April 25, 2008

Rogue by Rachel Vincent

Faythe Sanders is back in Rogue, Rachel Vincent's sophomore offering and follow-up to her debut novel Stray. DH was the one who came across Stray and recommended it to me. We both enjoyed it and were looking forward to reading the sequel. Vincent has a contract for six total Werecat books and so there is plenty of time for character and world development. Which is a good thing because, while Faythe doesn't bother me as much as she seems to bother other readers, she definitely has some hurdles to tackle in the way of maturity, particularly when it comes to relationships. I do find myself sympathizing rather more than is my norm with the various men in her life, be they father, brothers, or boyfriends. At the same time, I'm also willing to cut her a fair bit of slack given her status as one of only a handful of female werecats, the only daughter of a domineering alpha, and the recipient of about ten times her fair share of male ego. I guess I just understand her longing for independence. Especially after she worked so hard to get an education, only to be snatched back to the pride against her will.

In Rogue, Faythe and
her on-again off-again boyfriend Marc are working to track down a rogue were who's been killing strays in their territory. Soon the murders grow to include a series of seemingly unconnected exotic dancers, the only common denominator being that they each look just like Faythe. Straight dark hair, green eyes. Cuh-reepy. In the meantime, Faythe and Marc have enough on their hands handling each other, let alone the increasing pile of dead bodies. But when the trail leads back to someone from Faythe's past she thought she'd left behind, all hell breaks loose and Faythe is left scrambling to keep her friends and prove her innocence.

I liked the pace of this one. It moved along at a good clip and the mystery was involving. I still like Faythe's scruffy brothers and her parents' relationship remains touching, if slightly eerie. I'm anxious (and a little bit afraid) to see where Vincent plans on taking Faythe next. She seems to be floundering quite spectacularly and I really sort of hope she (and Marc) will be able to pull their explosive emotions (and reactions) together long enough to be up front about their differences and find some middle ground. I think they both need to grow up, though Faythe's immaturity is more frequently on display than Marc's, and until something forces them to really see each other for who they are and accept what they see, things will continue to be rough for these two cats.

Links
Darque Reviews
Dear Author Review
Good Karma Review
Jeri Smith-Ready Interview

April 23, 2008

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

In this second installment, Kate reluctantly agrees to do a favor for the local Pack and investigate the disappearance of some valuable maps. While hunting down the culprit, Kate gets called in on another favor. This time she winds up shackled with a teenage street urchin whose mother recently joined an amateur witch coven and went missing shortly after. Kate promises to find the girl's mother and, in the process, is caught in the crossfire between two ancient deities vying for power. So pretty much an average day for Kate and the city of Atlanta.

The highlights of Magic Burns are definitely the increased personal interactions between Kate and the various people and creatures who've come into her life. The growing attachment between Kate and Julie (the young girl in her care) develops quickly and the protective stance Kate takes throughout the course of the book is quite touching . Equally compelling is the more slowly developing connection between Curran, the Pack alpha, and Kate. Despite their mutual attempts to avoid each other. The reader gains several insights into these two almost painfully private people and the ending promises more good things to come. In fact, these quiet character-driven scenes were so interesting that I wished there were just a few more. The plentiful action and fighting sequences seem to always take center stage and, though we do get a little more information on Kate's background, it is a very little and I am (of course) anxious for more. A solid second book, I'm looking forward to the third one, due out sometime next year.

Links
Babbling Book Review
Darque Reviews
Dear Author Review
Urban Fantasy Land Review

April 21, 2008

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

I tossed Magic Bites into the my last Amazon order, mostly because of the Patricia Briggs quotes on both front and back covers as well as several positive blog reviews I'd read. The most fascinating thing about this book is that the author's name, Ilona Andrews, is actually a combination of Ilona and Andrew Gordon's first names. They are the husband and wife team who create the Kate Daniels books. That is to say, together they come up with the characters and plot, then Ilona writes the book, and finally the two of them wrangle over editing/general clean-up. Awesome, no?

I have to say what I liked best about this first book is the crazy, psychedelic Atlanta it takes place in. This alternate city is saturated in daily waves of magic that doggedly eat away at any signs of civilization and/or technology. The city's skyscrapers are no more than dwindling piles of granite and steel. Magic and technology are basically anathema in this world and the inhabitants of Atlanta live a sort of refugee-type half life. Having adapted to the dark surges when the electricity and cars stop working and people take to horse-drawn carriages and camp stoves. During these times the supernatural rules and mere humans get by. It reminded me vaguely of the gritty, post apocalyptic world Robin McKinley created in Sunshine. The vampires share a few common characteristics as well, their extremely gruesome appearance being at the top of the list. It's nice to see someone else bucking the current beautiful and seductive trend. Not that I have anything against your run-of-the-mill sparkly vampire. It's just fun to see the ubercreepy version as well.

The reader is dropped into Kate Daniels' life without a by-your-leave. Being the somewhat cantankerous reader that I am, I like it when a book challenges me to keep up, grabs me by the throat, shakes me once, and says, "Immerse yourself or be left in the dust!" In this world where humans exist side by side with creatures straight out of mythology and nightmare, it was a treat to attempt to navigate it without having everything spoon fed to me. I like Kate. She does share some characteristics with Briggs' Mercy Thompson. She has a sense of humor and she ruthlessly guards her independence. Kate's a bit rougher around the edges than Mercy. She's had a rough past, undoubtedly, but one of the strokes of genius in this series is that the reader doesn't know what Kate is. We know she's something. But we don't know what. And Kate is determined not to tell anyone. Not even the reader. Oh, we'll find out eventually. But I'm all tingly with the mystery of Kate and her powers.

Links
Dear Author Review
FantasyBookspot Review and Interview
LesleyW's Book Nook Review
Scooper Speaks Review

Chalice Cover Art

Another sneak peak, this time at the cover art for Robin McKinley's upcoming September release--Chalice. Ohmygoodness. It's so pretty...

April 15, 2008

Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey

Kestrel is a pirate. After years fighting to prove her worth, she's now the quartermaster on the pirate ship Wolfshead. She has become invaluable to her captain and mentor Binns, and the crew respect her and follow her lead. The story opens in the midst of a sea battle between Kestrel's crew and a mysterious vessel that seems to disappear and reappear out of the mist like some sort of phantom ship. Later, while on shore, Kestrel and Binns run into the captain of the mysterious ship, one Philip McAvery who is both dashing and maddening and who seems to have his sights set on Kestrel and her captain.

Unfortunately, all hell breaks loose at this point. Binns is captured and imprisoned under false pretenses. McAvery makes off with the Wolfshead, and Kestrel is on the run from a pair of assassins and a bounty hunter. No one is what they appear to be in this book. Even Kestrel. Gifted with the power to whistle up the wind, she has spent her life determined to hide her ability and thereby avoid the Danisoban Brethren--an order of mages who routinely round up all magically inclined children in order to use them for their own purposes. Interestingly enough, water is supposed to dampen magical ability. But our Kestrel is an exception. And she would prefer her unusual status remain safely anonymous. But Binns' capture and the continual interference of the inimitable McAvery gang up on her, making it difficult for Kestrel to maintain her grasp on the life she so carefully crafted for herself.

What I like about Kestrel is how comfortable she is in her skin. Her qualms about her magical ability aside, she straddles the gap between women and pirates with panache. She is endearingly unselfconscious in her admittedly unusual role. And though she despises skirts and does not actively seek men out, she doesn't avoid them either. Misty Massey doesn't spend much time laying out back story on her characters. The reader is plunged into the middle of the action and comes to know the characters slowly as the story progresses. It wasn't until the end that I felt like I was getting a handle on who Kestrel, McAvery, and Binns really were. But it was a fun ride, packed with characters full of secrets and escapades on the high seas. I look forward to checking out Kestrel's (and McAvery's....grin) further adventures as Massey is currently working on the second volume.

Links
Fantasy Book Critic Review
The First Book Interview

April 11, 2008

Heroes Adrift by Moira J. Moore

Well, the cover art has shifted finally. Though it's more of a lateral than an upward move. *sigh* Could they not have come up with something actually pertaining to the book? Say, perhaps, Lee bench dancing?? Now, that would be a good cover. In any event, cover art aside, I am three books into this great series now and feeling positively antsy for book four to come out.

In Heroes Adrift, Moira J. Moore takes Lee and Taro out of their respective comfort zones and into a culture and environment wholly unfamiliar to them. Just when Lee allows herself to hope things might be settling down in High Scape, the Empress calls she and Taro in for a little chat. She is sending them on a mission to the Southern Islands to find and bring home a long lost heir to the throne. The heir's existence has been kept a secret from everyone but the Empress. Now it is our favorite Pair's duty to find said mysterious personage and tote s/he home. Once in the Southern Islands, Lee and Taro are forced to reexamine their roles as friends and partners in a land where such roles are reversed and suddenly Lee's talents are highly valued and nobody seems to think much of Taro. Except, of course, Lee.

This is definitely a transition book in the middle of the series and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it. As I said before, events and character development in these books are not rushed. As a result, the reader is able to sit back and enjoy the ride. Secure in the feeling that the author has everything well in hand. Things will unfold as they will. And it will be good. That is not to say that things don't proceed apace. One event, in particular, that preyed on my mind for two and a half books is deliciously played out in this installment. Of course, it in turn spawns a host of other problems. But I have no doubt they will be dealt with in depth in the coming book(s). This series was such a wonderful find and I recommend it to anyone looking for fun, character-driven fantasy with a sense of humor.

Links
Chroniques d'Azhure Review
Speed-Reading Book Nerd Review

April 10, 2008

The Hero Strikes Back by Moira J. Moore

The Hero Strikes Back is the second book in Moira J. Moore's Hero series and it is, as promised (you were dead on, Ann), even better than the first book. Thankfully, Moore doesn't spend a lot of time trying to catch new readers up, but plunges right into the new plot with wonderful abandon. Lee and Taro are still stationed in High Scape, but conditions are rather eerie. Instead of its usual string of natural disasters, the city is languishing under unprecedented weather anomalies. Snowstorms in summer, followed by unending heat waves. Farmers are losing their crops, disease and discontent are running rampant, and people are blaming the Sources and their Shields for not adequately protecting them.

In a desperate attempt to deescalate the general unrest, the Pairs promise they will work on fixing the weather, despite having no actual ability or training to do so. Lee, true to form, insists she and Taro actually try to come through on their promise and their fumbling attempts to manipulate the weather produce some rather interesting, unexpected results.

Meanwhile, both Lee and Taro's mothers come to town, insinuating themselves into their childrens' lives, causing irritability on Lee's part and outright fury on Taro's. There is some real emotional wrangling in this second volume, and I was so pleased to see these two friends and partners grow independently and together, come to each other's defense when the situation warranted it, and accept the other's help for what it was. These emotionally charged scenes were at times delightful and at others excruciatingly painful to read and, as I watched Lee and Taro try to navigate it all, I found myself so proud of them. And exceedingly anxious to find out what happens next!

April 9, 2008

Bone Crossed Cover Art

Here's a sneak peak at the cover art for Patricia Briggs' next Mercy Thompson novel, Bone Crossed, due out in February. Gorgeous, isn't it?

(Thanks to Urban Fantasy Land for the heads up!)

April 8, 2008

Resenting the Hero by Moira J. Moore

I first read about this series on Ann Aguirre's blog. She recommended it so highly and, given how much I enjoyed Grimspace, I immediately picked up a copy of the first book--Resenting the Hero. By the time I cracked it open, I'd been sufficiently warned not to be deterred by the ridiculous cover and anemic title. It's difficult to get past the outside, they said, but persevere you must. The cover is truly cringe-worthy. But the contents are not. The story has its laughable parts. But they're meant to be funny. So that's all right.

Lee (short for Dunleavy) Mallorough has trained her entire life to be a Shield. Shields work together with their Source counterparts. Sources have an uncanny ability to detect natural disasters and avert them. Unfortunately, channeling that much power is guaranteed to kill a Source, unless he or she is bonded to a Shield, whose job it is to protect the Source's mind for the duration of the channeling. A few times a year, unbound Sources and Shields are brought together for The Choosing. Tradition has it that the first time a proper pair sets eyes on each other, the bonding occurs and they both just know. And to make The Choosing even more nerve wracking, the pairing is a lifelong bond. When one dies, so does the other. So, yeah. No pressure.

Suffice it to say Lee is less than thrilled when she looks up into the eyes of Taro (short for Shintaro) Karish, the infamous golden boy of the Source-and-Shield world, and just knows. The unlikely and, on Lee's part, completely unwilling pair are immediately assigned duty in High Scape--the most hazardous city in their world. Shortly after they arrive, a series of inexplicably powerful disasters strike the city, cutting down all but the newest Pair. Lee and Taro are left alone to protect the city and discover the force at the root of the disasters. Moira J. Moore has set up a rather unique fantasy world and two interesting, complex characters whose strengths and insecurities drive the story. I liked Lee and Taro and the fact that things didn't feel rushed. This is the first in a series and there is plenty of room for development and exploration, inside and out.

Links
Ann Aguirre Review
Janicu's Book Blog Review
Literatrix Review

April 4, 2008

Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder

I felt a bit blue last night as I finished Fire Study, the third and final volume in Maria V. Snyder's Study Trilogy. Though she is currently working on a new series following a side character from the Study books, this is the last one to center on the adventures of Yelena, the convicted murderer, turned poison taster, turned diplomatic liaison. I felt blue because I'd been expecting more and I ended up finishing it more out of a feeling of obligation than because I was truly engrossed.

The story picks up shortly after the events of Magic Study leave off. Yelena, her brother Leif, and the mercurial Moon Man are busy trying to mop up the Soulstealer's mess and dealing with accusations from the Mage's Council. First Magician Roze Featherstone is calling for Yelena's head on a platter and there is little rest for the weary on the horizon. The problem is, very little happens from this point on. Or rather, very little new stuff happens.

What there is is page after page of no one believing Yelena that Roze really is That Evil. Page after page of people stabbing each other with curare left and right (and waking up from being stabbed). Page after page of no Valek. And when he is there Yelena's not letting him help her. Instead she spends the majority of her time worrying about his potential demise and trying to protect him from a threat he's much better equipped to deal with than anyone else in the book. Towards the last three quarters of the story, the characters do start to wake up and act like themselves. They begin to deal with some of the meatier issues hanging over them just as the book reaches its end. And I felt myself wondering what took them so long? And wishing that the wonderfully dark, emotional atmosphere and tension from Poison Study were present here. Because I missed them.

Links
Book Binge Review
The Compulsive Reader Review
The Story Siren Review and Interview

Choose Your Own Cover

Such a fun idea. John Green's upcoming October release, Paper Towns, will be coming out with two, count them, two different cover options. So which one's calling your name? Yellow....Blue....Yellow....Blue. Who can decide? I think I'm leaning yellow right now. If just because it will look awesome next to my copy of An Abundance of Katherines. For a bit of fun, check out Green's conversation with his 11th grade self regarding the two covers, Walt Whitman, and expanding waistlines.

April 2, 2008

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti

A big thank you to Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin' Book Reviews for the heads up on this one. This debut novel by Dru Pagliassotti is being billed as a steampunk romance/urban fantasy. And it is all of these. But it transcends each of them as well, making it IMO an incredibly enjoyable cross-genre read. I'm sitting here trying to think of someone I wouldn't recommend this book to and I'm coming up blank.

Taya is an icarus--a member of the messenger class. Every day she straps on a pair of metal wings and soars across the city of Ondinium delivering messages. Life in Ondinium is extremely stratified. As an incarus, Taya is considered outside caste and is therefore able to move freely between the uber-powerful upper crust and the lower level plebeians. Social rank is marked by a subtle facial tattoo. And the "exalteds" (the highest of the high) only go out in public masked and heavily robed, to preserve their grace and purity.

Then one day Taya inadvertently rescues an exalted and her son. This seemingly minor event thrusts her into the realm of the exalteds and into the lives of two brothers--Alister and Cristof Forlore. Alister is the dashing younger brother, a gifted programmer, a rising star on the political scene, and an incorrigible lover of women. Cristof is the caustic older brother who has chosen to live outside his caste, maskless, working as a clockwright among the working class of Ondinium. As a rebel group known only as the Torn Cards terrorizes the city with a series of bombings, Taya is swept up in a murder mystery and must quickly learn how to navigate the deep waters between exalted and plebeian, charm and ruthlessness, and Alister and Cristof Forlore.

Clockwork Heart delighted me. I went into it complacently, wanting to love some characters and hate others unreservedly, but Ms. Pagliassottii's multi-faceted characterization made that impossible. I was forced to sit up and care about all of them, to see their flaws and their virtues, to really understand them and how they were themselves but also the product of the unique world they lived in, the society they were born into. A world built on the carefully delineated contrast between humanity and technology, privilege and humility. A truly engrossing read.

Links
Dru Pagliassotti's Website
Fantasy & Sci-fi Lovin' Book Review
Fantasy Literature Review and Interview