more shoulder a world’s worth of responsibility and step into the line of fire.

The Offering is the second book in the Sovereign series, and is a book that manages to walk that difficult balance of bleak and wonder with an enviable ease. Settled in the middle of a post-apocalyptic world where those that did not manage to hide were decimated or mutated during the disastrous event, Arroyo finds ways to work in the little things that remind us of what it is to be human, why the struggle is worth it- the smiles and small touches at the end. Little bits of wonder take a bit of the grit away when it is most needed- so while it is never a light book, it is never overwhelmingly oppressive. But most of all the characters will pull you in and keep you reading. Cori goes well beyond being a female protagonist I am proud to cheer for- she is relatable. Every sulk, snarl and snap along with every smile, smirk and sneer is wonderful and they combine into a perfectly imperfect young woman.

I have a personal soft spot for the City Boys. Give The Offering a read and they will rope you in as well.

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So Many Authors so Little Time!

So, having just reviewed a book by Joyce Chng, I am pretty stoked to point out she has agreed to write a story for the anthology Christy and I are putting together. Earlier this year we successfully funded and published Fight Like a Girl (and have gotten some pretty swell reviews!).

Our current project has a slightly different theme.

“How would an immortal deal with the End Times? The world will inevitably come stumbling into apocalypse, and They will be there to witness it. We want to explore how myths, how fae creatures of all cultures, beings generally seen as eternal (or at least very long-lived) would cope with the end of the world around them. Be it through nuclear incident, religious fervor or rampaging zombies, we are going to discover just What Follows…”

If you would like to see who else is writing for the book, read more about what is going on, and help make this happen! Please check us out.