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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Rider by Joyce Chng

I should know better than to start anything Joyce has written before bed. It guarantees I will be up long past my bed time. Happens every time.

But oh, what a problem to have. Joyce has a way with words that makes mundane things like getting to bed early enough to be well rested for work tomorrow seem irrelevant, far away. As soon as I started Rider, I more or less knew I was doomed to be up with the sun, and I was quite alright with that. The desert world she brings us to, with its encroaching sands and talented Agri-seers working with plants to try and keep the dunes at bay and people fed, is so real and dangerous and engrossing and is peopled with characters that breathe and hurt and love. I was content to be held captive.

Lifang has always been able to make plants sing, and so she ends up selected for the Agi-seers. But she dreams of being a Rider, like her sister- one of the humans partnered with the intelligent Quetz that were discovered with the planet. Humans have a partnership with the Quetz, a sort of understanding. But there are the Quetz, and then there are the Hunters, their wild cousins. And before Lifang leaves to join the Agi-seers she encounters a Hunter at a waterfall, and that encounter will change her life.

One of the things that stands out most about Rider is the culture that Joyce has woven so tightly throughout this alien world she has created. The humans are rich with it, but so are the Quetz. One of Joyce’s strengths as a writer has always been her ability to make cultures sing out to her readers. Nothing is ever shallow or simple and it adds just an enjoyable beauty to everything she creates.

Rider is a YA novel, but I would encourage adults to take it for a spin. Allow yourself to be captivated by a coming of age story that is as familiar as it is alien and let yourself grow along with Lifang.

Traitors by Carrie Clevenger

When Xan Marcellus gets an order to take a job, it is from a source he cannot refuse. With Nin in tow, Xan sets out to a town in Texas where he will follow through on the multiple target hit he has been assigned. The problem is, it has been awhile since Xan took a job of this nature, and he has spent a good amount of time around humans. Is it possible he has gone a little soft around the edges? And how will having company along for the ride change the game?

Xan and Nin are vampires I could get addicted to. There is a depth of character and a tense edge of violence that appeal to me- I don’t like my vamps cuddly and sympathetic. I prefer they have teeth- and Carrie fulfills that requirement with panache. Fast-paced writing and an attention to detail make the Crooked Fang books a pleasure to read.

If you are looking for vampires with bite, Carrie Clevenger is the author for you. 

Night Calls by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Night Calls

It started as a normal evening- farm folk defending life and livestock from a predator- but when Alfreda and her father went out the next morning to recover the precious wolf pelt they found horror in its place. It was not a wolf that hung, ready to be skinned, but a man.

Thus starts a grim sort of waiting as families hope that their loved one is not one of the afflicted. And through it all, Alfreda can hear the wolves calling.

It is a rough and sudden jump into an adulthood far different than Alfreda had ever imagined. Her mother’s bloodline is known to throw Practitioners, individuals knowledgeable in folklore and skilled in folk magic, and she has inherited its gifts.

I have not been so enthralled with a novel since Wrede’s ‘Thirteenth Child’. I have a deep fondness for frontier-type fantasy and ‘Night Calls’ is beautifully executed in that regard. The fantasy aspects are worked into the world, are an integral part of it. The little magics, as well as the grand, are a part of day to day life.

It takes talent to build a world so rich and lush that the reader cannot imagine it ever being differently, but that is exactly what Ms. Kimbriel has done. Readers are invited into Alfreda’s world, and will not want to leave. Alfreda herself is a joy to get to know and to follow as she starts along the path of a Practitioner. Her love of her family, her fascination and dedication to her craft, and the adventure she finds herself in the middle of all make her a magnificent protagonist that will appeal to young and old alike.

The eBook can be found at BookView Cafe

The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan

How does a jaded swordsman end up partnered with a caustic and lethal assassin? A lot of accidents and behind the scenes manipulation.

Crown Tower serves to introduce readers to Hadrian and Royce, an unlikely pair that are forced to work together and may even learn to actually tolerate, if not like, each other by the end. Crown Tower is book one of the Ririya Chronicles, a prequel series to the Ririya Revelations trilogy published previously. It is an excellent starting point for folks interested in the characters and story who have not read the Revelations yet. I had been waffling over buying the Ririya Revelations for some time now, and when I saw prequels were being published I jumped right in at the very beginning- and am very glad I did so.

Hadrian is a likable character, a wonderful foil to Royce’s impartial take on the human condition at large. Royce grows on you- especially if you have a particularly dark sense of humor as I do.  The other set of characters the book pays attention to, a group of whores, are utterly fascinating as well (and were actually my favorite POV chapters for quite a bit of the book). In the background there are hints of maneuvering and mechinations which I assume come to play throughout the rest of the books. I can say I am looking forward to reading the next installment. Sullivan’s writing is smooth, the characters interesting and engaging, and the world unfurls as pages are turned.

If epic fantasy is your thing, give Crown Tower a read. The slow build is well worth it.

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea by Mira Grant

For everyone who ever wondered how conservation efforts would work post zombie apocalypse, this is the story for you. I will admit, it the thought had never occurred to me, but after reading How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea I cannot get the idea out of my head.

The real hook to the Newsflesh books are that the world did not stop when the zombie apocalypse happened. We worked with it, we adapted. Some places adapted in different ways. Ms. Grant takes this novella to look at Australia and how it would have worked with a driving need to preserve a unique ecosystem with an equally pressing need to survive.

Thus enters the rabbit proof fence- re-purposed as the worlds biggest zombie/livestock corral.

I will now be slipping zombie kangaroos to the top of the list of most terrifying things that could jump me in a dark field. Thanks, Mira. I had never considered a zombie kangaroo before, but now that I have…the power in those legs…I think I find them much more terrifying than human zombies.

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea is the most recent in a series of novellas set in the Newsflesh world, and takes place after the events of Blackout, the third book in the Newsflesh trilogy, and is not new-reader friendly as a result. If you are interested in the series, grab a copy of Feed. Just…don’t read before bed. You will never stop reading long enough to make it to the going to sleep part.

Six Quirky Tales Vol. 1 by Rayne Hall

It is my pleasure to host the cover reveal for Rayne Hall’s Six Quirky Tales, Vol. 1, as well as a short Q & A with Rayne. As a fan of short stories, especially in the fantasy genre, I am definitely looking forward to getting my hands on this one!

 

SIX QUIRKY TALES Vol. 1 RayneHall cover 2013-07-04

Q: This book has been previously published with a different cover. Why did you change it?

A: A good book cover tells the readers what kind of fiction is inside. It makes a promise about genre, mood and tone. The old cover was ok, something I’d rustled up with a stock photo and some basic GIMP, but it didn’t convey the flavour of the stories.

Recently, I made some changes to the book – corrected a couple of typos the proofreaders had missed, swapped one of the stories for a longer one – and this seemed a good opportunity to replace the cover.  The new picture suggests what the stories inside are like – quirky, entertaining, tongue-in-cheek fantasy yarns, some of them with historical or fairytale elements.

Q: Who painted the picture?

A: Xteve Abanto is a young fantasy artist from the Philippines. You can see more of his art here.

Q: Where can we buy the book?

A: It’s available as an ebook from Amazon (though it may still show the old cover),  and from Kobo. Because of the changes it’s temporarily unavailable from Barnes&Noble and iTunes, but I expect it will be back soon.

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Halloway

“…this visit is clearly not being spent with finding a husband in mind.”
Eveline made a sound a protest. “There was only the one corpse” (A Study in Silks, Holloway).

Eveline is the niece of Sherlock Holmes, and appears to have inherited both his acute attentive curiosity as well as his inability to quite fit in with societies expectations of normal. While visiting her friend Imogen, right before the start of their Season, the body of a murdered servant girl is found in the house, and Evelina finds a letter thick with dark magic hidden on the body. Using that illicitly pilfered evidence, Evelina needs to solve the murder of the servant, lest Imogen’s brother be implicated in the crime.

Halloway has created a world that is a cunning mix of classic Sherlock Holmes and the modern steampunk movement, swirling in just enough magic to attract the attention of urban fantasy fans as well. It is a book that will read well across genres, appealing to a wide audience. Evelina is an enjoyable character, and the supporting cast all live strongly for the reader as well. Halloway has even tackled the great Holmes as well, and done him justice.

As a fan of just about every genre and style this book flirts with, I was quite the happy reader, and I look forward to more!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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Saratoga Springs, 6/20/2013

I was lucky to hear a reading from this book when I saw Neil last week. It was beautiful and brilliant and eerie and if audiobooks are your thing I highly recommend getting your hands on that version.

Ocean at the End of the Lane is all at once ethereal and horrifying- a perfect mix of the mundane and the macabre, folklore and daily life woven together in ways that it make it seem that one cannot possibly survive without the other. And that is exactly as it should be. It is the story of a bookish boy who ends up walking a fine line between both worlds, seeing both the beautiful and the terrifying.

It is told from the point of view first of a man who remembers a childhood long past, and then a child caught in a nightmare. Finally an adult thinking back on that nightmare he had forgotten. It is a book about the world of adults, and the worlds of children. Leaving the hall light on at night to keep the monsters at bay, listening to parents talking as you drift off to sleep to feel safe.

It is, honestly, one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. I am going to be digesting it for some time now, working through all of the little bits, the feelings and the thoughts it urged me, ever so quietly, to contemplate. It is not intentionally poetic, but it is a book that will call to the dreams, the ones who stayed up past their bed times with books, who found fairly rings as children. The ones who, maybe, imagined that a pond at the end of a lane could be an ocean as old as existence itself.

It is a book for adults, it is also a book for children. For parents to read with their kids, for kids to recommend to their parents. I will be rereading. Highly recommended.

Forbidden Fruit by Anne Aguirre

“I see dead people. Okay, that’s a lie. I hear dead people—on an antique radio…” – ‘Forbidden Fruit’, Anne Aguirre

I have been a happy fan of the Corine Solomon books since I stumbled across a copy of Blue Diablo (book one).  They are fantastic, and fun, and full of incredible characters. Shannon and Jesse are two of those very fantastic characters, and I was ecstatic to see Ms. Aguirre write a story set between two of the main books of the series dedicated to the two of them.

The two of them as they deal with some magically inflicted amnesia, some rather delightfully raunchy feelings for each other, and some intrusive demons.

If you have read the series, do NOT miss this delectable little tidbit. If you are unfamiliar with Ann Aquirre or the Corine Solomon books, go grab a copy of Blue Diablo. But…don’t start reading if you have somewhere to be the next day. Ms. Aguirre’s books are damn hard to put down.

The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

It seemed an innocent enough charge, hunting down a missing fellow for the crown. But when it leads to a death close to Bannon a situation far more virulent than a simple retrieval rears its head. It will take all of Clare’s considerable faculties and Bannon’s power and ferocity to bring the situation to heel. Personal relations and loyalties are all in a turmoil as Bannon and Clare work to sort out the plague that has descended upon their city, and their world.

The second Bannon and Clare book lived up to my expectations, and then some. Ms. Saintcrow expands on the world and characters she introduced readers to in The Iron Wyrm Affair, keeping a lively pace and readers on their toes with a mix of glee and (sometimes less than innocent) anticipation.

Clare remains one of the most intriguing characters I have run into in quite some time. I find the idea of the mentaths, so different than anything I have stumbled across in the genre, to be utterly intriguing. Between him and Ludo, my interest is well and truly held and I will read for as long as Ms. Saintcrow is interested in writing.

Another fun, fast read.