Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Favorites of 2008

2008 has come to a close and it was a great year for reading since I read a great many more really good memorable books than I did in 2007. My only reading goal for the year was to read 50 books and I ended up reading 54, which is a lot more than 2007 (which was something like 36). That's probably at least partially because I discovered I really liked space opera this year and read a lot of that instead of a lot of epic fantasy doorstoppers. I do review everything I read so all of those have been reviewed with the exception of some of the more recently read books, which will be reviewed when I have the time.

Favorites of 2008

My top ten favorites out of all books read throughout the year and commentary on each can be found over at The Book Smugglers, where I was a guest blogger for Smugglivus. Instead of rehashing the same list that is available elsewhere, I'm going to do some favorites in select categories for 2008. Since I only read about 12 books published in 2008, I'm including all books read unless otherwise noted.

Favorite book published in 2008: Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth by Elizabeth Bear
Runners-up: Shades of Dark by Linnea Sinclair, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre, The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Yes, I know these are actually two books but they were supposed to be one book originally and together tell a complete story so it's hard to just pick one of them. Bear's tale of Faerie and Elizabethan England contains well-written prose and dialogue, an interesting plot, and some great (and famous) characters such as Christopher Marlowe and Will Shakespeare.

Most ambitious work: Dune by Frank Herbert

It is a classic for a reason and does not even feel particularly dated, which is rare for science fiction books I've read which were written around the same time. Dune combines religion and philosophy, has some action and adventure, and has a truly interesting character in young Paul Atreides. The strong role women play in the universe is also very unique for its time when many of the famous science fiction books written around the same time tended to be male-dominated. Although it wasn't one that resonated strongly with me personally, I did really enjoy reading Dune and it was one of the better books I read this year.

Favorite new (both fairly new and new to me) author: Sarah Monette
Runner-up: Elizabeth Bear

Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series is edgy with two exceptionally well-developed characters. It's certainly not for everyone with its darker tones and Monette's propensity to think of the worst possible thing she can do to her characters and then write about it. As someone who thinks the darker the better, I can't get enough of this series.

Best ending: Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

I'd heard this ending was pretty good but I really didn't see it coming. Rereading this one with an idea of the ending would be interesting.

Longest short book I ever read: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Seriously, it was only about 200 pages but it felt like it would never end.

Book so impossible to put down you'd have to pry it from my cold dead hands: Shades of Dark by Linnea Sinclair
Runner-up: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

Shades of Dark was impossible to put down with its great characters and fast-paced plot (at least after it got going a little bit). Wanderlust was also extremely difficult to pry out of my hands until I was finished with it.

Best battle: Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro

Normally I'd rather read about characters and politics than battles, but this one did have me right on the edge of my seat!

Best prose: Ink and Steel/Hell and Earth by Elizabeth Bear
Runner-up: Last Dragon by J. M. McDermott

Bear has a very specific, lush vocabulary with some lovely dialogue.

Most creative: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A child's parents are murdered, leaving him in the capable hands of the inhabitants of the local graveyard. It sounds completely strange but it very much worked.

Most imaginative incorporation of well known legends: The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari

This retelling of the book of Job in the Bible combined with the legends of King Arthur still managed to seem fresh and original.

Most unique magic system: Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

It's definitely unique although getting magic powers by swallowing different types of metal may be a little much for my suspension of disbelief. All I can think of is how unhealthy that sounds. (It's still a fun read though.)

Favorite character: Mildmay (Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series)
Runners up: Felix (same series), Whiskey (Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age series), Miles Vorkosigan (series of the same name by Lois McMaster Bujold)

Both Mildmay and Felix are extraordinarily well fleshed out characters, but in the end, Mildmay is just more sympathetic. Although both have their vulnerabilities, he tends to be less of a bastard about it. The amoral shape-shifting waterhorse Whiskey was another favorite to read about, and the vibrant Miles Vorkosigan has the type of personality that leaps off the pages.

Book containing most interesting alien species: Probability Moon by Nancy Kress

With all the space opera I've read this year, I've read about an awful lot of telepaths, empaths, and shapeshifers. This particular alien race was not any of those but instead worked in a universe of shared reality - if an inhabitant of the world did not believe as the others did, it caused them actual physical pain, making for an interesting first contact situation between them and humans.

Books Read/Reviewed in 2008

In case anyone is interested in the full list for comparison, below are all the books I've completed in 2008 with a star next to those published in 2008. I've reviewed all of them except for some of the newer ones unless my fiance John read and reviewed them first (sometimes I read books he reviewed when I had a lot of catching up to do). All books reviewed by John are listed underneath my list. Between the two of us, we wrote 53 reviews this year (although I reviewed everything I've read, some of them were omnibus versions that I reviewed together and I'm also a little behind right now).

Kristen's Books

1. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
2. The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier
3. The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari
4. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
5. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
6. Neuromancer by William Gibson
7. Breath and Bone by Carol Berg *
8. Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro
9. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
10. Melusine by Sarah Monette
11. The Virtu by Sarah Monette
12. The Mirador by Sarah Monette
13. Grimspace by Ann Aguirre *
14. Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
15. Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
16. A Kind of Peace by Andy Boot
17. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
18. Hood by Stephen Lawhead
19. Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott *
20. Dune by Frank Herbert
21. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
22. Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear
23. Witness by Bill Blais
24. The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro
25. Blood Follows by Steven Erikson (reread)
26. A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
27. Whiskey and Water by Elizabeth Bear
28. The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
29. The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold
30. Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
31. Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks
32. The Cipher by Diana Pharoah Francis
33. Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse
34. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia *
35. Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre *
36. Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
37. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie * (in the US)
38. Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear *
39. Hell and Earth by Elizabeth Bear *
40. Probability Moon by Nancy Kress
41. Maledicte by Lane Robins
42. Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch
43. The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks *
44. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman *
45. Variable Star by Spider Robinson and Robert A Heinlein
46. The Healthy Dead by Steven Erikson (not yet reviewed)
47. The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt
48. Skyfall by Catherine Asaro
49. All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear *
50. Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair
51. Shades of Dark by Linnea Sinclair *
52. An Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair (not yet reviewed)
53. Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold (not yet reviewed)
54. The Jackal of Nar by John Marco (not yet reviewed)

John's Reviews:

The Abyss by Orson Scott Card
Before They Are Hanged (First Law #2) by Joe Abercrombie
The Beggars trilogy by Nancy Kress (aka The Sleepless trilogy)
Dragon's Wild by Robert Asprin
God's Demon by Wayne Barlow
Nation by Terry Pratchett
The Peace War by Vernor Vinge
Variable Star by Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Happy New Year!

It's a few hours early (at least in my part of the world) but I just wanted to wish everyone a happy new year! Thanks for stopping by and I hope everyone has a wonderful 2009!

Tomorrow I plan to put up an end of the year recap on books of 2008 and what to look forward to in 2009 (I've been waiting just in case I finished a really great book that wowed me by the end of the year but I've barely had time to read this month and that's just not going to happen).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Shades of Dark Review

Shades of Dark is the sequel to Gabriel's Ghost and the second book in Linnea Sinclair's Dock 5 Universe series. While Shades of Dark picks up where the first book left off and focuses on the same main characters, the third book Hope's Folly (to be released in February 2009) is about Philip Guthrie, a secondary character in the series so far. Shades of Dark should not be read before Gabriel's Ghost and this review will contain spoilers for the former book (reviewed here).

This novel picks up about three months after the end of Gabriel's Ghost. Sully and Chaz have left Marker after successfully destroying their first jukor lab and are back to life on the ship Boru Karn - and heading for a meeting with an informant who claims to know the location of another one of these labs. When she cannot sleep one night, Chaz happens to see her last name in a news headline. The article turns out to be about the arrest of her brother, Thaddeus Bergren, for his role in the events at Marker. Of course, Chaz is worried about what will happen to Thad but she is also concerned that his mind will be probed since he is one of the only people with knowledge about Sully's telepathic powers. This disclosure of Sully's Kyi-Ragkiril abilities, feared by the vast majority of humanity, would be detrimental to their cause since no one would want to help Sully. Furthermore, most of Sully's crew do not know what he is and may react badly upon hearing the fact that he could easily destroy their minds if he so desired.

In addition to fear over Thad's predicament and a possible impending mutiny, Chaz and Sully must also contend with the increasing strength of Sully's powers, which he hides from Chaz for a time. The reason for the rapid change is unknown, but Sully finds the new things he can do simultaneously intriguing and disconcerting. In the end, he still views himself as a "hell-spawned soul stealer" and fears that keeping Chaz close to him is a mistake - and one that he does not have the personal strength to avoid.

By the end of Gabriel's Ghost, I was so hooked that I had to go out and buy Shades of Dark so I could start it immediately. That night, I was halfway through this book and finished it about two days later (it would have been much sooner if I didn't have to go to work). I found this one a little slower to get into in the beginning with a few info dumps about happenings from the previous book but overall better (and much darker) than the first book. Dark books are my favorites, and I really loved how Sully had to come to terms with who and what he was in this book.

Gabriel's Ghost
was largely about the obstacles Kyi-Ragkirils had to overcome to be accepted and downplayed their evil since Sully was overall a decent man and Ren (who was not actually a Kyi-Ragkiril but was the race often judged to be one) was the kindest and gentlest being imaginable. Sully was often feared for his abilities by Chaz and later hated for them by Philip, who knew a lot about the worst of Kyi-Ragkirils but often did not know the entire truth. Yet as Sully used his powers for good (such as preventing both Ren and Philip from dying), it seemed as though the dangers of Kyi-Ragkirils had been overstated. It appeared to all come down to what type of person wields the power instead of the actual ability contributing to unethical acts. In Shades of Dark, this is refuted to an extent. Sully is conflicted between his beliefs and the need to exercise his powers more, which is further enforced by the encouragement of a mentor.

Chaz is still a very strong and likable heroine - analytical to the extreme and very practical. She is a strong woman who makes her own decisions, is very capable, and Sinclair does an excellent job of keeping true to her character in both books. Her own struggle with Sully's difficulty at reconciling his two sides also makes for some excellent reading and she is a very sympathetic character.

There is one minor complaint I had with this book other than the aforementioned info-dumping contributing to a slow start - the number of times Chaz was referred to as "the pride of the Sixth fleet" or "the one-time pride of the Sixth fleet" or any variation of "the pride of the Sixth fleet." The references to this were excessive. We get it - she was held in high regard and now she's an escaped prisoner on the run from the law, oh how the mighty have fallen.

For those who have read and enjoyed Gabriel's Ghost, Shades of Dark is a followup worth reading with a much darker tone and more complex questions. Unless one has an aversion to books that are not light and happy, this one is highly recommended to fans of its predecessor.


Read Chapter Two

Other reviews:
Reviews of other books in this series:

An Experiment - Need Some Urban Fantasy Recommendations

I have a Borders gift card I got for Christmas and will probably be going to Borders tomorrow to get some books to go with my other Christmas books (The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind by Fuyumi Ono and a numbered signed copy of Storm Constantine's The Oracle Lips, which is a very lovely collection of short stories). Since I have not read much urban fantasy, I was thinking about getting a couple of urban fantasies to try. Any suggestions for where to start?

Last year I branched out and read more science fiction and found I really enjoyed it at least as much as fantasy. I had read some science fiction with mixed results since I rarely found one where I liked the characters as much as in the fantasy books I read. I still tried reading books in the genre that were highly praised on occasion, such as Altered Carbon (which wasn't bad but had way too much testosterone for my taste) and Neuromancer (which was just plain dull with flat characters I didn't care one bit for). Maybe I just tried reading too much cyberpunk; I couldn't get into Snow Crash either.

Then I started reading more space opera - Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro, Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks - and discovered I really liked it and needed to read more. Last year I had pretty good results with these books - Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles series, more from Asaro's Skolian Saga, Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse, Gabriel's Ghost and Shades of Dark by Linnea Sinclair, and the famous Dune.

So, this coming year I want to continue trying a few different types of books, and I've decided to try urban fantasy outside of the realm of what I've read in the genre before (books like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, which was good). Vampires and werewolves have never seemed all that appealing to me, but you never know unless you actually try it so that's what I plan to do. Maybe I base my feelings too much on cheesy vampire movies and am missing some great novels.

Books I am currently considering are:

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (this one has been recommended to me enough times that it's a must-get if it's in stock at Borders)

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Ill Wind by Rachel Caine

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton (I've heard the first few of these are good anyway; don't know if I really want to start a series that is going to go downhill that quickly, though)

Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin (Tia of Fantasy Debut is not a vampire fan either but enjoyed this one so it sounds promising)

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Is there anything else that should be on my list? Or any of these that should be at the top of the list? Which books have both good characterization (preferably with gray characters) and an interesting story? And are not so cheesy that I'll get eye strain from rolling them too much?

Any advice is much appreciated!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


For those who don't already know, Ana and Thea from the excellent The Book Smugglers blog are holding Smugglivus, a celebration of the holidays and their one year blog anniversary, right now. I was a guest blogger there yesterday and have a lengthier than planned post on my favorite books I've read this year (regardless of publication date).

The countdown to Smugglivus featured several authors including Linnea Sinclair, Stephen Hunt, John Marco, Melissa Marr, Maria V. Snyder, and Meljean Brook. Now that Smugglivus is here, several bloggers are discussing their favorite books of the year. It's definitely worth checking out and your list of books you must get will grow... I know mine has!

The Book of Joby Winner

The Book of Joby contest is now closed and a winner has been randomly selected. The winner is:

Celia Marteniano

Congratulations, Celia! I hope you have fun reading The Book of Joby!

The month of giveaways will soon be over, but there is one more change to win the final giveaway for either Gabriel's Ghost or Shades of Dark - your choice.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gabriel's Ghost/Shades of Dark Giveaway

This is the last of the four giveaways featuring some of my favorite books read this year. The final book is one of the two Dock 5 Universe novels by Linnea Sinclair - either Gabriel's Ghost (review) or Shades of Dark. (I was hoping to have a review of the latter book up by today but with all the holiday running around, I haven't had the time yet. I'll link to it once I get it up, hopefully sometime this weekend. If you've read the first book, though, I'm sure you'll have a pretty good idea of whether or not you want to read the second one.)

Gabriel's Ghost is the first book in this science fiction romance series containing a great balance between space opera adventure and romance. It is the story of how the innocent former fleet captain Chasidah Bergren was rescued from a prison planet by her adversary Gabriel Sullivan, whom she had believed to be dead. Sullivan needs someone who knows the fleet to help him stop the breeding of terrible creatures that had been outlawed for being too dangerous... and who better than the woman he's had a crush on for years, the one he couldn't stand to think of living on the terrible planet she had been exiled to. In spite of the typical rescue of a woman by a man storyline, Chaz is a very strong heroine with a mind of her own who tends to follow her head instead of her heart.

I enjoyed this book immensely and found it very difficult to put down for the last half, and the sequel was even better (and darker). The first book left me wanting to know what happened so much that I decided I just couldn't start any other book and had to have Shades of Dark. So I went to Borders and got that one the day I finished it and was halfway through Shades of Dark by the time that day was over (and had finished it two days later even though I was back to work at that point). The ending was amazing and stuck with me for quite a while, and I loved the characters and the focus on them in this story, which is why it is one of my favorites read this year.

Contest Rules

To enter, send an email to fantasycafe AT The subject of the email should say "Ghost" if have not read either of these books, but if you have read the first one but not the second, the subject should say "Shades." Please include your mailing address. Addresses will only be used for sending the book out quickly and all messages will be deleted once the contest is over.

The contest is open to anyone, no matter where you live. One entry per person is allowed.

Entries for the contest will be accepted through 11:59 PM on Saturday January 3.

You can also still enter to win a copy of The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari for a short time (contest closes at midnight)!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Guest Review of Terry Pratchett's Nation

While I was in one of my grad discussion classes a few weeks ago I said that I consider Terry Pratchett to be one of the great philosophers of the last few decades*. I mostly base that on the Discworld series, but his new standalone book Nation provides yet more evidence to support that statement. Like Discworld and many of Pratchett's other novels, Nation works on multiple levels; it is a young-adult coming of age story, an entertaining exploration of social identity, and a commentary on topics ranging from metaphysics to shark repulsion. But from whatever angle you choose to approach it, the bottom line is that it does indeed work.

Mau is just finishing the process of becoming a man--no, not like that, stop it--when his entire world is ripped away from him. Upon returning to his home he finds that his island Nation has been utterly destroyed by a tsunami. The only survivor he finds isn't one of his family, friends, or the hundreds of other people from the Nation; it is an English noblewoman named Daphne, stranded when the same tsunami that crushed his village tossed her ship deep into the island's jungle.

As they try to recover from the initial destruction of the wave, they also have to figure out how to deal with the aftermath. Daphne may have arrived with a shipwreck full of supplies that will keep them alive, but there are other concerns as well. The two of them don't speak the same language. Daphne has to learn how to fend for herself after growing up in a gilded cage. Mau has to try to reassemble his Nation from the desperate refugees that trickle into the island one canoefull at a time over the following weeks. And all of this is on top of being teenagers trying to understand how to fit into societies that really only exist in their memories.

Even worse, not all of the survivors coming to the island are as benign as the refugees. The Raiders, ancestral enemies of Mau's Nation, have been sighted. Daphne's past also contains some shady characters that may be a threat. Even the arrival of Daphne's father, who she believes will be desperately searching every spit of land in the Pelagic until he finds her, would at the very least upset the fragile order she and Mau have been trying to reestablish on the island. But exploring the history of the island itself may have bigger consequences for the budding Nation than any of these outside influences...

Speaking of outside influences, it was impossible for me to read Nation without constantly thinking about a pair of real-life events that are related to the story. The most obvious is the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that took place while the book was being planned. Though Pratchett goes out of his way to let us know (via a brief author's note) that the Pelagic is not the Pacific and that Nation takes place on an alternate Earth with a different history, the connection is really too strong to ignore. That being said, it is a connection that does not really add to or take away from the story; the real life tsunami just sat in the back of my mind and added context and a link back to modern reality in a story that takes place in a (somewhat modified) 19th century setting.

The other real-life event that was constantly intruding on my reading of Nation was the news of Pratchett developing an early-onset form of Alzheimer's disease. (If--through some completely improbable twist of the Internet--Mr. Pratchett comes to read this, please feel free to stop with my apologies as I am yet another fan who is struggling to maintain that "I ain't dead yet" attitude you've tried to encourage.)

Nation's tagline, repeated both on the cover and throughout the story, is "when much is taken, something is returned." Every time I read that line I immediately flashed back to Pratchett's illness. Don't get me wrong; as somebody who has been through multiple degenerative and terminal illnesses in my immediate family, I know that it is really only a slowly unfolding tragedy for him, his wife Lyn, and the rest of his family. For the rest of us it is far, far less...yet, still, I will consider Pratchett to have been somebody great who was taken from us when his illness reaches its inevitable end. And maybe, in a temporal reversal, the books he's already written are what will have been returned; but I will still mourn the Pratchett novels that only appear in Lucien's library. So I have to say that this thought was strong in my mind as I read about Mau raging against his gods for taking away his world and I empathized with him as much because of it as much as because of any personal losses in my past.

That (long) prelude aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Nation. It is not as strong as the best Discworld books, but it would probably be in my top five and is better than Pratchett's other recent novels. I am comparing it to Discworld not only because it is impossible to talk about Pratchett without bringing up that series but also because it shares many of the themes and ideas that Discworld explores. Indeed, the only thing that really keeps Nation from being a Discworld novel is a change in setting and an absence of the level of everyday absurdity that reigns on the Disc.

Nation is intended to be a young adult book, and it does read like one. With a few exceptions that are mostly (interesting) decoration, there are no intricate plot twists or deep explorations of character motivation. In this book, though, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Mau and Daphne are both written as empathetic characters who are dealing with tremendous loss with the same mix of uncertainty and a determination to keep living that you find in anybody who is dealing with tragedy. The supporting characters are one dimensional, but in a structural way that focuses the tale, not in a cartoonish way that detracts from the story. The simplifications are constructive, not reductionist.

In A Deepness in the Sky Vernor Vinge's interstellar explorers, upon landing on a planet with ruins from a species they have never encountered before, don't try to learn about the species by finding a museum or a library; instead, they try to find the equivalent of an elementary school, under the logic that since that is where the species tried to teach its own young it would be the best place for an outsider to learn their language. In many ways the YA age group provides a similar method of looking at a culture. If elementary school is about learning the basics of language, the teenage years are about learning the basics of society and the values that adults carry forward for the rest of their lives. Nation explores ideas of metaphysics, racism, social norms, family, and history in a very direct way that, yes, makes the book YA appropriate, but also serves as a fascinating study on those subjects for readers who are so enmeshed in culture that it is difficult to really look at where our ideas that make up that culture came from. As one quick example:
"He's frightened of me, Mau thought. I haven't hit him or even raised my hand. I've just tried to make him think differently, and now he's scared. Of thinking. It's magic."
I've probably already written too much, but suffice it to say that Nation has all the elements you would expect in a novel from Terry Pratchett, including the most important: the feeling that you've just read a great story written by a master storyteller. I highly recommend Nation for any reader level.


* I expected a big argument to follow, since this was a group that had a pretty good background in the last couple hundred years of western philosophy; instead I got a lot of blank stares until one person broke the silence with "I don't think anybody gets that reference." I was sad, for several reasons.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Player of Games Winner

The giveaway for The Player of Games is now closed and a winner has been selected via The winner is:

Morgan MacLeod

Congratulations, Morgan! I hope you enjoy the book!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Giveaway: The Book of Joby

This month I'm announcing a contest for one of my favorite books read over the last year every weekend of the month for a total of 4 contests. This weekend is giveaway #3, The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari (review).

The Book of JobyThe Book of Joby

The Book of Joby, a stand alone novel, is a modern-day retelling of the biblical story of Job including elements of the King Arthur legends - yet in spite of the combination of these two very familiar stories, it manages to be original. I loved all the characters - even Lucifer himself - and all of them were well-drawn. Even the characters who might seem to be very set in their ways after being around for quite a long time underwent development. This book made me feel joy, anger, and despair but it also had some humorous moments. It was just an all-around great book that has stuck with me throughout this past year even though it was one of the books I read all the way back in January.

Contest Rules

To enter, send an email with the subject "Joby" to fantasycafe AT Please include your mailing address. Addresses will only be used for sending the book out quickly and all messages will be deleted once the contest is over.

The contest is open to anyone, no matter where you live. One entry per person is allowed.

Entries for the contest will be accepted through 11:59 PM on Saturday December 27. The next contest will be announced sometime that day.

You can also still enter to win a copy of The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (contest closes at midnight)!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review of Gabriel's Ghost

Gabriel's Ghost is the first book in science fiction romance writer Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five series and a winner of the RITA Award for Best Paranormal Romance in 2006. This book has a direct sequel, Shades of Dark, featuring the same main characters as the first book. Hope's Folly, the third book (out in February 2009), is about Philip Guthrie, a character appearing in the first two books. Gabriel's Ghost is a fun, fast-paced novel containing action and adventure in addition to the romantic storyline.

Chasidah (Chaz) Bergren, former captain of the Sixth Fleet, has been sentenced to life on a prison planet for a crime she did not commit. After three weeks as a prisoner, she is found by Gabriel Sullivan (Sully), a mercenary smuggler whom she thought to be dead. Sully faked his death and now is on a mission in which he needs a "beautiful, interfering bitch" who knows the fleet and is prepared to free Chaz if she will help his cause - which he won't reveal until they have reached their destination. On the way to shelter, they are attacked by and kill a jukor, a huge smelly creature bred to counter telepaths that were supposedly all deemed too dangerous to everyone and destroyed.

Sully brings Chaz to an Englarian monastery where she is surprised to find he seems to know the monks rather well. She is also surprised by the presence of a Stolorth, a member of a race infamous for their mind powers and therefore abhorrent to Englarians. However, this Stolorth (Ren) is blind, an outcast of his kind because this limits his abilities to some basic empathic powers. The monk Ren is to travel with Chaz and Sully, who will pose as members of the clergy on the way back to Sully's ship and crew where they will work on the plot Sully mentioned - destroying the Empire's jukor breeding program. Chaz can't help but join such a worthwhile endeavor despite being wary of Ren's abilities and Sully's constant flirting with her.

I have only begun reading some science fiction romance this year and this was the first book I read by Linnea Sinclair. Her novel An Accidental Goddess is on my bookshelf and I had tried reading a chapter from it before reading this one and just couldn't get into it (yes, I am impatient sometimes). I absolutely loved this novel so I'm very glad a friend recommended it to me. The beginning of Gabriel's Ghost had me intrigued but not riveted until I was about 2/5 of the way into the book, but from that point on I could not put it down. The day I finished this book, I read 4 pages of another book but couldn't stop thinking about this one so I went to the bookstore and picked up Shades of Dark. With the average enjoyable series, I can wait for the next book - not this one.

The highlight of this one for me was the characters of Sully, Chaz, and Ren. The story is told from the first person point of view of 35 year old Chaz, who is a fantastic heroine. Although it is partially a romance story, she is not the swooning, brooding type but a very logical, analytical woman as fits her military upbringing and and status as a captain. Chaz will listen to her mind over her heart, and although she finds Sully very attractive, she is not ready to let herself fall for him when she thinks he just wants to conquer her and add her to his list of women. Sure, she thinks about Sully sometimes, but he's not her only concern in life. I also appreciated that she was very open minded and willing to learn and reevaluate her beliefs if presented with evidence that they might be wrong. Ren terrified her at first since her training had taught her Stolorths were an evil race intent on destroying human minds, but instead of continuing to fear him, she talked to him and attempted to learn more about him. This does not mean she automatically decided she should not be frightened of him because Sully and the monks said she shouldn't, which would not be very realistic since this was a belief that was deeply ingrained into her and she didn't entirely trust Sully - but she did try to find out if what she had been taught was untrue.

Although the story is told from Chaz's point of view, it is really about the title character and his struggle for acceptance from both Chaz and himself. As much as I loved Chaz, Sully was my favorite character. I don't want to give away too much about what is revealed about Sully (the example I gave about Chaz happened early in the book) so I will just say that the reasons for his problems were well done and his conflicts were very understandable. His issues were not due to someone taking away his wubby toy as a child.

Ren was also a character I enjoyed reading about. He is perhaps a little too good if you like flawed characters (which I do) but I didn't care in this case. The model monk should be kind and understanding of others and he was just so likable.

The character relationships were interesting to read about and I thought Sinclair did a fantastic job of giving each character his or her own personality and making them believable as people, but that was not the only aspect to this story. There was a lot of focus on characters and revelations about them, but there was plenty of action and adventure in the quest to destroy the jukors too (especially at the end). Gabriel's Ghost is not just romance, as it also has a strong element of science fiction, albeit not hard science fiction but space opera. The science fiction aspect of the story is somewhat familiar with an evil empiric conspiracy, interplanetary travel, life as part of a crew on a spaceship, but it still entertains especially when combined with such great characters.

The pacing was excellent and there was never a boring moment - the pages fly by quickly with a straightforward, easy to read book like this one.

No book is perfect, even those that make their way on to my favorites list. Toward the beginning, I did find the writing style a bit abrupt and choppy with a lot of short sentences (which seemed intentional but I'm not a fan of that type of writing style). Later I did not notice this, though, so it either got smoother or I got so absorbed in the story that I ceased to care. I also did find the love scenes/descriptions to be very cheesy and read through them as quickly as possible. There were maybe two or three of those so it was a small percentage of the book and this ends up being a minor complaint. I'm not a big romance reader and I normally find these types of scenes to be a bit silly, though.

The pros far outweigh the cons with Gabriel's Ghost, which is one I know I'll be rereading. Highly recommended to those who enjoy science fiction romance and great characters.


Other Reviews:

Melusine Contest Winner

The Melusine contest is now closed and the winner has been selected with the help of The winner is:

Hunter Lily Troy

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy Melusine!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Player of Games Giveaway

It's Saturday again so it is time to announce giveaway #2 of the month! I've decided not to go in order of favorites each week even though I did my very favorite books of the year first (mostly because favorite book #2 is one of the four books I haven't found time to review yet between work and the holiday season). Last week's giveaway was fantasy so it's time to give away a science fiction book.

This week's book is The Player of Games, one of the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks (review). Even though this book is technically part of a series, it is a stand alone book with a beginning, middle and end. The Culture books are loosely connected since they take place in the same universe but follow different characters. This was the first book in the series I've read and my favorite so far (although I've only read one other). The Player of Games blew me away with its depictions of society, the way it drew me in in the first half a page, and the layers and depth it contained while being a very readable, fun story. I also enjoyed that the main character was an extraordinarily intelligent professional strategy game player instead of an action/adventure hero.

Contest Rules

To enter, send an email with the subject "Games" to fantasycafe AT Please include your mailing address. Addresses will only be used for sending the book out quickly and all messages will be deleted once the contest is over.

The contest is open to anyone, no matter where you live. One entry per person is allowed.

Entries for the contest will be accepted through 11:59 PM on Saturday December 20. The next contest will be announced sometime that day.

You can also still enter to win a copy of one book of your choice from Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series until midnight!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Reviewer Link Meme

Thanks to Mulluane from Dragons, Heroes and Wizards for the reminder!

John over at Grasping for the Wind started this meme for helping everyone find new blogs. His original post is as follows:

My list of fantasy and sf book reviewers is woefully out of date. I need your help to fix that. But rather than go through the hassle of having you send me recommendations or sticking them in comments, what you can do is take the following list and stick it on your website, then add yourself to the list, preferably in alphabetical order. That way, I will be able to track it across the web from back links, and can add each new blog to my roll as it comes along. So take this list, add it to your blog, and add a link to your blog on it. If you are already on the list, repost this meme at your blog so others can see it, and find new blogs from the links others put up on their blogs. Everybody wins! Be sure to send the list around to others as well. There is an easy to copy window of all the links and text at the bottom of this post to make it even simpler to do.

I would be ever so grateful if you would help me out.

So I am just adding to the list! There are a lot of new blogs here to check out.

A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
The Agony Column
Bibliophile Stalker
Blood of the Muse
The Book Swede
Breeni Books
Cheryl's Musings
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
The Galaxy Express
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
Literary Escapism
Neth Space
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Post-Weird Thoughts
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Sporadic Book Reviews
Temple Library Reviews
The Road Not Taken
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
The Wertzone
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag

Foreign Language (other than English) [French]

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Melusine (or The Virtu or The Mirador) Giveaway

It's the end of the year again which means I've been thinking a lot about my favorite books I've read this year. I'm going to do a giveaway of four of my favorite books from this year (new copies, that is, not mine - no way am I parting with these ones!). New giveaways will be announced on each Saturday in December with a deadline of 11:59 PM of the following Saturday for entering. Winners will be announced the day after the deadline.

This week's book is Melusine, the first book in Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series (review). All three books in this series about the wizard Felix Harrowgate and the assassin Mildmay are excellent with exceptionally well developed characters, but my favorite is actually the second book The Virtu (my #1 favorite book of the year). I liked Melusine almost as much, though, and that's definitely the place to start, so that's my choice for giveaway #1! Plus Monette did an amazing job of writing from the first person perspective of an insane character in this particular book.

Warning: I would not recommend this book to anyone offended by bad language, rape, sexual content, and/or homosexuality. Monette is one of those authors that writes by asking herself what the worst possible thing she can do to her characters is and then does it - so it's not a light, happy story but is rather dark.

Edit: I am changing this contest to any book in the series. So if you already have Melusine and want The Virtu, you can choose to get The Virtu instead. Or if you have both but don't have The Mirador, you can get that one if you win.

Contest Rules

To enter, send an email with the subject "Melusine" to fantasycafe AT Please include your mailing address. Addresses will only be used for sending the book out quickly and all messages will be deleted once the contest is over. If you already have this book but want either The Virtu or The Mirador, please specify which of these two books you would like instead.

The contest is open to anyone. One entry per person is allowed.

Entries for the contest will be accepted through 11:59 PM on Saturday December 13. The next contest will be announced sometime that day.

Good luck!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hope's Folly Book Trailer

The book trailer for Hope's Folly, the third book in the Dock Five/Gabriel's Ghost series by Linnea Sinclair, is on her site. It will be released in February of 2009. I am so excited about this book! The first two books in this science fiction romance series, Gabriel's Ghost and Shades of Dark, recently made it to my favorite books list and I'll be reviewing both of them soon. Until then, let's put it this way... I couldn't put down the last half of Gabriel's Ghost and once I finished it, I wanted more so badly that I rushed out to the bookstore to get Shades of Dark just a couple of hours later. By the time I went to bed that night, I was halfway through that book and in the end, I loved it more than the first one. Those are ones I'll be definitely be rereading.

The third book will be about Philip Guthrie, a character from the first two books. Although I'm looking forward to Hope's Folly, I am going to miss the two main characters from the first two books since they are really what made me love the series so much. Even so, I'll be going to the bookstore to get that one the day it comes out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Review of All the Windwracked Stars

All the Windwracked Stars
by Elizabeth Bear
368pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4/5

Elizabeth Bear's latest novel, All the Windwracked Stars, is the first book in The Edda of Burdens trilogy. As a big fan of her Promethean Age series as well as A Companion to Wolves (co-written with Sarah Monette), I was very much looking forward to this book. While I did not enjoy it quite as much as the other novels, it was still very good with a fantastic backstory steeped in Norse mythology.

The tale begins with the end of the world. The dead bodies of the children of the Light are buried under the falling snow - all except for the smallest one, the historian and poet Muire, who ran away instead of facing her fate with her sisters and brothers. Muire returns after the battle, where is she is found by the badly injured Kasimir, the last remaining valraven whose Valkyrie rider is among the fallen. The two keep each other alive throughout the night, and the next morning Kasimir chooses Muire as his new rider, despite her protests that she is unworthy because of her cowardice. However, Muire leaves him once he is healed, fearing the changes he underwent as he was forged into a metallic steed of war in preparation for the world to come.

Approximately 2300 years pass and the world is decaying once again. Two hundred years before, a mere two cities remained and now the final city is beginning to ebb, kept alive only by the efforts of the Technomage. Muire has survived throughout the years and now resides in this last city, Eiledon. One night she encounters a dying man and chooses him, which gives her some of his memories and a desire to avenge him. In doing so, she realizes that one of the tarnished children of the Light still walks the earth in these final days and determines to find this ancient enemy.

All the Windwracked Stars is one of those books that is not clearly science fiction or fantasy but some of both, although it felt more like a fantasy book to me. The setting is in a future more technically advanced than ours and when the second chapter mentioned humans using their science to destroy themselves, I expected it to have more emphasis on the destruction of the world by its residents than it actually did. There was more emphasis on the mythological elements and magic and the book reminded me very much of a fairy tale with its lyrical prose and the complete immersion in a fantastic world that is not entirely our own. Magic occurs all the time but it just seems to fit and is shown instead of being over-explained.

As with A Companion to Wolves, which also was based on Norse mythology, a lot of difficult to pronounce Nordic words are thrown around without a lot of explanation on their meaning, if any. Personally, I enjoy this style and find looking up details on the background of the various terms to be a part of the fun of reading a book by Bear, but some readers may find it jarring to encounter expressions such as "waelcyrge" and "einherjar" regularly. Usually there is enough context to get the general idea, though.

All the Windwracked Stars is not a light, mindless read, although it is not a particularly difficult book, either. It does require some attention since it is not as straightforward as many novels and does not always spell everything out (and contains a lot of unfamiliar terms, as mentioned previously). I suspect this is another one that would still be interesting to reread and that I'd catch many subtleties that I missed the first time around.

The characters are good but not great, which is mainly why I did not enjoy this book as much as the other books I have read by Bear. Reflecting on it, I liked all the characters - just not as much as some of the ones in her other books (even though the characters in A Companion to Wolves other than the main character and his wolf were not well drawn, I very much enjoyed those two). Kasimir, the valraven, was my favorite. His rejection by Muire immediately after the death of his previous rider made me feel badly for him, especially since he chose to serve her and did it so gladly. Muire's yearning for redemption was interesting and I did enjoy reading about her. There were a couple of other characters who had their own chapters but fewer of them than Muire, a gigolo and a cat-person in the service of the Technomage. The animal-people in general were fun to read about and the Technomage's view of their obedience or disobedience - that, as their creator, it was her own failing if they displeased her.

The writing is gorgeous and the opening lines really drew me in to the story. Actually, the entire first chapter had this wonderful cataclysmic yet melancholy feel to it when it described the end of the world and Muire and Kasimir's survival. The next two or three chapters, which took place far in the future, had a different tone completely and did not keep my attention quite as well. However, after that, I could hardly put the book down.

All the Windwracked Stars is not the strongest book by Elizabeth Bear, but it is still a very good story. I definitely look forward to reading the rest of the series.


Other Reviews: